Word Screen Park
Kevin McMahon
Guerrillas architects & cable TV

My essay in the 2013 Confederacy of Heretics catalog explores how the video component of the 1979 Architecture Gallery exhibits came about. It collects some interesting material on the early days of independent video in L.A.


... By a beautiful irony the tool that came to be associated with conceptual art and community activism was first offered to the American public in the 1963 Neiman-Marcus Christmas Book:

“Retailing for $30,000, the 9-foot-long, 900-pound Ampex Signature V home-entertainment center ... a 21-inch color television, AM-FM radio, stereo amplifier, automatic turntable, audio tape recorder, stereo speakers, black-and-white video tape recorder, and video camera in its elegant oiled walnut cabinet.”

... Reacting to pressure from independent video advocates in the early 1970s, the U.S. government momentarily acted to mitigate the power of broadcast television with a small but consequential infrastructure reform. In 1972, the FCC permitted the further expansion of community antenna television (CATV) or cable TV, with conditions, including “All systems in the top 100 markets … must provide three channels for public access, education and local government.” This requirement gave rise to the public access television, which thrived until the Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional in 1979.

The cable franchise in Santa Monica and the Westside was awarded to Theta Cable in 1967. Around the time Theta began broadcasting in 1972, the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles, provided a start-up grant for a community video facility, the Los Angeles Public Access Project. The mission of PAP was broadly, “to train anyone interested in the use of video and provide equipment for them to produce their own shows for broadcasting to the public,” but more specifically to provide public access content for Theta. In a Los Angeles Times article announcing the partnership, representatives from Theta didn’t conceal their annoyance with the Public Access Project, while organizer John Hunt rhapsodized about,

“Groups of ‘video freaks’ that have blossomed in Los Angeles, as in every city, have searched for a thousand things to do with video. It is a purely electronic art form. It can capture dramatic art. It can recall specific moments of history from riots to public meetings. Perhaps most interesting of all, it can show people themselves almost instantly, leading some to plod the streets showing people what they really look like and others into more complex experiments, such as recording encounter groups and then letting the members see how they looked and hear what they said.”