Channel 5 goes live online
- Published: September 7, 2023
In the Bryan Center office of Channel 5 Station Manager Ben Guenther, a small photo of Weird Al Yankovic hangs in the corner of a corkboard. The famed curly-haired, bespectacled parody musician stands sentinel over the comings and goings of the village’s public access station.
For Guenther, who took the reins at the station in late May this year, the photo of Yankovic is in part emblematic of his vision for Channel 5 moving forward: For those who don’t know, in 1989, Yankovic wrote and starred in “UHF,” a now-cult-classic film that — with Yankovic’s trademark wacky aesthetic — follows a small TV station as it works to find its voice and build a community of artists.
“I’ve often thought about [‘UHF’] in this whole process,” Guenther said in a recent interview with the News. “There are so many creative people in this town.”
During his first several months at the station’s helm, Guenther’s guiding mission has been to make Channel 5 accessible to as many of those creative people as possible. The key to that effort, he said, has been amplifying the channel’s voice.
“We don’t have a broad reach for our audience, so the first thing I spearheaded was giving [Channel 5] a streaming option,” he said.
Though some of the station’s content is livestreamed and/or archived on YouTube, up until recently, Channel 5’s full broadcast lineup was only available to Spectrum’s basic cable subscribers. Now, anyone with an internet connection can livestream Channel 5 online at yellowsprings.tv via computer.
Guenther said he also aims to add a Channel 5 livestream to YouTube, which would make it possible for folks to watch the full broadcast lineup from their phones or smart TVs.
“If we can promote Channel 5 to people and say, ‘Hey, you can watch the Yellow Springs TV station from anywhere,’ it can help build an audience and help promote things here in town,” he said. “I see a lot of potential.”
Beyond growing Channel 5’s audience, Guenther said the potential he sees lies in also expanding the channel’s lineup — both in terms of adding programming from the public domain and bringing more locally produced content to viewers.
In the station’s office, which abuts Council chambers, a small monitor facing Guenther’s desk displays the channel’s current broadcast programming. When the News visited the station, a decades-old black and white film filled the screen.
“These are some classic educational films that I dug up on the Prelinger Archive,” Guenther said, referring to a U.S. archive of film material founded in the 1980s by filmmaker Rick Prelinger.
Out of the Prelinger Archive’s tens of thousands of film reels, nearly 9,000, have been digitized and are available online in the public domain via archive.org. The archive comprises what Prelinger called “ephemeral films” — that is, films that might otherwise have disappeared, such as educational and promotional films and amateur and home movies.
Guenther said he finds the archive’s trove of content “fascinating,” because it preserves the shape of American life as it was when it was captured on film. Watching these films within that context, he added, is often more instructive than whatever message or lesson they might have aimed to bring forth.
“We have a little bit of hindsight as a culture,” Guenther said. “It’s like, ‘Oh, this is why we still think some of these things are true.’”
Since its foundation in 1980, Channel 5 has itself functioned as a kind of archive of village life. For years, station volunteers went out with cameras and captured public meetings, annual events and artistic endeavors, or created their own works for broadcast. But as Guenther told the News — as did his predecessor, Lacey Fox, in a 2022 report — community contributions to Channel 5 have decreased in recent years.
The channel does feature local contributions from Phillip O’Rourke, who is in the third year of producing his interview-style program, “The PHILLIP Show”; and from Lynn Hardman, whose chair training and line dancing exercise videos are a daily staple of the Channel 5 lineup. Outside of those contributions, however, most local content is made up of government meetings and archival video.
“At this point, we don’t have a ton of community-submitted content, which is one of the big challenges that I’m trying to spearhead now that I’m getting settled into the routine and figuring out how the job works,” he said. “In the meantime, we outsource a lot, but I really want to push to get more local content.”
Guenther, who earned his MFA in film studies at Ohio University and worked in film for several years before returning to the Midwest, has an eye for spotting community filmmakers who might breathe new life into Channel 5. For example, he recently reached out to young local creators Kian Barker and Miles Gilchrist to get some of their work on the airwaves.
Yellow Springs High School students who have acted in several school theater productions, Barker and Gilchrist recently released a three-part mockumentary series, “The American Theatre,” on their YouTube channel, MLQ Productions. The comedic series stars Gilchrist as outlandish theater teacher Warren Fletcher as he leads his cast — portrayed by several other school theater production regulars — through the auditions, rehearsals and opening night of the fictional “Cars: The Musical.”
“They’re early in their creative careers, but these guys have some serious potential, and the series was really entertaining,” Guenther said. He added that the young pair are currently working on re-editing their series to include nonlicensed music suitable for TV broadcast.
Having previously worked in several public-facing positions around the village — he’s been a freelancer for the News and was a several-year employee of Yellow Springs Brewery — Guenther has gotten to know quite a few interesting folks around town. Any one of them, he said — and anyone reading this story right now — could pick up a camera and become the next star of Channel 5.
“Here’s my big hope: That we, as a community — again, full of tons of creative people — are able to create something that you can only get here, right now,” he said. “I want to help people get their ideas off the ground.”
To that end, Guenther said Channel 5 has cameras available to borrow for those who might need them. Though his position with the station is part-time, he said he’s also willing to help folks learn about shooting and editing video whenever he has the time.
“I’ll help out any way I can. … I view it as helping [the channel] grow and donating my time,” he said.
To livestream Channel 5 online, go to yellowsprings.tv. To get in touch with Guenther with potential programming ideas, or for general information, email firstname.lastname@example.org.