SAM to broadcast hybrid of meetings of select Town boards

New equipment offers the hope of better audio for Select, Planning, and Zoning boards' in-person meetings that allow remote participation.

Above: Almost three years since they last recorded a government meeting in the Town House, SAM will relaunch their broadcasts, but now with the capacity for remote interactions. (screenshot from YouTube)

Southborough Access Media confirmed that it has successfully completed upgrades to its equipment in the Town House Hearing Room.

Starting on Tuesday night, some boards will be able to make use of cable access channel’s staff and equipment to better broadcast and stream meetings while still allowing remote participation over zoom.

At this point, SAM can only commit staff to cover meetings of the Select Board, Planning Board and Zoning Board of Appeals. That doesn’t mean that other committees will cease to offer the hybrid option.

Town Administrator Mark Purple assured that the “Meeting Owl” equipment the Town has been using will still be made available for use. He also noted that the system is easily transported and not bound to one location.

I couldn’t help but interpret that means it could be used in other meeting locations in the future. But that could be limited for good reason. Select Board Chair Kathy Cook pointed out in a recent meeting that the acoustics for the Owl are worse in some rooms than others.

Cook made that comment to explain why the Select Board has opted to use the Public Safety Building’s training room more often this winter.

As for the new Town House equipment Terry Underwood, SAM’s Executive Director wrote:

I would like to note here that the wait for the right equipment was worth it. During the pandemic, other stations and towns did their best with the hybrid model, with varying results. My sense is that it took this time from the industry in general to have gear and parts available, as well as to have the kinks were worked out. The biggest improvement was to eliminate all of the echo between the laptops, mics, Zoom app and presentations. We did this the right way.

The launch was meant to take place this past Monday, but was delayed when the Planning Board shifted to a fully remote meeting due to the weather. The Select Board’s next regularly scheduled meeting is planned for Tuesday evening, January 31st. (They are meeting this Saturday. But that is an all-day budgeting session that won’t be making use of SAM staff.)

The meetings SAM will be covering are consistent with those that staff were covering prior to the pandemic based on the interest of community members and officials. After covid forced the Town to switch to remote meetings, both residents and town officials were pleased by an upside — the increased flexibility for participation and transparency.

The zoom function has allowed people to participate in discussions or make public comments when they normally wouldn’t be able to make it to a meeting due to work/family schedules. The Town’s YouTube channel has allowed people to live view or catchup on meetings they otherwise never would have seen. Once in-person meetings were deemed safe again, Town officials at first struggled to find a way to maintain the remote option. They invested in the Meeting Owl (first for the Hearing Room then another for the Public Safety Building). It was an improvement over relying on laptops, but still had limitations.

As someone who has often strained to listen to indecipherable, garbled statements made by town officials and residents who were too far from or didn’t speak clearly enough for the Owl, I’m particularly eager to listen for a difference in SAM’s meetings.

SAM’s inability to commit to covering additional town committees is partially based on their staffing levels. But Underwood stressed to me that it also reflects that the organization isn’t simply a government access channel. They also have resources dedicated to the public access programming and working with the community:

Staff teaches tv media to students at Trottier Middle School, produces programming and covers events at the Senior Center and Library.

I would like thank all of the groups, town government and community members for submitting notifications and information to run on the bulletin board. I encourage people to please continue to send SAM the information and we will help in getting the word out. The notifications play between shows and meetings on such things as the textile recycling happening at the schools, information on water quality from the DPW, area concerts and events such as the Assabet Valley Mastersingers and too many more to write here. Best part is that it is free.

For those of you that haven’t cut the cord, you can find SAM on the following cable channels:

  • Public — Verizon 38/Charter 91
  • Education — Verizon 36/Charter 94 (streams from Algonquin Regional High School)
  • Government — Verizon 37/Charter 92

Through its website, SAM also offers live and on-demand streaming of its Public and Government channels. Plus you can find all of SAM’s original programming (including the government meetings) on their YouTube channel here. (They also include some of the content from the schools and the Town – just not the syndicated cable access programming that is also aired on the Public channel.)

Earlier this month, I shared SAM’s call for volunteers to help them do even more community programming. You can read about that here.

Updated (1/27/23 12:00 pm) Initially, I stated that the Tuesday agenda for the Select Board hadn’t been posted yet. That was true when I started writing this morning, but apparently changed before I posted the story. You can find it here.

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