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IT MUST BE TRUE
Public Access Amtgard
[01/13/2005] [Glen]

“Akron schools provide most of the daytime programming on the station required by the cable company's contract with Akron, but anyone can submit tapes to fill other time slots.” –NBC4i.com

I was reading through a humorous article link on fark (www.fark.com) and I came across this quote. A light went on in my head. How could I not have thought of this? Why has no one taken advantage of it? Amtgard has overlooked one truly amazing recruitment mechanism: public access television. Public Access Television is free. Let me repeat that: Public Access Television is free. The cost of airing a video is the cost of a VHS tape and the time to fill out a form. There are no fees or lengthy bureaucratic hassles to go through to get a tape aired.

Unlike other mediums, where the slightly odd nature of Amtgard can cause resistance or reluctance if not downright refusal, public access is unregulated: there is no content restriction on cable public access, and only the standard FCC regulations apply to broadcast public access. Though the 1996 Cable Act allowed cable operators to refuse to transmit programs that contain obscenity, indecency, or nudity, the U.S. Supreme Court (in Denver Area Educational Telecommunications Consortium, Inc. v. FCC) stated that this level of control does not extend to public access channels and that public access channels may not be regulated or censored by the cable company. In short, if you provide it, they have to air it.

The rules for submitting appear to be fairly uniform in general, with minor variations on the details. The show must be submitted on a VHS or S-VHS tape. Some stations allow other formats as well, but all stations accept VHS and S-VHS formats. The tape should be recorded in SP (Standard Play) speed. This gives the best quality and is most likely to eliminate compatibility issues between the recorder and the station’s players.

All tapes need to have a lead-in section called a Tape Leader that allows the station to synchronize the video with its other programming. For some stations, this is nothing more than sixty seconds of black screen. Others require color bars, such as you see sometimes on stations that are going off the air, along with a continuous 0dB tone to synchronize the sound. Sometimes a ten-second countdown is needed after the Tape Leader, other times it is not.

All tapes also need a tape trailer, which is always sixty seconds of black screen with no sound. This is done so that the next program doesn’t pick up any garbage noise from the old program.

With some stations the specifications for tapes get excessively technical. The guidelines will talk about IRE, Chrominance, R.S. 170 standard, and other technical lingo. All this boils down to this: your video should not look or sound like crap. If it looks good, with adequate light levels and clear sound, the tape is fine.

The show itself should be 28 minutes, 58 minutes, or one hour and 58 minutes long. I can’t imagine an Amtgard video longer than 28 minutes, though. Most stations allow you to specify when you want the tape shown, and some allow you to schedule multiple showings.

The tape itself should be labeled with your name, a phone number, the total running time, the title of the program, and the title of the episode (if any).

A request form is also often needed, and this form can be downloaded from the station’s website. Most are a single page long. Once it is filled out it should be submitted with the tape. Often some form of proof of residency is also required, such as a photocopy of the submitter’s driver’s license. Public access is generally only for those who are in the service area of the station.

As a side benefit, some public access stations have their own video editing and recording equipment that you, as a concerned citizen, have a legal right to use. Sometimes there is a fee associated with using this equipment, sometimes there is not.

Contact your local station for specifics, as they tend to vary a bit from station to station. However, the above a general view of all that you need to have your video shown on Public Access Television.

Sites of Interest:
Minneapolis Television Network http://www.mtn.org/Video/flowchart/standalone.html
Time-Warner Cable – San Antonio http://www.twc-sa.com/PublicAffairs/CommunityProgramming/CommunityProgramming.asp
FCC Cable TV Factsheet http://www.fcc.gov/mb/facts/csgen.html
Community Television of Boulder http://www.commtv.org/
Community Cable Television of Albuquerque http://www.quote-unquote.org/
Dallas Community Television http://www.dctvdallas.org

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