McNair’s EagleVision TV Studio…

Here’s an update on what the TV/broadcasting studio/classroom at Ronald E. McNair High School in Stockton (CA) looks like.

First…below is a rough diagram of what the layout looks like so you can relate to the photos.

Rough diagram 7/09
Rough diagram 7/09

And now for the tour. We’ll begin in the control room. The room can easily hold up to five students working and has a window looking out to the floor. It is NOT soundproofed…but since the control room crew works quietly, that is not an issue.

The studio has some real professional aspects and some parts of the design are frankly amateurish.

The pro aspects include the greenscreen and grey curtains that cover completely the south and west walls. Nice. The light grid…we only have two 1Ks up there, but can add probably another twenty of varying sizes…all controlled in the control room by a progamable light panel.

With the hole/pass through between the floor and the control room, students can set up in minutes. The anchor desk was a find – a display from a bankrupt store. Very heavy, holds two comfortably, and on wheels so we can move it around.

I’m still working on work stations in the control room – but here’s the basic layout. Enter the room and the light control is right inside the door. The rest of the workstations are in this order:

Audio board
Preview screen for switcher
Video switcher
Playbacks (DVD, mini-DV)
Sony DVCam record deck to record the show

Next is the on-air monitor for showing the Daily Bulletin as we playback for the campus – I currently have our Pansonic mini-DV deck hooked up for playback, although it really belongs over in the playback area.

We can also hook up the mini-DV deck to the small TV set for viewing tapes. Finally, a DVD duplicator.

There’s also a table in the room to hold the crew headsets and to work on scripts, etc.

I’m waiting for at least three (I hope) more computers…two to go just outside the control room for Internet access – none of my computers are currently hooked up.
Plus one computer (please let it have a DVD burner) for any add-ons to the show. Right now students are only switching between cameras and we have to edit in bars/countdown/show open and credits. As they get better, I’ll add in more components (live playback while shooting of bars/countdown and show open and credits).

Procedure to shoot the show.

Director and anchors get script (I type it due to time constraints) and read and mark their individual lines and which camera(s) will be up for each part of the script.

Floor Director is in charge of pulling mike lines and placement of microphones for the anchors. S/he also has to hook up their headset to their com line. Also is in charge of anything that happens on the floor, from working w/cameramen to communicating with anchors (plus telling students not working on the show to shush).

Cameramen pull cables (S-VHS and com line) to tripods and place tripods. They then get cameras/batteries and place cameras on tripods and hook up video to camera and their headset to com line.

Director is the boss and runs the show. All of the following must be stated over the com system so that all crew knows the Director is running through the checklist.
First s/he checks that all crew are in position and tells cameras what their first shot is.
Call for Floor Director to get “Quiet on the set!”
Directs switcher to roll tape and gets confirmation.
States that tape is rolling and to “stand by.”
Tells Floor Director to begin the countdown in “ten…nine…eight…”

We are keeping the switcher’s job pretty simple right now…all they have to do is read the script and switch between the initial two shot and then between anchors as they read their lines, ending on a two shot.

I also keep the camera/anchor ID simple. Anchor One and Camera One are on the right, from the viewpoint of the Director in the Control Room. Anchor Two and Camera Two are on the left. Anchor One’s camera is Camera One – and Anchor Two looks to Camera Two.

Remember…we’ve only been doing this for two weeks and I felt it was best to keep it simple initially.

My final bugaboo: choosing anchors, rotating anchors, philosophy of student participation. This is a developing philosophy..and I’m gonna wander off a little here with some personal opinions.

When I worked in TV news, one of the things that really bugged me was when administrators marched out the same top-of-the-line kids every time media came on campus. We never saw real kids…just perfect kids.

My principal I know does the same…and I understand why. He wants to make the school look good. Good PR.

But by only allowing a select few opportunities, you create a culture of segregation. Those who have and get it and the great unwashed. Those who get to look and live in envy and crushed hopes.

Call me a daft – a fool – but I am in a way jettisoning decades of training that says that only the best and brightest deserve the spotlight. I want my slow kids and my gangbangers and my quiet bright kids to have the same opportunities as those with who live life with a silver spoon.

So the initial anchors for the Daily Bulletin were a semi-toughie (advanced student) who has always been a bit of a classroom clown and problem and who proved that my faith in him was warranted by anchoring like a pro (with only a few errors). His co-anchor a quiet B-Boy (yeah I love my breakers). After a week I rotated my clown into the Control Room as Director and pulled in a shaggy haired quiet advanced student. Every week I pull in a new anchor to work with someone from the previous week. And I’ll be going outside my classroom because I’ve appealed to staff to give me their readers – students who would like to try to anchor two a two week period.

Another important part of my plan is to keep the show interesting. When the Bulletin was read over loudspeakers to the classrooms, kids just didn’t pay attention. It was boring.

With the addition of the video Bulletin, we can keep the audience interested by changing visuals daily. The anchors appear daily in the show open. The credits (:30-1:00)change daily from animations shot by my students to highlights of the football game to campus events. The plan is to include as many students at all levels as possible so that at least once a week or more a student can say, “I was on the Bulletin or I saw someone I know on the Bulletin.”

This past week I sent out a notice to all staff that if they had events or meetings or games and could either provide video/stills or give me enough notice so that I could send a student to shoot the event, we would include them in the Bulletin credits. I sent the email on Friday morning and before the day was out I had every spot for next week filled with more coming in.

Our school librarian was even more on top of the situation. She has some of my students in her after-school Eagle Readers Club – and is having them produce a commercial about what a great club it is.

Final note: this is NOT a news show, so I am treating it as a community service program. We will, on occasion, insert a story, but building this into a real news show will take time. I need to build some depth in my crew…get students who want to return again and again so that their strengths and background will allow me to do more and more.

As always…please leave comments; let me know what you’re up to; criticize…thank you.


I need a new switcher!

My Focus Enhancement MX4 is offically dead. The choices are fix it or replace it.

So, to all of you out there in the invisible world of the Internet – do any of YOU have suggestions for an AFFORDABLE simple switcher that can handle four video and audio sources as well as basic effects, including green screen.

Repair cost is about $500…I’m willing to look at new or used in the $500-$2000 range.

Contact me at

Rethinking my position…

We are now officially three weeks into the new school year and I’m looking over the changes I made in how I teach – and rethinking whether I should have done them.

Originally I always started students off with Basic Shots – got the cameras into their hands and them out in the field to shoot seven shots using video. Then they came back and edited using iMovie.

This year I had them shoot some basic composition using stills and then brought into the computer using iPhoto; then pulled into iMovie and edited.

What I’m seeing is that learning two (albeit very basic) programs at the same time has slowed things down immensely. Of course having two classes with forty students each may have something to do with that. Everyone finished the composition assignment – they’ve all moved on to Basic Shots and are having fun with their first real video assignment.

If they retain what they learned about iMovie, they should be able to speed through BS and on to Animation within the week…and then maybe things will be back on a normal schedule. I am seeing better shooting in the Basic Shots assignments…which was my intent when I shoveled composition in front of it.

My two big issues – not enough tripods and ALL of the Eluras now have stripped threads, so we can’t use them with the non-existant tripods. Actually, it balances out pretty well…about seven tripods and seven (older) video cameras. The seniors have the drill – work when there’s gear and kick back and work on other class assignments or chill out or talk with the teacher about video. The freshmen are somewhat confused…they aren’t used to sitting creatively. They’ll learn.

I love my little groupies who have formed teams and sit and encourage and help each other on every assignment…they are bonding and learning more than either of the other two types of teams.

Friday was mellow…once I got the gear checked out, I had time to set up the studio gear and run each class through a quick look-see and hands on session. Monday we start for real. I’ll have a script for the directors so they will know exactly what to say (Quiet on the set! Stand by to tape. In 10-9-8….) to the floor crew. We’ll have copies of the Bulletin for the “anchors” to rehearse with. Only two anchors to start with…will add in the third in a week or so.

Everyone will be REQUIRED to learn every role on the floor crew, control room, anchor desk…and once we start for real they will be required to rotate through every position with the exception of anchor. Yeah – I want the shows to look good and flow smoothly and nothing screws things up worse than a reluctant anchor.

And counting down to September 3 in 10-19-18-17…

And here’s what the studio looks like!

Got the anchor desk hauled into the studio this weekend (love you Ron and Lexi for working in 100+ degree heat to haul that monolith) and went in this morning to snap some shots.

If you want a closer view, just click on the individual photos.

Word of explanation – for the past three years I’ve taught broadcasting in “almost a studio.” It had the configuration, but I was also teaching English – which mean more than half of the room had desks, blocking off any ability to really do studio work. This year my English class is moving to another room, so the studio for the first time is dedicated to what it was meant for.

This past year the light grid was installed – and there it sat. I don’t have a variety of lights – just three 1K Arris, two of which were mounted by Theater Manager Brian Harrower last week. Big improvement – we can use the controls to light up and dim down AND no more potential disasters waiting to happen with power cords running all over the room.

My buddy Kathy Newell pointed out that TV station controls rooms do NOT look out over the studio…many times they are located elsewhere in the building. The response is – hey, I’m a teacher and have to maintain a visual on the kids. Besides, it kinda looks neat.

The anchor desk – formerly known as a store fixture – bought from the local Gottshalks, which is going out of business. Five by five foot platform with a four foot high desk. Just enough room for two anchors. It will be painted (most likely a neutral grey) before school starts. Oh – it has wheels, so we can roll it to any location we want in studio.

The hole in the wall!! I’m still excited about it. Just some corrogated plastic pipe and a couple of toilet mount fixtures. About five inches wide (I think). Mounted right below my monitors in the control room.

And the student comments and 48HFP (48 Hour Film Project) musings on the board…this is what happens when students are no longer learners but part of a team under deadline. I didn’t even really see these until I returned to the classroom the Monday after the event. Made me want to cry….

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