Though vice president of engineering for one of the country's largest station groups, Marty Faubell spends a lot of time thinking local. That's because 24 of the 27 stations that Hearst-Argyle Television owns or manages produce local newscasts, and Faubell has been a pioneer in using technology to make their news operations more competitive and cost-effective.
"Hearst-Argyle as a station group is committed to news, from Plattsburgh [N.Y.] all the way to Honolulu," says Faubell, 47. "News is a local business. What we're doing is try to be aggressive in using technology, and we've done a number of things to push that agenda along."
Faubell's current priority is evaluating digital microwave gear for Hearst-Argyle's ENG trucks. Finding a solution is crucial, as the FCC plans to reclaim 35 MHz of the 2 GHz ENG band for new mobile communications services. Although the new users are expected to compensate broadcasters for the lost spectrum, that doesn't solve the technical problem of squeezing ENG applications that used to be served by 18 MHz into a new 12-MHz channel.
"No one has yet been successful in doing ENG as we know it in the compressed spectrum," says Faubell. "We believe it's a watershed issue. The lifeblood of local news is the ability to go live, and that's being imperiled with the existing technology."
Hearst-Argyle is exploring a solution at WCVB(TV) Boston, working with transmission supplier Tandberg and ENG vendor Wolf Coach to send compressed video using COFDM modulation. They have discovered some significant challenges in converting analog ENG to digital.
"We've chosen to make [Boston] the focal point of our testing," says Faubell. "Not all of the pieces for the application are in place, such as monitoring for signal. It's difficult to know that you're about to lose the signal. All of a sudden, it's not there. And you say, 'How did that happen?'"
In solving the ENG problem and other challenges of the digital age, Faubell draws on years of hands-on engineering experience. After beginning his career in 1979 as an engineering maintenance supervisor at WRAL-TV Raleigh, NC, Faubell moved in 1981 to be assistant chief engineer at WPIX-TV New York, helping to complete a technical renovation at the station.
He joined Hearst Broadcasting in 1987 as chief engineer for WTAE-TV Pittsburgh. "It was the early days of SNG and ENG, and over the course of a year, we did the technical renovation, moving from 3/4-inch tape to Beta," he recalls.
In 1996, Faubell was promoted to vice president of engineering for Hearst, based in New York, as the six-station group embarked on several acquisitions that dramatically expanded its station portfolio. The merger with Argyle Television bulked the group up to 16 stations; subsequent acquisitions of Pulitzer Publishing and Kelly Broadcasting stations brought it to its current size (Hearst-Argyle also owns two radio stations).
Faubell's biggest challenge in moving to the corporate post was managing the increasing scope of the station group while finding common areas for technical improvement.
"To try to coordinate among stations on a technical basis when you have different levels of infrastructure, investment and knowledge at each station is challenging," he says. "The trick is to look several years ahead and try to develop ways to take advantage of technology in a larger way."
For example, Hearst-Argyle, which had three different newsroom systems running among its stations, has moved to implement AP's ENPS newsroom automation software across the group. Another shift to a common technology platform is the selection of Sony digital production switchers to move Hearst-Argyle stations to full SDI news production. Hearst-Argyle is also being "aggressive" with graphics automation in order to share content, working with Pinnacle to integrate graphics automation with both the ENPS system and proprietary software.
"Making the newsroom more efficient is the key to productivity and survival going forward," Faubell explains.
Another new technology area Faubell is pursuing is "sharecasting," a store-and-forward system that will allow Hearst-Argyle to distribute syndicated programming and national spots throughout the group from its technical hub at WESH-TV Orlando, Fla. Content is stored as IP files in Orlando on large asset-management servers, then "pushed in or pulled out" via satellite delivery through edge servers to the stations, where it is accessible to automation software and on-air servers. Hearst-Argyle utilizes its own satellite capacity for the distribution: half of a Ku-band transponder that it also used for SNG feeds.
WCVB Boston and WMUR Manchester, N.H., are already using the system, and Faubell plans to roll out it gradually throughout the group.
"Today, we record Oprah
in 15 markets 15 times, and all those stations repeat the same workflow," he says. "We want to get to the point where we do it once and distribute through the hub. That will have saved a great deal of work, and that's one show a day. The more we can do that, the more efficient we've become."