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Channel 51 debuts on Sept. 27
STANFORD -- Longtime Palo Alto resident Gretchen Emmons surfs past most channels when she turns on her television.
"I don't watch commercial television except for the news," said Emmons, who mostly limits her viewing to the channels that carry C-Span, the Arts and Entertainment Network, and American Movie Classics.
She soon will add another channel to her list -- Channel 51.
When Cable Co-op subscribers turn on the Stanford channel on Sept. 27, they won't see a blank, color-coded screen, as they have for the past several years. Instead, they'll be tuned into a channel that offers Stanford lectures, symposia, roundtable discussions, poetry readings, arts programming, sports and a comprehensive daily calendar of university events, including ticket information, lecture and performing arts listings, sports scores from Stanford games and campus job listings.
"I'd be open to watch almost anything on the Stanford channel," said Emmons, who is president of the volunteer group Friends of the Palo Alto Library.
The new programming is the result of a television venture between Stanford and Cable Co-op, which serves 25,000 homes in Palo Alto, East Palo Alto, Menlo Park and Atherton, plus all university residences and academic buildings that are wired for cable reception.
"We are very excited about the prospect of Stanford bringing information, education and entertainment to the community," said Carolyn Hillman, Cable Co-op's director of sales and marketing. "It's something Cable Co-op hoped would have happened a lot sooner."
Channel 51 originally was set aside for Stanford seven years ago as part of an agreement among the university and surrounding communities to bring cable to the area.
"We wanted the possibility of using a channel at some time for educational purposes," said Henry Breitrose, a communication professor who was one of Stanford's representatives in the cable negotiations. The actual launching of a channel, however, remained a low priority for university officials until recently, Breitrose said.
Last spring, the cable company was preparing to reclaim the blank channel from Stanford, which had used it only sporadically to broadcast tennis matches. At the time, President Gerhard Casper's Commission on Technology in Teaching and Learning was independently exploring the idea of launching regular broadcasts on the channel. When the commission learned that the cable company planned to request the return of the channel from Stanford, plans for broadcasting were accelerated.
"I think Stanford has, for a very long time, been isolated from its community. That's not healthy for the university and it's not fair to the community," said John Etchemendy, associate dean for humanities, who chairs the technology commission that is overseeing the development of Channel 51.
"Over and above the potential educational uses of the channel, we want to provide a sort of open invitation to the community to participate in some of what Stanford has to offer," he said.
The video outreach effort also is aimed at Stanford students, professors and staff, Etchemendy stressed. "It's amazing how little even those of us at Stanford know about what's going on in other parts of the university."
Although Channel 51 is working to serve immediate community needs, Etchemendy said the program is a one-year pilot that also will look into the larger issue of distance teaching and learning.
"It offers us a laboratory for experimenting with various kinds of broadcast delivery of educational materials," he said. These experiments, he added, have the potential to become more interesting if cable companies are able to offer interactive television delivery in the future.
The university channel also could become a source of revenue, Etchemendy said. For example, the medical school is interested in offering continuing education courses for physicians. The school could broadcast lectures during off hours, from midnight to 5 a.m., that doctors can tape and watch at their convenience. These lectures then would be tied in with other educational materials such as written tests for certification purposes.
One of the centerpieces of Channel 51's fall lineup is the broadcasting of a full quarter-length course titled "Origins of Modern Society: Europe and America in the Democratic Age." The course, taught by Stanford history Professors David Kennedy and James Sheehan and offered in the Continuing Studies Program, previously was taped by the Alumni Association and "got rave reviews," according to Channel 51's executive producer, Randy Bean. "We're airing it twice on prime time, first on Thursdays at 7 p.m., then Sundays at 8 p.m.," she said.
Viewers undoubtedly will miss out on some of the most important benefits of actually taking the course, such as classroom conversations with the two professors and producing original papers, said Charles Junkerman, associate dean of the Continuing Studies Program's summer session.
But the lecture series "provides another access point for people in the community to participate in what we think Stanford does so well -- which is the origination and dissemination of knowledge and information," he said.
Another continuing studies course, on U.S. drug control policies, will be taught this fall by Joseph McNamara, former San Jose police chief and a current Hoover research fellow. The course will be taped and broadcast during winter quarter on the Stanford channel.
In addition to course offerings, several regular programs will be broadcast, such as "Life of the Mind," which includes academic talks on subjects ranging from philosophy to math to anthropology; "Issues and Ideas," which features discussions on hot topics such as race, gender politics and the environment; "Health and Society," a series of lectures and forums based on issues relating to health and medicine; "QuadrAngles," which explores Stanford history and present-day challenges to the university, and future trends in education; and "Teachers on Teaching," a series of talks sponsored by the Center for Teaching and Learning that gives viewers an opportunity to hear educators describe what has and hasn't worked for them in the classroom.
Lectures and performances on music, dance and art history will be showcased in the series "Arts at Stanford." Recently published Stanford authors who give readings at the Stanford Bookstore will be taped and broadcast for "Stanford Authors." Special programs from the professional schools and research centers and periodic campus special events will be featured in a series called "Stanford Presents."
The only program being produced from scratch for Channel 51 is "InterChange," a half-hour studio interview show conducted by Douglas Foster, Stanford News Service director, with faculty and visiting lecturers about their research activities.
Another original show under consideration is "SportsTalk," a weekly one-on-one interview with Stanford coaches, athletes and sports figures.
"Unfortunately, Channel 51 cannot afford to underwrite production of two original interview programs," said executive producer Bean. "So we are going with 'InterChange' full-steam ahead, but must wait for outside funding or corporate underwriting in order to produce 'SportsTalk.' "
Viewers will have several opportunities to watch a particular show. The channel will televise series programs in three distinct three-hour periods. Programming begins at 7 p.m., repeats at 11 that evening and again at 2 p.m. the next day. A calendar of events, university job listings and sports scores will scroll during programming breaks.
Jan Thomson, the university director of communications services who is coordinating the daily operations of the new cable channel, said that a university-wide effort has gone into making this project a reality.
"There are so many talented, excited, interested and committed people at Stanford. It's a thrill to be able to channel all that energy into a special effort," she said.
Channel 51's core crew also includes senior producer Jack D. Hubbard, associate director of the Stanford News Service and a former broadcast and field producer for CBS News; Etang Inyang, a graduate student intern from the department of communication; and Marian Adams, who is responsible for putting together the calendar of events and developing corporate and individual underwriting sponsorships for the programs.
So far, about 36 programs have been taped. Bean said the producers get most of their ideas about what to shoot from the university's master calendar of events, which is published in the Campus Report. She suggests that schools, departments, professors and staff list noteworthy events in the calendar. Viewers are also encouraged to browse channel 51's home page at http://www- 51.stanford.edu/ch51/home.html.
"Our ongoing challenge is to pick the highlights of what happens at Stanford," said Bean, who over the last 20 years has worked for ABC News, "MacNeil/Lehrer Report" and "Bill Moyers' Journal."
"I'd like to think that what we are doing is peeling back the red tile roof and allowing the community to peek in and see where, under that red roof, the most compelling images, speeches, talks, ideas, discussions, debates and dialogues are going on."
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