NNPS's TV production classes, station celebrate 30th anniversary
A series about the early days of the Telecom program and NNPS-TV
Ask anyone in broadcast television and they will tell you the best - and most exciting and rewarding - part of television production is going live.
Going live - as in a live broadcast on TV - is something NNPS-TV is getting back into this year after a little hiatus. When football season kicked off in the fall, NNPS-TV had committed to covering four games live on Cox Channel 47/Verizon Fios Channel 17.
The student TV crew went live last winter from Warwick High School for a couple basketball games, broadcasting them on TV and on YouTube. Other than that, they live-streamed the 2017 graduations on the Internet in June. They have also have done many "live productions," which means the show or event that they recorded would not be edited before airing on television. All of the switching cameras, adding computer graphics, and any commentary has to be created on the fly and executed correctly for the recording, so it is not by any means stress-free.
But broadcasting live on television - sending the signal immediately - gave a bit of added pressure and excitement to Telecom training and football coverage this year.
"Live is live," said Telecom Supervisor Ray Price. "If you make mistakes, you just keep going."
"30 years of TV at NNPS" is a series of stories about the early days of the Telecom program and NNPS-TV.
The key, he said, is being prepared.
Being prepared starts with an experienced and competent staff to lead the students. Bill Barlow, who has 50-plus years in the video production industry, is the Director of the NNPS high school football broadcasts. NNPS-TV Broadcast Engineer Greg Lesko, who recently upgraded the remote video production truck and procured HD cameras and equipment, handles the broadcast signal. Price serves as Producer and TV Instructor Carl Daniels, Jr. wears many hats, like that of Assistant Director, Graphics producer, and Production Assistant. Sports Announcers Greg Bicouvaris and Nate Milton make up the rest of the team that leads the football broadcasts.
Telecom students flesh out the rest of the football crew, filling positions like Camera Operator, Technical Director, Character Generator, VTR/ DDR Operator (Replay), Audio Operator, ENG Editor, Reporter, Announcer and Assistant Producer.
Clearly, to broadcast football, whether live or recorded, a large crew is needed.
"'Van camp' was the only way we could do any game," reminisced Paul Cummings, who was the first Supervisor of Telecom, a role he held for 18 years, from 1986 to 2004.
Van camp is the week-long training that Telecom students can attend before the start of school.
"We got the idea from band camp," Cummings said. During van camp, the students learn to work on a remote broadcast using the "production van," which originally was a modified 1977 Winnebago motor home. Van camp was instituted for the 1992-93 season, and NNPS-TV has covered select football games from Todd Stadium ever since.
The first live game was broadcast in 1995, featuring Ferguson High versus Hampton High.
Even before the live football games, NNPS-TV was broadcasting live from the studio. Starting in 1989 - nearly 30 years ago - NNPS-TV broadcast a live homework show, called HTV. It ran for 10 years and featured a teacher, a group of students, and live callers asking for homework help.
Current Station Manager Jim Anklam was the Executive Producer of HTV and he had a student television crew that was well-trained and professional, who handled all aspects of the show.
"When you're about to go live, you focus!" he said.
"I directed the first two shows only," Anklam said, noting how capable the students were. "I had a shadow [student watching], and then the students did all the work."
"Broadcast Day" offered another live TV situation for Telecom students in the early days of the program. During Broadcast Day, the students had to run the studio for the day, providing programming for the channel and also some for WTKR and WAVY. This included playing taped shows, but also live newscasts.
"Live TV is a thrill and the best way to make the student experience real," said Cummings.
The equipment was bulky and heavy, and certainly antiquated by today's standards, but that did not stop NNPS-TV from doing other live remote broadcasts besides football. The earliest such broadcasts were from special events at schools, like when the governor visited B.C. Charles Elementary School and Miss America came to Deer Park Magnet School in 1991. NNPS-TV did a live broadcast from Hilton Elementary School's 75th anniversary celebration in 1994 as well.
In May of 1996, Newport News celebrated its 100th birthday with the "Parade of the Century," and NNPS-TV worked with the city channel NNCC Channel 10 (now NNTV Channel 48/19) to produce the parade live. Anklam and Rosalynne Whitaker-Heck, who was Telecom's first Assistant Supervisor/TV Instructor before becoming spokeswoman for NNPS, were the commentators. Students ran the cameras and assisted with the production. The TV team used the city's video production truck because NNPS-TV's motor-home TV truck was actually in the parade, with a couple riders on the roof, no less.
In 1998, NNPS-TV went live from the Mariners' Museum for a "satellite" or "electronic" field trip. Anklam was the host and the show featured the exhibit "Titanic: Fortune & Fate." It aired not only on NNPS-TV, but throughout Virginia and beyond via the Virginia Satellite Education Network.
And when Heritage High School's football team made it to the State Championship in 2000, the NNPS-TV sports production team did a live broadcast from the University of Richmond Stadium. Another highlight was broadcasting live from the Boys and Girls Club of Newport News when Michael Vick announced he was going pro in 2001.
By about 2005, NNPS-TV began broadcasting the School Board meetings live. Prior to that, they were recorded and broadcast on TV, and before that, NNPS-TV produced and aired a show called "School Board Review," which featured the school superintendent and another School Board member summarizing and discussing the meeting.
Today the School Board meetings can be seen live on the channel, on the live webcast, or on the NNPS-TV live stream on the Roku channel. They can also be seen on demand on the nnpstv.com website and YouTube.
Telecom students assist with the production of the School Board meetings. Originally, they manned cameras in the administration building auditorium, but for many years they have utilized remote-controlled cameras, so they work from a control room in the Telecommunications Center across the street.
For many years, Telecom students have practiced for live broadcasts by competing in SkillsUSA's Leadership and Skills Conferences. "Live on Site" is a Video Production category that they often enter, wherein a student broadcast news team has two hours to produce a three-minute "live" newscast. The teams are judged on their broadcast writing ability, voice quality, diction, timing and pacing, and performance techniques.
NNPS-TV staff and Telecom students have joined up with the city channel (NNTV) numerous times on live broadcasts, particularly for Newport News' annual City Budget Hearing. For more than five years, they worked together using NNPS-TV's remote TV production truck to air the meeting live for citizens to view at home.
Over the years, NNPS-TV has had to "rethink and update our technology to continue to go live," said Anklam. He mentioned that as trees and Christopher Newport University have grown, NNPS-TV's signal couldn't hit the tower at Todd Stadium when using their microwave truck for remote productions from certain locations.
After the current production truck was purchased in 2006, NNPS-TV utilized a cable infrastructure called "MetroNet" to go live from certain sites for a number of years. It was basically a closed circuit of coax cable that connected NNPS school sites.
Now that that infrastructure no longer exists, NNPS-TV uses state-of-the-art internet technology to broadcast live. The internet offers other capabilities, like live web-streaming and using sources like YouTube and Roku. In addition to sports, NNPS-TV has live-streamed robotics competitions and graduation ceremonies on YouTube.
The four football games that were broadcast live on TV and the web this year "went very well," according to Price.
"There's a higher energy involved with going live," said Lesko.
Barlow, who has been directing the NNPS football game broadcasts for 25 years, loves the energy, excitement, and pressure of a live or "live-to-tape" (no edits) broadcast.
"When it's time to go, you gotta be ready," he said. "No excuses, you gotta do it."