It was sixty years ago this month that WQED went on the air as one of the nation’s first public television stations. The idea that a station did not run commercials, but instead relied on public donations, was revolutionary. Today, it’s hard to imagine life without public television. WQED gave viewers programs such as Mr. Rogers Neighborhood, Previn and the Pittsburgh, and The War That Made America.
WQED President and CEO Deborah Acklin said the start of WQED was made possible by non-commercial educational licenses, also known as NCE’s, being offered for the first time for television.
“For the first time, it was going to be a license that was owned by the community as opposed to owned by a school board or owned by a University or the other kind of models that were out there. There were only four, WQED was the fourth, there were only four stations on air when WQED went on the air. So everything was an experiment.”
The television station continued to view everything as an experiment as they developed more programs.
“I think probably the most distinctive and the most replicable to today, interestingly, was that in 1955 they started something called The School of the Air. And The School of the Air had half a million school kids enrolled for 30 cents each a year," said Acklin
"Every day at a particular time, the teacher would roll the great big television on a huge monitor stand into the classroom and every student who was enrolled into the School of the Air had the exact same lesson, only it was telecast from WQED studios.”
Despite the constant challenges that WQED faces in the modern media world, Acklin believes WQED still sets the pace for educational programming and the future is bright for the station.
Acklin is specifically looking forward to two programs coming up in the near future, Rick Sebak’s new, local documentary titled 17 Objects that Tell the History of Pittsburgh and an American Masters biography on August Wilson and his work.