M.E. Jones

Correspondent

SHIRLEY -- The Shirley Public Access Corporation, or SPACO, receives almost all of its funding from ComCast as part of the cable provider's contract with the town. The company in turn gets the money from subscribers via surcharges on their bills.

But according to SPACO representative Richard Dill, who presented the group's annual financial report to selectmen Monday night, the ComCast money isn't enough.

The copy of the annual report he delivered is "per our agreement with the town," Dill said.

"It looks like you're in a better place (financially) this year," David Swain commented.

Dill denied that SPACO is doing well, despite figures Swain was apparently referring to. "That's a false flag," he said.

Figures in this year's report are higher because they include the capital expense grant from ComCast, which inked a new contract with the town earlier this year. At issue now is how the small, private nonprofit entity can keep growing as well as going with only grant money for the next 10 years. The brief answer would be that it couldn't, according to Dill.

"We added a new channel but we haven't been able to add as much as we'd like, Dill told the board. SPACO films town meetings and events and broadcasts them live, or later, on three public access cable TV channels available to residents who subscribe to Comcast.


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But Dill said that if SPACO wants to do more than film meetings, as important as they are, they'll need more money and more volunteers to offer a broader schedule of shows such as the cooking show hosted by a local chef and other entertainment features.

To that end, SPACO aims to launch "a concerted effort to ramp up our fundraising," and seek additional underwriters for its shows, Dill said. He cited the "substantial cost" of live broadcasts and the need to pay people to film them, with fewer volunteers now who are able and willing to do it for free.

Another concern is SPACO's aging technology and equipment, an inventory of which was included with the report and which he offered to show the selectmen any time.

"Our biggest expenses are labor and capital," he said, adding that part of the outreach campaign will be to recruit volunteers to learn the trade and help out with filming.

On the good news side, SPACO is looking to "raise awareness" of the opportunities that might derive from having a movie studio/sound stage next door. New England Studios recently opened its vast, airplane hangar-sized doors at Devens and plans to expand the facility, Dill said, describing the enterprise as a "Hollywood studio that dropped into our backyard."

The film company also has plans in the works to create a "college campus" in the Sherman Square area as a "feeder" for the studio.

Dill said the huge facility is only at 20 percent buildout, with two more sound stages on the drawing board. Although there's no film project on the studio's first stage yet, it's the kind of "field of dreams" place that would make any broadcast buff's eyes light up, and the folks at SPACO are no exception.

"I've reached out to studio management," Dill said.