Monday, December 8, 2008

Island Television

There is a certain idea about TV that I always thought was really cool. It’s that once a show has been broadcast, the signal keeps traveling forever, and that people in other galaxies are getting to watch The Honeymooners for the first time today. It was the subject of a Pete & Pete episode and a really good urban legend where it seemed that an advanced antenna in England was picking up signals from a station in Texas that no longer existed.

Maybe it’s true. Maybe it isn’t. But at any rate, that sort of thing happens here all the time. Nearly all the TV here is on a two-week tape delay. Some of it was taped in Honolulu, some of it comes from Seattle. I recently heard that they were recently switching it to Seattle, but I don’t know if it will be all the channels or only some of them. I can’t imagine why they picked Seattle, other than that they get to carry HOLY CRAP IS IT EVER RAINING HARD Seahawks games, and there appears to be a lot of fans of there’s here. I think they have a Samoan player or something.

Anyhow, watching TV here on almost any channel is like looking into the past. When I got here about three weeks ago, almost all of the news shows were discussing the Obama victory as if it happened yesterday, for obvious reasons. But in a much weirder vein, one of the very first things I saw after hooking up my TV was the App State-Wofford game, which I had attended in person at least two weeks prior. I was so weirded out that I took several pictures of the screen. There was a lot of televised déjà-vu the first two weeks that I was here.

These channels are referred to professionally as “on a tape delay,” but I like to refer to them as “The Phantom Channels.” I’ve been watching a lot of Phantom Comedy Central since I’ve been here. Although I’ve watched enough to notice that it’s not running on a tape delay of exactly two weeks; it can vary a bit. Right now it appears to be on a tape delay of two hours and 15 minutes shy of two weeks. So shows that are supposed to come on Sunday at 6 PM come on somewhere around Sunday at 3:45 PM. In other words, there is no “appointment viewing” as it’s known in the industry. Phantom TV is just for flipping on and enjoying potluck programming when you feel like it.

There are a few exceptions, namely local TV channels, CNN International, and ABC (Australian Broadcasting Company). I know a bit about ABC because I had to do a presentation on it in college. Under Aussie culture-protecting laws, Australian TV has to be somewhere around 80% domestically produced content. Which means they have nothing worth watching, beyond some of the news coverage. CNN international is pretty good. I’m a pretty big news junkie, and CNNi doesn’t mess around with endless stories about celebrity gossip or missing white teenagers, unlike their mainland counterpart. I also have two or three channels entirely in Asian languages, one of which I think is MTVAsia.

That brings us to local TV. It consists of KVZK 2, 4, and 5, The Island Music Channel/Island TV, The Island Info Channel, a similar channel provided by the cable company, and K11UU.*
KVZK is actually owned by the Government of American Samoa (Henceforth referred to as GAS), and is probably the best thing that they do. The first TV station came here in the 1960s under Dep. of the Interior-appointed Governor H. Rex Lee** for educational purposes. There was such a shortage of good teachers willing to work here that the TV tower was set up on top of Mount Alavalava so that a single teacher could instruct every classroom on the island at once through the magic of the boob tube. At some point in the late 70s or early 80s, it was deemed no longer necessary, and the island switched to more conventional student-teacher ratios.
As far as I know, that’s how KVZK began. Today they carry, according to Wikipedia, three signals, KVZK-2, KVZK-4, and KVZK-5, and I think it might actually be through the same tower, which might actually be the original one constructed in the early 60s. But then again, that same article says that the station that I work for is currently and NBC affiliate, which won't be true for several more months. If I ever learn differently, I’ll let you know. They mostly show mainland network programming on a tape delay, complete with the local commercials from either Honolulu or Seattle, with the KVZK station ID randomly stuck in once in a while. But I saw them give a little bit of live coverage on the night of the runoff election for Governor the first week I was here. This was complete with actual people telling us the latest results, when it wasn’t automatically switching back to video of the Pacific Arts Festival, which happened back in August. It's also worth mentioning that KVZK is not administered by the FCC, but by the Department of the Interior, which is a big deal to people in TV.

But a lot more people watch their shows than ours, as our channels are cable-only. There is a population here of about 60,000 people, and only around 5,000 households that subscribe to cable. While your average Samoan household seems to have around 127.3 people living in it*, it’s not quite as big as it seems, and there are a lot of people without cable and therefore can’t watch us.

Our channels consist of Channel 10, which plays music videos most of the day as The Island Music Channel. Around primetime it becomes Island Television, and brings everyone the freshest of syndicated shows, like MacGyver, Walker Texas Ranger, Northern Exposure, The West Wing, Baywatch, and the first two seasons of The Office. My first week of working here mainly consisted of chopping up The A-Team for the commercial breaks. We've only been showing real shows for about three months, so the majority of the people that I talk to don't even know it. We have plans to begin broadcasting on Channel 30 in the not-too-distant future, and then to pick up and NBC affiliation around the middle of next year, after a fiber-optic cable to the island is finished.

Our other channel is Channel 13, which is The Island Info Channel. It mostly runs still ads (both still pictures and silent video), PSAs, and automated weather and news info. We recently introduced a new thing to it, called Pothole of the Week, where we, uh…feature a new pothole every week. The idea is to put pressure on GAS**** to fix a few of those things. During that runoff election, we used the Info Channel to show the latest results, which I typed in and published. That makes it the first time I’ve covered and election for a real news organization! W00t!

Pacific Island Cable also runs a channel that’s almost exactly the same, but really using PowerPoint, complete with that “End of Slideshow, Click to Exit” message.****** They show random pictures of past events and organizations, along with still ads that they receive no payment for, other than getting on the good side of their “sponsors,” I guess for when they need people to buy ads on some of their satellite-feed shows. This same channel runs on every channel that I don’t get. For example, it runs on channel 22, which is HBO, which I don’t pay for. When I first flipped through the channels, I thought that Samoans must really love their PowerPoint channels or something.

They show a few live things that they snag off of a satellite feed. I don’t really know exactly how often they do this or if they have a separate channel for this, but they do it at least fairly often. On Thanksgiving I saw a football game that they had snagged live from the Armed Forces Network. The AFN discovered that they were doing this a while back, and told them that they could do it as long as they put in their own commercials. So PI Cable put together a DVD of five or six TV commercials that constantly plays. When an AFN commercial comes on, a guy who is never paying attention manually switches over to the DVD about a minute into the break and back about a minute after the game returns. It’s okay that we miss so many of their commercials, really. Let’s just say that all five of them get old quickly. Especially the one for Sherwin-Williams paint. It’s best that I don’t get started on that one. Let’s just say that I will never buy Sherwin-Williams paint until it has been proven that everyone responsible for that commercial has been rounded up and shot.

The last channel that anyone cares about is V11UU. You guessed it, it’s Channel 11. It’s actually run as a guy’s personal hobby, but is broadcast over the air. Last summer, the guy who ran it went on vacation and it went dark for a month. It’s technically an affiliate of a network dedicated to the Baha’i religion, although I’ve never seen any network programming on it, except for what he copies from Australian ABC. Which I guess is useful if you don’t have cable. I have been told that he has a discussion show from a Baha’I perspective, which involves cramming all three of his panelists into his studio, which consists of a two-person bench in front of a rug hanging on the wall. But once again, due to the fact that we're cable only, they have more viewers than us.

Well, that’s it for the TV here. I guess I had a lot more to say about it than I thought I did, probably because I work in TV and all. Tomorrow, they’re supposed to set up my Internet connection here in my apartment, so maybe I won’t have to make Phantom blog entries on a Flash Drive Delay anymore!

Next Time: What I’ve been up to, radio on the Rock (as this place is affectionately known), and what that has to do with my awkward neighbor.

*(yes, that’s their real call letters sign)
** The first, and possibly most recent, Governor of AmSam to actually care.
***People are always surprised when I tell them that I only have one sibling!
****No pun intended
*****Everyone is so darned professional here!
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