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KERA Celebrates 50 Years

By Jen Carter, Station Products & Innovation


KERA in Dallas/Fort Worth is celebrating the station's 50th anniversary. The anniversary event, which will be held today, is meant to both celebrate and raise awareness around public media issues by showcasing how stations and the industry have changed over the last five decades. Deborah Johnson, Executive Vice President for Development and Marketing and Alan Melson, Director of Interactive, sat down with the SPI team to answer some questions about the event.


Tell us a little bit about the 50th anniversary event. It’s described as a multimedia fundraising event. What does that mean? Why was this format chosen?

We wanted to do something to honor the pioneers who established and evolved the station and those who helped reach milestones throughout KERA’s 50-year history, and bring more attention to the important role KERA has played in the North Texas community.

We wanted it to be a true “event” – something that would be memorable and fitting for KERA’s milestone anniversary. When the opportunity arose to hold the event at the Wyly Theatre, a beautiful venue in Dallas’ Arts District that opened in 2008, we realized that the event’s scope could grow to encompass video and a variety of presenters to make it a true celebration of the station’s past as well as its bright future.

All of the speakers have played a role in helping build KERA’s reputation and visibility in the North Texas area, from Jim Lehrer and his early days on Newsroom to Cokie Roberts and Scott Simon’s strong work on NPR programs, helping strengthen that brand as an integral part of KERA’s programming in North Texas. We’ll also have Asleep At The Wheel as our special musical guest, as a nod to their long popularity with KERA audiences and within public television as a whole.

It's really been a team effort across the entire station – from the marketing and interactive staff, to the development staff, the CEO and board who have done an amazing job fundraising, and the programming and production staff who dug through hours of tape to find gems from throughout KERA's history.

You mentioned KERA’s long history with North Texas. What were some of the most memorable events, stories, etc?
KERA has a rich history. The station's founder Ralph Rogers, a Dallas business leader, went on to become the chairman of PBS and helped to save funding for public broadcasting by appearing before a Congressional subcommittee during the Nixon administration. Rogers worked with KERA general manager Bob Wilson who brought a revolutionary local news program, Newsroom, to the air in 1970, and hired a young Dallas journalist named Jim Lehrer as host.

In 1974, KERA launched KERA-FM as the area's first National Public Radio affiliate. That same year, Wilson and head of TV programming Ron Devillier took a chance on a British comedy show, Monty Python's Flying Circus, which made its American debut in Dallas and went on to be a smash hit for public television stations across the U.S.

What are some of the expectations for this event?
In addition to the multimedia fundraising event, there are quite a few things going on around the anniversary, which have built community interest and engagement:

  • KERA Classics, a series of outstanding programs from throughout the station’s history, rebroadcast with special new intros on KERA TV. We received invaluable assistance transferring these productions to a digital format from our friends at WNED in Buffalo.
  • Bob Wilson and the Early Years of KERA, a new documentary about KERA’s visionary general manager who helped bring Newsroom to the air in North Texas, introduced Monty Python to American audiences and launched KERA’s public radio station, among other achievements.
  • KERA Rewind, a contest in which we asked viewers to produce their own videos about KERA; after receiving a number of entries, the adult and child winners were showcased on air.
  • Produced a series of anniversary spots featuring Paula Kerger, Ken Burns, Rick Steves, Wes Cowan, Chris Botti, Elmo and others.
  • KERA member week at the Nasher Sculpture Center in downtown Dallas’ Arts District in December, culminating in a family event to be held on Saturday, December 10 with children’s entertainment and plenty to enjoy for everyone.
Overall, our goal for the celebration of KERA’s 50th year was to be multifaceted in programming and interactive opportunities, and we are very pleased with the high level of public engagement we’ve seen in return.

Any advice for stations who want to do something similar to raise funds?
Whatever you do (event, special programming, etc.), make it unique and infuse it with your station’s personality and achievements. Also, we found that the leadership of dedicated KERA board members was essential to the success of planning and fundraising for the event.

Speaking to public media as a whole, what do you feel are some of the biggest challenges facing the industry today?
Funding, obviously, along with continuing to remain a strong community voice amid the rapid growth of hyperlocal websites and apps, social networks and on-demand media options in the online, cable and satellite TV spectrums

What do you see as the future for public media and how does KERA fit into that vision?
Public media plays a vital role in communities across the country, and it seems most effective to do that as a true multi-platform content provider that is able to serve all segments of the community. KERA continues to build our strong presence in the North Texas area, including our television service (along with PBS World as a second digital channel), our news and talk radio service (90.1 KERA-FM) and our Triple-A music station KXT 91.7 (KKXT-FM), which marks its second anniversary in November. We’ve put a strong emphasis on interactive as well, doubling traffic on our primary site kera.org over the past three years, launching and expanding our Art&Seek culture calendar/content portal at artandseek.org, building KXT 91.7’s online presence at kxt.org and launching mobile apps for both radio stations last fall along with a forthcoming calendar app for Art&Seek.

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