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Jen Mass
URTV Director of Programming Jen Mass believes in the station’s locally oriented mission. photo by Jonathan Welch

“Van Burnette’s show is funny,” laughs URTV program director Jen Mass. “He’s always doing things with those praying mantises.”

This is probably not the sort of comment you hear from the average television station head, but URTV — Asheville’s local public-access station — is not the average broadcaster.

“The mission of URTV is to empower every resident of our community by providing equal opportunities to create and present television programming in keeping with First Amendment principles of free speech,” reads the station’s Web site (

To that, Mass adds, “Our goal is to be more local. To have completely local programming.” To understand that, viewers have to get the station’s definition of local. Shows don’t necessarily have to pertain to local issues, they just have to be created by URTV members who live or work in Buncombe and surrounding counties. (See the Asheville Global Report segments or Osogbo, Nigeria Sister City Project for proof of that.)

Van Burnette
Van Burnette uses his URTV show to inspire viewers to explore the great outdoors.

“Let’s say we have a member who lives in Buncombe County and they want to take out one of our cameras and then fly over to China to get some footage,” Mass suggests. “That’s still considered local as long as the producer is local, and that’s what our overall goal is.”

What Mass does want the public to understand is that URTV isn’t set up to send out their own camera crew to film a show. “We’re here to provide equipment, but we can’t go out and do production,” she insists.

So, if you’ve got an idea for a segment, you better get filming: This is a strictly DIY situation. The good news is, anyone can do it.

To become a member of URTV — the first step toward getting a show on the air — Buncombe County residents have to pay a $35 annual fee (prices vary for residents of other counties as well as for students, nonprofits and government agencies). That membership fee allows an aspiring producer access to equipment, resources, facilities and courses. URTV provides all the equipment, studios and editing tools needed to produce a program, though individuals with their own resources can submit independently made programming.

“If you currently have something on DVD that’s not commercial, you can join [URTV], take the orientation and boom, you’re on the air,” the program director explains.

Orientations to the station, along with the equipment and editing are all free and available to anyone with an interest. As far as content, that’s up to the members. “[URTV] doesn’t choose the programming; we don’t censor it,” Mass notes. “The main thing to know is that it can’t be commercial. Only a nonprofit can promote a business, and obscenity laws apply. If you’re going to curse, fine, that’s going on late at night after 11, and you have to put a viewer advisory warning beforehand. But if it’s obscene or there’s a lottery, that’s a definite no-no.”

The end result? A wide variety of shows, ranging from religiously oriented programs to those centered on news, art and cooking. “We have a bulletin board [on air], free for nonprofits to announce their events,” Mass points out.

Beyond that? “The station is set up to be a soapbox for the community,” she maintains.

The public-access station can be found on Charter Cable’s channel 20. For URTV show highlights, read on.

Art Seen Asheville

“Imagine Sister Wendy, Art 21, Martha Stewart, The View, John Waters and Saturday Night Live in a blender … Art Seen Asheville would be the result,” explains Ursula Gullow, the show’s creator.

In an artist’s statement, she continues, “Art Seen Asheville is a documentation of the abundance of local artistic talent. It is meant to serve as a forum for discussion about art and issues relevant to artists such as ‘creative block,’ dealing with galleries, rejection letters, and installing an art show.”

Gullow, a local oil painter, takes viewers into a sort of “day in the life” of her poet, painter and musician friends. The first installment of Art Seen (catch the show Mondays at 7:30 p.m.) is an art party held in Gullow’s apartment when five creative types discuss their inspirations, what holds them back, and how they view various finished pieces of work.

The second show in the series, called the “How To” episode, shows Gullow growing more comfortable both in front of and behind the camera. It’s worth mentioning that she manages every aspect of Art Scene, from the filming and interviews to the background music selection and editing. As if inspired by the process of learning to work within a new medium, Gullow shows viewers how to hang a visual art show and work in oil paints, as well as touch on — through humorous skits starring Julie Wade — how to treat art, handle a rejection letter and deal with the muse.

“Ursula is amazing,” enthuses Mass. “She does it all and she’s had no prior experience.”

The Trail Explorer

It might seem odd to watch a show about hiking, rather than actually getting out there and doing it yourself. But the point of Van Burnette’s 30-minute episodes is to inspire outdoorsy-types to take to the area’s many trails.

“You will learn how to get to the trailheads, and what to expect in terms of length, difficulty and sights to be seen,” explains Burnette on Explorer‘s companion Web site, “Also, I am going to explore the history, flora and fauna, geography, geology and future of these trails so everyone will have a better appreciation of just what the true environment each trail has to offer.”

The filmmaker has completed three installments so far, covering Carter Creek Falls, the Vertical Rock Trail and a secret waterfall.

“The first show aired in September and I get one new episode a month,” Burnette reveals. “I’m doing everything myself, so it’s pretty time-consuming.”

In fact, he calculates it take 30 to 40 hours of work, most of which is editing, to create a half hour of finished footage.

“The main number one reason I got into this was URTV,” the show’s creator admits. “It’s a great opportunity for an aspiring [filmmaker] to get their show on the air … basically, you put out $35 and you’re on your way.”

But after all the hours logged working on a video, Burnette has a hard time watching the show when it comes on TV (Wednesdays at 7:30 p.m.). “It’s like, ‘Oh gosh, that again?'” he laughs. “But I’ve had a lot of compliments. I’ve even had a few people recognize me on the street. That’s kinda different.”

Ashe-Vegas Music Television, Asheville Global Report and Kraft

David Connor Jones is a busy man. Apart from his own filming business and musical endeavors (he plays bass with Custard Pie and the SexPatriates), he’s involved with several URTV shows.

The first is Ashe-Vegas Music Television, a collection of videos from local and nationally touring bands. Episodes of the two-hour show, which airs Mondays at 9 p.m., feature the likes of Stephanie’s Id, Woody Wood, Katie Kasben, Shake It Like A Caveman, the Trainwrecks, and the Mad Tea Party. “When I moved here in the fall of 2000, I’d take my camera to the Grey Eagle or Stella Blue to film bands that were friends of mine,” he recalls. “When I heard URTV was in the works, I thought, ‘I can put some of this on there.'”

About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall is the arts section editor at Mountain Xpress. She's lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. Alli is the winner of the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

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