The Lititz Lions Club’s Fourth of July parade is an institution in America’s Coolest Small Town.
But this year, the event (held July 3) represented a celebration besides one of patriotic pride. It served as a coming-out party for Blue Ridge Cable 11’s high-definition broadcast capability, as the station carried the parade live.
Cable 11 News, meanwhile, debuted its high-def newscast on July 1. Not bad for a news organization that began a decade ago as a six-minute broadcast dropped into CNN Headline News.
“We’ve come a long way, because when I was here the first time (as operations manager) we had one news person and one sports person,” said news director Mike Nolt with a laugh. His news staff now comprises 15 full-time positions.
Unless you’re one of approximately 45,000 subscribers to Blue Ridge cable television in northern Lancaster County, you’ve probably never seen Cable 11 News. I’ve had an opportunity to work with Nolt’s team on multiple occasions over the years on behalf of clients including Royer’s Flowers & Gifts, which has a store in Ephrata next door to the Cable 11 studio.
Cable 11 is what’s known as a “local origination channel.” The parent company of Blue Ridge and Cable 11 is Pencor Services Inc., which is based in Palmerton, Pa. It is a diverse family-owned company: its holdings range from cable TV and newspapers to a construction company and an ice cream shop.
Cable 11 News remains on Cable 11 for standard-definition subscribers; it is on Channel 613 for customers who have high-def boxes.
The move to high-def was a four-year process, Nolt told me, starting with “updated switchers and audio boards and all the equipment we needed” and concluding this year with high-def cameras in the studio and in the field.
“It’s a large investment that Blue Ridge was willing to put in because of their commitment to viewers,” Nolt said.
Being a Blue Ridge subscriber has its privileges, including exclusive access to the hyper-local half-hour newscast that airs live at 5:30 and 10 p.m., with rebroadcasts at multiple times each day.
Cable 11 News covers four main communities – Ephrata, Denver, Lititz and Manheim – and touches on Brownstown and New Holland. Combined, that’s six school districts, each of which figures prominently in the station’s focus.
“Our slogan is ‘local first,’ and that’s what we’re all about,” Nolt said. “There are stories we’d certainly like to cover, just because they’re big stories people are talking about, but we know that, first of all, everybody else is going to cover them. What makes us different, we’re going to cover what’s actually happening in the community, in the neighborhood, in the schools of the people watching.”
Cable 11 has a live truck for the 150 high school sporting events it broadcasts each year but not for news. However, the news team can tap into Blue Ridge’s fiber-optic network at a number of prominent locations (schools, town squares, police stations among them) in order to send a live signal.
“But if there’s, for example, a fire three miles down the road, I can’t go live three miles down the road – yet,” Nolt said. “We’re working on that. Hopefully that will come because we want to be out in the community more. So we try and do as much live as we can when it makes sense. I don’t go live just to go live.”
‘Building a great product’
Cable 11 originally chose 5:30 for its newscast so as not to directly compete with the network-affiliated stations’ prime 6 o’clock newscasts. But Nolt said a surprising number of subscribers look to Cable 11 as their go-to source for news.
“They’re faithful to our newscast,” he said.
That faithfulness comes despite a relatively high rate of turnover among the faces at Cable 11 News. Whereas the likes of Kim Lemon at WGAL and Evan Forrester at Fox 43 have been fixtures on those stations for decades, the anchors and reporters at Cable 11 are honing their skills with an eye toward moving to bigger stations and markets.
Before she joined WGAL, Meredith Jorgensen anchored the predecessor to Cable 11 News, CNN Headline News Local Edition. Kendra Nichols was with Cable 11 News before joining abc27 in Harrisburg.
Rather than biding their time off-camera working as assignment editors at other news stations, budding reporters know that they can get on-air at Cable 11.
“We’re the first experience,” Nolt said. “And we’re comfortable in taking people who do not have a lot if any on-air experience and allowing them to hone their skills here.”
“So yeah, that causes a lot of turnover because as they gain that experience, now they’re looking at different markets,” Nolt said. “And I’m fine with that because I’ve helped them on their career path while they’ve helped me build a great product.”