- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 16, 2007

Like an “inside the Beltway” edition of “Trick My Truck,” CNN rolled out its 45-foot Election Express bus, which will be making its way across the country during the 2008 election cycle.

It’s a studio-meets-newsroom-meets-tour-bus, to be filled with television reporters who plan to stop in Iowa, New Hampshire and other states along the campaign trail. It’s fully wired — and wireless — and has everything from a shower to portable plasma TV screens. Dozens of power outlets line every wall.

And CNN’s top dogs think it someday could replace small news bureaus.

“It would take five minutes to transform this from newsroom to studio,” said David Bohrman, CNN’s Washington bureau chief, while giving The Washington Times a tour Friday. “We took advantage of every inch of the bus. It’s as good as any of our bureaus.”

He said the bus is “tricked out.”

Gazing at the plush, black leather couches — which double as seats for fold-out desks — and the row of flat-screen televisions, that description is not too far off.

Two Clearwater, Fla., companies — Frontline Communications and Parliament Coach — spent two years merging the traditional satellite truck with a souped-up tour bus, making the Prevost H-45 into a traveling press release capable of going live from anywhere in America.

Mr. Bohrman wouldn’t disclose the cost of the diesel-engine bus, but similar models without customization start at $1.5 million, based on Internet listings, and can cost several million dollars, one bus specialist said.

“This was quite an ambitious commercial undertaking,” said Rick May of Parliament Coach. “I believe it’s the first of its nature.”

The Election Express got its first real road test during the network’s July YouTube debate in Charleston, S.C., doubling as an editing studio for questions submitted via Web video.

Mr. Bohrman said he envisions the bus visiting small towns and anchors such as Anderson Cooper broadcasting live, or the political team pulling voters inside for a chat about the issues.

“We’ll cover well over a million miles,” said Dale Fountain, the bus’s driver. In 2004, Mr. Fountain drove a smaller version of the Election Express — an old musician’s tour bus with 500,000 miles already on the odometer.

Now, he’s driving a bus that has a 245-gallon gas tank and “television horsepower,” as well as custom floors and ceiling panels that can quickly adapt for studio-quality lighting.

Mr. Bohrman said the bus could be easily adapted to cover a natural disaster such as an earthquake or a hurricane, and he joked the shower would have come in handy while some CNN reporters were in the sweltering Gulf Coast covering Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

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