Photo by Erika Fleegle
Pittsburgh Community Television in Manchester allows residents the chance to create programming.
By Erika Fleegle
In today’s age of modern media complete with streaming services and apps immediately delivering daily news to whatever screen we choose it could be argued that public access television is going out of style.
Pittsburgh Community Television (PCTV) in Manchester is proving that argument wrong.
Following the FCC’s deregulation of media ownership in the early 1980s, Pittsburgh’s local access television station was collectively broadcasted from five separate stations. Today, those five stations have consolidated in to its current location on Western Avenue; the home of PCTV. Recently, the station’s space has undergone major renovations, making for more professional, diverse programming.
“In the beginning, there was a lot of grassroots political activism,” Special Projects Director Carl Cimini said of the early days of the station. “Over the years, it evolved and changed into a broader audience and a broader group of producers.”
The station has reached out to local residents and nonprofits in hopes to create original content. The station now boasts six original programs, including religious programming, a sports talk show and an indie film forum.
“So far the community response has been great,” he said. “People use it as part of their marketing.”
PCTV also functioned as a form of marketing for the Deutschtown Music Festival that took place only a week ago. For the first time ever, the station hosted a live remote broadcast for five hours of the day’s festivities. Next year, they plan to broadcast several more hours of concerts.
Exposure isn’t the only way PCTV services the community. In addition to allowing community members to become producers of their own shows, PCTV offers internships for college students in communication-related fields as well as volunteering opportunities, classes, and workshops in copyright, video editing, Adobe Final Cut Pro and field editing. Summer camps for children are also available in which kids are taught the basics of camera operation and by the end of the week are able to produce their own PSA fit for broadcasting.
Executive Director John Patterson shed a little more light on one of the station’s more recent renovation.
Since the stations were consolidated and relocation was next to impossible, the station worked closely with the Northside Community Development Fund to design spaces more conducive to creating quality programming. Now, seven months later, instead of awkward spaces and a cluttered storage room, PCTV’s hub now hosts polished front offices, an editing lab, an equipment room, classrooms, a future dressing room and two separate green-screen-style studios prepared for shooting.
All of these renovations, however, would mean nothing if it weren’t for the community and PCTV staff working together.
For Cimini, the most rewarding part of working in public television is giving back to the public. Having worked in documentary film and owned his own production company for 10 years, he notes that, “you never get tired of doing something you really love.”
“The idea of being able to help people in the community get the word out for themselves, that’s a very valuable thing for them and for their organizations,” he said. “It’s important that our content stays community-oriented.”
Like Cimini, Patterson also notes that the most rewarding part of being involved in public access television is the impact that can be seen within the community.
“Something really wonderful happens when people find new ways to communicate,” he said. “It can be anyone who’s struggling with a community issue or it can be someone who just wants to come in and express themselves.”
Over the last four years, Cimini noted that there’s been an interesting shift in attitudes toward public access television.
“People are realizing that it’s valuable, but also that it can be fun,” he said, likening it to the early days of Wayne’s World and comedian Zach Galifianakis’s Between Two Ferns series.
“What happens is that people are looking at cable access as fun and goofy, and there’s good stuff you can do there. People are looking at it as grassroots, and when done right, it’s a powerful thing.”
In a way, PCTV occupies a space as a media underdog. While top news networks and syndicated sitcoms compete for the highest ratings, public access television is a welcome change from the same cookie-cutter plot points we watch every day because of its appeal to and inclusion of area residents.
“When one of our programs pop up on screen, they think, ‘Hey, that looks like my neighbor! Oh my God, that is my neighbor!’” Cimini said.
It’s this neighborly attitude that keeps PCTV and the community in perfect harmony.
To see all the programming PCTV has to offer, tune in to channel 21 (for Comcast customers), channel 47 (for Verizon customers), or watch online at the official website.
Local youth participated in a summer program at the station.