Air Power for Liberty: Public Access Television
by Alfred A. Hambidge, Jr.
There are many ways to promote Liberty. You can support pro-Liberty organizations, write to your congresscritters, submit letters to the editors of local newspapers, and make calls to talk radio shows. Also, you can produce a television show.
You're probably saying "What? Are you nuts, Al? That takes money, sponsors, connections, access to a major network and professional facilities, and know how. There's no way I can make a TV show!" Leaving aside the question of my sanity, there is a way for you to make a TV show, and it's called Public Access (or Local Access) programming. And it should cost you no more than your time and the price of video tapes. Many Cable TV systems, as a condition for acquiring the local service monopoly, are required by law to provide a studio, equipment, and guidance to members of the community served by their franchise. What this means is that you can get the training and facilities needed to make a TV show that will air on the local access channel of your Cable TV provider.
My friend Wildey Moore (as in .475 Wildey Magnum, http://www.wildeyguns.com) and I have been producing and hosting a weekly public access program for just about four years. How it all came about is a story unto itself; I won't bore you with that now. It has been an invigorating, infuriating, exciting, exasperating, enlightening, and enjoyable experience.
The details on how to go about producing your own local access program will vary from one cable franchise to another, but will probably go something like this. You contact your local cable TV provider and say you are interested in doing a Public Access program. Ask to speak with the Public Access Coordinator. That is the person is responsible for the public access facilities and programming, and she can tell you what you need to do to get started. It may be as simple as getting a few nights worth of instruction in the local access studio.
After you complete the preliminary training, you will probably be asked to sign an agreement which states the ground rules. The first rule is that the programming must be non-commercial. In other words, you cannot use the local access facilities to make or air programs which would benefit you financially, or accept any money from sponsors, or promote any products or services. Another major rule forbids obscene material. Now don't ask me to define obscene. But you probably won't be allowed to air a dramatic re-enactment of Bill and Monica's Blue Dress Afternoon, despite the political implications. You will also agree to follow the rules regarding scheduling of studio time, equipment use, and when the program will be broadcast. There will probably be other rules or restrictions, depending on the cable company.
You will also have to provide the access coordinator with the purpose of and a name for your show. Wil and I wanted to do a show which looked at current events from a historical perspective - "where we came from, where we are, how we got here, and where it looks like we may be going." Since comparing and contrasting modern political philosophy with that of the Framers of our Constitution would be a major premise for our show, we thought long and hard about a name. Finally, Wil's wife Linda said, "why not 'We the People'?" We liked it. We took it. Incredibly original, wouldn't you say?
You may need to cajole one or more friends into working the cameras and handling all the equipment in the control room. One will be the Technical Director, who works the control room, switching between cameras, setting audio levels, and generally making sure what needs to be done is done. (Often, the access coordinator will be there to oversee and assist should the Technical Director get flummoxed.) At first, the access coordinator did all this for our show. After some time, the Powers That Be changed The Rules, and we had to bring in someone to be Technical Director. So, we threatened, err, persuaded our friend Dale Pixley to do the job, by pointing out how interesting and exciting it would be. We didn't mention the frustration and aggravation part of it. Now, after a couple of years, he's come to realize that he has the power to make us look rather good, or really, really bad. So now we have to treat him with some respect. Sometimes.
After four years of doing a weekly show, there are a few bits of advice that we can share with aspiring producers:
Team up with a co-host. Doing a show alone is difficult, unless you're really talkative and can keep things flowing all by yourself. When we started out, I knew that Wil was a better public speaker and more talkative than I was. So I became the main researcher, supplying the facts and figures, and he provided the commentary and pontificating. It works for us.
Avoid doing anything longer than a 30 minute show. Remember how short attention spans can be. And besides, it's twice the work to do a one hour show each week. You'll quickly tire of that.
Have an idea of what you want to say, and do your homework. Bring notes, and don't be afraid to refer to them. It's hard to convince people when you don't have the facts, and there's nothing like being in front of a camera to make you forget everything you know.
Tape a couple of shows at a time. It can be a logistical nightmare to get everybody together in one place at the same time. By doing two shows at a time, you only have to get together twice a month. Even so, there will be times when someone can't make it. That's what re-runs are for.
Do it "Live to Tape." Multiple takes and post-production editing is very time consuming. It's a lot easier if you just start the tape rolling and keep going until you get the cue that your time is up. Let them see you warts and all.
Relax. Easy to say, I know. At first, I would get tongue-tied and have that deer-in-the-headlights look whenever I tried to look into the camera. So I didn't. I began thinking of it as just a conversation between me and Wil, and forgot about the cameras. I finally started to feel more at ease. Now, I can look into the camera and almost finish a complete, coherent sentence. Practice makes better, if not perfect.
Let people know how to contact you. Mentioning a snailmail and email address, fax and phone number where you can be contacted lets people know you are real. (You might want to use a P.O. Box instead of your home address and a phone number different from the one the rest of the family uses, on the outside chance that you hit a raw nerve with someone who wants to cuss you out.) Add a graphic overlay on the screen with that information, and run it a couple of times during the program. We take a short break about halfway through the show to put up the contact information, and put it up again at the end. If you can, put up a web site that gives some background about your show, like our hastily constructed and long neglected excuse for a home page at
Keep a sense of humor. Things will go wrong. Microphones give up, you forget what you were going to say, the list is endless and ever changing. Sometimes you don't notice it until the show airs. Once, when copying the 3/4 inch master onto the 1/2 inch VHS tape used for airing the show, someone forgot to plug in the audio dub. So there we were, video from one show, and audio from another. Quite an effect, like a badly dubbed foreign film. Murphy loves to hang out with us.
Dress nice. While a three piece suit isn't necessary, at least wear something on the order of business casual. Camo is a no-no, unless you want to perpetuate the myth of the RWWGN (Right-Wing Wacko Gun Nut). Show your audience that you respect them enough to get spruced up a bit.
Be nice, or at least try. It's easy to hurl invective, but for most people that gets old fast. And while playing clever name games about some politician is amusing, you look childish doing it. Also, avoid things like referring to Bill Clinton as "William the Red, that worthless piece of human waste." We've been working with Wil on that; he's making progress.
Accept criticism graciously, and advice gratefully. Listen especially to advice from the access coordinators. These folks will likely be educated in the broadcast arts and sciences. Heed them.
And finally, don't take yourself too seriously and Don't Become Full Of Yourself. Liberty is not about people or
personalities; it's about Ideas. Also, expect to receive some ribbing, like "Hey, Al, want to know how you can make your show more interesting? Add commercials."
So, if you have a passion for Liberty, and want a fascinating, fulfilling way to share it with others, think about making a Public Access cable television program. You will be able to discuss issues and present ideas that get little attention from the "professionals." While it can be a lot of work, the rewards are worth it. And if it gets a few people to think, it will have succeeded.
We are so glad to dropped in and
started sharing yourself at KeepAndBearArms.com. Your jumping in on Operation
Bodyguard was great, and so is this. In fact, here is an offer: take
your technical flummoxation to the next level, turn your show into a web video,
and we'll start running it on this website. Let's webcast you and Wil,
ASAP. You just got web-syndicated, worldwide. (Surely one of those
friendly, federally-mandated gurus at the station can help, right?)
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