On April 10, 1962, Community Television of Southern California was incorporated as a nonprofit organization with the purpose of developing, financing, and operating a non-commercial educational television station facility in Los Angeles.
KCET's pre-history began a decade earlier, in 1952, when the Federal Communications Commission allocated the UHF television frequency of channel 28 to the Los Angeles area. In 1953, the University of Southern California, with funding from the Allan Hancock Foundation, began operation of KTHE (later renamed KUSC) channel 28, an educational television (ETV) station which lasted all but one year due to a lack of funding, viewership, and technical resources. Broadcasting from a transmitter on the USC campus, KUSC channel 28's weak signal reportedly only reached as far north as Pico Boulevard - "on a good day."
In 1957, a man named Ed Flynn, a writer and public relations professional who did publicity work for a foreign aid organization, and had years of experience working with the World War II propaganda effort in Hollywood, had a vision to create an ETV station in the Los Angeles area.
Flynn originally approached USC and the Hancock Foundation in an attempt at reviving KUSC channel 28, but gave up after much stalling and delay from the university. In 1959, he met Winter Horton, a TV producer who had worked on CBS' "The Dick Van Dyke Show," through their wives, who were already friends, at a party in Pasadena. Flynn and Horton soon discovered each other's respective visions and passion for ETV.
By 1960, Flynn and Horton made individual trips to cities around the country to see how other non-commercial stations operated. Flynn's foreign aid P.R. work allowed him to travel and network with influential people and organizations across the U.S., eventually meeting with the group that started WNET in New York.
Flynn's and Horton's fact-finding and networking efforts soon caught the attention of the Ford Foundation's National Educational Television (NET) network, which was interested in establishing a presence in the Los Angeles area. The two made another attempt to revive KUSC channel 28, but dropped the effort once they learned that NET would only support community-run stations that had no institutional ties. From then on, their efforts went towards starting a new station run as a community owned venture.
In March 1961, Flynn and Horton formed the Committee for Educational Television (CET), which planned to operate as nonprofit under the formal name, Educational Television, Inc.
After securing a license from the City of Los Angeles to solicit funds, they set their goal to $8 million - the same amount as the price to purchase KUSC channel 28. CET used Flynn's Hollywood Boulevard office as its base of operations.
Around the same time, the FCC requested public comments on the need for community TV stations in New York and Los Angeles, as WNET was also forming. Lacking a budget, CET
mailed 3-cent postcards to educators and other potential supporters inviting them to a luncheon meeting at Hollywood's Knickerbocker Hotel on April 12. Fourteen people responded.
One was James L. Loper, Director of Instructional Television at Los Angeles State College (now Cal State L.A.), an acquaintance of Horton's. Loper wrote about the organization and launching of Arizona State University's TV station for his master's thesis, also shared the vision for ETV in Los Angeles.
Another was Rose Blyth, the Director of Radio-Television at Caltech. She had previously produced Caltech's science programs on KNBC channel 4.
At the luncheon meeting, Loper and James Day, manager of San Francisco's KQED-TV urged the audience to form an advisory council, which formed the foundation of today's KCET.
In October 1961 Horton and Blyth went to New York to attend the National Association of Educational Broadcasters Conference and successfully applied to join its committee. They met with FCC officials, and NET President John F. White, who expressed that he wanted to see CET become NET's Los Angeles affiliate. Blyth also met with U.S. Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare Abraham Ribicoff, who pledged to help CET succeed.
Ribicoff visited Los Angeles a month later, and CET staged a dinner with Ribicoff as its guest speaker, an opportunity that attracted influential connections and created supporters. Hosted by USC President Norman Topping, the event was a greater success than expected, establishing an Educational Advisory Council, which enlisted Caltech President Dr. Lee A. DuBridge -- a Nobel prize laureate who developed the microwave radar -- as its chair.
In December 1961, Blyth went to New York to meet with NET officials, who agreed to lend $20,000 to CET to assist in operations. If successful, it would be a loan, if unsuccessful, it would be a grant. Blyth then became CET's Executive Secretary in order to help secure more funding.
Flynn did not approve of what he saw as NET's attempt to control CET, and he also disapproved of Caltech's large influence in organization. He left CET, but kept the corporate name and its Articles of Incorporation.
On April 2, 1962, the remainder of CET, now more organized, formed a new organization -- Community Television of Southern California, which moved to its new office on 2600 Wilshire Boulevard near Mac Arthur Park.
Two days later, CTSC received its first $5,000 from NET.
On April 10, CTSC was formally incorporated with a six-member board, which included Horton, Blyth, and Baxter. It elected Dr. DuBridge as its President, and Loper as its Vice President.
The next two years were focused on fundraising. Five of L.A.'s commercial TV stations -- KTTV, KNXT (now KCBS), KNBC, KCOP, and KHJ (now KCAL) -- had contributed $950,000 in capital or matching funds. KCET also received funding from the LA City School District and the LA County School District. Corporate sponsors also contributed, including United California Bank, Aerojet General Corporation, Southern California Edison, and Southern California Gas Company.
In 1964, through its connections with Dr. Baxter, CTSC was able to convince USC to transfer its license for the channel 28 frequency to CTSC. And upon applying for its call letters with the FCC, CTSC submitted a long list of possible three-letter acronyms to follow the "K" designation for all stations west of the Mississippi.
All of them were taken, except for one: "CET."
Intended to stand for "Community Educational Television" or "Cultural and Educational Television," the fateful resemblance to the original Committee for Educational Television was not lost on those who were involved in the initial ETV station effort.
CTSC moved from its Wilshire Boulevard office to a leased studio facility on 1313 North Vine Street in the heart of Hollywood, built in 1948 as the home of the Don Lee Radio studios.
And from then on, KCET channel 28 was born.
Though Ed Flynn created the vision for educational television in Los Angeles, which was realized by KCET, the station itself, true to its name, was founded through a dedicated community effort.