WSRE, the public television station for Northwest Florida and Southeast Alabama, began operations under a license originally granted to the Escambia County School Board in 1967. From its beginning, the station was managed and operated by Pensacola State College. During the public school hours of 8 a.m. until 2 p.m., the programming was supported by the school board, broadcasting K-12 teacher-produced, videotaped programs, as well as some live studio courses. At 2 p.m., the station would sign off until 5 p.m. when it would sign on again with National Educational Television (NET) programming — the forerunner of our current Public Broadcasting Service. The evening programming was educational, but not formal instruction, and was aimed at an adult market.
In 1972, the school board transferred the station's license to the District Board of Trustees of Pensacola State College, which owned the station's analog transmitting site on Fairfield Drive in Pensacola. Consequently, Pensacola State College reduced the amount of daytime programming while continuing its evening broadcasts with programming from the Public Broadcasting Service. The college used the facilities during the daytime to expand College of the Air (COTA) offerings. This was the time of the Vietnam War, and Pensacola State College cooperated with Naval Air Station/Pensacola to maintain tape libraries of courses on ships for active duty personnel enrolled at the college.
On the Pensacola campus the station supported closed circuit TV on three channels. Rooms 250, 251, and 252 were connected by cable to the station and used to deliver commercially-produced courses for several programs of study, particularly nursing. During this period the college also began offering college credit courses in TV production and announcing.
In 1978, the station switched from using land lines and microwave reception, which originated live from New York and Washington, D.C., to a "C" band downlink from the PBS satellite. From this point on through the next decade, WSRE focused on expanding its PBS programming and hours of operation. In part, this shift in emphasis resulted from a decline in the COTA programming and the reduction in TV production courses. The station continued to support instructional initiatives during this period, using the satellite downlink to bring telecourse capabilities to the campus in the mid-80s.
The 1990s were a period of almost constant change for WSRE, bringing several firsts to the Gulf Coast. In 1991, the WSRE-TV Foundation, Inc. was established to support the programs, services, activities, and the capital and operating needs, of the station. The Foundation's operation of a Ku band uplink mobile production unit, a level of technology rare among community college-managed TV stations, provided a mobile uplink capability to augment WSRE's growing studio operations. While not in use presently, studio uplink services to other stations and regional and national networks (NBC, ABC, CBS, CNN, FOX, FPBS) continue to be provided.
The most significant enhancement to WSRE since its beginning was the move in 1994 to its present location, the $7 million Kugelman Center for Telecommunications. This state-of-the-art facility made WSRE the first digital television production studio in the area. In conjunction with the move, and due to PBS deadlines, the station switched to a Ku/digital band downlink and added a fixed uplink. The Kugelman Center, with its new and more technologically advanced equipment, offered capabilities beyond broadcasting as a PBS-affiliated TV station. The Center supported digital multimedia content development, allowing for a broader use of programming as an opportunity to educate WSRE's educational and viewing communities throughout Northwest Florida. In addition to having three studios for production, the new equipment used full digital technology, from the cameras to the tape machines, improving the production quality. WSRE-TV through its automated/multi-channel facility provided programming services for open broadcast on Channel 23, cable distribution and wireless cable television distribution as well as satellite uplink programming and network services.
To take advantage of the new facilities and technology, the college reinstated the college credit TV production courses the spring semester following the station's move in September of 1994. At the same time, the station became one of 20 sites in the country to offer MATHLINE, a program to help middle school teachers experiment and collaborate in the use of new teaching methods in the classroom. Although MATHLINE was a non-broadcast course, it did utilize videotaped instruction along with complete computer assistance including e-mail and chat capabilities through the PBS FirstClass satellite computer interconnection. This program has since been replaced with a variety of other services offered to our area's education providers.
In 1992, WSRE brought SightLine on the air with assistance from a grant from the Florida Department of Education. SightLine is a reading service for the visually impaired that is broadcast over the Second Audio Program (SAP) channel via Channel 23. Over 100 volunteers read local newspapers and national publications and magazines for the benefit of the visually impaired and handicapped 365 days a year.
Another way WSRE supported the instructional mission of the college was by offering the Distance Learning Program with WSRE production staff support. In September 1997, in partnership with Cox Communications, WSRE brought LNE, Learning Never Ends, online as an additional channel on Cox Communications Cable system in Escambia County for the enhancement of its educational/instructional telecourses. The station also began to coordinate with the Santa Rosa Public School District to establish a microwave link to the public schools in that county in order to provide additional opportunities for televised classes to Santa Rosa County. A fixed satellite uplink to the Florida Department of Education transponder allowed Pensacola State College to expand its role in assisting the production and delivery of instruction across the district. WSRE and Cox retired the cable-only channel in September 2008 due to rapidly changing technology needs.
Concurrently, WSRE also expanded its role in assisting the production and delivery of educational content by becoming a PBS Ready-to-Learn station. Through an annual grant, WSRE, in partnership with other public broadcasting stations and the U.S. Department of Education, provides programming and outreach activities for pre-school children, enhancing their ability to enter our local school system "Ready to Learn" and encouraging parents in "Raising Readers." WSRE's Educational Services Department provides workshops annually for over 1,000 parents and teachers, directly or indirectly reaching over 10,000 children. In addition, WSRE became a National Teacher Training Institute station providing new instructional opportunities for K-12 teachers throughout Northwest Florida.
In 2001, the station began broadcasting its digital signal from a second transmitter located in Baldwin County, Alabama, and in 2006 became the only full-powered public broadcasting station along the Alabama and Florida Gulf Coast. This new signal provided capability for multiple digital streams in addition to the analog channel, scheduled for termination in 2009 by the FCC. Complementing the transition to digital service was the initiation of WSRE's FutureVision capital campaign, which raised funds to support the equipment requirements of the transition. This $2 million campaign culminated in 2003. In the spring of 2004, WSRE began airing WSRE HD, 24-hours a day/seven days a week. WSRE's digital offerings now include four separate streams — the signature channel featuring high definition programming, a second channel featuring "PBS World," a third showcasing "how-to" shows from the "Create" network including educational programming from the Florida Knowledge Network and the Florida Channel, and a recently launched fourth channel featuring all Spanish-language programming called "V-me." WSRE is available over the air (all four digital streams) and on most cable and satellite systems from southeastern Mississippi to Destin, Florida.
In August 2003, construction began on the state-of-the-art Jean and Paul Amos Performance Studio, an expansion to the Kugelman Center that brought digital technology to life. Featuring a 500-seat studio, it is the only studio of its kind in the Southeast and provides a venue for many types of activities, events and studio performances before a live audience. Completed in 2006, the studio has begun to host live performances and is expanding WSRE's production capabilities in new and exciting ways.
As a leader in quality programming for the Gulf Coast, WSRE complemented its award-winning PBS children's daily programming lineup with a variety of local programs including Flavors of the Coast, Connecting the Community, Food for Thought, Open Forum, Garden Magic, AWARE, and Legislative Review. In recent years, regular local programming has been complemented by award-winning local documentaries and special productions, such as Khaki Coast, Gulf Coast War Memories, Pause Life, Play Music: A Symphony Season, Honor Flight…A Journey of Heroes, and a special featuring the Veteran's War Memorial in Pensacola.
WSRE has been fortunate to continue to have strong member support from the Gulf Coast community. In addition to annual membership contributions from viewers, the Gulf Coast community has supported the station's annual "Wine and Food Classic" since the 1988. This award-winning event has featured many chefs from the regional area, as well as notable celebrity chefs, such as Jacques Pépin. In 2004, the WSRE-TV Foundation established a new major donor group, the Inner Circle, composed of members who share a passion for public broadcasting and a commitment to ensuring that WSRE has the resources to provide the best in programming and community outreach services for our communities. Complementing our general membership contributions, the Inner Circle provides sustaining support at the $1,000 level annually to advance the mission of WSRE. In 2006, the Foundation introduced a new fundraising effort with the goal of establishing on-going support at higher levels, the Major Giving Initiative. In 2007, WSRE celebrated its 40th Anniversary of service to the citizens of Northwest Florida. In recognition of this milestone, the Foundation established the 40th Year Legacy Society to work toward building the Foundation's Endowment to the $1,000,000 level. Income from this endowment will provide resources for WSRE's programming and services into the future.
Through its operation of WSRE, Pensacola State College and the WSRE-TV Foundation work together to inspire Gulf Coast citizens from every walk of life to explore new ideas, discover new worlds and broaden personal horizons through the outstanding programming and educational resources made possible for and by Viewers Like You. Thank you!