Both the WOSU radio stations and the television station were founded on lofty principles. In his opening remarks for the initial WOSU-TV broadcast February 20, 1956, Ohio State University Vice President Frederic Heimberger predicted:
“This is a very significant day in the history of The Ohio State University. The beginning may be small and may attract little public attention. But from this seed which is planted here today there will surely come growth and productivity beyond our dreams and beyond our ability to foretell today. (The University’s) goal is to make the most of educational television and radio as a means for extending to the people of Ohio the best that can be offered and in the most effective ways.”
And consider these words, from an editorial in the WOSU Program Bulletin, published in 1945: “Only by putting to worthy use the communication developments science has produced can a university hope to give leadership to a great people.”
These sentiments are in contrast to WOSU TV’s humble beginnings, in a modest building off of North Star Road; the antenna stood in a farm field. Its 10-kilowatt signal could be received only within a 42-mile radius of the station, and then only if households had installed UHF converters in their sets.
Televisions in central Ohio were chiefly programmed to receive VHF networks, because all of the commercial stations in Columbus were on the VHF band. At the time of sign-on, perhaps 3,000 homes in WOSU’s viewing area were equipped with UHF antennas.
WOSU originally requested VHF channel 12. A resubmitted permit to the FCC was finally approved in November 1951, but at UHF channel 34, not VHF 12. The first broadcast included the pre-filmed speech by Heimberger, a performance by the Ohio State University Symphonic Choir, and a station-produced documentary entitled “The University Story.”
September program bulletin:
“The Ohio State University operates WOSU primarily as an extension of University facilities to the people of Ohio. The great resources of the University on the campus are extended into your homes through WOSU.
“It is our policy to present education and information as well as the other usual broadcast services in as attractive a manner as possible. Discussion of public questions in an unbiased, complete manner are regularly scheduled, as well as news and events of importance occurring at the University.”
Under the guidance of Director of Radio-Television Richard B. Hull, WOSU earned national recognition for educational television. The station received the 1958 George Washington Honor Medal Award for its series entitled “Essentials of Freedom.” It was during this year as well the TV station’s first remote production van was outfitted to cover broadcasts on location.
Most of the programming on WOSU-TV was strictly educational in nature, focused on extending Ohio State into the community with formal educational courses. At first, Ohio State professors were reluctant to use television in their classrooms, allowing only one freshman mathematics class to use an open-circuit system, in 1958. By 1962, however, demand had increased to the point that the university installed a multi-channel, closed-circuit system.