On the air

Cable access spots spotlight on Monmouth and Independence

MONMOUTH -- Tom Hall remembers when WIMPEG, the communities' public access station on cable channel 17, was founded eight years ago.

Equipment was limited. Volunteers were scarce. Work space was cramped.

"I think we started off in a room at Western Oregon University not much bigger than a walk-in closet," he said.

A joint venture of the college and Monmouth and Independence, the channel has grown slowly, but surely since then, Hall said.

With a new home at 150 N. Knox Ave. and plans by the stations advisory board to increase funding for the operation, Hall feels WIMPEG is primed in 2005 to become a more valuable and visible asset to the community.

"We're healthier now than we have been in the past," Halls said. "There's still a big need for volunteers, but I think now we're capable of handling more people and more productions."

WIMPEG began after Charter Communications took over service provider Falcon Cable. Charter allotted one of its channels for public access.

Western, Monmouth and Independence officials formed an advisory board to oversee the entity, while the college's video productions service department operates the station.

Funding came from franchise fees paid to the cities for use of right-of-way infrastructure.

Initially, WIMPEG's primary use was televising classes at Chemeketa Community College, said board chair Bev Davis. City leaders later recommended that the station start airing council and school board meetings as well as local events such as the Western Days parade.

"We wanted to expand that as a council, to meetings on television as a method of communicating better with citizens," she said.

The station's had only a limited programming block, due in large part to not having a suitable base of operations.

But Davis said she feels last year was a turning point for WIMPEG, starting with Monmouth allowing the board to lease a small home on Knox Street for editing, video production and studio space.

In September, WIMPEG aired the first edition of "M-I Voices," a weekly sit-down interview program created and hosted by Davis, in which she discusses community issues with local government and college officials.

Past topics include interviews regarding the civic center and fire levy ballot measures in November.

"I have long wanted to produce a program that would help citizens in Monmouth and Independence know what is going on in their community," Davis has said. "I just felt I could do it justice when I was retired."

Western is entering the fourth year of its "Wolfpack Week in Sports" program, which has garnered several awards from the Alliance for Community Media.

The board is looking at ways to increase WIMPEG's funding. Because of equipment upgrades and new programming opportunities because of the new studio, Davis said WIMPEG's costs could double or triple within the next few years.

The board is considering nonprofit status, which would make it eligible for certain types of grant funding. Citizens could also make tax-deductible contributions, Hall said.

Early this year, the board will ask the councils of both cities for more financial support.

"We haven't had a solid budget for support since the beginning," Davis said. "And the amount we get from the franchise fees varies from year to year.

"This would help us plan better."

What the station needs most, is volunteers, Davis said. Most current programming is produced and created by board members.

People can participate in a training course for camcorder and video production at WIMPEG. After completion of the courses, participants may checkout and use WIMPEG equipment to produce programs for telecast.

More volunteer-created shows would allow the station to expand its programming base, Halls said. Future Spielbergs would also have an outlet to get their own productions and short films aired.

"It's really just limited by their imagination," Hall said. "There's an opportunity to make would would normally be dry programming really interesting."

Young people thinking about a career in broadcasting could also benefit by taking part in the workings of the station, Hall said, noting that Central High students have contributed as camera operators.

"We have professional grade digital and linear editing equipment, cameras," he said. "The only limit would be their own creativity."

WIMPEG offers camera and video productions training classes this winter.

Each four-hour sessions costs $30. To be eligible, you must live in Monmouth, Independence or unincorporated areas of Polk County.

More information is available by calling calling Bev Davis at 503-838-3174 or logging onto www.wimpeg.org.

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