How To: Build LEGO TV News Gathering Vehicles

A lot of the Adult Fans of Lego community tend to mimic, but not fully replicate real life things. I’ve been to a few Lego conventions, and seen the AFOLs. I tend to get desensitized of the creations, and anything that has “Brick” to the name. Look at my vanity DNS, heheh?

This vehicle is based on most of the US workflow of local TV stations called Electronic News Gathering. ENG has been around since the days of the video cassette tape. This technology married with microwave and satellite transmission. (Most often the AFOLs build the vehicles on the latter, not the former. Even worse the Master Builder at Legoland in Boston even told to this writer about the mast to “satellite dish” was broken.)

Both dishes do the same thing, just one goes up to space 22,000 miles, and the other has to be in the line of sight to a transmitter or a microwave receiving tower. If you were to go up the air 50 ft, you would see a lot. Radio signals sees more. But they need to see eye to eye. In the Northeast, microwave communications can go up to 30 miles, while flat and open markets like Miami can even go further to 40 miles.

Depending on the terrain, the mast doesn’t need to go to it’s full max of nearly fifty feet.

The spectrum of microwave radio is enough for data, long distance telephony, HD is often very difficult to do. Most liveshots are standard def blown up through the means of various conversions of up and down in between if it’s done via microwave.

Typically an ENG vehicle consists of

  • A generator to power the live newsgathering equipment
  • A UPS for leveling off the radical nature of generator power. Especially when rack based appliances, and even PCs are now living in these vehicles
  • An air compressor to move the microwave masts
  • Depending on the model of the vehicle, the back seat has up to three racks going up to about five feet tall. Such equipment
    • The aforementioned UPS
    • Microwave or satellite encoders to have the station decode the live shots (since it’s all digital now)
    • Audio mixers (rack form factors)
    • patch panels (for audio, video cameras, and even Cat 5)
    • Modern IP based streaming such as LiveU that is a standard rack appliance.
    • A range of a couple to many monitors (as it’s crucial to see return feeds from the base TV station), and what will be going out, and what is on the other microwave or satellite signals
    • GMRS radio to radio the base to coordinate the microwave dish (because line of sight is very literal)
    • A 2554 like POTS telephone that is likely tied to a patch panel outside the truck or shares a line on the GMRS radio.
    • Sometimes you’ll see small firewalls or Ethernet switches for the IP devices like the camcorder, or editing systems.
    • Routers and switchers to switch a number of sources (ideal for events like parades)
    • Power meters for the generator
    • units for the Interruptible Feedback or IFB. (the thing in the reporter’s ear)
  • In recent years, laptops, or desktops mounted into the ENG vehicle are used for non linear editing. Most major stations have put computers into the ENG vehicles to complete their transition to eliminate the video tape all together. Some stations, like WSVN are still the old fashioned “laptop” edit units, you know a luggable tape deck with dual mini monitors.
  • A side patch panel is featured on the back passenger, near the far back of the vehicle to feed in the camera and audio, IFB, etc. At this point on it’s the last stop to the story, second to last process to hit to air.
  • Since the size of satellites have shrunk, they can fit onto SUVs, so since the early 2000s, news vehicles had hybrid setups of ENG (the microwave) and SNG, for satellite news gathering. DNG, D as in Digital, is basically anything from streaming to IP based transmission.

Since the AFOL community lacks a strong knowledge of electronic journalism, and I have a working knowledge, I replicated them over the years in Lego form.

Most of my ENG creations have been based on 6 stud wide Ford Econoline 350 vans. While Ford has discontinued them, many of my fleet has not changed as of yet. Some integrators are rigging Ford Explorers and taking a Ford F series and rigging them into a truck (ala like ambulances.) Native minifigs do not like the Sprinter, but are getting softer as E-lines are harder to find.

Since so many Lego ENG vehicles on the web feature Norway’s Channel 2, mine is too, ala a station that rhyrmes with Double See Bee Ess TV on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.

The station’s unlike a real van, it can handle only one minifigure in a row. Basically the ENG truck operator is in the driver’s seat and the reporter does sit in the back, typically not allowed in real world situations.

Inside the vehicle, the way I have it designed is decals to mimic the apps that go up to the roof. For this truck, I didn’t do that.  The interior is designed for editing, and is designed for voice dubbing.

 

To the back, is a four by 4 square stud back for the generator, air compressor for the mast and the cables. (Cameras, mikes alike are carried by the photographer and are not stored inside the ENG vehicle.)

The mast for the microwave is what some AFOLs could consider to be “cheating” but I could care less since Legoland Discovery Center in Boston did this same thing and again referring to the transmitter as a “satellite”. Some however did find pieces to do a mast, but it only goes up to 10 feet in minifig perspective.

The ENG vehicles use a telescoping piece, that only cost me about few bucks at my local Sears. This is the magnetic screw collector you see there. It’s six inches long, and it’s not suitable for Minifig ENG use. Using a pair of scissors, I trimmed each section in half, therefore enabling me to use the other half to another vehicle.

You could use an old antenna, but some only go up in scope to 3 levels, like an old radio antenna. You want a telescoping part that is at least 3.5 inches small, and you probably wouldn’t be lucky to find something that short. You want to make sure your vehicle is no taller than 8 full sized bricks or it won’t survive underpasses.

The cable for the dish is a “gimp” you can find at your local Michael’s or AC Moore store that’s used for beading necklaces and bracelets. Taking some extra Cat5e cables, I took one wire and fed it through this piece. Why do this? This will create hard wire to make the spirals look realistic, and not dangle or even take down the masts. I say go up to 10″ long for both the singular Cat 5 wire and the gimp so you have enough slack to go to the full height. I’ve seen actual ENG trucks and counted how many rounds the wire goes up, and most often it’s about 10 loopy-dos.

When you stow up a Microwave mast in the Lego world you will have to manually do it, and take the piece off, and put it on and carefully pull up the wire.

I also put a 1×3 stud plate to add a saucer piece and in some of my ENG vehicles I put a camera. The saucer piece is the antenna to receive the off air signal on a “rabbit ears” tuner inside the vehicle

I stow down the mast and put the microwave dish 4 studs to the back, near the two middle studs  of the roof of the ENG van, where all the good stuff for the mast is.

The colors are a bit off because many I found at the Lego store, and I do not have many of these pieces to build on my own. They are used in other kits where I am, encouraged to keep them as is. The many reasons I buy kits and build stuff out of my own I gain the specific pieces to meet my goals without really breaking the bank and ordering special pieces online and have them come from Denmark directly.

I hope this page helps the AFOL or child builder understands the process of live TV newsgathering and applying it to a world of ABS plastic minifigures and have the highest professional looking vehicle to your Lego world

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