Today commemorates an important milestone in cultural history: the 50th anniversary of the Public Broadcasting Act. Signed by President Johnson, the act extended his education agenda to radio and television, rededicating a part of the airwaves to the enlightenment of all people.
As we reflect on this important moment, we also look forward to the promise that public media can have in an increasingly complex and fragmented society. While many things have changed since the signing of the act, one thing is constant: our mission to enrich lives and transform communities.
The act set up public broadcasting in the United States, establishing the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) and laying the groundwork for the creation of NPR and PBS through a national infrastructure and start-up funding for individual stations.
Public broadcasting is an essential part of civic and cultural life in America. It belongs to every single person. Federal funding, amounting to roughly $1.35 per American, per year, is leveraged many times over by stations to provide profound benefits to communities in terms of school readiness for children, access to the arts and culture, a window into our history, civil dialogue and in-depth news and public affairs.
Locally, CPB investment in Austin public radio and television stations includes Austin PBS station KLRU-TV and public radio stations KUT-FM (Austin’s NPR station) KUTX-FM (the Austin Music Experience) and KMFA-FM (classical music).
The award-winning KUT news department, launched in 2002 with local philanthropy and CPB funds, is now one of the largest public radio newsrooms in the Southwest. Texas Standard, the national daily news show of Texas that connects communities around our state through 29 public radio stations, is a collaboration of CPB-supported stations in Austin, Dallas, Houston and San Antonio. CPB grants also helped the University of Texas launch Latino USA — the longest running Latino-focused program on U.S. public media — and eventually set it on a path to independence.
Rooted in our community, KLRU provides a trusted source of fact-based information and a safe, civil place to discuss and debate issues that shape where we live and work. For example, KLRU created a space where hundreds of community members gathered to take part in a discussion over civil rights issues in Austin. KLRU broadcast and livestreamed the conversation while KUT simulcast it so that anyone could listen and participate. KLRU has kept the conversation going with the ATX Together Facebook group.
The contributions of public broadcasting to educating children are unmatched in the media landscape, again funded primarily by the CPB. Earlier this year, KLRU launched a 24/7 TV channel and livestream featuring shows proven to improve kids’ learning. Recent statistics report that only 28 percent of low-income youth are deemed “school-ready” upon entry to kindergarten — and the percentage of children living in poverty in Central Texas since 2004 has grown 50 percent. With multiplatform media that is commercial-free, curriculum-based and, most importantly, free for all, KLRU provides a vital resource to Central Texas families.
Musical artists from Austin and around the country are gaining national exposure and broader audiences thanks to VuHaus, public radio’s music discovery site, which received its startup funding from the CPB. And KLRU’s creation of Austin City Limits (ACL) in 1974 helped to establish Austin as the live music capital of the world. ACL is the longest-running music series in television history and remains the only TV series to ever be awarded the National Medal of Arts. The show has also been designated a Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Landmark.
Public media has the power to convene, illuminate, discuss, provoke, celebrate and tell stories. KLRU and KUT are locally owned and operated and belong to Central Texas. As we look to the next 50 years, now more than ever, we will provide a voice of reason, a safe place for children and a place to reflect Austin to the world. You can ensure that the best is yet to come by supporting your local public media and by going to Protect My Public Media.
Stotesbery is CEO and general manager of KLRU-TV. Vanderwilt is director and general manager of KUT-FM and KUTX-FM.