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The GOOD Guide to Better Neighborhoods: Get on Community Access Television


No offense to preachers and underground rappers everywhere, but imagine if public access television was also peppered with shows by people with useful skills they wanted to share with their neighbors? Skills like how to grow your own hydroponic tomatoes, or how to fix your leaky toilet without calling a plumber? Here’s how to do it.

Figure out who runs the stations in your area

Some channels are run by grassroots organizations, others by municipal government. Once you’ve determined who has the keys to the castle, check out their criteria. Some are first-come, first-served, others charge a nominal fee for a slot. Global Village CAT has an online list of stations nationwide.
Respect the station’s ethos

If the channel has nothing but church programming, a show about glass-blowing marijuana pipes might be a tough sell, whereas a show teaching kids how to finger paint might be more welcomed. Involving your community in the show is another good way to go. Is there a local group with ties to the station that you can partner with?
Have a good idea

This goes without saying, but give it some serious thought. What would you want to learn? What skills do you have that you can share? And once you’ve decided on something—make sure it makes for decent TV.
Get organized

A lot of these stations have shows grandfathered in, and you’re going to want to have a tight proposal if you want break the mold. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t get on right away, though. Find a good angle, put together a proposal, and pitch it in as many ways as it takes.
Find someone who actually knows how to use a camera

Low-fi is charming, but decent production value will go a long way. Post on Craigslist or ask your friends for a recommendation. Some cities also have organizations where filmmakers will shoot things pro bono if they believe in the cause. Some stations have studios you can use for free. If yours doesn’t, finding a location other than your living room is advisable.
Spread the word

Once you’ve landed the coveted spot, you need to get the word out. If your friends are not the types to normally watch public-access TV, alert them by tweeting about it and announcing it on Facebook, and host a viewing party with people who live in your area.
Make a good show

This is the most important thing, obviously. Make sure it speaks not just to your clique, but to the community at large. Make it useful, make it funny, and most of all, make it fun to watch.

Illustration by Trevor Burks.

This article first appeared in The GOOD Guide to Better Neighborhoods. You can read more of the guide here, or you can read more of the GOOD Neighborhoods Issue here.

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