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In 1957, with a grant from the Ford Foundation and the donation of production and broadcast time by WVEC-TV, Norfolk Public Schools began the experimentation and demonstration of teaching by television at the elementary-secondary levels in Hampton Roads.  In 1961, based on the working agreement of Vince Thomas and Hunter Andrews (school board chairs of Norfolk and Hampton, respectively) – an agreement confirmed by a gentlemen’s handshake – the FCC awarded a license to these two school systems to operate Virginia's first non-commercial, educational television station.

The utilization of instructional programs on WHRO-TV soon expanded to Newport News, Portsmouth, Chesapeake, Virginia Beach, Suffolk and Nansemond, York and Isle of Wight Counties; and in 1968, these school systems incorporated to own and govern the station as The Hampton Roads Educational Telecommunications Association, Inc. (HRETA), a private nonprofit educational corporation.

By 1972, WHRO-TV instructional production and extensive school television services had attained national recognition, including a George Foster Peabody Award (the industry equivalent of the Pulitzer Prize) for meritorious service to broadcasting.

The WHRO Channel 15 TV Building in 1975
The WHRO Channel 15 TV Building in 1975

In 1975, the Virginia Cultural Foundation transferred the license of radio station 89.5 FM to HRETA, and public radio in Hampton Roads was born.  It was so successful that by 1983, WHRO was exploring the acquisition of a second station – which was launched in 1991.  The 89.5 frequency became WHRV, and the new 90.3 was assigned the WHRO call letters.

Our educational services continued to expand and receive national attention and distribution throughout the 1980s and 1990s, including the prestigious Japan Prize.

Ever visionary, by 1994, WHRO was already preparing for the conversion from analog to digital television broadcasting, and was ultimately among the first stations in the country (and the first in Hampton Roads) to go to an all digital broadcast standard.  The next year, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting’s Annual Report singled out WHRO as a model public telecommunications organization.

In 1996, WHRV debuted Hear/Say with Cathy Lewis, a daily call-in radio program, which developed and retains a loyal listenership.

Over the next several years, WHRO continued to increase participation in computer training for area educators with graduate credit offered through area higher education institutions, and further expanded educational services through e-learning initiatives, allowing more educators and students to receive video based materials and training on demand.  WHRO launched The Hampton Roads Virtual School, an online initiative providing regionally created and approved original core course content.

In 2007, WHRO began a collaboration with Landmark Communications to produce and televise The Virginian-Pilot Spelling Bee, an annual partnership that continues to this day.  We’ve grown our radio stations to six, in addition to our radio reading service for the print disabled, and defenestration, a unique online local music and art gallery.

In 2009, Another View debuted, a weekly television program hosted by veteran journalist Barbara Hamm Lee, focusing on issues specific to Hampton Roads’ African American community.  The program transitioned to a radio show in 2011, and with HearSay, comprised the station’s locally produced public affairs programming until May 2021 when HearSay ended after 25 years on the air.

WHRO received the inaugural Education Center Enterprise Innovation Award from the National Educational Telecommunications Association (NETA), recognizing the evolution of public broadcasting into public media, and the reorganization of educational services for measurable impact, efficiency, cost-savings, and stronger market position.

WHRO was further recognized with the NETA EDGE Award, citing the Hampton Roads Virtual Learning Center, for “standing out as an innovative use of digital technology that provides educational services while laying the foundation for a variety of new, revenue generating, educational, digital services.”

In 2011, WHRO expanded its public radio services with the acquisition of frequencies in Gloucester, Gloucester Courthouse, Gloucester Point, Eastville, Emporia and Nassawadox.

WHRO Public Media: 60 Years

Today, WHRO is owned by 21 public school systems in Hampton Roads, including Accomack, Chesapeake, Franklin, Gloucester, Hampton, Isle of Wight, Mathews, Middlesex, Newport News, Norfolk, Northampton, Poquoson, Portsmouth, Southampton, Suffolk, Surry, Sussex, Virginia Beach, West Point, Williamsburg-James City County and York.

Since its founding more than 60 years ago, WHRO has been committed to excellence in public media. Explore WHRO's continuing legacy.