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Cable station expands local line-up

New Richmond's cable access channel has made a giant leap forward into modern technology thanks to newly purchased equipment.

The City of New Richmond approved the purchase of the new equipment to replace severely outdated items.

The old equipment only allowed for limited channel operation because only video tapes could be played. Channel operators had to physically change the tapes every few hours.

Now the station can play programs that are saved on videotape and DVDs. The new switcher allows for a long string of programs to be cued up for the day.

The channel, which is operated out of the library at Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College, is now equipped to broadcast from 6 a.m. to 1 p.m. daily. The five hours of non-program time is filled with scenic slide shows from the area, also thanks to the new technology.

"The equipment seems to be working out well," said Alex Birkholz, director of the cable access channel. The new equipment has been operating the channel since March 6.

"It's more reliable equipment," said Cheri Croft, who helps operate the channel. "And it provides a better quality picture for the viewers."

As for the expanding schedule, cable access already offers the maximum number of religious programs allowed by the rules, but other programs may still be submitted.

"We need other types of shows to balance out our schedule," Birkholz said. "Any local organization that wants to put something on can submit them. There are just a few guidelines that have to be followed."

Croft said the station has added quite a few high-quality shows to the schedule already.

Some of the more popular shows include a series of programs from NASA, a show by the Wisconsin Department on Aging, local square dancing and "Technically Speaking" (an interview show originating from WITC).

While the installation of the new equipment is good news for the channel, Birkholz said the city continues to negotiate with Rapid Cable concerning the future cable franchise agreement.

Depending on the language in the agreement, Birkholz said New Richmond viewers could see additional cable access channels geared to specific kinds of programming in the future.

"But right now, just keeping the one we have on the air now is challenge enough," he commented.

The channel continues to struggle with quality issues because the WITC studio is not yet hooked up via fiber optic cables to Rapid's system.

Rapid Cable has assured the city that the connection will be made in the future, but no progress has been made, Birkholz said.

Another challenge for cable access has been the new requirement that New Richmond pay the Hudson cable access channel for tapes of St. Croix County Board meetings.

Birkholz said viewers who want to see the meeting broadcasts continue should call the station at 246-6561, ext. 4361. Anyone wishing to provide programming for the station can call the number above as well.