KCTV-Channel 5 is giving everyone the opportunity for some on-air screen time.
When artist Andy Warhol said everyone would be famous for 15 minutes, he was closer to reality than he thought.
And even though Kansas City newshounds and casual TV viewers are not getting that much time, CBS affiliate KCTV-Channel 5 is making it possible for anyone to get on the air and share their own commentary with its new "Speaker's Corner" segment.
The segment's basic concept is to allow viewers access to mounted video cameras so they can record their own material. Concerned citizens along with casual observers, poets, musicians and pranksters can push a button and get instant video coverage.
"Technically, it's not a complicated thing. We make sure a tape is in and that it's plugged in," Mark von Schlemmer, rural Lawrence resident and the segment producer, said. "It pretty much looks like a cash machine."
And like a bank ATM machine, the contraption is installed in a semi-public place so there is a supervised environment and plenty of pedestrian traffic to keep anyone from stealing the video equipment that is installed within the box-like frame. That's a problem von Schlemmer isn't too worried about.
"It's a heavy unit. You can't walk off with it," he said.
Personnel at KCTV were looking for a way to involve viewers in their broadcasts when they discovered the popularity of Canada's version of "Speaker's Corner." The program originated on Toronto's CITYTV 10 years ago. The groundbreaking channel, described by von Schlemmer as a cross between CNN and MTV, has had much success using public-access video cameras for its live-on-the-street segments, and has been franchising the concept in the United States.
Though most people use it for expressing topical views, some have used it to quote poetry, act or just be plain silly. One musical group, The Barenaked Ladies, squeezed into a Toronto booth and sang a short refrain of one of its songs. That segment caught the attention of a music executive and eventually helped the group land a recording contract.
Although the program has only been airing for about a month, von Schlemmer said the daily video he edits includes plenty of humorous but unusable footage, along with some genuine surprises such as comments he receives from teen-agers.
"I feel I'm getting to know the youth of today better than I thought I did," he said. "It's pretty interesting what's on their minds. The hot talk seems to be not only about violence, but even things like pollution."
The cameras are in two locations at Metro North Mall and at Broadway Cafe in Westport. A third mobile unit travels to events including recent events at Bartle Hall, the Plaza Art Fair and Kansas City Chiefs tailgate parties.
KCTV also plans on using the mobile unit in Lawrence.
The segments air during the 7 a.m., 8 a.m. and 10 p.m. newscasts. Footage also will be used to fill short 30-second promos that will run on the station throughout the day, and edited highlights also will be packaged into 30-minute shows.
"I'm hoping people will recognize what they can do with it and use it," von Schlemmer said. "It's not a gimmick, but it's a service to give viewers a voice and a chance to let them speak out."
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