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  1. Hernando

Tuning in to Hernando government TV? Thank these guys.

CHRIS URSO | Times Video Production Manager Rick Foti, top, speaks with video assistant John Cancel during a Hernando County Board of County Commission meeting on Oct. 23 in Brooksville. Foti runs Hernando County Broadcasting and produces over 300 shows a year.
Published Nov. 17, 2018

BROOKSVILLE — John Cancel flicked his eyes between the fuzzed-out faces on the analogue TV screens in front of him.

Then he noticed that one feed was in black and white, not color.

"Hey, Rick," he yelled. Rick Foti trotted in from another room. A few button presses and knob twists later, and the problem disappeared.

Real-time tweaks like that are familiar to Foti and Cancel. They run Hernando County Government Broadcasting, the 24-hour cable channel that covers every meeting at the county center in Brooksville and produces public service shows, too.

Foti is the manager; Cancel is his assistant.

The two work jobs that are full of endless little issues, reliable-but-outdated equipment and behind-the-scenes effort. But they take it on for a greater goal: bringing government to the people.

"I want people to know that they can turn the channel on or look at the webpage and see and understand for themselves what's going on — and what went on," Foti said.

• • •

What goes into broadcasting a county government meeting?

On the day of that black-and-white feed debacle, Cancel, 39, explained it to a new volunteer. They were sitting in front of 10 monitors, flanked by sound and camera controls.

Each monitor showed the view of a camera in the commission chamber. As people took turns speaking, whoever was at the broadcast helm had to cycle between feeds with a controller.

Cancel is good at switching shots without looking. He can tell who is speaking and knows which camera is pointed at which seat.

That lets him capture conversations without much lag time and frees him to queue graphics to display over the video stream — banners that tell viewers what officials are discussing.

He has to make adjustments, too. Sometimes a camera is zoomed too closely. A speaker may talk too loudly, distorting the sound from the microphone, and Cancel must level the volume.

"It's like a tennis match," he said.

Cancel and the volunteer watched emotional officials as they cut off a resident's housing support. They watched as a man and his grandson realized they would need to scramble for a place to live.

"Sometimes this job is tough, man," Cancel said. "You hear some really crazy stuff."

He kept referencing a camera technique that sounded more like a mantra: "If all else fails, and something were to happen, always go to the wide shot."

That's the camera in the back of the room, showing the whole scene. When there's a lull in the conversation, or an outburst or other crisis, it's what Cancel and Foti fall back on.

• • •

Hernando Broadcasting as we know it started in 1998, after the Board of Commissioners asked Foti to get a full-time, independent channel off the ground.

Before that, the board shared a channel with the county school district and had only one camera — that wide shot.

"I had $64,000 to work with," the 62-year-old said. "That included my salary, and they said (let's broadcast) full time."

The former TV cameraman cobbled together equipment and reached a distribution deal with Spectrum, formerly Time Warner Cable.

He started filling the channel with programs — shows like "Veterans Voice" to highlight locals.

He and Cancel produce 10 to 20 shows a year, with about 300 episodes total. Since 2009, the shows have played on TV and also online. A new show was set to debut this week: "Issues and Answers," hosted by Deputy County Administrator Jeff Rogers.

"HCGB helps us make county government more transparent," County Administrator Leonard Sossamon said in a statement to the Tampa Bay Times. "Live coverage and video archives of County Commission, Planning and Zoning ... and other local government meetings help people understand the issues that are coming before their elected and appointed officials and what decisions were made."

Foti explained his mission as fulfilling expectations.

"It's the same as if you went home to watch the news," he said. "My job is to get it there and to get it there without (editing)it."

The hours can grow long, and bugs like a TV drifting out of color continue, but Foti doesn't complain. He thinks people underestimate how much effort goes into TV programming, but he doesn't mind the lack of attention.

"When they don't recognize anything I did," he said, "I did a great job."

Contact Justin Trombly at jtrombly@tampabay.com. Follow @JustinTrombly.

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