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Commentary: KLRU presents 24-hour channel devoted to kids

On April 1, KLRU-TV Austin PBS launched a 24-hour PBS KIDS Channel. In addition to the 11 hours daily of PBS KIDS programming that will remain on KLRU, we now provide 24-hour children’s programming on 18.4, the PBS Kids app and at

KLRU is providing this free, fun, educational resource for all families at a time when youth populations in Central Texas have grown tremendously. The following challenges, according to E3 Education Alliance data, have accompanied that growth:

• Our percentage of children in poverty has grown 50 percent since 2004;

• Only 28 percent of low-income youth are deemed “school-ready” upon entry to Kindergarten;

• There are enough openings in quality childcare settings to serve only about one quarter of our preschool youth

Here’s where the new KLRU PBS KIDS 24/7 channel can help our community serve all our children in Central Texas. A recent national poll confirms that parents overwhelmingly agree that no other media brand meets their children’s school readiness needs better than PBS KIDS. The study also found that nine in 10 parents are likely to use PBS KIDS resources for school preparedness, and three-quarters say their child exhibits more positive behavior after engaging with PBS.

Anecdotally, we’re starting to see stories come in from around the country that parents appreciate the availability of PBS KIDS in the wee hours when their kids are sick, and when kids are up late or getting up early because their parents work non-traditional shifts. We’re spreading the word to hospitals, clinics, gyms, laundromats, and after-hours child-care settings, too, so that parents have trustworthy viewing options for their kids when they’re not at home.

National ratings for children’s television viewing show that youth ages 2-8 are watching most of their television during weekday evening, and weekend afternoons and evenings. These ratings numbers jump even higher for kids in low-income households. Despite this, there are very few educational alternatives for kids these ages during evening and weekend viewing.

Again, that’s where KLRU and PBS KIDS comes in. PBS KIDS is the only network that ensures that its content is aligned to specific educational objectives, including math, literacy, science, and social and emotional development. The programs offered on PBS KIDS have been proven to help kids in their schooling lives. Otherwise, the programs won’t make it on our channel.

We are salivating at the level of Clifford the Big Red Dog when we think about community outreach with an entire channel as our playground. KLRU’s Education staff is in the community every weekday and many weekends, showing families, educators, and kids how our programs and apps connect to powerful learning objectives; anyone who has seen a child tackle a book after an episode of Martha’s Speaks, or launch into the “Try a New Food, It Might Taste Good” song from Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, can attest to the results of our resources.

In these face-to-face encounters with kids, families, and educators, we say that we may be the only national media company in kids’ lives that actually wants them to turn us off, because the best indicators of our success are when kids put into practice the learning goals of our programs. We now have more time and space within the schedule, and a potentially much larger audience, to encourage kids to pick up books, explore the outdoors, or engage an adult in conversation. We can also slip in periodic reminders to avoid becoming dreaded “screen zombies.”

Lastly, in an increasingly complex “pay to play” world for television viewers, where the average viewer pays $840 per year for TV content, I think it’s notable that the PBS KIDS Channel is coming to the American public at no additional cost above the $1.35 per person in taxes that covers ALL of public broadcasting. To my eyes, that’s a pretty clear affirmation that the PBS mission remains intact, relevant, and affordable as a public service.

Kramer, Ph.D., is the vice president of education at KLRU-TV, Austin PBS.

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