SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - One of the most ever-changing things at WTOC over the last 65 years has been consistently responsible for keeping us on the air.
The technology used when we started may look, sound, and feel like nothing we use today, but it’s been the backbone of the station since 1954.
“When we were editing film, gee whiz, what a job,” Doug Weathers said.
Knowing how to splice film is how Doug Weathers got his start at WTOC. When he started reporting, he simply describes lugging his gear as labor.
“I would bring out a tripod that weight about 40 pounds and a camera that weighed about 40 pounds, lights and batteries and stuff. Man, you were loaded down, I’m telling you,” he said.
“Cameras were huge when I started reporting,” Dawn Baker recalls.
Before Dawn was a staple on the anchor desk, she was out reporting in the field - with more heavy stuff than you can imagine.
“I think we were all in better shape then because the equipment was so heavy,” she said.
Technology has always been a part of getting the news on air, but the way we make that happen has evolved immensely.
“The way technology has changed how we have streamlined everything, and now we now longer have these bulky tapes, but we have this small SD card that can really handle more than what’s on this. It’s almost like the computer age and how it has changed everything,” Baker said.
Dawn and Doug both transitioned from reporter to anchor, and some of the big changes happened in the studio.
Daily newscasts were once read straight from paper scripts at the desk.
“You read from the sheet just like this you know, and you tried to make a little eye contact, and you couldn’t always do that, you see,” Weathers said.
It evolved into a sort of manual teleprompter for anchors to read.
“Back in those days, we had a teleprompter that actually had a belt that looked like a conveyor belt, and we would line up the scripts, the paper scripts, on this conveyor belt and someone would roll this little button and that would control the speed of the scripts,” Baker said.
Neither was without its challenges.
“You could have a disaster, and if you actually moved the button just a little too fast sometimes, all the scripts would just come up in a big pile and fall off the teleprompter.”
“I’m reading a three-and-a-half, four-minute piece, and the paper’s hanging down, and one of the camera crew lit a match to it and was setting it on fire, and I had to finish up before it...I had to beat it to the end before the fire got to it," Weathers said.
From mammoth studio cameras and live reports solely from satellite and microwave trucks...
“If we couldn’t get a shot from here to the microwave location, which was at the transmitter, we couldn’t get the picture,” Weathers said. “There were many times we tried to do live shots and couldn’t do them.”
...to HD broadcasting and the internet.
“I remember when we got our first website here at WTOC, and really all we did was have a website that we put stuff on, and we sent email back and forth,” Baker said.
Practically instantaneous live coverage on the go and rapidly advancing digital options have reshaped how we do the news.
“Now, we can reach out to our viewers any time we want to,” Baker said. “We don’t have to wait on a scheduled newscast, which is just amazing to me. As soon as something breaks, we have someone at the camera in the newsroom, and they’re telling all of our viewers what the news is, so they have a head start on what’s going on throughout the day."
Weathers says being committed to trying new things and not running from them is essential to survive.
“Technology has moved so fast in television that you had to be on top of it, and you had to be able to move and move with the same speed that they do right now with the internet,” he said. “You had to move and you had to keep up. You could not get behind.”
As much as the stuff inside the newsroom has changed, both say the commitment to those outside of it and the work of those inside have kept THE News the same for 65 years.
“Nothing takes the place of people,” Weathers said. “You can get all the technology that you want, but if you don’t have good people that people can relate to, you’re outta here.”
“One thing I love about WTOC is even though we have changed throughout the years and having to change because of the way technology has changed, because of the way our viewers receive news, I am so proud of the fact that we have held on to who we are. We are the community station. We care about our community. Our people are out of the building, not just covering news, but also being part of the community, volunteering and giving back, and I think that’s really what sets us apart from everyone else.”