Paul Smircich, senior audio engineer with WPTV, with the station’s new SSL C100. Photo: 2007 John P. Filo/CBS
The digital transition provided an opportunity for many TV news broadcasters to upgrade their analog and often aging audio consoles to the latest generation of digital desks. In addition to the obvious upgrade in sound quality associated with the new equipment, the new digital consoles also provide features that were simply not available in the analog domain.
At the Fox Television duopoly in Los Angeles, KTTV Fox 11 and KCOP My13—with identical twin control rooms, each outfitted with a Euphonix System 5B console—handle a variety of news programming. The digital Euphonix systems offer a distinct operational advantage over the station's previous analog desk, according to engineer Craig Else.
"The main thing I like is the recall," he said. "We have two news shows in the morning and another show, 'Good Day LA,' which is done by a separate crew. It's nice to come in and recall my snapshot, and be fairly confident that it's exactly the way it was when I programmed it.
"On the old console I would have to start at one end of the console and eyeball every knob, every button, and check everything. One patch pulled, one button pushed, could be the difference between news and no news—and job and no job!"
Tim Foley, news operations manager at KLAS-TV 8, the Las Vegas CBS affiliate and a Landmark Communications O&O, concurred. KLAS upgraded to a digital Wheatstone D9 from an older analog console of the same brand. "If we're going from one show to another, maybe out of a newscast and into a special, you hit two buttons and it resets everything—all your inputs, levels, EQ," Foley said.
That instant reset capability also allows each operator to finetune the desk to best suit his or her workflow and save the configuration as a snapshot. "Most of the users do have their own settings and customize it to what they're comfortable with," Foley said. "It was a natural transition to the D9; we'd had real success with the previous Wheatstone model that we had. We'd made a lot of changes in the infrastructure and had gone HD—we were one of the first stations to do everything all HD, including our lives [broadcast remotes]."
The upgrade to digital has been a major boon to operators at KLAS. "It's great, just night and day compared to what the old analog boards could do," said Foley of the new Wheatstone console's capabilities. "Just the ability on the D-9 to input mic or line level anywhere—it doesn't matter where. From the operator's standpoint, you can flip the inputs anywhere you want to. It gives you a ton of flexibility.
"On the analog board you were limited to the number of inputs on each fader. On this, it's infinite; whatever you have on the router you can put on any fader. And the interface is pretty straightforward. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to understand the configuration menus on the control unit."
WPTV, an NBC affiliate in W. Palm Beach, Fla. that is part of the Scripps-Howard network of stations, installed a Solid State Logic C100 HD digital console in 2009. According to senior audio engineer Paul Smircich, the C100 includes some reset features unique to SSL that are of special benefit in a news environment.
"In our news studio we have about 14 mics that we have to be able to access. Everybody likes them to be on the first eight faders, because that's what we're used to. With the fader-linking feature, we're able to link any mics we need so we can have quick access. Otherwise, we'd be at the other end of the board on fader 32 trying to access something," said Smircich.
The multi-layer operation of the C100 also offers an easy transition between shows with different setups. "We do a Spanish-language public service show during the week. We use nonlinear digital servers for our stories; I transfer those to the other layer and I've got my show setup," he explained.
The ability of a total console-wide snapshot to provide an instant configuration reset at the push of a button can be a major time saver, agreed Else. "I do the 10 o'clock news on channel 11, then in the commercial break we switch over to the 11 o'clock news on channel 13. So in the commercial break I go to another setup."
But it's not just about resetting at a macro level, Else continued. "You can do small snapshots, which is also really fun to do. We have a pair of helicopters and they each have their own distinctive background noise. I noticed, every day, this whine at the same frequency: 1.71 kHz. So I saved a snapshot of a notch filter at 1.71k and whenever we have that chopper on the air I pop that notch filter in.
"Associated with that file is a downward expander, almost like a gate, and it gets rid of all the other noise. So it's really quiet now, and it's at the push of a button. It's so quiet you can almost forget the chopper fader is up when [the reporter] is not talking."
A processing chain can also be inserted for specific anchors, he continued. "Some of our anchors have a greater dynamic range when they're emoting. They drop down to almost a whisper if it's a sad story, and in an instant can jump up 20 or 30 dB then drop down again. I have tight controls on one of our anchors; I've narrowed her dynamic range quite a bit."
Smircich also enjoys the ability to set up processing and quickly insert it into the signal path. "I have EQ settings for a lot of our talent. We have an hour and a half of news with four anchors. As they switch out I go into my preset menu, call them up, lay them in where I want them, and I'm done," he said.
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