WU and the Beginning of Educational TV in St. Louis

St. Louis’ educational television station, KETC Channel 9, made its first broadcast on  September 20th, 1954 — fifty-nine years ago today.   It operated from a small, temporary studio in the women’s gymnasium at  McMillan Hall.  The beginning of regular broadcasts marked the completion of a project in which WU was a leading player.

[picture below]: McMillan Hall, site of KETC’s first studioMcmillan_exterior_closeupThe idea for a regional educational channel took off in 1951 when St. Louis mayor Joseph Darst appointed the committee that later became the St. Louis Regional Educational Television Commission.  Arthur Holly Compton, just ending his time as Chancellor of WU, served as chairman of the commission.  Community fundraisers aided in financing the station and educational institutions helped make educational TV a reality—WU provided studio space while SLU allowed Channel 9 use of its television tower.  KETC made apprenticeships available to students interested in educational TV, giving them the opportunity to assist with research and filming.  Other WU students joined the wealth of volunteers working at the station.

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KETC’s tower and building on campus

The initial educational programming was well-received, despite the difficulty of broadcasting from a small, makeshift studio.  A year later, KETC got its own building on Washington University’s campus — Julius and Freda Baer Memorial Hall, donated by Arthur Baer (President of the St. Louis department store chain Stix, Baer, and Fuller) in honor of his parents.  The $215,000 construction provided Channel 9 with a large studio, scenery shop and storage room, offices, a control room, a kinescope recording room and film rooms.  KETC continued to occupy the building for the next 43 years, and enjoyed a very reasonable rent—WU leased the building to KETC for the price of $1 per year.

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Julius and Freda Baer Memorial Hall, KETC’s longtime home on campus


For more information:

Washington University Radio and Television Office Records, 1952-1965, University Archives

http://ninenet.org/inside/history

http://libguides.wustl.edu/stl-mayors (St. Louis mayors)

About the author

Miranda Rectenwald is Curator of Local History, Washington University Special Collections. More info.