NET and Ron Hull--Public Broadcasting Pioneers
Sometimes, words like “legend” and “pioneer” get thrown around way too much.
Just not in the case of Ron Hull and his place in the history of public broadcasting in Nebraska.
For starters, NET was founded in 1954, making it the ninth-oldest public station in the nation. And for all but the first year of NET’s history, Ron Hull has been a moving force behind the network’s success.
The outline is deceptively simple. Starting in 1955 as a producer-director, today Ron is still active as NET Senior Advisor.
But that’s only part of the story. From those early years to the remarkable accomplishments of NET today, public broadcast in Nebraska has been a labor of love, as Ron Hull is quick to point out.
He can tell the behind-the-scenes story of how the fledgling television network, without a swimming pool in sight, came to broadcast some of the state’s first-ever televised YWCA swimming lessons—using an ironing board Ron himself had painted black, a fish tank to give the illusion of waves, and some subtle “limbo lighting” designed to draw attention away from the background and exclusively to the nine-year-old swimming student.
He can regale listeners with tales of Nebraskans who went on to symbolize the state to the far greater world. Those whose names may or may not be popularly associated with the Cornhusker State, but who trace their roots here nonetheless.
Actors and authors and entertainers who left their mark on the world in remarkable ways. Many of whom became his friends, and who were the subjects of his intense, far-ranging, and always engaging interviews.
Mari Sandoz, for example, whose stories brought the Nebraska Sandhills and its people to life for audiences far and wide. Ron Hull helped make the author of Old Jules better known and more accessible to all Nebraskans.
And John G. Neihardt, Nebraska poet laureate who gave voice to a Native spirit through the widely read and admired Black Elk Speaks.
Or acclaimed entertainers like Dick Cavett and Sandy Dennis, whose talents, nurtured in Nebraska, went on to touch lives everywhere.
And it wasn’t only native sons and daughters who fell prey to Ron’s infectious intellectual curiosity and sense of engagement. He counts among his most memorable moments his interviews with Margaret Mead, George McGovern and Vivian Vance, and his early production work with Walter Cronkite and Yehudi Menuhin.
His legacy at the network also includes directing programming for more than 30 years—in between his service in Washington, D.C. at both CPB and PBS, and stints in Vietnam, where he helped bring television to that war-torn nation, and Taiwan, where he taught as a Fulbright scholar.
Today, with the same vitality that defined his early days at NET, Ron Hull continues to leave his mark on the network. In 2012, his dedication, and the reverence Nebraskans hold for Ron, helped bring the $25 million Inspire Nebraska Campaign to a successful close. That same year his autobiography, Backstage, Stories from My Life in Public Television, was published, giving color and depth to the history of public broadcasting—and to Nebraska’s pioneering role in that remarkable endeavor.