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In 1966, an act of the Maryland Legislature established the Maryland Educational-Cultural Television Commission, the governance body of what became known as the Maryland Center for Public Broadcasting and, later, Maryland Public Television. Ground was broken for a headquarters and studio facility in suburban Baltimore County’s community of Owings Mills on June 5, 1968, and the center went on the air on October 5, 1969. The founding executive director, Dr. Frederick Breitenfeld, Jr., already a leading figure in public broadcasting at the time of his appointment, served as chief executive for 17 years.
The center was established as a nonprofit, state-licensed public television network and member of the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS). The state license required statewide reach, and so six towers across the state enabled MPT to get its then-analog signal to all corners of Maryland and into contiguous states and the District of Columbia. In 1976, the center initiated its first satellite communications project, linking two universities in a law school moot court competition some 22,300 miles in space.
The 1970s and 1980s saw the introduction of an astounding variety of center-produced historical dramas, how-to programs, nature, and music offerings in addition to educational and cultural programming. It was during this time that several MPT series enjoyed their premieres and what would become decades-long popularity among viewers locally and nationally. MPT was rewarded for is production prowess with dozens of Emmy® Awards (four of them national and the remainder regional) along with an impressive list of other major broadcasting honors.
In 1984, the name Maryland Center for Public Broadcasting gave way to Maryland Public Television. In 2004, MPT began broadcasting in both analog and digital formats until digital-only transmission started in 2009. In 2007, MPT introduced V-me, a 24-hour Spanish language channel, which joined MPT’s two other digital channels, the primary MPT-HD and secondary channel MPT2, in the daily programming lineup.
MPT has been a pioneer in the production, delivery and dissemination of pre-K-12 educational resources and online courses. The award-winning education website Thinkport.org, launched in 2003, offers high-quality lesson plans, digital media, learning games and resources for educators, schools, the child care population, and families.
Another MPT educational endeavor, started in the late 1960s, came out of the State Department of Education’s formation of a Division of Instructional Television. ITV, as it was known, was awarded one-third of the Maryland Center for Public Broadcasting’s available production facilities, staff, and program schedule. By 1980-81 over 42% of Maryland teachers were using instructional television.
In 1970, College of the Air debuted, as the center became the largest U.S. producer of telecourses for credit. Today, via Thinkport, the platform for learning has expanded to embrace online and mobile technologies, but MPT remains committed to being Maryland’s sole statewide educator just as it was in the 1970s and ‘80s.
Starting in 2007, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting funded MPT to participate in the the American Archive inventory of public media content. Working on a tight deadline of five months beginning in late summer and finishing in December 2011, an MPT team worked 3,500 hours and was able to inventory almost 48,000 assets.
Today, under the leadership of CEO Larry D. Unger, MPT’s fifth president, some 140 staff members continue to produce award-winning local and national public television programs, to provide distinctive online content and community outreach initiatives, and to offer an impressive array of educational resources for children, teachers, families, and daycare providers across the state and nationally.
Wall $treet Week With Louis Rukeyser - 1972-2002; highlight was 1987 broadcast from London Stock Exchange to more than 300 U.S. PBS stations
MotorWeek – 1981-present; television’s longest-running automotive series
Our Street – groundbreaking MPT-produced drama focusing on then-described “Negro family life in West Baltimore”
Crabs – 1984; half-hour comedy special live studio audience, numerous national and international awards
Consumer Survival Kit, 1973-79, more than 100 30-minute programs; series educated consumers; nationally distributed to PBS from 1974-79
HodgePodge Lodge – 1970-76; 600 30-min. programs, nature series; the first privately underwritten, MPT-produced program; distributed nationally