Throwback Thursday: Live Coverage Changes Everything

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RENO, NV - Time was every day stories and the big major breaking stuff like 1962's Golden Hotel fire were covered by reporters shooting film with small hand held cameras.

"We started out with Bell and Howells, Bolex. 16 millimeter," remembers KOLO's first News Director Bob Carroll.."Everything was silent-voice over."

Before long the station bought its first sound camera, a big, bulky Auricon. The news staff settled into a routine that would remain unchanged for years.

"You'd go out a shoot a story and bring it back to the guy who ran the film processor," says former KOLO News Director and Anchor Tad Dunbar, adding that you'd then pray that increasing tension in the processor wouldn't break the film or its leader.

"And then you'd edit and write it," says Carroll, "and just hope that the film didn't break when it ran because the film was always,breaking in some story."

Then in the early 80's video cameras arrived. ENG. Electronic News Gathering.

"It was a big change," remembers former News Director John Howe.

Those new cameras weren't as light and easily handled as they are today. Nor as good in low light situations.

But they changed everything.

Because close on the heels of the video cameras were the live microwave trucks.

These units allowed us to relay a signal to a mountain top receive site to our control room, quite literally bringing our audience to the scene of the story as it unfolds.

It was revolutionary.

And it got an early test on a major breaking story May 30, 1983 when tons of soil and rock gave way on Slide Mountain sending a wall of mud and debris roaring down Ophir Creek Canyon into Washoe Valley.

Homes were destroyed, one person was killed. We covered it from the air but also from the scene live.

Microwave signals are line of sight. As long as there's a clear path from the top of that mast to the relay site we can go live.

A great piece of gear, the kind of thing you never fully appreciate until you don't have it.

Early in the coverage of the New Year's flood of 1997, a landslide took out the power line to our Slide Mountain site. Without it our microwave trucks were useless. Believe me it hurt.

Fortunately by then we had another tool. Northern Nevada's first remote satellite truck. Our rugged landscape no longer presented any obstacles we couldn't overcome.

A signal from its dish travels 22 thousand miles out in space, back to the station and out to your living room, even we're only reporting from a spot across town.

We've routinely used both types of vehicles on a daily basis for decades, but at no time do they play a more important role than during our wildfire season.

Wildfires are the one natural disaster we can plan for and perhaps more than any other, when they happen immediate up-to-date on scene reporting is crucial.

The names of the biggest most dangerous fires--names like Arrowcreek, Waterfall, Angora, Caughlin, Washoe Drive-- are unforgettable chapters in our recent history. . They are dangerous and destructive and occasionally tragic.

During 2002's Cannon Fire near Walker, California our live coverage included an interview with a tanker pilot from the Minden Airport. Just minutes later as he flew his next mission our reporters watched as his aging craft broke apart. Steve Wass and the other two crew members were killed.

There are also times when live coverage also has allowed our viewers to witness far less though still significant moments in time such as the Super Bowl Sunday January of 2000 when much of Northern Nevada watched the death of a landmark, the Mapes Hotel.

The latest of these tools is a back pack, called a TVU. It's live capability in its most portable form. It uses a cell phone signal to access the internet and if we're in an area with no cell phone coverage we can use a small, specially equipped vehicle to access the internet via satellite.

We've come a long way from the days of black and white silent film. The assignment remains the same--accurate reporting of events impacting our audience, but you're also able to witness it along with us. It's hard to imagine TV news without it.

Some stories are as compelling as they are difficult to report and witness.

Beginning in the late 70's through the 90's there were a series of stories that sent a chill through our community and had us all keeping a closer eye on our children. Those stories next week.