Howard Plum on the scene in Troy for Rockin' on the River recently. — Photo by Michael Hallisey/TheSpot518
Howard Plum may just be the No. 1 authority on everything the local scene has to offer.
For more than 15 years, Plum has thrust his face, and microphone, into scores of festivals, restaurants and live music venues as the titular, on-screen personality of The Howard Plum Show and Access Hollywood.org. The cable access television show highlights the hijinx and party atmosphere that draws people out to all our favorite jaunts.
Referring to himself by his stage name, Plum is star of the campy, cable television access show. Plum’s on-screen persona is purposely over the top. Paired with his bespectacled face and curly dark hair, to say he resembles Weird Al Yankovic would be a stretch. Maybe if Yankovic expressed more interest in women than the squeezebox. “People get a bit timid because they don’t like the in-your-face personality,” he said, “I have toned it a bit over the years. … But, I’ve been told not to come back to certain restaurants. And, it’s not from me being outrageously loud and drunk or anything. I would create [an environment] where people want to stay.” Nevertheless, the lucid concoction of man on the street interviews with random, attractive (and sometimes intoxicated) people, enjoying what “Smallbany” has to offer, presents a PG-13 version of your local Chamber of Commerce.
“At one time the show was always about Howard Plum, the character,” he said. “But, now I’m starting to realize, it’s more fun to have it about the people, and bring them in. And, people don’t always know how exciting things are out there.”
Plum came to be about 20 years ago, when he first started with hundreds of interviews on a personal video camera on VHS tape from college in Pittsburgh. Raised in Niskayuna, he said he felt he came to his own while away at school. “I started interviewing people on the streets with a VHS camera — I still have all the footage, about 200 tapes — and, I didn’t really know what I was doing,” he said. “But, I was interviewing people every day.” The format of the show has changed over the years, but one shared memory from his school days sounds familiar to what his show is now. “They closed down the block and everyone was drinking in this huge radius,” he said. “So from daytime to nighttime … the vampires all came out, and little Howard Plum was interviewing and found himself in a limousine with his camera. It was somebody’s birthday party. So, I’m just doing this. I’m not saying anything. I’m just taping and one drunk guy says, ‘Well, who the hell are you?’ I said, ‘I’m just here taping, dude.’ They kicked me out of the limo. I start running.
The stuff you find yourself in is hilarious.”
What started as a hobby, he said, then developed into a lifestyle. Today, the lifestyle is more passion than vocation. It’s a second skin that lies underneath after parting from his vocation doing audio for a local television station. It’s the man strangers identify with the most when he arrives with microphone and crew in tow. His calling now has allowed him to coax people out of a crowd and, like Warhol once said, provide them their 15-minutes of fame.
Right. Cable access television has a limited audience, you just said — though, in not so many words. Plum and his production staff, Liz (co-host), Nate the Beard (correspondent) and Nick Inc. Co. (the cameraman), pushes the #TVMovement upon every audience he can reach. His outlet runs extensive with multiple channels that have spread from his first channel in Schenectady in 1999, to Albany, Saratoga, Troy and now New York City. Couple that with a YouTube channel, website and social media presence that audience has grown. But, time has also played a factor in changing attitudes, he said.
“There was a time, when I interviewed in the year 2000 in Saratoga, people were paranoid,” said Plum. People would ask, “‘What are you doing? Is this going to end up on the Internet?’” But, now, things have changed. “2016? They’re throwing their kids in front of our camera, because the world literally wants to be a part of this media.”
Just don’t call home “Smallbany.”
“When I hear that. Smallbany. I go, ‘Oh, you must never attended,’” said Plum. “Because, to me, it’s so diverse. It’s so much larger.” Plum said he sees the Capital District as consisting of different worlds. There’s a different consciousness surrounding the people of Troy, versus the people of Clifton Park. “I actually get very pissed when people say [Smallbany]. … They don’t understand. … People come up to us and go ‘I didn’t know this was going on in Albany. I didn’t know people still went out. Where do you find these beautiful people?’”
With Plum’s audience extending down to New York City, he looks to include story content that goes beyond the home. Some of that content, he said, includes news. “We’re starting to venture out. Because, I want news stories, and people are so different in other areas.” He’s looking at random road trips, possibly as far as Ohio. “Because, we’ve got to expand our horizons.
The biggest thing is, if you’re not growing, you’re plateauing. With the new people I’ve included, our ultimate goal is to get on one of the largest channels, and I would happy with it. … But, in the end, Howard is going to get his dream, and it will always be Internet. But, to me, it would be awesome [to have both]. Because, it’s two different worlds.”
Michael Hallisey is managing editor of Spotlight Newspapers.