WSBE-TV is Rhode Island's only public television station. The license is owned by the Rhode Island PBS Foundation, a nonprofit organization. The station began broadcasting on June 8, 1967 from the campus of Rhode Island College. In 1974, WSBE moved to the former WPRO-TV (now WPRI-TV) facilities at 24 Mason Street in Providence. In January 1991, WSBE moved to new studios on 50 Park Lane in Providence, near the Cranston city line. Its analog transmitter was located on Neutaconcanut Hill in Johnston, until the FCC-mandated digital conversion in 2009. The digital TV transmitter is now located in Rehoboth, Massachusetts. From 1973 to 2000, WSBE-TV's programming was relayed in Westerly on translator W62AB. This translator was turned off in 2000, largely because of the high penetration of cable in the state. On May 1, 2003, WSBE rebranded itself as Rhode Island PBS.
WSBE-TV's license was originally held by the Rhode Island State Board of Education (from which the call letters are derived). In 1981, what had become the Board of Regents for Education transferred the station to the Rhode Island Public Telecommunications Authority, a quasi-state agency. The Channel 36 Foundation was founded in 1987 as an independent fundraising arm of WSBE; it subsequently became the Rhode Island PBS Foundation following the station's 2003 rebranding. In June 2012, the Rhode Island Public Telecommunications Authority voted to begin the process of transitioning WSBE-TV from a state licensee to a community licensee, with the Rhode Island PBS Foundation assuming full control of the station. According to a release announcing the decision, the state budget extended funding to the station until the end of the fiscal year on June 30, 2013. The license transfer was completed on October 10, 2012.
The station's digital signal is multiplexed:
|Channel||Video||Aspect||PSIP Short Name||Programming|
|36.1||1080i||16:9||WSBE-HD||Main WSBE-TV programming / PBS|
On January 16, 2009, the analog transmitter for WSBE suffered a 'catastrophic failure'. The old RCA transmitter developed a leak in the water cooling system. Due the scarcity of parts, time required to repair (two weeks minimum), cost, and the proximity to the original February 17 date for the analog shutdown, the station discontinued regular programming on its analog signal, over UHF channel 36, at that time. The station's digital signal remained on its pre-transition UHF channel 21 on February 18, 2009 , using PSIP to display the station's virtual channel as its former UHF analog channel 36.
WSBE airs most popular PBS series on, usually, an eight-day delay from primary public television stations such as Boston's WGBH-TV. WSBE also airs other PBS programs, and American Public Television programs, such as The Lawrence Welk Show, The Red Green Show, and "Britcoms" from the BBC, including Keeping Up Appearances, As Time Goes By, Vicar of Dibley, Are You Being Served?, Last of the Summer Wine and several others.
WSBE co-produces the nationally distributed Italian cooking show, Ciao Italia.
Local programming produced by WSBE includes:
- A Lively Experiment, WSBE's flagship political affairs show, discusses Rhode Island (and sometimes national) politics among a revolving panel of news makers and opinion leaders. From its premiere episode until September 15, 2005, the show's host was Steve Kass. When Kass joined Governor Donald Carcieri's administration, he resigned as host of the show. Hosting duties then rotated among panel members, including former Rhode Island Secretary of State and then-WSBE President Susan L. Farmer. Jim Hagan, former president of the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce, is currently the regular host.
- Costantino's Round Table feature chefs, restaurateurs, vintners, and other Rhode Island experts from the food and tourism industry.
- GED Connection, an education series for people preparing to obtain their GED, produced in cooperation with the Adult Education division of the Rhode Island Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
Recent series not currently in production:
- The Thirteenth State, a public affairs show hosted by Paul Zangari
- BestSellers, a book review and author interview program hosted by Ray Rickman
- Justice Matters, a monthly show on Rhode Island law with the Chief Justice of the Rhode Island Supreme Court, and co-hosted by former TV news director and anchor, Dave Layman.
- New England Portrait, a series about people and places of local interest
- Today's Rhode Island National Guard, a look at the role of the state's National Guardsmen