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TV79 Brings Town Hall Drama to Your Living Room

Broadcasting professionals bring Government Access to Darien televisions

If you were to volunteer at TV79, you would learn about things like "safety shots," how to "cook" a DVD, and how to segue appropriately from one talking head to another.

TV79, in case you didn't know, is Darien's very own government television station run by Jim Cameron and Dave Dever, both of whom worked formerly in network broadcasting.

Cameron is the Program Director and Dever, as General Manager, focuses on the tech side of the broadcast. They are both volunteers.

"We gave each other titles," joked Cameron.

Unlike major networks, TV79 abides strictly to a "gavel to gavel" broadcast model.

"We don't edit our shows down to sound bites, and we put the camera on who's talking; we don't try to capture reactions of people in the audience," said Cameron.

Dever worked for thirteen years to convince the town to start a TV station. Cameron, also an elected member of the Representative Town Meeting, joined in Dever's efforts about four years ago.

"One of the reasons I got involved is not only my interest as a former broadcaster, but being on RTM, and seeing how few people knew what RTM was doing – people weren't running for office; there were many empty seats. It was often hard to get a quorum," said Cameron. "We were invisible."

Dever and Cameron finally got the go ahead from the town, when Evonne Klein became First Selectman. TV79 went on the air in November of 2006.

"Since we've been on the air, participation in town government has increased, as measured by RTM membership and attendance at town meetings," said Cameron.

There's no way of measuring viewership, but Cameron says that they have an opt-in Program Guide email list, and the list has grown to over five hundred Darien families. And Cameron often fields complaints about when particular meetings are shown: an indication that people are interested, he said.

"There have been several times when I've been shooting a meeting in the evening, and someone has shown up at our door and said 'I was watching this at home and I got so mad I had to come down,'" said Cameron.

(Yes, town government can offer occasional drama, and to think all you have to do is turn your TV on to see your neighbors getting heated!)

You can find the TV79 "station" at Town Hall, in the former projection room for the auditorium. In this little space you'll find stacks and stacks of monitors, DVD players, controls with joysticks, controls without joysticks, and a fan that barely does its job of cooling the room. You'll also find, in the auditorium and in room 206, little gray globes on the wall that look like alien street lamps.

Smile! These little globes are remote-control cameras.

The equipment was paid for by Cablevision subscribers (viewers are assessed a small fee to support government and educational programming), and right now TV79 is only viewable on Cablevision, and only in Darien.

Dever expects this to change soon. He's working on mounting a Web program this spring, and when that happens, the entire world will be able to watch Darien town government at work.

Although the Board of Selectmen was reluctant at first about being on TV, Cameron said, they are now wiring two more rooms in town hall with cameras and microphones.

"We do far more programming than any other town," said Cameron. "Now we have people calling us and asking, can you follow this meeting? I think we've earned the trust of elected officials and viewers."

There have been other benefits to town government besides participation.

"The decorum at meetings has definitely improved as a result," said Cameron. "A while ago we were recording a meeting and there was no one in the room except the board—and the cameras…things got pretty loosey-goosey. They were passing things without reading the motion into the record, I think assuming no one was watching. But the camera was still on."

Things like that don't happen so much any more, Cameron said.

"People are more polite, they follow Robert's Rules—probably because they know people are watching."

Meetings are broadcast live and also air at various times throughout the week. You can add your name to the program guide list by emailing Channel79@darienct.gov. Volunteers are also welcome.

Jim Cameron February 06, 2010 at 07:00 PM
Thanks for the great story!

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