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June 27, 2022

Lights, camera – reaction!

Cable access programs lining up to shake the status quo
Want to publicly needle a certain mayor for taking photos of sex
club patrons, blast a certain councilman for getting a sewer fine
doubled, or tell jokes to the masses?
Now’s the chance.
Cable access programs lining up to shake the status quo

Want to publicly needle a certain mayor for taking photos of sex club patrons, blast a certain councilman for getting a sewer fine doubled, or tell jokes to the masses?

Now’s the chance.

With more than $700,000 in new production equipment and a staff of five, local community access TV will become reality this December, after more than five years of talks, planning and negotiations.

In early December, Charter Communications subscribers in the cities of Hollister, San Juan Bautista and Gilroy will get their first taste of what public access TV means: activists with pet causes, religious sermons and even a homemade comedy show.

By then the non-profit Community Media Access Partnership will have channels 17, 18, 19 and 20 dedicated to public use up and running. But if any one of them will make people’s jaws drop, it’s going to be channel 20, which is reserved exclusively for broadcasts of shows produced by amateurs. The other three stations will be reserved for government functions, Gavilan College, and public education respectively.

How successful CMAP is will depend on how creative its users are, so there are few caps on imagination, said Suzanne St. John, who is CMAP’s executive director.

“As long as it’s legal and it’s not unprotected speech,” she said.

At a Santa Cruz public access station, where St. John once worked, the mayor hosted a show before city government meetings called Council News and Blues, where he played the guitar and gave a roundup of the night’s political topics.

Another popular show St. John worked on was called the Green Room, which was a teen call-in show, where topics such as role models, drugs and teen curfews were discussed.

In that creative spirit, a crew of Hollister slow-growth activists known as WATCHDOG are brainstorming all sorts of ideas for public access TV, according Producer J.J. Vogel. This may include airing political dirty laundry and bringing on the animal shelter’s pet of the week as a guest.

“If we can pull this off this is going to be very interesting,” he said.

Vogel’s group wants to do live broadcasts from the studio and even have a few minutes for Eva’s Corner, where the politically active Eva Reyna, who has attended Hollister City Council meetings for 30 years, will give a sort of Andy Rooney take on Hollister at the end of each show, he said. Vogel said he and co-producers Paul Grannis and Tras Berg were also thinking of making lifelike dummies of some politicians to put in the background.

And if somebody doesn’t like Vogel’s message, well, they can exercise their right to free speech, St. John said.

“We put all the liability on the producers. If somebody started complaining I would encourage them to start their own program,” she said. “It’s about having balance in the programming.”

But CMAP provides more than just a venue for community programming, according to Larry Cain, who is the city manager for San Juan Bautista and a member of CMAP’s board of directors.

San Juan Bautista officials are putting together a five- to eight-minute video program using CMAP’s staff and equipment on the city’s historical significance and dire infrastructure needs. The video will then be shown at a Dec. 4 meeting in Seattle with officials from the federal Economic Development Administration.

The EDA has already given San Juan Bautista $750,000 to upgrade its water infrastructure, but city officials want to properly convey their needs when they ask for an additional $3.8 million, Cain said.

“We’re just having one of (CMAP’s) workers put it together,” Cain said.

The program will cost city taxpayers a few hundred dollars, he said. Eventually San Bautista’s City Council meetings will be broadcast live for the first time when the stations are up and running, he said. Charter piped fiber optic lines to the library, the community hall and even Anzar High School, he said.

As part of its effort to attract would-be producers from Gilroy, Hollister and San Juan Bautista, CMAP will hold workshops on how to handle the equipment, from VCR basics to working a three-chip digital video camera. There are tricky logistics to teach, such as getting seven people to run a live studio shoot, manning a teleprompter, or doing outside, location filming.

And it is precisely the potential educational value of public access TV that has Gilroy Unified School District Superintendent Edwin Diaz so enthusiastic.

“I’m kind of excited about it,” Diaz said. “We haven’t really planned out what sort of programs we’ll be having.”

Diaz said public access TV could further the goals of public education in all sorts of ways: teaching kids how to use communications equipment, televising sporting events and even putting on programs designed to show parents how their kids are learning a certain subject.

At Gavilan College, Morgan Hill Student Ruston McDonald, whose goal is to be a news weatherman one day, will host his first TV show.

“I’m kind of a weather nerd to be honest,” he said. “I love clouds.”

Since there was an opening in sports broadcasting, McDonald tried out for the position. To this end, he sat in a room with St. John and watched a tape of a 1994 match up between the Georgia Bulldogs and Clemson Tigers.

Before he knew it, McDonald was screaming out play after play, and come November, he will begin hosting all of Gavilan College’s sporting events, which will be shown live by December, he said.

“This anticipation is killing me,” he said.

There will even be religious programs. Reverend Weyman Thomas of Romine ministries, a Christian evangelical organization, is planning a show called Life-Changing Word. Thomas wants religious leaders from all over the community to talk about what’s happening within the different congregations.

“The whole idea is to inform the community about what’s happening within the community of churches,” he said.

CMAP became possible because of the federal Cable Act of 1984, which gives cities the authority to bargain for public access television, but it was essentially up to them to make it happen, she said.

“It’s not an easy thing to start,” she said.

CMAP received startup funds from Charter as part of a written agreement with all three cities. The same agreement will also provide the non-profit with roughly $320,000 in operating funds each year. St. John said some people couldn’t believe it when there was enough money to hire her in August 2001 as the executive director.

They’re not the only ones pumped up for public access TV. Vogel said members of his group have felt constrained from giving their full views during council meetings because of a two-minute time limit, and he is looking forward to giving a wider audience and the council a piece of his mind.

“Since I’ve been starting this thing my main thing has been to wake people up,” he said. “They’re not going to be able to shut us up anymore.”

For more information about CMAP call 408-846-4983 or visit them at Anyone interested in volunteering to help out with WATCHDOG’s program can call 813-750-5514.

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