Television, cable, film at SUNY Fredonia

Editor’s note: This is a series of columns by John Malcolm on his “50 years at Fredonia.” Retired, he is a professor emeritus at Fredonia State.

Fredonia’s experience with television was not unique. I suppose that in the back of every faculty member’s mind is the fear of being replaced by a television set. I used to say,” if you can be replaced by a television set you deserve to be.”

In the late ’60s the McEwen TV studio saw limited use as a laboratory for a single production course. Because of the expensive recorders and complicated image orthicon cameras a technician HAD to be present at all times.

As far as remote locations went, “chief engineer” Charles Blohm insisted that a technician supervise all TV recording. Given today’s technology it is hard to imagine this anal philosophy but consider that portable meant using a 2-inch 5-pound reel of tape that barely recorded an hour of programming and was separate from the cameras. Compare this with today’s digital recorders that can be held in the palm of the hand and even offer color and superlative sound.

The rule also applied to the playback of tapes either recorded locally or obtained from a commercial source. Faculty wanting to play tapes could either schedule a machine in the room-with technician or perhaps have it available on the campus cable TV system.

Right! Fredonia State had the first cable system in Fredonia. There were antennas on the roof of Maytum Hall feeding a central system that could reach every classroom. Dormitory (Residence Halls) rooms were not included. TV service was only available in lounges. Apparently Student Affairs did not want students closeting themselves. It was only in the computer age that wiring was extended to the individual living spaces.

Freeman Hockenberger was pretty much in charge of the central campus playback system and he was the one that usually pushed the buttons that sent out the programs. Faculty could request off-the-air taping and some built extensive libraries.

Of course motion picture film was in use and at times threatened to break the budget.

Compare the rental price of an average $200 for a feature entertainment film to today’s average rental of a tape or disc for $5. Even when the economies of tape were realized some faculty insisted on using film. Some really abused the service and could reasonably be accused of turning over their classrooms to canned material.

Fredonia also had the capacity for producing film. With the new construction, an Arriflex camera system was purchased. This was not the only film camera. During a period from the 1930s to the ’60s Fredonia produced a number of interesting clips. In our archive you can see color film of music festivals, May Day with co-eds dancing around the Old Main flagpole, skiing at the lodge and even a complete recruiting film titled: “Spotlight on Fredonia.” This last was produced by Robert McMurtrie who went on to a career with Eastman Kodak. Other SUNY campuses somewhat jealously received the film. I often look at my video copy of the film to relive my student days.

John Malcolm is a Fredonia resident.