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N.Y. Outlets Gird for GOP Confab

Aug 9, 2004  •  Post A Comment

Local television stations in Boston emerged from the Democratic National Convention with relatively few battle scars, but stations in New York aren’t expecting easy sailing when the Republican National Convention kicks off there later this month.

While Boston saw few protests, little in the way of traffic tangles and, thankfully, no terrorism, New York’s local broadcasters say the RNC gathering at Madison Square Garden will be a different beast. That’s because the star of the show is the sitting president and the site of the event has been on an orange-level terrorism alert since 9/11. In addition, New York and surrounding areas stepped up security precautions last week based on reports that certain financial institutions had been targeted for attack.

“We expected to look at Boston as a mini-model, but because New York is on high alert and on tight security, we are expecting [it will be different],” said Dan Forman, senior VP, news, and station manager at NBC-owned WNBC-TV in New York.

Truck traffic in and out of Manhattan was restricted starting last week. And crews began erecting concrete barriers around vulnerable buildings, said Dianne Doctor, senior VP and news director at Viacom-owned WCBS-TV in New York.

As a result of the changes, New York stations are building more pad time into their schedules to prepare for the unexpected hassles of getting around the city. Ms. Doctor also expects more protests and demonstrations in New York, as do many of the city’s other local news directors, including Kenny Plotnik at ABC-owned WABC-TV.

“Obviously, we saw incredibly tight security in Boston, and the difficulty in getting access to and from the Fleet Center, as tough as it was, [New York] will be more difficult to get around,” said Mr. Plotnik, VP and news director for WABC.

Coverage will be anchored from the station itself, Madison Square Garden and a workspace in a nearby building, he said. He hopes the three-pronged anchoring approach will limit the movement crews need to make.

Time Warner-owned local cable channel NY1 News was tweaking its contingency plans last week based on its experience in Boston and the fluid situation in New York. “I think [New York] will just be much more intense. I think there will probably be precautions and security measures in place that we will never be able to anticipate,” said Bernadine Han, news director for NY1 News.

If a journalist can’t reach the NY1 newsroom for any reason, sister local cable network Capital News 9 in Albany, N.Y., will serve as the backup, Ms. Han said. In addition, NY1 is looking into other transportation options, given the expected street closures and subway slowdowns. Ideas have considered everything, including using inline skates or pedicabs-bicycle cabs that can seat two.

She also said that during the next three weeks, NY1 plans to test the cable headends on the Time Warner system throughout the city for use as possible feed points. If they work, NY1 won’t need to send live trucks out to other boroughs for local stories there.

High-Tech Tools

Communication amongst staff is a vital area. Mr. Plotnik said he will supply two-way radios and cellphones to his crews. WNBC plans to rely on Verizon cellphones and a Nextel Blackberry/ two-way radio combo for three layers of redundancy in reaching people, Mr. Forman said.

Other technology tools helped stations navigate coverage challenges in Boston. Sunbeam-owned NBC station WHDH-TV in Boston used traffic sensors on the roadways for its traffic coverage since the no-fly zone over the city meant the traffic helicopter sat idle.

New York will also have a no-fly zone. WABC said it will rely heavily on its partner Metro Traffic for the majority of its traffic coverage, while WNBC will turn to its Skycam network of 18 cameras strung around strategically located buildings in the city for additional views of traffic, various tunnels and possibly of breaking news.

Many Bostonians emptied out of the city during the week of the convention, said Ed Goldman, VP and general manager of Viacom-owned CBS station WBZ-TV in Boston. “There was no traffic. Anybody who could have taken the week off did,” he said.

That will largely be the case in New York, too, but traffic snarls are likely to occur near the convention itself. “I think people will stay out of New York if they can,” Mr. Plotnick said. “I think traffic may be very light.”

Expect portable digital microwave technology to play a key role in convention coverage. WHDH used James Bond-like remote microwave backpack cameras from Broadcast Microwave Services to go live from locations all over the convention floor rather than settling on a fixed spot, WHDH News Director Ed Kosowski said. WABC, for one, plans to use digital microwave technology where appropriate.

Coleen Marren, the news director at Hearst-Argyle-owned WCVB-TV in Boston, offered these tips to New York stations: Have a plan; let everyone know their roles; time everything so crews have ample time to get to locations; and appoint crew chiefs who are responsible for knowing where each person is in his or her crew at all times.