Public access television conjures up different notions to different people, from SNL clowns Wayne and Garth to eccentric individuals with extreme political (or non-political) messages, to just the “average” individual who wants some air time for a grievance, an idea, or pure entertainment. No matter where one may fit into the spectrum, public access is there to serve. Through “PEG” access, there are distinct points of focus on public, educational, and governmental realms. Activity on public access is actually funded by a return of a percentage of subscriber fees on cable systems; if you want to know where a portion of your cable bill goes to, turn on channel 15 (public), 16 (educational) or 17 (governmental) and watch Williamstown’s own public access station, WilliNet.
Since 1994, WilliNet has televised the programs of Williamstown residents for the viewing pleasure, or displeasure, of the greater Berkshire community. While the studio is currently at 34 Spring Street (by the Williams basketball offices), WilliNet’s connection with the Williams College community was strengthened with Professor Frank Morgan’s show “Math Chat” which debuted in January 1996. Between dispensing prizes on those who could answer Professor Morgan’s math riddles and callers requesting help on problems they considered challenging, the show reached many viewers.
Williams College President Hank Payne was recently a guest on “Citizens in League” which centers on community affairs and is produced by the Williamstown League of Women Voters. In reference to his experience and general view of WilliNet, President Payne commented, “I had a very fine time being interviewed on the local public affairs program. I think WilliNet serves an excellent community purpose. I was impressed with the professionalism of this enterprise, and I hope our students somehow become more deeply involved in production in the years ahead.” Some Williams students have begun to get involved in production at WilliNet.
Asia Magriby ’98 produced a show on the Williams College ski team which will be re-aired this Tuesday, at 9:30 p.m. on channel 15. Magriby’s motivations for producing the program were clear: “I want to get into sports broadcasting, so I did a Winter Study 99 to produce a show. I did it on something that I really know and enjoy. Apart from skiing being a big part of my life, I felt that the ski team needed a bit of representation because it is really tossed aside on campus, despite it being a Div. 1 team. My program showed all the hours of training and devotion put in by the coaches and athletes along with the intense competition involved, giving the team some public recognition.” Furthermore, Magriby was able to do everything from the editing to the taping and developing of scripts. She noted that the editing was a lot of work, but the type that energizes one to do more. As there is no communications course at Williams, WilliNet can be a great supplement as non-classroom education. “It is such a great outlet that no one knows about,” according to Magriby. Every company I interviewed with was very impressed that I took this initiative and I feel a little more prepared now, knowing that I have this creative side to me.”
Sung Kim’s ’00 documentary “Wildlife in Amboseli: To Live in Amboseli” that he produced while in Kenya over winter study will be aired on WilliNet on Sunday at 7:30 p.m., channel 15. This is not the first time Kim has worked with Willinet. “My first video project ‘Jimbo Learns to Swim’ was aired on the network. It was good to hear from other people who happened to see the film. My actor Jim Rowe ’98 became so famous that just some random people came up to him and said, Oh, I know you, you were the one who’s afraid of water! The people are really nice there [at WilliNet] and are eager to provide the students with the facility they have. Although our media center has the same machines, WilliNet is the only way that you can show your projects to a large number of people, that is if you want to.”
WilliNet trains persons interested in producing a program or series in camera operation, lighting techniques, sound, editing, directing, and producing. After those hours are completed, individuals may use WilliNet’s cameras and equipment to begin producing their own programs. Although the necessary time commitment can be significant, especially during the course of a semester at Williams, Spring Street Soap Box offers an alternative.
Spring Street Soap Box allows any Williamstown resident, group or organization to produce a half-hour, unedited television program in WilliNet’s studio, investing only an hour. Programs are taped on Wednesday evenings from 6:00-8:00 p.m., while the time slots are reserved prior to the evening on a first-come, first-served basis. One may produce up to three programs using Spring Street Soap Box.
Approaching the one year anniversary at its Spring Street location, WilliNet has three of its own generated series to boast in addition to five imported series. The nine-member board of directors is continually looking for new means through which to serve Williamstown. The board is eager to increase the Williams students’ use of its equipment and studio for the eventual goal of producing shows to be aired. Student groups as well as individuals can use WilliNet as a forum to express their views, or simply ham it up.
WilliNet refers to itself as “your station”, and after all, that is what public access TV is all about.