2013-10-18 / People


The man behind the camera
By Ann Fisher
Contributing Writer

Tony Vigue Tony Vigue He’s served in the armed forces, rose through the ranks at a computer company and ran his own business, but Tony Vigue found his life’s work as the director of South Portland Community Television – a place he’s called home for nearly 20 years.

It’s his dedication to community journalism that led the Alliance for Community Media-Northeast to name Vigue this year’s recipient of the Chuck Sherwood Award. The distinction is one of three regional awards given by the alliance that also includes the Brian Wilson Mentor Award and the Rika Welch Community Impact Award. Vigue was recognized along with other award winners at the Regional Conference and Trade Show Oct. 10-11 in Sturbridge, Mass.

According to the nomination form, the Chuck Sherwood Award “recognizes an individual whose commitment, experience and/or accomplishments has made a significant contribution to the preservation and growth of community media.”

The accolades go both ways.

“I love working here; I love working with the people of South Portland,” Vigue said.

The mission of the Alliance for Community Media is to “advance democratic ideals by ensuring that people have access to electronic media and by promoting effective communication through community uses of media.” The Northeast Region encompasses Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont.

Vigue was nominated by Patrick Bonsant of Saco River Community Television, on whose board he serves.

“We would be nowhere without him and he humbly works behind the scenes to ensure the viability and stability of public access television in our area,” Bonsant said in nominating Vigue.

Bonsant also recognized Vigue as the founder of the Cable Television Association of Maine, which he described as “an advocacy group that speaks on behalf of cable access organizations statewide.”

In addition, Bonsant said Vigue played a key role in the development and guidance for public access in 70 Maine communities, for taking the time to answer questions and conduct research and his work ensuring local people “have free and open access to media training, news and information not otherwise available on the corporate airwaves.”

When Vigue, the long-time director of South Portland Community Television, began working in cable TV in South Portland, the station was housed at what was then Southern Maine Technical College and operators only recorded three local municipal and school meetings. He now oversees production for 50 shows a month, including meetings of the city council, planning board, appeals board and school board.

As one of seven kids on a prison farm in Warren, Vigue, 63, was far removed from the world of TV, although the family did own a television.

“(O)ur neighbors were the first to have a TV, and the first TV program I remember watching was the movie, “The Greatest Show on Earth” (1952),” Vigue recalled. “Our first TV was a black and white RCA Victor that my father bought from Joe Richards TV shop in Thomaston.”

His favorite shows were “all the serials with heros – The Lone Ranger, Roy Rogers, Superman, etc. We don’t have TV heroes for kids today, and that is sad.”

Vigue’s father was a guard at the prison and oversaw the farm. The farm produced enough to feed not only the Maine State Prison, but also the South Portland Reformatory and Pineland in New Gloucester, where Vigue’s father delivered food.

Life on the prison farm was good, Vigue recalled. In fact, “it was great,” he said. “We had big fields and a pond to skate on.”

The prison population was much different then, he said.

“We didn’t have crazy people … drug addicts. Just normal people who made mistakes. Us kids knew them by name. (There was) no whip cracking or shotgun-toting”

After graduating from Union High School, Vigue enrolled in 1964 at St. Petersburg (Fla.) Junior College where he intended to earn a degree in electrical engineering. However, Vigue’s plans were diverted when he became interested in radio and television, switched majors, and received his associate degree in radio and television production.

Vigue said he would have gone on to a four-year college, “but the Vietnam War got in the way, so I enlisted to get a (training) school and settled on Fixed Station Radio Equipment Operation and Maintenance at Ft. Monmouth, N.J.” From 1968-1970, Vigue worked in the signal corps, relaying encrypted information to the states.

He left the Army with an Army Commendation Medal and the technical background he would need later.

But his career plans took yet another turn. Beginning in 1977, Vigue ended up working in computer disk drive manufacturing for 13 years at Data General in Westbrook, where Idexx is now housed.

During that period he played the key role behind the formation of the Saco River Community Television that includes six towns and is still very active today. Vigue left Data General in 1991; he also owned his own business from 1990-1994. He began working as a paid employee for South Portland in 1994.

“Two thousand three hundred stations across the nation do this kind of work,” said Vigue, adding that receiving the Chuck Sherwood Award is “quite an honor.”

“The work that community television people do goes largely unrecognized,” Vigue said. “We give the people access to local media. An informed public makes the best decisions.”

“That’s really what it’s all about.”

When asked if he had any plans to retire, Vigue replied, “My boss told me last week he hopes I never retire”

He added with a chuckle, “My wife says I’d sleep here if they gave me a cot.”

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