Bradley TV goes HD

By Matt Hawkins
October 22, 2014

Communication department students returned this fall to a John C. Hench Production Arts Studio that glistened from a summer makeover. The studio received a high-definition overhaul through an ongoing grant from Los Angeles-based John C. Hench Foundation.

A new digital switcher, high-definition flat-panel monitors, several HD studio cameras and other digital production equipment replaced old black-and-white analog monitors, yards of cable and outdated technology. The process began during May finals week and took about two months to complete. 

As a result, the digital production equipment shines as brightly as Hench Studio’s Disney-colored corridors.

“I will finally go out of here having gone from this,” said studio director Dr. Bob Jacobs, holding up a VHS camera, “to the most sophisticated digital production facility.”

Jacobs will retire in May 2015 after 23 years on the Hilltop.

The transformed studio will open a new world of opportunities for students, who will learn their craft on tools they will use in professional settings.

“This will put us on the edge to go a step further in the industry,” said Stephanie Robbons ’15, a communication major from Medina, Illinois. “By learning on industry equipment, we’ll have an easier time learning things and will be the people who stand out because we know how to do things from day one.”

A Tricaster HD video switcher is the centerpiece of the transition. Jacobs and his staff opted for a model that could facilitate the entire production and postproduction processes. Smaller digital recording devices and a digital router from Blackmagic Design to create a tapeless HD workflow have replaced analog tape decks in the master control room.

“The wonderful Tricaster can do more inside the box than all of Hollywood could do when I started school,” Jacobs said. “It’s an astonishing trip through technology, starting when I started with 16-millimeter film, went into the lab, processed it and sat down at a big, green editing machine that mostly ate up the film. I’ve gone through that to this wonderful technology our kids take for granted.” 

Bradley alumnus Brian Scheffler ’09 stepped into the project as a technical adviser and equipment vendor. Working with mentors Jacobs and Director of Instructional Technology Dave Lennie was a highlight of his young career.

“This upgrade project makes me proud to be a Bradley alum,” Scheffler said. “There are a lot of moving parts and I’ve got the satisfaction of being involved in the project as part of the Bradley community.”

Project financing resulted from Jacobs’ friendship with late Disney Imagineering executive John C. Hench. After Hench’s 2005 death, the foundation pledged annual donations to Bradley’s television arts program as a means to honor Hench’s memory.

With that, a partnership was born to transform the University’s television production facilities. Annual donations have provided continual upgrades to studio equipment the past decade. Before Jacobs retires, the foundation will pay for several cameras to complete the HD transition.