The Emergence of Public Access Television



Chapter  4 examines the rise of public access in the United States the 1970s and 1980s. It took root because of a strange alliance between early cable operations that had a blue-skies outlook and popular democratically inclined groups. The abundance (at that time) of new channels led operators to argue that cable provided the opportunity for a plethora of noncommercial channels that were participatory educational, informational, and arts-oriented. Public access channels were an important part of this menu of programs and were welcomed for attracting subscribers. This outlook quickly changed and consolidation of the industry meant that profit-oriented operators predominated who successfully challenged FCC regulations on access. The resulting compromise made PEG channels voluntary and put them in weak institutional positions. Still access became established in many if not all communities and produced an impressive amount of programming in line with its ideals of giving those who were subaltern a voice in the media. I trace the tensions and successes of public access through the Wayne’s World era in which isolated individual expression aimed at commercial success was sometimes seen as an ideal. While public access lacked the resources to raise issues consistently on the national level and bring the counter-public spheres into the larger debates, it did enhance local community and contribute to a generation of socially engaged media.


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© The Author(s) 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.RochesterUSA

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