Event Recap: Learnings Behind the Scenes at WGBH

wgbhWhile everyone was giving thanks with family and friends last Thursday, members of the Publicity Club of New England were thankful for the in-depth, behind the scenes tour they were given of WGBH last Tuesday. WGBH might be a local broadcaster, but that doesn’t make them small. They have 11 public television services, three public radio services, and local production with a focus on regional culture and concerns. They are PBS’s single largest producer for television, the Web, and mobile. Not to mention WGBH has been honored with hundreds of awards, including two Academy Awards, Emmy’s Peabodys, and duPont-Columbia Awards.

Here are a few of the insider tips we learned during our behind the scenes tour.

Community Support:

  • Approximately 25,000 people donated over $64M to build the property and all digital studio. Not a single dollar from taxes or membership money was used to construct the building, including the unbelievable Yawkey Theater.
  • This accomplishment clearly shows the support of public television is truly outstanding in the community.
  • Directly outside the theater is a wall of names of people who donated to the construction. The names are of the first 800 people who donated, and WGBH intentionally did not include amounts given as they are grateful for all donations – no matter the size.
  • Additionally, the minimum for being included on the wall was a $500 donation, as they wanted to show their gratitude for people who contributed, regardless the amount.

History of Julia Child and Cooking on TV:

  • As we know now, Julia Child is a 20th century icon, but it was surprising her television show was even produced.
  • While you can’t flip channels these days without seeing a chef on television, when the idea of a cooking show was pitched, there was virtually no budget and little enthusiasm for the program.
  • The first three episodes were filmed on test equipment, until they committed to giving the show a real chance.
  • This sparked an idea that shaped PBS, and television in general. Its enormous popularity showed the huge scale and potential regarding how television could be used to teach audiences while also entertaining them.

Pioneer in Experiences for the Deaf and Blind:

  • WGBH has a long history of working with people who are visually or hearing impaired.
  • They have been a pioneer in designing equipment for the deaf, like Rear Window Captioning, and the blind, like “Descriptive Technology” which uses audio equipment to “whisper” and describe what’s happening in a scene when there is no dialogue.
  • With these technologies, they opened the way for mainstream theaters to also cater to the 36 million Americans with hearing and vision loss
  • The best example of how WGBH works with people with these types of impairments is the all-inclusive performance that took place with Henry Butler and Nancy Ostrovsky in 2009.
  • Henry Butler, a New Orleans piano legend who is blind, held a concert at WGBH in 2009.
  • While Butler performed, artist Nancy Ostrovsky painted a mural live on-stage to the sounds of the piano, capturing the vibrancy of the experience.
  • The event was meant to allow the deaf audience members to feel and see the sense of excitement of the evening, without hearing the music.
  • Watch the experience here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ioZpx5d5Z0M

Fraser Performance Studio:

  • At WGBH there is an exceptional recording studio that is available for the public to rent and utilize.
  • Yo-Yo Ma and other world class musicians have recorded and performed in this space.
  • The unique design was created to absorb the sound and break it up. This design, which creates “dead sound” allows for just the pure sounds of the performance to be heard by listeners, and recorded.
  • In addition to the space, the facility is also frequently rented due to an extremely rare piano available for use – a Hamburg Steinway Model D Concert Grand piano.


Additional Fun Facts:

  • All the music at WGBH has now been digitized – but they keep them in their original form in the music library, including over 20,000 LP’s.
  • There is no corporate art in the building. All the images on the walls come from major moments in public broadcasting.
  • WGBH receives 2.6 million listeners daily.
  • There are over 700 lights available for use in the television recording stages at WGBH – some are so old that they were used when Julia Child was there.
  • Even with a massive central equipment room to run the television programs, there are over 120 miles of cable in the floors.

Missed this event but interested in learning more about others like it?

Throughout the year, the Publicity Club of New England puts together organizational tours, networking events, and presentations and panels featuring industry experts. Check out our program archive to learn more.

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