“It sure didn’t seem like it would work out all right for a while there,” Niedzielski said.
But in the following months, things were better than all right for MacTV. The organization experienced a burst of growth, with usership up in January and double the expected levels in February. The number of programs produced and aired, volunteers, equipment rented, attendance of orientation classes, and Macatawa Media Center membership all reached unprecedented levels this past winter.
“All the things we track have skyrocketed,” he said. “I can’t definitely say that (the media coverage) was the key event, but the timing’s there. It appears that we have indeed benefited from it. Hopefully, the community has benefited too, with increased knowledge and understanding of how public access works.”
The 25-year-old Manistee native and University of Michigan graduate came to Holland only a few years ago. After college, he took a production job at WKRC in Cincinnati performing camera work and other duties for the station’s news broadcasts. But he and his wife, who is originally from Muskegon, began to miss the Great Lakes State.
“We missed the lake,” he said. “We really wanted to move back to Michigan.”
Around that time, the couple took a trip to visit a cousin in Holland, and they fell in love with Tulip Town.
“I took a phone book home with me and started making calls to all the TV stations in the area,” he said. “It turned out that MacTV had an opening for an assistant production coordinator.”
At that time, the station’s full-time staff consisted of only two employees, the production coordinator and his assistant. Within a few months of Niedzielski’s arrival in June 2000, the top spot opened up.
“By the end of the summer I had the job,” he said. “It was a combination of being in the right place at the right time and having a good three months to establish myself and show everyone what I could do. It was never a foregone conclusion that I would just step into the position.”
Since then, Niedzielski has seen his title change to station manager and his full-time staff double in size to four with an educational coordinator, public coordinator and assistant coordinator. The positions have been broken down to distribute MacTV’s three areas of concentration — education, public and government — each of which will have its own channel in the coming months.
Each week, Niedzielski creates the station’s schedule, programs the master control systems, performs public relations work with nonprofit groups, and oversees his staff and hundreds of thousands of dollars of equipment.
In addition, the station also has 225 volunteers that produce up to 700 hours of programming a month.
“No way four people could do that by themselves. It’s definitely a volunteer-driven organization,” he said. “The staff helps out, provides all the factors that are needed to create programs. We’re just teachers and helpers.”
Among those 700 hours are local high school and Hope College sporting events, church services, a variety of entertainment-type programs including the popular Johnny Van Karaoke Hour, educational programming, programs aimed at senior citizens and 19 major government meetings for all seven of the municipalities in their broadcasting area.
“It’s an extremely packed channel. We usually air programs 20 hours a day from 7:30 to 3 a.m., but we’ve had to push it to 22, 23, even 24 hours recently.
“If someone wants a particular time spot, all we have open might be Friday at 2 a.m. for the week.”
That’s why Niedzielski is in the process of adding two more channels, channel 15 and 16 in Holland, to MacTV, which now airs on channel 14. MacTV’s channel 14 would remain public access, while channel 15 would be earmarked for educational programming and channel 16 would air local government programs.
But public access TV is not free, so MacTV is expanding its funding drive. A portion of a cable subscriber’s bill is deducted for community use, theoretically for the development of a public access channel. The city of Holland contributes all of the 5 percent of each monthly payment it receives to MacTV, but Zeeland, Park Township, Fillmore and Lake Township contribute nothing, using the funds within their general budget.
“Right now the City of Holland is paying for these other communities to have MacTV, and it will not continue to keep doing that.”
Zeeland has commissioned a survey through Hope College to determine if residents want MacTV, and a committee was formed on the subject last November.
“A decision will be made soon on whether or not they want to help fund us out of their budget,” he said.
The process was threatened in January, however, when residents complained about the content of MacTV’s programming. Although the show was never pursued as being obscene, the issue was brought up at the Zeeland City Council meeting.
“It just show’s people intelligence,” he said. “Once word got out, people began to understand how public access works (and) the controversy dried up. People understand that it’s like that whenever something is open to the public. There will be an opportunity for things that people don’t like. Freedom of speech works that way; it reflects the community, and sometimes people disagree.
“Primarily, though, we have good programming — community-minded stuff.”