ENG – first with the news 

30 April 2018 tbs.pm/66157

From Television & Radio 1988, the yearbook of the Independent Broadcasting Authority

Little more than five years ago, these three initials became common parlance in television jargon. Today, what they stand for plays an increasingly important role in regional television news coverage. But say ‘ENG’ to most viewers and they will probably think it is a subject on a school curriculum.

In fact, ENG stands for Electronic News Gathering. It means, in effect, that pictures captured by the camera go to video tape instead of film. That alone means a saving of one or two hours in getting news pictures on to the screen, because film processing is no longer involved.

But ENG has also changed the whole face of regional news coverage, with speed and efficiency improving all the time. And nowhere more so than at Yorkshire Television, whose widely-varied region extends from the Pennines to the East Coast, as far south as Cromer and northwards to Scarborough, the North Yorkshire Moors and the northern Dales.

ENG came to Yorkshire Television in 1982, when two camera units began operating from the main base in Leeds and from a regional office and studio in Sheffield. Now two are Leeds-based, serving West and North Yorkshire, and there are others in Lincoln and Hull as well as in Sheffield.

In the course of a day, an ENG team can cover up to half a dozen items, depending on how busy the news diary is and how quickly they can be got ‘in the can’.

A typical day with the West Yorkshire ENG crew of Yorkshire’s Calendar news magazine begins around 9 a.m., when the cameraman, sound recordist and electrician muster over a cup of tea in the canteen.

On one particular morning they were expecting that their first job would be a piece on some children singing in a local park. But when the call came from the news desk, something rather more sensational had come up. There had been a murder in Bradford.

Calendar reporter Robert Hall joined the crew and, after a quick briefing, they were on their way to Bradford Police headquarters.

After a quick interview with a chief superintendent, the camera, sound and other gear were stowed into the back of the camera car, and the unit was off to the murder scene.

From the scene of the crime: a solitary police officer stands guard outside the ground floor flat in Bradford where a girl has just been murdered, as Yorkshire Television’s Calendar reporter Robert Hall outlines the case for viewers.

It was not very inspiring. Just a PC on guard outside the front door of a ground floor flat, and the crew were not allowed inside. But a task force was due to start house-to-house enquiries. While he waited for it to arrive, Robert Hall recorded ‘voice-overs’ to accompany the story.

More pictures were taken when the task force eventually materialised an hour later, and a despatch rider was summoned from Leeds to take the videotape cassette back to base so the ENG crew could go directly to another assignment in Dewsbury.

A re-creation of the Taj Mahal was being set up in the Town Hall in Dewsbury as the highlight of a programme of festival events arranged by Enterprise Dewsbury.

The crew arrived to find only scaffolding. No Taj Mahal. ‘Looks like a “no-no” story, lads,’ declared Robert Hall, and went to telephone base. But then a vast backcloth was unfolded and, after some preparation, the eighth wonder of the world rose some 30-40 feet up the scaffolding. A few more trimmings, an interview or two, and a piece was conjured up for the next edition of Calendar.

A fairly straightforward day, certainly quieter than usual. Sometimes an ENG crew can be called upon to deal with anything up to half a dozen news items in one day. And that is why good communications between the crews and the Calendar News Desk are vital.

Robert Hall reports back to base between stories; ENG vehicles are equipped with cellular phones, a radio talkback system and walkie-talkie handsets to ensure that there are no time-wasting breakdowns in communication.

Yorkshire Television originally recorded ENG on the U-matic format, a reliable system which required minimal adjustment and little engineering expertise on location. Three years ago the company went over to Betacam equipment – considerably more sophisticated and costly than the home video cameras now available in high street shops, but lighter than U-matic and offering technical and picture quality advantages.

‘It was a bold decision, but we wanted to expand our operation and going over to the new system made good sense,’ says Chief Engineer John Rogers. ‘I saw no penalties, because the new cameras fitted in with all our existing equipment,’ he explains.

An initial ENG seminar took place at Leeds Polytechnic in 1979. Now special training courses are held regularly, away from the studios, for those who use the equipment, including former film cameramen and editors.

Yorkshire is on its second generation of ENG vehicles. These have been specially adapted to the company’s own design with considerable guidance from those who use them.

Five special ENG editing suites have been set up at the Leeds studios, as well as a recording area where items from ENG crews can be received by radio links or British Telecom circuits. A new sound dubbing suite has proved extremely successful in enhancing the impact of news and feature items and enabling superior sound quality and the addition of sound effects, music and commentary.

Sound recordist Terry Ricketts checks through the tape in the ENG vehicle to speed up editing time back in Leeds.

Good communications are crucial, and the ENG vehicles are equipped with cellular phones as well as a sophisticated radio talkback system, linked through the Emley Moor transmitter, which covers the whole region. This allows crews to talk directly to the news room, studios and other facilities at base.

The vehicles are also equipped with walkie-talkie handsets which have their own battery charging units and are independent of mains supplies. A monitor and playback facilities enable tapes to be checked and logged to speed up the editing on arrival at base.

Using despatch riders to take pictures to Leeds will become obsolete once more convenient ways are introduced. There has long been a permanent direct circuit to Sheffield, and other Yorkshire Television regional offices will have permanent microwave links via the IBA’s Emley Moor tower. Lincoln will use a dish which once fed Yorkshire’s programme signals to the Belmont mast in Lincolnshire; York, Hull and other sites around the region will be able to use a new steerable microwave dish on the Emley tower.

The ENG units cannot transmit ‘live’ into programmes unless they are accompanied by heavy links vehicles. Such broadcasts usually have to be planned in advance. Yorkshire Television is now planning to build mobile link vehicles carrying modern lightweight equipment. More manoeuvrable and efficient, they will give better service and, in conjunction with the ENG units, will be able to present the news as, when and where it happens at much shorter notice.

You Say

3 responses to this article

Joseph 30 April 2018 at 11:51 pm

In the United States, many big-city TV stations (and the three commercial network news divisions) had adopted ENG (Electronic News Gathering) between 1975 and 1979.

By the early 1980’s, many smaller TV stations in the ‘States had also adopted ENG.

Most stations adopting ENG also invested in microwave transmitters (often housed with videotape recording and editing equipment in a minivan-sized truck) that could allow ENG gear to broadcast live back to the station’s (or network’s) studios.

Nick Prince 24 May 2018 at 4:47 am

One interesting fact about ENG was it’s establishment in Europe as early as the 1970’s.

The first two television broadcasters to introduce ENG to Europe were actually home grown, the first was Auntie around 1978 followed just before the ITV strike of 1979 by the least likely ITV Region to advance in anything, but the truth is Channel Television were next.

James Mortimer 28 November 2020 at 2:33 am

1979 was the year for eng in Leeds but the trade unions banned it’s use ttv got going first so ytv got training on it’s use in Newcastle

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