Tuning into Herndon

Tuning into Herndon

Herndon Community Television continues its quest to make town insiders of Herndon residents.

Leaning over to press a button on a keyboard, the video editing program starts to run intermittent cuts depicting brief images of downtown Herndon, the Municipal Center, and Runnymede Park.

"I've been working on this for the past few months," said Elaine Brown, a Herndon-area resident and video technician as she squares herself in front of her desk in the Herndon Community Television headquarters in the basement of the old Town Hall in downtown Herndon.

She clicks through a few clips of "B-roll" — miscellaneous non-action footage of places and things around town — and drags a few clips together to show more images of the town on the monitor above.

"It's all B-roll for projects like this, but we've got to use a lot of new footage because the town is changing so much," Brown added. "Everything has to be constantly updated because a lot of the old stuff doesn't really work anymore."

Brown, who has been a full-time employee of HCTV for six and a half years, is putting the finishing touches on Herndon's orientation video, which will be shown to the new Town Council and newly-hired town staff later this month. After that, the approximately 20-minute program will be played for several weeks on televisions across Fairfax County.

The program was designed to give town and county residents a better idea of what services and events the town offers annually, Brown said.

"The idea is to get more information out to the people — which is pretty much what we do here," she said.

HCTV HAS BEEN offering local programming to residents since it was first made possible by a grant of a channel and money paid from cable distributor Media General — now Cox Communications — to the Town of Herndon in 1985. It appears on channel 23 throughout Fairfax County to subscribers of Cox Cable.

"The founding board members decided that there should be another medium for getting information to citizens, and when this opportunity presented itself it was just what we were looking for," said Nancy Husch, the first executive director of HCTV. "It's been great for the residents."

Husch said that the original intent of the station was to bring residents into the political and decision-making process of the town.

"You can watch your Town Council, your Planning Commission, your government in general in action just by turning on your TV," Husch said. "It's shown itself to be a great avenue for people to keep themselves informed in town issues."

Yet HCTV has always remained a non-profit organization, separate from the town.

More than 20 years later, HCTV has expanded from much more than just broadcasting town meetings.

On an average week, HCTV will broadcast between 10 and 15 different shows.

The genres cover the gamut, from cooking instructional programs to classic western shows to locally-themed and produced documentaries.

Some were filmed 10 years ago while others are newly-produced parts of on-going series.

MAKING HER HOME at the HCTV main office on the top floor of the old Town Hall with a television angled towards her desk tuned to a muted showing of "jazzercise" on Channel 23 is Jan Tirrell, the executive director of HCTV.

HCTV "has been an outlet for our citizens, something where they can follow the local issues and meetings, but also something where they can turn for a local connection," said Tirrell, who has been managing HCTV since 2000. "Maybe it's because of that small-town atmosphere that we have — but everyone likes to be familiar with what's going on and what you can do in the town."

The Herndon Police Department has used HCTV as a tool for keeping residents safe and informed of local occurrences. Every month, the Herndon Police Department produces a 30-minute program entitled "Policing Our Town," in which current crime and safety issues are presented to residents.

Last spring, the police department took advantage of the program to warn residents against a spate of home robberies occurring in the town.

HCTV "is extremely important to our work because it helps us get the word out to citizens," said Sgt. Darcy Burns of the Herndon Police Department. "There's not always a good opportunity for us to speak directly to residents — but we feel that the station and its ability to repeat messages really helps us to keep everyone aware of what's going on."

THE STATION ISN'T just a resource for information, but also an opportunity to learn about the community and techniques of film-making, said Tirrell.

"Our volunteers really put in a lot of great work — to make some interesting and original programming," she said. "It's an excellent volunteer service, where if someone wants to learn how to run a camera, do interviews, make a show; we offer that possibility too."

For an organization that will run on a budget of approximately $83,000 this year, volunteers are extremely important to running the station and coming up with new ideas, Tirrell added. She estimated that while there is a volunteer list of about 50 people in the town, about a dozen take part regularly in volunteer production and shooting projects.

The fact that making a television program is not easy is something that often is revealed to would-be producers, Brown said.

"Mostly people will walk in with ideas — but usually they don't turn into a series because people realize how much work goes into it," she said.

Despite the challenge, there are plenty of residents who have created successful series, including the locally-produced shows "Chef Willi's Kitchen" and "Woody's Western Theater," Brown added.

While Tirrell can remember a few young volunteers who went on to study television and video production in college, she said that she'd like to see more interest in utilizing the local station for production amongst the younger crowd — as long as it's family-oriented.

"We don't get many young people coming in — but we'd love to see more kids get involved because it really allows them to learn something and take that with them," Tirrell said. "It could lead to careers in this business and they could get that early experience here."

WHEN IT COMES to the future, HCTV is looking to do what many others in technology-anchored businesses are trying to do: continue to meet the exceeding pace of newly-introduced equipment and the advantages it can bring.

HCTV is already available streaming on the web. The addition of a new server for HCTV will soon allow the station to play a week of programming right from its hard drive, Brown said. Also on the agenda for the organization are newer high-resolution cameras for the Town Council chambers.

"Eventually the police and fire departments will have the ability to insert emergency information quickly for residents," Tirrell said, "and that will be very important for them."

Clicking through a few more clips on her editing program as she sat just feet away from a computer broadcasting to televisions throughout Fairfax County, Brown said that the best thing about her job is in the variety of things she gets to work on.

"I get to work on so many different types of projects — it's different things every week, one week it's airplanes, the next police or cooking," Brown said. "We have a lot of things we do here, and hopefully the people find it worthwhile."