AUSTIN, Texas Astronomers think there might be a
planet hiding in the dust circling the well-known star Vega,
a resident of the constellation Lyra, the harp. Well, any
alien denizens of that world are in for a treat: They are
about to receive the first broadcast of the StarDate radio

Here on Earth, StarDate went on the air Oct. 1, 1978. Since
Vega is about 25 light-years away, the radio signals of that
first broadcast are just now reaching the star. The University
of Texas at Austin McDonald Observatory produces the daily,
two-minute looks at topics in astronomy and space science.

“We’re very proud to have kept this show on the air for a
quarter-century,” said Frank Bash, director of McDonald
Observatory. “Millions of people listen to StarDate. We are
able to bring a little bit of the fascination of the heavens into
their lives every day.”

Each month, StarDate offers a balance of astronomy and
space-science topics. About half of each month’s programs
are related to skywatching: eclipses, meteor showers, planetary
conjunctions, stars and constellations, and so on. Other topics
relate to important anniversaries, recent scientific discoveries,
Earth’s place in the cosmos, and related topics that help place
astronomy in a broader cultural perspective.

StarDate began as a telephone message service in 1977, and
shortly thereafter went on the air in Austin as a daily radio
program called “Have You Seen the Stars Tonight?” After
receiving a grant from the National Science Foundation, the
program began national distribution in 1978 under the name
StarDate, with writer/producer Deborah Byrd and announcer
Joel Block.

Now the longest-lived nationally broadcast science module
on the nation’s airwaves, StarDate airs on about 400 stations
around the country, in most major markets. About half of the
stations that air StarDate are public radio stations, and half
are commercial.

Writer/producer Damond Benningfield joined the show in
1991, as did Sandy Wood, StarDate’s current announcer.

“We try to show people that astronomy — and science in
general — can be for everyone, not just guys in white lab
coats,” said Benningfield. “It doesn’t take any science
background to step outside and enjoy the crescent Moon,
the planet Venus, or the bright stars in the sky — only an
interest in the universe around us and a curiosity about what
it all means.”

According to Executive Producer Sandra Preston, “The program
has grown over the years to include not just the radio show,
but also Spanish and German radio programs, as well as a
magazine, Web site and education materials.” Preston joined the
program in 1980.

StarDate magazine celebrates its 30th anniversary this year.
This colorful 24-page bimonthly magazine brings science and
stargazing to about 10,000 subscribers.

McDonald Observatory began producing the Spanish-language
radio program Universo in 1995. Universo is heard on about
200 stations in the United States and Central America. The German
version of StarDate, Sternzeit, airs on German public radio.

An extensive Web site, StarDate Online (,
contains information about astronomy and skywatching as well
as a searchable database of radio scripts. Visitors can listen to
past programs online, as well.

The program is recorded at Tequila Mockingbird studios
in Austin by engineer Shayna Levin.


Note: High resolution artwork to accompany this release will posted online
tomorrow at To receive the artwork
sooner via email, please call 512-475-6763.