The countdown has begun: NBC10 and Telemundo62, both owned by Comcast Corp. through NBCUniversal, are relocating to the 12th, 13th, and 14th floors of the $1.5 billion new Comcast tower, leaving their legacy studios in Bala Cynwyd.
That means news anchors and control-room crews are doing double duty, as they broadcast on-air for the Philadelphia TV audience in Bala Cynwyd and rehearse off-air in studios at the new Comcast Technology Center in Center City.
About 150 employees will work out of the new studios and newsroom in Center City, at 18th and Arch Streets, with NBC10 and Telemundo62 broadcasting out of separate studios on the 13th floor. They're easily the highest television newsroom in Philadelphia.
Fifty or so employees will still work out of the Bala Cynwyd offices. NBC10 and Telemundo will store and manage their 40 news trucks and vehicles there.
Ric Harris, president and general manager for NBC10 and Telemundo62, declined to give an exact date when the two stations would go live from the new location, but he promised it would be "this fall."
He excitedly talked about how the old studios had been refurbished and reconfigured over the decades. CBS or NBC has continually broadcast from those studios under the call letters WCAU since 1952. The new studios allow for efficient work flow for a modern TV station.
Construction delays have pushed back the opening of Comcast Technology Center by about a year. The 60-floor tower, about a block from the Comcast Center, will house Comcast product and development teams, the two Comcast-owned television stations and a Four Seasons Hotel. The hotel is expected to open in mid-2019.
On a Wednesday walk-around with Harris, the NBC10 and Telemundo62 operations looked about 80 percent ready, with two news studios mostly complete. A third "auxiliary" studio is still unfinished. There were LG computer screens flickering and control rooms blinking with video feeds. In other areas, there were unopened boxes.
Perhaps the most noticeable change for NBC10 viewers will be the vivid backdrop for the news anchors: a 20-foot by 10-foot 4K video screen with live images of the Philadelphia skyline from the aquarium in Camden. 4K is four times the resolution of high-definition televisions. During the tour, you could see the water rippling on the Delaware River on the 4K screen.
"No one has it," Harris said of the 4K screen. "This is not a market first, this is an industry first."
The studio will be roughly the same size as the one in Bala Cynwyd with areas for traffic reports, weather and the news anchors. Morning anchor Tracy Davidson said there would be more cameras and more monitors, plus windows. The Bala Cynwyd studios have no windows.
As for modern conveniences off-camera, women can breast feed in privacy in a "mother's room." Male or female employees can find alone time in a "quiet room," but mostly employees are expected to collaborate and interact in the open-space floor plan.
The Comcast Technology Center — including the three floors with the television studios — comes with 28 plug-and-play "broadcast service panels" for news or camera crews to immediately go live with TV video. "We could do [shows] for employees or we could push it out to the public," Harris said of broadcasts in the new tower.
Bill Baldini, a former NBC10 reporter who worked out of the Bala Cynwyd office for 44 years before he retired in 2007, said relocating the NBC10 news studios and operations will be a trade-off for employees.
"It's Comcast's move," said Baldini. "The convenience of City Line Avenue was great, fantastic. When people became employed, they moved into Narberth, Ardmore, Drexel Hill, Havertown."
Parking and the city wage tax are two big issues for employees relocating to Center City from Bala Cynwyd, Baldini said. Also, "time will be the worst thing. A lot of people will be late for work in a snowstorm," he said.
Davidson said she would take public transportation — both the Comcast Center and the Comcast Technology Center can be accessed through Suburban Station — but the trains don't run in the middle of the night when she has to be there.
NBC10 said in a statement that the stations "are providing a stipend to employees who have to work from our new facility and as a result, pay the city wage tax. The stipend is based on employee's residential address to help offset taxes as well as commuter costs" such as public transit and parking.
Many things can go wrong with a new studio, NBC10 and Telemundo62 officials say. The lighting might be bad or the new control room software could go wrong.
So the rehearsals over the last month are important, though they can complicate employee lives.
On Thursday, Davidson's shift began at 2:30 a.m. in Bala Cynwyd, with her prepping for the 4, 5 and 6 a.m. news shows. At about 8 a.m., she called for a car 30-minute drive downtown, recalling "I talked to my Uber driver about how he liked Gritty."
Meeting up with the rest of the NBC10 morning crew at the Comcast Technology Center, Davidson and the others did a one-hour rehearsal at 9 a.m. of a news show — a dry run — to get everything right. “It’s a real-time start and real-time commercial breaks,” she said, “just as we would on-air.”