SUV keeps Fox on top of campaign news

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MANCHESTER, N.H. -- Fox News Channel's latest technical innovation is an SUV tricked out for TV.

ElectionLink, a rolling live news bureau wrapped inside a Ford Expedition, has seen heavy use in the past month or so on the campaign trail. Fox News has two of them, one stationed in Iowa until after the caucuses and another here in New Hampshire to cover the primary.

Most live TV shots are done by large satellite trucks that require a lot of planning, a wide berth and plenty of space where they're going. But some networks, Fox among them, have been experimenting with mobile news bureaus that combine the ease of an SUV with the technical firepower of a satellite truck.

That's the idea with ElectionLink. The Fox News-branded truck comes complete with a flat, upside-down satellite truck on its roof, a video camera that rotates 360 degrees and can be used while the unit is rolling or for live shots alongside the road and another camera that is connected by a WiFi-like device to the satellite dish and can travel with the reporter and camera operator about a quarter-mile away from the dish.

It's turned out to be very handy for Fox News correspondents like Carl Cameron, Major Garrett and Brian Wilson, who have a lot of ground to cover and not a lot of time. On Monday before 9 a.m., ElectionLink had already been to several campaign events around Manchester and would be to many more before dark. That has made Fox News more nimble and less reliant on satellite trucks for the live shots, though it still needs plenty of satellite trucks for a news event like this.

"When you're dealing with a state like New Hampshire and you've got seven candidates running around in a 50-mile radius, you can go from one event to the other and actually see more," Cameron said.

On Monday morning, Washington bureau chief Brian Wilson was able to interview Mitt Romney and John McCain at separate events within an hour of each other.

"We just rolled down the street from one event to the other and walked out the door and then boom, there you are, we're live," Wilson said. "It's an amazing vehicle."

As Wilson spoke at the Fox News workspace at Saint Anselm College, Cameron was back out on the road traveling to another event, shooting live video as Cameron and his crew were traveling. Wilson said that the ElectionLink trucks were built at about a tenth of the cost of what a competitor's roving campaign bus costs.

Candidates like Mike Huckabee, Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani have even taken a spin in the ElectionLink truck for a live interview.

Cameron got an early lesson in the use of ElectionLink in December, when an armed man took hostages at Hillary Clinton's campaign office in Rochester, N.H. Even though it wasn't quite ready, Cameron and his crew jumped into the truck and brought Fox News viewers video on the way to Rochester, even showing video of Secret Service cars racing to get there.

"It unveiled the vehicle in a terrific way. It was a news tool for us that day. It illustrated that the vehicle was more for spot news than politics." Cameron and Wilson see the mobile unit's utility for spot news even more than campaign coverage, although the units will be used until election 2008 is over.

There are a few hangups, however. The unique position of the satellite -- which is more for receiving than transmitting -- means that signals are sometimes sporadic. The biggest threat to uplinking is the highway overpass, which the correspondents see on a regular basis while they're driving.

There's a loss of a signal for about a second before it returns, which isn't great for live TV.

"We've tried to tell our guys that if you're three-quarters of a hit and you see an overpass, pull over and finish the shot, then go on," Wilson joked.
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