Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture

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The Oklahoma Educational Television Authority is Oklahoma's only statewide coordinated instructional and public television network. In 1951 the state legislature pioneered the growth of noncommercial educational television in the United States by unanimously approving House Concurrent Resolution Number 5, urging the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to reserve television channels for educational purposes. On May 18, 1953, House Bill Number 1033, sponsored by Rep. W. H. Langley and Sen. Byron Dacus, and signed by Gov. Johnston Murray, created OETA. Oklahoma became the first state to pass a law providing for statewide educational television. The OETA Board held its first meeting in August 1953.

The FCC granted construction permits for Channel 13, KETA, in Oklahoma City in December 1953, and Channel 11, KOED, in Tulsa in July 1954. To finance expenses OETA was authorized to issue revenue bonds redeemable with money accumulating in the public building fund. However, the legislature did not appropriate operating funds, because they believed private donations should cover these expenses. Subsequently, Edward K. Gaylord, founder of the Oklahoma Publishing Company, donated $150,000.

Groundbreaking for the KETA transmitter building, located in Oklahoma City at Wilshire Boulevard and Kelly Avenue, occurred on August 1, 1955. When the network aired on April 13, 1956, it became the nation's twentieth educational television station and the Southwest's second. Studios were located in Norman at the University of Oklahoma. In 1959 an appropriation enabled the OETA to launch KOED. For the first fourteen years the regular program schedule constituted twenty hours per week. Through the nation's first statewide teaching program, it offered subjects for credit, televised from educational institutions in cooperation with the State Department of Education.

Educational television grew nationally under the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which established the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) in 1969. PBS, a private, nonprofit corporation chartered in Washington, D.C., selects, schedules, and promotes programs for national distribution to noncommercial educational stations. That year, OETA became a PBS member, gaining greater options for educational, cultural, informational, and entertainment programs to serve diverse audiences.

In 1973 OETA began broadcasting on Saturday, and weekly programming expanded to forty-nine hours per week. The legislature appropriated funds to move OETA's studios from Norman. Completed in 1974 in Oklahoma City, OETA's multipurpose broadcast center included a production studio and administrative offices at the transmitter site. A similar Tulsa facility opened in 1981. In 1978 OETA produced its first national telecast, the U.S. Open Table Tennis Championships, and its first regionally syndicated series, The Other School System. Four translator stations activated in 1979 brought educational television to viewers in the Panhandle and northwestern Oklahoma.

By 1984 the authority had the largest audience of any statewide educational television network. In 1987 the Oklahoma City broadcast center was expanded, and OETA began televising the syndicated Lawrence Welk Show. By 1989 OETA completed production of the award-winning series Oklahoma Passage, a docudrama that covered Oklahoma's past. The series enjoyed the largest viewing audience in OETA history. In 1990 OETA received its first Emmy Award, for Wordscape, and the Literacy Channel was established in 1991.

By the year 2000 four transmitters (located in Oklahoma City, Tulsa, Eufaula, and Cheyenne) with fifteen translators, extended OETA's services throughout Oklahoma. Educational programming supplemented school curricula with programs such as Sesame Street and Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. Public programming constituted cultural, public affairs, and informational programs and included Washington Week in Review, Masterpiece Theatre, Nova, and Oklahoma Wildlife. OETA, or The Oklahoma Network, educated and entertained 1.8 million weekly viewers throughout Oklahoma as well as southern Kansas, western Arkansas, and the Texas Panhandle. OETA has received awards from the National Academy of Arts and Sciences (Emmy), Auroras, Public Broadcasting Service, Associated Press, Oklahoma Association of Broadcasters, Oklahoma Education Association, National Educational Telecommunications Association, and Public Television Programmers Association. In 2003 OETA converted to digital, high-definition television, which allowed expanded programming and applications for educational programs through multicasting. OETA funding continues to come from through annual viewer pledges, charitable giving, and public appropriations.


BIBLIOGRAPHY: Daily Oklahoman (Oklahoma City), 12 July 1992. Facts About Channels 11 and 13 (Norman, Okla: Oklahoma Educational Television Authority, 1979). OETA's 25th Anniversary: Celebrating Complete Statewide Coverage (Oklahoma City, Okla: Oklahoma Educational Television Authority, 1982). Oklahoma State Statutes, Title 70, section 23.

Tally D. Fugate

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