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WHYY History

The early history of WHYY, Inc. is tied to a series of physical moves, making it a pair of stations in search of the best facility possible to house diverse operations. Also, the roots of WHYY, Inc. were grounded in community cooperation -- a binding together of spirited public citizens, corporations, and foundations which nurtured the station then as now.

In the beginning, the vision of what was to become WHYY, Inc. rested with a group of dedicated citizens, spearheaded by Dr. W. Laurence LePage, president of The Franklin Institute. The Metropolitan Philadelphia Educational Radio and Television Corporation was established in the early 1950s to provide educational and cultural programming to the citizens in the metropolitan Philadelphia area. It was a vision that was to retain its insistence on offering programming of quality, but it was to burst through its political boundaries to serve the entire Delaware Valley as geographical areas yielded to electronic opportunities.

With the generous help of the Westinghouse Radio Stations, Inc., which donated a completely operational FM station, at 17th and Sansom Streets, Philadelphia, WHYY-91FM began broadcasting on December 14, 1954.
Visit the 91FM 50 Year Anniversary website.

Three years later, WHYY was airborne as Channel 35, the 23rd public television station in the country. Moments before WHYY-TV's signal was airborne, Philadelphia Mayor Richardson Dilworth hailed the event as "an example of the spiritual awakening of the city" and he praised "what citizens can do when they work together."

Mayor Dilworth's "spiritual awakening" had taken flight in leased, renovated studios at 1622 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, the former headquarters for WCAU.

The new Channel 35, a UHF station, was licensed in the City of Philadelphia under the leadership of the Board of Education and some 100 local cultural institutions. However, few television sets in the 1950s could receive UHF signals. Channel 35's experiments in evening entertainment and cultural programming had limited success.

The challenge to improve was implicit. Then, an opportunity presented itself in 1963, when the VHF Channel 12 in Delaware, a defunct commercial station, was awarded to WHYY. It then became a regional public broadcasting station, serving the cornerstones of the Delaware Valley.

On September 12, 1963, WHYY signed on the air as TV12 with studios in a renovated red school house at 5th and Scott Streets in Wilmington, Delaware. The first local news program for Delawareans was broadcast from the studios on September 16, 1963.

The next year, WHYY again moved its Philadelphia studios and offices. Its new home at 46th and Market Streets was generously donated by Ambassador Walter Annenberg. This was the first building in the country designed specifically for television and was originally built for Channel 6, before it moved to its present studios on City Line Avenue.

In Philadelphia, WHYY was in for another move. Through a special arrangement with the City of Philadelphia, in February 1979, WHYY moved its headquarters and Channel 12 administration to the former Living History Center Museum on Independence Mall. In August 1980, 91FM moved its new headquarters to the Mall. By April 1983, television and radio production and broadcasting -- and all of the corporation's Philadelphia activities -- were headquartered on Independence Mall.
Visit the TV12 50 Year Anniversary website.

But, even that was not to be the end. The City of Philadelphia remains eager to redevelop part of the land on which WHYY exists in Philadelphia, so once more the corporation is faced with a housing problem. That problem will require a solution shortly. In addition, a new WHYY facility -- studios and offices -- were opened in January 1990, at 625 Orange Streets, in Wilmington, Delaware.

The coverage area, geographically, was expanded in 1986, when WHYY, Inc. took stewardship of WDPB, Channel 64, in Seaford, Delaware. With the help of a new microwave link, Channel 64 carries the WHYY-TV signal and, therefore, the TV12 programs are rebroadcast to the southern part of the First State. This means total coverage for Delaware.

WHYY's steps forward are also tied to the ongoing telecommunications explosion. Think about it: there are very few homes, very few businesses, and very few schools that do not now have electronic display terminals, electronic storage systems and audio units . . . poised, waiting to receive audio and visual information, general broadcast programming from WHYY, Inc. Never before have there been so many varieties of electronic systems waiting to go into homes, businesses, and schools. These systems range from cable to direct broadcast satellite systems, from instructional television fixed service systems to multipoint distribution systems. In partnerships with Delaware Valley corporate and professional communities, school systems, and viewers and listeners, WHYY, Inc. is taking up the challenge and moving into the telecommunications era.