“TV-36 has new look, name but local focus remains” by Patricia E. Meola, The Independent Press, March 11, 2009.

TV-36 has new look, name, but local commitment remains

by PATRICIA E. MEOLA

Thursday March 12, 2009, 8:15 AM

AREA -- Anyone flipping channels lately who happens upon what was long known locally as TV-36 is likely to notice major changes are afoot.

Not only does the station sport a new name, HomeTowne Television, but new shows, sets and equipment mean the small staff and countless volunteers have been pouring their efforts into ensuring the community access channel keeps up with the world's rapidly-advancing technology.
President and CEO Fred Honold of Summit, a frequent host of shows on the channel, said, "How people get their news has changed drastically, with the advent of iPods, computers and cell phones. So we're asking, 'Where do people draw their sense of identity?'"

To that end, Mr. Honold said, while the station's "core is still the five towns that have been the focus for the past 29 years" (Summit, New Providence, Berkeley Heights, Millburn-Short Hills and Springfield), due to changes with Verizon and Comcast, the channel may now be viewed in portions of The Chathams, Cranford, Florham Park, Maplewood and even Union.

"We are re-branding our network," Mr. Honold said, "while continuing the goal of keeping our programming highly relevant."

Volunteer board member -- and another frequent on-air personality -- Paula Mooney said regarding the station's marketing efforts, "We are a 'destination channel.' In the 500 channels that people can choose from, we want them to think of us when they wonder, 'Where can I get news of my community?' We are the neighborhood network, and that's where it begins: your neighborhood."

Mr. Honold noted that the focus of HomeTowne Television (Channel 36 on Comcast and TV-33 on Verizon) will remain on "local events, local people and local issues," and that the membership of the station's board of trustees represents residents from a variety of towns. A new show is airing that highlights the business community in Summit, Mr. Honold said, and coverage of Millburn High School sports has increased. In addition, he said, another viewer favorite is Overlook Hospital's "30 Medical Minutes," and a show in the works called "Overlook View" will be shot on-site.

Each year there are a number of what Mr. Honold called "pro bono shows, shows we do on us, like covering the downtown car show, the Taste of Summit and Sustainable Summit, of which we've done four." And the station's staff and volunteers have begun to venture farther afield to tape shows, traveling well beyond their modest basement studio at Central Presbyterian Church on Maple Street in Summit. Mr. Honold joined Summit Councilman Frank Macioce atop the city's salt dome for one memorable segment, and Councilwoman Diane Klaif has welcomed viewers to the recycling center at the Summit Transfer Station and for a room-by-room tour of the 1741 Carter House, home of the Summit Historical Society. The gala that marked the 75th anniversary of the Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn was highlighted in a show, as were Overlook-sponsored events that featured Miss America and Deborah Norville.

Ms. Mooney is hosting a new humor show, and guests have included Alan Zweibel, Assemblyman Jon Bramnick and Mike Somerville, a local native who writes the "Ask Jake" column for Glamour magazine.

All of these new productions join what for many years has constituted the mainstay of the TV-36 lineup, including lived and taped coverage of municipal meetings, candidates' debates and a local news show co-sponsored by the Independent Press, a long-time supporter and partner of the station.

Mr. Honold said, "We're also active with JAG, the Jersey Access Group, a consortium of hometown stations, about 75 or 80 community access TV stations -- public, educational and governmental. Other stations can run our shows, and vice versa. We're really proud of what we're doing here."

Editor's note: Next week, go behind-the-scenes at HomeTowne Television's studio in downtown Summit. Learn about the new looks being featured on-set, meet some of the people who keep the station running and explore new equipment and technology that allow the staff and volunteers to create the programs enjoyed by viewers throughout the region.