Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Public Cameras May Blink, Go Blind After 39 Years

Public Access TV “Channel Austin” facing loss of $450K cable budget as Time Warner, Grande move to statewide franchise agreements - Ho Hum, what else is new?

Austin – With three fully functioning studios, editing equipment that seats dozens, and a 39-year track record for providing this city's residents ready access to television broadcasting, Channel Austin is facing a budget crunch few organizations, if any, could surmount.

As of September 31, the two cable television providers that provide Austin's viewing public with 24-hour, can't-fail programming – some 80 to 120 hours of it weekly, independently produced with local content - will shift from a city franchise agreement to a statewide franchising scheme.

According to Linda Litowsky, executive director of the facility, which is located in a lovely setting next door to the library in East Austin's Boggy Creek Park, the operation will automatically lose $450,000 in operations funding formerly provided by the franchisees through an agreement first hammered out in 1972.

The equation back then was simple. To get the assent of the city dads in this university and state government hub on the cusp of the Hill Country, corporate types who wanted to wire the city for cable television had to give its citizens the privilege of ready access to the tube.

It's one of the few cities to adopt such an elaborate plan.

The building is crammed with millions of dollars worth of high definition broadcasting equipment. There is enough of it to license producers with the ability to put on live shows, pre-record presentations of anywhere from an hour's program to a full 16-week series, check out Macintosh editing equipment, high definition video cameras, or simply take classes to learn how to acquire all the tricks and professional skills it takes to get the job done.Every Monday evening, Training Director Karla Saldana holds an hour-long orientation and tour of the broadcasting studio to let prospective producers know all the procedures they must follow to get their show on the air.

“We never pre-screen the content,” she emphasizes. Producers who have been certified are expected to follow all the conventions of broadcasting, including strictures against obscenity, commercial programming, and libel. All that is taught just as if amateur producers were entering the professional world of commercial programming – which, in effect, they are.

It's just a public access to a commercial enterprise, using the city's territory to bring a public utility to its citizens.

Nevertheless, all the fundamental rules still apply in keeping Austin weird.

The cultural wars are in full swing, the atmosphere filled with all the traditional resentments attached to being hip versus square, long-haired as opposed to short and shorn, liberal versus conservative. No problem, at least to me, it's not. Looks like someone failed to get out the vote. So? I should worry?

After all, this is the venue for the final director's cut and editing of Robert Rodriguez's “Machete,” a Hispanic exploitation flick about a Mexican federale loose in Texas with a sharp blade and mission to set his people free from ICE, la migra and gringo exploitation.

A young man, a member of the staff with hair streaming to the middle of his back, accuses The Legendary of being a spy for some sinister and unspecified organization.

Aren't we all??”“Of course I am,” The Legendary replied. “I'm here to plot against ya', laddy.”

There is no reply and no chuckle, just a surly silence.

Boring. Rude. Silly. Tacky. Looks like that long hair sometimes just can't cover up that red neck. After all, it may be Austin, but it's still Texas. Hey, I ought to know. I'm from Oak Cliff. They make me show my Green Card to cross the Trinity into Big D. Highland Park? Fugeddaboudit!

Clearly, these folks are feeling beleaguered and pinched. So sorry.

A woman who appears to be of some influence, someone who never introduced herself, said, “You have to understand. This place is weirdo central.” Oh, now we're going to start calling people names? I'm a weirdo? Oh-kay!

In his own defense, The Legendary said, “Well, usually when I write an article about people, it's good ju ju. What's the problem

Oh, they don't open at 9 a.m., like most businesses. Noon is the designated starting time, she replied from a door held open just wide enough for her get her wary nose through the crack.

Who knew? Having invited me to come and do a write-up just days before, Ms. Litowsky leaves me standing in the parking lot. It looks like I did something wrong, but who knows what it was.

In the end, I am told by the receptionist that I may not take any of the offered classes or certification tests.

I am unwelcome. I could tell by the fact that the woman I wanted to interview stayed on her flip phone the whole time I was there. Five minutes? That's a long interview for me. Yeah. Whatever.

Oh, well, excuse me. Farewell and good luck, folks. Let's see how you do making the rate payers finance your operations at a half million bucks a year. Knock yourselves out. Have at it. Adios.

It's been real.

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