Glitch forces WPXI to go live ... from the parking lot

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As top executives from WPXI parent company Cox Broadcasting were in town yesterday for a ribbon-cutting ceremony celebrating the company's new Channel 11 facility, the television station had a major meltdown that forced it to broadcast its noon news from the parking lot.

A technical problem discovered about a half-hour before the newscast led the station to shut down and attempt to restart its newsroom system.

When that didn't work, news director Corrie Harding decided to have reporter Rick Earle begin the newscast outside, standing in front of a chain-link fence. Regular noon news anchors Newlin Archinal and Bob Bruce remained on standby in the studio in hopes the problem would be resolved.

Mr. Earle read the news from a script (no TelePrompTer) and meteorologist Scott Harbaugh offered a forecast without any maps or fancy graphics. There was no additional video, live or packaged reports or any of the other elements usually found in a normal TV newscast. Commercials aired because they are operated out of WPXI's old Television Hill facility.

Ms. Archinal and Mr. Bruce eventually came outside to take over the newscast, likening the problems with the new Summer Hill facility's "ground-breaking technology" to the way a home computer can crash.

At a 2 p.m. ribbon-cutting ceremony -- attended by political dignitaries, advertising clients and WPXI's Peggy Finnegan and Alby Oxenreiter, among others, general manager Ray Carter vowed that despite the day's struggles and missteps, the new technologies eventually will offer a better TV experience for viewers.

He said after the ribbon cutting that the cause of yesterday's system crash was a Microsoft Windows Update that was not installed in time. He said it was something that could have affected any Windows-based system, such as WPXI's new automated production system. The problem was resolved and the 5 p.m. news originated from the station's studio as usual.

It was the latest technical glitch to hit WPXI, which was plagued with problems this summer after installing an automated production system in its old facility. It is designed to reduce costs by eliminating the number of people necessary to put on a newscast.

After the new system was installed, reports failed to play, microphones were turned on or off at inopportune moments and graphics not associated with the story being aired appeared over the shoulders of news anchors.

Those problems were largely remedied until this past weekend, when Channel 11's newscasts began originating from the station's new $30 million facility. Many of the same glitches returned, although there were fewer problems Tuesday than on Monday.

"It's difficult," news anchor David Johnson said of the spate of problems. "But the way I look at it is these are growing pains. ... It will get better. I'm not down about it. Being in this new building makes me very optimistic."


TV editor Rob Owen can be reached at rowen@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2582.


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