The Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum opened its new exhibition, “On the Air: 50 Years of Public Broadcasting,” on Saturday, highlighting the iconic Public Broadcasting Service and National Public Radio programming made available by LBJ’s Public Broadcasting Act of 1967.
Before 1967, public television and radio programming existed in some cities such as Austin, but many stations were underfunded and the distribution networks of PBS and NPR had not been established.
"The very foundation of public broadcasting was built here in Texas," said Stewart Vanderwilt, director and general manager of KUTX and KUT, Austin’s NPR station. "It was President Johnson’s administration who proposed the legislation that was created by the part of his legislative agenda and accomplishments. There was prominent Texans involved in the vision and creation of what became the Corporation for Public Broadcasting."
The exhibition will be on display until Nov. 12 — the same month LBJ signed the Public Broadcasting Act. The exhibition features memorabilia from PBS shows, including Sesame Street puppets, a Bob Ross painting and a pair of Mr. Roger’s shoes. A list of possible names for the first NPR show “All Things Considered” is also on display.
Andrew and Kristen Stevens, a couple at the exhibition opening, were drawn to the free event because they listen to NPR and grew up watching PBS kids shows.
“Growing up watching Bill Nye, watching Sesame Street, all of these different shows, it makes you really grateful for having those as a kid,” Andrew Stevens said. “To even think that our children may not even have those opportunities, just considering it, is concerning.”
The future of federal support for PBS and NPR has been put into question by Trump’s 2018 budget proposal released in May, which suggested eliminating funds for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. CPB provides grants to local PBS and NPR stations.
“We feel such a cut in funding would be devastating to the entire system of public radio and television, and especially in smaller and rural communities,” Vanderwilt said.
Maury Sullivan, senior vice president of community engagement for KLRU-TV, Austin’s PBS station, said federal funding for public media supports diverse voices and educational media for people of all backgrounds.
“I think something that was started 50 years ago has really become an integral part of our communities and the communities that we serve,” Sullivan said. “It is more important now than ever to be able to shine a light on that very significant thing that President Johnson did 50 years ago.”