History of public broadcasting

Timeline: 1950s-’60s

1950 | 1952 | 1953 | 1955 | 1958 | 1959

1960 | 1961| 1962 | 1963 | 1964 | 1965 | 1966 | 1967 | 1968 | 1969


February Iowa State College launches WOI, first TV station owned by educational institution, though it operates commercially (in 1994, Iowa State sells WOI).

Oct. 16 NAEB and educators organize Joint Committee on Educational Television (JCET) organizes (it later changes its name twice, eventually becoming the Joint Council on Educational Telecommunications in 1966).



April 14 FCC’s Sixth Report and Order allocates local TV channels, reserves 242 for noncom educational TV.

October Ford Foundation funds Educational Television and Radio Center in Ann Arbor to distribute programs.

In latter-day tryout of Cooperation Doctrine, Ford also begins Sunday arts magazine Omnibus on CBS, hosted by Alistair Cooke. (It airs five seasons, the last on ABC.)



May 25 The University of Houston signs on the first noncommercial educational TV station, KUHT.


KQED in San Francisco pioneers the public TV auction.


Sept. 2 Congress passes National Defense Education Act, which aids numerous instructional TV projects.


Jan. 24 Under new president John White, Educational Television and Radio Center adds “National” to its name (it later becomes National Educational Television, NET).

July NETRC moves from Ann Arbor to New York City.

Video: One teaching job facing many new station was explaining its purpose to the public, as in this 1959 program by Cincinnati's WCET, produced five years after the station signed on. Like many other stations on UHF channels, WCET also had to persuade viewers to hook up set-top UHF converter boxes. Viewers get a bonus: more than 20 minutes of classic jaunty and bustling background music from the 1950s.


Sept. 12 Taped live with an early videotape machine recently installed at Denver's KRMA, The Ragtime Era premieres and will become NET's most popular show, adding fun to educational TV's arts programming and making Max Morath a star. [article]

December Eastern Educational Television Network (EEN) incorporates after 1959 demonstration of hookup between Boston and Durham, N.H.


Educational Radio Network established (“Eastern” is added to name in 1963).

Frieda Hennock, FCC commissiioner, on camera at KUHT
advocate Frieda
Hennock of the FCC
appears on KUHT's
debut broadcast, 1953.

Midwest Program for Airborne Television Instruction (MPATI) experimentally broadcasts ITV to six states from airliner circling above Indiana.

Oct. 20 Educational TV begins airing the BBC's An Age of Kings, a 15-part combination of Shakespeare's history plays that will be one of its earliest hits. [article]


May 1 President Kennedy signs Educational Television Facilities Act [text of law], bringing first major federal aid to pubcasting (predecessor of today’s Public Telecommunications Facilities Program, PTFP).

Illustration shows MPATI plane broadcasting to schools from the sky

Illustration of MPATI experiment shows plane transmitting classroom programs to schools.

July 10 All-Channel Receiver Act signed into law, aiding reception of UHF stations, including some many educational stations.

Sept. 9 New York City finally gets a public TV station, as WNDT (later WNET) goes on-air.

FCC approves Lorenzo Milam’s KRAB-FM in Seattle, first of “Krab Nebula” community radio stations.

Sylvania UHF converter from 1950s

Before the All-Channel Receiver Act, viewers had to buy converters to pick up Channels 14-82. (Photo: Early Television Museum.)


Jan. 25 WGBH begins airing Julia Child’s first French Chef series (later distributed nationally).

July 25 FCC allows Instructional Television Fixed Service microwave for education.


FCC authorizes 100th noncommercial educational TV station.

June 10 FCC authorizes first statewide educational TV translator network, in Utah.

Dec. 7-8 NAEB First Conference on Long-Range Financing proposes presidential commission on future funding.


Nov. 10 Carnegie Corporation of New York establishes Carnegie Commission on Educational Television (Carnegie I).

Fred Rogers’ program, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, debuts on EEN regional hookup (goes national on NET in 1968).


Aug. 1 Ford Foundation proposes to the FCC (in vain) that profits from a nonprofit communications satellite system for all broadcasters would go to public broadcasting.

Child and producer Morash
Julia Child and producer Russ Morash pioneered
how-to programs.


Jan. 26 Carnegie I releases report proposing federal aid and an extension of educational TV called “public television” [summary].

Feb. 23 WETA premieres Washington Week in Review (it goes national on PBS in 1969).

March NAEB Second Conference on Long-range Financing reviews Carnegie report.

April NAEB report, The Hidden Medium, promotes aid to educational radio as well [summary]. April: Though Carnegie report and original legislation would have aided only TV, the final Senate bill creating CPB also includes radio, thanks to a concerted campaign by Jerold Sandler and other radio advocates [excerpt from Jack Mitchell's history of public radio].

Nov. 5 Ford Foundation launches Public Broadcasting Laboratory (PBL), live Sunday-night magazine program. (CBS starts 60 Minutes a year later.)

Nov. 7 President Johnson signs Public Broadcasting Act of 1967, authorizing federal operating aid to stations through new agency, CPB [text of law and LBJ's message]. CPB funding decisions would be made year to year; Congress wouldn't consider endowing a long-term funding source.


March CPB incorporates.


Johnson at board table, Jack Valenti at right

LBJ meets with CPB's
first board, 1968.

KQED, San Francisco, innovates in news programming with Newsroom, begun during newspaper strike.


NET begins regular interconnection for educational TV; The Forsyte Saga is a hit.

CPB begins general support grants to stations (later called Community Service Grants).

Precursor of Internet, ARPANET, hooked up by researchers for Defense Department.

Nov. 3 PBS is incorporated [document]. (Its board chooses Hartford Gunn as first president, February 1970.)

Fred Rogers makes a successful appeal for CPB's first appropriation with a moving plea to Sen. Pastore, who says afterwards, "Looks like you just earned $20 million." [video on YouTube]. Gunn accompanies Rogers at the witness table.

Hartford Gunn

PBS's first president, Gunn, was a key strategist from WGBH, Boston.

Nov. 10 Sesame Street debuts.

Big Bird on his stamp

A 1999 stamp recognized Sesame Street as one of the Top 10 "icons" of the '70s.

1970s ARROW

Web page revised June 9, 2006
Copyright 2006 by Current Publishing Committee
Adapted from Current's A History of Public Broadcasting