Peralta TV

The granting of a cable channel to the Peralta Community College District came by way of various cable franchise agreements between cities served by Peralta and their respective cable companies in the 1980s. Cable companies provided for community and educational access channels when negotiated as part of their service agreements with the cities. Peralta was granted a channel, along with the Oakland Unified School District and the City of Oakland in this way. For decades the agreement only referred to Peralta as “other educational bodies” until four years ago when we negotiated to include “Peralta Community College District” in the agreement.

Continued use of the channel is subject to state law that now regulates cable TV franchises and is not granted in perpetuity. It differs from over-the-air broadcasting in that no license is issued and content is not regulated by the federal government. It cannot be “sold” or used for other than educational services as specified under state law.

On February 11, 1980, “Channel S” began broadcasting to 21,000 subscribers of Teleprompter Cable in Oakland and Piedmont. Film professor Roger Ferragallo started PCTV in 1980, as a way for Peralta Colleges’ students to gain real-life television experience. Originally housed in Laney’s Theatre building, the station was first linked to cable TV through the Oakland Unified School District, of which it continues to share a role as one of only two educational cable-casters in Oakland.

The station used instructor offices in the Laney Theatre building until it was moved “temporarily” to the 9th floor of the Laney Tower building in 1984. PCTV, as it was then known, started cablecasting in Alameda in 1984 and received a grant from United Cable to refurbish the now defunct studio in the College of Alameda library in order to produce local programming. The station, although with offices and transmission facilities at Laney College, used the Alameda studio from 1984 to 1999 to produce programs.

In the mid-1980s, the station was granted Instructional Television Fixed Service (ITFS) frequencies from the Federal Communications Commission. (ITFS was later renamed the Educational Broadband Service, or EBS.) A grant from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, as part of the HiTel consortium to share educational funding between institutions, financed the purchase of transmitters and master control equipment. The plan to share educational programming through the ITFS system was never realized and, later, the station was able to lease the unused ITFS/EBS frequencies in order to generate revenue for its operations.

Planning had been in place for the station to move to Merritt College, which has a large television studio and offices in the basement of the library, but for various reasons that move never took place. During the 1990s, professional staff was hired to ensure the reliable delivery of telecourse programs to students. At its peak, the telecourse program enrolled over 1,000 students, second in size to only College of San Mateo. As use of telecourse material waned and moved to the Internet, the staff turned its attention to supporting the colleges by producing programming that featured college events, faculty and students, educational programs and college sports.

Peralta TV also produces community affairs programs that support the educational mission of the Peralta Colleges. Promotional programming include spots that promote enrollment and student services, feature academic and vocational programs at the colleges and highlight the success of our students. Peralta TV has won numerous awards for its programming, including national recognition. During the mid-2000s, the station renewed its relationship with the Laney Media Communications Department and reached out to students at the four Peralta Colleges to become involved with the station.

Explorations to broaden the station’s coverage and include over-the-air broadcasting (as opposed to cable-only) took place in 2007-08, coinciding with the FCC-mandated move of television from analog to digital transmission. A number of avenues were explored and serious talks took place with KMTP to provide Peralta TV with over-the-air transmitter time. However, the cost of leasing airtime from KMTP, $36,000 a month for six hours daily, while relatively reasonable, was beyond the budget of the station. (It should be noted from this how valuable the airtime is that the District and colleges have through Peralta TV, and the positive presence the station provides. The intrinsic value of this ability to have Peralta’s message communicated directly into over 200,000 homes should not be discounted.)

As part of the renovation of the Laney Tower the station moved in two portable buildings adjacent to the General Services parking lot at the District Office.

The station, originally known as PCTV and renamed Peralta TV in 2006, is currently carried on Comcast cable systems in Alameda, Berkeley, Emeryville, Oakland and Piedmont and parts of Contra Costa County, as well as on AT&T’s U-verse system. It is seen in well over 500,000 households throughout the San Francisco Bay Area.