It’s 9:15 a.m. on a Thursday morning. Even though the taping for “Thinking Out Loud” won’t begin until 10:00 a.m., the WCTV studio is a beehive of activity. Veteran director Richard Hutt is flitting back and forth from control room to the colorfully decorated set to check and double check every detail. Heath Covey is patiently adjusting camera angles while Jim Hazel, another WCTV seasoned pro, works the sound board. Rae Pearson Benn is dutifully providing patter into a studio microphone to check levels. Pat O’Malley is making last minute additions to her teleprompter script. Sitting alone, program host Mark Cox carefully applies a small amount of facial make-up to deflect the glaring studio lighting. He is also reviewing his script.
While NBC has Jay Leno and CBS has David Letterman, Chesapeake’s own television station, WCTV, has Mark Cox. Mark is the Director of Public Communications for the City of Chesapeakeyet most regular viewers know him as the amiable host of the popular program, “Thinking Out Loud.” Along with Jen Bichara, he also co-anchors the WCTV news program.
Mark came to Chesapeake 23 years ago from Chula Vista, California where he also worked in Public Communications. He served a hitch in the United States Air Force and graduated with a Master’s degree from San Diego State University. Under his leadership, WCTV television has expanded its 24/7 programming to include a line-up that appeals to a variety of tastes.
“Our programming is 100% family friendly,” Mark assures, “Chesapeake is a city of family values, and we want our shows to reflect that.”
While Mark’s major responsibility as the city’s Communications Director is the building and maintaining of informational relationships with key elements of the Chesapeake community, he is also responsible for WCTV. Mark looks forward to his brief time each week at WCTV. “I’m really not the type of person who seeks the limelight,” he shares, “but I do enjoy doing the news and interviewing so many interesting people on “Thinking Out Loud.” The staff here at WCTV always makes me look good. There’s a lot of preparation and technical skills involved and, while it may look easy on TV, it’s not. I’m very grateful to have such an excellent staff supporting me.”
WCTV Television first signed on the air in 1986 as “Access Cable Chesapeake.” In those early years, viewers were invited to produce their own television productions. Soon it became obvious that most Chesapeake residents took greater pleasure in watching good television shows rather than producing them. In fact the most requested service was the airing of our elected officials and specifically the City Council meetings. City officials began to realize the importance of the city run broadcast center, and the programming took new and improved turns. Citizens can now watch all the City Council meetings, the School Board meetings, and the Planning Commission meetings from the comfort of their own home.
If classic television is your cup of tea, WCTV will keep you sipping day and night. Whether you enjoy comedies, dramas, documentaries, or cooking shows, you’re sure to find something to hold your interest. “We have so many treasured television series from TV’s Golden Age” Mark says proudly. “On any given day, a viewer can watch a famous personality have his life retold on ‘This Is Your Life.’ If science fiction is your favorite, we have the eerie ‘One Step Beyond’ series.”
Mark continues, “Viewers needing a good belly laugh can visit with some of the great comedians of 50′s television. Groucho Marx and Ozzie and Harriet Nelson are but a few of the legends WCTV features on a regular basis.”
A popular feature on WCTV is “The Grand Theater,” a reference to one of the grand old ladies of local, neighborhood movie houses. The original Grand was located in the city’s South Norfolk borough. WCTV’s “Grand Theater” runs such movie classics as the film “D.O.A.” with Edmund O’Brien and the zany and hilarious “Topper” with a youthful Cary Grant as a ghost and Roland Young as the befuddled title character. Saturday mornings on WCTV might feature beloved cartoons like “Popeye” or “Tom and Jerry,” or western favorites like “The Cisco Kid.”
It’s 10:00 a.m. and taping for “Thinking Out Loud” is ready to begin. Rae Pearson Benn stands ready to cue Mark’s entrance. Rae performs double duty for the show. In addition to the important task of managing the floor time for Mark and his guests, she also serves as his sidekick. Their playful banter is a trademark of the show. Rae is stunning and statuesque with an outgoing personality and an ever present smile. Mark is laid back and sometimes soft spoken. His gentlemanly demeanor immediately puts both staff and studio guests at ease. Their personalities compliment each other nicely on air. Benn cues Cox, and he makes his enthusiastic entrance from the back of the studio. It’s Super Bowl week and Mark does a mock pose of a Heisman trophy winner as he trots into camera range carrying a football.
Maynard Scales is the Television Operations Manager at WCTV and has definite opinions about the role of WCTV in the Chesapeake community. “WCTV is Chesapeake,” he says, “We try to bring every aspect of our city to our viewers. We want to let the viewers know what’s going on in the future, and we want to highlight what has already happened recently. Inform and entertain, that’s a big part of our mission. We will always listen to what our citizens are saying. It’s what we’re all about.”
Scales sees a future in high definition for WCTV. “While our tiers on the cable networks won’t allow us to broadcast in high definition at this time, we know it’s popular with our viewers. Most television sets being manufactured now are high definition. We’d like to start maintaining a library of high def tapes such as our local football games. Major networks sometimes seek footage of our star local athletes and it’s nice to be able to provide high def recordings.”
WCTV is family television at its best. No hands over the eyes or ear plugs for the little ones. Four letter words, suggestive language, or gratuitous violence play no part in the programming at WCTV. “We make sure families can sit around the television together and enjoy our shows without being wary of the content,” Mark assures, “Our movies, classic television, and all other programming will always be G-Rated.”
Heath Covey is technically the city’s public information coordinator but like all his colleagues at WCTV, Heath wears many hats. “There’s great camaraderie at WCTV,” Heath explains, “No job is too big or too small. For example, I may be on the air filling in for Mark and reading the news. The next time, I’ll be operating a studio camera. Our attitude here is ‘whatever it takes.’ We all work so well together.”
It’s now 10:40 a.m., and Mark has finished an interview with City Councilwoman Debbie Ritter.
of the annual Chesapeake Health Foundation Gala ball. Now it’s time for the musical guests “Antwan Shepherd and Friends.” Contrary to appearances on the television screen, the “Thinking Out Loud” set is confined to a relatively small area. This necessitates a dismantling of epic proportion. Everyone pitches in to move the desk and chairs to the back of the studio to make way for the musical instruments including a large drum set. The hectic scene resembles a screen from the famous Frogger video game where everyone moves cautiously, frequently stopping to allow another to pass. In a matter of minutes, the set is stripped bare and Antwan and Friends begin to set up. After Antwan’s smooth and mellow set, Marks ends the show with a brief interview of the musicians. After closing remarks from Mark, Rae signals that it’s a wrap. The tape goes into editing now and the finished, polished product will soon be ready for public airing.
WCTV is available for viewing on both Cox Cable and Verizon FIOS as are two additional city channels. WCTV’s regular programming is on Cox’s channel 48 and FIOS’s channel 41. Channels 47 and 42 respectively feature public information “bulletin board” type programming and channels 46 and 41 belong to the Chesapeake Public Schools. All live programming from WCTV is also available streaming over the internet, and selected past programs are available at WCTV’s website in the On Demand section. A detailed programming schedule may be viewed online along with specific information about selected popular programming. Visit the site at www.cityofchesapeake.net and click on the “Government” tab and then “Public Communications”. Call (757) 547-1748 for questions, suggestions, and general information.