AFTER three years of thought and action I am ready to set down a few certainties about educational television. To some it means surcease from the insistent voice of the advertiser. To some, usually parents, it means the hope of children's programs in which no hoofs clatter, no pistols crack, and no one gets killed. To some educators it is just another technique for enrichment of curricula already loaded beyond taxpayer tolerance. To other educators and to a small band of determined laity, educational television is a movement to salvage some part of this printing of the air for systematic use in and out of the schoolroom.
In 1952 the United States Federal Communications Commission decided that approximately 12 per cent of American television should be conducted, not for business, but for nonprofit, noncommercial educational purposes. Some 242 channels, so restricted, were set aside one in each of the sizable communities as well as in some of the smaller communities of the United States. No money was provided to implement these channels. No criteria were set up to determine what programs would be considered educational. But there is one clear, inescapable prohibition: these educational channels cannot carry advertising and cannot operate for profit. If a community is to have educational television, it must pull itself up by its own devices.
Commercial television is a business -- a legitimate business as proper as the business of making shoes or ships or sealing wax. Furthermore it is a business which must sell its product - time and space on the television screen - to advertisers whose payments are the revenue for payrolls, other expenses, and profits, the necessary end of all business. To expect such a business to engage in sustained educational endeavors would be naïve. On the other hand, to concede that all television should be conducted as commercial enterprise would be irresponsible. Suppose Gutenberg's press and all of its successors had been used for printing only those books which some manufacturer or purveyor of a service was willing to finance. Business has its important disciplines and values, but as a be-all and endall it is not enough unless America is to become another Carthage.
Western Pennsylvania’s WQED, the first communityfinanced educational television station, has been broadcasting from Pittsburgh since April 1, 1954. Today there are 15 educational television stations which bespeak no commercial product and derive no financial support except of that type which keeps churches, colleges, and all charities alive. Educational television stations are located at Birmingham, Alabama; Boston, Massachusetts; ChampaignUrbana, Illinois; Chapel Hill, North Carolina; Cincinnati, Ohio; East Lansing, Michigan; Houston, Texas; Lincoln, Nebraska; Madison, Wisconsin; Miami, Florida; Munford, Alabama; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; St. Louis, Missouri; San Francisco, California; and Seattle, Washington. They reach an area inhabited by 46 million people. Seven of these stations are financed by broadly based commitnity fundraising programs, six are financed by educational institutions, and two are financed by state funds. Eleven additional educational television stations are tinder construction, and some hundred other communities are in various stages of planning.
The Ford Foundation provided the funds which were used by the Fund for Adult Education to breathe life into the embryonic movement the country over. In Pittsburgh the Arbuckle-Jamison Foundation (my older readers will remember the chocolatebrown, paperbagged coffee - fifteen cents per pound) gave almost half of its remaining funds, and the A. W. Mellon Educational and Charitable Trust picked up the remainder of the
cash requirements; Westinghouse Electric Corporation, itself an applicant for a commercial TV channel in Pittsburgh, provided a longterm, rent-free lease on an existing tower, and the Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company effectively expressed a hope that a building it gave to the University of Pittsburgh would be used for the educational television studio. Thus almost a half million dollars in money or values assured equipment and facilities. But where would the operating funds come from? 1
A valiant publicist, Dorothy Daniel, with a borrowed typewriter in a rentfree office began to assert that Pittsburgh was to have community television. "It is God's station," she told Fred Rogers and Josie Carey, early staff members whose allontheearth, nonviolent "The Children's Corner" now draws an average of 3000 scrawled epistles per week. "So it can't fail," Dorothy Daniel said, reasoning that enough of the television area's 635,000 set owners would give two dollars a year and enough of the area's 485 school districts would give thirty cents a child a minuscule sliver of their budgetsto make up a minimum $250,000 operating budget. About 8 per cent of the set owners and less than half of the school districts did make those contributions, and WQED took to the air. A more nearly adequate operating budget would be $350,000. In any case there must be volunteers.
At WQED the number of unpaid, voluntary, regular workers is almost equal to the number of paid staff. Organized labor, although scrupulously watchful of its interests, has been cooperative. The station for many purposes is a television training school. High school and college students sometimes learn quickly and perform regularly and voluntarily quite important functions this despite the fact that television professionals make a mystique of the art, as if the proper decorum of the air had been laid down by a Chesterfield. As a matter of fact, everybody is new at the television game because it was only yesterday that instantaneous, simultaneous transmission of picture and sound became a practical reality.
THERE is the delusion that all television must be entertaining - as if all I.Q.'s from 65 to 165 could be entertained alike and as if all books should be written in the mode of Elinor Glyn or Mickey Spillane. This delusion is a heritage from the movies and from the radio, which fell almost wholly to commercialism. But a necessity for popular appeal is no more inherent in television as a means of communication than in the human vocal cords or the hand that writes.
There is the delusion that education is not entertaining - as if the classes of the great teachers have not always been crowded, even by those who had no plan about learning beyond the desire to qualify for the university club back home. Dr. Frank Baxter responded almost mournfully to the suggestion that his regular classroom instruction in Shakespearean plays be put on television. He and CBS were equally astounded that the audience quickly reached 400,000.
There is the delusion that every television audience must be large - as if an Arthur Miller play could attract at any one performance as large an audience as a World Series baseball game. This delusion springs from the natural desire of the advertiser. When he talks about his product, he wants the world to listen. Why not? But it does not necessarily follow that there should be no television programs at all unless they attract the masses.
There is the delusion that educational television must compete with commercial television and will therefore fail, because where would the money come from for another Ed Murrow show or, for that matter, another Ed Murrow? And there is the delusion that charitably supported television should not, if it could, compete with commercial television. One Pittsburgher, a power in the financial world, said, "I am against it because it is not commercial." This naiveté made me realize how highly the ideological reflexes to television are already conditioned - as if the medium belonged exclusively to business. Even good friends of the movement falter on this point. They complain of the lack of realism of the Federal Communications Commission in barring all advertising. They speculate about schemes for consolidation between educational and commercial stations - only to learn that the very hours which are needed by God are also needed by Mammon. Why should television be considered the exclusive property of the bazaar?
There is the delusion that commercial television with its public service time will provide ample opportunity for cultural offerings if only the educators have the wit to grasp the nettle. But at what hours and for how long? There is no point to offering courses by television at hours when millworkers are on shift, when housewives are in the kitchen, when teenagers are in the sand lots - no point to beginning what cannot be finished. Furthermore, if a cultural or educational program becomes popular, some product will try to get as close to it as possible in the hope that the osmosis will be financially rewarding. Of this I am sure. I have watched the screens at all hours and in many places and I know. As an advertiser I would do it myself get my product as commingled as possible with the emotional and intellectual appeal of some eternal truth or beauty. This personal concoction is no exaggeration of the daily television screen:
LADY MACBETH: Here's the smell of the blood still: all the perfumes
of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand.
GENTLEWOMAN: 'Tis strange indeed, the lady's blind,
It's not perfume she needs to find; But Acme Flakes within the pan
Will do the job and also scan.
I know that sound thinking and enduring emotions are not induced by a bedlam of irrelevancies. And I believe that television, which appeals simultaneously to the eye and to the ear, and instantaneously upon the event, has a potential for men's minds not less critical than that of atomic energy for their bodies.
There is the delusion that people will not give money for what they can get free. But they will; they have done so already in Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Chicago, and in some twentyfive other cities and communities. Churches are free; a person could pray for a long time without suffering ostracism as a free rider. But enough people give money to keep the churches going, not as a purchase of service but from a conviction of the worth of organized religion. The case has been the same with hospitals, colleges, and social work. Voluntaryism in cultural affairs is an American way which is not defunct. Indeed, it is a positive principle a bulwark against statism.
In Pittsburgh a majority of our television board discouraged the idea of an allout appeal for legislative financial support. Admittedly we knew that the legislature would turn us down, but over and above that we knew the importance of developing local community standards for this new cultural medium. Poor but proud we have remained like Samuel Johnson and his worn shoes. This is not to say that municipal and state grantsinaid are not to be sought, once the soundness of the local controls has been proved the hard way. The decentralization of decision-making power is as essential for educational television as for education itself, for health and welfare, and for business. Only by this means can the force of community television remain dynamic - free of bureaucracy.