Cable With Vision

When I think of ways to make Marin even better, I think about improving communications. A way to convey the thinking of Marin’s many creative minds and let us witness live debate over such issues as the SMART commuter rail line, the proposed Target store in San Rafael and where to locate workforce housing. Wouldn’t it be great if Marin had its own cable television station? 

News flash: Marin County already has its own cable television station. For two years, Marin TV — or the Community Media Center of Marin (CMCM) — has operated from a nondescript San Rafael storefront at 817 A Street. Mike Eisenmenger, a respected community Cablevision veteran, is the executive director. His staff, paid and volunteers, numbers 15.

Marin TV operates on three channels: 26, 27 and 30. Channel 26, the flagship channel, runs 24/7 and shows topical news from Al Jazeera English World News, the Thom Hartmann Program and Democracy Now! with Amy Goodman. It also runs documentaries submitted by Marin residents (more on that later) and locally produced programs such as Norman Solomon’s Making a Difference in Marin and Peter B. Collins’ Marin Voices and Views.

Channel 27 is Marin TV’s government channel. It’s on the air maybe 18 hours a day and offers live, multiple camera coverage of county board of supervisor meetings and those of the Mill Valley and San Rafael city councils. It also runs delayed videos of meetings of the Marin Planning Commission and the Marin Energy Authority and could soon be showing board meetings of SMART. Channel 30, Marin’s education channel, runs University of California TV programming and cablecasts of Dominican University classes and its “Leadership Lecture” series.

Sounds good, right? Sorry, but now things get complicated. Marin TV is available only to subscribers of Comcast cable television (that’s some 62,000 homes). It is not available if you live in Novato (try Novato TV, it’s quite good) nor in West Marin (by summer, this might change), and not if AT&T is your cable provider (try Channel 99, but it’s a slog). Making matters even more complex, for a schedule of programs type “Marin TV” or “cmcm” into your Internet browser. This will bring up “Community Media Center of Marin,” where you’ll find plenty of information about Marin’s three cable television channels.

 “Let’s face it: all communications, even network television, are complicated these days,” notes Marin TV’s Eisenmenger, However, like Eisenmenger, I feel Marin TV — especially Channel 26 — is well worth the effort. Sure there are the innocuous community bulletin boards where senior housing opportunities and Easter Seals benefits are announced while smooth jazz plays in the background. However, there are also treasures like Al Jazeera English World News and Marin Views and Voices.

Other examples: Last month I saw Marin’s Board of Supervisors live on Channel 27 as they paid tribute to their colleague Charles McGlashan just days following his tragic death. On Channel 26, I am hooked on the Third World Traveler series of documentaries offered up by Steve Fine, a retired Mill Valley oral surgeon. The films Orwell Rolls in His Grave and Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media helped confirm suspicions I’ve acquired regarding America’s mainstream media, and The Hidden Wars of Desert Storm answered questions I had about that period in our nation’s history.

By insisting that such programs be available to Marin viewers, Mill Valley’s Fine exemplifies an important purpose of Marin TV. “In America, we don’t get the information we need to run a democracy,” he says. “I’m just trying to help people find the truth.”

According to Eisenmenger, Channel 26 programming is a result of what Marin residents want on their community cable channel. “They either produce it themselves or secure it and make it available it to us for telecasting, as Steve Fine does,” he says. “And if they want to produce content — we have the classes, cameras and processes to make that possible.” Marin TV can be reached at 415.721.0636 or cmcm.tv.

Currently, due to numerous factors, Marin’s public-access cable TV station unfortunately faces a dubious financial future. However, its potential for fostering and enhancing communication in Marin County is unlimited. That’s my point of view. What’s yours?

Email pov@marinmagazine.com.