DCTV Celebrates 25 Years

Members of DCTV Board of Directors pose with Illumination Award recipients (center, from left to right) Denise Rolark Barnes, Kojo Nnamdi, and Bill Lightfoot, along with President and CEO Nantz Rickard (second from right). Other recipients include Maudine Cooper, Barber Lang, and Angela Franco. Photo: Donnamaria Jones

On Oct. 26 the Public Access Corporation of Washington, DC (DCTV) kicked off its 25th anniversary with the Illumination Celebration. While the event was a community affair, with live jazz music, food trucks and opportunities, for the crowd to record their own “Happy anniversary” video, it honored DCTV's past and future with its first Illumination Awards and college student video contest. Illumination Awards winners included Washington Informer publisher Denise Rolark Barnes and television and radio journalist Kojo Nnamdi, who also serves as chair of the DCTV Board of Directors. Georgetown graduate student and new filmmaker Handan Uslu won the video contest. As this year-long celebration continues, DCTV plans to continue broadcasting unique and informative programming created by DC metro area residents.

What Is DCTV?

On the air since 1988, DCTV is a member-based nonprofit organization designed to train residents of all ages in television production. Once residents become members they have a chance to create and broadcast their own cable shows without censorship. This allows viewers to become more exposed to perspectives and ideas normally under-represented in mainstream media. Currently DCTV has seven channels across three cable providers (RCN, Comcast, and Verizon FiOS). The flagship channel broadcasts blocks focusing on different subjects, from politics to cultural affairs. DCTV launched two other channels, Enrichment and Focus, in 2010. Enrichment focuses on spirituality while Focus (only available through Verizon FiOS) is dedicated to youth and non-profits.

The Brooks Mansion, located in the Brookland area, has been home to DCTV since the organization leased it from the DC government in 2000. According to a story published by The Common Denominator, DCTV signed a 20-year lease for the former plantation house with a 2 percent rent increase in the first year. Before the deal DCTV operated out of three locations throughout the city.

The Brooks Mansion needed extensive renovations after its previous tenant, the DC Cooperative Extension Service, moved to the University of the District of Columbia's Van Ness campus. After two years of construction DCTV reopened Brooks Mansion, creating what Malcolm Barnes of the Washington Informer called a “smart building,” supporting multiple studios with fiber optic connections and editing and training rooms as well as interactive studios.

Membership and Training

Any resident or organization can become a member after submitting an application, proof of residency or business location documents, and a fee ($30 for individuals; $150 for organizations). However, members need certification to use DCTV's equipment. Starting with DCTV 101 (the orientation course), members learn about the history of public access television as well as DCTV's policies and procedures. DCTV offers other courses, such as Basic Editing, Studio and Field Technician, and Producing (the only class of its type in the DC area), for members who want extra training. The organization also offers a series of advanced training workshops, called Zone 2, for certified technicians and producers.

“DCTV is very important because it provides training for individuals to successfully create their own programs about topics of interest to them,” said Bob Thomas, vice president of operations. Describing the training process, Thomas explained that “the concept is similar to a production company. 'Hands on' is the key. You can learn the production process within one year.” In his five and a half years working at DCTV he said that his favorite memory is watching members receive their certification after finishing a course.

One Member's Story

One example of this is Tsedey Aragie, creator and producer of “The 30-Day Health Challenge.” The show, which will begin its third season in January, won DCTV's Viewer's Choice Award for New Producer of the Year and Innovative Program of the Year. “The show is a reality TV show that edutains the viewers and challenges participants of all ages to commit to 30 days of following the corrective diet (an alkaline and vegan menu) and following the eight natural laws of health so that the participant adopts long term lifestyle changes,” Aragie explained.

Aragie, who became a DCTV member on April 25, 2011, already had a strong production background before she first visited Brooks Mansion, but she wanted “to do something that would feed [my] need to produce and exhibit something meaningful.” After touring the facilities she said, “At the time I was not certain of how I would participate as a member. So after the orientation class I signed up for the Producer and Studio classes, and I'm hoping to continue my training by enrolling in the field and editing classes in the next few months.”

“They made the process very simple from pre-production to broadcast, and sometimes film school doesn't give you this clear start-to-finish process,” Aragie said of her training. “You spend more time learning theory, principles, craft, and learning how to get your work out becomes secondary and an abstract process.” However, producing a television show has its challenges. “The double-edge sword is when you have creative control and you produce a show that insures the absence of commercialization, it could limit who you can approach for sponsorship to improve the production quality and reach,” she explained. Those limitations include time, money, and assembling a production crew. “That being said,” Aragie concluded, “I feel very passionate about what I'm doing and plan continue the work.”

Why Is DCTV Important?

Thomas and Aragie agree that DCTV is important because of the unfiltered exchange of ideas. “I think the dedication of our members to produce programming is a significant reason DCTV has survived,” Thomas said. “In addition, for many years DCTV was, and remains, one of the few distribution outlets for uncensored messages.” Aragie called DCTV and public access television in general, “a very key resource,” adding, “I believe that some people underestimate the role that public television can play to inform, educate, and entertain the members of its community.”

With advances in technology viewers have new ways of experiencing their favorite DCTV shows. In 2009 the organization began using Vimeo, giving viewers a place online to watch their favorite shows on-demand. A year later they launched Facebook and Twitter accounts which allow members to connect with viewers, promote their work, and increase community dialogue. At the time of this writing DCTV has 1,269 likes on Facebook and 569 followers on Twitter.

How to Support DCTV

DCTV owes its longevity not just to its members and staff but also to the communities it serves. This gives residents a reason to give back. “Residents can support DCTV in various ways: volunteer, financial contributions, viewership, and even participation in DCTV's social networking,” said Thomas. If a resident wants to become a member, Aragie made this suggestion: “I would urge people to either make an appointment to do a walk-through with one of the DCTV staff, although it might just be easier to attend one of the many events that DCTV hosts, and/or visit the station on a night when they have Student Exposure.”

Another way to support DCTV is by attending upcoming events. For instance, DCTV and Serve DC held “The Service Sign-Up” on Dec. 7. This event allowed residents to connect with DC area nonprofits in person and online through NeighborGood. Other upcoming events include a guest speaker series, a video competition, and a community day in June. The 25th anniversary will conclude next October with DCTV Game Night.

DCTV is located at 901 Newton St. NE, Washington, DC 20017. For more information call 202-526-9295 or visit http://www.dctv.org. 


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