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Live from Atlanta: HD News

Robert Walker

President, GM



Gannett’s WXIA-TV Atlanta went live with its first HD newscast on Feb. 2. Three weeks into the transition Robert Walker, president and general manager, discussed the move with HD Update

Q. Making the move from SD to HD always involves challenges. Can you tell us a little more about how your station’s transition went?

A. We’re extremely pleased and very proud that we were able to pull it off. From the time we got the full go ahead we had about 90 days to get everything done. And the impressive thing is that our guys were able to put in more than 100,000 feet of cable, build a new set, move the old set to a temporary location so the new one could be built, and put in new cameras, a new master control switcher and all sorts of HD converters in that time frame.

We’ve also had surprisingly few glitches. We do learn something every day but we came out of the gate with plans to deal with all sorts of issues but very few have actually surfaced.

Q. What was the hardest part?

A. The complexity! But our parent company is very committed to being a leader. So we had some sister stations that could give us first-hand knowledge of what went well and what didn’t go well in their moves to HD and then the enthusiasm of our people to become the first and only HD newscast in Atlanta helped tremendously.

Q. One of the issues that seems to get a lot of press is how the anchors will hate HD because it will show every wrinkle and blemish. What’s been your experience?

A I think that issue is probably overblown. In our case we educated the anchors on what this really meant and armed them and the makeup talent with knowledge. At the end of the day they saw the results and like what they saw.

Q. So why go HD for local newscast?

A. We like to be leader in the marketplace and not only are we the first and only in HD in Atlanta but also one of a handful in the whole country. It dramatically enhances the viewing experience and it makes it the best viewing experience possible for all our viewers.

Q. What’s your advice to other GMs who might be looking to go HD for local news?

A. You need to anticipate what value it brings to your organization.The opportunity for a technology advantage is obvious here in Atlanta so it made sense for us. But each GM needs to make his or her own evaluation of the market opportunities. As for cost, it depends on what point you are in the digital transition. For example, we had to put in a new router and cable in addition to the cameras and the switcher.