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UCSD-TV celebrates 15 years on the air

As UCSD-TV marked its 15th year in operation staff members reflected on the station’s early years.

Lynn Burnstan remembers a trip to the National Observatory of Mexico as a highlight, though it posed some language problems.

The lure of telescopes had drawn Burnstan and the crew to the mountains of Baja in 1996. But while she could understand what her Spanish-speaking subjects were saying, she could not respond in kind. And vice versa.

“We couldn’t ask questions, but we could understand each other in each others’ languages,” she said.

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The innovation and creativity it took to work through the language barrier for the Baja production were staples of UCSD-TV’s early years. The station is a non-commercial television station in the extension complex on the UCSD campus and has been broadcasting since 1993.

“The early stories were very much about everybody pitching in. All of us were doing everything from painting sets to hanging lights,” Burnstan said.

Shannon Bradley, senior producer for public affairs, had been working in Washington, D.C. when the station started in 1993 and came out to California on a six-month contract to be part of UCSD-TV, which she said had no studio and few employees but did have a positive attitude.

“There was a real can-do spirit,” she said.

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Over half of the station’s budget comes from viewer contributions, program underwriting and grants. It receives no state or government funding. It runs 24 hours a day, seven days a week and annually broadcasts more than 800 shows.

“We can go from presidential elections to opera to biofuels in a week,” Burnstan said.

In the beginning, the staff tried to incorporate students into the daily production but found it was difficult for the schedule of TV production to mesh with the busy lives of students, Burnstan said.

“Making students’ schedules fit into our shooting schedule is almost impossible because their schedules are so demanding,” she said.

Now the station is almost entirely run by professionals, with students occasionally serving as interns or doing light editing and cataloging. On campus, Student Run Television (SRT) gives students the opportunity to be more involved in production and have more control over programming.

Christina Liao, a sophomore communications and studio art student, is one of the few interns at the station. She said she works about 20 hours each week handling viewer responses, the programming guide and research.

“It’s kind of fun every day,” she said.

Steve Anderson, who works in on-air operations, has been with the station since it went on air. He graduated from UCSD in the late 1980s and began working for the university handling the audio and visual equipment for classrooms. All these years later, he is still at his alma mater.

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“I’m still here because the job keeps changing,” he said.

In 2000, UCTV was started and is headquartered at UCSD.

The channel brings together programming from all of the UC campuses across the state. This has enabled UCSD-TV to share its programs and expand its influence across the state. UCSD-TV has also evolved as technological advances have improved and expanded the options for production, such as switching from recording shows on tape to digital recording and uploading more than 1,700 videos to a UCTV channel on the online video-sharing site, YouTube. Anderson said these advances have also changed how on-air operations work.

“Frankly, there’s less work to do,” he said, citing the ability to set up programming digitally instead of having to physically change tapes all the time.

Burnstan said digital technology has given the station more options.

“The whole move to digital opens up worlds that weren’t possible 10 years ago,” she said.

Bradley, the senior public affairs producer, said as the station goes forward, she hopes to attract more financial support in order to create new programming.

Juanita LaHaye, marketing executive of public programs for UCSD Extension, praised the diversity of programming at UCSD-TV, which has included Q & A sessions and presentations by university professors and popular political figures like former Vice President Al Gore.

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“You can’t help but be sucked into some of these shows. It’s not your average mindless television,” LaHaye said.

Burnstan said, though she doesn’t do much production herself, she still has a hand in the work of the producers, who are able to select their own programming.

“What I really do is work in tandem with them as either a sounding board or as a mechanism to help develop projects to see things through,” she said.

As for the next 15 years Burnstan said she hopes to expand the donor base for the station and do “more and better programs.”

“I still get a charge out of it every day. I think what we do is very important. We provide access to knowledge and information you can’t find anywhere else,” she said.