Duluth woman makes career out of public access TV

DSC_0019 Many people can say they have made changes in their personal lives, but when it comes to changing an entire city of over 80,000 people, not many can speak. Even among the few that have done so, there are even fewer who can say they continued the efforts.

Anita Stech is a communications prodigy who contributed much of her time to the rise and structure of public access TV in Duluth. Stech is now working on displaying communication in a civil and respectable manner with the Speak Your Peace Civility Project.

“It would be safe to call her the ‘First Lady of Public Access TV,’” said Jerry Moscatelli, executive director of the public access TV station in Duluth, Public Access Community Television (PACT). “If it weren’t for her and the other founding fathers and mothers, PACT wouldn’t be where it is today.”

Stech’s experience goes back 40 years, to a time when the roots of the community TV movement were just beginning to grow. Throughout these 40 years, Stech managed to leave her footprint in the field of communications not only in Duluth, but in other cities as well.

Finishing her undergraduate degree in 1971, with a degree in speech with an emphasis on broadcast, the ambitious UMD grad went on to Michigan State for a year to receive a master’s degree in television radio. Without missing a beat, she headed down South to teach video production at the University of Texas during the following fall. There, she worked with students to create the first nonprofit public access cooperation in the country.

“They had the worst production facility," Stech said. "We would be lucky if we got two cameras, but we still managed to cable cast our programs right out of my Volkswagen.”

Stech came back to Duluth for three months in 1973 when a cable system had just started to be developed. During that time, Stech worked to create the city’s first four local programs. Later that year, she moved to St. Paul to work shorty after Minnesota passed a bill creating a Cable Community Commission.

Stech’s new job involved working on rules to implement laws for building community access to cable. She traveled around Minnesota to spread the awareness of cable TV.

Screen shot 2013-04-16 at 2.41.15 PM

“First, we had to figure out if it would work,” Stech said. “Then, once it did, we moved right on to figuring out how we could improve it.”

In 1978, Stech started her own business as a cable consultant, where she would educate elected officials and cable commissions on how to create a local medium. She emphasized the benefits that a cable company could bring to a specific community.

Stech married her husband, Harlan Stech, a UMD professor of math and statistics, in 1982. For the next four years, the Stech’s went from Iowa City to a small country town in Virginia for Harlan's teaching career. The couple helped produce public access TV shows for both towns.

In 1986, Harlan landed the job as the first director of graduate studies in math at UMD. The Stechs left the quaint town in Virginia and moved back to Duluth, allowing Anita the opportunity to begin working with PACT in Duluth.

“The combination of her expertise and willingness to take on the cable companies convinced the city of Duluth that public access was a good thing,” Moscatelli said.

Stech began working with public access in Duluth as a volunteer, right out of her basement. She would have people come to her house and teach them how to use the necessary equipment for TV production such as cameras, tripods and VCRs.

Stech has done a lot of work with the broadcasting and video production aspects of communications throughout her life. Her experiences have inspired her to bring the importance of public access TV to Duluth.

But she didn’t stop there. Within the realm of public access TV, she and Elizabeth Nelson, former UMD communication department head, wanted to promote a civil means of communication, which led to the Civility Project.

Click on the Profiles of the Northland logo to find similar stories. Graphic by Rachel Kraft

Within the vision statement on the project’s website, it says the purpose of the Speak Your Peace Civility Project is to urge the citizens of the Twin Ports to communicate in a more respectful and effective way. It is a campaign to improve public discourse by simply reminding ourselves of the very basic principles of respect.

“Bringing the Civility Act to public meetings will encourage civil discourse about issues in the city," Nelson said. "Since public access TV airs public meetings for everyone to see, the citizens of Duluth will be exposed to this civil behavior and hopefully use it."

As of today, Stech is still involved with PACT. She is on the board of directors and does some productions, but her most recent works in communication have been with Nelson and the Speak Your Peace Civility Project.

“Anita, as a communicator, really stepped up in the past year to be a public voice,” Nelson said. “Her knowledge of the importance of public access, along with her vital mind, has had significant contributions to this project.”

Stech has seen it all; from the first ever cablecast programs to 4G mobile phone communication standards. And now, she and Nelson are striving to raise the communication standards among citizens.

“There are more means of communication now than there are good things to say,” Stech said.

Humans of Duluth: 'Run, Smelt, Run!' parade

Empty Bowl event provides community art and funding for Second Harvest