Thanks to our democratic tradition of promoting free speech, at 8pm on Monday February 20th, the first episode of “Playscale Crafting with Limbé Dolls” will air on People TV (Fulton County channel 24) as a half hour special.
People TV is the cable access station supported by franchise fees that cable providers pay to the City of Atlanta. Cable access stations were originally created to enable members of the public to access television broadcasting facilities so that they could air their views before a mass audience. Before the days of You Tube, most private citizens could never hope to purchase airtime on a commercial broadcast network. Local broadcast news could not cover all the issues that were relevant to local communities, so cable access provided a way for individuals and non-profit organizations to communicate with a general audience.
Cable access stations typically make recording and editing equipment available to residents of the local community. They allow local producers to broadcast original content by assigning airtime on a first come, first serve basis, and they frequently provide free or low cost training for residents of the municipality that has contracted with the cable television provider. People TV has trained many Fulton County residents who went on to pursue professional careers in the television and film industry. Ru Paul started his career as a television personality on People TV.
In recent years, cable access stations have faced challenges from many directions. Cable companies do not like giving up channels that they could use to increase their profits. They have mounted legal opposition to legislation intended to mandate funding for Public, Educational, and Government channels as part of cable franchising agreements. The low cost of digital video equipment and the increasing capacity to stream video over broadband internet connections has influenced many aspiring producers to distribute their content on-line rather than through traditional broadcast media. Thus, some of the most innovative programming is now streaming from You Tube, Vimeo, or other web-streaming sites rather than appearing on local cable access stations, which have a harder time sustaining and increasing their audience base as a result.
Now that anyone can shoot a video with a cell phone and upload it to You Tube, the arguments for supporting cable access stations as free speech zones seems less compelling. Under the current economic crunch, many municipalities like the City of Atlanta stopped setting aside the franchising fees they received from cable providers to support cable access and incorporated those funds into the general revenue pool instead. People TV in Atlanta was on the brink of shutting down at the end of 2011, but strong citizen support for the station persuaded city council members to allocate funds to continue operations at least through 2012.
After taking a series of classes which cost less than one three credit course in a television production degree program would have cost me, I received my producer certification from People TV in 2008. One of my teachers, Jae Foster was an especially inspiring mentor. His advice helped me complete “When A House Is Not A Home,” a half hour documentary on mortgage fraud in Atlanta’s historic West End district. In July 2008, a seven-minute excerpt from this documentary was screened in federal court at the sentencing of Kevin Wiggins, a felon convicted on over 80 counts of mortgage fraud. The prosecutor used the documentary to show how Wiggins’ crimes had impacted the community as well as the banks. Thus I was able to put my training in producing community television to good use.
I am deeply thankful that People TV will remain open through 2012 as I work to develop a full season (thirteen episodes) of educational programming. The fact that I have no sponsors for “Playscale Crafting” actually allows me a greater opportunity to exercise my right to free speech. I write, shoot, edit, and perform in each show with no-one to tell me what I can or can’t say for fear of alienating sponsors or the viewers they want to reach. Even if no-one watches, the experience of creating shows that meet the technical standards of broadcast television will be an invaluable learning experience. This tutorial on making “Salt Dough Fruit” will appear in the first show: