Pope John Paul II visited America for ten days in September of 1987. The Pope visited Miami, New Orleans, San Antonio, Phoenix, Los Angeles, Monterey, San Francisco, Detroit and Columbia. It is “Déjà vu all over again” with WRAL news coverage of Pope Francis’ trip to Cuba and America this week.
In 1987, Capitol Broadcasting’s involvement was massive. Two CBC divisions, Capitol Satellite and WRAL-TV, were tasked to provide coverage of the Papal visit to the world. Capitol Satellite was selected by the U.S. Catholic Conference and the National Conference of Catholic Bishops to originate and provide technical coordination for the 10 day visit on Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN) and the Catholic Telecommunications Network. In addition to the 10 day coverage, Capitol Satellite provided a 24 hour per day feed of EWTN during the whole month of September.
The gear-up started two months prior to the Pope’s arrival. Capitol Earth Base in Auburn received a 5.5 meter C Band antenna and a 4.5 m Ku Band antenna to complement the existing equipment that would be dedicated to the coverage. “Starshooter,” the 10 meter C Band transportable uplink truck and “Livestar 5,” the smaller KU Band uplink truck, became part of the technical procession as well.
Studio A at WRAL became ground zero for 130 hours of live television broadcasts. A special set was built to serve as home base of “Papal Visit 87.” The U.S. Catholic Conference hired a special producer to coordinate “Papa Visit ‘87” – Ray Lockhart, formerly with NBC. Commentary was provided by Father Bob Bonot, president of Catholic Telecommunications Network of America and Carol Lehan of the U.S. Catholic Conference. Capitol Satellite tapped Bob Gubar to be the technical producer responsible for CBC’s effort in the project.
In addition to production equipment already in place at WRAL, over $300,000 of additional equipment was donated by major equipment vendors including Ampex, Grass Valley, Panasonic, Dubner, and Tektronix. It took more than 70 staffers from EWTN and CTNA joining forces with CBC employees to operate the extensive technology required to receive broadcast signals from across America and then uplink the coverage to more than 18,000,000 viewers worldwide in 36 languages. WRAL and CBC provided glitch-free worldwide service and still maintained its high standard of local news and programming without missing a beat.
This week, WRAL news reporter Leyla Santiago and photographer Zac Gooch successfully navigated the diplomatic protocol hoops and technical hurdles of live capabilities in Cuba, but everything miraculously came together. WRAL news anchor David Crabtree is stateside to pick up the continuing coverage of Pope John Paul II trip across America.
Thanks to Corp’s Pam Allen for this capcom story. Pam Parris Allen is a former WRAL newscast producer/director who now works as a researcher and producer on the CBC History Project.