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Entries : WTTW: The Beginning of Public Broadcasting
WTTW: The Beginning of Public Broadcasting

WTTW: The Beginning of Public Broadcasting

One day in the early 1950s, Edward L. Ryerson received a call from a friend in Boston, Ralph Lowell. Both men were highly respected community leaders. Lowell urged Ryerson to organize a not-for-profit organization and apply to the Federal Communications Commission for a license to operate an educational television channel, just as Lowell had done in Boston. Assured by Lowell that this would be good for Chicago, Ryerson created WTTW-TV (its call letters stand for “window to the world”), which was awarded Channel 11. Fortunately for WTTW, Lowell did not have friends like Ryerson in New York, Los Angeles, Washington DC, Philadelphia, and other large cities, so Chicago got a head start on September 6, 1955, by broadcasting its first program for viewers in homes circling a 60-mile radius of the Loop.

When WTTW sought community support, 500,000 Chicago-area citizens responded. After a temporary start in the Bankers Building, WTTW found a home in the Museum of Science and Industry. With a low budget, 43 hours of programming a week were developed within the first year, including televised college courses for credit. Within 5 years, 15,000 students had enrolled; within 10 years, 80,000 had enrolled. By the mid-1960s, WTTW had moved into its own quarters at 5400 North St. Louis Avenue, where architects Perkins & Will had designed a studio and headquarters on five acres of land.