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Station History

Originally known as KBDI Channel 12, Colorado Public Television (CPT12) is a unique civic resource and one of the country’s first alternative public television services. CPT12 provides important local, national and international programming services that are otherwise not available in Colorado.

The Founding Vision

CPT12 had humble beginnings in a garage in Broomfield, Colorado. Its founders were a coalition of citizens, activists and media organizers who, in the mid-to-late 1970s, launched a series of alternative radio, counter-culture press, cable access and community media organizations throughout Colorado.

These visionaries wanted to broaden the discourse in local television. Founder John Schwartz “felt television should be put in different kinds of hands; it’s not fair to enunciate only one point of view.” They wanted to provide a real alternative, even to the still somewhat new PBS service of other public stations.

In 1977, the small group founded the Front Range Educational Media Corporation (FREMCO) and applied for a license from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to operate a station on Channel 12. The channel was one of one of two “noncommercial educational” frequencies that the FCC had allocated to Denver as part of a national policy to provide multiple, differentiated public television services throughout the country.  

In 1979, FREMCO was granted a license to serve the Front Range and on February 22, 1980, KBDI – the new station’s call letters – began broadcasting on channel 12.

KBDI began operations in Broomfield, Colorado, with transmitting facilities on Squaw Mountain in Clear Creek County. At 11,500 feet, the site remains the highest of any full-power television station in the nation. From there, KBDI began serving first the Denver Metro area, and then the entire Colorado Front Range.

Community driven, the new station became dedicated to serving diverse populations throughout Colorado, providing vigorous community affairs debate and giving voice to independent, underrepresented and frequently unpopular views.

Gaining Ground

In 1989, KBDI relocated to Denver – first to 1531 Stout Street and subsequently to 2246 N. Federal Boulevard. Then in the fall of 1994, KBDI moved to its current location in the culturally-rich Five Points neighborhood. Located at 2900 Welton Street, the Five Points Media Center houses Channel 12 as well as other community-oriented media organizations. The station purchased the media center in 2006.

In 2005, the “Front Range Educational Media Corporation” was formally reincorporated as “Colorado Public Television.” The station was still commonly known as “KBDI” or “Channel 12,” but in 2010, a strategic rebranding effort that reflects the station’s statewide presence took place, and KBDI officially became “Colorado Public Television,” with “CPT12” serving as its short name.

Over time, CPT12 has acquired a more powerful and sophisticated antenna, and a translator facility has been established on Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado Springs to serve the Colorado Springs and Pueblo areas. An analog translator is also located in Boulder.

Today, Colorado Public Television has grown to serve 85 percent of the state’s population. Ongoing improvements to its transmitters and wider digital carriage on cable and satellite systems are extending the station's reach in almost every direction across the state. Beyond Denver and the Front Range, CPT12 is increasingly received in various Western Slope and Eastern Plains communities, ever broadening its service throughout Colorado.

Since 2003, the station has offered digital programming on three multicast channels. Today, these three channels include CPT12's flagship signal (12.1), a diverse mix of local, national and international programming and infused with quality PBS shows; CPT12+ (12.2), the best of independently produced documentaries, music, travel, exercise, cooking, public affairs and more; and MHz Worldview (12.3), a lineup of programs from around the world, including world news, foreign affairs, international mysteries, world music, sports, and foreign films.

Media Pioneers

Over the years, Colorado Public Television has become nationally recognized for its accessible, unpretentious approach to public broadcasting.

Frequently stretching the boundaries of public television, the station has been called many things – progressive, provocative, experimental, controversial, outrageous, courageous and more as it has worked to illuminate key social issues, and provide a platform for the underserved.

CPT12 has always championed experimentation, creativity, new ideas and high broadcasting standards – all while working on a shoestring budget.

Early programming innovations even helped shape the future of American television. The concepts of two Channel 12 series, Homemovies and FMTV (later renamed Teletunes), were adopted into the mainstream and later became more famously known through other programs such as America’s Funniest Home Videos and dedicated music channels like MTV.

Over the years, CPT12 has won a number of broadcasting awards for its unique, groundbreaking productions. Some of the more notable programs and awards include:
  • Tierra O Muerte: Land Or Death
    1991 Alfred I. duPont-Columbia Award
  • Stories of Elyria
    1992 Regional Emmy for Best Documentary
  • Everything Has A Spirit
    1994 First Place Documentary Award, Indian Film and Video Competition
  • Snapshots from the DNC
    2008 Colorado Broadcasters Association Award of Excellence for Best News or Public Affairs Special
  • Colorado Inside Out “Circa 1858” and Studio 12 “Sudan” (tie winners)
    2009 Regional Emmy Award for Best Interview/Discussion Program
  • Studio 12 “Back to Sudan”
    2009 Colorado Broadcasters Association Award of Excellence for Best News or Public Affairs Special
  • Allen True’s West
    2009 Colorado Broadcasters Association Certificate of Merit for Best Mini-Documentary or Series
  • Colorado Inside Out “Circa 1959”
    2010 Regional Emmy Award for Best Interview/Discussion Program
  • Sandzen: Ecstacy of Color
    2010 Colorado Broadcasters Association Award of Excellence for Best Mini-Documentary or Series
  • Studio 12 “Return to Iwo Jima”
    2010 Colorado Broadcasters Association Award of Excellence for Best News or Public Affairs Special
  • Colorado Inside Out “Circa 1935”
    2010 Colorado Broadcasters Association Certificate of Merit for Best News & Public Affairs Special / 2011 Regional Emmy Award for Best Interview/Discussion Program
  • Rex Ray: How to Make a Rex Ray
    2010 Colorado Broadcasters Association Certificate of Merit for Best Mini-Documentary or Series
  • Sounds on 29th
    2012 Colorado Broadcasters Association Certificate of Merit for Best Mini-Documentary or Series
  • Studio 12 "Aurora Theater Shooting"
    2012 Colorado Broadcasters Association Award of Excellence for Best Public Affairs Special Category
  • Studio 12 "Honoring America's War Heroes"
    2012 Colorado Broadcasters Association Certificate of Merit for Best News Special/Public Affairs Special
In 1996, Colorado Public Television began to set itself apart with an unparalleled amount of weekly, local public affairs programs. Focusing on its diverse audience, CPT12 continues to engage viewers in community-based discussions of state, national and global issues. Current productions include Colorado Inside Out and Studio 12.

Additionally, Colorado Public Television provides the largest amount of political campaign coverage and candidate debates of any television station in the state. In 2004, CPT12 formed a multi-media partnership with CBS4 (KCNC) and the former Rocky Mountain News to jointly produce Colorado Decides, a series of debates, analysis and live, election night coverage. The partnership with CBS4 endures.

Colorado Public Television is an alternative PBS station – airing only 25 percent of the core PBS schedule on a delay basis. Among similarly “differentiated” stations – collectively known as the “Beta Group” – CPT12 has become a leader and national advocate. In addition to their focus on local, community-oriented programming serving a wide range of diverse political, ethnic, language and cultural interests, Beta Group stations use their small size to test new operating models with creative efficiency and an open mind to experimentation. 

Going Forward

Today, CPT12 maintains its independent spirit, even as it explores new media outlets, expands its mission and deepens its community involvement.

Described as “the little station that could” by the Denver Post, Colorado Public Television remains lean and light on its feet – a small, frugal station that continues to deliver programming that is relevant, informative, entertaining and thought-provoking.

Colorado Public Television's tagline, “World View, Community Voice,” represents the station's mission, programming choices, community activities and engagement with its Colorado constituents. A global perspective combined with local conversations will continue to be CPT12's guide into the future.

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