St. Cloud State Continues Two-Decade Student-Broadcast Tradition
By Carolyn Braff
For two decades, students at St. Cloud State University in St. Cloud, MN, have been quietly running their own production company, producing the school’s Division I hockey games for distribution on campus and across the country. More than 25 full-time students double as full-time employees of Husky Productions, working upwards of 40 hours a week to train, critique, and prepare for live television production on game day.
“A lot of the students come in knowing what it takes to do a hockey game but are lacking in the specifics,” explains Brian Stanley, a freelance executive for Husky Productions. “The first couple of games are exhibition games and don’t make air except on the local campus-wide network, and that’s when the training happens.”
The staff, made up of 27 full-time students who put in at least 40 hours per week at the station, is paid through contracts with a local cable provider. The only two non-students on staff are Stanley and the station’s full-time engineer, Derrick Silvestri. Both are St. Cloud State graduates.
The production studio and control room are about 2,000 feet from the hockey arena, so triax connects the two buildings.
“Everything’s run triax,” Silvestri explains. “We do run 16 video channels and 32 channels of audio. We have that capability with our single-mode fiber to send program feeds and return feeds.”
Stanley ran that triax himself as a St. Cloud State student the early 1990s. Although Stanley has upgraded his job, now serving as VP, sales and operations, for Arctek HD Satellite Productions, most of Husky Productions’ equipment has not received the same treatment.
“It’s old equipment, primarily Grass Valley,” Silvestri explains. “We have a Horizon router and a 200 switcher. We actually use two switchers — the second switcher, downstream of the 200, is a Globecaster from Global Streams.”
The Globecaster also doubles as a graphic system, on top of which the station uses a Chyron SD Duet and PhotoShop to create graphics templates. A Telex RTS system provides communications, and a brand-new Avid Media Composer 3.05 serves as the station’s primary editing system for pre- and post-production. All together, Husky Productions utilizes 38 Avids throughout its facility.
Each hockey game is produced using 10 cameras: six manned, a combination of Ampex and Sony cameras; two overhead cameras shooting the goals; and two robotic cameras inside the penalty boxes.
“In the past, we have rented wireless in-net cameras through Fletcher, so I was trained with robotics,” Silvestri explains.
The control room also uses an EVS system for replay and seven DVCPRO decks. Six Sennheiser effects microphones provide the audio complement.
Working With Limits
“With the technology that we have, we’re very limited as to what we can do,” explains Justin Maas, student producer for Husky Productions. “Probably the biggest challengis doing the best with what we have.”
Because students are mostly learning on the go, Maas makes sure to sit down with his staff and critique each week’s production, which is especially easy when the school’s local cable network rebroadcasts the games on Mondays and Tuesdays. Students must refine the craft that they choose — editing, camerawork, EVS operation — because Husky Productions holds very high standards for its broadcasts.
“We need the students to specialize so that we can put out a product that’s comparable to a regional sports network,” Stanley says.
The HD Elephant
Husky Productions does not currently create any HD content, but, as Stanley says, “that’s the big elephant in the room.”
“One of the reasons that I wanted to get involved with St. Cloud is to get these students at a level where they can come out not as an intern but as a paid professional producing, TDing, serving as EVS operators, at the HD level,” Stanley explains. “If we were to upgrade our entire production facilities to HD, instead of learning television production on 1990 Ampex cameras, these guys could theoretically come out of these universities in four years with the ability to be the EIC on a big truck.”
Husky productions are streamed online, through B2 networks, and have been transmitted via satellite to CSTV (CBS College Sports), ESPNU, and an over-the-air network in Alaska, whenever the University of Alaska – Anchorage is in town. The NHL Network will begin distributing Husky Productions’ feed in January.
“Our primary network is the local Charter cable company in St. Cloud,” Stanley explains. “Charter also has an agreement to air our games statewide through Comcast and Mediacom, so, on any given game that airs state-wide, we can have upwards of a million viewers.”
The school has a direct line to Charter, and Charter connects directly with Comcast, so state-wide shows are transmitted via cablecast. Stanley’s Arctek services are helpful for transmitting to other networks, but his business is solicited through the networks, not the university.
The Husky Productions staff also provides clean feeds of every camera, including replays, to the 15-foot Daktronics monitors at each end of the National Hockey Center.
“When an external company comes in, like Fox Sports Net North, we have the capability to take their feeds and use them in our production as well,” Silvestri explains. “We do have lots of connectivity between the different entities.”
In addition to the weekend hockey broadcasts, Husky Productions originates nine other shows each week, including a live daily news show, all from the same facility.
“The thing that I think sets us apart is the fact that our broadcast-quality control room, located in another facility, is used throughout the week doing other things,” Stanley explains. “A lot of the arenas do just a scoreboard and send audio and video out to a cable network. We’re in a facility that’s working regularly doing television other than just sports.”
Talks of adding football and basketball coverage to the schedule continue, but, with students already putting in 40-50 hours per week on hockey alone, the crew would have to grow significantly to cover additional sports with the quality that Husky Productions’ viewers have come to expect.