Community TV stations dole out the lights, camera and action

From silent slide presentations in January, West Windsor and Plainsboro cable stations have dramatically improved

By: Emily Craighead
   From silent slide presentations in January, the West Windsor and Plainsboro cable TV stations have evolved to show live meetings, original programming and up-to-the-minute school-closing alerts.
   When station manager Dan Monroe took over Channel 3 in Plainsboro and Channel 27 in West Windsor, the stations were an "open slate."
   "All they had running was the bulletin board," he said.
   Since then, Mr. Monroe, who previously produced shows for a cable station in Ohio, put together a schedule of programs to keep residents up-to-date on township affairs.
   "I took this for the challenge of starting a channel up on my own," he said. He does have some help now — from two high school interns who help out with all aspects of running the station.
   Time on each channel is divided between municipal government programming and West Windsor-Plainsboro Regional School District programming. Viewers in West Windsor see West Windsor Township programming and school programming, while viewers in Plainsboro see the same school programming in addition to Plainsboro Township programming. The school district has airtime from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, as well as from 4 p.m. to midnight and 1 a.m. to 7 a.m. on Tuesdays. The remaining time belongs to the municipalities.
   Mr. Monroe splits his time among the three entities.
   Surrounded by computer screens, DVD players and VCRs, he recently put the finishing touches on the school district’s referendum video in an office at High School North.
   "Editing is the most frustrating part," he said. "A lot of times, it’s tough to find out where to start."
   Much of the programming, dictated by each township and by the school district, is produced in a studio in the high school, which is also used for high school classes in TV broadcasting.
   The programming is eclectic.
   On the Plainsboro channel, a 1991 fire safety video for seniors, hosted by actor and entertainer Jonathan Winters, runs half an hour and airs 12 times a week. Another program features tips from the Better Business Bureau on hiring a home contractor. The station also broadcasts "CN8 Newsmakers," a Comcast program. Soon, footage of Plainsboro’s Traditions festival will air.
   Two locally produced shows feature Plainsboro government officials discussing what’s going on around town. One, "Eye on Plainsboro," hosted by Business Administrator Robert Sheehan, includes segments with members of the public safety and community development departments. The other, "Spotlight Specials," features Mayor Peter Cantu speaking with various guests about current issues.
   "We view it as another vehicle that enables the municipality to communicate with the public about services and topics of interest," said Michael Weaver, Township Committee liaison to the Cable TV Advisory Committee.
   The bulletin board broadcasts public safety announcements, information about leaf-and-brush collection, and events around town.
   Current programming in West Windsor, in addition to the bulletin board, includes Township Council meetings, "CN8 Newsmakers," and the recent Christmas tree-lighting ceremony.
   West Windsor Mayor Shing-Fu Hsueh said he plans to devote more resources to making the station an effective tool for communicating with the public.
   Both townships are looking to expand the station’s offerings.
   "Our biggest thrust is to identify content and continue looking for new material we can bring to the community and keep a fresh array of topics," Mr. Weaver said.