Carroll County will soon have a state-of-the-art community media center that will allow residents to produce their own television shows and watch live candidate forums - without having to drive to the debates.
Scheduled to open next year, the proposed $1.5 million Community Media Center of Carroll County on Washington Road south of Westminster would offer everything needed for residents, educational institutions, nonprofit organizations and county and municipal governments to produce programming - including training and equipment.
"Community media centers are becoming more and more popular and, in this time of media mergers and consolidation, more and more important," said Bunnie Riedel, executive director of the Alliance for Community Media, a Washington-based, national nonprofit organization committed to ensuring access to electronic media.
"In many communities, they are the only place where people can go and make their voices heard," Riedel said. "Local issues are not going to get coverage on the radio, or from the networks or their affiliates."
Carroll officials envision the media center as a place where residents and institutions will go to produce programming.
The League of Women Voters could broadcast live its candidate forums; professionals could teach volunteers how to produce commercial-free shows; and local recreation councils could broadcast sporting events.
More than 1,000 such centers exist across the country, according to the Alliance for Community Media.
In Maryland, community media centers are thriving in Prince George's, Howard and Montgomery counties.
Harford Community College and the Baltimore Community Access Corp. in Baltimore City are trying to develop centers in their respective communities, and officials in Anne Arundel County are exploring the possibility of creating one.
"This will be a communications center for everyone in Carroll County," said Marion Ware, director of Carroll Community Television. "It will connect people - give people an opportunity to have a voice."
The local public-access station, Channel 19, is the only broadcast outlet in Carroll County to offer a forum for grass-roots debate on government and community issues.
More stations wanted
Channel 21, the local education cable station, is independent of the existing public-access station.
The media center's board of directors would like to see at least three public-access stations for public, educational and governmental use.
Those stations would be able to reach 34,000 households, Ware said, and would provide an open stage for local producers and aspiring artists.
The county and seven of Carroll's eight municipalities are parties to a cable franchise agreement with Adelphia Communications Corp. Manchester has a separate agreement with the company.
None of those jurisdictions can broadcast meetings regularly because the existing public-access station has about 60 hours a week of scheduled programming and cannot handle much more.
The media center will be built near the Carroll County Career and Technology Center on Washington Road (Route 32) near Kate Wagner Road, on land donated by the county commissioners.
The 12,000-square-foot building will include four edit/work stations, a studio with the capability of producing live broadcasts and a garage for secure storage of equipment.
A combination of county and private funds will pay for the project.
"This is TV that matters, a center for all the citizens of Carroll County," said Linda Mielke, chairwoman of the center's board of directors and director of the Carroll County Public Library.
"Anybody can use our studio. We have plans for a community bulletin board, training programs for students and more."
Added Ware: "Who knows? Perhaps one day, it will be part of an Internet center" offering video clips and live broadcasts on the World Wide Web.