By Brian Mittge
Big-screen troubles emptied his wallet, but it was frustrations on the small screen that really ruffled the feathers of departing Chehalis film producer C. Tad Devlin.
He had been a major advocate for Lewis County Television, a proposed community access television station that had hopes of showing parades, city council meetings, local sports events and educational programming. Without community television, his efforts to build a media company that would offer new skills and hope to local youths couldn’t succeed, he said. “It was vital to my company that it happen,” Devlin said. “I can’t keep trying to develop media in a community where some of the politicians couldn’t care less about it.”
Centralia and Lewis County both committed money to the station, but Chehalis has held back. Chehalis Mayor Bob Spahr said there simply wasn’t money to pay for a trial run of public TV, nor was there public support for an increase to cable TV bills.
“I think there’s some room for a local TV station to do some kind of local programming, but if the people aren’t going to support it and pay for it, it’s pretty hard to put it on,” said Spahr. “I wish we could do everything, but we can’t.”
Devlin cried foul, saying the city already has money – a franchise fee the cable company pays to the city. That money is intended for local access television, making a new tax unnecessary if the city council would just cough up that franchise fee from its general fund, Devlin said.
Spahr disagreed, saying that money is just like fees paid by telephone companies to use city road rights of way. It can be set aside for community television, but then that money is taken from other programs, he said. “If we take it from there, we have to raise taxes somewhere else,” Spahr said. An earlier public television system based out of Centralia, called CCTV, ended in a public train wreck. Controversial programming by Chuck Haunreiter and other local political commentators soured some public officials on the concept.
Centralia still has a very limited public television presence, showing city council meetings and a few other local events over the Twin Cities cable system. Devlin and other supporters say LCTV would have been a whole different electronic animal. The stars of CCTV also ran the station, so they gave themselves plenty of air time, Devlin said.
LCTV is organized so members of its board of directors could not appear on the station. This separation of powers would prevent abuses such as those on CCTV, Devlin said. Meaty local programs about reading and public safety would be augmented by national features, Devlin said. He had offered to help it get off the ground by managing it the first year for $1, and by using Northwest Film Projects to help youths produce
local news and features about schools and growing up in rural areas. “Tad had a lot of great ideas,” said Chehalis Theater owner and former Chehalis city councilor Daryl Lund. “The narrow-minded old-timers in this community lost out on a good thing, I feel.” A survey conducted early this year by W.F. West High school students indicated lukewarm support for the station, with 47 percent willing to pay an extra $1 per month and 53 percent unwilling to pay for public access television. Out of 200 surveys distributed, 64 were returned, for a 32 percent return rate. There were 2,074 cable TV subscribers when the survey was conducted in February.
“Sixty-four votes I don’t think should determine the future of community access television,” Devlin said. Spahr said people should let the city council know what they think.
When a budget crunch meant the pool might have to be shut down, people were vocal in their opposition, said Spahr. Chehalis just renegotiated its cable agreement and for the first time has the ability to add a fee for public television onto the bills. Whether the citizens are interested is another matter, said Spahr. “There’s no outcry,” the mayor said.