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At 50, WQLN explores what’s next for Erie’s public television, radio station

The birth of WQLN in 1967 will be formally celebrated on Oct. 12.

Fifty years ago Sunday, Erie residents who tuned their Zenith color consoles and RCA Victors to channel 54 saw only gray-scale bars, and heard a brief message, “WQLN-TV, educational television for Northwest Pennsylvania.” A few short animated clips followed. 

That was it, but the moment had been years in the making and would finally give Northwestern Pennsylvania its first public-broadcast television station.

“The thing about WQLN is how ridiculous it was that we came into existence in the first place,” said Tom New, president and CEO of WQLN Public Media, which includes WQLN-TV and WQLN Radio. “There’s a word, audacious, and by that I mean the folks who began WQLN started it with this notion that everyday Joes and Janets could start a TV station. That’s anything but the case.”

The birth of WQLN in 1967 will be formally celebrated on Oct. 12, but New has been speaking throughout the community about WQLN’s history, as both a television and radio station. It’s given him a chance to measure the station’s growth, take stock of its success and look forward to what’s next. 

Two major events are on the horizon. 

One involves portioning 1 Mb of broadband for first-responder communications. In 2016, America’s Public Television Stations, a nonprofit that represents most of the public television licensees in the United States, agreed to allocate the space for FirstNet, a $7 billion federal initiative to place emergency communications on a nationwide network. 

“If there is a fire near 12th and State streets, for example, and the fire department has to go in, instead of their bandwidth being jammed up from people doing selfies and movies, they’ll have their own bandwidth on their own devices,” New said.

The other change will impact

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