PEG Stations—Then, Now, and Into the Future

By Dave Ambrosy, Station Manager, East Brunswick

Some of you may remember starting out back in the day and the fun and excitement of creating new local programming. Discovering local talent in town to announce your sports coverage or become reporters and interviewing your neighbors so they can tune in to their cable channel and watch themselves. Convincing your mayor and council that yes, people will watch. Or maybe you remember the frustration of carrying those heavy cameras the size of a microwave and attached to an even heavier tape deck that recorded a whopping twenty minutes of footage on U-matic cassettes. If you were lucky, maybe you had a production assistant watching the audio meter and time remaining. The frustration of working all day on your deck-to-deck edit only to have the boss ask if you can add a section in the middle. Or hear the awful sound of the pinch roller crunching the tape sending the deck into warning. What is a pinch roller anyway???

For the most part everything was new and fun to figure out, like chroma-key for graphics, lighting techniques and wiring up multi camera shoots. A different production every day. Covering an elementary school class where kids say, “no one watches that channel,” followed by, “when is it going to be on?” Still makes me laugh.

I believe the purpose of your PEG channel is still the same today as it was back then. To get the township’s information out to the residents i.e., council and board meetings and in the meantime create a little fun so people want to watch. Something that hasn’t changed is just when you think you learned and mastered the format of the day, it all becomes obsolete, and you have to get ahead of the curve and learn what’s new and how to implement that technology to keep your station up to date. Going from large bulky cameras to PTZs, giant twenty-minute cassette tapes to SD cards the size of a stamp that record for hours, linear to nonlinear editing. Perhaps the biggest change is in content delivery. From manually hitting Play on a tape deck and flipping a switch to go live on your cable channel to scheduling files on a playback server to play anytime on multiple platforms.

Changes for the future remain to be seen but we all did a pretty good job adapting and changing our workflow through a pandemic where PEG channels became more important in their community than ever before. Funding may become a real issue should franchise fees and how they are determined change, but I think PEG access stations have a long and bright future if they stay true to their roots.  We have to look ahead and be ready as people change the way they consume media.   Today, people want to watch everything on their terms—when they want, on a device of their choosing.  Those of us working at PEG stations must embrace all new media technologies, those in place now and those that will come in the future in order to reach younger, more computer and internet savvy viewers.  The information and entertainment programming we produce must be available beyond our cable channels to people who have cut the cord.  We must be willing to incorporate all kinds of Over the Top (OTT) solutions to deliver our content to all our citizens, those with cable and those without.  The number of cord cutters is likely to grow, but PEG Channels still have something no other media entity has.  To quote my first boss who hired me, “We can get people to watch by giving them something the big networks can’t, and that’s themselves.”

You may have heard that I will be retiring at the end of 2022 after forty plus years in local TV.  WOW, how did that happen? Best wishes as you and I hope to watch the great work to come from the JAG membership.