Everett TV won't rival the ratings for "The Sopranos," "American Idol" or "Survivor. " On Everett TV, the hits have titles like "Enron Exposed,"...
Everett TV won’t rival the ratings for “The Sopranos,” “American Idol” or “Survivor.”
On Everett TV, the hits have titles like “Enron Exposed,” about the Snohomish County Public Utility District’s battle with the energy company; “Auto Theft Prevention,” a blockbuster hit running off and on for nearly three years; or “Rinkside,” a show featuring Everett Silvertips hockey players.
In a small studio’s control room at Everett’s Forest Park, station manager Mark Somers prepares to tape a TV show.
Everett’s mayor settles into a chair and has a cordless mike clipped to his lapel. Technicians set up the cameras and adjust sound levels as Mayor Ray Stephanson reviews talking points.
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What follows will be an unscripted 20-minute conversation between the mayor and Everett Public Information Director Kate Reardon.
Titled “Mayor’s Update,” it will be full of news and deliberations at the highest levels of local government in Everett, the county seat of one of the fastest-growing counties in Washington.
Government TV. It’s about civic engagement, and it’s a way to learn about city government from the people who bring it to you: the mayor, the City Council, police officers and firefighters.
And though there are no Nielsen ratings for government TV, a surprising number of folks are said to be watching it.
All day, all night, Everett TV (Channel 21) runs everything from neighborhood meeting schedules to a recent City Council candidates forum that will air throughout this month in conjunction with KSER radio and the League of Women Voters.
“I’ve always felt it’s a service the city provides the citizens,” said Somers. “Whether they want it or not, it’s there for them. The information needs to be available. If you don’t have informed citizens, how are they going to make intelligent choices?”
Everett has a potential viewer base of more than 30,000 households within the city limits.
Everett TV goes to Comcast cablecast subscribers, and Reardon said the city gets feedback from people who are channel surfing. “And if they happen upon something that seems familiar to them, we know that they stop,” she said. “We’ve actually had people who have said, ‘Oh, I saw that interview that you did on KING-5.’ It wasn’t KING-5; it was Everett TV.”
According to Steve Kipp, Washington spokesman for Comcast, these are called “PEG” (Public Education and Government) channels, which cable companies carry as a requirement for franchises to serve a city. Everett TV operations are paid for through the city’s general fund, and Everett receives money for capital projects through a $1-a-month fee paid by cable subscribers.
“Every cable company has to get a franchise to serve a local community,” Kipp said. “They’re not exclusive, but usually what cities do is they require us to set aside a certain number of channels for public education and government.”
Everett TV is shown within the city limits of Everett and sometimes outside the city if other communities don’t have their own channel. Arlington, Edmonds, Marysville and Lynnwood have Everett’s Channel 21, and there’s an Eastern Snohomish County consortium of Monroe, Sultan, Lake Stevens and Snohomish. Everett TV also airs in parts of unincorporated Snohomish County.
Better than mailings
July’s edition of “Inside Everett” was a discussion of boating and water safety featuring Reardon; Jon Crooks, a firefighter with the city of Everett; and Robert Goetz, public-information officer for the Everett Police Department. The discussion was detailed and comprehensive. Everett TV sent that message to many more residents than if Crooks and Goetz were speaking to a small group of people or sending out mailings.
“It’s just one other way to try and educate people about the risks of water,” said Crooks after the taping. “Most water incidents are considered preventable, which is what makes it all that more tragic.”
Such public-affairs programming has won the station notice from groups like the Alliance for Community Media, a nonprofit representing public, educational and governmental access organizations and community media. They’ve won awards for programs like “Rinkside,” which airs a new show every other week during the Everett Silvertips hockey season.
Keith Gerhart, who does radio play by play and public relations for the Silvertips, comes into the studio and hosts the show with a guest, usually a player. Somers said it has been fun to get to know the young players, most of whom are Canadian.
Somers will go to the Everett Events Center, plug in equipment and get shots of the players in action.
Everett TV, long dormant since it began at the Everett Library more than two decades ago, got a jump start in the 1990s when the City Council decided to put its meetings on the air.
“That was kind of our first launch into our own programming,” said Reardon.
Operating with fixed cameras, they document meetings, recording and replaying with no editing. The meetings are broadcast for a week.
“When we first started to show on TV,” Reardon said, “you could tell the difference in how people acted and reacted at the meetings.
“Over the years, we’ve even had people who have come to Council to give a message because they know the TV cameras are on, and they know it’s going to be on TV.” Somers remembers filming a City Council meeting when, during the public input, the late Mike Jordan jumped up on a table and did a soft-shoe routine.
“It caught everybody by surprise,” said Somers. “There’s this man, dancing on a table in front of everyone.”
But everybody liked the fact that Jordan, a longtime dance-studio owner and prominent supporter of the arts, had jazzed up government TV.
“Really, the whole point of government access TV is to educate and inform,” said Reardon.
Reardon’s “casting pool” for “Inside Everett” is as wide as the city itself.
Bringing issues forward
“We kept it more like a magazine-style format,” she said. “If we wanted to bring in somebody from the Arts Council, for example, we could do that, and talk about a project that they’re doing. If we wanted to talk about Providence Hospital [Medical Center], or if there’s a big issue somewhere else, we left it open. For most of the programs, we’ve tried to bring city issues forward.”
The station runs 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
“We plug in our programming; we’ll get other programming from other agencies,” said Somers. ” ‘Rinkside’ we’ll play four or five times a day. We’ll purposely play it at 3 o’clock in the morning for those night owls.”
Since 2003, the station has taken advantage of more opportunities to reach constituents. It was a watershed year for the station, when the franchise agreement allotting the capital money — the $1 subscriber fee — was signed. Also, Reardon, with a degree in mass communications with both print and broadcast emphasis, became the city’s communications director. Stephanson came into office in 2004, and he and Reardon, who is married to County Executive Aaron Reardon, began “Mayor’s Update.”
In 2003 the station also created a portable “suitcase studio” to take filming outside.
They then were able to cover the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Celebration, the 10th anniversary of Naval Station Everett, and other outside events. They produced a tutorial from the Snohomish County Auditor’s office called “Voting — As Easy as One-Two-Three,” gave a presentation on the 41st Street Improvement project, did shows on Everett Transit Proposition One, and produced an in-house video for the city’s human resources department called “Workplace Violence.”
In 2005, they filmed mayoral forums, did shows on emergency preparedness, and, among other work from outside sources, broadcast a documentary called “Enron Exposed,” presented by the Snohomish County Public Utility District.
Everett City Council meetings went live this month, and at the end of the year all Everett TV programming will be available on the city’s Web site, www.ci.everett.wa.us.
“Just imagine the opportunities of streaming video on the city’s Web site,” said Reardon. “We get 100,000 hits on the city’s Web site each month.”
Diane Wright: 425-745-7815 or firstname.lastname@example.org