Max Morath reminded America about a largely forgotten part of its musical legacy, but beyond that achievement of mass education, the musician also helped educational TV accept the element of entertainment in its programs. This article by Contributing Editor David Stewart is part of Stewart’s planned book on public TV programming. Stewart, who retired as CPB’s director of international activities, profiled early television’s favorite professor, Frank Baxter, in a January issue of Current. In the summer of 1959 an itinerant musician and sometimes TV producer, Max Morath, was playing piano for melodramas in the restored mining town of Cripple Creek, Colo. A year later, the 33-year-old graduate of Colorado College had written and performed a 12-part TV series that would change noncommercial television forever. Over the next five years — while the music rights were held by National Educational Television (NET) — The Ragtime Era became the most watched noncommercial series up to that time, run and rerun constantly by all the educational (and many commercial) stations throughout the country.
A federal appeals court has upheld the little-noticed 1992 law setting aside 4–7 percent of direct broadcast satellite capacity for “noncommercial programming of an educational or informational nature.” The Aug. 30, 1996, decision by a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., overturned a 1993 District Court decision that ruled the set-aside had violated DBS operators’ First Amendment rights. If the decision isn’t appealed successfully to the Supreme Court, the set-aside means that a DBS operator with 175 channels — that’s how many DirecTV claims — will have to offer 7-12 channels of noncommercial fare on its menu. The ruling provides ‘a great basis’ for arguing that broadcasters airing multiple digital channels be required to provide some noncommercial programming, says Sohn.
After six weeks of intense conflict with the majority of his staff, the president of Wichita’s KPTS, Zoel Parenteau, resigned his position Aug. 23 . His longtime v.p. of programming, Jim Lewis, resigned under pressure Aug. 8 . Parenteau will remain on staff as a v.p. and representative to the Kansas Public Broadcasting Council until July 1997, when he turns 65 and had planned to retire.