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More Charm, Less Government

P. Kenneth Burns/WYPR

TV25, Baltimore City’s government access cable channel, will be re-launched this summer with more than the usual government meetings and news conferences.

The newly christened CharmTV will debut with new prime time programming blocks that highlight the city’s charms called “Prime Engagement.”

“Each night of the week will focus on something different,” says Tonia Lee, director of the Mayor’s Office of Cable and Communications and the channel’s general manager.  “On one night of the week, we’ll focus on the history and heritage of Baltimore.  On another night of the week we’ll focus on being out and about in Baltimore.”

Among the programs to debut as part of the re-launch, “Tasty Travels” will focus on the city’s food scene. “Born in Baltimore” highlights small and large businesses based in the city. “My Town” will uncover stories behind historically rich neighborhoods. And “Out and About” will cover interesting things to see and do in the city.

Lee began planning for CharmTV in September. She says she saw an opportunity to offer programming other than government meetings and press conferences that the current TV25 airs now.

“We think there is a wide open opportunity for us to really focus on telling the stories of Baltimoreans, its neighborhoods and really focusing on the essences of Baltimore going forward,” she says.

TV25 is among a group of cable channels referred to as a public, education, government (PEG) channel. As a government access channel, its main mission is to provide transparency to city government.  Programming outside of its mission depends on the size of the budget.

Lonni Moffet, a communications consultant who works with PEG channels, points to Berwyn Heights, in Prince George’s County.  The town has a small budget and a small staff but manages to meet the basic mission of an access channel.

“They would broadcast their meetings, or cablecast really, on their cable channel by having one camera put up on a tripod with a wide shot of the entire council and some microphones,” she says, “They didn’t move the camera very often but if they did, the city clerk or the city administrator would stand up and move it.”

Moffet also sits on the board of directors for the Alliance for Community Media, a national association of PEG channel operators.

She says Baltimore does not have to look far for an example of a government access channel being re-launched to show more than government meetings.  Washington, D.C.’s channel was rechristened the District Cable Network a couple of years ago.

The network has “programs that are featuring local music and arts and cultural opportunities and highlight the restaurants and all the community activities that otherwise are pretty much ignored by the commercial media,” says Moffet.

The Charm TV re-launch, targeted for June 25, is being done within the station’s existing operating budget of $538,000. And yes, the channel will continue to air government meetings.