In Depth

Studios Refitting With Green Gear

By Daisy Whitney

Every few years or so, local broadcasters usually need to upgrade equipment, trucks and technology at their stations. Many of them have been making their most recent updates with a greener focus in mind.

Given the broader awareness of environmental issues in recent years, broadcasters and station groups have been dedicating more dollars to greener equipment and facilities. Groups like Cox Enterprises, Fox, CBS and NBC Local have dedicated green initiatives or are outfitting certain stations to be eco-friendly.

The benefit, they say, is both in the cleaner output and more efficient tools. Eco-friendly editing systems, tapeless cameras and trucks that run on battery power both use less power and emit less waste. That in turns translates into cost savings.

Through the Cox Conserves program, the group’s Pittsburgh NBC station WPXI-TV built a green-friendly, hi-def building two years ago using 20 percent recycled materials. Also, about 75 percent of the station has a raised floor, which in turn yields a 25 percent cost saving on heating and cooling, a Cox spokeswoman said.

WPXI also installed eco-friendly heating and air conditioning that doesn’t rely on chlorofluorocarbon-based refrigerants. In addition, the station uses all natural cleaners in the building and no synthetic fertilizers outside.

The next big step will be in trucks and news vans. As the leases on news vehicles expire, they’ll be replaced by more fuel-efficient units, said Ray Carter, VP and general manager of WPXI. In fact, Cox as a group is in the process of building out an eco-friendly fleet of news vehicles.

Migrating to digital equipment can also benefit the environment. Carter said WPXI relies solely on tapeless cameras from Panasonic for all its news and production cameras, eliminating the need for physical tape.

But just because green is good doesn’t mean it’s always doable. Many stations want to upgrade to cleaner equipment but don’t have the budget to do so. Switching over to hybrid news vehicles is at the top of the KUSA-TV wish list, said Ken Highberger, director of technology and operations for the Gannett Television Stations-owned NBC affiliate in Denver. “If it was a perfect world we would be buying hybrid vehicles,” he said. “But we’re not turning over the fleet like we used to because of the economy.”

However, he’s been replacing generators with cleaner, more efficient models, and swapping out older, incandescent lights with florescent ones that require much less power, he said.

Similarly, CBS Television Stations-owned KPIX-TV in San Francisco is replacing quartz studio lights with fluorescent and LED lights, a two-year process that will yield a total reduction of electrical usage of 70,000 watts, said station spokeswoman Akilah Monifa. Already KPIX changed out existing fluorescent fixtures with motion-detector lights. Next up, faucets will be hands free by end of October to conserve water.

The station also is aiming to swap out its large live news vans that cost 63 cents for gas and maintenance per mile with fuel efficient vehicles estimated at 18-cents-a-mile operating costs, she said.

Many stations in the Fox Television Stations-owned group use hybrid or flexible fuel vehicles, including WFLD-TV in Chicago, WTXF-TV in Philadelphia, KDFW-TV in Dallas, WTTG-TV in Washington, KRIV-TV in Houston, WJBK-TV in Detroit, KMSP-TV in Minneapolis and WHBQ-TV in Memphis.

Meanwhile, NBC-owned stations across the country have implemented a number of green initiatives.

When WNBC-TV in New York moved into a new studio it reduced energy consumption 80 percent through a combination of florescent lights, LED lights and a single-story studio with less equipment.

Also, recycling doesn’t just apply to soda cans — it can work for equipment too. The station was able to reuse two audio consoles that were no longer in service with MSNBC and San Francisco’s Telemundo station KSTS-TV. In turn, WNBC recycled more than 800 DVCPro tapes to sister station WVIT-TV in Hartford, which itself recently built a new facility using green building practices throughout.

Then there’s NBC-owned KNTV in the Bay Area. It became the first station to be powered by wind in March 2008. The station also invests in renewable energy certificates to fund wind energy providers.

The Fox-owned stations WOFL-TV and WRBW-TV in Orlando recently redesigned many elements of the stations to reduce energy use. That includes the installation of motion-sensor light switches in tape rooms and storage areas to ensure that lights don’t stay on when the space isn’t in use.