Erving joining BNCTV to start first community access station

  • Operations Manager Otis Wheeler in the Bernardston-Northfield Community TV Studio located in the Pioneer Valley Regional School. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Operations Manager Otis Wheeler in the Bernardston-Northfield Community TV Studio located in the Pioneer Valley Regional School. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 9/5/2021 4:00:14 PM

ERVING — For the first time in the town’s history, Erving is getting its own local community access TV station.

Town Administrator Bryan Smith said Erving is hoping to finalize a one-year contract with Bernardston-Northfield Community Television (BNCTV) to start the station. Once up and running, likely sometime in September, the station will primarily be used to broadcast town meetings and announcements. Eventually, Smith said he hopes the station will evolve into a multifaceted, lively hub for everything happening in the community.

Smith said Erving has been working with Comcast for a year to establish the infrastructure for the station. Otis Wheeler, operations manager at BNCTV, wrote in an email that “Bryan Smith reached out to BNCTV back in May of this year on the recommendation of Northfield Town Administrator Andrea Llamas.”

“We have a provision in the franchise agreement through Comcast to have a local access channel,” Smith explained. Which channel will be used is not yet clear.

The one-year contract with BNCTV entails $14,000 in services. The town is also investing in $30,000 worth of equipment — funding that has been set aside for years. Wheeler said he hopes Erving can get its own unique equipment to use in tandem with existing BNCTV equipment, but that it hinges on what is agreed to in the finalized contract.

“We’ll contract with a third-party vendor for help with part of the initial installation, but once things are up and running, BNCTV’s current staff will probably absorb most of the workload,” Wheeler wrote. “There may, depending on interest and experience, be an opportunity for Erving residents to volunteer or be hired as freelance operators.”

Smith said having a community access TV channel will be especially invaluable in a world where remote meetings have become the norm.

“The last year of the pandemic was a complete change of our work,” he explained.

He observed that meeting attendance had increased during the COVID-19 pandemic as residents found video participation more convenient. Because of this, Smith said the TV station might capitalize on that momentum.

“We’re hoping that this provides more stability,” he said. “If we had to go back to in-person meetings, we wanted to find a way to have a remote option.”

Similarly, Wheeler said the agreement will help BNCTV improve the flexibility of its service offerings in response to pandemic limitations.

“For one thing, I thought it would be mutually beneficial,” Wheeler wrote. “As streaming services proliferate and cable TV revenues decline, it may be in the interest of access centers like BNCTV to expand operations in order to consolidate, so to speak, in order to create efficiencies for the long-term. I saw the Erving situation as an opportunity to do just that, on a trial basis.”

Smith said that initially, the town plans to broadcast events from Town Hall, the Erving Senior Center and the Erving Public Library. Broadcasts will largely be informational at first.

“Hopefully the result will be increased transparency in government and increased participation, because when you make it easier to follow what’s going on, you make it easier to get involved,” Wheeler wrote. “For those members of the public who have gotten used to watching meetings remotely during the pandemic, we’ll be able to continue that service into the future. Archival recordings will also provide a permanent record that is more comprehensive than meeting minutes.”

Smith said the town hopes the TV station will eventually expand to have more entertainment-oriented programming.

“I do believe that, over time, more content will be developed and shared,” he said, “and it will take on its own life and energy.”

Reach Julian Mendoza at 413-772-0261, ext. 261 or jmendoza@recorder.com.


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