WTTW (Window to the World) was founded in 1955 by Inland Steel Chairman Edward Ryerson and other civic leaders with the goal of providing educational television content to the city. The station’s first program, Report to the Teachers, premiered on September 6 of that year, and was one of what would become 40 regularly scheduled programs that aired each week, many of them from a temporary studio in the Bankers Building in downtown Chicago. During this period, WTTW also served as a “working exhibit” in the east wing of the Museum of Science and Industry.
By its first anniversary, WTTW was already a trailblazer in television production, providing the first remote broadcast from Orchestra Hall; the first language course; the first series on income tax preparation; and, in partnership with Chicago’s Board of Education, the first college courses for credit via its TV College series. WTTW was also one of only a few production centers in the nation to offer daily tele-courses transmitted from an airplane circling a six-state Midwest region, reaching approximately 7 million students.
Then as now, children’s programming played a vital role at WTTW. Some of the station’s early programs for kids included Story Time with Miss Bunny, The Storyteller with Val Bettin, Totem Club, among many others. WTTW’s history also includes providing access to the arts, beginning with its groundbreaking Festival series that offered Chicagoans a front row seat to ballet, modern dance, music, satire, and dramatic performances.
In August 1965, WTTW moved to its current home at 5400 North St. Louis Avenue (as of February 2014, known as the Renée Crown Public Media Center). In the fall of 1970, WTTW became a charter member of the new public broadcasting service PBS, and the following year, thanks to the vision of television pioneer Newton N. Minow and new President and CEO William J. McCarter, WTTW branched out to nationally distributed content with programs such as Soundstage, Made in Chicago, and Prime Time Chicago. During the following decade, WTTW launched the long-running independent film showcase Image Union and television’s first movie review series, Opening Soon at a Theater Near You (later retitled Sneak Previews), featuring film critics Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel. And among the many other local WTTW programs that premiered during the 1980s, two are still thriving today: the weeknight newsmagazine Chicago Tonight and the Friday evening news roundup Chicago Tonight: The Week in Review.
After becoming the first local television station in the country to utilize high-definition technology, WTTW premiered the popular Wild Chicago series and the nostalgic documentaries Remembering Chicago. Perhaps most notable during this period was the premiere of Chicago by Boat, the first of many popular Geoffrey Baer tour programs that explore the history and architecture of the city and suburbs.
As the new millennium dawned, WTTW launched the long-running Check, Please!, Chicago Stories, Artbeat Chicago, Arts Across Illinois, and Candidate Free Time (now part of WTTW’s online Voter Guide). In 2002, Chicago Tonight expanded from a half-hour to an hour-long newsmagazine and website covering a wide variety of local and national stories. Also that year, WTTW relaunched its nationally distributed Soundstage series, and began transmitting a digital signal of both the analog broadcast and at that time, the PBS feed of high-definition programming.
In 2003, as WTTW became a fully digital broadcasting operation, the station launched WTTW Prime – the first customized, localized, and separate stream of digital programming on 11.2. Along with it, WTTW launched a major redesign of wttw.com with video streaming and immersive content. Since that time, WTTW’s digital platforms have evolved to offer both parallel and web-exclusive content to an ever-growing digital audience. And as part of the Ready to Learn initiative, WTTW was awarded major grants from the U.S. Department of Education for the development of children’s transmedia properties, including the Emmy-winning series WordWorld and other initiatives.
Today, as a multiplatform public media organization, WTTW is committed to acquiring, producing, and distributing trusted, best-in-class, audience-driven content fueled by a distinctly Chicago sensibility. WTTW is available across its distinct television channels – WTTW, WTTW Prime, WTTW Create, WTTW World, and WTTW PBS Kids 24/7 (also a live stream) – and at wttw.com, and the WTTW/PBS video app. WTTW’s homepage also offers a 24/7 live stream of WTTW’s main 11.1 channel. Audiences also connect with WTTW on its social media platforms - Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and LinkedIn.
The WTTW News digital platform is a destination local news site for the Chicago region with reported stories and video covering local and national politics, education, business, crime and law, arts and entertainment, health, science, and nature coverage. And Chicago Tonight and the weekly Black Voices and Latino Voices series and their related monthly community conversations provide thoughtful and accurate coverage and discussion of current events to inform and engage the public. Other productions include the weekly restaurant review series Check, Please!, the Chicago Stories franchise including The Great Chicago Fire, Chicago from the Air, Chicago by 'L', and Weekend in Havana specials; WTTW’s award-winning digital-first initiative FIRSTHAND – gun violence, coronavirus, and poverty; Urban Nature; Foodphiles; Chefs Off the Clock; and Central Standard; and national productions Prehistoric Road Trip, 10 that Changed America, and the popular children’s series Nature Cat.
WTTW is dedicated to extending the reach of our content into our diverse community. Through content, events, community conversations, and educational and fun activities for kids and families, building tangible connections to our audience is a mission-critical endeavor.
Building upon its history, meeting the challenges of the present, and innovating for the future, WTTW remains committed to its purpose: to enrich lives, engage communities, and inspire exploration.