WYES New Orleans’ logo. Photo from WYES website.
WYES was founded in 1953 by a group of local civic leaders and business men, after realizing that there was no good television about New Orleans. Sick of the commercial driven television channels, it was now time for programming that was different then before. It was quality television that was truly desired minus the mass audiences and commercial programming. Associated with PBS, New Orleans now had their own public television channel dedicated to them. “The non-profit organization was subsequently granted license by the Federal Communications Commission to operate an ‘educational’ television station broadcasting on Channel 8″ (1).
In 1957, channel 12 was allocated to New Orleans. Since that time, the WYES TV policy has been continuing to offer the New Orleans viewing public the full schedule of NET adult programming in prime evening time.
During the late 1960s, these specific programs continued to improve in quality and audience appeal because of increased production budgets and the emergence of seasoned producing staff. Furthermore, WYES began to follow a commercial formula. This formula is simple: “buy or build a packaged series, air it, and wait for the Nielson or ARB ratings” (2). For example: Net Journal, during 1967, was not a new series, but because it offered programs with increasing quality, it became the “star” of NET’s public affairs schedule. WYES recognized the fact that some programs will air viewpoints and represent attitudes that were dissimilar to the “average“ eye. This broad spectrum has allowed WYES to become a popular network, although rising controversial positions.
WYES-TV created a philosophy ”based on the assumption that programs and series can be founded on concepts which meet specific audience needs” (2). If the series is not successful, but the concept is valid, more energy and imagination must be applied until the series achieves the goals set for it. For example: Net Journal.
In addition, WYES yearned to always speak the truth, the “aim of every communication medium worthy of the name, community television not accepted” (2). During the 1960’s, it was their observation that the truth had been fleeting away. They felt that it was their responsibility to expose their viewers to the broadcast possible spectrum of new thought, with faith of their ability to accept new ideas and compose innovative opinions about the present changing world (2).
WYES broadcasted an array of different types of programs. An example of a typical Sunday evening schedule was composed of: Antiques at 5:00, The Christopher’s at 5:30, The Answer at 6:00, The French Chef at 6: 30, In My Opinion at 7:00, Your Dollars Worth at 7:30, The Creative Person at 8:00, The Firing Line at 8:30, The Chicago Symphony at 9:30, and New Orleans Medical Center at 10:30. WYES put a heavy focus on antiques, even holding an antique auction for the public, printing catalogs as well about the antiques themselves. WYES also placed a heavy focus on sports, broadcasting Tulane, LSU, and Saints football games live. In addition, during each program guide, the editor positioned an editorial about a specific player himself.
Mrs. Judy Wilkins said, “Dear Sir: I would like to tell you how much I like Pieces of 8. My family and I watch it every Tuesday night when we are home. I would like to suggest that you have Ronnie Kole play at the end of each program as you did tonight. We feel that this great New Orleans talent should be able to please his local audiences. Keep up the good work on a very enjoyable show.”
Martha H. Hitt said, “Dear Sir: We are usually very pleased with your programming on WYES-TV and think it is a great asset to the New Orleans area. But, I would like to express great disappointment on behalf of my four year old boy and many of his friends on your replacing Davy and Goliath with Tales of Poindexter, though my son seldom has any interest in it. I do feel that Davy and Goliath was an extremely well done program, and, I understand, the favorite of many children besides my own, with or without any religious background. I realize you may not have the final word in what program is available for Davy and Goliath to return in the near future.”
On April 1, 1957, WYES was an official station, logging onto the air as the twelfth educational station in the nation. In 1970 the station flopped frequencies going from channel eight to channel twelve.“The high caliber national program service we provide, coupled with WYES’ 50 year history of being the community resource for programs which reflect our distinct local culture, has earned Channel 12 the largest television audience in its history, with as many as one million viewers tuning in each week” (2).
Known for being a partnership between citizens and foundations, WYES is a powerful educational tool that was used to show the different aspects of New Orleans lifestyle and educational aspects that are often left out. Descriptions of how wonderful New Orleans was in the 1950’s 1960’s and years to follow, giving a history as a basis for the New Orleans that we are today. The people of New Orleans have a place where they can come to recognize why their city is the way it is. Driven by its desire to show the true New Orleans as an educational outlet, helped differentiate from their competition (i.e. other commercialized channels).
Due to Katrina, WYES headquarters have been temporarily been relocated to 111 Veterans Blvd., Ste. 250 Metairie, LA 70005, but still transmits from 601 Magistrate Street in Chalmatte. It’s current address is now 916 Navarre Avenue. WYES has become a driving force to make New Orleans citizens aware of what is going on in their neighborhoods, and no matter where it is located, it desires to have citizens knowledgeable about their own city.
- “WYES – Contact your public television station in New Orleans.” 04 May 2009
- Channel WYES, Program Guide. (Fall, 1967)
This piece was originally written for MediaNola on May 4, 2012. It has been edited and updated for clarity.