Geezer Tribe: The road from MTV to OPB

by Linda Shaffer

Long ago (30 years) and far away (73 miles) we moved to a town that offered up a great job for me at the Dallas Itemizer-Observer and as a bonus, two television channels we had missed out on. I’m pretty sure it was 1988 or 89 but somehow we had totally missed out on MTV and had come from an area of Oregon where we couldn’t get OPB without an antenna. Things were different then. We relied on MTV for music and OPB for cooking shows.
MTV, Music Television, was launched on its own cable channel on August 1, 1981. Of course it took awhile for it to catch on across the country so we were a little late catching up. We were in our early 40s, so not exactly the target market age for MTV but then, who really was in those days? By the time we tuned in, the format had gone from all music to a combination of music and other programming. In the early 1990s they even had cartoons as we learned while watching Beavis and Butt-Head and wondering just exactly why we were watching. There were other shows too but none that we ever got interested in, probably because we were getting old and didn’t know it yet.

Over at our newly discovered OPB channel, we didn’t miss an episode of Julia Child or for that matter, any other cooking show, of which there were many. We also became addicted to a show by an Canadian comic genius who called himself ‘Red Green.’ In fact, it was during a fundraiser when he was live on-air and making us laugh, that we made our first donation to Oregon Public Broadcasting. We’ve been OPB fans ever since.
Oregon’s first public radio station, KFDJ was broadcast from the campus of Oregon Agricultural College (now OSU) in Corvallis on January 23, 1923. In 1925 the station became KOAC Radio and was at home in Corvallis for many years with news about new developments in everything from agriculture to homemaking. In 1957 KOAC added television to its network of radio stations around the state and this duo has been the definitive provider of news about and for Oregonians since then. OPB is the emergency network for all of Oregon and the source of those irritating tests which are broadcast periodically. I pay attention to these transmisions in the hope that they will always be a test and nothing but that. I am thankful for them one way or the other.
While the band Dire Straits might have put it best with their 1985 hit, “Money for Nothing”, MTV has had its ups and down but keeps on changing and is always after the lucrative youth market. Apparently, we oldies aren’t the only ones who still remember, “I want my, I want my, I want my MTV”.
Things are different here in Oregon at OPB. Yes, you will see mention of corporate sponsors but programming is usually commercial free unless it’s fundraising time. With only about 23% of funding from state, federal and other sources, OPB relies on its viewers and members for a whopping 77% of their operating budget. This includes purchase of programming in addition to operation of its radio and television station communication system and employees. It also includes production of home-grown shows like Oregon Experience, Oregon Field Guide and Oregon Art Beat and others like them.
We are admitted public television junkies and have been all these years. Each time OPB takes a break in regular programming to raise money, we lose a few more of our marbles. Why? Our schedule is off. We can’t tell which night it is without certain programs to watch. We lose sleep and don’t eat on time. We watch movies we don’t really like, channel check and watch too much news, which causes indigestion. Oh sure, there is programming during fundraising but it’s just not the same for us. We could probably spend our evenings doing something else but that ship has set sail. We’re old and we don’t like change. This is the main reason we are sustaining members of OPB. It is our hope that we will shave a minute or two off fundraising events by doing so. Any help you can give us in this regard will be appreciated. We also get to say, “you’re welcome” each time they thank members for their support, which they do a lot. It’s the little things that count. Have a good week my friends.