The station group’s new tech vice president succeeds the just-retired Dave Folsom. Burke’s IT background helps him carry on Folsom’s mission to integrate IT with traditional TV technology at Raycom’s 33 news-producing stations. Among the efforts Burke’s worked on are centralizing the group’s traffic operations, creating its LiveLink streaming video system and adopting bonded cellular newsgathering tech.
David Burke never envisioned he would one day rise to the top technology position at a TV company when he walked through the doors of the Montgomery, Ala.-based Raycom Media in September 1997. He says he was just looking for a technology “opportunity.”
But on the first of this year, he became VP of technology for the group, succeeding Dave Folsom who had hired him 17 years ago and taught him the business.
Folsom, who is officially retired, but who will continue to work on projects for Raycom as a consultant, says that he brought Burke in because he knew IT was transforming the business and that Burke had more than a decade of IT work experience in the Air Force and private industry.
“The future of TV was going to be IT-based,” Folsom says. “Early on, when forming an engineering strategy, I had IT and engineering together.”
“Dave [Folsom] said from the very beginning … that he saw this convergence of the engineering and IT fields,” Burke says. “Early on, I obviously didn’t know what he was talking about.”
He soon learned. TV technology has its own unique history and was evolving to meet new demands — some with the assistance of IT and some without, he says. “It was overwhelming and constantly changing.”
“Slowly over those years, I would be exposed to those technologies, or I would help implement, design or participate in some of the key selections that were crossovers between the engineering side and the IT side.”
Burke, 52, is a graduate of The Citadel in Charleston, S.C. Following his graduation in 1983, he joined the U.S. Air Force where he worked in information technology. He attained the rank of Captain and was honorably discharged in 1992. Later that year, he joined a Northern Virginia-based defense contractor as an IT specialist. In 1994, Burke joined the KinderCare child care company and worked in IT there until joining Raycom.
Prominent examples of IT-based projects he has worked on include the adoption of bonded cellular newsgathering technology and the rollout of LiveLink, a wide area network tying together its 33 news-producing stations so they can stream live video among themselves. “That’s a great example of a platform we implemented that required traditional television engineering as well as having a strong IT component,” Burke says.
Yet another is the decision announced last month to centralize traffic operations in Charlotte, N.C., starting in September, Burke says. The project involves 51 stations with 110 channel logs.
The move of traffic personnel to a building currently under construction in Charlotte was not taken lightly, Burke says. It comes about nine years after the group began laying the foundation by settling on a single traffic system.
It was the acquisition of Liberty station group in 2006 that forced the company’s hand, Burke says. “We had too many traffic systems in one company. We had BMS, which is an AS400-based traffic system; we had OSI, which was the new Windows-based traffic system; and now we had WideOrbit.”
Raycom formed a committee, which included Burke, to evaluate its options and ultimately settled on WideOrbit running on servers at a state-of-the-art data center run in Montgomery.
Not only did standardizing on WideOrbit produce efficiencies from an IT perspective with things like support, training, backup, upgrades and connectivity, but it also created “a lot of synergies from an invoicing, reporting and analytics” point of view across all Raycom stations, he says.
According to Burke, the traffic servers will remain in Montgomery.
“Currently, the system generates its playlist and comes out of the traffic system here in Montgomery. That’s made available through file access to all of the local TV stations and their automation,” he says. “The fact that we are moving the traffic people to Charlotte doesn’t change that equation.”
To replace the face-to-face interaction traffic managers have with master control, management, account executive and others at individual stations, Raycom is turning to multiple tiers of electronic communications.
“We are equipping all of our traffic managers at the centralized office with laptops and headsets, giving them the ability to go to one of several conference rooms that have video teleconferencing units set up and providing them with the ability to do screen sharing from their desktops through webinar-type technology,” Burke explains.
While these projects over the years gave Burke greater insight into technology focused specifically on the daily operations of television stations, the station group continues to have experienced broadcast engineers he can rely on at a corporate level and at individual Raycom stations.
“Another hats off to Dave Folsom,” Burke says. “He had built up a strong core of what might be referred to as traditional television broadcast engineering.
“That team is now headed by Bob Thurber [director of engineering]; his staff is extremely strong in that area. I have unbelievable depth of resources I can use with Bob, Eric Bergman [corporate engineering manager], Roger Hatfield [project manager] and our traditional chief engineers at our TV stations. “
He will also be able to continue conferring with Folsom in his role as consultant.
After some 40 years in broadcasting, including about 18 at Raycom, it just seemed like a good time to retire, says Folsom, who will turn 70 in November. “My wife got after me and said, ‘It’s time,’”
In his new capacity, Folsom will spend much of his time focused on the Advanced Television Standards Committee, helping to birth its next-generation ATSC 3.0 digital TV standard.
“ATSC 3.0 is important for broadcasting because our audience is changing,” he says. “We have to be able to reach them where they are, and yes, that is in the home, but it is also on portable devices like tablets and phones.”
To Folsom, being in the middle of where the technology action is, isn’t anything new, he says. His career includes time at Sony, where he helped usher in the switchover from film to electronic newsgathering, and various broadcast organizations.
“I have been lucky,” he says. “I keep showing up at places and times when history is being made. I’m the Forrest Gump of the television industry.”