The first broadcast from Philadelphia’s public access television station — Philly Community Access Media —– went live this week, capping a 27-year battle to open the airwaves for everyday Philadelphians.
“Without PhillyCAM we would not have been able to have our show on the air,” said Grady Jones, the creator and executive producer of Unsolved Philadelphia, a local crime show that focus on the city’s old homicide cases, asking viewers to phone in tips in an effort to solve the crimes. “Twenty-seven years of waiting to come here was well worth the wait.”
Jones’s show debuted in 2010 on four public access channels broadcast across the city.
He told the audience that he wanted to make a difference in his community and could using PhillyCAM, which provided an affordable way to produce the show.
Since it first aired, viewers have turned in tips on two homicides and police are investigating them.
The new studio now gives other Philadelphians the same opportunity afforded Jones.
Its creation represents the end of a hard won battle that dates back to the 1980s, when the city had cable television contracts with four companies, who were required to provide public access.
“This new communications infrastructure provides a direct voice to all neighborhoods, groups and points of view that exist in such a diverse and vibrant city,” said Antoine Haywood, PhillyCAM’s director of outreach.
The battle for Philadelphia’s cable rights ended with Comcast dominating the local market and the city finally created PhillyCAM in 2009.
However, since the organization had no official home, it has been housed since then in the Painted Bride Art Center.
That changed this week.
The new facility offers two television studios, computer labs and equipment that can be checked out by the public along with public meeting spaces. It will also provide space for editing to train would-be producers.
“This is a huge step forward for us,” said Gretjen Clausing, PhillyCAM’s executive director. “Now, we are able to centralize our operations, maximize our offerings and grow.”
It will broadcast on two cable channels and online.
The inaugural broadcast, which aired at 7 p.m. Wednesday, featured Mayor Michael Nutter slapping a clap board in front of a traditional television countdown, at the 699 Ranstead St. studio. It featured highlights of the station’s creation, interviews with staff and producers, including Jones, and several unscripted segments.
Nutter recalled the controversy over the creation of public access television from his time as a city councilman.
“We had a whole big fight,” he said, adding: “I’m not sure today what we were fighting
about … “Today PhillyCAM is one of 3,000 public, government and educational access channels across the country producing more than 20,000 hours of local programming every week.”
Nutter also noted that now city council meetings are broadcast live and that this week the mayor’s reception room as city hall was wired to events there — the room is often the setting for Nutter’s press conferences — can also be broadcast live.
“Public access provides a forum for everyone to express their thoughts, feelings and opinions,” Nutter said. “I can’t think of a better place for that to happen than in the birthplace of freedom, liberty and democracy.”