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New CNN Election Express Bus Far More Interesting Than Any of the Candidates

It’s a studio, its a newsroom, its a network hub—no, it’s the new CNN Election Express, an all-HD mobile newsgathering machine that transforms from studio to 20-person newsroom and can crank out four simultaneous HD feeds over satellite.

The bus will roll out for the long campaign haul next week in New Hampshire, including coverage of a Sept. 26 debate (sponsored by NBC) at Dartmouth College—just weeks after the launch of CNN HD.

The bus, made by Frontline and fellow Florida company Parliament Coach, saw initial action at the CNN-YouTube debate among Democratic presidential candidates in July. There, producers in the bus composited the YouTube videos and graphics and fed them to the giant video screen on stage.

David Bohrman, CNN senior vice president and the Washington, D.C., bureau chief, calls it a portable news bureau.

For studio use—interviewing a candidate, for example—low-heat, lightweight LED light panels can be installed on any of three ceiling tracks. For newsroom purposes, it can provide enough benches (no captain’s chairs here), desk space and connectivity for 20 people and their computers.

The 1.8m rooftop dish can send up to four simultaneous HD signals—live from the four cameras the bus carries, or from its 13 TB server—over satellite to Atlanta, New York or Washington for integration into programming. No other CNN vehicle can supply more than one HD feed, said Bohrman.

The bus also includes a complete Final Cut Pro system, not to mention a makeup station, microwave oven, toilet and shower.

The bus is a major improvement over the bus CNN used for the 2004 campaign. That bus, formerly the tour bus of Hank Williams Jr., had no satellite system of its own, so it had to be accompanied by a satellite truck to provide any remote feed.

If the 2008 campaign ever ends, CNN will have the bus available for other news coverage.

“This bus is by far the best HD platform we’ve got,” said Bohrman.