Locally Grown Is PBS for the Streaming Age

This is what channel-surfing used to be, what it ought to be. Tune in and the first station is airing Pressure, Horace Ové’s tough-minded 1976 movie about London youth and racial disillusionment. It’s a somewhat obscure release, but also a pioneering one: Ové’s was the first feature by a black filmmaker made in the UK. Switch the channel and there’s an episode of the sci-fi anime Cowboy Bebop on; a few clicks past that, Janet Jackson’s 1998 Velvet Rope Tour performance at Madison Square Garden is playing. Keep flipping and it’s one rare and poignant find after another.

That is the essence of Locally Grown, a streaming website with the vintage gloss of public access programming. It was launched this month and currently features an assortment of channels that broadcast 24 hours a day; all of its content is hand-selected with the intent of curating choices that “to an algorithm seem disparate, but make perfect sense to the human experience.”

The platform was conceived by Jamil Baldwin and Tyler Bernard. Both are Los Angeles natives who met through mutual friends almost a decade ago. Baldwin is a photographer and self-described polymath; Bernard, or Westside Ty as he’s known in music circles, is the tour DJ for rapper Vince Staples. The seed for Locally Grown came during a work trip to Amsterdam in 2016, where the two reminisced about classic TV shows they watched growing up in Southern California. In conversation, they kept circling back to one in particular: BET’s famous after-dark video countdown, Uncut.

“We missed those events that would happen, the way people are trying to make them happen,” Baldwin says, referencing Beyoncé’s first surprise visual album release in 2013, which, for anyone on the internet that December, felt like a primetime event. “That was in the vein of what we were missing, but there were very few things on TV creating that.” The duo, both in their early thirties, turned that opening into a creative pursuit. “A lot of the time, we’re on the same wave—you see it with viral videos, with Twitter, with all these things,” Baldwin adds. “So it became, how do we calm down the noise and put it all in one spot, so we can tap in together?”

Flipping through Locally Grown is like finding lost treasure, each channel its own trove of video memorabilia. You’ll stumble on episodes of the late-1990s UPN sitcom Between Brothers; a short documentary on Muxes, Mexico’s “third gender”; clips from the mostly forgotten late-night talk show Vibe; cinema classics Wattstax and Divine Horsemen: The Living Gods of Haiti; music videos; old commercials; references to different Soul Train eras; even Arthur Jafa’s award-winning video collage “Love Is the Message, the Message Is Death.” One recent night, during the 11 pm hour on a channel titled Black Art, Black Cinema, Black Excellence, the French documentary Universal Techno looped; following in the midnight block was footage from 1998’s Freaknik, the legendary spring break festival held in Atlanta. Like a video archive that is available 24/7, Locally Grown is an anti-streaming streamer, the PBS of black cultural ephemera.

Locally Grown lets viewers tune in to one of 11 curated channels, 24/7. Courtesy of LGTV

Locally Grown’s debut slate consists of 11 channels, outfitted with equally distinct names like Maroon World, Glass Benz, ColoredTV, Wild Child NYC, and My Name Should’ve Been Keisha; each one is personally curated to reflect varying degrees of interest and taste. A little over a year ago, before launch, Chicago musician Noname got word of the site through Baldwin’s partner. At the time, Locally Grown hosted one channel that was available only to friends; it was Baldwin and Bernard’s own, “a project originally based on nostalgia,” they tell me. Noname loved the idea, and jumped at the chance to contribute. Her channel, Nigga Theory, broadcasts a chat from the DC chapter of the Noname Book Club (the January discussion focused on Kali Fajardo-Anstine’s story collection Sabrina & Corina).

Much of the site’s appeal, beyond the actual programming, is its organizing logic, Bernard told me. (Its easy and eye-pleasing user experience was masterminded by Jenn Scheer, the former head of design at Genius.) When consumed in the aggregate, some channels read like video essays. It was “how people approached the whole thing, including original content with source material and composing a narrative over the entire programming space,” he says. “To see that act itself out in practice—giving people that avenue, instead of just like a playlist or something—was dope.”

To avoid licensing issues, Locally Grown does not host any of their content—all of it is embedded from YouTube, Vimeo, and other video platforms. But the streaming site’s founders see room for growth beyond educational videos and pop culture deep cuts. Some of Locally Grown’s channels already host original content—like the interview series 305 Late—and Baldwin and Bernard believe there is untapped opportunity all around. They want to live up to their name. They see Locally Grown “really leaning into the public access idea,” partnering with high school media programs to broadcast student films and generally becoming a go-to community resource.

“I think there’s a magic to seeing ourselves,” Baldwin says. “Today everybody talks about representation—it’s a cool theme and idea for these studios, but I don’t think they even know how to tap into our neighborhoods like we do. If you really want to see representation, I’d hope that maybe in some way Locally Grown can reduce that friction to what representation looks like, ultimately giving people a quicker, easier way to put themselves out there.”

Thrust as it is into TV’s exciting and unsettled streaming landscape, the arrival of Locally Grown raises an urgent question: Are parts of the old model worth saving? In one particular aspect, the future of TV is a clear vision of its recent past: Tech-financed streamers (Netflix, Apple TV+, Amazon) are the new de facto networks, housing must-watch content behind subscription walls—prime time anytime you want it, provided you’ve got an internet connection (even prestige and legacy networks, like HBO and NBC, were elbowed into the streaming vortex).

Locally Grown finds joy in that uproot. The site positions itself as a bridge between what TV consumption once was (shared ceremonial experiences beholden to seasonal time slots) and what it’s becoming (fragmented, siloed, and tailored for one). Its solution: Let’s not scrap the old ways just yet. The gamble, for Baldwin and Bernard, is an extension of trust—in the capacity of the internet, in who it can reach and what it can still be.

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