This year has presented a number of new challenges and has dramatically increased demand for live streaming and broadcasting services. In years past, we’d do a handful of major broadcasts per year. In 2020, we do them every week.
The Kerrville Christmas Lighting Committee was initially formed to decorate the Kerr County Courthouse, but recently has shifted gears and has raised money to install Christmas decorations on utility poles around Kerrville. They have plans to raise funds for an epic lighting installation at Tranquility Island in Louise Hayes Park next year.
The events of 2020 prevented the committee from raising awareness about this cause during a traditional holiday lighted parade that the City of Kerrville puts on each year. That parade was canceled due to the COVID-19 recommendations. The committee contacted me and asked if I’d be willing to provide some drone footage of the downtown decorations. After hearing their predicament, I suggested something bigger… a live broadcast in lieu of a parade!
Planning began immediately. The date of November 21 was set based on everyone’s availability, and to coordinate with the Historic Downtown Business Alliance’s open house that evening. Business owners and stakeholders bought in, sponsorships were sought, and a run-of-show was produced. This would prove to be the most ambitious live streaming project in Kerrville’s history!
Highlights would include:
- Main broadcast center atop the parking garage overlooking downtown
- Mobile broadcasting units moving around downtown to feature local businesses and decor
- Performance from inside the Arcadia Theater
- Appearances and interviews with dignitaries including Santa Claus
- A countdown to the official lighting of the Kerr County Courthouse
- Santa atop a KPUB bucket truck installing the top star on the tree
- Drone tour of downtown lights and decorations
The plan was very ambitious. The main broadcasting equipment would be installed on the top floor of the parking garage. But we’d need high-speed wired internet access, and none was available up there. So we called the City of Kerrville’s Information Technology Department, and the heroes of IT helped provide an internet access point at the northwest corner of the garage near the IT building. We spooled out over 300 feet of CAT-5 cable to our broadcasting station where we now had 100 Mbps symmetrical internet broadband service. The street department barricaded portions of the parking garage to prevent cars from driving over our cabling.
Next up would be creating a mobile broadcast unit out in the elements, complete with a master switching and mixing station, two camera locations, lighting, and sound. Since the parking garage is not accessible to large trailers like ours, we had to park below and shuffle gear up the stairs, elevators, and ramps.
Once the main HQ was complete, it was time to improvise two mobile broadcasting units capable of capturing video and audio and transmitting it to the HQ in real time. These units would move from place to place along the “virtual parade route” and provide interviews with business owners and a look at the downtown decor.
Each unit consisted of a camcorder, a laptop computer, and various cabling and appurtenances necessary to accomplish these tasks. The computers ran vMix, a modern video switching software, along with vMix Call, technology which allows two-way communication for remote broadcasting.
Communicating with the mobile teams would be important, and we used Discord mobile apps to facilitate realtime communications over LTE cell networks via headphones and cell phones. Communicating with KPUB and Kerr County operators on the ground was also a challenge, but a few handheld radios solved this problem.
The drone flight had to be carefully planned and coordinated to ensure safety. I have a nighttime waiver from the FAA as an addition to my commercial operator’s license, otherwise the flight would not be legal. We used a DJI Inspire 2 with X5 camera connected to a Cendence controller that output HD-SDI signal to the broadcast computer.
Scripting took place for two weeks leading up to the show. Careful consideration had to be given to the time it takes to move from place to place with the mobile units. We created flow charts to help visualize the order of the program. Of course, as with all live broadcasts, we didn’t follow it exactly, but this script format greatly helped the planning efforts.
Each business owner was contacted in advance and asked for their help in establishing a wired high-speed internet access point at each broadcast location. This proved to be the most difficult part of the process — both during planning and during the broadcast.
Our hosts, Allison Bueche and Charlie McIlvain, rehearsed their talking points prior to the show, and the broadcast started on-time at 6:30 PM. The hosts had a beautiful backdrop of downtown behind them.
As mentioned, best-laid plans sometimes don’t work out quite as well as we plan them… The only hiccup in the broadcast occurred when one of our internet connections along Water Street flaked out, so a few of the businesses on the script were not able to be featured. But this didn’t deter us, and the team moved on with the rest of the show with minimal disruption!
The climax of the broadcast was the live countdown to the lighting of the courthouse. This was executed flawlessly thanks to cooperation between KCLC, KPUB, and Kerr County maintenance department. Just as the hosts counted down from 10, the lights came on right on queue. Following the lighting, the drone tour proceeded as planned.
Check out the final broadcast below.
Big thanks to everyone who helped make this show a success!