The digital revolution has transformed the broadcast industry and also the career of Gordon Castle, senior vice president, CNN Technology. He has helped CNN make the move from analog to digital and is now readying the news network for the next digital step: disc-based acquisition with the use of Sony's new optical-disc system.
Castle's first digital endeavors took place in the late '80s when he helped install the country's first CCIR-601 uncompressed graphics-production control room to handle graphics compositing between New York and Los Angeles. His latest move, to optical disc, won't happen until the fall, but Castle already views it as a huge step in electronic newsgathering.
Managing a transition to digital can be a complex feat. To accomplish it, Castle has an easy-to-remember mantra: Keep things simple.
"It's amazing how complex things turn out," he says. "I like things to have a straightforward design, satisfy the user requirement and be easy to deploy. And because I don't have such a deep engineering background, I can think about things from the user perspective."
That perspective has served him well—and not only recently. In junior high school, Castle became involved with the school's A/V department. He won a national award for a video he had made using slides he shot in Montana. John Denver's "Rocky Mountain High" served as the soundtrack.
Castle admits that he is not the most technical person, although minor degrees in mathematics and computer science left him "knowledgeable enough to be dangerous." Nearing college graduation, he seriously flirted with the idea of heading to Los Angeles and enrolling in the Director's Guild to tap into an interest in directing. But an interview with CNN changed everything.
"I almost turned it down because it wasn't exactly what I wanted to do," he recalls. "But I thought I could take the job and work my way up, get some experience and then go on to something else."
Nearly 17 years later, Castle has realized that CNN was all the something else he would need, even though his first job operating the camera and Teleprompter for the overnight paid less than his part-time college job. "The thing that has kept me around is the diversity of Turner Entertainment."
The late '80s were a time of movement within CNN, and Castle worked his way up to become a director—albeit on the technical side of the operation, not editorial. He soon found himself messing around with graphics equipment like the Aurora 280 graphics system. "It had a 3-D application that I played with, and I worked with an artist to create an election package for the 1998 elections."
From that project, his career at Turner took off as he became involved with high-end graphics compositing for TNT, CNN and the Cartoon Network for four years. He then took over CNN's graphics department and planned the conversion from analog to digital before heading back to Headline News to become head of operations. He also found himself consulting with CNN FN, CNN SI and CNN Español.
Today, he once again finds himself at the center of a diverse number of projects, a diversity that he says keeps his job fresh. Current projects include working on the new AOL Time Warner Center in New York, plus projects for CNN and CNN International.
"I get to bounce around a bit and move on to other things," he explains, "and that suits me well."
The projects keep him focused on today although he does say business-development projects in television would be interesting. But the CNN setting and support keep him more than happy. "I love the television field. The immediacy and energy of being around a live event when it's happening can't be beat."