BUMP TV broadcasts 24/7 from the basement of an old Victorian — and anyone can have their own show
A group of Toronto artists have started their own online network to make TV more accessible and a lot more fun
The first time I tuned in, I watched two commentators dissect a compilation of YouTube bird videos for about 30 minutes. Then, it was an artist I'm familiar with extolling the virtues of her broadsword (as the program guide put it), quartering cantaloupe and frozen cake and using the blade to pierce a headshot of herself from when she was a teenage actor. Next, a block of music videos from local bands. And following that was a song by a tourist from the U.K. about his irregular but evidently much-enjoyed vacation to Toronto. Instead of flicking the channel or taking off on another tab, as is typical of my viewing habits, the variety I'd stumbled upon kept me stuck to the strange signal — and returning to it often.
On air 24/7 since October, internet-based public access station BUMP TV broadcasts from the basement of a rented old Victorian in Toronto's Little Portugal. The project began because comedian and engineer Tom Hobson wanted to work in television but found the prospects hopeless. A visit to an open meeting of the 8-Ball Community in New York — which runs, among numerous other ventures, a DIY public access television station — revealed a way in. There's a large network of artists in Toronto who'd love to get on TV; they could just do it themselves.
Hobson and his partner Halloway Jones, who live together at "BUMP Mansion," put a call out for interest — to an enthusiastic response. They cleaned up the house's basement, which was decrepit and unused except for storage, tearing out soggy carpet and patching moldy drywall. They painted half the main room a parakeet shade for green-screening. The BUMP board of directors grew, now up to nine members with Alisson Escobar, Peter Rahul, Alexandra Hong, Jon McCurley, Neila Karassik, Nala Ismacil, Anum Peerzada along with Jones and Hobson.
Rahul brought in equipment collected for his own video art practice to begin taping: a laptop, a converter, a four-channel mixer and a title maker ("The kind of thing where you could type 'Sarah's first birthday' onscreen," he tells me). They shoot with a camcorder. Rahul estimates the whole TV studio set-up cost less than $2,000. The decidedly lo-fi rig — beyond its affordability and the distinct aesthetic it produces — works also to remove another barrier, he says. "It takes away the hesitation for people who think they might not be ready." There isn't a huge crew looking on, no hot lights, no expensive cameras. "It's jazz video," Rahul calls it: the on-camera talent improvs and the BUMP team behind the gear improvs, too.
The front page of the station's website says: "Anyone can submit original content OR make a show in our Toronto studio." So long as that material isn't hateful or offensive, it will be aired. BUMP reserves a six-hour programming block daily for public submissions. "Accessibility is the whole point," Escobar says. "We want to help people." When equipment, studios and exhibition space are costly or hard to come by in Toronto, BUMP has emerged as a haven for local digital media, video and performance artists as well as curators. They've set out to "create a place where you don't have to feel like you have all the right credentials or you don't have to submit an application that will impress someone," Hobson tells me. "Or pay $300 for a day of green screen studio space," Rahul adds. They're "that little bump" people sometimes need to bring to life the interesting ideas that live in their head.
"I often have ideas for silly jokes or videos I'd like to make, but feel daunted by the technical aspect of it," says Maddy Mathews, creator of Sword Stuff, one of the first BUMP programs I ever tuned into. "I'm not a 'video artist' nor do I know how to edit video or sound or anything, so it is super exciting to have this very accessible platform where I can turn my ideas into something tangible and shareable in a very short window of time." Within the same hour that she told Hobson and Jones about her concept, inspired by a sword a friend had gifted her, the trio were in line at No Frills buying items to chop. At the Bumpies — an award show the station threw and live-streamed to celebrate its official launch a month after its soft start — Mathews's Sword Stuff was honoured with the trophy for Best Cooking Show. She is, as Escobar put it, "one of the BUMP superstars." A second episode of her award-winning program is in the works.
The opportunity BUMP offers, though, isn't only for artists. Toronto-based curator Tak Pham, for instance, has programmed a thematic hour-plus block titled "Space on Screen," which explores "ways of portraying space and architecture in video works" and includes items by artists such as Abedar Kamgari and Patrick Bernatchez beside entries like archival documentary from Saigon in the '50s produced by the U.S. Army Audiovisual Center. Enabled by the platform, it is a project that would "require significant capital and politics if it were to happen IRL," Pham says.
When it comes to programming, BUMP has a remarkable appetite for ideas in search of a home. Philip Ocampo, another local curator, is currently collecting videos for an upcoming block called "Best Behaviour," which will focus on the phenomenon of anthropomorphism by compiling clips of animals acting in uncannily human ways.
In fact, there's much future programming the station is excited about. BUMP is currently filming personal ads, which its audience will vote on to help cast a reality dating show to be filmed in the upstairs apartment of BUMP mansion. The resulting Valentine's MATCHtacular will air all day Feb. 14.
More possibilities bubble up and multiply: a call-in sex advice show, a VJed music video program, a telethon (the station is, at the moment, funded entirely out of pocket), a network of BUMP satellite TVs installed in venues and storefronts across the city, a kids' show — maybe a kids' show actually made by kids.
"We throw a lot of ideas into the hot pot," Rahul says. "But you never really know what'll happen," adds Hobson, "until you're down here filming it."