A New Foundation on the Airwaves: Kentucky Educational Television and the Appalachian East

This project analyzes the Kentucky Educational Television network (KET) as a modernizing relief effort in the Appalachian region in the same vein as the Tennessee Valley Authority and the Appalachian Regional Commission. For nearly 50 years, KET has fulfilled its promise to provide educational material to all Kentuckians, regardless of the status of local school districts or students' proximity to an urban area. Though the network’s creators never stated explicitly that their plan for educational television in Kentucky was an Appalachian project, much of the network’s early history suggests that improving state education in eastern Kentucky was a major motivating factor.

My source base draws mainly from state government documents (legislative reports, committee minutes, speeches, etc.) and personal materials related to Leonard Press, the founder of KET. Press came first to the region as a professor at the University of Kentucky, but later went on to head this broad state agency. Though state documentation reveals that KET is a relatively minor expenditure within education spending overall, the rhetoric delivered in support of KET reveals the underlying philosophy of education in the state in the postwar era.

Another essential methodology of my project is to recover a sense of television’s cultural currency in the immediate postwar years, when it was still a remarkable new medium without its present-day commercialized characteristics. Though educational television took many years to develop in Kentucky, with scores of bureaucratic hurdles to clear along the way, the Bluegrass State proved to invest more in educational television infrastructure than any other state in the Appalachian region and the nation overall. Though educational television has for most of its history seemed to hold an inconsequential role among state and national relief programs, my aim with this project is to show that Kentucky provides a clear case to the contrary.