SVG-U Q&A: Tad Fowkes, Creative Services and Production Manager, BCSN
For the past four years, BCSN has been providing cable subscribers in the Toledo, OH, market with local-sports programming of all sorts. The 24-hour sports channel on the Buckeye Cable System covers more than 20 events each week, ranging from high school football and college hockey to equestrian and handball. Students from the University of Toledo and Bowling Green State University not only are featured on the network but also help behind the scenes, serving as interns and production assistants to learn the sports-broadcasting business in one of BCSN’s four mobile production units. Tad Fowkes, creative services and production manager for BCSN, took some time to speak with SVG-U this week about the success of the local network that could.
What is BCSN?
We are a 24-hour local sports channel. We cover almost 30 high schools in the Toledo area and college sports from the Mid-American Conference [MAC] like Bowling Green and Toledo. The focus is always on the local.
Who staffs your productions?
We partner with the two local colleges, Bowling Green and Toledo, and some outlying smaller schools, but our staff is a combination of students and professionals that work on some of the bigger productions. These are people who work for ESPN and Fox who like to have an everyday job as well. We run our events with about seven or eight people.
Our staff is trained by the directors and the producers who have been here the longest, and myself as production manager. I’ve been here since the beginning, when we started in January 2004.
We run a co-op program so we’re visible in the colleges. We offer three or four co-op/internships each semester to work for us as a production assistant or in the office making dubs. We’re pretty established; we have 90% name recognition, so people generally know who we are. Most come to us.
Since its founding, BCSN has trained more than 200 area crew members from such schools as University of Toledo, Bowling Green State, University of Michigan, Xavier, Bluffton, and Ohio University. Some of the crew started at BCSN with degrees in broadcasting, and others learned on the job. Many have moved on to other positions throughout the broadcast industry.]
What equipment are you using?
We own four mobile production units. They’re pretty low-brow, not top of the line, but we’ve got about a quarter million dollars wrapped into each one.
We’ve got a 16-channel Mackie mixer and two hard-disk recorders, Sony DSR 1000s, with a DNF controller for replay. For any playback we need to do in there, we have a DSR 1500 DVCAM record deck. We use Echolab Nova switchers.
Depending on the unit, for graphics, we have either a Chyron MicroScribe or Chyron Duet.
In general, we use three cameras, Hitachi 3050s. For some bigger events, we’ll use four, but, for Bowling Green hockey games, which are shown on the NHL Network, we’ll be using three cameras.
We started with three mobile production units in 2004, and all but one have been replaced since then. We’ve upgraded equipment wherever possible; we were using Panasonic MX70 switchers to start with.
As far as microphones go, we’ve started to mike referees, not so much to hear them but for effects on field. We’ve noticed that some of the major broadcasts of football have been miking the hat on the officials, so we’ve given it a try a couple times.
Have you thought about moving your operations to HD?
We’ve been talking about going HD, but it’s just such a big undertaking. You have to make that huge commitment. In essence, we’re just a division of a cable company, so we don’t usually have the budget that a broadcast channel or a regional sports network might have.
What challenges do you face when broadcasting out of college arenas?
For us, the college arenas are the better arenas. The challenges we face are how to broadcast from a high school baseball field. When we move up to a college-level arena, we’re able to do more at those facilities.
For our high school baseball productions, we do those with three cameras as well, so we use a couple of sets of scaffolding. We put one in center field, one behind home plate if we can get it back there — a lot of times we can’t, so we’re down the line a bit — and one on sticks on the first-base side. We do it pretty well for what we’re dealing with. We have a generator in each of our units, so we don’t have to worry about plugging in.
Do you offer any digital content?
We have just launched a streaming service, BCSNVision.tv. We’re streamed 24 hours a day. We also do a video-on-demand section, so the operators at master control will encode the content as it’s playing; then it will be available up on the site. Someone has to do the administration as far as typing in the dates of games and what games are going to be up there for the VOD, but it’s not a whole lot of manpower.
Who sets your schedule?
We have a contractor that does a master list of all the events going on every day, and, every couple weeks, we go through and pick events that we’re going to be covering. We’ve done equestrian, swimming, handball — if it’s a competition, we’re giving it a shot.
We’ve done everything from a global football event associated with the Super Bowl, broadcasting the Junior NFL Football World Championships from the Pontiac Silverdome, down to freshman football championships. I think the story of us is that we are doing up to 22 events a week and we’re kind of the little engine that could. We make do with what we have, and you can’t really tell us it can’t work.