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Because of Viewers Like You

Donor support is key to KTWU’s award-winning success

Len and Terry Richter posing at KTWU

Len and Terry Richter pose in the lobby of KTWU on the Washburn University campus. Photo by Jeremy Wangler

From Bell Tower - 2022 
By Lindsay Thompson

When Len and Terry Richter sit down to watch their favorite programs on KTWU, the shows always begin with a special message. “You know at the beginning where they say, ‘This program is made possible by viewers like you?’ Len always says, ‘That’s us!’ We are the viewers like you,” said Terry.

The Richters are proud to be loyal donors because KTWU provides programming they value and rely upon. Len is a self-described news and politics junkie and enjoys watching "Frontline" and the political debates, while Terry is a fan of the classics, especially anything based on the works of Jane Austen. Together they enjoy shows like "Masterpiece" and "The Vicar of Dibley". For them, KTWU provides a level of quality in the content that they don’t find on commercially financed networks. Because of that, they see their support as essential.

“We are not bestowing a gift. We are paying for the pleasure,” said Len.

“For the privilege of being able to be a part of it. They (KTWU) are doing us the favor,” added Terry.

KTWU, whose call sign stands for Kansas, Topeka, and Washburn University, first began favoring viewers with its programs on October 21, 1965. It was a historic day. Washburn University had launched Kansas’s first public education television station, which later became a charter member of PBS. Driven by a mission to provide programs and services that enrich the lives of viewers, KTWU has spent the subsequent decades expanding its reach and growing its programming.

In its early days, KTWU broadcast one channel, Channel 11, seven days a week, signing off at midnight. These days, KTWU has three 24-hour digital channels: KTWUHD, your traditional PBS station with beloved standards like “Nova” and “Antiques Roadshow” as well as original local programming like “Portrait of a Landscape,” “Theater of the Mind” and “!nspire”; KTWU World, which features documentaries and public affairs programming; and KTWU Enhance, which enhances the lives of viewers through how-to oriented shows, PBS favorites and FNX (First Nations Experience) programing. Much of KTWU’s local content featured on KTWUHD and KTWU Enhance is now distributed to public television stations across the United States.

“We want to not only appeal to existing audiences but to establish new audiences as well. We don’t want to continually do the same thing. We want to do something different. It is why our diverse offerings are the way they are,” said Val VanDerSluis, KTWU’s executive director.

One of the ways KTWU delivers unique content to viewers is by highlighting local talent and perspectives. This is another way Len has supported the station, serving as on-air talent for KTWU during member campaign programming as a former member of a doo-wop singing group. In a segment about music, Len shared his experiences growing up in Philadelphia, the birthplace of many of the great doo-wop groups. He told viewers about how doo-wop shaped the culture, his first-hand experiences as a teenager hanging out with friends on the street corner singing harmonies and lining up to dance on American Bandstand.

“I’m filled with memories of what is essentially a bygone era. What we were appealing to, what I was attempting to do, was to remind people watching KTWU that this is the only place today that you are going to hear the 1950s and 1960s doo-wop music, the original rock’n’roll, and all sorts of topics like that. You need to support public television to get these kinds of shows,” said Len.

KTWU also shines a spotlight on Washburn. Through shows like "Poetry Out Loud," "Working Capital", "!nspire" and the always-popular Holiday Vespers Concert, Washburn’s exceptional talent, experts and productions have reached audiences far beyond the confines of campus.

For donors at KTWU's Producer Club level or above, who contribute $365 or more each year to the station, special invitations to some of these productions are part of the member benefits. It’s a perk the Richters especially enjoy. “We get to go to Vespers. We get some of the best seats in the house, and food and beverages beforehand. We go to the "Theater of the Mind" productions and other events. They treat us really well,” said Len.

These events are just one of many benefits KTWU offers as an enticement to donors, because support from viewers like the Richters is the primary source of operating funds for the station.

“Donor support has huge significance for KTWU operations, productions, our national distributions and our relevance locally, within the region and the nation,” said VanDerSluis. She is grateful for loyal donors like Len and Terry and wants people to know that every gift is significant. “Even a $5 level of support is one that can help contribute to extending our reach and local content. We appreciate every level of support.”

When asked what motivates him and Terry to give to KTWU, Len summed up his reasoning in simple and straightforward terms. “Why do we want to support KTWU? Because we watch!”

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