red tulips | copyright Jill J. Jensen



PBS and PBS Kids

public television at its best


Looking for kid-friendly and family-friendly television? Looking for a variety of news and opinion? Looking for how-to programs on everything from construction, gardening, quilting, painting, and cooking to antiques? Looking for nature-oriented, history, and cultural programming you won't see anywhere else? That's what Public Television does so well.

From coast to coast, America's Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) and its public television affiliates offer a variety of on-air, digital cable, Web-based, and classroom/educational services to anyone with access to a TV set or a computer. Most led their states and communities in making the transition from analog to digital television in 2009 and are now offering diverse program streams on multiple digital channels, as well as on their websites.

I'm highlighting KQED (the San Francisco affiliate of PBS) and IPTV (the Iowa statewide network) after attending a conference on the development of digital television (the ninth!), held each fall in Des Moines, Iowa, and sponsored in part by IPTV and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. As you'll see when you visit these websites, each public television station has its own personality, most often reflecting its location and its audiences. They're fun, flashy, studious, and entertaining, all at the same time.

As Pat Mitchell, head of the Public Broadcasting Service, reminds anyone who will listen, PBS itself is only an umbrella organization for this nation's public television affiliates; it's not a network like CBS, ABC, or Fox, which own their own stations across the country and can pretty much dictate the programs that go on the air (with advertising revenue as the main draw).

Rather, PBS helps develop programming, which is then offered to its affiliates. But affiliates don't have to put it on the air locally if they don't want to. While that's a challenge for the national organization, it's also a darn good recommendation for the quality programming that usually shows up on a PBS station. And it can serve as a reminder for what you can do (contact the local station!) if you want to see something else on the channels in your area.

PBS takes education and childrens' television seriously — and has a lot of fun with it, too, as they've branched out beyond the TV screen. Maybe that's why ranks as the most-visited site on the Web. Accessible directly from its home page, PBS now offers material for targeted audiences — including PBS Kids, PBS Parents, PBS TeacherSource (free lesson plans, activities and professional development tools for PreK-12 educators), and PBS Campus (distance learning courses available for college credit).

These days, more than ever, public television offers incredible value.

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