TV Production on a Radio Dime

RFA delivers quality online video without a dedicated budget
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Radio Free Asia found that a relatively small amount of money can be applied creatively to develop a quality video product. Now it has an impressive studio space and a multi-disciplined staff that can create Web content for www.rfa.org.

Gordon Burnett, production engineer III, and AJ Janitschek, director of program and operations support, have been working on bringing video services to RFA in Washington since their purchase of a Canon GL1 DV mini camcorder in 2000.

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The video operation is set up in what had been a conference room.

“It has been a 12-year growth,” says Janitschek of a process that led to the studio and production equipment now in place.

They will discuss affordable creation of Web video in an NAB Show session in Las Vegas. Burnett plans to detail the process of content creation, to help broadcasters who want to launch or expand an online video presence.

“Radio engineers who are curious about the convergence of radio and video can get in on the game with some basic retraining and repurposing of resources common to both,” Burnett said.

“If a radio engineer thinks the future is still only radio, they are mistaken. They need to embrace video and bring it to their station or network.

“I looked the subtotal of everything that we have done over the years, and it occurred to me that we could have spent a lot more money; but then we didn’t do too badly considering we were nickel-and-diming it.”

Telling stories

The technology team at RFA knew that the amount of video being posted online was on the increase. Burnett was attracted by the medium’s capacity “to retain visitors to well-designed websites and its ability to tell stories in ways that audio alone could not.” The individual language services of RFA were also beginning to pick up on the importance of adding value to their online content.

“The more enterprising services picked up on it by themselves. The Vietnamese had started taping in the radio studios and they put out a pretty decent product, but the setup wasn’t sustainable since the space needed to be used for audio. So we started talking about the new space,” said Burnett.

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Video control

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Gordon Burnett

To support the Vietnamese service and others, RFA converted a conference room into the new video studio. Funding was the biggest roadblock. Radio Free Asia is a U.S.-government funded, non-profit organization operated by the Broadcasting Board of Governors.

“None of these [video expenditures] were a line item in our budget. When the opportunity presented itself, end-of-year funds, etc., and funds were available, we got in line and stated our case,” said Burnett. Little by little the money to purchase equipment did come. Cameras, teleprompters, lighting ensued. Slowly the video studio acquired the necessary gear to produce the Vietnamese and other language shows.

Personnel was another issue, though it helped that RFA already employs 18 radio production engineers to support their 24/7 operation.

“We took a bunch of audio engineers, and in some cases people had no knowledge of video, and in other cases people did have knowledge. It made them more familiar with it (video) and now those same audio-only engineers are running a camera and a Tricaster [video production system] for multiple language services in the period of a day.

“All of these audio engineers are in essence multimedia people, because they picked up video skills, or as needed sharpened those skills. So they can be doing Master Control, then as needed jump into the video studio, and then go downstairs to the studio to run a live on-air radio program, and go wherever they are needed throughout the day.”


Studio:
Newtek Tricaster XD300 Production System
Newtek LC-11 Controller
JVC GY-HD250 Cameras and studio package
JVC Camera Control Units
Sony LMD-1750W and LMD-2450W LCD Monitors
Vinten Vision Ped Plus Studio Pedestals
Autoscript ELP Teleprompters
Eartec TD904Pro Wireless intercom system
Yamaha O1V Audio Mixer
Blackmagic Design Sync Generator
Sony ECM 44B Lavalier mics
Brightline Systems T-Series Videoconference Fixtures
Strand Lighting 200 DMX Lighting Console

ENG:
Canon HF200 Camcorders
Canon XF105 Camcorders
Panasonic AG-HMC150 Camcorder
Adobe Production Suite

Affordable solutions

Also helping RFA save budget is the availability of inexpensive IT-based Web video solutions.

“There’s a plethora of new, relatively low-cost streaming solutions available like LiveCast, which is a suite of complimentary software applications,” Burnett said. RFA uses LiveCast for live streaming projects, and Digital Rapids TouchStream for users to stream video from the field.

A visit by the Dalai Lama in July 2011 was streamed live for the Tibetan service from RFA’s studio. The video is available at Radio World’s links page for this issue, http://radioworld.com/Mar-28-2012.

“We have done quite a few live streaming projects, but that is not our bread-and-butter. We have much better control over the product when we record,” says Burnett.

In all, the RFA language services “couldn’t be happier” with its video capabilities, says Burnett. A quick look at RFA Vietnamese Service’s YouTube channel shows why. The daily shows bring 10,000 to 20,000 views, and the channel has close to 4,000 subscribers. Along with Khmer, Tibetan, Lao and others, RFA’s single studio is booked from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.

Burnett and Janitschek are hopeful RFA can continue to expand its video capacity. They hope to add another studio, at least, and more people to support it.

“We are running into a lack of resources,” said Janitschek. The language services “are talking about expanding video production into the weekend.”

Burnett says that RFA will just have to continue “to be fair and judicious in the kinds of things we choose to acquire” — wisdom to which all engineers can relate.

The presentation “Creating Real Web Video With Virtual (Few) Resources” is part of the session “Graphics for Radio” in the Broadcast Engineering Conference on Thursday morning.

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