Public TV enhances public discourse

Panhandle PBS is turning 25 years young.

It came into being in 1988 and until just recently was known to Texas Panhandle public television viewers as KACV-TV, licensed of Amarillo College.

Its contribution to the education of this region for the past quarter-century has been incalculable.

What’s our stake in this monumental event? Well, I’ll begin by highlighting the value of public affairs programming that the station has brought to the region.

Public affairs by definition affect everyone. Government policy? It’s the public’s business; we do pay for government with our tax money. Events that shape our history? Those, too, are our business. Stories of people whose lives have had a direct impact on our community? Ditto on the public’s interest.

Public television has been telling those stories to Panhandle viewers since 1988.

I cannot possibly quantify the value of public television to the well-being of our community. The Panhandle has been blessed during the past 25 years to watch programming of the highest quality.

You’ve heard of Ken Burns, correct? The documentary filmmaker recently told a chilling story of The Dust Bowl and its impact on the Panhandle, which was “Ground Zero” of that horrific — and seemingly never-ending — ecological tragedy. Burns has been working with PBS for many years on a number of acclaimed projects. The Dust Bowl documentary, though, hit us hard. It told the story of misery and heartache as only those who survived it — and who remember it — could tell us.

Public television came into being in Texas. KUHT, the University of Houston public TV station, went on the air in 1953. It was the first public TV station on the air anywhere in the United States.

(I’ll insert here a minor point of personal privilege: My family and I used to watch KUHT public programming when we lived in Beaumont for nearly 11 years. So, we have some history with the pioneering public TV station.)

It took a good bit longer for public TV to enter the life of those who live in the Texas Panhandle.

We’ve benefited greatly since its arrival.

The entertainment is first-class, dignified, hilarious, urbane … all of those things, to be sure.

My keen interest, though, is in public affairs programming. I remain grateful for the quality of that kind of informative television we get from PanhandlePBS. Whether it’s the NewsHour, Frontline, NOVA, Independent Lens, Bill Moyers and Company, Charlie Rose, Overheard with Evan Smith, Washington Week in Review with Gwen Ifill  or public TV’s coverage of breaking news events. PanhandlePBS has recently hooked up with “The Texas Tribune,” the Austin-based online public affairs publication, which extends the public TV stations’ reach even further.

What’s more, given that PBS is a free over-the-air broadcast service, one doesn’t need a cable hookup to watch it. A “rabbit ears” antenna would do the trick.

Which brings me to one more point. Public television covers all these issues in depth and without the screaming and name-calling we hear all too often on some of those cable networks.

All of that, I submit, is why we should celebrate PanhandlePBS’s 25th birthday.


Panhandle PBS is planning a birthday celebration on Nov. 2 featuring local band Atteberry Station.

Check out the website here:

I am looking forward to a good time.


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