A Brief History of WHRO
In 1957, Norfolk Public Schools, with a grant from the Ford Foundation's Fund for the Advancement of Education and the donation of production and broadcast time by WVEC-TV, began an experiment in the demonstration of teaching by television at the elementary-secondary levels in Hampton Roads.
In 1961, Vincent J. Thomas and Hunter B. Andrews, School Board Chairs of Norfolk and Hampton respectively, by a handshake agreement established WHRO-TV, and the Federal Communications Commission awarded a license to those school systems to operate channel 15, Virginia's first non-commercial, educational television station.
The next several years saw the utilization of instructional programs on WHRO-TV expanded to the cities of Newport News, Portsmouth, Chesapeake, Virginia Beach and Suffolk; and to Nansemond, York and Isle of Wight Counties. By 1968, participating school systems formally incorporated to own and govern WHRO as the Hampton Roads Educational Television Association, Inc., a private nonprofit educational corporation.
Over the next several years, WHRO-TV expanded its instructional production and school television services, receiving recognition and honors nationwide, including the George Foster Peabody Award (broadcasting's equivalent of the Pulitzer Prize). As federal and state funding for educational broadcasting fluctuated with the economy, WHRO instituted on-air solicitation of viewer contributions to augment governmental funding.
With the acquisition of WTGM 89.5 FM in 1975, HRETA stabilized and preserved public radio in Hampton Roads. Three years later, the call letters were officially changed to WHRO-FM, presenting a more unified public broadcasting service in Hampton Roads. To reflect the expansion of its services, HRETA expanded and revised its charter and adopted the name Hampton Roads Educational Telecommunications Association, Inc.
As the 1980s began, WHRO expanded its educational services to higher education with college credit telecourses offered on channel 15 and production of an award-winning national radio college credit course, American Diplomacy. However, a 35 percent cutback in federal funding in the early years of the decade caused WHRO to place more emphasis on community support initiatives. WHRO-TV introduced its first series into national distribution. (This series, Community of Living Things, achieved the highest utilization of any ITV series, won major television and film production awards, and continues in distribution today.)
The sale of a local commercial fine arts radio station prompted the expansion of classical music and fine arts programming on WHRO-FM with opportunities for increased listenership and community support. Exploration of activation of a second FM station was launched, and seven years later, after an FCC freeze on licenses, and a series of starts and stops, a construction permit was issued in 1988 by the Federal Communications Commission to activate a second FM public radio station.
Responding to area school system interests in educational applications of computers, WHRO created the Consortium for Interactive Instruction to manage regional collaborative developments among school systems, higher education, private and independent schools and major research facilities.
To respond to increasing demand for telecommunications services, the WHRO Board of Directors approved a facility master plan and authorized a $5 million capital campaign to expand and modernize the studio-office facility in Norfolk. Construction and renovation began in July of 1988.
The decade of the 1990s began with completion of the construction and renovation of the Norfolk studio-office facility, and the activation of a second non-commercial FM radio station. Public radio programming services were separated -- news and information, jazz-folk-alternative music on 89.5 FM (WHRV-FM) and classical and fine arts programming on 90.3 FM (WHRO-FM).
In 1994, a capital campaign feasibility study was conducted in anticipation of a major conversion from analog to digital broadcasting. This study led to the creation of two community leader roundtables and the WHRO Foundation concept. The State Corporation Commission issued a charter for the WHRO Foundation on May 13, 1996, and the initial meeting of the organizing directors was held the following day.
The Connecting People campaign was launched in 1998, and provided funding for the conversion to the digital television broadcast standard, and for the exploration of programming and educational possibilities opened up by the technology.
Technology research and development grants enabled WHRO to expand telecomputing and on-line services for education, community service agencies and cultural institutions.
Since the beginning of the 1990s, programming strategies have focused on audience development through acquisition of full national program services from PBS, NPR and Public Radio International, as well as selective local programs emphasizing the developing "national agenda" in Hampton Roads (e.g., Hear/Say, daily talk radio format; Hampton Roads: What's In It For Me?, televised town meetings; and Virginia Conversations, a series of programs providing a public forum for discussion of issues important to Hampton Roads and to all Virginians
There has been continued emphasis on earned income, through tower leasing, teleconference production, contracted videoconferencing services, and Internet service to WHRO members. Roughly a third of WHRO’s revenue now comes from a variety of fee-based services, including teacher training, multi-media services to public, non-profit and private clients, web-design and hosting, and grants and contracts for productions and other services.
In 2001, President & General Manager John Morison retired following a twenty-six year tenure as Chief Executive Officer of WHRO, and a fifty-year career in broadcasting. The Board of Directors announced the selection of Joseph Widoff, former Chief Operating Officer of public broadcasting affiliate WETA to assume the leadership of WHRO as Chief Executive Officer of WHRO.
In October of 2003, in the first substantive modification of WHRO's governing documents since the corporation's charter in 1961, amended Articles of Incorporation were filed with the State Corporation Commission, providing a structure to more effectively ensure that the value of WHRO's assets are protected and increased; and to institutionalize a formal role for the superintendents of WHRO's fourteen owner school divisions.
A new, 25-member Board of Directors was elected on October 7, 2003.
In January 2004, WHRO held its inaugural Pioneer Awards Dinner, honoring Hunter Andrews and Vincent Thomas. This sold-out event attracted more than 750 attendees and gave many in the community their first look at WHRO's non-broadcast services. The Pioneer Awards, along with several other community events and a marked increase in underwriting revenue, helped the year of transition end with a surplus. The event was reprised in 2005, naming former Governor Gerald L. Baliles and former Congressman G. William Whitehurst as recipients of the Pioneer Award; and in 2006, honoring David and Susan Goode.
In 2005, WHRO established the Center for Regional Citizenship, a multi-media initiative that brings together diverse constituents to discover common ground among the interests of the individual communities of Hampton Roads and the region as a whole. Center programming is multi-faceted and comprehensive, combining educational competencies in radio, TV and web resources with broad based community outreach.
In 2006, the Board of Directors accepted the resignation of Joseph Widoff, and a search process began to fill the position of President and Chief Executive Officer.
In April 2007, the Board of Directors announced the selection of Bert Schmidt, then President and CEO of WVPT in Harrisonburg, Virginia, to succeed Joseph Widoff.