HUDSON — Four production sets are crammed into the relatively small basement studio at Hudson High School. The largest corner of the room is covered with a grey, wood-plank wall accented by vertical metal scaffolds, while another corner features a pair of windows and a more intimate setting for interviews.
A third wall is covered by a wide, pull-down green screen, on which the magic of video editing software can be used to project just about any backdrop. Hidden behind that backdrop is yet another production set: a pair of wall-sized doors that fold outward like those of a very tall, wide, but extremely shallow cabinet.
Around the ceiling are lights, and three cameras on large tripods are stationed in the center of the room.
Despite the versatility of its studio, regular viewers of Hudson Community Television are treated to much more than what is produced at the station.
HCTV cameras are also on hand for concerts, school sports and events such as local government meetings, which Programming Manager Barb Van Blarcum said was the catalyst for the station’s creation 25 years ago. That was when Hudson City Council decided to leave the Western Reserve Cable Television Consortium — known then as Cable 9.
"There was an opportunity there to stay with the consortium of communities, or whether we wanted to take our funding and start a station in Hudson," Van Blarcum said.
"At the time, there was an issue at the school board and it was creating some national news — I think it was creationism in science textbooks ... We asked the staff over at Cable 9 to record our school board meetings, and that wasn’t possible because if they did it for us, they would have to do it for the other communities."
The end of the 15-year contract with Cable 9 was approaching, and Hudson City Councilwoman Jane Waterson proposed formation of a Cable Television Advisory Committee, which ended up suggesting the city start its own community television station.
Hudson City Council approved the split in August 1995, and Hudson began receiving franchise fees to fund the operation.
By federal law, the cable provider (Adelphia at the time) was required to return 5% of its gross revenues from Hudson cable subscribers to the city. Thus, Cable 9 lost some revenue, but the city of Hudson was able to go its own way.
Cable 9 has since changed its name to Community Focus and serves Aurora and communities in the Nordonia Hills and Twinsburg city school districts.
Van Blarcum, who was on the advisory committee, said that back in the mid-1990s Hudson’s share of the revenue was around $120,000. That money, along with some cameras from Adelphia, got HCTV on its feet.
The Board of Education agreed to house the television station at the high school and HCTV became a community partnership between the City of Hudson and the Hudson City School District.
The first programming started about a year later — in May 1996 — after staff was hired and more equipment procured, including a retired police cruiser for use on remote productions.
HCTV’s budget today is around $300,000 per year and the station operates three channels on Spectrum TV — Channels 1021, 1022 and 1023 — along with online live-streams of its programming and extensive archives via the website watch.hudsoncommunity.tv.
While Channel 1021 shows community programming, Channel 1022 shows city and school board meetings and Channel 1023 shows community and public service announcements.
Filling the grid
On a "typical day," staff returned Feb. 18 after the three-day Presidents Day holiday to answer emails and phone messages, attend a meeting at city hall on the other side of town, and to make television happen.
That afternoon, against the wood-wall set, Hudson Community Relations Manager Rhonda Kadish went on camera to tape the latest edition of Hudson Headlines, assisted by city communications specialist Emily Adams and HCTV Operations Manager Dan Gerbracht.
The program is relatively new, having first aired last July.
"We had been doing Facebook Live for some time, about a year, and we wanted to have more and better content and in depth," Kadish said.
Later that night, HCTV cameras would be taping a concert at Hudson High School, as well as at Hudson City Council, where production assistant Phil Leiter operates the cameras, switching back and forth to film the discussions from different viewpoints.
"Nobody falls asleep at our council meetings," he joked.
Leiter said "every day is different," at the station, as so many people are doing so many different things.
"The only thing that is typical is Mondays and Wednesdays, when we get together the programs," he said.
On a pair of computer screens in one corner of the station’s main room, Leiter drags files from a window on one monitor to a master programming grid on the other monitor.
"If I don’t schedule it, it doesn’t air," he proclaimed.
He said programming is usually done three or four days in advance. "Theoretically, we could program it for a month."
He noted very little of that programming is from outside town.
"We’re one of the few public access stations that generates a large part of its programming from local sources," Leiter said.
Room for more
Van Blarcum said she got her start as a volunteer soon after the station started broadcasting, producing a public access program that focused on the upcoming "Land Legacy Levy." She said that show included aerial footage shot from a motorized hang glider hired by the show’s producer, Chris Soukup.
She was hired by the station in 1998 and started helping residents produce their own programming.
Today, HCTV has a wide variety of public access shows, in which those living or working in Hudson are provided equipment, studio time and assistance in producing their own non-commercial programming. Such productions are required to be aired on HCTV, but can also be shown elsewhere.
Public access shows currently airing regularly include Retirepreneur with Donna Kastner, North of 60, hosted by Heidi Schweighoefer, Phun Phacts at the Pharmacy, hosted by Dr. Christopher Grider, Appreciology with Tom Speaks and Ultimate Game Challenge with Christopher Dolciato.
Several shows co-created with HCTV and Hudson residents include Good Day in Hudson with Frank Youngwerth and a Moment in Hudson History with Tom Vince.
Youngwerth will be celebrating the 20th anniversary of his show in 2020, and according to Van Blarcum, both he and Vince have provided "decades of volunteer work and hundreds of hours of programming to HCTV."
HCTV also has an extensive catalog of oral histories of Hudson residents, captured on video and available online, along with other programming that dates back to the 1990s.
Despite the station’s impressive archive, Van Blarcum said there is plenty of room on the programming schedule for new shows, as well as equipment and resources available for even more locally produced programs.
All residents have to do is sign an agreement and spend a bit of time learning how to use it, along with a few guidelines.
In the meantime, she said, more people could follow the example of some residents who tell station staff HCTV is the only television they watch.
"They tell us they just leave it on all day," she said adding, "You can have 200 channels on your Spectrum TV, but these three channels are devoted to your own town ... You see faces that you know in the community."
Hudson High School student Yeji Kim, who produces the public access program Yeji Around Town with fellow student Ethan Jones, contributed to this story.
Eric Marotta can be reached at 330-541-9433, or firstname.lastname@example.org.