Getting to know local government Cable commission manages local Channel 6

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City of Guttenberg staff Debbie Eulberg manages Channel 6 content with equipment in the mayor's office. Station decisions are advised by the cable commission. (Press photo by Molly Moser)

By Molly Moser

Editor’s note: In the coming weeks, The Press will feature a series of stories highlighting city boards and committees to educate readers about the workings of local government. This week’s article focuses on the Guttenberg cable commission.

In 1956, when the late Neil Webster started his own television station in Guttenberg, he didn’t imagine it would continue as a lasting legacy after his death. “Who would take care of Channel 6 if I retire?” he asked Press reporter Dorothy Wendel during an interview in 1996, when he was 75. “I don’t have an answer for that. It’s down, done, if something happens to me. No one has ever expressed any interest in taking it over.” 

Ten years later, the City of Guttenberg purchased this valuable resource and established the cable commission, a group of seven volunteers appointed by the mayor and approved by the council for four-year terms. The commission’s job is to advise the mayor and council regarding Channel 6 and all the federal, state, and local statutes, ordinances, regulations and rules pertaining to the operation of a cable television system. 

Nancy McClellan has been involved with Channel 6 since 2004, when it was still owned and operated by Webster. “We meet as needed to conduct the business of the cable commission.  Some years, we only meet once a year… sometimes quarterly.  We’ve had quite a few major changes to Channel 6 over the years,” she told The Press. 

Channel 6 began as Channel 3 and Webster’s cable system was one of only 300 in the nation. Now more than 60 years old, the channel has aired local concerts and basketball games, interviews with government officials, and even had its own newscast. At one time Channel 6 employed a bingo announcer, and viewers would call in with their bingo to win cash prizes. A quiz show for seventh and eighth graders was played three times a week. 

Councilman Austin Greve has been involved with Channel 6 since 2000, when there were roughly 30 regular advertisers who paid a flat monthly rate for a message about every 10 minutes. Revenues were used to upgrade technology. Greve was a senior in high school when his interest in technology drew him to the television station, and he served on the cable commission until he was elected to the city council in 2015. 

Like Greve, McClellan shares her computer and connectivity knowledge with the commission, and recently retired TV service person John Hartmann brings his years of communications signal and testing wisdom. Other members include Jean Green and Bruce Bryant, who have returned to the cable commission after having served previously, and recent appointees John Hess and Sue Rausch, who add community interest and input to the group. There is currently a vacancy on the cable commission, and interested parties should contact City Manager Denise Schneider regarding potential appointment.

For a short time, the city paid a combined recreation director and Channel 6 operator – however the cost of the position could not be justified and currently Channel 6 duties are folded in to city office employees. 

“Although the city received the equipment, the funding has always been a challenge,” McClellan explained. “When the city took over, we were able to sell ads to local store owners and utilize music CDs for background. Both were deemed to be not fully in compliance with federal regulations regarding PEG (Public, Education and Government) channels. Ad fees could no longer be collected and background music had to be purchased via Mediacom.” 

In 2008, new equipment was purchased which greatly extended the capabilities of Channel 6. “We can record and retransmit live meeting and church services as well as retain electronic copies of recordings.  The new equipment also greatly improved the quality of both audio and video as well as offering a much more user-friendly and flexible scheduling function,” said McClellan. 

Webster continued to manage Channel 6 himself even after selling it to Big River Cable in 1987. It was resold six times and is now owned by the city and serviced by Mediacom. When the number of Mediacom subscribers declined, decreasing funds generated by Channel 6, Alpine Communications also began transmitting the local channel to its subscribers. Franchise fees paid to the city have increased since this began in 2012. 

Most recently, the cable commission has been upgrading Channel 6 to take advantage of the much higher quality of digital transmission. “Trinity Lutheran has been transmitting digitally since August 2017. We hope to have United Methodist up and running in February,” said McClellan. “Due to the cost and complication of getting network connections to their video camera locations, St. Mary Catholic and St. John’s Lutheran churches will not be upgrading to digital transmission at this time.”

Today, one can learn about many of the events, activities, and services available in Guttenberg by watching a few moments of Channel 6. There are an estimated 50 informational slides currently running in addition to church services and city council meetings, aired live on the second Monday of the month and and re-aired on the following Tuesday and Wednesday at 1 p.m. and 7 p.m. each day. 

Live church services are aired each Sunday. Trinity Lutheran services are live on the first and second Sundays of the month;  the third Sunday will be Methodist Church; and the fourth Sunday is St. Mary’s. These are replayed the following Monday at 10 a.m. Three local churches bring in DVDs to replay their recorded Sunday services at 10 a.m. according to the following schedule:  Tuesday, St. Peter’s, Garnavillo; Wednesday, St. John's, Guttenberg; and Thursday, St. Paul, Garnavillo.

About a dozen for-profit businesses pay $20 per month, billed quarterly, to advertise on Channel 6. For more information about running your own slide on Channel 6, contact Debbie Eulberg at the city office at 563-252-1161.

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