It was a modest beginning: Two VCRs, one of which barely worked, and a video camera. That was the whole of public access television in Carson City 14 years ago.
Since its inception televising government meetings, local broadcasting has touched on the promise and the vagaries of public access. Now mired deep in the vagaries, city officials want to prod the system back into relevance, if not prominence.
Local producers clamored for air time on channel 10 when the Carson Access Television Foundation formed a year after those first, line-riddled broadcasts in 1991. A second channel, 26, was added and it seemed Carson City would become an endless fount of locally produced television programming.
Thirteen years later, CATF is struggling to rebuild its finances and its credibility after a former director was found to have embezzled half a million dollars from the nonprofit's coffers between 1999 and 2003.
Carson City officials, seeing vast but unfulfilled potential in the two channels provided by Charter Communications, has decided to seek out new ideas and possibly new managers of the public access system.
"You know and I know this venue can improve, and it should improve," Mayor Marv Teixeira said at a Carson City Board of Supervisors meeting Thursday.
The board voted unanimously to not renew CATF's management contract of the two channels, and to ask for proposals from other groups that might take the system over when the 13-year-old foundation's contract runs out on Dec. 31.
Gary Little, a founding member of CATF who returned in 2004 because "the bridge was falling apart and I could not believe what I'd seen," thinks the organization and its current board of directors might regroup and put out a proposal that will keep it behind the controls.
"We made it go. We want to make it go again. We want to make it go better," he told supervisors.
The public access system, after being neglected during years of embezzlement by former director Craig Swope, has been hard pressed to make improvements even after his departure. There are still debts from the era, for which CATF is held responsible. But Swope has been following through with court-mandated restitution.
Little said Thursday that Swope has refinanced his house to cover the final amount owed, a check which is already in state hands. It might be enough, Little said, to cover money still owed the IRS from the Swope years.
When that's done, he said, the foundation could make some serious strides forward.
But city officials seem intent on seeing plans other people might create for the channels. One organization mentioned by Teixeira was the Brewery Arts Center, a nonprofit community arts organization based out of a historic brewery building on West King Street.
John Procaccini, the BAC's executive director, was present at Thursdays public hearing.
The BAC is interested in the channels, he said, whether it manages them or not.
The arts center is scheduled to open a digital audio studio around the first of 2006, and Procaccini has been vocal about his desire to link classes there with Carson High School's video editing program.
Eventually, Procaccini said he would like to begin a program of computer animation and other "modern digital artistry" to go along with traditional plays, art openings and classes that are the organization's backbone.
Aside from the teaching possibilities of a comprehensive partnership, Procaccini said BAC performances, such as BAC Stage Kids, could easily be televised. While he is interested in the arts center managing the channels altogether, Procaccini said many of his ideas could be accomplished with another group at the helm.
As for the foundation, Little said there would be minimal animosity should the city eventually choose to hand the public access television system to another group.
"If it goes to someone else, we will ensure a smooth transition," he said.
n Contact reporter Cory McConnell at firstname.lastname@example.org or 881-1217.