Forty years ago today, on Sept. 6, 1975, at 11:58 a.m., Louisiana Public Broadcasting signed on the air, a huge step in expanding public television access to residents of Louisiana. It was an important landmark in the life of the state, and we salute the staff and supporters of LPB as the organization celebrates four decades of service to Louisiana this week.
The history of public television in Louisiana goes back even farther — to 1957, when WYES signed on in New Orleans, becoming the 12th public television station in the country at that time. Thanks to the pioneers at WYES, Louisiana residents got a sense of what public television could be.
The early presence of public television in the Crescent City helped create momentum for building a public television audience throughout Louisiana. That’s why WLPB was born in Baton Rouge in 1975, when Gerald Ford was president, Barack Obama had just started high school, and Bobby Jindal was in high school.
Companion LPB stations in Monroe, Shreveport, Lafayette, Lake Charles and Alexandria followed. LPB has a partnership with WLAE-TV that gives it a presence in New Orleans.
Access to public television across Louisiana has been a force for good in a state that has an especially urgent need to expand educational opportunities for all of its citizens. With literacy too low here and far too many of our residents failing to finish college or even high school, it’s important that we expose as many youngsters as possible — and as early as possible — to basic skills in reading and math.
In bringing quality educational programming to Louisiana’s youngsters, both LPB and WYES have helped to expand Louisiana’s community of learners. But public television offers equally valuable educational options to adults, underscoring the reality that in a knowledge-based economy, learning must be a lifelong habit.
LPB has been an important player on the national stage in public broadcasting, too. A young Ken Burns partnered with LPB to make “Huey Long,” helping launch a career that’s included many other internationally acclaimed documentaries, including “The Civil War,” “Jazz” and “Baseball.” Last month, an LPB-produced retrospective on Hurricane Katrina aired nationally on PBS, reminding Americans of Louisiana’s suffering in the storm and its rebound from disaster.
Public television in Louisiana has helped make us smarter, but it’s entertained us, too, as fans of “Sherlock” and “Downton Abbey” can attest.
We commend public TV staff, volunteers and supporters across Louisiana, and we wish them another 40 years of success.