WNBC Makes the Transition to HD News


(click thumbnail)The WNBC control roomOn Sept. 13, WNBC-NBC Universal's flagship station-began producing and broadcasting its local news and programming in HDTV, making it the first local station in the New York market to "go high-def."

"Since 2001, when we first put up our HDTV transmitter, we've been carrying NBC network programming in HDTV, and upconverting our local shows to high-def. Now, our locally produced programming and newscasts are also in full HD quality," said Frank Comerford, president and general manager of WNBC, Channel 4 in New York.


Coupled with the network's HD fare, a total of 72 hours of HD programming now airs each week on WNBC, including 28 hours worth of local news and programming.

"Our move to HD is part of the evolution of DTV. We've been upgrading our infrastructure for several years in anticipation of our move to HDTV," Comerford said. "We picked Sept. 13, 2006 for our launch because we were looking to be the first in our market to broadcast local programming in hi-def. And that was also the date that 'The Today Show' on NBC picked to launch the broadcast of their show in HD."

Even when the station's HDTV transmitter went off the air on Sept. 11, 2001, when World Trade Center Tower One fell, Comerford said they continued to provide the WNBC signal in HDTV via local cable systems. Then, in 2003, the new HDTV transmitter went online from the Empire State Building in midtown Manhattan, where many stations affected by 9/11 also moved their transmitters.


The WNBC-DT ATSC transport stream includes the 1080i HDTV signal, plus two DTV subchannels devoted to local programming and weather, respectively. On its main HDTV channel, WNBC's 28 hours of HD broadcasts include regularly scheduled weekday, weekend morning, and evening newscasts, as well as locally produced studio programs.

These include "Reel Talk," movie reviews by Jeffrey Lyons and Alison Bailes, on Saturday mornings at 10; "NewsForum," Sundays from 6:30 to 7 a.m.; and "Mike'd Up," news, opinions, and views by radio talkshow host Mike Francesa, on Sunday mornings at 11:35.

In addition, breaking news, studio-based specials and seasonal programming, such as "Gameday New York" are also broadcast in HDTV. "Gameday New York" is a weekly half-hour pregame football show hosted by WNBC's Bruce Beck and New York Giants' head coach Tom Coughlin, on Sunday mornings at 8:30 throughout the NFL season.

WNBC's HD programming emanates from historic Studio 6B, on the sixth floor of 30 Rock at 30 Rockefeller Center, home to many famous shows during the Golden Age of television including "The Ted Mack Original Amateur Hour," "Texaco Star Theater with Milton Berle," and "The Tonight Show."

According to Matthew Braatz, regional vice president of technology for WNBC and the division overseeing NBC-owned television stations, "In the last three years, all of our station upgrades have been done with HD broadcasting in mind... and we're prepared for whatever happens in the future."

WNBC's chopper was upgraded with a Flir custom HD system (housing a Sony HD camera) and new microwave transmission system that allows crews to shoot and transmit HD pictures. The HD helo is used daily during many of Channel 4's live local shows, including "Today in New York" and the evening newscasts.

"One of the trucks in our ENG truck fleet was also upgraded to a microwave/satellite truck that's fully HD," Braatz said. "And next year, we anticipate starting the conversion to upgrade the rest of the fleet of ENG trucks."

In preparation for the move to HD, WNBC built a completely new HD studio control room in an area that was previously used for storage, and the old control room was "decommissioned."

Studio 6B's entire lighting grid system was replaced; the set was redesigned for HD production; and five robotically controlled Sony HD studio cameras were added. A Sony MVS multiformat production switcher was installed in the new studio control room; and an older SD Avid Deko FX-II was replaced with an Avid Deko 3000 live HD graphics system.


The upgrade of WNBC's state-of-the-art HD facility was overseen by Comerford and Braatz, as well as Dan Forman, senior vice president of news and WNBC station manager; Ken Wilkey, senior vice president of technology; and Kathy Mosolino, director of operations for WNBC.

However, not all of the HD equipment the station needs has been selected. "We're continuing our evaluation of some of the HD systems on the market," Braatz said.

For example, while WNBC currently uses a 16:9 SD weather presentation system by WSI, Braatz said WSI has not released its full HD package yet. And no conclusive decision has been made about which HD weather graphics system they will ultimately adopt.

In the next few months, WNBC will be transitioning all of its field cameras to the 16:9 widescreen SD format so that HD viewers will at least get a full picture until digital HD field cameras are chosen. Also, while WNBC is built out to handle 5.1 sound, they have no immediate plans to broadcast in surround sound.

"When we feel the moment is right, we'll be ready to do it," Comerford said.

"Since its first broadcast more than 65 years ago, WNBC has consistently led the way in delivering the most comprehensive news coverage and informative local programming from a dedicated team of on-air and behind-the-scenes professionals." Comerford said. "Being the first in New York to broadcast in HD marks a new era for the station; providing our team with the capabilities to best serve the needs of our viewers who will experience television that is richer than ever before."

Claudia Kienzle