National Educational Television

National Educational Television was an American non-commercial educational public television network in the United States from May 16, 1954 to October 4, 1970. It was replaced on October 5, 1970, by Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), its direct successor, which continues to the present.

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. 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.

In the spring of 1954, ETRC moved to Ann Arbor, Michigan, and on May 16 of that year it began its operation as a "network". It put together a daily five-hour package of television shows, releasing it primarily on kinescope film to the affiliated stations by mail. The programming was noted for treating subjects in depth, including hourlong 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".

The center's headquarters moved from Ann Arbor, Michigan to New York City in 1958 and the organization became known as the National Educational Television and Radio Center (NETRC).

The center became more aggressive at this time, aiming to have the role of the U.S.' fourth television network. This included the beginning of imported programming from the BBC into the United States. It increased its output to ten hours a week.

The organization changed tack again in November 1963. It renamed itself National Educational Television, and spun off its radio assets. Under the centerpiece show 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.

In 1966, NET's viability came into question when the Ford Foundation decided to begin withdrawing financial support because of NET's continual need for additional funding. In the meantime, the affiliated stations tried to keep the network alive by developing a reliable source of revenue.

The U.S. government intervened and created the Corporation for Public Broadcasting in 1967 to fund the network for the time being. However, the CPB's intent was to create its own public broadcasting network. The CPB embarked on that course of action because many NET affiliates were alienated by the programming that network offered. These affiliates further felt that NET's simultaneous

PBS first began operations in 1969, with NET still producing several shows. However, NET's refusal to stop airing the critically praised but controversial documentaries led to the decision of both Ford and the CPB to shut the network down. In early 1970, both threatened to cut their funding unless NET merged its operations with Newark, New Jersey public station WNDT-TV. (This did not, however, end the production and distribution of hard-hitting documentaries on public television, since PBS itself continues to distribute and CPB continues to help fund series including Frontline, POV and Independent Lens to this day.)

On Monday, October 5, 1970, the exact day that PBS began broadcasting, NET and WNDT-TV officially completed their merger. NET ceased to operate as a separate network from that point, although some NET-branded programming, such as NET Journal, was part of the PBS schedule for another couple of years before the identity was finally retired. WNDT's call sign was changed to the present WNET shortly thereafter. Some shows that began on NET, such as Sesame Street, continue to air on PBS today.

The NET acronym has since been revived twice: first in 1993 through 1997 as National Empowerment Television (later known as "America's Voice"), a cable channel that aired news and talk programming catering to a conservative (especially paleoconservative) audience; and in 2005, when Nebraska ETV and Nebraska Public Radio were united under a single name, Nebraska Educational Telecommunications.

    1952-1958: Educational Television and Radio Center (ETRC)
    1958-1963: National Educational Television and Radio Center (NETRC)
    1963-1970: National Educational Television (NET)