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Seniors Self-Produce TV Programming For Retirement Community

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By: Claudia Kienzle

Shortly before producing the newscast “A New Day,” the Fox Run TV studio is humming with activity. There’s a lot to do: set up the switcher, position the cameras, enter lower third supers, and make sure weather maps and graphics will key into the green screen.

This studio is not at a TV network, local station, cable channel or even a college. This news show is one of many programs produced by retired seniors who live at Fox Run in Novi, Michigan, one of 18 Erickson Living communities nationwide.

Fox Run’s broadcast television operation, which is managed by CTV/AV Lead Coordinator Richard Coulter, has a large TV studio with multiple Sony cameras on pedestals and a set with a green screen cyc.

The adjacent control room has a small Mackie audio board and a NewTek TriCaster 860 production switcher that’s used to switch the cameras, insert graphics and text and create virtual sets.

Many Fox Run studio shows, like “A New Day” and local sports show “The Locker Room,” are produced to look live, meaning the shows are recorded live to a server in the control room. They’re produced several times a week, with subsequent postproduction finishing and repeat showings over the closed circuit system.

The studio and field productions are crewed by Fox Run seniors, most of whom have no prior professional TV experience. The crew includes:

• Bob Williams, a former media professor overseas, who serves as cameraman and floor director
• Vic Mesenbring, a former minister, operates the switcher
• Dick Miles, a former Ford engineer, mans the audio board and mixes live audio
• Gene Wozniak, a former educator, also operates the switcher and handles live graphics

And the viewers? They’re 1,100 seniors that call Fox Run home. This is their private TV channel—produced for and about them—for viewing exclusively in their apartments and elsewhere on the grounds. They also produce stand-alone news feature segments, which are uploaded as .MOV files to their own Vimeo channel for viewing by friends and family outside of Fox Run.

Shows like “Getting to Know You” and “Behind Closed Doors” foster a sense of community as residents get to know each other and bond in a way that only television can do. Both shows feature a different Fox Run resident who’s interviewed on camera like a celebrity.

In “Getting to Know You,” viewers get up close and personal with the profiled residents as they share their life stories. In “Behind Closed Doors,” the featured residents talk about their hobbies, interests and accomplishments while showing their personal collections, artwork, possessions and other special memorabilia.

“Out and About,” another regularly produced show, covers every aspect of life at Fox Run. With over 140 popular clubs and activities to choose from, Fox Run seniors are not winding down.

Virtually everything Fox Run residents might need or want is right there, including four restaurants with chef-prepared meals, a fitness center with an indoor heated pool, library, hair salon, stores, a bank and ATM, hobby shops, a computer lab and games room, medical facilities, and cultural events, like concerts, lectures and plays.

One recent play —a comedy written by Fox Run residents and staff—was “A Trip to Remember, or is it?” It starred Fox Run residents who performed for 242 fellow residents that filled the seats of their performing arts center. Two video cameras on tripods captured the event for Fox Run TV, and one of the camera signals was fed to a digital projector in the overflow room so that another 75 people could watch on a large-screen monitor.

The Fox Run TV operation is continually being improved and upgraded. When the previous production switcher reached its end of life, Coulter flew to another Erickson Living Community, Brooksby Village in Peabody, MA, to see how their TriCaster 860 was performing.

TriCaster is designed to put all of the functionality of a TV studio and control room in a powerful, integrated system that’s intuitive and user-friendly. It can deliver the program output live to air, record it onto servers and/or deliver it to content delivery networks or online outlets for streaming over the Internet.

When he returned to Fox Run, he, his broadcast volunteers, and Fox Run management decided it was the right solution for them. They ordered their own TriCaster through Shawn Watts, the sales representative for Advanced Lighting and Sound, in Troy, Mich., which also provided systems integration and training.

“I expect that our broadcast television initiative will be increasingly popular in years to come,” Coulter said.

Fox Run is part of a paradigm shift in television where any organization or individual can now produce and distribute their own TV shows and channels. They give new meaning to the Golden Age of Television!

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