Nets Ready to Hit Campaign Trail

Jan 5, 2004  •  Post A Comment

As presidential primary season kicks into high gear, ABC News and CNN are set to prove that in TV news you can take it with you-if you take the bus to the 2004 elections.
ABC News has leased three concert tour buses-appropriately dubbed Red, White and Blue and last used by LeAnn Rimes, Cher and Justin Timberlake, respectively-through November 2004. CNN has bought a bus that most recently was used by Hank Williams Jr.
Both news organizations had their buses stripped of most music star amenities. Only one of ABC’s buses still has a lavatory, but all three still have their microwave ovens; and both ABC and CNN added satellite dishes to the bus tops. That made room for the state-of-the-art TV technology, some of which was tested on the battlefields of Iraq. The buses are multiplatform studios, newsrooms, control rooms, bureaus and wi-fi hubs on wheels.
Shrink-wrapped with logos-“ABC News Vote 2004” and “CNN Election Express”-the buses are eye-catching promo-mobiles. ABC, which wants to tie in with network affiliates wherever its buses go, made sure the tops of its buses are easily spotted from choppers and has added global positioning systems that will pinpoint the buses’ locations-an option that might be added the ABC News Web site.
CNN’s Election Express, which will be followed by a satellite truck, has two high-bandwidth tracking video phones that can transmit while the bus is in motion, though most shows will be done while the bus is parked. But it is no problem getting “perfect broadcast quality” on a piece edited on and transmitted from the bus while it is on the move, said Sam Feist, senior executive producer of political programming at CNN. Mr. Feist said the bus “brings us closer to retail politicking.”
ABC’s buses, which cannot transmit live while on the move, each have two edit bays; seven producer workstations; a shower-size, soundproofed radio booth; an interview area; three wi-fi stations; and eight telephone lines.
“We’re totally self-sufficient,” said Roger Goodman, VP of special projects for ABC and executive director of special projects for ABC News, who suggested the buses to ABC News management in August. Two days later he was in Nashville making arrangements for the retrofitting of the buses by Hemphill Bros. Coach Co. Mr. Goodman, senior news producer David Reiter and engineer Bob Schles oversaw the installation of ABC News equipment on the buses on a patch of Hudson River bank just behind the ABC studio that is home to “The View.”
On Jan. 5, ABC’s Red bus will depart from Times Square and head directly for Iowa, where the caucuses will take place Jan. 19. Another bus will make its way more slowly to Iowa, while the third bus will head for New Hampshire, where the first presidential primary will take place Jan. 27. At any point along the way, “Good Morning America,” “World News Tonight,” “Nightline” or “This Week With George Stephanopoulos” can and will connect with and originate from the buses.
Later this week, CNN’s Election Express will leave Atlanta for its second trip, which will take it to Iowa, New Hampshire and increasingly important South Carolina. A trip to New Hampshire the week of the last Democratic debate went swimmingly as up to 20 people worked from the attention-getting bus at a time.
“It was a good trial run,” Mr. Feist said, adding that “Inside Politics” anchor Judy Woodruff will be among the CNN faces frequently seen against the backdrop of the bus.
Only “little things,” such as the preset lighting and design elements in the studio at the rear of the CNN bus, were tweaked after seeing how the look translated to air. A couple more laptops were also added to the equipment aboard the bus.
No one would talk about the cost of outfitting and operating 40-foot-long buses, which will probably get 8 miles per gallon. But both ABC and CNN expect the buses to pay for themselves by eliminating or at least controlling costs.
ABC will put all of its equipment back into rotation at the network when the buses are returned in November. Shortly thereafter, it will be rigged for the next concert tour.
In the meantime,” said Mr. Reiter, “it’s the perfect vehicle, forgive the pun, for covering news.”