Our story begins 50 years ago, when a young priest running a world-renowned all-male university, decided Notre Dame would get into commercial television.
Some questioned 50 years ago why a prestigious Catholic university would want to get into the television business but Father Theodore Hesburgh knew then that this was going to be a very popular media and that it was the next step beyond radio and newspapers. He decided the University of Notre Dame could use a TV station to teach, and that meant the university owning its own station.
Fifty years ago, Father Hesburgh said, “Television will have a tremendous impact in the years and the centuries to come on the whole culture and educational values of our country. And we want to be part of that story.”
“I think I knew that it was a new reality bursting on the scene and no one knew where it was going to go. But I felt it had enormous potential, and indeed it has. It seemed to me that we would be derelict as a university if we didn't get involved."
But if Notre Dame was to get involved, Fr. Hesburgh wanted to do it right. After a tough time securing the NBC affiliation, Fr. Hesburgh found the right men to get WNDU on the air. Bernie Barth would serve as general manager and Tom Hamilton was brought in as sales manager.
“They were remarkable people. Bernie Barth was a real saint, if I can use that word,” says Fr. Hesburgh. “Tom Hamilton was a marvelously creative fellow. The men we picked were first-rate people. Creative and yet concerned about the moral dimensions of what they were doing, and I think they led well.”
Eventually Father Hesburgh's right hand man and good friend, Notre Dame vice president Edmund "Ned" Joyce, took over most of the responsibility for overseeing the station, furthering Fr. Hesburgh's vision that WNDU have the same relationship to communications students as physics lab would have to physics majors.
“Certainly we've done a lot more than if we had stayed out of the competition because education is accomplished in many ways,” says Fr. Hesburgh. “I think it's fair to say that we have many people in the industry today in a leadership position that wouldn't be there if they hadn't had this experience at WNDU-TV. I think we've benefited from it, as well as benefiting the local community.”
For the Holy Cross priest, whose vision was to educate young men and now women, in an industry that some would say is far from godliness, Father Hesburgh is pleased.
“It's been a learning experience for hundreds and hundreds of very bright, talented students, and I'm grateful for that. I don't regret that decision. I mean, I’ve probably made some bad decisions along the way, but I think that was one of the good ones,” Fr. Hesburgh says.
It was a good decision that has benefited not only Notre Dame students, but interns from St. Mary's, Indiana University, Purdue, Ball State, Michigan State, Valparaiso University and dozens of other schools in the last 50 years.