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Changing landscape for public access television in the Capital Region

 Channel Albany studio.
Channel Albany
Channel Albany studio.

Albany's community media operation is up for discussion Thursday evening.

Imagine sitting down in your living room, turning on the TV and watching a live broadcast of an Albany Common Council meeting via Spectrum cable. No Zoom software to download, no Facebook glitches to contend with, no password needed.

Keith Irish, a volunteer videographer for Channel Albany, says you could do just that, if the city of Albany controlled its own community media programming and scheduling.

"Right now, most of the channel operations are being handled by Schenectady community media operations," said Irish. "And Albany residents are actually paying them, going on four years now, to do what we should be doing internally, meaning doing our own scheduling of what's on it at different times of day, what's on the different channels, as well as the interface with the cable company. And by now, the new equipment that was needed could have almost been paid for by the money that's been going to Schenectady.”

Irish says Albany sends $10,000 annually to Schenectady, which prioritizes its own municipal programming, including live broadcasts of its city council meetings.

"People will try to say, you know, 'where are the Albany Common Council meetings?' Well, they're there," Irish said. "But basically, if you don't, if you aren't up at 4 o'clock in the morning when Schenectady feels like programming them, you don't see them. It depends on who's doing the scheduling, and who is uploading the programs. They have to be because the it's not being done in house, the program has to be uploaded to a cloud type of situation. And then somebody in Schenectady has to be made aware of it so they can download it. Supposedly the agreement was supposed to include what I would refer to as a roughly 50-50 mix of Schenectady programming and Albany programming. Well, that hasn't happened."

"I was the one, I don't know, 16, 15 years ago, who put a resolution in front of the council at the time because our public access dollars were not being spent on public access television in the city of Albany," Albany Common Council President Corey Ellis said. "And I put a resolution together which forced the council to put an ad hoc committee together to form Channel Albany. Just finding out through your investigative reporting that it's no longer in Albany, it's in Schenectady. And that's why our city council meetings are not shot live, while Schenectady's are, is very disappointing. Especially if we're paying for that service, we should get the exact same service that Schenectady City Council gets."

Irish notes that Channel Albany has a studio available for public use at the Albany Public Library's main branch on Washington Avenue. He argues Channel Albany should dissolve existing partnerships and seek out local community-based organizations like YouthFX to develop programming. Irish advises anyone interested in the future of the city's community media to watch 5:30 p.m. Thursday when the Albany Council's ad-hoc committee, "Public, Education and Government Access Oversight" meets. The session will be livestreamed on the Common Council's Facebook page.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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