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Pope Radio: Covering Pontifex at Westwood One

Westwood One’s Bart Tessler discusses plans to cover the pontiff on his U.S. visit

Westwood One News’ Steve Kastenbaum will jump into any East Coast papal news scrum.

The visit of Pope Francis to the United States next week is drawing a lot of attention. Naturally, news organizations plan to cover his travels. Radio World talked with a busily preparing Westwood One EVP, News and Talk Programming, Bart Tessler about his group’s plans.

Radio World: What plans are in place for Westwood One’s news operations, to cover the pope?
Bart Tessler:Westwood One News is covering Pope Francis’ visit to Cuba and the United States with a team of correspondents in Havana, Washington, New York and Philadelphia. That includes correspondents Karin Caifa and Polo Sandoval in Cuba, Bob Costantini and Steve Kastenbaum in Washington, New York and Philly, along with more. They will file both directly to our Washington newsroom for network newscasts, our audio platform, and our morning news magazine shows “America in the Morning” and “First Light,” as well as directly to WWO News-affiliated stations for live reports and Q/As.

RW: What’s involved technically? What codecs, audio connectivity or other audio equipment will the team be using?
Tessler: We will deploy a variety of filing devices and techniques, including Comrex Access codecs, smartphone recording and filing apps (i.e. Luci Live), satellite phones, solid-state recorders and ISDN lines. The technology for our primary, secondary and tertiary backhauls to our transmission point in New York is all audio over IP utilizing a variety of hardware and software. For remote filing from various locations in Cuba, this goes to the ever-ready question of, “what’s the backup?” Our correspondent’s satellite phones were seized this week and are presently being held by customs officials at the Havana airport, apparently because they exceeded the limit of transmission equipment which can be brought into the country. Fortunately we have Cuban cellphones and Internet, which are working well, along with land lines.

RW: What is the standard audio rig these days for your news people in the field?
Tessler: Our standard recording device is the Marantz PMD660 or PMD620 with Shure SM58 and Sennheiser MD 46 microphones. Their workstation-class laptops handle the editing chores. In addition, correspondents are regularly using smartphones to record and file, as well as Comrex Access codecs for transmission.

RW: Will there be an audio mixing location at these events, similar to what you might do for inaugurations and other big events?
Tessler: We will be mixing audio in Havana for all remote Cuba locations, as well as in our facilities in New York and Washington, including at the White House and on Capitol Hill. WWO News also is providing live feeds of all of the Pope’s events directly to affiliates, enabling them to quickly excerpt or go live.

RW: How many bodies will be assigned by the network?
Tessler: Westwood One News has credentialed seven correspondents, producers and technicians, with several others dedicated at our broadcast facilities. We are also supported by the staff and resources of CNN, including its Havana bureau and satellite transmission.

RW: What other special considerations does the pope’s visit bring to your news management planning?
Tessler: The pope’s visit is a special event, on the order of a political convention in terms of dedication of resources, logistics, cost and staffing. We have been planning for the Pope’s visit for three months, reviewing the itinerary and making assignments based on editorial judgement and anticipated demand from affiliates at each venue. There are also the challenges of credentialing, working with vendors, and special issues of working in Cuba.

RW: Anything else radio industry people might want to know?
Tessler: The pope’s visit presented an additional challenge in arranging correspondents, technical support, and facilities, in three U.S. cities and Cuba, in a compressed timeframe. There are multiple logistical issues, including basic items such as transportation and hotel, in a locked-down environment. WWO News serves the top news-talk stations in the country, including WINS(AM) and WABC(AM) in New York; KABC(AM) in Los Angeles; WLS(AM) in Chicago; WMAL(AM/FM) and WNEW(FM) in Washington; WBAP(AM) in Dallas; KYW(AM) in Philadelphia; WBZ(AM) in Boston; KGO(AM) and KSFO(AM) in San Francisco, and many more.