D.C. Takes to the Airwaves

By Scanlan, Laura Wolff | Humanities, January/February 2003 | Go to article overview

D.C. Takes to the Airwaves


Scanlan, Laura Wolff, Humanities


SCHOLARS IN WASHINGTON, D.C., are taking to the airwaves to bring the humanities into the community. "How do you educate your community? That is a challenge," says E. Ethelbert Miller, a poet, scholar, and host of a one-hour interview show, Humanities Profiled, which airs on DCTV, the District's public access cable station.

The humanities council of Washington, D.C., has turned to broadcast media, "to preserve the District of Columbia's cultural legacy while transforming the nation's capital into a community," says executive director Joy Ford Austin. For a third of the cost of a traditional humanities event, which may bring an audience of fifty to seventy-five people, the council can produce a television show that has the potential to reach all cable subscribers in the District-currently 400,000 households. The council currently airs four shows on DCTV.

"I see the Humanities Council of Washington as playing a key role in helping the city understand itself. Our city is changing and we need to be aware of what is happening to our neighborhoods. We need to examine our values and beliefs," Miller said in a recent interview.

To feature shows and viewpoints of local interest-which often do not find a place on commercial television-DCTV provides programming to anyone who wants to produce and air a show. "People of different professions and different ethnic backgrounds are watching the show and learning and enjoying," Miller says. He regards public access television as a way to spark dialog on issues of local interest. "When we talk about humanities in our community, and when we talk about building citizenship and training young people, here is an effective way-we know they are watching TV."

In any one month, the council has thirty to forty hours of television programming, much of it in primetime. Although there is no ratings system for noncommercial television, a survey by the cable company found that approximately 11,000 viewers visited public access channels each hour. Each show is broadcast for two to three months, in different time slots. "We are getting a lot for our money over time," Austin says.

For Humanities Profiled, Miller selects guests whom he believes are important to Washington, D. …

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