Fall 1995

Cable Access II: The Grand Rapids Community Media Center
by Editor

In Grand Rapids, Michigan, community access television (GRTV) is the hub of the Community Media Center (CMC), a cooperative venture of a half dozen affiliates teaming up to share costs and services and create a unique community of access points for learning, producing and sharing information.

The idea of community has taken on a whole new meaning in the light of fiber optic networks and satellite transmissions, creating new space and results. GRTV has been the impetus and driving force behind the Media Center model, with the goal of providing access to the broad and growing array of community media and communication tools (and to diversify GRTV's income and services for long term survival).

The Community Media Center will be an amalgam of brick and mortar and bits and bytes. Walk through the doors of the historic West Side Library and become literate in media technology and systems with access to:

  • media tools – cameras, microphones, editing equipment, computers, software, and peripherals
  • media transmission systems – cable TV, FM radio, satellites, computer networks, electronic bulletin boards, fax
  • media storage and retrieval systems – films, videos, audio, voice mail, data, print.

Along with GRTV and local community radio (WYCE, 88.1 FM), CMC affiliates include Mercury 95, interactive cable TV; the Community Memory Bank, and the Community Access Network (CAN), all governed by the Grand Rapids Institute for Information Democracy (GRIID), providing curriculum development, public policy, and government relations.


GRTV, Cable 23, "Television Of, For and By the People"

Incorporated in 1981, GRTV has grown from an original budget of $75,000 to FY 96 projections at $450,000. GRTV provides low cost training in audio/ video production, computer graphics and editing. GRTV provides video equipment, editing suites, computer graphic stations, three camera production studios, and expert assistance. GRTV provides free access to any resident for programming on channel 23, seen in 80,000 metropolitan households.

GRTV may very well evolve to the point where it is the management entity for multiple public access channels. It has a pending application for a second channel to run live B-Line events on, has agreed to "throw our hat in the ring" should the Health Channel license go out to bid, and has additional options for growth pending the directions and conditions for TCI Cable growth.

GRTV is an electronic soap box or town square providing first-come, first-served, nondiscriminatory access with no censorship, and carries the First Amendment principle of preserving and protecting civil liberties from the street corner to cyberspace.

WYCE, community radio at 88.1 FM ("Your First Alternative On The Dial")

WYCE is a 1000 watt community station which, through the combined efforts of the Friends and the local Community Action Agency, GRCAC, has grown to three staffers, 60 monthly volunteers, a self-generated budget nudging $150,000, 20 hours of programming per day, including coverage of dozens of community events, promotion of thousands of community events with public service announcements (PSA's), and solid listener numbers. WYCE was just voted as the Grand Rapids' favorite radio station by the readers of On The Town magazine.

Mercury 95, educational access television ("Knowledge Building Wings of Discovery")

Mercury provides health-related video programming and viewer dial up to a bulletin board system. While watching TV from home, the viewer can call the Mercury Line and, using the touch tone phone pad, punch through pages of information on the screen including sound clips on many pages.

Planners for Mercury 95 would like to bridge the dial-up component for the channel with touchtone access to the World Wide Web on the Internet. The final CMC affiliates all include some aspect of the growing resources of telecommunications and computer tools.

The Grand Rapids Institute for Information Democracy, GRIID ("Because Information is the Currency of Democracy") is slated to be the management arm of the expanding CMC training programs, responsible for fund raising for all affiliates, public relations, community outreach, public policy and government outreach (i.e., lobbying, litigation).

The Community Memory Bank, CMB ("Yesterday Preserved for Tomorrow") is an evolving affiliate with several pieces in place and more in need of planning and development. The Middleton Film Collection and the GRTV and WYCE archives are currently the community's storage records, which will be supplemented with an Electronic Bulletin Board for Storage and Retrieval of Important Community Documents, Lists, Numbers, Demographics, Contacts, information on Community Leaders, Events, City History.

CAN, Community Access Network ("The On Ramp to the Information Highway")

The CAN concept has evolved into the affiliate that handles computer information services, the local area network (LAN), and telecommunications. CAN manages the extensive phone system with voice mail departments and citizens access to all kinds of CMC information. CAN will oversee the Electronic Bulletin Board System (BBS) and the Internet access node (including systems security, tracking use, and billing). CAN will manage uplink and downlink services with a roof satellite that will pick up signals form scores of satellites and hundreds of transponders. By transmitting on the B-Line cable or fiber optic network signals can be routed through Grand Valley University to reach their Ku-band satellite up link. Potential is vast. CMC could manage the fiber optic node and video server. With a node (connection) to the fiber optic loop throughout the city, voice, video and data can be transmitted and received (at commercial rates), connecting anyone on the fiber line (over 200 sites and schools) to the services and further distribution capabilities of the CMC. CAN will manage the B-Line switching system. Over a dozen of the proposed 25 institutions are wired to transmit on the B-Line. Live programming has been generated from UICA, Ford Museum, City Hall, the Public Library, Monroe Amphitheater, and Days Inn. GRCAC has $10,000 worth of electronic switching equipment at the cable company head end.

This is an edited version of the GRCMC vision statement.

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