SCAT's second community TV test broadcast

SCAT (Student & Community Access Television) was one of the community TV groups in the 1990's, eventually disbanding after ACE ripped the heart out of community TV, and spat it upon the ground.  It was mostly formed by the arts students at Underdale University (of South Australia).

I was asked to be involved with their second test broadcast from the Lion Arts Centre buildings in 1993 (they'd done one other test broadcast earlier before, from the Underdale Uni, and I'd provided one production group with editing facilities in a hurry, back then).  I ended up providing complete studio production equipment (multiple video cameras, mixers, monitors, etc.) for their pre-broadcast training and program preparation, and their two week test broadcast, and organising setting up a presentation suite for program playout and master control.

To describe the setup, we were using some condemned buildings as (damn cheap) studio and office space in the Lion Arts Centre (behind the Mercury Cinema by the Morphett Street bridge, Adelaide, South Australia).  The buildings we were using have since been torn down, and that space is now a part of one of the Adelaide University campuses.

We had a three-camera studio with sound and vision mixers, Amiga 500 title generator (remember this was a long time ago), and an S-VHS edit suite, for producing programs to tape, or live broadcasting.  So far, most of that equipment was provided by me, with the exception of a couple of tripods from the Media Resource Centre (MRC) and Adelaide TAFE, and lighting from one of the local hire companies whom I can't remember, and some from the Adelaide TAFE's TV studio.  The remainder of the non-studio equipment came from other sources.

Interestingly, some of my other video equipment, some Philips television cameras (not used during that broadcast, but were used by the Life TV broadcast—they owned them, then), originally came from the Kilkenny TAFE TV studio, which was the forerunner to the facilities at Adelaide TAFE.  But I didn't know that, until I chatted to some of the people from Adelaide TAFE.  I still have those cameras, they weigh as much as I do, and I'm sure glad I didn't work in outside broadcasts where they hauled those size cameras up towers to film sporting events.

The studio (using my video production equipment—much of which is illustrated on my video editing business page) was connected up to a master control room, using a video mixer and switcher from Adelaide TAFE, and a sound mixer that probably was from them, too (I can't recall).  There was also a Hi-8 editing suite loaned to us by Sony, and S-VHS and Umatic VCRs from places I can't remember, either.  They were used for the tapes we put to air, and switching to the studio for live programs.  Setting up a proper master control and tape playout area meant that the studio was free to be used for any purpose at any time, its equipment wasn't tied up for broadcasting.  This was something I strongly pushed for, rather than just use one central mixer, with no ability to do studio work separately from broadcasting.

From our building, we ran long cables loaned to us from the ABC's outside broadcasting unit, to the roof of the Mercury Cinema, where we had a microwave transmitter hired from NWS channel nine (I think they're our last privately owned TV station) aimed over the road to its matching receiver sitting on the roof of the Adelaide TAFE.  That was a task and half to line up after dark, using a mobile phone with almost no volume to the sound, and no video monitors.  It was mounted on a metal tripod isolated from the metal roof (of the cinema) by sitting it on rubber beach thongs (“flip-flops,” to the British; these thongs are the things you wear on your feet, not underwear), weighted down by sandbags hanging from the tripod, with a box of electronics bagged and stashed under the airconditioning ducts.

Over on the other side of the road, Adelaide TAFE plugged the receiver into their fibre-optic link to the Television Operations Centre (TOC), which all our commercial TV stations use for interlinking between studios and transmitters).  TOC graciously allowed us to have a land-line up to Mount Lofty, where our hired transmitter (I think from overseas, I can't really recall), was set up near the other commercial and government television transmitters.  We had even more help from the ABC and National Transmitter Authority (NTA) in setting that up, and keeping things running smoothly for us.

We started off with about a week of pre-production work, program taping, and crew training, then two weeks of broadcasting live and pretaped shows, as well as accepting submissions from the general public.  There was some interest in people coming in and doing things, but I don't think we were around long enough to organise doing it.

Initially, there were objections to my insistence on people having to be trained before I'd let them loose on my gear, as various people thought they already knew what they needed to know.  But I stuck to my guns, knowing that unfamiliar users break equipment all too easily (which did happen, but fortunately only to a smaller degree than would have happened without having training and operating rules imposed upon people), and having some familiarity with video equipment doesn't mean that they're ready to work in a live-studio environment, where there's a plethora of interconnected equipment that only works well when operated properly, and you're faced with having to get things right, or successfully cope with problems as they crop up, because you can't stop and have another go.  At the end of it, people appreciated that I'd done that.  People learnt new skills, had more time to pre-record some productions, and got more playtime with the equipment.

Later on, in what was one of many spats between ACE and SCAT, ACE inserted a low quality mixer between the link and the transmitter, and took over broadcasts after our programs (with music and test patterns/advertising attempts), started dictating broadcasting times, and demanding ridiculous technical requirements because they didn't understand anything about television transmitters.  It was that sort of rubbish that ended up in a bit of fisticuffs up at Mount Lofty, and some vaguely described blockade of the gate against ACE with a van SCAT was temporarily loaned by the government as its bit of support to community TV (but I seriously doubt they had that use in mind).  I had hoped to pop up to Mount Lofty and have a look at that end of things, but after hearing of those incidents, decided I wouldn't bother (as well as really not having the time to nip up there).

I had decided to really only participate in a technical direction role, and training people how to use my equipment, until I was asked if I could direct a show for them a few minutes before it had to go to air, live.  I said, “yes,” then found out that I was the first person he'd asked, and he didn't have any other crew, at all.  So I had to round up some others to crew the program in just a few minutes (we were lucky to have a few people in the building with nothing else to do at the time), give them a quick run down on what I expected to be doing (I really had no idea about what his show, “Banners,” was about, other than a very brief synopsis and a hastily-drawn-up run-down sheet for the program contents).  By the end of the week, I had a crew that could do their show with the minimum of direction needed, which is my preferred style of directing production (I'd rather have crew that are good at coming up with usable results on their own initiative, because they know the sorts of things that I want, rather than having to direct everything to the nth degree).

At one stage of our test, Adelaide TAFE's studios was switched into the network, and there was a production run from there.  That sort of thing, networking, had been one of our goals for community TV before ACE killed its soul:  For the different community groups to be able to set up studio spaces, and tie into a network (e.g. via landline or microwave link), as well as using other groups facilities if they didn't have their own.  It would have decentralised things, as well as included a much wider proportion of the community.

Unfortunately, I wasn't there to witness that event.  I lived about 10 kms north-east of Adelaide, and commuted in each evening for our broadcasts, getting back home at some unearthly hour in the middle of the night.  Though the days were long, and with little chance to break away (I had to wait until the next team were successfully into their broadcast before they'd let me nick off to get tea, and I'd come back with my pizza and sit in their audience while eating my tea), they were a lot of fun.  Even some ten years after our test broadcast, I'd still get a few people commenting about how much the enjoyed it (live, local, community TV, warts and all), and asking if it were going to return (the subsequent ACE broadcasts were dull and non-community inclusive).

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