Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Lightning Doesn't Strike Twice

"LiveStrike" Won't Live

“LiveStrike” is arguably the coolest visual depiction of actual bolts of lightning striking the earth. It is also a useful tool because the lightning strikes are geographically exact and fixed in time. Reporters use it to pinpoint the actual bolt that burned down a house during a violent storm.

“LiveStrike” is an invention of Austin morning weatherman Shawn Rutherford (KXAN TV, NBC). It is one of a kind, and now it is going away.

“Well... it's been 10 years now and "LiveStrike" has come to the end of its contract,” Rutherford recently wrote on his Facebook page. “A product that I scribbled down on the back of some scratch paper back in 1999 and became the world's first live, 3d weather display product comes quietly to its end.”

Why, you may ask. The ten-year maintenance agreement between Rutherford and LIN TV [KXAN’s owner] is expired and not renewed.

Rutherford came to KXAN with a computer software background as well as TV weather reporting experience. Although he wasn’t really into video games, he was entranced by the technology. The games’ 3D depictions were high definition before HDTV. Rutherford ruminated and wondered if he could convert the concepts into programs he could use on the air showing weather features in motion.

The $100,000 cost for securing the rights to use specific game maker’s “engine” could have put an end to the project, but Rutherford was undaunted. “We checked our pocket change and realized were about $99,980 short. We were discouraged but not defeated, Rutherford says.

It took a literal lightning bolt to generate what eventually became “LiveStrike”.

One morning during a violent thunderstorm, there was an almost surreal moment when the KXAN TV newsroom glowed with an eerie, blue light for an instant followed by a deafening crash and darkness. The studios were took a direct hit. It barely made the newspapers, but the bolt did tens of thousands of dollars in damage to the TV station’s computers and electronics. It was one of those amazing moments I shall never forget.

It was also an amazing moment for Shawn Rutherford.

“I was walking from the weather office and halfway through our KNVA studio when it hit, and I saw the flash of electricity in the studio and hit the ground... the sound of the thunder was deafening. We picked ourselves up, evaluated the chaos of blown equipment and began the process of fixing or replacing all the broken gear,” Rutherford says.

“We had a lightning data display on our radar but since all of that had been burned up in the lightning strike, I couldn't show it... and that's when it hit me... let's start with something that NOBODY was doing... showing lightning in 3D.”

Development proceeded quickly despite push-back from businesses already in the weather graphics business. Right before Christmas, 1999, Rutherford made his presentation to KXAN.

“I contacted the management of KXAN and requested a demo. [See the demo at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QD97EP1k3Xw] I had shown a few people but really wanted to impress them, so we turned down the lights, brought “LiveStrike” up on a big screen TV and gave them the show. At the end of the demo, then news director Bruce Whitaker [The forward-thinking news director at the time] turned to me and said ‘How much?’

“The rest was history.” Now, it is history. “
Everything has its lifespan, Rutherford says. “LiveStrike” will slowly fade away without new data and maintenance.

The problem is that there is nothing nearly as good to take its place. Nothing. And the viewers are the losers.

What we need is a venture capitalist and a lawyer to back “LiveStrike” and reward Rutherford for his genius.

© Jim McNabb, 2010


Anonymous said...

One more reason on a very long and growing list to hate LINTV.

The Hypervigilant Observer said...

I don't know much about live strike or the weather.

But I know like 24's weekend weatherman, Albert Ramon. He's poised and seems weather savvy.
A young pro.

BTW, 18.3 has quietly added DW-TV world news in English from Berlin at 4:30 p.m. BBC World News still follows at 5 p.m. IMO, the best HOUR of world news available without cable. With that move, those tired, old (many 2004) oft repeated Rick Steves/Rudy Maxa et al travel shows have been shuffled off to another channel. A good reason now to switch over from Oprah at 4:30.

Finally, many thanks to KVUE management for 24.2 Spanish programming. My new guilty
pleasure is "Alarma TV." Full of oddities from phone videos and the internet. At times, a funniest videos, Guinness records-type show but also with depictions of graphic violence, ie, bloody dead bodies. With "Estrella Noticiero" that follows at 9:30, these are the most current reports of violence in Mexico available.
BTW, violent images that offend many American viewers are commonplace on Mexican and Latin American TV.

Anonymous said...

The lightning strike. Ah yes, I remember it well. Good times. I was working that day and I recall the "blue glow" jumping around the light grid in the studio. Which I observed for about two seconds before I got the hell out of there. The coolest thing about that incident was the other stations in the market chipping in to help us out. They could have easily just sat back and laughed their butts off at our misfortune, but instead they chipped in and helped us out of the problem. One of the things that had gotten "zapped" was our ability to remotely communicate with our transmitter out at the hill. One station (KVUE if memory serves, but the memory serves me less and less as the years progress) loaned us the necessary equipment to resestablish our transmitter comms. Keep up the good work Mr. "News, McNabb"

Long term KXANer