Fox News Visits the Observatory to Promote Cosmos

WFox News truck in the parking lothen it comes to getting free publicity for the MAS, it’s hard to beat a broadcast on a local television station. We might hope to get this when the big astronomical events occur such as eclipses, transits, and comets, but for a television series? Pretty farfetched, but in this case no. It was to promote the new Cosmos, an update to the series hosted by Carl Sagan back in 1980. And what is even better? Multiple broadcasts!

Paul Borchardt received a call on Thursday from our local Fox affiliate, WITI, who wished to do a live broadcast from our observatory for their Sunday morning news program which aired on March 9th from 7:00-9:00AM. Unfortunately, the unusually cold winter had made access to our observatory difficult as best and at the time of the call, it was limited to a couple of spaces in front of the chain! Scott Jamieson and Gene Hanson plowed and shoveled extremely wet snow on Friday hoping that the forecast for rain and then freezing would not materialize. They verified that the B-Scope and Z Dome were functional as well as the roll-off roofs of the Albrecht and D-Shed.

After this, Scott realized that because they could not drive past the parking lot, there were two potential problems. The boom on the truck would have to reach over the hill and it would require an extremely long coaxial cable run from there to Z Dome, where we certainly wanted them to do part of the broadcast. On Saturday morning they did a site inspection giving us the go ahead, but in the process Scott’s truck did get stuck in the snow/ice. $60 later it was free.

SJustin Williams interviews Paul Borchardtaturday night offered one of the rare clearings for Member’s Night this winter and rotation of the Z Dome proved very limited to the west and the nearby moon made imaging very tough. We used part of that time to clean up the control room / library.

The following morning the crew was to arrive at 6:30 because the first broadcast was set for about 7:15. Unfortunately, the Z Dome would now not move at all and it was noticed that the pump for the bathrooms was not working, another casualty of the brutal winter. The truck arrived at 6:30 and the reporter, Justin Williams, arrived a little later. As we figured, the cable run was really long and in order to reach the Z Dome, they needed a signal booster from the Buckstaff Observatory.

A Reporter Justin Williams pretends to look at Venus!big concern of ours when the reporter showed up was he was given the indication that we were somehow involved in the Cosmos series and that’s why he was asked to come. We did figure this is an experienced professional and would make this happen, and we were not disappointed. What was very obvious from the beginning was how enthusiastic Justin was about his job and astronomy and we learned later that he is often called upon to do segments involving science. Before he arrived, we put Venus in the field on the B-Scope so at least we got to show him one object. And as many before him, he was amazed at the view and that bright star was actually a planet. We quickly brought him up to speed on what the observatory is all about and going through what we thought would make good segments. And music to our ears was Justin specifically said that this should be great publicity for the observatory.

Paul Borchardt did the first live segment as he’s so well versed in our club’s history. Scott Jamieson did the next two because they were in the Z Dome, and Gene Hanson did the final segment in the Albrecht Observatory. They did additional “taped” segments of Jill Roberts as her role as librarian, an additional interview of Scott under the Zemlock Scope, another of Paul at the B-Scope, and then various background shots for segments airing later in the day. They left at 11:00AM so they were there for 4 and a half hours!

We tracked our website traffic and to no surprise there was a huge spike of activity on the broadcast day.  

Website traffic before and after

Below, via YouTube are all the segments that aired on that Sunday. 

We would be remiss if we did not thank WITI Fox News in general for this, but specifically Justin Williams for simply doing an excellent job! Paul says the length of time we were given was unprecedented. We’ve done television interviews in the past, but we’ve always been lucky to get just 30 seconds of airtime.