Augusta, Ga (WJBF)- This year marks 70 years of WJBF NewsChannel 6 bringing local news to CSRA.
In the first of a 4-part Hometown History series on the history of WJBF – Kim Vickers looks back at how the technology used to deliver the news to you has changed over 7 decades.
From 1953 to 2023 the equipment used, how broadcasts are broadcast and even the format of local TV news has evolved.
WJBF was started by JB Fuqua when television was in its infancy and radio was still the main source of news.
“In the early days of television, it was all live. There was no video recording. So that was the main thing to understand about 1953,” said Benjamin Singleton, production manager for the Moving Image Research Collections at the University of South Carolina.
When JB Fuqua started WJBF in 1953, radio news was king. The first broadcast news programs were newsreels – short documentary-like films shown before a movie in a theatre.
“You know, newsreels were in business 50 to 60 years before television came along. And they kind of developed a science of how to go out and get a story fast and get it published twice a week, which was a wonderful thing,” Singleton explained.
Televisions were becoming more common in American homes for entertainment.
In 1944, CBS launched a 15-minute news program, and NBC followed a year later. Singleton said that the format was very similar to a cinema newsreel.
“You had to talk to the camera every minute or you had to show a film. And that’s pretty much all you can do.”
The first cameras used in news were reel-to-reel cameras that used film. These were the same cameras used by photographers when WJBF started.
“And a news station—the cinematographer—had to go out and use motion picture film, as they did in Hollywood. They had to be developed and it took many hours, Singleton explained. “So it took planning to get out there, get a news story, develop it, find the shot you needed, and get it on the projector to get it to the audience.”
Senior Associate Producer, Mike Ludwikowski began his career in news at WJBF in 1973 as a film processor. He noted that although cameras were newer and more advanced than in the 50s, they were still using reel-to-reel film at the time.
“You have to go out again, make the film, shoot the story, come back, work on the film. And the film you had to use, you physically tore it apart, taped it back together to edit. So once you used the shot, that was it. You have used it.”
Ludd, as he was fondly known at WJBF, recalled that in those days it took time, sometimes even days, to produce a complete story. He not only had to edit and write the story of the film, but also add sound.
“It was not like today where everything was together. Now when you record, your voice is on the video. But it wasn’t like that back then… We had special cameras that could do that, but you usually went out with a silent film camera and then had to come back and work on your part and bring everything together. It took a while,” Ludd said.
He said that there was not much margin of error while using film.
“Because when you were sent with a film of, say, 100 feet, to make a story, it was a 3 or 4 minute film. You better choose your right shots.
Ludd knew the founder of WJBF and said that he made sure the station was updated with the latest technology.
“JB Fuqua, the man whose initials are still on the station, was a pioneer in technology. Ludd said, he loved to read and keep up with the latest technology. “And in 1975, he was in Japan and he came back with a reel to reel recorder that used the audio tapes he was using for the day, but was capable of producing video.”
This led to the change from film to videotape in the late 70s and early 80s, the first major equipment change in TV news.
Singleton said, “Videotape was a huge technological leap forward for television because then it didn’t have to be live all the time.”
The video tape recorder required a lot of equipment in the field.
“You had so much stuff that, basically when you got ready, you locked in there. Big heavy tripod because it was a big heavy camera. Ludd explained, a camera with a wire connected to a recorder. “Battery for both the devices. Batteries for your lights. You needed more light because we weren’t using chips. We were using tubes that require a lot of light to produce an image.
The editing process also changed.
“In tape-to-tape editing you start with a blank tape, you find the shot you want to put on that blank tape and you put that shot. Then you find your next shot and place it after the first shot. So you basically made a sequence of shots,” Ludd said.
In film editing, they could not use a shot more than once and in current digital editing they can use a shot as many times as they want. But in tape to tape editing, while shots can be reused, an editor has to be careful as the quality of the video may be compromised.
“You had generations. The first time you record something in analog, that’s your first generation recording,” Ludd said. “Once you’ve edited from one tape machine to another, your finished story is now second generation. If you took that second generation and made another copy of it, there was a definite, visible drop in the signal.
Videotape was used in news until the early 2000s when Ludd said everything switched from analog to digital.
“Progress from analog to digital; And moving away from recording in on-the-go format to putting it on a memory card has been one of the biggest changes I’ve seen. It accelerated – it accelerated everything.
The digital format means quicker filming and editing, allowing news stations to capture more news. Ludd said the change was a big adjustment and it was hard for him to get used to.
“With the pace, for an old timer, it lacks the refined quality we were accustomed to. We used to burn things better. We used to take our time. It has become more immediate and clearly without causing any trouble to the viewer. The audience wants to see what is happening and that is our job.”
Recording equipment isn’t the only change in technology WJBF has seen over the last 7 decades. The way we deliver news to a viewer’s TV is also up to a point.
Radio frequencies have been used to transmit images and sound on radio and television since the beginning of television. And as our chief engineer, Matt Johnson pointed out, that’s still true today.
“Here at Television Park, we broadcast from Beech Island, South Carolina. This is where we have our transmitter site. We have a technology – RF – which means radio frequency which is between the TV station here in the middle of the island. It is a line of sight, point-to-point connection that occurs. That way, the signal from the TV station in the studio reaches everyone in the community, Johnson said.
When former chief engineer, Cary Hale, began his career at WJBF in 1973, TV signal transmission looked very different than it does today.
“When I first came here it was mostly telecast. Cable was just in its infancy. That’s why everyone should have an antenna,” Hale said.
News stations started using microwave trucks in the late 60s. They broadcast video directly from the truck to the station, allowing reporters to be on location live. A different field transmission method came about in the 80s.
“Our satellite van is on a Ford E-350 van, just like the ones the family travels. The satellite signal travels in the space between the satellite vanes,” Johnson explained. “Then back from space to our Satellite Garden here in Television Park. And the video signal comes in here at the studio and then back to the transmitter site and then back out to the public.
“Guess, that made things a little more immediate. We didn’t have to go through three phases to get the signal back to the station. Just one,” Hale said.
And the most significant change was the change from analog to digital for transmitting signals like filming equipment.
WJBF went fully digital in 2009.
Engineers need more knowledge in electrical than need more IT base. Hale said it was an adjustment and it took a lot of work to get up to date with how the new equipment works.
“Every time we get a new piece of equipment, especially transmitters and things like that, I go over there… usually a lot of the corporations that manufacture this equipment have training engineers Is.”
Johnson said that switching from analog to digital transmitters resulted in considerable power savings. The station’s electricity bill was reduced by approximately $16,000 per month. He believes that as technology advances, WJBF will be better able to bring the community quality news.
“Technology has really made broadcast television more accessible to people. We’re able to go places we’ve never been—perhaps never before.”
Hey CSRA! This is just part of the history of your hometown.