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She remains an icon, one of the most recognized celebrities on the planet, and her decision to pull the plug on her wildly popular television show sent millions of fans into a tizzy. Television stations that relied on Oprah's draw to anchor their daytime schedules had a more practical problem: How would they deal with the hole that her departure created?

For WLS-TV, an ABC-owned television station in Chicago, Oprah was more than a rock-solid presence in its line up; she was a local fixture. When the show's 25-year run ended, the station had a choice to make: purchase another show for syndication or develop a program internally to take its place. Under the direction of Emily Barr, president and general manager, the decision was made to hire a staff of producers to create a new production in-house.

Generally seen in the 4 p.m. slot, the station aired “The Oprah Winfrey Show” at 9 a.m., between “Good Morning America” and “The View.” It was apparent that the new show, “Windy City LIVE” would have to maintain solid production values.

WLS-TV made substantial upgrades to its internal studios while “Windy City LIVE” was in development. HD capability was critical, and since “Windy City LIVE” airs live, the new equipment had to be flexible and portable.

TV 1, the station's main control room, designed around a Snell Kahuna 4ME production switcher, was already HD-capable. The station purchased an SSL Aysis Air Console in 1999, but support and maintenance issues forced the company to consider replacing it. After considering several options, the station purchased an SSL C100 HDS console with Dialogue Automix.

It may be hard to remember, but less than three decades ago, a few pieces of outboard signal processors served quite well in an audio post environment. Hardware — a favorite reverb unit, perhaps, or a few compressors — lives on, but most processing is handled inside the console these days, and 5.1 eats up a lot of DSP. The station initially thought that the 96 DSP channels that the C100 HDS ships with would suffice, but Kal Hassan, vice president and director of engineering, realized that additional channels were required. As currently configured, the console has 128 channels of DSP. WLS-TV purchased the redundant Blackrock processor option for its console. Housed within the console's frame, Blackrock offers redundant PSUs and RAID 1 hard disks in addition to a robust signal processing engine.

The on-air talent camera moves freely throughout the studio, so a total of eight Shure wireless mics were purchased, and another four are on the way. The station uses an HME wireless system, and an RTS Adam is the base intercom system. An existing Genelec 5.1 monitoring system continues to serve the control room.

“Windy City LIVE” was expected by some to simply be a local talk show, but it's more than that. It's information and entertainment and everything Chicago. It features celebrities, local bands, cooking segments with top local chefs, fashion, politics and lively chat about what's on people's minds along with segments pulled in from remote locations around the Chicago area. One of the main challenges the technical staff faced centered around the mandate to include social media. Skype had to be integrated, and the crew needed to move quickly to program live feeds back to the control room. WLS-TV purchased an ENG system from Dejero, a Canadian company, instead of a remote truck. This system accepts air cards from four different vendors and aggregates them to maximize bandwidth.

The station purchased three Sony HDC1400 series HD cameras and three HDC-P1 HD box cameras. One of these cameras is used as a hand held, whereas build up kits are incorporated into the other two. One of the HDC-P1s is installed on a Jimmy Jib, and the other two are installed on Vinten 105 robotic heads placed in the lighting grid.

Jeff Hall Design, a Los Angeles firm, was brought in to design the set under the direction of Thomas Hebel, vice president of creative services and programming at ABC 7, and Lisa Clingan-Cruz, design director. Chicago Scenic built and installed the set, and Deke Hazirijian, lighting designer with New York City Lites, provided the lighting. OSA Onstage Audio, a Chicago firm, provided the reinforcement speakers that are strategically laid out across the performance areas, as well as cabling, break out boxes, Lexicon reverbs, DBX equalizers, audience speakers and a variety of microphones. A Soundcraft GB840 console is permanently installed in the studio to support the performance area.

“Windy City LIVE” has had a distinct impact on WLS-TV, according to Hassan. “As the No. 1 station in the market, ‘Windy City LIVE’ is another feather in our cap,” he said. “The addition of an hour-long, local production with a live studio audience brings vitality and energy. We love the energy!”

Design team


Emily Barr, president and general manager
Kal Hassan, VP and director of engineering

ABC 7:

Thomas Hebel, VP creative services and programming
Lisa Clingan-Cruz, design director

Jeff Hall
Design OSA Onstage Audio
Chicago Scenic
New York City Lites:

Deke Hazirijian, lighting designer

Equipment list

Dejero ENG system
Genelec 5.1 audio monitors
HME wireless system
Jimmy Jib
RTS Adam intercom
Shure wireless microphones
Snell Kahuna 4ME production switcher
Sony HDC1400 HD cameras
HDC-P1 HD box cameras
Soundcraft GB840 audio console
SSL C100 HDS audio console
Blackrock audio processor
Vinten 105 robotic head

Gary Eskow is a composer and journalist who reports on the audio post industry.