“UNIT ZERO” 1 & 2

Throwback Thursday: CBC History

“UNIT ZERO” sounds like the name of some sort of mysterious comic book character, or top secret military code, or a physics equation.  WRAL’s UNIT ZERO was the name of a big, ol’ broadcast production truck. Covering large, special events has always been a component of WRAL’s community outreach, whether by television or radio.

Through the years, various vehicles had been converted into production trucks, from bread trucks to an RV camper. In the mid-70’s, an AVCO RV was converted into a production truck and quickly made history by making a trip to The White House. President Gerald Ford granted an interview to WRAL News.

President Gerald Ford & WRAL Avco Crew

Unit Zero

UNIT ZERO (2) August, 1984
L-R: P.B. Jernigan, Gene Reopelle, Crystal Clark, Paul Cyr, Mike Upchurch, Harold Williams, Brenda Grissom, and George Spence. Not pictured are Al Dunbar and Tony Farrell.

By the early 80’s, it was time to retire the first UNIT ZERO. The decision was made to develop a bigger and better production truck. To keep costs low, the decision was made to purchase a large truck from a dealer in Wilson and do the conversion in-house.

Work started on UNIT ZERO (#2) during the summer of 1984. It was “home-built” by the engineers seen in the photo (left).

UNIT ZERO (2) was designed by Kevin Duffus, executive producer of local programming, and Bob Gubar, production producer/director. WRAL-TV engineering installed all of the electronic equipment, while WRAL Master Carpenter Joe Holstein built the extensive cabinet work.

Inside the truck was a well-appointed control room with monitors, a small Grass Valley switcher, enclosed audio room, producer’s area, six camera control units, a one-inch tape machine (later removed), and an engineering area.

Kevin Duffus & Greg Shank

(L-R) Kevin Duffus directing “Pops in the Park. Greg Shank served as technical director.

UNIT ZERO (2) was completed at the end of August and ready for its premiere, slated for Labor Day weekend. September 2, 1984. There was enough time to slap a logo on the side of the truck; the full paint job would have to wait. The event was a big one; “Pops in the Park” presented by the NC Carolina Symphony at the McIver Amphitheater at Meredith College. Kevin Duffus was the director.

As a director/producer, I had the pleasure of directing many live events from Unit Zero. The projects I recall include The Raleigh Christmas Parade, Partners Auction, UCP telethon, Inauguration of NC Governor Jim Martin, NC Governor’s State of the State message, President Reagan’s Trip to Raleigh, NC State Fair, just to name a few.

I don’t remember a single issue with the production/engineering piece of UNIT ZERO (2). Through the years other directors had their turn in the truck and still sing their praises as well. However, UNIT ZERO (2) did have an Achilles heel.

The truck was not manufactured to carry the heavy weight of television equipment, racks, and cabinets. That realization came late in the conversion process. It was a bit under-powered too. If you happened to be driving a car behind UNIT ZERO (2) on Western Boulevard near Gorman Street up the hill toward the TV station, you might find yourself going only 20 mph!

UNIT ZERO (2) was a bit of a turtle unless it was on level road. The weight issue created problems with the rear axle, too. Drivers of UNIT ZERO (2) became all too familiar with the local towing service. But, it was a great broadcast truck!

UNIT ZERO (2) stayed in service until the mid-‘90s. At that point, it was time to upgrade the equipment. But there was a bigger upgrade coming for the entire station; HD. It was time to let UNIT ZERO (2) go.

 

Thanks to Corp’s Pam Allen for this capcom story. Pam Parris Allen is a former WRAL newscast producer/director who now works as a researcher and producer on the CBC History Project.

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