At a glance
SACC-TV’s 40th Anniversary and Halloween Party:
WHERE: Schenectady Veterans of World War II Inc., 718 Union St., Schenectady
WHEN: 7 to 11 p.m., Friday
HOW MUCH: $30 (includes dinner)
MORE INFO: 831-9145, www.schenectadyaccess.org
From his second-floor office at the corner of Jay and Liberty streets, Randall Hogue has a great view of Schenectady’s City Hall.
And as executive director of SACC-TV, Hogue thinks keeping his eye on local government is exactly what his job description calls for.
“People shouldn’t just be reacting to what government does,” said Hogue, who was named executive director of the Schenectady Access Cable Council two years ago. “They should be participants in it. I believe that here in Schenectady and all around the country, we have a huge opportunity to do something that is very important and very much needed today, and that is getting out information. That’s one of the reasons why SACC exists, and that’s why it’s been here for 40 years. I’d like to help get the public back into overseeing the government, instead of the other way around.”
SACC-TV will celebrate those 40 years Friday night with a special anniversary and Halloween party at Schenectady Veterans of World War II Inc., 718 Union St.
While SACC-TV no longer determines the programming for the public access stations on local cable TV, having lost the franchise to Open Stage Media, many of the programs it produces still air on the new OSM network. And, according to Hogue, there’s more than one way to get content to a willing audience.
“I think most of the viewership we have right now is online, and that makes perfect sense,” said Hogue, who runs his own Web design business out of 34 Jay St., where the new SACC-TV studios are located. “In this day and age, people can tune in to the show on cable, but they can also watch it on the Internet, on their iPhone, their cellphone, their laptop, their Android device. And they can watch it anytime they want. They don’t have to be home sitting in front of the TV at a certain time.”
SACC-TV was formed back in May 1974, its mission “to promote, publicize and facilitate the use of the public access channel on the Schenectady cable system.” Often referred to as PEG (public, educational and government) channels, SACC-TV was one of the first of its kind in the country when cable TV came to the Capital Region in the early 1970s. Alice Ramsey, the first chair of SACC-TV, and Anthony Messineo, its first treasurer, spearheaded the effort to create the group, and on Sept. 23, 1974, the nonprofit entity had its first membership drive, held at the Schenectady County Public Library.
Home for the first permanent studio was 830 McClellan St. in Schenectady, and in March 1979, the station, Channel 16 on the dial, celebrated its fourth season of broadcasting programs. Prim Oliver and Paul Klompas were two tireless workers involved in fostering SACC’s early success, which included live coverage of Schenectady City Council meetings beginning in October 1977.
Despite some government grants and the influx of money each year from the local cable company, mandated by federal law, there were hard financial times. SACC used to have a paid staff of five or six employees, but in 1979, a financial crunch almost put an end to the station. Due to the work of a large group of hearty volunteers, however, the show went on.
There were more moves, first to Albany Street and then North Broadway in downtown Schenectady, and then SACC-TV nearly met its demise in 2009 when the City Council designated Proctors to manage the city’s public access station. Mayor Gary McCarthy, then president of the City Council and president of the SACC-TV board, negotiated the transfer of $100,000 in Time Warner Cable franchise fees from SACC to Proctors, which created Open Stage Media to run the station.
McCarthy argued the move to Proctors was the best option for Schenectady’s public access station, but the move upset some members of the board and segments of the membership. Hogue was not associated with SACC at the time and had no involvement in the controversy. While he says his group hasn’t ruled out the possibility of legal action against Proctors and its CEO, Philip Morris, and perhaps even McCarthy, Hogue is instead concentrating on what lies ahead for his group.
“My philosophy is that we should spend more time looking at the future and see what we can do for our community,” he said. “We feel like there are some questions that haven’t been answered, and we feel like Proctors didn’t keep open the lines of communication. We thought they should negotiate with us, but we failed in that attempt, and now we have to move on. That being said, we are cooperating with them, and they are putting our shows on their schedule.”
Open Stage Media began broadcasting shows on public access in Schenectady in May 2010. SACC-TV, meanwhile, after a time in limbo, formed a new board and named Hogue executive director in 2012. In March 2013, with studios on the first floor at 34 Jay St., and Hogue’s son, Randall Jr., doing much of the production work, SACC-TV was back in action. This time, however, it was acting solely in the role of producing its own shows and delivering them to Open Stage Media for broadcast.
“Now we see ourselves as producers who are creating programs, rather than just having people bring us their stuff,” said Hogue, whose position doesn’t pay a salary but does occasionally provide some compensation for expenses. “We’re creating new content and staying positive, and we’re producing valuable programming with good, redeeming value to Schenectady and the surrounding area. We were surprised at the number of people who are interested in doing shows, and we’re coming up with programs that will help inform the public. I do see us as a watchdog on our local government.”
Hogue knows quite a bit about local government. After working in New York City’s garment industry for nearly two decades, he moved to Canajoharie in 1989 and became its mayor in 1992.
“Somebody on the village board wanted to move the public comment period to the end of our meetings,” remembered Hogue, who served one term as mayor but still lives in Canajoharie, “so people had to listen to the sewer report, the water report, the police report, and then if they were still around at the end of the meeting, they could make their public comment while we were packing up our belongings and getting ready to leave. That didn’t happen. That’s the exact opposite of how democracy should work.
“Our job here is to give the public information, so when they go to council meetings they know something about what they’re talking about, and they’re not just standing at the railing to hear themselves talk. I’ve always had an interest in government and politics, and I believe that most people are smart and intelligent. If they’re presented with the facts and both sides of an argument, then they’ll make the right decision. Our job is to help them get all those facts.”
According to Lou Ismay of Berne, Hogue was just the right person to move into SACC’s leadership role.
“Randall has integrity, and he has great ideas,” said Ismay, a former University at Albany professor who has served on the board since 2008. “He’s a straight shooter, and he tells it like it is. Our future here is wide open — we’ve produced a number of good programs in just the last couple of months — and Randall is the guy to lead us as we look ahead to the future.”
According to Janice Thompson, current SACC-TV president, Hogue’s appearance on the scene may have kept the group from disbanding. While Hogue’s son occasionally earns a small consulting fee from the board, there are no paid employees.
“The membership wanted us to exist, and it was great that Randall expressed an interest in us and we were able to put our studios in his office,” she said. “To have somebody there hands-on and to keep the place open was very important. I think Randall really has a vivid interest in what public access television stands for. It’s an intrinsic and powerful part of our democracy. We’re for the people and by the people.”
Like Hogue, Thompson is looking ahead to the future and not at the group’s troubled past few years.
“I don’t think there was anything vindictive in what Proctors did,” said Thompson. “They have a lot going on, and we’re just not a priority for them right now.”
Some of SACC-TV’s top on-air people, such as “Schenectady Today” host Ann Parillo and Carla Page of “The Carla Page Show,” did make the transition to Open Stage Media, and Hogue says there are no hard feelings.
“We want to continue to operate with and cooperate with Open Stage Media,” he said. “We feel like people like Ann Parillo and Carla Page, people who are now with OSM, are still friends of ours here at SACC and weren’t involved at all in any of the political stuff that went on.”