A public service of TCC

Educating the Public in Conservative Ideas
with Public Access Television:
A How-To Guide For Conservative Leaders And Activists
A public service of The Conservative Caucus
450 Maple Avenue East * Vienna, Va. 22180 * 703-938-9626


Related Info: Conservative Roundtable -- Watch  Broadcast Schedule  Intro  Guests

By Art Harman, Producer of "Conservative Roundtable"

Be a Conservative Television Producer!

Introduction

The Conservative Caucus is a major Constitutional-government citizens' lobbying group based in Vienna Virginia. We produce Conservative Roundtable, a half hour weekly television program in the style of Meet the Press, but without the liberal guests or the liberal bias. It is the only nationally-distributed conservative discussion program.  Each week viewers will find in-depth and critical analysis of the important public policy issues which affect your life and our country. Liberal threats to our freedoms are exposed, and conservative values and solutions are highlighted. We distribute the program via public access television stations across the country to educate Americans in conservative issues and philosophy.

News reports after the 1994 elections indicated that conservative shows like Rush Limbaugh, Pat Buchanan, G. Gordon Liddy, and many others helped millions of voters understand the real issues in America. Once Americans learned the facts unfiltered by the liberal media it made a big difference. Here's how you can be a part of this conservative media revolution by using public access television.

This guide is written to help acquaint you, the conservative leader or activist, with the benefits of using public access television and as a very basic level primer in how to produce a television show for your organization. I wish you great success and a good time too.


What is Public Access Television?

Public access is "do-it-yourself" television. It's a channel on cable TV reserved for residents of the community which the cable company serves to create or air a television program usually at no cost. You do not need to be a cable subscriber. Think of it as like a televised letters-to-the-editor page where anyone can get their ideas on TV. You can too, and this report will give you the basic facts you need to get started. Not every cable TV company has a public access channel.  Public access is very different from PBS/public broadcasting.

Why Should I Use Public Access?

Public access is free or almost free television coverage! You can reach thousands of people with your organization's message, and because you control your message 100%, your message will not be distorted as it could be in the liberal media. By publicizing your show to your members, you have an excellent means to educate them and rally them to action, and a public access show can help you recruit new members and supporters. Your members and contributors will appreciate seeing your organization on television, and depending on your public access station's rules, you may be able to sell copies of tapes to raise money.


Here are several ways you can promote conservative issues by using Public Access Television:

1. To get started in using public access television, The Conservative Caucus will provide you, free of charge, the weekly program Conservative Roundtable for you to run on your public access station. This is easy to do and usually involves only a few phone calls and filling out a form or two, obtainable from your local cable TV company. DETAILS We may also be able to provide you with a special sponsorship video to show with the program which says that the program is sponsored by your organization, with your address and phone number. Contact us for more information to get started.

2. Learn television production by taking classes at your local public access station, community college, or other sources. It is not hard to learn how to actually produce a successful, professional looking TV show. This could even become a career.

3. Videotape local conservative lectures and speeches, and run them on public access. You can do this with a VHS type camera and it will look like similar to a C-SPAN program. Be sure to get permission from the speakers first.

4. Create your own show or help someone else start a show to promote conservative issues, a political group, a political candidate, your church, or any other worthwhile cause.

5. Get your program shown on public access stations in other cities to expand your audience.

6. Find commercial sponsors and move the show to a regular television station. Low-power, independent and religious stations may be the best places to start.


Producing TV programs is easier than you may think:

The truth is you don't need expensive equipment to make a professional looking TV program nor do you need a highly trained crew with years of experience. With some training, practice and creativity you can produce a quality program using basic equipment and a volunteer crew at a public access station. Here are details of the most important steps in beginning a television program.

How to find and train a production crew:

The best way to find a television crew is to find people with a desire to help within your own organization. Your own members and activists. Get them trained at the public access station, a community college, or wherever else you can. Because they have a political interest in the program, they should be very dependable. Public access stations and colleges may also have lists of trained volunteers who want to help other people produce shows, and this is a good source for recruiting experienced crew members. Your organization may already have some members with video experience, either professionally or as a hobby.

Many public access stations offer at least basic classes in television production, and in only a few weeks you can learn how to make a quality show. Start by learning the "jargon"--the specialized words of the industry to understand the subject better. Get as much hands-on experience as you can, whether just for practice or while assisting on some other access show. This will really help make you a pro. If your public access station does not offer training classes, a community college is a good place to inexpensively learn television production. Another method is to check the library, internet or bookstores for books on the subject--read up on the subject (search the web too), then practice using a home camcorder.

Who is your audience?

Whether you want to make just one show, or to start a regular weekly or monthly series; the content of your program will depend on who you want your message to reach. Certainly you'll be aiming your program at people with at least some interest in politics. But you should limit the audience a bit more: Do you want to focus on one or several particular issues? People with existing conservative beliefs?  People you want to educate to become conservative? Overburdened taxpayers? Do you want to reach pregnant mothers with a pro-life message?

You can see that each group you focus on will require a little different message. This is a very important point. For example, if you want your show to educate average voters about conservative issues, then make sure that the show does not talk about political issues from the level of a policy expert. You can't teach algebra before you teach addition, so if you are discussing a complicated subject, be sure to explain it first in basic terms or you will lose viewers who have less knowledge of the subject. Remember that many viewers have formed their political opinions from the lies and distortions they hear from the liberal media and public schools, so it's an excellent idea to spend a little time on your program explaining how the media and school versions of political events are usually not correct.

How to select the right format for the show:

Once you have decided what segment of the population you want to receive your message, then you're ready to select the way you present that message. For a political program, there are several distinct categories of shows. Here are a few familiar varieties:

1. An interview type program like Meet the Press or The Conservative Caucus' Conservative Roundtable: Two or more people discuss an issue or one person interviews the other.  You can use some additional footage to illustrate your message.

2. A C-SPAN type show featuring public speeches or meetings. This format is very easy to produce by just aiming a camera at the speaker.

3. A debate type show like CNN's Crossfire or the McLaughlin Group. People arguing or debating each side of an issue can be entertaining and informative, but giving liberals and their ideology free publicity on your show does tend to grant their ideology some moral equivalence with conservative philosophy.

4. A live call-in show. The toughest parts here are building a large enough audience to guarantee you will receive enough phone calls, and a live show is unforgiving for errors--you can't re-tape over a mistake!

5. A mixture of information and entertainment such as Rush Limbaugh's former TV show.  This takes a lot of work!

6. An "evening news" type of show offering short segments of various events with perhaps some commentary--put the right spin on the news! The liberal media pushes their agenda every evening on their news programs, so it's time for some balance! A News Magazine format show is similar, and 60 Minutes is an example. These formats usually need lots of field camera work and editing.

Videotape & watch successful network shows with your chosen format and take good notes so you can get ideas for your show.  Try turning the volume all the way down to help you concentrate on the camera moves--the music is designed to make individual shots seem to blend together.

Designing the Studio Set:

Now you are focusing on what your show looks like. For a politically oriented show, a studio set could be as simple as a couple of people sitting facing each other, or sitting at a table or desk. But don't stop there, because one big difference between public access shows that look amateurish and ones which look professional is how the studio looks. So be sure to make the studio look as attractive as possible, and try to make the set look a lot like the network shows of a similar format so viewers can quickly recognize what kind of show it is. Good lighting is very important in making your set look professional too.

You may save some money here by asking local businesses to donate items or services for your program. For example, a furniture company may wish to donate a desk and chairs. In exchange, you can offer businesses a credit at the end of the show such as "Furniture donated by Acme Furniture, 1234 Main Street." Check with your access station, for some do not allow giving such credits.


Taping "On Location":

If you are taping a meeting or people, inside or outside; here are a few basic tips:

Make sure there is enough lighting to get the best possible picture.  Low lighting results in a very grainy picture with dull colors.  Portable TV lighting kits can be rented for about $50.00 per day and are well worth it, particularly if you will be distributing your tape to many people.  Better yet, go to a hardware store and buy two or three floor-stand halogen worklights.  They work almost as well as the professional lights for a fraction of the price!  Your local public access TV station may offer a class on lighting, and libraries should have some good books on basic lighting.  Search the web too! Ask other public access show crew for their lighting tips.

The podium or person you are taping should not be in front of a window.  In the day, the sunlight will be brighter than the person speaking, silhouetting the speaker badly; and at night, the camera may catch distracting reflections of lights and people in the window.  Pull the curtains or better yet, rearrange the room so the windows are not behind the speakers.

Always have a microphone at the podium--don't use the built-in camera mike. Most home cameras (DV/VHS) and all professional cameras have an external mike input. If there is a panel type discussion, then have one microphone per person, and perhaps one for audience questions too. You can often plug in to a hotel's public address system to use their mikes--visit the hotel in advance, then get the necessary cables and adapters from Radio Shack.  If you use the built-in mike on your camera, the speaker's voice will be tough to understand at best, and you will also pick up all the noises from the audience much louder than the speaker--such as coughs, chairs moving, clinking of dishes at a dinner, air-conditioner fans, etc.

When taping outside, place mikes close to the people speaking, and have the sun behind the camera for best results.

How to find video equipment you can use:

Many public access stations have studios, portable cameras, and editing equipment available for use at either at little or no cost. If not, check out public libraries, schools, colleges or even renting from video stores. Perhaps your church has some cameras you can use, or ask friends to loan you their home camcorders. For an interview type show, a studio with two or more cameras will usually look the most professional.


What does public access cost?

Not a lot! This can vary from one station to another because some offer free use of their facilities and others charge small fees for each use. As a range, figure from no charge up to perhaps $50.00 to reserve a studio, portable cameras, and editing time to create a complete television program. You may also have to buy videotapes for $10.00 to $20.00 each. This is a tiny fraction of commercial studio costs. Training courses at public access stations are usually quite inexpensive too. If you also plan to send copies of your show to other public access stations, figure your postage each way for a month's worth of video tapes per station, plus the costs to buy tapes for each station you mail tapes to. You can buy error-checked used tapes to save money, and one source of used tapes I recommend is Carpel Video: 800-238-4300.

Expanding to additional cities:

Once you have invested the time in making your program, then work to get it on the public access channels in other cities too. Usually you will need a resident in that city to be the "local sponsor" who requests that their public access channel run your program. There should be little or no charge for this.  Here are the steps to do this:

1. Have the local resident call their local cable TV company and speak to the public access channel.

2. The resident simply asks the public access channel to send them the forms and rules which are needed to air a program which is produced at a different access station. Fill out and return the forms for approval.

3. When they approve the show for airing, begin sending the video tapes either directly to the access channel, or to your local sponsor to hand-deliver, whichever works best.

Internet:

Video sharing websites like YouTube offer the ability to reach a great many with your message, whether a formal television program, an informal discussion, a video of a meeting, a brief comment, or even a parody of the liberals.  Shoot it and post it!


Socialist Alert!

A number of public access stations are run by left wing activists, and some have given conservatives a hard time getting on the air or openly favor liberal shows. If your station gives you a hard time, don't give up, because with some persistence you may win. Get a copy of the access station's rules (some are available on-line) and the cable company's public contracts with the city so you can know your rights. Many stations consider using public access to be a "First Amendment right"--meaning they will not censor or try to control what you say on a public access show. The worst of the liberal stations use this concept only as a shield so they can air truly indecent programs in spite of public outrage. This can help you, because the common point both you and the leftists can agree upon is the First Amendment: If liberals use it as a shield to say or do offensive things, then insist that you have an equal right to air your program too.

Advertisements:

Most public access stations have rules forbidding commercial ads or selling things on your show, so don't expect to sell ads or make money from your program. The station may even forbid you from selling copies of your show. They will, however let you promote your organization or candidate as long as you avoid specific words like "Buy this book" or "Membership is $15.00".  Some stations may also prohibit directly supporting or opposing candidates in elections, such as stating: "Vote for Smith", which sounds (and is) un-American, but you may be stuck with their rules. You are welcome to say "Call or write us for more information" and when people do call, you're free to sign them up as members or sell them publications as you would anyone who contacts you.  Promote your web site on every program.  You may create "public service announcements" (PSAs) to run on your show or add PSAs prepared by other groups (we can provide some for you).  PSAs are non-commercial messages which can describe your group or project, or ask people to lobby Congress on a particular issue.

Promotion:

Without good promotion few people will know your show exists. Only about 5% of the public watches public access regularly, but we conservative activists can build our own audience! Print up fliers describing the show, with the channel and airing times; and distribute them at every friendly political meeting and church in the cable service area. Hand out the fliers at big public events, at the polls on election day, and even to people at the post office on April 15th! Spread the word on the Internet by creating a web page for the show and post notices for the show on newsgroups and discussion forums. Send emails to friends and political associates, and ask that they forward them to others.  Send out news releases when the show airs for the first time, as well as before each show is broadcast detailing the most important items discussed and the guest(s). Be sure to get the program listed in any local conservative publications.  Small "shopper" type newspapers may be happy to list an announcement for free.


Basic Television Production Crew Jobs:

Here are the most important jobs involved in creating a show. These positions can be learned in a few weeks at your local public access station or community college. Often two or more of these jobs can be done by one person. The saying "practice makes perfect" is very true. The more experience you can get by rehearsing and by volunteering on other public access shows, the better you can make your show look and the fewer mistakes you will make.

Producer

This is the person in charge of making the show happen. The producer finds (or delegates someone to find) crew members and gets them trained, selects the format of the show, organizes and oversees all aspects of production, and often occupies various crew positions as needed. Additionally, the producer should get trained in all the other crew jobs such as cameras, lighting, audio, editing, etc. Only by knowing each part of producing a show can you be totally in control and therefore able to get exactly the results you want.

Scriptwriter

You won't need a script if you are simply taping a political speech, but when you are producing an interview type show or an even more involved show, you will want to have at least a simple script to act as a timetable for when each event should happen. For example, if the credits at the end will take 20 seconds to roll up the screen, then you need to know when to give the host of the show signals to wrap up so you can start the credits on time. Scripts can get much more complicated, but for a political interview type of show, you can get by with only a basic outline of the show. The producer often is the person who writes the script.

Host

An interview type show may have a regular host who will introduce viewers to the subject being discussed and perhaps promote a sponsoring organization or candidate. The host interviews one or more guests on each show. No experience or training is necessary outside of being articulate, interesting to listen to, and able to ask good questions--and sometimes fill time if the guest isn't talkative enough.  An easy way to practice is to do a few rehearsal shows on a camera and review the tape to see how you did.

Guests

Guests are simply anyone who can discuss a particular topic as an expert or concerned citizen, and ideally discuss it at a level which the viewing public can understand with a minimum of jargon or specialized language.

Director

The Director supervises the production crew during the studio or field taping. He directs the cameramen to move the cameras for each shot, decides which camera to select and when to add computer graphics (such as the name of the guest); and tells the Floor Director to give time signals to the host so the program ends on time. This job requires some training and fast reflexes. The producer can (if trained) also be the director.  In television, the jobs of producers and directors are different from the same titles in motion pictures.

Technical Director

The Technical Director operates the camera switcher at the Director's instructions. This job requires some training and fast reflexes, and can be done by the Director.

Audio Technician

This person sets up all necessary microphones, tests them, and keeps the microphone and music volumes at the proper level during the program taping. This job is fairly easy to learn, and a background in audio, music or audio/visual is helpful.

Computer Graphics/Character Generator Operator "CG"

This person operates the graphics computer to type in names, titles, phone numbers and all other text and graphics that will be displayed on the screen during a studio taping or editing session. During the studio taping this person selects the correct graphics pages for the Director to insert into the program, such as the name of a guest. In a pinch the Technical Director can do this, but in a fast-paced show you really need a separate person. This person also works with the Editor (and often is the editor) to create logos, special effects and promotional ads. This position requires some training to learn the basics. Experience in computer graphics, desktop publishing, web or graphic design is very helpful.  Many graphics programs run on Windows and can be easily used by anyone competent in Windows.

Lighting Technician

The lighting tech sets up the lighting before the studio taping (or a field taping at another location) so that the people and the props within are properly lit and without objectionable shadows. This position requires some training and is very important to making a professional looking show.  This person can also operate a camera or other equipment during the taping. A background in photography or video camera work is helpful.

Camera Operator

The Camera Operator moves and adjusts the TV camera to the instructions from the Director via headphones. Typically three cameras are used in a studio taping, and one or more in a field taping. Home camcorder or photographic experience is helpful. The basics of this position can be learned in about 15 minutes and is an ideal starting point for anyone interested in learning video production.

Floor Director

The Floor Director directs the host's and guest's attention to the camera which is active, and gives the host hand signals to indicate when to start or stop talking. Little training is needed. This job can be done by one of the Camera Operators, although it is more effective if it is not. This person is also connected via headphones to the Director.

Editor

The editor works with the videotape after a studio or field taping to add music, titles. special effects or other finishing touches to ready the program for airing. The editor also selects and assembles segments from separate videos into a complete production. The editor can create promotional advertisements for the show or your organization too. The editor works with the Computer Graphics Operator and these two jobs can be held by the same person. Some training is necessary.

Studio Assistants

All of the above people also act as studio assistants. They help set up and dismantle the studio set or field equipment for each show, change pages on the graphics computer during taping, or operate the video recorder as directed. No experience is necessary.

Makeup

Shiny faces, bald heads, etc. can be made less glaring, and unwanted facial faults can be hidden with very basic makeup; and this can help make your show look more polished.

Promotion

This person is responsible for making the program well known in the communities where it is on cable or broadcast TV by using the media, distributing fliers, advertising in local publications, promoting it on web sites, news groups, chat rooms, etc. and any other ways to get favorable publicity.


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