A Milestone for Public Television
KUID-TV celebrates 50-year partnership with UI
Idaho Public Television has come a long way since KUID-TV first got its start on the University of Idaho campus 50 years ago, PBS president Paula Kerger said Oct. 9 in Moscow.
“When it was signed on it was really radio with a test pattern,” Kerger said. “It was broadcast in the summer and was run by both local professors and students. When it went on the air, it really was a wild experiment.” But the experiment was successful.
“It was very important when it came on the air, because it was really a time when television was inventing itself," she said. Now, she said, Idaho Public Television consistently is the nation's most watched public TV service per capita.
“Over the last 50 years we have proven that television can indeed entertain, educate and inspire. We’ve given refuge to the curious among us who strive to learn more and, to use our tagline, to be more,” Kerger said.
The half-century that has passed by since the station opened hasn’t dulled the memory of one of its first staff members.
Peter Haggart arrived at the UI in 1963 as KUID began providing closed-circuit educational instruction on campus and was the first station manager two years later when the station provided its first public broadcast on channel 12.
“I was here from the beginning,” Haggart said. "We put KUID-FM on the air in 1963 and the TV station Sept. 6, 1965." Haggart was station manager from 1965 to 1970 and general manager from 1970 to 1976 before leaving the station to refocus on academics, finishing his UI career as director of the School of Communication.
During its first year the station aired programs such as “The French Chef with Julia Child” and “The Open Mind,” one of the longest-running public affairs interview shows.
While viewers in the station's 80-mile radius were making mousse and quiche with Child and watching Richard Heffner question high profile thinkers on public affairs on Channel 12, the station's staff was busy with its own investigative reporting – something that Haggart said displeased some decision makers in the state capital. “Just before I left in 1976 we did a program on the Moscow-Pullman gay community,” Haggart said. “It upset folks.”
Investigative pieces concerning lead contamination in Kellogg and timber industry practices in northern Idaho led lawmakers to eliminate all but $70,000 of public television funding in 1981. When the Legislature relented in 1982 due to public outcry, KUID became part of a network with a single general manager reporting directly to the Idaho State Board of Education. Although the decision ended KUID-TV as an independent station, Idaho public television as a whole went on to flourish and change in a constant evolution that continues today.
“Even as our definition of what television is continues to expand to encompass different-sized screens and different services and platforms, I think high quality, well produced media that tells important, compelling stories – in a word, television, more specifically, public television — will become more invaluable and important than ever,” Kerger said.
“We want to use the power of media to meet the challenges of the future. We want to educate our audiences, engage across platforms and inspire community conversation.”
Article by Shanon Quinn, Moscow Pullman Daily News. Reprinted with permission.
Photos by David Betts, Argonaut staff photographer