Public television may call to mind images of children's shows and documentaries, but the format has lots more to offer — especially if staying in touch with local culture is a priority. Austin has a strong connection to the medium, as the city with the longest continually running public access station in the country, and now it’s celebrating 50 years by naming the month of June Austin Public Television Month.
A public event on June 25 will invite viewers to stop by the Public Access Television Studio (1143 Northwestern Avenue) from noon to 4 for an open house. Visitors can explore, take interactive tours, and mingle with complimentary refreshments by the Austin Film Society (AFS), which operates the 20-acre production facility on behalf of the City of Austin.
Channel 10 (formerly Austin Community Television, or ACTV; not to be confused with KLRU, or Austin PBS) can trace those 50 years back to Mt. Larson, in Westlake, where some University of Texas students “[carried] their video production equipment on their shoulders,” according to a release. With the help of community activists and members of the Texas Commission on the Arts, they started the city’s first broadcast.
This was about more than entertaining Austinites — although Austin Public has done plenty of that over its decades. It was, and still is, a platform for locals to get messages out that likely won’t be picked up by major private networks. (Think of Austin’s wacky KOOP 91.7 FM on the radio today.)
“When community television ... launched, it was the only free-speech outlet available for residents that provided a voice for traditionally underrepresented groups and perspectives unavailable within mainstream media,” said Rondella Hawkins, the City of Austin’s Telecommunications and Regulatory Affairs Officer.
“The City of Austin has continued its commitment to preserve and support the access TV channels," Hawkins continued, "to distribute the content created by the local community at the studio facility, using the state-of-the-art video production equipment.”
And even though these programs are for their viewers, they represent an irreplaceable opportunity for the people who work on them to start or continue their craft. “Leveraging these resources,” continued Hawkins, “it’s through our partnership with Austin Public to provide the training and the pathways for promising careers in the creative industry.”
Austin Public runs a paid workforce development program called Creative Careers, and broadcasts highlights on its producers. The station's many programs include lots of hosting opportunities, like on The Gene and Dave Show, which highlights the disabled experience with comedy, and in nerd-culture conversations curated by Kaiju Labs Media.
Austinites have Channel 10 to thank for attracting and developing talent like film director Richard Linklater (Dazed and Confused), who founded AFS, and Robert Rodriguez (Spy Kids, Sin City). Now in addition to that main channel, Austin Public also runs Channels 11 (for Christian programming) and 16 (for music programming).
“The history of Public Access in Austin is intrinsically tied to the growth and success of the City’s creative sector, and public access remains vital to the culturally focused expressions of a diverse city," said AFS CEO Rebecca Campbell.
Register for the free open house at at Austin Public at austinfilm.org.