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At this location in 1933, the University of Iowa became the first American university to broadcast a television program. The first TV broadcast in the state was just two years prior in 1931 at the Iowa State Fair and University scientists were intrigued by the technology and opportunity. The broadcasts were made from the university's former engineering building which was located where the "Biology Building East" now stands. The audio was broadcast separately on the university's campus radio signal while W9XK broadcast the television signal. The programs were broadcast for seven years from the basement of the former engineering building and letters from viewers in neighboring states demonstrate that the signal was strong enough to reach up to five hundred miles. To date, there is not a historical marker on the University of Iowa campus to commemorate this achievement.


  • Two men view the television signal from the University of Iowa in 1934. Image from the University of Iowa Special Collections.

At the time, universities were using radio to reach far away audiences by broadcasting lectures and round table discussions from their professors. Video provided a better method of communication and content delivery. Despite the use of TV, radio still had to be used as an audio source because video and audio signals could not be simultaneously transmitted. 

At the time of launch, the University of Iowa had only one program that aired 7:00-7:30pm, once a week. The building where the broadcast took place is next door to Van Allen Hall, the building named after famous U of Iowa professor, Dr. James Van Allen, who played a critical role in Space education and innovation in the mid-1900s.

University Archives: Resource Guide to University ‘Firsts’. University of Iowa Libraries. . Accessed August 05, 2018. http://www.lib.uiowa.edu/sc/archives/faq/faqfirsts/.