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WPBS-TV Celebrates 65 Years on the Air June 27, 2023

WATERTOWN, NY; June 5, 2023 – In June 2023, WPBS-TV celebrates 65 years on the air! Thanks to membership support, WPBS has been able to serve as the primary public educational television station and PBS affiliate for Northern New York and Eastern Ontario for six and a half decades, reaching hundreds of thousands of loyal viewers and engaging the two-nation region with exceptional and trusted content across multiple platforms.

WPBS History
On June 27, 1958 the St. Lawrence Valley ETV Council, or SETCO, was granted an absolute charter by the NYS Board of Regents to own and operate an educational television station. WWNY TV-7, known at that time as WCNY-TV, donated airtime (up to 1 hour/day) for educational programs to SETCO.

Local visionaries Rick Jones, Henry Case, Harold Wiley and others had a dream, to build a full-time public television station to serve the region. After a decade of work, grants were secured in 1969 and studios and offices were leased in the old WWNY-TV facilities on Champion Hill. Also in that year, PBS was established as a national public television system and WPBS became an affiliate, signing on as WNPE Channel 16 on Thursday, August 19th, 1971, followed shortly afterwards by WNPI Channel 18. Sesame Street, Mr. Rogers Neighborhood, Washington Week in Review and Masterpiece Theater were some of the first programs scheduled to air. Henry Case was given the honor of pulling the switch that first day – and promptly blew a fuse, delaying the sign-on by nearly a half-hour. Rick Jones became the station’s first General Manager.

The station grew and began to do local programming including This Week with Donna Kelley, Science with Charlie and Cabin Country with a young, nervous host Bill Saiff Jr. In 1977, Jeff Graham and Charles Plumpton were hired to host a fast-paced news program called Public Eye. Later, Tom Carroll took over as the new host. By now the studios at Champion Hill were overcrowded as the floor space was only 6,000 square feet. The Board began to look for a larger facility and a better location. It was felt that the remote Champion location led to “identity problems”, not to mention the winter weather and a variety of critters that liked to call the studio their home. In May of 1978, the SETCO Board exercised an option on purchasing the Wickes Lumber Supply Building at 1056 Arsenal Street, Watertown, New York. The building was ready to be moved into by September 1978.

Rick Jones resigned as station manager in 1979 to take a position in Pennsylvania and local TV personality Bill Saiff Jr. was voted president of WNPE-WNPI. In 1996, Bill Saiff Jr. retired, and Thomas F. Hanley was named the station’s third President and General Manager. He retired in 2013 and M. Lynn Yon-Brown became the station’s fourth President and General Manager until her retirement in 2019. After a national search, the SETCO board named Mark Prasuhn President and General Manager in June 2019 and he continues in the role – the only Canadian to serve as station manager of a PBS border station – appropriate since 70% of WPBS’ audience and membership resides in Canada.

In 1998, in celebration of its 50th anniversary, WNPE-WNPI was renamed WPBS, making this two-nation station much more identifiable. Over the years, distribution grew and WPBS is now available in approximately 650,000 households on cable, satellite, Internet streaming and terrestrial (over-the-air).

Over the years, the station built a solid reputation for both local and national television production, with series such as Rod & Reel, Rod & Reel Streamside, Cabin Country, From a Country Garden, The Gardener, Journeys of an Artist, Painting with Wilson Bickford, Jefferson’s Table, Xpedition Outdoors, Fishing Behind the Lines, Whiz Quiz and more. The station also took on the mission of promoting many of our local assets through documentaries such as A Tribute to Love: The Story of Boldt Castle, A Tour of Singer Castle, Lighthouses of the Seaway Trail, Fort Henry: Hard Rock and Heavy Metal, The Antique Boat Museum, Raquette River Experience, Park It!, Back Roads Museums: the Remington Museum and more. In 2021, the station launched its first weekly current affairs program since the early 1980s, WPBS Weekly: Inside the Stories.

In response to the challenges in education arising from the pandemic, WPBS significantly increased it support for students and teachers with curriculum-aligned educational content for online platforms including PBS LearningMedia and GPS for Success. Today, a team of 20 full-time and several part-time employees operate WPBS with guidance from three volunteer Boards (Board of Trustees, Community Advisory Board and Community Education Council) and the support of over 7,500 members. WPBS supports public safety in its service region as a member of the national WARN emergency alerting system and by facilitating the work of first responders and public safety organizations with its two transmitter towers in Copenhagen, NY and South Colton, NY.

65th Anniversary Open House Celebration
In celebration of 65 years on the air, WPBS invites the community to attend an open house on Tuesday, June 27 from 5:00 pm to 7:00 pm at the station: 1056 Arsenal Street, Watertown, NY 13601. Meet the staff, tour the station, and see where and how programs such as WPBS Weekly are produced. There will be a small sale of items such as DVDs, CDs, artwork, and unclaimed auction items. Refreshments, hors d’oeuvres, and desserts will be provided. Admission is FREE but we ask that those interested please RSVP at by June 24th, 2023.


About WPBS
WPBS is a PBS station serving approximately 650,000 households throughout Northern New York and Eastern Ontario via cable, satellite, Internet and over-the-air distribution. WPBS is a non-profit organization whose mission is to educate, inform, and engage its two-nation region with exceptional and trusted content across multiple platforms. Its vision is to be the premier provider of extraordinary public media that instills wonder and curiosity across generations and borders. More information about WPBS, including a full channel listing, is available at, or by following WPBS on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.