FATV, Your Neighborly Cable Access Station

By: Christian Buday

Photo courtesy FATV

How does having your own television program sound? And being able to do it for free? Just pull a group of your friends together and put some elbow grease into it and you can produce your own show right here in Fitchburg.
Fitchburg Cable Access Television is an independent, non-commercial, non-profit organization that produces programs for television. FATV is one of the most active public access television stations in the state and operates 53 hours a week. The purpose of FATV, like all access television, is to provide a voice for the public. The executive director of FATV, Scott May, states, “It’s not dissimilar to public television. Same kind of concept, but at a lower level.”
The station provides training and equipment facilities for the public and access to the airwaves where anyone can make their own programs. FATV’s building at 175 Kimball St. holds two studios (one for multiple and larger productions and the other for smaller productions); four editing suites; an equipment storage and checkout room; a studio control room; and a master control room.
Today, FATV provides a variety of programming. The most viewed are the public meetings that FATV offers live coverage for, such as school committee, city council and other government groups. In addition, FATV provides coverage of local events. The station has some international exposure because they provide access via the Internet with programs such as “Chess Chat” and Wachusett Chess Club’s competitions.
It takes a lot to set up a show for broadcasting, May says. “I think people who don’t do it would be surprised how labor intensive it is. It’s a lot of work,” says May. A variety of tasks need to be performed like setting up the cameras and the intercom system, pulling cables distances of 200 to 300 feet and getting everything powered up and ready to go before the broadcast begins. May estimates it takes about an hour and a half of prep time.
Photo courtesy “FATV”

Funding for FATV is simple. The station receives donations, but it’s a small part of the budget at about 1 to 2 percent of the budget. The majority of the funding, 99 percent, is through cable contracts that are negotiated by the city of Fitchburg with the cable providers Comcast and Verizon. The cable providers provide a percentage of the fees collected from customers’ subscriptions.
A wonderful program that exists is FATV’s partnership with Fitchburg State University. There is no monetary benefit for FATV as it does not receive money from FSU. “It’s not a financial partnership, we receive no funding. We consider it though a handshake that we’re partners,” May explained.
FATV does provide coverage of FSU events including football and other sports and graduation. Most likely, if you attend a Fitchburg event, you will see them on location broadcasting. They also provide internships for students that typically last a semester or a summer. FSU offers a course where “Students will donate 15 hours of volunteer time to FATV for hands-on experience in both studio and field production projects along with developing class projects for broadcast on FATV,” according to FATV’s website. Residents can volunteer at FATV but you need a membership to direct or have your own program. Students get a free membership, so stop on by.
While FATV has been successful, they have some challenges to solve. One of the biggest is finding a way to have a closer relationship with Fitchburg State University. FATV would like to be more accessible for FSU students rather than being a 30-minute walk. They want to encourage students to take advantage of the equipment and the studio. May indicated that “The board of directors is very intent on finding a location that will be more accessible for the students.”
Another challenge is staying up to date with technology. Technology is always making advances and FATV strives to not fall behind, “We all know how quickly technology changes in this industry,” commented May. However, they are careful what they purchase and often wait until a significantly better version comes out. “How many versions of the iPhone, you know? Every time you turn around, there is a new one,” joked May.
FATV is one of the biggest cable-access stations in the state and they always need help from the public. “90 percent of what we do is produced by volunteers,” says May. Volunteers are needed on a regular basis, with crews of up to seven or eight people. May says, “We have a great staff, all professional people, all hard-working people and people who love their jobs. So working is a lot of fun and we all love what we do so it makes it worth putting in the time.”
Sounds like a fun, supportive environment to try your hand at making your own show. For more information or to get started on your own program, visit the FATV website at www.fatv.org.