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Show Time : Leisure Village Retirees Turn the Spotlight on Themselves at Volunteer-Run TV Channel

November 19, 1987|MEG SULLIVAN | Times Staff Writer

The anchorwoman is a self-described "shy person," the golf pros get tangled up in their microphone wires and the book reviewer takes Bill Cosby to task for age discrimination.

"He makes a big deal because he's 50," Jeanne Carlson said. "To him, it's the end of the world. Most of us know better." Welcome to Channel 12 and grass-roots video, where the programming is in full color and the crew comes in vibrant shades of gray. The closed-circuit cable station churns out about 30 original programs a month for the 3,900 residents of Leisure Village, the Camarillo retirement community.

On a modest annual budget of $3,500, a handful of volunteers with no formal background in television production pipes the shows via cable to the friends, spouses and neighbors of the people who star in them.

"We do it all for fun," said Philip Farber, a 75-year-old former luggage manufacturer who has found a second vocation as a cameraman and technical assistant.

But the folks at Channel 12 point out that there's nothing whimsical about the services provided by the station that airs entire meetings of clubs and organizations as well as the schedules of clinics, community groups and road repairs on nearby Santa Rosa Road.

"People rely on us," said Elva Ward, chairwoman of the committee that operates the station with fees and donations collected from Leisure Village residents. "There are so many who can't get out."

Then there are the entertainment features. Performances of the Village Players, the community's theater group that earlier this year performed "My Fair Lady," are taped and edited for future airing. Residents skilled in golf and bridge have assembled how-to series that are among the station's most popular features.

The book reviews that Carlson, a former school administrator, presents to the village Womens Club are featured regularly, as are photographic selections from the village's shutterbug, A. E. Levinson. His candid shots of residents flash across television screens in a 15-minute program that a station volunteer calls a "television yearbook."

"People watch and say, 'Oh, that's so-and-so,' " said Gerry Sills, the station's technical supervisor.

Proof of an Audience

As a measure of the station's popularity, Ward points to a recent occasion when the station had to announce that technical difficulties would keep it from airing a live broadcast of the Leisure Village Board's general meeting, the community's equivalent of a city council meeting. The meeting attracted three times its usual audience.

Other retirement communities, such as Leisure World in Laguna Hills, also have closed-circuit television stations, Leisure Village officials said, but they are owned and operated by professional crews. Channel 12 is funded through general maintenance fees levied by the owner-run community and through donations from such groups as the Village Womens Club.

Service Was Needed

Channel 12 was born of frustration with the commercial cable station that had been serving Leisure Village. The 24-hour bulletin board of community events was often inaccurate or late, Ward said. Ward, a former school administrator and teacher, spurred residents in 1982 to tackle the job themselves. "I had a half-an-hour lesson on this machine," she said, pointing to the character-generating computer into which volunteers now type announcements concerning the Camera Club, the Golf Assn.'s dinner dance or the Spiritual Growth group. "I'm a good manual reader."

A visit to Leisure World "gave us an idea of what to shoot for." Still, it didn't answer the trickiest question the station faces--the scope of its programming.

"It was difficult to figure out just what to do and what not to do," Ward said.

Village Activities

Some of the station's founders were more ambitious and pressed for coverage of events outside the village, but the station's organizing committee decided to focus only on Leisure Village activities that take place on the retirement community's 29 acres.

And unlike its Laguna Hills counterpart, Channel 12 does not broadcast movies or programming from public television because of the high cost involved, Ward said. "We can't compete with commercial stations."

For its first five years the station operated out of an 8-by-8-foot closet of a room with fluorescent lighting that bounced harshly off linoleum floor tiles. The television monitors and recorders sat on unfinished wooden shelves that were too high to reach from a seated position. Sills, who spends most of his day at work on Channel 12 programming, said, "I don't believe I sat down in five years."

Earlier this month, the station moved into a newly built $20,000 studio. Plush chocolate-colored carpet covers the floors and walls. Donated furniture and art provide sets for talk shows. One corner is marked for new cabinets and work benches that will be built by Leisure Village's woodworking shop.

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