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Retirees create cable access powerhouse in Palos Heights

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PALOS HEIGHTS, Ill. — In Palos Heights, it’s “lights, camera, access!” 

Cable access channel PHTV Channel 4, may just be the Chicago area’s most informative and hardest working public access outlet, producing more than 300 programs every year.  

“We have shows of all sorts,” said Jeannine Kacmar, the station’s coordinator of on-air productions. “People can learn about schools, hospitals, the library, events from parks and rec department and city council meetings.”

In 24 years of leading the station, former NBC5 Chicago executive Ron Jankoswki applied what he learned in commercial television to cable access.

There wasn’t much to speak of when he arrived as a newly retired volunteer in 1999.

“We had a RadioShack camera, VHS,” Jankowski said. “Very grainy tape, and it was really, really not that good.”

The studio was just 400 square feet, a makeshift space at Palos Heights city hall. 

“It was a two-car garage and that was converted into a meeting room and given to me,” Jankowski said.

He spent years collecting equipment. “I asked for donations from the city residents,” he said. “Any recording equipment, TVs anything, that they would like to donate. I’d pick it up and see if I could build something with all the donations – so I did that.”

He lobbied for funding from the city budget and negotiated with cable providers for public education and government fees.

“That fee turned out to be a lot of money annually, and I was able to start buying good equipment,” Jankowski said.

But the most important assets he acquired were the volunteers.

“Where I was really going was people who were retired that wanted to do something,” he said. “So, I focused on that and I kept growing the group to be larger and larger.”

There are 10 total Channel 4 volunteers. Perhaps the key to the whole operation is Carl Germann, 84, a U.S. Army veteran, who worked in telecommunications for three decades, specializing is fiber optics.

“I’m a behind the scenes guy,” Germann said. “When you’re behind the scenes, you’re the most important person, but the least recognized.”

One volunteer who is recognized as a Palos Heights personality is retired Sandburg High School teacher Dave Wierzal, a 60-year-old whose curiosity makes him a natural fit to teach the viewers by asking the questions.  

Behind the scenes is Palos Heights librarian Jeannine Kacmer, who coordinates schedules and handles logistics with Jankowski.  

PHTV also produces a newscast. Jankowski didn’t have to search the southwest suburbs to find his news anchor. 

“I was talking to my wife Sue (and said), ‘How would you like to do news?’ She said, ‘What?’” he said.

“When he asked me, I said, ‘I don’t think so.’ And he said, ‘You can! You can do this,’” Sue Jankowski said.

She is a retired schoolteacher who understands that knowledge knits the community together.  

She reports on the local stories that Palos Heights residents won’t likely find on the big Chicago TV stations or in the city newspapers.

“It’s making sure the community knows more about their community,” she said.

Over several years, Ron Jankowski developed a plan to expand the studio and in January his vision has come to life in full technicolor with a new 1,300-square foot facility in the old Southwest Central Dispatch building.

PHTV4 now has three sets and several broadcast quality cameras – the studio is a statement that the station is serious. 

“People come in here and I think they realize we’re serious, this isn’t just whatever. We’re serious about what we’re trying to get our message across,” Sue Jankowski said.

But for Ron Jankowski, 85, the new studio is something more: A symbol of everything he’s done to change the channel.  

“What more can I ask for? This is just a dream job for me at this point,” he said.

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