It’s our birthday! SMC was born March 21, 1983

On March 21, 1983 the board of the Somerville Community Access Television made history by organizing itself into the Commonwealth’s first public access station.
“The founding was an exciting time,” 1983 Board Clerk Mary Cassesso recalls. “All involved were truly committed to getting SCAT started. I was very proud to be part of the board.”
Where cable access television is a normal part of life now, it wasn’t when cable TV started. Back in 1974, Warner Cable offered airtime to a group of local producers, and among those new local shows was Dead Air Live. However, the notion of citizens having complete control of their message and content was seen as problematic. Soon enough, Charles B. Kelley, an outspoken critic of Warner Cable, was arrested on-set during a live appearance on Dead Air Live. A 1975 Federal court ruling that overturned that trespassing conviction, but something needed to be done to protect citizens’ access to the quickly-growing cable networks.
In came Mayor Gene Brune, whose administration realized more could be done outside city government than inside it when it came to setting up a TV station and preserving access to airtime. Cassesso recalls, Howard Horton and Peter Miller negotiated a ten-year cable television contract, and the city of Somerville insisted that a non-profit be formed to manage access, taking it out of the hands of Warner-Amex (as the provider was then known).
And so SCAT was born.
Linda DiRocco, the president of SCAT’s Board of Directors signed an agreement with Warner-Amex Cable Communication for SCAT to operate the local public (Channel 3) and educational (Channel 28) cable television channels. In August of 1983, Irwin Hipsman was hired away from Warner-Amex of Somerville and became SCAT’s first executive director. In its first year, SCAT was providing just 12 hours of programming per week. It would be another year before SCAT could move into its long term headquarters at the firehouse at 90 Union Square.
In the decades since its founding, SCAT has won national and regional awards, provided thousands upon thousands of hours of content, and trained thousands of community producers in the media-making arts. It continues to air Dead Air Live, now the longest continually-produced access show in the United States.
Now operating as the Somerville Media Center, SMC offers video production, podcasting, education for kids and adults and a growing Youth Program serving kids from all over the city.
As we celebrate our 38th year this Sunday, we’re looking forward to building a new center for a more mobile set of producers. “The mission of SMC remains as important now as when we founded it… particularly with how it has enriched the community,” Cassesso said. “Happy Birthday.”