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What a delight it is to watch Merrell Fankhauser and his professional recording artist friends on his “Tiki Lounge” television show. Many know him as the original writer of “Wipe Out,” that popular surf song from the 1960s.

I’m listening to Merrell sing “Hello Mary Lou” as I write this. Nice. He lives on the Central Coast, having made the choice to move back to the area where he lived in his teens and to cablecast his show here.

We are lucky to have Santa Maria Community Television, a public-access station that makes programs like this and many others available to residents of Santa Maria and Orcutt on Comcast channel 25.

Other producers put out shows about local history, how to draw, how to play guitar, science, politics, religion, culture and more. Sometimes nonprofits will put on programs about the issues they are working on. Any topic can be addressed on this channel. It’s all about providing an outlet for local residents and organizations to get their messages out to those who live in the same community.

The city of Santa Maria runs the local public-access station and studio. For only $25 a year, anyone living in Santa Barbara or San Luis Obispo counties can become a producer and have shows run on channel 25.

The SMCTV Board of Directors advises the city on issues facing the station. I’m a member of the board. We are facing two issues that threaten the future of the station — not enough locally-produced programs and a shortfall in funding.

The programming issue can be solved by more people becoming producers and submitting shows to the station. The station has a studio with three cameras, furniture, props, a green screen and editing bays. Individuals or organizations can use these resources to produce shows. We hope you will. We need to show the City Council how valuable the station is by putting out more programs.

The funding issue is a little more complicated. We’re raising funds to buy equipment to live-stream programs online so they will also be available to people who do not subscribe to Comcast.

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We are also asking the county to help support the station. The city funds the station through Public, Educational and Governmental Access (PEG) fees collected from Comcast subscribers in the city. The city has channel 23 for programs produced by the government, channel 24 for programs produced by educational institutions, and channel 25 for programs produced by members of the public.

The county receives PEG fees from Comcast subscribers who live in the unincorporated areas of North County as well as additional funds from subscribers in South County. The county uses these fees for CSBTV, Comcast channel 20, which runs programs produced by the county and some by educational institutions. It does not provide a channel for programs produced by the public, nor does it provide access to a studio to create those programs.

We would like the county to provide funding to the city to help keep the station viable into the future. This way the county would be doing a service for the residents it serves in North County without having to start its own studio or channel here.

We will be asking them to do this during the county’s budget hearings next week.

More information is available at sbcan.org. Sign up for action alerts to be notified of what you can do. We need your help to keep this valuable free speech resource available into the future. And create some programs for the channel. Your voice is important.

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Jeanne Sparks is associate director of Santa Barbara County Action Network (SBCAN). She can be reached at jeanne@sbcan.org. Looking Forward is a progressive look at local issues.

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