Dennis Watson, left, Wes Leonard and Shantell Bogle tape a Channel 16 segment with Tom Richards at Riverfront Park. David Grace photo.
KINGSPORT — Kingsport’s government access channel is becoming more than just a home for public service announcements and replays of the Board of Mayor and Aldermen meetings. City officials are experimenting with the channel, offering new, “quirky” shows and more information about what’s going on in the Model City.
Kingsport’s government access channel is Channel 16, and the city receives the channel free of charge as part of the franchise agreement with Charter Communications. The franchise agreement calls for Charter to pay Kingsport 3 percent of its gross revenue annually for the right to operate within the city.
Many people think of Channel 16 as being home to public service announcements for city departments and where the BMA meetings are aired live and rebroadcast throughout the week. In the past year or so, BMA members have periodically mentioned the need to improve Channel 16.
In response, city officials have placed more emphasis on the channel and have been working to improve its content.
“One of the things I was directed to work on when I first came to the city earlier in the year was to improve the level of programming, the quantity of programming, the quality of programming, and to get a better handle on the slides and information we provide,” said Tim Whaley, community and government relations director for the city. “We are making some incremental progress, but we’re certainly not where we’d like to be in the long term.”
Recently, Channel 16 has been home to Robby Spencer’s Adventures, Downtown with Dave (a program highlighting the businesses downtown), Fishing with Cooper (a faux fishing program) and Haunted South (similar to Ghost Hunters on the Sci-Fi Channel).
“Some of them can be a little quirky, but quite frankly what we’ve heard from feedback is some folks like that,” Whaley said. “It’s an outlet that is a little unusual, a little different presentation.”
This month, Channel 16 is airing the Tom Richards fishing show, a consumer watch program, Dirty Work (the dirtiest jobs of the city’s public works department), Kid’s Storytime, and a three-hour block six days a week on exercise and wellness. Channel 16 is also airing a show about Kingsport police (Behind the Badge), the skate park (K-Town Grindin), storytelling (Theatre of the Mind), life saving skills (How to be a Hero), and local bands (Model City Music).
“What we’re focusing on is the good news about Kingsport, and we’re also working some more with programs that have been long-standing but have not had the exposure that we’d like to see, like the seniors center and cultural arts,” Whaley said. “One of the things you learn with government channels is it pretty easily becomes a dry, all-government, all-the-time type of thing. The use of the channel does allow more folks to know what their government is doing, and we will be expanding on what we’re doing with that.”
Another new feature on Channel 16 is “MyTown News” at 6 p.m. — a 30-minute program where two college students read city public service announcements in the setting of a news broadcast, much like one would see on Fox News or CNN.
“That is something I decided to try, and I’m not sure we’ll continue with that kind of direct format,” said Whaley, who worked for the Times-News from 1995 to 2002 as a reporter. “The bulletins they are reading and developing are simply the slides, from Channel 16. To take that static medium of a written slide and maybe putting it into that format ... we’re experimenting with it, and I’m not sure we’ll continue in that direction.”
Whaley said he doesn’t think this broadcast would confuse the average viewer into thinking the program is a news show produced by journalists, but adds the show’s slogan “Kingsport’s only local news source” would be coming down.
“It is news content, but it does not go through the same filters and gateways as traditional news,” Whaley said. “If you look on channel guide, I think it’s pretty clear this is produced and operated by the city of Kingsport, and we need to make sure that’s clear.”
Programs that air on Channel 16 are produced by Elixir Media Group — a Kingsport-based company specializing in networking, Web design, marketing, film production and e-commerce.
For about two years, Whaley said Elixir basically donated its time toward the production of programs for Channel 16. Now Kingsport budgets $18,000 a year toward Channel 16 and has a formal contract with Elixir for the production and airing of content.
Wes Leonard, owner of Elixir, said he donated the time because he wanted to help the city.
“I live here, and we wanted to help the community. I just wanted to make a difference,” Leonard said. “That’s our channel. It should reflect the quality of what we’ve got going on.”
Leonard said one of the goals is to have all of the videos from Channel 16 archived and searchable online. Other possible programs for the channel could include the recent Dobyns-Bennett band competition, the downtown concert series or the meetings of the Kingsport Regional Planning Commission.
“The idea is not to compete with paper and broadcast outlets. But they are in a limited forum — there’s only so many inches for news copy, and you only have so much time for a broadcast,” Whaley said. “What the access channel allows us is to elaborate a little more on those, maybe provide more insight into some of the policies of the board or where the board likes to go on issues.
“It’s great freedom, and I think a useful tool for public to have this, for citizens to find out a lot more and see a full event.”
Mayor Dennis Phillips said progress has been made with Channel 16, but the city still has a ways to go. As for funding, Phillips said he could support additional funding for Channel 16 — to a point — if the programming meets the needs of the public.
“Some of the things I want us to look at is when we put the announcements on TV, they need to be in large enough print and be on there long enough for the average person to be able to read them,” Phillips said, adding the city is down to the fine-tuning of the channel. “I think more people watch it than you would think. It does surprise me the number of people who watch it. It has a decent following, but it is not the answer to the local news media.”