Driving force behind Rock the Plaza, Access Fort Wayne
Since coming to Fort Wayne in 1999, Norm Compton has been a driving force in delivering free community news and entertainment to the masses.
Describing himself as the ring master of a three-ring circus, Compton oversees Access Fort Wayne, the Maker Lab, the Audio Reading Service, and 95.7FM WELT out of the downtown Allen County Public Library, while also playing a key role in Rock the Plaza, which he calls his “side show.”
“We’re up against TikTok and all the rest of that,” he said. “Everybody has a camera on their phone and, so, it’s like, ‘Why do I need public access?’ Well, we deliver the polish, we deliver the professional aspect of things.”
His work in the community has led to him being honored with Whatzup’s annual H. Stanley Liddell Award, given “to individuals who had made a uniquely significant contribution to the arts and culture of Fort Wayne and surrounding communities.”
Finding his way to Fort wayne
Compton was bit by the television production bug while in middle school in Ann Arbor, Michigan, when his eighth-grade teacher said, “We’re gonna do some video stuff.”
“We did a rendition of Star Trek,” Compton said.
Compton says he went on to become one of those “AV geeks” in high school, but the production ended after graduation when he enlisted in the Air Force in August 1977. Following an honorable discharge in 1981, he attended Eastern Michigan for film and communications, which helped him land a job at a cable company in Plymouth, Michigan.
After seeing an ad for a manager position in Defiance, Ohio, he jumped at it, working at DCTV from the late ’80s until getting an opportunity to lead Access Fort Wayne.
“I started March 1 of ’99, and it’s been a roller coaster ride,” he said of joining Access Fort Wayne. “And the ride’s not over.”
The ride began with Channel 10, and the first dip came just a few months after he started.
“In August, we got two additional channels, so I went from running one channel to three channels,” he said. “That, obviously, brought on new responsibilities and multitasking. It seems like ever since then, as far as every two years or so, there’s been additional things added on the list.”
keeping a record
Access Fort Wayne has three channels on two systems, including City TV, Access One, and Access Two. The stations are vital sources of not only local news and religious services, but sports and music.
“I’m proud of being every where, covering everything,” he said. “I have a great crew. I am truly blessed.”
While Access Fort Wayne prides itself on broadcasting events all across the city, be it the Olympic torch coming through town, parades, or the popular Night of Lights, it’s the government meetings that might be the most popular and important … for the audience and politicians.
“Well, stepping back to when I was in Defiance, as far as the reason that Defiance has a cable channel was that city council did not like the way that the local newspaper was covering their meetings,” he said. “They said, ‘OK, let’s get a camera in here. Let’s put it on cable TV.’ ”
And once Access Fort Wayne streams the meetings, they can be accessed on their website, with meetings going back to 2012.
“We have video on demand for like six, seven years of council meetings,” he said. “So, if wanted to go back and see who voted for the trash removal with Red River, you could look that up.”
blazing new addition to job description
As if managing three channels was not enough, the Access Fort Wayne manager had Audio Reading Services added to his job description a few years after he started.
“We have volunteers reading the newspaper five, seven days a week, and then lots of other volunteers reading all kinds of other things,” he said of the service that benefits the visually impaired and those with language and learning challenges. “I mean, they even read the Kroger advertisements, as far as what’s the price of eggs this week.”
Tossing another ball into his juggling routine was WELT, which broadcasts “commercial-free radio that’s produced and delivered by your friends, family, neighbors, concerned members of your community.”
“It’s like 93 blazing watts of power as far as, you know, we call it the flame thrower,” he joked. “You know you have to have some kind of name for it.”
All of this operates out of the library, which led to the Maker Lab joining his fleet of responsibilities.
Starting out as a 3D printing lab in 2012, Maker Lab quickly expanded to recording studios, where people can reserve a spot to lay down vocals or record a podcast, then use Adobe software to produce.
rocking the plaza
Many of his duties draw creatives to the library, but none is be as popular as Rock the Plaza, which offers free outdoor concerts every Saturday during the summer.
“In 2007, the renovated main library opened up,” Compton said. “Kyle Haller, a local musician, approached the associate director of the library and said, ‘Hey, you know, you got a natural setup here, you got any bands playing on there?’ No. ‘Can I play on there?’ Yeah. ‘OK.’ Can you get some other bands? ‘Yeah, I can get some other bands.’ Cool.”
That first year featured shows every other week, but that quickly changed to every week, with Access Fort Wayne there to record them.
“It’s like, ‘Oh boy, there goes my summer,” he said with a laugh.
“Norm is a treasure and we are all lucky to have him around,” Haller said. “He is a friend to all, and over the years he has done so much, and continues to do so much, to entertain and enrich our community. As for Rock the Plaza, his involvement is immeasurable and I can’t imagine trying to pull it off without him!”
And Haller’s enthusiasm hasn’t swayed over the years. This past year featured a packed lineup following a couple of subdued years because of the pandemic.
“This past season, we had 13 Saturdays scheduled, 51 bands, and 21 of those bands were new to Rock the Plaza,” Compton said.
“Kyle is my band wrangler as far as, you know, if you can imagine as far as scheduling 51 bands over 13 weeks,” he added.
‘Content is king’
With so much going, Compton says he has to continue to evolve with changing times, but one thing trumps all.
“My philosophy is content is still king,” he said. “If you provide a good program that people wanna watch, they’re gonna look for it. Now, the delivery mechanisms, that’s where everything is exploded as far, like I said, it’s on cable, it’s on the internet, it’s on video on demand, it’s on YouTube.”
Despite the circus continuing to grow, Compton says he’s not ready for this roller coaster to stop.
“I’ve been in the library for 23 years and it’s been a one heck of a ride,” he said. “No two days are alike.”
“I’m plotting the course for the next 40 years,” he said about Access Fort Wayne, which began in 1981. “What does that look like? Yeah, it’s a little fuzzy, but we’re creatives.”