Rosy Future for Academy's TV Station
by Cynthia Staats and Joanne Hayes-Rines
NASHUA, New Hampshire
Managers of the Academy's low power television station, Channel 13 - WYCN, scored two major coups in recent months. First, Gordon Jackson and Carolyn Choate averted imminent loss of cable access and then they formed a powerful alliance with the New Hampshire Technical College.
One year ago, WYCN was in trouble. The local cable company had been taken over by new owners who decided that the low power WYCN station would be replaced by a high power home shopping network station. "We provided the new owners with our revenue and viewer statistics," says Gordon, "and the numbers are impressive. Since the station began in 1988, it's operated in the black. We gave them data on our 200,000 viewers who tune in for our local human interest stories, discussions on the arts, business, and political issues. It didn't matter; they wanted to shut us down."
What's a TV station to do when its access is about to be cut off?
"We went to the viewers," says Carolyn. "We sent out an SOS and started a grassroots, 'Save Our Station' writing campaign enlisting the aid of viewers and New Hampshire politicians alike. The response was overwhelming. Hundreds of letters poured into the cable company's office, but it didn't alter their decision. They still said, 'There's nothing we can do.'"
As the off-the-air date of November 1, 1999, loomed, Channel 13 was given a reprieve. A third cable company took over, and now the channel's fate lay in its hands. The cable owner read the SOS letters and was impressed. "These are my customers," he said. Gordon and Carolyn breathed a sigh of relief but their reprieve proved to be short-lived. Six months later the same cable owner reluctantly called to inform them that another high power station from Wachusetts, Mass., would bump Channel 13's last spot. He assured them that he would expand his company but he wouldn't be able to provide access to Channel 13 until 2003. Channel 13 would end its run on July 1, 2000.
Not willing to wait three years to get access from the cable company, Carolyn and Gordon approached surrounding towns requesting their public access. Public access is not guaranteed by the FCC, it has merely been used by towns and cable companies for leverage. Recognizing the value of Channel 13 for their citizens, the Board of Selectmen of Milford, N.H., voted unanimously to give the city's public access to WCYN until the cable company expanded its operation.
As its on-air life was guaranteed, another blow struck. The rent on the station's small studio more than doubled. "It seemed that every time we turned around, we were fighting another battle," says Gordon. "We couldn't afford the higher rent, and there aren't many places in Nashua suitable for a TV
Another SOS went out and a surprising opportunity presented itself. "New Hampshire Technical College in Nashua wanted to offer classes in television production to its students," says Carolyn. "They offered us studio space in exchange for which we'll instruct students." Plans are underway to develop a certificate in television operation in September 2001 with an associate's degree program slated to begin in 2002 in broadcast engineering over the next two years.
The relationship will also provide Gordon and Carolyn with much-needed "hands" to create more programming materials. Not only married to each other but also married to the station, they have filled all the jobs of running a TV station for the last 12 years. Gordon shifts between station manager, accountant, and technical head, while Carolyn acts as host, program manager, producer, advertising salesperson and community relations liaison.
Channel 13's new home at the community college is the fulfillment of a vision and an educational goal set in 1987 by the Academy's founder and president, Dr. Robert Rines. "Local low power TV can provide what the high power stations can't," he says. "Television has always had the potential to provide quality programming but most stations haven't lived up to that potential. Channel 13 can now do groundbreaking work. Gordon and Carolyn have proven that they are incredibly creative, and their best work is yet to come."
Contact Gordon Jackson, Carolyn Choate via e-mail at