Tuolumne County Community Cable Access is making some major improvements with the goal of bringing new attention to the decades-old channel over the coming year.
The nonprofit organization rebranded the station from Cable 8 to Access Tuolumne in September, but the changes go far beyond the name alone.
Tens of thousands of dollars are being invested for new equipment that will allow the station to improve the quality and variety of its programming content.
Station Manager Jerry Day, a former TV producer in the Bay Area, was hired by the nonprofit’s board in May to carry the vision forward.
“I feel like this is an untapped resource that can really be a community builder for people in Tuolumne County,” he said of his hopes for the station.
Day has upgraded the station’s website to allow all local content to be viewed live for free over the Internet through a computer or streaming devices like Roku and Apple TV.
That means even people who are non-Comcast subscribers can now view Access Tuolumne’s programming.
Much of the station’s previous local content was limited to broadcasts of local government meetings, but it has recently started showing live broadcasts of Sonora High School and Columbia College games.
“The first criticism people had, besides that they didn’t get (Access Tuolumne), was that there was nothing on there,” he said.
Day, of Columbia, said he spent much of the summer building the station’s line-up of programming with shows from other public access stations, as well as older TV shows and films that are in the public domain.
Much of the programming during the day is geared toward the county’s increasingly older population, such as shows about aging, exercise, nature, and classics like “Bonanza” and “Benny Hill.”
There are two shows featuring local hosts.
Local writer-producer Willow Polson hosts “Funky Films” on Saturday nights in which she introduces and discusses quirky movies like “Bride of Gorilla” and “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians.”
Jeffrey Anderson, a Sonora High School graduate and film critic for publications like the San Francisco Examiner, also hosts a show on Wednesday nights where he provides insight into B-Western movies from the 1930s through the 1950s.
Several local churches pay the station to the have their religious services broadcast on the channel as well.
Day said he ultimately wants to see the bulk of the content being shows produced locally by people in the community.
Part of the reason for the focus on local content is to combat the challenges posed by what Day referred to as the “YouTube Age,” which allows anyone to freely create and upload video content on a variety of online platforms.
“Anyone can make their own show and put it online,” he said. “That’s why it’s important to make it hyperlocal.”
Local shows can be produced at the station’s studio located inside a small portable building on the Cassina High School campus in Sonora.
The station’s board has purchased new equipment for the studio that includes a four-camera set up called a “Flypak” that can be transported for live broadcasts.
Day envisions being able to show and highlight cultural events in the community, such as concerts at Eproson Park in Twain Harte.
All of the content is broadcast from a small suite in Comcast’s building off Tuolumne Road in East Sonora.
Thanks to the newly purchased broadcasting equipment, all locally produced content can also be viewed on-demand at any time for free on the station’s new website at www.accesstuolumne.org .
Funding for the station’s equipment and facilities comes from a Public, Educational, and Governmental (PEG) fee that’s charged to Comcast customers in the unincorporated area of the county.
The fee is 1 percent of a customer’s monthly cable-TV bill and generates about $80,000 a year for the station. It can only be used for equipment and facilities as opposed to employee salaries or other costs.
Day’s salary comes from revenue generated through filming and airing meetings, church services and other local shows.
Day said he’s scheduled to give a presentation to the Sonora City Council on Monday about implementing the fee on Comcast customers within the city limits, which he estimated would generate an additional $15,000 to $20,000 a year.
In 2016, the nonprofit’s board gave a similar presentation to the council but the fee wasn’t adopted.
The station was founded in 1986 as part of a franchise agreement between the county, city and original cable provider at the time, though local governments do not directly contribute to the station’s funding for operations.
Other funding to keep the station up and running comes from fees for airing and producing content. Day said the standard fee for airing content is $20 for the first hour and $8 a half-hour thereafter, while the production charge is $40 an hour.
Day said some ways that local governments in other areas have bolstered their public-access stations is providing a portion of revenue they receive from franchise agreements with cable providers, or directly hiring station employees like in Calaveras County.
“We’ve had this resource since the 80s and people wonder why there hasn’t been more done with it,” he said. “It’s because there hasn’t been any funding to pay anyone to do it.”
There’s also no money available for marketing, so Day has largely resorted to raising awareness through social media.
Day said he took the job because he was “chomping at the bit” to do live TV production again.
“I like the immediacy of it, sometimes the spontaneity of it, and I like the idea of showing and promoting the local community and culture,” he said.
Day moved to Tuolumne County with his family when he was 5. He graduated from Sonora High School and earned a bachelor’s degree in broadcast communications from San Francisco State University.
After college, Day spent 15 years as a producer and worked for a variety of media outlets in the Bay Area, including the CBS affiliate in San Francisco, a former cable network called TechTV, and Yahoo!
Day later served from 2003 to 2013 as the Tuolumne County film commissioner before taking a job as the professional development manager for the Association of Film Commissioners International.
Despite having a vision for the future of Access Tuolumne, such as a morning program akin to “Good Morning Sacramento,” Day said he ultimately wants to encourage others in the community to contribute to the station’s programming.
“The whole point of this is it’s for the public and their use,” he said. “I’d like nothing more than for people to come in with their creative ideas for programs.”
Contact Alex MacLean at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 588-4530.