Focusing operations

The 18-station Ackerley Media Group is following its previous digital multicasting success at WIXT Syracuse, N.Y., by operating five West Coast stations out of the 30,000-square-foot Salinas, Calif., facility from which it broadcasts KCBA Salinas and KION Monterey. Calif. The strategy, which Ackerley calls "digital centralcasting," will also control KFTY Santa Rosa, Calif., KVIQ Eureka, Calif., and KMTR Eugene, Ore.

The Salinas facility was completed a year ago, and Ackerley has been transferring stations ever since, replacing old Betacam equipment with digital equipment, including a large SeaChange server, a Philips Digital router, Sundance Digital automation and Tiltrac Robotic tape storage. "Rather than replacing each station's technical infrastructure to accommodate digital, we are able to realize significant economies by putting that technical infrastructure in one location and feeding multiple stations from it," says Kelly Alford, Ackerley Media Group's engineering vice president. "We're able to combine master-control operations, traffic departments (billing centrally for all stations in the group), accounting, programming, and, to a certain extent, marketing and promotions all in the one facility. This allows us to optimize staffing efficiencies, which at our optimum level of staffing next year should be 40% to 50% less than our combined staff prior to the endeavor."

The SeaChange server holds more than 300 hours of short-form programming, including commercials, promos and some syndicated programming. Long-form programming, (movies and bulk syndication feeds) is saved on DVCPRO tape in the Tiltrac robotic tape storage system.

"Because we have centralized master control, we have focused on our news departments at the stations, converting them over the past five years to digital Panasonic DVCPRO format," Alford says. "We are acquiring, editing and now playing back completely in digital for the majority of our news operations, and the others will convert."

The Tiltrac system has 12 tape machines and a robotic arm that feeds the tape into the machines. "The cool thing about this system is that the bins where the tapes are stored are tilted, with more than one tape in each storage bin," says system integrator DST Vice President, Engineering, Dwight Crumb. "This facility is doing the centralcasting for all five stations in only 18 racks, which is incredibly efficient use of space." Out of the 18 racks there are five seats for operations to control the on-air feed, and the system is designed to be controlled by one to five operators.

"The external signals come into the room via DPS-470 frame synchronizers, which embed the audio with the video; the whole system then works with embedded audio, and, just before transmission, it is de-embedded," Crumb explains. "This ensures the audio stays in sync with the video."

There are four load stations where commercials are inserted into the server for storage and logging into the automation system. "If the Tiltrac system fails, two on-air tape-machine playback stations will take over as a type of manual override," notes Bill Mouzakis, DST's director of engineering.