Public Access Television has Finally Arrived in Vallejo

Today is a day long awaited by those in Vallejo who have struggled for more than a decade to open the doors to a Public Access Television station for the people of Vallejo. Vallejo Community Access Television (VCAT) will begin running twenty four hours a day, seven days a week, from the new studio at Jesse Bethel High School. If you subscribe to cable television you will find VCAT on Channel 27.

Now let?s be clear, folks. This is your right. You are entitled to access to the cable channel. By law, the city is has required Comcast to make the channel available as provided for by federal law. If you subscribe to cable television, then you?ve been paying for it all this time. The reasons why you haven?t had access up until now are many. But rather than get into all that, (all over again) today is a day to celebrate.

What?s the big deal? Well, your freedom of speech for one thing. Where else can you go and express your opinions without censorship and without the decision of whether or not it will be aired, being left up to people who may or may not share your point of view? I could count those media outlets on one hand. Can you give your tape to ABC, CNN, Channel 5 or any other commercial outlet and feel certain that it will be aired or even considered? Sadly, that?s a rhetorical question. But your local cable access channel will only judge your tape on its technical quality, not its content. If your tape is up to broadcast standards, it will be aired.

I?m moving a little too fast though. Today will start modestly with the airing of the VCAT Bulletin Board. Local not-for-profits and community groups can post announcements by visiting the www.vcat27.org and downloading the Electronic Bulletin Request Form. Your independently produced videos will begin to be broadcast around March 16, 2006.

You needn?t consider the consumer behavior of your projected audience, or even consider who your audience will be. You might be idealistic and believe that what you produce would be appealing to a diversity of people (imagine that!). The point is that you don?t have to worry about whether or not your audience is going to run out and buy products that are being pushed in commercial breaks during your program, because there will be no commercial breaks.

OK, it?s true, no one is going to pay you to produce these programs. It?s up to you to get it done. But you can get training for practically no money. A Basic Producer membership includes receiving newsletters, the annual report, eligibility to vote in VCAT elections, basic video workshops, and access to the studio and equipment, for the cost to an individual of $40 per year. For an additional $20, a producer may attend advanced workshops and have access to advanced equipment. There are discount rates for seniors, and rates for organizations and businesses as well. Just to make sure there is no confusion, you will technically be a volunteer producer, because you are not getting paid, but any volunteer will have to become a member and get through the program before having access to the studio or equipment. Compare this to the expense of attending television production classes at a community college or private school and you will see what a great resource VCAT will be for any aspiring television producer with a limited budget.

Another aspect of non-commercial programming is that producers may push the edges of their medium. I have no doubt that in the next few years Vallejoans will be viewing computer animations, experimental comedy, political commentary and world premiers of plays and movies by local writers and producers. It is not only an opportunity to be aired, but a first step toward syndication on a host of public access stations from one coast of the United Sates to the other. Have you considered that possibility? Do your research and you will find some examples of what I?m talking about.

Some people have raised the concern that the people who are permitted access to the equipment may steal it. Most businesses have to deal with the reality that they may experience theft. But of course, none of us can even go into business these days without purchasing costly insurance. So, it seems to me that is not really a valid concern, but I checked anyway, with Clayton Leander, Executive Director of VCAT, to find out if he shares this concern. He stated that in all the years he has been involved in public access television, (and his depth of experience is impressive) ?no one has ever stolen checked out equipment.? Accidents happen, and equipment will need to be repaired, but these are issues any business must deal with to remain functional.

If by now you are ready to get started, then the first step is to attend a VCAT orientation class. The next one will be on Saturday, March 4 from 10am to 12pm. If you have never even touched a television camera don?t be intimidated. You will find that some of the people in your class will have experience and others won?t. The point is to level the playing field and give everyone a chance. You?ll find pictures of the first orientation held last weekend on page five. If you can?t make the meeting this Saturday, you can check our Community Bulletin Board for future dates, or just go to the VCAT website at www.vact27.org.

This day is made bittersweet by the sudden collapse and stroke suffered by Ursula Morgan-Kane during last week?s orientation. Ursula is one of the people who worked tirelessly in the past decade to make this day come to fruition. With her life hanging in the balance as I write this column, it is at least comforting to know that she enjoyed the applause and recognition from her colleagues at the class, for her hard work. Please keep Ursula and her family in your thoughts and prayers. I?m sure nothing would make her happier than to know that the next orientation class would be full of budding television producers ready to fill up the hours and days and weeks of programming ahead.

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