If war does break out in the Persian Gulf, satellite technology will make it possible for TV correspondents to deliver their accounts to U.S. viewers with a delay of only about one second.
“It’s almost instantaneous; it’s like making a phone call overseas,” said Jay Fine, vice president in charge of operations at NBC News.
The three broadcast networks, along with Cable News Network, have slightly varying arrangements for transmitting their TV signals from Saudi Arabia. But, basically, here’s how it works:
In Saudi Arabia, the TV networks each have a portable satellite uplink station, called a “flyaway.” It’s basically a satellite dish, with transmitting equipment, that is transported in a series of small cases.
The TV signal in Saudi Arabia is beamed to a satellite 23,000 miles above the Earth, then down to the broadcast networks on the East Coast or CNN’s Atlanta headquarters.
In the case of NBC, Fine said, the signal from the Middle East is received at a satellite station in New Jersey. From there, it’s sent to network headquarters in New York City via microwave and land line.
The signal then is beamed from New York to a domestic satellite that distributes it to NBC affiliates. In Los Angeles, that would be KNBC Channel 4, which would take the signal off the satellite and send it out to viewers over its normal VHF frequency.
A local station such as KNBC, Fine said, could conduct a live, “two-way” conversation with a correspondent in Saudi Arabia on a split-screen. “KNBC would put the signal through their control room, marrying it with the rest of their programming, then transmitting to the L.A. area,” he explained.
At CNN, spokesman Steve Haworth said that the signal from Saudi Arabia comes down to a “dish farm” outside Atlanta, then is relayed via fiber-optic cable to the CNN control room in Atlanta.
In the case of a live transmission, it goes back out to the “dish farm” in a matter of milliseconds, then is beamed to a domestic satellite above the United States. A cable-system operator then “downlinks” the signal via his satellite dish and sends it out to subscribers over cable.