Citizens Television

Broad Cast

Several days a week, it’s lights, cameras, action at Citizens Television (CTV), the public access TV studio servicing New Haven, Hamden and West Haven. Behind the scenes, staff members and volunteers buzz about checking mic levels and moving props, cameramen shift professional-grade cameras around and the sound of whirring electricity is a constant. Things move quickly, and so “we’ve gotten used to doing things fast,” says Al Smith (pictured third), first production assistant.

That’s good, because there’s a lot to do. With three channels featuring different kinds and sources of content, CTV plans 72 hours of programming for each broadcast day, much of which is original. Channel 26 is focused on the educational. It shows programming made by local high schoolers and college students, and institutions like the Shore Line Trolley Museum. An informative show on the arts or health care might appear alongside syndicated programs like Democracy Now!.

Channel 96 is dedicated to local and national agencies of the government, with programming like mayoral press events, Board of Education meetings and municipal ceremonies—for instance, local tree-lightings. This channel also carries footage provided by NASA—of rocket launches, perhaps, or from a camera pointed at Earth from orbit, aired almost daily.

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Channel 27 highlights shows produced by the local public. Talk shows “dealing with the city” are prevalent, says Smith, as are religious sermons and comedy sketches—pretty much whatever people choose to create. This channel also features live studio shows that production manager Walter Bradley (pictured second, left), channeling Forrest Gump, describes as “a box of chocolates,” because you never know what you’re going to get.

And that’s fine by CTV, where the First Amendment is rule #1. Barring practices that are strictly illegal and/or graphic, almost anything goes. “The worst thing we can do here is censor somebody,” says program manager Tim Dagradi, and that can let some pretty funky stuff go out into the ether. There’s Waffle Statement, a show that makes waffles with wacky ingredients like Fruity Pebbles. There’s also The World We Live In, a sketch comedy series featuring oddball characters including Horndog St. Claire, a forgotten member of the Rat Pack who’s fallen on hard times.

Whether it’s airing original content or functioning as a hyperlocal C-SPAN, CTV is an outlet by the people, for the people, connecting residents to the communities they live in. It brings a closeness to the viewing experience that’s impossible to get anywhere else on the dial.

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That’s mirrored by the inner workings of the studio. “It’s like a dysfunctional family,” says Bradley, but, well, more like a sitcom family, rife with peculiarities but also plenty of supportiveness. Day to day, Dagradi, Bradley and the six other employees making up the skeleton crew pitch in to help everyone accomplish their tasks. Although Dagradi is the full-time coordinator in charge of scheduling the constant influx of tapes ready for airtime, he can also back up Bradley if the latter needs a day off. Likewise, Bradley, who oversees the actual in-studio filming of each show, covers for members of the public crews when they can’t make it. One way or another, the show goes on.

Joining up with CTV and making your mark on its programming doesn’t require prior TV experience, though you should know the basics. For that, CTV offers classes on a quarterly basis that teach anyone who’s interested how to use production equipment, free of charge. There’s no need to bring an entourage with you, either. People “meet in the class and then that’s your crew,” Dagradi says. “You help each other.”

Although there is much more foot traffic nowadays, Bradley is brainstorming ways to bring even “more of the community” into CTV. This past week, a local artist had an open art exhibition in the lobby—the first of its kind for the studio. Inquiries into showing artwork, taking a tour and signing up for classes are fielded by phone (203-562-2288).

Between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. on Mondays or 10 a.m. and 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays, the staff at CTV will be there, injecting community into the area’s small-screens, one citizen at a time.

Citizens Television
843 State St, New Haven (map)
Mon 10-6pm, Tues-Thurs 10-8pm, Sat by appointment
(203) 562-2288

Written and photographed by Jared Emerling.

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