• by Sarah Teach •
Think your friend is the next Julia Child and would excel at hosting a weekly cooking show? Interested in broadcasting Whalers games complete with your very own sports commentary? Want to offer Nantucket a demonstration of you doing what you do best? Nantucket Community Television (NCTV) is the island’s newest creative hub, a free space that is open to all islanders who are interested in the increasingly prolific expressive outlet that is video. Have an idea brewing for a video you’d like to make? Stop by NCTV to talk about it with the station’s film professionals, and you will be provided with the resources to make your TV dream come to life on Channel 18.
The first NCTV seeds were sprinkled in 1999, when islander Gene Mahon decided to film his interviews with Board of Selectmen candidates prior to an upcoming election. Mahon says, “I asked them all the same series of questions. One candidate had a very powerful and moving answer to one of my questions. In the editing room, I realized that if I positioned that as the last answer, people would be so moved that they would vote for him.” Ultimately, Mahon opted not to wield that influence, and instead arranged the answers alphabetically by the candidates’ last names. “But that,” Mahon says, “was when I fully realized the power of television.” At that time, only two Nantucket TV channels—including Mahon’s Nantucket TV—existed. To Mahon, that was an unfair concentration of power, and he yearned to see all islanders possess the same opportunity to create TV capable of impacting viewers. He became determined to bring public access television to the island.
Starting Nantucket’s first public access channel wasn’t all sunshine and daffodils. Mahon says the initial challenge in launching NCTV was to express the importance of a public access station to the Nantucket Board of Selectmen. Not everyone understood the difference between a for-profit TV station and nonprofit community television. Another impediment was public outcry from islanders who were concerned about “objectionable content” getting aired on the channel. After all, per Federal Communications Commission regulations, public television is uncensored and open to all. To top it off, Mahon notes significant contract negotiation issues with Comcast, from whose profits a small percentage is legally designated for the funding of a community channel. (Requiring a local cable provider to provide funding for community channels is a nationwide practice that was put into place by the Cable Communications Policy Act of 1984. See FCC.gov for complete details.) Mahon says that negotiating with Comcast took several years longer than it should have. Although facing adversity from many angles, Mahon and his team of free speech supporters could not be swayed. Finally, a December 2010 vote by the Selectmen officially approbated Nantucket Community Television. It may have been a messy birth, but the baby is beautiful.
Today, Mahon serves as President of NCTV’s seven-seat board of directors, which includes Rick Atherton, Susan Beaumont, Jason Bridges, Dick Herman, Bill Manchester, and Bob Thompson. In October of 2011, the board hired Executive Director Jeff Tocci, who holds a degree from James Madison University in Media Arts & Design with a concentration in Digital Video. Tocci immediately began to transform the barren office building at 15 North Beach Street into the lively studio space that it is today, complete with green screen capability and an arsenal of professional video equipment that is able to make media to match what we see on high-definition television. Best of all, everything is open for Nantucket residents to use.
Community TV stations are often referred to as PEG stations, an acronym that means public access, education and government. Since, of course, most people don’t know how to film, edit or direct, a public access TV station exists in part to teach you everything you need to know about creating your own video. Once you become a member of the station for a small fee of $35 a year, you can be trained to use a piece of equipment you see at the station, and then borrow it when you need it. You, the creator, maintain all ownership and rights to everything you make. After the finished product has aired on NCTV at least once, you are free to do anything you please with your footage. “Education,” says Tocci, “is definitely the most gratifying component of PEG.” Tocci beams as he talks about NCTV’s involvement in the Nantucket High School (NHS) School To Career program, which allows NHS students to earn graduation credit by working in fields of their choice. Seventeen-year-old Ben Daniels chose video production, and ended up spending weekday afternoons of his senior year learning at NCTV. Tocci smiles as he recounts his experience as a School To Career mentor: “Ben came in here a wide-eyed high school student, and in less than a year, he left as a fully capable professional editor and shooter, with a little bit of scriptwriting experience, too. To see him flourish…” Tocci shakes his head before adding, “Very, very rewarding.” As the station continues to grow, Tocci hopes to increase NCTV’s involvement with the Nantucket school system.
Moving on to the G in PEG, Channel 18 covers government events such as the Selectmen meetings, Town Meeting, and other items germane to the island residents. Tocci believes that NCTV’s coverage has generated more transparency in our local government system, allowing islanders access to some information that was previously shrouded. “When you turn a camera on in front of somebody,” says Tocci, pretending to make an adjustment to a camera, “they watch what they say a bit more.”
As Tocci paws through his handpicked equipment at the station—giddy as he describes the function of each piece—one gets the feeling that these are his babies. “How often in your life does somebody ask you to go on a high-tech shopping spree?” Tocci jokes before growing serious. He continues, raising his brows, “With that privilege comes a lot of responsibility. The station is funded by a percentage of Comcast Cable profits, meaning that anyone who pays for cable is directly financing NCTV. For this reason, I had to be really stringent with what gear I chose,” says Tocci matter-of-factly. “A lot of people have said to me, ‘That must be so cool to be able to buy whatever gear you want!’ and to that I always have to say, ‘Well, it’s not gear that I want, it’s gear that the community needs to make videos on their own.’ It’s kind of funny actually, when it was all said and done, and the equipment was purchased, I never bought the camera that I would buy for myself. It just didn’t fit our mission.”
At its core, a PEG station is a public service, and its goal is to provide content that is interesting and beneficial to local residents. Channel 18 is legally bound to a strict “No Advertising” policy, making it the perfect landing spot for people who hate sitting through commercials. Tocci is grateful for all feedback that he has received about Channel 18’s content. “It’s nice to get responses from the community,” he says, “especially positive ones. I was out the other day and some guy said, ‘Oh, Channel 18? I love the stuff on there!’ So that’s really encouraging. At the same time, we’re always looking to improve, and we can’t really do that if we don’t get negative feedback, too. If there’s something somebody thinks we should be doing better, we welcome that input. We try to put content on the station that people will care about.” Mahon weighs in on the content that islanders have created so far, saying, “The first thing that the programming on NCTV says about the Nantucket community is that it is a strong, coherent, creative, and multi-talented community. The station is already a moving and changing portrait of the island and islanders, and that portrait will continue to grow and evolve with the island.” Tocci adds, “We have a good mix of smart, community-oriented people who want to capture the things that interest them. Nantucket has a lot of quirky events, too, so NCTV has coverage of events like the NHA History Quiz Bowl and Miss Mantucket, the Daffodil Festival. These events show community spirit.” Mahon has a long-term vision for NCTV: “I want to see more new programs each week than we’re able to produce and broadcast now. Every month, we train more and more people to make their own programs. I want to see some of the people we’ve trained move into careers in television and communication and filmmaking.”
Everything that NCTV members have created is available on-demand at NCTV18.org. To take a look at what the station has to offer, or just get to know your community access station better, visit their website or drop by and see them at 15 North Beach Street during their public hours: Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 10 am to 6 pm, Thursdays and Fridays from 10 am to 8 pm, and Saturdays from 10 am to 2 pm.