HD Game Plan Clicks at WKYT

Automated workflow helps Lexington, Ky. outlet launch city’s first HD newscast

In making the leap to high-definition news production, WKYT Lexington, Ky., not only invested in new high-definition cameras but adopted a new production workflow.

The station is the first Gray Television property to launch HD news and was also the first in its market with a hi-def newscast, beating cross-town rival WLEX (B&C, 5/21, p. 19), an NBC affiliate, by a couple of weeks. It is currently producing five hours of HD news a day, as well as two hours of standard-def news seen on local Fox affiliate WDKY. It uses Grass Valley’s Ignite production-automation system to drive its newscasts.

WKYT, which relies on Grass Valley Aurora editing systems as well, decided to make the move to Ignite, which uses software to control various devices integral to a newscast, such as cameras, graphics, etc., when it purchased a new HD production switcher. Because the move to Ignite can be jarring to directors used to running a newscast manually, station staffers were taken on a field trip to see Ignite in action at Meredith’s WHNS Greenville, S.C.

“It’s one of those things, you have to see it to believe it,” says WKYT News Director Robert Thomas.

“For the most part, we’ve done a good job with the change,” says Thomas, although it has been harder for some directors than for others. WKYT’s younger directors “grew up more in a videogame environment” and caught on quickly.

“We’re telling people to rethink how you go about your job,” Thomas says. “We haven’t made any staff changes, and we haven’t downsized.”

Audio is still mixed by an operator at a console. Removing camera operators from the studio floor actually enabled the acoustics to be upgraded, just by carpeting the studio.

The station bought Grass Valley robotic camera heads to automate the operation of six cameras, although the cameras have to be physically moved into position for the different newscasts; the Fox newscasts use different camera positions, for example, than WKYT’s. Thomas is still amazed by the speed the cameras rotate on the robotic mounts controlled by Ignite.

“It’s not a slow, deliberate movement,” he says.

Before making the move to Ignite, WKYT folded the production department, including directors, into the news department in recognition of changing job functions. “In the long run, there will only be directors [in production], so they should be part of the news team,” says Thomas.

WKYT’s Ignite system was installed in the existing control room. Two people now occupy a space that once held five. A new virtual-monitor wall system gives producers a variety of preview monitors.

WKYT uses high-definition weather graphics from WSI and is seeking to differentiate its newscast from rival WLEX by shooting as much HD footage in the field as possible with Sony XDCAM HD optical-disc camcorders; WLEX is currently shooting in widescreen standard-definition with Panasonic P2 solid-state cameras.

Because of the limitations of existing microwave gear, WKYT’s live shots are still in 4:3 standard-definition. But WKYT is “making a conscious effort” to bring back HD material to provide edited HD packages from the field, says Thomas, and is emphasizing that with the marketing slogan “True HD.”

That is easier to do in relatively small Lexington, where most of the major news stories occur within a 20-minute drive from the station. Thomas says only about a dozen stations nationwide are producing HD in the field, although nearly 50 stations are now airing HD newscasts.

“I like the fact that, when you watch the news, you see the stories in HD,” he says. “That’s why we call it 'True HD.’”