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Happy 60th Birthday to KUHT

KUHT Collection, University Archives

Big BirdThe University of Houston’s own beloved public television station, and the very first of its kind in the country, will celebrate its 60th birthday this weekend.

Dont’ worry, KUHT.  You’re not old, you’re just long in the tooth booth (broadcast booth, that is).

Before there was a Corporation for Public Broadcasting, before there was the Public Broadcasting Service, and before there was everyone’s favorite oversized fowl, KUHT was broadcasting on good ol’ Channel 8.

KUHT Filming Staff at WorkKUHT first hit the airwaves on May 25, 1953.  A first for the nation, it was originally licensed to both the Houston Independent School District and the University of Houston, envisioned as an educational channel serving both communities.  As the University of Houston became the sole licensee by the end of the 1950s, KUHT would become a home for UH’s first televised credit classes — continuing a UH tradition of expanding access to higher education in the city.  As similar television stations began to crop up around the country in its wake, KUHT would go on to become a member of National Education Television and later PBS, as a politically muddy merger of stations took place.  Programming has evolved throughout the years, but education has always remained at the forefront of the station’s mission.

KUHT program schedule from May 26, 1953

KUHT program schedule from May 26, 1953. Who needs ESPN when “Spring Quarterback” is on at 6:30pm?!

As part of the University Archives here in Special Collections, the KUHT Collection looms large in our stacks, weighing in at nearly 500 archival boxes.  Not surprisingly, over half of those boxes are comprised of video material.  The challenges of preservation and the unique proprietary formats of the bygone eras dictate that not all of these videotapes are immediately available for public viewing.  The remainder of the boxes and materials contained therein record the history of pioneering educational television.  A finding aid is available for your review and our University Archivist should be able to help you with any specific questions regarding detailed inventories or the accessibility of specific materials.

If you’re just curious to take a glance, however, our Digital Library serves up some wonderful highlights from the collection.  Hundreds of black and white photographs provide glimpses into KUHT over the years.  In addition, a number of fascinating videos have been preserved, digitized, and are available for your viewing pleasure from the comfort of your computer.  For example, a scathingly forthright documentary on the business and politics of H.L. Hunt (1965) portends the coming political woes and merger of public television stations, while films like Integration: Two Towns in Texas; The World of Billy Joe (documenting the struggle of integrating public schools in Southeast Texas) show the critical role public television can play towards a greater society.

So, happy birthday, KUHT!  What’s on the tube tonight?  Looks like we’re going to have to choose between “Antique Roadshow” or “Family Planning” (no, it’s not what you think).

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