Over the past decade, Harlan Neugeboren has headed up design and creation of seven 24-hour news channels, with another slated for launch in San Antonio this spring. A job that keeps him on the road for upwards of 40 weeks a year would seem a grind to most, but, like many involved in TV technical operations, he finds that the engineering makes the grind bearable.
Time Warner Cable's launch of local 24-hour news networks began with NY1 News in 1992, Neugeboren's first TWC endeavor. At that time, the network changed the face of news operations by embracing Panasonic's DVCPRO format and sending journalists into the field as one-person crews, responsible for camera setup and audio as well as reporting.
Neugeboren heads into every launch with new ideas and new technology, something that has made him the equivalent of a Dickens novel in his relationships with equipment suppliers. It can be the best of times and the worst of times: He pushes the products to operate in better and new ways while pushing manufacturers to live up to his standards.
"We became a station group overnight, and we have plans to hit 10 stations," he says. "How do we take advantage of what we learned in building them to make them more efficient?"
That attitude could best sum up his career. Each successive job has been a result of what he learned on the previous one. Even in high school, one could see the birth of his attitude that is best exemplified by the mantra, "Make it happen."
Working in his high school's audio/video department, Neugeboren found himself facing off with the drama teacher who had a friend who had designed a sound system. The teacher, of course, was endorsing the friend's system. Neugeboren felt differently.
"I got the school council to buy a different sound system," he says.
It was while taking part in New York City's Executive High School Internship Program that Neugeboren's career took root.
The program gave him a chance to take off from school and gain professional experience working at Marvin Sugarman Productions. At the age of 16, he traveled the country, driving a 32-foot motorhome full of "all the gear and toys you could imagine."
Knowing that communications was his destiny, he applied for early acceptance at the Newhouse School at Syracuse University, never even having seen the school (or the snow that can make Syracuse winters so memorable).
After graduation, he worked briefly for ESPN ("They said you're going to make a great television producer, but, because you don't know anything about sports, we don't want you here") and then worked as a production manager for CCR Video for three years.
His career bounces eventually took him to NY1 News in 1992, an opportunity to be entrepreneurial with the financial backing of Time Warner.
"There were very few rules," he says of the early days. "There was a head count they wanted to stick to and an operating budget to try and hit, but, otherwise, it was do what you want."
Having never built a facility from the ground up, Neugeboren says, he was a little nervous, but the practical knowledge he had acquired in so many different aspects of production made him comfortable.
He quickly learned that building a facility is about building relationships with manufacturers. But it's also about throwing aside the workflow rules—or at least being able to adjust them. And that becomes an issue in dealing with the staffs at the news channels.
"The challenge is to teach them how to think out of the box," he says. "And now it's a little tougher because there is a little more pressure on revenue."