When Newport News Public Schools first acquired a local cable television station and started broadcasting in 1987, it was on Channel 36 on Newport News Cablevision, and the offering was a community bulletin board. The bulletin board showed informational screens from the school division's Public Information department.
Soon after, NNPS-TV added "The Learning Channel" as a resource for programming. According to Paul Cummings, the first Supervisor of Telecom, it was a very inexpensive way to fill the channel with educational programming.
Jim Anklam, NNPS-TV's current station manager, was hired as TV Producer in 1988 to do a news show about NNPS. That show, called "In School," featured information about the school system's various departments and programs, like Driver Education or Special Education. The 30-minute program was NNPS-TV's first local show, and it aired twice daily, with a new episode being produced every three weeks.
Other programs in the early years included "On Air" and "Spotlight," both student-produced shows that were created monthly. "On Air" was a magazine-style show that featured news, sports, a community question of the month, and a restaurant review. "Spotlight" showcased NNPS student talent, which entertained viewers and allowed performing students to gain on-camera experience. "Homework Television," or HTV, was a popular, locally-created, student-run show that provided live call-in homework help in math.
NNPS's radio station, known as WDFM (for Warwick/Denbigh/Ferguson/Menchville, the city's four high schools at the time), had spots in the TV programming lineup to air their music show. The show was about 30 minutes in length, with a live news broadcast filling the last two minutes. The Telecom students had two of these 30-minute spots to fill per weekday.
NNPS-TV covered school-related special events and performances, too, which provided programming for the channel, and allowed citizens to be connected with the schools and learn more about the types of programs and initiatives that were promoted by the school system.
One such special event was a visit by the governor of Virginia, Douglas Wilder, who was the first African-American U.S. governor, to B.C. Charles Elementary in the early 1990's. NNPS-TV did its first live broadcast ever from the school, using their TV truck made from a revamped motor home. They also went live from Deer Park School when Miss America visited.
About that time, NNPS-TV produced and aired a show called "School Board Review," which featured School Superintendent Dr. Eric J. Smith and another School Board member discussing what happened at the school board meeting the night before. Later, NNPS-TV began broadcasting the School Board meetings live. Today the School Board meetings can be seen live on the channel, on the live webcast, or on the NNPS-TV Roku channel. Students assist with the production.
Television production entered the NNPS sports realm in 1991, when NNPS-TV added football to its programming. NNPS-TV staff and Telecom student-employees made up the crew of about 20 people that were needed to video-record the games at Todd Stadium.
The first year only one football game was aired, but that winter, basketball games were recorded for airing on television as well.
"Sports Highlights" began in 1992 and continues today. It's an interview show created by then-Supervisor Cummings and produced by current Telecom Supervisor Ray Price, who came to Telecom that year as Assistant Supervisor/Instructor. The show features local, regional, national, and international sports figures being interviewed by host Greg Bicouvaris, who has been part of the NNPS-TV sports crew since 1991. Telecom students have worked on its production during its many years of existence.
Over the years, NNPS-TV recorded musical groups from local schools performing in the studio or at their auditoriums, in order to create music specials to run on television during the Christmas break. The team even went to videotape the Denbigh High School Troubadours when they performed at the White House.
The TV team also covered community events like the lecture series at CEBAF (Jefferson Lab) that featured visiting speakers.
In 1993, the Denbigh High School marching band was invited to play in President Bill Clinton's inaugural parade, and NNPS-TV covered the event, with Cummings, Anklam and Price taking the train to Washington, D.C.
Cummings remembers the event.
"We walked from Union Station," he said.
"The tape deck weighed about 40 pounds with batteries," he continued. "We were exhausted by the time we were in place!"
In 1995, NNPS-TV aired the first live football game, which was between Hampton and Ferguson high schools. Ferguson High was shutting its doors at the end of that school year, to be replaced by two new high schools: Woodside and Heritage.
NNPS-TV did a live broadcast of Newport News' centennial parade, dubbed "The Parade of the Century," in May, 1996. NNPS-TV worked with the city channel to produce the parade, using their mobile production truck because Telecom's (the re-worked motor home) was participating in the parade. Anklam was one of the hosts/commentators for the production.
About that time, NNPS-TV broadcast a live news show on Thursdays at 1 p.m. It was called "SNN" for Student News Network and it was produced by the Telecom senior class. Other locally-produced shows in the 1990's were: School RAP (Report on Achievement and Progress), Focus on Education, and "You Oughta Know."
"30 years of TV at NNPS" is a continuing series of stories about the early days of the Telecom program and NNPS-TV.
Under School Superintendent Dr. Wayne D. Lett, around 1998, NNPS-TV started broadcasting the high school graduations on TV. The graduations have been recorded for replay and also have been broadcast live on the Internet, with Ft. Eustis using the NNPS-TV feed on their website.
Another programming enterprise was the "satellite" or "electronic" field trip. Using video, it was a way to expose a lot of students (and the viewing public) to museums, historic areas, and research facilities without them having to travel anywhere. In 1998, NNPS-TV produced a video field trip to the Mariners' Museum exhibit "Titanic: Fortune & Fate." It aired not only on NNPS-TV, but throughout Virginia and beyond via the Virginia Satellite Education Network.
Current Master Control Operator Chris James started at Telecom in 1999. She remembers the various-sized tapes that she had to set up to play on the channel before DVD's became the format of choice. Educational content came from vendors or providers like WHRO, which is owned and operated by Hampton Roads Educational Telecommunications Association, Inc., a consortium of local public school divisions including Newport News.
In 2000, NNPS-TV produced and aired the Relay for Life event at Todd Stadium.
The same year, Heritage High School made it to the football State Championship. NNPS-TV was scheduled to record a holiday music festival that day using the remote production truck. Not wanting to miss the opportunity, Price took a crew including Telecom students and the small microwave truck to the University of Richmond Stadium to cover the game live for NNPS-TV.
Another exciting sports news event happened in 2001, when Newport News native and Virginia Tech star football player Michael Vick announced he was going pro. The news conference was held at the Boys and Girls Club of Newport News, and NNPS-TV, along with countless other TV stations, went live from there to cover the announcement.
Also in the early 2000's, NNPS-TV made the jump from analog to digital programming. The switch meant some programming, especially satellite downloads, was no longer available, so new shows had to be found to keep the lineup full.
In 2003, Kitty Hawk, NC was celebrating the 100th anniversary of flight, honoring the Wright brothers and their historic work. Cummings, Price and students from the Aviation Academy traveled to the Outer Banks to cover the event for television.
In the mid 2000s, NNPS-TV aired a locally produced, school-news show called "Eye on Education." It was a 30-minute show produced by Anklam and then-Christopher Newport University intern Nik Long, who is now NNPS-TV Producer. Other local productions that ran on the channel were: the State of the School Division event at the Hampton Coliseum; "Celebrate," a school-employee event at Newport News Park; and the People to People Diversity conference.
Telecom students were paid to record and produce the Hampton Roads Black Media Professionals Excel Awards, which honor journalists who report on the lives of local African-Americans. According to Price, it was inspirational to the Telecom students to see and be a part of that, and to work alongside local media during the event.
In 2010, about ten years after going digital, the TV team started shooting in high-definition (HD). Though the TV channels (Cox 47 and Verizon 17) didn't broadcast in HD, the HD video could be seen in high-def on the nnpstv.com website.
A new fitness show was created by Price and Alexis Perkins, a Telecommunications graduate, around 2010. The show, called "Fuzion Fitness with Alexis," continues today and is popular on the channel and on YouTube. Often Telecom students operate the cameras on location for the shoot.
Also in 2010, NNPS-TV's current signature news show, "This Just In," was created. Besides "HTV," "This Just In," is the first weekly local program to air on the channel. It showcases events and initiatives of the school system and runs about 10 minutes in length. It is produced by the NNPS-TV production team of Anklam, Long, and Video Production Technician Aaron Moore.
The team has created many other shows, including "News in a Minute," "Teach Green," "Focus on Education," "School View," and "Scouting Report," to name a few. "School Board Spotlight" is produced each month to show at the School Board meetings, and it also runs on the channel.
Additionally, NNPS-TV and student crews record and air numerous awards ceremonies presented by the school division, including: Salute to Success, the NNPS Retirement Banquet, the NNPS Exemplary Support Staff Awards Banquet, Teacher of the Year, and the STAR Awards.
Describing what viewers see on the NNPS-TV channel, Anklam said, "If it's not educational, then it's a message about continued learning or about Newport News Public Schools and its initiatives."
Other NNPS-TV content includes public service announcements and promos, many of which are created by Telecom students.
And the Community Bulletin Board - like the one that got it all started - continues to run, but only in-between programs.