Sheffield’s 1970s community cable TV station
There’s been a lot of talk in the last few months about the government’s idea for a network of local TV stations, with plans for 10-20 services in operation by 2015. Sheffield isn’t on this initial list but we’ve been earmarked for the second phase of licensing – assuming the first stations are a success and culture secretary Jeremy Hunt is still in a job to see it through.
What I didn’t realise was that the idea of citywide TV services is not a new one. In fact, Sheffield had its own cable TV station for three-and-a-half years in the 1970s. I found this out via Sheffield sport journalist Alan Biggs’ book, which incidentally is well worth a read if you’re interested in local football or media and is available now from the publishers and Amazon.
Our cable TV station was known as Sheffield Cablevision. It was one of five authorised by the UK’s Minister for Posts and Telecommunications and ran from August 1973 to January 1977. For a couple of hours each evening (plus daytime repeats) Sheffield Cablevision broadcast shows made by the public with help from a professional staff of six from its Matilda Street studios.
Sheffield Cablevision ident
Recollections of Sheffield Cablevision
I’m not old enough to personally remember the station, but if you search the internet there is some good stuff to be found. A thread on Sheffield Forum throws up memories of the station, with gerryuk and A.B.Yaffle commenting:
During the daytime you would get a Sheffield city council logo on the screen with Radio Hallam playing in the background. Every hour or so you would get a local news programme aired from some studio centre near Sheffield’s railway station. Can’t remember if they did a 30 minute news programme in the evening. On Saturday morning I can remember them doing some live programmes from the now defunct ABC cinema on Angel Street. It was for kids. I think you had to live in a council house to be able to receive this channel.
The flats on the Hanover estate still have the old sockets on the wall with about 10 holes in which someone told me was for the old cable tv system.
In his book, Alan Biggs recalls the few months he worked for the channel:
I would race off to Sheffield early on a Friday evening to present a weekend sports preview for the 30,000 households subscribing to an experimental piped TV channel. The pioneers who ran it…believed in what was a community project and, on reflection, it wasn’t a world away from today’s so-called reality stuff in that volunteers could come in off the street to help us make programmes.
It does sound like it was run on a shoestring and as a result, relied heavily on the volunteers. Another Sheffield Forumer, Jabberwocky, recalls:
I remember watching it to see if they showed any film of the city and I sat there for an hour one day while a bloke showed how to change a plug.
Videos and photos
I’ve found a couple of videos of possible Sheffield Cablevision output, although I don’t think they were produced by the Sheffield production team and aren’t really proper Sheffield content. This public information film about playing safe when camping and fishing was shown on the channel:
There’s talk on Sheffield Forum of a VHS compilation tape of the best of Sheffield Cablevision. It’d be great to see this online.
Photo wise, there’s a picture of one of the original Sheffield Cablevision cameras on the Museum of Broadcast TV Camera website. But the best place for photos is on the new Sheffield Cablevision Facebook page, where you’ll find a treasure trove of nearly 300 images, including these:
TV Ark says that despite good local viewing figures, politics and the costs were to blame for the closure of Sheffield Cablevision in 1977.
The future of local TV in Sheffield
We’ll have to see what comes of the government’s new plans for community television stations and whether the change in broadcast regulations really does increase their chance of success. Cities in the US which are much smaller than Sheffield run successful local TV stations, so there may be a way of making them work. Certainly there are interested parties intending to bid on the initial new licenses.
But at the same time other community TV experiments in the UK continue to bite the dust, with a Manchester station closing earlier this month, the owners criticising the government’s new plans for not providing the framework they need to deliver a quality service.
Given that more people are buying smart TVs with fully-integrated internet, I can’t help think that using an online platform to distribute local TV content might be a lower cost approach to local TV, with less risk. There was talk of something along these lines being set up in Sheffield a couple of years ago – TV Sheffield – but with the website now offline there doesn’t seem to be much happening with this.
What are your memories of Sheffield Cablevision? Does a city the size of Sheffield need its own TV station? If so, what would you want from it?