Spectrum News rolls out a whole new studio and a whole new look for Triangle viewers

Spectrum News Central NC chief meteorologist Gary Stephenson demonstrates the 13-foot weather wall in the new Spectrum studios in Raleigh.
Spectrum News Central NC chief meteorologist Gary Stephenson demonstrates the 13-foot weather wall in the new Spectrum studios in Raleigh. bcain@newsobserver.com

For the past couple of weeks, viewers of the Triangle’s Spectrum news station have likely noticed all the new screens and fresh sets. But that’s only part of the story.

Raleigh-based Spectrum News of Central NC, part of a larger national network of 24-hour news stations owned by Charter Communications, has recently nearly doubled its footprint on Raleigh’s Atlantic Avenue, undergone major renovations to its studios and added staff.

The new Raleigh studios debuted on-air on Dec. 4. A similar renovation of the Spectrum Charlotte studios was unveiled at the same time. And the second phase of renovations, which involves a new Greensboro studio located inside the Raleigh office, is underway.

The new studio sports two new state-of-the-art sets — a main anchor set and a separate set where the programs “Capital Tonight” and “In Depth” are taped. The studio has a touch-screen board, window screens in the background and robotic cameras, which are operated from the control room.

News director Brandon Sherer, the former assistant news director for WTVD/ABC11, said the studio had essentially been the same for the past 16 or 17 years, and it was time for a change. The expansion was made possible when the Spectrum retail store vacated the space next door and moved to Glenwood Avenue’s Townridge shopping center.

And with the physical expansion came an expansion to staff: new positions for a reporter, an anchor and photographer were filled this year.

Goodbye green screens

With interactive touch screens and a 13-foot weather wall, “Weather on the 1s” has never looked better.

Sherer said the design of the weather center means they can have two or three meteorologists working on-air together to cover major weather events.

“It not only looks wonderful, it’s very utilitarian,” Sherer said. “They can change displays for alerts and track storms — and they don’t have to use the green screens now.”

Chief meteorologist Gary Stephenson added that they have green screen capability built into monitors, but it’s much more interactive than the older technology. Stephenson points out radars on screens behind every weather cast and the direct feeds to the National Weather Service at the weather desk, which meteorologists can access while on camera.

Spectrum News Central NC chief meteorologist Gary Stephenson explains the weather desk technology in the new Spectrum studios in Raleigh. Brooke Cain bcain@newsobserver.com

“When dealing with severe weather events, this gives you a lot more flexibility,” Stephenson said. “We don’t want any severe weather to come, but I look forward to being able to use the technology.”

Part of the excitement, Sherer said, is being able to present things differently than they were able to for decades.

“You can really get in there,” Stephenson demonstrates, gesturing toward a location on the 13-foot screen. “I think the viewers love that. It’s part information, part entertainment. The feedback has been that people love it.”

Stephenson, who has been at Spectrum since 2002, appreciates how much viewers get into “Weather on the 1s,” which means Spectrum airs a weather update six times an hour, whenever the clock’s big hand is on a “1.”

“The key is weather,” he said. “Spectrum knows weather is important, and we’re the only place that does it (on-air) 24 hours a day.”

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Covering politics

Weather is the station’s lynchpin, Sherer confirms, “with politics at number 2.” That is thanks to the station’s statewide political coverage, he said.

Tim Boyum, the chief political reporter and anchor for the station, hosts the “Capital Tonight” show that airs statewide weeknights at 7. Boyum recently added a new role: mid-day anchor.

“He’s known statewide,” Sherer said. “So we wanted to increase his presence in the Raleigh market.”

Capital Tonight_Tim Boyum.jpg
Spectrum News anchor and “Capital Tonight” host Tim Boyum in the new Spectrum News Central NC studios in Raleigh. Spectrum News

During the 2018 election, the Spectrum staff put on three Congressional debates — two live and one taped. They held a Supreme Court debate and put on town halls across the state to debate on ballot amendments and issues.

And it’s not just Boyum and the political staff working harder. The entire station, Sherer said, is producing more.

“The station is doing more live output and more compelling local news than ever,” Sherer said. “We have to use some taped pieces because we’re on 24 hours, but the goal is to do more of this stuff live.”

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Investing in local news

Like many news organizations these days, Spectrum takes advantage of partnerships with newsrooms across the nation to fill gaps when necessary.

For example, during Hurricane Florence, Spectrum stations in Charlotte, Greensboro, New York and Florida sent people to help the Spectrum staff in Wilmington. When Hurricane Michael headed to Florida, North Carolina’s Spectrum stations helped out down there.

All of that helps deliver more local news to viewers.

“We’re trying to amp up our local community news,” Sherer said. “Trying to have a hyper-local market philosophy.”

Sherer can’t talk specifics when it comes to dollars, but says the financial investment in the Raleigh studios is “significant,” and part of Spectrum’s national commitment to local news — and that’s where their focus will stay.

“We’re still a local 24-hour station, but it’s nice to be able to upgrade,” Sherer said.

Brooke Cain is a North Carolina native who has worked at The News & Observer for more than 20 years. She writes about TV and local media for the Happiness is a Warm TV blog, and also covers local retail.