Public access television—famously skewered on Saturday Night Live and elsewhere—is no joke in one western Massachusetts community.
When the newly formed Focus Springfield Community Television officially unveiled a brand new $1 million state-of-the-art programming facility on the ground floor of one of the city’s most historic buildings, dozens of local dignitaries took part in the grand opening.
The region’s Congressman and the city’s mayor helped cut the ceremonial ribbon to open the 7,000- square foot center from which three public access channels originate.
Congressman Richard Neal lauded public access television as a vital part of participatory democracy.
" The emphasis is on the term community and that means hearing and airing all sorts of opinions. In the time of the 24-hour news cycle having longer conversations about events would be a good idea for all of us."
The new public access television hub includes professional grade digital video and audio equipment, five editing suites, a modern control room, a “green room” for guests, and a studio with space to seat up to 100 people for performances, town hall-style meetings or political debates.
The operation is funded with about $800,000 annually from the city’s cable television contract with Comcast. A new 10-year contract was signed in 2012.
Station Manager Stephen Cary, one of four paid staffers, said familiar programming such as city council and school committee meetings will continue, along with the staples of public access – the talk and religious shows. He said Focus Springfield plans to develop its own programming.
" We are really excited to find people with good stories and see little threads of life that go on in the city that often don't get any exposure. And that is the biggest thing we are excited about is to let those stories be told and teach people and give them the digital tools to share those stories."
Springfield residents who want to produce local programming can take how-to classes at no charge and receive some mentoring from the Focus Springfield staff.
Ayanna Crawford, a teacher in the Springfield public schools, said she’s been recording an interview show and distributing it on YouTube for a couple of years, and now plans to bring the production to the new public access studios in front of a live audience.
" I am taking a leap of faith. Living out a dream. I've also wanted to produce a show that reflects the positive things in this beautiful city I was born and raised in."
Public access television debuted in Springfield in 1980 at facilities housed in the downtown offices of Continental Cablevision. Mayor Domenic Sarno remembers those early days.
" We were hanging out the fifth floor window of Continental Cablevision on Main Street in the South End televising the annual Columbus Day parade. We've come a long way to this state-of-the-art studio here."
The new studio is on the ground floor of an eight-story office building that was built by MassMutual as their home office in 1908. The space had been vacant for a number of years.
There are 15-foot high windows in the new facility that look out at the intersection of Main and State Streets and allow passersby to look in. The lobby includes a gallery for multi-media displays.