E. James (Jim) Robertson had a long and distinguished career in commercial and educational broadcasting. Robertson was born in 1918. He began his broadcasting career in 1934 while still in high school in Madison, Wisconsin. During his junior year at Madison West High School, Robertson arranged for his school to have a half hour show once a week on the local commercial NBC radio station, WIBA. In the summer between his junior and senior years, Robertson had a quarter-hour poetry program once a week on the same station. As a result of this work, Robertson gained the attention of H.B. McCarty, then director of the University of Wisconsin's pioneering radio station, WHA. McCarty invited Robertson to volunteer at WHA as a student announcer during the summer of 1935.
Robertson pursued his higher education at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. He was hired as a part-time announcer at WIBA in 1937 at the end of his freshman year. By the time he graduated in 1940, he had three years of professional announcing and programming experience at a commercial station.
Robertson continued his work in commercial radio during the next three years at various stations in Wisconsin. After working for a few more months at WIBA, he moved on to a management position at a station in Marinette, WMAM. In December 1942, he was hired as Program Director of WCLO in Janesville, where he worked for a year.
In 1943, Robertson was invited to join the Milwaukee Journal radio station WTMJ as an announcer. He helped to produce programs as well, and became the Radio Program Director in 1946. A year later, on December 3, 1947, WTMJ-TV went on the air as the eleventh television station in the country. Robertson had been instrumental in launching the station, having hired the first staff and produced the first programs. He remained in charge of television operation until 1952, when he resumed radio programming.
Robertson's noncommercial broadcasting career began in the fall of 1954, when he was selected as Director of Programming for WTTW in Chicago. Again, he played a vital role in the planning and organizing of a television station. WTTW-TV went on the air in September 1955. At WTTW, Robertson worked with other well-known names in early broadcasting, such as John Taylor, Chalmers Marquis, and Harry Skornia.
Robertson remained at WTTW until 1959, when he was named as the first Director of Station Relations at National Educational Television (NET), which at the time was still the National Educational Television and Radio Center. In this capacity, Robertson served a liaison between ETV stations and NET, conducting visits to member stations and administering grants. He assisted in the organization of an Affiliates Committee with William G. Harley, Hartford Gunn, Jonathan Rice, and John F. White.
In 1962, Robertson became Vice-President for Network Affairs for NET, retaining supervision of station relations but with added responsibilities. He served as liaison with the FCC, Congress, and other national public broadcasting organizations. He acted as NET's contact with Newton Minow, the Chair of the FCC. Robertson helped develop the Educational Television Facilities Act of 1962, the first federal legislation concerning educational broadcasting. In addition, he played a role in developing the All-Channel Act of 1962. Robertson also helped with the development of video tape technology, and distributed video equipment which the Ford Foundation had provided. While at NET, he headed the effort to get stations on the air in key communities, such as Los Angeles.
In 1963, Robertson became Vice-President and General Manager for Community Television of Southern California. A year later, he once again was responsible for the planning, equipping, and constructing of a new television station. KCET began operation in September 1964.
Robertson once again returned to radio in 1967, when he was named the Director of Educational Broadcasting at WHA, University of Wisconsin. He stayed at WHA for three years, during which time he headed the State Radio Council's eleven station radio network. He also acted as advisor to the Coordinating Committee on Higher Education in planning for statewide networking and interinstitutional communications. In addition, he assisted in drafting legislation creating the State Educational Communications Board which coordinated state educational radio and television, and developed a statewide public television network. In 1968, while at WHA, the National Association of Educational Broadcasting acknowledged Robertson's dedication to educational broadcasting by electing him Chair of the NAEB Board.
In 1970, Robertson was selected as Executive Director of National Educational Radio (NER), a division of NAEB. While he was with NER, Robertson worked closely with the FCC, lobbying on the Hill for support of educational broadcasting. He helped form the Association for Public Radio Stations and assisted in drafting that organization's constitution.
Robertson left NER in 1973 and began his own public broadcasting consulting firm, Robertson Associates, Inc. In 1979, he began an oral history project in which he interviewed 55 pioneers in the field of public broadcasting. The project was funded primarily with grants from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB)>. These interviews were the basis of a book by Robertson entitled Televisionaries, which documents the history of the founding of public television in the U.S., from the late 1940's to 1967. The book is an important contribution to the broadcasting industry, written by a man who was himself influential in establishing and developing educational radio and television. Robertson has continued his involvement in public broadcasting. In 1985, he served on the Advisory Board for southwest Florida ETV and public radio stations.