This November, the Public Broadcasting Act will turn 50. The law created the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and later led to the creation of both PBS and NPR. Here are 50 interesting pieces to read or listen to about public media to celebrate the anniversary. (If you have more ideas, please list them in the comments.)
Understand the history behind the Act
—Read the original act, which stipulates that “it is in the public interest to encourage the development of programming that involves creative risks and that addresses the needs of unserved and underserved audiences, particularly children and minorities.”
—Read President Johnson’s remarks upon signing the act into law.
—As Robert Avery notes in his excellent essay about the history of the act, Johnson “placed it in the context of Congressional support for the construction of the first telegraph line in 1844 and the 1862 Morrill Act that set aside lands in every state to create a national system of land-grant colleges. He invoked recollections of the old Greek marketplace where public affairs took place in full view of the entire citizenry, and he promised that this new system of public broadcasting would belong to all the people.”
—Be thankful radio was included at all. The words “and radio” were scotch-taped into the bill, which was called the Public Television Bill before President Johnson’s assistant in charge of public television legislation re-added it at the last minute.
Learn about the early days
—Watch Mr. Rogers defend funding for PBS and the CPB, after President Nixon threatened to halve public television’s operating budget.
—Four years later, public television was the only place where people could go to watch all 250 hours of Watergate testimony.
—Somewhat related: This 1980 Terry Gross interview excerpt with G. Gordon Liddy on conquering his fear of rats.
—In 1970, Bill Siemering wrote a mission statement for NPR. It starts like this: “National Public Radio will serve the individual: it will promote personal growth; it will regard the individual differences among men with respect and joy rather than derision and hate; it will celebrate the human experience as infinitely varied rather than vacuous and banal; it will encourage a sense of active constructive participation, rather than apathetic helplessness.”
—NPR started its broadcasts on April 19, 1971 with live coverage of Senate deliberations on the Vietnam War. The earliest digitized broadcast I can find is from three days later, when Lt. John Kerry testified before the panel.
—Spend some time learning about your local station history. Though NPR and PBS started in the 1970s, it’s likely your local station’s history stretch even further back. Oregon Public Broadcasting’s roots go back to 1922. Wyoming Public Media started broadcasting in 1966. WETA hit the D.C. airwaves in 1961, and Wisconsin Public Radio loosely stretches back to 1914.
—You may even want to go further back. The Public Broadcasting Act originated five decades after the creation of public broadcasting, which started when opera singer Enrico Caruso was broadcast from the Metropolitan Opera House to homes throughout New York City.
Head into the archives
—It’s hard to listen to many early public radio broadcasts, because many hours of tapes were recorded over, not stored, lost or not preserved. You can read about efforts from the American Archive of Public Broadcasting and the Radio Preservation Task Force to identify and preserve radio broadcasts that remain.
—Andy Lanset, the archivist at New York Public Radio, frequently digs up treasures from the station’s archives. He also sends out a weekly newsletter highlighting what was broadcast on WNYC in various years.
More archives: Civil Rights interviews from WYSO; NOVA broadcasts stretching back to 1996; Minnesota Public Radio’s collection from the 1970s through the present, the Susan Stamberg collection (located at the University of Maryland Libraries), archival stories from New Hampshire Public Radio, the NPRchives and a collection of Iowa voices stretching back more than a century.
—Interviews with more than a dozen creators of Sesame Street from the Archive of American Television.
—“In this 1977 documentary, a panel of women discusses eliminating sexual stereotypes.”
—This 1998 profile of Mr. Rogers in Esquire is a must-read.
Find stuff to watch, listen to, or build.
—Andrew Filer built a map showing the listening radiuses for all of the public radio stations you can hear in the United States and Canada.
—If you’re really into one station, you can build a single station FM tuner in a mason jar.
—Over 250 podcasts cataloged by topic by NPR.
—Seemingly every podcast that airs on public radio, sortable by topic, name and station and cataloged by Public Radio Fan.
—18 podcasts for kids from public radio stations.
—You can find station GitHub repositories using this app from a developer at Code for America.
Local programming that transcends location
—“Mister Knight’s Neighborhood,” a documentary (Michigan Radio)
—HumaNature: a podcast that explores people’s experiences in nature (Wyoming Public Media)
—Alaska Public Media’s annual statewide holiday greetings show
—Daily short perspectives from people living all over the Bay Area
Explore public broadcasting outside of the U.S.
—Use Radio Garden to find live broadcasts around the world. (Note: not all public radio)
—“In this report, we survey the concrete ways that a cross-section of democratic nation-states around the world fund and protect the autonomy of public media.” (2011)
—More recent: How public service broadcasting shapes up worldwide. (2015)
—Radio Atlas provides English-language subtitles for radio documentaries produced around the world.
For the obsessives
—You can have the “Kojo Show” theme music as your ringtone.
—The Mugs of NPR Tumblr investigates the mugs found in corners of NPR.
—There are two people on Twitter who turn public broadcasting celebrities into post-apocalyptic Photoshopped battle-ready creatures.
New ways to invite communities into public broadcasting
—For over two decades, students at a high school in Central Illinois have created documentaries that have aired on the local PBS station.
—WLRN in Miami received over 3,500 submissions when they asked people to write an ode to their zip codes.
—Michigan Radio’s Infowire told their stories over text messages.
—Oregon Public Broadcasting created personalized earthquake risk report based on a person’s address.
—WAMU partnered with Code for D.C. to create their 2014 election night map.
—“Today, WNYC is open-sourcing its Audiogram Generator, a social tool meant to provide podcasters, radio professionals, producers and audio makers a super easy way to share their work across social platforms including Facebook and Twitter.”
—The classical station WUOL in Louisville, Kentucky runs a “Summer Listening” program for kids.
—WGBH has a new studio inside the Boston Public Library.
—Last year Cards Against Humanity made 150,000 people members of WBEZ
—Vermont PBS is partnering with community members to create original local programming.
—KJZZ in Phoenix is launching a mobile production unit inside of a food truck.