The Message

No Access

With no solution in sight, Denver's city council came through with $115,000 to cover salaries and so on for 2005, but Wedgeworth doesn't feel that DCTV types have stretched this sum as far as they should. "We said, 'You need to severely reduce your staff,' and they did reduce it, from thirteen to seven," she allows. "But we'd told them, 'You need to reduce it to two or three, because you don't have the money.'"

Tony Palange, a producer and playwright who has aired productions on DCTV for many years, says the tight budget has had other negative effects. "I was shocked at how the facilities had deteriorated," he maintains. "The cameras were literally falling apart. My camera people had to actually hold pieces of the camera together during the taping." Palange thinks the conditions may be keeping some producers away, and whether that's a factor or not, a sizable percentage of DCTV's slate is filled with syndicated offerings submitted by assorted secular and religious organizations instead of shows created locally.

Even so, Denver has a strong incentive to keep operating channels 57 and 58; another little-known clause in the franchise agreement allows Comcast to ask for the return of any "underutilized" channels at no cost. The contract also lets the city demand the return of such channels once it comes up with something new to do with them, and John Aragon, Comcast's senior director of government affairs, believes such switching could cause problems. "If we took a station back and offered it to some other network, subscribers might like it," he says. "If the city then wanted it back, we'd have irate customers." Still, the prospect of getting the channels for nothing helps explain why Comcast didn't bite when Zuehlke explored the option of selling them to the company.

Producer Paul Fiorino hopes DCTV stays plugged in.
Mark Manger
Producer Paul Fiorino hopes DCTV stays plugged in.

A group Zuehlke describes as "a nonprofit with educational ties" has shown some interest in taking over management of the access channels, and he emphasizes that DCTV can apply to run things as well. Boardmember Rosenstein sees DCTV as the best choice. He says he and other DCTV associates recently met with affiliates of several arts groups in the city, as well as with officials such as Mayor John Hickenlooper, and he thinks that "together we can create something of community value that will be embraced by mainstream Denver."

Translating such ambitions into negotiable currency is another matter. In July, DCTV staged an awards banquet and benefit, and prior to the big day, producer Fiorino speculated that the event would raise "$50,000 at a minimum." Afterward, he conceded that the bash generated just $10,000 before expenses, but described it as a big success from a community-building standpoint. In his opinion, the atmosphere only underlined DCTV's value. "We've got to make sure it survives on the dial," he says, "because DCTV is for you and for me."

Maybe so -- but right now, his voice sounds very lonely.

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