On the second floor of Burnsville High School behind a perfectly ordinary classroom door, there is a professional quality television studio.
It has a control room, a green screen and some very expensive cameras. In the corner sit two arm chairs and a potted plant that look like they’ve been plucked from the set of a morning talk show.
This is Burnsville Community Television (BCTV). The studio, which was built in 2009, is not only open to Burnsville students but also to nonprofits and community members, who can use the space and equipment for free.
“Everyone knows that we cover the football games,” said Tina Wilson, who runs the BCTV studio and teaches people how to use the equipment. “But nobody knows that they can actually walk in here and create their own show. We’re trying to bridge that gap.”
BCTV has a three-pronged mission: to cover local government, offer educational content and provide a platform for community members to broadcast their views. With two full-time staff members and four part-time television production assistants, BCTV covers all the local government meetings and many of the high school games and community concerts.
Among its most watched programs? A particular performance from the city’s Wednesday in the Park Concert Series.
“Every year they do an Elvis impersonator, and every single year that is our most demanded show,” Wilson said.
Cable access television was created by the Federal Communications Commission in the early 1970s. Stations typically get funding through the cable companies that serve the city. In return, they serve the public interest. BCTV has a budget of close to $300,000 each year, which supports channels for education, government and public access.
At a time when most people can make videos on their cellphones and instantly share them with the world on YouTube, Vine and Vimeo, BCTV has found residents don’t need the public access station to amplify their voices. Over the last decade, the demand from individuals looking to produce and broadcast shows on community access stations has dwindled significantly, said Marty Doll, the communications coordinator for Burnsville.
“We still try to encourage Joe Resident to come in and create their own programming,” Doll said. “There are still some that do that.”
But BCTV has shifted its focus from recruiting community members to recruiting local nonprofits that don’t have the budget to buy professional equipment or editing software.
“We want to be able to provide the opportunity for community organizations to be able to show off what they do, show off their skill, show off what their organization does,” Doll said.
There are only two community organizations that use the BCTV facilities on a regular basis, so Wilson has been making a big push to recruit new community members this year. To get the word out, BCTV hosted its first public service announcement day, inviting community groups to the station for help producing short videos highlighting their work. The workshop was almost full with 18 attendees, and most of them will be coming back to the station for additional classes, Wilson said.
BCTV has also increased publicity for its community education, and new members have come to sign up for television production classes.
“We’ll get someone in here that’s never seen a TV studio, that’s never used the equipment. Maybe they’ll use their phone or they’ve got an old handheld VCR camera that they’ve used in the past. It’s really such a wide variety,” Wilson said. “I’ve got kids in here as young as 13 wanting to do their own sports shows. I have a gentleman that just came in — he’s in his late 70s and wants to do a science show.”
The people who use the studio the most, however, are high school students.
For many years, Burnsville ran its cable access stations in partnership with Eagan. But five years ago, the cities ended that arrangement, and Burnsville went into partnership with the Burnsville school district. Community members share studio space and gear with high school media students, and students help with filming local events.
“It’s been great to have this partnership where they’re doing a lot of things where our kids can be a part of it, but it’s not driven by me as much,” said Tyler Krebs, who teaches the television program at Burnsville High School.
Some students intern for BCTV or are hired as television production assistants after they graduate. The production experience students gain gives them a leg up if they decide to pursue careers in media, Krebs said.
“It’s not like other classes where we sit and take notes,” said Sydnie McCarthy, a sophomore in the media class at Burnsville High School. “We do more hands-on kinds of things. It’s more like an occupation that you would want to do when you get older.”
Most of the work students produce is for the Blaze Weekly, a news magazine program that airs in the high school. The show covers everything from student athletics and clubs to local businesses.
For many students, the media course is a fun elective, a break from a day filled with traditional academic subjects. But even students who don’t plan to work in media will gain skills that are relevant.
“We teach them the basics of the camera, the writing, the editing, all those things. My goal is that they’re going to be using it outside of class,” Krebs said. “They’re learning lifelong skills.”
Dylan Peers McCoy is a Twin Cities-based freelance writer.