Most every major metropolitan area in America seems to have a nonprofit cable television station. Hundreds of public-access TV production facilities were launched in the 1970s after the Federal Communications Commission compelled cable systems in the top 100 US TV markets to offer the public free access to the airwaves. Cable companies and local municipalities agreed to set aside a portion of a cable operators’ franchise fees to finance the facilities where residents could produce original programming.
Now in this age of smartphones, YouTube, Google, and Windows Movie Maker, practically anyone can produce original content with relative ease. Browse the Internet and you’ll find an endless supply of videos that feature people ranting, dancing, singing, or performing skits. And there are cats—lots of cats. You name it, and most likely it can be found online. And when a video goes viral there is instantaneous access to thousands, or potentially millions of eyeballs.
Long before YouTube, your local public-access TV station was the only outlet for original homemade video content. And it took much more effort and perseverance to produce something that only a handful of people would see.
When I lived in Atlanta, I loved to watch the local public-access channel, which was called People TV. Airing content from a wide variety of oddball characters, People TV was far more entertaining than anything on commercial television at the time. There were the inaudible call-in shows with communists and local luminaries such as Hosea Williams, outré religious sects seeking to spread their message of salvation, and stoner drag queens. A parade of weirdos all had a home on PTV.
I’ve created a YouTube playlist from old VHS tapes of some of the stuff that I enjoyed years ago, back when the channel was good.