Radio-TV Broadcast History

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PBS logo
TypeBroadcast television network
CountryUnited States
AvailabilityUnited States and parts of Canada, Mexico, and Jamaica. Seen overseas through local cable providers.
FoundedNovember 3 1969
OwnerCollectively owned by local stations
Launch dateOctober 5, 1970
Former namesNET (1952-1970)

The Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) is a non-profit public broadcasting television service with 354 member TV stations in the United States, with some member stations available over the air and by cable in Canada. While the term "broadcasting" encompasses both radio and television, PBS only covers TV; public radio in the United States is served by National Public Radio and other content providers.

PBS is the most prominent provider of programming to U.S. public television stations, distributing acclaimed series such as The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, Masterpiece, and Frontline. Since the mid-2000s, Roper polls commissioned by PBS have consistently placed the service as America's most trusted national institution.[1] However, PBS is not responsible for all programming carried on public TV stations; in fact, stations usually receive a large portion of their content (including most pledge drive specials) from third-party sources, such as American Public Television, NETA, and independent producers. This distinction is a frequent source of viewer confusion.[2]

PBS is a non-profit, private corporation which is owned collectively by its member stations.[3] However, its operations are largely funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Its headquarters are in Arlington, Virginia.


File:PBS 1971 id.png

PBS logo (1971-1984)

PBS was founded on November 3 1969,[4] at which time it took over many of the functions of its predecessor, National Educational Television (NET) (which merged with station WNDT Newark, New Jersey to form WNET). It commenced broadcasting on Monday, October 5, 1970. In 1973, it merged with Educational Television Stations.

Unlike the model of America's commercial television networks, in which affiliates give up portions of their local advertising airtime in exchange for network programming, PBS member stations pay substantial fees for the shows acquired and distributed by the national organization.

This relationship means that PBS member stations have greater latitude in local scheduling than their commercial counterparts. Scheduling of PBS-distributed series may vary greatly from market to market. This can be a source of tension as stations seek to preserve their localism and PBS strives to market a consistent national line-up. However, PBS has a policy of "common carriage" requiring most stations to clear the national prime time programs on a common schedule, so that they can be more effectively marketed on a national basis. This setup is in many ways similar to the pre-2002 British ITV system of having some "networked" programs shown nationwide on all network contractors, and the remainder of scheduling being up to individual affiliates.

Unlike its radio counterpart, National Public Radio, PBS has no central program production arm or news department. All of the programming carried by PBS, whether news, documentary, or entertainment, is created by (or in most cases produced under contract with) other parties, such as individual member stations. WGBH in Boston is one of the largest producers of educational programming. News programs are produced by WETA-TV in Washington, D.C., WNET in New York and WPBT in Miami. The Charlie Rose interview show, Secrets of the Dead, NOW, Nature, Cyberchase, and The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer come from or through WNET in New York. Once a program is offered to and accepted by PBS for distribution, PBS (and not the member station that supplied the program) retains exclusive rights for rebroadcasts during the period for which such rights were granted; the suppliers do maintain the right to sell the program in non-broadcast media such as DVDs, books, and sometimes PBS licensed merchandise (but sometimes grant such ancillary rights as well to PBS).

PBS stations are commonly operated by non-profit organizations, state agencies, local authorities (e.g., municipal boards of education), or universities in their community of license. In some states, PBS stations throughout the entire state may be organized into a single regional "subnetwork" (e.g., Alabama Public Television). Unlike Canada's CBC/SRC, PBS does not own any of the stations that broadcast its programming. This is partly due to the origins of the PBS stations themselves, and partly due to historical license issues.

In the modern broadcast marketplace, this organizational structure is considered outmoded by some media critics. A common restructuring proposal is to reorganize the network so that each state would have one PBS affiliate which would broadcast state-wide. However, this proposal is controversial, as it would reduce local community input into PBS programming, especially considering how PBS stations are significantly more community-oriented, according to the argument, than their commercial counterparts.

Viewers Like You

The phrase "Viewers Like You" is used by the U.S. Public Broadcasting Service to indicate gratitude to its viewer contributors. It appears at the start and end of all PBS television programs as part of their underwriting credits.

Prior to 1988, donations by viewers of PBS members were recognised with the phrase "this station and other public television stations" or simply "public television stations" during the funding announcements in many programs.

On July 1, 1988, PBS standardized this announcement to:

This program was made possible by the financial support of viewers like you.

This would be accompanied by one of two wordings: "public television viewers" or "viewers like you".

On October 4, 1993, this announcement was slightly changed to:

This program was made possible by the annual financial support of viewers like you.


This program was made possible by the annual financial support from viewers like you.

This would be accompanied by an on-screen slide with the words "Viewers Like You". In some cases the final portion was shortened to "...and by viewers like you." The "Viewers Like You" statement was usually, but not necessarily always, the last part of this announcement, usually preceded by a reference to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting ("a private corporation funded by the American people") and to one or more other foundations or corporate sponsors. This version may still be occasionally seen today on programs originally produced prior to 1999.

Since November 1, 1999, the PBS underwriting guidelines have required this announcement to follow the form:

This program was made possible by contributions to your PBS station from viewers like you. Thank you.

Under this new policy, the "Viewers Like You" slide was now required to be followed by another slide reading "Thank You", both now coming at the very end of the underwriter credits. The specific reasons for this new addition are unknown.

PBS usually produces its own versions of the "Viewers Like You" element, often reflecting the system's most recent brand image, although producers are under no obligation to use this version.

There has been an exception with Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, where Fred Rogers has worded the announcement differently as in, for example: The people who give the money to make Mister Rogers' Neighborhood are the people who contribute to this and other public television stations, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (and/or The Sears-Roebuck Foundation). This series never used the "Viewers Like You" phrase, but added "We Thank You" on episodes after 2000. Also, 1991–1998 episodes of Sesame Street used the announcement "Funding for this program is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting... and by public television stations and their contributors." Also, on pre-1992 episodes, "viewers like you" is not used, CTW instead opting to use "public television stations" as they had done in the past.

On Wishbone, today, they still use the " Funding for Wishbone has been made possible in part by the annual financial support of PBS Viewers Like You".

Some programs, such as Learn to Read, do not get funding from the stations or "Viewers Like You", only receiving funds from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and/or other donors.



PBS' evening schedule emphasizes areas including:

  • Fine arts (Great Performances, Live from the Met, Live from Lincoln Center, and Evening at Pops)
  • Drama (Mystery!, American Playhouse, and Masterpiece Theatre)
  • Science (Nova and Scientific American Frontiers)
  • History (American Experience)
  • Public affairs (Frontline, NOW, The Newshour with Jim Lehrer, Nightly Business Report)
  • Independent films (P.O.V., and Independent Lens)

PBS (as PBS Kids) has distributed a number of highly regarded children's shows such as:

  • Arthur
  • Sesame Street
  • The Electric Company
  • Villa Alegre
  • ZOOM
  • 3-2-1 Contact
  • Barney & Friends
  • Shining Time Station
  • Dragon Tales
  • Reading Rainbow
  • Mister Rogers' Neighborhood
  • Puzzle Place
  • VeggieTales: The Star of Christmas

PBS Kids has also imported British children's series (for example, Tots TV, Teletubbies, Boohbah, and Thomas the Tank Engine), as well as children's shows from Canada (i.e., The Big Comfy Couch, Theodore Tugboat, Wimzie's House and Polka Dot Door). On June 4, 2007, their first imported Australian children's TV series debuted on PBS-- Raggs. Some of the programs subsequently moved to commercial television (for example, Ghostwriter, and The Magic School Bus).

However, PBS is not the only distributor of public television programming to the member stations. Other distributors have emerged from the roots of the old companies that had loosely held regional public television stations in the 1960s. Boston-based American Public Television (former names include Eastern Educational Network and American Program Service) is second only to PBS for distributing programs to U.S. non-commercial stations. Another distributor is NETA (formerly SECA), whose properties have included The Shapies and Jerry Yarnell School of Fine Art. In addition, the member stations themselves also produce a variety of local shows, some of which subsequently receive national distribution through PBS or the other distributors.

PBS stations are known for rebroadcasting British television costume dramas and comedies (acquired from the BBC and other sources); consequently, it has been joked that PBS means "Primarily British Series". However, a significant amount of sharing takes place. The BBC and other media outlets in the region such as Channel 4 often cooperate with PBS stations, producing material that is shown on both sides of the Atlantic. Although less frequently, Canadian, Australian, and other international programming appears on PBS stations (such as The Red Green Show, currently distributed by syndicator Executive Program Services); the public-broadcasting syndicators are more likely to offer this programming to the U.S. public stations. It also uses the new slogan "On" then the station name.

Stations that have produced PBS-distributed programming include:

  • WKNO-TV 10 Memphis, TN
  • WGBH 2 Boston, MA
  • WNET 13 Newark, New Jersey/New York, NY
  • WNED 17/43 Buffalo, NY
  • WNJN 23 Newark, New Jersey/Montclair, NJ
  • WLIW 21 Long Island/New York, NY
  • Oregon Public Broadcasting
  • WETA-TV 26 Washington, DC
  • KCET 28 Los Angeles, CA
  • WQED 13/38 Pittsburgh, PA
  • WPBT 2/18 Miami, FL/Ft. Lauderdale, FL
  • WEDU 3 Tampa, FL
  • WMFE 24 Orlando, FL
  • WCEU 15 Daytona Beach, FL
  • KQED 9 San Francisco, CA
  • WHYY 12 Wilmington, DE/Philadelphia, PA
  • WTTW 11 Chicago, IL
  • WFYI 20 Indianapolis, IN
  • WTVS 56 Detroit, MI
  • KAMU 15 College Station, TX
  • KBTC 12/27/28 Tacoma, WA
  • KERA 13 Dallas/Ft. Worth, TX
  • KLRU 18 Austin, TX
  • KMBH 60 Harlingen, TX
  • KUAT 6 Tucson, AZ
  • KUHT 8 Houston, TX
  • KCTS 9/41 Seattle, WA
  • KVCR 24 San Bernardino, CA
  • KPBS 11/15 San Diego, CA
  • KPTS 8 Wichita/Hutchinson, Kansas
  • KETS 2 Little Rock, Arkansas
  • Nebraska Educational Telecommunications
  • Oklahoma Educational Television Authority-Lawrence Welk Show
  • WCET 48 Cincinnati, OH
  • Kentucky Educational Television (KET) is the largest member broadcaster in the country (geographically) with 16 stations servicing all of Kentucky, and parts of Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, Ohio, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia.
  • WUFT 5 Gainesville, FL
  • WGTE-TV 30 Toledo, OH
  • WMVS 10/WMVT 36 Milwaukee, WI
  • WHA-TV 21 Madison, Wisconsin
  • Connecticut Public Television, based in Connecticut
  • WQLN, based in Erie, Pennsylvania
  • WPTD and WPTO based in Dayton, Ohio
  • Mississippi Public Broadcasting
  • WITF 33 Harrisburg, Pennsylvania

See article: List of programs broadcast by Public Broadcasting Service

Criticism and controversy

PBS has been the subject of some controversy.

  • Federal and State Funding: Historically, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting has received 15% to 20% of its annual operating revenue from Federal sources and 25% to 29% from State and local taxes.[5] This has caused ongoing controversy and debate since the CPB was created on November 7, 1967 when U.S. president Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967.
  • Public Need: PBS was founded to provide diversity in programming at a time when all television was broadcast over the public airwaves by only 3 privately-owned national networks (as opposed to today's private cable or satellite delivery services with a multitude of programming sources). There is debate as to whether or not the PBS system has outlived its public necessity.[6] Public television proponents maintain that the original mandate to provide universal access, particularly to rural viewers and those who cannot afford to pay for the private television services, remains vital. In addition, they argue that that PBS provides some types of critical programming which would not be shown at all on the commercial networks and channels, including extensive educational children's programming, scientific exposition, in-depth documentaries and investigative journalism.
  • On The Air Fundraising: Since 53% to 60% of public television's revenues come from private membership donations and grants [7], most stations solicit individual donations by methods including pledge drives or telethons which can disrupt regularly scheduled programming. Some viewers find this a source of annoyance since normal programming is often replaced with specials aimed at a wider audience to solicit new members and donations[8]. This has been parodied many times on other television shows such as The Simpsons (see Missionary: Impossible).

Political/ideological bias

  • The Public Broadcasting Act of 1967 [1] required a "strict adherence to objectivity and balance in all programs or series of programs of a controversial nature". It also prohibited the federal government from interfering or controlling what is broadcast. This set up an obvious tension where the government that created the CPB would not be able to do anything about a perceived failure to meet its obligation for objectivity without interfering in some way.
  • At a more basic and problematic level is how and who should determine what constitutes objectivity and balance when there are massive disagreements over what that would be. There seems to be no consensus or even attempts at forming a consensus to resolve this dilemma.
  • Many viewers perceive it to have a liberal bias and criticize its tax-based revenue and have periodically but unsuccessfully attempted to discontinue funding of CPB. Although state and federal sources account for less than 50% of public television funding [9], the system remains vulnerable to political pressure. Kenneth Tomlinson, former chairman of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting who resigned amid controversy, in November 2005 in Baltimore, told PBS officials, "They should make sure their programming better reflected the Republican mandate." Tomlinson later said that his comment was in jest and that he could not imagine how remarks at a fun occasion were taken the wrong way. A report whose results were publicized in November 2005 sharply criticized Tomlinson for the way he used CPB resources to "go after" this perceived liberal bias. [2]
  • Individual programs have been the targets of organized campaigns by those with opposing views including United States Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings.[10]
  • Kenneth Tomlinson, who took over at CPB in 2003, began his tenure by asking for Karl Rove's assistance in overturning a regulation that half the CPB board have practical experience in radio or television. Later he appointed an outside consultant to monitor the regular PBS program NOW with Bill Moyers. Told that the show had "liberal" leanings, Moyers eventually resigned in 2005 after more than three decades as a PBS regular, citing political pressure to alter the content of his program [11] and saying Tomlinson had mounted a "vendetta" against him. (Moyers eventually returned.) Subsequently, PBS made room for conservative commentator Tucker Carlson (formerly of MSNBC and co-host of CNN's Crossfire), and Journal Editorial Report with Paul Gigot, an editor of the Wall Street Journal editorial page (this show has since moved to FOX News Channel). On 3 November 2005 CPB announced the resignation of Tomlinson amid investigations of improper financial dealings with consultants.[12]

PBS networks

Network Notes
PBS YOU began 1998; ended January, 2006
PBS KIDS began October 1, 1993
PBS KIDS Sprout began September 26, 2005
PBS World began in 2006; nationwide launch August 15, 2007
PBS-DT2 HDTV feed to member stations
PBS-X 24-hour alternate network that provides a mixed variety of programming selected from PBS's regular network service
PBS-XD created for carriage on packaged satellite providers

PBS has also spun off a number of TV networks, often in partnership with other media companies: PBS YOU (ended January 2006, and largely succeeded by American Public Television's Create), PBS KIDS (ended 1 October 2005), PBS KIDS Sprout, PBS World (commenced 15 August 2007), and PBS-DT2 (a feed of HDTV and letterboxed programming for digitally equipped member stations), along with packages of PBS programs that are similar to local stations' programming, the PBS-X feeds. PBS Kids Go! was promised for October 2006, but PBS announced in July that they would not be going forward with it as an independent network feed (as opposed to the pre-existing two-hour week daily block on PBS). (See List of United States over-the-air television networks and List of United States cable and satellite television networks.) Some or all are available on many digital cable systems, on free-to-air TV via communications satellites [3], as well as via DirecTV direct broadcast satellite. With the transition to terrestrial digital television broadcasts, many are also often now available as "multiplexed" channels on some local stations' standard-definition digital signals, while DT2 is found among the HD signals. PBS Kids announced that they will have an early-morning Miss Lori and Hooper block with four PBS Kids shows usually around 08:00 (school time, although kids this age usually do not go to school). With the absence of advertising, network identification on these PBS networks were limited to utilization at the end of the program, which includes the standard series of bumpers from the "Be More" campaign.

PBS Kids

See PBS Kids.

PBS Sports

Although PBS does not currently broadcast sports, the network has previously shown some sporting events.

During the 1970s and 1980's PBS was the leading American tennis broadcaster. [13] [14] Bud Collins and Donald Dell were PBS announcers. PBS was the first American network to regularly broadcast tennis tournaments.Template:Fact PBS also broadcast "Tennis for the Future," hosted by Vic Braden. [15]

In 1982, PBS and ESPN provided the first thorough American television coverage of the FIFA World Cup. PBS aired same day highlights of the top game of the day. Toby Charles was PBS' play by play announcer.

From 1984 to 1987, PBS broadcasted Ivy League football. Dick Galiette and Upton Bell called games for the first season and Marty Glickman and Bob Casciola called the games in 1985. In 1986, PBS increased its coverage and had two announcing teams, Brian Dowling and Sean McDonough, who had been the sideline reporter for the prior two seasons were the play by play announcers and Bob Casciola and Len Simonian were the color analysts. For the final season McDonough and Jack Corrigan were the game announcers and Mike Madden was the sideline reporter. [16] In 2008, PBS will air ten Ivy League football games. [17]

Another PBS Sports series was "The Sporting Life", an interview series hosted by Jim Palmer. [18] The Sporting Life premiered in 1985 and was canceled soon after.


Further reading

  • B. J. Bullert, Public Television: Politics and the Battle over Documentary Film, Rutgers Univ Press 1997
  • Barry Dornfeld, Producing Public Television, Producing Public Culture, Princeton University Press 1998
  • Ralph Engelman, Public Radio and Television in America: A Political History, Sage Publications 1996
  • James Ledbetter, Made Possible by: The Death of Public Broadcasting in the United States, Verso 1998

See also

  • Instructional television
  • List of DirecTV channels
  • List of Dish Network channels
  • List of PBS member stations
  • List of United States television networks
  • Lou Stewart, prominent labor leader and PBS board member
  • American Public Media
  • Public Radio International
  • National Public Radio
  • PBS idents
  • Television in the United States
  • Time signal

External links

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