WABC recently unveiled its new state-of-the-art flagship studio on the corner of 66th and Columbus streets in the heart of Manhattan. WABC required a highly efficient, remotely controlled studio to support daily news and public affairs programming, as well as any special events that may arise. To accomplish this, Studio 77 is remotely connected to existing control room facilities located at 7 Lincoln Square, making it accessible to all of WABC's productions. WABC engaged The Systems Group of Hoboken, NJ, to develop the conceptual design and launch the new operation under an aggressive project timeline.
To extend the capabilities of Studio 77 to each of three existing production control rooms, a considerable fiber-optic infrastructure was installed for most signal types. Rather than use more traditional transmission hardware for audio, WABC/TSG deployed the BSS Soundweb London platform to handle all audio processing and transmission using a dedicated CobraNet audio network. The ability of the system to be reconfigured from a simple GUI interface has proven to be remarkably useful, allowing operational changes to be made in the virtual realm without requiring any new hardware or rewiring.
To achieve a distinct on-air look, extensive use of LCD monitors was made throughout the set. The main set elements are video walls comprised of 36 LCDs driven by a high-resolution display processor. Forty-five other monitors throughout the rest of the set support on-camera and talent monitoring. To facilitate monitor control, WABC/TSG deployed a custom Crestron-based control system that is accessible locally and from each of the three remote production control rooms. The system allows individual control over each of the monitors, as well as the lighting, shades and exterior audio feeds. The system is further linked to the news automation system, allowing rundown-based recall of many on-air looks. An extensive KVM infrastructure was deployed over WABC's converged 10GigE network, including cloning all weather systems from the existing newsroom to a new weather center built into Studio 77.
The addition of eight new robotic cameras necessitated that the existing control system be replaced in a seamless, overnight cutover. Studio 77 also features an overhead "track cam," delivering compelling shots of the entire studio floor. Three cameras were added outside of the building to provide live video of the neighborhood, including one placed in the park across the street, fed back over an IP microwave link. To optimize the street-side experience for visitors, 14 outside-facing LCDs display a mix of the station's air signal and real-time weather radar. In addition, a full-color, high-resolution video ticker displays up-to-the-minute headlines, weather and programming information. A speaker system built into the ticker's housing allows crowds to hear the production unfolding through the windows.
TSG also worked with WABC engineering and operations personnel to develop a fully integrated, remotely controlled studio. The new studio was built as a flexible platform, allowing the station to produce news and public affairs shows now, and also to be ready for whatever the future may bring.