RCTV in the Age of Cord-Cutting


Christopher Matias ('23), Orbit Contributor

An RMHS student sits inches underneath four large sterling screens. Below him is a disco floor of rainbow colored buttons and switches. As an employee of Reading Community Television, he’s watching over a meeting of the Reading Municipal Light Department (RMLD). When driving down Main Street it’s easy to overlook the RCTV building, but the ordinary looking structure is a hidden gem inside. 

The RCTV building located 557 Main Street was actually a movie theater from the 1920s to the 1970s.. The remnants of its past are still visible inside. When I entered the building I noticed the interesting ceiling design in the first room. The cloud-like pattern is a reminder of the building’s theater days. Scattered about that same room are tables and chairs, telling the story that the room had been used recently for some large get together. Movie posters line the wall down the hall, each corresponding to a different decade. The type of poster displays you’d see outside the theater advertising movies.

A Stroll Through RCTV

Walking halfway through that same hall I could hear the clicking clacking sound of a keyboard. I found Luke Schneider, Director of Operations, working on the tech pieces for the channel. Mr. Schneider’s role is important as when a meeting goes live on RCTV it’s his job to ensure that everything on the tech side is running smoothly. When something on the tech end goes wrong, it’s his job to mend it. The room neighboring Mr. Schneider is Philip Rushworth’s. Mr. Rushworth is the Executive Director.  He advocates for RCTV with the town when it comes to their contracts. Finally there’s Angela Merrill, Dep. Executive Director.  When it comes to her role at RCTV, she humorously stated, “If Luke doesn’t do it, or Rob doesn’t do it, or Phil doesn’t do it, then I do it–which is all the other pieces of the puzzle.” 

There are also multiple editing suites. RCTV members can access these rooms and can also check out equipment like laptops and cameras to use for their own purposes. To be an RCTV member it only requires $20 a year, $15 if you’re an RMHS student. 

The final room residing in this hall emitted a light that bled through the entryway. It was the control room. Inside I found Rob Moore, Production Coordinator, who handles government meetings. When there’s something like a school committee meeting Mr. Moore goes and acts as the on sight person physically present at the event. Everyone at town hall knows Mr. Moore as the nature of his job has him constantly down there covering select board meetings. Mr. Moore is here at the building with RMHS student Logan Clark(’23) to watch a meeting over zoom.

The end of the hall leads to a vast room with blueish green walls. On the right there’s a fully functional kitchen set. The hazel wood of the kitchen clings the gleaming ovens to the wall. Cameras encompass the boundary of the set. RCTV is one of the few studios in Massachusetts that have a working kitchen. On the left there’s a large projector screen that envelopes the wall. It’s perfect for people who want to rent out for birthday parties.

The final room of the RCTV building is the main studio. The floor’s black and white checkerboard pattern gives the room a unique feeling. There is tall blue cloth draping the walls in order to improve sound quality. This room is used for when there’s voting going on in Reading. People who are running for office can come in and use it to record campaign statements.

RCTV have been in this building for a decade and the work they do is paramount for the Town of Reading. They broadcast the most valuable information for Reading residents on cable television . With their public, educational, and government channels they do not only provide Reading with a facet of knowledge but also the ability to witness Reading events. On top of all that, they are built into the community of RMHS. The video production classes like film production, tv production, and broadcast are all funded by RCTV and taught by an RCTV employee. All of the equipment found in these classes are funded by RCTV. These classes are beloved by RMHS students. 

The Cost of Cord-Cutting

However, there is a glaring problem that RCTV faces. They are a non-profit. The majority of their income comes from people who are cable subscribers in the Town of Reading. If you are a Comcast/Xfinity or Verizon subscriber you actually help fund RCTV. In Reading, the select board approaches the cable companies and creates a contract that allows a percentage of the money to go to the local public access station. The serious issue is that RCTV is losing a significant amount of its funding. “What’s happening for us is that we are losing money because people are cutting the cord, they are no longer subscribing to the cable companies,” said Merril. Cord-cutting is the trend of people ending their cable subscription as the popularity of streaming services increases. 

Cord-cutting during covid presented another layer of issues. Since people weren’t able to see important town meetings on their televisions because they cut the cord, the only other way was to see them in person. This was just not an option during covid. RCTV decided to remedy this by uploading the town meetings on YouTube. Now Reading residents were able to watch the important information that would have aired on cable TV without a subscription. In turn, more and more people cut the cord because they realized they don’t have to pay for cable if they can just watch the same information online.

RCTV has tried to slow the effect of cord-cutting by focusing more on additional income like renting out spaces in RCTV to the public and summer programs. However, these means cannot match the funding they once received. 

The unfortunate truth is if the current trend continues RCTV will have to limit things they do. Groups in town who ask RCTV to cover certain things might begin to hear a “no” as RCTV just doesn’t have the manpower. They don’t have enough money to hire more people to take on more work. RCTV video production classes may also eventually have to go away, as the funding for RCTV continues to diminish they will not be able to support the program. 

Next time you drive down Main Street keep an eye out for the RCTV building. Think about the checkerboard floor and the rainbow of buttons. That building and the people in it do incredibly important work for the town of Reading.