Last year the little station that could proved to be the little station that can, producing a technically flawless two hours of prime-time programming called "Regatta Thunder," devoted to the Three Rivers Regatta and its fireworks display. Some of the show's content felt like filler, but the program looked great.
WPGH is prepping to do it again Saturday at 9 p.m. This year its sister station, WCWB, will simulcast the program, which will once again be capped by a televised fireworks display.
"Ten O'Clock News" anchor Sheila Hyland said she hopes this year's broadcast will be more spontaneous.
"We'll have more live, more about what's going on at the Regatta as opposed to packaged pieces," Hyland said. "Last year we'd never done it before, and we were trying to figure out what to do with our two hours."
News director Tom Burke said plans call for a similar setup this year, with Hyland and anchor Jay Harris hosting the broadcast from a stage in Point State Park.
"We had to lay 200 yards of cable last year," Burke said, explaining that the 8-inch PVC pipe buried beneath the park last year was left in place so they can pull cable through it again this year. "Last year was such an undertaking for anybody, but for us to do something like that for the first time, it was unbelievable."
Burke wants WPGH to build "Regatta Thunder" into an annual signature event for the station and the viewing public.
"How many TV experiences do family members get together and watch together and interact with the box?" Burke asked. "We want people to make an appointment for two hours. It's really a celebration of the city."
Burke plans to get cameras more into the crowd this year for additional live coverage, including a performance by musician Todd Rundgren. After last year's show, Burke said there was no consideration given to cutting "Regatta Thunder" back to an hour, in part because he sees the program as more than just fireworks, but also due to finances.
"It's a very expensive proposition for us to put this thing together, in the five figures," Burke said. "You have to sell enough [commercial] time to recoup that, and you can't do that in an hour when nearly 30 minutes is straight fireworks. We would lose a ton of money."
Because of a Steelers pre-season game earlier in the evening, "Regatta Thunder" is pushed back to a 9 p.m. start time this year. WPGH's newscast will follow at approximately 11:07 p.m.
Burke expects the "Regatta Thunder" broadcast to again include a piece on the hot air balloons at the Point, something on Pittsburgh's heritage and the current renaissance, a package on plans for river front development and possibly a report on skydivers who drop in over the Point.
Once again sports anchor Alby Oxenreiter and meteorologist Matt Morano will be in the crowd, and reporters Lisa Beatty and Kym Gable will report live.
And yes, the hosts, and possibly the reporters, will again wear the big "Monday Night Football"-like headsets with microphones attached (these provide better sound for viewers at home, Burke explained).
Oxenreiter said it suits his personality to interact with the crowd ("The Good Time Charlie type role," he calls it), so he expects to do that again.
"I love what I do in the studio, and the studio is certainly more controlled. But ask anyone who knows me, I'm in my element when I'm in the crowd," Oxenreiter said.
He plans to report on the Formula One qualifiers from during the day and possibly profile one of the racers.
Morano will be in the crowd, too. He said it's not nerve-wracking to be surrounded by thousands of people.
"It doesn't bother me as much as if I was doing the weather remotely," Morano said. "If I can't see the latest images on the computer and the data, I feel cut off."
Last year, Morano reported while standing in a golf cart to keep from getting jostled by the crowd. This year, there's talk of him donning a hat and roaming through the crowd "Where's Waldo?"-style, with viewers at home trying to pick him out from the throngs.
"Regatta Thunder" will be a new experience altogether for Jay Harris. Last year at this time he was still the station's weekend anchor who remained back in the studio. He's excited to get the show on the air.
"You just want to do it," Harris said. "I imagine with all the build up, all the packages, when it's time for the live event, it gets the adrenaline pumping and you just want to do it. Now, that's easy for me to say, I haven't done it before. Sheila is probably saying, 'You're crazy.'"