The Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), commonly but incorrectly referred to as the Public Broadcasting System, is a private, non-profit organization founded in 1969, and owned and operated by (as of 2002) the 171 noncommercial, educational licensees of 349 U.S. public television stations. PBS is headquartered in Alexandria, Virginia. PBS provides a centralized administrative organization to support local public television stations in the areas of program acquisition, distribution and promotion; education services; new media ventures; fundraising support; engineering and technology development; and video marketing. PBS itself is not engaged in video production, but acquires and distributes programming (some local and regional public television entities do produce programming, but PBS does not).

Pioneering in the development and use of new technologies, PBS has a long tradition of technological leadership. It premiered broadcast television's first satellite distribution system; developed closed captions for hearing-impaired audiences and descriptive video service for the visually impaired; inaugurated the first four-channel, digitally-encoded audio system for satellites; inaugurated the television industry's first regular satellite feed of digital high-definition television; and was the first broadcaster to develop an all-digital network and technical facility. As of May 2002, 74 PBS member stations were offering digital broadcast services, covering fifty-five percent of all U.S. households.

The total national, regional and local revenue for public television stations and PBS come primarily from local contributors/members, state governments, Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) and federal grants and contracts , businesses, state colleges and universities, and foundations.

The radio counterpart to PBS is National Public Radio (NPR). While some licensees operate both NPR and PBS stations, public radio and public television are separate entities at the programmatic and distribution levels, though they are often confused by the general public. You'll hear someone say "I heard on PBS this morning...," for example, when they really heard a news program on public radio.

In 1995, an Internet petition was circulated, regarding pending legislation that would affect federal funding of PBS and NPR. This petition still is making the rounds, years later, and has achieved a legendary status among other well-known Internet hoaxes, viruses, worms and the like.

Counterparts to PBS in other countries include:
ABC (Australia)
CBC (Canada)
Danmarks Radio TV (Denmark)
YLE (Finland)
ARD/ZDF (Germany)
RUV (Iceland)
RTE (Ireland)
RAI (Italy)
NOS/NPS (Netherlands)
TVNZ (New Zealand)
NRK (Norway)
SABC (South Africa)
TVE (Spain)
SVT - Sveriges Television (Sweden)
SBC (Switzerland)

A Smattering of PBS Stations

KCET: Los Angeles
KCTS: Seattle
KERA: Dallas
KPBS: San Diego
KQED: San Francisco
Maryland Public Television (MPT): Maryland
Oregon Public Broadcasting (OPB): Oregon
WETA: Washington, DC
WGBH: Boston
WHYY: Philadelphia
Thirteen/WNET: New York City
WQED: Pittsburgh

Some Well-Known PBS-Distributed Programming

Anne of Green Gables
Antiques Roadshow
Ken Burns's Baseball
Ken Burns's The Civil War
The Electric Company
Evening at Pops
Great Performances
In the Life
Ken Burns's Jazz
several series featuring Julia Child
Masterpiece Theatre
Mister Rogers' Neighborhood
The Newshour with Jim Lehrer
Reading Rainbow
Sesame Street
This Old House


  • PBS Online
  • My personal experience as an employee at two national public television organizations for nearly ten years