Back in the early 1980s, cable television was new and a channel called "MTV" was all the rage. It was the first channel to continuously show music videos, with vee-jays (video jockeys) instead of disc jockeys hosting the show. Fast forward a few years to 1989, and NNPS-TV (then Newport News Cable Channel 36) is airing "HTV," where the H stands for homework instead of the M standing for music.
"What?!" you say? "Why would anyone replace the M of music with an H for homework?"
Well, NNPS-TV (currently Cox Channel 47/Verizon FiOS Channel 17) happens to be an educational channel, and Homework TV was actually a great asset for local schoolchildren (and adults, too). Regardless of homework's lack of luster compared to pop music, it is something every child has to deal with, and something that every child at some point needs help with.
The man behind HTV was Jim Anklam, who came to NNPS-TV the year prior as TV Producer to create a news show about Newport News Public Schools. At the time, he was newly graduated from Regent University and had experience in acting and film production, and could be seen in current TV commercials and shows.
The NNPS administration, under School Superintendent Donald S. Bruno, made known its desire to have a homework show on TV. The idea was to have a teacher teaching on TV, and students at home calling in to ask for help with their homework. It was decided that math would be the subject, and the show would be half elementary school math and half middle school math. Each "class" session would be 30 minutes long.
And the kicker: The show would air LIVE.
Anklam, who is currently the NNPS-TV Station Manager, had many specifics to work out once those parameters were set. There were numerous obstacles to overcome.
He asked for a budget. He definitely wanted to pay the teachers to ensure they were dedicated and dependable. He asked for TV students from the Telecom program to be the crew, and he insisted on a studio "class" of math students.
"It's hard to interact with a camera," Anklam said, "so we had a studio audience of students for the teacher to interact with."
"30 years of TV at NNPS" is a continuing series of stories about the early days of the Telecom program and NNPS-TV.
Anklam hired the teachers and got the teachers to find the students who would be on the show. Often the teachers gave a math test to see who got to be on TV.
After getting the personnel he needed, he then had to figure out the technical nitty-gritty of how to produce the show.
“For example,” he said, “how can a caller call in and talk to the host in real time? How do we get the audio from the phone?”
Remember, this was 1989.
“Also, the studio audience needs to hear the phone call, too. We had to have a speaker for that, and we had to get a system to keep feedback out,” said Anklam.
“We had to have a buffer for crank calls," Anklam remembered. “We got caller ID. If we had a doubt about anything, we would call them back. There was no tape delay; it was live on the air!”
The set at first had bean bag chairs, then stools, and later a couch for the students. The teacher had a blackboard at first, but then went to a dry erase board.
Shooting with the dry erase board "was more difficult to perfect than one might first realize," said Anklam.
"We had to mount it in a freestanding set that could be set up and taken down quickly," he explained. "Also we needed a color that was not white because it would be too bright for the lighting situation ... and the “tube” cameras would have the potential of having the white board “burn in” and become a ghost image on other shots."
Another challenge of the show was that halfway through, the kids had to switch - elementary students left and middle school students took their places. With the show being broadcast live, there was little time for that to happen. So a "Snack Break" was called and the studio audience swapped out.
A "Homework Challenge" was presented after the break, and the studio "class" and students at home tried to solve the problem in the allotted time. Student callers who won were eligible to appear on the show, had their names announced on TV, and also won prizes donated by sponsors.
The homework show aired two nights a week for one hour in the evening, from 6-7 p.m.
But to produce a one-hour show means three hours of work: setting up equipment, getting on-camera personnel in place, testing, practicing, perfecting lighting and audio.
“Three hours twice a week for students is a big commitment,” Anklam said of the Telecom high-schoolers. “But they got faster and more efficient. They could do their own homework during downtime.”
Amazingly enough, Anklam directed the first two shows only, with a student director as a “shadow,” and then handed it over to the TV Production students. After that, he was the Executive Producer and only intervened when a problem arose. He critiqued the production and offered advice.
NNPS-TV Producer Nik Long was a Telecom student and an intern from CNU during the latter days of the show.
"The students ran the show. Jim watched from his office," emerging only if there were technical difficulties or some other problem, he said.
Actually, Anklam sat at the Telecommunications Center front desk, where he could watch the show, be near a phone, and welcome the elementary and middle school students and their families who were waiting to go onto the set.
"One of the great aspects of the show," Anklam said, "was that students rotated all crew positions, so they had a complete experience in live production, including camera, graphics, audio, floor managing, and directing."
"The students had great ideas and made promos for the show, too" added Anklam.
For five years, the show ran twice per week. One of the teachers, Marcia Orensky, even had a personalized license plate on her car that read, "HTV CH6" (NNPS-TV was on Channel 6 for a while).
After that, "HTV" went to once a week, and it continued for another five years, with new Telecom students constantly replacing the ones who graduated, training on the equipment and participating in the thrill -- and stress -- of live TV production.
In the end, a drastic technological leap drew the show to a close. During the long transition when the studio equipment was replaced with digital equipment, some aspects of the production were no longer supported, and there was no way the HTV team could continue the show.
NNPS-TV's current signature show, "This Just In," is gaining on "HTV' in age. It just reached a milestone seven years on March 1. "This Just In" is a weekly program that showcases events and initiatives of the school system. It runs about eight to 13 minutes long and is not live. It is produced by the NNPS-TV production team of Anklam, Long, and Video Production Technician Aaron Moore, and is not a student production. The current episode is number 367.
“When we started the show," said Long, "our production team didn’t know if we’d have enough stories to sustain a weekly show, but it's worked out nicely."
Long credits the schools, students, teachers, and administrators with keeping the content flowing and the show going.
"They send us story ideas every day," he said. "We now have so many stories backlogged ... that we can schedule our show at least a month out," he said.
Just like "HTV," "This Just In" succeeds because of a team approach and everyone working together to show the viewing world the best of NNPS.
Homework TV photo gallery: