IT/135 Page IB A CASE OF TRIAL AND ERROR' On 3rd July this year Greenwich Cablevision started broadcasting as the first local television station in the country. The following interview with Programme Controller Charles Lucas was conducted by John Carding on 24 July at Greenwich Cablevision studios in S.E. London. Could you tell me something about the history of Cablevision? Yes. The thing was started by Maurice Townsend, our managing director, about 5 years ago, as a cable system in the Plumstead and Abbey Wood area. Plumstead and Abbey Wood are in the lee of a hill and can't pick up any normal television signals from the national network, the only way to get them is through the cable system. Once the cable system was laid, local television could be piped through. How did you manage to work it with the government. The legislation had to be changed, . didn't it? It did, and I think if you look at the history of cable-vision internationally, i.e. in the States, the growth of cable television has made it almost inevitable that there was going to be, there had to be a vehicle for it in this country very soon. CKristopher Chataway, when he was Minister for Growth and Telecommuni- cations, did pass the word around , that they would be prepared to experiment in local television. A number of people put in for the facility and for better or ' worse, Greenwich Television got it. How much time are you broadcasting at the moment, and how is this going to grow? Basically, we're trying to put out approximately 30—45 minutes a night through the week Monday to Friday—which is just open magazine material directed to various areas of the community. Sport on Monday night, house- wives' bits on Tuesday, features on Wednesday, local affairs on Thursday night, and a young people's sort of 'fun night' on Friday. These programmes are repeated the following mornings at 11 am and that's about it at the moment. At the weekends we're trying a local events spot on Saturday morning, which is more or less a live show. Religion on Sunday, of course, got to have God on Sunday, and "Greenwich Village" on Sunday night. How long are you going to remain with this format, do you plan to extend the programmes? Well, to tell you the truth, we're hardly able to sustain these programmes at the moment, it's a slight bone of contention that trying to get 8 hours of television out of this facility in theory is impossible, in practice its possible, but we're basically trying to keep this station to the format that the directors wanted when they laid down the basic scheme in the first place. What sort of feedback are you getting from the area, to what extent does or will it influence you? Entirely. I mean this is the whole point of the deal. I'm dissapointed up to now with the lack of feedback. We have had an incredible number of technical problems, there's more to it than just putting it down a pipe. But I'm rather disappointed that there's been so little feedback. I had a couple of calls this Anyone wishing to contact Greenwich Cablevision can do so at 307 Plumstead High Street, London SE18 1JX (01) 854 3446 morning, which is very nice. An old lady rang up and said "Bless you my son which is nice. How many people are receiving Cablevision at the moment? Well, what there is to receive, that is? Very difficult question to answer. If you were a national newspaper I would say we have a board upstairs of subscribers, we have • 15,000 subscribers, each of which have a family of five, ¦ work it out for yourself. In practice this isn't quite right, because we are pushing this out on 625 line television, all right if you actually sat down and worked out the 625 line capacity in Plumstead, it's probably not very high, there's a lot of old rental sets about which can't get it. But it's impossible to actually say at this stage what the final figure is. How many staff have you got at the moment? Well, there's Jilly and me. There's our technical boss which is Mick (We'd be lost without Mick). And John who is floor manager. Can you tell me something about the equipment you use? Yes—unreliable. We had a lot of stuff on order from IPC before we opened up and the deliveries have been delayed and we've had to make do with rented stuff from Bell and Howell and this has largely affected the quality of the picture we've had to put out. You've not been pleased with the quality up to now? No, it's been pretty diabolical, but I mean this was just sheer ignorance, I mean none of us had ever seen a VTR (Video Tape Recorder) a month ago, let alone knowing how to put programmes but and all these things of compatability are just a case of trial and error. Brian Cawtherway was your Programme Controller until he resigned last week, would you comment on that? When Barry originally signed the contract with Cablevision, there were naturally a number of assumptions which he could take from his cbntract, i.e. the supply of equipment which didn't arrive and the basic concept of the studio which didn't really develop the way Barry was hoping it would. I really don't know of the actual technical reasons or why it happened quite so quickly. There had definitely been a build up of tension, possible over the first two weeks and something had to go. How do you find the work- CAMROSE STREET SUPPORT CABLE TOWN load now distributed without, Barry being here? ' Well, as you brought me a cheese sandwich yesterday morning at 3 am, which I was very grateful for, obviously its rather chaotic. Are you planning to take on any more staff? In practice the sad thing is that no television concept was ever financed, anywhere. The licence from the government does not allow any income from advert- ising or sponsorship in any way. You can't go around putting up people's rates on their cable systems for a programme which half of them can't get anyhow, and probably the other half of the neighbourhood don't particularly want to watch, so where are we supposed to get our finances from? I mean this budget we are working to is absolutely ridiculous in relation to established tele- vision costs. We couldn't afford to'produce a commercial for two minutes on a national network. How do you hope that , Cablevision will progress I within the next five or six months? What are your hopes? Well I think it can all come down to building up an identity. I think this is the most important thing. If we do start getting a reaction, if we start getting people writing and saying The \. programme was rubbish, you & should be doing a programme •c like this' or 'We don't want £ that programme on at 6.30 53 we want it at 5.30' then you §; know you're getting through to someone and you can start building up the whole vehicle of local television on this initial relationship. How do you get on with the local press? Possibly you're taking away part of their income? Well, I don't know if you're asking this question from the standpoint of the gentleman who's been slung out of more editor's offices than anyone in the area...... That's a lie. That's what they said. But it's easier for them to say that, than admit I don't go to them to give them news any more because they ' are pigs. Anyway, back to the interview.... Well, the Kentish Independent love us and Kentish Murcury hate us, and we work with both of them and that sums it up. I can't see that any local newspaper could actually turn around and say that Cablevision is a threat to their circulation. If they think, in the future, local television is going to run into advertising, then okay, they might possibly worry about it, but I think it's an old discussion. If you talk about the relative place for newspapers and television in the community, then I personally believe there's more than enough room for both, that one substitutes, the one is additional to the other, they're not separate identities.