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July 8, 2011

What can new Canadians gain from Rogers TV’s volunteer opportunity

by Gerard Keledjian
Rogers TV Toronto studios

It is a snowy February morning. The time is 8:30 and “Daytime Toronto’s” studio at Rogers TV (Cable 10) is still quiet, getting ready to “wake up.” George Niculescu and about 10 others enter the studio to start a new day volunteering at the station. Like others on the team, Niculescu wants to gain local experience in the media field, make connections, and find a job. His dream, eventually, is to study filmmaking at Ryerson University, and he believes this unique opportunity at Rogers TV studio in north Toronto will help make that happen. 

The show is about 90 minutes away from starting and the volunteer crew needs to set up and double check everything. First, they bring in camera 1, then 2, then 3 and set them up in their designated positions. The monitor follows next, along with cables. Then comes the “fun” part: the microphone tests. They monitor the sound daily, so the volunteers have come up with a question that helps them speak for at least 30-40 seconds, enough for the audio technician in the control room to test each microphone. “What did you have for breakfast?” asks the floor director. Niculescu woke up late that day and had to sacrifice breakfast in order to be on time. “Don’t worry, you’ll have pizza after the show,” one of the volunteers tells him. As sound checks continue, others welcome guests who will appear on the show and prepare the graphics to be used that day.

Rogers TV Toronto studios

Rogers TV’s Toronto studios at 855 York Mills Rd.

Following his dream to work in film in Canada, Niculescu, 28, moved to Toronto last November. Back in his hometown of Brasov, Romania, he used to work as a photographer and a cameraman for local media companies. Before that he studied Psychology and Educational Sciences at the city’s university.

“My uncle – (who had immigrated to Canada a decade ago) – told me it’s better to volunteer and get local experience,” he says. He searched online, found the only volunteer opportunity in television at Rogers TV and filled out an application. A few days later, Colin Baird, the Coordinator for Volunteer Services at the station, interviewed him over the phone and approved his application. Now he volunteers for three hours at the station every Tuesday morning and Wednesday evening. He started as a floor assistant, but worked his way up to camera operator.

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Rogers launched a “community television” featuring locally produced programs about the people and events in the city, a few years after the birth of the Canadian Cable Television in 1952. The programs, covering such areas as cooking, high school activities, hockey games and parental issues, were produced by volunteers, many of whom continued a career in TV news, comedy and film production.

Continuing this tradition, hundreds of native and new Canadians volunteer today with Rogers TV in Toronto and its stations across Ontario, New Brunswick and Newfoundland. In Toronto alone, there are 270 volunteers working on various shows. Though the volunteer opportunity is open to all groups of people, new Canadians with a media background – who seek to add local experience to their resume – can find this opportunity helpful in breaking in-to the industry here.

“I am looking for the best possible person to be a volunteer,” says Baird-, “(people) who are able to help the channel achieve its goal to become the best TV in Toronto.”

The station gets volunteer applications regularly. Baird goes through them, checks the submitted resumes, the applicants’ references and backgrounds and looks for people who can commit for at least a year. If he’s interested in an applicant, he calls and sets up a meeting. Successful candidates are scheduled for training and usually start volunteering within few days.

“The volunteers are the lifeblood of the station,” says Baird. “Without volunteers we would not be able to achieve the programs we’re currently producing in the studio(s).” To ensure the smooth running of programs and operation of equipment that is constantly being upgraded and to allow volunteers to learn new positions every now and then, the station organizes free training workshops on a monthly basis. Niculescu has taken two: studio camera operator and audio technician. His previous camera experience was outdoors and he wanted the workshop to improve his skills and get hands on experience operating studio cameras.

Besides the training and practical experience, volunteering at Rogers TV also offers “the opportunity to make contacts within the industry and develop friendships with likeminded people,” says Baird. For example, through a friend Niculescu met at the station he found out about a job fair in North York and applied to a position at Canadian Tire. A week later, he started working there. It’s not related to his chosen field, but it enables him to earn money while he gains more TV experience at Rogers.

As a small appreciation of the hard work volunteers do, Baird books for them tours at sister channels CityTV and OMNI Television during National Volunteer Week. That offers a peak behind the scenes at the two stations, an opportunity to meet the people working there and explore the different programs produced. Volunteers, and especially new immigrants among them, can find this tour “horizon expanding”, as Baird calls it, specifically at OMNI, which is the main center of multicultural programming in the city with its two channels.

Back at Rogers TV, “Daytime Toronto” wraps up at 11 am. The volunteers move the cameras to a different studio and get them ready for “Goldhawk Live,” a talk show that airs at 9 pm. Then, as they do after every episode, they gather around the technical producer and director for a post production meeting during which the two men give feedback about the show and the volunteers’ work. Thankfully, today’s show had gone very smoothly, with no guest cancellations or last minute changes. The director just asks the cameramen to take more initiative and not wait for him to ask for a certain shot. Volunteers can offer feedback too: The station welcomes program proposals and volunteers submitting a successful idea may have the opportunity of producing the show. Proposals must have a local angle, making the show relevant to Toronto, to fulfill the mandate of the station.

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Rogers TV’s vice president Colette Watson welcomes volunteers in the orientation manual by telling them that “by walking into Rogers TV’s office today, you opened a door.” That’s a door into gaining new knowledge, meeting passionate and talented people, and finding new opportunities and possibilities.

And that’s exactly what Niculescu hoped for when he stepped through that door. “I see it as a step forward and will try to make the most of it,” he says.


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