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MTSU students produce country star’s show for network

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MTSU College of Mass Communication student Eldridge Alexander assists country music super star Marty Stuart on the production set Jan. 27 prior to taping of special guest, recording artist Lyle Lovett. (Photo by D. Whittle)
America’s music is made and recorded here.

In addition to star performers, multiple gifted electronic media technicians, including MTSU media student volunteers, help in making and preserving notable music-making history.

History and harmony, for example, echoed over Music City involving something old and something new, with Friday’s taping of The Chuck Wagon Gang’s guest appearance on Rural Free Delivery Network’s increasingly popular “The Marty Stuart Show” that features country, gospel and bluegrass music.

"The Marty Stuart Show” ranks as RFD Network’s highest-rated show, airing at 7 p.m. each Saturday.

“I heard you folks on the ‘Eddie Stubbs Show’ on WSM Radio last night, and you tore the house down,” Marty Stuart said, leading into the Gang’s recording sessions. “But then, that’s what The Chuck Wagon Gang has been doing for four generations, dating back to 1936, tearing the house down with America’s music.”

There are many thing that go into the taping of a network-quality television show. Many people spend hours behind the scenes pre-planning the final product.

Viewers see smooth, finished productions, but many don’t know the countless hours of planning and pre-scheduling and arranging that go into a 30-minute show.

Pre-dawn arrivals at the studio are standard for show regulars. Late afternoon and late-night editing duties for the producers and directors often result in 12- to 16-hour workdays.

For example, Stuart, his wife, Connie Smith, humorous banjo icon Leroy Troy, plus members of the band, The Fabulous Superlatives, start arriving around 6 a.m. at the network’s huge North Star Production Studio located on Dickerson Road, north of downtown Nashville.

Not to mention the people behind the scenes like the MTSU students, who Stuart praised for their efforts.

“The students do a good job, important work,” Stuart said. “When we first planned the show on RFD Network, it was suggested we use students from MTSU’s great College of Mass Communication. It’s been a great source of talent, and (it) helps them educationally.”

Stuart commented recently while taking a break between performances in Mountain Home, Ark.

“There’s no better ‘classroom’ than an actual professional production set on the Nashville scene,” he said.

MTSU electronic media major Eldridge Alexander has been involved in more than 25 productions of the nationally televised show.

“I serve as coordinator of students from MTSU, and after this winter season of taping, I’ll have been involved in at least 30 of ‘The Marty Stuart Shows,’” Alexander said. “We arrive no later than 7 a.m. on show dates.”

MTSU freshman “gofer” Tofer Davison, is an electronics media major from Mt. Juliet.

“It’s one of the most ‘laid back’ productions and very well done, very professional,” Davidson said. “I get on the set, ready to work, before the scheduled 7:30 a.m. starting time … I’m there getting the set dressed, getting the performers’ costumes in place, and then, following production, we ‘undress’ the set. The average person can’t know the amount of work, or fully appreciate the amount of highly technical expertise that goes into a professionally done 30-minute entertainment show,” Tofer described, as he scattered “fake hay” around the set’s floor, helping set the country music-making scene.

Real straw and hay cannot be used because they can irritate vocal chords and trigger sinus allergies of singers and announcers.

“Although I have very little firsthand interaction with Mr. Stuart, he’s a very courteous, outstanding performer to work with,” Tofer said. “The whole production team is made up of courteous professionals.”

Alexander, son of Murfreesboro residents David and Becky Alexander, is equally interested in learning by observing the television production professionals involved in primetime entertainment show productions.

“First, being a musician, I’m amazed at the talent level of Mr. Stuart and his band members,” Alexander said. “They plan, rehearse, and plan some more, but at the same time, are totally able to adjust when something unpredictable on the show occurs.”

“We’re on the set long before the cameras start to roll,” he continued. “This show, with The Chuck House Gang as guest performers, I was permitted to sit and observe professional show producer Cathy Russ. She’s one of those behind-the-scenes professionals who work long hours, before and after the actual show is recorded.”

He noted the long hours and the planning it takes to produce a typical show.

“After commercials, that’s only 22 minutes of on-air time, but the number of hours of planning and detail that goes into those 22 minutes, is monumental,” Alexander explained, who has been recognized by other staff as a highly-talented student and up-and-coming telecast director.

It’s not just entertainment programming mass communication students are trained in.

In addition to MTSU sports teams regularly receiving exposure in national print and broadcast media, mass communication students are often involved in national news, entertainment and sports events.

The 2011-12 basketball season’s hotly contested basketball game between Belmont University and MTSU is a case in point.

“When the show I produced showed up on ESPN’s sports coverage of the men’s basketball game between MTSU and Belmont, I considered it a highlight of my education so far at MTSU,” said electronic media major Sarah Fryar, who is the daughter of Ron Fryar, publisher of The Murfreesboro Post.

“When that happened, I stood up, shouted and cried … to have our game coverage programmed into the ESPN top sports package back in the early basketball season,” Fryar said, referring to the opportunities she has received through the College of Mass Communication.

“If the College of Mass Communication is not No. 1 in America, it’s close,” she noted, moments before recently going on air with her Athlon Sports reports that go digitally into 700-plus newspapers throughout America.

“The university not only provides great hands-on programming training for us, but the networking and contacts you make in the actual industries, provides us links into the ‘real world’ of broadcasting, whether it’s news, sports or entertainment,” she said.

Sarah Fryar cited her experience as a paid student for ESPN and at MTTV, the only all-student produced television station in the nation, which exposed her to professionals in the broadcast field, both locally and globally.

“For example, some of us have been involved in the Country Music Association Awards show that was seen across the globe,” she said.

She added having experienced professors is a bonus.

“Our professors are all versatile, serving professionally throughout Nashville media, both print and electronic,” she said.

Fryar also praised her fellow students.

“Professionally speaking, there is no glass ceiling for what these guys can accomplish in their careers,” she said, “and a lot of that goes back to the awesome visionary training of the College of Mass Communication, which is placing us in the mainstream of constant media advances and technological changes throughout America.”
Tagged under  Arts, College of Mass Communication, Entertainment, Journalism, Marty Stuart, MTSU, Murfreesboro, Music, Nashville

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