Harpswell Community TV celebrates 20 years of volunteers

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HARPSWELL — Harpswell Community Television will be celebrating its 20th year on air next month, and has changed just as much as the technology has over the years.

Station Manager Donna Frisoli came on board in 1998, and has seen the station move into a new building built by volunteers, transition from analog to digital technology, and attempt to keep up with newer demands such as streaming.

Twenty years ago this fall, the station transitioned from being cable-only to broadcasting over the air, which is the anniversary it will soon celebrate. Over the air TV broadcasts can be picked up for free on any television with a working antenna.

Frisoli said making the switch from cable-only was important to viewers in town, especially before the popularity of the internet made streaming an option.

In the late ’90s, many people could not afford to have cable, she added, which made getting accurate local news to residents that much harder.

“It was really difficult, there was a lot of gossip in the stores about what (was) going on in town,” she said. “We have three very distinct villages and information wasn’t always the same in each part of town, depending on what the store talk was, because that’s where you got your news.”

By making the transition away from cable-only, Frisoli said Harpswell Community Television became the only station in the U.S. to offer public, education and government content (PEG) over the air.

And, though that major change was a decision made by board members, other huge transitions have been possible because local people pitched in to help.

Also in 1998, volunteers completed construction on the station’s building on Community Road. Frisoli said the effort took two years of people “from all over the community” coming in to work on the building twice a week.

The studio features a mock kitchen, as well as a green screen and more than one sitting area for talk-show type programs. Over the years, outside entities such as hospitals have done cooking shows in the space.

Prior to that, Harpswell Community Television was housed in the Town Office.

The station has also had to try to keep up with the shift in technology over the past two decades.

One major switch came roughly three years ago, when the station replaced its analog transmitter with a digital counterpart due to a deadline set by the Federal Communications Commission.

In addition to a $10,000 grant from the Maine Association of Broadcasters, Frisoli said funding to buy the new transmitter came from cans and bottles donated by people in town.

“It’s a lot of nickles and 15-centers for sure, but that money was saved over 10 years to buy the transmitter,” she said.

Other technology was purchased through a franchise agreement the town of Harpswell has with Comcast.

Nearly a decade ago, Frisoli said the cable company gave the town $60,000 for Harpswell Community Broadcasting, which owns the TV station, to buy equipment.

At their Aug. 9 meeting, Harpswell selectmen unanimously voted for a six-month extension of the broadcasting company’s 10-year contract with the town.

Frisoli said the contract does not offer the opportunity to purchase new equipment at this time, but deals with what the TV station will “offer the town” and what the town will allow.

Town Administrator Kristi Eiane said Aug. 9 that the six-month extension would allow for the parties involved to “look at the agreement in more detail,” as well as solicit feedback from committee members or the public on what should be included.

She also said a warrant article at Town Meeting in March authorized selectmen to enter into another multi-year agreement with Harpswell Community Broadcasting.

Looking ahead, Frisoli said she would like to focus on a sustainable way of streaming government meetings. Until recently, she had been using a nearly decade-old computer to do so, but it stopped working.

She would also like to make digital archives of a bookshelf full of VHS tapes and CDs of broadcasts from over the years.

When taping government meetings, she said ensuring everything from “gavel to gavel” is broadcast unedited is very important to her.

“I want people to watch it and know that what they’re seeing is really what’s happening,” she said.

Elizabeth Clemente can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or eclemente@theforecaster.net. Follow Elizabeth on Twitter @epclemente.

Harpswell Community Television Station Manager Donna Frisoli with a bookshelf of archived broadcasts from over the years. She hopes to make a digital archive with the footage.

Frisoli in front of her computer where she types local announcements to be broadcast each day.

The Harpswell Community Television studio has a mock kitchen, green screen, and more than one sitting area for talk shows.

Harpswell Community Television will celebrate 20 years of on-air broadcasting next month. Its Community Road station, pictured above, was built entirely by volunteers.

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