For the last five decades, WRED-TV at St. John’s University has produced award-winning graduates who have populated the news and entertainment industry with some of its highest-caliber talent, both in front of and behind the camera.
Originally known as the Television Club, the hallmark of this cocurricular organization has always been that of students teaching students—as well as industry professionals sharing their wisdom with the next generation.
Constructed in 1964, the Television, Film, and Radio Center, located on the fourth floor of Marillac Hall on the Queens, NY, campus, has always boasted state-of-the-art equipment that students were allowed to access as early as their first year, either in class or through the club.
Andy Bamberger ’72SVC, a longtime producer and director whose credits include Sesame Street and a host of cable television programs for MTV Networks and Animal Planet, among many others, was the club’s first President. “At the time, we wanted to set up a graduate TV program while we were still undergraduates,” he recalled.
Jack Franchetti, the second Director of the Television Center and a longtime media professional, pitched a monthly show to independent station WNYC-TV (now known as WPXN-TV) called St. John’s University Roundtable, which was exclusively produced by students through the Television Center. “We produced real shows with real professionals,” Mr. Bamberger stressed.
Ozzie Alfonso was an early employee of the Television Center who later returned to St. John’s as an Adjunct Professor for Television and Film after a long and successful career in media. It was his job to maintain the equipment, which was on par with professional studios at the time.
“I began inviting the students to practice their TV skills by doing practice shows on days when there were no video classes,” he noted. “They jumped at the chance, and I got permission to let them play with all of the equipment. Soon students developed their own shows, most of which were comedies—and quite good ones in general.”
Mr. Bamberger stressed, “It was Ozzie’s kindness and willingness to take a chance on letting the kids touch the equipment that launched so many of our careers.”
Mr. Alfonso served as the director of the WNYC show. “The students operated the equipment while doing shows for air and for their classes, and the experience strengthened them into a formal group. I was only at St. John’s for a year and a half, but by the time I left, members of the Television Club used the studio almost every day.”
As the organization’s first president, Mr. Bamberger said his major focus was to learn advanced television production techniques so students could produce their own shows. “Eventually, we were able to convince Student Government, Inc. to accept us as a real entity and give us a moderate budget to pay for the props and videotapes to do several shows each year.”
“What set the TV Club apart from other extracurricular clubs was that it provided practical, hands-on experience in television production,” said Joellen Tierney ’76SVC, who served as the club’s Vice President from 1973 to 1974.
“The club gave me the opportunity to learn how to use TV equipment and to explore the creative aspects of writing, producing, and directing shows. The students ran the club themselves and had free rein in producing their own shows.”
Mrs. Tierney also met her late husband, John ’74SVC, in Television Club, and both enjoyed long careers in the industry. “I think that my work with the club brought me to the attention of my professors,” she said. “In particular, Fred Schumann, a Vice President at WABC-TV—and one of our finest teachers—was instrumental in helping me, and many others, get employment there.”
She added, “I think most students would agree that the club provided excellent networking opportunities, especially since many of our teachers were professionals in the field and were extremely interested in helping students launch their careers.”
Jeffrey Suarez ’72SVC, the first Treasurer of the Television Club and a 40-year veteran of WABC-TV, said the club was not simply an extracurricular activity, but a passion. “When Ozzie Alfonso and Jack Franchetti made the facilities available to students to produce TV shows, it opened up an incredible new world to us that flooded our minds with an endless stream of possibilities.”
He added, “Many of us were already working in the Television Center as camera operators so it was only natural we started to discuss how we could start a television club. Whenever we came together, the conversation would immediately turn to the television business and how awesome it would be to work in the industry. Our mandate was television, television, and more television. We thought about it night and day.”
Fifty years later the organization still resonates with its most recent graduates. Victoria Campbell ’21CCPS, ’22MS said, “WRED-TV was one of the best decisions I made in college. I met some of my closest friends there, and I was able to take the skills I learned in the classroom and apply them to hands-on productions. Everyone was always willing to lend a helping hand and teach something new, which created its own learning environment.”
She added, “Fifty years of history means 50 years of alumni who walked in your shoes before becoming who they are today. We have a lot of admiration for those who paved the way for the club's enduring success, and their willingness to help students after they graduate. It is a family of dedicated professionals that always give back. They provide inspiration when it’s most needed.”
Mr. Suarez said, “Being one of the founding members of the Television Club seemed, at the time, something that might help us in the future. However, I truthfully never envisioned what great things and great people would come out of it. I feel very honored and proud to be part of its 50-year legacy.”