It’s gonna be big
When John Wilson ’85 and Walt Boyle ’86 founded STV, Carolina’s student television production station, in 1983, their aspirations were embodied in STV’s first slogan: “It’s Gonna Be Big.” Since then STV has grown into one of the top student television stations in the country. “It is big, and it’s getting bigger and better,” Wilson said. “With increased support from UNC alumni it will become the best.”
In the summer of ’83, Wilson realized that UNC’s University Access Channel was not being used, and he and Boyle asked the administration for permission to start STV. The idea was to provide all students, regardless of major, an opportunity for video production experience and to provide entertainment and information to the campus and community.
“The concept really captured the imagination of UNC students, who voted overwhelmingly to provide start-up funding through an increase in their student activities fee, and then actually tuned in to our programming,” Wilson said.Their first show, produced with equipment borrowed from the department of radio, television and motion pictures (now communication studies), aired in spring 1984. STV’s own production equipment arrived in the fall of '84, and students frantically read the instruction manuals in order to produce STV's second show.
“We finished it five minutes before it was to be broadcast, and raced downtown just in time to watch it with a huge crowd on Franklin Street. We would have been satisfied simply to see a picture and hear sound, but the crowd actually loved the show,” Wilson said.
“STV fills an important gap at UNC — nowhere else on campus can one find the unrestricted access to high-quality production equipment provided by STV,” said Martin Clark ’87, the first elected station manager of STV and current member of the alumni advisory board. “It gives members the opportunity to participate in every part of the video production process from idea to final product, and then broadcast the result to tens of thousands of dorm rooms and homes.”
A biology major as an undergraduate, Wilson said STV helped him realize that his future was in film and television rather than medicine. It also helped him enter graduate film school at the University of Southern California, which he never could have done without the production, creative and leadership experience at STV.
Wilson went to work for Jim Henson Productions in Los Angeles, and in 1998 he and his wife, Ashley Lefler Wilson ’86 – who also helped found STV – moved back to Chapel Hill. Today his heart is in regional documentary filmmaking. He is producing a documentary about logging in national forests and, with Clark, a documentary on U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms. Wilson and Clark also produced Dr. Frank, an Emmy Award-winning documentary on former U.S. Senator and UNC President Frank Porter Graham, in 1994.
Other STV alumni remain in Hollywood. Several serve on the STV alumni advisory board, including Peyton Reed ’86, who directed the movie Bring it On; John Altschuler ’85 and Dave Krinsky ’85, co-executive producers of Fox’s King of the Hill; Dan Cortese ’90 who appeared on NBC’s Veronica’s Closet and Bill Martin ’86 who created Fox’s Grounded for Life and was executive producer of NBC’s 3rd Rock from the Sun. All of them acknowledge the impact STV had in their successful careers.
“STV was a film school with no teachers, where you had to figure out everything – lighting, camera, editing, directing, writing and acting – on your own,” Martin said. Reed said the hands-on experience you get at STV is critical to succeed in the film and television business.
“From the writing to the editing, I still use the lessons I learned at STV,” Reed said.
“STV did for me more than any other aspect of my UNC experience, and I want current and future STV members to have an even better experience that I did,” Wilson said.
Excerpted from UNC Development Office’s Carolina Connections magazine article by Victoria Moxey (UNC ’02)