From a Need to a Necessity

by Stan Olochwoszcz, Coordinator, South Amboy Television

Once upon a time, on the banks of Raritan Bay in Central New Jersey, South Amboy Televison (SATV) was created to keep the residents of the City informed about what was happening in town.  The Government channel was a side-of-the-desk task assigned to Senior Services / Recreation. Initially a bulletin board comprising of white words on a blue background – pretty much the default screen configuration of a Videonics Titlemaker 3000 – and recordings of events such as the City’s well-known St. Patrick’s Day Parade and other events produced by volunteers using personal equipment started to appear sporadically.  The ebb and flow of municipal funding allowed for the progression to more sophisticated equipment. Over twenty or so years ago, the station was automated using a Leightronics Mini-T-Net connected to VCRs and DVD players.  That system required much manual manipulation, such as frequent visits to the station location to change tapes and disks.

A small group of folks offered to tend the station in exchange for use of space at the Senior Center to operate an “Internet radio station,” the idea being to offer local students a chance to learn some broadcasting skills.  Although intended as more or less a schools-based recreational club, meeting Board of Education requirements presented too much of a challenge at the time.  Technology and perspectives changing as they are wont to do, SATV was also faced with the reality of a lack of enthusiasm.  They had begun putting much of their own self-produced programming on YouTube, Facebook and the like.

Eventually, the Mini-T-Net outlived its usefulness, and it was replaced with a modest but more modern computerized Tightrope Media Systems Carousel Digital Signage and Cablecast Flex system.  SATV had gone digital! This stood the City in good stead when Superstorm Sandy wreaked havoc.  Although much of South Amboy was without electricity for as long as eleven days, SATV provided news and official information at various locations powered by generators.  For example, residents could simply look at a screen in the lobby of the Senior Center to learn what resources South Amboy had available.  The value of SATV as a community asset was amply demonstrated for that brief shining moment.

As the first TRMS system aged out, the Cablecast Flex-Lite 340 and Carousel Digital Signage Player 340 currently in use were purchased.  Space has been dedicated to a studio and control room at the Senior Center and a concerted effort has been made to obtain cameras and other equipment so local programs could be produced. SATV has also benefitted from hand-me-down equipment as a result of upgrades in the Council Chambers / Municipal Court.  Keeping  the various technological jimcraws and doodads acquired over the years talking to each other has been interesting, but programming efforts look promising.

Over the course of the years, The Mayor’s State of The City addresses have been broadcast, as have countless dedications, groundbreakings, fireworks and festivals.  We had always thought about putting recordings of Council and Agency meetings on the channel and it came to pass to some extent during the pandemic as experimental Zoom meetings were broadcast.  Of late, the channel is presenting video of popular non-profit organization events such as the Music at St. Mary’s Concert Series and the SA Arts Alliance’s Acoustic Fridays.  A staple of SATV has been Spooky Thriller Mystery Theatre, an admittedly cheesy nod to bygone Saturday matinees cobbled together from public domain short subjects, cartoons, and movies.  STMT has been well-received by other PEG channels since SATV joined JAG Online and started distributing it through the Media Exchange. The fifth “season” is currently in production.

As the second Tightrope system nears its end-of-life, changes in the City Administration have South Amboy TV adjusting its perspective in order to better define its capabilities.  A small but enthusiastic group of new volunteers is stepping forward.  New programming ideas are being encouraged.  Renovation of the studio space is proceeding.  SATV is still largely a Public Service Bulletin Board, only prettier. It is hoped that the momentum of the past several decades will propel South Amboy TV on Optimum 15 & Fios 35 toward the viable and useful community service that those involved have always hoped it would grow to be.