Today's seniors have watched television mature from black-and-white broadcasts from the three major networks to hundreds of channels available from cable and satellite providers in high-definition color. As television has developed, though, it has forgotten about an important demographic—those same seniors. At Erickson Retirement Communities, innovative programs are ensuring that seniors can watch content geared directly to them
and produce programs for themselves and their peers. These productions are now being broadcast across the country.
Greenspring's Channel 6
Channel 6 at Greenspring in Springfield, Virginia, is one of 19 independent stations at Erickson Retirement Communities; each campus has its own local access channel that broadcasts to residents. When Channel 6 went live in January 2002, the station had three resident volunteers. It now has 68 working together with three full-time staff members. “We focus on working side by side with residents,” says Julie Reid, lead coordinator for Community TV at Greenspring. “We learn from each other.”
Programming—either live or taped—runs every day of the week. When not on the air with video, the channel displays Greenspring's informational electronic bulletin board, which keeps residents abreast of pertinent information and activities. “We have to balance the time that residents can see the electronic bulletin board with the time that we’re doing taped or live programming,” Reid notes. “Channel 6 is a very important information hub for all the residents here.”
The Channel 6 show Village in Motion is one source of information for residents that has been on the air since 2002. Telecast live Monday through Friday, the program features interviews with guests, and call-in forums allow residents to discuss current issues. Village in Motion covers broad topics, including politics, health, music, and cooking. Channel 6 also offers exercise shows that are produced in-house, including a program on chair exercises for residents with limited mobility and tai chi sessions. A yoga show is in the works for this year.
Residents are encouraged to produce video for the channel. “The ideas that residents come up with usually resonate across the campus,” Reid says. Some of their work has included projects on the National Mall and National Zoo in Washington, D.C., and a trip to Longwood Gardens, a horticultural display garden in Pennsylvania. The resident-produced Conversations in History has featured an episode on Greek history, among other topics. Resident Jasper Vink hosts the show and is a master of history. He generates his own material.
So who are the resident volunteers of Channel 6? Retired producers from major networks? Experienced motion picture camera operators? “Most of our residents have never touched TV equipment in their lives,” Reid notes. “But when we opened the door for business, we had people right off the bat wanting to learn.” To turn the novice volunteers into capable television producers, hosts, and audiovisual equipment operators, Greenspring holds monthly training sessions, which will occur more frequently this year. Staff train, educate, and support the Channel 6 volunteers involved. “We invite residents to try something,” Reid adds. “If they don’t like it we have them try something else until they find a place where they feel they can really contribute.”
The residents’ hard work and professionalism haven’t gone unnoticed. In the past two years, Channel 6 has won six Telly Awards, a national competition that honors outstanding local, regional, and cable TV commercials and programs, and video and film productions. Winning entries have included Remembrance: D-Day 60 Years Later, Women Inspiring Hope and Possibility, Holiday Gift Music, and Celebrating Martin Luther King Day. These programs are all produced by Greenspring residents who do their own research.
As residents continue to produce programming, ongoing training will ensure that more volunteers can pitch in and learn the craft. In addition to all those who work behind the scenes, Reid would like to see even more residents appear on camera. While a CCRC may seem like an unusual place to find a TV station, Channel 6 presents an opportunity for Greenspring's residents to inform and entertain their peers over the airwaves.