Paul McLane is editor in chief.
I checked in
with NPR Technical Director Chris Nelson, who is in Tampa, about operations
at the Republican National Convention. He wrote on Thursday morning:
McLane: How is it going for the NPR
technical team in your task of supporting coverage of the GOP convention?
Nelson: Fairly well! We’ve had a few unexpected bumps in
the road but nothing insurmountable.
McLane: How many people overall does NPR
have at the convention in Tampa? How many are involved for the technical
Nelson: NPR has about 30 total
employees here in Tampa. About eight of
those folks are dedicated to our nightly live coverage starting at 8 p.m. We
also have staff from “Tell Me More,”“All
Things Considered” and “Morning Edition” on site. And, in addition to that, a
few reporters and editors filing for our news magazine shows, and three
multimedia journalists for npr.org. We
have two audio engineers, one technical director and four representatives from
our technology group (IT/Telecom) supporting the efforts.
McLane: Briefly describe the gear
each reporter carries.
Nelson: It really varies. Our
floor reporters, for instance, are carrying Lectrosonics SM transmitters
connected to Shure SM58s for live inserts into our evening special. They also
carry Lectro IFB beltpacks to hear the show and information from our on-site
producer/director. To keep the amount of gear they have to carry at a minimum
we record the raw feed of each wireless mic. If an NPR reporter happens to get
an interesting interview with a delegate or newsmaker at a time where we can’t
go to them live, we still have the ability to use that audio later in our
broadcast or for a story to be filed later.
McLane: Briefly describe the audio chain
from reporter to NPR.
Nelson: Again, it totally varies
depending on location. The most common are:
via ISDN using a Musicam Roadrunner (Radio Row and NPR Workspace)
-NPR reporter via Comrex Access at NPR’s IP drop on the floor,
or roving with Verizon 4G.
-NPR reporter via FTP using a
traditional reporter kit (Marantz 620 with EV RE50 or AT 835 shotgun)
-NPR reporter via iPhone using Report-IT Enterprise Edition
technical problems or challenges encountered since the event started?
Nelson: Yes. We’ve had two unexpected big problems.
We ordered both ISDN service and IP for our broadcast booth
location. We transmit eight discrete paths of audio to and from Washington using
four Musicam Suprima codecs. Historically we’re more likely to use ISDN over IP
due to its relatively steady behavior once a connection is up and running. However
at this convention we’ve had more trouble with ISDN than anyone can recall.
Regardless of the long-distance carrier, switched data ISDN
calls will not transit through the tandem switch correctly. We cannot synch
reliably or consistently at 64 or 128K from either of the LECs available to us.
We had NPR’s best and brightest work with Terra Nova, AT&T, Verizon and
Sprint for several days, but we could never get our ISDN connections to dial
and stay framed reliably enough for our satisfaction.
for the first time, we’re using IP as our primary transmission method back to
headquarters. The results have been great. We’re transmitting each codec at
256K (double the quality of what we would do with ISDN), and latency has been
extremely low. We’ve been monitoring our transmissions in real time and while
we have lost some data packets in transmission, none were unrecoverable or out
of sequence, so we’ve not been victim to any on air drop outs or glitches. ISDN
is still available as a backup.
We’ve also had the
annoyance of someone on the convention floor periodically using one of NPR’s
assigned and coordinated IFB frequencies. This caused us to abort a live
interview minutes before throwing down to the convention floor. POLCOMM [the Frequency Coordination Committee for the political conventions] granted
us an alternate frequency to use tonight in case the frequency perpetrator