Producing and Programming on a Shoestring-in Alaska

Anchorage, Alaska has about 280,000 residents, a local government access channel (Channel 10), a closed circuit fire training cable channel, a public education Web site, live cablecasting of municipal assembly meetings, satellite downlinks, and video Web production. by James Careless
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Anchorage, Alaska has about 280,000 residents, a local government access channel (Channel 10), a closed-circuit fire training cable channel, a public education Web site, live cablecasting of municipal assembly meetings, satellite downlinks, and video/Web production.

by James Careless

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Anchorage Muni Channel 10 Producer/Director Molly McCoy and cinematographer Bill Bacon Serving all of them is a team of freelance contractors working side-by-side with the municipality’s sole Video Producer and Program Director, Molly McCoy. “I just try to get as much produced and televised as possible with the wide-range of specialized skills, talent, and extensive experience in television and video production that each of our contractors possess,” she said.

Those productions have included award-winning in-house video productions, such as PSAs, interactive fire training DVDs, and a monthly shows public affairs program, “AFD Magazine.” Even though McCoy is assigned to the Anchorage Fire Department as a fire training specialist, she assists many of the municipal departments in guiding them through the technical aspects of video/DVD production, television programming (whether it be Channel 10 or a commercial station), plus provides consultation on grant applications to obtain funding for video-related projects.

But since the city’s video center’s inception in 1997, no funding has been allocated for programming. So all content has been acquired through a wide variety of means, such as public domain educational programs (whether through satellite downlinks or contributed by the producer), grant projects, government agencies, public foundations and independent producers.

“Just when I think I’ve run out of new programming, I get a phone call and/or receive programming in the mail,” says McCoy. “It’s uncanny, sometimes.”


The video center is located inside the Z.J. Loussac Public Library. The center’s satellite dish-one the older Ku/C-band types-is on the roof. The feed goes to the fourth-floor center, then down to the ground level where the assembly chambers are located, and into the production studio.

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McCoy in the video center The assembly meetings are shot with three standard- definition Sony robotic cameras, plus one or two fixed cameras. All the robotic cameras are operated by AMX Panja controllers, which are switched onsite with a Genie by Pinnacle and fed into a Panasonic DMR T3040 video recorder.

“This is some of the best money we ever spent on equipment,” said McCoy. “The DMR records the content in an 80 gig hard drive, and we later burn it to a DVD-RAM disc.”

A live feed of the meeting is transmitted by a fiber-optic line to local cable company’s head-end control, which cuts it into Channel 10’s regular programming signal.

“Because our equipment is really showing the signs of aging, we’re in the process of researching the necessity of switching out our standard-format cameras, along with all the controllers and the main switcher to, at least, a wide-screen format,” she said. “It’s not a matter of if, but when.”

Upstairs on the fourth floor, the video center has two fiber-optic lines that transmit Channels 10 and the fire training channel on a 24/7 basis using a Leightronix automation system to shuffle among 16 decks to provide continuous programming feeds for both channels. The DVD-RAM disc from the assembly meetings is programmed through a playlist function in a matching DMR T3040 for automated playback on Channel 10.

“Along with the assembly, we replay other local content on an ongoing basis, so we try to maintain a varied lineup,” McCoy said. “Every seven to 10 days, daily programming rotates on Channel 10. Because no funding is allocated for programming, we cablecast weekly contributed programs.”

Programming has included “White House Chronicles,” “Road to Recovery,” “Army News Watch,” NASA’s “The Edge, “ documentaries like “Into the Fire,” “Tibet-Moment in Time” and “The Rosa Parks Story,” along with in-house produced programming.”

The video center uses four Sony DSR-PD150 DVCAMs for its field shoots, both interviews and Broll. Because the municipality is PC-based, a very costeffective high-end PC editing system was integrated into the design of the video production suites.

Avid’s Liquid Version 5.5 drives all the production of the Video Center. McCoy edits on a laptop to produce the off-line rough cuts on an external drive, which is then handed off to the online contract editor to finalize the edited master.

“This system has proven extremely cost effective in both time and money for both me and the contract editor,” she said. “The video center was given a Mac G5, but it is used primarily for Channel 10 program editing, since our in-house original productions are intertwined with our municipal PCs. The edited masters are formatted to DVDs and directly programmed into Channel 10’s schedule rotation at the video center into the Leightronix automated system.”


Since its inception back in 1997, the video operation has run on a shoestring budget. With money getting being tighter in Anchorage-the city recently cut nearly 200 positions-the video team is determined to produce broadcast quality productions through the shortcuts developed over the past 13 years. This includes finding better ways to serve the fire fighters/EMTs through the fire training channel.

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“This is a closed-circuit feed, which means it is only seen in our fire stations,” said McCoy. “You can imagine how difficult it is for fire fighters/EMTs to sit down and watch training videos at a scheduled time.”

Ideally, she would like to load all of the AFD’s training videos onto a server and make them available to local fire fighters/EMTs on demand via the Web. But there’s no money for such equipment. “So we’ll continue to run channel 650, burn DVDs, and distribute them directly to the fire fighters/EMTs, as best we can, so that this essential training is ‘available to them when they have time available for their continued safety training’ in between running calls,” she said.