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Publication Date: Friday, November 07, 2003

Darla Stevens' legacy: Community TV Darla Stevens' legacy: Community TV (November 07, 2003)

by Jeb Bing

F or many of us in the media, the 1970s don't seem all that long ago. Newspapers and television news programs look pretty much the same today as they did then, and we even see some of the same bylines and news commentators that covered the years of President Carter and rampant inflation. But for community television, which we take for granted in Pleasanton and the Tri-Valley, the 1970s were the early years. Darla Stevens, whose 27-year leadership in developing CTV community television comes to an end today with a retirement party in her honor at Castlewood Country Club, recalls those days when cable franchises required some public access for local programs.

The timing couldn't have been better for Stevens, who moved to Pleasanton in 1974 from New York City when her husband Chuck took a job at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. Always enthralled by television since appearing on shows while growing up in Los Angeles, including singing on "American Bandstand," she met and married Chuck after they both received degrees at UCLA. Then, having three children - Stephanie, Leslie and Ramsey - over the next three years, she became a stay-at-home mom while Chuck completed a doctorate degree at the University of Colorado at Boulder and then post-doctoral work in chemistry at the University of London in Ontario, Canada. When they moved to New York, where he was on the research staff of Columbia University, she seized an opportunity to learn video production skills at the local library and started producing consumer television promotions for the New York City Department of Consumer Education about newly implemented expiration date requirements for dairy products. Fortunately for Pleasanton, she never stopped.

By 1976, with the kids in school, she borrowed a camera from the local cable company and started producing shows that they used to fulfill their community broadcast requirements. These started with a half-hour magazine-format show called "The Cable Connection," that featured Castlewood's annual Mardi Gras ball and Pleasanton's Bicentennial Celebration at the Century House. Spurred on by community activists Charlotte Severin, DeWitt Ault, Jack Oliver and Bev Hamlin, she organized the Citizens Cable Advisory Committee. CTV in Pleasanton was born.

For the first few years, Stevens used hand-me-down cameras and equipment to interview nonprofit groups, tape events and air them on cable. Former newspaper editor Barry Schrader recalls that because of the old equipment, early broadcasts often had video gaps or lacked sound. The early Sony video cameras only taped in black and white, and there were frustrating times when half-way through interviews and presentations, the tape would break and they'd have to start all over. Even so, "Technology Today" became a hit for local cable. Over the years, as we know today, Stevens and the advisory committee broadened the community broadcasts to include Livermore, Dublin and San Ramon, as well as Pleasanton, with the four cities now funding much of the operation that airs on Channels 28, 29 and 30. These include live broadcasts of Pleasanton City Council meetings, which Mayor Tom Pico helped start. He remembers viewers from all over the Valley calling in with comments about Pleasanton issues as they tuned in to what has become one of the most-watched local shows on CTV. Starting next week, Darla Stevens, who made it all possible, will finally get a chance to sit in front of the TV screen and enjoy those shows, herself, as she leaves her duties as one of community television's founders and longest-serving producers.

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