BCTV Cable Channel 2
The BCTV2 Schedule
Belfast Community TV-Channel 2
Ned Lightner, Program Director
For community announcements:
Ned Lightner, Program Director
For community announcements:
The following is a copy of a talk I recently gave to the Belfast rotary Club, I thought it might be of interest to folks reading our blog. Ned Lightner
I’d like to thank John Cheston and the Rotary Club for inviting me to speak before you today. John knew I was involved with Belfast Community TV and thought some of you folks might want to know more about these local TV channels that those who subscribe to Cable TV in this area are able to see. He mentioned that quite a few of you folks are local business people and it might be helpful if I could direct my talk to a business audience.
First of all I am the “volunteer program director for Belfast Community TV, which celebrated its first year in operation on May 1st. There may be a
number of you out there who get Cable and therefore may not have seen our channel. We reach about 2,500 homes in the Belfast and Searsport area. Belfast community TV is one of 3 access channels on the cable dial. Access channels are cable channels made available to local communities by the cable company as required by National and state laws and as negotiated with each community with which the cable company has a franchise agreement. Communities allow a cable operator to string their cable lines across city streets but in return the cable company may pay a franchise fee, provide free service to schools and municipal buildings, provide access channels, and even provide funding to operate those channels. The exact deal varies from community to community. In Belfast, the city received an initial grant form the cable company to equip local access channels. The city also receives a 5% franchise fee, which is based on percentage of cable service revenue. In many communities that fee is used to fund the operation of these cable channels, but in Belfast that is not the case. The city does however fund the operation of one of the channels. You may be asking yourself 3 channels? Why are there three channels. Well there are three different kinds of acces channels. The City’s channel is the “government Access channel” It televises live city council and other municipal meetings that take place in the city council chambers. Diane Mende who was a part time general assistance director for the city was offered the position of running the government access channel. She works 20 hours a week videotaping city related meetings and events. I know that I have appreciated being able to tune in to channel 7 to watch meetings from time to time, whether watching them live or on later replays. For someone with small children, it has helped me feel connected with what is going on in city government. A second channel is the educational access Channel. The city has given that channel to MSAD 34 and it is run out of the High School. Greg Applestein is an English teacher who also teaches video production classes and runs Channel 5. Recently I have caught some of the school concerts that he and his students have recorded and played back over the station. In some communities educational access channel have been used to offer telecourses, offer call in homework hotlines, or televise live school board meetings. Unfortunately with the financial pressures at MSAD-34, there just hasn’t been the resources to create those kinds of programs. So that Brings me to Belfast community TV.
It is a “public Access channel, that is not restricted to a particular mission. Whatever programs we receive from the community within limits of decency, and not violating state laws, are open to be shown on the public access channel. This past year for instance, we televised a local candidates forum in conjunction with the local chapter of the league of women voters. We also televised the Belbast vibrancy summit which took place live at the boathouse on the Waterfront. Such a programs could quite possibly also be shown on the government access channel. We also televised High School sports, a seminar on energy efficient building that took place at the Waldo county Technical Center. Both of those programs could have quite reasonably been shown on the educational access channel. On the other hand Ando Anderson’s “New Vaudeville review” and the church services from the First Church in Belfast are examples of programs that would not be appropriate for the government or educational access channels.
At this point I’d like to take a moment to tell you haw Belfast Community TV got started. Prior to last year, If you were to tune to Channel 2, You would most likely see a power point display that carried community announcements from throughout central Maine. It was operated by the Penobscot Cable consortium, was made up of about 17 communities from Bangor and Brewer to Ellsworth and Belfast. Belfast paid the consortium about $10,000 a year. About half that money went to pool resources for legal advice and coordinated franchise negotiaion, but the other half went to fund the operation of this regional pubic access channel. Well that channel was not very successful, there was very little programming on it and it was plagued with technical problems. The consortium pulled the plug on that channel in January of 2007. That meant that the channel was as they say in the business “going dark”. Because I have had an interest in community programming I approached terry St. Peter at city Hall and asked whether there was any chance that Belfast might be able to have its own public access channel. As some of you may know, prior to being Belfast’s city manager, Terry was the city manager in Augusta. He knew me as the Station manager for the Cable company’s local channel and had been a guest on some of our local programs. Terry was open to the idea. He did say that the station would need to be operated by a non profit organization, that there was still some equipment grant money reserved from the cable franchise, to fund the startup, and that there was an unisulated second floor attic in the boathouse that might be made available. On the other hand, he did not want the city to have to pay any ongoing operating costs. “So Ned, why don’t you come up with a proposal”.
First I was able to get the support of the Belfast Institute of Lifelong learning to serve as the local non-profit. I had known that BILL as it is called was instrumental in helping launch other organizations such as “Come Boating” and New years by the Bay. Next I asked a few folks that I knew, who I thought might be interested in this endeavor to be part of an “advisory Group” . This group was really crucial as we developed our guidelines and imagined what this station might look like. The group came up with our name, “Belfast community TV” . We did not want to call ourselves “public access, because we felt that might give the station the image of having shaky out of focus and boring shows that nobody would watch. We wanted something more exciting than that. We developed our mission statement which states that Belfast Community TV’s mission is to reflect and strengthen the unique character of Belfast, Maine in order to enrich the lives of residents and visitors to the mid-coast region, by fostering communication, free speech, artistic expression as well as creating opportunities through television and other electronic media.
So we put forth a proposal to city council and thankfully they said yes.
We received our initial equipment grant which paid for items such as a lazer transmitter, station automation equipment, dvd recorders, computers, Satellite receivers and other technical stuff so we could begin transmitting. I was also able to get some equipment donated from my old employer,Maine Public Television.We got permission from the city in mid February of last year and were on the cable May 1st.
So what do we show? And where are we headed? With our equipment grant we did have enough money to buy transmission equipment, but not enough to set up a production studio. We had a kind of “if you build it they will come mentality”. One great thing about the technology world is that it seems to be getting cheaper and better every year. 30 years ago, when I got into this business a camera and recorder that weighed 40 pounds and you carried in a backpack cost $8000 dollars. Today you can buy a digital Camcorder that weighs about a pound and costs, $300. 30 Years ago a fairly primitive editing system cost about $15,000. Today most new computers come with video editing software that is much more sophisticated than anything we had access to even 15 years ago. As we know from the success of You tube and google video, Video is available to almost everyone. I remember tuning into the news after the Virginia Tech shooting and they were actually showing video and sound from someone’s cell phone. So we hoped people would produce their own shows and submit them to show, free of charge on the station. Additionally, I have my own video equipment and have been making local TV shows for quite a while now. You may think this hometown TV thing is a fairly new concept, and it certainly is so in Belfast, but 30 years ago when I was just getting out of college, I went to work for a local cable channel operated by the cable company to serve the Augusta/Gardiner area.
Back then we had a nightly local news show, as well a some high school sports, local businesses had some shows. For instance a local Chinese restaurant that also offered cooking classes had its own cooking show, We had an exercise and diet show put on by 2 businesses working together. The exercise spa did the exercise segment and the diet workshop did a low calorie recipe segments. We created a show where we would tape performances in four area night clubs. Each club paid us to tape at their club once a monthand a local music store also served as a sponsor. The local hospital produced a health education show and later sponsored a sries on parenting that was nationally produced. Over the years and in different communities I have seen many interesting ways local businesses have utilized community TV. A bowling center has produced local bowling shows. A financial firm has produced a money advice show, A mlaw firm has produced a legal call-in Show. Some shows are regular series, while others are one shot deals. A bicycle shop for instance did a tune up your bicycle show. These are examples of shows with a direct connection to those businesses, however businesses got involved in local programming in other ways. The wife of a local car dealer was very involved with the local humane society. Her husband’s dealership sponsored a show that every week went to the local humane society and showed the animals available for adoption. The car dealer may have been sponsoring the show to please his wife, but it turned out that the show was one of the most popular on our channel and the dealer got lots of positive feedback for supporting this community project. The same positive good will was generated by our live TV auction put on by the Augusta Kiwanis Club and underwritten by local businesses. The Auction raises tens of thousands of dollars every year for the club’s charities.
So getting back to Belfast Community TV. I have been around the area long enough to remember WBME radio. I appreciated its local character and characters such as Rocky Raccoon and the Grizzly but loveable Bear. I remember the local Y doing radio Auctions. With media consolidation we just don’t have that localism we once had. WERU radio has done an admirable job providing a regional community radio service, but I’m talking really hometown, Waldo county. We do have some wonderful papers from the weekly Newspapers to specialty publications such as Sap pail or real estate magazines. There was in my mind at least room for a community TV channel. When the idea for the station was first being kicked around. Ando Anderson who many of you know as a local musician and spark behind the summer nights music series approached me with the idea of doing a local TV variety show based loosely on the Prairie home Companion radio show on public radio. His idea was to have a show that included some skits, poetry, music and whatever else might be fun. We kicked around the idea and Ando developed “A new Vaudeville Revue” Once a month the show is performed before a live audience. These days they take place on Saturday evenings at the legion hall in town. From the live show we are able to creat 3 separate programs so we have a fresh show every week or so. Ando has been able to get businesses to underwrite the production of the show. He also sells a live jingle for businesess to get added exposure. With proceeds from underwriters and money from tickets to the show he is able to pay the performers, as well as the cost of having the performances recorded and shown on the station.
I also had been taping High school sports, and playing them on the educational access channel. I decided to have them air on the new community channel, because I thought if we had more and diverse programs on the channel we would get more people coming to the channel and checking us out. I approached local businesses to underwrite the game coverage. The money paid for professional announcers and a fairly decent show to watch. There aren’t all the camera angles that ESPN has but ESPN did not show Belfast winning the state football and field hockey championships. I have local businesses tell me that when they underwrite programs they know they are reaching their target market. I have heard various statistics, most recentl at a city council meeting I caught on TV, the consultant said that about 50% of a local business’ customers come from the town. I suspect in Belfast that percentage varies from season to season, but there is some truth that for many businesses the local customer base is important. Another example of a show that I have been involved with is the Summer video guide. I must admit I kind of stole the concept from jeff Dobbs who runs the public access channel in Bar Harbor. Jeff is the guy who has also produced all those show about Acadiaq and light house with Jack Perkins. Anyway for years Jeff has been airing “The Acadia channel” which is a guide to places to eat, shop or go on excursions. Basically a tourist video. Local businesses pay to have a segment in the show. The show is shown several time a day from mid June through Labor Day. Table tents are provided to local motels and B&B’s that alert visitors to the show. There are some restrictions for folks which a regular commercial station does not have.
We don’t mention prices. There are not “direct calls to Action”. And we don’t use comparative superlatives such as the best Pizza in town. However it is perfectly OK to say. We have a delicious variety of tasty Pizzas. Some of the other shows I have been involved with include. “Gardens of Waldo county” which basically takes viewers on tours of local gardens. I have produced a show that showcases artist that are going to be at the “Arts in the Park” celebration in July. So you see my own motives aren’t completely altruistic. I’m hoping that folks who want a show created might hire me to make the show. But I am by no means the only person creating programming for the station. Lincoln Clapp for example has produced some shows featuring student work at Toddy pond school and he also produced a neat show about local ballroom dancers. Jerry Klaimon produced a fine documentary about the coal industry in Belfast, Harvey Thurston has been producing a weekly religious show from his Nothport Church. We have also had folks supply us with shows they don’t produce themselves. We do require a local presenter for shows produced outside of the Area. A local train buff has been providing us with a weekly series called train time. This show features railroad related programs and is produced out of Lewiston, by the great falls model railroad club. A local political activist provides us with a left leaning show produced in Portland called “Liberty News”.
We have been looking for interesting programs, and have joined Northeast Historic Film in Bucksport. They have an extensive collection of old movies, and we have created a series called the Northeast historic film hour. Last week forinstance we aired “From Stump to Ship and Lumbering in the Northeast. Folks like Karen Saum who have retired to the area are providing us with programming. Karens 1980 documentary “Working Women of Waldo County” received quite a lot of favorable comments after airing on the channel. We seem to be adding new shows weekly and I am really thrilled how the station is developing.
So how do we pay our bills? We have various underwriting opportunities. Our community bulletinboard which is the creative work of Susan Guthrie is a powerpoint presentation that airs about 6 hours a day. We sell pages on the display to lcal underwriters. We also have daily programming underwriters. Their video message appears adjacent to various programs. We have also received a little grant money. Recently we received a grant from the maine community Foundation to purchase a some video equipment so members of the community that do not have a video camera could still create a program.
The grant also provides for a couple training workshops. We are also lucky enough to have a part time person made available through a Senior Citizen employment program administered through Waldo County community action.Nancy Sossman has been with us now for three weeks and has been a great help in keeping the operation running.
You know I see those bumper stickers that say”Kill you TV” and I nhave certainly felt that way surfing through all those channels with nothing but Junk on. I also have seen how fewer folks sit on the porch on a spring evening, preferring instead to sit glued to the tube. It makes me feel that TV has done a lot to keep us from knowing our neighbors. I like to think that Belfast Community TV is helping folks stay connected with their neighbors.
A day or so after we televised all night long New Years by the Bay events taking place at the Boathouse. I was pretty much a Zombie the next day, relizing I’m not Twenty anymore and I got an email from a women. She said she was no longer able to get out and being able to watch New Years coverage from her home town made her still feel connected to her community. Her letter made it all worthwhile for me.
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