Shirley Shratter grew tired of teachers getting a bad rap. So when she saw a Pittsburgh Community TV call for producers in the newspaper, she pitched a show on education.
That was 1990. This year, “More Than Just Learning,” which Shirley co-hosts with her husband, Morris, is celebrating its 20th anniversary.
The Shratters were both teachers in the Pittsburgh Public Schools: Morris was a history teacher who became a guidance counselor and Shirley was an elementary school teacher and reading specialist.
Morris — a “talker,” according to his wife — had to learn the art of conversational exchanges.
“He got used to it,” she said.
For their first show, the Shratters brought in teacher friends. Shirley had some relevant experience, but not in front of a camera. She had written plays for her fourth- and fifth-graders to act in, and she produced shows locally for Hadassah and B’nai B’rith.
But that didn’t mean she could be anxiety free.
“I use self-hypnosis when I get anxious,” she said.
Over the years “More Than Just Learning” expanded beyond education and now explores just about any topic —politics, books, theater.
“I wanted to be like Charlie Rose,” Shirley said.
An eclectic selection of speakers and local movers and shakers has contributed to the show’s success. It has never been a show about putting guests on the spot.
“One of the nice things about this program,” Shirley said, “is when you called [the speaker] they were happy to hear from you.”
PCTV is a community television system managed by an independent nonprofit corporation. The commercial-free channel gives city residents and nonprofit organizations opportunities to produce and broadcast programs that give them a voice.
“More Than Just Learning” currently airs Fridays, at 9 p.m. on Comcast Channel 21. The same show runs every Friday for one month. In celebration of their 20th anniversary, the Shratters, who are married for 57 years, will include old episodes for some of the monthly runs.
So, what’s the secret to getting their guests talking? Shirley has a favorite first question.
“When did you find out what you wanted to do with your life?”
(Angela Leibowicz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-687-1003.)