June 9, 2010

Local Access TV Ready for Prime Time

Union Leader Correspondent
DERRY – There will be no partying on in Chris Martin's world; just business as usual for the town's public access cable station.
Expanding from one dedicated station to two has coincided with Martin's promotion to station director. It's a job he'd been doing for months following the retirement of Barb Ellingwood, but now that it's official, Martin is looking forward to testing the waters for an entire channel dedicated to community programming.
Perhaps even discovering the next basement broadcast empire, like “Wayne's World,” done Derry style.
“The new channel, 23, is up and running, but for now it's just a message board. Over the summer we'll work out the transitional bugs, and we should have a full schedule of non-meeting programs by fall,” said Martin.
For diehard fans of the town's meeting channel, don't fear; that will remain as it is on Channel 17.
“What we really gain by splitting the channels is Prime Time during the week for public access shows,” said Martin.
Historically, that's what public access TV was supposed to be about – providing an alternative to network programming, including a vehicle for free speech without discrimination.
“We're always looking for new shows – people can do just about anything they want, as long as it meets our criteria,” said Martin.
So if the Tuesday night Council Meeting gets slow in the middle, and you don't feel like tuning in to “The Biggest Loser,” you might find something refreshing on Channel 23.
Current public access programming comes primarily from local churches, or features station part-timer Larry Seaman on location at local community events. Locally produced shows on politics, fitness, health and music fill in the rest of the programming blanks, with occasional shows imported from other public access stations around the country.
“We are running a cooking show out of California that was getting a lot of buzz,” said Martin, who heard about the show from his counterparts during a New Hampshire Coalition for Community Media meeting.
Martin got his start at the station in 1995 as a volunteer. His background was as a sound guy for local bands, but he took to the technical side of cable TV, eventually landing a paid part-time position.
The station is located in the basement of the town municipal building. New HD cameras are on the way, and the studio equipment is upgraded annually – it's a long way from the station's modest beginnings, in a closet at the town's fire station.
“Back then we had to lug equipment around to meetings. Now, we broadcast right from the meeting room,” said Martin. There's also a remote broadcast truck that is used for community events, like annual parades and festivals.
Although Martin's salary is paid by the town, operating funds come from franchise agreements between Comcast and the town – a fraction of what cable subscribers pay monthly foots the bill.
Moving forward, the new channel will be reliant on citizen producers who can sign out video cameras and then deliver the goods to the station. All that's required is a good idea and a three-hour equipment training class, which gives you all the skills you need to get started filming and editing.
“The program we use is as simple as ones used on home computers. It provides excellent quality video, and it's very user friendly,” said Martin.
Future goals for the station include the possibility of archiving programming online, so that it can be viewed on demand.
“And we're definitely looking for new shows – we welcome anyone to come up with some good ideas,” said Martin.

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