Already a subscriber? Log in
- Unparalleled business coverage of the Iowa City / Cedar Rapids corridor.
- Immediate access to subscriber-only content on our website.
- 52 issues per year delivered digitally, in print or both.
- Support locally owned and operated journalism.
After weeks of coming live from a temporary in-house studio, WHBF TV 4 is returning to its longtime studio where a major renovation is complete that station leaders say will enhance its journalists’ storytelling capability and advance its new branding. WHBF, a CBS affiliate owned by Nexstar Broadcasting Group, is putting the final touches on the studio remodel at its downtown Rock Island station. The state-of-the-art renovation includes installation of 42 new TV monitors, new Hitachi in-studio cameras, new moveable anchor desks and guest seating, LED lighting, newly created graphics and the addition of a robotic camera that constantly captures video as it rotates back and forth. The news team began broadcasting from the renovated third-floor studio on Monday, Oct. 30, giving viewers a whole new experience. During construction, the news and production crews have broadcast from a smaller production space on the second floor in the 231 18th St. building. The WHBF team has anxiously been awaiting the return as well as additional time to practice – and learn more about – the new upgrades and technology incorporated into the century-old building. “This is probably the coolest feature,” News Director Eric Olsen told the QCBJ as he pointed to a new video wall made up of 24 different screens. The wall of screens, he said, can display a single image or two or three different images at a time and will expand its storytelling options. For instance, he said, during a serious weather event, one screen can feature a live remote, another can show views from the tower camera and a third can display other weather graphics. In addition, anchors and reporters now will be seated in front of two banks of screens – with four monitors each – and allow them to interact with the various content elements as they report the news. By extending the news desk across the length of the studio, he said the camera crew will have the ability to provide more depth to its shots. All the backgrounds and video walls also are portable and can be rearranged. “To me, it enhances our ability to tell stories by using all the monitors and the new graphics that go with it,” said Mr. Olsen, who also often fills the anchor seat. “It was time for an update.” He said his staff has been busy rehearsing and news and technical crews are trying to learn all the capabilities now available to them. “We haven’t even figured out all it can do yet,” he said. A third section of the new set’s video wall will promote the station’s ourquadcities news and ourQCnews branding – when not being used to introduce other news elements. WHBF not only provides broadcast news for Local 4 but also for Fox 18 in the Quad Cities and KGCW-TV. “We’ll all be under the ourquadcities.com news brand,” Mr. Olsen said, referring to WHBF’s website. A large part of the impetus for the studio upgrade, he said, “is to marry and rebrand everything together including our website, ourquadcities.com. It will be Our Quad Cities News on Local 4, or Our Quad Cities News on Fox 18 and Our Quad Cities News on CW.” WHBF Chief Engineer Bob Berger told the QCBJ that the project has been in the works for nearly a year including six weeks of actual construction. With the changes and enhancements, the set now spans the studio lengthwise (it measures about 75 feet long) and occupies a larger portion of the room’s footprint with the set and production space. The studio renovation was completed by Lance Schroeder Studios, an Oklahoma-based company responsible for Nexstar’s projects. Its new graphics were created by Nexstar’s Nashville Design Center. According to Pat Baldwin, the station’s vice president and general manager, the building renovations and equipment upgrades represent a nearly $500,000 investment by parent company Nexstar Broadcasting Group, headquartered in Irving, Texas. Originally built as a bank, WHBF’s prominent downtown building has served as its home since it went on the air in 1950, he added. Mr. Baldwin said he and his team were actually surprised to be in line this soon for a renovation given that Nexstar already upgraded WHBF’s studio after it acquired it in September 2013. “We didn’t expect it to be this year,” he said, adding “It’s a big morale booster for here.” Nexstar owns America’s largest local broadcasting group, which is comprised of top network affiliates, with 200 owned or partner stations in 116 U.S. markets reaching 212 million people. WHBF’s renovations “goes hand in hand with what Downtown Rock Island is doing,” Mr. Baldwin said of the Downtown Rock Island Alliance’s placemaking efforts to revitalize the downtown core. According to Mr. Olsen, WHBF’s directors, producers and news staff started testing and rehearsing on the new equipment in mid-October. “It’s hard to tell how it’s going to go until after you (work under) actual live conditions,” he said. Anchor Jim Niedelman said with the new technologies “there is so much potential for what we can do now. The news business has evolved in so many ways … We’ll be able to dig into stories in new ways we haven’t been able to before.” Both Mr. Olsen and Mr. Niedelman admit there will be a huge learning curve for all involved in the news production. “We’ll all be able to tell a story more visually and help them (viewers) relate better to the story,” Mr. Niedelman said.