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Expanding the connection

BCTV turns 35 with new energy, equipment, and goals for serving the community

BRATTLEBORO—Brattleboro Community Television, a nonprofit public access television station, has trained volunteer producers and videographers and has broadcast news, opinion, event announcements, meetings, and just about anything else that anyone would like disseminated for the past 35 years.

Cornelia “Cor” Trowbridge, BCTV’s executive director, calls the operation, “a little, flexible organization with a broad vision that connects people with their community.”

And lately that connection has expanded.

In the past decade, BCTV’s income has risen by more than $100,000, from about $150,000 to nearly $250,000. The most recent bump in revenue results principally from increased subscriber fees from the two cable TV companies that carry BCTV: Comcast and Southern Vermont Cable.

BCTV provides local programming to more than 4,700 Comcast customers in Brattleboro, Guilford, and Vernon; Southern Vermont Cable serves 2,000 subscribers in Putney, Dummerston, Jamaica, Townshend, and Newfane.

Channel 8, the main BCTV channel, carries programming produced by nearly 50 volunteer producers, from church services to the Strolling of the Heifers parade to a live daily news program, 5:45 Live.

Channel 10 runs education- and government-related programs, mostly municipal meeting coverage, and other long-form programming.

The Federal Communications Commission and the Vermont Department of Public Service both require cable TV companies to fund public-access operations, such as BCTV, in exchange for being granted a franchise to provide service in a community.

These public-access channels are funded through a percentage of customer service fees, which amounted to 5.5 percent from Comcast, or more than $200,000 this fiscal year, and 1.1 percent from Southern Vermont Cable, about $18,000.

The new contract with Southern Vermont Cable, recently vigorously negotiated, increased that company’s share from $5,000 to $18,000. These so-called franchise fees, dedicated in large part to BCTV operating expenses, now also include small percentages specifically designated for capital expenses.

Trowbridge said BCTV’s current main goal is to replace equipment and renovate the organization’s studio; a project that will cost between $20,000 and $30,000.

The capital improvements will be funded by the cable company capital fees and by money the station has saved in anticipation of renovations.

The newly purchased $16,000 digital broadcaster and new editing suites are among the most important recent improvements, she said. The equipment replaces old DVD decks, enhancing reliability and quality.

Less exalted, but nevertheless important, according to Trowbridge, is the plan to replace the retro, half-moon, desk in the studio where an on-camera person sits.

“That one came from Experienced Goods,” she said.

Trowbridge explained that a major mission of BCTV is to provide equipment and training to anyone who wants to learn or use those skills to produce a program. Last year, 48 producers and editors submitted programming to the station.

Recently, BCTV celebrated 35 years at a small and tasty gathering and board meeting at the Brattleboro Museum and Art Center. The traveling, wood-fired pizza oven from Brattleboro’s Rigani’s Pizza supplied more than 75 guests with thin-crust, veggie-topped examples, as well as roasted vegetables and other healthy offerings. A congratulatory cake commemorated the occasion.

Palpable good cheer dominated the meeting, highlighted by reports from Lynn Barrett, president of the BCTV board, and from Trowbridge, plus the introduction of BCTV’s new website, also one of the benefits of increases in cable fees. The site went public on March 7.

“We had a clunky and awkward website,” Trowbridge pointed out, noting that the station hired local web designers MuseArts and Woodbury Solutions to create the new site.

The website now streams the broadcast of both stations, and visitors can play BCTV-produced programs and municipal meeting footage on demand.

The new site also offers links to nearly everything BCTV does, including schedules, policies, teaching, and streaming opportunities, and public access news.

The 2011-2012 board of trustees was elected at the meeting, including several members now serving: Lynn Barrett, Tim Wessel, Joe Bushey, Dora Bouboulis, Mary Cain, Wendy Mason, Martin Langeveld, and Steve West.

The organization has articulated other goals and strategies for the station: increasing awareness and building the public image of BCTV, increasing local programming in all the towns that BCTV serves, engaging youth and seniors with special outreach and programming, improving the quality of BCTV productions, staying current with new media, and improving governance.

Nonprofit leader

Trowbridge is now in her fifth year as executive director. She grew up in Dublin, N.H., and is a graduate of Milton Academy, the University of Michigan and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, where she gained a master’s degree in regional planning.

She is a veteran of several nonprofits, including Tree People, a Los Angeles environmental organization.

She is married to Hugh Silbaugh, who is dean of the faculty at Northfield Mount Hermon, a private high school in Gill, Mass. They have two sons and live in Putney.

She also said she thinks her communications skills are good, a necessary talent for her job, which includes, “Speaking, writing, managing budgets. You have to have an organized mind and be able to weave a logical thread between a thesis and a conclusion.”

Before coming to BCTV, she worked for the Brattleboro Planning Department as an assistant planner, grants manager, and community development officer. And, she pointed out, she also ran the town bus system.

“What I finally figured out was I don’t exactly have a career; what I have is a skill set,” said Trowbridge. “And I can apply it to almost any situation, to any mission-driven organization.”

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Originally published in The Commons issue #123 (Wednesday, October 19, 2011).

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