Channel 6 heats up the Truckee airwaves
Like a lone fisherman rigging his line before casting into his secret spot on the water, Channel 6 Executive Director John Echols fiddles with some of the studio’s equipment as talk turns to the state of community-access television in Truckee.
“We want to tell people you could go out and film your hike, comeback and edit it, and show it on Channel 6,” Echols said after picking a topic at random. “There are so many topics and issues not being covered. Someone might want to get up there [on the set] and talk about development in the area … Or they might want to go out and show how it affects the area visually.”
Unlike the reclusive fisherman who feverishly guards his spot, Echols is eager to point out the station’s ability, even desire to accommodate more shows by more producers.
Not only can you do your own show, but Echols or Studio Manager Peter Fletcher will cut your worms and bait your hook, too.
“We provide the training and the equipment for people to [produce their own shows],” Echols said.
The discussion veers to possible photo ops, and Echols turns to the new Community Coordinator, Elena McCoy, who along with Fletcher and Echols makes up the sum total of the station’s paid staff, to find out what the chances would be next week.
“Next week, that’s a pretty thin schedule,” he mutters.
Forget About Off-season Specials
Nevermind the two-for-ones at local bars and restaurants or the 70-percent off sales for winter clothing, Channel 6 is the best year-round deal in town.
“We offer people access to expensive equipment that they otherwise couldn’t afford and provide the training,” McCoy said.
McCoy, who also works at a local public relations company, was recently brought on board to, among other things, get the word out about the untapped potential of the underutilized station.
“Right now people know about Channel 6, but they don’t know about all the opportunities,” she said.
Those opportunities start with a $25 yearly membership, which gives individuals or groups the access and training they need to use the station’s hand-held cameras, studio cameras and the equipment in the editing rooms.
“They get training on and use of the full facility,” Echols says. “Everything we have is available for $25 a year.”
A Show in the Life of Channel 6
The guest arrives, and host Maia Schneider clips a small microphone on his lapel as the lights above the set brighten just before countdown to airtime for the filming of the 118th edition (or maybe 120th, Schneider isn’t sure) of Truckee Talks.
A smooth introduction later and Schneider and guest Ed Gurowitz, an executive coach and member of the North Tahoe Hebrew Congregation, are talking about everything from what its like to coach prospect executives to the Arab-Israeli conflict.
But Schneider, who Echols calls a natural at interviewing, owes some of the show’s fluid delivery to the all-volunteer staff that is positioned throughout the studio. Or as Schneider calls them, “the ‘thank god they’re here’ part of the team.”
“I couldn’t have survived this long without these guys,” said Schneider, who has been doing the show for more than six years.
The in-studio, all-volunteer staff helping to produce the lastest edition of Truckee Talks includes Jack Davis and Hartley Lesser in the control room, and Brian Regalot, Todd Slezak, and Lesser’s wife, Patti, manning the studio’s camera.
“It takes a minimum of four [per show], but five is ideal,” McCoy said.
While the staff is unpaid, it isn’t precluded from having a good time, a benefit most evident in the control room.
Davis and Hartley take full advantage of the fact that only floor director Regalot and those manning the cameras can hear them.
They chastise Schneider for putting her hands on the table, tell floor director Regalot he is about to get the “old freeway salute” and when the guest asks for an extra two seconds for a plug, Davis tells him it would be better to just say goodnight.
The plug gets in anyway, and the show runs just over the 24-minute budget.
Truckee Talks is one of a dozen shows that are currently on Channel 6, a public, educational and government (PEG) channel.
“We are a mixture of all of those things,” Echols said.
The shows themselves operate under a loose network of in house-rules and federal regulations that allow for a freedom of expression found in few places outside of the ether-world of the Internet.
With 12 programs currently running and plans for more- and a minimum requirement of four volunteers per show – the staffing requirements can’t be overlooked.
Like just about any non-profit, community-based endeavor, Channel 6 doesn’t have the luxury of ignoring funding issues.
“We are always looking for financial support,” Echols said.
Currently, the station gets 40 cents per subscription to USA Media via the franchise agreement between the town and the company. That accounts for over half of the station’s annual income, with other slices of the funding pie coming from ads on the computerized bulletin board and two infomercials, Inside Truckee and Sierra Lifestyles.
Aside from those infomercials, there isn’t any commercial programming, though some shows are underwritten by businesses.
The station also takes in a nominal amount from the 30 to 40 annual memberships.
Echols said the station is considering fees for service, a new charge by the station for airing some of that meetings the Channel 6 currently does for free, like the Town Council meetings.
But in order reach its full potential, Echols thinks the stations needs more resources of the human variety.
“There is a dire need for more volunteers,” Echols said.
Past, Present and Future
Perhaps the best example of the diversity and potential of community access channel is from 5:50-to 6:10 p.m. the first and third Thursday of each month.
Over that 20-minute period, the Chris Show – a local kid’s show – winds down with the host, Chris Miller, waving bye to all the boys and girls in Truckee, and the live broadcast of the big kids, the Truckee Town Council, starts.
According to past surveys, Echols says, those are the two most popular shows on Channel 6.
After his call for volunteers, Echols turns to what he thinks is the most pressing question now facing Channel 6.
“What can we do that we aren’t doing now? How can we broaden the appeal?” he asks.
“The potential for public opinion is huge – We are visualizing a live call-in show.”
But Echols already knows that part of the answer to appealing to a wider range of the public is tied to the station’s recent past.
“During the [Martis] fire, I will brag about this now, we did a very, very good job,” Echols said.
He was referring to the station’s role during the fire in getting locally pertinent information out in an extremely timely manner.
“We had continuos scrolling updates. Sometimes they were updated every 10 minutes,” Echols said.
The station also aired a handful of live shows from town hall that included updates from officials of the various fire agencies that were fighting the blaze.
“People wanted to know where to go. It was a public service,” Echols said.
Out of the fire came an idea that has sparked interest among local emergency agencies.
A new CNN-like “presentation system”- the layout on the TV screen- will allow the agencies that buy the system unfettered access to the channel during emergencies.
“It’s function is to give emergency agencies the ability to get emergency information out,” Echols said.
While participating agencies will help pay for the system and have control of it during emergencies, Channel 6 will be able to use it the rest of the time.
“It’s going to be the look. It will have much more general community information,” Echols said.
While many of the specifics have yet to be determined, Echols sees everything from the day’s school lunch menu to group announcements.
The system provides a convenient metaphor for the station itself.
“The possibilities are endless,” Echols says of the new system.