Andrew Hearne, Technical Controller
THE Technical Department at Channel Television has seen many changes in the last 25 years of operations, but the rate of change has been increasing over recent years. We are now bursting at the seams with the expansion of technical facilities.
There are at Channel’s Rouge Bouillon studios three videotape editing suites in constant use, providing over 150 hours of editing time every week over seven days. One suite is dedicated to news and another to programme production. The third suite is used for news, commercials and non-broadcast production. With five camera crews producing material needing editing, it recently became necessary to man one of the suites 10½ hours a day, seven days a week. Each editing suite costs approximately £150,000 to equip, and since Channel went ENG (Electronic News Gathering) in 1979 using three quarter inch high band U-matic videotape, we have changed the field and editing equipment to the Betacam format using half-inch videotape. This tape is cheaper and produces a higher picture quality. Many programmes made by Channel have been shown on the ITV network and have to be of a high technical standard before they are accepted.
New equipment coming on the market provides even better quality and Channel will be getting some of the very latest as part of its equipment replacement programme.
When Channel went colour in 1976 there was no thought of using videotape, as film was still the recording medium. Now our five camera crews are equipped with some of the very latest cameras and portable recording equipment. The advent of lightweight video cameras has revolutionised the operations at Channel, and since taking those first steps in 1979 the Company has not looked back.
Just as there was a revolution in portable equipment, the same thing is happening inside the studio. Our reliance on film becomes less and less and the technical area is looking very different from 1962 when we first went on the air.
One area of new technology we are entering is the storage of high quality still pictures on optical disk, using laser technology, to permanently record digital picture information, very like the CD disks you might have at home. It is possible to store hundreds of stills on each side of the disk and retrieval time is very fast. The picture is recalled perfectly every time, unlike the 35mm slide transparency we use now which needs cleaning every time it is used.
It is now quite normal for some artwork to be produced entirely electronically. Our graphics artists have had a changing role over the last few years as they are no longer limited to conventional means of captioning etc.
The technical staff has almost doubled in the last five years and now numbers 40. They have had to change their working practices many times and learn new skills as Channel has progressed. The visitor to Channel’s studios is usually most impressed with the technical set up, not realising just how much equipment is required to run even a small modern regional television service.
The value of technical equipment installed at Channel is in excess of £2 million and a large part of the technical installation is due for replacement. Plans were in hand to extend the Technical Area to cope with the ever increasing demand for more space, but those plans will not now be put into effect because, after 25 years at Rouge Bouillon, Channel will be moving to a new site at La Pouquelaye. The old premises have served us well, but were designed for a much smaller operation than the one we have at present. The move will give the engineering staff a few headaches and a lot of hard work, but the prospect of installing a new technical area at Rouge Bouillon whilst keeping on the air was quite daunting. Starting from scratch in new premises is an exciting challenge.