NILES — Ken Kuespert has a passion for technology.
The owner of TPC Technologies has had plenty of work to do as Berrien County businesses and employees have had to adjust to a new way of life during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In addition to new challenges at work, the 58-year-old helped make the Berrien County Youth Fair’s showcase available to the usual fairgoer through the click of a mouse.
Kuespert, along with other fair volunteers, set up a series of cameras to live stream all fair exhibitors and competitions online since only a handful of people were allowed on the fairgrounds at one time.
The South Bend native, who is now a Niles resident, specialized in controls engineering before focusing on his technology business full-time.
Kuespert sat down with Staff Writer Tony Wittkowski to talk about his business and affiliation with the fair.
What kind of work do you do?
I’m a systems contractor who designs and builds sound, lighting and video systems for churches, schools and commercial businesses. The other side of our company is we provide sound lighting and video for events like concerts and movies.
How did you start your business?
Through high school and college, sound and video was a hobby for me. I continued that hobby through my previous job in engineering. I was looking for a change and now that hobby is a full-time gig.
How long have you been doing this for?
I started it in 1985 on a full-time basis. It was on the side throughout school and I still did it for 11 years while I was at my other job.
I understand you helped people see the youth fair’s unique showcase this year in spite of the pandemic. How did that come about?
With the whole pandemic happening, our event side came to a screeching halt. No shows were happening. We reverse-engineered the production side to keep things going. Video streaming has been something we’ve always done a little of here and there.
Before the fair, we did several drive-in graduations and drive-in funerals, where we would do streaming and video feeds on big screens. When the fair came around, we couldn’t have too many people on the fairgrounds, but an exhibitor’s grandma and grandpa would still want to see things. Both my girls were showing, so I thought why not stream these events.
We discussed how to best do it. We had several streaming systems running at a time.
What kind of feedback did you get from it?
A lot of people liked it. You got people watching who were out of town or would never come to the fair.
I remember four years ago we streamed St. Joseph High School’s graduation at the pavilion. They were redoing the turf on their football field and the pavilion didn’t have enough seating capacity. We did a multi-camera stream and the amount of people who were able to watch it from afar was surprising.
How many people watched the showcase virtually?
I don’t have any metrics on the fair or where they were from. But talking to some of the (equestrian) people, they loved being able to tune in. It might be something we do permanently down the road.
I know you’ve done graduation ceremonies in the past, but what has it been like this year?
They were all some form of a drive-in graduation ceremony. Some high school’s even had some administration officials reading their names from a stage and handing the diploma to them at the car. We had some where students would stand six feet apart, no contact, no hugging. There was an admin person who set the diploma on the table and the student picked it up and walked off the stage.
We would play video back from speakers who couldn’t be there in pre-recorded announcements.
What kind of work have you done for the fair in previous years?
I started volunteering at the fair about six years ago, helping out with their sound system and public address system. During the fair, we could have up to 10 different events that require microphones or speakers. I’m just one of the volunteers who help do it.
Recently, I was approached about joining the board. As technology advanced, we approached the fairgrounds about adding WiFi and made a proposal to the board.
It wasn’t nearly the coverage we needed, but it was a start. We had no infrastructure and added some fiber optic cable from one end of the fairgrounds to the other.
How did you first get involved with the fair?
I knew some people that volunteered there and they asked if I would like to help. That evolved to where we are now. It’s a cool group of people who run the fair. It takes a lot of people to do all that stuff.
What are you looking forward to the most for next year’s fair?
Seeing all the people and having things be back to what we’ll call normal. We’re out there about a week before the fair starts, just getting everything set up. This year, we had all the animal shows.
It was just so stupidly quiet. It was eerie seeing how quiet it was with no kids screaming or laughing. You normally see all this energy, from the animals to the craft barns.