Q&A: Ron Cooper looks back on decades as Access Sacramento director

03/04/2013 12:00 AM

03/03/2013 10:34 PM

Q&A Sacramento native Ron Cooper has had the best seat in the house as residents of all kinds took advantage of Access TV at Coloma Community Center studios on T Street over the last two decades.

Cooper, 66, was there when local public TV programming was launched in 1987. After more than 20 years as executive director, Cooper announced he is retiring in August.

During his tenure Access Sacramento added Web streaming capabilities for video and radio, and in 2000 the organization launched a film festival, "A Place Called Sacramento," which has helped amateurs produce 129 films about the city, Cooper said.

Access Sacramento, which broadcasts on channels 17 and 18 on local Comcast, SureWest and AT&T U-verse networks, operates with government grants. In exchange for the funds, the nonprofit provides residents broadcast access and training equipment.

Given its responsibilities to the public, how is Access Sacramento different from commercial media?

The story is the guiding principle here, not what can we do in service to advertisers to draw the most eyeballs. Because it's a free speech platform that encourages all voices, about 25 percent of our programs are in languages other than English. It's not only free speech in English; it's free speech in any language.

Being open and accommodating sometimes means sometimes people won't agree with what goes on TV. Which programs caused the most negative feedback?

Hate speech hasn't really been an issue so much in the last five or 10 years because of the growth of the Internet. In the early days we would see and hear words and situations that were technically constitutional speech, but a person would hear the words being said and take great offense. By law, we must show these programs. If you have a different point of view, you're entitled to come in and have the same opportunities.

Who among the volunteers and hosts during your time at Access Sacramento will you most remember?

One gentlemen who stands in mind was quadriplegic. If you were patient you could understand what he was saying. His whole world was a wheelchair he could operate with his chin because he could move his head. He came in and said he wanted to do a radio show. It was one of those times where in theory serving everybody sounds like a good thing, but all of us started thinking it wouldn't work. But the rules are the rules. Using sticks and little devices, he could use his mouth and grab the records. It was amazing what he could do.

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