As Seen on TVSB

Independent public access station offers Santa Barbarans multiple ways to get on the air

By Leah Etling

For the kids who will become the Stephen Colbert, Robin Roberts or John Palminteri of their generation, the best summer camp in town took place at TVSB’s South Salinas Street studios last month.

TV Santa Barbara Producer/Instructor JP Montalvo helps 9-year-old Aaron Bush edit a video project during the TVSB kids summer camp.
Photo by Daniel Dreifuss

A sell-out for the first time this summer, the local public access station’s summer camps are an opportunity for kids to experience first-hand how to produce programming that will be screened on mainstream public access cable and the Internet.

“Campers get a week-long, hands-on experience in the TV studios. They learn how to direct, produce, and use the cameras, lighting, audio and editing programs. Each camper works on a project to screen at the end of the week,” said Courtney Frazer, Community Engagement & Advancement Coordinator for TVSB.

“We also teach them how to use the green screen, stop-motion animation, basic media literacy and the importance of having access to public media,” she explained. Nearly 40 children attended this year’s three weeks of summer programming.

Access to public media is a hot topic nationally this summer, and Santa Barbara is blessed with a strong public access television station. Funded by grants from the city of Santa Barbara as well as private fundraising and sponsorship, TVSB has a nearly 15-year tradition of providing strong public access programming on two unique cable channels, TVSB Voice and TVSB Culture.

11-year-old Mariam Alruenian, 11, and Madeline Bessems, 9, edit their video project during the TVSB kids summer camp.
Photo by Daniel Dreifuss

“We have a nice eclectic mix of programming that highlights the cultural fabric of the community – it showcases what people are about here and what people love,” said Executive Director Matt Schuster.

For the summer campers, Frazer described a moment of truth for the media-saturated generation:

“That light bulb that goes off when they realize they can do the same things that their favorite YouTube stars are doing. They can create movies and shows with a story line as opposed to just talking to their phone screens.

“These kids come in and put a show together in one day. They already know what they want, we just give them the tools to make it real,” she explained.

But TVSB’s summer camp is just one small part of the nonprofit’s broad local mission to provide open access to cable airtime for the citizenry at large.

Rooted in Free Speech

In a time of rapid change in the ways Americans find and consume news and information, public access TV stations persist across the country. TVSB is one of more than 3,000 of them airing public and government programming.

“Visibility is a bigger challenge nowadays,” Schuster said. “There are so many changes and so much content out there. People know about public access, but it’s often something that they know around the periphery unless they get really involved.”

Madeline Bessems, 9, and Kayla McCutchen, 10, do a mock interview infront of a green screen as Vincent Marquez films it during the TVSB kids summer camp.
Photo by Daniel Dreifuss

With online content available to watch anytime, an active social media presence and a Roku TV channel, TVSB is meeting potential viewers where they live, even if that is only on Facebook or YouTube. An Apple TV channel is in development and should be ready later this year.

In 2016, 1,174 original programs were produced out of the Salinas Street studio, translating to 828 hours of original content. All of it was eligible for broadcast on local airwaves.

“We’re very much based in free speech. Anything that comes in, as long as it is legal, we will air. There is no censorship of content,” Schuster explained.

“The beauty of it is really diverse programming. We cover all areas. When you look at the political spectrum, the programming will go from very conservative viewpoints to very progressive viewpoints being shared on the channel. Many of those people are coming into this facility and producing as well, so they are crossing paths and interacting with each other.”

The variety of shows is indeed eclectic. “City Desk with Jerry Roberts,” a dissection of local news stories by Santa Barbara reporters, is especially popular. Santa Barbara may be a small city, but the public’s appetite for news seems never-ending.

Roberts, a highly regarded editor and reporter who spent much of his career at the San Francisco Chronicle, said that the ability to reach “folks on every point on the demographic and political spectrum” was an attractive characteristic when he decided to move forward with City Desk.

“At a time when our national politics are a cacophony of anger and division, local public access programming, both on TV and online, showcases the people and organizations who work so hard every to make Santa Barbara such an open, decent and diverse community where our differences and similarities are discussed in a robust but civil and respectful way,” Roberts said.

Photo contributed

Other popular shows include “Ernie Solomon Live,” where longtime host Solomon talks about local issues, politics and causes with officials and pundits.  “The 805 Focus” features Cynder Sinclair interviewing nonprofit leaders.

Prominent nonprofits like the Botanic Garden, Natural History Museum and Santa Barbara Historical Museum highlight their exhibits and special events on regular shows. There’s even a homegrown soap opera, “Pine Valley Medical,” part of “The Evening Show with Ben Ferguson.”

Raise Your Voice Media Awards

On Friday, Aug. 25, TVSB will honor some of the major contributors to local public media at its third annual Raise Your Voice Media Awards. The event will be held at the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum and is open to the public.

“We have a new award added this year to recognize people who are doing a lot for local media, especially public media,” Schuster said. The recipient of the first Achievement in Media honor will be radio journalist Lance Orozco, a native of Santa Barbara and news director of KCLU since 2001.

Known for exceptional breaking news radio coverage, Orozco has been named the Associated Press’ small market reporter of the year for the Western U.S. nine times. In a world of ever diminishing commercial news media outlets, public programming is more important than ever, Orozco said.

“Newspapers have fewer folks than they ever did, TV stations have become duopolies and triopolies, and when it comes to commercial radio in Santa Barbara, there’s virtually nothing left. Public media fills in the gaps, and provides alternative voices that don’t turn up in other places,” said the veteran journalist. “People are hungry for information.  Public media helps meet that need.”

Orozco will speak at the event, which will also include a silent auction and buffet dinner. Other honorees will include the Coalition Against Gun Violence, for the impactful program “Guns in our Society,” and MIT Enterprise Forum of the Central Coast, a longtime community partner.

“It’s important to recognize and remember that TVSB operates on a shoestring budget and faces constant financial pressures,” Roberts noted. “So send money today!”

Learn more about the event and buy tickets at