740 Zone

A screenshot from 740 Zone’s pilot episode of Michael Roth standing in front of the Paul Culver Jr. Stadium, home of the Sheridan High School Generals.

When it became clear to student sports broadcasters at WOUB Public Media that this year’s Gridiron Glory season would be postponed because of COVID-19 concerns, they began to drum up ideas for alternative ways to cover high school football in the region.

The students learned soon after that they wouldn’t have access to any Ohio University resources like cameras and microphones, or the state-of-the-art broadcast newsroom that WOUB typically affords them to produce a weekly professional-quality sportscast, until at least the end of September.

But they all understood there was still a hunger among fans in the region for high school football coverage, especially since most would-be spectators are no longer permitted to attend games.

With the start of the football season just around the corner, about 15 upperclassmen took a leap of faith by breaking away from WOUB to form their own totally independent broadcast outlet, 740 Zone.

Within a matter of days the group created branding material and outlined an ambitious plan to post on YouTube a weekly sportscast based on coverage of seven Friday night football games across Southeast Ohio.

And thanks to the already-established relationships many staffers had with area football coaches, they were able to hit the ground running with access to teams’ practices and press badges to cover games.

“We’re taking this seriously. We’re investing our time because we care about Southeast Ohio football,” 740 Zone Producer, Founder and OU Junior Michael Roth said in an interview.

Independence, however, came at a cost for the staff in the form of a severe lack of resources. They only have five cameras and only a few stick microphones and tripods to distribute amongst each other, meaning that at least two games each week will be filmed using smartphones.

The staff no longer has access to professional video editing software that the university provides, so many are using low-cost alternatives.

And they’re no longer given university vehicles to drive to games across the region. Staffers are left to use their own cars and incur any costs associated with travel. Roth said he drove at least 150 miles just to gather material for their pilot episode that aired Monday showcasing a handful of team’s practices and their aspirations for the upcoming season.

Additionally, many OU underclassmen that would normally participate in Gridiron Glory aren’t able to work with 740 Zone since they don’t live in Athens at the moment because of the university’s decision to begin the semester mostly online. Upperclassmen, though, have access to off-campus housing.

“The most important thing is just to go out there and get the stories that people won’t see unless you show it to them,” 740 Zone Host and OU Senior Jacob Murray said.

With their newfound freedom, the staff is able to experiment and attempt to push the limits of what’s possible in a sportscast. They’re also able to cover schools such as Logan and Marietta, which often weren’t covered by Gridiron Glory.

“It’s nice that Gridiron has such a big brand, but it’s very structured. There’s only so much you can do with a live 30-minute TV show that hasn’t already been done … But with [740 Zone] … there’s no guidelines for how this should look,” Roth said.

Roth said it’s unlikely that Gridiron Glory will air this fall because WOUB won’t reopen to students until at least the start of OU’s phase 2, which is scheduled to begin Sept. 28 — more than halfway into the high school football season.

Though, many on staff think of 740 Zone as just a one-off experience because much of their staff will have graduated by next fall, and they would prefer to use WOUB resources to produce Gridiron Glory.

“I would be pretty surprised if this is more than a one-year stop gap,” Roth said. “WOUB is a great spot for us to be in. We just can’t be there right now, so I think all of us are excited to go back.”

He said that WOUB executives have largely been supportive behind closed doors of their independent effort. But for legality sake the TV station is unable to formally recognize 740 Zone, and the staff is unable to affiliate themselves with WOUB. OU reportedly told WOUB leaders to pretend that 740 Zone doesn’t exist, Roth said.

“We (WOUB) support our trained students in all types of activities, even outside WOUB. We are pleased to see how they are building on key fundamentals of sports reporting, storytelling through dynamic student productions like Gridiron Glory and Hardwood Heroes,” said WOUB Director of Production Services and Student Development {span}Michael Rodriguez.{/span}

It’s unclear what’s in the cards at WOUB for the winter production of Hardwood Heroes, a weekly high school basketball show created primarily by OU underclassmen, since it’s not clear how many will be in the area come basketball season.

“Hardwood might be in trouble if the sophomores and freshmen can’t move in,” Roth said.

Rodriguez said it’s too early to say what “{span}direction Hardwood Heroes will go.”{/span}

The first high school football games of the season kick off Friday night, and 740 Zone plans to air its second episode on YouTube either Saturday or Sunday, Roth said, covering Jackson at Logan, Marietta at Warren, Granville at Waverly, Waterford at Fort Frye, Meigs at Vinton County, New Lexington at Sheridan, and Trimble at Nelsonville-York.

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