An entry in the 2013 Excellence Awards explores the rennovation of WRAL-TV. In 2007, WRAL-TV, the first commercially licensed HDTV station (1996) based out of Raleigh NC, began a large-scale renovation of its entire technical facility. The goal was to simplify workflow and day-to-day operations while developing a production hub for all of its local outlets.
When the HD plant launched in 1996, it was as an experimental station. During the next 15 years, equipment was incrementally added to suit the needs of the station as it grew. The facility became a conglomeration of products of various vintages from multiple vendors, which led to an inefficient and somewhat awkward operation, and made for complex growth as new projects were launched.
The renovation of the WRAL facility included an all new master control capable of switching up to 16 program streams, three additional production control rooms, the renovation of one older control room, three additional studios, 14 new “craft-style” edit suites and a whole new tech core to support it all. From day one, it was decided to completely eliminate all analog and SD sources. Internally, the plant is completely HD with embedded audio. All non-HD programming is converted to HD as it enters the facility, and any SD subchannels are switched at HD and downconverted just before transmission.
The project began with a yearlong “architectural and core building” rebuild. While staying on the air, 25000sq ft were demolished and rebuilt from roof to basement. The equipment and power upgrades included all new HVAC, power distribution, UPS and generator.
The schedule then took a two-year break. In 2011, the project was restarted in earnest. By Christmas of that year, a new technical core, master control, QC/ receive control, a full-sized production control room and two mini control rooms/studios were launched and on the air. In 2012, yet another full production control room and two more stations were added to the new master control. Currently, there are seven programs streams being generated in MCO with another 12 possible streams being delivered to the Web and mobile viewers.
The design criteria bridged many gaps. Traditional linear production had to be at the basic core, but in no small way is it wrapped tightly by file-based work-flows. On top of the 8.5 hours of news per day (delivered to WRAL, WRAZ and WILM), there is need for local production of commercials, PSAs, promos and documentaries. The tech rebuild included tying in a fat networking capability of file transfer and transcoding between the many server systems (Omneon, Bitcentral, K2 , Telestream, Rhozet) and editor systems (EDIUS, FCP and Avid). Additionally, six new 4.5m sat dishes were added. A 64 x 64 RF router was added to allow for flexibility in the QC/receive operations room.
Many separate silos were combined to make the user experience easy. From day one, the intention was for everything to be as simple as a press of a button or the click of a mouse. WRAL can now easily use any of the four control rooms to switch a show in any of the six studios, using any of the 15 HD cameras or five HD microwave receive sites, four Internet/cell-based receive system or 20 satellite IRDs to supply programming to any of the six stations, 12 Web streams or 25 edit suites — all in HD, and all at the same time.