KLRU gala celebrates public broadcasting and the necessity of non-commercial,high-quality programming
Sesame Street must have made more of an impression on me as a child than I realized. As an adult, I know now that those Sesame Street values have been like an underlying script to my life, steadily informing my sense of place, camaraderie and community, and fostering my desire to be part of a vibrant neighborhood myself.
KLRU, Austin’s public television station, understands the importance of cultivating a connected, and informed public. Thursday evening’s kickoff gala marked the start to a season of events — including an open-to-the-public 50th Birthday Party set to take place on Apr. 29 in the downtown 2nd Street district.
The celebration honored KLRU’s passion to inspire, explore, educate and to spark the pursuit of life-long learning. As an organization, they live and breathe the public broadcasting mission “to facilitate the development of, and ensure universal access to, non-commercial high-quality programming.”
Gwen Ifill, the managing editor and moderator of Washington Week and the senior correspondent for the PBS News Hour and the gala’s honorary guest, gave a few of her impressions of Austin’s local culture. Her standout remarks included bits about the outstanding and thoughtful intelligence of the Austin audience. She was equally impressed with the insightful and rare contribution of KLRU programming like Austin’s own Overheard with Evan Smith.
Luci Baines Johnson, daughter of former President Lyndon Baines Johnson, also spoke about her family’s role in the formation of public broadcasting in America. In 1967, she had a front row seat to the inception of PBS and NPR with the creation of the Corporation of Public Broadcasting when her father signed The Public Broadcasting Act into law.
When asked how KLRU has directly influenced her family, she shared a memory of one of her daughters who, at age 4, stared entranced and enthralled at the PBS performance of the Bolshoi Ballet. In other words, the station and its programming opened the door to her daughter’s love for the arts.
One of the more revealing statements of the night came from my conversation with Paula Kerger, the President and CEO of PBS. When asked how KLRU factors into the national scene and influences PBS on the whole, she said that not only is KLRU considered to be an innovator across many platforms, it is closely emulated in public media as well. “KLRU is committed to work within this community. They are always looking for ways to bring Austin to the rest of the country.” She believes that the next 50 years, the future of KLRU and PBS, is also an imperative message. Their continued success is up to us.
The gala was held in the new ACL Live at the Moody Theater, which is itself a monument to the success of KLRU’s goals. It lives up to the idea suggested by David Rice, a former member of the KLRU Community Advisory Board, that “PBS doesn’t take small steps. PBS takes giant leaps.”
The evening’s entertainment reflected the creativity admired by Paula Kerger, proving that it is the currency that will build the economy of the future. Charles Yang, violinist and vocalist (who played the most entertaining version of “Yankee Doodle Dandy” I have ever heard), collaborated with Austin’s Ruby Jane Smith. KLRU’s own Biscuit Brothers brought their brand of children’s entertainment to the stage. Austin’s Kathlene Ritch and Craig Hella Johnson inspired and Asleep at the Wheel led us in a dance across Texas.
As KLRU continues to provide community based ideas, educate minds and develop cultural awareness my hope is that my family, my neighborhood and the citizens of Austin will embrace these concepts deeply and reap the benefits for years to come.