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Fishbowl in the Big Easy

One can't help but wonder what it's like to work in a fishbowl.

"Several staff members expressed the same concern when they saw the designs," says Gary Furlow, wnol-tv's director of production and operations. "I assured them that you get used to it, and they have. In other facilities, most people working in operations and production go into a dark, windowless room in the morning, then come out for lunch and to go home. Otherwise, they never see the sun, unless it happens to be on the monitor in front of them." But that's not the case at this Tribune-owned New Orleans station.

Building a new $5.7 million digital facility for WB affiliate WNOL-TV on the third floor of the upscale New Orleans Centre shopping mall took some creativity and careful planning.

The entire 23,000-square-foot facility is an exercise in adaptive reuse. The tech areas are turned toward the mall, so passersby can check out the broadcast as it's being created. The setup is also nice for tour groups, since there's not that much extra space within the facility proper.

Space is certainly at a premium in wnol-tv's central equipment room, which includes two rows of 10 racks, placed back-to-back. The racks were custom made by Beck Associates to fit the 1,000-square-foot space. Instead of full-size racks with 2-inch spaces between them, the racks were built "as if they were going into a remote truck," Furlow notes. The racks contain the main frames for most of the facility's equipment.

Among the pieces of equipment on the racks are two HP (now Pinnacle) media stream servers operating under Odetics automation control. The media streams are mirrored-in case one fails-with 25 hours of storage on each. The racks also contain satellite downlinks, a Sony BVE-9100 editor, Sony DVS-7250 production switcher, RTS digital intercom, the master-control switcher, digital microwave system, Philips digital router and NVISION AES audio router, a variety of VTRs, and a 1-inch tape machine for dubbing programs and commercials.

Laying cable beneath the racks was one of the biggest challenges for the system integrator-at most, there was about 5 inches of clearance under the floor tiles. All told, the job required 10 miles of cable, most of which is tucked under two rows of tiles, according to Beck's director of engineering, Bill McKenna.

Adjacent to the central equipment room is the production-control area containing the Sony DVS-7250 production switcher, a Chyron MAX! character generator, and a Wheatstone SP-8 analog audio console. "We call this our million-dollar room, because that's about what you're sitting in the middle of," says Furlow.

This "million-dollar room" not only serves as production control for telethons, cooking shows, public affairs and other TV shows but also pulls double duty as a linear editing room. When in editing mode, Furlow uses a Graham-Patten 400 D/ESAM digital audio editing board tied into the Sony editor. The DVS-7250 is integrated with the Sony 9100 production editor, so the board can be controlled completely in edit mode.

The 48-channel Wheatstone audio board is the only analog device in the building, purchased because the digital boards available now "are way too expensive," Furlow explains. "The digital board is a quarter of a million bucks, while an analog board is about $80,000."

The production control room also has a Videotek VTM-190 multiformat on-screen monitor displaying on a Philips 17-inch LCD screen to measure 601 and AES digital. It is set up with long cables so it can be moved around, depending on how the room is being used.

Wnol-tv's new digital facility has been operational since Aug. 13, although production work began a month prior to that. Most of the equipment at WNOL-TV is new, with the exception of such items as the Chyron MAX! in the production control room, which was reworked and upgraded to serial digital 601 by the manufacturer. The Sony editor was also upgraded from a 9000.