Before we were KOCE, something else was …

Written by Stacy Shaffer

While you may know us as PBS SoCal, our official call letters are actually KOCE. You probably already know that call letters are unique, four letter designations used for all FCC licensed broadcasting and radio communication transmitters. But, did you know that coast guard vessels have call letters too? In fact before KOCE was assigned to PBS SoCal, it was assigned to a seafaring vessel.

Prior to our station’s launch in 1972, the radio call sign “KOCE” was assigned to the John H. Couch, a Coast Guard sea vessel named after a famous sea captain from the 1800s.

Dr. Norman Watson, the founder and first president of television station KOCE and the first Coast Community College District (the Coast District) Chancellor commissioned a lawyer to write the letter below. It requests the Commandant of the Coast Guard transfer the call letters KOCE to the FCC for reassignment to a UHF Educational Television Station.

Letter to the Coast Guard

Dr. Watson—with a vision to create Orange County’s first television station—was vital in creating KOCE. The Coast District envisioned KOCE as a key part of a “communiversity” system – extending education beyond the college campus for those unable to attend classes because of work commitments or other reasons. The Coast District also wanted KOCE to be a source of local programming that reflected the social, cultural, and intellectual needs of Orange County.

In 1967, Watson and the Coast District commissioned consultants and architects to build a Telecommunications Center on the campus of Golden West College in Huntington Beach. The group applied for an educational broadcast UHF channel which remained dormant until the Coast District petitioned for and received the FCC license to begin broadcasting.

Dr. Norman Watson founder of KOCE/PBS SoCal
In 1971, Watson scouted the La Habra location for our future transmitter site.

On November 20, 1972 KOCE signed on the air offering local public affairs shows, children’s series, and PBS programming, in addition to classes in anthropology, psychology and other subjects. Many KOCE-produced telecourses were later marketed to campuses across the country. And, in 1978 Watson helped create the KOCE-TV Foundation, which now operates PBS SoCal today. In 2011, KOCE expanded to include greater Los Angeles. We now broadcast to seven Southern California counties and are the third most-watched PBS station in the country!