AUGUSTA, Ga (WJBF)- This year marks 70 years the WJBF NewsChannel 6 has been bringing local news to the CSRA.

In the first of a 4 part Hometown History series on the history of WJBF– Kim Vickers takes a look at how the technology used to bring you the news has changed over 7 decades.

From 1953 to 2023 everything from the equipment used, how a broadcast is transmitted and even the format of local TV news has evolved. 

WJBF was started by J.B. Fuqua, when television was in its infancy and radio was still the main source of news.

“In the early days of television, it was all live. There was no video recording. So that was the main thing to understand about 1953,” said Benjamin Singleton, production manager of Moving Image Research Collections at the University of South Carolina. 

When J.B. Fuqua started WJBF in 1953, radio news was king. The first broadcast news programs were newsreels– short documentary-like films shown before a movie in a theater.

“Newsreels had been in business, you know, 50 to 60 years before television came along. And they had kind of developed the science of how to go out and get a story fast and put it out twice a week, which was an amazing thing,” explained Singleton. 

TVs were becoming more common in American households for entertainment. 

In 1944, CBS launched a 15 minute news program and NBC followed one year later. Singleton said that the format was much like the cinema newsreel.

“You had to talk to the camera every minute you were on air or you had to show a film. And that’s pretty much what you could do.”

A reel to reel camera like what was used at WJBF in 1953. Located at the University of South Carolina.

The first cameras used in news were reel to reel cameras that used film. These were the same cameras used by photographers when WJBF got started.

“And a news station- cinematographers- they had to go out and use motion picture film, just like they did in Hollywood. They had to be developed and it took several hours,” Singleton explained. “So it took planning to get out there, get a news story, get it developed, find the shot that you need and get it on a projector to go out to the viewers.”

Mike Ludwikowski, Senior Associate Producer, began his career in news in 1973 at WJBF as a film processor. He said that though the cameras were newer and more advanced than they had been in the 50’s, they were still using reel to reel film at the time.

“You had to go out with, again, film, shoot the story, come back, process the film. And the film that you had to use, you physically tore it, taped it back together to make an edit. So once you used the shot, that was it. You’ve used it.”

Lud, as he is affectionately known at WJBF, explained that in those days putting together a full length story took time, sometimes days. They not only had to edit the film and write the story, but they had to add sound as well.

“It wasn’t like today where everything is all together. Now when you record, your sound is on the video. But back then there was no… we had special cameras that could do that, but you normally went out with a silent film camera and then had to come back and work on your piece and it took a while to get everything together,” Lud said.

He said there wasn’t much of a margin of error when using film. 

“Because when you were sent out with, say 100 feet of film to do a story, that was 3 or 4 minutes worth of film. You better select your right shots.”

Lud knew the founder of WJBF and said he made sure the station stayed up to date on the latest technology.

WJBF Founder, J.B. Fuqua.

“J.B. Fuqua, the man whose initials are still on the station, was a pioneer in technology. He loved reading and acquiring the newest technology,” said Lud. “And in 1975, he was in Japan and he came back with a reel to reel recorder that used the audio tape they were using for that day, but was able to do video.”

Video tape camera, located at the University of South Carolina.

This was the lead in to the change from film to video tape in the late 70’s and early 80’s, the first major equipment change in TV News.

“Video tape was a huge technological leap for television because then it didn’t have to be live all the time,” Singleton said.

Video tape recorders required a lot of equipment in the field.

Portable video cassette recorder, located at the University of South Carolina.

“You had so much gear with you that, basically when you got set up, you were locked in there. Big heavy tripod because it was a big heavy camera. A camera with a cord to a recorder, explained Lud. “Batteries for both devices. Batteries for your lights. You needed much more light because we weren’t using chips. We were using tubes that required a lot more light in order to make an image.”

The editing process changed too.

“In tape to tape editing you start with a blank tape, you find the shot you want to put on that blank tape and you put that shot on. Then you find your next shot and put it after the first shot. So you basically built a sequence of shots,” Lud said.

Video tape like WJBF would have used.

In film editing, they couldn’t use a shot more than once and in current digital editing they can use a shot as many times as they choose. But in tape to tape editing, while shots could be reused, an editor had to be careful because the quality of the video could be compromised.

“You had generations. When you would first record something in analog, that’s your first generation recording,” said Lud. “Once you made the edit from one tape machine to another your finished story was now second generation. If you took that second generation and made another copy of it, there was a definite, visible degradation of the signal.”

Video tapes were used in news until as late as the early 2000’s when Lud said everything changed from analog to digital.

“The progression from analog to digital; and getting away from recording on a moving format, and putting it on a memory card has been one of the biggest changes that I’ve seen. It sped up- it sped up everything.”

Editing software currently in use at WJBF.

The digital format means quicker filming and editing allowing for news stations to get more news out. Lud said the change was a big adjustment and was tough for him to get used to.

“With the speed, for an old timer, a lack of the polished quality that we were used to. We used to light things better. We used to take our time. It’s gotten more immediate and frankly that doesn’t bother the viewer. The viewer wants to see what’s happening and that’s our job.”

Recording equipment aren’t the only changes in tech that WJBF has seen over the last 7 decades. The way we get the news to a viewer’s TV has too– to a point. 

Since the dawn of television radio frequencies have been used to transmit picture and sound to radios and television. And our Chief Engineer, Matt Johnson explained that’s still true today.

WJBF signal tower in Beech Island.

“Here at Television Park, we are broadcasted from Beech Island, South Carolina. That’s where our transmitter site is. We have a technology- RF- which stands for radio frequency that happens between the tv station here to Beech Island. It is a line of sight, point to point connection that occurs. That’s how the signal from the TV station here in the studio, gets out to everyone in the community,” Johnson said.

When former Chief Engineer, Cary Hale started his career at WJBF in 1973, TV signal transmission looked a lot different than it does today.

“When I first got here it was mostly all over the air broadcast. Cable was just in its beginning. So everybody had to have an antenna,” said Hale.

In the late 60’s news stations began using microwave trucks. They transmitted video from the truck directly to the station allowing reporters to go live on location. In the 80’s a different field transmission method came about.

WJBF satellite truck.

“Our satellite van is on a Ford E-350 van, much like families use to travel with. The satellite signal goes between the satellite van to space,” explained Johnson. “Then back down from space to here at Television Park to our Satellite Garden. And the video signal comes into the studio here and then back to the transmitter site and then back out to the public again.”

“That made stuff a little more instantaneous, let’s say. We didn’t have to go through three steps to get a signal back to the station. Just one,” said Hale.

And as with filming equipment the transition from analog to digital was the most significant change for transmitting  signals. 

WJBF went fully digital in 2009. 

Engineers went from needing more knowledge in electrical to more of an IT base. Hale said it was an adjustment and a lot of work to stay up to date on how the new equipment worked.

WJBF digital transmitter in Beech Island.

“Every time we got a new piece of equipment, particularly transmitters and things like that, I would go to the… generally speaking a lot of the corporations that built this equipment would have training for the engineers.”

Johnson said that the switch from analog to digital transmitters saved a lot of electricity. The station’s electric bill dropped nearly $16,000 a month. He thinks that as long as technology advances the better able WJBF will be to bring the community quality news.

“Technology has really made broadcast television more accessible for people. We’re able to go to places that we were never able to– probably never could have went before.”

Hey CSRA! That’s just PART of your Hometown History.