A few weeks ago, Keith Stuhlmann, director of engineering for WINK-TV in Fort Myers, FL, laid out the technical upgrade of the station’s local news operation to HD.
While he provided valuable technical insight, there’s another important dimension to the station’s HD upgrade that should not go unmentioned. Like many other stations considering the launch of local HD news, WINK-TV faced the challenge of layering HD operations onto a working SD control room.
This week, HD Technology Update speaks with Stuhlmann about that process, the pain involved and pulling off the transition without interrupting the ongoing demands of airing a newscast.
HD Technology Update: The last time we talked, you mentioned that WINK-TV’s HD news upgrade was layered onto the station’s existing SD control room. Aside from the technology, the actual upgrade while maintaining SD operations had to be difficult. Could you elaborate?
Keith Stuhlmann: We had to map out what we really needed to do to the control room to get it into the modern age and ready for HD. One of the things we had to do was replace the ceiling.
That particular room had a hard ceiling as opposed to a suspended ceiling, so that was a lot fun, having that ceiling sawed down by the contractor.
Getting the ceiling down and the new suspended ceiling up was going to make it a whole lot easier for wiring. Our whole operations center is on computer floor, but there are also many advantages of being able to fly wires overhead — to be able to get from point A to point B. Hanging the suspended ceiling made that that much easier.
HD Technology Update: You also have mentioned replacing cabinetry in your control room while doing the HD upgrade. How did you do that sort of tear out while keeping your existing newscasts on the air?
Keith Stuhlmann: Basically, we had two rows of cabinetry that a local cabinet maker had to put in, but that also meant we had two rows of cabinetry that we had to saw out. This was cabinetry that was brought in and was assembled in the room as they were going. It didn’t lend itself to being disassembled when originally put in 15 years ago.
There was a lot of work put in to relocating wires in and out of the cabinetry as well as power — being able to bring in power from other parts of the tech center to handle loads as we were shifting them back and forth.
Then came the fun task of actually sawing the cabinetry out and staying on the air. We may have had enough time to remove a third of the producer’s station. Then we had to stop and put up some monitors to be able to do the newscast.
When the newscast was done, we had to saw another third out and repeat. It all had to be done in steps until we got to the point that we had the producer’s station on four folding tables with equipment and monitors stacked up.
HD Technology Update: So, you had to do all this work during windows between your newscasts.
Keith Stuhlmann: We were jockeying between news starting at 5 a.m. and going up to 8 a.m., and then starting at noon until 1 p.m. Then starting news again at 5 p.m. and going all the way up until 6:30 p.m. Then we have the 10 p.m. for our CW station followed by our 11 p.m. news. So, with all of that news, there wasn’t a lot of time to be doing all that control room work. Fortunately, doing the newscast didn’t stop us from wiring up all of the new equipment.
HD Technology Update: But replacing all these cabinets had to fit in these time windows, right?
Keith Stuhlmann: Right. Our cabinet company came in and assembled about two-thirds of the producer’s station between our noon news and our 5 p.m. news. It was a little tight there. We did get on the air, but had to do some last minute scrambling to get monitors.
Then, the next day they finished the producer station. Once that was up, we were able to put the equipment in the proper spots for the producer’s station, getting the power run and it wired up.
Then, we began sawing up a much longer cabinet where the production switcher and all the graphics systems were and where the director, the TD and all of the graphics people sit. That took probably about four days, except for the cabinet that was holding the old switcher. Once we got that switcher sawed away from the cabinetry, we had to slide it down to the far end of the room.
While we were sawing, we were also hanging the plasma screens that would be the new monitor wall behind the racks that held the old monitors. We had pulled those old racks forward. We had six racks with monitors in them. We’re talking about the old black and white small monitor and then some bigger monitors and two big color monitors for program and preview. The racks were pulled up to the cabinet where the switcher was.
HD Technology Update: That sounds like a big job, given how important the monitors were to keeping your SD newscast on the air.
Keith Stuhlmann: The first step was asking the directors to identify the monitors they absolutely needed. They whittled the list down, and we removed three racks of monitors. Then, we consolidated the remaining monitors into three racks and pulled those racks forward against the production switcher. That gave us 3ft to hang the plasmas. This was after the contractor had patched and painted the wall.
We already had the Kaleido in house, so once we had the plasmas up, we fired up the Kaeildo, got that set up with the sources needed and pulled the remaining racks out. That let us operate with the old analog switcher on the brand new monitor wall with a lot of folding tables on the side.
The cabinet company installed all of the other cabinets. At that point, we had two switchers side by side, our graphics back in and after our big HD premiere on Oct. 20, we powered the old switcher off and removed the cabinet it was on. The cabinet company put in the final cabinets so we could layout all of the equipment.
HD Technology Update: This process had to take what seemed like forever.
Keith Stuhlmann: We are talking about several weeks for all of this to play out. Actually sawing the cabinetry out and getting things installed was a six-week project. The ceiling project was done beforehand.
HD Technology Update: How did you maintain your sensitive, existing SD equipment in such a dust-filled environment?
Keith Stuhlmann: You get a lot of drop cloths and vacuums — maybe even three vacuums.
While one guy is doing the sawing, you may have two guys with vacuum cleaner hoses right there to suck it into the vacuum as they are cutting. Vacuum cleaners are your best friend.
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