In the fast-paced world of television news, covering big stories often means sending news teams on location, whether that be Kabul, Afghanistan, or Modesto, Calif.
When the news is breaking within the continental United States, NBC News dispatches one of two satellite news trucks to the scene. “Snow Boy,” based in Chicago, and “Beach Boy,” based at NBC’s Burbank, Calif., studios, are both Kenworth T800 straight trucks. Their specially designed 34-foot bodies, manufactured by Frontline Communications in Clearwater, Fla., contain a full television production studio and satellite receiving station which can handle six separate signals at the same time, according to Bill Redman, a technician who works on the truck at NBC’s Burbank field shop.
The mobile studios can support up to six camera crews, three correspondents and three to four production engineers. Audio and video editing equipment enables news teams to produce complete shows from the field, if necessary. According to Redman, the trucks are packed with almost $1 million in electronics and other equipment for a total value of about $1.2 million each. The trucks weigh in at 33,080 pounds.
The truck names come from the custom graphics on the side of each truck. Snow Boy sports a depiction of a polar bear lounging by an igloo, while Beach Boy shows a surfboard-riding shark.
Since entering service in November 2000, the trucks have been earning their keep. Each was assigned to cover a candidate in the contentious, drawn-out 2000 presidential election. Beach Boy provided the daily pictures from the Bush campaign headquarters in Texas, while Snow Boy covered the Gore camp in Nashville, Tenn.
Beach Boy was next sent to cover the Timothy McVeigh execution. According to Chuck Kline, maintenance supervisor for NBC’s West Coast operations, the network has only put about 20,000 miles on Beach Boy despite the fact that it “is in use almost every day.” The truck often spends a lot of time in one location. It was in Austin, Texas, from November 2000 until the presidential inauguration in January 2001. “Over the summer, we were up in Modesto for two months, covering the Gary Condit story,” Kline says. In the fall, the truck was parked at the network’s studios in Burbank, being used as a satellite uplink while other stationary receivers were out of service for maintenance. Snow Boy has been providing coverage from New York City since the Sept. 11 attacks.
Kline says he and others who drive the trucks are “engineers first and drivers second.” But unlike the other engineers, Kline had some prior truck driving experience. “I had my license before coming to NBC,” he says. “I hauled grain down in Santa Maria, Calif., when I was younger.” Kline found that experience helpful as he also spent time driving a tractor-trailer rig for NBC Sports earlier in his career with the network.