Berkeley Community Media is finally able to send its old equipment the way of carbon paper, floppy disks, wooden tennis racquets and 1,200-baud modems. In a long-awaited move, Berkeley-TV Channel 25 has landed a bevy of new cameras and computers, making the painstaking process of linear editing a thing of the past.
“You can take film from VHS or digital cameras, upload the information into the computer, and edit it any which way you want,” explains BCM Access Coordinator John Dalton of the Final Cut Pro program running on one of the station’s two new Macintosh G4 computers. “With linear editing once you laid down your video you couldn’t insert something in the middle without doing everything over. Now you can cut and paste, jump around, add special effects, lighting, graphic information, even animations of some sort. You can move around the information on the hard drive, and the finished project streams out onto a video tape. This is a giant step for us.”
In addition to the sleek new computers, B-TV also boasts four new digital camcorders, each a fraction of the size and weight of the station’s old VHS fare. In addition to being tiny enough to store in a cargo pants pocket, the digital cameras take higher quality pictures, are easier to use, and, being digital after all, spawn tapes that don’t degenerate in quality with each successive copying.
While the new technology will certainly make it easier for the station to undertake its everyday activities, Executive Director Brian Scott is hoping to vastly expand BCM’s role. To start with, he’d like another couple of channels to broadcast on.
“Right now we show City Council meetings, Berkeley Unified School District meetings and Rent Stabilization Board Meetings,” says Scott. “What I’d like to see is the station not only showing those meetings but also the Zoning Committee, the Planning Commission and other city organizations that would be able to have shows. And I’d also like to see a monthly program communicating to the public what’s taken place in the previous two or three council meetings so people can get a clear idea of what’s going in their government.
“I’d like to get a second channel for government access,” continues Scott. “Right now it’s very frustrating trying to program the station around meetings that come every other week, sometimes once a month, sometimes not at all. We can’t really get any consistent programming.”
With government television on its own channel, B-TV would dive into aggressive outreach into local schools, nonprofits and the community-at-large with the goal of generating a third channel within a year.
“The public, education and government – each entity needs a separate voice,” says Scott. “It’s an overused phrase, but we have to bridge the digital divide. We have to bring people in rather than waiting for people sitting at home to get out of their chairs and come out to us. The more information you give people, the better.”
Some of Scott’s most intriguing outreach plans focus on Berkeley’s schools. School events such as elections, plays and Berkeley High jazz band concerts could all be filmed and broadcast on BCM’s education channel. Students could participate in shows emphasizing their schoolwork. Scott uses Longfellow Middle School’s web design class as an example, pointing out that the students could put on a weekly call-in show highlighting their homework.
Scott’s expansion plans would not be free, however. BCM’s programming is run by a mammoth computer known as the Head End, a massive juxtaposition of computers and 13 VCRs programmed with B-TV’s schedule. In addition to aiming for an upgrade from analogue to digital Head Ends, two new channels would require two new devices.
BCM is funded by the city, which in turn receives money from AT&T via franchise taxes collected from cable television users. BCM’s franchise agreement with AT&T signed in the early 1990s stated that the cable provider might reconsider the amount of funding it pays toward community access television if it benefited from any additional technology. Scott hopes AT&T’s diversification and growth since the early ’90s translate into more funding.
“It comes down to if AT&T is making more money now, then the city should be making more money now,” says Scott. “Once we open up that accessibility more people will come in here.”