Tune in to PTV, channel 15 in Trumbull County or channel 9 in Youngstown on Time Warner Cable, and you might see someone's wedding reception, a silent film, an amateur music video, a computerized news anchor named Maria, or a recording of a local church service.
"You never know what you're going to see on the station," said Joe Perkins, president of Perkins Communications Inc., the company that produces and operates PTV.
That's because PTV is a public access channel, which means that local viewers submit most of the content. "It's more of a community service than anything, Perkins said. Viewers can submit videotapes, DVDs, YouTube videos, cell phone camera videos, webcam videos and even web pages, and PTV will air it. The only restrictions are that PTV will not air anything commercial or anything illegal.
Public access television supports the first amendment right to free speech, so PTV doesn't edit or censor submissions.
"It's a free speech channel," Perkins said. Any questionable content is aired after-hours. "We just air it and let the public decide," said Perkins.
PTV, which has been on-air since July 4, 2009, is operated by Perkins Communications, Inc., a software and web development company located in the Youngstown Business Incubator, of which Perkins is also the chief technical officer. PTV is run entirely by custom software that was developed by Perkins Communications "100 percent from scratch," as Perkins put it. All viewer submissions are digitized and uploaded to Perkins Communications' servers.
Viewers can submit videos through the mail, by e-mail, or by dropping them off at Perkins Communications, located on the second floor of the Youngstown Business Incubator at 241 W. Federal St. There is a $25 handling fee, which helps cover the cost of uploading videos to PTV's servers, and all first-time submitters must complete a submission form. For more information, call Perkins Communications at 330-259-7666 or visit online.ptv.com
PTV broadcasts 24 hours a day, and this is where the software comes in handy. If content ends abruptly or is shorter than expected, the software notes the upcoming gap in the schedule and pulls content of appropriate length from the servers to fill the gap. That way, there's always something on.
So what might expect to see on PTV? That question is almost impossible to answer fully. Some of PTV's biggest content contributors are religious and spiritual organizations. Other frequently submitted content includes music videos and recordings of family events.
Perkins Communications also actively seeks content for PTV.
"We're really active in pulling down things," said Perkins, explaining that PTV often airs content from satellites and YouTube. "We try to find things we think the Valley would be interested in."
There's even a program called YoTube, which airs at 5 p.m. and midnight, that features YouTube videos recorded locally.
"Trumbull County is pretty well represented on YouTube," Perkins said.
Warren G. Harding High School records five different variety shows, each an hour long, that air on PTV. "That's the only outlet they have for it," Perkins explained.
Another local school district represented on PTV is Youngstown City Schools. The high school class is doing a service learning project to promote early reading. The project is called Kusoma, which is Swahili for "read." PTV is airing videos, public service announcements and presentations for the project, which kicked off July 1. "They're really excited about it," Perkins said of the students.
Lee Boyle, a member of the band Third Class and the comedy troupe Bullskit, often makes videos with his fellow band members and comedians to promote their upcoming shows. He feels that PTV "legitimizes our little videos and skits. You don't need flashy programs and equipment to catch people's attention." He and his friends often write and perform short skits of them lip synching and telling jokes, and even have produced a short claymation feature. "We try to do something that lends itself to the low budget we have."
Boyle, 26, of Columbiana, first heard about PTV from local musician and engineer at Ampreon Recorder in Youngstown, Pete Drivere. He and his band made five videos to promote an upcoming show, and submitted three of them to PTV.
Boyle thinks PTV is a good tool for local musicians to use to promote themselves. "They could possibly win over people in northeast Ohio, Cleveland. Even if it's in a certain area of northeast Ohio, people still know there's a scene." He says that TV is still a good medium for people who aren't into the Internet.
There's no way to know if the videos have run or not, short of staying up watching TV all night, but Boyle can appreciate what the channel is trying to do. "As far as a quirky little channel like that, I'm all for it, I love it."
While much of PTV's content is local, the station receives submissions from all over the country, such as Dirty Stars, a comedy troupe from Wisconsin, and Kristal Hart, a Manhattan-based actress, producer, and editor who was originally from the Valley. PTV also seeks content with an international flavor. PTV also airs public-domain movies and entertainment.
Those are just a few examples of what Valley residents might see on PTV. Viewers can find a broadcast schedule on PTV's website, www.onlineptv.com, where they can also view webcasts of PTV content.
Perkins said the station is always looking for new content, and he's especially interested in family videos.
"I would love to see more weddings," said Perkins. Perkins described a wedding video of a Pakistani ceremony that was particularly interesting. He said he'd also love more baby videos, adding that his own granddaughter has been on PTV.
"Send it to PTV. We'll air it. Then your cousin in California can watch it online," Perkins said.
Sarah Sepanek contributed to this story.