Open Channel Evolution CAT debuts new film, new name, new leader

People in town used to say hello to me all the time. They thought they knew me, but they didn’t. But that’s the way with “TV personalities” - just ask your local weather forecaster.

How did I rise to such “fame”? By running the first public access television provider in town, Fayetteville Open Channel.

Public access television has been a part of Fayetteville’s funkiness since March 20, 1980, when local video was first cablecast from Open Channel’s office on Dickson Street (where Emelia’s Mediterranean Kitchen now serves its hummus and kabobs).

I was the manager there from 1986-90, but I started appearing on the channel as early as 1982, when my husband, David A. Young, and I would drive from Rogers regularly to volunteer and touse FOC equipment to make our own shows. On Sunday nights, David would cablecast (play the different tapes scheduled for programming that night) while I worked at the editing station.

Fayetteville Open Channel held the contract with Warner Cable Co. until 1991, when Warner turned that responsibility over to the city of Fayetteville. Access 4 Fayetteville received the new contract with the city, and its name was soon changed to Community Access Television, known as CAT.

Now, after 30 years, big changes are afoot. They’ll start with a name change and the formal public introduction of Anne Shelley, CAT’s new executive director, at a celebration at the Cosmopolitan Hotel at 7 p.m. Thursday. Anyone with an interest in public accesstelevision is invited.

In a very happy coincidence, a journalism graduate student recently finished her film, “The Open Channel: Public Access Television and the People Next Door,” and it will premiere at the celebration. Niketa S.

Reed of Memphis, Tenn., the filmmaker, will come back to Fayetteville to introduce her master’s thesis project and first solo film.

The organization’s board of directors recently approved a new name, which will also be unveiled at the gala. Along with the name change, the nonprofit has opened an organizational office on Church Street near Center Street, separate from the Fayetteville PublicTelevision Center.

“We are looking forward to the gala this month to get us started with a bang,” Shelley says. A drive for organizational supporters will be introduced at the gala, and a silent auction will raise money for the newly renamed organization.

“Part of the reason for wanting to change the name is that we are no longer communicating only on television,” Shelley says. “Our new name recognizes the many avenues open to those who want to communicate. We will be here to help them learn to do it better.”

Reed, a freelance journalist and recent graduate of University of Arkansasjournalism school, says she was interested in documenting the unique history of Fayetteville’s public access television providers.

“In other places, it’s a freespeech platform in decline,” Reed says. “On a national level, it has a reputation for airing amateurish and eccentric programming. But in this city, it refuses to die.”

Whats Up, Pages 16 on 01/21/2011