Public-Access Television: The YouTube of Its Heyday

Public-access television is a form of cable broadcasting that really picked up speed in the 80s and 90s.  The term “public-access” is usually used in place of PEG programming (Public Educational Governmental).  What makes these channels special are that they are non-commercial, and they are usually run by private individuals, grassroot groups, local governmental organizations, and private non-profits.  The focus of the channels could be anything.  For example, a local municipality could use the channel for keeping the area up to speed with local news and events.

We are also talking shows with very low budgets, and the Cable Communications Act of 1984 basically barred the cable companies from controlling any editorial content of the channels, nor were they liable for it.  So that opened the channels up to a myriad of programming, as you will see.

Now, public-access still exists, but it is hard to keep up with YouTube, since most people can make and upload a video with their phones.  But you do get people who care about putting on locally-oriented programming the old-fashioned way.  Vince LoCascio hosts The Busy Guy show in the Chicagoland area, and you can see he really cares about what he does and puts forth the effort.

On the flip side, like YouTube (and the rest of the Internet), you have to weed through a lot of…um…interesting things.  The only flavor most Britons have of public-access is Wayne’s World.  Yes, the two guys in Mom’s basement is the right idea, but the production is still too polished, the colors too vivid, and Wayne and Garth had personality.  There was also an actual script.

Let me give you some highlights of what you can find, starting with the discovery of America’s musical talent.

Grand Rapids, Michigan has a legend in public-access.  Ladies and gentleman, let me present…The Great Daryl Nathan.  Behold, the Power of His Wig and Spiral Notebook!

I am sure many of you have seen this one, but I cannot omit John Daker.  Be sure to have a spare pair of dry pants on hand.

Public-access is not just for episodes of America’s Gone Tone Deaf.  We also had our share of call-in shows like this one.  Leave it to the Americans to take a serious issue like carrying handguns around New York City and turn it into a forum for prank calls.  Ken Sander, the host, must be a seasoned New Yorker because he took this abuse for 5 minutes.  The audio is definitely NSFW.

You can get advice from “Risk” Astley. NSFW too.

How they managed to find a guy less appealing than the real thing, I will never know.  At least he didn’t attempt the accent.

Don’t forget the educational opportunities.  You can learn to paint and exercise while a large topless man stares at you wearing various bits of headwear.  NSFW either.

You may want to indulge your spiritual side too, if you are a Christian, with David Liebe Hart and his puppets.  (To those in the U.K., you may recognize this wonder from Charlie Brooker’s Screenwipe.)

Remember, don’t do drugs, kids.  Because I am sure there aren’t any left after the ones you had to take to get through that.

In summary, the First Amendment means that we can’t hide our weirdos.  In fact, they can take up television airspace, entertain the masses, and make other nations feel superior in their own intellects.  Consider public-access a public service.

Besides, it all can’t be Breaking Bad.

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