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DTV/radio/Internet union

Whyy's Bill Weber has a new title that barely fits on his business cards: vice president for content distribution and corporate technology development.

The new title reflects a reorganization that is blurring the lines between traditional IT and broadcast engineering. The impetus is the completion of whyy's $25.4 million, 60,000-square-foot "Technology Center," part of Philadelphia's Independence Mall and built to accommodate DTV and other digital services.

"The main theme is the convergence of the technologies," says Weber. "We overlaid the construction of the digital infrastructure for television and radio broadcast with the emergence of the Internet and the arrival of DTV. We built a common core of technology within this new building that supports all the services in a merged concept."

Nobody at whyy "works in TV" or "works in radio" anymore. Instead, says Weber, the focus is on organizing content from any source and around "service strands" for the community. That includes regional news and public affairs, arts and culture, early childhood education, distance learning, entertainment and information for seniors, and work-force training.

"We are attempting to use the digital distribution platform as a way to accelerate the delivery of new products and services to strengthen the delivery of our educational mission," says CEO William J. Marrazzo.

The technology focus is evident in the transparent glass façade of the new building, which architects saw as a giant open notebook computer with an 80-foot-long ticker that broadcasts a continuous stream of news.

The high-tech theme continues inside with exposed cables in a suspended encasement that runs throughout the building. Besides looking "techie," the cable serves to insure "future-proofing." When the facility needs a major infrastructure upgrade, it can be done without having to tear apart the walls and rebuild the shell.

The plant has been fully operational since November. One of the biggest challenges in erecting the new facility was the juggling act required to keep whyy on the air. "We purchased the land our old facility was on," Marrazzo explains, "and we have been razing and rebuilding it in stages to keep our video and radio services operational."

Systems integrator Communications Engineering Inc. worked with whyy's technology team to come up with solutions, all the way through implementation and testing. The infrastructure of the Technology Center is serial digital at 270 Mb/s with AES digital audio networking.

The Technology Center houses five multimedia studios and control rooms designed to accommodate production for TV, radio or the Internet. A substantial chunk of the Technology Center is broadcast-ready civic space for theater, music, lectures or special events.

Whyy has purchased an Odetics Roswell database-management system to keep track of the reams of content the new facility is expected to generate. AudioVault will be used to provide the same functionality for audio services and content.

Weber is also investigating very low-cost techniques for capturing and producing content to fill the four digital channels the station expects to operate. One potential solution is Play's Trinity "control-room-in-a-box" coupled with standard or low-cost robotic cameras. Whyy recently purchased two ParkerVision camera control systems. "The cost of video production is astronomical," notes Weber. "If we want to create a lot of content, we need [to lower the cost]."

Whyy ch. 55 will initially broadcast at 40 kW ERP [effective radiated power] and will reach 80% of the station's NTSC analog transmitter coverage.

Ch. 55 will originate satellite-delivered DTV from PBS, augmented by a local Sencore HDTV/SDTV video server, directly from the transmitter site. By Jan. 1, Weber expects to install a multiplexer/encoder and link fiber and microwave from studio to transmitter.

At that time, whyy plans to launch two channels of SDTV from the new Technology Center.