Weaving a Network: The History of Idaho Public Television

49 Years of Service to Idaho

Idaho PTV celebrates 40 years!Idaho Public Television is Idaho's only universally available interconnected media system — private or public — that stretches across all portions of the state. The system's five primary digital transmitters and 42 translators reach 97 percent of Idaho's population. In addition, the signals are distributed through cable television and home satellite systems throughout the region. IdahoPTV also provides extensive Web-based content at idahoptv.org. IdahoPTV consistently is the nation's most watched public TV service per capita. In 2005, IdahoPTV celebrated 40 years of public television service.

The Beginning

September 1965, KUID channel 12 in Moscow signed on the air, becoming the first publicly licensed educational television station in Idaho. Professors and students operated the new station from a studio on the University of Idaho campus. In 1971, Idaho State University and Boise State University helped establish KBGL channel 10 (now KISU) in Pocatello and KAID channel 4 in Boise. Public television service was established nationwide in 1967, when Congress passed the Public Broadcasting Act. The legislation was in response to the Carnegie Commission on Educational Television report of January 1967, which stated the need for nationwide educational television.

The Early Years at IdahoPTV

The Early Years at Idaho PTVSeveral dedicated individuals were involved in the establishment and early success of Idaho's three stations, which later became Idaho Public Television. U of I's communications head Gordon Law and College of Letters and Science Dean Boyd Martin helped launch KUID. Next to sign on was KGBL with the help of ISU's Director of Radio and Television Services Herbert Everitt. KAID was brought on-line with the help of A.H. "Ace" Chatburn, head of the Department of Education at Boise State College (now University); Georgia Davidson, owner, KTVB Channel 7 in Boise; Harold Toedtemeier, chief engineer, KTVB; and Jack Schlaefle, first station manager, KAID.

Award-winning, national producer Michael Kirk (known for his work on PBS' Frontline series) began his television career as a reporter for KUID. "KUID was one of the great experiences of my career. I had the opportunity to try everything — we produced a talk show, we made a magazine show, music, arts, sports, and of course, documentaries. Because we could actually lay our hands on equipment and had just enough skilled people around, we managed to learn by doing — and I believe the mistakes we made, and the many successes taught me countless lessons about television production," Kirk said.

The first KAID production was the Governor's STATE OF THE STATE ADDRESS. The station owned no portable equipment so the crew hauled the 700-pound studio cameras to the Statehouse and set them up on their pedestals. A borrowed microwave aimed through an open window fed the signal, and each time an interview subject moved, the signal was lost. The first statewide pre-election debate, now an election year tradition, aired live in 1980 from the Boise studio.

Other early productions include the 1974 film, GROWTH: FRIEND OR FOE? and TETON: DECISION AND DISASTER, a 1977 documentary about the Teton Dam disaster, which also aired nationally.

Local Productions

Over the years, IdahoPTV has created several award-winning series that focus on Idaho history, wildlife, environment, public affairs and other topics. Current series include: OUTDOOR IDAHO, DIALOGUE, SCIENCE TREK, IDAHO REPORTS, and IDAHO IN SESSION. OUTDOOR IDAHO is the longest-running outdoor program in the West and features outdoor activities, scenery, natural resource issues, history, agriculture and more. DIALOGUE addresses political, social, cultural and other topical subjects. SCIENCE TREK provides Idaho students a chance to ask questions of scientists during the monthly broadcasts throughout the school year. IDAHO REPORTS airs weekly during the legislative session and reports on issues being debated in the House and Senate. IDAHO IN SESSION provides gavel-to-gavel video coverage of the Idaho House of Representatives, the Idaho Senate and the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee (JFAC), as well as audio coverage of the standing committees.

In addition to these series, IdahoPTV produces program specials, many of which are distributed nationally. PBS has offered IDAHO, A PORTRAIT, IDAHO RHAPSODY, and BARBARA MORGAN: NO LIMITS. Others like LEWIS & CLARK: CROSSING THE CENTURIES and the Peabody Award-winning HEARTS AND MINDS: TEENS AND MENTAL ILLNESS, WEST OF THE BASQUE, and ASSASSINATION: IDAHO’S TRIAL OF THE CENTURY are distributed nationally by other public television organizations.

IdahoPTV Encounters Controversy

Local productions are usually well received among IdahoPTV viewers. But two KUID-produced documentaries set off a controversy that resulted in today's Idaho Public Television structure: CEDAR THIEF (1978), about timber practices in northern Idaho, and KELLOGG: THE BEST TO YOU EACH MORNING, about lead exposure among children in the Silver Valley. As a result, the Idaho Legislature in 1981 eliminated all but $70,000 of public television funding. A year later, the Legislature relented on condition that Idaho's three stations would be operated as a statewide network with one general manager, reporting directly to the Idaho State Board of Education.

In 1999 and 2000, IdahoPTV aired two national shows, which also generated a great deal of community response. IT'S ELEMENTARY: TALKING ABOUT GAY ISSUES IN SCHOOL chronicled how some public and private schools deal with homosexual issues (especially name-calling and harassment). The other show, OUR HOUSE, documented the life of a child with homosexual parents. As a result, some 2,500 people contacted IdahoPTV expressing their pleasure or concern about the two shows. Because of the community response, the Idaho State Board of Education created a unique policy that required IdahoPTV to post disclaimers about its programming on air, online and in publications. In September 2002, the Idaho State Board of Education lifted the disclaimer requirement.

Channels Guide

Channels GuideIn 1975, KAID channel 4 created a program guide called Take Four! The folded brochure-style publication for the Treasure Valley contained station news and program highlights. After the formation of IdahoPTV, the viewer guide expanded into the 28-page IdahoPTV Channels, covering programming throughout the state. Today, IdahoPTV Channels is available to all members and offers individual program descriptions, short articles on notable programs, an HDTV primetime program grid, and news about the statewide system.

Finding Funds

Federal and state dollars only help keep public television on the air in Idaho, so to raise money for programming, each of the three stations established a non-profit organization during the 1970s. The groups also helped to identify community needs, raised money for operating costs, and supported and promoted local programming.

In 1976, KAID channel 4 held its first on-air fund-raising event, FESTIVAL '76. Similar FESTIVAL programming and other on-air fund-raising opportunities developed in Moscow and Pocatello. FESTIVAL soon became a March tradition, showcasing top programming and seeking support from viewers statewide. Today, nearly 63 percent of IdahoPTV's operating budget is provided through private funding.

In 1985, IdahoPTV again sought alternative funding for the system. The Idaho Public Television Foundation was established as a non-profit organization exempt from Federal tax, incorporated under the laws of the State of Idaho.

In 2008, the three Friends of Idaho Public Television groups and the Idaho Public Television Foundation came together as one unified organization to solicit, receive and invest funds aimed at obtaining funds and continuing to build an endowment. A portion of the interest from the Endowment investments is used to back local productions and other IdahoPTV activities.

Currently, approximately 63% of IdahoPTV’s operating budget of $7,000,000 comes from voluntary private contributions from individuals, companies and foundations, 24% is provided by the State of Idaho for maintenance and administration of the statewide system, and 13% is obtained from an annual grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

IdahoPTV is for all ages!

Idaho PTV is for all ages!IdahoPTV established off-air technology in the mid-1980s to help Idaho's educators stay in touch. Learning Link, a rudimentary computer connection, offered classroom resources and communication among educators in Idaho and the nation. In 1995 IdahoPTV joined the World Wide Web with an initial Web site that offered a limited amount of information about the system. Recently, IdahoPTV has expanded its on-line presence to include Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.

In 1998, IdahoPTV received a mandate from the Federal Communications Commission to convert to a digital signal by May 1, 2003. Today, IdahoPTV's five digital transmitters, all of which commenced operating before the federal deadline, cover much of the state. In addition, the system's 42 repeaters (translators) have been upgraded to digital-ready or digital-only service. In 2009, IdahoPTV completed the upgrade of its studio facilities to HD in Boise, Moscow and Pocatello. Looking forward to 2010, it is anticipated that the HD upgrade to its Idaho State Capitol studio will be finished.

"Not since the establishment of analog television has the broadcast business seen dynamic change. It's an exciting time to be with IdahoPTV," says General Manager Peter W. Morrill. Currently, IdahoPTV provides five channels of programming twenty-four hours per day/seven days per week to Idahoans including IdahoPTV Prime, IdahoPTV HD, IdahoPTV Learn/Create, IdahoPTV World and IdahoPTV Kids (cable only). IdahoPTV programming is available through cable companies throughout Idaho, as well as on the DirecTV and DishTV satellite services.

Awards

IdahoPTV for 40 years!Each year, IdahoPTV earns international, national and statewide awards for programs created and filmed by IdahoPTV staff. In 2001, IdahoPTV became the first Idaho recipient of the prestigious Peabody Award for a program special, HEARTS AND MINDS: TEENS AND MENTAL ILLNESS.

View awards

Looking back . . . A History of IdahoPTV

  • History of IDPTV
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  • The beginning
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  • The Early Years
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  • IDPTV for all
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  • IDPTV turns 40
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