The WYES-TV/Channel 12 studios during the first “Showboat Auction” in 1967.
photo courtesy of WYES-TV.
While April 1 may be best known as April Fool’s Day, for WYES-TV/Channel 12, this April 1 will commemorate the station’s 50th anniversary of its first public broadcast.
WYES-TV began in 1953 when a group led by Marion Abramson (who later became the station’s first chair of the board of trustees) raised funds to help build a TV station.
This nonprofit group, the Greater New Orleans Educational Television Foundation, still runs the station to this day. After a membership drive brought in donations, a core staff was hired in 1956 and an FCC license was obtained. Soon, operations were moved into a new building on Navarre Avenue in Lakeview.
In the 1950s, WYES was on air for almost 10 hours a day, five days a week. Some of the programs included “From Capitol Hill,” filmed in Washington D.C. and New Orleans, as well as other government shows. National Education Television (NET) and additional sources supplied several other programs.
In the 1960s, “Main Street New Orleans” and Julia Child’s “The French Chef” were introduced. In 1967, the U.S. Congress passed the Public Broadcasting Act, creating the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which replaced NET and served to channel federal and private funds into the country’s various public stations. It was also the year that WYES started a telethon, deemed the “Showboat Auction.” A year later, “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” made its TV debut, and not long afterwards, “Sesame Street.”
Over the years, many new programs have been introduced, appealing to a wide range of ages and interests. Locally produced “Informed Sources” features discussions with top journalists, “Steppin’ Out” showcases the arts, and there are a variety of programs featuring art, entertainment, cooking and more. The station is also known for its coverage of local events, such as the meeting of Rex and Comus courts during Mardi Gras, and documentaries focusing on the city’s history. WYES is now on the air 24 hours a day, every day.
The station’s headquarters in Lakeview, flooded by Hurricane Katrina, are still used for editing, while the main headquarters are temporarily located in Metairie. But WYES plans to return to the place they have called home for 50 years.