From its start broadcasting in 2000, operating out of the Town Council chambers here, East Wake Television, and its parent corporation PEG Media Partners, have grown until the company now commands a budget of nearly $400,000.
East Wake TV’s origins date back to the late ’90s, when the Knightdale council decided it wanted its meetings broadcast, said Studio Director Gary McConkey, who was town manager at the time. The town used $40,000 from a settlement over a payment dispute with Time Warner Cable to buy broadcast equipment.
Wendell and Zebulon decided to join the effort, and the community access government channel began as a division of Knightdale’s Administration Department, first broadcasting on Time Warner Cable in Fall 2000, using Knightdale’s Town Hall as its studio. “We’d close the drapes and put a sign on the door saying, ‘Filming in progress,’” McConkey said.
Rolesville joined in 2009, and Knightdale approved loaning the channel $150,000 for the construction of a new studio behind Town Hall. It was completed in 2010, a big year for East Wake TV, which incorporated as a nonprofit in April of that year. In May, McConkey retired as town manager after 25 years with the town and became the full-time studio director. “After 32 years (working in municipal government), I was ready to do something else,” McConkey said.
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Also, in 2010, PEG took over the public-access Wake Public Television, a move that doubled its funding per town, McConkey said, without adding many expenses because programming is provided by the general public.
PEG Media Partners incorporated in 2011 and became the corporate name, and Garner was added under that umbrella in 2011, with Clayton and Archer Lodge coming onboard in 2012.
PEG also made its second hire in 2011, videographer Adam Carroll, who had worked with WRAL for five years. It now has four full-time employees and one part-time employee. “What I bring to the table is just a government background,” McConkey said. “I go out and film, but I’m not the best one to do that.”
When East Wake TV began, funding came from a franchise fee of 5 percent of subscriber fees in each town that Time Warner paid directly to the channel. Since then, the state has started collecting the fee and distributing it.
For fiscal year 2016-2017, PEG gets $54,054 for each of its seven towns, for a total of $378,378. That is down slightly from $55,172 per town last fiscal year because as more towns start broadcasting each year the piece of the pie for each town has shrunk a bit, McConkey said.
East Wake TV broadcasts on Time Warner channel 22 and AT&T U-verse channel 99, with Clayton and Garner both on Time Warner channel 11, but views online are a growing emphasis. “That’s where the world is going,” McConkey said. “People are not watching cable the way they used to. Social media is the new media. Probably half of what we do isn’t television but social media. That’s where people are going. That’s where the bang is for us.”
PEG posts its work to Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, and a video of Lizard Lick Towing, of TruTV reality TV fame, hit more than 100,000 views. Red-light camera footage of cars plowing through stoplights was good for more than 80,000 views. CNN played part of that clip, McConkey said.
The channel has had more recent successes with a Knightdale High School of Collaborative Design football preview that garnered 9,000 views and a visit with Katie Honeycutt of Honeycutt Farms, a vendor at the Knightdale farmers market, drew 4,600 views.
On the flip side, a puppet news show for preschoolers, “Kidz Newz,” has not performed as well, especially considering the amount of production it requires, but McConkey said the channel will continue to do it and hope it will find its audience.
McConkey also said he hopes the channel’s most recent hire, part-time producer Jennifer Eddins, a former teacher at East Wake and Knightdale high schools, as well as East Wake Academy, will help produce more school-related pieces. Eddins was hired this year.
Still, as East Wake TV and PEG grow, McConkey hasn’t forgotten their humble beginnings. “Our bread and butter is council meetings, as boring as they may be,” he said. “That’s what public-access TV is for.”
Matt Goad: 919-829-4826