AS KEET-TV ENTERS ITS 30TH YEAR of service to the community, I reflect back on our humble beginnings. During the 1960s, the dream of public television on the North Coast was just that a dream. But in 1969 that collective hope held by a small group of television pioneers became reality. And I believe our community has been a better, more enriching place to live ever since.
Thirty years ago Channel 13 operated on a shoestring budget. Its studios were makeshift ones located in a downtown Eureka garage and it was a daily struggle operating with unreliable and outdated equipment. Despite its severe challenges, both physical and financial, community-owned KEET-TV provided what no other television station could broadcasting the quality PBS programs we have all grown to respect.
One decade following its inception, it was the same wonderful educational programming that drew me to the station. I was hired as general manager in 1979 which makes this my 20th year at Channel 13. Coming from a commercial television career at both channels 3 and 6, I sat down for several evenings prior to accepting the offer to become the manager and was duly impressed with the programming schedule. So, the challenge for me began 20 years ago and continues today.
As we approach the 21st century, KEET-TV will embark on the new and almost unbelievable technological journey of digital television. This new technology will not only bring your community public television station into a new millennium. Digital television will also bring KEET to a new channel 11. DTV, as it is called, will allow us to better serve our mission as an educational institution. It will allow us to simulcast as many as four separate program services as well as deliver a number of interactive data services. This new meld of television and computer will be limited only by our imagination.
I want to thank each and every community member who has supported KEET-TV during its first 30 years and to thank St. Joseph Health System, Humboldt County, for its generous support of our anniversary celebration. Our members, underwriters and volunteers have helped bring inspiration, knowledge and wonder to the minds of the young and the old on the North Coast. And just remember, the best is yet to come!
St. Clair Adams
General Manager, KEET-TV
IT BEGAN AS A TAPESTRY OF DREAMS MORE THAN 30 years ago. A small group of television pioneers armed themselves with $12,000 in donations, a $10,000 grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and a vision that some day the North Coast would be graced by public television.
Today, PBS advocates can take their hats off to those movers and shakers who made it happen William B. Smullin, Angelo Franceschi and Norman Cissna, to name a few. They simply changed the way we view television in our community. And, 30 years later, though it has encountered a rocky road, KEET-TV remains a tapestry of dreams.
What is KEET today? KEET is not about numbers or ratings. It is not about demographics or the bottom line. And KEET is definitely not about keeping up with everything else on television.
KEET is about its members and its viewers. KEET is about family and communities that reach beyond traditional barriers. And, in the 21st century, it's about that same hopeful dream that emerged so long ago the dream that we might all be enriched by bigger and broader ideas.
KEET will see some of its most monumental challenges during the 21st century. Technology will challenge the capabilities of small-market public television stations across the country. But judging by the tenacity of this public television station, KEET stands poised to embrace the future's challenges and to manifest itself as a broader community vision.
It is important to note the dream of public television began far before 1969. Articles of incorporation for the station were drawn up in 1961 by Norman Cissna. A year later the community-owned, non-profit Channel 13 was formed, but strictly on paper. It would encounter a five-year delay on behalf of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting which indicated it was "waiting for the right time" to give Channel 13 the go-ahead.
One of the by-products of that five-year delay was a feasibility study in which the author pointed out that one of the greatest obstacles for the station may be what he termed "local resistance to `culture.'" Despite this and other concerns including finances, geography and reception, the concept of KEET-TV saw overwhelming support from the broader community.
In 1967 the board of directors appointed the station's first vice-president and director, Donald Telford, whose job description included "building the station, soliciting funds, securing grants, securing foundation moneys and public relations work." It wasn't a 9 to 5 position like the jobs today. A subsequent manager wrote of the station's employees, "though underpaid and routinely overworked, they are dedicated, sincere, and completely sold on the merits of public television." That statement remains true today.
Telford established Channel 13's first office in the Humboldt County Schools office, working there until 1968 while he oversaw the move to KEET-TV's humble broadcast beginnings a garage in downtown Eureka. The station was approaching lift off, but the broadcast of any signal whatsoever would be delayed due to several obstacles. For starters, an engineering firm delivered the wrong antenna and required seven months to provide the correct one. Then a transmitter malfunctioned.
Through engineering difficulties, KEET-TV broadcast its inaugural signal and thus became the 162nd public television station in the country on April 14, 1969. Transmission of programming was accomplished by a miraculous collage of used equipment some donated and some borrowed which allowed KEET to broadcast with just fewer than 5,000 watts of power. Kurt Blackburn, who is one of the station's original board operators, remembers operating in that downtown Eureka garage, reflecting, "I don't think most people thought of a garage when they thought of a TV studio. But we made do."
That day, though the station broadcast only a few hours of daytime educational programs for students in the classroom, it signified the beginning of a partnership between community and the dream of public television.
Between then and now, KEET would endure financial crises, a transmitter house fire, two physical moves and growing pains. But the public television station accepted challenges.
Facing the challenges, "Mr. KEET" came into the picture in 1979. Channel 13's general manager, St. Clair Adams, personifies public television in this community. If volunteers and members are the station's heartbeat, Adams is the heart.
Since that time, he has led the station through two-thirds of its history. Adams, along with a supportive community and fiercely dedicated support staff, has endorsed a rich tapestry of programs the station offers from children's programming to documentaries outlining important scientific discoveries, and from rousing political discussions to the most breathtaking of performances.
During his tenure, Adams has also succeeded in expanding the impact of KEET beyond the confines of the television screen. No longer is public television just about television. Just as importantly, it is about reaching out to the community it serves with forums, special projects and literacy services.
Statistics point toward the overwhelming impact television has on the lives of children. According to a 1991 study published in Media and Values, children in the United States see more than 400 commercials a week. This adds up to more than 20,000 commercials each year. Statistics like these are part of the impetus behind a KEET program that began in 1996 called Ready to Learn.
This PBS-fueled project educates teachers, parents and child care providers how to use television as an educational tool rather than a pastime. The benefits of the program have caught on in recent years. Besides distributing thousands of books to low-income families, Ready to Learn has also re-emphasized the theory that television, when used properly, can be of educational use within families and classrooms. Susan Seaman, who heads up the project, has two preschoolers herself and says "I practice what I teach. Next fall, my son will start kindergarten, and I believe that effectively using public television as a teaching tool has helped him get ready to learn."
Public television insiders see the Ready to Learn service as one of many jewels in the KEET-TV crown. And, while some see children as public television's greatest emphasis, KEET challenges that with a long history of civic duty. Since June of 1970, the station has broadcast many political forums hosted by the League of Women Voters. It is a common thought in the community and among candidates that these forums provide an unbiased platform for politicians.
Although there is a long record of accomplishment in the station's history, the future is where the excitement lies. Today, Adams looks to the technological marvel of digital television to transform what public television can do in the 21st century, saying, "The future becomes even more exciting because of the potential of interactive educational television. The kids of the future will benefit even more from this new technology than they do today."
It is true that digital television represents the station's greatest challenge in the next few years. More importantly, digital television may be the PBS station's and the community's greatest investment. This new fusion of video, audio, images and text will allow viewers to have an interactive experience while using public television as a resource.
Beginning as soon as 2003, viewers will see Channel 13 like never before. For one thing, KEET will be seen on Channel 11. Digital technology should also bring a sharper image on screen. High-definition television, or HDTV, allows stations to broadcast programs in much higher resolution or clarity. These
pictures will have more than twice the resolution of standard television and will be displayed in a wide-screen format with a 16-by-9 width-to-height ratio. HDTV will also involve six-channel CD-quality surround sound. The idea is to give viewers a true home theater experience.
Additionally, KEET will have the opportunity to broadcast up to four programs at the same time, thus allowing for specialized sub-channels focusing on specific themes like children, nature and the arts. Already, PBS is developing one of those sub-channels strictly for children's programming. So it may be only a few years before children can watch educational programming on KEET, whether it's 6 a.m. or p.m.
This new technology should also add more information to the public television experience. Because digital television is basically a blend of television and computer, curriculum materials, full interview scripts, children's games and still-shot photographs may be delivered through the TV set while a viewer watches a program. To illustrate this, while a viewer watches a NOVA program about outer space, a family viewer's guide may be downloaded at the same time, with related research information or photographs of the featured planet.
Channel 13 may be one of the smallest public television stations in the country. But a little known fact is that it also ranks in the top 10 percent of those stations in terms of membership.
Case in point, 20 percent of the people who watch KEET-TV are supporting members. Today the station is supported by the generosity and belief of nearly 5,000 members and businesses. And many of Channel 13's charter members are members today.
Volunteers are also the life blood of KEET-TV. During the past three decades, volunteers selflessly given an estimated 30,000 hours of their time to the station. From answering phones during annual pledge drives, to operating a camera, and from licking envelopes to labeling the Spotlight program guide, volunteers bring Channel 13 on home.
During the past decade or so, Helen Furber, Opal Cantrell, Rosa Figler, Elnore Maunder and a few others have collectively labeled more than one-half million Spotlight program guides. They meet each other once each month at the Eureka Senior Center for coffee and donuts, and then they get busy.
The station is humbled by all the volunteers who have helped shape the dream of public television into reality. Channel 13's Membership Manager Gina Misch says, "Every employee at Channel 13 is grateful for the dedication of every volunteer who has ever operated a camera, stuffed an envelope, answered a phone, co-hosted a pledge drive, auctioned merchandise or monitored an audio board. The generous volunteers of the station have been vital for maintaining the life of KEET-TV for 30 years."
Channel 13 sees the future as bright. Digital television opens up a limitless array of possibilities that KEET enthusiastically embraces. And the station's dedicated staff consistently works to find new ways to enrich the lives of those the station serves.
It is to the community that KEET says it's forever indebted. To all, KEET raises its glass to the vision.
As a reminder, Channel 13's 30th anniversary logo says, "Celebrating 30 Years, and it's just the beginning."
Comments? E-mail the Journal: email@example.com