This Date in UCF History: A TV Mystery


[Originally published in Synapse - The UCSF student newspaper on May 19, 1983] Those strolling through the UCSF lobbies can’t but have noticed the curious goings on by the Medical Science Building elevators recently.

It began last month when two wisps of cable were spied dangling from the ceilings near the first and second-floor elevator banks. Then, rays later, sets of sturdy brackets appeared; soon afterwards, there they were — televisions in the Medical Science lobbies.

Since that time, the suspense has mounted steadily as these strange and wondrous harbingers of the video age have sat there silently.

Their screens, blank but for an occasional provocative parade of digits and squares of color, have somberly presided over the traffic of elevator thoroughfares.

Why are they here?

The enigma, ever more perplexing with the passage of time, has given many corridor-walkers pause for reflection.

There has been talk that the university administration finally is moving to pacify rebellious staff who must wait endlessly for the Medical Science elevators to arrive, and will be cabling in favorite TV shows to make the wait pass less odiously.

The soap opera “General Hospital” is being touted around the halls as a likely entry for the afternoon travel hour, although there have been rumors that members of the surgical faculty are hoping to beam their live performances from the Moffit OR.

Then there are those of a more paranoid bent who, taking their cue from Orwell’s 1984, regard the TV monitor with barely concealed suspicion as they pass by — is Big Brother of the “UCSF family” watching? Perhaps the screens are the latest device in the long-running strategy to catch the crazed biochemist defacing the elevators with “Remain Calmodulin.”

The suggestions continue: “Instrument of propaganda for the upcoming union elections!” “Methods for seeing around corners to dodge careening gurneys and food carts!” The speculation has been endless.

If you’re one of those people tired of getting a busy signal when you dial the UCSF menu hotline, it may be time for you to take an elevator ride.

Television screens, newly installed beside the Medical Science elevators, will be broadcasting daily meal entries as part of the new UCSF News Services project to deliver information via video to the UCSF community.

The project, planned with the Educational Media Resources center, is beginning a trial run with two video monitors in the Medical Science Building and one in the Millberry Cafeteria. The screens are scheduled to run repeated, 10-minute segments, which, in addition to featuring the day’s menu, will present notices on campus news, events, and job opportunities.

Allan Balderson, a senior editor at the News and Public Information Services, programs the segments on an Apple computer terminal in the News Services office.

He is hoping that the project will “supplement and maybe even replace existing print methods” for disseminating information on campus. He believes that video serves as an “excellent medium to reach people immediately” with information.

By way of example, Balderson cites the closing of the Golden Gate Bridge last winter as the type of news for which speedy communication to UCSF commuters would be of value.

Despite its leap into the age of technicolor video, News Services may be hard-pressed to make news of employee layoffs and UC budget cutbacks more palatable to staff and students.

Given the current economic climate, can UCSF afford the seeming-luxury of televised information? Balderson asserts that the dollar layout for the computer-video system was “quite minimal.”

EMR Director Peter Ng concurs, saying that the main cables were laid down “years ago” and that the hardware consists of idle television monitors from the EMR inventory and his own Apple terminal.

When asked if the equipment might not be more effectively utilized for educational purposes, Ng responded that the Student Informational Media Area (SIMA) has simply run out of space for any expansion of computer or video learning systems.

Labor costs for installing the TV sets and programming the News Services computer, says Ng, are the project’s main expense.

As for the urgent question on everyone’s mind — “Will News Services’ new video technology render Synapse obsolete?” — Balderson has a reassuring answer: “I doubt that… unless Synapse starts doing only short news items.”

Those suffering the interminable wait for elevators in the Medical Sciences building soon will have more to look at than the crowded bulletin boards.

Televised menus, announcements and job opportunities, courtesy of the News Services department, are coming our way.