Online Media: Community TV Comes Full Circle – Part I

Chris Brogan wrote an interesting post the other day that has really got me thinking. His thought about how to make it in this burgeoning world of online media:

” …it’s people who are figuring out the triangle, delivering something of quality, and are connecting targeted content to interested audiences.”

Hmmm. Sounds to me like Community Television to me. Over the next few blog posts I shall endeavour to explain.

Community Television. Public Access TV. Cable Access Programming. I’ve been involved in community television since I was about 10 years old. More than 27 years.

It started in the small town in which I grew up called Masset, on the Queen Charlotte Islands (Haida Gwaii). My Dad, along with some other townspeople, helped start a small (VERY small) community television station using some old leftover TV equipment. They hooked up a couple of cameras, an A/B switch, stuck a microphone on a table and went on the air. Kids from the community (me and my brother included) read community announcements. This community-based TV station was called Masset-Haida Television (MHTV) and it still exists today, last I heard, on Channel 13. Go to . See the blue station logo? That is the very logo my Dad designed back in 1979!

Our little TV channel covered everything that was happening around town. On Canada Day, my mom played roving reporter, my dad played cameraman and I helped carry equipment as we roamed around town catching all the festivities. When the Annual Miss Masset pageant took place, we were there, carrying it live for all the town residents to see. And every year at the end of November, we held a telethon, where this small town of just 1800 people would go on the air for 21 hours and raise over $25,000 each year for the Timmy’s Christmas Telethon. $25,000 was a lot of money in 1980.

My family was there for the very first telethon, held I think around 1980 or 81. My Mom worked in the accounting office. My Dad was the Director for the TV show. I was the number board girl, hanging white cardboard numbers on nails stuck in a piece of painted plywood. My brother was one of the on-air hosts. There was entertainment, and lots of it. Magicians, high school bands, clowns, comedians, we had it all. And every year the Haida dancers would come, at least 50 Haida men, women and children, and fill the community hall with their beautiful button blankets and incredible sounds and rhythms. Anyone who knows anything about Haida Gwaii knows that was something pretty special.

There were three phone operators taking donations, usually prominent people from the community, like the Mayor, the Fire Chief, and the RCMP constable. The old rotary phones they used would “rrrrrring” in the middle of the performances, but nobody cared. It meant people were tuning in, and it meant they were giving.

It was the ultimate in small town TV. It was no Jerry Lewis Telethon, but it was technically pretty darn good. But the most important thing? The whole town tuned in. And the whole town gave. It was interesting content delivered to a targeted audience (all those parents, cousins, aunts, uncles and friends of all those performers!)

Back in 1980, we had the triangle figured out. My family has long since moved on, but the people of Masset are still doing that telethon every year. 27 years and going strong, and hundreds of thousands of dollars raised for a great cause. I think Jerry Lewis would be impressed.

In part II of Online Media: Community TV Comes Full Circle, I’ll talk about my 7 years working for a community cable station and how the evolution of online media continues to bring me back to those roots.

Oh, Canada! My snowy, blustery Canada!
Online Media: Community TV Comes Full Circle – Part II



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