For just over 20 years, WGTE, the PBS affiliate in Northwest Ohio and Southeast Michigan, has brought tales of the community to life with Toledo Stories, a documentary series.
The series chronicles the city, where it has been and where it’s going, while also providing local talent the chance to make documentaries to be shown on the channel.
WGTE and local programming
Since 1952, WGTE has been a center of learning and education. Their core mission, to provide entertaining, educational and informative programming designed for local audiences, has been pursued for 70 years. There was a time when local television channels aired talk shows, hosted movie nights and other regional programming, however, with the Telecommunications Act of 1996 media companies merged, homogenizing the landscape by buying out smaller, locally owned, TV and radio stations.
In the 1970s and 80s, countries like Canada and Australia were tired of importing films from other places, namely the US, and decided it was important to have films made by and about their own countries. They gave tax shelter to films made in or by their countrymen, not only to foster homegrown talent, but also to document their cultures and unique voices. That historical reality is why the series Toledo Stories is so important.
Local stories, local filmmakers
Ray Miller, director of Content and Creative Services at WGTE, recalls the beginnings of Toledo Stories back in 2001. “What we really want when working in public broadcasting is to work with local organizations and independent producers — mainly to preserve local history,” Miller said. “Of course, WGTE gets national content through PBS, but we create local content which we have been doing since the channel’s inception.”
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Miller relates that while WGTE had been making short story films about Toledo for 30 years, it wasn’t until 2002 that those works took the form of the Toledo Stories series. “KeyBank was our sponsor and they helped us develop and kick off the program with funding and a marketing campaign,” Miller explained.
Toledo Stories are created by independent producers who approach Miller to figure out ways to air their content ideas. The independents produce it and Miller oversees the project as an executive producer, making sure the finished piece meets the standards of PBS and WGTE.
When prospective filmmakers have an idea but don’t have funding. Miller helps them to find underwriters to fund their project through PBS, to produce the piece independently. The example of a documentary, Remembering Mary Manse College, the filmmakers were able to fundraise through the College alumni. Although their College had closed in 1975, the story has significant historical value as one of the first women-only Catholic Colleges. Having been the beneficiaries of a college education at a time when higher education wasn’t encouraged for young women, the alumni wanted to document their college experiences for future generations before those stories are lost to time.
Toledo Stories documentaries air every Thursday, but creating new content is a long process. “I would love to be able to do one a month,” Miller said. “But we don’t have the capacity for that. You’re looking at a year to produce an average documentary by the time you find funding and get a contract signed. The research on the subject can take several months. Then, start interviewing subjects, shooting, editing, audio mixing and prepping for airing — it can take up to a year, sometimes two years, to complete. We produce one to two documentaries per year, the most (we did in one year) was four.”
Connecting WGTE and local filmmakers
Miller focuses on connecting with local filmmakers and independent producers. Matt Reny, WGTE’s director of Marketing and Communications, works with Miller and is a key part of that outreach. “We want to say, ‘We’re here and want to include your documentaries in our Toledo Stories,’ or there may be other ways to use their projects on the air,” Reny said.
From the Emmy winning Undefeated, The Chuck Ealey Story, to the upcoming feature on The Old West End, Toledo Stories fosters talent in our city while relating its greatest tales.