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Friday, Jun 2, 2023

Local CBS Stations Now Send Out Sports, News in Digital

The two CBS-owned news stations located in Studio City are using the most advanced technology to broadcast its 11 hours of daily programming in digital. For the audience that means a sharper, more detailed picture when viewed on a high definition set. For the station employees it meant intense training in the weeks before the studios went on the air last month. And for executives it meant getting the Studio City facilities up and running while still operating the old newsrooms at Columbia Square in Hollywood. “Everyone has made that transition very well,” said Don Corsini, president and general manager of KCBS-TV and KCAL-TV. When the two stations began airing news and sports programming from the new CBS Broadcast Center on the CBS lot in Studio City, they joined KTLA and KABC as the only other local Los Angeles stations broadcasting in digital. The move to digital was done primarily to meet a federal rule requiring all television stations to broadcast with digital equipment by February 2009. It made sense for the two stations to make the conversion early since network and local sports programming comes to viewers in high definition. So those ads and billboards hyping programming in high definition are not just a marketing ploy to draw eyes away from competing stations. In making the switch from analog equipment to digital, the difference is the loss of videotape of on-location shoots. Live feeds stored on servers in the basement allow multiple producers to access the same material at the same time. Those feeds can be viewed on workstations where video editing takes place to match the images with the written story appearing on the teleprompter in the studio. In short, the days of running through a newsroom with a hot piece of videotape of a plane crash, flood or fire are over. “I am sure that it is marvelous for the flow of information and the flow of work,” said Jim Hill, a 25-year veteran of the television news business who is now a journalism instructor at California State University, Northridge. “It would have to be highly efficient, I imagine,” The move from the Columbia Square to Studio City is measured in decades as well as in miles. Built in the 1930s, the Hollywood facility dates from a time before regular commercial television broadcasts and was not designed for that purpose. The CBS 2 studio, for instance, was described by Corsini as flat, with no depth of field. After CBS Corp. acquired KCAL in 2002 and brought the news operation to Columbia Square, there was the realization that for both stations to move forward technologically they needed to move from the cramped spaces in Hollywood. With corporate approval for a new facility, ground was broken at the CBS Studio Center. Several bungalows and the house used in reality show “Big Brother” were demolished and in their place rose a three-story brick structure with its accompanying 16 satellite dishes and news trucks. The third floor will be occupied later this year when employees from the West Coast office of the television network move from the Television City facility in Hollywood. In constructing the broadcast center from scratch, the stations were designed as functioning studios. Unlike the old facility, building size didn’t dictate how business would be conducted. The new facility also brings the news staffs into a single area unlike at Columbia Square where they had been spread out among three offices. “The layout is far more productive for the day-to-day operation,” Corsini said. Both television studios measure 5,000 square feet, although the KCAL studio has an extra set used for its sport center broadcasts. They include multiple monitors to allow an on-air reporter to be free of a desk and instead walk and talk with images beside or behind them. “It’s a more fluid set,” Corsini said. White or black pieces of tape are stuck on the monitors used by the crew member composing a shot to take into account the different television sets a viewer watches the narrower picture between the pieces of tape for the conventional definition set; the full monitor screen for those watching a high definition set. When older model cameras are used for on-the-scene reporting, the picture must be “squeezed” when transmitted and widened out at the studio so that it will fit for wider HD screens, said Craig Harrison, director of operations and engineering. While technology allows for providing more information at a quicker pace, it also has the potential to eliminate positions. A single operator, for instance, operates the four automated cameras used in the KCBS studio, eliminating the need to have one cameraman on each camera. For competitive reasons, station spokesman Mike Nelson declined to give the number of employees at KCAL and KCBS but said the number has not been reduced due to technological changes as workers were re-assigned to new roles. Technology that brings more information to the public at a quicker pace does have the potential to enhance local news coverage, said CSUN instructor Hill. “But I would hope that it does not allow for the loss of jobs or the replacement of traditional editorial judgment,” Hill said.

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