CHICAGO, IL, November 11, 2009 — Like most local TV stations across the U.S., Chicago’s NBC affiliate, WMAQ, faced economic challenges this year, not the least of which was the expensive conversion to DTV. The station also had the task of complying with the FCC’s mandate to clear the 700 MHz band of all wireless microphone operations.WMAQ TV
“The age of our equipment, plus the fact that it operated in the 700 MHz range really dictated that we act now rather than later in terms of making some changes within our wireless microphone blueprint,” explained WMAQ engineer Lane Lucatorto.
“We’ve always depended heavily upon wireless,” Ed Mann, manager of technical operations, added. “Beyond our news operations, the shows we’ve produced here have traditionally done a lot of exteriors, shooting in the corridors, out in Cityfront Plaza on our doorstep, and along the Chicago River just to the south.”
But in a climate of economic uncertainty and extreme corporate caution, selling the idea of a complete wireless overhaul to the NBC brass wasn’t easy. Fortunately, Shure’s wireless trade-in program made it much more appealing.
“Shure’s rebate program was definitely a big help in ’greasing the wheels,” said Mann. “We informed the accounting department that, as a result of the program, we’d be eligible for a $50,000 rebate. That softened the blow and made a big difference, no question.”
After the project capital was secured, Orlando-based Professional Wireless Systems was charged with designing and implementing a comprehensive, networked system that would work reliably in all the station’s locations, meeting both its current and future needs.
The design team turned to Shure wireless to ensure success. They selected 78 channels of Shure
UHF-R® wireless using UR4D dual-channel, diversity receivers and a wide-ranging assortment of UR1 and UR1M bodypacks as well as handheld transmitters outfitted with Shure’s KSM9 and Beta 87C capsules.
The team also used an army of helical and “bat wing” antennas supplied by Professional Wireless, placing them within the NBC tower and along the outside plaza area, to ensure stability as far away as the station’s remote Michigan Avenue studio and everywhere in between. Coverage is so good now, in fact, that news anchors wearing bodypacks and lavalier microphones in the main news studio in the NBC Tower can walk over to the remote studio on Michigan Avenue and go to air live without changing mics.
Keeping tabs on operations at all levels is a task entrusted to Shure’s Wireless Workbench® software and a 32-inch Sony LCD screen mounted in a portrait configuration inside Lucatorto’s office.
“When I saw what Wireless Workbench could do, I instantly knew it would be perfect for monitoring all of our wireless channels,” said Lucatorto. “Now I can watch what’s happening in any area in terms of frequencies as well as functional details like battery life. This allows me, for example, to give our A2s a heads up when transmitter batteries are running low during a show taping. If someone anywhere in the area fires up another system that is a potential troublemaker, I can see that right away and react accordingly. In this environment, it seems like someone is always trying to step on us.”
That capability is crucial, because the area is known as one of the hottest centers of RF activity in the country, with errant RF emanating from sources like hotels hosting business meetings with over-powered systems.
WMAQ staffers say it’s too bad talk show host Jerry Springer — who left the studios as a production tenant earlier this year — will never get to know the newfound freedom and rock-solid performance of the networked wireless system, as his show was known for its wild antics. It was not at all uncommon for guests to take off running or give chase through the corridors and beyond while wearing wireless mics and bodypacks.
“Oh, I’m sure Jerry would love this system,” Mann said with a grin. “He could run all the way down Michigan Avenue to the bridge and still have perfect reception.”