KMBC's Big-Picture Makeover

Hearst-Argyle station KMBC last month became the first Kansas City station to provide high-definition news, on the same day it took the wraps off a new, 53,000-square-foot facility it has built on the east side of the city.

The 5 p.m. newscast on Aug. 23 represented the culmination of a 5.5-year, $6 million project for the ABC affiliate, which had been operating out of leased downtown space within the Lyric Opera Building for some 54 years. As it was outgrowing that facility, KMBC decided to build a new all-digital plant, and along the way, invest in the necessary equipment to produce HD news.

“The timing was just opportune in terms of HD,” says KMBC president and general manager Wayne Godsey. “We were going to have to buy new cameras and switchers anyway, and we decided to take a big bite out of the apple and make the move into HD. It was a lot of work, but I'm awful glad we did it.”

Some 53 local stations are currently offering high-definition newscasts, out of the roughly 770 stations that produce local news. Like KMBC, many are taking advantage of their normal equipment replacement cycle to purchase new HD production gear. For these stations, the move to HD news is happily coinciding with steadily increasing sales of HDTV sets to consumers and a ramp-up of HD programming from national broadcast and cable networks.

Godsey credits the hard work of the KMBC technical staff for making a smooth transition into the new facility, which was designed by architects Rees & Associates of Oklahoma City. KMBC staffers began integration work in April. Executive offices and sales staff moved to the new building by early August, with master control moving some two weeks later. News staffers didn't begin shifting their base of operations until the week of Aug. 20, and the morning news program on Aug. 23 was still produced from the old site.

While the new facility had a few bugs, it has mostly been smooth sailing, says KMBC director of engineering Jerry Agresti. “It's just a process of working things out and learning new things,” he says. “When you pick 150 people out of an old facility and plop them into a new one, the learning curve is almost vertical. But the engineering staff has done a great job.”

KMBC, which is the third Hearst-Argyle station to launch HD news, after KCRA Sacramento and WCVB Boston, is now producing 3.5 hours of news a day in the 1080-line-interlace HD format (the ABC affiliate also transcodes the network's 720p programming to 1080i). Key equipment includes Sony HDC-1400 studio cameras (which can also be used as handheld units) equipped with Canon HD lenses; Vinten robotic camera systems; a Sony MVS-8000G production switcher; a Wheatstone audio console; a Utah Scientific 3-gigabit-per-second routing switcher; Evertz and Harris Leitch infrastructure gear, such as digital-to-analog converters; and a mix of Pinnacle standard-definition (repurposed from the old facility) and high-definition (newly purchased) graphics systems.

In what Agresti describes as a “pretty conservative approach,” KMBC is using Sony XDCAM optical-disc camcorders to shoot widescreen, standard-definition pictures in the field that are then upconverted with Evertz video processing systems. KMBC had been using the Sony cameras since March to shoot 4:3 pictures but flipped the switch to 16:9 with the first HD newscast.

KMBC's biggest challenge in moving to HD production is dealing with the 16:9 aspect ratio, says Agresti. The station has converted its graphics to widescreen, but like other stations, still has to regularly incorporate 4:3 footage, which it handles by adding subtle graphic “wings” to fill the side panels of the picture. And of course, it still needs to “safe-protect” a 4:3 picture for standard-definition viewers, which it does by shading camera viewfinders and monitors and by placing tape on the widescreen monitor used by the weather team.

“Aspect ratio is the hardest thing to understand and the hardest thing to deal with,” he says. “High-definition [video] itself is easy.”

E-mail your comments to