October 21, 2015 — Fifty years ago today, KTWU signed on the air and began broadcasting as the first public educational television station in the state of Kansas.
In the beginning, in glorious black and white, KTWU could be seen in Topeka and the surrounding area, although the station did not broadcast a full day’s programming schedule. Even as color and new programming came along, it was not until 1998 that the station was able to air a complete 24-hour-a-day schedule.
KTWU is licensed to Washburn University, the call letters stand for “Topeka Washburn University”. The “K” does not stand for Kansas, as many assume, because stations west of the Mississippi River begin with “K” as mandated by the Federal Communications Commission.
Those early years were very difficult. The small staff was faced with little revenue to operate the station. Programming was gathered from a variety of resources including local, in-studio production. KTWU became an affiliate of the Public Broadcasting System (PBS) upon its creation in 1970.
The station began in a small building at the broadcast tower site on Wanamaker Road. Upgrades to the facility and equipment were always a challenge. More adversity was faced after the 1966 tornado as any potential supplemental funding was redirected to the main Washburn campus for cleanup and rebuilding. KTWU operations continued, though, as crucial public viewership and financial support grew over the years.
It was not until 1994 that the station was able to move into the current modern technological facility located on the Washburn campus. This building, located centrally in Topeka and more accessible to students, ensures KTWU’s continued success and enables the outreach in the community so crucial to the station’s mission.
Now at 50 years, KTWU is broadcasting local public television in eastern Kansas and portions of Nebraska, Missouri and Oklahoma. Through over-the-air broadcasts and cable and satellite television distribution, KTWU reaches a potential audience of 1.6 million viewers.
KTWU offers five digital destinations for unique content: KTWU (PBS) in High Definition on Channel 11.1; KTWU/MHz Worldview on Channel 11.2; KTWU ENHANCE on Channel 11.3; KTWU.ORG, online; and KTWU MOBILE TV.
Many successes over the years have brought KTWU to this 50th anniversary. The one constant throughout has been the solid community support for these efforts. KTWU now looks ahead to the future and the amazing technological advances that are still to come, providing new and exciting ways to serve the thousands of viewers who turn to local public television every day.
Many local and national programs are available online and viewers are invited to watch and learn more by visiting KTWU at www.ktwu.org.
Some of the highlights of KTWU’s 50 years are:
Oct. 21, 1965: KTWU signs on the air as the first public television station in the state of Kansas.
1968: MR. ROGERS premieres.
1969: SESAME STREET premieres.
1970: PBS television broadcasting service is launched.
1971: The station launches its first fundraising auction, with proceeds going to purchase two portable color cameras for studio and location use.
1973: KTWU is one of six public television stations nationwide to take part in a pilot project to test closed captioning for the hearing impaired.
1975: THE MCNEIL/LEHRER REPORT, known today and the PBS NEWSHOUR, premieres.
1977: KTWU installs a 10-meter-wide dish antenna that connects the station to 148 sites in the PBS system.
July 4, 1983: The station celebrates its first uninterrupted day of programming, from 6:45 a.m. to midnight. Prior to that, the station signed off for several hours in the afternoon.
1985: Construction of a tower in Iola allows KTWU to provide service to southeast Kansas.
1987: “Sunflower Journeys,” a KTWU-produced series about Kansas and its peoples, debuts.
1990: Ken Burns’ THE CIVIL WAR premieres and attracts an audience of 40 million nationwide making it the most watched PBS program ever.
1994: KTWU moves to a new building at Washburn University, where it continues to operate today.
1995: KTWU is one of the original public television stations nationwide to launch the Descriptive Video Service (DVS) to make programming accessible to the blind and the visually impaired.
2000: CLIFFORD THE BIG RED DOG premieres.
2002-2003: The station raises $7 million for a new broadcasting tower and transmitter to meet Federal Communications Commission requirements to switch to digital technology. The tower was completed in 2002, and KTWU began broadcasting its programming digitally in May 2003.
2005: KTWU begins broadcasting three distinct digital television channels: KTWU in High Definition on digital channel 11.1; KTWU Mhz WORLDVIEW on digital channel 11.2; KTWU ENHANCE on digital channel 11.3
Today, October 21, 2015: KTWU’s anniversary of 50 years of broadcasting.
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