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The Stars of Access Fort Wayne
A glimpse at a few of the personalities behind the programs on Fort Wayne Access TV
By Michael Summers
Fort Wayne Reader
“Some people think of us as the editorial page of the cable system,” says Norm Compton, manager of Access Fort Wayne at the Allen County Public Library. “People can come in here, produce programs, and say what they want as regards to whatever subject that is.”
As anyone who has seen a sampling of some of the programs available on Comcast channel 55, 57, and 58 (and on Verizon FIOS 25, 27 and 28), Access Fort Wayne isn’t just the editorial page of the cable system; it’s also the sports section, the lifestyle pages, the comics and the “news of the weird,” too. And beyond the community calendars and blow-by-blow coverage of city council meetings, you can find quite a few interesting shows and personalities on Fort Wayne Access.
When Compton says that anyone can come in and produce a program, he isn’t exaggerating. There’s no cost to produce programs on Access TV (this may come as no surprise to some of you); the stations are supported through the cable companies in town, the ACPL, and the city. You also don’t need a degree in communications — Access TV will give you a list of volunteers who work with them, and it’s up to you, as the producer, to get a crew together and schedule time in the studio (you get three hours of free studio time per week).
And you really can say whatever you want on Access Fort Wayne. Seriously. “We do not screen or censor any of the programs,” Compton says. “It’s an FCC mandate as far as we don’t censor.”
Every program requires the producer fill out a playback contract that, in addition to the basics like title, episode, length and other details, asks the producer whether or not their program contains potentially objectionable material. That determines how Access TV will rate the program — TV-14, TV-MA, etc. Basically, the program is entirely the producer’s responsibility (more information on Access Fort Wayne, including a guide on “How To Be a Producer,” is available on the ACPL’s website). “Controversy comes in so many shapes and forms,” says Compton, who has been at the ACPL for eight years. “We’ve been very consistent in regards to treating everybody fairly here at the library. We’ve had the Klan live on TV in the studio. We’ve had naked bicyclists. We’ve had controversial city council meetings. So, take your pick.”
Well, what do they do with racists and naked bicyclists and legislating city councilmen? “If it’s rated TV-MA, it plays at the appropriate time slot,” Compton says (i.e. really late at night).
Occasionally, Access will get an “I can’t believe I saw this!“ call. Compton says they use that opportunity to educate on what Access TV is and what they do. Education is actually one of the key functions at the station. One of the featured producers in this article, Sparkle Thomas, does audio/video for a living. She got her start by taking a class at Access Fort Wayne while in high school.
As far as experience in front of the camera goes, many of the producers we talked to had no previous broadcasting background. Doug Horner, host of Libertarians At Large and Libertarian Perspective, sort of sums it up when he says “my only experience is over 40 years of watching television.”
Eric Hackley — the Godfather of Access Fort Wayne
If there’s a godfather of Fort Wayne Access, it might be Eric Hackley. He’s been producing his talk show Hackenomics since 1982.
Hackenomics has always addressed issues facing African-Americans in Fort Wayne, though Hackley says the show has grown to include a more historical and multi-cultural perspective. “ I’ve been talking to different ethnic groups from different countries, and comparing it to the African American story,” Hackley says. “Anytime you take a group of people who are having to overcome issues and obstacles — they could be from a different part of the Earth — just those struggles are where you see the similarities. That’s the core of how I’m pulling different groups together.”
Hackenomics often features interviews with business leaders and individuals from Fort Wayne’s minority community, and occasionally local politicians. Hackley says it took him a while to hone his interviewing skills, but that the skill set for an interviewer is not all that different from sales, which Hackley worked in for years. “You have to listen and respond,” he says. “There’s always a natural connection between people. You just have to be patient, and it will come to you.”
One of Hackley’s main interests is history. As he sees it, Fort Wayne’s rich history and diverse multi-cultural community are linked. “This is a world center right here, but no one is saying that,” Hackley explains. “Right now, in Fort Wayne, we have about 80 ethnic groups. I’ve been pushing the idea as to how astute people in Fort Wayne should become just by wanting to meet your neighbor.”
In fact, he thinks Fort Wayne’s history is so impressive, the city should look into developing it into some sort of marketing campaign. He cites the many, many battles that took place with the Miami tribes in the area — some of the bloodiest battles in “the Indian Wars” — and wonders why we haven’t done more with that legacy. Sure, a lot of those battles didn’t end well for US forces, but that doesn’t stop Montana or South Dakota honoring Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull. Why can’t Fort Wayne do the same with Little Turtle?
Hackley concedes that it’s difficult to incorporate all these things into a talk show and make people see the connections, but that it’s important that Fort Wayne show the world and its own citizens that this is a very diverse city. “We have all these ethnic groups here, and they need to see that Fort Wayne is an inclusive and open community.”
Sandra Lynch — One World, One Dream, Two Shows
Sandra Lynch describes Calling All Angels and Angel Talk, the shows she hosts and produces on Fort Wayne Access, as reflecting “the Angels At God Central Station vision, which is one world, one dream, and the spirit of unity. Both shows are unscripted, and a real television journeys of this one world, one dream.”
To step back a moment, Angels At God Central Station (angelsatgodcentralstation.org) is sort of an umbrella entity under which Lynch groups her spiritual work. Both Calling All Angels and Angel Talk have a talk show format, with guests and interviews and specific topics, though Calling All Angels is also a call-in show. “We’ve shown a lot of different things,” Lynch says. “I have featured music from positive spiritual faiths around the world, and movies that have not been seen (by the general public) from the spiritual cinema circle via the internet.”
She can even claim to be unusually “in sync” with another talk show host; at the very same time Oprah was promoting and sharing information from the self-help DVD/book The Secret, Lynch says, so was she.
“My shows evolved through prayer and meditation and through my own discovery to recover and uncover God,” Lynch says. “Blending spirit and public service is unavoidable. We hear so much about sharing and coming together. Well, we are all part of one another, and the more that’s recognized the more we find solutions, the more we have productivity, the more we have healing in our world and ultimately peace.”
Lynch calls herself a big networking person, and markets her programs through Halo, an organization that connects her to likeminded people around the world. As a result of all this networking, Lynch says she’s received calls and comments from people all over the country and as far away as the Netherlands, not to mention a wide range of guests. “People are flying in from different places to be on the show,” she says. “Last month I had the world’s largest angel store from Ventura California. They were featuring a brand new book called The Secret of the Butterfly Lovers. I featured a Fort Wayne person Beverly Danusis, a dollmaker who had created a series of dolls to reflect the mythologies of Greek goddesses. She has created a Mary Magdalene doll that they’re going to sell on QVC. She said, ‘I’m so happy I’ve had the opportunity to present these on your show before QVC’.”
Lynch adds: “When God’s voice said ‘one world, one dream, in the spirit of unity,’ I said ‘That’s huge! That’s big!’ To this day, I still say that. What it manifests to be continues to get bigger and brighter.”
Nina Rittenhouse — She’s Crafty
The first thing anyone watching Nina Rittenhouse’s Creative Corner might think is “this woman must have been a teacher at some point.” It’s an easy assumption to make. Rittenhouse seems completely comfortable as host. She’s friendly, patient, and thorough as she takes viewers and guests step-by-step through making a meal or creating an item of clothing.
But Rittenhouse wasn’t a teacher exactly. She has taught knitting, but her background is in clothing. She used to have a special occasions dress company for young women. She did the designs and the dresses were sold all over the United States.
Creative Corner initially grew out of Rittenhouse’s love and talent for dress and accessory design, though these days, she says it’s more of a cooking show. “It’s called Creative Corner because I didn’t want to be limited,” she says. “I left it open for that reason, so I could do home decoration, sewing, etc. We did a show on knitting purses a little while ago, and we did a wedding show. So, there’s a wide variety, but right now, I’m doing a lot of cooking shows.”
Featured dishes run the gamut from simple fair to more sophisticated meals, and sometimes includes local guests. “It depends on my mood,” Rittenhouse laughs. “Baked goods, potato dishes, hors d’oeuvers… I’m thinking about doing a series on heart healthy meals and living heart healthy.”
“ I go into a lot of background when I can, when I have the time,” she adds. “If there are different ways to do something, a quicker way, sometimes I show both ways when the longer method can produce a better product. But if that isn’t on the menu for today, then you can do this shortcut. So I try to give as much information as I possibly can. The gal who is experienced, she’s not going to listen too much to that, but if she isn’t experienced and wants to know, then it’s there for her.”
Rittenhouse answers questions and corresponds with viewers mostly via e-mail, and she’s occasionally surprised by the response some of her shows get. During one show, she talked about the kinds of foods her family ate growing up on a farm while the country was still trying to emerge from the Depression. She jokingly refers to it as the “hobo show,” since she talked about the sandwiches and other foods her mother used to feed the vagrants who came to their back door. “People were very interested, when it really wasn’t doing anything fancy or new,” she says. “ I was surprised people were interested in something pretty simple.”
Doug Horner — Libertarian At Large
As Norm Compton said above, some people call Access TV the local editorial page of cable television. If that’s true, then perhaps no one takes that message to heart as much as Doug Horner, Secretary of the Allen County Libertarian Party.
Horner hosts two shows on Access 57: The Libertarian Perspective, a bi-weekly taped talk show; and Libertarians At Large, a live call-in show that airs the third Thursday of every month. “(The shows) are part of our outreach,” Horner says, adding that most people can give you a thumbnail sketch of the basic principles of the Democrats and the Republicans, but “…When you say ‘Libertarian,’ you get a wide range of responses, anywhere from ‘who?’ to ‘they want to do away with government and have anarchy and legalize drugs.’ No, that’s not it. This was a way to hopefully share and educate with the public on exactly who we are.”
In particular, the call-in show has helped get out the Libertarian perspective on local issues. “We get asked ‘what would a Libertarian do if they were mayor?’ or ‘if Libertarians were in office, what would Harrison Square be?’ That’s been a huge one this year,” Horner says. “‘If Libertarians were in office, what would we do with TIFFs?’ This is a good way to address those questions.”
For the talk show, Horner offers a local perspective of national issues. A show on stem cell research, for example, featured Dr. Shree Dhawale from IPFW as a guest. “I convinced her to come on the show and just explain the issue in the simplest terms possible,” Horner says, explaining the stem-cell research episode in particular and the show’s overall approach. “At the same time I like to go as deep as we can for an audience that I think is a little more intelligent than most people give them credit for.”
Though Horner says he has been criticized by fellow libertarians for “using tax dollars” on Access TV (“Someone is paying for it anyway,” is his response. “I’m not going to stop driving on the roads just because I don’t like the government’s tax system”), he finds Access TV to be a great medium, and appreciates that they don’t censor or edit content. “The only thing I can’t do is sell a product or ask for money, but if I want to have, I don’t know, five strippers do a show, I can do that,” he laughs. “Not that I’m going to do that, though it would probably would boost ratings.”
Sparkle Thomas — “Good Evening, Sports Fans!”
Seasonal sports show The Recap features a subject near and dear to many a Hoosier’s heart: basketball. In particular, high school basketball. Produced by Sparkle Thomas, an avid sports fan, it offers a recap of local games. It also might be a good case study in the level of commitment sometimes required to produce a show.
Unlike many Access TV producers, Sparkle Thomas actually has a background in television and broadcasting which started with a course she took at the library when she was in high school. A sports fan, Thomas was often asked to record high school sporting events (mostly basketball and football), and sometimes to shoot demo tapes for young athletes to help them get into college.
She started The Recap to redress what she saw as favoritism in the local media when it came to high school sports. “We just weren’t getting as much coverage of the kids locally,” Thomas says. “It seemed like Snider would get most of the publicity. Whether they won or lost they’d get the front page of the newspaper and get the spotlight on the news. When I first started I covered everybody who wanted to get involved and I also did interviews with the kids if they wanted to come down to the studio.”
Scheduling conflicts made putting the shows together very difficult. Thomas’ regular job is in the television department of her church, and between that and the athletes’ own busy lives, it became to much work to coordinate everything. “As of late, I just follow a couple of kids because they don’t mind me following them,” Thomas says. “But I don’t do the interviews anymore. It was just too hard to get all that put together.”
These days, The Recap shows whole games, or as much of a game as time permits. I still want to be able to give some of the kids recognition,” Thomas says. “Most of the games I’m doing this year are Elmhurst. You just never hear about Elmhurst.”
But if The Recap isn’t as ambitious in its coverage as Thomas might like, the show does have a lot of grateful viewers. “I get invitations to go to games from kids who have gone to college, and I get letters and saying a kid’s game I recorded helped them land a spot on the college team,” Thomas says. “I hear a lot from parents who are working at night or whatever and don’t have a chance to see the games.”
Jeff Landis — Don’t Call It A Comeback
If Fort Wayne Access TV can educate, inform, and enlighten, it can also deliver a few “what the heck was that?” moments, and odds are some of those moments have been courtesy of Jeff Landis.
Landis returned to Fort Wayne Access this past summer after a hiatus of a year or so, but don’t call it a comeback. Landis has been on local Access TV in one form or another since 1994, when an early incarnation of his show featured interviews, man-on-the-street spots at the Three Rivers Festival, a little wrestling, and most memorably, earnest renderings of Boys II Men’s “End of the Road.” “I love to express myself, and I wanted to be a singer,” Landis says. “Obviously my singing sucked, but people did watch.”
And perhaps reflective of the unique nature of Landis’ shows, reaction has been extreme. Sometimes a little too extreme. He says he’s been shot at twice. “A lot of people knew me from TV,” Landis says. “People who hated my guts. I’ve had people threaten to kill me, people coming up saying ‘your show sucks.’ I’m like ‘if my show sucks, why are you watching it?’”
But there has been a lot of positive reaction, too, which is why Landis came back. “I’m not there to make myself happy, I’m there to make the fans happy,” he says. “That’s why I keep coming back. A couple times I’ve been off TV for about a year or so. But I’d be at work, and a fan took a picture with me. I was at Ponderosa, someone recognized me. All the time people come up to me. I’m like ‘I’ve got to do it. I can’t stop.’”
The latest incarnation — J Styles Entertainment — is dedicated to Landis’ love of wrestling and features his backyard wrestling league, the GZWA (Ground Zero Wrestling Alliance), complete with oversized characters, grudge matches, and knock down, drag out wrestling. Landis says getting the league off the ground and starting up a new show proved difficult, with behind-the-scenes personality conflicts equaling anything you see in the actual bouts. They’ve even had a few visits from the police when someone mistook practice for the real deal. But Landis, who married and had a kid during his recent hiatus, says it’s all for entertainment’s sake. “One thing I want the fans to realize is that the show is TV-MA. It’s for mature audiences. We’re a violent program, but we are trained. Don’t call the cops on us because we’re not really killing each other. We’re there to entertain and put on a good show.”
And they’re always looking for wrestlers.