NNPS's TV production classes, station celebrate 30th anniversary
A series about the early days of the Telecom program and NNPS-TV
When people think of Channel 47 or NNPS-TV (Newport News Public Schools Television), often the first thing they think of is high school football. That's because NNPS-TV has been broadcasting football games - live or taped - for over 25 years.
NNPS-TV (Cox Channel 47/Verizon FiOS Channel 17) airs educational programming much of the time, but it also provides coverage of events and information for the school community and the community at large. And high-school athletics - football in particular - is something that parents, students and residents want to see.
Football is not only a popular television event, it is also a superb training opportunity for Telecom students. About 15-20 workers are needed to produce a broadcast from Todd Stadium.
Students can try different broadcast jobs throughout the football season. Remote-television production crew positions include: Camera Operator, Technical Director, Character Generator, VTR/ DDR Operator (Replay), Audio Operator, ENG Editor, Reporter, Announcer, and Assistant Producer.
For a few years, football was taped. But in 1995, NNPS-TV went live with the games, starting with Ferguson versus Hampton.
"Nothing teaches better than live," said Paul Cummings, who was the first supervisor of the Telecom program. "When the football kicks off at seven o'clock, you gotta be ready," he explained.
Cummings supervised NNPS technical training programs in 24 schools before becoming Telecom Supervisor in 1986. For five years, he continued to oversee those programs in addition to supervising Telecom. But when live broadcasts - particularly football - came to be, he finally was relieved of those additional duties and could focus on Telecom.
Local media man Greg Bicouvaris was hired as play-by-play announcer in 1991. He continues to serve in that capacity, along with color commentator Nate Milton, at football games and the many other sporting events covered by NNPS-TV. Milton has been a fixture with NNPS-TV sports for close to 20 years, and was a Telecom student himself before that.
According to Bicouvaris, the first year football coverage was added, 1991-92, only one football game was taped and aired. That winter, however, the Telecom team recorded basketball games for airing on television.
Ray Price, current Telecom Supervisor, joined the staff around then, as Assistant Supervisor and Instructor. He remembers the early days of recording football games as running smoothly because the staff members had experience and the students had training.
That training came in the form of "van camp," which was modeled after "band camp." Since so many students are needed to work on the broadcast, and because football games start at the very beginning of the school year, the students need to be trained before school even starts. So Telecom students meet for one week right before the start of school to learn to run a remote television production. It started with the 1992-93 season. During van camp, the students learn to work the cameras, the tripods, the audio, and all the equipment in the remote video production truck, also known as the "production van.”
In the early days of airing football, NNPS-TV broadcast on Channel 6 and its remote production truck was a modified motor home. Most games needed a crew of 12 to 18 students and staff, depending on how many students wanted to be reporters. According to Cummings, that was a separate track from crew positions. Some games required over 20 people in the crew.
"Hiring a working TV director was a challenge," Cummings remembered. "Freelance TV directors were few, but we got lucky with Bill Barlow," he said.
Barlow had a career in commercial broadcasting in New York and Philadelphia, and with the Army at Ft. Eustis. When he came to work at NNPS-TV around 1993, he had been in the TV production business for about 30 years. With the Army, he was a television director and later General Manager of Production, making "commercials," such as recruiting and training videos, mostly having to do with aircraft.
When Barlow "heard through the grapevine" that NNPS had a television facility, he came in to meet Cummings.
"I told him I had a full time job with the Army as television director, but I would be interested in freelance work," he recalled.
"Next thing I know, he gave me a call, offered me a job as a freelance television director, and the rest is history," Barlow said.
"I wanted the students to gain from the experience of working with a pro," Cummings said.
Barlow remembers "vividly" being "a little apprehensive" about working with students.
"There were four adults and a bunch of kids and we're gonna do a live football game?" he remembered thinking incredulously.
"30 years of TV at NNPS" is a series of stories about the early days of the Telecom program and NNPS-TV.
But he was "pleasantly surprised" how quickly they learned and began working together.
A "live to tape" 30-minute pre-game show ran for a few years. It was taped an hour before the game and aired half an hour before kickoff.
"Interviews of coaches were shot and edited and rolled in live to tape," Cummings said. "There were times when we were rewinding the tape seconds to air. The clock was and always will be the boss in TV."
One thing students learn in television production is they have to be ready and able to adapt. In 2000, Heritage High School made it to the football state championship. NNPS-TV was scheduled to record a Winter 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 TV truck to the University of Richmond Stadium to cover the game live for NNPS-TV.
"We went live with that little teeny microwave truck," Price recalled.
NNPS-TV Broadcast Engineer Greg Swann and Instructor/Producer Dave Underwood were at the station to monitor the signal, add graphics, and keep things running smoothly that day.
"That state championship game was historic," Price added.
No Newport News school had won a state title in 69 years, and Heritage beat Dinwiddie 45-7.
In 2006, when the old TV truck "wouldn't start anymore," according to Price, NNPS-TV was able to purchase a new, specialized truck. It did not come with video equipment. The equipment from the old truck, which had been kept up to date, was installed in the new "shell." This truck is still in use today.
In 2011, a student camera operator had her video posted on ESPN's website when Woodside upset Phoebus' 52-game winning streak. The game made national sports news, and Telecom was able to provide the video.
Besides football and basketball, 10 other high school sports have been produced for television by Telecom staff and students, which is a source of pride for the Telecom sports production team. Baseball, softball, soccer, wrestling, tennis, track & field, swimming, gymnastics, volleyball, and lacrosse all have been shown on the NNPS channels. This year, some basketball games were streamed live on the internet. The production team has also covered a college football game.
Bicouvaris created the Dr. Mary V. Bicouvaris Memorial Tennis Tournament in honor of his late mother, a teacher, and it has been televised six times since its start in 2001. In 2016, it was Telecom's first HD production.
In addition to sporting events, many other sports-oriented shows have been created, produced, and aired on NNPS-TV.
"Sports Highlights" began in a radio studio at Telecom in 1992 and continues today - 25 years later. It's an interview show created by Cummings and produced by Price. The show features local, regional, national, and international sports figures being interviewed by host Bicouvaris. Telecom students have worked on its production during its many years of existence.
Countless well-known sports figures have been featured on the show, as well as local athletes, coaches, sports organizers, officials, athletic directors, and leaders. A few of the sports superstars who have been featured as guests on Sports Highlights are: Aaron Brooks, Michael Vick, Ronald Curry, Allen Iverson, Boo Williams, Lefty Driesell, Frank Beamer, Wendy Larry, Francena McCorory, and Pernell "Sweet Pea" Whitaker.
The show has won Communicator Awards and the Cummings-Price-Bicouvaris team was recently honored by Newport News City Council with a "Proclamation of Recognition" for 25 years of service.
"Sports Highlights" airs on NNPS-TV on Mondays at 7 a.m., 2 p.m., and 7 p.m., and weekends at 9 a.m. It can also be seen online via nnpstv.com's webstream at those times. And it is available on the NNPS-TV video site, YouTube, and Roku.
In the past, Bicouvaris hosted an "Outstanding Student-Athletes" show, too, which was recorded in the Telecom studio with a student crew. NNPS athletic directors selected top athletes to be interviewed for the show.
A 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. One viewer was even inspired to lose 150 pounds watching the show. Often Telecom students operate the cameras on location for the shoot, so it is also a great training tool for them.
"Fuzion Fitness" airs at 6:30 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. daily, plus Mondays at 7:30 a.m., 2:30 p.m., and 7:30 p.m. Shows are available on demand on YouTube.
"Scouting Report" is a short sports-themed program focusing on physical education and the achievements of NNPS student-athletes. It covers a lot of middle-school athletics and elementary-level physical fitness that otherwise doesn't get much coverage. The show is produced by the team of NNPS-TV Station Manager Jim Anklam, Producer Nik Long, and Video Production Tech Aaron Moore. It has been running since 2011.
The team that produces sports matches for NNPS-TV also occasionally has a sporting news event to cover. In 2001, 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 for television.
Getting the story and covering newsworthy events is what Telecom students are trained for. Working on sporting events gives them a chance to gain experience shooting remote broadcasts, operating the cameras and directing, conducting interviews, and generating graphics. Most of all, it teaches them to work as a team.
"We're a team and we work together," Director Barlow said. "If it's good, it's because we all did a good job."