KCNC To Launch HD Newscasts On April 21

After four years of preparation, KCNC-TV in Denver will launch a high-definition local newscast on April 21. Around the same time, the CBS owned-and-operated affiliate, CBS4, will also begin high-power digital transmissions, using Denver’s recently completed new DTV tower and facilities.

David Layne, director of broadcast, operations and engineering at CBS4/KCNC-TV noted they began the transition to a HD newscast about four years ago so they could split the total cost of the conversation over several years. Total costs for the HD upgrade will be in the $10 to $12 million range.

“We knew HD was coming and we began preparing quite a while in advance because not many stations are going to get the money in one year these days,” he said.

The launch of the HD newscast makes KCNC the third station in the Denver market to launch an HD newscast, after Gannet’s KUSA and KTVD. KUSA is currently the top-rated newscast in the market.

But KCNC is a solid No. 2 and Layne believes the new HD newscast will give them a competitive edge going into the May ratings period.

“When KUSA went HD about two-and-a-half years ago, they got a bump from that,” Layne said. “They’ve done a very nice job with HD but they haven’t changed much [since they launched HD.] We believe we’ve found more compelling ways to use HD as part of the newscast to attract viewers.”

One example is a large 12-foot wide and seven foot high rear projection screen that will sit at the center of the new set. “There are a lot of things you can do with a 12 foot screen behind your talent and we think that graphically it will be a significant leap on how HD new is produced,” Layne said.

In addition, KCNC has one HD-capable truck and will able to use live HD feeds in its newscast. “For the moment at least, that will allow us to leapfrog our competition,” he said.

Each week, the station will be producing about 30 hours of news and one weekly show, Colorado Getaway, in HD.

KCNC began the process of moving to HD by rebuilding its old analog microwave system. Then, as part of a rebuilt control room, they added a Sony MVS-8000 switcher. They’ve also purchased added new Sony XDCAM HD field cameras and Sony HDC-1400 studio cameras.

Other major vendors include Utah Scientific, which supplied a HD router and a WSI hi-def weather graphics system. 

Next up, will be an upgrade of their playback systems so they can incorporate HD edited stories into the newscast, said Eric Buckland, the station’s chief engineer. “The playback of HD edited packages will take place next year,” he said.

Buckland adds that they’ve also expanded the lighting grid by about 25% to handle HD and that they will be bringing in makeup, lighting and audio experts to make sure the studio and talent are ready for the HD transition.

The key to the entire process, Layne adds, has been their long range planning, not only on the technical but also on the financial side.

“With the digital conversation date coming up there is an expectation among viewers that stations can do HD,” Layne notes. “But very few stations can get funded to do the entire HD conversation in one year. You really have to plan over a two or three year period.”