Jul 8 2012

OPINION: Bring KCOM Back to Life

Opportunities Abound for Greater Community Use of KCOM

A year and a half ago, I wrote an opinion piece for the Piedmont Civic Association (PCA) about the viability of KCOM, Piedmont’s community television station; could it and should it be revived to its former relevance:  http://www.piedmontcivic.org/2011/02/09/opinion-should-kcom-be-revived/  

Briefly, the piece outlined the origin of KCOM, which began in 1984 when Piedmont had two cable stations: a government station and an educational station.   The Chief of Police managed the government station, which included supplying city news and safety updates, and a teacher in the High School managed the Piedmont Unified School District’s station, which included filming sports, student generated programs and performances.  After a few years, the School District station closed, because it took too much additional time for one teacher to supply content for a TV channel AND teach.  Likewise, the city’s station was turned over to a professional film producer and volunteer, Polly Rich.  Polly not only anointed ‘KCOM’ its acronym (the ‘com’ is for community), but she got the station up and running with a Board to oversee the station’s mission and yearly goals including fund-raising drives, and built an energetic volunteer base to produce local content.  After awhile, Polly found that she too was putting in 40+ hour weeks and requested a stipend.  Piedmont’s new City Administrator, Geoff Grote, appointed city employee, Marietta Blessent, to then oversee the station. 

Fast forward a number of years to former City Clerk, Ann Swift, managing KCOM – among her myriad other official tasks. During Swift’s tenure, KCOM’s Board was terminated; development and procurement of free and/or low-cost programming curtailed; and the training of volunteers eliminated.

While these cutbacks in public involvement within the station may have saved Ann and other city personnel time, as it takes time to train volunteers, meet with Board members, and screen films produced by Piedmont students and local filmmakers, but the loss of the community’s input, goodwill and support for the station has been immeasurable, as evidenced by the dearth of original programming and diverse voices representative of our changing city.  Furthermore, under Ann’s direction, the station hired a full time Station Manger and upgraded the station’s equipment, thus increasing KCOM’s yearly budget while decreasing its productivity and audience outreach.  At the rate of Piedmont’s growing disengagement – if not unawareness of KCOM, it behooves John Tulloch, our current City Clerk and former assistant to Ann Swift, to reconsider public involvement in our public airwaves.  More importantly, it behooves our elected City Council to reinvigorate KCOM by appointing an Advisory Board comprised of diverse talent, including a few film production professionals.

While interviewing a range of folks for the earlier KCOM piece, as well as for a current film series on Piedmont’s architectural history, I’ve found great interest and support for local programming.  For instance, people would love to see sports at Witter Field broadcast live, as well as theater, dance and music performances.  There’s interest in covering speakers and art openings at the Art’s Center, and the July 4th Parade, Harvest Festival, Halloween Haunted House and other community events happening around town.  Moreover, Piedmont is home to many acclaimed and yet-to-be acclaimed filmmakers willing to have work broadcast locally for neighbors to enjoy.  Lastly, there’s a treasure trove of films housed in the Library of Congress and Historical Societies around the country documenting a way of life in America no longer visible that will entertain and amaze viewers – free for the asking.  And, of course, these are just beginning ideas from our fine citizens – think of what a KCOM Board will generate!

Let’s advise our fine City Council members on the benefits of public involvement in our station:

– Denise Bostrom, proud Piedmonter since 1994

Editors Note:  The opinions expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the Piedmont Civic Association.

4 Responses to “OPINION: Bring KCOM Back to Life”

  1. I admit we didn’t watch KCOM much in its apparent better days of the past. A possibly more serious problem is that ATT Universe has increased market penetration in Piedmont after completing its fiber optics network a couple years ago. ATT has some features that seem better than the Comcast we used to have. Unfortunately, ATT does not carry KCOM although it does have a lot of other community or other city public access stations. The City is aware of this problem but it may not be a very high priority. As Comcast competes with ATT and Dish the percentage of Piedmonters with any KCOM access will significantly decrease unless action is taken by KCOM to get on board with the Comcast alternative systems. The public value of KCOM will continue to decline even if the programming were to improve.

  2. We seem to have a negative correlation; KCOM reduces its services but the cost rises. Sounds like more instances of bad financial management which seem so prevalent at City Hall: Undergounding $2M gone, Crest Road $275k gone, ill advised Kurtin HSV Undergrounding litigation defense $600k gone, pool takeback at $200k to $300k cost annually instead of the former zero, library contract at $250k to $350k for years when Emeryville was paying $50k-$70k for the same services, and now Blair Park, the “Gift” that has minimally cost taxpayers $664K to date.

  3. Hi Michael,
    You’re spot on, regarding AT&T U-verse luring subscribers from Comcast, and, therefore, decreasing viewers for KCOM and perhaps its relevancy. Except that KCOM also streams its programs, or, at least, the City Council meetings are streamed: http://www.ci.piedmont.ca.us/video/index.shtml

    And if more programs were streamed, and programming expanded — at little cost to the city, we’d revive engagement and community interest in our station. A KCOM Board in place could be planning a six-month strategy for expanding viewers and content as we debate ways to make the investment in our station yield a greater return to the community.

  4. It would seem to me that hosting a KCOM Internet equivalent on http://www.piedmontcivic.org would be best, with the piedmontportal.com referencing it. In any case the real problem is finding volunteers to create relevant content.

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