CBS Radio parks transmission trucks in electronic attache case

April 18, 1992|By Leslie Cauley | Leslie Cauley,Staff Writer

When CBS Radio comes to town next month to do a baseball "Game of the Week" from Oriole Park at Camden Yards, you won't find the usual equipment in tow.

Gone from the parking lot will be the two or three trucks with roof-mounted satellite dishes surrounded by yards of snaking cables, each the size of a forearm. Gone, too, will be the throngs of technicians who used to man those trucks and feeder cables.

Their replacement: an aluminum attache case filled with electronics designed to take advantage of digital technology.

The equipment in the case, which was designed by CBS engineers, will convert the announcers' voices into digitized data that can be easily and quickly transported over telephone lines provided by MCI Communications Corp. to studios in New York. There, commercials will be added and the broadcast will be beamed to a satellite for nationwide transmission.

Under the conventional method of transmission, fleets of trucks with satellite dishes were used to send transmissions to satellites, which, in turn, transmitted to permanent satellite receivers in the New York area. Once in New York, transmissions were sent into CBS studios for mixing and eventual transmission to more than 300 affiliates.

"It was very costly, but at the same time it was the only way we could do it with good quality," said Andy Vallon, manager of technical operations for CBS Radio.

That's not to say that digital does not have its occasional problems.

Mr. Vallon said the network got a scare earlier this month when the digital line installed for a "Game of the Week" broadcast from Houston went dead just two hours before game time. Technicians discovered the faulty line during a routine pre-game test.

A backup line had to be used for the broadcast. MCI technicians are trying to determine what caused the problem, Mr. Vallon said.

Despite the foul-up, Mr. Vallon said CBS Radio is committed to expanding its use of digital services. Football games will be broadcast this fall using the new MCI service.

In addition to being efficient, digital is cheaper. It costs CBS about $100 a game to broadcast via digital lines. Satellite transmissions run $1,200 a game, Mr. Vallon said.

Today's digital services are cheaper in part because phone companies can offer them on a "switched" basis, meaning customers can dial into the all-digital networks with the ease of picking up a phone and punching in a number. Customers pay only for what they use.

In the past, customers like CBS had to pay for expensive "dedicated" lines that could only carry data between two predetermined points.

Then there is the quality of digital. Unlike satellite feeds, which tend to have lots of crackles and pops, digitized voices are unadulterated. The crack of the bat is crisper, the roar of the crowd is clearer.

"It is a tremendous cost savings," Mr. Vallon said. "If you can do that and also improve the quality -- well, that's great."

This is the first year that CBS Radio has used digital technology to transmit the "Game of the Week" into the homes, cars and businesses of its estimated 7.5 million listeners.

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