Frostburg State University Mass Communication students are now able to train on a sophisticated piece of production equipment thanks to an upgrade at the Washington, D.C., Veterans Affairs Education Center and a resourceful FSU parent.
The five-year-old Grass Valley Video Switcher Model 250 is worth about $22,500; a new one would cost about $300,000, according Lindsy Pack, department chair. It was donated through the FSU Foundation Inc. as a gift in kind.
The production switcher allows all the video sources, such as cameras, VCRs, graphics, etc., all to be sent through this equipment so it determines what source or combination of sources is output to air or tape. It is also used to determine the transition between sources, such as cutting, dissolving, wipes, etc. "It's the single most expensive piece of equipment in a production facility," Pack said.
The Grass Valley switcher has double the number of inputs and effects of the previous production switcher.
"Grass Valley is like Rolls Royce - top of the line," Pack said. "If [the students] can run this, they will be in the proper position to run a similar system in a television station. Not many students have that kind of opportunity."
The donation was the idea of Ken Norris, of the Department of Veterans Affairs Employee Education System, which is based in the Washington, D.C., VA Medical Center. They're responsible for the training, supported by a video and satellite system, of the VA's 230,000 employees nationwide.
They have upgraded to a digital switcher, also from Grass Valley. Norris said that switchers like the one now at Frostburg would be found in TV stations in most medium-sized cities. Only major market stations would be using digital equipment at this point.
Since the VA is a government agency, getting rid of used equipment is a complex process. It can't be sold, and simply discarding it is surprisingly complicated, Norris said.
Generally, smaller equipment goes to middle or high schools or is just stored away.
With the production switcher, it's much too big to store and much too complex for a school. Norris and his colleagues decided it should be donated to a university.
It didn't take long for him to think of one. His daughter, Katie Norris, is a theatre major at FSU, and he is a regular visitor to the campus.
On one of his visits "I located Dr. Pack, and we heard the excitement from him and (Mass Communications Assistant Professor) John Lombardi. It was a no-brainer," Norris said.
"We walked around pinching ourselves," Pack said.