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The show will go on for Whitney High School's Broadcast Media class--here's how students and faculty kept the program running

COVID can’t stop this school’s news show

The show will go on for Whitney High School's Broadcast Media class--here's how students and faculty kept the program running

Creating a daily morning TV show is just one part of what makes school life at Whitney High School in Rocklin, CA so unique for the broadcast media class.

With the school on lockdown and everyone remote learning, the production team had to overcome new challenges to continue communicating from individual student homes.

Although the school year is over, students are already thinking about how they will deliver their show if distance learning is still in effect in the fall. They’ve already worked on new graphics packages and discussed how to rise to the potential challenges that may come up when school resumes.

Related content: 6 ways to prep kids for whatever the fall may hold

One thing is clear: things will be different. Take live events as an example– last year, Whitney won Student Television Network’s Best High School Live Event in the nation for its Friday night football productions. The school has won first or second place every year in the last eight years. Even if games are allowed to be played, people in high risk groups will likely stay home, so the broadcast team wants to ensure it can deliver the best experience possible for remote viewers.

When it comes to the group’s daily show, Unleashed, it’s possible that even if the school is open, there may be staggered schedules to lower building occupancy, so some presenters and students may again need to broadcast from home. Normally, Unleashed is recorded “live to tape” using Telestream’s Wirecast from 7:45 to 9 a.m. every weekday morning. It is then played out over, the school’s TV station, at 9:20 a.m. when all students are in their classes. Although students would like to do the show live, the way the school’s class schedules have been set up, it’s not been possible.

Bringing it all together

The broadcast media team at Whitney uses a variety of equipment to deliver their award-winning daily broadcasts. The studio cameras are switched by a Black Magic ATEM switcher, while NewBlue Titler Live is used to supply lower thirds and other title sequences. Telestream’s ScreenFlow software is used to capture social media contributions from students which feature prominently in the program. All of these sources are fed into Telestream Wirecast, some of it live over the network via NDI, where it is then recorded to disk for a slightly delayed broadcast. Wirecast is also used to key green screen content for the weather segment.

“Wirecast is the hub of the operation,” says Ben Barnholdt, the school’s Broadcast Media teacher. “Not only does it bring all the elements together, it also encodes the final output and delivers it to ESE Networks, our hosting service provider.”

Unleashed plays out over as well as the local cable access channel for the cities of Rocklin and Rosewell from Barnholdt’s classroom. The teachers show the stream in every class. Barnholdt streams a title slide so they know they are tuned into the right spot. After the bell rings, there’s an approximate 30-second buffer for them to take attendance and then the program kicks off at 9:23am with the Pledge of Allegiance.

Addressing challenges this fall

“The whole intent of the Unleashed show is to ‘look and feel live.’ We worked hard to maintain that feel in our first “remote” show where the students were broadcasting from their rooms at home,” says Barnholdt. “If we end up doing more remote broadcasts this fall, the students are working on plans to do the whole show live. I have a lot of confidence in them since this next class will have 22 seniors who will have been with me for four years.”

A main feature that the group plans to utilize for future live remote production is the ability to bring Zoom feeds directly into Wirecast. By enabling Zoom videoconferencing as an additional source, everyone can be remote who needs to be, and the show can maintain the same look and feel. One of the students with reliable network connectivity and speed would bring the Wirecast computer to their home, while other contributors can log in remotely. Using the NDI protocol, it’s conceivable that a separate student could send live NewBlue titles to Wirecast as well.

“I have no doubt that the students will rise to the challenge of remote production should the need arrive again,” says Barnholdt. “They’re very ambitious and they genuinely like knocking down roadblocks as they appear. For them, Zoom will just be an additional camera input. They’ll concentrate on getting a consistent look and feel with the equipment they have available at home while also confronting issues with camera position, lighting, color balance, and more.”

From a teaching standpoint, Barnholdt will have his own challenges if remote learning continues. “If we can’t be with each other face to face, we’re going to have to try and figure out how to teach new students this process. How do I teach someone Wirecast without being with them and coaching them directly?

“There’s a lot of failure in learning,” Barnholdt continues. “The only way they become experts is by to navigating around issues and problems with airtime looming. So, how can I get them to critically think and then assist them? It’s going to be a challenge, but I know we’ll figure it out.”

Live event production

In addition to the daily live show, live events and sports production are a key part of the program.

“Two years ago, when we would go out to a live event, we were carrying so much stuff that it became it became nearly impossible unless you were willing to commit an entire school day to set up. It was really, really hard,” says Barnholdt. “We got a 25-foot video production trailer and now we’re literally plug and play. We mounted a rack on the roof so that we have a producer, a play by play and color operator up there. Inside the truck there’s a student who runs Wirecast, another who runs the NewBlue Titler software, and a director. We also have a student who ingests video for instant replay and then feeds it back through Wirecast. In total, we have 22 kids working on a typical live production for a football game.”

With crew and gear and Barnholdt at the helm, it’s no wonder that these productions consistently win awards.

How can Barnholdt and his students improve every year when the bar is set so high? “It says up on the wall in our classroom—we’re not about preserving a legacy, we’re about creating our own—What was done by the group before you was great. Respect it, learn from it, but don’t just repeat what they did. We break it down and start over.”

“Remote learning has been hard for everyone at the school and I think that nobody is looking forward to doing it again this fall,” says Alaina Roberts, Senior Anchor and Reporter at Whitney High School. “If we have to do it, then our daily broadcasts are going to be more important than ever to keep spirits up and make sure everyone feels included. I know we can do it.”

Barnholdt says that regardless of where they find themselves in the fall, not doing the show is not an option.

“The technology is there, and we already have everything we need. However, it’s going to require a great deal of patience and creative thinking. For example, we’ll need to come up with a way to do intercom communication so that directors can communicate with everyone on a back channel to make sure things flow and people know when their segment is about to go live. These are all things we will need to work through.”

“I think another challenge for me is going to be keeping up, because my students are already researching different ways to use Wirecast, ScreenFlow, NewBlue and our other tools. This is their moment, and they’re no strangers to technology. It’s going to be an amazing year, whatever happens, that I’m sure of,” concludes Barnholdt.

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