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Big Things in Small Spaces

Clear Channel builds an HD mobile production pocket rocket By Charlie White

Clear Channel builds a pocket rocket HD production truck(6/20/05) Clear Channel, one of the largest media companies in the United States, owns 40 television stations, over 1200 radio stations and also includes television entertainment and sports production divisions. Supporting all these video efforts is a new HD production truck conceived by William Mitchell, Clear Channel TVís HDTV Truck General Manager, and Allen Finne, the truckís builder and Director of Engineering for Clear Channel HD Mobile. In this exclusive interview with Digital Media Netís Charlie White, the two men talked about the design and construction of this smaller truck thatís packed to the gills with state-of-the art HD gear.

DMN: Give us an overview of this new truck. Itís a medium-sized, 32-foot truck, and it fills a certain niche in the HD market, doesnít it?

William Mitchell: I would say medium-to-small size, actually. Itís a 32-foot truck with a small eight-foot expando section in it. The reason that we decided to go with a truck that size is because itís difficult to get a 53-foot expando in an alleyway. A lot of the time when youíre doing concerts or comedy shows in some of the older venues like in New York or any large cities, you get into size limitations and space limitations to where you are parking in an alley or on a side street. Itís literally impossible to get a huge semi into that area. Well, with a 32-foot truck it becomes a thousand times easier to do, and it makes a little easier on our driver. Thatís why we went with that.

DMN: Looking over this list of equipment inside, you have eight Sony at 750 HD cameras, a couple of POV cameras and then there are two choices of switchers. It looks like for a 32 foot truck, a client, director or producer isnít going to have to make big compromises using this smaller truck, are they?

William Mitchell: No, weíre really not.

Allen Finne: I would not think so. We basically have a complement of equipment that would match a physically larger truck, so probably the only compromise they might have to make is, there typically are some folks who will hang out in a truck during an event, just kind of hangers-on, and that might be the compromise where it you really need to get down to your core group of folks in this truck due to the size of it.

DMN: So this does not leave a whole lot of elbow room in there for all these extra people, I see.

Allen Finne: You give and take, and the advantage of the smaller size is that you can fit this truck into the very small back alleys behind venues, clubs, and whatnot, and in order to do that, of course you lose a little bit of physical interior space.

DMN: This not your first HD truck, is it? Didnít you guys have a larger HD truck before? 

William Mitchell, Clear Channel TV?s HDTV Truck General Manager
William Mitchell, Clear Channel TV's HDTV Truck General Manager
William Mitchell: We did. We had a 53-foot double expando. We acquired that through our Clear Channel deal where the company purchased the Ackerley station group. One of the assets that Ackerley had was this truck. Before they had it, it was the Monday Night Football truckóone of the first high-def trucks in the States. Part of the reason, other than size, that we decided to get rid of the thing was that it really didnít have the new technologies that have started to emerge in the HD world. In the last couple of years since HD has really started to take off, it was just far easier to start from scratch. Other than some tape deck formats and the cameras themselves, the infrastructure needed to be changed.

DMN: When did you complete construction of this new 32-foot truck?

William Mitchell: We were able to roll on our first show around the first of March. The construction was actually complete by the second week in January, and then it went through rigorous testing here for almost six weeks.

DMN: It sounds like itís state-of-the-art. What are some of the innovations on board?

Allen Finne, the truck?s builder and Director of Engineering for Clear Channel HD Mobile
Allen Finne, the truck's builder and Director of Engineering for Clear Channel HD Mobile
Allen Finne: One thing that was very interesting about the truck was the opportunity that I had to work with some vendors that I worked with in the past on other projects, not related to mobile production. One of those vendors was Ross Video. Ross Video has come up with a new switcher line that basically has the functionality of some equipment thatís much more expensive than it is. The Ross Video price point is amazing, given the feature set that they have as compared to their competition which is mainly Snell & Wilcox, Sony and Grass Valley. Another interesting thing is, I was involved in digital TV transmitter and studio buildouts for Clear Channel, and conversion gear and up- and down-conversion gear for the SD and HD world (and then down again to analog), frame rate conversion, aspect ratio conversionóthat stuff was just incredibly expensive three or four years ago. I mean, Iím talking about Teranex [DTV conversion equipment] going for $50,000 to $60,000. In my case, I picked some Miranda gear with comparable functionality to some gear that I paid anywhere from 30 to 50 to $60K just three years ago, is now $10-$15,000, and actually has a bit more functionality. The other interesting thing is that I went with a nontraditional router manufacturer called Talia, which is redistributed by Ross here in the Statesóitís Australianótheir HD routers are simply amazing. I got used to routers taking five to ten minutes to wake up when you flipped the power switch on, and this thing turns on and is ready to go in about 30 seconds. Things like thatóa lot of infrastructure things. I had an opportunity to take some experience I had with DTV build-outs for television stations, and newsroom build-outs, and then to think about the mobile environment and use some of the relationships that I had established with manufacturers on those projects.

DMN: It sounds like youíre taking advantage, Allen, of this unstoppable trend where things are getting smaller and less expensive every day.
Allen Finne: Yes. Some of these conversion units, even when theyíre only three or four years old, are tremendous heat producers. I mean, you plug this stuff in, and you can warm your feet on a cold winterís day with it. Whatís amazing is the fact that you can take the Miranda gear or the Ross gear and you put your hand in front of the blower fan, you might get just a bit of warm air but thatís about it. Certainly itís not heat. That allowed me to stack equipment very, very densely. Thatís one of the ways I got all this stuff into this truck. Even five years ago, I would have had to space things out a whole lot more. You couldnít put a big enough air conditioner in, not because you couldnít physically cool it, but because in order to fit it into this truck you wouldíve had to stack without empty air spaces. With this new gear, you can pretty well stack in very tight, use medium-sized air-conditioning and environmental control, and youíre good to go. Plus itís also an advantage to pull up on a site and your power requirements are typically a lot less with this newer truck than they were with an older truck. 

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Related Keywords:Clear Channel, television stations, radio stations, television entertainment, sports production, HD production truck, William Mitchell, HDTV Truck, Allen Finne, Director of Engineering, Clear Channel HD Mobile, interview, Digital Media Net, Charlie White, design, construction, smaller truck, state-of-the art HD gear

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