University of the Air
The Studios of WFIL-TV
46th and Market Streets Facility
On January 2, 1951, a bold venture took place in Philadelphia broadcasting. WFIL-TV (now WPVI-TV), Channel 6 was owned by the Philadelphia Inquirer headed by Walter Annenberg.
History records that Annenberg was interested in education. His adventure into stirring the minds of the Delaware Valley started with a 1947 grant to Temple University to build radio studios in the basement of Thomas Hall (previously the Park Avenue Episcopal-Methodist Church, built in 1886). These facilities became the very first home of WRTI in January of 1948, then an AM carrier-current station feeding the Temple dorms and nearby buildings. In 1952, the school received an FM construction permit for WRTI-FM. WRTI AM & FM would continue to broadcast out of those facilities until new ones were completed in Annenberg Hall on the Temple Campus in 1968.
However, Annenberg’s boldest move came the day after News Year’s in 1951. At 11:10 am, WFIL-TV began airing two educational television programs that would blaze the trails for others to come.
These two programs were the WFIL Studio Schoolhouse (a WFIL radio program since 1943) and the WFIL University of the Air. Each program was 25 minutes in length and both were stripped across the board on a Monday thru Friday basis while the colleges were in session.
Keep in mind that in 1951, there were not tons of TV programming available and stations had to scramble to fill the airtime (that’s how Bandstand was born in 1952).
Roger Clipp, Director of the Triangle stations (Walter's properties) talked 20 universities and colleges into being a part of this venture. While they provided free talent (and thus free programming to WFIL-TV), Clipp mentioned that it would be great advertising for the schools.
Clipp wrote: "University Of The Air" won a second DuPont award (Studio Schoolhouse won the first) making WFIL the only station to have won two DuPont awards. WFIL-TV… was the first station to telecast educational courses at college level five days a week. …But emphasis… has not been only on broadcasting operations, but on educational operations as well. I have already mentioned that WFIL established a communications school (actually, it was a communication curriculum, the Communications School at Temple would not be established until the mid-sixties) in 1947 in the undergraduate school of Temple University. In 1958 arrangements were completed to establish the Annenberg School of Communications at the University of Pennsylvania. This school is a graduate school of the University, conferring a Master's Degree for the two-year course and includes in its curriculum courses not only related to broadcasting but to newspapers, magazines, etc. Classes began in 1959 and a very handsome building on campus was contributed by Walter H. Annenberg, President of Triangle and dedicated in the fall of 1962.
Both “The University of the Air” and “Studio Schoolhouse” continued in one form or another into the late sixties.
From the official archives of the Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia
Researched and written by Broadcast Pioneers member Gerry Wilkinson
© 2004, All Rights Reserved
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