St. Louis Pioneered Advances in Technology, Enable News to Be "Up-to-Date" and "Live."

By Cohen, David H. | St. Louis Journalism Review, September 1995 | Go to article overview

St. Louis Pioneered Advances in Technology, Enable News to Be "Up-to-Date" and "Live."


Cohen, David H., St. Louis Journalism Review


A lot has changed in the past 25 years. St. Louis has fewer daily newspapers and it has fewer radio stations with news departments. But it does have more television stations doing more news each day.

Some of that can be traced to the birth and development of the Cable News Network. CNN has shown that there is a great appetite for news and information. It exists, in part, because of the technology that has made television news easy to gather and easy to transmit. In St. Louis, as in other markets around the country and indeed around the world, the technology has made it easier for local television stations to gather and report the news.

Television news was gathered on film 25 years ago. Film that had to be properly exposed. Film that had to be processed. Film that had to be physically cut to be edited. And film that had to be projected. Newsfilm from stories outside the local area was rare. Live shots were nonexistent. To go live would have required an army of engineers, a flotilla of equipment and months of logistical planning.

We take for granted what we see each day on the small screen. When news happens, we turn on the television and expect to see the event live, regardless of where it is. Regardless of how remote the location, or how little time has passed since the news event happened.

The technological revolution for television news began in the early 1970s and St. Louis was one of the pioneer locations for what has become known as ENG - Electronic News Gathering.

In 1974, CBS, which at the time owned Channel 4, outfitted the station with electronic cameras and electronic editing equipment, which replaced the cumbersome film equipment. The other St. Louis television stations followed over the next several years, and by the turn of the decade, 1981, all of St. Louis' television stations were using videotape.

With the videotape cameras, miniature versions of the bulky studio cameras, live shots became possible. Microwave equipment was purchased and going live became as easy as hooking up a thin coaxial cable, similar to the wire used by cable television converters, to the microwave transmitter.

Through the years, the already small ENG cameras have been improved. They have gotten better and smaller. The tape recorders have gotten smaller as well. The bulky two-piece 3/4[inches] tape format that ushered in the ENG age was replaced in the late 1980s by single piece Betacam units, which provide a technically better picture and better sound on a smaller format videotape cartridge in a package that weighs less than the first ENG cameras alone. Most St. Louis television stations converted to the Betacam format around 1990. KPLR-TV chose a competing format, M-II, which also uses smaller videotape cassettes. KDNL-TV, which began to gather news at the start of this year, uses a very high grade S-VHS videotaping system, similar in design to consumer VHS recording, but of higher quality.

The move from film to videotape allowed television journalists to spend more time shooting their stories or gathering news. They no longer have to stop working in the early afternoon to get their film back to the television station and into the "soup" - the chemicals to process the news film. They can also stay on the scene of the story and transmit their video back to the station from a microwave truck.

The editing equipment has marched in lockstep to the evolution in video cameras. …

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