Spotlight: WestMilford – Stations Come in Many Sizes
by Geoffrey Belinfante, West Milford
West Milford is one of the smallest stations to be a member of JAG. We are run by a seven-member volunteer board lead by Chairman and JAG Trustee Bob Nicholson. We operate on a meager budget of $4800 a year which we get from Altice, the one and only cable provider in town—no Fios up here in the Highlands. We do produce content on a regular basis and while the pandemic changed the kind of productions we attempt, we are slowly returning to a more normal production schedule. We continued to stream the Town Council and Board of Education meetings even during the pandemic. Since the meetings were not open to the public much of 2020 and the first part of 2021, the town council and mayor really appreciated our efforts to provide coverage of the meetings to our residents. We also produced a virtual Memorial Day message from the mayor in lieu of the traditional parade in 2020 and we carried the virtual high school graduations in 2020 and 2021. All these efforts provided a sense of normalcy in what was anything but a normal time for our town.
When things loosened up in the spring of 2021, we began to once again cover the summer concerts in town sponsored by the library and the rec department. These are outdoor events so our volunteers felt comfortable doing the work necessary to photograph them. We were even able to put together a crew to shoot the National Night Out celebration which was quite well attended and provided a proper forum for our residents to learn more about the efforts of our first responders. In September 2021, we began a regularly scheduled on camera update from the township’s recreation director highlighting the latest offerings from his department.
One of the unexpected results of the Covid 19 epidemic has been the increased awareness and appreciation of all that we do to help the town communicate with its residents. Both the mayor and the administrator have personally expressed their gratitude for the work we have done during the health crisis and they have demonstrated their appreciation with some special appropriations that have allowed us to purchase some new equipment, most notably a LiveU solo that will allow us to stream from virtually any location in town. Although we own three JVC cameras, right now we have no way of using them together for a multi-camera shoot. We are hoping to receive an additional budget allocation this year that will allow us to purchase a computer, a switcher and a wireless intercom system that will allow us to do productions where all three cameras can work together. The next big thing we need is a studio to house our equipment. Currently, it all sits in a cabinet in the council chamber.
This year WM77 won its first Award of Excellence for a show we produced on a Civil War Re-enactment at the Long Pond Iron Works here in West Milford. It turns out that the Iron Works made musket muzzles for the Union army during the Civil War which gave the production special meaning to those in town who enjoy history. We are hoping that such recognition will inspire our town council to grant our request for a switcher. Time will tell.
Like every volunteer channel, we have had trouble getting and keeping volunteers. The pandemic certainly didn’t help the situation. With only seven commissioners, only four who shoot, we can’t possible cover all the events that occur in town. After much discussion, we have developed an idea that we hope will allow more people and organizations to contribute content to the channel. With the help of the library director, the commissioners hope to offer classes to people interested in producing and editing videos for the channel. We are encouraging the use of cell phones to let parents shoot videos of various sports organizations, scout troops, Four H and Future Farmers of America organizations (yes, we have farms up here in West Milford). We may be lowering the bar on the production quality of some of the content on the station, but we feel there is great value in increasing the amount of local content on the channel. Unfortunately, we have yet to implement this idea, but when we do, I’ll let you know if it generates any new programming for the station. Although we are small in numbers, we program a channel for 24 hours a day thanks to the JAG server. We hope our efforts will lead to more local content and increase the value of the channel to the township.