SPEAKING OUT: TELEVISION WITH A VISION
When the subject is WYES-TV/Channel 12, our full disclosure statement is quite lengthy. We are linked to the station personally and professionally, including the Dial 12 program guide which has so long been an important part of this magazine. Even Julia Street, our lovable question and answer priestess shows up weekly on WYES.
Our greatest connect to the station, however, is simply as fans. We are fully appreciative of the quality programming WYES has brought this community for, now, half a century.
This month the station is celebrating its 50th anniversary. Long before cable broadened the range of selections, WYES was bringing high quality arts, public affairs and children’s programming to the New Orleans area. In recent years, the station has offered what cable cannot: programming and documentaries that are distinctively local.
Among public television broadcasters, WYES is a national success story. It was one of the first of its kind, back when public television was more commonly referred to as “educational” TV. (Indeed, the call letters were originally said to stand for Youth Education Station.) Many of the city’s youth got a healthy dose of education from Sesame Street or from kindly Mr. Rogers. As they matured, they learned more from the likes of Masterpiece Theater and Nova.
WYES is unique in that it’s a community station, run by its own board rather than part of a state system. Long before Louisiana Public Broadcasting was created to serve the rest of the state, New Orleanians were getting the benefits of PBS and other independent producers.
More than just something to watch, the station has provided something to experience and learn from. It has been said that the WYES Showboat Auction provided one of the definitive early experiences for volunteers, mostly young women, to learn how to stage a fundraiser. That expertise would eventually be spread throughout the city including most notably the Zoo-To-Do, today regarded as a model development event.
It would be better if WYES could leap rather than limp into its second half-century, but the station’s Navarre Avenue facilities in Lakeview were hit hard by Katrina. The first floor of the two story building, including the offices and studios, was totally flooded. Fortunately the broadcast machinery on the second floor were spared and the station was able to restore programming rather quickly. We are pleased that WYES has committed to being part of the Lakeview rebuilding effort and will return to its present location though the rebuilding is probably at least a year away from being complete.
We are all wiser because Channel 12 has been here for so long. In a city often derided for the quality of its education, WYES has been a shining exception – a good example of what community commitment can accomplish. Thank you WYES. Like Masterpiece Theater’s beleaguered Claudius, you have survived despite many challenges. May your neighborhood soon be as tidy as Mr. Rogers’ and may your spirit soar not like a big bird, but like an eagle.