ALBANY, GA (WALB) - Folks seem to want to get an inside glimpse behind the curtain at WALB. This look begins in 1978, when a gallon of gas cost 63 cents, the average cost of new house was $54,800, Bob Horner was Rookie of the Year for the Braves, and WALB put a new mobile studio in service.
The 1978 Ford Econoline van had a V-8 engine, dual rear wheels, and was bought from Pritchett Ford on North Slappey Blvd.
WALB engineers began installing TV broadcast equipment racks, to hold monitors, amplifiers, camera controllers, frame-synchs, microwave transmitters, a video switcher, and audio board.
L. M. "Doc" Bridges did the original woodwork on the walls of the truck. Engineers Bill Williams, David Williams, Wade Thomaston, Bob Barrett, George Cooper, Bob Pindar, and others did the original installation and cabling.
An Onan gas generator was installed so that the vehicle could make its own electricity.
For the better part of three decades, that mobile studio generated the sight and the sound for every Exchange Club Fair, Sunbelt Ag Expo, Peppermint Pops, Let's Make a Bid, Rose Parade, Christmas parade, governor's debate, Watermelon Festival, Peanut Festival, High School Football Championship, and other remote the station produced.
For the first twenty years, every time we used the truck, a team of engineers had to scurry like squirrels up water towers and rooftops, hoisting and setting up bulky microwave transmitters and dishes to beam a signal back to the studio.
In the early 2000's Gray Communications installed a mast that extended over 50 feet above the ground was installed to allow microwave feeds back to the main studio. One person could set up a local live shot within 15 minutes. For a few years, Sam Smith drove the mobile studio just about every day, in all weathers.
That mast was removed on December 4, 2013. The generator was disconnected from the chassis of the truck the same day.
It missed film for TV, but saw the heyday of 3/4 inch U-Matic tape, Beta tape, DVC Pro tape, and CCD chip cameras. High Definition TV was the practical end of its service.
A drive-line that finally died in its 33rd year was the final nail in the old warrior's coffin.
In an age of throw-it-away-and-get-a-new-one, this old truck, operated by a cast of at least hundreds who have WALB on their resumes, was a monument to solid American-built hardware.
Those of us "Big 10'ers" who served tours of duty with the '78 won't forget our time in the field with her.
Alas, there's no happy ending to the story. What's left will be sold for salvage.
Mobile users, if images are not seen, click this link: http://www.walb.com/story/24137501/end-of-an-era-walb-mobile-studio-truck-decommissioned
Engineers Bob Barrett and Bob Pindar contributed to this article.