A Graham-Owned NBC Affiliate Ups Its Studio Game


By Brian Galante

ROANOKE, VA. — It has been serving viewers in Southwest Virginia since 1952. In 2019, it moved to a new facility as part of a plan to improve its coverage of the region as its NBC affiliate.

For station owner Graham Media Group, replacement of the aging HDTV cameras was necessary. In the end, WSLS-10 in Roanoke-Lynchburg purchased six new studio cameras. Today, it believes its on-air look is improved, and its production sets are better represented.

The Roanoke-based NBC affiliate purchased six SK-HD1800 studio cameras from Hitachi Kokusai.

WSLS produces 31 hours of live newscasts each week for the market, as well as local lifestyle programming including daytime offering Blue Ridge Spotlight. The broadcaster initially launched its new studio space in 2019 using its existing, decade-old cameras alongside additional units borrowed from a sister station.

That all changed in 2021, when WSLS launched a long-planned camera technology refresh to enhance both its visual quality and creative options.

“Improving our picture quality was the main thing we wanted to do, but our previous cameras had also become unserviceable,” said Ricky Williams, Director of Technology at WSLS. “We also wanted to add new production capabilities such as automated lift.”

Systems integrator Digital Video Group (DVG) had built the technology core of WSLS-10’s new studio. He recommended the SK-HD1800 cameras as ideal fits. “Beyond the quality advantages, the success DVG has had with Hitachi cameras at other broadcasters was a big factor,” Williams said. “We do so much live production every day that taking a camera out of our rotation to resolve any issues would impact our product.”

WSLS went live with the SK-HD1800 cameras in November 2021, with DVG performing the integration and Ross Video handling the setup of camera robotics. With live production happening throughout the day, WSLS deployed the new cameras and robotics two at a time to minimize disruptions.

A phased approach to implementation was used.

“The improvement in picture quality was very noticeable as soon as we went on-air with the first two units,” Williams recalls. “We could immediately see an A/B difference next to the older cameras we were still using. It motivated us to speed up the deployment of the rest of the new cameras, since it would be so obvious to viewers that we were using both generations at the same time.”

Two of the SK-HD1800s are deployed on new Ross BlackBird pan/tilt/lift elevation systems to accommodate varying heights in the studio and sets. The remaining four SK-HD1800s are set up on Miller 3230 Combo Live 55 pedestals with Ross pan/tilt heads. Five of the cameras are used for newscasts, with two – including one shared between both purposes – used on the Daytime Blue Ridge Spotlight set on the other side of the studio. Production is automated through the Grass Valley Ignite platform, with Ross Video routing systems, Xpression graphics, and Dashboard control software rounding out the infrastructure.