|Richard "Al" Stephens (right), Liberty University's senior video maintenance engineer, receives a certificate from chapter chairman Paxton Durham recognizing him as "Engineer of the Year" for Chapter 78 of the Society of Broadcast Engineers during Thursday's meeting in Lexington, Va.|
Since his early days at Thomas Road Baptist Church, when he was the sole engineer on staff installing and servicing video equipment for the Rev. Jerry Falwell, Sr.’s "Old Time Gospel Hour,” Richard “Al” Stephens knew he was doing exactly what God had called and equipped him to do.
On Thursday, Stephens, now Liberty University’s senior video maintenance engineer, was recognized as the inaugural Engineer of the Year for Chapter 78 of the Society of Broadcast Engineers, which includes Lynchburg, Roanoke, and Harrisonburg. He is one of 12 nominees for the national Robert W. Flanders SBE Engineer of the Year award to be named later this month.
“We are so proud of Al,” said Dr. Norm Mintle, dean of Liberty’s School of Communication & Creative Arts (SCCA). “Receiving this award demonstrates the ongoing excellence of our professional team — qualities we are embedding in our SCCA students in all areas of media and production.”
Bruce Braun, SCCA’s executive director of technical operations, believes there is no one more deserving of the distinction.
“For the past 40 years, Al has demonstrated his professional expertise and love for Liberty University ministries,” Braun said.
Stephens is responsible for video control operation during many university productions, including sports, news feeds, and special events. He handles routine maintenance of equipment, troubleshooting and testing of video systems, documentation of new systems, and assists in the planning, construction, and deployment of mission critical systems.
Eddie Durham, a former SBE Chapter 78 chair, nominated Stephens for the honor. The award was presented at a chapter meeting in Lexington.
“He is one of the original members of our chapter, which has been in existence since the early ’70s,” Durham said, noting Stephens has served as its treasurer and chief financial officer for the past 15 years. “It was kind of a no-brainer to nominate him. He just deserves it. He’s held just about every position and has been one of the most secure, reliable people in the chapter.”
At Liberty, Stephens has studied to stay ahead of the learning curve in a rapidly changing industry that requires advanced technical training.
“TV as a whole in the analog days was one thing; in the digital age, everything was transitioning. It’s all IT-based, so you’re constantly trying to keep up,” he said. “That is what SBE is about. You try to stay current with the new technologies.”
Liberty has placed its technical operations under the umbrella of the SCCA, creating a diversity of new working relationships with staff as well as students.
“Students are given the unique opportunity to leave the classroom and work side-by-side with professionals like Al in every area of media arts,” Braun said.
Though he specializes in the technical aspects of video equipment installation and repair, Stephens enjoys the interaction he has with students in training them to use it, particularly during thrice-weekly Convocation services at the Vines Center.
He said Dr. Falwell, Sr.’s vision of having Liberty students immersed in the field of broadcasting and going into the world to use those skills is being fulfilled.
“We trained the students hands-on, even back in the ’70s, to do radio, television, maybe a little film, but primarily television,” Stephens said. “Well, we’re back to the original vision of doing that exact same thing under Dr. Mintle now, and I think that’s going to work out really well. You have academics as well as the practical hands-on stuff so when the students leave here, they’ve got a good balance of both.”
The SCCA’s broadcast division now includes two radio stations, Victory FM (WRVL, 88.3-FM), and The Light (WWMC, 90.9-FM, a student-run station), as well as two television stations: WTLU-LP (The Liberty Channel) and a newly acquired full-power station WEFC-TV, formerly WDRL-TV, serving the Danville, Roanoke, and Lynchburg area.
Currently, Stephens is involved in facilitating Liberty’s transition to High Definition broadcasts starting this fall, including the installation of equipment in a control room at the Vines Center that will be used for sports broadcasting.