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BCTV Cable Channel 2
Belfast -- Searsport

Belfast Community TV’s mission is to reflect and strengthen the unique spirit and character of Belfast, Maine in order to enrich the lives of residents and visitors in the Midcoast region by fostering communication, free speech, artistic expression as well as creating opportunities through television and other electronic media.

Article about BCTV is published in local paper.
I was thrilled when local reporter, Ethan Andrews expressed interest in writing an article about BCTV. I was even more thrilled when Ethan came along on a couple shoots and asked me lots of questions. He then spoke with Mark Kuzio, and Rev. Joel Krueger about their experience using community TV. The result is an accurate and well researched article. Below is the article for all to read. Thanks Ethan!

Belfast's community television station hits its stride
By Ethan Andrews | Dec 17, 2009

On a recent afternoon, Ned Lightner, Belfast Community TV's station manager, drove to Camden to tape an episode of "Reigning Cats & Dogs," a pet adoption show produced in collaboration with the Camden-Rockport Animal Rescue League. That morning, he had taped a service at St. Margaret's Church in Belfast. Later that afternoon, he would film an episode of a monthly program called "Staying Healthy" for Waldo County General Hospital. I was along for the ride.

Laura Stupca, the shelter manager and regular host of the show, met Lightner at the door. After a quick microphone check, performed over the roar of a vacuum cleaner, Stupca disappeared and returned with a beagle named Jackson, who, like the two dozen animals that would appear on camera over the next 30 minutes, was looking for a home.

The format of "Reigning Cats & Dogs" is straightforward. Lightner follows Stupca around the shelter. Close-ups of cuddly animals are intercut with shots of Stupca talking. To keep costs down, Lightner tries to film the show in a way that will require as little editing as possible. He keeps track of how much time has passed and plans in advance how shots will begin and end.

Occasionally he edits something out. Wrapping up a long clip in CRARL's elderly cat room, Stupca made a plea for viewers to consider an older cat. "It's nice to give a little love and affection," she said.

Lightner stopped the tape. "Did you say infection?" he said. "I think I did," Stupca said. The line didn't make the final cut.

BC-TV is in its fourth year. Lightner traces the idea for the station back to 2005. At the time, Belfast belonged to a regional public access consortium. It cost the city $500 per month, and Lightner said the programming was "not good." The schedule was thin, leaning heavily on broadcasts of church services, and very little of it was truly local.

Belfast could do better, he thought, and in January 2006 he approached the City Council about sponsoring a public access channel. After some negotiations that included a sponsorship from the Institute of Lifelong Learning, the City came up with $10,000 and space on the upper floor of the Belfast Boathouse to get the station started.

BC-TV started broadcasting in May 2006. It was the third public access station Lightner had started from scratch. The first was in York, Penn., and one of the first shows he produced was a pet adoption show along the lines of "Reigning Cats & Dogs," called "Best Friends."

One of his least favorite parts of running a public access station was, and continues to be, asking people to underwrite the programming, but from a fundraising perspective, pets were an easy sell, and the production side was uncomplicated - what he calls "show and tell."

Hoping to track the impact of "Best Friends," Lightner requested the adoption rate from the shelter from before the program aired and compared it with statistics after the show had been airing for some time.

"The adoption rate doubled," he said. "Unfortunately, the number of animals brought into the shelter also doubled."

"Reigning Cats and Dogs" is somewhat unusual in that is is produced in collaboration with another public access station. The show alternates between Lightner's visits to CRARL and episodes filmed by the Rockland public access station at the Rockland Humane Society.

Until recently, community television station managers had little to put on the air except what was produced locally. Ideologically, this was no problem - the lack of "locally-produced content," as it is called in community TV circles, is the reason public access channels exist. In reality, and especially in smaller cities like Belfast, there are not enough people interested in making TV shows to fill the schedule.

Historically, station managers swapped videotapes or DVDs through the mail to fill in the gaps. Some of the programming at BC-TV is lifted from satellite TV, including "Democracy Now!," NASA TV and Mosaic, a collection of Middle Eastern TV news that Lightner likened to the film "Rashomon," in which a murder is told from the perspectives of five witnesses, including the deceased.

The ad hoc program exchanges made a quantum leap in 2008 when entrepreneur Robert Nichols of Rockport started the programming clearinghouse PegMedia.org. The acronym stands for Public, Education, and Government, after the three channels cable franchise operators are required to reserve for locally produced programming. The website allowed public access station managers to upload and download programs produced by other stations around the country.

"People say, well, it's not ‘community' because it comes from other states," Nichols said. "But we have many kinds of community - ones that spread across regions ... For instance, if someone does a show on wind power in California, someone in Knox County might be interested in that."

Today, the site has 1,400 registered members, a figure that includes station managers and producers. In Maine, 50 stations are active users.

In one week in December, 43 hours of BC-TV programming were locally produced, 47 came from PegMedia. Another 25 came from satellite. BC-TV airs "Smart Boating," a program produced in Massachusetts that Lightner thought would have relevance in coastal Maine. Locally produced shows have also made their way to stations around the country, and in this, Lightner sees them serving the secondary function of promoting Midcoast Maine. "We always say, 'Here we are in beautiful Belfast,' so it gives a wonderful vibe of what the place is like," he said.

"Fiddlers Showcase," a documentary of the Northport event of the same name, has been picked up by 57 stations from as far away as Texas, according to Lightner. David Hurley's "Tai Chi Through the Seasons," a program devoted to the slow-moving martial art, has been another hot export.

Three local churches broadcast their services on BC-TV, including First Church, which has contributed to the station for two years. The church owns a modest video camera and two volunteers tape the services, edit them down to an hour in length, and pass them along to Lightner, who airs them the following Sunday. Pastor Joel Krueger said the televised services have been good for members of the congregation who aren't able to come in, and on several occasions, he has heard from people unaffiliated with the church who happened to see the program.

When I asked if members of his congregation were watching the services at home rather than come to church, he laughed. "It's not that good of a program," he said.

Understatements aside, public access channels have a reputation for appearing amateur. But Mark Kuzio - perhaps BC-TV's largest contributor, after Lightner - wouldn't have it any other way.

A potter by trade, Kuzio was a complete novice when he first approached the station to do a show. His work had taken him on the road to trade shows, where he invariably met people, and driven by the necessity of selling his wares, they talked. Years worth of brief conversations with relative strangers - conversations that left him wanting to know more - were in his mind when he decided he might want to do a television show about, as he describes it, "people talking."

At some point, he broached the idea with Lightner, who encouraged him, and after a bout of cold feet, Kuzio found an eager co-host in Tim Woitowicz. The first episodes of the "Mark & Tim Show" were shot with the help of a video savvy high school sophomore. They went through several more camera operators over the next year-and-a-half. As they filmed more episodes, Kuzio educated himself with books, magazines and obsessive experimentation. After 30 shows, he felt like the show had run its course and he struck out on his own.

He hit up friends and relatives for enough money to put together a small editing studio, which resides in a room adjacent to his pottery studio. On the day that I visited, he had just finished a Christmas themed episode of his man-on-the-street show "Main Street Soapbox." The show was filmed in front of Tozier's Supermarket in Searsport, a place he particularly likes because of the variety of people who shop there.

For the most part, "Main Street Soapbox" episodes focus on one question each -- "What T's you off?" "What is art?" "Miss America" and "Michael Vick" are among the topics that appear on a list he keeps pinned to the wall of his studio -- but for the Christmas episode, Kuzio, like Santa Claus, had a list with questions ranging from "What's the worst thing about the Christmas Season?" and "Do you think there are more suicides at this time of year?" to softballs like, "Have you ever been kissed under the mistletoe?"

Fast-forwarding through the episode on his computer, he paused on a shot of a man looking to be in his 30s or 40s. Onscreen, Kuzio the interviewer asked, "What nationality is Santa anyway?" to which the man replied, apparently without irony, that Santa is an Israelite.

Referring to the tape, Kuzio said there's a fine line between what he calls "real reality TV," meaning warts and all, and making somebody look like a fool - something he tries to reserve for himself. With regards to the Israelite Santa, Kuzio though the man was sincere and unselfconscious, so he left it in. Onscreen, the interview ended and the man started to walk away then turned back toward the camera and shouted his name. Kuzio turned away from the computer with a look of revelation and said, "He wants people to know who he is."

Kuzio recently sent a letter to station managers who have aired "Main Street Soapbox." He is taking a break from the show and plans to devote his energies to making experimental videos - videos-as-art. In the letter he expressed hope that they would consider airing the work when it is complete.

This year, the City of Belfast reclaimed the top floor of the boathouse and BC-TV moved to an office space above Alexia's Pizza. The City also granted the station another $10,000 for operating expenses.

Lightner, who earns his living as a videographer, has been able to cover some his own costs by filming programs for the local hospital, the animal shelter and other organizations that want to promote their activities via community television.

"My ideal work is where I'm creating engaging community programming and getting paid for it," he said.

Despite being the station manager, and by a long shot, the most prolific contributor to BC-TV, he takes pains to say that anyone can, and should, submit programs for broadcast. "I'm just taking advantage of this community service that's available to anyone," he said. "I just happen to be really into it."

Tis the Season
"The Bob Hope Christmas Special", "How the Grinch Stole Christmas", these are my childhood holiday TV memories. They were traditions in my family as much as going out to choose a tree. Since BCTV is only 3 years old, its difficult to say any of our programming has gained status as a tradition, but we do seem to be developing some recurring seasonal specials. Once again we will be televising the Nutcracker Ballet, as performed by our own Atlantic Ballet Company. This performance was recorded at the Camden Opera House and features many local dancers. Also coming back this year is "The Live nativity" a performance of sorts that takes place under the stars in front of Belfast's First Church. The production is once again being presented by the Belfast Bay Ministerium. We at BCTV have rummaged through our movie collection to bring back that cult holiday classic "Santa Claus captures the Martians".
New this year is a benefit concert recorded at a local church to help raise funds for the Good Shepherd food bank. These programs will air several times during Christmas week, so our airtime will have a distinct holiday theme.
May you have a Merry Christmas and perhaps BCTV holiday programming will become a tradition here in Waldo County.