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Twin Cities Prepares for GOP

When the organizing committee for the 2008 Republican National Convention took over the Xcel Energy Center in Saint Paul last month, they kicked off six weeks of intense work preparing the facility for the 39th Republican convention, Sept. 1-4.

(click thumbnail)The Republican National Convention is expected to draw more than 30,000 attendees and 15,000 members of the media.The 20,000-seat Xcel arena is a state of the art facility that opened in 2000. Its four seating levels need to accommodate 30,000 attendees, party officials, volunteers, and guests plus 15,000 members of the media. Fortunately, much of the media operations will occupy 475,000 square feet of workspace in the adjoining Saint Paul RiverCentre convention center and The Legendary Roy Wilkins Auditorium.


One of the first tasks for the work crews, according to Gordon Pennoyer, deputy director of media operations for the Committee On Arrangements, included removing about 3,000 seats for the main convention podium and assorted television network anchor or camera positions.

The Xcel Center already contains the Al Shaver Press Box on the fifth level along with 62 suites on that level and a-nother dozen on the concourse level, of which 23 are being converted for use as media studios. Another nine media suites are being fabricated on the concourse level.

About six miles of phone and Internet cables are being installed throughout the facility for a total of 4,500 digital and analog lines. Some of this installed cabling will support the skyboxes and anchor suites of the five principal HD pool members, NBC, CBS, ABC, Fox, and CNN. In addition to the HD pool members the pool has four subscribers so far, including C-SPAN and NPR, according to Margaret Lehrman, senior producer for coverage and special events at NBC News in Washington, D.C. As the pool producer in Minneapolis, she’s received inquiries from a half dozen others, including the Minneapolis Star Tribune, which wants to put video on its newspaper Web site.

“We go up with pictures each day a half hour before the opening gavel,” Lehrman said, “and we stay up with pictures a half hour after everything ends for the day. We’ll be providing up to 30 hours of programming overall.”

The 14 cabled and two RF pool cameras from Game Creek Video’s new Northstar HD production truck will cover the entire convention floor and provide exclusive behind-the-scenes footage.

Tandberg encoders at the Xcel Center will multiplex the signal over a 270 Mbps Vyvx circuit to NBC News in New York, which will distribute the feed by satellite. The pool feed also will be uplinked to New York for the Xcel Center as a backup.

For those not subscribing to the expensive HD pool feed, the COA is providing its own SD feed for $500, Pennoyer said, which will include original footage, some video from the HD pool, a Spanish translation, and a closed captioned version.

(click thumbnail)Xcel Energy Center in Saint Paul opened in 2000
“We’ve had requests from an array of local and independent stations as well as from newspapers and periodicals that stream video on their Web sites,” Pennoyer said. “It’s up to the subscribers to convert our SD feed into whatever format works for them.”


To reduce the level of frequency coordination needed for the pool feed, Lehrman said crew members mostly will communicate with cell phones. All RF frequency coordination goes through the SBE’s Political Conventions Communications Committee (PolComm2008), chaired by broadcast consultant Louis Libin at Broad Comm in Woodmere, N.Y.

Coordinating frequencies above 1 GHz at the RNC is the Minnesota State Frequency Coordinator, Marc Majerus, the assistant chief engineer at Fox affiliate KMSP-TV9 in St Paul. Frequencies below 1 GHz are being coordinated by Howard Fine, vice president of broadcast operations for the Pacific Television Center in Los Angeles.

Libin, Majerus and Fine are making sure all RF equipment is assigned a frequency prior to the Republican convention. Trained volunteers will inspect, tag and monitor every piece of RF gear brought onto the site.

Libin said he also is looking forward to FCC support for field tests of low-power wireless microphones and other devices operating in the “white space” between TV channels. “These tests would be conducted only during off-peak periods during the conventions,” Libin said, “so there would be no risk of interference with convention coverage in primetime. The convention offers an ideal opportunity to test the limits of what the white space can handle.”

Pennoyer anticipates the facility to be a constant hotbed of media activity during the convention. The U.S. morning shows start production at 4 a.m. and there’s a 15-hour time difference between St. Paul and Tokyo. “We expect the RiverCentre and Wilkins media workspaces to be in use 24/7,” Pennoyer said, “and that will be convenient because they are within the same security perimeter as the Xcel Center, making it easy to move between the venues.”

Spaces within the three venues have already been assigned, Pennoyer said, and there is no production space set aside for independent media. However, there will be open areas with free Internet connections for journalists to plug in their laptops to edit their video stories or write their blogs.

Not everyone will be indoors, however. ABC and Fox will be based in production trucks outside in the parking lots.

Fox News plans 21 hours of RNC coverage through almost every program on their weekday schedule, starting at 8 a.m. with “Fox and Friends,” plus special convention coverage anchored by Britt Hume, said Jeff Hark, senior director of production for Fox News in New York. An ongoing “Strategy Room” discussion with rotating anchors and guests will offer regular commentary segments.

Video and audio from the skybox and broadcast platform to the right of the main podium will feed the “Fox News Experience” in the parking lot, Hark said. The outdoor compound will be built around the new CorPlex Iridium HD production truck, contracted through Alliance Productions.

Fox also plans to distribute disposable video cameras to delegates on the floor, Hark said. “They will shoot whatever they like, return the cameras to us, and that footage will add a grassroots feel to our convention coverage that’s not been seen in the past.”

Editor’s Note: The original headline in this story referred to Minneapolis, not Twin Cities