One on One with…Chris Richard, LRTV manager

By Wayne E. Rivet

Staff Writer

Chris Richard wants to assure everyone that LRTV programming is on the air.

It is just in another location.

With Spectrum switching to digital broadcasting at the end of 2018, the change resulted in a serious reshuffling of stations. Viewers looking for LRTV programs had to move way up the cable guide from 5 and 7 to 1302 and 1303.

The change is one of many LRTV experienced in 2018. The News recently sat down with full-time, paid station manager Chris Richard to talk about how the local public access station continues to evolve technologically, how programming is developing and how the station is balancing needs and finances.

BN. What was the response regarding the channel changes?

Chris Richard: People asked, ‘What happened?’ I can’t find the channel. We’ve been on those channels since the beginning. The reason they (Spectrum) made the change is because they sold that space (channels 5 and 7) and pushed us up the dial. We knew it was coming. There were no surprises. I worked with Tony Vigue, who is a franchise consultant and managed South Portland’s public access for 30 years, and he has a friend who is a public access consultant who used to work for cable. I knew six months ago that this was going to happen. The kicker was yes, it’s digital, but they don ‘t allow us to broadcast in digital. So what we do is we film in digital, but then the stuff that goes out on the Internet is digital. But, when it goes in the system to broadcast for cable, we have to dump it down to standard definition. We still shot in high definition. If we shot at the lower level, then the quality would really drop off. Even so, when I looked at some of the VHS stuff shot here years ago and transferred to DVD, I thought, ‘You watched this?’ But back then, it was what was available. It’s come a long way. Even when I go on shoots, people expect to see big cameras. When they see these little cameras on tripods, they say, ‘That’s it?’ It’s changed a lot.

BN: How is LRTV funded?

Chris Richard: Public access gets paid by franchise fees. The cable company pays the towns to rent the poles for their cable and Internet. The towns that we broadcast to give us a certain percentage of the franchise fee to fund the station. Each year, I present a budget. LRTV serves 12 towns. Some of the smaller towns, like Baldwin and Parsonsfield, we just broadcast, we don’t film there. Sebago just started filming selectmen and planning board meetings. They originally wanted us to go out there to film, but we are short staffed. So, I put an audio/video package together for the town manager. She went to the selectmen, and they decided to purchase their own equipment. I trained them how to put it all together, and how to use the equipment. It’s a single camera shoot. The town manager brings me the chip. I download it and edit it, and return the chip. I send them so they can put up a link on their town website.

BN. How did you get involved in public access television?

Chris Richard: Before I got into TV, I was in radio. I’m a drummer. I’ve played since I was 11 or 12 years old (over 30 years). I went to college in Florida for recording arts. I wanted to make records and work in recording studios. I went full-time and earned an associate’s degree. In Maine, there are not a lot of studio jobs. There are a lot of in-homes, like Baked Beans. I knew someone in radio. I didn’t want to be a DJ. I started out as a board-op for a station in Portland for ‘Imus in the Morning,’ broadcasting from Maine and out. I liked it because it was live and you had to be quick because of commercials. I did quite well at that. I got paid from one station, but worked for three other stations doing board-op, remotes, anything I could. I then started to do light production. There was a hip-hop station in Westbrook, working there for four years. I did car commercials, tags for Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, and club spots. I enjoyed it. I was good at it. The station ended up doing simulcast sports (The Big Jab). I had chances to run the board and commercials. Really liked working with Frank Fixaris. He was funny. If there was a phone call he didn’t like, he’d give a gesture for us to hang up…I got laid off, and was out of the business for a couple of years. I was a stay-at-home dad for three years. Luckily, I had my studio in my basement. When the kids were in school, I had six hours or so, I made cartoons and did voice-overs. I figured there had to be public access channels. I found LRTV on the Internet. I contacted John Likshus. He hired me as a part-time videographer. Over the two-and-a-half years, I asked him to teach me more. When I came to LRTV, I had never edited video. I knew audio, but wanted to round it out by learning the video end. When Janet Jones retired (she did the programming), I learned that. I ended up coordinating the shoots. I started handling the message board. I was doing everything except the business side. When John became sick, he went to part-time and I was hired full-time as production director. When he passed away, I became active manager. Bill Severance took me under his wing. He’s a great mentor. He still mentors me today. He taught me about the business side. We’re like other nonprofits, we need to search for money to keep the station on the air.

BN. Talk about what LRTV has experienced in regards to changes in technology.

Chris Richard: Technology changes as we speak. When I took over as manager, we had equipment and items in storage that we will never use again. We now have robotic cameras (see photo of the camera), which Bill first thought about using in Naples (which the town paid for), replacing some surveillance cameras that weren’t very good. I thought, why don’t we ramp that up in Bridgton and get three cameras (the town owning two). You can set up your shots ahead of time. The other cameras are always ‘panning’ and zooming in and out. Even if you are smooth, it’s still hard to follow at times. With the robotic cameras, you can have one on a speaker, and while that person is talking, set up the next shot by rotating another one to show a map or another person. When it comes time to switch, you simply go from one camera to the other. We have an operator switching cameras. We have a good IT guy in Drew Knightly. We strive for excellence. I want to deliver the best that we can. We’re in pretty good shape from a camera standpoint. We recently spent $18,000 to upgrade our cameras. And the old ones, we tried to give them away, but no one wants them. The stuff you buy now is so much cheaper and you can do so much more. And, the quality is better. In the summer when we do concerts, we use Bill’s van as our control center. He had the camera switcher and board in the van, and ran cables out the windows. It was fun. And, the quality is really good. With newer equipment, three-fourths of the editing is already done since we can have titles into the system ahead of time. The operator just hits a button, and the title comes up.

BN. How do you approach programming?

Chris Richard: I don’t want every night simply being meeting after meeting on the air. So, I try to get a good mix of community events with a meeting or two. We try to do as many events as possible. What we still have trouble with is finding people to help out. We have one volunteer. Everyone else is staff. When John Likshus was station manager, he had a videography staff. I don’t. I have three people. I just hired a fourth (to cover Casco). You have to have a passion to be in this business. The people we have like to go out and do community events. Evan Miller is our utility guy. He tapes Bridgton meetings, concerts, pretty much anything, and is learning to edit. He films ‘Greg’s World’ on location. It’s a cool show. He also does one with Ken Turley. We’re always looking for new shows. I’m producing one right now with Lisa Villa called ‘Maine Matters.’ We recently did a show at Crooked River Counseling, then came right back to the studio and did a show with Lake Region Substance Awareness Coalition. They’re fun to work with. We get around. My favorite thing is to use the station as a vehicle to help other people.

BN. Who has been your most valued resource?

Chris Richard: No question, Bill Severance. Without him, it would cost the station a lot of money to help us with technical matters. He installs all these inputs in our (studio) walls. He did all the cabling that goes out into the meeting room. He installed all of the equipment. He rebuilt my office computer (you can’t buy it in the store, it’s a Bill Severance custom). He saved us $5,000 on that, buying the components and putting it together. It’s his favorite thing, the installs. I call him the Patriarch of LRTV. This place wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for Bill. And, he doesn’t take a dime. Everything that he does here for LRTV, he does the same in Florida (where he spends the winter months), except there he does arena concerts for a venue there. They have big acts that come in there and he handles the sound. He also volunteers for a church there…I’ve been here for four years, and I’ve learned so much from Bill. He is very patient. He is very humble. He doesn’t ask for anything. He doesn’t complain about anything. If I call him in Florida, he has no problem helping me.

BN. Do you need to subscribe to cable to receive LRTV programming?

Chris Richard: No. You don’t have to have cable to watch LRTV. People can go to our website at lakeregiontv.org and either watch live or click on current programs or ones in our archive. We are also on vimeo.com/lrtv and livestream.com/lrtv and we have a Facebook page. I put a lot of stuff on it. We’re getting a good response from it. It amazes me that people that have lived here 30 to 40 years still don’t know that there is a TV station here. This station has been here for something like 26 years. Bridgton and the area are pretty lucky to have its own newspaper and TV station. Use it. We’re here for people. I’m doing everything I can to promote LRTV.

BN. What is your biggest challenge at the moment?

Chris Richard: The tightrope system (it’s five years old) that we broadcast with is pretty much on its last leg. We use it to do the scheduling and send programming out to viewers. Before, they used DVDs and had to load up machines to run programming. Now, it’s auto-pilot. You punch in programming (via computer). We started a capital reserve account, and put $10,000 into it. We’re going to ask the towns to put some money toward it because if it breaks and we can’t afford to replace it, that’s it. I’m in the process of seeking some grant money. My focus is to keep the station on the air.

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