Following is the original article about PBS Fort Wayne founder Wally Fosnight as printed in the March 28, 1977 edition of the Journal Gazette.
Date: March 28, 1977
Child’s tears brought TV 39 to life
By Alan Klanoff
Some fathers will do just about anything for their children. For example, consider the Fort Wayne father who couldn’t stand to see his daughter cry, when, after moving to Fort Wayne, she learned her favorite television station wasn’t carried locally.
Most fathers wouldn’t give much thought to the cries, especially since they were shed over the loss of one half-hour television show. At any rate, a few small tears certainly wouldn’t move many dads to consider starting a new station just to air the show.
But to Wally Fosnight, the 30-minute television show was not only something special to his 4 year-old daughter, it was also something special to him, because he says, it taught him how to talk to his children. And, as the ratings across the country so aptly pointed out, public television’s Mister Roger Neighborhood was something special to many other people.
“When we left Pittsburgh in 1969,” Fosnight recalled, “my daughter literally cried at the thought of leaving behind Mister Rogers. And, when we got to Fort Wayne and found there was no public broadcasting station,” the good dad declared, “I set forth a goal to bring PBS and Mister Rogers to the area.”
For those who haven’t caught Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood on Channel 39 at 5 p.m. each weekday, Fred Rogers is a kind gentleman in his late 30s who has a unique knack of knowing how to communicate with young children, and how to answer questions that haunt their young minds.
For instance, he assures them that they won’t go down the drain when they take a bath, a thought most older children wouldn’t entertain, but that could be a real concern to a much younger brother or sister.
In June 1975, Fosnight wrote to National Educational Television in Ann Arbor, Mich., a major funding source for many PBS shows to inquire about the cost of underwriting daily broadcasts of the children’s show.
The reply he received wasn’t exactly an answer, but rather a series of new questions, the thrust of which said the possibility of bringing a public television show to an area without a public television station raised some “very complex questions.”
The questions eventually worked themselves out, Fosnight remembered, and, with a lot of hard work by many interested individuals in the community, public broadcasting eventually came to Fort Wayne in 1975.
“Actually,” Fosnight admitted, “Fred Rogers was sort of a ploy to bring PBS to Fort Wayne.” So, while it was the show that got him started, the real goal was a full-time local PBS station.
Fosnight, who served as president of Fort Wayne Public Television, Inc. from the beginning, and who just recently resigned because “his goal was achieved,” said he thought it would “take all those years” to bring PBS to Fort Wayne. But, of course, it was worth it, he conceded, when the first signals finally came through and his daughter rewarded him with hugs and kisses he can still feel.
Fred Rogers is no longer taping television shows, making way for newcomers Zoom, Sesame Street and The Electric Company. But Fosnight, director of advertising for People’s Trust Bank, admits he still watches the reruns with his children “when they let me.”
“It’s the type of show the children sometimes wanted to watch by themselves and sometimes wanted to share with me,” Fosnight explained, and, without hesitation, the bank executive admitted, “It taught me how to talk to my children. It brought us closer together.
That’s an unusual statement to make about television, but then again, public broadcasting is an unusual form of television with an unusual history. And good people do unusual things to get that special station without commercials. Witness the Fort Wayne father who started a television station just to stop his daughter’s tears.