Business Profile | Elizabeth Braham Spencer
Thanks in part to its original programming, high production values and dynamic social media platforms, NCTV17 these days is about as far from the amateurish basement-studio stereotype of “community television” as one could possibly imagine. But humble public access is exactly where the station got its start some thirty years ago.
While much has clearly changed for the nonprofit over those three decades—both at the station and in the town it calls home—what has remained constant across the years has been the desire to tell Naperville’s stories and to help viewers maintain a sense of place and connection amid their rapidly growing community. And for the last fifteen of those years, keeping that original promise while ushering the station into the digital future has been the responsibility of Executive Director Elizabeth Braham Spencer.
What makes NCTV17 so important to the community?
I feel like we’re the connective tissue of Naperville. When the [major] networks come out to Naperville, they only come out for the good or the bad. They’re not coming out for an Eagle Scout project or a candidate forum or a concert at the high school. But we’re there, and I think we’ve done a good job of capturing those things that really matter to the residents of Naperville, from news to sports to community events. This is a big, vibrant town and we’re helping everyone stay connected.
How has the station changed over the past thirty years?
We’ve grown from both a staff perspective and a programming perspective. These days we have seasoned professionals and sixteen original series, and we’re out covering between fifty-five and sixty community events every year. So while we certainly share the same passion for all things Naperville, we’ve grown into a more professional staff that is committed to doing the kind of programming that reflects a broader community interest.
What have been some of the biggest challenges in maintaining and growing NCTV17?
Funding is always a challenge, but I’m really proud of the way we manage our money. We receive some money through the cable channels—about fifty percent of our budget—but the rest of it we’re out getting on our own through sponsorships, donations, grants and production services for local companies. So that’s a great balance. Our biggest challenge, though, is probably just trying to find enough time in the day to get everything done that we want to do.
What do you have in store for this anniversary year, and what are some of your plans for the years ahead?
Last year we premiered a game show called “Game On,” which is not something that you see a lot of local stations doing. So we’ll continue to push ahead with that because it’s a lot of fun and definitely something new. We’ll also be rolling out a capital campaign and some fundraising events to help outfit our studio with new HD cameras.
Our key goal is to just increase awareness of what we’re doing here. It’s very cool to have a television station in your town, especially one that you can interact with in so many ways. So I want people to understand that and to support us—to watch, and to follow on social media, to get in touch and to maybe even make a donation. I would love for people to think of NCTV17 as one of those well-loved amenities of Naperville, alongside things like the libraries and the Riverwalk and the Settlement—we want to be on that list of people’s favorite things about Naperville.
What are you most proud of when you reflect back on NCTV17’s past three decades?
First and foremost, the people. The interns and our staff—both the people who are here now and the people who came before them—make me extremely proud. The amount of heart and soul they’ve put into telling Naperville’s stories and keeping people connected is truly amazing.
Everybody uses that term ‘storytelling’ these days, but NCTV17 has been the original storyteller in this town. There are some phenomenal stories that we’ve been able to tell—of entrepreneurialism and hard work and perseverance and the American spirit—that just make me even prouder of Naperville and the people who came before me here.