The Midwest Program on Airborne Television Instruction (MPATI) was a nonprofit organization of educators and television producers who pioneered efforts to transmit instructional television to a wide audience before the advent of cable and satellite. Most earlier televised classroom instruction had been produced and shown in house. These efforts represented a new use of technology; planes equipped to transmit broadcast signals sent "classroom television" to member schools that were equipped to receive the transmission.
MPATI's history can be divided into three major periods that reflected the institution's shifting focus and caused internal reorganization. The project which began as an experiment in 1959 was in operation by 1961 through a grant from the Ford Foundation, producing courses in variety of subject areas mostly for primary and secondary education. Beginning in 1963, MPATI moved into its second phase where it relied totally on membership fees but it was never financially stable. MPATI found it difficult to get enough member schools to finance the organization and its problems only grew when the FCC refused MPATI's request for more channels on the UHF spectrum. MPATI executives had hoped that by increasing the signals available from two to six that they could develop more courses and attract a larger membership. In its third reorganization, MPATI, which was unable to meet its expenses through membership fees, ceased producing and broadcasting courses in 1968 and became a tape library.
TECHNOLOGY USED IN A NEW WAY
The line of sight problem that only allowed broadcasters to send signals from ground based transmitters to ground based receivers plagued early television. Yet in 1944, Westinghouse engineer Charles Noble discovered a solution to this problem. A plane flying at 25,000 feet could "see" with a radius of 225 miles which was twenty times more than ground transmitters. Noble's idea was to equip planes with broadcast equipment that would allow them to transmit signals to a larger audience. Westinghouse patented this concept as Stratovision.
The FCC freeze on television channel allocations in 1948 halted Westinghouse's experiments with Stratovision and the idea was shelved until the late fifties. By then, however, television broadcasting had changed. Commercial television for which Stratovision had been originally designed had overcome its early transmitting difficulties. Westinghouse officials, however, recognized that many of the problems of early commercial television were still evident in educational television. In 1958, Westinghouse contacted Philip Coombs, executive director of education for the Ford Foundation, who was very enthusiastic to use Stratovision for educational and instructional television. In 1959, Coombs organized a conference of educators in the Midwest to meet at Purdue University. Those at the conference gave their support for a three-year project funded by the Ford Foundation. Later that year, the FCC allocated two UHF channels for narrowcasting on a 3-megahertz band rather than the 6-megahertz standard to Purdue University for the three year experiment.
MPATI IN FULL OPERATION
In 1960, MPATI, headquartered at Purdue University in Indiana, began the task of organizing, producing, and broadcasting instructional television courses primarily for students in elementary, junior high, and high school. Howard Cromwell became president of the nonprofit organization. In cooperation with other universities, especially those colleges that trained teachers, MPATI began the process of developing courses and selecting television teachers. It selected twenty of more than 300 applicants, some of whom had previous instructional television experience and had even developed courses designed for television while others submitted proposals for instructional programming. Production coordinators helped develop the courses that were screened by professors who assessed each course's academic value and engineers who monitored production quality. Two DC 6 AB planes leased by Purdue Airlines to MPATI transmitted these courses to membership schools.
MPATI AND SELF SUFFICIENCY
The Ford Foundation almost totally funded MPATI during its first year of operation. The Foundation was to phase out its funding for MPATI gradually as MPATI attracted more member schools, slowly becoming totally self sufficient. MPATI Chairman John Ivey of the University of Michigan spearheaded this effort. The process began in 1962 and accelerated in 1963. This period of MPATI's history is marked by the organization's interest in extending membership and developing a network of member schools. From 1963 to 1965, the Membership and Program Services Division of MPATI was perhaps the most dynamic and important division within the organization. The Division divided the Midwestern states and school districts that participated in the venture into eighteen areas which were under the guidance of colleges and universities that served as resource centers for both the MPATI staff and the membership schools. One staff member from each of these universities served as a field representative.
The membership goal necessary for self sufficiency was 5600 schools from a possible 15,000 in the viewing area. Initially membership fees were $1.00 per student in 1963, but these rose to $2.50 by 1966. In 1963, MPATI had approximately 1200 member schools and this number grew to about 1770 by 1967. MPATI, however, was never able to reach its goal of 5600 member schools.
There are several possible reasons why MPATI never reached its goal. First, there was a constant problem with scheduling. Schools in the six state viewing area were spread across the Central and Eastern time zones and the shift by some areas to daylight-saving time compounded the situation. Also, varied class schedules among schools made scheduling problematic and created dissatisfaction. In response, MPATI petitioned the FCC for more UHF channels on a 6-megahertz band to provide for more programming and flexibility in scheduling. The FCC, however, refused.
Other problems contributing to MPATI's failure to obtain self sufficiency were its inability to enlist large school districts in Cincinnati, Columbus, Toledo, Cleveland, and Chicago that were committed to local educational television enterprises. Other districts had a "wait and see" attitude and there were some districts that received MPATI's open circuit broadcasts without payment.
MPATI TURNS INTO A TAPE LIBBRARY
In 1967, MPATI executives decided that the organization could no longer produce and broadcast courses based on its membership income. This period marked the third major reorganization of the institution. Under the direction of the Executive Board, MPATI ceased broadcasting and became a tape library in May 1968. For the next three years, MPATI served as a lending library to its member schools.
Due to continuing financial problems, new technologies, and the development of competing educational and instructional television programs, MPATI dissolved in 1971 and its library went to the Great Plains National Instructional Television Library. It turned over its assets and financial obligations to the liquidating agent, Faye Ebrite. Over the next two years, MPATI engaged in contract disputes with Westinghouse and eventually filed suit. However, the two settled the controversy. In 1973, Ebrite settled all accounts marking the end of MPATI and its efforts to bring instructional television to a wide audience.