Belfast’s BCTV volunteers create a community’s television station

Ned Lightner of Belfast Community Television shoots some video at Darby's Restaurant in Belfast for a holiday shopping special for the TV channel. (Abigail Curtis/Beacon).
Ned Lightner of Belfast Community Television shoots some video at Darby's Restaurant in Belfast for a holiday shopping special for the TV channel. (Abigail Curtis/Beacon).
Posted Dec. 04, 2010, at 1:35 p.m.

BELFAST, Maine — To Ned Lightner, community television can bring people together and add to the overall quality of life in a place.

That’s why he volunteers 20 to 30 hours a week to run Belfast Community Television, or BCTV, the public access station that is broadcast locally on Channel 2.

“I really love the idea of community television,” Lightner said. “A lot of the people around Belfast have bumper stickers that say ‘Kill Your Television.’ I can sympathize with that, but I feel like I’m doing something good for the community.”

The station, which was founded in the spring of 2006 by Lightner, isn’t just any channel. The hard-working volunteers and contributors take pride in their work, creating shows such as “Reigning Cats & Dogs” about pet adoption and “Somewhere in Waldo County,” which takes the camera on the road to an interesting location or activity or an interview with a local mover and shaker.

The station broadcast from Cedar Street on Halloween as thousands of trick-or-treaters roamed the neighborhood and will be going live — or nearly so, with a 30-second delay — from New Year’s by the Bay this year.

Lightner also prides himself on what the channel isn’t.

“So many public access channels in the past were incredibly boring,” he said. “There would be a bulletin board up all the time. Or the camera work was crummy.”

Not so at BCTV, which makes up in passion and experience what it lacks in dollars, he said. Lightner has been working in community television since the 1970s, starting at a TV station in Augusta.

The Belfast station is one of three local channels in the city, joining Belfast Area High School’s educational Channel 5 and the government channel on 7. Belfast gets a $60,000 check from Time Warner Cable each year for the three locally originated channels, he said.

On that amount, BCTV is on the air 24 hours a day, seven days a week, Lightner said. There are six hours of locally produced shows each day with a lot of programming shared with PEGMedia in Rockport. That is a national and international media transfer site for public, education and government community television stations and producers of media for these stations. Shows shared that way have a potential audience of tens of millions of cable TV viewers across the country.

In Belfast, program sharing means that local viewers can watch a boating show made in Massachusetts but also relevant to Maine’s midcoast. It also means that local tai chi teacher David Hurley gets fan mail from states like Florida, because his serene outdoor show “Tai Chi Through the Seasons” is broadcast there.

Lightner smiles as he lists some numbers. Hurley’s show could be seen by viewers in just 2,000 households in Belfast, but it is shown to 250,000 households in Seattle that also might be inspired by the Maine landscapes in which the tai chi is filmed, he said.

“It seems there are a lot of people doing stuff for the town,” Lightner said. “I figure this is something I can do to make Belfast a unique place.”

For the holidays, BCTV is going to do a shopping guide that features local stores.

The mix of programs seems to be a good one with a recent BCTV survey showing that of 100 people contacted in Belfast, 10 percent watch the channel frequently, 25 percent watch occasionally or often and even more are aware of it.

“There’s still room to grow,” he said. “I just want to be a station that people want to watch.”

He and other volunteer producers figure that they’ll want to watch their neighbors doing cool things and learn about what’s going on in this neck of the woods.

“I feel like I’m doing my little bit for my hometown,” Lightner said. “I just think it’s really neat if we have a cool little TV station that helps people to stay connected.”

For more information, visit www.belfastcommunitytv.org.

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