Cable TV in dorms leaves student broadcast on the sideline

Janette Neuwahl

Northwestern News Network never has had widespread viewership among its target audience — NU students.

But last Spring Quarter, NNN News Director Ben Harper thought the award-winning newscast finally would have a way to reach students through the new dorm-cable connection. Unfortunately the student-produced news program is finding out their possible outlet might have short-circuited.

Although NUTV’s 20 channels do not include Evanston Cable Channel 6, which broadcasts NNN, Harper said he was told NU would have its own local broadcasting channel on NUTV. Harper said last spring he communicated with Vice President for Student Affairs Bill Banis confirming that NNN would air on the NU channel.

“It was generally understood that there would be a Northwestern channel and we would be a part of that,” said Harper, a Medill senior. “This year, when it didn’t happen, we tracked down a specific (Information Technology) person that makes NUTV happen and found out that anyone who wants to be on NUTV has to purchase a computer server.”

After vigorous lobbying by the Associated Student Government, administrators decided last winter finally to wire NU’s residence halls with cable. This fall, students got their first glimpse at cable television with the 20 channels chosen through a Winter Quarter ASG referendum.

With easier access to the cable channel, NNN could reach students directly through their computers. But without access to NUTV, Harper and his 40-person staff, which produces half-hour news shows that broadcast at 10 p.m. Monday and Wednesday nights, cannot reach most students living on campus.

Banis said Tuesday that because students did not vote for Evanston Cable Channel 6, it was not given a separate server like the rest of the channels on NUTV. In the future, Banis said channels might be added but that will be determined by students’ reaction to an increase in housing costs. Evanston Cable Channel 6 was never in the original lineup, he said.

“The students voted on which channels they wanted so we would go back to them to inquire what channels they might want to add in the future,” Banis said. “But every time we add a channel we have to add a new server and software so we can’t just roll new channels into the existing 20 without support.”

Because of the lack of communication with Banis, Harper said NNN’s prospects of being included on NUTV seem doubtful.

“It’s been a very strange thing, especially when people tell you it’s going to happen so you don’t worry about it,” Harper said. “We could have planned all along to find sources for a server but it’s not going to happen this quarter and may not happen at all.”

Despite Harper’s frustration, NNN’s faculty adviser, Medill Prof. Joseph Angotti, is more optimistic about the program’s possibilities.

Angotti, who is also the chair of Medill’s broadcast department, said he plans to negotiate a switchover, or broadcast interruption of one of NUTV’s channels, avoiding the cost of acquiring their own server. Angotti spoke with television technicians and discovered it would be easy to interrupt a regular channel’s programming for NNN’s half-hour broadcasts, he said.