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Channel 2 extends coverage to planning and zoning board meetings

December 16, 2010
LITTLETON- He may not get the most face time on Channel 2, but he has a hand in everything the local cable system broadcasts.

Bob O'Connor has been running Channel 2 since 1985, when it began as part of the school's television production program. Back then, the only programs being shown were the productions of students taking the class. Now, the cable system boasts seven towns in its network, and school, municipal, and local interest programs. Last week, the Littleton selectmen voted to extend the channel's municipal coverage.

"It came about as a result of a lot of people working together," said O'Connor earlier this week about the cable system he helped foster.

O'Connor was approached in 2000, when he retired after 35 year as a Chemistry and Physics (and sometime television production) teacher at Littleton High School, by the town manager and the superintendent of the schools. They asked O'Connor if they could keep Channel 2 going to keep the townspeople informed on what was going on in the newly adopted SB-2 form of government. O'Connor agreed, and began taping the deliberative sessions and town meetings. Selectmen's meeting and school board meetings came five or six years later.

The channel was a topic of discussion at last week's selectmen's meeting where the selectmen voted to extend the town's Channel 2 coverage to planning and zoning board meetings next year. The town appropriates $13,000 a year in the operating budget for Channel 2. As of the end of September, they had expended $7,000 of that amount. Chairman of the Board of Selectmen Ron Bolt suggested keeping the budget the same for next year's budget, but adding zoning and planning board meetings to the channel's coverage for six months. After that period, the town will ask for feedback from its residents as to whether this is a service they want the town to continue. Channel 2 filmed last night's zoning board meeting and will film a Dec. 21 planning board meeting as a test run.

O'Connor said Channel 2 will most likely have to cut down on other programming in order to make the added meetings work within the budget. Primarily, the school district and the town of Littleton fund Channel 2, though patrons contribute some of its $65,000 annual budget.

The channel is broadcast in seven towns: Littleton, Bethlehem, Twin Mountain, Franconia, Lisbon, Sugar Hill, and Monroe. Each town has a selectmen-appointed representative in the consortium that sets the policy for the network. As Littleton is the only town that contributes funding for the channel, it is also the town that gets a majority of the representation.

"Town and school budgets are really tight, and we can't have the town of Littleton funding programming for other towns," said O'Connor.

The channel covers one event per year from the other towns. Bethlehem's selectmen's meetings are broadcast on Channel 2, but are filmed privately. The channel also features a "bulletin board" that is available to advertise area events.

"I've kind of steered clear of the two most argumentative topics: politics and religion," said O'Connor of the programming, who has tried to keep Channel 2 politically neutral. "We try to focus on the people of Littleton, and the positive things they are doing," he added.

The Littleton area is covered by not one, but three forms of news media, pointed out O'Connor: print, radio, and television an impressive feat for a town of its size.

"The fact that we have all three types of media is essential," said O'Connor.

The diverse mediums all complement each other, and serve different purposes, said O'Connor. The radio news notifies residents quickly of news events. Print media allows for a more in-depth analysis of the story. And television has the potential to pass on almost first-hand information to the viewer.

"It's certainly transparent. You do see how town government works, and the politics involved," he said. Television allows its viewers to see the expressions on the faces of their elected officials and the people in the audience, said O'Connor. Viewers know the faces of the people making decisions about the town and can stop them on the street to ask them about a position, he added.

O'Connor sees Channel 2 as aiding the town in another way, as well.

"It's definitely part of the process that Littleton has used of self-promotion," he said.

The number of people who actually watch Channel 2 is hard to gauge, said O'Connor. It is broadcast into 4,000 homes, and all programs are available at the channel's website. O'Connor said that most of the feedback goes to the people who are in the programs, rather than to the cable system itself. Recently, O'Connor discovered that the parents of the ten foreign exchange students at the high school stay updated on what is happening at the school by accessing Channel 2's online programs.

Over the years, O'Connor has learned of a blind man who listens to the channel to get his local news, and a hard-of-hearing woman who cannot hear the people at the selectmen's meeting in person, but can crank up the volume in the comfort of her own home.

"We're providing a good service to the elderly," said O'Connor who noted it is tax money being well spent for a demographic that sees less local tax dollars spent on them, and more spent on the younger generations who benefit from the funds allocated for the school.

"What are we spending $20 million on to run this town? If you're spending a few thousand to keep the town informed, that's a heck of a good investment," said O'Connor.

Martin Lord Osman
Varney Smith
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