We all pay just a little more attention to coverage of events we attended just in case we are On TV. But On TV usually happens somewhere else, somewhere we can’t reach. But there is something waiting to bridge that gap. Always there, often forgotten, occasionally awkward — it’s community television.
Community television exists because the CRTC (Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission) mandates that any reseller of cable signal, like Northwestel for instance, must give a certain amount of its gross revenue back to the community. There are two options. One is to contribute to a national funder of Canadian TV. The other is to fund a community television station.
In Whitehorse, Northwestel’s community station is channel 9 on your dial (dial, as if), and if in Yellowknife, channel 20.
When Northwestel wanted to revive their community TV station in 2009, Chris McNutt became its manager. With a permanent staff of two, Channel 9 needs to be flexible. Anyone, essentially, can walk in off the street and pitch an idea.
“We don’t really have a model, because every single instance is unique,” McNutt says. “And it all depends on the people, and the skills they have, and what they are willing to do or they don’t want to do.
“A lot of people are volunteering their time, so I can’t be a slave driver. I’m really working with people in whatever capacity they want, and we fill in the gaps.”
Anthony Trombetta and McNutt, along with Community TV Technician Dave Hamlen and eventual co-host Chris Ford, came up with the concept for In My Parents’ Basement. This show takes a look at the entertainment and technology that is central to nerd culture.
Trombetta was comfortable being on screen, but was less adept at the technical aspects of television. There was some teaching to be done.
“Chris [McNutt] isn’t really a nerd himself, but he was acting as an executive producer and sort of laid it out,” says Trombetta. “He was giving us an idea of how to put the show together. Chris and Dave were just so eager to teach, because right now they’re running around doing everything on their own. As we were doing each show, we learned some stuff here and there but initially we were just flying by the seat of our pants. They have all the stuff and all the gear and they just make it so easy, how could you not?”
For Trombetta, the show provides an outlet for an interest he hadn’t been able to celebrate properly.
“This is a pretty nerdy town and I’ve never had an opportunity to talk out loud about this stuff and gush,” he says. “Not to necessarily come out of the basement, but at least from the sanctity of our basements to talk to each other and nerd out. I thought it was high time to let our nerd flags fly.”
As Channel 9 tries to build a following and an identity, the broadcast media landscape is shifting rapidly. Widespread access to high-definition cameras, and a means of dissemination (read: YouTube), means that more people are generating more content of higher quality. The rise of video-streaming services is also changing the dynamic between television and the internet.
“You go back in time 30 years, there were 13 channels on the dial and one of them was the community channel,” says McNutt. “A lot different than the 200 to 300 channels on that dial, and one of them is the community channel. It took us a while to get programming, and it took us a while to get interest, because it hadn’t been much of a relevant factor outside, well, city council’s always been on Monday night and Radio-TV Bingo on Friday night, but as far as other programming, there had been a dearth.”
Channel 9 is making headway. They were one of the primary outlets for the Arctic Winter Games in 2012 and with North of Ordinary, their local stories program, a revamped In My Parent’s Basement, and community TV standards like city council and bingo, the line-up is growing.
McNutt is not blind to the challenges of television, however.
“I think TV as a separate entity is going to disappear,” he says. “A few years from now you’re going to go online to watch everything, but you’re not going to go to a separate box with a separate receiver to watch it.”
Still, McNutt and Trombetta each see community television, in whatever form it eventually takes, as an important ligature for people.
“This is totally open to anyone to walk in the door and produce their own TV show which makes it more immediately interesting to the community,” says Trombetta.
Ultimately, McNutt believes that community TV will help anchor community and geography at a point in time when our communities are becoming less tied to physical locations.
“What we are able to do is now kind of unique,” he says. “Community is shifting. It used to mean the people on your street, your neighbours. But with online tools like Facebook, people are more connected and concerned with their old school friends. With this, you make a video and sure your friends see it, but maybe the guy down the street who you didn’t know was watching your thing as well, and now he’s part of the discussion.”