PAC 14 marks 20 years of keeping public informed

PAC 14’s Tom Taylor and Creig Twilley.

PAC 14, Wicomico County’s popular public access TV station, is celebrating 20 years on the public airways this month, to accolades from an appreciative community.

“PAC 14 has always been a great service to the county, the citizens and to the County Council itself. I really doubt the public would know half of what the Wicomico County Council does on a regular basis if it wasn’t for PAC 14,” Council President John Cannon said.

Salisbury Mayor Jake Day praised the station for enriching the lives of local residents.

“They have made it their mission to create a slate of programming, which captures and reflects the heart and spirit of Salisbury and Wicomico County. It is with great enthusiasm that I look forward to the next 20 years of high-quality access television from PAC 14,” the mayor said.

Phil Tilghman, who hosted about 600 episodes of the talk show “One On One” before handing it over Greg Bassett, was on the committee formed to develop a public access TV station.

“It’s thanks to Salisbury University that we were able to do it and both the county and the city benefited from that,” Tilghman said.

“Of course the live coverage of county and city council meetings has been wonderful … it certainly has helped with the transparency of government,” Tilghman said.

“Gosh, when I was first on the County Council we had budget sessions in private, not in public. So much that happens in city and county government is on PAC 14.

“And there’s the education component — not just public, secondary education, but the college and Wor-Wic have opportunities to air things on PAC 14. It’s been a great 20 years,” Tilghman said.

In its infancy, the channel was supported by founding partners Wicomico County, city of Salisbury, Salisbury University and the SU Nursing Department.

Originally called Access 26, it first aired on March 15, 1999. In 2010, PAC 14 was incorporated.

County Councilman Marc Kilmer said he often hears from residents who tell him they watch the public meetings on the station.

“There’s a demand for the types of transparency that PAC 14 offers and the public is very grateful for its services. It really helps people in Wicomico know what their government does,” Kilmer said.

“Not a lot of people come to the meetings but a lot of people watch us on PAC 14,” Kilmer said.

PAC 14 Executive Director Tom Taylor said the channels producers relish their roles.

“We have become relevant in the community because we express what the community is,” Taylor said.

“The station talks about local matters. We don’t have any programming unless some local producer produces it and wants to share it with their community. We are extremely local in that sense,” he said.

“In the first few years, people didn’t understand what public access is. Even in our 20th year, people say public access? What is that?” Taylor said. “It’s to be able to share with them the important things in their life.”

At the station’s Hawaiian-themed LuWow! celebration last week at SU, to mark 20 years, “some people said some nice things about us and we were able to get something we can put on the air,” Taylor said.

Comments will be broadcast throughout the year.

Designed to allow the public to share thoughts, ideas, interests and information without commercials or ratings, PAC 14 is available to Comcast subscribers and also through live streaming and on YouTube.

It’s important to keep public access free, Taylor said, so show sponsorships are appreciated.

With an annual budget of $250,000, the station has several funding sources. It receives a portion of franchise fees charged to Comcast customers. The city provides a fixed 1.5 percent of the 5 percent fee.

Wicomico County provides a variable rate from the General Fund and PAC 14 also raises money.

There are four full-time employees, one part-timer and volunteers who, Taylor said, are heavily relied on.

“We train them on equipment and editing, give them all the support we can and try to fix what they shoot to make it presentable,” Taylor said.

Anyone 18 or older interested in having a show will be taught how to use camera equipment. They will shoot a practice project, take it to be edited and learn that skill, too, as a viable show is created, Taylor explained.

Creig Twilley, Assistant Director of PAC 14, has been with the station since December 1999.

“Public access is a nationwide concept. It was originally started because cable had a monopoly. It was to enable everyone to have access to cable, to give a channel the public can use that was not just for commercial use,” he said.

“We began with maybe 20 hours a week at first. We want to go even higher. The whole mission is to put it in the hands of the public and community to give the community a voice,” he said.

“We all wear many hats. We train and assist local producers to produce their programming. We produce our own programming. We do the city and county government meetings. We are partners with the government. We work with all the non-profits in this community just about,” Twilley said.

“PAC 14 has been my life for 20 years. I love it. I love giving back to the community. I love having the community come and do their own projects,” said Twilley, who has more than 40 years of video production experience.

He was formerly Executive Director of the station, but preferred the Assistant Director position to give him more time to focus on new ideas and new leadership.

“I have always enjoyed working in the public television sector and working within the local community. PAC 14 has been like a second home to me and I believe that PAC 14 has become an integral part of this community,” Twilley said.

“People notice us when we are out in the community. It really warms our hearts when people say, ‘Oh, PAC14 is here,” Taylor said, adding he’s looking forward to the next 20 years.

“By that time, I’d like to see PAC 14 be available to everyone, not just people who are cable customers.

“And,” he added, laughing, “I’d like to still be around in 20 years.”

Reach Susan Canfora at scanfora@newszap.com.

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