WSBE Rhode Island PBS Station History


1960 | 1970 | 1980 | 1990 | 2000


In 1967, WSBE-TV Channel 36 transmitted its first broadcast signal from behind the Adams Library on the Rhode Island College campus. In affiliation with the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), WSBE-TV set its course to fulfill the goals of the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967, signed by President Lyndon Johnson, to "stake a claim based upon the combined resources of communications - to enlist the computer and the satellite, as well as television and radio, and to enlist them in the cause of education."

Today, the station has advanced to the digital era and sports a different name - Rhode Island PBS. But the station's commitment to providing quality educational content remains as strong and steadfast now as it was in the station's fledgling days.

Beyond its technology to reach viewers, the Rhode Island PBS story is really about people. For more than 45 years, dedicated, motivated and creative individuals have worked, laughed, and cried side by side to achieve a common mission: to use the power of commercial-free media to educate, inform, enrich, engage, and inspire lifelong learning.

From producing local prime-time programs that reflect issues important to Rhode Islanders, to presenting relevant instructional content that enhances classroom teaching statewide, Rhode Island PBS rounds out its broadcast repertoire with a unique, award-winning collection of performing arts, public affairs, science, nature, documentary, drama, and how-to programs that inspire and entertain viewers of all ages.


Public Laws of Rhode Island authorize a 
state operated television station.


RI State Board of Education applies to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to be granted a license with restrictions to operate on channel 36 as Rhode Island's educational public television station.

The station is given call letters, WSBE-TV. Television stations in the United States stations located east of the Mississippi are assigned the prefix "W," and stations west of the Mississippi are assigned the letter "K," with a few exceptions. "SBE" stands for State Board of Education, establishing WSBE as one of the pioneers of the educational public broadcasting service.


Passage of the Higher Education Act of 1965 gives universities with educational media potential the opportunity to receive federal grants and faculty training to further expand their capabilities.

Rhode Island College and WSBE-TV team up and are granted a federal aid package to develop production studios and other educational media.



jpastore.jpgPresident Lyndon Johnson signs the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967, establishing the Corporation of Public Broadcasting as a funding vehicle for educational public broadcasting stations. Rhode Island Senator John O. Pastore, considered the father of Public Television, is present at the signing as the Senate floor manager.

With the assistance and vision of Robert Danilowicz, Rhode Island College (RIC) becomes a pioneer and innovator of closed-circuit educational television in classrooms across the state.

tn_oldlogo1.jpgThe existing infrastructure and studios at RIC make it a good place to host the new television station. Because of the pioneering success of WRIC-CCTV, Robert Danilowicz is selected to be the first general manager of the station. In May, WSBE-TV airs for the first time from Rhode Island College, behind the Adams Library. The transmitter is located in Johnston. The facilities are so small, however, that master control and video switches are within arm's reach. There are two GE cameras for black and white programming and two AMPEX VR1100 videotape machines that can be used for programming, but not for editing.


The noise level poses a challenge for the RIC library and WSBE-TV, particularly during production of shows such as the Andy Jackson Show, a program that showcases local talent. Local programs are produced in real time, as no facilities exist for post-production editing.


"You are watching WSBE-TV, Channel 36, Providence."


Since its formation in 1952, National Educational Television (NET) is the main source of programming for public educational television networks.

Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) is formed by the CPB. It is a private non-profit corporation comprised of 171 noncommercial licensees who operate 347 member stations around the country. PBS works as a distribution vehicle of educational programming to member stations, including WSBE-TV.

November 8th - Joseph A. Doorley, Jr., Mayor of Providence, declares asSesame Street Day to promote the show to preschool age children.

November 10th - Sesame Street debuts nationally on PBS. Years later, the award-winning Mister Rogers Neighborhood and Sesame Street still exemplify quality educational programming that emphasizes the importance of instructional and noncommercial stations.


September 28th - Channel 36 offers a televised course to viewers who want to receive their high school equivalency certificate. Programming includes a 12-week course in five curriculum areas in preparation for high school equivalency test given by the Rhode Island State Agency for Elementary and Secondary Education.

WSBE acquires a remote truck, enabling the station to broadcast livefrom communities across the state. WSBE-TV covers Model Legislature, Confirmation Hearings, Rhode Island House and Senate, Constitutional Convention, Newport Music Festival, and July 4th Parade.


Producer/Director Irving Amitai suggests producing cultural heritage programs. ArrivederciOs PortuguesesNot For Blacks Only (later renamed Shades), Chez Nos Gens, and En Español reflect Rhode Island's diversity. Showcase features the local arts scene; The Young Advocatesargue important issues, and We, the Women recognizes accomplishments of women.

Showcase features the local arts scene; The Young Advocates debate about important issues and We, the Women recognizes accomplishments of women.



Hosted by Jack Wynne (right), Time of Our Lives, an ongoing series dealing in elderly affairs, is directed and produced by Peter Frid. 


Channel 36 covers high school regular season sports and Super Bowlchampionships, CCRI and Bryant Basketball, and Brown University and Providence College Hockey.

Picture to the left - The broadcast team, cameras, and equipment at thetn_footballgame.jpgHendricken Game. The play-by-play action was handled by Tom Shola. 


By relocating its headquarters to the former home of WPRI at 24 Mason Street, downtown Providence, WSBE Channel 36 becomes independent from Rhode Island College and gains superior studio space.


Channel 36 introduces membership to build the relationship between viewers and the station. Pledge drives seek funding support for programs from viewers watching specially produced programs.


tn_auctionbroch.jpgThe idea of holding an auction to raise money for the station is introduced by General Manager Warren Kratezer, who had community fund raising experience in Philadelphia. The first Art Auction is organized by Joan Isserlis, and is held at the Providence Art Club. In the first two years, only one hundred items were featured.

Shortly after, auctions expand to display general merchandise. Originally, there are 10-12 phones, no erase boards to quickly post bid changes and some difficulty communicating the bids. Early auctions are held at Slater Park in Pawtucket and the old Almacs supermarket in Johnston. Works in the Art Auction are exhibited at the Holiday Inn, Fleet Bank and the lobby of Rhode Island Hospital Trust Bank, until the Art Auction outgrew that location and moved to its current annual exhibition space, the Rhode Island Convention Center.

Under Kratezer's leadership, this year also marks the first time WSBE-TV Channel 36 seeks corporate support. In previous years, the station relied heavily on funding from the state. Underwriting from companies was a novel venture.

March - Tax Forum debuts. Members of RI Society of Certified Public Accountants provide tax preparation tips and answer viewers' call-in questions. The program becomes an annual special, and continues today.

Wake of '38 debuts. The WSBE-produced documentary features clear footage of the furious winds, turbulent tides, floods, and fires, as well as vivid recollections of eyewitnesses who weathered the storm. The documentary wins an Emmy award for WSBE. 


Thirteenth State debuts. The name of the public affair show derives from Rhode Island's last place among the thirteen original colonies to sign the Unites States Constitution. The weekly show examines a wide variety of Rhode Island topics, from airport expansion to zoo exhibits, and continues today, produced by Paul Zangari and directed by Pablo Mijares.


Board of Regents reorganizes to establish Rhode Island Public Telecommunications Authority (RIPTA) as the licensee of WSBE-TV.


Tax Planning special airs in November. Viewers are invited to call members of the RI Society of Certified Public Accountants with year-end tax questions. To this day, the special airs each year, providing valuable tax planning information. 


Due to financial hardship and other obstacles, the station is in danger of closing. RIPTA decides to keep the license but seeks proposals for daily management of the station. Receiving no viable proposals, RIPTA decides to hire a new CEO.

Susan L. Farmer is appointed CEO and General Manager. Through her 17-year tenure, her dedication, political and social networking increase fund raising by 58% and the viewing audience skyrockets by 800%. In 2005, when asked what her greatest accomplishment was at Channel 36,
Susan Farmer replies, "The station is here."


Channel 36 Foundation is established to raise funds and provide support services for WSBE-TV Channel 36.

GED-ON-TV series begins airing on Channel 36, allowing high school drop outs to complete requirements for a high school equivalency certificate.Famous Amos, national spokesman for literacy, is the invited guest speaker for the first graduation ceremony, telecast live.

Lively Experiment premieres on Channel 36, produced by David Marseglia. The political affairs program presents fast-paced discussion about local politics and government among a panel of news reporters, analysts, and news makers. The weekly 30-minute program continues today, produced by James Garrett.

PBS receives a grant from the Annenberg Foundation to produce theTelecourse program. Telecourses are short courses that provide college credit for students at CCRI, RIC and URI. Gerald Fontaine is named the Telecourse Coordinator at CCRI, and John Sousa becomes the Dean of Off-Campus Credit Programs. Beginning with seven or eight courses, the major subject areas offered were English, math, economics, history, French, business, sociology, history and psychology. At-home college schooling becomes very popular; Rhode Island has the highest per capita utilization in the country. 


tn_transmitter89.jpgThe stations issues the first edition of Transmitter, a members' program offering station news, events and the program schedule. The name was chosen in a staff contest.




tn_floatfront.jpgJune - The station starts the summer with the Woonsocket Bicentennial Parade.




tn_bakeoff87.jpgSeptember 25th - Channel 36 Birthday Bake Off and Friends.

November - The first ever Children 36 Kids Auction is held.tn_kidsauction.jpg



September 24th - In honor of Sesame Streets 20 years of educational programming, Channel 36 hosts the Birthday Cake Bakeoff at Brown University's Meehan Auditorium.

October 8th - Channel 36 participates in the Providence Columbus Day Parade and later in the month, the Pawtucket Octoberfest Parade.

December New England Monthly features the Transmitter, which improves distribution of program guides to members who live out of state.


The award winning Justice For All premieres. The show focuses on the exploration of the state judicial system and the criminal justice system.


October 22 -To make way for construction of the new Convention Center, Channel 36 temporarily relocates production to 111 Dupont Drive, pending successful preparation of the new station.

trailer used for temporary storage between the move from Mason Street to Park Lane was destroyed by arson, ruining footage archives and station equipment, including cameras.


January - WSBE-TV Channel 36 moves to a state of the art facility - its current home - at 50 Park Lane in Providence and now has the largest studio in the state. Within two weeks of moving in, there are unsuccessful attempts by newly inaugurated Governor Bruce Sundlun to close the station.

Channel 36 becomes one of the first two stations in the nation to provideInternet access to classrooms and teachers through "Learning Link," developed by WNET for public TV.

Very shortly after, Channel 36 becomes the first of two stations to offer atoll free website accessible to teachers, with hundreds of hyperlinks to educational resources. Channel 36 becomes the 4th Web site on the World Wide Web to offer such a service to educators.


Spring - The first Channel 36 & Company is published. The quarterly newsletter for companies features opportunities to underwrite programs and events.


In MayRhode Island Monthly begins publishing the WSBE Program Guide in each issue.



Special programming airs about Y2K, responding to the public's concerns over how a computer systems failure may affect the security of bank accounts, availability of medication, and the efficiency of 911. The program is funded by the federal government. 


September - Channel 36 takes the Wine Auction on the road. The auction, televised for a number of years, becomes the Sunset Soirée, a festive, elegant event celebrating food and fine wine, held at the Roger Williams Park Casino. The first event is overshadowed by the national tragedy of September 11.


Ready to Learn (RTL) Workshops and Video Streaming through Rinet36 are introduced to K-12 educators. RTL enhances early reading and learning skills in children from preschool to eight years old. RTL engages parents and caregivers with support, ideas and information, and free children's books. Video Streaming allows Internet-based on-demand classroom access to thousands of curriculum-based video clips.

Ciao Italia relocates production and national distribution from New Hampshire to Channel 36. A full-size kitchen is constructed and decorated in the studio. Set-up takes four days to complete. A second, fully equipped kitchen is also constructed, off-camera, for food preparation. In what are easily the most deliciously aromatic three weeks in the Channel 36 year, a full season of shows is filmed in only three weeks; the editing takes six to eight months.

Justice Matters, a quarterly program hosted by Chief Justice Frank J. Williams, explores processes and procedures of the least-understood branch of government. It is the first program in which a state Supreme Court Justice answers viewers' questions in a live format. 


May 1st- WSBE-TV Channel 36 changes its name to Rhode Island PBS, and gets a brand new logo. The new co-branded name more clearly defines the station, and compensates for the wide range of cable channel numbers, which make "channel 36" less meaningful.


May 1st - After 17 years as president and CEO, Susan L. Farmer retires. Vice president and CFO David W. Piccerelli is named acting president. A nation-wide search is undertaken for Mrs. Farmer's successor.

New local productions debut:

Costantino's Round Table is hosted by Alan Costantino, owner of Costantino's Venda Ravioli in Federal Hill, and Joe Zito, food critic and host of TV Maitre d'. The weekly program showcases the talents and expertise of local restaurateurs, chefs, vintners, and other professionals in the Ocean State food and tourism industry.

Today's Rhode Island National Guard, hosted by Major General Reginald Centracchio and television news anchor Karen Adams, provides monthly updates to the public about the National Guard troops overseas and the well-being of their families at home.

Rhode Island's Amazing Women, hosted by radio host Deb Ruggiero, profiles women who successfully lead, challenge, motivate, encourage, and inspire other women.

A Slice of Advice, featuring Chef Steven Shipley, professor of culinary arts at Johnson & Wales University, shares cooking tips in a series of interstitials - short program segments that air between other programs.


March - The long-awaited digital transmitter is built in Rehoboth, MA.

Our Great Kids! debuts. Philanthropist Alan Shawn Feinstein recognizes the inspiring good deeds performed by schoolchildren statewide in this weekly 8-10 minute program.

December - Digital equipment arrives.


January 1st - Robert "Bob" Fish assumes the role of president and CEO of Rhode Island PBS.

January - April - Master Control, production control room, and the editing suite are renovated and new digital equipment is installed.

WSBE-DT begins digital transmission, operating parallel analog and digital systems. Digital technology allows high­definition (HD) programming on the main channel, and the launch of a second channel. WSBE Learn makes its debut over the air on 36.2 and through Verizon FiOs. Cox cable carries Rhode Island PBS programming 24/7 through a direct feed.


The aged analog transmitter suffers a catastrophic failure in January, one month before its FCC-mandated shut-off. WSBE begins full HD programming.


November - David W. Piccerelli succeeds Bob Fish as president of WSBE.


WSBE begins transmitting over-the-air 24 hours a day. Cable carriage in Massachusetts continues to expand.

October - FCC approves transfer of the broadcast license from the state of Rhode Island to the Rhode Island PBS Foundation,
making WSBE a community licensee.


January - WSBE begins carrying V-me, Spanish-language programming, broadcast over the air on channel 36.3.

Special thanks to Walter Covell, Robert Danilowicz, Susan Farmer, Peter Frid, John Gavis, Joan Isserlis, Robert Knott, and David Marseglia.

All photographs are the property of Rhode Island PBS and its archives. Photos cannot be used or reproduced without express written permission of Rhode Island PBS. All rights reserved.

The Rhode Island PBS History Timeline was originally part of a college senior internship project researched and written by Daisy Garcia, URI '06, under the supervision of the director of Rhode Island PBS Education Services. Completion of the station history project was made possible with the research assistance of Michael Lickwar, Connecticut College '05.