What do you give an energetic five year-old who’s celebrating a birthday?
The UpNorth Media Center, which took over the operation of both public and government access TV in northwest lower Michigan in July 2008, could use a lot of attention and maybe a little cash.
“LIAA (Land Information Access Association) opened the UpNorth Media Center to help citizens, nonprofits and local governments throughout northwest Michigan apply audio, video and internet technologies to inform, connect and engage people in their communities,” Executive Director Joe VanderMeulen tells The Ticker. “Before we took over in 2008, the public access station was known as tctv 2 and operated by the Traverse Area District Library.”
Under federal and state laws, municipalities can access cable TV channels as part of their franchise agreements with cable providers, locally that is Charter Communications. The City of Traverse City, along with East Bay, Elmwood and Garfield Townships have exercised the option and regularly broadcast public meetings and other events.
“Most communities in Michigan have something like this,” explains VanderMeulen. “We visited five different communities before taking over the operation five years ago. Our challenge was ‘How do we maintain this community platform that has proven so special for our citizens?’ Our focus is always on our region. It’s a community conversation.”
LIAA’s staff, along with volunteers, operates a TV studio and coordinates broadcasts for roughly 18 meetings a month, as well as nine different boards and commissions for Grand Traverse County. Late in 2010, Charter switched the channel number from 2 to channel 97 and a limited access digital channel 992.
So how many viewers tune in to those meetings?
Not even LIAA knows. “Charter doesn’t provide that information,” says VanderMeulen. “We’d have to authorize an Arbitron survey and that’s just way too expensive.”
In addition to broadcasting public meetings, the UpNorth Media Center offers video training for anyone who would like to produce and broadcast their own TV show. Over the years, 738 students have attended 139 different classes. In the past year, 85 students took part in 18 classes. Today there are 530 people who have been certified as producers.
UpNorth Media Center regularly broadcasts community events, such as the National Writers Series and the recent memorial service for Helen Milliken. One huge event that did not receive coverage was the National Cherry Festival’s Cherry Royale Parade. “We heard from people about that,” says VanderMeulen. “If someone would like to underwrite the parade, we could broadcast the parade for less than $5,000.”
UpNorth Media Center cobbles its $360,000 budget from a number of sources, including franchise fees, an annual fundraiser, and 30 cents a month from each local Charter subscriber.