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KUAC marks 40 years since first television broadcast


Fairbanks, Alaska—Four decades ago, Alaska got its first taste of public television.

On Dec. 22, 1971, KUAC TV aired its first program: a local dance troupe’s performance of “The Nutcracker.”

“That first night of broadcast, we were rushing to get on the air by the end of the year, which was our goal,” said former KUAC employee Jim Schneider. “It was all just frantic, but boy was it fun.”

William R. Wood, who was University of Alaska president at that time, provided an introduction to the inaugural program.

“I extend our sincere thanks and appreciation to you, the people of Alaska, for your interest and your support,” Wood said. “I know how very much you want education television in your communities, in your homes. You will, I am sure, find KUAC TV a tremendous asset and an excellent investment.”

The television studio was decorated with gauze to hide support pillars and Mary Cowden Snyder’s dance troupe performed the ballet in the studio. The station’s studio satellite transmitter was malfunctioning, so the performance was filmed for playback from the transmitter site on Ski Boot Hill.

“To keep the transitions from looking too static, engineers lit a candle and filmed it before the broadcast and while they changed tapes,” Schneider said. “By the sign-off, the candle was pretty much burned down. All of the station IDs were on cue cards with music from a cartridge player that had to be rewound each time.”

That first broadcast was the culmination of nearly a year’s worth of work. In February of that year, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner first reported that KUAC TV was in the works and had received approval from the Federal Communications Commission.

“Eventually,” the News-Miner article noted, “it will be possible to ‘attend college by television’ in Alaska.”

To accommodate the new equipment needed for television production and broadcast, KUAC moved from its original space in UAF’s Constitution Hall to its present location in the lower level of the Fine Arts Building. It all came together right before Christmas.

“Well, we made it tonight—Wednesday, December 22, 1971,” wrote Charles Northrip, who oversaw KUAC, in a letter to the staff after the evening’s first broadcast. In it, he recalls the years of dreaming followed by months of hard work by so many to make public television in Alaska a reality.

Forty years later, KUAC TV continues to serve Alaskans. Today, the station offers four channels of programming, including the Create and World networks, and UATV, which features programming and educational content through the University of Alaska. Currently, KUAC produces the AlaskaOne public television centralized feed for KUAC Fairbanks, KYUK Bethel and KTOO Juneau. KUAC TV will become independent of the AlaskaOne consortium and will broadcast exclusively to Interior Alaska starting July 1, 2012.

“Our mission from the beginning has been to create radio and television programming that is thought-provoking, trustworthy and life-changing,” said Gretchen Gordon, assistant general manager. “We are still doing that, and doing it well.”

ON THE WEB: www.kuac.org

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