50 Years of Being More
“We are on the air!”
It was a great moment when Milwaukee Public Television began broadcasting programs into area homes on Oct. 28, 1957. In that instant, dreams of using a wonderful invention to bring more to the lives of viewers began to come true.
The “dreamers” consisted of educators, cultural representatives, religious leaders, and others who had joined forces in the early 1950s. They saw the opportunity to share the intimacy of live theatre, the grace of ballet, classes in Spanish, and a visit to the state fair with anyone who owned a TV set. Their voices, along with many others across the country, convinced Congress to allot space on the airwaves for public television.
They also argued tirelessly on the local level, saying that public television can make the lives of both children and adults larger, fuller, and more meaningful. The group included the Milwaukee Public Library, Marquette University, UW-Milwaukee, Milwaukee Museum of Art, Milwaukee Public Schools, the Milwaukee Museum and other organizations.
After a lengthy public debate among the city's residents, Channel 10 became the nation's 28th educational television station. It was licensed to the Milwaukee Board of Vocational, Technical and Adult Education, which directs Milwaukee Area Technical College. Faculty and students in MATC's Television and Video Production program, established in 1952, assisted with TV Shows.
Today, MPTV's audiences enjoy a broad choice of quality programs on MPTV-10, MPTV-36, MPTV-HD and an array of digital services covering everything from world news to gardening. In 1957, Milwaukee's only public television station was officially identified as WMVS-TV and popularly known as Channel 10. It was proud to offer a total of 17-1/2 hours of programming each week--Monday through Friday from 5 to 8:30 p.m.
Among those programs was Wee Weekly, the first locally produced children's show on Channel 10. It was a mythical newspaper focused on safety and staffed primarily by puppets. Milwaukee Public Schools contributed At Your Convenience, a series of half-hour programs about leisure-time activities. The station cooperated with several other cultural and educational organizations to produce other local programming.
In 1958, Milwaukee Public Schools began using Channel 10 as an instructional tool in large classes, and the Catholic Archdiocese soon followed suit. The station's program schedule began growing rapidly, and by 1962 it was running from 8 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. each evening—a total of 69 broadcast hours weekly.
The station gained access to additional programming from other public stations through the National Educational Television network. NET enabled Channel 10 to carry classical music from Chicago, an astronomy series from Colorado, a series on Alaska's history, and Opera and Art, narrated by Vincent Price. By 1960, the station was producing its first national production for NET, The Inquiring Mind.
Local programming continued to be an important part of the station's mission. A 1961 newsletter describes Way Off Broadway as a weekly series presenting community theatre directors and players talking about their roles and doing improvisations. Golden Years focused on senior citizens, their interests, and their memories. Green Thumb, premiering in 1960, was the station's first how-to program.
The schedule was bursting at the seams! Classroom lectures, self-help series, top-notch cultural presentations, and hometown talent took up every available hour. MATC's board requested a license for a second station, WMVT-TV, Channel 36. The station began broadcasting on Jan. 29, 1963.
Technological advances helped facilitate the growth of both stations in Milwaukee. Channel 10 received a videotape recorder in 1959 that permitted programs to be recorded prior to broadcast and “brings to the TV screen a true-to-life quality picture.“
The station's first remote truck, purchased in 1961, made it possible to do programs from various locations in the community. The truck is a full service, multi-camera television control room on wheels complete with audio board and tape machines. The 1961 state fair was the site of the first remote program, and the station used the remote truck to do its first live broadcast of the Great Circus Parade and Milwaukee Civic Orchestra in 1963.
The next technological milestone was the change to color television in 1965. Channel 10 became one of the first PBS stations to broadcast regularly scheduled programs in color.
Other advances included joining the PBS satellite system in 1978, moving to a new transmitter tower in 1981, beginning stereo broadcasting in 1985, launching the station's website (MPTV.org) in 1995, erecting a new digital transmitter tower in 1999, the start of digital broadcasting on WMVS-DT in 2000, providing Wisconsin's first 24-hour, high definition channel in 2003, and the addition of the V-me Spanish language channel in 2007.
The years also brought other interesting developments. The first Great TV Auction was held in 1969, raising $67,000. The MPTV Friends event raised more than $1 million for the 19th consecutive year in 2007. Auction proceeds pay for approximately 10 minutes of every hour of MPTV programs such as Frontline, Sesame Street, I Remember and Great Performances. In 2006, PBS recognized Milwaukee's auction as the best in the country.
The first series serving African Americans, Black Thang, premiered in 1969 and the first series for Latinos, Panorama Hispano, was offered in 1973. The first Milwaukee ballet was broadcast in 1978 and the first Florentine Opera collaboration was arranged in 1990.
Outdoor Wisconsin, now in its 26th year, premiered in 1984 and became a public television favorite across the country. MATC created College of the Air in 1972, providing accredited classes through public television. Tracks Ahead aired its first season in 1990 and is now carried on more than 200 PBS stations. Great Lakes Gardener, premiering in 2001, was the first MPTV series produced, edited, and distributed regionally in HDTV.
Programming from PBS, other stations, and independent producers also enriched viewer choices. Among these exceptional offerings are Antiques Roadshow, Masterpiece Theatre, American Experience, Nova, This Old House, and many more.
MPTV is now on the cutting edge of a fascinating future in the world of high definition television. The station has begun broadcasting major portions of its daily programming on MPTV-10 and its high definition channel, MPTV-HD. Its digital channels are home to separate channels for news and documentary presentations, how-to programs, Spanish language productions, classical music and more.
Those who support public television because it is based on a vision of viewers who appreciate the opportunity to become more can be confident that “the best is yet to come.”