WNET, channel 13 (branded as THIRTEEN), is a non-commercial educational, public television station licensed to Newark, New Jersey, United States. With its signal covering the New York metropolitan area, WNET is a member station of, program provider to, and is one of two flagship stations of the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) (the other being WGBH-TV (channel 2) in Boston, Massachusetts). WNET's main studios and offices are located in Midtown Manhattan with an auxiliary street-level studio in the Lincoln Center complex on the Upper West Side. The station's transmitter is on the Empire State Building and is to move its transmitting site to One World Trade Center in the coming weeks.[when?]

Owned by,[2] formerly known as the Educational Broadcasting Corporation (TV network), WNET is also the parent of the Long Island-based PBS station WLIW (channel 21) and the operator of the New Jersey PBS network NJTV.


Independent station (1948 – 1962)

WNET commenced broadcasting on May 15, 1948, as WATV, a commercial television station owned by Atlantic Television, a subsidiary of Bremer Broadcasting Corporation.[3][4] Frank V. Bremer, the CEO, also owned two northern New Jersey radio stations, WAAT (970 AM, now WNYM) and WAAT-FM (94.7 MHz., now WNSH). The three stations were based in the Mosque Theatre (now Symphony Hall) at 1020 Broad Street in Newark. WATV was the first of three new stations in the New York City television market to sign on the air during 1948, and was also the first independent station. One unusual daytime program, Daywatch, consisted of a camera focused on a teletypewriter printing wire service news stories, interspersed with cut-aways to mechanical toys against a light music soundtrack. Another early series by the station was Stairway to Stardom (1950–1951), one of the first TV series with an African-American host.

On October 6, 1957, Bremer Broadcasting announced it had sold its stations for $4.5 million to National Telefilm Associates (NTA), an early distributor of motion pictures for television, joining its NTA Film Network.[5][6] On May 7, 1958, channel 13's callsign was changed to WNTA-TV to reflect the new ownership; the radio stations adopted these call letters as well. NTA's cash resources enabled WNTA-TV to produce a schedule of programming with greater emphasis on the people and events of New Jersey, in comparison to the other commercial television stations.[7] NTA also sought to make channel 13 a center of nationally syndicated programming and produced several such entries, notably the anthology drama series Play of the Week; the talk show Open End, hosted by David Susskind; children's show The Magic Clown; and a popular dance program emceed by Clay Cole. But WNTA-TV continued to lag behind New York's other independent stations – WNEW-TV (channel 5, now WNYW), WOR-TV (channel 9, now WWOR-TV), and WPIX (channel 11) – in terms of audience size, and NTA incurred a large debtload. National Telefilm Associates put the WNTA stations up for sale in February 1961.[8]

Transition (1957 - 1962)

"Tonight, you join me in being present at the birth of a great adventure." Edward R. Murrow, on the first broadcast of WNDT on September 16, 1962.[9][10]

At least three prospective purchasers expressed interest in WNTA-TV. The most prominent was the New York City-based group Educational Television for the Metropolitan Area (ETMA), a consortium of businesspeople, cultural leaders and educators who intended to turn channel 13 into an educational station. By this time, it was obvious that the non-commercial frequency that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) originally allocated to the city, UHF channel 25, would not be nearly adequate enough to cover a market that stretched from Fairfield County, Connecticut in the north to Ocean County, New Jersey in the south. Prior to 1964, when the FCC required television manufacturers to include UHF tuners in newer sets as per the All-Channel Act, most viewers could not view UHF stations except with an expensive converter; only a few manufacturers made sets with built-in UHF tuning. Even for those who could access UHF stations, reception was marginal even under the best conditions.

With assistance from the University of the State of New York, ETMA had attempted to purchase channel 13 and convert it into a non-commercial station in 1957, when Bremer Broadcasting first put the station on the block;[11] this bid was later withdrawn. This time ETMA was competing with NTA founding president Ely Landau, who had resigned from the company in order to head his own venture for this; and by David Susskind, who received financial backing from Paramount Pictures.[12]

ETMA's initial bid of $4 million was rejected by NTA,[13] but the citizens' group remained persistent. With the support and guidance of National Educational Television (NET) already in their pocket, ETMA later received an endorsement from newly appointed FCC chairman Newton Minow, who established public hearings to discuss the fate of channel 13. The pendulum quickly shifted in favor of channel 13 going non-commercial, and the private firms withdrew their interest.[14]

On June 29, 1961, ETMA agreed to purchase WNTA-TV for $6.2 million.[15] About $2 million of that amount came from five of the six remaining commercial VHF stations (WPIX was the lone holdout), all of whom were pleased to see a competitor eliminated.[16] In addition, CBS later donated a facility in Manhattan to ETMA and NET for production uses. The FCC approved the transfer in October, and converted channel 13's commercial license to non-commercial.[17]

The outgoing New Jersey governor, Robert B. Meyner, addressing state lawmakers' concerns over continued programming specific to New Jersey, and fearing the FCC would move the channel 13 allocation to New York City,[18] petitioned the United States Court of Appeals on September 6, 1961, to block the sale of WNTA-TV. The court ruled in the state's favor two months later.[19]

The unsettled deal almost caused National Telefilm Associates to reconsider its decision to sell the station altogether, and NTA made plans to go forward: WNTA-TV made a play to acquire broadcast rights for the New York Mets baseball team for its inaugural 1962 season.[20] But faced with either consummating the transaction or seeing it cancelled, ETMA settled their differences with New Jersey officials on December 4, 1961.[21] After a few last-minute issues arose to cause further delays, the transfer became final on December 22.[22] Later that evening, WNTA-TV signed off for the final time. ETMA and NET then went to work converting the station, which they said would return with its new format within three months.

Ten months later, channel 13 was ready to be reborn. With legendary CBS reporter Edward R. Murrow at the helm on the maiden broadcast, ETMA – now the non-profit Educational Broadcasting Corporation – flipped the switch to WNDT (for "New Dimensions in Television") on September 16, 1962.[14][23][24][25] The return of channel 13 as WNDT gave the New York City market its first educational station, and with a dial position on the coveted VHF band (in many other cities, including large ones, educational stations had to make do with UHF frequencies). New York's non-commercial UHF channel, on the other hand, signed on as WNYE-TV four-and-a-half years later in April 1967. Richard Heffner was appointed as WNDT's first general manager, serving in that position in its first year; Heffner continued to appear on channel 13 as producer and host of the public affairs program The Open Mind until his death in December 2013.[26]

Educational station (1962 – present)

During the transition, and after the inaugural broadcast, WNDT faced an immediate crisis. The American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA) was concerned about the use of teachers – some of whom were union-certified performers – on non-commercial television, and how they would be compensated should their work be distributed nationally.

AFTRA called a strike on the morning of WNDT's debut. Engineers and technicians who were members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers refused to cross the AFTRA picket line, leaving the station's management and other non-union employees to produce the three-hour inaugural broadcast. Immediately afterwards, channel 13 went off the air again, as the strike continued for nearly two weeks.[9][27] The striking workers returned WNDT to the air after ten days, and on September 28, the labor dispute was settled.[28][29] But the station's financial resources were drained, requiring an infusion of cash from the Ford Foundation to help keep the station running.[30]

NET originally wanted to merge its operations with WNDT, which would have given the station a direct line of funding as well as make channel 13 NET's flagship station. The Ford Foundation, which supported both groups, stopped the proposed mergers on at least two different occasions (in 1962 and 1965).

Events that began in 1967 led the Ford Foundation to change its stance and push for a WNDT-NET merger. The newly formed Corporation for Public Broadcasting (created by an act of the United States Congress) initially supported NET's network role, while providing government funding for programming. But that move was followed two years later with the establishment of the Public Broadcasting Service as the CPB's own distribution system – which was a direct threat to NET's territory. It has been intimated that the CPB's creation was an attempt to curb NET's production of controversial documentaries and replace it with a less controversial, government-friendly broadcaster, less hostile in particular to the Johnson, and later the Nixon administrations (NET ignored the demand and continued on with the production of the critically acclaimed documentaries). At one point, President Nixon, frustrated with NET's documentaries criticizing his administration, especially its handling of the Vietnam War, almost managed to cut NET's $20 million funding grant in half.[31] As a result, this led both Ford and the CPB to threaten NET with funding withdrawal in early 1970, unless it merged with the station. Not long after, Ford brokered the merger of WNDT and NET, which took effect on June 29, 1970.[citation needed] Channel 13's callsign was changed to the present WNET on October 1, 1970.[32] NET ceased network operations three days later, though WNET continued to produce some shows for the national PBS schedule with the NET branding until about 1972.

Following the merger, David Loxton established the TV Lab in 1972 with support from the Rockefeller Foundation and New York State Council on the Arts. TV Lab provided artists with equipment to produce video pieces through an artist-in-residence program. The Independent Documentary Fund and Video Tape Review series were both produces of TV Lab. TV Lab ended in 1984 when the Corporation for Public Broadcasting withdrew funds.

Channel 13's studios and offices were originally located in the Mosque Theater at 1020 Broad Street in Newark, with transmitter on First Mountain in West Orange, New Jersey, eventually moving to The Empire State Building and later, the World Trade Center. For a short time studios were located at the Gateway Center office building in Newark. The station eventually moved its operations to Manhattan in 1982 and was based on West 58th Street in the Hudson Hotel, while retaining the Gateway Center studios for a few more years. In 1998, it moved to 450 West 33rd Street, straddling the railroad tracks going into Pennsylvania Station. The Associated Press and numerous other media groups have headquarters in the same building.

Channel 13's transmitter facilities, including a newly installed digital transmission system, were destroyed in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Gerard (Rod) Coppola, channel 13's head transmitter engineer, was among those who died when the north tower collapsed. His remains were discovered on December 25, 2001.[33] For the next ten months WNYE-TV, headquartered in Brooklyn, became WNET's surrogate transmitter and airwave: for those without cable, repeats of WNET's prime-time schedule were broadcast on WNYE until Channel 13 could re-establish transmission facilities back at The Empire State Building. Some time later, in February 2003, WNET completed its merger with Long Island PBS broadcaster WLIW (licensed to Garden City and based in Plainview), combining the two stations into one operation. While most of the two stations' operations have been merged, they still have separate studio facilities, separate governing boards, and conduct separate fundraising efforts.

During 2009, WNET's parent company,, sustained financial difficulties, and in January, the company pared its workforce from 500 employees to 415, due to severe problems with its budget and fundraising. In October, WNET announced that its studios at 450 West 33rd Street would soon be up for sale, as it no longer needed the extra space. In November, WNET announced that all employees would take an unpaid furlough for three to five days between Christmas and New Year's Day, with a skeleton crew of engineers remaining during that time to keep the stations on the air; however, they, too, would have to go on furloughs at the start of 2010.[34] In 2011, WNET moved its studios and offices to Worldwide Plaza.

WNET has been digital-only since June 12, 2009.[35][36][37]

In 2014 The Tisch WNET Studios at Lincoln Center were built at the southwest corner of 66th and Broadway; this versatile, state-of-the-art facility houses two television studios. The space can also accommodate lectures, screenings and intimate concerts.

The new facility is named in honor of James S. Tisch and his wife, Merryl H. Tisch, whose $15 million gift is the single largest donation from individuals in WNET's nearly 50-year history.

On July 1, 2011, WNET took over the programming of the New Jersey Network, which was relaunched as NJTV. The network features increased coverage of news and issues pertinent to New Jersey, as well as programming from the WNET and PBS libraries. The transfer of programming to WNET was part of Governor Chris Christie's plan for the New Jersey government's exit from public broadcasting.[38] As part of the deal, WNET airs NJTV's nightly statewide newscast, NJ Today (which was later renamed to NJTV News on November 4, 2013), to meet its local programming obligations since it still operates on a frequency allocated to Newark. Previously, it had aired NJN's newscast, NJN News, which it co-produced with NJN.

On May 9, 2017, it was announced that WNET would resume broadcasting from the top of the World Trade Center at One World Trade Center by the end of the year.[39]

Digital television

Digital channels

Thirteen/WNET's Former logo, from September 1, 1999 to May 12, 2009. Still being used as a secondary logo on endboards for programs that are created by THIRTEEN/WNET.

The station's digital channel is multiplexed:

Channel Video Aspect PSIP Short Name Programming[1]
13.1 1080i 16:9 WNET-HD Main WNET programming / PBS
13.2 480i 13KDS PBS Kids
13.3 4:3 BIZ TV Biz TV

Out-of-market carriage

WNET is carried in all of Mercer County, New Jersey on Comcast, Cablevision and Verizon FIOS. It is also carried in certain areas of Connecticut, particularly those adjoining the New York City market (in Fairfield County). It is also carried on cable in Abaco in the Bahamas.

Original productions

WNET has produced, created and/or presented a number of PBS shows. This includes, but is not limited to:

**indicates a program that was originally presented by Connecticut Public Television.

WNET has also produced programming for public televisions stations distributed outside of the PBS system, including:

  • Planet H2O
  • In the Mix: The New Normal, a co-production with In the Mix
  • What's Up in Factories
  • What's Up in Technology
  • What's Up in Finance

WNET is also the co-producing entity of the PBS NewsHour, along with Washington, D.C. PBS member station WETA-TV and MacNeil-Lehrer Productions. The show debuted in 1975 as a local news-analysis program, The Robert MacNeil Report. Jim Lehrer, a frequent guest on MacNeil's show, became co-host the following year, when the show was picked up by other PBS stations. Currently as of 2014, WNET produces Weekend Editions of PBS NewsHour while WETA-TV produces its Weekday Editions.

Criticism and controversy

Misuse of federal grants

In 2010 the office of the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, filed a lawsuit asserting that the WNET subsidiary, the Educational Broadcasting Corporation, misused grant money worth $13 million, donated by the National Science Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts between September 2001 and January 2008.[40][41][42][43] The suit asserted that WNET had used grant money that was given for the production of programs including American Masters, Great Performances and Cyberchase for other purposes.[41][42] WNET settled the lawsuit in June 2010 by paying back the United States government $950,000,[41] pledging to instate a program to ensure they honored all future federal grant requirements[40] and agreeing to not receive $1,015,046 in federal grant money that was about to be awarded,[42] WNET Vice President and General Counsel, Robert Feinberg, said to The New York Times: “This is not a scenario we want to repeat and we have no intention of repeating it.”[41]

Board member influence on programming

In November 2012 WNET was scheduled to air Alex Gibney’s film Park Avenue: Money, Power and the American Dream produced by Independent Lens.[44] The film compared the wealth gap between the New York residents of Park Avenue in the Bronx and the wealthy residents of an exclusive Manhattan apartment block at 740 Park Avenue, including David Koch, a billionaire businessman and political activist.[45] At the time Koch was a board member of WNET and was planning on making “a seven-figure donation – maybe more” to WNET.[46] A furor erupted [47][48][49] when The New Yorker revealed in May 2013 that to appease Koch, the president of WNET, Neal Shapiro, called Koch offering him the opportunity to screen Gibney’s film before broadcast and rebut it after it aired with a written statement. Shapiro said to The New Yorker that he “just called David Koch. He’s on our board. He’s the biggest main character. No one else, just David Koch. Because he’s a trustee. It’s a courtesy. I can’t remember doing anything like this [before].”[46] WNET replaced the film’s introduction by Stanley Tucci with a new introduction calling the film “controversial” and “provocative”. Immediately after the broadcast, they aired a statement from Koch Industries criticizing the film as “disappointing and divisive”, although a Koch spokesperson said David Koch had only watched the trailer. WNET followed the statement with an on-air round-table discussion where the moderator repeatedly mentioned that Koch’s philanthropic contributions totaled a billion dollars.[46] Gibney was not invited to appear at the round-table and was quoted as saying “Why is WNET offering Mr. Koch special favors? And why did the station allow Koch to offer a critique of a film he hadn’t even seen? Money. Money talks. They tried to undercut the credibility of the film, and I had no opportunity to defend it”.[46] Koch did not make the large donation to WNET and resigned from their board on May 16, 2013.[46][50]

Ethical issues with funding

In September 2013, WNET launched a series called The Pension Peril, examining the economic sustainability of public pensions and promoting cuts to their funding.[51][52] On December 18, 2013, Neal Shapiro, president and CEO of WNET was quoted in a press release saying “this is the type of complex public policy story that only public television covers in an in-depth and ongoing way. WNET is poised to lead and further the dialogue about this challenging situation all across public media, on PBS, public radio, and online”.[53]

On February 12, 2014 PandoDaily reported that the sole sponsor of The Pension Peril was former Enron trader John D. Arnold[54] who had financially backed efforts to cut public employee pension benefits.[55][56] Stephen Segaller, WNET’s Vice President for programming told The New York Times on February 13, 2014 that he had “absolute conviction” that the Laura and John Arnold Foundation was an admissible funder and the funding did not violate PBS’s “perception” rule. On February 14 Segaller told The New York Times that WNET had reversed course after discussing with PBS “both the facts and the optics. We all take very, very seriously any suggestion that there’s a perception problem about the integrity of our work or the sources of our funding, and we came to the conclusion that it’s better to err on the side of caution”.[52] WNET and PBS issued a joint statement notifying that the series would go on hiatus and WNET would return the $3.5 million grant it had received from the Laura and John Arnold Foundation.[52][57] Segaller said in the statement, “We made a mistake, pure and simple.” PBS ombudsman, Michael Getler, commented that the PandoDaily’s article “shines a light, once again, on what seems to me to be ethical compromises in funding arrangements and lack of real transparency for viewers caused, in part, by the complicated funding demands needed to support public broadcasting, and in part by managers who make some questionable decisions.” Getler added that WNET “went seriously wrong” and that their “decision to accept a grant of $3.5 million from the Arnold Foundation, with a stated interest in "public employee benefits reform," flunks PBS's own "perception test," which is part of the service's Funding Standards and Practices".[58]

Neglecting public mission and mandate

In late 2014 WNET programming chief Stephen Segaller received widespread criticism for proposing to push the multi award winning documentary strands Independent Lens and POV (TV series) out of a prime-time slot and onto a secondary station, WLIW (Channel 21).[49][59] Over 2,000 documentarians signed a petition,[49] stating that WNET’s action would lead to the shows being marginalized by PBS affiliates nationwide and have a severe effect on cutting edge documentary film making.[59] Among the prominent opponents of rescheduling POV and Independent Lens were filmmakers Alex Gibney and Laura Poitras, who had campaigned against a similar move by WNET in 2012.[60] TV producer Norman Lear wrote an op-ed in The New York Times accusing WNET and PBS of a ratings-chase that “could devastate independent documentary film making.” He criticized the broadcaster for “threatening, for the second time in four years, to downgrade documentaries, which are at the heart of its public mission”.[59] Many of the subjects POV and Independent Lens covered — like the Koch brothers’ influence on American politics in Alex Gibney’s film, Park Avenue: Money, Power and the American Dream — have been controversial,[49][59] leading the Indie Caucus, a group of Independent filmmakers to speculate if the provocative subjects they explored might also be relegating them to the more obscure TV schedule.[61] Segaller said it was “preposterous” to suggest that WNET had a censorship agenda when both programs had run for more than a decade. “One disputatious moment in a many-year history does not a conspiracy make,” he declared.[49] In April 2015 WNET relented and restored both strands to their original slots.[62]

Inaccuracy and improper influence

In June 2015 a media furor forced WNET to postpone the third season of Finding Your Roots[63][64] when the Sony Pictures hack revealed via hacked emails that a subject of the series, Ben Affleck, had lobbied for material relating to a relative owning slaves be removed from the show.[65][66] Those edits which violated PBS ethics standards[63][64] brought strong criticism from the media to WNET and the producers of the show. PBS issued a statement saying “the series co-producers violated PBS standards by failing to shield the creative and editorial process from improper influence, and by failing to inform PBS or WNET of Mr. Affleck’s efforts to affect program content.” The statement promised the episode would be withdrawn from distribution and that the series would employ “an independent genealogist to review all versions of program episodes for factual accuracy”.[67] After the suspension of the series Adweek commented: “The network clearly understands that its integrity has been thrown into question by this controversy. Even if they understood where the producers of the show were coming from when they decided to entertain the request, PBS and the veracity of all that’s included in their documentaries, requires decisive action that conveys just how serious this infraction was.”[64] The series returned to the air in January 2016.[68]

In popular culture

Billy Joel (a native of the greater New York area) mentioned WNET in one of the lyrics to his 1982 song "Pressure". In it, Joel is describing the state of the song's character who is going in and out of "Psych ward 1" and "Psych ward 2". He then says "All your life is channel 13. Sesame Street, what does it mean?"

WNET is also shown in "The Pledge Drive", an episode of the NBC sitcom, Seinfeld.

See also


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