Grassroots TV takes off in Philly

Last week a milestone of sorts was reached in the world of people-based media here in Philly. At an event attended by Earth to Philly and members of other interested groups plus the public at large, PhillyCAM quietly went from playing only prerecorded videos to putting out live, local programming to the region's cable subscribers.

Well, actually it wasn't all that quiet. Mayor Nutter stopped by in the afternoon for an official ribbon-cutting, and the party in the evening was boisterous that I was hard-pressed to do any interviewing on-site and decided to follow up on the event later.

Executive Director Gretjen Clausing points a celebratory finger at the 'On Air' sign as PhillyCAM goes live for the first time.

I spoke with two of the head honchos, Executive Director Gretjen Clausing and Programming Director Debbie Rudman, about how things are shaping up for PhillyCAM after a quarter-century fight to bring public access television, something that's been long enjoyed in other cities, to Philly.

Clausing appeared along with other staffers in the initial live-programming spot, which included interviews and clips detailing the long slog activists undertook to get PhillyCAM to happen (even though it was already mandatory for the city and Comcast to do so). After coming out of the studio, she was entertained by the number of people who said "I just saw you on TV!"

The show was livestreamed and public-access advocates around the country tuned in. One show host who was also interviewed in that first live show "got so many texts from so many people his phone died" that night, said Clausing.

The group's newish digs on 7th street, where members of the public can get trained and certified in TV production, are certainly a far cry from Wayne's basement (Wayne's World, of course, being the cultural touchstone journalists are required to namecheck when discussing public-access TV). Here's how PhillyCAM's press release describes them:

To help realize the design of the new facility PhillyCAM worked with Metcalfe Architecture and Design. The new facility expands beyond the idea of public access as just a television channel and creates a place where people can come to learn, collaborate and interact through the production of independent media.  The two-level, 8000 square foot space features two television studios, a media lab, and community space for members to gather and collaborate.  The multi-camera main studio is where users can produce and broadcast talk shows, performances, community meetings, and electronic town halls. A second single-operator “Express Studio,” represents a literal interpretation of public access as an "electronic soapbox” and looks out directly onto 7th Street.  

Debbie Rudman talked about some of the shows, either already in rotation or soon to be released, that may be of especial interest to Earth to Philly readers, including:

  • United Philly TV - Produced by an activist trained by PhillyCam, this series focuses on Philadelphia Community Corps, working to clean up empty lots and improve he city
  • Philly Home Grown - Serena Reid on locally-produced organic food, urban farming, conserving public space
  • Corner Store Kids - One "special," a video from West Philly on the atrocious state of school lunches, produced by the organization Free My Miseducation
  • Undercover TV - An animal-welfare show produced by the Humane League of Philadelphia
  • City Harvest - A documentary on community gardens that Rudman said usually airs "around 5 a.m., for those early-riser gardeners."

There are also offerings from Big Tea Party ("It's Cooking, It's Crafts, It's Anarchy"), Margaret Motheral (brown fields and environmental justice), Anton Heywood (PSA on protecting our waters) and Mill Creek Farm.

You can find the whole programming schedule at Once you go through it, ask yourself why you're not on it. Do you have an idea for a show, and the stamina to follow through and do it? Rudman encourages interested show-creators to go to the site or to call her at 267-639-5481.

"I would love to hear from people who want to develop shows," she said, adding "I happen to know the fellow you [Earth to Philly] just wrote about, behind Viaduct Greene, is a videographer. Hint, hint!"

Well, if Paul VanMeter is an E2P reader, maybe that love connection will happen soon after this post goes up. In the meantime, whoever you are, check out phillyCAM and see if there's an opportunity to make your voice heard!