For one Lompoc couple, the stay-at-home mandate has morphed into a Facebook Live morning show aired from a 77-square-foot studio in their backyard.
At its soul, the show is a love letter to the city of Lompoc and its residents, many of whom are out of jobs.
On March 19, when Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered state businesses to close, Michelle and Jeremy Ball wound down most operations for their home-based company, Bottle Branding, which targets marketing and branding for the food and wine industries via photos, video and design.
Jeremy, 40, is a Lompoc native, and Michelle, 35, grew up in Solvang. They met in March 2009 while both were employed at the Root 246 restaurant in Solvang.
“We started dating in June, got engaged in December of that year and got married on Aug. 29, 2010,” she said.
Together, the Balls bring decades of wine and food hospitality experience to their marketing and video production for winemakers and chefs. They’ve traveled to Italy to photograph (Jeremy) and write about (Michelle) winemakers for the Somm Journal, where both are regular contributors, and to Oaxaca, Mexico, to research how mescal is produced from the agave plant.
On one hand, the couple simply shifted gears, said Jeremy Ball, who is the chairman of the board of the Lompoc Valley Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau.
“We’ve spent eight years working at home already,” he said. “We just segued into a different project.”
That project, “Good Morning Lompoc,” was born with just a thought on March 19 — the same day Newsom mandated the state’s closure. Jeremy Ball ran an idea past Michelle: How about I launch a radio show in order “to check in on people,” she recalled.
Over the weekend that followed, the couple fleshed out Jeremy’s initial idea. They agreed to create a “positive” live show to focus on the community with pre-recorded “funny videos,” recipe and menu segments, and a clip with “Brad,” an alter-ego hipster bartender posing as Jeremy’s brother. Think Jeremy in a sleeveless denim shirt and mirrored sunglasses, and you’ve got Brad.
That weekend, Michelle Ball learned the Ecamm Live streaming software they’d need and designed their “Good Morning Lompoc” logo. Jeremy focused on aligning the cameras and outfitting a freestanding tiny office studio with sound-reducing foam and black curtains. He reached out to friend and Lompoc musician Jacob Cole for music to accompany the show’s opening and closing “Moment of Zen” segments, typically drone shots of downtown Lompoc and Surf or Jalama beaches.
At 8:30 a.m. Monday, March 23, the couple debuted their first show, overcoming pre-live show nerves with big smiles, good cheer and self-deprecating jokes.
Fast forward eight weeks, and the adoration and affirmations keep flowing from those who tune in from Lompoc, Santa Barbara County and beyond. Friends from Puerto Rico watch and comment, and a viewer from Texas said the homespun show “makes me miss my hometown, Lompoc.”
The two are heartened by the number of people watching their show from the Midwest and other far-flung states. Often, they are friends of friends or family members, but more often than not, “I have no idea who they are,” Michelle Ball said.
The couple’s desire to highlight community is the backbone of the morning show.
“We’re helping to close a gap in self-esteem for Lompoc,” said Jeremy Ball, noting that many people, among them longtime residents, are quick to complain about the city.
Every show features live or pre-recorded music from Cole and fellow Lompoc musicians such as Tom Brown or Jinnanne Coderre, among others, all singing from their respective homes.
The couple added a “green screen” to certain pre-recorded show segments to create more fanciful backgrounds.
“The green screen allows you to knock out the backdrop and replace it with video footage or photos without having to go ‘on location’ to do it,” Michelle Ball said.
“Good Morning Lompoc” celebrated its 22nd show on May 15, capping a week that included live interviews with 24th District Congressman Salud Carbajal last Wednesday, and on Friday, Bob Nelson, supervisor-elect for the Fouth District on the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors. Both men discussed Santa Barbara County’s ongoing efforts to reopen in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, in particular the controversy over the county including positive cases from the nearby federal prison inmates in its overall virus numbers.
Lompoc Mayor Jenelle Osborne has addressed the show’s viewers live from her home two or three times.
Every Friday evening, “Good Morning Lompoc” turns into a live happy hour; participants have included local winemakers, a live wine tasting and birthday celebrations.
The Balls emphasize that “Good Morning Lompoc” is community inclusive, with an emphasis on children, weather and recipes, and less on politics.
“We focus on comic relief, vulnerability and kids,” Jeremy Ball said. “We really like the kid-friendly aspects of our show.”
The couple encourage parents to submit video clips of their children adjusting to and embracing the stay-at-home mandate. One couple tape their 4-year-old son as the show’s weatherman, pointing to a poster featuring clouds, sun and wind while he dances to music. Videotaped birthdays and kids’ experiments with seltzer and soda or “blind-tasting” fruit samples bring smiles to viewers’ faces.
“Families offer us positive engagement,” Jeremy Ball said. They are “the light that goes on every time we get the chance to connect with our community.”
On show days, the two arise between 4 a.m. and 5 a.m., “depending on how much pre-preparation we’ve gotten done the day before,” Michelle Ball said. On Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday, they work all day for the upcoming days’ shows. Every seventh show, they take a Wednesday off.
She estimated that “we each spend about 30 hours per week on the show (for a combined 60). That time includes day-of preparation, pre-recording interviews and editing, scheduling interviews/outreach, content creation — videos with Brad, recipes, drone shoots, editing submitted videos, brainstorming, social media promotions and seeking out local news to discuss.”
Of particular interest to the couple “are the people behind the history of Lompoc,” Jeremy Ball said. A lengthy interview with longtime Lompoc resident Gary James, heir to the Moore and Huyck families who helped settle Lompoc in the late 1800s, was divided between several shows.
The Balls said they hope to continue to focus on the history and people who have made Lompoc the city it is today.