There are a few key points you learn at URTV 101, the free weekly orientation to Asheville's public-access station.
No. 1: URTV is not paid for with taxpayer money.
No. 2: The channel is set up as a First Amendment-flexing, free-speech forum.
No. 3: There's only one thing you won't see on the channel: Commercials.
No. 4: It's open to everyone.
Your TV: Learn how to use a camera and edit footage, then air your program (on practically any topic) on public access station URTV. Photo by Jonathan Welch
"Every type of person you can imagine in Asheville is at URTV," says Fyffe Aschenbrenner, a URTV member. "It seems to me that URTV really represents the community — it's not just a place for people play around and be freaky. There's plenty of religious shows, every kind of music is represented, talking heads with their speaking engagements, everything."
To elaborate on the first point: Charter Cable subscribers pay the majority of URTV's budget ($246,000 last year; the rest comes from membership and course fees, grants and other services the station offers, such as transferring VHS tapes to DVDs). Although the cable-subscriber funds are administered by the city of Asheville and Buncombe County, the notion that people's taxes go to support the station is a misconception.
What's on URTV?
by Curt Arledge
A look at some program highlights
• Jonathan's Journey
Category: Inspiration. Regular time slot: Weekly, Sundays at 5 p.m.
Jonathan's Journey is a true "reality show," chronicling the day-to-day travels, interactions and opinions of local producer Jonathan Selby. Though Christian in orientation, Jonathan's Journey draws on Selby's rich cultural background – including experiences in the Hippie movement, corporate America, human-service work, and a period as an Amish schoolteacher – to highlight the variety of opinions and worldviews of the people he meets in Buncombe County and WNC.
• Hotel Propaganda
Category: Arts & Culture. Regular time slot: Standalone programming, check schedule at urtv.org.
Ready for your closeup: At URTV, budding producers can make shows weekly, or whenever the inspiration strikes. Photo by Jonathan Welch
This year, after three years and 83 episodes, the long-running weekly underground-music show Mount Dungeon came to an end. Out of the ashes comes a brand-new local-music showcase produced by a veritable supergroup of prolific URTV producers, including former Dungeon host Matt Howard, Johnny Lemuria (of URTV late-night show The Pleasure Saucer), Larry Grillo and Michael Folliett (The Wallpaper Project), Nick Iway and Marcia Grillo (both of various standalone projects). With one episode completed and more on the way, keep an eye out for Hotel Propaganda.
• The Global Report
Category: First Amendment. Regular time slot: Weekly, Mondays at 6:30 p.m.
The Global Report covers news that is underreported by mainstream media, exposing abuse of power and advocating for social change. Since 2006, URTV has supplied the studio and volunteer training for TGR, which is now broadcast nationally on Dish Network via Free Speech TV. This locally produced show (formerly called the Asheville Global Report) can easily be seen several times a week in tens of millions of homes across the country, alongside programs such as Democracy Now.
• News & Blues
Category: Community Issues. Regular time slot: Weekly, Wednesdays at 9:30 p.m.
Hailing from Binghamton, N.Y., where he produced a popular local public-access TV show, Rob Speer now brings News & Blues to an audience in Buncombe County. Beginning each show by picking some blues on his vintage Fender Telecaster, Speer then challenges accepted beliefs with passionate commentary on subjects such as the hidden truths of 9/11, the fraud of the Fed and chemtrails in the sky. Speer embraces the "conspiratorial," and lets the viewer be the judge.
• Spirit of Civitan
Category: Community Issues. Regular time slot: Standalone programming, check schedule at urtv.org.
Many local organizations take advantage of URTV's training, equipment and channel space to increase their visibility and community outreach. Spirit of Civitan showcases notable moments from the club's meetings, including guest speakers on the I-26 Connector and from the WNC Film Commission, local public officials like Mayor Terry Bellamy and Police Chief Bill Hogan, and annual Good Citizenship Awards for local students.
• Nick Zorro Iway Presents
Category: Multiple. Regular time slot: Standalone programming, check schedule at urtv.org.
Like many other talented URTV producers, Nick Iway is a frequent contributor of eclectic standalone programming (not a weekly or biweekly series). Past projects include Unrelenting Entertainment, a blend of music videos, short films, investigative reporting and comedy; Building Ideal Relationships, a panel discussion with local couples; and Asheville 48 Hour Film Project Wrap-up, a live show featuring short films and interviews with local participants of that competition. Programs to look for include WNC Hope House, about a safe house for local victims of the child-sex trade; Christian-music program Lakehouse Music Studio; and a pilot for a soap opera.
• URTV Studio Certification Live
Category: Multiple. Regular Time Slot: Final Thursday of the month, 8:30 p.m.
Every month, URTV offers certification courses for its field gear, editing and studio. The final session of URTV's Studio Certification course puts the students live on URTV for a 30-minute program of their own creation. Some students work the control-room video switcher, some man the studio cameras and others appear in front of the camera on live television. Going live makes sure that new producers are comfortable with the studio and have one completed show under their belts. Once certified, producers are eligible to reserve studio time for live or taped programs as often as availability permits – for free.
• The Ellen B Show
Category: Arts & Culture. Regular time slot: Mondays, 8 p.m.
Show time: URTV member Aaron Brown makes use of the station’s training and equipment. Photo by Jonathan Welch
Since 2007, Ellen Braverman has been a consistent weekly contributor to URTV's programming lineup. On her weekly half-hour variety/talk show, Braverman interviews guests on a wide range of topics, including politics, culture, health, the environment, life & death, belief systems, acupuncture, belly dancing, golf and dreams. The conversation is fun and engaging, and even serious subjects are addressed with the characteristic humor and warmth of Ellen B.
• Art Seen Asheville
Category: Arts & Culture. Regular time slot: Standalone programming, check schedule at urtv.org.
A longtime staple of URTV's Arts & Culture programming, Art Seen Asheville shines a light on the world of Asheville's creative community. Producer Ursula Gullow visits visual artists, writers and performers in their places of work to discuss topics such as creative blocks, dealing with galleries, rejection letters and installing an art show. Gullow draws on her own artistic instincts to create a well-paced program that is visually stimulating, educational and promotes passionate advocacy of the local artistic community.
• A Closer Look
Category: Community Issues. Regular time slot: Wednesdays, 8 p.m.
A Closer Look host Keynon Lake examines the area's best programs for underprivileged youth. Past programs have highlighted foster parenting, summer camps, high-school drop-out prevention, the Asheville City Schools Foundation and URTV's own Summer Youth Video Camp.
Curt Arledge is program director at URTV.
As far as No. 2 goes, programs can be about pretty much anything, so long as they're not commercial (shows can't be used to promote businesses, for example), don't violate any laws, and abide by URTV's fairly flexible standards of acceptability. URTV is on Charter channel 20, or view it as a live webcast at urtv.org.
Another key point: If you use URTV's equipment, you've got to put programming on the channel. That is, if you learn how to shoot video on URTV cameras, you've got to run something on URTV at least one time. After that, the copyright for the program is yours.
And a broad mix of programs it is, with such titles as Be Healed in Jesus Name, Veterans Voices, The Mad Monk of Montford, Plants and Their Friends, Art Seen Asheville and Citizens Speak. The producers of individual shows often end up working together, sharing tips and helping each other out.
"Literally every day, our media center brings together people across lines of politics, class and life experience," says Program Director Curt Arledge. "I don't know of any other place in this area where Republicans, Greens and Anarchists share ideas and work together with civility."
Doing it yourself
Two years ago, Bruce Kennedy had no experience in what he calls "commercial storytelling" — that is, using the equipment and technology to create video.
"Within short order, and at very low cost, I was on the air with my first documentary, The Why? of Tai Chi, and a semi-regular satire show, Our Human Race," Kennedy says in an e-mail. "The professional level of training I received from the URTV staff produced this miraculous and sudden transformation."
URTV offers two studios, an editing room and a host of high-tech cameras and mics that members can take into the field once they've been certified.
"They've got some wonderful equipment. You can do anything with that stuff," says Rob Speer, host of Blues and News, a popular program that mixes blues guitar and underground-news footage.
It costs $75 to become a URTV member. After that, you pay a similar fee for classes, and can learn everything from producing a live program in massive, three-camera Studio A, to editing software such as iMovie and the Final Cut suites.
Photo Courtesy URTV
Some critics say URTV isn't necessary because of the advent of YouTube and Twitter, Web-based platforms that enable people to connect and share information, says Jonathon Czarny, the station's manager
"Those services only work for people who have their own equipment and already know how to use it," he says. "URTV provides facilities, equipment, training and a group of people who exchange ideas, energy and expertise to help one another improve their skills and shows."
What to watch
"The people who use this facility and the programming are as diverse as Asheville itself," says producer Chris Wingate.
Wingate is a testament to that. With URTV equipment, he has documented political events, helped small family co-op farmers make a training video for their equipment, produced a series on health-care reform, filmed reggae star Michael Franti reading his children's books at the Lake Eden Arts Festival and is working on a series of training videos for whitewater-rafting guides.
"If you've only seen a few programs, you might think that all URTV programming is silly Wayne's World stuff or really conservative. But we've really got a little bit of everything. That's one of the coolest aspects of URTV, that anyone willing to spend the time and effort can have a voice."
Success stories include Global Report TV (formerly the print-based Asheville Global Report). Three years ago, the paper's staff started producing their blend of under-reported news as a video program. Not long after, Free Speech TV picked up the program to show via the Dish satellite network.
"The Global Report is forever indebted to URTV," says host Eamon Martin. "It has supplied our organization with top-notch resources, trained several of our volunteers and provided our news program with a launch pad to be broadcast."
At URTV, you can make shows weekly or whenever inspiration hits you. You can produce a live studio show or tape shows out in the community.
"It's amateur media, and unlike commercial media, it is 100 percent real and local," says program director Arledge.
And local amateur media often looks a lot more, well, amateur than the slick stuff on other channels. But it serves a very different purpose, its users say.
"URTV is important because it offers citizens a way to utilize a particular medium that, up until the advent of public-access TV, was largely controlled by privately owned corporate interests," says producer and videographer David Connor Jones.
Jones, too, has produced some disparate programs: His first series, Ashe-vegas Music Television, featured local bands playing live at local venues. He also helped with the initial production of the Global Report, and now works on a weekly documentary program. "The station is a vital extension of the First Amendment in an age of mass media," he says.
"How people choose to use that liberty varies considerably. Some folks may use it to do a talk show about UFOs. Some may showcase local bands, or actors engaged in a play, or a stand-up comedy routine. Someone might use it to showcase his daughter's dance recital. Others might discuss political matters."
URTV's staffers say that if you've got an idea, come on down to the studios, at 31 College Place in Asheville.
"People might not know how easy it is to get involved," Czarny says. "Simply put, any resident of WNC can use URTV's resources to make their own TV show. You make it, we air it."
For more information, including program schedules and membership and training opportunities, visit www.urtv.org or call 255-8848.
URTV by the numbers
$75: Cost of annual local membership at the media center
$50: Cost of certification courses in using field gear, video editing and studio production
$0: Cost of renting equipment/facility, once certified
24: Hours per day URTV is on the air
0: Number of commercials on URTV
3: Years URTV has been in operation
1,000: Hours of use for URTV's main studio in 2009
$144,577: The market value of the above figure
$0: Amount of taxpayer money URTV receives
1-10 p.m.: Operating hours Tuesday-Saturday (1-8 p.m. on Saturday)
6 p.m.:Time of weekly free walk-in orientation on Wednesdays
For more information, visit www.urtv.org.