Czech American TV serving Czech community in the US for nearly two decades

Joe Mraz

There are more than one million people with Czech roots living in the United States today. To reach this Czech ethnic minority, Czech American TV has been broadcasting regular educational programs, both on cable television and the Internet.

What exactly is the mission of Czech American TV? Who are its viewers? And what kind of programs do they like? I discussed these and other questions with the TV’s spokesperson, Joe Mraz:

“Jan Honner founded the program in 2003 and his goal was to spread the Czech traditions to the Czech Americans as well as others around the world and it grew from there.

“It started out as a small program, but now, in addition to the Internet program, it also broadcasted on cable TV throughout the Midwest and over 60 cities.

“There is almost 2.5 million viewers and it is carried on Comcast, which is the second largest cable provider in the US.

“And over the last 18 years, each week there has been a new program. It is produced only in English in order to reach as many people as possible in Canada, Australia and some of the other countries as well.”

What do you know about your audience? Is it only people with Czech or Slovak roots or people who are simply interested in Czech history and culture?

“You are absolutely right. Of course there are people with Czech roots, but also people that are curious about the Czech Republic, people that perhaps want to make a trip overseas and learn something more about where they are going.

“So it’s a combination of people and I think many times there are also students that are interested in global or European history who are drawn to the site as well.”

What topics do you focus on and which of them are particularly popular among your viewers?

“We have a site that teaches a bit of Czech and that’s quite popular. I think the cookbook and the cooking site are also popular.

“We also have the broadcast site, which broadcasts Czech folk music as well as classical music and there are quite a few listeners that are attracted to that. Another site that’s very popular is one where people can trace their heritage and ancestry.

“My grandparents came here in the late 1800s, so if I were to check my ancestry, I would have to go into European records and check the records for Czechoslovakia, but this site has tools for that.”

You said that Czech-American TV started as a small project. How has it developed over the nearly two decades of its existence?

John Honner | Photo: Czech American TV

“Primarily, everything that is produced on our program is done on a voluntary basis. We have over 40 volunteers that come from different professional backgrounds, from young people to pensioners.

“My background was advertising and marketing and projects come up from time to time and John would call on me for help when necessary.

“The TV program itself is handled by three or four people, primarily John Honner does that. But all the other projects are based on volunteers.”

Is it difficult to attract new, especially young people, to take part in the project?

“I can only speak for myself. I became acquainted with the program through my cousin, who had discovered it and passed it on to me.

“And I noticed on the website that they were looking for volunteers, so I contacted the website via email and we set up a telephone conversation and it just took off from there.”

Would you say Czech American TV functions as a sort of network for the Czech community in the United States?

“That is a very good question, but I am not sure how to answer it. I guess in a way you could call it a network.

“Many times people that view our programs or the various projects will communicate with us either by phone or email.

“And sometimes a curious listener who gets in touch ultimately becomes a volunteer.”

Can you tell us a little bit more about the Czech community in Texas –does it still tend to hold together?

“The Czech community in Texas is very large, primarily in Central Texas, and they have all sorts of events. There is an Octoberfest-like activity, for example. They also have different lodges around the state where people can participate.

“There is also a Czech museum in Temple Texas, primarily covering the heritage of the immigrants who came to Texas years ago.

“I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago, and of course the western suburb of Berwyn and Cicero, is like ground zero for Czechs in the United States.

“I didn’t realize when I came to Texas how many Czechs live here. Someone told me early on that the third most spoken language in Texas was Czech, after English and Hispanic.

“When John Honner and I visited the Temple Texas a couple of years ago to do some interviews, he remarked how similar the geography looked to parts of Moravia!”

And going back to Czech-American TV, what kind of projects are you working on at the moment?

“One of the things that I have been working on quite a bit lately was this Czech cookbook that we are putting together. We have a section on Czech cooking and recipes. That was an editorial project I was responsible for.

“One of the goals that we have for this cookbook, and there are over 200 recipes in the cooking section now, is to produce an actual hard bound cook book that would be distributed to major libraries around the country, so people could have access to it.

“It’s really quite nice, because my parents have passed away, so I don’t have mother’s or grandmother’s cooking to savor any more, and when I look at some of these recipes, it brings back some very fond memories.

“So there are a lot of things going on at the same time. I know the genealogical project, which I am not involved in, is constantly being refined.

“One of the things that we are doing is that we broadcast some music and then we talk about some specific traditions so people can become more acquainted with how things are done there, and I have been doing those voiceovers.”

What kind of feedback do you get from your audience?

“We do get a lot of feedback. We do little fundraisers where some people in our audience contribute to the program much like some of the other public broadcast program, but of course out company is a non-profit organization.

But people write to us and contribute money. One time a fellow sent a check and John told him: You are not Czech, judging by your last name.

“And he said: I know that I am not Czech, but I enjoy your program so much. I started listening to it many months ago and I continue regularly. So we do attract people that are not of Czech heritage.”

So how do you actually raise money for running the TV?

“We do have some corporate sponsors and we have a section where people can contribute to the program. We also do little fundraisers. So we are able to do it through the volunteers and the sponsors.”

Finally, is there something you would like to add that I haven’t asked about?

“One thing I didn’t mention. We have a lot of student volunteers that actually do quite a bit of work both in the Czech Republic and in the United States.

“These students are very skilled in programming and coding and things of that nature, so we have profited from that.

“We have students from the University of Western Bohemia in Pilsen and the Czech Technical University in Prague and some other universities, so we are very proud to have them.

“Many times they are doing this work towards their diploma work so it has to be done correctly and perfectly, so we are very fortunate to have them as volunteers as well.”