By Michael Merritt, Mendham Township, Treasurer
As I suspect is true of many New Jersey municipal cable access stations, MendhamTV was formed in 2009 by a small group of Mendham Borough and Mendham Township volunteers. They were inspired and motivated by the financial support available as a consequence of the Comcast franchise contracts with both communities. In what has turned out to be an unusual instance, the town councils saw the advantage of setting up a single station to serve both communities.
With the enthusiastic support of Steve Mountain, the Township Manager at the time, the basement of the Old Ralston Firehouse on Rt 24 was made available to house the station’s (TelVue) equipment and a small studio, connected there to the Verizon and Comcast networks. Initially the station finances were managed by the Township in a sub-account, with an initial infusion of significant funds coming from Comcast to the Borough and Township. Prospective donors in the community wanted to support the station through tax advantaged donations, so a non-profit was established, “The Friends of Mendham Television, Inc”. This created some confusion, as the Borough and Township were appointing members to run the station as subcommittees, while the non-profit had its own legal structure and board. A station manager, Doug Black, was hired, and he helped establish the early programming and produced many shows, especially local sports. Cash flow was supported by small annual grants from the two governments (constituting about 2.5% of the annual Comcast fees paid to them), and sponsorships from community residents and businesses. In addition to sports programming, shows featured local parades and documentaries about local historical sites.
As is often the case with non-profits, many of the initial volunteers lost interest or moved away, and Steve Mountain moved to Randolph. A lot of institutional memory was lost. A new team came on board in 2016, revived a then-dormant non-profit Friends corporation, and the Township transferred all funds sub-account to be managed (and reported) by the corporate board. Since the tragic early death of our station manager, all program production and station management has been supported by volunteers. (An exception is that a generous anonymous donor has allowed us to make small financial awards to high-school and college interns who produce content or help with station management.) Current programming includes interviews with community leaders about the re-opening post-pandemic, and Mendham Township Library lectures.
Since it’ founding, MendhamTV has broadcast recordings of the Mendham Township Committee meetings. In 2009, Township Committee members were unenthusiastic about this, but could not stop a local volunteer group from filming the meetings, which MendhamTV then aired and hosted for VoD. Eventually new members of the Committee (some of whom benefited from the new transparency) were more enthusiastic and invested in a camera and recording equipment to produce the meeting videos. This is a striking contrast to the Borough, which made their Zoom recordings available for broadcast (and VoD). But now that they are moving to in-person meetings only, they are unwilling to provide any support for video or audio recordings of their meetings. (Interestingly, the Borough insists on receiving an OPRA request for every Zoom meeting recording, deeming this as obviously essential, where the Township has been providing recordings for years without such overhead.)
A final note…with the migration from tape to digital format, our station hard drive quickly filled up with our original programming. To avoid the expense and hassle of buying more hardware, we set up an archive account on Amazon’s AWS platform. We have more than half a terabyte of shows stored there…and pay $2.16 a month. It amazes us that Amazon can afford to invoice us for that little! It is paid automatically from the station debit card. Our next big project is to figure out how to convince Comcast and Verizon to upgrade our SD channels to HD, and to upgrade our TelVue platform to support that. We will be looking for advice and support from the JAG community as we undertake that change!