My personal summer savior.

You see, I grew up on a not entirely active farm in rural Iowa. The nearest neighbors were too far away (just under a mile away, but to a elementary school student without the ability to ride a bike, less than a mile might as well be just under infinity) to visit, and they did not have children anyway. Without the big yellow school bus to transport me to and from school, I was friendless. Yes, I had siblings, but I do not think I need to explain why that does not count.

In any case, one source of distraction during this awful, lonely season called 'summer', that others laud but I detest, was the boob tube. 5 channels for a while, supplemented by fox later. How did I ever survive with only 5 channels? Well, I didnt survive with 5 channels, since, during the balance of the day, 3 channels played these inspid tales called 'soap operas'. I could not, and to this day cannot, imagine anything more boring. So i was left with 2 TV channels to distract me for the majority of the day - PBS. (We received both Nebraska Educational TeleVision NETV and Iowa Public TeleVision IPTV.) Even the driest 1950's washed out instructional film, replayed on PBS, was more entertaining than what 'all my children' were doing that day.

I dont know how many hot afternoon hours were spent suckling on the goodness of PBS, But it could not have been enough. Like any normal kid, around 3:00 or so, i got my daily dose of Transformers, G.I. Joe, Thundercats, and that stuff. And like all good things, It eventually came to an end: About a week before school starts, IPTV starts running coverage of the Iowa State Fair. That stuff, while still better than any soap opera you care to name, bored me as well. But it was a bittersweet boring: the Fair signified the end of the torment that was summer. Within a week, I would be back in school, socializing with friends, and seething with jealousy at my peers' summer activities. But I still feel like a better person for all that boob tube vegging. Can you say that?

The Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), commonly but incorrectly referred to as the Public Broadcasting System, is a private, non-profit organization founded in 1969, and owned and operated by (as of 2002) the 171 noncommercial, educational licensees of 349 U.S. public television stations. PBS is headquartered in Alexandria, Virginia. PBS provides a centralized administrative organization to support local public television stations in the areas of program acquisition, distribution and promotion; education services; new media ventures; fundraising support; engineering and technology development; and video marketing. PBS itself is not engaged in video production, but acquires and distributes programming (some local and regional public television entities do produce programming, but PBS does not).

Pioneering in the development and use of new technologies, PBS has a long tradition of technological leadership. It premiered broadcast television's first satellite distribution system; developed closed captions for hearing-impaired audiences and descriptive video service for the visually impaired; inaugurated the first four-channel, digitally-encoded audio system for satellites; inaugurated the television industry's first regular satellite feed of digital high-definition television; and was the first broadcaster to develop an all-digital network and technical facility. As of May 2002, 74 PBS member stations were offering digital broadcast services, covering fifty-five percent of all U.S. households.

The total national, regional and local revenue for public television stations and PBS come primarily from local contributors/members, state governments, Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) and federal grants and contracts , businesses, state colleges and universities, and foundations.

The radio counterpart to PBS is National Public Radio (NPR). While some licensees operate both NPR and PBS stations, public radio and public television are separate entities at the programmatic and distribution levels, though they are often confused by the general public. You'll hear someone say "I heard on PBS this morning...," for example, when they really heard a news program on public radio.

In 1995, an Internet petition was circulated, regarding pending legislation that would affect federal funding of PBS and NPR. This petition still is making the rounds, years later, and has achieved a legendary status among other well-known Internet hoaxes, viruses, worms and the like.

Counterparts to PBS in other countries include:
ABC (Australia)
CBC (Canada)
Danmarks Radio TV (Denmark)
YLE (Finland)
ARD/ZDF (Germany)
RUV (Iceland)
RTE (Ireland)
RAI (Italy)
NOS/NPS (Netherlands)
TVNZ (New Zealand)
NRK (Norway)
SABC (South Africa)
TVE (Spain)
SVT - Sveriges Television (Sweden)
SBC (Switzerland)

A Smattering of PBS Stations

KCET: Los Angeles
KCTS: Seattle
KERA: Dallas
KPBS: San Diego
KQED: San Francisco
Maryland Public Television (MPT): Maryland
Oregon Public Broadcasting (OPB): Oregon
WETA: Washington, DC
WGBH: Boston
WHYY: Philadelphia
Thirteen/WNET: New York City
WQED: Pittsburgh

Some Well-Known PBS-Distributed Programming

Anne of Green Gables
Antiques Roadshow
Ken Burns's Baseball
Ken Burns's The Civil War
The Electric Company
Evening at Pops
Great Performances
In the Life
Ken Burns's Jazz
several series featuring Julia Child
Masterpiece Theatre
Mister Rogers' Neighborhood
The Newshour with Jim Lehrer
Reading Rainbow
Sesame Street
This Old House


  • PBS Online
  • My personal experience as an employee at two national public television organizations for nearly ten years

PBS (or the Public Broadcasting Service) is a nonprofit, private corporation which was founded in 1969. It is partially funded by CPB, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which is also a private corporation, but was created and is funded by the federal government. It also distributes the programs through the U.S.A.’s first satellite broadcast system. It serves close to 100 million people each week and is available in 99% of American homes that have televisions.

PBS funds programs for 349 member stations. It provides programming and other related services to noncommercial stations in all 50 states, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam and American Samoa. Currently, 171 educational licensees operate the 349 PBS member stations. 88 of the licensees are community organizations, 56 are colleges and universities, 20 are state affiliated, and 7 are local educational authorities.

According to CPB, public television’s local and regional revenue in 1999 was $1.6 billion dollars. The major sources of revenue were: 23.5% from members, 17.1% from state governments, 14.8% from CPB and federal grants/contracts, 14.3% from businesses, 6.1% from state colleges and universities, and 6.1% from foundations. Members are what primarily drive the stations, almost 5 million people donated $373 million dollars to PBS in 1999.

According to, PBS has received the following awards:

  • 8 George Foster Peabody Awards in March, 2002. It led all other networks in the amount of awards it received. PBS station WGBH Boston got an individual Peabody for "an example of the best in public television."
  • Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Award in January, 2002 for TV and radio journalism.
  • 5 Primetime Emmys in September, 2001
  • 7 News and Documentary Emmy Awards in September, 2001
  • 12 Daytime Emmys in May, 2001 for its children’s’ programming, which made it the leader over all other networks in the number of awards it has received.
Although PBS (a.k.a. the Public Broadcasting Service) is the largest and best known example of public television, it isn't the only one in America.

American Public Television is another semi-network of semi-affiliated public television stations in the U.S. The APT National Carriage Service tracks a program's scheduled air dates among nearly 350 public television stations nationwide to help producers with underwriting, station relations and marketing efforts.

Their standards are more lax in terms of format and funding; as a result, many smaller public television stations in rural areas belong to APT instead of PBS. APT as an organization actually predates PBS by almost a decade.

One of their primary services is the APT National Carriage Service, which tracks a program's scheduled air date among nearly 350 public television stations nationwide to help producers with underwriting, station relations and marketing efforts.

APT has been criticized on occasion for their relaxed funding standards, which has on more than one occasion lead to "embedded" or "hidden" sponsorship of programs which the funder has a vested interest. Imagine, for example, a documentary on American obesity sponsored by Pfizer that also might include a subtle plug for a newly released Pfizer diet pill; something that wouldn't pass muster on PBS itself.

Over the last decade, private cable networks have seriously eroded public television's traditional audience. With the Learning Channel producing nature documentaries, the History Channel producing historical biographes and A&E producing cultural programming, public television is struggling to make ends meet in a highly competitive environment.

As a result, it's likely that embedded and hidden corporate sponsorship of programming will likely increase as standards for funding of programming continues to be relaxed.

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