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Wednesday, Nov. 3, 2010

MPTV: Bringing Arts, Education to Milwaukee

Intelligent programming inspires audiences; station offers students hands-on learning opportunities

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Oftentimes, non-cabletelevision seems like a throwback to the era of records and rotary phones. But Milwaukee Public Television (MPTV) sidesteps the time warp by staying relevant with progressive and diverse programming.

In the 1950s Congress reserved airwaves specifically for noncommercial television to provide audiences with quality educational and artistic content. In 1957, MPTV was established as America’s 28th educational television station. Channel 10 began with less than 20 hours of broadcasting a week, but within a year tripled its output. The station produced its first nationally televised program, “The Inquiring Mind,” in 1960. Increased interest led to a second outlet, Channel 36.

“In 1963 we launched Channel 36 with locally produced instructional programming, which at the time meant a picture of a man standing in front of ablackboard,” says Ellis Bromberg, general manager of MPTV. “Since then, we have diversified 10/36’s content to include local and national shows on almost any imaginable subject.”

Today, channels 10/36 include nine over-the-air stations, all commercial-free, broadcasting 24 hours a day. Content includes a weather channel, classical music and jazz channels, and alternative in-depth news, with daily news programs from Great Britain, Japan and Germany.

“Classic movies have become quite popular, and we are also offering more arts coverage and shows that promote healthier lifestyles,” Bromberg says.

Locally, MPTV produces eight regular shows, including the “4th Street Forum,” a weekly town hall meeting on local issues, and the popular talk show “InterCHANGE.”

“We also serve our diverse community with programs such as ‘Adelente!’ and ‘Black Nouveau,’” Bromberg adds.

MPTV has contributed several programs to the national PBS network, including the John McGivern play The Early Years and the musical Cherry Picking Apple Blossom Time, with music by Paul Cebar. Ongoing broadcasts include “Tracks Ahead,” the cooking show “Healthful Indian Flavors” and the award-winning “Outdoor Wisconsin,” now in its 26th season.

“In October we broadcasted a special that investigated the impact of the BP spill in the Gulf on Wisconsin waterfowl,” Bromberg says.“Next year we are launching a new show called ‘Work, Money, Meaning,’ a series that will detail job search and employment in Milwaukee. This is in collaboration with several local corporations.”

The most popular program broadcast on MPTV is “Antiques Roadshow.”

“Three episodes have been filmed in Milwaukee, and we look forward to additional tapings,” Bromberg says. “Other popular series include ‘NOVA,’ stories from the world of science; ‘Great Performances,’ featuring the best in music, dance and theater; ‘American Experience,’ television’s most-watched history series; and, of course, the always popular ‘Sesame Street.’”

Many local arts groups have been shown on 10/36, including the Milwaukee Rep, Skylight Opera Theatre and Ko-Thi Dance Company. A production of Next Act Theatre will soon be broadcast.

Not all of the news is positive, however. The downturn in the economy has affected programming, Bromberg notes, including the loss of a local arts favorite.

“During the last few years, we haven’t been able to broadcast Milwaukee Symphony concerts due to budget constraints,” he says. “That troubles us, as we have broadcast the orchestra since the 1960s. We just can’t find the funding.”

The MPTV budget is nearly $7 million, with $1.6 million coming from congressional funds through the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB). The CPB is a nonprofit entity that distributes federal funds to individual PBS and National Public Radio stations. A CPB grant was used to fund public television’s transition to high definition. Additional MPTV income includes corporate sponsorship and the annual TV auction, which is recognized as one of the best in the country. Another important contributor is the group MPTV Friends. The use of the broadcast tower, located on East Capitol Drive, is donated.

Hands-On Learning

The station is licensed to the Board of the Milwaukee Area Technical College (MATC). The 60 MPTV workers, including office staff and technicians, are MATC employees. The station also serves as a school for television and video production. Currently, 60 MATC students take classes and have hands-on experience in the studios and post-production labs.

Advanced students are required to produce a television project, which is then locally broadcast. “The students at MATC have a great opportunity, not only to study television operations, but to also produce programs,” Bromberg says.“They graduate with experience.”

At the station’s home at MATC, walls are covered with national and local awards, including nearly a dozen Emmys. There are two large studios, offices, editing suites and a student-learning center. It’s a state-of-the-art facility with top-notch faculty. And the price hasn’t risen in more than 50 years.

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