WPSU-TV celebrates 50 years as public, educational resource

February 26, 2015

Fifty years ago, WPSU-TV went on the air for the first time. Students and teachers who turned on their televisions for the initial broadcast watched “Saludos Amigos,” an introductory Spanish class aimed at schoolchildren across central Pennsylvania.

Since the station first transmitted its broadcast signal atop Penfield Mountain on March 1, 1965, WPSU-TV, which was first known as WPSX-TV, has dedicated itself to informing and engaging the community. On March 1, the station will be rebranded as WPSU Penn State.

Even before the station’s establishment, C.R. Carpenter, Penn State’s director of the division of academic research and services, recognized the need for the station as the University petitioned the Federal Communications Commission for allocation of an educational television channel.

“In estimating the requirements of educational television in this state, we need to think beyond the formal classroom, although there is much to be developed there,” Carpenter said in a 1961 Penn State news release. “Millions of people out of school are potential ‘students’ if we have the vision to see it and the wisdom to develop the programs and facilities.”

Technology changes delivery
WPSU-TV reached approximately 250,000 students at 124 elementary and secondary schools in 22 counties across Pennsylvania in its first year of operation.

Initial broadcasts ran from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday. Within a month, the station produced its own shows, including “Weather World,” originally known as “State of the Weather/Shape of the World,” which still airs today as a production of the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences and features meteorology students forecasting the weather.

The station also produced Penn State credit courses for the first time and worked with local school districts to create instructional programs for teachers to be used during the school day and for in-service activities.

“In the early days, the teachers were aware of the broadcast schedule and they had to make sure to tune in and use it live,” said William Barnhart, the former executive secretary of the Allegheny Educational Broadcast Council, which helped distribute station programs.

With the rise of cable, WPSU-TV expanded its reach with PENNARAMA -- a 24-hour cable channel available around the state offering credit courses and other educational programs.

New building sparks continued growth
Around the start of the 21st century, digital broadcasting, including high definition, and WPSU’s move out of the Wagner Building on Penn State’s University Park campus brought more changes to the station. The new studios allowed the station to respond to current events and produce programming much more quickly, said Greg Petersen, WPSU’s director of broadcasting.

Today, WPSU-TV continues to produce local public affairs programs and original series including “Our Town,” “Higher Education in Focus,” “Conversations LIVE” and “Conversations from Penn State.”

Documentary productions
As WPSU-TV looked to make a global impact, the station expanded its documentary production. WPSU-TV has produced several award-winning projects, such as “Telling Amy’s Story,” which has reached more than 6 million people through-on air broadcasts, online and various community events.

One recent project, “Water Blues Green Solutions,” examines water management approaches that use green infrastructure. The documentary focuses on the efforts of several cities, including Philadelphia, San Antonio and Portland, Oregon, but has gained attention throughout the United States, as well as in the United Kingdom and China.

As WPSU-TV looks forward to the next 50 years, the station is working closely with Penn State World Campus to develop video content for online courses. Today, WPSU-TV content also is available through a multitude of platforms, including three digital channels -- WPSU-TV, Create and World -- and on-demand platforms such as wpsu.org, YouTube and Vimeo.

“It’s critical that we continue to fulfill our public service mission to provide educational programming that helps educate and entertain our communities, reaching them through our broadcast and new distribution platforms” said Kate Domico, the station’s general manager. 

  • WPSU 50th Anniversary Infographic
    IMAGE: Penn State Outreach and Online Education

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated March 02, 2015