Producing your own television show can be tricky, especially for someone who has never worked a video camera or even seen the inside of a studio. Before turning expensive equipment over to anyone who asks, area cable companies require would-be producers to complete a training course and pass a proficiency test. The courses are generally free, although some have a nominal fee.

Paulette Geer, nursing director of the Montgomery County Red Cross, recently completed the six-week Montgomery Community Television course along with five other colleagues.

During the weekly sessions, each lasting three hours, she and her fellow Red Cross staff members, all of whom were novices, learned how to operate a camera and other equipment in addition to getting pointers about how to make their show more polished than the average home movie.

For Geer, one of the best parts was trying out all of the different roles involved in television production -- from on-air interviewing to setting up the lights.

"When we first started we would say, 'Oh my gosh, I look awful on tape,' " she recalls. But soon participants began to focus more on the technical quality of the taping than on their own personal appearance.

Then they had to prove themselves by passing a written exam and demonstrating how to use the equipment.

Geer and most of her colleagues passed. Now they face their biggest test -- producing a program. For the first show, the Red Cross team plans to do a documentary about the services the organization offers.

If all goes well, Geer may try her hand at a more lighthearted show -- "Kapitol Klowns," about the area clown troupe she performs with.

Although professional cable staffers will be available to help with technical problems, the volunteers are expected to do all the work themselves. After all, says Ralph Malvik, executive director of Montgomery Community Television, "Volunteers, not paid staff, are the cornerstone of public access."