Storm Chasers: St. John’s Television Network Goes Mobile With New Production Unit

The days of “the red van” are over at St. John’s University. The school has invested in a new mobile home for the St. John’s Television Network (SJU-TV) production team, racking much of the network’s production gear inside a 20-ft. trailer. The HD mobile unit will augment the quality of live and on-demand content while providing SJU students with an even more professional live-production environment.

The unit replaces a setup that had the SJU-TV production team working out of the back of a cargo van: the red van.

“It’s a huge upgrade in that everything is a lot neater and put together. It’s nice to be able to sit comfortably,” cracks Sean McCluskey, director of multimedia services, St. John’s Athletics, who once had to dig the red van out from under 2 ft. of snow to prepare for a St. John’s men’s lacrosse broadcast.

SJU-TV’s new 20-ft. HD production trailer is large enough to seat nine or 10 people comfortably.

SJU-TV’s new 20-ft. HD production trailer is large enough to seat nine or 10 people comfortably.

The new unit is outfitted with much of the gear that SJU-TV worked with last year, with a few minor upgrades. With a NewTek TriCaster production switcher at its core, the mobile unit is designed to meet the needs of SJU-TV’s IP-transport model. A digital encoder is used to transmit what is typically a four- or five-camera streaming production.

A small collection of Canon cameras are used for capture. Graphics are built by the Ross Video XPression and the ChyronIP, a real-time HD/SD 2D and 3D character and graphics generator specifically designed to work with the TriCaster. SJU-TV also uses a NewTek 3Play for replay and a Soundcraft SI audio board.

All of that gear is now custom-racked inside the trailer, a major improvement over the old van, which required a complete setup of equipment prior to each broadcast.

“It maximizes our students’ time,” says Mark Fratto, senior associate director of athletics for communications. “Instead of doing a lot of building and striking, they’re spending more of their time hands-on with the technology and actually using it to create and produce.“

Each SJU-TV production is crewed by a 15-person team, a combination of local television professionals and St. John’s undergraduate and graduate students enrolled in the university’s TVF 4206: The Television Program Development course.

“I am particularly excited for this rather unique opportunity being available to our TV and film students. It is a win-win,” says Dr. Kathleen Voute MacDonald, dean of the College of Professional Studies. “Students gain practical experience with state-of-the-art technology and develop a new level of professionalism. Under Professor Susan Weber’s guidance, they reap enormous academic benefits, such as critical thinking and analysis, professional integrity, and judgment, to mention only a few. Students develop a portfolio that can be used immediately or in the future when seeking career opportunities.”

A record 19 undergraduate students are enrolled for the Fall 2013 semester, meaning a total of 56 students will have completed the course by December.

Built by Custom Mobile Products, the unit is designed to meet the needs of SJU-TV’s IP-transport model.

Built by Custom Mobile Products, the unit is designed to meet the needs of SJU-TV’s IP-transport model.

St. John’s weighed the options of a mobile unit or a control-room setup. Costs and the layout of the SJU campus led administrators to believe that going mobile would be the wise decision.

“We think this solution is more cost-effective and also more efficient when it comes to moving forward as technology changes,” says Fratto. “We feel that the truck model makes it much easier for us to trade in a new piece of equipment, swap out the old one, and resell, as opposed to something as static as a control room.”

SJU-TV has current agreements in place calling for as many as 80 Red Storm sports events to be carried live in HD on third-party outlets like ESPN3 and FOX Sports GO in 2013-14. By way of providers like Time Warner Cable, Cablevision, and Verizon, all of New York and much of the Tri-State area now have access to ESPN3 programming online at WatchESPN.com, on smartphones and tablets via the WatchESPN app and streamed on televisions through ESPN on Xbox LIVE to Gold members and Apple TV. Original content will also be available in the near future, with the recently launched FOX Sports GO app rolling out across multiple distributors. The app will simulcast 30 St. John’s men’s basketball games and more than 100 Big East men’s basketball games in the 2013-14 season.

Executive Producer Neil Gallow and Director of Multimedia Services Sean McCluskey are in their third year guiding SJU-TV. Eamon McAnaney, Jon Yardley, Vin Parise, and former St. John’s backcourt standout Tarik Turner anchor SJU-TV men’s basketball coverage, and Ralph Bednarczyk and former Marist star Julianne Viani bring fans each women’s basketball home game. Sportscaster Siddique Farooqi, long-time New York Institute of Technology head baseball coach Bob Hirshfield, former Lafayette lacrosse head coach Terry Mangan, former Syracuse University assistant softball coach Michael Bosch, New York Cosmos assistant coach Alecko Eskandarian, former professional soccer player Norm Wingert, MLSsoccer.com contributor David Gass, New York Daily News reporter Frank Isola, and Red Storm women’s soccer coach and 2006 Big East Coach of the Year Ian Stone are frequent contributors to SJU-TV broadcasts.

National New York-based commentator Brandon Tierney will host his fourth season of the Red Storm Report men’s and women’s basketball magazine show, a SJU-TV production scheduled to appear for a sixth straight season on SNY-TV in 2013-14.