There are so many technical aspects regarding television production that even someone like myself, a lifelong broadcasting veteran, has a hard time keeping track of the many devices and transmitters used to make the programming we air arrive in your homes and on your devices. For years, I’ve seen a small (small being relative) tower next to our building in the Research Triangle Park yet I’ve never been completely certain what it was. I snapped a picture and showed it to a member of our engineering staff. The reply I got: back-up microwave tower. It was erected in 1996 after Hurricane Fran demonstrated some gaping holes in our backup system. It’s a pretty impressive sight, as are most broadcast towers in my opinion. (BTW that’s our primary tower in the background.)
Another shot this week from the archive photo collection I discovered. This one’s from Festival ’90 – the first on-air fund drive in our current (then brand-spanking-new) building in the Research Triangle Park. Pictured is former UNC-TV staffer Audrey Kates Bailey and a bevy of hardworking phone operators. Maybe you called in to make a pledge during this fundraiser. Maybe you were one of the many volunteers who helped make it a success. Regardless, it’s a fond memory for those of us who were part of it.
Do you know what this is? Seriously, I’m asking because I wasn’t sure. It’s been out back behind our station for years, possibly decades, and I’ve always regarded it as a piece of equipment that serves a function yet what function that was escaped me.
It looks like a huge satellite dish and that’s what it is essentially. I asked one our veteran engineers for the scoop and here’s what he said:
It is used to bring feeds from non-PBS satellite. We have a 6.1 M antenna and a 5.5 M antenna that are the primary receiving antennas for non-PBS feeds. The “backyard” 3.7 M antenna is supplemental and has a limited view of satellite arc but it has been used in the past especially during election coverage.
So there you have it. Still slightly more tech-speak than I’m used to or capable of understanding (trust me – UNC-TV engineers are working on a completely different level than those of us who work in programming) but I get the basics. We have towers and dishes and all sorts of sending and receiving apparatus around here (after all it is a television station) so you can be certain any piece of equipment with which you are unfamiliar does indeed serve a vital purpose.
UNC-TV creates hundreds of hours of original programming a year and much of it needs to be edited into the final product you would see on your television. That equates to thousands of hours of raw footage and B roll that must be seen in order to create that final product.
Nowadays, most of the material is digital and can be viewed from an office PC, laptop or similar device. In years past, it might be on any manner of videotape that could require a special tape deck or playback machine to watch. Thus screening rooms were set up where producers, directors, talent and other personnel could view raw footage or the perhaps a final edited product.
FYI: since the advent of digital, these screening rooms are virtually unused and most have been converted into audio booths or coopted as storage space or something else entirely. What’s in this one? Can’t tell you – the door is locked.