As a student at UEA in the early 2000s, Paul Hayes was a presenter at the university’s resident T.V station, Nexus. While the station wasn’t at its height during this time, it was still active in producing daily news and their own shows to be shown in Union House, now named University House.
Hayes’ fascination with the history of the station started during his time there. “[Nexus] still had the studio upstairs in Union House, the one they built in the 90s, and there were loads of old stuff in there, old tapes and old photos and old documents and all sorts of bits and pieces. It was clear to me then that it had had a really interesting history and I was fascinated by it, and I hung on to various bits and pieces from the history of it from when they were chucking some stuff out later on when I was there. And so, I was always fascinated by the history of it.”
It was only when an alumnus of Nexus uploaded some old videos of shows from the 1970s onto YouTube a few years ago that his interest in the station re-emerged, and as Hayes began thinking of what the topic for his next documentary could be, the idea of Nexus popped up again at the beginning of this year.
Nexus was synthesised in 1970, although the exact year is disputed as to be between 1968 and 1970. Ran by students and financed by the SU, the station was initially set up for educational purposes as part of the Audio-Visual Centre at UEA. This was before students started to take an interest in producing their own shows to be shown on television, a luxury that was not found widely elsewhere in the UK- which allowed students to strive for achievement, such as potentially being the first 24-hour worldwide live stream on the internet in 1995.
Hayes’ documentary tracks the history of the station and big events in its timeline, interviewing past alumni and famous faces like comedian Arthur Smith and BAFTA-nominated writer and director Gurinder Chadha, to tell their stories and fond memories of the station.
While Nexus has remained a hidden gem from the university’s past, having ended all production in 2009 after being dormant for several years before being revived as the current UEA TV, Hayes makes it feel completely revived, giving the station the personality and light that it once had, being a place for community and creativity at its height. Sadly, as the years went on and technology became more and more accessible, the station drifted into obscurity at UEA. “When I was there, I think we had very low awareness on campus. We did play in the pub on the big screen, but people didn’t really pay attention to it, it was kind of in the background. I don’t think many people would have known what Nexus was if you asked them, so certainly by the time I was there, we were more doing it for ourselves because we enjoyed doing it.”
The documentary also talks about this shift in audience and media technology, something that made the station so successful was its use of professional-grade equipment, which was the most up to date in the 1970s, but as technology developed and the station started to lag behind, audiences went elsewhere for their entertainment.
“Particularly in the 70s and 80s was definitely [Nexus’] high point, people didn’t have internet, people didn’t really bring their own TVs to university, so it had a kind of captive audience at lunchtime in Union House, people would go along, eat their lunch and watch. It’s like how broadcasting, in general, has changed. Mainstream broadcasting has fragmented hugely and has so many different services, you’ve got catchup and streaming. Obviously, these days something like, say EastEnders, 20 years ago it would’ve been getting 15 million views every episode, nowadays it gets 3 or 4 million because everything is so fragmented. And I guess that applies just as much to student media as it does to mainstream media, you don’t have these captive audiences like you used to in the 70s, 80s, going into the 90s, probably up until the turn of the century.”
For many, Nexus was a way of finding out what they wanted to do in future, whether just as a part of their individual university experiences or enriching their CVs so they can pursue further media exploits. “Even though the media changes hugely, there will always be media of some sort, obviously these days there’s social media… I think there will always be student media. What form it will take and what it will be, however many more years there’ll be a paper version of Concrete, for example. Back in the day, no one would have thought that Live Wire wouldn’t actually transmit over the air, presumably they are just online streaming now or however they operate. Things always change but there will always be a student media of some kind because there will always be students who want to be journalists or producers or be involved in media so there will always be students who will come together and form these groups or societies or stations or whatever so they will always be there. But in 20 years’ time, I’m sure you’ll look back at what’s happening at UEA, and it’ll be hugely different to how it is now, it’s difficult to imagine what it’ll be like in 20 years. It’ll always be there, and it’ll always be something different.”
You can listen to Nexus: Norfolk’s Forgotten TV Station on the BBC Sounds app now.