Serra Campus Days
Ohlone Television started out in 1971 when Ohlone was located at the temporary Serra Campus off Washington Boulevard in Fremont. It began as a joint venture between the Drama Department and the Audio-Visual Department (which became Media Services). The Drama Department purchased two Sony black and white television cameras and a simple two-camera video switcher to use in the recording of theatre productions.
At the time, Doug Prazak was both a student in the Drama Department and a student working in the Audio-Visual Department. The drama productions were performed and taped in the original theatre housed in a portable building (they were called “relocatable” buildings at the time). Recordings were done on 1/2” reel-to-reel video tape. As television technology continued to improve, a new recording format of ¾” videocassette came to the college.
In addition to the work with the Drama Department, the recording equipment was used to film various campus events took place. Events included groundbreaking ceremonies for the new campus and occasional guest speakers on campus. One memorable speaker was Shirley Chisholm, the first African American woman elected to congress, as she made appearances during her Presidential campaign in 1972. Taping the drama productions and other college events was the beginning of what would come to be known as Television Services.
When the college moved to the permanent campus on Mission Boulevard in 1974, the portable theatre building was relocated there and used as the college theatre until a few years before the Smith Center for the Fine and Performing Arts opened in 1995. The portable building needed to be removed to make way for the Smith Center construction. During the several years, the Theatre Department moved to the Newark Ohlone Center, located at the time in leased space at the MacGregor School site (a former middle school). The former Multi-Purpose Room (gym and cafeteria) was used for theatre productions.
Craig Jackson, the first full-time faculty member in drama (he also taught speech) saw the future of television on the campus. However, the college was still very small and developing a full television program would have taken away from his first love of live theatre. With that in mind, there was a transition of the television efforts over to the Media Department.
Developments at the Permanent Campus on Mission Boulevard
As stated, in 1974 the college moved from the temporary Serra Campus to the permanent site on the Mission Boulevard. The new campus provided greatly expanded facilities, including a large Library and Learning Resources space in Building One. Media Services Department was housed in this area and the television equipment and operations became part of the department. A space was set aside as a workspace for the Media Center and it was quickly transformed into a “TV Studio.”
Having graduated from Ohlone in 1972, Doug Prazak transferred to Cal State Hayward to continue his studies in drama and theatre. While at Cal State, Doug helped them more fully utilized their television cameras and production equipment. He graduated in 1974 and came back to Ohlone to work full-time as a Media Technician in Media Services.
Other departments on campus saw the usefulness of video in instruction and Doug worked with them in production activities. These services grew exponentially. Early adopters of television as an enhancement to instruction included Colleen Carr and Betty Clamp from Home Economics, Steve Mendlin and Kay Harrison from Speech, Sharlene Limon and other nursing faculty, and later the Deaf Studies and Interpreting Services departments.
Speech classes would come in on a fairly regular basis to record student presentations to be played back for critique. The Home Economics Department recorded several short videos about diet and nutrition. Some classes were recorded live and then played back on a local cable television channel (before Ohlone acquired its own channel).
By 1977, production was in full swing and television services began to expand. The first color television cameras were purchased, along with the necessary switching equipment. Recorded programs were physically driven down to the cable transmission centers in Fremont and Newark where Ohlone’s videotapes were played back on the local public access channel.
In the early 1980s, the first television classes were designed and offered to train students in the field of production. The curriculum and production work at San Francisco State University served as one important model. At the time, they were the established academic institution for television production in the area. Ohlone followed their curriculum and textbooks to ensure the classes would be transferrable to four-year colleges and universities.
Classes were held on both the main campus and at the Newark cable facility. Newark Cable had a functioning studio and provided the “live” experience for the TV students. It was a short-lived experiment when the Newark facility closed their studio. Production classes moved back to the main campus and additional classes were offered as the interest in production classes increased. Most of the classes were offered in the evening to accommodate the longer hours needed for set up, rehearsal and the actual broadcasts. Classes (and any other classes coming into the studio to be videotaped) were held in the studio next to the Media Center.
It was about 1989 when Ohlone Television was granted its own channel on both the Fremont and Newark cable systems. The Cable Act required a public access channel for the citizenry to produce programming. In addition, institutions of higher education that have the ability were provided a dedicated channel on the local cable lineups. When Ohlone TV had enough programming to occupy a respectable amount of airtime, a request was made to gain a position in the lineup and it was provided.
Since the college was located within Fremont city limits, the “outgoing” cable drop was installed by Fremont Cable. This line ran directly from Ohlone’s control room to the cable headend where it was distributed out through the cable system. With Newark literally surrounded geographically by Fremont, the college had to find a way to connect its signal into the Newark Cable headend. College staff worked with Newark Cable and they installed a microwave transmitter that beamed the signal from the Ohlone TV control room to the Newark Cable headend, where it too was distributed out through their system on Ohlone’s channel. The transmission emanating from the Ohlone TV control Room was simultaneously fed to both Fremont and Newark
The college then had its own programming feed 24 hours a day. In addition to live shows broadcast by the production classes, air time was filled with satellite programming and courses offered over the air by the college. These included programming provided by PBS such as Planet Earth.
The weekly “talk show” format program brought in entertainers, industry professionals and newsworthy guests to be on the shows. Space experts from NASA appeared and demonstrated the physics of Space Shuttle tiles. Professional reporters such as Soledad O’Brien and Dina Eastwood not only appeared on the air, but then held Q&A symposiums with broadcast students after the show to dive deeper into the business of broadcasting. Professors from the college made appearances to do demonstrations within their fields. In particular, Chemistry Professor Jim Klent was a regular and provided some great visual demonstrations.
Planning for New Facilities in the Smith Center
In most higher education institutions, Broadcast Arts are considered part of the Performing Arts. When the planning for a state-funded Performing Arts Center (later named the Smith Center) was in it’s infancy; it was felt the more disciplines that could be housed in the building, the better the chances for funding. Based on this thinking, the college added television and radio studios into the plan.
When the Smith Center opened in 1995, there were over 60 students in the program enrolled in a variety of classes. Ohlone TV had become a fully functioning cable channel, producing and airing its own original programming, and providing supplemental programming (satellite and prerecorded programming) 24-hours a day. The studio had the best state-of-the-art equipment available (within some budgetary confines).
Live original programming, cultural events broadcast from the Jackson Theatre in the Smith Center, over the air courses and special events such as live coverage of Space Shuttle missions. Acting for Television was a joint effort between Broadcast Arts and the Drama Departments, engaging students from both disciplines.
Ohlone Television won several BACE Awards for best live programming. BACE is the Bay Area Cable Excellence Award. Local cable channels from throughout the Bay Area submit programs, in the same manner as the broadcast Emmys. A panel of industry experts judge the submissions and awards are presented at a “gala” event. Ohlone TV won “Best Live Program” for four years in a row for live newscasts.
Doug Prazak, one of the pioneers of what is now Ohlone Television, remained with the program until he left in 1999 to pursue new adventures. In 2007, Control Room was renamed “Doug Prazak Control Room A” to honor his work for over 26 years in the development of Ohlone Television.
Program Developments since the Smith Center Opening
When Doug left Ohlone, there were multiple production classes in both technical and acting categories. Advanced classes were also offered in producing and directing. Ohlone TV was actively involved in recording and rebroadcasting cultural events from the Jackson Theatre in the Smith Center.