WUSF to create student-run TV channel

With a 12-hour program gap on one of its channels, WUSF TV wants students to create content to fill it.

Next semester, the station wants to develop a program that would create University-themed programs, said Tom Dollenmayer, station manager of WUSF.

The new program would run on the government-funded Florida Knowledge Network (FKN).

FKN runs from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. on digital broadcast channel 16.4. Teachers use the channel’s programs as in-class resources.

Nothing airs on FKN after the 12 hours, and WUSF wants to fill that “unused capacity,” said JoAnn Urofsky, general manager of WUSF. The expansion would allow WUSF to air programs for a few hours that show what’s happening at the University, she said.

WUSF is halfway through a 10-year contract to air those programs on FKN, Dollenmayer said. Once the contract is up, WUSF hopes to take over the channel and broadcast its own programming, he said.

“Ultimately, my goal would be that the channel would be shot, edited and produced by students,” he said. “Then they get the real-world experience of running a television station.”

Dollenmayer said he is addressing several questions surrounding the project, including which students would be invited to participate.

He said the station is considering working with mass communications majors, as well as other students who have created videos for film festivals or other events. The channel could be an outlet for the students to air their content, he said.

Dollenmayer said he is scheduling meetings with University administrators to discuss how to work with the University to create the channel, how to fund it and through what department the channel would run.

One idea is to have the channel be a credited class or lab for students, which would help the “funding issue,” Dollenmayer said. It would attract committed students who have a vested interest in production and broadcast, he said.

The students would produce tapings of lecture series, music performances, highlights of sports other than football and any other events on campus, he said.

“The success would be students walking away from the University with a degree and the skills that they’ve already run a station. They would be very competitive,” Dollenmayer said.

Dollenmayer said he hopes to create a class by fall 2010.

But Urofsky said WUSF is not an academic unit, and the class would have to run through the mass communications department.

“We can’t say that there will definitely be a class until we speak with (Edward) Jay Friedlander, director of mass communications. … We have to see if the next step (for his department) is putting an official class together,” Urofsky said. “If it’s not, we can use people who aren’t mass communications students.”

Friedlander declined to comment because he hasn’t had discussions with WUSF yet.

Urofsky said it would take two to three years to create a class.

Michael Hoad, University spokesman and faculty administrator of WUSF Public Broadcasting, said it would be “too ambitious” at this point for a class to control the entire channel.

WUSF runs four digital TV channels that broadcast to campus as well as surrounding areas and West Central Florida.

“We think (the expansion) makes sense for the University, to show what we do on the campus as far as anywhere from research, to the arts, to the different activities that happen,” Dollenmayer said.

Hoad said the expansion is important because of increased interest in the University. He said USF is a major force in the economy in its region, and people want to know more about what happens there.

“I think the media has changed, and if USF doesn’t tell its own story, no one else will,” Hoad said.

Dollenmayer said he wants to capture existing content from departments and deliver it.

Florida Focus, a USF mass communications course in which students report, write and produce a news broadcast, will probably be involved with the programming in some way, he said. Florida Focus is televised on WUSF.

“We’re trying to figure that out. We’ve kicked around a couple of models,” he said.

Hoad said members of Florida Focus and the new program would be working together, not competing against each other.

The priority is getting the channel started, Dollenmayer said. WUSF needs departments to submit video programs they own that the station can air, he said.

Hoad said “not a lot” of planning has been done in terms of content, and WUSF will need all departments involved.

“We really need video content out there that would be of interest to the University and the alumni if they have the rights to broadcast it,” Dollenmayer said.

WUSF is seeking recommendations and channel content for the station, he said. Those interested can contact Susan Geiger, WUSF broadcast programming manager, at (813) 905-6911 or Mark Schreiner, University Beat host, at (813) 974-8693.