ANGUS FARQUHAR talks to Megahertz Broadcast Systems about the start to finish OB vehicle service provided from its Cambridge base.
Despite our continuing coverage of ever more impressive outside broadcast vehicles, one thing that we rarely get to hear about is the companies behind these mobile facilities. Before any of the numerous OB vans or trucks in use today can be put on the road, they must be built up from base components in a process that can take anywhere from three weeks to nine months, depending on the size and complexity of the vehicle.
Megahertz Communications had been building studios and OB vehicles for 16 years before a change in direction two years ago led to a change in the company as a whole. Former Director of Megahertz Communications, Francis Jarvis, explained: “About two and a half years ago we decided that, as we had already done all the work, we would take some of our bespoke designs and turn them in to standard products and sell them. So we launched a catalogue selling broadcast and installation peripherals. After a while we found that the products and the systems had both grown to such proportions that resources were being spread quite thinly and we wanted to move on, so it was decided to divide the companies. Steve Burgess, the Director, and myself took on the systems side and Ashley Coles, the owner of Megahertz Communications, took the products, which now trades under the name of Quazar.”
The new company, Megahertz Broadcast Systems, took with it a vast array of resources that has allowed it to become one of only a few companies dedicated to the design and build of broadcasting vehicles and installations, offering a completely independent service dealt with almost entirely in house. At the company’s base in Cambridge it boasts a facility to handle the entire process. Megahertz purchases the base vehicle, whether it be an MPV, long wheel base van, articulated lorry chassis, or a coach, and turns it in to an OB truck. The first stage is coach building, which for the biggest multifunction expanding trucks can take up to 14 weeks. It is kitted out with generators, air conditioning, wiring and connections, and of course, all necessary broadcast equipment, from cameras and audio equipment, to satellites and fibre connections.
One aspect that has kept Megahertz high in the ranks is its ability to offer the customer a completely bespoke solution. Some of the other big OB builders have very strong ties with some of the major manufacturers, which can often lead to a compromise in what the customer wants. Jarvis, Commercial Director for Megahertz Broadcast Systems, explained: “People like to choose. In general terms Sony cameras are thought to be the best, and Thomson have a very good mixer desk, which people think is better than Sony. However, if Sony is doing the build, it is not allowed to put a Thomson mixer in, and vice versa, Thomson is not allowed to provide Sony Cameras. So somewhere along the line the wants of the customer are compromised.”
Since the split from Megahertz Communications the company has been as busy as ever, with several major orders either just completed or in progress. Jarvis continued: “When we split we took BT with us, who had already placed an order for ten fibre vehicles. We are doing a satellite vehicle for a new company, Downlink, which Megahertz had never dealt with before. We also got a job from Solo Satellite, which we completed a vehicle for in about three weeks, as we already had a coach built vehicle. We have also done one for RTÉ which was built on a coach chassis, and I believe is the first one of its kind, certainly in the UK. They wanted a concept that was aesthetically different and someone had suggested a coach, so we investigated it, came up with a design that they liked, and turned it into quite a good looking vehicle.
“We are also getting lots of other interest and enquiries. We’re looking in to working with some of the major banks and finance companies, which is all very new and although it’s slightly outside the broadcast industry it is a broadcast requirement that they want. The broadcast industry, whilst remaining very niche, is expanding. Corporates are looking at small facilities, finance houses are looking to do all sorts of things, mainly because of the technology and ability these days to transmit through fibre, satellite, the Internet, to all of their outlets. It’s a new market that we are seriously looking in to.”
As well as offering its vehicle-building service the company also offers the ability to build complete studio facilities, from edit suites to CTAs, as well as an expanding market in the installation of satellite earth stations, and are currently undertaking the design and installation of two new radio stations in Nigeria. The installation will consist of two major studios plus a CTA, and like the trucks these facilities will be built in the UK. The studios are designed and prefabricated at the Cambridge facility to allow the clients to approve the design before shipping and installation.
According to Jarvis the key to the company’s success is its after sales service. After the vehicle or facility has been handed over to the client, Megahertz provides a full training program to allow engineers to become accustomed to the new equipmentThe company also provides 24-hour technical support managed by one full-time member of staff as well as the companies Technical Director who doubles up in the role.role.
With the ever-increasing number of channels covering both news and sport, combined with the new markets of webcasting and corporate communications it seems as though the demand for OB vehicles is going to be on the increase for some time to come. When put in to context with the continuous quest to add more to our viewing experience, through multi-camera angles and multi-channel audio, as well as a range of other techniques, the complexity of these OB units and demand for trucks capable of handling these kind of requirements looks set to follow suit. *