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www.rosendaletheatre.org" target="_blank">The Rosendale Theatre Collective

Fun in the Digital Corridor:
Kingston public access television meets Seven21 Media Groupby M.R. Smith

Public Access Television: what the heck is it? With hundreds of channels on cable available, satellite and internet, it’s often the channel you’re skipping to get over to American Idol or HBO, the one with the not-so-great production values, with non-professional folks on camera, that doesn’t have the whizbang computer graphics.

But hang on a second: this is Public Access Television! Haven’t you ever wanted to have your own television show? Ever watched a show and said to yourself (or friends) “I could do that?” Well, if you have a solid idea for a show, there happens to be a station for you, complete with the necessary equipment and volunteers to help out: Kingston Area Public Access (KAPA), Channel 23, with its studio located at 721 Broadway, Kingston.

Personally, I’ve always had a soft spot for public access TV, having participated in a variety of comedy and music programming over the years—including a live wedding!—most recently performing on the venerable Poughkeepsie Live (Time Warner Cable). So when KAPA chairman Mercedes Ross contacted me to visit the studio recently, she found an interested party. Little did I know that there was an entire media community—Seven21 Media Group, covering virtually all aspects of the creation and distribution of modern media, and more—ensconced in the three-story building there at 721 Broadway, ready to take on the new digital age.

By all measures it’s been a difficult economic environment in the Hudson Valley the last two years, so it’s a real treat to find a bastion of optimism at Seven21. Mercedes welcomes me into the building, and introduces me to Henry Ellenbogen of the Ellenbogen Group and his son Jeremy, whose brainchild is the Seven21 Media Group. Henry’s been in the broadcast and media business since 1959, first as an engineer installing transmitters around the Valley, then later in the film-to-video transfer business, later getting more into digital editing, transfer, and archiving. Business was good at their St. James St. location, but they wanted a bit more studio space for video production.

The prime location at 721 Broadway became available when its main tenant, Regional News Network, moved the bulk of their operation to a new state-of-the-art digital facility in Rye Brook, leaving behind not only three stories of leasable office space, but a fully wired soundstage, with cables run for audio and video feeds. Still, it was a lot more space than the Ellenbogen Group really needed.

Recognizing the potential for the building as a media center, Jeremy Ellenbogen aggressively courted tenants in all aspects of media development. Around this time the Kingston Digital Corridor concept came into being, with local young tech-savvy entrepreneurs trying to help “bridge the digital divide,” and bring Kingstonians up to speed in the Digital Age. Not much over a year later, Jeremy and his new Seven21 Media Group has amassed an impressive community of (mostly) media businesses under one roof. At present, tenants include:

The Ellenbogen Group; RNN TV (a remaining office and studio space); Law firm Jakobowitz & Gubits, LLP (one of their specialties is art, media, and entertainment law); The MacWorks (Apple computer experts); Webjogger (internet service provider, digital storage); Remote Digital Media (HD video/audio production); Evolving Media Network (internet media, video/audio production); Learner First (online tech tutoring); Woodstock Films (film production); Totally Good Media (web promotion and media design); NYC Getaways (travel agency); Second Chance 4 Me (see below); Overlook Mountain Amateur Radio Club (ham radio); Evil Demon Studios (game design); Smoke Out Productions (anti-smoking puppet theatre); K-Town Studios (full audio recording and post, 5.1 Surround mix to picture). And coming soon: the new and improved Kingston Public Access studio, and the Almost Famous Café.

Collaborations have already borne fruit for Seven21. Recently Ellenbogen worked with K-Town Studios to do a multi-camera multi-track audio shoot of jazz artist Alan Glover and his group, using the old RNN studio floor. Webjogger had become the building’s internet service provider, offering great broadband service, and has also become an onsite digital storage facility for Ellenbogen. There’s usually an extra camera, computer, monitor that can be rented or borrowed onsite in a pinch.

Though she’s the chairperson for KAPA, Mercedes’ day job is as a realtor, and she sees a strong media technology center like Seven21 as an extra selling point for those in New York City looking for a less stressful and more affordable place to live. “We have so many people who want to buy second homes—or really first homes—in this area who want to work five days a week in New York City. What seems to happen is that people buy a house (here), and then they try to figure out how to do more telecommuting so they can work in the city three days a week and stay here and try to work from home. Or from maybe a facility like this.” It’s possible; just about everything concerning digital audio/visual media, recording, performance, communication, broadcasting, and internet can be handled at Seven21.

Back to Kingston Public Access television, which has had a rough time of it, having had to vacate for renovations for just over a year, and returning to the air last October. But things have been looking up, thanks to a collaboration between KAPA, the Ellenbogen Group, public radio station WKCR, and State Rep. Kevin Cahill’s office. Together they applied for—and secured—a grant for much needed funds to expand KAPA into a larger space from which they can better serve the community, and consolidating public radio, television, and internet content into one community access point.

The general hope is to bring added relevance to regional public access TV. With the new studio coming later in the year, KAPA will be able to broadcast live musical and theatrical performances, and talent and cooking shows in the studio. New technology has made remote broadcasting feasible, and Jeremy hopes local events like the Shamrock Run and the Annual Soapbox Derby can be enjoyed live on TV. With Channel Six (Middletown) gone, there’s actually a real need for more regional news. As Mercedes puts it: “This market is way underserved by the national media. It really is an opportunity for something like KAPA, the Media Center, and (public radio) to fill in the gaps, and do it in a more independent way.”

Public access has had a hard row to hoe from day one. In exchange for giving cable companies a monopoly to provide content back in the 80s, the government mandated that there be space set aside for the public to use. Often the cable provider was subsidized to provide basic equipment for the public access channel, as Time Warner has for Poughkeepsie Live, up until recently.

It’s the magic of television that it has the capability of making a small space look pretty large, and a large space quite small. Well, there’s not much that magic can do for the kitchen-sized basement-level room that presently holds all of what is KAPA. A single rack of recording, playback, and broadcast equipment; a table with three monitors, unlit, and a side wall with a blue backdrop and three chairs lined up, with a small table—with telephones—and two boom mics in position. Two broadcast grade cameras…but only room to use one at a time. Oh, a modest little lounge just outside in the hallway, with water cooler, coffee maker, fridge, and two small patio tables with chairs. To say it was modest would be putting it…modestly.

Present programming is mostly a regional calendar in the mornings and afternoons, and live television from 5-10 PM, Mercedes: “A lot of people do pre-taped shows. Some individuals do call-ins here, people who are aspiring politicians who want to complain about the hierarchy, if you will. Maybe it’s created problems, but in my opinion it’s the strength of the media.”

But that’s about to change with the upcoming grant money, which will allow them to move into a larger adjacent space—the size of the old RNN studio—presently being used for storage, and to upgrade some equipment. (A timeshare arrangement is being worked out for use of the RNN studio as well.) And though at present KAPA covers a small area: City of Kingston, Towns of Kingston, Rosendale, Hurley, Esopus, Marbletown, and Ulster, there is discussion of linking up with statewide systems, starting with Poughkeepsie.

The trick to improvement and expansion of public access television is still funding; KAPA exists because of volunteers. Mercedes envisions working with local musicians and artists on fundraising drives, with the enticement of multi-camera digital video, and professional audio results for artist promotional use. KAPA still can use volunteers: as in people with some free time, who are interested in getting a free education on how to operate modern media technology.

It’s been a nice tour of the Seven21 building. On the third floor, retired teacher Lou Spina has an extraordinary program in place called Second Chance 4 Me, which provides a variety of artistic and media-based ways to give the mentally challenged a re-entry point into the modern job market, and ways to improve their quality of life. In the basement, Ron Kuhnke has two recording studios: one for digital Surround 5.1 mixdown, and one that he is renting out—without a recording engineer, you have to be or bring one—for an unbelievable $85…per day!

If there’s one thing I’m leaving Seven21 with today, it’s some of that optimism that pervades the building. Looks like the Kingston Digital Corridor has a solid anchor. Now let’s make local television happen. Any takers?

So you want to do a show on KAPA? Those interested should download the producer application from the website (presently www.freewebs.com/kpa23). Meetings are at 7 PM on the second Thursday of every month, at Kingston City Hall on the second floor, but make sure to bring the completed application to the producer session at 6:30 PM. If the show is green-lighted and a time confirmed, there are volunteer producers available to help out. Pre-recorded content should be of a reasonably high quality for consideration.


For more about Seven21 Media Group, see www.seven21.com. Please also visit kingstondigitalcorridor.org.



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