According to plan, Channel 8 signed on the air at 5 p.m. on May 25, 1953, with a program called Its Five. Producer/director George Arms' variety format featured a half dozen attractive college coeds who offered "down-to-earth" advice for women, including tips on make-up techniques, party-giving, flower-arranging, blouse-making, and preparing a child for a tonsillectomy.
The evening continued with programs such as Bookland, which encouraged children to read; News in Focus, which featured the latest local, national, and world news, sports, and weather; a high-school geometry review; short films Man on the Land andToronto Symphony Orchestra; and a presentation on administrative education, all before sign-off at 7:30 p.m.
The Pioneer Spirit
The buoyant spirit that enabled that first flicker of educational television long preceded that evening's production pioneers. On both national and local levels, visionaries had been hard at work lobbying and planning for years to make educational television a reality.
In Washington, Federal Communications Commissioner Frieda B. Hennock had been lobbying for support of educational broadcasting, a cause she had championed since her appointment to the FCC by President Harry Truman in 1948. She proposed that a quarter of all television stations should be reserved as a public resource and assigned to be used for educational channels. In March of 1951, after extensive hearings, the FCC proposed to reserve 209 television channels for education—among them Houston's VHF Channel 8.
Dr. Walter William Kemmerer had been instrumental in establishing the University of Houston. Through his efforts as vice president, the university began holding formal classes in the autumn of 1934. But the student population grew more quickly than university space and personnel, and as a solution Kemmerer theorized that telecourses might facilitate reaching these students.
His ideas were affirmed when he attended a meeting of the Joint Committee (later Joint Council) on Educational Television at Pennsylvania State University in April of 1951. Kemmerer returned to Houston more committed than ever to pursuing the concept of an educational television station at the university.
Kemmerer, who was named university president early in 1953, joined forces with John Schwarzwalder, a vocalist, choral director, faculty member, and KUHF-FM manager who had helped establish the flourishing radio station in 1950. Under Schwarzwalder's supervision, the administrative functions of KUHF merged with KUHT, and the radio-to-television studio conversion began on the fifth floor of the university's Ezekiel Cullen Building. The new television studio needed improved lighting, increased ventilation, transmitter installation, and space for a film unit.
By April 1953, Houston was ready to launch the world's first educational television station. Despite delays in the studio conversion, local television viewers and academicians waited in anticipation. Mayor Roy Hofheinz proclaimed the week of April 20 as "Educational Television Week," urging Houstonians to "take appropriate interest in this new wonder of the educational world" and to visit the television facility on the campus.
Educational Television is Dedicated
On May 25, the wait was over. Licensed to the University of Houston and Houston Independent School District, KUHT began its regular broadcast schedule. The first week's schedule included sports shows such as Spring Quarterbackand Lets Talk Sports and university-related programs such as U. H. Open House and University Forum.
The station was prepared to televise its official dedication ceremonies on June 8, but there was trouble two hours before air time. A transmitter caused a black band to appear across the face of the television screen. FCC Commissioner Hennock was about to give her opening address and engineers weren't quite sure what to do.
KUHT ended up being dedicated with a bang—or more accurately, a kick. According to producer George Arms, "It got closer and closer to five o'clock. Finally, about 20 minutes to five, (first chief engineer) Bill Davis lost his temper and kicked the transmitter. The black band disappeared, and we never saw it again!"
Commissioner Hennock continued the dedication with a rousing speech: "... For here in Houston begins the practical realization of the tremendous benefits that television holds out to education. With TV, the walls of the classroom disappear; every set within viewing range of the signal is a potential classroom... The accumulated riches of man's educational, cultural, and spiritual development can be spread right before the viewer's eyes. In fact, the sky of man's constructive imagination is literally the only limit on the good that could be derived from educational TV."
With those words began a grand experiment in educational television that was kicked off right here in Houston. Or kicked on, as the case may be. KUHT would continue to demonstrate the value of educational television throughout its nearly 50-year journey to see just how far this new and exciting medium would travel, in Commissioner Hennock's words, into the sky of man's constructive imagination.
Courses for Credit
Channel 8 began its legacy as an educational station on dedication day by airing Psychology 231. Taught by Dr. Richard T. Evans, the course ran for 12 weeks to an estimated audience of 20,000. The success of the course inspired the psychology department to conduct a two-year research project on the effectiveness of teaching through television. They found this exciting new medium to be at least as effective—and in some cases, more effective—than teaching in a traditional classroom setting.
The University of Houston subsequently became sole licensee, making full use of KUHT's resources as an educational television station to teach college courses over its airwaves. The station was so successful that other states used it as the model from which to develop their own educational television networks. Jack McBride, who was developing a plan for educational television at the University of Nebraska, visited America's first public television station in Houston. "There was a buoyant spirit about it," he said. "They knew they were pioneering something. They were operating in makeshift quarters and had far too little space, but it didn't matter. They were producing programs and sending pictures out and they were on to something and they knew it!"
Each semester from fall 1953 through spring 1955, the station offered eight or nine courses for college credit. The live telecasts ran from 13 to 15 hours each week, making up about 38 percent of the program schedule. Most courses aired at night so that students who worked during the day could watch them.
Film and Live Forums
The station became equally adept at producing enrichment and entertainment programming. The staff experimented with various formats for news, information, sports, music, art, and drama. Programs ranged from talk magazine formats like Its Five, Open House, and Its Happening in Houston to the game show Who Am l? and even live presentations by University of Houston drama students.
One of the earliest and perhaps most unlikely programming successes was the live broadcast of one of the Houston Independent School District board meetings each month. The board president predicted that board members would act, as usual, "like ladies and gentlemen," but board chambers were filled with cheering and booing spectators who created dissension among conservative and liberal board members. Board meetings grew louder and longer—and attracted more than 100,000 viewers. Public opinion about the programs ranged from "they furnish more comedy than Milton Berle" to "the best programs on the air."
Not every program aired live. The film unit played an important part in the station's early days. The airing of nationally and locally produced films gave staff enough time to rearrange sets in the studio for the next live program. When The Ford Foundation made grant money available for educational stations to purchase kinescope equipment, KUHT used the funds to buy additional film equipment.
By January 1954, local film productions began to air nationally and gained a national reputation for excellence. Among the first series designed for national distribution were People Are Taught To Be Different, a 12-part series that explored anthropological theory through interpretive dance at Texas Southern University, and Doctors in Space, a 13-part look at aviation medicine centered around the School of Aviation Medicine at San Antonio's Randolph Air Force Base.
As the station grew, the idea of a Texas Television Center began to take hold. When forming KUHT, Dr. Kemmerer envisioned that virtually all major Houston television stations would eventually be located on the University of Houston campus. This would provide a home for Channel 8, income for the university from leasing space to other stations, and a wealth of resources for communication students. The first interested station, KNUZ/Channel 39, moved into the center at 4513 Cullen Boulevard. Within a year, KNUZ ceased broadcasting and sold its equipment to KTRK/Channel 13, the second station to move into the center. But in 1961, KTRK moved to a new location, and the dream of a commercial and educational Texas Television Center died. The space was leased to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) for computer operations for about a year. When NASA moved out, KUHT moved in from its cramped quarters in the Ezekiel Cullen Building. That group of buildings constructed in the mid-1950s became the exclusive home for the television station for the next 30 years.
Studios versus Classrooms
Times had begun to change, as did the leadership of both the station and the university. Within KUHT's first seven years, management of the station had been passed down the line from Schwarzwalder to Professor Paul Owen, to Dr. John Meany, and finally to station manager Roy E. Barthold and to James Bauer.
In 1957, Dr. Phillip Hoffman, the University of Houston vice president and dean of faculties, delivered a televised address that enumerated the station's main programming responsibilities. In his opinion, they were to serve "the public interest, convenience, and necessity" and to apply television to solve the "most crucial problems of formal education." He upheld the contention that educational television could supplement a shortage of teachers and classroom space for the growing number of students who wanted a college education. By the mid-1960s, with about one-third of the station's programming devoted to education, more than 100,000 semester hours had been taught on Channel 8.
Hoffman was elevated to the presidency of the university in April of 1962. Described as a man of vision, his greatest desire was to expand the university's physical plant. He embarked on a remarkable program of new building construction for the campus. The process was hastened even more by state funding in 1963, when the Texas Legislature passed a bill changing the status of the University of Houston from a private entity to a state supported system of higher education.
With the new abundance of buildings and classrooms, television was no longer a necessary ingredient in the educational process. Faculty and students began advocating a return to the intimacy of the classroom experience. To ensure its survival, KUHT would have to attract new audiences and new sources of funding.
New Spirit, New Audiences
By 1964, the station was housed in expanded quarters, and its spirit was rejuvenated. KUHT film operations began producing features like H.L. Hunt: The Richest and The Rightest for distribution nationally through NET, the educational television network whose New York facilities would later become home to public television station WNET. These features showcased the Houston perspective on topics such as the "new morality," prayer in public schools, and drugs on college campuses.
By 1968, the KUHT program schedule expanded from five to six days a week, opening the door for more live discussion series and specials. Critical Issue was an explosive monthly forum with candid exchanges between local experts in the studio and viewers via telephone calls. The Arts in Houston featured interviews with local and national celebrities in music, theater, and fine arts.The Way It Is taught economic survival skills to low-income families, pioneering the forum of live town meetings, still utilized today on Channel 8. The Heartmakers, a special produced for NET, showcased recent developments in artificial and mechanical hearts and featured world-famous Houston heart surgeons Denton Cooley and Michael DeBakey.
With this expansion of general interest programming, KUHT began to fulfill its goal of reaching a broader audience. But to fully meet its goal, the station had to utilize burgeoning technology—and figure out a way to pay for it. There were sporadic attempts made at raising funds during the 60s, including direct solicitations for viewer support as early as 1962—but no major effort had materialized.
Changing with the Times
By 1965, Channel 8 desperately needed to replace its outdated transmitter. Viewers everywhere needed properly tuned antennas to receive the signal, and in growing neighborhoods like southwest Houston, the signal was being obstructed by trees and tall buildings. KHOU/Channel 11 came to the rescue. When they moved from their transmitter site in Alvin, about ten miles south of the University of Houston campus, Channel 11 owners made a substantial gift of the tower, antenna, 18 acres of land, and the transmitter building, valued at around $280,000, to Channel 8.
This gift increased KUHT's range from 25 miles to 80 miles, giving Galveston and the upper Texas east coast equal access to Channel 8 programming. This boost made KUHT a powerful regional station. By October of 1965, the station's potential audience had grown from 1.5 to 2.3 million viewers.
In 1967, the Gulf Coast was ready for color. Gaylord Broadcasting's KHTV/ Channel 39 became the city's first all-color UHF station, broadcasting The Game of the Century between the UH Cougars and the UCLA Bruins in color.
Within two years, NET's national programs such as Sound of Summer, Net Journal, Net Playhouse, and Spectrumaired in color on Channel 8. By 1969, the station had the capability to transmit color programs, but lacked the equipment to produce any local programs in color. The only exception on Channel 8 was News on Campus, produced by University of Houston students and videotaped on color equipment at the Channel 39 studio. Numerous grants and gifts finally enabled the station to buy color production equipment, and Channel 8 began to produce color programs locally in 1970, starting with Talk Point: Houston Reaction.
Back to the Chalkboard
To get some of the additional funding it needed, the station capitalized on one of its earliest strengths, instructional television. But this time around, other education systems were suffering from growing pains, just as the University of Houston once did. A group of primary and secondary school districts formed a self-governing organization, operated under the authority of participating districts, to produce the needed programs.
The Gulf Region Educational Television Affiliates (GRETA) was responsible for producing eight series for a total of 105 programs in its first year of operation. GRETA was led by Dorothy Sinclair, who held a master's degree from the University of Houston and had participated since its beginning in KUHT programming that involved HISD. By 1968, GRETA was serving more than 460,000 students through a full daily Channel 8 program schedule that aired from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
A Decade and a Half
As Channel 8 celebrated its 15th birthday, the station had the technical resources to guide it into the future. KUHT was in comfortable quarters, had a new transmitter, and was ready to begin broadcasting in color. Channel 8's daytime schedule was filled with revenue-producing instructional courses, and the station's nighttime schedule was rich with local and national information, cultural, and entertainment programs. As the city of Houston itself prepared for its boom years of commercial and residential expansion, Channel 8 was prepared for its own boom years, when it would become a regional force in producing quality programming.
A Nation Embraces Public Broadcasting
Stations in other cities were airing fewer instructional programs and more programs than commercial stations could not or would not air, positioning themselves as a true "alternative service." They offered viewers quality programs that catered to children and other special interest groups, or that were controversial or experimental. But the big question remained: Who would pay for these services and programs?
In 1967, the Carnegie Commission, established two years earlier by The Carnegie Foundation, published its long-awaited report, Public Television: A Program for Action. The report acknowledged educational television's strengths: instruction for classroom students and programs for the general community, inspiring the first use of the phrase "public television."
Among its recommendations were to form the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) to receive and disburse private and government funds to support production at national centers and local stations and to stimulate personnel recruitment and training. Based on these recommendations, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed in November the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967. CPB was established with a $25-million endowment drive led by a $1 million gift from the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS).
Since CPB was prohibited from producing programs, the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) was formed in 1969 to oversee the allocation of funds to local public broadcasting stations for program production. Merging foundation and government support, PBS took over the national program distribution function previously handled by NET.
While PBS officials still wanted to serve small and diverse audiences, they also wanted to develop blockbuster programs that would appeal to large audiences and compete in the ratings, such as Julia Child's The French Chef. A number of public affairs programs proliferated, including William F. Buckley's Firing Line, The Advocates, Black Journal and The Great American Dream Machine.
After more than a year in development, Sesame Street premiered in November of 1969. The mission of this groundbreaking $8-million series, produced by Children's Television Workshop, was to help “bridge the intellectual gap between the disadvantaged and middle-class child." It was soon supplemented by The Electric Company, which used similar techniques to teach spelling, math, and language skills to grade-school students.
By the 1970s, PBS had begun producing even more popular series, several of which are still successful today. Viewers were informed through such series as World Press, Book Beat, Wall Street Week, The Black Frontier,Nova, and Our Vanishing Wilderness. Included was Washington Week in Review, created and first moderated by journalist John Davenport. He moved on to Houston to work in commercial television, and subsequently joined KUHT, where he produced feature stories and hosted numerous series. The dramatic series The Forsythe Sagawas so popular that it blossomed into today's Masterpiece Theatre. Two performing arts series, Austin City Limitsand Great Performances entertained America. PBS also began broadcasting its in-depth nightly news program,The MacNeil/Lehrer Report, which became the nation's first hour-long news program in the 1980s.
ACTion Speaks Louder Then Words
KUHT aired GRETA instructional programs during the day, and as many national programs in the evenings as it could afford. Once free, the fees to air national programs were high. To complete its schedule, Channel 8 produced a number of low-budget local discussion series with an in-house crew and-simple sets. They usually consisted of only host-producer and guests. But even these programs had inescapable production costs.
Again and again, the issue of raising funds was foremost in the minds of everyone at KUHT. Finally, in the fall of 1966, the station kicked off “I Luv Channel 8 Week," its first organized fundraiser. Houston viewers were asked to contribute $10 that year for the first time to support their public television station.
One of CPB's first projects in 1967 was to allocate $10,000 in seed money to each local station to use at its own discretion. KUHT used its grant to put together a board of people concerned about public television, later to become the Association for Community Television (ACT). This group enlisted the aid of a cross-section of influential citizens who immediately began to organize a membership drive for the coming March.
The money that these membership drives brought in, with the assistance of the ACT board, helped the station to grow. The ACT funds enabled the station to receive additional federal grants, and together enabled the purchase of a remote truck. The new equipment made possible programs like The Bayou City and Thereabouts People Show a traveling showcase of pleasures and pastimes found in and around the Texas Gulf Coast, and a host of others including Talk Point, Viewpoint, and Assignment Houston.
ACT went on to utilize the teleauction, a concept that had been used successfully in San Francisco. The station solicited gifts ranging from merchandise to professional services and dinners, and auctioned them off to viewers over the air. Under the guidance of chairwoman Marty Levine and the leadership of James L. Bauer, the former head of Channel 8 film production who had just been named station manager, the first KUHT teleauction was launched in 1971. The station raised $107,000 that year, and began to enroll a membership base that would continue to provide support to the station.
Cause for Celebration
By 1978, KUHT was reaching a cumulative audience of 300,000 households and was ranked' fourteenth in the nation among 270 public television stations. It was time to celebrate.
Channel 8 celebrated its Silver Anniversary in an evening of glitter and glamour at Houston's Museum of Fine Arts on May 25, 1978. The crowd of 370 was entertained by PBS talk show host Dick Cavett and jazz vocalist Ella Fitzgerald. Viewers at home were treated to a retrospective televised collage of the station's work from its first quarter-century, along with greetings and salutations from local and national celebrities. The gala ended with a live television production The 25th and AII That... From Cowtown to Countdown and Beyond, which showcased the accomplishments of the Bayou City and its public television station.
Diversity and Development
By tuning in even closer to the needs of the community and by utilizing new technology, Channel 8 spent the 1980s pioneering and perfecting an array of broadcast services and programs for viewers. The station's diligence paid off in the satisfaction that came from providing a number of firsts among local television stations and ultimately led to television’s highest honor, a national Emmy Award for excellence.
As it had many times throughout its history, KUHT sought the guidance of a Community Advisory Board at the beginning of the 1980s. Made up of leading citizens, broadcasters, and people linked with the university, the board suggested that the station provide even more local productions that would reflect the diversity of the interests found along the Texas Gulf Coast.
The station rose to the challenge with more local cultural and public affairs programs and documentaries than ever before. Weekly series were developed for specific audience segments. Interchange and Porter & Company focused on the black community, and La Voz Latina and New Visions/Nuevas Visions addressed issues of concern to Hispanics. Signing with Cindy, which became a national success, offered instruction in sign language. The new schedule included the information series How To Be a Financially Secure Woman, Lawyer to Layman, and Dollars and Sense.
Channel 8 documentaries covered an array of issues. The station offered a replay of producer Robert Cozens' 1978 Elissa, a film about Galveston's turn-of-the-century sailing vessel. Cozens produced new work such as Armand Bayou: An Urban Wilderness, which told the story of Houston's bayou, and Pas de Deux: A Dance of Two Countries, which offered training for ballet. Filmmaker Paul Yeager's The Big Thicket: A Crossroads in the Texas Forestinterviewed humorist John Henry Faulk.
Originally telecast on February 26, 1985, Child at Risk, written and produced by Houston Chronicle reporter Dan Grothaus, explored the roots of sexual abuse and the exploitation of young children. This groundbreaking public television program was awarded a national Emmy in 1985 for Best Community Service Program by the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.
By the mid-l980s, GRETA was disbanded—and the revenues disappeared from the programming GRETA commissioned. ACT continued to try to boost community support through membership drives and direct-mail campaigns. The money the ACT board raised had become critical to the station, ensuring its survival. Teleauctions became broader in scope and began to include major vacations, objects of art, and even newly built homes. Live Quiet Drives were introduced on KUHT, utilizing a series of short taped messages rather than long on-air appeals to encourage new memberships and renewals. By the 1990s, KUHT’s membership base had grown to about 6O,OOO out of a potential 850,000 homes.
Though successful for 20 years, Channel 8's teleauctions required 80 to 100 hours of airtime and the efforts of up to 1,500 volunteers each year to solicit, present, and distribute auction items. The increase of women in the workforce made it increasingly difficult to recruit volunteers in such numbers. So, in 1991, the teleauctions were replaced with Spotlight Showcases. Another format developed at KUHT that has created interest among other PBS stations, this innovative format presents major items up for bid in the monthly program guide and in short prerecorded spots that air between programs without interrupting them.
State of the Art
During the 1980s, virtually all of the station's equipment had to be replaced. The list included digital audio for TV and FM enabling Channel 8 to broadcast off the satellite in stereo; portable cameras; an in-house computer system; and state-of-the-art studio cameras and videotape machines. In 1981, the Federal Aviation Administration approved construction of a 2,000-foot tower located near Missouri City. The most significant technological advance in the station's history, the "tall towers" project went into operation in 1983. With financial support from partners KTRK/Channel 13 and KRIV/Channel 26, these shared facilities vastly improved reception and expanded Channel 8's coverage area to an additional 2,868 square miles and to almost an additional 100,000 people.
In May 1985, KUHT was the first Houston station to offer programs in high-fidelity stereo. This major change, the most significant-since color, greatly improved the quality and dynamic range of the station's audio signal. Six years later in May of 1991, Channel 8 offered another first for viewers with stereo television sets and VCRs—descriptive video services (DVS) and bilingual services through separate audio program (SAP) technology. Just as closed captioning made television accessible to millions of hearing impaired people, DVS offers a sound track with verbal descriptions of visual scenes for the visually impaired. SAP now offers bilingual capabilities for various programs, as in its debut on Channel 8 with simultaneous Spanish translation of The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour.
In October of 1992, KUHT began using its SAP channel to deliver Houston Taping for the Blind's radio reading service. Recorded by volunteers, the service offers audio renditions of newspapers like the Houston Chronicle,Wall Street Journal, and the New York Times; magazines like People, Harper's, Time, and Newsweek and a potpourri of books, poetry, and other programs with topics of special interest. Once available only through a specially tuned radio receiver, this service is now available to more than 40,000 people in the Channel 8 viewing area who are unable to read for themselves.
The Pioneer Spirit Continues
James L. Bauer retired as general manager in the spring of 1992. He was the last remaining pioneer staff member from the station's early days in the 1950s. It has been said of KUHT's former managers that John Schwarzwalder was a dynamic politician who organized the operation, Paul Owen brought high standards of employee professionalism, John Meany defined and developed a base of quality programming, and Roy Barthold was a survivor in tough times. Perhaps most important, James Bauer developed a sense of family and community spirit guided by a sound fiscal policy. He kept KUHT operating in the black during his 36 years of leadership, even during the years when the Houston economy suffered, and times when other stations around the country were forced to cut back operations and personnel.
Jeff Clarke picked up the torch in 1992 as chief executive officer and general manager. He joined the station as executive director of programming in May 1990. Prior to joining HoustonPBS, Clarke, an award-winning producer, served as associate director of television and acting development director for Wisconsin Public Television, a six-station public television network headquartered in Madison. In April, 2002, Clarke accepted the position of president and CEO of PBS station KQED-TV in San Francisco.
Station manager John Hesse succeeded Jeff Clarke as general manager at HoustonPBS. When Hesse arrived at HoustonPBS in 1997, he was in charge of programming, production, communications, development, and community education and outreach at KUHT. He has been instrumental in the development and management of local, regional, national and international production efforts for PBS and LARK International. He had direct oversight of the Emmy Award-winning WeekDay and national programs that include Mary Lou's Flip Flop Shop, To Heal a Heart, Space Station, and The Houston Symphony: A Maestro's Farewell, The Wall: A World Divided and After The Wall: A World United. Previously, Hesse was general manager of WLJT-TV in Martin, Tennessee. During his four years there he successfully headed up that station's "rebirth," substantially boosting both membership and revenue.
A New Building and High Hopes for the Future
The November 2000 grand opening of the LeRoy and Lucile Melcher Center for Public Broadcasting marked the end of our decade-long search for a new home and signaled a new era of possibilities for public broadcasting in Houston. It also served as a tribute to what philanthropic giving can accomplish in one community.
Funded entirely by private contributions, the $12 million, 65,000-square-foot facility houses two television studios – the Rebecca and John Moores Studio (A) and the John and Vivian Smith Foundation Studio (B) -- with state-of-the-art capabilities and the latest equipment for digital television, which we’re now broadcasting on KUHT-DT. The new center brought KUHT and KUHF together under the same roof for the first time in 35 years, opening the door on a TV-radio partnership that will ultimately result in a richer array of services to the community, including online webcasting.
It’s also home to Channel 8’s Peggy Shiffick Lifelong Learning Center, which serves as a community-gathering place for educational and outreach programs for people of all ages. And the location of the UH Center for Public Policy’s Research Polling Facility in the Melcher Center provides KUHT and KUHF with opportunities to conduct telephone research.
Our first sign-on from the Melcher Center preceded the grand opening by three months, on the morning of August 21, 2000. It took more than 3,000 work-hours to prepare the new facility, move the equipment, and install the production and editing suites before that initial broadcast took place.
Our heartfelt thanks go to Lucile Melcher and LeRoy Melcher, John and Rebecca Moores, Rollie McGinnis and the Association for Community Television, and the many Gulf Coast-area foundations, corporations, and friends of KUHT who have made our new home possible.
State of the Art Then... and Now with Digital Channels
In May of 1953, the University of Houston launched the world’s first educational television station. Almost 50 years later in 2001, HoustonPBS carried its founders’ vision of innovation forward by moving beyond analog TV into the digital broadcast spectrum.
HoustonPBS’s move to the new Melcher Center meant more than expanded space for our 100 employees, who for years had been cramped in quarters originally designed for 35. It gave us the opportunity to outfit a facility from the ground up with the latest digital equipment.
For our viewers, the new equipment means even more first-class programming and a stronger signal that translates to a cleaner picture, clearer reception, better sound, and no fade-in or fade-out. It provides opportunities for time-shifting of programming and enhanced delivery of community information and education.
HoustonPBS’ first high definition program, The Houston Symphony: A Maestro’s Farewell, aired nationwide over PBS in 1999. In 2001, production of the national PBS series Mary Lou’s Flip Flop Shop, featuring Houstonian and U.S. Olympic Gold medallist Mary Lou Retton, was accomplished using HDTV cameras and equipment.
HoustonPBS is involved with many productions that have aired regionally and nationally, such as To Heal A Heart; Mary Lou's Flip Flop Shop; Space Station; Laser Vision; Brother, Can You Spare a Billion? The Story of Jesse H. Jones; The Wall: A World Divided and After The Wall: A World United. Our series Houston Remember When preserves the nostalgic history of the Bayou City, recording the recollections of local residents who have witnessed everything from the heyday of the downtown movie theaters to riding ponies at Kiddie Wonderland. To find out more about these programs, visit our Local Productions section on this website.
The Next Decade: Learn More, See More, Do More
Imagine a world in which you can learn more… and more… and more; just by clicking on your television screen while you watch. That single click will give you in-depth information on a topic of interest, or allow you to store the information and retrieve it for future reference.
Welcome to the world of digitally enhanced content. It’s almost here. Within the next decade, you’ll have access to richer programming with even more depth and substance, thanks to increased interactivity. We’ll continue to provide educational content on multiple platforms wherever there is a need to be filled.
The Next 50 Years
Since 1953, Channel 8 has built a solid legacy of firsts and won numerous awards for innovative local programming. We owe our accomplishments to the generosity of countless dedicated viewers, local foundations, local businesses, and philanthropists whose monetary gifts have made our success possible. With just 15 percent of our funds awarded by the federal government through the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, these generous gifts take on added significance.
We’ve come a long way since 1953, when Commissioner Hennock delivered her rousing speech at the dedication ceremonies for KUHT, the nation’s first public television station. As Houston has grown, so has the mission of HoustonPBS. In a bustling world of freeways, space travel, international business, and ultra-modern medicine, we’re opening new roads of understanding, bridging cultural gaps, and transporting viewers on imaginative journeys that enlighten the mind and enrich the soul.