WTTG’s New D.C. Digs Puts All Eyes On The Newsroom
WTTG (Fox) and WDCA (MNT), the Fox Television Stations-owned outlets in the Washington, D.C., market, have moved up the road into a new facility that affords sunny views and an IP-based technical infrastructure.
After operating since 1966 at 5151 Wisconsin Ave. in the Friendship Heights neighborhood of Washington, “Fox 5 DC” is now occupying 60,000-square feet at 7272 Wisconsin Ave in Bethesda, Md. The 23-story “Wilson” office tower, which also contains retail and residential space, is a brand-new development of Carr Properties that took several years to build.
WTTG’s lease was coming to its end in its former location, and since the building had been built in the mid-1960s, it was a fairly dated facility with an inefficient use of space in some areas, says SVP and GM Patrick Paolini. In mid-2015, the station analyzed whether extending its lease was viable, and ultimately decided to look for a new home for its 200-odd employees, considering factors like communications links and commuting time as well as available workspace.
It took Fox 5 DC about two years to find the ideal location at 7272 Wisconsin Ave., which is only 1.8 miles away from its previous home and is still inside the Washington Beltway, at 1.2 miles from the D.C. border. It then took a year to execute the lease and another two years for the developer to complete the building before WTTG got access. After more than nine months of equipment installation and systems integration, WTTG began broadcasting from its new home with its 6 p.m. newscast on July 24.
An Ideal Location
“When we looked at what’s in the area, what this building offered and the space we were going to be given, in the end the decision to move to this location wound up not being close,” Paolini says.
WTTG received incentives to cross the border from both Montgomery County and the State of Maryland, who “were very generous and eager to having us move,” Paolini says. Another one of the new building’s selling points is that it is located close to public transportation including the Metro subway system as well as the “Purple Line” light rail system that is under construction. The entrance to the Purple Line is, in fact, right below the building, and WTTG negotiated in its lease agreement to own the canopy of that entrance and place a 24/7 news ticker on three sides of it.
“That’s a great additional feature for us to get our content out there in a very high-volume pedestrian area,” Paolini says.
The plans for WTTG’s new home were obviously drafted well before the COVID-19 pandemic, which has kept many broadcast personnel out of their facilities for the past year and a half. However, WTTG didn’t modify its lease to decrease the amount of space and is using the full 60,000 square feet at 7272 Wisconsin, which spans the 6th, 7th and 8th floors and includes large common areas and terraces on each floor so employees can get outside.
The station did make last-minute changes on its furniture choices, including purchasing individual seating instead of bench seating in several areas and placing dividers between workstations instead of the originally planned flat table-type workstations. Though the square footage isn’t bigger, Paolini says, the 7272 Wisconsin facility feels more spacious overall than the old space. That facility was partly located in the basement, lacked windows in the newsroom and studios and had a relatively cramped main control room.
“We were very fortunate in that the way we designed the space we have two audio booths, two fully functioning control rooms and a newsroom that is very spacious,” Paolini says.
All Eyes On The Newsroom
One of the major design goals for the new building was to place the assignment desk, Technical Operations Center (TOC) and news sets right in the center of the newsroom instead of off to the side, as they were at 5151 Wisconsin, says WTTG VP and News Director Paul McGonagle.
“We’ve put everything now in one spot, which makes for great communication and really streamlines the process,” McGonagle says. “Everyone’s eyes are always on the heart of the newsroom.”
In addition to the main set, which has an elevated wraparound balcony, there is a second set in the newsroom. There is also a dedicated AR/VR studio, which WTTG plans to use for weather coverage and specials in the future.
Everything in the newsroom is intended to be camera-ready. As such, there are lightboxes and graphics located throughout and the entire assignment desk is enclosed in a rectangular, scenic design. Fox 5 DC prides itself on the 78.5 hours a week of local news and original programming it produces, and the station intends to fully utilize a variety of looks in its new space including frequent live shots from the newsroom.
Peter Provost handled set design, while Mystic Scenic Studios did the scenic and set construction. Lighting Design Group handled the lighting, while AVDS supplied the monitor displays for the sets.
“It obviously gives us a lot of flexibility to do additional shows,” Paolini says.
Under The Hood
The main studio uses 4K-capable Ikegami UHK 430 studio cameras with Fujinon lenses and Vinten robotics, while the newsroom set has Ikegami UHL 43 units. There are two full-sized control rooms with Sony XVS-9000 production switchers running Sony ELC production automation software, and the audio booths use Lawo consoles.
There is also a third, self-contained control room with a Blackmagic switcher and touchscreen display that can be run by a single operator. That room could be used to create additional shows or live streams, or to serve as a disaster recovery/redundancy operation.
“It’s a third control room that can go to air,” Paolini says. “You could be live 24/7 out of there with not a lot of manpower.”
WTTG also creates a lot of content for its digital platforms (including a weekly politics and pop-culture podcast from its GM called the The Paolini Perspective), and as such there is a dedicated podcast studio. The digital team is located directly off the assignment desk for easy access, and there is a large multiviewer monitor wall tied to the central router that allows the digital team to see every feed coming into the TV stations. There are also roughly 40 hanging monitors installed back-to-back throughout the newsroom.
“Regardless of where you’re sitting, you’re seeing all the feeds,” Paolini says.
WTTG relies on Avid iNews for its newsroom computer system, Bitcentral for asset management, Grass Valley Edius for editing (its creative services team also uses Adobe Premiere) and Chyron Prime for graphics. Field acquisition is handled by Panasonic P2 camcorders, one of the few technology holdovers from the old building, with LiveU bonded backpack units providing connectivity.
The core routing infrastructure is brand-new and based on the SMPTE 2110 IP routing standard, using Lawo VSM software to control Arista switches. Diversified handled overall design (with input from WTTG staff) and systems integration of the IP plant, which still includes some islands of SDI equipment. While there are no immediate plans to produce in UHD, the plant is designed to accommodate a 4K workflow and features both 25-gigabit and 100-gigabit interfaces, says Jim Beahn, VP of engineering and operations for WTTG.
Beahn says that picking a core routing control software vendor wasn’t easy, as there are a number of strong vendors in the IP field today. Lawo’s ability to run common-off-the-shelf (COTS) switches from several manufacturers was a selling point.
“The Lawo system runs on COTS, it’s very flexible, and it was good for us,” Beahn says.
Other key gear includes a Clear-Com intercom system; Jetwave Wireless microphone, IFB and intercom distributed antenna systems; Wysicom wireless microphones; Lectrosonic wireless IFB; G&D KVM equipment; signal processing equipment from Cobalt, Evertz, Lynx, Riedel and AJA; Telestream ST 2110 test equipment; a Vitec EZTV IPTV system; CPI Satcom satellite receive antennas; Sencore satellite IRDs; LTN transmission equipment; a Harmonic video encoder; and an SAF microwave studio-to-transmitter link.
Redundancy And Continuity Plans
WTTG’s transmitter and antenna were previously in the same location as its 5151 Wisconsin studio. With the move up Wisconsin Ave., Fox 5 DC has also created a new transmission facility for both WTTG and WDCA at a building it owns on River Road in Bethesda, with a Rohde & Schwarz transmitter and Dielectric antenna and RF components. That facility, about a mile from its new studios, is a two-story building with the transmitter and associated transmission gear on the first floor and a small newsroom and news set on the second floor.
“In terms of business continuity plans and redundancy, we’re in really good shape from that standpoint,” Paolini says. “If for some reason we had to cease operations in the [7272 Wisconsin] facility, we could get on the air and do news from the other facility.”
Paolini won’t say exactly how much the “network-quality” Fox 5 DC facility cost, except that it is a “very sizable” investment by the Fox station group that represents “tens of millions of dollars in capex” and demonstrates Fox’s commitment to local news.
The new space at the Wilson also lets the station’s news personnel see the sun come up in the morning, a big change from their previous subterranean digs. Paolini thinks that the combination of modern aesthetics and amenities should help WTTG better compete for talent with other station groups as well as streaming services.
“People can see the vision going forward on how we’re going to expand content,” he says. “That’s a little harder to do in a basement at an old facility.”
This is the latest in a series of TVN Tech stories highlighting new television facilities. Read the other installments here.