NB’s only independent TV station CHCO, lacks funding

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Saint Andrews – Did you know that CHCO TV in Saint Andrews is the only independent television station in New Brunswick, and one of only nine in Canada? Vicki Hogarth, who works with CHCO, said she moved to Saint Andrews from Toronto after she had become ill. After being here for a while, she became too attached to the area to go back to the big city, and decided to put down roots. She began volunteering with the station, wanting to “shine a spotlight on the community”.

Hogarth had always been involved with the media, with a background in magazines. Between her love of media and her love of this community, she figured working with CHCO was the best way that she could give back.

“I moved here just to heal, and take some time out,” said Hogarth. “I sort of came across this TV station and thought, while I’m here, why don’t I volunteer there. When it came time to move back to Toronto, I couldn’t do it. I was too attached to the area, too attached to telling stories about important people, places, and events in the community. It’s to have local news and to keep people accountable, and also to shine the spotlight on people who are doing amazing things.”

Hogarth said the thing she loves about working with CHCO is she can share stories with the community from a local viewpoint. She added that the larger networks are great for what they do, but they just don’t have that local connection that an independent community station has. CHCO is a station for the community, operated by the community.

“I think the thing that is so special about CHCO television is that it’s the only independent television station in New Brunswick, but also only one in nine in Canada that still exists,” said Hogarth. “Once upon a time there were a lot more. And, it’s community access too. Anybody who wants to be a part of making television in our area can come to our station.”
Station Manager Patrick Watt said CHCO began in 1993 and was set up so the community could operate it. He said his role at the station is to do “just about everything”, but there are 20 to 25 volunteers he can call upon for help with various productions. One of the biggest problems such a small station has is funding. Watt said they are not funded, and they are always looking for ways to fundraise. A small portion of revenue from the larger telecommunications companies does go to community stations, but at around 1.5 per cent of a five per cent portion, the amount is so small it is hardly enough to operate with.

Five per cent of cable TV revenues went into community programming, because they (cable companies) had a monopoly on cable TV shows. This was their giveback. Every radio and television station in Canada has an obligation to give back to the community they operate in. Cable’s giveback was access to community programming, and Watt said it made sense to let cable companies do this. Then, satellite television came into the picture, and things began to change for community television.

“In the 90’s when community television was set up in small cable systems with less than 2,000 subscribers, it could be operated by the community,” said Watt. “There was no staff. Back in those days there was a smaller cable license. When satellite came to town, I think people were so awestruck by satellite TV bringing in hundreds of channels. When people subscribed to satellite, they lost community television. That was not foreseen when community stations first started up.”

Because of the loss of subscribers, community television stations had to come up with a way to operate independently so they could continue providing services to the communities they operated in. So, they looked for ways to stay on the cable dial, and not have the big companies take that away from them. This involved purchasing operating licenses for smaller audiences.

“As we grew and got our license, the rules of supporting community television changed quite a bit,” said Watt. “The funding mechanism was transferred from grass roots community TV operations to the telecommunications giants, Rogers, Bell, and Shaw. It’s never been clear why, other than it seems to redirect all of the community television funding back into the pockets of the telecommunication companies.”

Watt said now that telecommunication companies are making their way into Internet, it is easy to see how they are directing subscribers to watch their programming online. This will essentially eliminate the mechanism for that five percent that is allotted for Canadian content. This is why independent television stations rely on volunteers to help them stay alive.

“We’re not funded. We’re always looking for people to realize the station is a tool for the community, an outlet for the public to access, to learn how to use equipment and to produce your own program. We’d like people in the community to come to the station and use it. It would be fun to see any community in Charlotte County facilitate themselves with a camera, produce stuff in their community, and present it to us to broadcast.

Watt said anyone who is interested in producing a show for CHCO is more than welcome to give it a whirl. He said it is best to have the proper equipment, but in a pinch, even a video from a cell phone, if it is good enough quality, could work in a pinch. He has also toyed with the idea of setting up a program where certain pieces of production equipment, such as microphones or lighting kits, could be borrowed through local libraries.

“Those are some basic tools that would be nice for people to be able to use,” said Watt. “It would be nice to have a team of volunteers in St. Stephen, Grand Manan, Deer Island, any community, to be able to produce their own content and have it broadcast.”

If you are interested in volunteering with CHCO Television, or have an idea for a program, please contact the station at their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/chco.tv/, or via email at local@chco.tv

sarigreen@stcroixcourier.ca