08 August 2013

RAG RADIO / Thorne Dreyer : ChannelAustin's 40 Years of Groundbreaking Free Speech TV

Linda Litowsky, Executive Director of ChannelAustin, in the studios of KOOP-FM, Austin, Texas, August 2, 2013. Photo by Roger Baker / The Rag Blog.
Rag Radio podcast:
Linda Litowsky, Stefan Wray & Anita Stech
on Austin's pioneering free speech cable TV
"Austin access is the organization to which other cities have always looked to learn how to build their own." -- Austin Chronicle
By Rag Radio / The Rag Blog / August 8, 2013

Linda Litowsky and Stefan Wray of ChannelAustin -- now celebrating its 40th anniversary –- and Anita Stech, who helped found Austin Community Television in 1973 -- joined host Thorne Dreyer to discuss the rich history of free speech television on Rag Radio, Friday, August 2, 2013.

Austin pioneered public access cable TV nationally and, as the Austin Chronicle wrote in a 1998 feature, the group’s “importance to the rest of the country is not hyperbole... Austin access is the organization to which other cities have always looked to learn how to build their own.”

Rag Radio is a syndicated radio program produced at the studios of KOOP 91.7-FM, a cooperatively-run all-volunteer community radio station in Austin, Texas.

Listen to or download this episode of Rag Radio here:

Originally called Austin Community Television (ACTV), ChannelAustin has been a bastion of free speech and cultural expression for 40 years, in the process helping to forge the careers of famed Indie filmmakers Richard Linklater and Robert Rodriguez -- and bombastic libertarian radio host Alex Jones -- and, in its early days, providing a primary forum for legendary atheist Madelyn Murray O'Hair.

In an August 2, 2013, feature, marking ChannelAustin's anniversary celebration, the Austin Chronicle wrote: "Forty years ago, there was no YouTube. There was no iMovie. And suggesting that video cameras could be built inside phones the size of wallets would probably get you committed. There was, in short, almost no way for the general public to produce and distribute video to a wide audience. Not part of the networks? Sorry, not part of 'the media.'"

But in the early '70s the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) established a requirement that cable operators provide free channels for community use, and on August 1, 1973, ACTV began broadcasting directly from Mt. Larson, the site of Austin's broadcast towers. The early operation worked on a shoestring budget and the product was very primitive by today's standards, but by the late '90s they were going strong with three channels and a $650,000 budget.

Now, ChannelAustin's innovative approach to media and cutting-edge technologies has transformed Austin's public access television facility into a nationally recognized community media center.

From left: Linda Litowsky, Anita Stech, Rag Radio's Thorne Dreyer, and Stefan Wray. Photo by Roger Baker / The Rag Blog.
ChannelAustin Executive Director Linda Litowsky has 37 years experience in film, broadcast, and cable television, as well as documentary, non-profit, corporate, and educational production. Her new documentary, Access THIS!, which recounts the history of community media in Austin, premiered August 4 as part of ChannelAustin's anniversary celebration, and will be screened around the country.

Online Communications Director Stefan Wray has worked at ChannelAustin since 2006 and has led the implementation of Community Media Drupal there. His work has focused on the preservation and sustainability of Austin’s community digital media center.

Anita Stech (then Anita Benda), who had done graduate work at Michigan State on the concept of public access television, was a professor in Radio-TV at UT-Austin in 1972 where she taught a class focusing on cable TV. A spin-off group from that class helped lay the groundwork for Austin public access television.

Rag Radio is hosted and produced by Rag Blog editor and long-time alternative journalist Thorne Dreyer, a pioneer of the Sixties underground press movement.

The show has aired since September 2009 on KOOP 91.7-FM, an all-volunteer cooperatively-run community radio station in Austin, Texas. Rag Radio is broadcast live every Friday from 2-3 p.m. (CDT) on KOOP and is rebroadcast on Sundays at 10 a.m. (EDT) on WFTE, 90.3-FM in Mt. Cobb, PA, and 105.7-FM in Scranton, PA. Rag Radio is now also aired and streamed on KPFT-HD3 90.1 -- Pacifica radio in Houston -- on Wednesdays at 1 p.m.

The show is streamed live on the web and, after broadcast, all Rag Radio shows are posted as podcasts at the Internet Archive.

Rag Radio is produced in association with The Rag Blog, a progressive Internet newsmagazine, and the New Journalism Project, a Texas 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation. Tracey Schulz is the show's engineer and co-producer.

Rag Radio can be contacted at ragradio@koop.org.

Coming up on Rag Radio:
August 16, 2013: We continue our discussion with sociologist, author, and New Left pioneer Todd Gitlin.

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