Much Ado About ACAC

Robert "Robot" Martin prepares for an outdoor shoot. Martin is also producer of the live cablecast of SXSW interactive.

It all started with a fax about Austin Community Access Center's live coverage of the SXSW Interactive/Film Trade Show. (Now, I could have written "It all started in a small 5,000-watt radio station in Fresno, California..." but we're not playing trivia. At least not today, anyway.) The press release noted that ACAC will be the exclusive provider of live television coverage of South by Southwest's Interactive/Film Trade Show. Cablecast is scheduled for Sunday, March 15 and Monday, March 16, 1-5pm, and Tuesday March 17, 1-3pm (Ch 10, ACAC) from their booth on the Convention Center floor, made possible by utilizing the City's I-Net (institutional network) to send the signal to the Time Warner Cable (TWC) system. Monsterbit Media will be webcasting the trade show simultaneously on the Internet.

The programming will feature interviews with panelists and celebrities (Please, somebody! Just put a mike in front of Church of the SubGenius founder Rev. Ivan Stang and let him rant!) as well as looking at the various technologies on display.

Another fax page from ACAC outlined their third-year coverage of the International Women's Day Media Festival ñ 24 hours of programming by and for women (begins 3/7, midnight, Ch 10) this Saturday. Look for such diverse programming as highlights from the 1988 International Women's Day (4am); A Gathering of Goddesses (8am); and Reel Women (9pm), a collection of short videos and films by Austin women. Many of the programs start at odd times, so you would do well to check the website for particulars. A press conference held by the Sierra Blanca Legal Defense Fund that features Bonnie Raitt starts at 11:36am, for example.

I went to ACAC's website and started poking around it, then called up the center's spokesmouth, Jim Ellinger. Ellinger is an old compadre ñ an early contributor to the Chronicle, one of the forces behind the formation of KOOP radio, and tireless champion of access television. All this means is that I could ask him pretty silly questions about some of the programs and he would give me answers with equal doses of information and humor.

ACAC turns 25 in June, a birthday that will be given proper due then. Like so many things we take for granted, local access began as a dream by a group of young people, in this case UT students. They formed a group in 1972 and negotiated with Capital Cable (waaaaay before TWC) for access to a local channel. Much talk and discussion led to an agreement in 1973, when Capital Cable announced channel space would be provided. Shortly thereafter, Austin Community Television (ACTV) was incorporated as a nonprofit service organization.

Anybody out there remember access in the Seventies? I barely do, though I do remember that the full complement of channels in the mid-Seventies from Capital Cable cost $4.95 a month. I remember ACTV in the early Eighties much better, when video killed the radio star and it seemed like everyone I knew had a TV show. I did. It was called MMTV and it ran four episodes. Ken Lieck had one too, called Apt. 102; in fact, I met him when he called me up and asked if I would star in his pseudo-rockumentary episode on the nonexistent band Buster & the Crabs. (I agreed and look where that's led, but please, don't blame ACAC!)

ACAC has grown to include three channels of programming ñ channels 10, 11, and 16. Ellinger diplomatically comments that channel 11 is largely "inspirational" shows, and indeed, the bulk of its shows do seem to be generated by local churches and alternative religious groups, with some national programming. On Mondays, you'll have to choose between Dance With Bobette (10:30am, Ch 10) and Time of Truth (10:30am Ch 11). (VCRs solve scheduling dilemmas but priorities must be in order. Dance, then pray.)

It seems to me that the genesis for the Austin Music Network came from the music-heavy programming of local access in the Eighties but even with AM15 up and running now (however in peril it might be), ACAC still maintains a high profile in Texas music. Ellinger notes that nearby San Antonio, with a significantly large population, is much less sophisticated in access programming, so much so that ACAC can claim some of the best Tejano programming around, with the most extensive coverage of the Tejano Music Awards right here in Austin.

What really got me on the ACAC kick this week, though, was watching CapZeyeZ (Saturday, midnight, Ch 10), the three-hour live show that is noted for focusing on Texas music and taking phone calls from weirdos. Show founder and off-screen host Dave Prewitt and onscreen host Dean Truitt (did someone plan for their names to rhyme so euphoniously?) maintain unusually good humor between the barrage of teens fascinated with hearing theselves swear on TV and running lots of local videos, as well as having guests and live bands play on the show. (It was Tallboy last week.) Ellinger praises Prewitt, calling him "talented, tenacious, and self-effacing." CapZeyeZ looks deceptively amateur, but as someone who looks at the results of the Chronicle's music poll every year, I can tell you without hesitation that Dave Prewitt is one of the most influential people in Austin music. Tune in.

Back to SXSW matters, though. Some SXSW music coverage comes courtesy of the Austin Music Network, who will be on the air live from the Convention Center during the conference. Two special SXSW editions of AM-15's weekly live show Reality (3/17-3/20, noon; AM15) are slated with host Darcie Fromholz, as well two live, hour-long episodes of Check This Action (3/19 and 3/20, 4pm; AM15) with host Jenn Garrison. As it has done for the last three years, AM15 will cablecast the Austin Music Awards (3/18, 7:30pm-midnight, AM15) live. (Hint: If you want to see the good stuff, tape the live broadcasts. Anything good Wammo or Kerry Awn might say onstage will likely be edited out during the later viewings.) I wonder if Mister Rogers would like to be a guest presenter for next year's Awards ...

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