Community TV in Adelaide

For those of you who haven't heard of community TV, they are small TV stations run by members of the community instead of big corporations.

Adelaide has had at least four main groups involved in community TV, though only the most recent group is left now (C31).  There were a few other groups involved in producing video programs, but we only ever heard of them on the grapevine (I gather they were some of the ethnic communities that either produced programs for broadcasting, or just straight to tape), and only one group was ever broadcasting at any one time.

The three main community TV groups were:

They each conducted test broadcasts, then ACE finally managed to get a license by joining with SCAT (all the groups were considered too much of “self-interest” groups, not representative of the wider community, until then), and immediately kicked SCAT out as soon as they'd secured the license.  That sort of nasty behaviour was the general way that ACE treated everyone, and only those in ACE's little clique had any kind words for them.  ACE eventually losing the license for their anti-community stance.

I had minimal involvement with ACE TV (getting caught between ACE and SCAT during their joint test broadcast, and a couple of visits to ACE, convinced me to stay well clear of them), and significant involvement with the other two:  With LIFE TV, I was involved with their studio productions (which was a lot of fun) during Life TV's only test broadcast in 1988.  And with SCAT, I provided complete studio production equipment during SCAT's second community TV test broadcast in 1993, and was involved in the production of Space Trash (a science-fiction parody pilot episode).  Both Life and SCAT were quite enthusiastic about community television, towards anyone with an interest in it, ACE had quite the opposite effect on most who had any sort of dealings with them.

The current (2004) license holder is “C31 Real Community TV,” as they're calling themselves (that's a link to their own website).  They got the license some time near the end of 2003, and started broadcasting in April 2004.  From what I can gather they have members from the media industry (retired and current) involved in the station.  Interestingly, they seem to have some common origins with the SCAT mob (the Underdale University; most likely the arts departments again).  I've not attempted to become involved with them, because my enthusiasm for it is slipping, and I'd like to find out what their real intentions are before I even consider approaching them.  But, anyway, congratulations to them for becoming the new license holders, and here's hoping that they do manage to be the “real community TV”.

Some years later, I feel justified in laying some criticism against C31, or 44 Adelaide (as they're now called, after the commencement of digital transmission).  They're not much different than ACE TV, and that's one of the reasons they're only granted a temporary license.  They don't produce much (only two shows, according to their own website).  Most of what they put to air has been produced externally, interstate, or overseas, or they're showing really poor quality copies of ancient movies that have lapsed into the public domain.  So not much of the local community, beyond a few locals doing something in the building.

As well as the lack of in-house production, which may well be the only way that many people could afford to produce a program, producers have to pay to have their program aired, which puts things even further out of reach (commercial stations make money by running adverts, and they pay for programs to get you watching their adverts, community television can do the same thing, other than having to match income against expenditure, because they're supposed to be non-profit).  The no-budget community groups probably don't have the time, money, or expertise, to film things, edit them, and have them put to air.  And few community groups can afford to make a continual loss in paying to produce a show, and paying for it to be aired.  Compare that with going into the studio and putting on a live production, which only required getting people into the station's studio.  Which is how we did community television, way back when we were pioneering it (two nightly live shows, plus some daily pre-recorded, and produced in-house ones).  And it, live television, is about the only aspect of community television that I'm interested in being involved with.

I don't know why they're unsupportive of live television, though I do know at least one reason their predecessor was—being ridiculously scared that someone may do something problematic, live to air.  Being unable to control censor things before they happen is a rather stupid fear; all television and radio stations have always faced that problem, and manage fairly okay.  A station is certainly able to cut off a live program within moments of someone misbehaving, and doing so is enough to assuage most complaints that they'd adequately handled the situation.  A slanderous guest or editorial shouldn't ever get to air if you prepare your show properly.  Hosts and production staff would be briefed with what they're allowed, or not allowed to do, and it's their responsibility not to flout the rules.

They've not really been set up for live studio transmissions (though it's not hard to be), any time that I've had a look in their studio.  They've concentrated on their play-out suite, and have a rather lack-lustre tiny studio and control room, with lesser facilities than we had back in the 1990s, inadequate preview monitors, tiny domestic camcorders used as studio cameras without real lenses and viewfinders, dinky little mixers, no tallies, no real camera intercoms.  And the studio wasn't even cabled up to master control (at the time).  By way of comparison, local community radio is much closer to what it's supposed to be, than community television is—locally producing programs for the local community.  And you'll find that most radio stations are well aware of how essential live shows are to having local content.

So, in essence, C31/44 Adelaide are doing almost the same thing as ACE TV, and it looks almost the same (virtually the same programs, and a similar schedule).  About the only difference would appear to be not having any shady management shenanigans that we know about.

As well as wishing they'd do more local production, rather that just retransmit interstate and overseas stuff, I wish they'd get their act together, and stop transmitting programs with sound and video levels all over the place, and the wrong aspect ratio.  It's nearly always wrong, and impossible to compensate for, due to how they've got it wrong.  I'll hazard a guess that they probably just keep changing their monitor settings, rather than change their transmission (or playback) options between programs with different aspect ratios.  Which may well work within the control room, for unidentified aspect ratios; but doesn't work for television transmissions received with the wrong aspect ratio flags.  Most digital receivers give you options for how you'd like to see properly transmitted signals, but don't allow you to un-squish a program that's been transmitted the wrong way.  You, also, get a very poor resolution picture when it's been squeezed and stretched in two different directions, de-interlaced by non-CRT televisions, and upscaled in high-definition televisions.  As it stands, their analogue broadcast is producing a normal picture and sound, their digital broadcast is sub-standard.

Sequence of events:

  1. ACE test broadcast from a caravan up at Mount Lofty near their transmitter (too near, it seriously interfered with their sound, particularly getting into their microphone).
  2. Life test broadcast from the CRC in Sturt Street, Adelaide (December 1988).
  3. ACE's second test broadcast, from an antenna stuck in the ground of someone's front yard, somewhere in the suburb of Skye, playing CDs over a computer generated message (a complete waste of time).
  4. SCAT's first test broadcast, from the Underdale University.
  5. SCAT's second test broadcast, as a joint SCAT/ACE affair (with ACE more or less as a silent partner), from the Lion Arts Centre (1993).
  6. ACE obtains a narrowcasting license, and broadcasts for a few years.
  7. ACE gets stripped of the license in 2002, and C31 wins it.
  8. C31 begins broadcasting in April 2004, also digitally transmitting (as 44 Adelaide) since the end of 2010.
  9. C31/44 Adelaide turns off their analogue transmitter half way through 2012, beating the local commercial and government stations to the metropolitan area analogue switch off.

NB:  A cut and paste error struck while writing this page, long ago.  Part of it used to erroneously put the Life TV broadcast as being during 1991 instead of 1988.

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