DRACUT -- No kidding, sometimes even the DATV bulletin board is interesting and yes, entertaining -- depending on the type of background music being played.
Flu clinics at the Dracut Board of Health. Call for an appointment. Special election on Dec. 11 to vote on a debt exclusion. Family movie night at the Parker Library. Annual Dracut Tree Lighting on Dec. 1.
Dracut Access Television, which has existed almost since the day cable television first came to Dracut in the early 1980s, has grown beyond anyone's wildest expectations. Hours of programming are offered daily on three channels -- Public Access on Channel 8, Educational Access on Channel 22 and Government Access on Channel 99.
There are programs for senior citizens, business people, students, and almost everyone else. Programs with names like "Dacy's Divas," "Market Place TV," "Just the Facts," "For the Young At Heart." Local church services are broadcast on Sunday afternoon and other times throughout the week. You can "Draw with Mark" or follow "The Adventures of Scuba Jack."
Dracut residents can keep abreast of important local issues by watching municipal meetings broadcast on the Government Access Channel. One feature that has gained in popularity is the "Video On Demand" section found on the www.dracuttv.org website. Viewers can log on and see some of the shows that perhaps they missed or were not able to see because they live outside of Dracut.
"That's a great feature and we're really trying to push that," says Board President Jack Lyons.
DATV has gone through several incarnations since its early days in the 1980s when it was under the aegis of AT&T Broadband. In 2006, Comcast, which held the contract with the town, relinquished its control of the access channels and DATV was approved as a nonprofit entity. In 2007, after having outgrown the cramped studios behind the auditorium stage at Dracut High School, DATV moved into the spacious 1,700-square-foot offices inside the renovated Beaver Brook Mills in the Collinsville section of town.
Membership -- individual memberships are $10 annually and organizational memberships are $30 a year -- has grown steadily since the move to the new studios, but Lyons says there's always room for more. Members can avail themselves of classes for such things as camcorder production, digital editing, studio production, animation and music editing and more. A small salaried staff is on hand almost seven days a week, but DATV relies on volunteers to man the cameras at municipal meetings and other events. Members are encouraged to film and produce their own programs.
Bob Corey serves on the seven-member DATV Board of Directors. He and his wife, Gay, have been a huge part of access television in Dracut for some 14 years. They have spent countless of volunteer hours, covering and reporting on events in and out of the town. They have produced hundreds of shows that have become very popular with most town residents. Bob seldom ventures out from behind the camera and Gay rarely ventures out from behind the microphone.
In 2009, after having gone through four executive directors in less than two years, the board hired cable access pioneer and Dracut native Gary Meuse.
"Gary is a huge asset to DATV. His leadership and understanding of the industry has been extremely beneficial," Corey said.
Meuse got his start in the 1980s managing Dracut cable access while still a student at Dracut High School. He has produced all 29 Annual Dracut Scholarship Foundation Telethons, that seminal event that has been classified as truly "Must-See TV."
The DATV studios are located at 91 Mill St., unit 7. They can be reached at 978-957-5522 or by visiting www.dracuttv.org.
Corey took the time to answer some questions about DATV.
Q: What's new at DATV that would be of interest to viewers, members and prospective members?
A: "DATV is now recording studio shows, as well field shows, in HD (High Definition.) We're doing this so that we will be ready when Comcast allocates HD channels to local access television stations. We're pretty excited about that.
"We also have a new staff-produced series about the various Dracut town departments that is set to launch in the next few weeks, which will kick off with an interview with Dracut Town Manager Dennis Piendak."
Q: Can you gauge the interest level people have in getting involved with DATV, learning how to operate the equipment and producing their own shows?
A: "There's not as much interest as we'd like to see right now. It seems that the interest among the people has been much greater in the past several years. There was a surge five or six years ago when we first moved into the new studio.
"But we do have producers who have been with us since Day One. We have a certain husband-and-wife team that I'm very fond of. We -- I mean, they -- have been producing all types of shows for almost 15 years now.
"But we're looking for more people with more ideas for shows. Most of us at the station or on the Board of Directors have been approached recently and asked for information about what exactly is needed to do shows. We're all anxious to see if our info has been fruitful."
Q: With the recent elections taking place, do you feel that local politicians and candidates have taken full advantage of local access television?
A: "Before this last election a couple of weeks ago, I don't think they've taken advantage of cable access television like they could and should. However, in the weeks leading up to the election, both candidates for state rep became DATV members and produced short, informational spots about themselves. Also, Steven Stone, the new school superintendent, came in to discuss creating and hosting a new monthly series about the school district.
"People turn to local access for information about the town and for local show that they can relate to. And it's so easy to get involved and I think people really enjoy it once they learn the equipment. If people are interested, they should come into the studio for a tour and to see all the different types of equipment we have. For $10 they can become members and attend as many training courses that they want to. "
Q: Is it hard to keep up with all the changing technology?
A: "Technology is changing just about every three months, isn't it? We're keeping up with it as best as we can. We have purchased lots of new equipment in the past several months. We are dropping analog and going 100 percent digital. We are looking to the future of DATV."
Q: Has there been one program on DATV that you would consider "Must-See Television"?
A: "It's hard to single out one program or program series but the town always bands around the ever-popular Dracut Scholarship Foundation Telethon, that will be celebrating its 30th annual event this coming March to raise scholarship money for deserving graduates at Dracut High.
"Also, remember 'The Victory Garden' on PBS? Well, DATV has 'Adventures with Farmer Dave,' which is a show all about vegetable gardening with farmer Dave Dumaresq. It's one of our favorite shows and according to our viewers, it's one of their favorite shows, as well."