This year marks the 100th anniversary of public broadcasting in Wisconsin. I am pleased to serve as a director of the Educational Communications Board and help recognize the anniversary of our wonderful and groundbreaking public broadcasting system and its history.
WHA-AM (then known as 9XM) is believed to be the oldest public radio station in the nation and one of the oldest continuously broadcasting radio stations of any kind in the country. It predates the BBC (the British Broadcasting Company).
Public broadcasting in the state began in 1917 at the University of Wisconsin when a small group of hardworking scientists and students were committed to using new technologies to enhance life across the state. This commitment introduced a significant change in how the world would share information and connect.
Educators at the recently established UW-Extension were looking at how this new technology could help the state’s mostly rural families and farmers. Among many broadcast “firsts,” Wisconsin Public Radio (WPR) was the first station in the nation to offer regularly scheduled weather forecasts and crop prices. Soon after, WPR began broadcasting the Wisconsin high school basketball tournament, early Green Bay Packers games, and later some Badger football and basketball games.
The collaboration between public broadcasting and public instruction expanded in the 1930s, when WPR launched educational School of the Air programs to serve the more than 4,000 one-room schoolhouses in the state. And College of the Air programs were created for Wisconsin’s mostly rural families during the Great Depression.
Over the years, WPR, and later Wisconsin Public Television, built a statewide network of stations to ensure equal access to information and education They also connected the state like never before. Those connections and a belief that Wisconsinites should have access not just to listen, but to also talk to each other, led to the creation of the Ideas Network in the 1990s, which is a WPR mainstay to this day.
Public service was really the foundation of those early innovations and it still drives everything public broadcasting does on air, online and in communities across the state. The commitment that began in 1917 to public service remains the foundation of everything Wisconsin Public Radio and Wisconsin Public Television do to this day.
State Sen. Fred Risser, D-Madison, represents the 26th Senate District and is a member of the Wisconsin Educational Communications Board.
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