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VRT Radio News Adds Vans

Mobile units are key in gathering news and getting it in the newsroom, either as raw footage or ready-to-use coverage.

BRUSSELS — Flemish public-service broadcaster Vlaamse Radio- en Televisieomroep (VRT) gave a public tour of its new radio news vans at the Belgian Broadcast Days networking event.

Joris Van Aelten With One of the New VRT Radio News Vans

Getting the news to the audience as soon as possible — that is what counts today — and the vans are key for VRT in gathering news and getting it in the newsroom, either as raw footage or ready-to-use coverage.

In 2009, the VRT decided it was time to order four new vans for radio news coverage.

“We used to have three radio news cars, but very often they were all on the road forcing journalists to wait to go out,” said Joris Van Aelten, technical supervisor of the public broadcaster’s ENG radio department.

The assignment for technical configuration for the four new vans was issued by public tender, and Amptec won the job; the four Mercedes-Benz Viano (V-Class) vans along with some equipment, including Wisycom radio link transmitters and DHD Series 52 consoles, were supplied by the broadcaster.

Amptec had served as technical integrators for 10 VRT television OB vans in the past, and the company, as well as VRT staff, had already been thinking about how to improve the ergonomics and technology in the radio vans.

“From our previous cars we were able to define what changes we had to implement, improvements and upgrades, eyeing the future,” said Van Aelten.

“For these new cars we started by making a model to fit in the cars, open for discussion and improvement. Once the preliminary design was approved, it took us some two months to build the equipment into the four Mercedes,” said George Lemmens of Amptec’s Pro Audio Sales department.

Among the important issues when conceiving the new cars was the position of the operating desk — mounted in the direction of travel to allow journalists to edit and send their material while the car is on the road.

“It’s easier to put the desk in the reverse direction, but that’s not ideal to work while driving,” said Lemmens. “The key here was to integrate the operating desk so that journalists could get in and out of the car easily, while keeping in mind the safety regulations. That’s why we introduced a folding working platform.”

Each van is equipped with a full-fledged editing unit, featuring a VCS dira! system. Like in the VRT on-air radio studios, the vans have DHD Series 52 consoles on board and Fostex 6301BX monitors.

The DHD desks have six faders and can manage up to 15 different sources. The journalists use built-in mini-PCs instead of portable computers to reduce burglary and theft. Both PCs have a continuous 3G link with the Internet, giving the journalist the same access to system resources as in the VRT newsroom.

For maximum operational flexibility, journalists can conduct interview either with the Sennheiser MD 441 microphone connected directly to the console, with a wireless microphone or with the Wisycom wireless radio link system, which provides for a 500-meter radius of autonomy.

Transmitting the news content is either via an Option Globesurfer 3G router, a high-frequency transmitter or via a BGAN link.

“I’m convinced these new vans offer the highest quality for today’s radio operations,” said Lemmens. “With the growing importance of delivering news while it’s hot, we have been able to design and supply state-of-the-art working equipment in close collaboration with our clients.”

Contrary to the VRT television news programs, which air at 13:00 and 19:00, radio news needs to air around the clock, every 30 minutes. Van Aelten underlined the flexibility of the medium, allowing direct coverage of important events.

“Major news can break in on normal programs. Going on air from anywhere in the field is essential and should happen swiftly. With these new vans with their multiple transmission modules, sending content from the most distant places becomes reality,” he said.