Looking back at Lanesville TV

Dubbed “probably America’s smallest TV station”, we’re taking a look at Lanesville TV.

When the Videofreex formed, independent video was still in its infancy and it would still be a couple of years before the term “Guerrilla Television” would be coined. The desire was, however, to overthrow the mainstream media by creating a grassroots, bottom-up form of TV that was about, for, and by the people – a participatory form of television that reflected the cultures and cultures of local communities, and which invited feedback and contributions from those communities. 

Videofreex was launched after David Cort and Parry Teasdale met at the Woodstock Music Festival, where both were shooting the first generation of consumer video. That initial group, which also included Mary Curtis Ratcliff, quickly ballooned to ten core members, though dozens and dozens of collaborators would work with the Freex over the subsequent decade. Their members would work with the TVTV group, where their work would achieve a national platform, but the vast majority of their work was far more locally, technically and experimentally oriented. 

They started, like so many of the initial wave of video collectives, in New York City, with a three-camera video studio in the burgeoning Soho neighborhood, but they soon moved upstate. Partially funded by a New York State Council of the Arts grants, they set up one of the country’s first media centers at a 27-room former boarding house in the Catskills, in a small village called Lanesville. Through an additional non-profit corporation, “Media Bus, Inc.,” they would operate there for the bulk of the 1970s, producing thousands of hours of video, much of it from a weekly show broadcast to the community as Lanesville TV, which they dubbed “probably America’s smallest TV station.” They would also travel the country spreading the gospel of independent video, conducting workshops and seminars on video and teaching countless aspiring videomakers how to operate the equipment.

Lanesville TV was shot in and around the Freex’s community, with the locals talking about themselves and their town, both on video and phoning into the station live during broadcasts. The filming was casual and collaborative, and the longhaired weirdos from the city soon endeared themselves enough to the locals that they became an integral part of the community, and the people of Lanesville were essential contributors to the weekly broadcast. 

The Freex style was jokey and irreverent, but it was also inclusive and welcoming – there was rarely a sense of distance or separation from whoever they were filming. 

See, for example, this lovely segment from Bart Friedman along with Nancy Cain’s video camera, wandering along the road with the “Lanesville TV Newsbuggy” -”trolling” for news. That’s followed by him chatting with a couple of local kids, one of whom takes the mic to tell the story of a recent car crash, and a quick discussion with a local farmer about their pigs. It’s fun! And it gives the locals – all of whom know Friedman well, it seems – a chance to talk about the sort of things that are important to all of us, but which, of course, would never make it to the the 6 O’Clock news desk. 

From the same compilation tape, available to view in full here, here’s one of our favorite things the Freex ever made. 

That’s Tom Weinberg investigating the UFO sightings (and getting carried off by a glowing spacecraft!), in case you didn’t recognize him. It’s a funny gag, one that Tom plays perfectly. But it’s also a delightful collaboration with the people of Lanesville, who go along with the gag – one-upping the Freex with their jokes. 

Both clips are a reminder of how modest the utopian aspirations of Guerrilla Television were: a media that let people telling their own stories and encouraged them to produce their own entertainment. And yet, as radical as those ideals seemed in the 1970s, they seem even more radical half a century later. 



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