UChicago enters the age of television with student-run UCTV.
Among this year’s batch of Uncommon Fund winners, the proposal for a student-run television station has received a flood of student support. Even before the winners were announced, fans of UCTV were liking the group on Facebook, sharing links to the tongue-in-cheek video pitch, and dreaming up their own ideas for the next great dorm-room sitcom.
Last Tuesday, the students behind the new RSO, second-years Alex Sotiropoulos, Alex Allen, and Vicente Fernandez, presented their ideas to a packed lecture hall (and ran out of pizza). Afterward, the group sat down to discuss the challenges ahead.
You got a great turnout for your first official session. What kind of response were you expecting?
Fernandez: When we were talking about it, we were not sure what kind of interest we were going to get. But once we started putting the flyers around campus and looking at our Facebook group and the sort of activity we were getting on our list hosts, we knew we were going to get somewhere around 60 plus, but we weren’t expecting about a hundred people.
Why didn’t UChicago have a TV station before?
Allen: I think it’s mostly because at most schools, [stations] are linked to a broadcasting department, which has broadcasting majors for students.
Fernandez: For example, with the Cinema and Media Studies Department—and two of us are CMS majors—it’s really good at providing a grounded foundation in film analysis, but there aren’t a lot of classes that go toward production.
Allen: It’s really funny because Iffy [Ifeanyi Okonma, administrator of cTV] and some other administrators were all so excited. They had this dream of this television station already from several years ago, but none of them alone had the ability to create it or do anything about it. It’s like they needed student involvement.
Fernandez: They were waiting for students to bring up the initiative. So when we came to them, they were really excited.
What were the challenges that you encountered when you applied for Uncommon Fund support?
Allen: Initially when we conceived of this, before the Logan Center was officially up and running, equipment from the visual-arts department was difficult to access. We figured that with all the production that we planned on doing, we were going to need our own equipment as well as multiple sets, so we asked for a lot of money. But now, with Logan and [the Chicago Multimedia Initiatives Group], which are willing to provide us a lot of stuff, it actually gives us the opportunity to use our uncommon money for the more uncommon needs of the station.
Fernandez: We’re going to be able to do things like develop a really good website for streaming, which is going to be great for students off campus, while still getting equipment.
How many hours a week are you hoping to broadcast?
Sotiropoulos: For our short-term goal, we want to start out with our news show and our sports broadcast. The sports broadcast will depend on how many sports are being played, but for the news program we are thinking about a half hour. And there are already so many people with so many ideas for original series that it’s really hard to tell how much we’ll be able to get done. But hopefully, we’ll get all the sports and all the news from the get-go in fall quarter.
Allen: Part of our jobs as the executives of the network [laughs at the ad hoc title], part of it will be to filter a lot of these pitches and ideas to find the most feasible and quality programming. And we can make sure that those get top priority and get produced the fastest.
Will anybody be able to contribute?
Fernandez: We’re going to take pitches from different people. We’re definitely interested in help from professors and people associated with the University. We definitely want to produce our own content, like these broadcasts and shows, but if there is an outside organization, like Fire Escape [Films], that wants to run some shorts, we’d be happy to run them.
You were doing very well early on in the Uncommon Fund’s online poll, one of this year’s changes to the process. Did you run into any challenges along the way?
Fernandez: We actually ran into one little hiccup. We had a connection with the Redbull rep, you know, we were marketing with Redbull. We would set up booths and say hey, check out our video, and also we’ve got some Redbull if you want. Some people thought it might have been an unfair advantage, but thankfully they passed it and we were fine.
What are the biggest challenges going forward?
Fernandez: One of the things we’re actively doing is figuring out the best way to use the equipment that the University has available to us, like the Logan arts center, and complementing that with equipment that is pivotal for our broadcast.
Allen: Also another big hurdle is going to be recruiting the right people for managerial roles so that this thing runs efficiently and on time, so that we never get backed up and always have a consistent show every week.
Sotiropoulos: I also think that’s probably our biggest hurdle, because if you don’t have some experienced people—we’re not asking that everyone’s experienced, and we’re welcoming people with all types of backgrounds—but if you don’t have at least some experienced people, then it’s going to be very tough.
Fernandez: After today’s showing, 90-plus people, it looks like we’re going to have a lot of support from the student body and a lot of people are going to be committed to this. We’re really excited about today’s showing, and I’m almost positive that we’re going to have people out practicing this spring who will come in next fall ready to produce.