Electronic technology to serve the Grampian area 

5 October 2022 tbs.pm/76511

 

From Television & Radio 1985, published by the Independent Broadcasting Authority in December 1984

Electronic technology and assistance from the IBA have enabled Grampian Television, the programme company for North Scotland, to provide high quality news coverage for the most widespread ITV area in Britain.

Grampian’s base is in Aberdeen but its coverage extends to another city of similar size, Dundee, 66 miles south on Tayside, and the Highland capital, Inverness, 105 miles to the north. Both Tayside and the Highlands are highly newsworthy and merit equal coverage with the Aberdeen area. As a small regional company, however, Grampian does not have the resources to fully staff additional studios with the usual range of technicians, journalists, production and clerical personnel. The answer has been to establish remote-controlled satellite studios in both places, which can be operated by an engineer in Aberdeen. These studios are connected electronically to Aberdeen by a live British Telecom link financed by the IBA.

Each centre has a reporter and electronic news gathering (ENG) crew of cameraman and recordist who go out in the area to record stories on video cassettes which are played ‘down the line’ to Aberdeen for editing and transmission in Grampian’s news programmes.

In both the Dundee and Inverness studios, the cameras are remote controlled by telemetry from Aberdeen where an engineer at the touch of a joy stick can cause the camera to pan, tilt, focus, zoom and line-up for colour balance. Remote control also extends to power, monitors, seven different lighting arrangements and four sound sources. The telemetry operates by sending a code in sound which executes the command. It is carried on a control line which also provides ‘talk-back’ – the means of communicating between the reporter and the Aberdeen base. Another control line provides the reporter with a ‘clean feed’ from the main Aberdeen studio so that he or she can see what is happening in the news programme and can thus come in on cue.

 

A man in headphones adjusts a chest mic on another man whilst a third man operates a camera

The mobile news crew inside the Dundee studio. From left to right: senior reporter Ron Thompson, recordist Neil McMillan and cameraman Henry McCubbin.

 

It is quite remarkable that such an arrangement can run without the permanent presence of operators and engineers, but the new breed of cameras are very stable and the Dundee studio has rarely been out of service in its five years of operation. All that is required is a monthly visit for routine maintenance by an engineer from Aberdeen.

There are several ways in which these studios and their ENG units can contribute to Grampian’s news and current affairs programmes. Pictorial coverage previously had to be shot on film and sent by train, so no news after late morning could be transmitted the same day. Now stories in the studio or on ENG can be sent through right up to the start of, and even within, a news programme.

 

A man operates a control panel below a large television monitor

Senior engineer Ian Williamson in Aberdeen from which the Inverness and Dundee studios are remote-controlled.

 

Another benefit is the use of the studio camera as a second ENG unit. If, for example, the Inverness crew is in the Western Isles shooting a Gaelic story for Crann Tara, reporter Isabel Fraser can interview someone for an Inverness story in the remote studio then record her ‘cutaways’ (repeating the questions for editing) just as she would in the field.

ENG crews not only contribute to Grampian’s news coverage in North News and, especially, the 6 p.m. magazine North Tonight, but they are also used by specialist reporters to cover sport, the arts, farming, fishing and Gaelic.

 

A soundman crouches in front of a reporter and camera operator

The Inverness news crew on the banks of the River Ness. From left to right: recordist Palvinder Jagpai, senior reporter Isabel Fraser and cameraman Stephen Horrocks.

 

The remote-controlled studio itself can also be used for live linking for presenting stories, recording interviews or for live discussions. It is quite possible to have a debate with separate Aberdeen, Dundee and Inverness experts all linked together and seen by the viewer using chromakey (an electronic means of overlaying pictures) or split screen image.

And viewers throughout the United Kingdom are also sharing in the benefits. ITN makes regular use of Grampian’s studios to feed ENG stories or sound commentaries down to London for the national news.

 

A man stands beside an opened television camera

Testing the remote-control camera in the Inverness studio.

 

Future plans include an electronic newsroom, using computers to take reporters’ copy right through to on-screen prompting. This would also be fed to the satellite studios in Inverness and Dundee so that reporters there would share in the benefits and further improve the quality of news programming to viewers in all parts of the Grampian Television area.

 

Map of northern Scotland with transmitters highlighted

Grampian Television’s huge region in 1985 is served by 7 main transmitters

 

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