National Educational Television

National Educational Television (NET) was a United States educational broadcast television network that operated from May 16, 1954 to October 4, 1970. It was owned by the Ford Foundation and later co-owned by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. It was succeeded by the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), which has memberships with many television stations that were formerly part of NET.

National Educational Television
United States
FoundedNovember 1952 (1952-11)
SloganThis is National Educational Television (1954–1965)
This is N-E-T, National Educational Television
This is N-E-T, the National Educational Television Network (1965–1968)
The Public Television Network (1969–1970)
Broadcast area
United States and Canada
OwnerFord Foundation (1954–1970)
Corporation for Public Broadcasting (1967–1970)
Launch date
May 16, 1954 (1954-05-16) (as a network)
DissolvedOctober 4, 1970 (1970-10-04)
Former names
Educational Television and Radio Center
National Educational Television and Radio Center
Replaced byPBS


The network was founded as the Educational Television and Radio Center (ETRC) in November 1952 by a grant from the Ford Foundation's Fund for Adult Education (FAE). It was originally a limited service for exchanging and distributing educational television programs produced by local television stations to other stations; it did not produce any material by itself.[1]

In the spring of 1954, ETRC moved its operations to Ann Arbor, Michigan, and on May 16 of that year, it began operating as a "network". It put together a daily five-hour package of television programs, distributing them primarily on kinescope film to the affiliated stations by mail.[2] The programming was noted for treating subjects in depth, including hour-long interviews with people of literary and historical importance. The programming was also noted for being dry and academic, with little consideration given to entertainment value, a marked contrast to commercial television. Many of the shows were designed as adult education, and ETRC was nicknamed the "University of the Air"[3] (or, less kindly, "The Bicycle Network", both for its low budget and for the way NET supposedly sent programs to its affiliates, by distributing its program films and videotapes via non-electronic means such as by mail, termed in the television industry as "bicycling").

The center's headquarters moved from Ann Arbor to New York City in 1958, and the organization became known as the National Educational Television and Radio Center (NETRC).[1] The center became more aggressive at this time, aiming to ascend to the role of the U.S.' fourth television network. Among its efforts, the network began importing programs from the BBC into the United States, starting with An Age of Kings in 1961.[4] It increased its programming output to ten hours a week.[1] Most programs were produced by the affiliate stations because the NETRC had no production staff or facilities of its own. NETRC also contracted programs from independent producers and acquired foreign material from countries like Canada, Great Britain, Australia, Yugoslavia, the USSR, France, Italy and West Germany.[5]

Starting from 1962, the federal government took over the FAE's grants-in-aid program through the Education Television Facilities Act.[6]

External video
Prospects of Mankind with Eleanor Roosevelt; What Status For Women?, 59:07, 1962.
Eleanor Roosevelt, chair of the Presidential Commission on the Status of Women, interviews President John F. Kennedy, Secretary of Labor Arthur Goldberg and others, Open Vault from WGBH[7]

In November 1963 NETRC changed its name to National Educational Television, and spun off its radio assets. Under the centerpiece program NET Journal, NET began to air controversial, hard-hitting documentaries that explored numerous social issues of the day such as poverty and racism. While praised by critics, many affiliates, especially those in politically and culturally conservative markets, objected to the perceived liberal slant of the programming.[8]

In 1966, NET's viability came into question when President Lyndon Johnson arranged for the Carnegie Foundation to conduct a study on future of educational television. The Carnegie Commission released its report in 1967, recommending educational television to be transformed to "public television". The new organization would be controlled by the nonprofit Corporation for Public Broadcasting, established by the federal government and receiving funding from the government and other sources. The funds were to be distributed to individual stations and independent production centers like NET. The Ford Foundation, the educational broadcasters and President Johnson supported the recommendations of the Carnegie Commission in the Public Broadcasting Act, which was signed into law on November 7, 1967.[9]

The Network Project, a media research organization based at Columbia University, noted the paradoxical nature of the Ford's Foundation role: "A supposedly educational or public system of television was wholly the progeny of a private economic institution". The ethos of The Ford Foundation and the Carnegie Corporation could be traced to Andrew Carnegie's essay "The Gospel of Wealth", in which he maintained that a third force was needed to mediate between the disruptive forces of popular democracy and industrial capitalism, so that "the ties of brotherhood" could "bind together the rich and poor in harmonious relationship". Following the Protestant ethic, Carnegie proposed that non-profit agencies, ranging from libraries and educational institutions to museums and endowments, helped carrying out "the good works of the elect".[10]

Replacement by PBS

The Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) began operations in 1969, with NET continuing to produce several programs. However, NET's continued production and airing of the controversial programming, eventually led to Ford and the CPB deciding to shut the network down. In early 1970, both threatened to cut their funding unless NET merged its operations with New York City-area affiliate WNDT. This did not, however, end the production and distribution of hard-hitting documentaries on public television, since PBS continues to distribute and CPB continues to help fund series including Frontline, POV and Independent Lens.

On October 5, 1970, PBS began broadcasting after NET and WNDT completed their merger. NET ceased to operate as a separate network from that point, although some NET-branded programming, such as NET Journal, remained part of the PBS schedule for another couple of years before the brand was retired. WNDT's call sign was changed to WNET shortly afterward. Some of the programs that began their runs on NET, such as Washington Week and Sesame Street, continue to air on PBS today.

See also


  1. "National Educational Television (NET)". National Public Broadcasting Archives. Archived from the original on 22 August 2012. Retrieved 5 September 2013.
  2. "Ford Foundation Activities in Noncommercial Broadcasting, 1951-1976". Ford Foundation. 2009. Retrieved 2009-02-14.
  3. Carolyn N. Brooks (29 November 2007). "National Educational Television Center (NET)". Museum of Broadcast Communications. Retrieved 2008-12-30.
  4. An Age of Kings: an import becomes public TV’s first hit, David Stewart, Current, December 21, 1998
  5. Saettler, Paul (2004). The Evolution of American Educational Technology. p. 376.
  6. Engelman, Ralph (1996). Public Radio and Television in America, a political history. p. 140.
  7. "Prospects of Mankind with Eleanor Roosevelt; What Status For Women?". National Educational Television. Open Vault at WGBH. 1962. Retrieved September 19, 2016.
  8. "The Museum of Broadcast Communications - Encyclopedia of Television". Retrieved 2016-07-13.
  9. Saettler, Paul (2004). The Evolution of American Educational Technology. p. 378.
  10. Engelman, Ralph (1996). Public Radio and Television in America, a political history. p. 141.
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