Antiques Roadshow. American Masters. Mystery! Classical music. Click and Clack Brothers. What would we do without our favorite KPBS offerings? Our local public television station has been around a long time, growing stronger along the way. In fact, it’s currently celebrating its 50th anniversary and taking stock of where it’s been and where it’s going.
One of the things KPBS has done in this milestone year is pay tribute to its founders. So, five remarkable San Diego radio and television pioneers have been inducted in the newly established KPBS Hall of Fame. They’ve been given Lifetime Achievement Awards. First up: the man who started it all, the one with great vision, Ken Jones, who was a professor at San Diego State University and dreamed of creating a local educational radio and television station there.
Next: Tom McManus. The initial call letters were KEBS (Educational Broadcasting) when the radio station went on the air in 1960, under the firm hand of McManus. Then: the three guys from Sacramento — John Witherspoon, Paul Steen, and Paul Marshall. The fledgling broadcast radio station was a success and, in 1967, was joined by the TV station, launched by Witherspoon, the first general manager. Steen, a producer who would later become the longest serving GM, oversaw the transmission of the first over-the-air digital High Definition TV (HDTV), and in doing so made broadcast history. Marshall, the first TV production manager, earned a dozen regional Emmys and a national Emmy nomination. In addition to his widely distributed jazz Club Date series, he served as executive producer for three presidency programs which were moderated by John Chancellor and featured noted figures such as Bill Moyers, Alexander Haig, Pierre Salinger, Ted Sorensen, and Andrew Goodpaster, who had served at the White House during Eisenhower’s administration.
This transplanted triad referred to itself jokingly as the Sacramento mafia because all three of the men had been wooed away from the KVIE public TV station to participate in this great adventure, which, in 1970, officially became the KPBS we all know. By the way, Witherspoon played a key role in the creation of the Public Broadcasting Act, and was present when President Lyndon Johnson signed it in 1967.
At a convivial induction ceremony recently, PBS NewsHour correspondent Judy Woodruff joined the three surviving founders, Witherspoon, Steen, and Marshall, in the KPBS TV studio to pay tribute to them as well as posthumously to Jones and McManus. It’s said the early radio days were conducted in a university closet. Now, KPBS has a multimillion-dollar budget and large audiences.
Whatever our favorite programs, whether public affairs, music, science and technology, or “whodunits,” we have these five men to thank for having the foresight, know-how, and tenacity to make a broadcast dream a reality. Happy Birthday, KPBS.