Facility Helps Duop TVs Keep Own Identities
In October 2009, Media General and family-owned Schurz Communications reached an agreement under which Media General would operate their stations in Augusta, Ga. (DMA 111) — Media General's ABC affiliate WJBF and Schurz's NBC affiliate WAGT.
Like other broadcasters involved in such arrangements, the two station groups wanted to streamline costs and maximize profits. “Both stations gain economic benefits on the personnel and operations sides,” says Bill Stewart, general manager of the combined operation.
But at the same time, they wanted to preserve each stations' distinctive programming and personality, figuring "a healthy amount of competition" would spur ratings and revenue growth, Stewart adds.
Today, the commitment to differentiating the stations is reflected not only in the management — there are separate news directors, news operations managers and local sales managers — but also into Television Park, the state-of-the-art facility Media General built and brought on-air last fall to house the stations and their secondary channels — Schurz’s The CW Augusta and Media General’s Me-TV digital channel.
“We’ve got two local sales departments on opposite sides of the building,” says Bill Stewart, who runs the combined operation. Likewise, he says, the facility features separate newsrooms with dedicated studios and control rooms. The stations share a third studio for local programs and commercial production.
But despite its 28,000 square feet, the building was not without limitations, says Media General VP of Operations Mark Turner. “Exterior walls constrain you, so you know your outer limits. They also guide your space allocation choices as you begin to imagine the workflows.”
The broadcasters saw the building as an opportunity to upgrade their former hybrid analog/digital facilities to a fully digital 1080i operation. For WJBF, that required down-converting network programs, because ABC transmits a 720p signal. “The secondary stations are also run in 1080i, but are down-converted to 480 for secondary transmission,” says Turner.
The new construction was also a logical time to upgrade major systems and to settle on common suppliers and formats, although an effort was made to use old equipment wherever possible. “Both stations are identically equipped in terms of production facilities,” says Turner. “The only time call letters come up is about where the equipment goes.”
To power both news operations, Media General turned to Grass Valley for its Ignite news production automation, Kayak studio switchers and Stratus Media Workflow system. Both news studios employ Panasonic AG-HPX370 cameras controlled by robotics from Telemetrics. Master Control uses Utah Scientific routing systems and automation from Florical.
Miranda’s XG Vertigo graphics system was chosen to maintain compatibility with Media General’s Richmond, Va.-based central graphics hub, which now supplies the Augusta stations with graphics that reinforce their branding.
“We wanted the stations to keep their respective brands and community image,” says Stewart, who describes WJBF’s target audience as “a little older, upper income,” which the station pursues with the brand name NewsCenter6, and the slogan "Coverage You Can Count On."
WAGT promotes itself as NBC26, with the slogan "Here For You." “We certainly did not want a vanilla operation,” says Stewart. “Both newscasts are challenged to make sure stories are done with a different flair.”
Although the respective news sets have a distinctive look and feel, they are similarly equipped. “Both studios have an anchor desk, a weather center and comparable sized monitors," says Turner. The chief difference is that “the WJBF news set has a separate interview area with additional lighting fixtures.”
While creating a facility to house competing stations is inherently more challenging than building for one, the ramp-up to switching over was surprisingly smooth. “I was impressed by how well everyone worked together to find creative ways to combine our various media and equipment,” says Turner.
Still, the stations deliberately scheduled their switch-overs two weeks apart, to allow extra time to spot and correct latent problems. Sure enough, a few occurred. “One of our goals was to eliminate tape and we succeeded with our mainstream content like news, programming and commercials,” says Turner. “But we didn’t fully think through all the other ways content comes into the plant.”
The chief offenders were episodic and image promos for network and syndicated shows, which are delivered and stored on various tape formats. “We had to find some quick methods to transfer those to file-based HD storage,” says Turner. The techs soon settled on an off-the-shelf solution: a Black Magic capture card in an ordinary PC. “Whenever we can, we use inexpensive tools to solve problems,” says Turner.
It also became apparent that the Yamaha LS-916 audio boards in each control room didn’t contain enough inputs and outputs. The obvious solution? Upgrade to Yamaha’s larger LS9-32.