The public access television scene in Bethlehem is not a “party,” and it’s certainly not “excellent.”
Mike Myers and Dana Carvey set a raucous scene of their comedy sketch through a fictitious public television broadcast of Wayne’s World, as Wayne Campbell and Garth Algar, on Saturday Night Live. It was two kids with a questionable desire for learning, but an immeasurable amount of passion for music and having fun. Though the comedy skit held relevance in the ’90s, it wouldn’t retain the same flavor in 2017. Campbell and Algar would find their audience through YouTube and Twitch.tv. today. The ease of broadcasting over the internet allows a person seeking an audience more freedom than adhering to a set program schedule. Also, that audience is no longer limited by the strength of a television schedule (or cable agreement). Wayne’s World could literally go global, if it provided the right content.
Wayne’s World played to a general conception that public access television provided for home-based entertainment with little substance. Despite that, public access television has been a useful tool for communities. Local governments and social groups have used television to announce events and keep the public abreast of town issues.
In Bethlehem, cable television customers have had access to rolling bulletin boards and talking head programs from high school students, library administrators and town officials. Those challenged with poor vision could watch a librarian read the local newspaper, while another program interviewed the movers and shakers from within the neighborhood. For years, the Town Board has televised meetings, something it’s counterpart in Colonie is preparing to do later this year. For a community that is not always able to attend meetings, or see what’s going on from beyond the back fence, public television has been beneficial.
The Bethlehem Public Library is the town’s steward for public access television. For decades, it has hosted the television studio. Its patrons walk by the booth upon walking through the front door. It is, in fact, more visible than the neighboring meeting room for its Board of Directors. That room, and the expense to maintain it all, is now being scrutinized. What kind of changes may be in store for those programs dependent upon television is still up in the air.
The internet is still an outlet for such programs. In fact, the Town of Bethlehem and Bethlehem Central Schools share broadcasts of their respective meetings on their websites. As convenient as the internet may be to resolve this issue, there is one audience it is not reaching; a good portion of our senior citizens.
Not everyone has embraced the internet, and those who haven’t are likely to continue to use public access television. You can’t expect the same visually impaired person, for whom you read the newspaper, to suddenly be able to use a computer.
We hope public access continues to serve the community for years to come.