Revamped GTV aims to educate

Government station on cable plans new public affairs shows

October 11, 1999|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

No one knows how many people are watching, but Howard County's government cable television station is revamping its look -- with the help of a $9.50 steel clamp and a prop scavenged from an empty building.

Starting with a new, 15-minute public affairs show called "Inside Howard County," which began Oct. 1, station manager Tara L. Gary and county information director Victoria Goodman are trying to update graphics and produce a line of new public affairs shows on GTV.

"My emphasis is on educating the public about what government does for them," Goodman said, adding: "We don't always do a good job communicating." Often, she said, people don't know who or what level of government has provided services to them.

"It's amazing to find out how little they know," she said about public awareness of local government -- especially long, drawn-out procedures such as writing a new 10-year General Plan or revising the county's Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance.

Operators of the station, best known for broadcasting County Council meetings and ceremonies, say they're not sure how many of the county's 60,000 cable television subscribers are watching -- but they feel certain some are.

"We have a good feeling that we have a good viewership, because people come up and say, `I saw you on TV,' " Goodman said.

Gary said senior citizens are especially loyal viewers, The station broadcasts daily from 9 a.m. to 12: 30 p.m. and from 7 p.m. to 10: 30 p.m. Comcast subscribers, the majority of the county's cable viewers, can see the shows on Channel 70; western county viewers served by Mid-Atlantic can watch on Channel 15.

In addition to GTV's new, larger spot on the county's Web page, the station plans to launch a discussion-interview show in December, followed later by a documentary program featuring stories such as the history of the county Police Department, and a new bulletin board format for nonbroadcast times that will use colorful backgrounds and eventually pictures instead of the text list that now scrolls across the screen.

Also planned is a children's show featuring county employees reading a children's story related to their jobs in government.

Gary, whose 15 years at the station span its history, has an annual budget of $600,000 raised from the cable franchise fees paid by Comcast and Mid-Atlantic. The full-time staff of seven, plus one part-timer, uses a tiny studio and offices in the county's aging government complex in Ellicott City.

The new "Inside Howard County" show opens with attention-grabbing pictures from Elkridge of a huge locomotive backing away from the wreckage of a pickup truck it had hit. No one was injured in the mishap. The footage, like that of county firefighters battling a house blaze, was donated by a local volunteer who listens to the county's emergency scanners and responds with his personal video camera.

With staffer Pia Jordan as host -- shown standing with a laptop computer before a gray set wall adorned with colored, diamond-shaped designs -- the show advertises government triumphs and touches on forthcoming events.

The $9.50 hardware clamp helps keep the prop wall from falling on Jordan, and the diamond design is created by a folding metal contraption the staff salvaged from the former Allied Signal building, now owned by the county. The high-tech defense firm had a television studio there, and Goodman said GTV hopes to use that space in coming months.

Along with snippets of the county's local 911 center winning national certification and County Executive James N. Robey unveiling a plaque, the the first episode interviewed supervisor John Hampton about what the 911 center does, consumer affairs administrator Steve Hannan about how to avoid being ripped off when buying firewood, and Ann Selnick of Animal Advocates showing off a cute dog up for adoption at the county shelter.

Then came Phyllis Madachy, administrator of the county's Office on Aging, advertising the forthcoming 50+ Expo on Oct. 22, followed by a segment on making apple cider at nearby Cider Mill Farm and some closing footage of construction progressing on the Brighton Dam bridge. The show is interspersed with public service commercials for notices such as flu shots for the elderly.

A new episode of the show will air each Friday at 7 p.m., with repeats weekdays at noon and 7 p.m.

Pub Date: 10/11/99

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