The Quest for Public Television

By Phil Roberts


        In Wyoming, with the smallest population of any state and a tradition of individualism, one person can have a greater impact on change than in most other states. While the absence of entrenched special interests and a general acceptance of change were factors, it was the influence of specific individuals who caused Wyoming to pioneer women’s suffrage, claim state ownership of water resources, and institute creative severance taxes.1  And there are the cases where Wyoming is last among the states to institute change, often because no advocate champions the idea. Rarely has it been both ways. One such case was in the matter of public television.

    Around the United States, not one public television station was broadcasting in September, 1951, when University of Wyoming President George (“Duke”) Humphrey initiated the filing for the first public television station in Wyoming.2 At the time, no television station of any kind operated in Wyoming and it would be an entire year before reception of any television signal was made in the state.3 An entire range of obstacles, some legal and political and others financial and philosophical, blocked his efforts and it wasn’t until 1982, 18 years after Humphrey’s retirement as UW president that public television finally came to Wyoming—not from a station in Laramie, but one in Riverton.

    The story of Humphrey’s efforts demonstrates another oft-stated truth about Wyoming—it seems that with some innovations, there is a “50-year lag.”4 In a lightly populated state with minimal state government bureaucracy, affecting change should be relatively rapid. Nonetheless, as the story of public television points out, sectional rivalries, absence of private funding support, conflicts of interest, and no particular reverence for higher education, struck out at innovation. The university, attempting to fulfill its education mission for the entire state, often met with active opposition and apathy. The quest for public television became ensnared in these tangles of politics.

    In early 1951, the Federal Communications Commission announced that it would propose to reserve television channels for 209 non-commercial educational stations in certain cities throughout the United States.6 The commission designated only one such channel for Wyoming—VHF Channel 8 in Laramie.7  In many respects, the designation seemed fortuitous for public television. In many major markets, the FCC designated less desirable UHF channels for educational broadcasting, allowing commercial interests to snap up the better VHF locations. At the same time, the FCC set aside commercial channels nationwide. Twenty allotments were made to Wyoming, five on the VHF band and 15 on UHF. One of the commercial assignments, UHF channel 18, was designated for Laramie.

    In the beginning, the FCC split narrowly on the issue of whether to even authorize educational channels. Only four of the seven commissioners favored such reservations. Commission chairman Wayne Coy, skeptical that non-commercial channels would be utilized, said he would be looking for a clear and immediate response on the part of educational institutions showing that they intended to use television for educational purposes.8

    UW President Humphrey acted swiftly, filing comments before the commission, pointing out that the UW would utilize Channel 8, but it “cannot file an application for the construction of a television station until it has received legislative authority to do so.” Since the Wyoming legislature met in biennial sessions, such action could not be expected until the 1953 session.  “It is impossible to give definite assurance to the Commission that the channel reserved for Laramie, Wyoming, will be used by the University.”9

    Commercial assault on public television began almost immediately. It was generally agreed that the VHF channels, 2-13, had greater value than UHF. Consequently, on May 7, 1951, Warren M. Mallory filed a counter proposal with the FCC on behalf of himself and a group of Cheyenne and Laramie businessmen, asking that Channel 8 be released for commercial use and Channel 18 become the educational station.10

    Mallory’s group withdrew their request a month later, but by filing the counter proposal, the group kept in play their request to withdraw Channel 18 and substitute a lower channel, either 3 or 5.11

    Later in the summer of 1951, Humphrey engaged engineer Mallory to draft a plan for the UW non-commercial station. Mallory recommended a 2,000-watt transmitter with the signal broadcast from a 500-foot-high tower erected on the university campus.12 Humphrey asked a trustee subcommittee to endorse the proposal, but at least two trustees were uncomfortable about acting without the entire board.13

    Part of their concern had to do with what was shown in Mallory’s coverage map appended to the report. Depending on the tower location, the transmitted signal would range from some ten miles from Laramie to a maximum of less than 50 miles at the most favorable distance. Rock River and Centennial were at the outer edges of the more powerful broadcast range. The signal would not reach Cheyenne (blocked by the Laramie Range) and even Medicine Bow would be beyond range. “I do not believe the executive committee should bind the entire board in a matter involving so great an expenditure when apparently results north of the Union Pacific for years to follow would be limited,” wrote trustee John A. Reed, Kemmerer.14  Nonetheless, the board did pass a resolution asking the FCC to assign Channel 8 to the university.15

    The university report tried to counter the concerns from potential competing commercial operators about programming contents. The Humphrey-commissioned report stated:

Some of the proposed programs would be presented as live broadcasts, some as closed circuit broadcasts to class rooms upon the Campus, and some would be recorded on film for television release by other stations throughout the State. Thus a station of the University would become a part of the educational establishment of the State.17


    Humphrey, anxious to see that the university become involved in television of some sort, wrote to a local radio broadcaster on Aug. 30, 1951. He inquired whether the radio operator would like to enter into a cooperative television venture.18 The record contains no response; apparently, the radio owner had no interest.

    The university's television committee met sporadically through 1951 and into 1952. Humphrey, anxious to have a funding request ready for the 1953 legislative session, wrote to the director of the American Council on Education in June 1952: "I read the statements about the Joint Committee on Educational Television, .... We are making a careful study of the advisability of establishing television facilities at the University of Wyoming. I should like to have the information available on the work of the Committee." 19

    Humphrey recognized how profitable tie-ins with universities could be for commercial television stations, particularly in regard to intercollegiate sports. At the end of the year, Humphrey received a letter from Keeton Arnett, an official of Dumont Laboratories, complaining about the NCAA policy of restricting football broadcasts to the station offering the best deal. "It is not possible for us to arrive at a conclusion other than that extremely bad judgment has been used by the NCAA television committee, with the result that, not only the game of football, but the cause of education is suffering." 20

    Humphrey wrote back a stinging reply, taking issue with all of Arnett's statements. "If unrestricted televising of football games is permitted," Humphrey wrote, "within five years we will not have more than twenty-five or thirty teams in the United States. Such a practice would make strong teams stronger and weak teams weaker."

    Humphrey knew he needed extensive engineering reports in order to make a strong case to the 1953 legislature. Consequently, the board of trustees gave him approval to hire an out-of-state engineering firm, Lutz and May, Consulting Engineers, of Kansas City. Bids for the engineering study also had been submitted by Mallory and from Cheyenne engineer William Grove. Grove was associated with KFBC Radio in Cheyenne, owned by Frontier Broadcasting Company, a firm in which university trustee Tracy McCraken held a majority stake. 21

    Just as the 1953 legislative session was opening, Lutz and May delivered the report. The results indicated  that television might not be as "affordable" as the Mallory report two years earlier had indicated. The firm pointed out, however, that "the cost of an educational television station represents an investment in the future of Wyoming which we can ill afford to forego and, perhaps, lose forever."

    Apparently to avoid the criticism that the station would serve only Laramie, the Lutz and May plan shows a considerably expanded broadcast range. Their plan called for a 100-kilowatt transmitter with sufficient range to reach Cheyenne and almost to Fort Collins., Colo., to the south and Wheatland to the northeast. Instead of a 500-foot tower and transmitter being placed on campus, Lutz and May recommended a site on Pilot Hill, east of Laramie, with a shorter 100-foot tower. The on-campus studio would be connected to it by microwave relay. 22

    The plan included an extensive equipment list and floor plan for a two-story studio building containing state-of-the-art studios, offices and production rooms. Initial cost estimates were sobering: from $362,582 to $638,022 and an annual operating cost estimated from $129,800 to $139,800.23  Apparently unfamiliar with the traditional parsimony of the Wyoming legislature, the firm pointed out that the costs compared favorably to stations already in the planning stages at Kansas State University, the University of Nebraska, and other large Midwest institutions.

    The one comparison to a commercial station, however, caused legislators to question the huge outlays. According to Lutz and May, KFBC-TV, the new station about to be opened in Cheyenne by Frontier Broadcasting, a firm controlled by UW Trustee McCraken, spent just $238,600 for the 5.22 kilowatt channel 5 station and the firm estimated an annual operating cost of less than $100,000.24

    Any hope for an appropriation died. Nonetheless, optimistic that the legislature would be more favorable two years later, Humphrey had to be satisfied with the Senate Enrolled Joint Memorial urging the FCC to continue to reserve Channel 8 for the University of Wyoming for another two years.25 When Humphrey sent a copy of the resolution to Paul A. Walker, the new chair of the FCC, and asked him to extend the deadline for application to July 1, 1955, Walker replied: "I would very much hope and respectfully urge that the State of Wyoming not delay application for an educational television station in Wyoming for such an extended period. The pressures for the use of this channel for commercial purposes will be so strong that I very much fear that the State would find it more difficult two years from now to proceed with an educational station than at the present time." 26

    Alarmed by Walker's letter, Humphrey wrote to each member of the Wyoming congressional delegation urging that they contact Walker and argue the university's case. U. S. Representative William Henry Harrison's response was typical. He promised to contact Walker and added, "I hope you will be successful with Channel 8." 27

    Curiously, Humphrey, who had enjoyed considerable success in raising funds from private sources, did not seek television funding in that manner. KUHT, Houston, the first public TV station in the nation, benefited from the generosity of oil millionaire Hugh Roy Cullen, and the construction costs of the second station to open, KTHE Los Angeles, also was underwritten by an oilman.28 These earliest sponsoring institutions though the sponsoring institutions, the University of Houston and the University of Southern California, showed that private funding was possible. Nonetheless, just as in other cases in Wyoming history, Humphrey relied on the legislature.29

    Nationally, the Joint Committee on Educational Television was advocating closer ties between educational institutions and commercial broadcasters. “Many school systems and colleges find it expedient, pending the construction of television stations designed exclusively for non-commercial educational telecasting, to seek and accept cooperative arrangements with commercial television broadcasters in their area in order to help the commercial broadcaster serve his public interest requirements and in order to permit the educator to expand the area and influence of the educational institution and to learn television skills,” the committee wrote. The committee emphasized, however, that such arrangements “in no way constitute a satisfactory alternative to the operation of a non-commercial educational television station by an educational institution because of the essentially different objectives of the commercial broadcasters form those of the educators.”30 UW was to learn how divergent its objectives were when Humphrey initiated a deal with a Cheyenne station.

    KFBC-TV in Cheyenne, went on the air March 21, 1954. It was the first TV station in the state of Wyoming. Hopeful that the 1955 legislature would act, Humphrey was nonetheless anxious for the university to begin working in television. Consequently, on Aug. 23, 1954, UW entered into a deal with Educational Television and Radio Center in Ann Arbor, Mich., for a series of educational television productions that would be run on a trial basis by KFBC-TV Cheyenne.31 The Michigan firm had advocated the tie-in with the commercial station: “Educational institutions may contract with commercial television stations for use of time providing there is no sponsor. Affiliated stations pay $1,000 per year for five programs each week....” the firm’s literature pointed out.  To reimburse KFBC who was barred from selling advertising to pay for the series, Humphrey agreed to write to bankers in the Channel 5 viewing area, urging them to underwrite the weekly half-hour programs as a “public service.”32 Apparently at Humphrey’s request, a secretary contacted the director of the Michigan production firm and reported back to the UW president that: “The first one [series]...was something about government that I didn’t quite catch. He said he did not think there was anything in it to offend the bankers,” she memoed Humphrey.33

    In mid-September, KFBC-TV announced that the ten-part program called “Great Plains Trilogy” would be broadcast each Sunday afternoon from 3-3:30 p.m., as an educational program from the University of Wyoming. Station owner and UW Trustee Tracy McCraken wrote Humphrey asking how he wished to introduce the series.34

    The arrangement turned out to be a disappointment and when the educational film service sought payment for films that had been shipped beyond the initially committed ten-week series, Humphrey replied, noting that the University never wished to renew beyond the trial period. “Incidentally,” Humphrey wrote bitterly, “I talked with the president of KFBC-TV [McCraken] yesterday and he said that the programs were not well received. I myself received only one letter about the programs,” he wrote, adding, “I should be glad to have your reaction to this situation.”35              

    Dr. H. K. Newburn replied with criticism of his own. “We have had varying comments from the stations that have been operating under this plan,” he wrote, pointing out that in nearly every case, the comments had been favorable.  “I must say, however, that I believe your institution has given a good deal more responsibility for the operation of the program to the commercial station in Cheyenne than is usually the case.” Newburn pointed to Nebraska, Iowa and New Mexico where commercial broadcasters were not given control over the educational broadcasts. “They have attempted to integrate the program very closely with university activities and thus have had a different setting relative to public relations and educational impact,” he concluded.36 With cancellation of the film series, the UW’s weekly half-hour arrangement with KFBC-TV came to an end.

    While the Wyoming plan remained stalled throughout the rest of the decade, public stations opened in neighboring states. University control, however, turned out not to be the pattern. On Jan. 30, 1956, after four years of planning, KRMA-TV in Denver began operation under a license granted to Denver Public Schools. Organized by a consortium of about 125 cultural and educational organizations, the governing control evolved into a council of 26 area groups. Five years after its opening, the station’s budget amounted to $194,000, all but $89,000 paid by the school district. 37 

    Wyoming, on the verge of pioneering public television, now found itself lagging most neighboring states. Nonetheless, Humphrey persisted. In 1961, Humphrey appointed a University Television Committee, to be chaired by John Marvel, Dean of the College of Education, to explore available options, but also to counter Scottsbluff businessman Terry Carpenter’s request to designate Channel 8 for a commercial station in Scottsbluff, Nebraska. Even though Carpenter later withdrew his FCC request, Nebraska Public Television was expanding statewide through five new outlets, including one in the Nebraska Panhandle capable to broadcasting into parts of eastern Wyoming.

    Humphrey also was receiving pressures to support expansion of the Denver public station into Wyoming. When the UW president asked Denver electronics consultant Karl O. Krummel to provide an estimate of how the State of Wyoming could distribute public television via cable systems statewide, the answer was not one Humphrey wanted to hear. “”KRMA, the Educational TV station of the Denver School Board is now broadcasting on a regular schedule of approximately eight to ten hours per day and has excellent programming for your purpose,” Krummel wrote. “It would seem natural for the State to utilize this signal rather than construct your own station and be faced with large operating costs associated with production and broadcasting.”38

    In early 1962, the University Television committee reported to Humphrey that a statewide committee should be formed consisting of “key personnel from the University, the State Department of Education, the Educational Media Council, the Wyoming Education Association, the Community College Commission, and the North Central Committee.”39 The UW committee’s other recommendations were equally timid, recommending “further study” of the costs and preparation of a survey in order to submit a grant request from the U. S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare. The university committee also echoed Krummel’s suggestion, recommending “that some type of control agreement may be made with the Educational Television Station in Denver, Colorado, to provide the bulk of initial programming for Wyoming residents.”40

    More than a decade had passed since Humphrey’s initial proposal, but few results except requests for more study had occurred. Marvel reported receiving newsletters from educational television committees in several states and a conversation he had with a Newcastle broadcaster who had conducted a statewide ETV survey. “I would hope that the ETV Committee might request the establishment of a state ETV commission in Wyoming which could serve as the official state agency endorsed by the legislature and the Governor. It would seem to me that commission status would gain more recognition and would be in a better position to secure and administer funds, assign responsibilities, and coordinate state-wide programs,” Marvel wrote.41

    Getting Wyoming school districts involved in such an enterprise by establishing a statewide committee seemed just as difficult. Humphrey and the trustees authorized Marvel to solicit support from educators. “I wish we could generate more interest in ETV in Wyoming, but the 50-year lag may be working,” replied Maurice F. Griffith, superintendent of Natrona County School District No. 2, in late 1962. Griffith was skeptical about the committee’s prospects. “I have talked about the possibilities to several school men but there is little interest. A committee may be of little value until some of our school people begin to have some curiosity about the medium,” he concluded.42

    Three weeks after he was sworn in as governor, former trustee Clifford P. Hansen received a letter from Humphrey urging appointment of a statewide ETV committee. He also passed on the UW Television Committee’s suggestion that the governor initiate the meetings for the new group “because it would create more interest than if the University originated the meeting,” Humphrey wrote.  Recognizing the political realities, the president and the university were distancing themselves from promoting the idea of public television. The initiative would have to come from elsewhere. 

    Humphrey retired as UW president in 1964 and the leadership for public television soon passed to Maurice Griffith, superintendent of schools in Natrona County, who began a frustrating seven-year crusade to bring public TV to Wyoming. Despite his earlier skepticism about educators and their desires for supporting public TV, he called a meeting for January 10,1964, inviting many administrators and teachers to explore possibilities for public TV.

    At the meeting, Griffith was elected chair of the newly organized “Greater Wyoming Instructional Television” committee. He told the small group of attendees that Casper schools already were making extensive use of television. Most educational programs on the system were imported from KRMA in Denver, but each Tuesday afternoon, local programming for the educational channel originated at KTWO-TV studios in Casper. Paul Schupbach, representing the Great Plains ITV Library at the University of Nebraska, spoke to the group, made up mostly of educators, about the Nebraska system.43

      Soon after, Gov. Hansen wrote to Griffith, calling for another statewide meeting. Hansen invited Humphrey’s successor, UW President John Fey, State Superintendent Cecil Shaw, and the owners of two commercial broadcasting companies, Jack Rosenthal of KTWO, Casper, and Robert McCracken, an officer in Frontier Broadcasting, owner of KFBC-TV, Cheyenne.44  From this group came the impetus for a state-supported committee for ETV. Griffith and several others continued as volunteers, planning for a public television network, perhaps through utilizing existing broadcast stations and cable television systems, then coming on line in many Wyoming cities. The group decided to submit a plan for funding such a system to the 1967 Wyoming Legislature, along with a request to formalize the Wyoming ETV Commission.45      

    Nationally, 1967 was a significant year for public television. Congress passed the Public Broadcasting Act, expanding support for educational television and creating the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. The Congress also extended a 1962 act which had authorized $32 million for “acquisition and installation” of equipment for educational television around the nation for five years. An appropriation of $10.5 million was made for Fiscal Year 1968, $12.5 million for FY 1969 and $15 million for FY 1970. The legislation did have limitations. No one state could receive more than 8 1/2 percent of the total appropriation. But what would prove more significant to Wyoming, the maximum grant would be limited to 75 percent of the broadcast equipment cost, the rest coming as a match from state (or private) sources. 46

    During the 1967 legislative session, Don Tannehill, a cable operator with connections to the ETV commission, and State Sen. Peter Madsen met with Governor Hathaway about how cable could interact with ETV.  According to a later recounting of the meeting, the cable operators were instructed not to oppose ETV’s request, even though many operators saw the plan as “unrealistic”—too expensive and the ten-year plan too unpredictable.47  The legislature, apparently concurring with the assessment made by the cable operators, passed legislation formalizing the Wyoming Educational Television Commission as a state agency, but it rejected the funding request proposed in a separate bill.48

    Griffith wrote to the other members about his disappointment with the 1967 session. “The legislature adjourned and we were unsuccessful in obtaining any funds for construction of a broadcast system,” he wrote in February 1967. “A bill to create a commission and funding for it was passed so there can be continuing work to develop a state system,” he added.49

    Governor Hansen had been elected to the U. S. Senate in 1966 and his successor, Stan Hathaway, formally appointed the Wyoming Educational TV Commission.50 Seven members were named to the commission, including Griffith. Ex officio representatives were chosen from two of the state’s commercial stations and one member from UW (broadcasting professor John McMullen).51 

    After the legislative session, committee member Bert Bell contacted cable operators about utilizing their systems to disseminate UW programs—at least until July 1, 1969. Cable operators agreed, pointing out the need for additional microwave applications in order to handle the university’s programs. The UW Board of Trustees would go to the legislature to get money to defray a portion of the cost, university officials told the cable operators. Technical problems meant the system would not start into operation until the fall of 1968, more than a year after the meeting. Nonetheless, such a partnership appeared to obviate the need for a statewide over-the-air ETV system.52

    At the commission’s organizational meeting held in July 1967, at Jackson Lake Lodge, the main discussion concerned choosing a transmitting method for Wyoming.  The choice was between Nebraska’s seven-transmitter system or Utah’s single-station hub system with 100-watt translators.53 No longer was Wyoming leading in educational television. Both neighboring states had developed quite sophisticated educational television systems while nothing had been accomplished in Wyoming.

    Dr. Ralph Molinari was appointed the executive secretary of the commission and introduced to members at the September 29 meeting on the UW campus. Board members, still divided on which transmitting approach to take, heard a presentation about the Nebraska system.54  At the next meeting, held in Casper, a majority opted for the Nebraska method, but a subcommittee was authorized to travel to Utah to inspect that system and report back.55 

    The decision came after significant differences of opinion were voiced.  It wasn’t until February of the next year, however, that the board authorized consulting engineer Tom Morrissey to proceed with engineering studies.56 

    Public television by over-the-air transmission no longer had a clear field. Cable television was making inroads into Wyoming communities and households. Cable operators in Wyoming always expressed support for educational television in principle, but worried about signal distribution and the impact on their industry.  The UW board of trustees, at the December 7 meeting, heard presentations from cable operators on using cable for adult education courses. 

    It was not the first meeting of cable operators and educators. They had been involved since at least September 1961. In 1964, when the first Morrissey report on ETV was issued, cable operators saw potential for partnerships with education. “In April, 1965, all school could be attached to various cable systems free of charge,” asserted Charles Crowell, legal representative of the operators, in the presentation to the UW Board of Trustees.  Cable was not universal throughout Wyoming, however. Their “reach” was to approximately 74 percent of the school-aged population.57

    ETV proponents were seeking a statewide network— “publicly funded, administered and with no subscription cost.”58 The cable industry had different goals.  The “partnership” arrangement set up through Bell’s initiative the previous year ran into trouble. On March 4, 1968, UW President William Carlson withdrew the university’s “program and policy statement” of cooperation with the cable companies. As a result, the cable firms withdrew microwave applications.59 No explanation was given for the university’s decision although, clearly, supporters of ETV were pleased with the result.60

    Representatives from the community antenna systems and cable companies met with the Wyoming ETV Commission on May 23 in Casper. There was “little accord at the meeting with CATV.”61 The “lack of accord” was evident in the following exchange: Chairman Griffith asked the representatives: “Do you believe if ETV is made available from the CATV that the legislature would fund an ETV system?”  The representative answered, “I don’t know.”  Griffith then asked, “If the CATV people can provide assistance to ETV, would it do so?” The representative replied, “We’d be most happy to.” But no details of “help” were asked or offered.62

    The ETV committee, meeting the same day, passed a resolution urging the University trustees to defer action on such proposals until such time as the “public television issues are resolved.”63 The commission was divided on the issue, however. Bert Bell again stated he believed an alliance with cable would be beneficial. The rest disagreed.64

    Out-of-state public television was making inroads. Member Bill Harrison reported that Sheridan schools planned to carry programming from the Salt Lake City public TV station. Griffith noted that Casper schools were using KRMA-TV in Denver, brought to Casper on cable.65 

    Griffith repeated concerns that the board lacked statewide support. The result was creation of an advisory board composed of one person from each county.66 When the board met at Jackson Lake Lodge in June, Morrissey provided them with funding proposals. Each of the 50 translator sites would require a $20,000 outlay. The main hub transmitter, tower building and other equipment would amount to some $500,000. Morrissey gave figures of $200,000 for the second hub with lower power and another $300,000 for a central production center. In his view, “shared production facilities” utilizing black and white would cost $100,000. The entire package was, at least in the view of some board members, staggering for its expense— $2.1 million, with an annual operation cost estimated from between $100,000 and $400,000 depending on picture quality. Locations of the two hubs, one on the summit between Cheyenne and Laramie (channel 8) and the second on Casper Mountain (channel 6) were identical to those proposed in Morrissey’s 1965 study.67 “The rather large figure brought discussion of other methods of getting ETV to Wyoming people,” the board secretary wrote blandly.68

    The commission majority asked Morrissey to provide a proposal for a “less costly system.” By the second day of the meeting, the engineer presented an alternative plan. The scaled-back version would have half as many translators (25), just one main transmitter, a less expensive building, and a “no-color production center.”  Total cost of the alternative would be an estimated $950,000, according to Morrissey.69         

    Clearly, Morrissey’s pared down plan would mean lesser signal penetration in the state. When the board met the next month, the majority decided to propose Morrissey’s initial, more extensive (and expensive) plan for legislative approval.70 Apparently, most believed matching funds might be utilized for the project, likely from the federal government.

    At the same meeting, the board commissioned a public opinion survey, to be conducted by the State Department of Education during the summer of 1968.  The results were encouraging. Approximately 84 percent of the respondents said they favored public television in Wyoming, even though a surprising number had not heard of the proposed plan and few knew the exact form of transmission.71

    Armed with the positive poll results, the commission asked Sackman to draft the proposed legislation for the system. Molinari and Bob Smith (hired to do public relations for the commission earlier that year) were asked to assist. Gov. Stan Hathaway, State Supt. of Public Instruction Harry Roberts and Jack Fairweather also attended the meeting. Hathaway told the commission he would endorse the concept “but not the specific plan.” He said he thought the commission should ask for no more than $500,000 and then seek a matching commitment elsewhere before the legislature convened.72

    Griffith wrote to U. S. Rep. William Henry Harrison (R-Wyoming) about helping the commission gain federal funds. Harrison responded that no funds for ETV had been appropriated for 1968. The Department of Health, Education and Welfare had requested $12.5 million for 1969, but the House had authorized just $4.5 million. The Senate had not acted on the bill. Harrison added that Wyoming would be ineligible for such funds at any rate because the ETV Commission “had not applied for a construction permit.” Harrison added that even if the commission’s plan for a $1 million bond sale were approved by the legislature, HEW “would have to wait until the money was in hand.”73

    In October, Griffith received similar bad news from the director of HEW’s Educational Broadcasting Facilities Program. There were “74 applications filed and $33 million requested,” Raymond J. Stanley reported. With just $4 million available and a state limitation of just $340,000, federal funding seemed out of the question.74

    Earlier that summer, Hathaway’s attorney general’s office reported that funding and authority to establish a statewide system through the ETV commission would expire the next June, according to the enabling legislation passed in 1967.  “I believe this is our last chance to act,” Griffith told other commission members. “If the Wyoming State Legislature does not establish an Educational Television system for our state during the 1969 session, I am afraid that our state will not be able to build an ETV system because of the unavailability of federal matching funds.”75

    The board was still torn between a centralized system and one operating a series of transmitters. Based on what they perceived as broad public support, the group hammered out a proposal to establish a statewide system, but with several alternatives having various price tags. On Dec. 12, 1968, Gov. Hathaway proposed that the board submit one bill for legislative approval rather than one enabling act and a separate appropriation bill. After changes were made to the draft and the two bills merged, Molinari submitted the bill for member approval on December 18. Along with authorization of a system, the bill called for $20,000 for commission operations and $500,000 for a funding match, the source of the match not yet determined.

    An Associated Press report distributed statewide on December 31 gave the commission members pause. In it, the writer quoted various legislators about their views on public television. Clearly, the cost figures, reported by AP to be at least $1 million, brought significant opposition from several key legislators.76 Griffith and other commission members were furious that the high figure had been cited without noting that the legislature was being asked for only half of it. A possibility existed for matching funds, they believed, and the article never mentioned it.77

    Gov. Hathaway, in his State of the State address to the legislature, spoke out in favor of the ETV system:


    Educational television can no longer be considered a luxury. It is an invaluable classroom aid and provides a medium for adult education and advanced vocational-technical training. Wyoming is now one of only two states that do not have an educational television system. I recommend that the legislature approve and fund the first phase of a plan that will, with the assistance of federal funds, provide an educational television system that will serve all of the people of Wyoming.78


    The legislature did not pass an appropriation for a statewide system. Without the state funds, the future of ETV was cast into doubt once again.

    Griffith sent a memo to the rest of the commission members on March 4, 1969, calling a meeting— “perhaps the last”— for later in the month. He wrote that the group would “consider possibilities for organizing a system without use of state funds.”79 Following the meeting, Griffith spoke with Governor Hathaway. “He gave approval to private fund-raising,” Griffith later wrote to his colleagues.80 In one last desperate act to gain financial support for such a network, Griffith wrote to the Ford Foundation. “The recounting of the multitude of problems in getting public broadcasting distributed throughout Wyoming...would be too long for an exploratory letter such as this,” he wrote, adding that factors of distance and small population were significant.81   

    Funding for the commission ended on June 1, 1969. The structure remained in place in the statutes until 1994 when the State Telecommunications Council was created, taking over what had been some duties of the commission.82


            On May 10, 1983, KCWC-TV, the first public television station in Wyoming, went on the air, broadcasting from studios on the campus of Central Wyoming College, Riverton. Wyoming barely escaped being the last state in the union to establish public TV. KCWC filed with the FCC just months before the public TV station in Montana.83

    The Riverton station came into being despite repeated legislative refusals to fund public TV. The initiative, led by CWC officials, was not without controversy.

    After the legislature defeated funding for such a station, CWC President Bob Barringer recruited a handful of political supporters, including Gov. Ed Herschler and State Sen. Roy Peck, a Fremont County Republican. With their help, CWC was able to resist an attempt by a commercial station in Casper to remove the Channel 4 designation from the FCC non-commercial category. Gov. Herschler sent his own representative to appear before the board of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting to testify for the Wyoming public station.84

    Having won the battle to keep the channel, the college turned toward gaining support for building the station.  Barringer, whose term at the college lasted barely a year, had been replaced by Richard St. Pierre, but the successor continued the quest.

    Federal funds, under the Public Telecommunications Facilities Program, were available for such a station, but they required a matching appropriation. To most, it seemed highly unlikely that the legislature would authorize such a match. St. Pierre bypassed the legislature and boldly allocated $325,000 from the college’s funds. Soon, the PTFP federal match of three times that amount—$976,000—was granted. It was the largest federal grant made to start a public television station and CWC became the only community college in the world holding a VHF TV station license.85

    KCWC-TV, however, was far from the statewide system envisioned by Duke Humphrey in the 1950s. Repeated attempts to form a state telecommunications authority were defeated by the legislature throughout the early 1980s.  State Sen. Peck introduced bills in 1980 and 1982 to establish such an entity, but each time, they were defeated. 

    Nonetheless, Humphrey’s dream of public television finally came to pass. It hadn’t been a “50-year lag” as Maurice Griffith once bitterly predicted, but his estimate was close. Thirty-two years after Humphrey’s proposal to make Wyoming the first state with public television, Wyoming finally became the 49th state to have such a channel.



      1  Actually, three individuals receive much of the credit for women suffrage: Territorial Gov. John A. Campbell, Territorial Secretary Edward M. Lee, and William Bright, the South Pass legislator who introduced the suffrage bill in the first territorial legislature. Dr. Elwood Mead strongly influenced Wyoming’s water law. The 1966 gubernatorial candidate Ernest Wilkerson made the severance tax a centerpiece in his campaign. Later, the man who defeated him in that election, Stan Hathaway, influenced passage of the first severance tax in Wyoming.

      2 The first noncommercial educational television station was KUHT, Channel 8, Houston, Texas, which began broadcasting on May 12, 1953, with test patterns and with programming on May 25. Only two such stations were on the air by the end of 1953; eight more began broadcasting in 1954; and five more opened in 1955. James Day, The Vanishing Vision: The Inside Story of Public Television. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995), 35-36; Joseph Nathan Kane, Famous First Facts. (New York: H. W. Wilson, 1981), 659. It would not have been unprecedented for a non-profit broadcasting outlet to be the first in Wyoming. The first radio station in Wyoming, KFA Laramie, was a non-profit operation underwritten by Mrs. E. H. Harriman and the Episcopal Church. See Howard Lee Wilson, “Top of the World Broadcasts: Wyoming’s Early Radio,” Annals of Wyoming 43 (Spring, 1971), 5-52.

      3 The first television programs viewed in Wyoming were broadcast from Denver on July 18, 1952, by KWGN, Channel 2. The first commercial station in the state, KFBC-TV Cheyenne, went on the air March 21, 1954.

      4 Maurice F. Griffith to Dean John Marvel, Nov. 7, 1962, Box 178, Television file, UW Archives.

    5 On the other hand, UW feared any rival. One of the earliest efforts for another four-year college in the state occurred in the 1890s when Lander tried for the “agricultural college.” See Roberts, Wyoming Almanac. (Laramie: Skyline West, 1997), 415.

      6 For complete accounts of the origins of public television nationally, see John Walker Powell, Channels of Learning: The Story of Educational Television. (Washington: Public Affairs Press, 1962); Robert Blakely, To Serve the Public Interest: Educational Broadcasting in the United States. (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1979); and Day, The Vanishing Vision.

      7 “Outline for Committee on Television, University of Wyoming,” in Box 129, President’s Files, University Archives.

      8 Day, 31.

      9 “Outline for Committee on Television,” ibid.

      10 Cited in “Outline....”

      11 “Outline....”

      12 Mallory affidavit, “Engineering Statement,” in “Sworn Statement of the University of Wyoming, Pursuant to FCC Order of Hearing Procedure,” FCC Docket Nos. 8736, 8975, 9175, 8976, Sept. 21, 1951, in Box 129.

      13 University Archives: President’s Files, Box 129, Telegram to John A. Reed, Kemmerer, and H. D. Del Monte, Lander, Sept. 20, 1951

      14 The map is in Warren Mallory, “Sworn Statement to the FCC,” filed Sept. 21, 1951, p. 25, Box 129, President’s files, University Archives. Reed’s telegram response to Humphrey is in “Television,” Box 129, University Archives.

      15 Trustee’s Minutes, Book X (1951), 1751.

      16 “Sworn Statement...”,  3.

      17 Ibid.

      18 Humphrey to Richard Connor, KOWB Radio, Aug. 30, 1951, Box 129, President’s Files.

      19 Humphrey to Dr. Arthur S. Adams, June 27, 1952, “Television” file, Box 129, President’s Files. For the activities of the committee, later the council, see Day, chap. 2.

      20 Keeton Arnett to Humphrey, Dec. 30, 1952, in “Television” file, Box 133, President’s Files.

      21 Trustee’s Minutes, Box XI (1952), 38, 52. Gove later was named general manager of KFBC-TV in Cheyenne.

      22 Report, Lutz and May, Consulting Engineers, Kansas City, Jan. 27, 1953, “Television” file, Box 133, President’s Files.

      23 Ibid.

      24 Ibid.

      25 Senate Enrolled Joint Memorial #12 of the 32d legislature, introduced by State Senators David N. Hitchcock (D-Albany) and R. L. Greene (R-Johnson), Feb. 16, 1953, and approved Feb. 25, 1953.  Wyoming Session Laws (1953), 246, 289-290. For trustee action on the request, see Trustee’s Minutes, Book XI (1953), proceedings for February 27.

      26 Humphrey to Walker (containing a copy of the Senate memorial), March 13, 1953, Box 133, President’s Files; Walker to Humphrey, March 17, 1953, Box 133, President’s Files, UW Archives.

      27 Harrison to Humphrey, March 19, 1953, Box 133, President’s Files. See also Sen. Lester Hunt to Humphrey, March 23, 1953; and Sen. Frank A. Barrett to Humphrey, March 26, 1953, with similar assurances and comments. Box 133, President’s files, UW archives.

      28 Day, 36-37.

      29 Wyomingites do not simply rely on the legislature in questions of funding.  There is a tendency to look to the legislature as a “cure” for many economic problems that may be better solved through non-government means. This trait was discussed extensively by members of the Wyoming Public Policy Forum during deliberations in Laramie in 1993-94 in which this writer had the opportunity to participate.

      30 “Outline for Committee on Television, University of Wyoming,” in “Television” file, Box 133

      31 The Michigan firm would furnish materials to UW at $1 per minute for half-hour shows. The university would be given seven program choices.

      32 Copies of the letters and the mailing list are in “Television” file #106, Box 140, President’s Files, University Archives.

      33 Undated memo, Box 140, President’s Files.

      34 Humphrey to Tracy McCraken, Oct. 4, 1954, Box 140, President’s Files.

      35 Humphrey to Dr. H. K. Newburn, Educational Television and Radio Center, Ann Arbor, Feb. 10, 1955, “Television” file, Box 140, President’s files.

      36 Newburn to Humphrey, undated letter, “Television” file, Box 140, President’s Files.

      37 “KRMA Works on Small Budget But Turns Out Big Productions,” Roundup: The Sunday Denver Post, July 23, 1961, 11.

      38 Krummel to Humphrey, July 24, 1961. “Television” file, Box 178, President’s Files.

      39 Trustee’s Minutes, May 25-26, 1962.

      40 “Recommendations by the University of Wyoming Television Committee,” undated report to Humphrey. “Television” file, Box 178, President’s Files.

      41 Marvel to Humphrey, June 5, 1962. “Television” file, Box 178, President’s Files.

      42 Griffith to Marvel, Nov. 7, 1962. “Television” file, Box 178, President’s Files.

      43 Weston Brooke was elected vice chairman; James Moore, secretary; and Robert Kilzer, treasurer. “Correspondence” folder, Wyoming Educational Television Commission files, Wyoming State Archives, Division of Cultural Resources.

      44 Hansen to Griffith, March 12, 1965. “Correspondence” folder, Wyoming Educational Television Commission files, Wyoming State Archives, Division of Cultural Resources. Hansen’s informal committee eventually included:  Griffith, chair; J. E. Christensen, Powell, President of Northwest Community College and representing the Community College Commission; Mrs. Donna Connor, Rawlins, Wyoming County Superintendent’s Association; Dr. John Gates, UW; the Rev. Jerome Louge, Cheyenne, representing the state’s parochial schools; Leroy Meininger, Huntley,  president of the Wyoming School Board Association; Jack Rosenthal, KTWO-TV who represented broadcasters; Don Tannehill, president of Big Horn Broadcast Company of Sheridan, representing Community TV Antenna Association; and L. J. Williams, D. D. S., representing “the professions” in Wyoming. Others listed on letterhead of the committee included: Dr. Harry Broad and Dean Talegan, both from the State Department of Education; Marshall S. Macy, superintendent of schools in Newcastle; and James Messimer, Casper, president of the Wyoming Education Association.

      45 Prior to 1972, the legislature met for only 40 days biennially.

      46 Public Broadcasting Act of 1967, HR 6736.

      47 Minutes of Meetings, Wyoming ETV Commission, May 23, 1968.

      48 HB 310, introduced on January 26, 1967, would have established an appropriation of $822,000 for the ETV commission. A bipartisan group of legislators, Verda James, Harold Hellbaum, LaVerne C. Boal, June Boyle, Elton Trowbridge, Leon Keith, Arthur L. Buck, Bob R. Bullock and Marvin E. Emrich were bill co-sponsors.  HB 142, establishing the commission did pass. Sponsors were James, Emrich, Bullock, Buck, Boyle, Keith, William S. Curry, Allen E. Campbell, Joe W. Stewart and Clyde W. Kurtz. “Legislation Folder, 1967-1968,” Wyoming ETV Commission.

      49 Griffith to ETV Committee members, 20 February 1967. “Correspondence file,” Wyoming ETV Commission, Wyoming State Archives. The act originated as HB 142, filed on January 17, 1967, and co-sponsored by several Natrona and Laramie county legislators, including Verda James who was to be House Speaker in the next session two years later.

      50 Griffith served as chairman; Bert Bell, vice chairman; W. H. Harrison, a Sheridan CPA, was the secretary. Other members were Robert Schrader, Dean Talagan, Pat Quealy and Warren Sackman, Cheyenne. Dr. Schrader, superintendent of schools in Cody, later was elected State Superintendent of Public Instruction. Bill Grove, vice president of KFBC, Cheyenne, and Ben Lockard, chief engineer of KTWO, Casper, often appeared at meetings as representatives of the commercial stations. “Minutes of Meetings,” Wyoming Educational Television Commission files, Wyoming State Archives.

      51  The law required a party split, but also stipulated that the governor should take professional qualifications into account when making the appointments. See Wyoming Stat. 9-220.1 (1967).

      52 Minutes of Meetings, Wyoming ETV Commission, Wyoming State Archives, June 28, 1968.

      53 Minutes of Meetings, Wyoming ETV Commission, Wyoming State Archives.

      54 Ibid.  Commissioners Bill Harrison and Bert Bell had met with the Nebraska ETV personnel. The next day, the commission adjourned to attend the UW-CSU football game held in Laramie.

      55 Ibid.  The commission heard reports of visits by two commission members to Cedar City and Salt Lake City.

      56 Ibid., minutes of Feb. 12, 1968, held by conference call.

      57 Charles Crowell gave the estimate at the May 23, 1968, meeting of the Wyoming ETV Commission and the figure appears in the board minutes.

      58 Minutes of Meetings, Wyoming ETV Commission, May 23, 1968.

      59 Ibid.

      60 A few days later at the March 21 meeting in Cheyenne, Bell resigned and John McMullen, UW broadcasting professor, was named ex officio member of the board.

      61 Quoting the May minutes, presented for commission approval at the June 28, 1968, meeting. Wyoming ETV Commission, June 28, 1968.

      62 Ibid., May 23, 1968.

      63 Minutes of Meetings, Wyoming ETV Commission, Dec. 7, 1967.

      64 Ibid.

      65 Minutes of Meetings, Wyoming ETV Commission, Feb. 12, 1968.

      66 Minutes of Meetings, WETV Commission, Feb. 12, 1968.

      67 T. G. Morrissey, “Educating with Television in Wyoming: A Feasibility Engineering Study,” (Cheyenne: State Department of Education, UW and Community College Commission, 1965);  “Wyoming ETV Finalization of System Plan and Cost Estimates,” (Denver: T. G. Morrissey, Consulting Engineer, n.d.), intro.

      68 Ibid. See also Meeting minutes, Wyoming ETV Commission, June 28, 1968. Morrissey’s report is included with the minutes as well as in a separate folder.

      69 Ibid.

      70 Meeting minutes, Wyoming ETV Commission, July 11, 1968, held at Little America, Cheyenne.

      71 Survey, June, 1968, in “Correspondence file,” WETV Commission. Curiously, just 36 percent of those polled had heard about the ETV proposal; 66 percent had not. Only 2.3 percent of those polled did not own a television set; 32 percent were cable subscribers while the other two-thirds received signals from antennas.

      72 Meeting minutes, Wyoming ETV Commission, Sept. 18, 1968.

      73 Harrison to Griffith, n.d., in ETV Legislation file, Wyoming ETV Commission.

      74 Raymond J. Stanley to Griffith, Oct. 25, 1968, ETV Legislation file, Wyoming ETV Commission.

      75 “Proposed Wyoming ETV Network,” (pamphlet), 1969, in Wyoming ETV Commission files, Wyoming State Archives.

      76A teletype paper copy of the AP release, written by Bob Leeright, is in commission files. “Correspondence file,” WETV Commission, Wyoming State Archives. In August 1968, a statewide advisory committee was selected with members from every county in the state. Their role in lobbying and support is not clear from the record.

      77 The state budget picture was unhealthy in 1969, tax revenues not keeping up with demands. It was in this session that the legislature authorized the first severance tax on minerals, a measure destined to keep the state’s fiscal condition healthy until the 1990s.

      78 “Text of State of the State Address,” Casper Star Tribune, January 16, 1969, p. 12.

      79 Griffith to commission members, 4 March 1969, “Correspondence” file, WETV Commission, Wyoming State Archives.

      80Griffith to commission members, 4 April 1969, “Correspondence” file, WETV Commission, Wyoming State Archives.

      81 Griffith to Dr. Ed Meade, Director, Ford Foundation, 24 April 1969, in “Correspondence” file.

      82  Statutory authority for the commission was in Wyoming Statutes (1977), 9-220.1 through 9-220.6. The 1982 renumbering changed the citation, but not the language. W.S. 9-2-501 et seq. The current statute authorizing the State Telecommunications Council is W. S. 9-2-1026.2.                         

      83 Kathleen Sutton, “Public TV Comes to Wyoming,” Capitol Times (Cheyenne), June 1983, 12.

      84 Ibid.

      85 Sutton, 12-13. According to Sutton, St. Pierre came under fire from his own college for making the appropriation to public TV, eventually resigning after receiving a no-confidence vote from the faculty.