Networks cover quake that hits close to home

After a minor earthquake centered in New Jersey sent waves rattling the media capital of the U.S., news media scrambled to cover the rather unusual event April 5, 2024.

In the Chicago market, only NBC affiliate WMAQ interrupted programming for a network-produced special report. 

It hit the air around 10:48 a.m. Eastern time, about 15 minutes after the quake was originally reported.

The network’s special report slate and open noticeably lacked an announce and the musical bed appeared to continue on a bit too long and loud before anchor Lester Holt, after a slightly awkward delay, began the report, appearing in front of a bold red world map background with peacock feather outlines.

It’s likely he was broadcasting from one of the network’s global media insert studios on the sixth floor of 30 Rockefeller Center, sometimes referred to as “news nooks” or Studio 6E, which are equipped with large flat-screen TV panels that can be used to display video or graphics behind talent. Holt notably did not mention the name of the building by name, however, so it’s possible he may have been using a remote studio at his home.

“Today” co-host Al Roker joined Holt and appeared to be in the west side of Studio 3A based on the parts of the anchor desk, brown chair and NBC News Now mug visible on the desk. That location could have been chosen because it may have been getting prepped for “NBC News Daily” at noon. A similar red background, though with the special report logo on the left side, was visible behind Roker.

At that time, NBC normally would have been feeding out “Today with Hoda and Jenna” live to markets in the east coast but the April 5 edition was pre-taped.

Most central time zone stations were airing “Today 3rd Hour” on tape delay, so in Chicago, at least, Roker appeared to jump from place to place.

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NBC uses a variety of spaces to produce special reports depending on the time of the broadcast and who’s anchoring, including Studio 1A, home of “Today” and “NBC Nightly News.” Morning reports are sometimes handled by a “Today” anchor or Holt will come down from the network’s newsroom to the first floor studio across the street to anchor. 

The network also has numerous other studio options within the core of 30 Rock. Normally, a simulated control room background is used as backdrop instead of the red look, which brought an eye-catching and bold look to the broadcast.

Close-eyed viewers may have noticed an issue with the special report’s time bug that’s part of its graphics package, however, which appeared to be displaying a mix of incorrect times as it scrolled between each of the country’s four major time zones.

There were no immediate reports of any technical issues at NBC, according to sources, but the incident did conjure memories from 2019 when a widespread power outage caused issues for networks producing weekend evening newscasts, including within 30 Rock.

Many of these spaces are equipped with video walls or large flat screens, making it possible from NBC to feed almost any background behind talent with just a few clicks. The network has a variety of “stock” loops, including images of its fourth floor newsroom, available.

CBS’s WBBM and ABC’s WLS did not carry special reports over regular programming in the Chicago market, opting to keep airing “Live with Kelly and Mark” and “The Drew Barrymore Show.” That said, both ABC and CBS did cover the story on their 24-hour streamers ABC News Live and CBS News Streaming Network, including leaning on their local New York stations for coverage.

NBC News’ streamer NBC News Now also carried live coverage. CNN, MSNBC and Fox also carried coverage as well.

MSNBC and Fox were broadcasting from New York studios at the time, but CNN was airing “CNN Newsroom with Jim Acosta” from Washington, D.C. at the time.

The decision to not offer network-wide special reports across all markets was likely made given that the quake was relatively minor and only affected a small portion of the country.