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WXXI Public Broadcasting Council History

WXXI is an essential, lifelong educational resource for the Greater Rochester Area.  WXXI provides programming that stimulates and expands thought, inspires the spirit, opens cultural horizons and promotes understanding of the issues of our diverse community, nation and world.

WXXI began with a dream and a vision: to use the power of broadcasting to educate and enrich the lives of people in the Rochester community.  Over the last 40 years, WXXI has remained true to that mission.

Founded in 1958 as the Rochester Area Educational Television Association (RAETA), the station's first few years were dedicated to producing instructional television programs for elementary school students. The studios were located in the old East High School and programs were produced in the gym, with airtime borrowed from commercial stations. In 1959, Assignment: The World became the first educational series WXXI produced.  More than forty years later, the program is the longest-running instructional program on television and is broadcast nationwide.

On September 6, 1966, after a five-year quest for a broadcast license, Channel 21 went on the air, broadcasting 50 hours of programming a week. The following year, Congress established the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) to promote growth of the industry, which resulted in a consistent funding base for the station.

In the late 1960s, Channel 21 expanded its focus on public affairs — broadcasting election previews, the city-school budget hearing, sessions on school desegregation and cultural and public affairs series.  In 1969, Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) was chartered as the national distributor of public television programs, and the first episode of Sesame Street.  Also that year, the television remote production truck went on location for the first time and WXXI held its first auction, a tradition that still runs deep in Rochester culture today.

Early on, WXXI’s programming established it as a community resource that was dedicated to the Rochester area.  From Chuck Mangione's Friends & Love concert to coverage of the Urban League’s Black Family Conference to President Nixon’s visit to Rochester, WXXI used its airwaves to inform, inspire, educate and entertain—and continues with those same ideals today. 

In the 1970s, volunteers and the support of an increasing number of members became crucial factors of WXXI’s success. As programming and community involvement expanded, however, the need for modern facilities dramatically increased.  A successful capital campaign was launched and a new Public Broadcasting Center opened at 280 State Street in 1974.

In the 1970s, WXXI’s technology expanded to include more modern equipment for remote broadcasts.  In 1974, WXXI stood apart as the only station with a fully equipped color television production truck in the region.  Today WXXI’s remote capabilities make it possible for the station to deliver current and relevant programming, locally and nationally.       

Also in 1974, WXXI-FM 91.5 went on the air. Together, WXXI-TV and FM tackled tough issues and provided critically acclaimed local news coverage.  One year after it went on the air, FM 91.5 premiered With Heart & Voice, a weekly program that is now heard on more than 160 stations throughout the country.

Throughout the 1970s, WXXI’s programming continued to address controversial social issues such as women’s rights, prison reform and health problems.  In the mid-1970s, WXXI started offering college courses for credit and launched the Spanish-language news program ¿Que Pasa Rochester?

When WXXI linked to PBS in 1978, it became the first television station in Rochester to utilize satellite transmission.  The following year, WXXI’s radio programming received a boost via a new satellite dish linking FM with National Public Radio’s (NPR) nationwide satellite system. 

The 1980s marked an increase in viewers, supporters, programming and awards for WXXI. A new antenna, tower and transmitter were installed on Pinnacle Hill, which expanded WXXI-TV’s reach by an estimated 50,000 homes.  FM 91.5 began broadcasting 24 hours a day and nationally distributed Fascinatin’ Rhythm, premiered.

As the number of WXXI listeners grew, the need for another radio station became clear. On July 2, 1984, AM 1370 went on the air as a public affairs, news and jazz station. 1370 Connection, WXXI’s daily call-in program premiered.  Today, the program still serves as a vital community forum.  As AM 1370 launched, FM 91.5 converted to an all-classical music format.  Today, it remains the only station in Rochester devoted to classical music.

In 1988, WXXI partnered with the Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired (ABVI-Goodwill) to operate Reachout Radio.  This closed-circuit radio reading service was established to connect people who are blind, visually impaired or print handicapped, with the written word.  Today, more than 200 volunteers read local and national newspapers, magazines and books to more than 3,500 Reachout Radio listeners.

In 1989, RAETA was officially re-named WXXI Public Broadcasting Council.  In 1991, with the
addition of a new building at 280 State Street, all of WXXI’s services were finally moved under one roof, and membership surpassed 34,000. Then, despite lobbying efforts, WXXI suffered a 37% cut in income from New York State.

Before long, however, the station rallied and began providing new services.  WJSL 90.3 in Houghton, New York began simulcasting FM 91.5.  WXXI started programming Cable City 12 through a partnership with the City of Rochester. In 1996, WXXI launched online services at wxxi.org. Soon after, the only satellite uplink in the Greater Rochester area was installed at WXXI. In 1999, Classical 91.5/90.3 and AM 1370 began live audio streaming on wxxi.org, reaching listeners virtually around the globe.

Today, community needs, driven by the mission, continue to foster growth and services at WXXI.  WXXI is preparing for the age of digital broadcasting—the most significant change to hit the broadcast industry since the invention of television.  In 2001, construction began on WXXI’s new digital technical center, which will allow WXXI to simultaneously provide a broader variety of quality programming and integrate computer and Internet technologies with television, making it an interactive experience.  With digital technology also comes High Definition Television (HDTV) that will offer sharper and clearer images with CD-quality sound. WXXI looks at digital broadcasting as an opportunity to further pursue its vision of education and enrichment for the Rochester community.

No matter what innovations, initiatives, challenges and opportunities lie ahead, WXXI will continue to bring the Rochester community together…just as it has for 40 years. Visit the Timeline