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1950s KQED History

Two Years of Planning

In 1952, Alameda County Schools Supt. Vaughn Seidel and associates press FCC to set aside 273 television stations for educational use. They incorporate Bay Area Educational Television Association (BAETA). Too late, they discover that state law doesn't allow schools to employ television for instruction. Undaunted, BAETA sets up temporary offices in Jon Rice's station wagon the next year. Somewhere around this time, Jim Day's wife, Beverly, dreams up call letters "KQED," an acronym for the Latin quod erat demonstrandum ("which was to be demonstrated"). KQED's first Board chairperson is Mortimer Fleishhacker, Jr., who signs on until 1972.


With funds from the Ford Foundation, friends, and high school cake sales, KQED acquires KPIX's old transmitter and studio atop the Mark Hopkins Hotel. Jim Day heads staff of 12, including program manager Jon Rice, formerly news director for a Los Angeles station. In honor of first broadcast, a test pattern on April 5, 17 Bay Area mayors proclaim KQED Week. KQED broadcasts two nights a week. Shakespeare on TV first live show; Mills College offers one unit of credit for watching, and show becomes a hit. Premiere of Jim Day's interview series, Kaleidoscope.


Money trouble. Curtis Roberts of fund-raising firm Gross & Roberts dreams up Auction. During next two weeks, station raises $65,000 through on-air appeals, buying the station about six months more operating time. Studios now at John O'Connell Trade Institute, courtesy of SF Unified School District. Telecourses include speed reading, piano keyboard, memory improvement. Focus Magazine, called KQED in Focus, debuts. KQED sells memberships (at $10, $25, $50, and $100), first of the country's 11 noncommercial stations to do so.


Overcrowded offices move from 165 Post to 207 Powell, then entire station moves to warehouse at 4th and Bryant, rented at $500 a month. With many donations of furnishings, equipment, lumber, and egg cartons for soundproofing (KQED originated this cost-efficient idea - since copied worldwide), staffers and volunteers transform it into a production center. KQED and SF State College test effectiveness of TV teaching and find it a success. KQED wins 1955 George Foster Peabody Award, TV's highest honor, for Outstanding Meritorious Local Public Service.


At last, state law is changed to allow public schools to use instructional television. Transmitter moves from Top of the Mark to San Bruno Mountain. Premiere of The Elements, with Nobel laureate Dr. Glenn Seaborg. Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer gives telecourse in mathematics. Debut of Japanese Brush Painting with Takahiko Mikami, later syndicated nationwide. Jim Day shares NY Times' TV columnist Jack Gould's wariness about watering down controversy to appease affluent contributors. Nobel-winning biochemist Linus Pauling and H-bomb architect Edward Teller take part in debate on nuclear fallout and disarmament, moderated by Day. Debate is kinescoped, broadcast nationally then internationally, featured in magazines, and recognized today as an early milestone in public TV.


KQED launches instructional services for schools under its first ITV director, Larry Smith. Dr. S.I. Hayakawa begins national semantics series, Language in Action. Cal Tjader's Afro-Cubans debut in Latin jazz concert series. Ed Radenzel is host of International Perspective, KQED's first "live" news commentary. Twenty Educational Television (ETV) stations nationwide.


General manager Day begins search for permanent home. Suggests Palace of Fine Arts, now up for renovation by City. States KQED's goal is "to educate, inform, and entertain." Broadcast week expands to six days.

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