Engineer and broadcasting executive A. James Ebel was born in Waterloo, Iowa on May 30, 1913 and attended Iowa State Teacher's College and the State University of Iowa where he graduated with a B.A. in Math and Physics in 1937. His long career in public broadcasting started in 1937 when he moved with his wife and the first of their four children to Indiana to work part time for radio station WBAA and to start a masters degree at Purdue. One day, after working at the station only a month, he returned home to find the broadcaster Joe Wright sitting on his front porch and speaking highly of his recent article in Electronics Magazine. Wright offered Ebel a job as chief engineer with the University of Illinois' WILLin Champaign, where Ebel worked until 1946.
At WILL, Ebel designed the station's first FM transmitter relying only on plans and articles he had read in trade magazines. WILL received an educational FM license in 1941. In addition to working at WILL, Ebel also finished his master's degree in Electrical Engineering, announced Big Ten basketball and football games, and became executive secretary for the National Association of Educational Broadcasters (NAEB). In addition Ebel tested acetate discs for NAEB.
In 1946, Ebel began work in commercial broadcasting by taking a position as director of engineering with WMBD of Peoria and its sister station WDZ of Decatur. In 1952, he became president of KXIC in Iowa City, and in 1954 he moved to Lincoln as vice president and general manager of KOLN-TV, a station owned by Fetzer Broadcasting. When Fetzer decided to sell this station, Ebel, showing concern for educational television, persuaded him to give the equipment to the University of Nebraska. Ebel managed a number of Fetzer's stations including KGIN-TV in Grand Island, Nebraska and KMEG-TV in Sioux City, Iowa. He also became director of Fetzer Broadcasting and Fetzer Communications. Ebel continued to work for Fetzer until its Nebraska interests were sold to George Gillett. He then became a consultant and industry representative for Gillett. Ebel was also an enthusiastic friend and benefactor of Nebraska ETV and was instrumental in the Channel 12 assignment to KUON-TV in Lincoln in the early 1950s. In 1988 he retired and has continued consulting.
Throughout his career, Ebel has promoted new broadcasting technologies. Not only did he implement FM radio at its early stages, but he has also enthusiastically promoted both satellite technology and high density television (HDTV). In 1967 as chairman of the CBS Affiliates Satellite Transmission Committee, Ebel informed the affiliates how to use satellites to connect with the networks in the most cost-efficient manner that would still guarantee high picture quality. In 1970 he headed the Combined ABC, CBS, NBC Affiliates New Technologies Committee. This committee filed reports to the Federal Communications Commission's Domestic Satellite Committee that later proved useful to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting in their effort to interconnect all PBS stations by satellite. In addition Ebel's duties on this committee allowed him to study HDTV and advise the FCC on its impact. Since his retirement he has continued to show interest in HDTV by representing the Nebraska Educational Television commission on the subject.
Ebel has had many significant honors and recognitions during his career. In 1973 he was selected by the National Association of Educational Broadcasters as Engineering Man of the Year. The following year the University of Nebraska School of Journalism elected Ebel to the Nebraska Broadcasters Associations Hall of Fame. In 1971, 1977, 1979, 1983, and 1988 he served as a U.S. delegate to the World Administrative Radio Conference in Geneva, Switzerland. In 1997, he retired as a member of the National Advisory Committee on High Definition Television.
A. James Ebel died in 1998.