Start Spreading the HD News

(click thumbnail)WBNS Anchors Jerry Revish and Andrea Cambern on the new HD news set.COLUMBUS, OHIO

Frank Willson, director of technology for WBNS in Columbus, Ohio, knows the importance of planning for the unexpected. Just as the CBS affiliate was in the final countdown for launching its 5 p.m. daily newscast in high definition on April 2, a major story broke, forcing them into HD mode an hour early.

“We still needed to make some last minute changes,” Willson said. “As our anchor was on the air, we were off to the side deciding whether we should just go ahead and work underneath the set while he was broadcasting.” Instead, they switched to a live field shot and moved the anchor into the newsroom while they finished the last technical details.

“Everything worked,” he said. “There were some small glitches behind the scenes, but none that made it to air.”

WBNS reworked its entire plant with new sets, lighting and production gear, including Ikegami HDK-790 cameras, Avid Deko 3000 HD and Weather Central 3D-Live-HD CGs, a Snell & Wilcox Kahuna switcher and terminal gear. Willson’s team visited stations in Orlando, Fla., Cleveland, Raleigh, N.C. and Atlanta that had already made the switch. WBNS even timed its launch date to optimize CBS’s NCAA Final Four coverage.

Some stations have moved to HD news with little fanfare. WBNS, on the other hand, aggressively promoted its HD leadership with on-air promos and a six-page, full-color insert in the company-owned Columbus Dispatch newspaper. Engineers pitched HD at consumer electronics outlets and an entire section devoted to HDTV was posted on the WBNS Web site. WBNS benefited from some viral marketing from members of the Columbus HD online forum who attended an HD rehearsal with anchors and staff.

Willson said the staff matched the Dispatch Co.’s investment with “emotional capital,” even making punch lists to avoid miscues. “It’s the little things,” he said. “Like you can’t fire off graphics really fast—click, click—the HD graphics just take longer to load.”

HD News From the Ground UpPHILADELPHIA

On April 2, KYW-TV Channel 3, the ABC affiliate here, marked another historic first for the station and for the CBS Television Stations Group. As the first official broadcast from the station’s new, all-HD, state-of-the-art plant, it was also the first HD newscast for the station and for the entire group.

Jeff Birch, vice president of engineering for the CBS Television Stations Group, says Channel 3 is one of the first stations in the country built from the ground up as an HD plant. It’s also unique because the entire newsgathering and production chain is built to handle HD.

Birch expects the bulk of news field work will be in HD, but for fast-breaking news, crews may still shoot in 16:9 SD and microwave to the studio for quicker editing. He anticipates full HD field work as technology progresses and HD microwave is available. CW Philly 57 also operates from the 120,000 square-foot broadcast center, which has a skyline view of Philadelphia.

(click thumbnail)The CBS 3 Anchor Team, from left: Beasley Reece, Larry Mendte, Alycia Lane and Kathy Orr
It’s been a busy time for the engineers at the CBS Television Stations Group. Last month, WCBS-TV, New York also began HD newscasts and KCBS-TV, Los Angeles switched to full-time HD. WBBM-TV, Chicago will be HD when its new plant opens in Spring 2008. Birch expects two more CBS stations will add HD newscasts in the coming year.

Over at ABC, Dave Converse, vice president and director of engineering for the ABC Stations Group, said the network is balancing the individual market’s need for HD news along with competitive and economic factors. ABC currently has five stations doing their newscasts in HD: KABC-TV, Los Angeles; WPVI-TV, Philadelphia; WABC-TV, New York, WLS-TV, Chicago, and KGO-TV, San Francisco.

Converse anticipates three additional markets will join the HD news roster in the next several months. None of the ABC stations are doing HD newsgathering although several use HD choppers and fixed HD cameras in metro areas.

To date, the only NBC O&O with HD Newscasts is WNBC, New York, although managers say plans for other stations are under consideration. Fox-owned stations currently provide HD newscasts in Philadelphia and Cleveland.In Washington, D.C., Allan Horlick, president and general manager of WUSA says parent company Gannett also assumed the leadership role in May 2005 when it became the first station in a top 10 market to offer HD newcasts. The CBS affiliate still heralds its position as “the only local news in HD” in every newscast open along with its bold, animated 9 News Now HD logo.

Horlick says while there are still no quantitative measures or ratings of HD viewership, there is considerable qualitative feedback.

“We have a nice, robust file... lots of people thanking us for taking this step and making the expenditure,” he said. “They love seeing their news in HD. It really pops.”

WLS-TV in Chicago is one of four ABC O&Os that recently moved to HD newscasts. President and General Manager Emily Barr says the move was a logical extension for them, since the station already had an HD helicopter and an all-digital facility.

“We are number one in all our newscasts and viewers really expect us to play a leading role whether in news coverage or in technology,” Barr said. “You can’t say that it gives you an extra quarter point in ratings, but you can say the viewers expect the best.”

Like most stations doing HD news, WLS is still shooting most of its news footage in 16:9 SD. Kal Hassan, vice president and director of technology, credits the station’s digital infrastructure for good picture quality, noting that “our HD conversion path is so pristine, the results look very good.”


At KRNV-TV in Reno, Nev., Chief Engineer John Finkbohner opted for an end-to-end HD solution.

“We do everything we can for news in HD,” he said. “Our field cameras are HD; we edit in HD. We playback in HD everything we shoot locally. When HD microwave is available, we’ll do our remotes in HD, too.” General Manager Mary Beth Farrell said the change for the NBC affiliate was more about service to the community than ratings., adding that the staff stepped up to the challenge.

“The change required training for everyone in news, production and engineering,” she said.

Talent concerns that HD would magnify imperfections were easily calmed when she brought in an HD makeup artist.

“Everyone learned how to airbrush their makeup and it made a big difference,” she said. “They need a lot less makeup and look great.”

The Sunbelt-owned station uses Leitch 6800+series converters, a Utah Scientific MC switcher, Canon HL X1 A cameras in field and studio, Canopus Edius Pro 3.0 for HD editing, Avid Deko 3000HD, Avid Thunder HD and BitCentral Precis HD news play-out server.

Finkbohner stressed the importance of vendor relationships.

“We’re all learning how to do HD and you need a good partner to iron out any rough spots,” he said.

WFAA, which has been broadcasting in HD since 1998, faced a different challenge when it launched its HD newscasts in February from its new, showcase studio in Victory Park, the thriving entertainment and sports complex anchored by American Airlines Center.

The station’s morning show, noon and 5 p.m. newscasts originate from the 4,000 square-foot, glass-enclosed, fishbowl studio that opens onto the plaza. The Belo-owned ABC affiliate’s new studio is about a mile from WFAA and does not have a production control room.

Dave Muscari, WFAA vice president for product development combined fiber transport and the latest from Grass Valley to marry the facilities. Four Grass Valley LDK 4000 HD cameras operate in the new studio and the outputs are fed via fiber optics back to the station for insertion into a Kayak HD video production switcher before going to air.

There’s an added HD dimension: Passersby at the new studio also see the hi-def output from the remote switcher on a super-sized screen located on the south wall of the news studio.

“It’s really fabulous. It’s a great branding opportunity for us,” Muscari said about location.