What began with a hand-me-down trailer house headquarters and television transmitter tower on the edge of Fargo, North Dakota, is now a television and radio network that serves North Dakota, portions of its border states, and several communities in Manitoba, Canada. In service to households in the region for 50 years, Prairie Public is not showing signs of being over-the-hill. Rather, it continues to embrace technological advances in the medium while remaining remarkably close to the same mission it has had from the beginning—to deliver programs that educate, involve, and inspire, without commercial interruption.
The organization was conceived in August of 1959 when a forward-thinking Dr. Ted Donat presided over the incorporation of the North Central Educational Television Association. In July of 1963, after nearly four years of planning and development, the first employee was hired, and North Central Educational Television was about to go live. The Association’s first station, KFME-TV (Channel 13, Fargo), aired its first broadcast in January of 1964.
That first public television signal was an abbreviated three-hour schedule. Prairie Public’s first local production, an English Literature course for Moorhead Minnesota’s Concordia College, began in 1965. KFME began broadcasting in color in 1967, the same year President Johnson signed The Public Broadcasting Act.
North Central Educational Television had a growth spurt in the ‘70s, changed its name to Prairie Public Television, and expanded its broadcast area to include the entire state of North Dakota. In the ‘80s, radio broadcasts were added, and the brand has since changed to Prairie Public.
Prairie Public is proud of its award-winning television documentaries, including an award-winning series about the history and culture of the Germans from Russia, a series of documentaries in collaboration with the Plains CO2 Reduction Partnership led by the University of North Dakota’s Energy & Environmental Research Center, the nationally broadcast “Painting with Paulson” art instruction series, and documentaries about Homesteading, Prairie Churches, the Old Red Trail, Scandinavian Traditions, regional artists and musicians, and many more.
Prairie Public has embraced new technology, adding web content, social media communications and online viewing and listening. The switch from analogue to digital broadcasting—Prairie Public was the first in the region to do so—allowed for more great programming for schools, more hours of non-violent children’s programming for families, and the stunning clarity of high-definition television. Just as the public adjusted from black and white color back in the ‘60’s, large high-definition televisions have become the norm in most households as Prairie Public turns 50.