O. Leonard Press, KET founder (#336)
KET’s founding executive director recalls the creation of the statewide public television network and talks about the vision behind it.
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O. Leonard Press, the founding executive director of KET, recalls the creation of the statewide public television network, which marked its 40th anniversary in September 2008. The program was taped before a studio audience of current and former KET volunteers, supporters, and staff members.
Press, a native of Massachusetts, produced some of America’s first instructional telecourses while working in the brand-new television department at Boston University in the late 1940s. He came to the University of Kentucky in 1952, having accepted a teaching position for just one year—and has been a Kentuckian ever since.
At UK, Press and his new colleagues envisioned starting a television station to serve the university and its community. But a trip to a small school in a remote area of Eastern Kentucky enlarged the dream. Press remembers falling in love with the area and its people and admiring the efforts of dedicated teachers to give their students the best education possible despite isolation and a severe lack of resources. Television, he realized, could help equalize things by beaming in lectures, demonstrations, documentaries, arts performances, and a world of other information.
Over the next 10 years, Press waged a one-man campaign promoting the creation of a statewide educational TV network for Kentucky. In the interview, he recalls those days, chronicled in his book The KET Story: A Personal Account: He criss-crossed the state, talking up the idea in front of any group that would have him; cultivated education leaders to assure them that television would complement, not compete with, their efforts; and begged time from political leaders to outline his vision.
In 1962, his efforts paid off when the General Assembly created the Kentucky Authority for Educational Television, naming Press as KET’s first executive director. After another six years of redoubled effort, this time to find and acquire transmitter sites, construct facilities, and hire a staff, KET signed on the air on September 23, 1968.
Press remained at the helm until 1992, developing KET into one of the nation’s largest and most respected public television networks. The vision of serving Kentucky’s P-12 students and teachers with which he started is still at the heart of KET’s mission, and has been broadened to include not just broadcasting but also online and multimedia resources like KET EncycloMedia and the Arts Toolkits. But the network’s educational mission has also extended beyond the state, with the production of GED preparation and other adult education materials used around the world, and into all areas of lifelong learning. KET is one of the leaders among PBS member stations in local production, creating public affairs programs that illuminate Kentucky issues as well as documentaries and performance programs that celebrate its rich history, natural beauty, and diverse cultural heritage.