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This television station's computerized news operation is kept humming by its uninterruptible power system.

This Television Station's Computerized News Operation Is Kept Humming by Its Uninterruptible Power System

"In an automated television newsroom, downtime is absolutely intolerable,' says Larry Maisel, vice president for news at WBNS-TV, Channel 10, Columbus, Ohio. "A worst-case situation would be a power interruption within the last few minutes before air time, with two or three late-breaking stories in the process of being completed. Those stories in the works would be lost. In our very competitive business, that's something that we simply cannot afford to have happen. For us, an uninterruptible power system is essential.'

To protect its new automated news operation, Channel 10 management specified a 15-kW uninterruptible power system (UPS) from LorTec Power Systems of Elyria, Ohio. The UPS shields the newsroom computer, video display terminals, printers and wire-service terminals from power interruptions, voltage aberrations and other power problems that can disrupt sensitive electronic equipment.

"It has been a delight,' says Maisel. "We would never have attempted the project without it. We are in a part of the country where thunderstorms are frequent and violent, especially in the summer. In fact, right after our UPS system went on line, we had a very severe thunderstorm that knocked out power to the building. The lights went out, and there was a collective gasp-- but then, a sigh of relief. Everybody looked down and saw that the computer terminals were still humming right along.'

WBNS news management decided in 1982 to begin a phased conversion to automated newsroom operations. The reason: to stay ahead of the competition. As the top-rated news operation in Greater Columbus, the station serves more than 180,000 people daily, according to the Nielsen rating service. Six daily newscasts are prepared by a staff of 68 reporters, editors, producers and cameramen. Simply, automation meant improved speed, accuracy and efficiency in script preparation and delivery.

Conversion to the new system was carefully planned and gradually implemented. In Phase I, five video display terminals, linked to a certral processor, were used for "non-critical' tasks, such as preliminary drafts of scripts, research, and staff orientation to the computer. Finished newscast scripts still were prepared with "old-fashioned' typewriters.

UPS Was Installed during Automation Expansion

Later, WBNS expanded the automated system to 20 terminals. It was during this second phase that the UPS was installed. The engineering evaluation was made by the station's chief engineer, John Cooper, in concert with Marvin McInnis, a technical consultant for the automated system. Having supervised installation of the Hewlett-Packard HP 1000 central computer system, McInnis could vouch for the operational compatibility between the newsroom automation equipment and the power supply. The answer was a solid "yes' to the compatibility question.

In 1983, the conversion was completed with the expansion to the present system of 38 terminals, four high-speed printers, two wire-service modems, air-conditioning for the computer room, and two modems for receiving incoming data from a remote unit, all connected to the UPS (see diagram).

Staff Had Time to Grow Accustomed to the New Equipment

The transition took time, but the caution paid off. The news staff had time to grow accustomed to the new equipment. They adjusted to the change without a hitch, all without disrupting the daily preparation of six news programs. Today, the computer is as much a part of putting the news on the air as the highly automated production equipment, so dependability is a key factor.

The critical nature of power protection for the news operation can be understood by examining the chain of events leading to the television news broadcasts. Much of the work in a newsroom isn't "time-critical'--that is, when a reporter is covering an event, entering notes into the computer, or developing historical information well in advance of air time, for example. Or when an assignment editor enters such information as air dates, story titles, reporter's name, location of an event to be covered, equipment assignments, and so on. At any time, news personnel can transfer such information from the VDT to permanent storage on disks.

As the process nears deadline, however, uninterruptible power becomes increasingly critical, because some information remains in a volatile state within the VDT. Reporters use the news computer as a word processing unit, to prepare scripts for final air presentation. In the case of a fast-breaking story, copy can be entered via telephone from a portable remote terminal. In addition to local copy, a reporter, editor or producer can introduce wire-service copy to supplement a local story.

Stories then can be reviewed, edited, formatted or printed. The WBNS system also can generate estimated delivery times based on word content of a script and known delivery rates of on-air talent. When accepted by a producer, a script will be printed in final form for on-air use.

Two formats are produced: split-page copy-and-direction format for production personnel, and double-height format for on-air talent. Multiple copies are printed at 1200 to 1800 words per minute.

In the past, stories were typed, revised, retyped, edited, retyped, adjusted for format, and retyped once again. To some extent, the quality of the final product was limited by typing speed. With newsroom automation, however, many time-consuming but essentially unproductive chorse were eliminated. Gone is the former time-taking, laborious process of refining scripts with typewriters, scissors and paste pots.

Refinement Often Continues until Just before Air Time

With the automated system, the refinement process often continues until shortly before unproductive chores were eliminated. would destroy information being revised, with potential loss of many hours of labor, and there would be no time left to reconstruct the stories. Result: on-air personalties would be forced to improvise.

To McInnis, who supervised installation of the newsroom computer system and video display terminals, the choice of UPS was an important consideration. The Columbus TV newsroom installation was one of the first of its kind in the US, which made clean power an important concern to him.

"The system has worked flawlessly,' McInnis reports. "It is totally invisible to our equipment.' Explains the consultant: "With some UPS equipment, the AC waveform is not tightly controlled, but this equipment is frequency-stable.'

Some UPS equipment can introduce transients in switching from normal mode to batteries or bypass mode, and in switching back to normal mode, he adds, but "The equipment selected by WBNS switches modes with no disruption.'

Among other technical considerations cited by McInnis is the UPS control over harmonic distortion. In analyzing the equipment, he has found that some systems effectively control distortion, but some others don't.

The system selected by WBNS is used with a compact standby battery plant that provides emergency power in the event of an interruption in commercial power. The battery plant, which uses gas recombination technology, eliminates the need for a dedicated battery room and associated expensive ventilation systems. The choice of battery plant simplified installation, because the site preferred by station management for the UPS is a small room opening to a busy corridor.

Critical Loads Are Isolated

The system consists of a battery charger/rectifier unit, a solid-state inverter, and an automatic static switch. The system isolates the critical loads from all types of potential power disruptions, from line transients and voltage fluctuations to blackouts or brownouts.

In normal operation, the commercial AC line supplies power to the battery charger/rectifier section. The charger/ rectifier section simultaneously float-charges the batteries and supplies regulated DC power to the inverter section. The inverter in turn continuously supplies clean, regulated AC power to the critical newsroom equipment, effectively isolating the computer network from all power-line aberrations.

The WBNS complex is supplied with power from Columbus and Southern Power Company, with backup power available from Municipal Power Company of Columbus. If Columbus and Southern Power should fail, Municipal Power would come on-stream automatically, with the UPS filling the short gap during this transfer.

In the unlikely event that both should fail simultaneously, the critical loads would be supplied clean AC power without interruption, with the UPS inverter section drawing power from the battery plant. The battery plant would supply power to the inverter until commercial power was restored or computer systems could be shut down systematically.

The UPS is designed with a solid-state static transfer switch. In normal mode, the switch continuously senses the power condition of both the inverter and critical loads. When a condition of overload, inrush surge, load short-circuit or inverter failure is sensed, the static switch automatically makes a zero-break transfer to the bypass commercial AC line.

The System Is Expandable on Site

To meet future need, the system is expandable on site to double its 15-kW power rating. This feature ensures that automated news operations can be expanded, or additional critical equipment added, without disruption.

WBNS management elected to turn over installation of the UPS and battery plant to the vendor's engineers and technicians. They worked with a local electrical contractor, who was responsible for retrofitting the station's electrical wiring system to accommodate the computer and terminals.

The wiring and cabling is installed to meet safety precautions set forth in the National Electrical Code. In addition, isolated earth grounding throughout the system protects sensitive circuits from electrical noise.

In evaluating power needs, station management limited UPS connections to those systems used in the newsroom. For example, activities of administrative computer users were not considered time-critical in the same sense as news operations. Although some administrative data reconstruction might be necessary in the event of a power failure, deadline chaos wouldn't be a direct threat.

Nor is broadcast power tied into the UPS system. A failure of commercial power to these less-critical loads would result in the automatic startup of a 550-kW diesel generator located in the television tower building.

Additionally, special computers control studio cameras and video-tape machines. These systems are monitored by WBNS personnel, who can quickly take over manual control in the event that computer operation is interrupted.

"We've had a number of power interruptions since installation of the automated system,' Maisel says. "Other equipment has been affected, but we haven't had a problem with our newsroom system. And that's the way it should be.'

Photo: Automated Newsroom

Photo: WBNS-TV's modern newsroom facilities include 38 video display terminals used to prepare news scripts.
COPYRIGHT 1986 Nelson Publishing
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1986 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:Communications News
Date:Apr 1, 1986
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