On April 12, Tribune-owned WGNO began a two-day process of moving into temporary facilities in New Orleans' World Trade Center complex. But then trouble struck. The station discovered that, in the eight months since Hurricane Katrina made its former headquarters unsafe, much equipment at the old site was harmed—simply by not being used.
WGNO Chief Engineer Steve Zanolini estimates the total cost to replace gear in the “low six figures.” He has been resourceful, though, buying four pieces of sophisticated audio and video equipment on eBay for less than $3,000.
WGNO had expected some damage, but thought some other pieces were in working order.
“One of the difficult things no one realizes is, when you operate TV equipment 24/7 and turn it off, there's a great probability it will not power up again,” says WGNO General Manager Larry Delia. “You have to be prepared and make the assumption that equipment will completely fail, and find a replacement for it.”
Tribune knew that, despite backup generators and UPS (uninterruptible power supply) gear, the equipment stored at WGNO's old home at the New Orleans Center would suffer considerably after Katrina hit. It's the add-ons that were the surprise sting.
“In terms of critical gear, one of three studio cameras that was moved over here is still not operable as of today,” Zanolini said last week. Also, a character generator failed. With a list price in the range of $15,000, the fix for that was finding another unit at one of Tribune's 25 other stations.
Zanolini says that, otherwise, a lot of finger-crossing was going on until new gear arrived.
He had to rush-order additional equipment. “My FedEx bill was outrageous, and we had a window of 22 hours [to make it work],” he says of the actual equipment move.
The move to the Trade Center temporarily ends the ordeal of WGNO and sister station WNOL, both of which had been working out of two 2,400-square-foot doublewide rental trailers. (Within 18 months to two years, Tribune will find an as-yet-unselected permanent home.)
Expecting to move back into the New Orleans Center, WGNO originally began restoring environmental control at the closed facilities and had heating and air-conditioning systems with backup generators installed. “We lost an entire bank of UPS systems, which had to be replaced right after the storm,” Zanolini says, “and we had to make sure the equipment was not subject to rideover failures when the generators came back up.”
Most of the key studio equipment the station relied on prior to the storm was housed in the old facility. But the building's owner terminated all the leases, so WGNO had to move.
The equipment failures before and after the move were not so much unexpected as undefined.
“Up until [the move to the Trade Center], this equipment lived in a controlled environment,” Zanolini says. “With any changes within that controlled environment, you could anticipate failure.”
Technology manufacturers routinely list a safe-operating-temperature range for their gear. “Excessive heat and humidity are the two environmental influences that can shorten the life of any equipment,” says Zanolini, recalling that, when he and co-workers went to the New Orleans Center right after the storm to assess damage, the temperature was in the 90s, and so was the humidity. Even equipment that is turned off can suffer from extreme heat and humidity.
A week before the move to the temporary quarters, the station did a final check of the equipment it expected to be in working order. WGNO put several suppliers on standby in case rush equipment was needed.
Nonetheless, when the move was made, engineers were surprised that more gear was inoperable than they had anticipated.
“In terms of preventive maintenance, the right thought process and application was in place,” Zanolini says of the broken gear. “Still, the reality is, a lot of this equipment shut down because the elements took their toll.”