Mike Kierein was homeless for more than a year when he walked into the Media Bridges facilities on Race Street and found a purpose in life. Currently a volunteer directing TV shows and helping with fund-raisers, Kierein says he's seen people walk into Media Bridges lost and walk out inspired.
Media Bridges offers free classes to learn about televison production, computer programs and media and provides professionals, students and hobbyists with tools to work with — all the while providing many a place to call home.
"There have been homeless people who come in and I've seen this place motivate people to get jobs," Kierein says, who used to come to the facilities for Internet access. "I felt kinda bad that I was using the place for free, so I started to work."
He'd never considered working in media before. Everything he learned about production he learned at Media Bridges.
The facilities include three floors of editing suites, an Internet radio station booth, a soon-to-be digitalized playback system, Internet lab, control room, classrooms and filming studio with a backdrop of the city.
"We want people to be educated not only on how to produce media but what media is," Executive Director Tom Bishop says.
Classes are available on using the Internet or specific computer programs, TV production processes and learning about media and communications.
Media Bridges also offers an "E for Me" class for those interested in e-learning and getting their undergraduate or graduate degrees through online programs.
"We have even helped people who were functionally illiterate," Bishop says. "This is an opportunity for them to succeed because it's all visual."
Equipment can be checked out "library style" to anyone in Cincinnati who has had prior experience or has been certified by Media Bridges.
"We want people to share what's important to them and show the community things they're not likely to see anywhere else," Bishop says.
A variety of programs including spoken word, martial arts and community awareness are created by Media Bridges volunteers and aired in Hamilton County on Time Warner Cable channels 2, 8, 22 and 24. Time slots for series are assigned through a lottery.
Anyone who has completed the orientation process can use the facilities for free and get airtime. Media Bridges doesn't censor or edit anything as long as decency rules mandated by the Federal Communications Commission are followed.
"Media Bridges is like a soap box," Bishop explains. "We're not the video police. We're here to get everyone's messages out. When someone comes through the doors, they're putting something on the air that's theirs."
Time Warner doesn't release program ratings, which Bishop thinks is a good thing.
"Community media is not about numbers," he says, adding that if the programs were meant for millions of viewers, major broadcasting channels would be airing them. "It's a hobby for many people, it's fun and you can do fun things. But other people are literally trying to change the world because it's the only medium where you can be heard."
More than 500 people currently use the facilities, according to Bishop, including those from the Youth Project Bridges, which gives kids the opportunity to learn about every aspect of the production process, from what media is to the final editing cuts.
One high school student, whom Bishop says Media Bridges "sadly lost to college," created a program called Issue-and-Answer and was able to get local celebrities and politicians to come to the studio and discuss what they're doing to improve the community.
Kierein, an Over-the-Rhine resident, says Media Bridges is an asset to the kids in the area.
"They don't get positive messages about themselves and the kids don't think that they can get involved in something like this for free," he says.
Completing projects and airing them, he says, helps build their self-esteem and gives them a sense of accomplishment.
Media Bridges has several sponsors, including a contract from the city of Cincinnati that provides funding from Time Warner Cable, but expanding projects and technology in the facilities is draining funds. If current fund-raising is successful, Bishop says Media Bridges plans to create a "channel for the youth by the youth," governed by 8- to 25-year-olds with adult advisers.
Media Bridges has been evolving with the Cincinnati community since 1989. In the 1980s, Bishop says, media was all about getting equipment into people's homes, which proved difficult to do because of costs. Now everything is about producing and editing on your home computer, he says, and that's what Media Bridges is trying to cater to.
"The biggest evolution that we've had is that everything went from being about TV to being about communication," he says.
The public access organization began under the wing of Time Warner Cable as Cincinnati Community Video.
"But as much as (Time Warner) supports public access, it's not their priority," Bishop says. "We're a charitable organization that happens to use media to help people communicate."
With so many participants and more than 8,000 Cincinnatians on their mailing list, Media Bridges still works hard to create newer programs and provide better equipment.
On Tuesday, they'll host "Duality," a fund-raiser at Jekyll and Hyde's on Main Street. This "split event" includes a happy hour beginning at 6 p.m. as the superego, but 9 p.m. marks the time for your id to drink, dance and win prizes.
The money, Kierein hopes, will go to more equipment and more classes. And he'd like for the organization to offer him a paying job.
"It would be cool to get paid to do what I enjoy doing for free," he says. "This is probably the best public resource in Cincinnati and probably the most under-utilized. Where else can you get your message to so many people for free?"
MEDIA BRIDGES is hosting a fund-raiser Tuesday at 6 p.m. at Jekyll & Hyde's, 1140 Main St., Over-the-Rhine. $5 admission. For more information about Media Bridges, call 513-651-4171 or visit mediabridges.org.