Robo News

Channel 7 readies a new computer system that makes the newspeople behind the scenes all but obsolete.

News 12/the Bronx was the first station to use PVTV, signing up in March 1998 and debuting three months later, and even though the station was put together with the system in mind, Webb conceded that there was "a lot of guinea-pigging. They took a lot of information from us directors and went back and reworked it to add things we thought should be added. There's been at least ten facelifts since then, and it took a lot of patience on people's part, because it takes a completely different way of thinking. But it's been very successful."

Thanks to PVTV, News 12 runs lean and mean. On most newscasts, the station employs a single anchor, a director and a producer whose task is to update stories or simply keep track of time. But according to Webb, "If the producer has to go and do something else, it's fine. And if one of the producers calls in sick, we don't have to get somebody else in there. The director controls the whole system, and he can handle it." He added, "Knowing ParkerVision has really advanced my career. People contact me all the time trying to steal me away because I know it. This is really where the industry is going -- automation and reducing the size of the control-room staff. Instead of having a crew of fifteen, you have three, or even one."

Kurt Stoneburner, the PVTV director for KBAK, the CBS affiliate in Bakersfield, California, croons a similar tune, and why not? He's working in what is well on its way to becoming the most ParkerVision-heavy market in the country. Stoneburner learned how to use PVTV in early 2000 while working at Bakersfield's NBC outlet, KGET. Shortly after switching over to KBAK, he arranged for the installation of the system there, too; it came online in February. That means only one Bakersfield station with a news operation -- KERO, an ABC specialist -- isn't on the ParkerVision bandwagon. But that's about to change: KERO's newscasts convert to PVTV in January 2002.

Mark Andresen

To Stoneburner, Bakersfield's rush to Parker-Vision makes perfect sense for several reasons. "Obviously, there's the cost savings," he says. "But another advantage is consistency. Every director on every newscast who goes to a double box on screen does it the same way, and that really helps maintain quality. Plus, directors spend less of their time with show preparation. For a half-hour newscast, I might not have to start my preparations until an hour before it starts, giving me more time to spend on doing other duties. It makes everyone more efficient."

Everyone who's still got a job, that is. Stoneburner says KBAK trimmed "five or six" employees from its staff after embracing PVTV, prompting noteworthy cost reductions. So far, this money hasn't been reallocated to other portions of the news operation, as took place at News 12/the Bronx: "We've been able to reinvest in the journalism aspects, which is what really matters," says operations manager Webb. But without ParkerVision, Stoneburner suggests, the staggering economy and advertising shortfalls in the wake of 9-11 might well have hit KBAK much harder. "Cuts would have been a distinct possibility without it," he notes.

Networks, too, see ParkerVision as a way to lower expenses. In August, ABC announced that it had installed a PVTV studio in its New York headquarters for use late on Fridays and Saturdays. The company previously kept a squad on hand during these periods in case of breaking news. But with PVTV, the number of people required to hang around waiting for calamity has been substantially reduced.

Channel 7, whose late-news ratings remain anemic, diminished its workforce via high-tech upgrades prior to taking on PVTV. Last year, a "digital service center" in Indianapolis took over master control duties for the outlet and two other stations owned by its parent company, McGraw-Hill, with several positions lost along the way. "There was some nervousness before we made that change, just as there was when we went to robotic cameras," says Velasquez. "But now I don't think anyone would question the way we're switching or would want to go back to manually operating cameras.

"These new technologies are going to change the ways we deliver the news. And we want to be part of it."

What's the big deal?: Most big media transactions take place in secret, with power brokers working out details in private long before the public has an inkling that anything is going on. But that's not how Chicago's Tribune Company is handling things in regard to its three radio stations in Denver: the classic-rocking Hawk, adult-contemporary purveyor KOSI and nostalgia-themed KEZW. On November 6, the firm issued a press release under the heading "Tribune to Explore Trading Denver Radio for Television," in which it explicitly expressed its desire to swap the outlets for "television assets" somewhere in the U.S. Also included was a sales pitch from Tribune president and chief operating officer Dennis FitzSimons, who said, "Our Denver radio stations are great businesses run by great people, and we plan to find the best way to maximize the potential of these valuable properties while further expanding our core media assets."

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