"I call us the seven die-hards," says Columbia resident Nancy Koepsell, host of the cable TV program "Spotlight on Seniors" (they call itS.O.S. for short). "Everybody in the group wants the best show that we can do. The fact that we are amateurs doing a TV program doesn't enter our minds."
The seven "die-hards," all over 60 years old, produce the TV show for local seniors. They have featured everything from debates over the living will to demonstrations for constructing bluebird houses.
About five programs are produced each year. The shows are then aired on a rotating basis on Howard Cable Channel 6 twice a week -- 6:30 p.m. Wednesdays and 9:30 p.m., Thursdays.
Koepsell first became involved with the program eight years ago after hearing about it at the Florence Bain Senior Center, which produces the program.
Despite Koepsell's insistence that she's an "amateur," the program is hardly her first encounter with broadcasting.
Thirty years ago, Koepsell was host of a homemaker show for a radio station in Niagara Falls. Later, she transferred to a radio station in Buffalo and was co-host of a talk show. And from there, she switched to another program, "Shower for the Bride," a live audience-participation program, also in Buffalo.
In-between her work in radio, she wrote TV scripts and appeared in TV commercials. After seven years of radio and TV work, the Columbia resident says, she'd had enough of the insecurity of broadcasting.
Koepsell, who moved to Howard County 24 years ago and is now"60-something," later turned to writing advertising for real estate and eventually became a real estate agent, a profession she has been with ever since.
But once she heard about S.O.S., she says, she "wanted to be a part of it." She brushed up on her broadcast skills, learned some new ones and joined the rest of the group for technical training classes provided by Howard Cable.
The training sessionsfocused on techniques: working with the camera, microphones and operating the control board in the studio. Koepsell then took more classes at Howard Community College on production methods, selecting program topics and scriptwriting.
Because of a relaxed attitude and a willingness to appear in front of the camera, Koepsell wound up beingthe host of S.O.S. She and another member of the group, Vera Thomann, 69, work together on the program scripts.
"We'll tear it apart,"Koepsell said. "Vera makes suggestions; I have to write and rewrite."
The women meet monthly to discuss topics for the show. And Koepsell keeps the stuff the programs are made of in large Manila envelopes that are overflowing with articles and research material she has dug from books, magazines and newspapers.
Working about two months ahead of each program's scheduled airing, Koepsell estimates that shespends "anywhere from 20 to 40 hours total" preparing for each show.
Her cohort, Thomann, prefers to work behind the camera.
Because of an interest in photography and movie cameras that began about40 years ago, Thomann, of Clarksville, chooses to produce and directthe programs, as well as help operate the cameras.
Although she has no professional experience, the group relies on her hands-on expertise, which includes the nitty-gritty aspects of getting the equipmenttogether, lining up studio time, making cue cards and getting enoughpeople to do the production.
Lonnie Deans, 64, is another program volunteer. A retired broadcasting engineer technician, he worked nine years for Channel 7 in Washington and 25 years for ABC-TV.
The Laurel resident joined the group a year ago "to keep my interest inthe field," since he would like to avail himself of possible professional opportunities.
As a result, his experience -- working with cameras, lights, teleprompters, electronic graphics and audio -- has been an invaluable asset for the group.
During a recent program rehearsal at the Florence Bain Senior Center, the group went through the motions as they videotaped the mock show.
Sitting in as "guests" were 62-year-old Marty Chaitovitz of Columbia, technical director and coordinator of the group, and Ellicott City resident Mavis Davis,66, one of three camera operators.
Koepsell assumed her role as hostess, relying on large cue cards for reference as another group member held them at eye level.
Experimenting with a different angle, Thomann operated her own video camera -- positioned on a tripod -- toward the trio.
Attending for the first time was Donald W. Perkins, assistant cable administrator for the Howard County Cable Administration, who offered advice for questions about scripts, production and providing volunteers.
Currently there are nine such groups thatproduce cable TV shows and operate under a grant program that has been approved by the county executive.
The programs are organized and mostly financed through the county office on aging. Some expenses also are paid by Howard County Cable.
After all of the writing, editing, researching and rehearsals have been done, the group is ready to work at the TV studio.
Once there, it takes the group three hours of work to produce a half-hour show; another three hours of studio time is needed for editing.
When there are location shots, moretime is spent. Koepsell recalled the shooting time required when thegroup, lugging the equipment to the Howard Community College, spent hours at the pool taping a program on deep-water running.
In spiteof all the work required, the group is enthusiastic about what they do.
"Even though the show is geared toward seniors, the subject matter covers most age groups," Koepsell said.
"Many viewers have relatives, parents and friends who fall into the slot that we focus on.Through osmosis, it can eventually reach seniors who may not normally tune into the program."
She hopes that tapes of the programs will be shown in various senior "satellite centers," such as nutrition sites, where people can view the program.
Some of the sweetest words to Koepsell are viewers who say, "I saw your show on the Living Will, and I now have one," or "I loved the program about bluebird housesso much, I built one."
But Koepsell keeps hoping for more membersto help increase the quality of the show.
"We are the poor man's version of a Barbara Walters show," she said. "The whole idea of the program is making a difference."