Switch on the television, computer or handheld device and you’ll see a barrage of programming from all corners of the world. Look a little closer and you’ll see a handful of those programs are produced right here in the Mother Lode at area community television stations that broadcast news, events and hosted shows that provide slices of life here in the foothills.
“We try to offer a little something for everyone,” said Ed Lark, manager of the Calaveras County Public Access TV Studio in San Andreas.
With the arrival of the digital age, television has gone far beyond what was perceived as normal even a decade ago. Local TV studios have kept up the digital pace, offering viewers multiple ways to see locally produced programs and personalities that open windows into our communities.
“A lot of people have moved their viewership to other devices,” said Susan Tomasich, videographer and volunteer at the Public Access TV Studio in Calaveras County. “I still like to watch on the TV set, but the actual TV set use is not as prevalent it used to be.”
No matter where you watch, television stations have local programming that offers a little bit for everyone, from current news coverage, government meetings and historical programs to shows hosted by local personalities with topics as varied as the residents of the counties themselves. The programs are also no longer limited to being seen on TV by only cable subscribers; many can now be seen through any internet capable device, which gives those in the far flung reaches of the foothills and mountains the opportunity to see what’s happening close to home.
Some local government boards and councils stream their meetings live on their respective websites, but some do not, making the services of the local TV stations imperative in bringing those meetings to the people on their local TVs and on YouTube channels.
“Pretty much everything I produce for the channel, I put on the air,” said Jim Garaventi, producer and television programmer at Comcast Channel 8 in Tuolumne County. He plays shows on Channel 8 and also posts the programs on the station’s YouTube channel.
“A lot of people now know they can go to our YouTube channel and see our shows,” said Tomasich about the Calaveras studio’s programs and the government meetings volunteers regularly record.
“I started putting every show I could put my hands on there,” she added regarding the studio’s YouTube channel. “I established the playlists, which is a big improvement.”
Television programs frequently reflect local cultures, and in the Mother Lode, the lion’s share of local culture is about community, helping and serving one another when we’re in need no matter what the personal cost. Almost every person involved with TV production in the Mother Lode, whether it be broadcast over the airwaves or through devices, has a community of people-centered stories that describe how they got involved in bringing programming to the airwaves and the internet.
The founder of RTV, a primarily internet-based channel covering Amador County found on YouTube, is Kam Merzlak. His broadcasting experience began with his parents, Ralph and Sharon, who were friends with the founders of TSPN in Amador, Tom and Sue Slivick.
“When TSPN debuted, I was 13 years old,” Merzlak said. “My parents were instrumental in helping TSPN get off the ground; I often tagged along making props and paying attention as much as possible.”
He even remembers when TSPN moved the studio to historic Jackson and, along with his father, helping to move equipment to the station’s new home. But it wasn’t until his father passed away that Kam became a regular host at the studio.
“At a celebration of life for my father in 2006, Sue Slivick watched as I was the emcee of the event. She came up to me and asked if I would be interested trying out for a hosting spot on their live morning show, ‘AM Live.’ Of course I was,” said Merzlak. “The energy and laughter I brought to the table resulted in a nine-year run as a host for a number of programs on TSPN.”
When the Slivicks decided to retire early in 2016, they closed the TSPN studio in the process. Merzlak saw there was a gap in local coverage and wanted to provide the community coverage of Amador events. His first endeavor was to film the Amador County Fair.
“I would soon figure out the amount of work it was to direct an eight-person film crew on a four-day event,” he said. “With little time to work with, I contacted friends who worked at TSPN with me who enjoyed doing shows and knew the technical aspects needed to produce the program.”
Merzlak pulled former TSPN host Monique Graziade in to help fund necessary equipment, and Merzlak’s son Michael and Michael’s friend Tommy Fox came on board as camera operators and video editors.
From that first show to today, RTV Amador has grown and added new hosts and followers as time has passed.
“Since June of 2016, RTV Amador has been viewed 1,441,957 minutes,” Merzlak said. “RTV is short for ‘Our Television.’ If you have the internet, you get RTV. RTV can be watched on a smartphone, tablet, computer or, the best way, on a large, smart TV.”
RTV Amador has also expanded its viewing outlets beyond the internet with programs played on Comcast Channel 7 in Calaveras County, as well as being an outlet for a network station in Sacramento.
“CBS13 picked RTV up as a freelance contributor and asked that we continue to send videos of interest,” Merzlak said.
RTV Amador’s programming isn’t the only Gold Country station that has had its shows picked up by local network affiliates.
“Shasta’s Journey,” produced by Shasta Garcia at the Calaveras County Public Access Television Studio, had her show broadcast on MyTV26, which is just one of many opportunities she has had both on broadcast television and in the digital arena.
“I’ve always been interested in being in front of the camera from a young age,” Garcia said.
The show airs on Comcast Channel 7 in Calaveras County and Comcast Channel 8 in Tuolumne County. There is also a YouTube channel.
“When I was young, I started doing YouTube. I was 11,” she said. “Then I saw an advertisement for a video production class at the TV studio and I took it. I learned I really liked being in front of the camera and being behind the scenes, too.”
Lark saw Garcia’s potential to become a host and approached her about starting a show for teens that was titled “Shasta’s Teen Journal.”
“I started doing the shows during eighth grade,” Garcia said. “Last year I celebrated my fifth year making shows.”
The show has changed and grown along with Garcia herself, and is now called “Shasta’s Journey,” which is a reflection of Garcia’s journey in her Christian faith. The one thing that hasn’t changed is her hands-on approach to the making of her programs and her online presence.
“I started putting (her TV shows) on Vimeo when I first started,” Garcia said. “As I progressed, I started putting them on YouTube. I did everything myself. I booked my own guests, brought in my own set, then built my own websites and do my own social media.”
Although Garcia does the most of the work associated with her shows and social media presence, she’s quick to point out she doesn’t do it alone.
“Luckily, I’ve had really supportive parents from a very young age,” she said. “I think every single person who comes across our path helps us in every aspect of what we do, and the Lord, he helps with it all.”
Although Garcia has made use of social media to get her programs out there and to make herself known, she says that more recently introduced tools on social media sites have made it much easier to stay on top of the internet’s ever-present need for new content.
“At first it was extremely difficult,” she said about managing her social media accounts. “But now there are a lot more tools that I’ve been able to utilize like scheduling posts on Facebook. Things have definitely changed since I first started. I have come to terms with how to make it easier on myself because you can be on Facebook or Instagram all the time if you’re not careful.”
“I keep a planner,” she continued. “And I make goals, and that’s really important.”
One thing she keeps her sights on is why she does what she does.
“Content is important,” she said. “I like to think of the overall purpose of what I want to post, the impact of it. I ask myself what I want to do with this post?”
“I’ve always tried to be as authentic as possible on all my social media platforms,” she added.
One aspect of her authenticity is to not promote items that she doesn’t actually stand behind. With her thousands of followers, Garcia has the opportunity to step into the world of the internet influencers, which are basically people who are compensated to introduce things to their audiences.
“I always thought it would be amazing to partner with people,” Garcia said. “Through the years, it just grew from there. Everything I’ve done, I’ve wanted to promote the whole being true to yourself thing is important, because as you continue to grow as a brand, opportunities come around.”
Whether those opportunities are on local TV or in the digital realm, Garcia wants people to know that there are opportunities wherever you live, whether that’s a small town or a large city.
“Being in a small town, it seems difficult to achieve a dream,” Garcia said. “But the fact that our small little community has a TV station is totally amazing and a huge opportunity.”
“People say there’s not a lot here, and there aren’t a lot of opportunities in our community, but there are so many opportunities in our community if you just look for them.”
At RTV Amador, one of the youngest hosts, Tempe Shaw, saw her mother host local programs and decided that she could do the same. She has visited almost every network affiliate in Sacramento as a guest as well as earned a scholarship for her future education endeavors in recognition of the work she’s doing with RTV.
“Mel Hardy, a longtime friend and model, was always witty and was fun in front of the camera, and at the Sutter Creek Chili Cook-off in 2016, I decided to sign Mel Hardy and Jenn Bowers as a hosting duo,” Merzlak said about how Tempe became a host at RTV. “Mel’s 6-year-old daughter was there and said to me, ‘I can do that if my mom can.’”
The logical hosting choice for Tempe would be to interview children, but as Merzlak said, “Covering kids’ events isn’t the easiest task. I told Tempe we could give her a try at the upcoming Jackson Lions Halloween Parade. Just like her mother, she was an immediate hit.”
Tempe has no hesitation when interviewing children at Halloween, Christmas and Easter events, asking questions in a wholly natural and engaging way.
Merzlak sent Tempe’s reel to friends at ABC 10 in Sacramento, who invited the then-7-year-old to be interviewed on their morning show.
“Brittany Williams with Amador Shopping Plaza began to show interest in Tempe’s reporting,” Merzlak said. “And she asked Tempe to report at their events for kids, like when Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny come by and for Halloween and other events.”
It was after Tempe interviewed children for a second time at the Amador Shopping Plaza that RTV was approached by “GoodDay Sacramento” and Fox40 to have Tempe in their studios for live interviews. And, a wholly unexpected opportunity came from the Amador community itself.
“With all of Tempe’s success, members of the community put together a college scholarship fund at American River Bank in Jackson where anyone can donate to further her education and her interest as a reporter as she grows older,” Merzlak said.
Making that step into the digital age goes beyond making a space on the internet for viewers to see you. Like productions made before computers overtook the industry, equipment and content go a long way toward making good watchable TV. When Lark became manager of the Calaveras County Public Access Television Studio in 2001, there was no digital production equipment in the studio at all, not even a computer with editing software.
“It was just a simple analogue” system, Lark said. “It was not digital. We had an analogue SVHS editor and all the cameras were analogue.”
Analogue editing systems looked something like a jungle of multiple video players lined up together attached to monitors for each one. The editor literally edited programs on videotape with those machines, with no computers in sight. It wasn’t long in Calaveras before Lark began the long road to digital conversion.
“The conversion began in 2003 when we converted from an analog system to Final Cut Pro,” he said. “Then we upgraded all the cameras to digital.”
Just to bring in the editing software, the studio had to purchase not only the professional level software, but computers that were powerful enough to handle it at the cost of thousands of dollars for each system. Add to that exterior hard drives where videographers could save their work as well as workspaces for editing and the cost went up from there. And that was only the beginning.
“The playback system we had was all SVHS and DVD players,” Lark said. Editing “was time consuming. All that had to be replaced with digital equipment.”
A few years ago, through the help of Calaveras County Television – which was an active nonprofit that helped build the studio – the studio was able to upgrade to a totally digital playback system that has the capability to hold 5 terabytes of programs in its main server and 8 terabytes of program storage in a separate database. It also has the ability to live stream on the air and onto a website. Keeping up with the digital age hasn’t been easy.
“There have been many changes in the digital operations in the meantime,” Lark said. “We have upgraded our cameras to high definition. We’ve upgraded our playback system to digital. We’ve virtually changed every aspect of the studio.”
Not only does the studio have its own YouTube channel, but Lark is looking into a future where the Calaveras Public Access Studio will have its own high-definition channel on Comcast Cable as well as possibly expanding into Comcast’s on-demand site and garnering a channel on Roku.
“In the future, we’d like to move into HD broadcasting,” he said. “That depends on Comcast providing an extra channel, and involves changing our standard digital cameras entirely to high definition, so we have to wait until we have the money for that. Definitely everything’s going high definition. That’s the way it has to go and the way it is going with all of the major channels.”
Whether it’s on a TV or an internet-connected device, the Mother Lode is full of local talent that makes watching local programs with a wide variety of guests and community events enjoyable, giving us the best of the communities we live in.