Public access television is far from the streaming phenomenon of Netflix and Amazon. Netflix’s, The Get Down, has a $7.5 million per episode production budget. Connecticut Conversations with host Gary Byron and producer Dave Nagel on public access television has a budget of $0. In 1972, the Federal Communications Commission mandated public access channels for the general public to make and broadcast non-commercial programming that could be distributed over cable networks.
Typically, public access stations are town based and provide informational, educational, government programming, and sometimes we make lace. At Newington Community Television (NCTV), government meetings are recorded and shown. Viewers can watch the Newington Town Council, Board of Education, Town Plan & Zoning Commission, and Town Hall Renovations.
“Community and public access stations exist because our communities want them, and the law says that cable providers must supply them,” said Scott Allo, the technical vice president of NCTV. In 1984, Cox Communications had three Connecticut towns sharing one public access channel: Newington, Wethersfield, and Rocky Hill. Each town had two days a week to display information on the channel. Newington, however, did not have anyone displaying their towns’ information. That changed in June of 1986 when Everett Weaver and Edward Pizzella founded NCTV in the Newington Town Hall basement. Volunteers staff the station.
We’re now in 2016, meaning NCTV has existed for thirty years. So why is public access television still relevant?
“It’s funny because people actually think we’re like a regular TV station where we sit around and wait for a story to break,” said NCTV president John Donahue. “The local news stations cover daily events and we are more after [news events] happen.”
Donahue continued, “I think community television still exists mainly for the government shows, but we try to make our public channel relevant by covering other town events that can’t be seen anywhere else.” Events that can’t be seen anywhere else include The Waterfall Festival, where people create sidewalk chalk art, and the Extravaganza. Both events have local talent and vendors that you wouldn’t want to miss. There isn’t another television outlet that covers the local community like NCTV.
NCTV volunteers produce the programming. As an NCTV volunteer, both in front of, and behind the camera I know how nerve-racking it can be producing a show. But we have each other’s backs.
“My favorite part about volunteering is the camaraderie with the crew, the ability to learn something new every time I go to the studio, and the chance to make a difference,” said secretary Sandy Austin Goldstein.
Membership chairperson, Patty Foley, said her favorite part of volunteering is “being with creative people who have different skill sets. It feeds my creativity. Receiving feedback from the public that they like a show. In the end, they are our audience. It is about them, and we need to serve them.” The NCTV volunteers trained me to conduct interviews, and how to properly use the equipment. Volunteering with a public access channel gave me great experience and led to internships and jobs.
Looking at the NCTV weekly schedule, I stumbled upon a program where I conducted on-camera interviews. I recall all the hard work and preparation that went into learning to produce a show. Seeing yourself on television, even if it’s only public access, gives you a real sense of accomplishment. NCTV is always looking for volunteers.