Melissa Youngblood, director of Channel 14, “The Union Connection,” recently received a phone call from a woman who suffers from arthritis and finds it a challenge to get out and about.
“She said, ‘You give me the opportunity to see what's going on in Union without leaving my house,'” Ms. Youngblood said. “That made it all worthwhile for me.”
If you want to know what's going on or if you missed a community event, Channel 14 is the place to catch up. You can watch everything from a video of a local parade to a Boogaloo Folklife Production to a 20-year-old beauty pageant.
“We had no idea it would ever get this big,” Ms. Youngblood said.
For a year now, Union has had its own local cable channel through Charter Communications. With Union County Council's recent decision to partner with Union City Council to fund the station, officials say they expect the popular channel to grow even more.
Mayor Bruce Morgan said he had wanted a local channel for Union ever since he took office, but he wanted more than just a “menu” channel like many cities have that tell upcoming events.
“It took a lot of effort to get it up and running,” he said. “We worked a number of years to get approval from Charter and get it in place. We see it as a tool for people to use to learn more about what is going on and learn more about local government. We think it's important for people to stay informed about what we are doing and what we're working on.”
The station kicked off last year with some of the first videos made by City of Union Public Service Director Perry Harmon and his wife, Rhonda, of the JAKES event and the Fourth of July beach blast, both at Veterans Park. Van Garner was the first cameraman and continues in this position. David Scott and Bill Rabb also have worked as cameramen.
Ms. Youngblood's mother, Kathy, came up with the station's name and logo. Her niece, Samantha Hindman, has worked as “junior reporter” covering a story at Buffalo Elementary School and a recreation department basketball game.
At first, Ms. Youngblood decided what events would be covered by reading The Union Daily Times, listening to WBCU and paying attention to flyers she saw hanging in stores and businesses. Today, she also has many coverage requests from the public and there are always certain annual events that will be covered.
Later after the channel got started, Garner, his wife, Tammy and their daughter and son-in-law, Tiffany and Lee Littlejohn, began covering events with Tiffany doing much of the interviewing. Garner suggested that Ms. Youngblood might like to take the microphone. Already deeply involved with every other aspect of the channel, she decided to give it a try. The 35-year-old Union County High School and Spartanburg Technical College graduate said she wasn't at ease at first.
“But the more I have gotten out and done it, the easier it has gotten,” she said.
Today, Garner and Tim McFalls are the cameramen but Ms. Youngblood also can film. Union City Councilmen Ricky Harris and Harold Thompson and City Maintenance Director Mike Petrie also have filled in when Garner and McFalls were busy or working at their regular full time jobs. Morgan also has done some filming and interviewing, as has Harris' wife, Jean.
Along with covering local events, a regular feature on The Union Connection has been “Union in the Fast Lane,” a series about local racing and racing personalities which has included Monty Bogan Sr., Billy Scott and Jeffrey Greer. Ms. Youngblood said this show sprang from a love of racing that both she and Morgan share.
In the future, a similar series about local athletes and coaches is planned, perhaps called “Coaches Corner,” with updates on Union County High School sports. A spotlight show on outstanding people in the community also is another possibility.
Ms. Youngblood said people in Union have told her they especially enjoy the older videos on Channel 14, including footage from Christmas parades, an old car show and beauty pageants. These were provided by videographer Gene Becknell.
“He gave them to us free of charge,” Ms. Youngblood said. “They were on VHS and Van converted them to DVD. We've had a lot of response from the older videos.”
The shows you see on Channel 14 are the result of many hours of work, Ms. Youngblood said. She said she and the cameramen sometimes lose their composure, laugh, and have to start over - out takes that might develop into “blooper” shows on another channel.
“The people in Union would love to see the out takes,” she said. “They would get a kick out of them.”
Ms. Youngblood edits the footage, puts it on a DVD, puts it in her computer and uploads it to Charter. A two-hour video can take up to 24 hours to upload. City council voted to give Ms. Youngblood the authority to research the feasibility of a fiber optic cable, which would shorten upload time to minutes.
“A fiber optic cable also would give us the ability to go live,” she said. “It's possible you may be able to see football games as the action is happening.”
Morgan said he sees Channel 14 as a way to showcase the many appealing qualities of Union and Union County.
“The big factor is it's an opportunity for people who are visiting Union - staying in hotels or with friends or family- to see what is happening, whether it be a parade or Boogaloo, etc.,” he said. “It's a tool to enhance the community and help the community know more about what is going on and when it's going on. It helps create an image for Union that is positive and gets the word out that we are a great community and a good place to live.”