Monday, March 18, 2019

Happy 40th Birthday C-SPAN

Happy 40th Birthday C-SPAN
Commentary by Sanford D. Horn
March 18, 2019

On March 19, 1979 3.5 million subscribers, probably unbeknownst to them, ushered the Cable Satellite Public Affairs Network, more familiarly known as C-SPAN, into their homes. And while he did not invent the internet, contrary to his own egotistical belief, Al Gore (D-TN) then a US Congressman, was the first voice people heard as he spoke from the floor of the House of Representatives.

Thus the era of political television began with a whimper, not a bang. Today, 40 years later, C-SPAN is ubiquitous with political junkies, as, to borrow from another network, “must see TV.” On September 14, 1982, C-SPAN expanded its programming to 24 hours a day, and two years later, C-SPAN covered the presidential nominating conventions wire wire for the first time, a tradition they continue to this day. Today, roughly 100 million homes receive “gavel to gavel coverage” of both the House and the Senate - C-SPAN2 became the home of Senate coverage on June 2, 1986.

For those interested in civic affairs, any speech given, any legislation debated and voted upon can be viewed in its unvarnished entirety. C-SPAN and its offspring, including C-SPAN Radio, WCSP-FM, also found on satellite radio, began broadcasting October 9, 1997, and C-SPAN3, which began airing January 22, 2001, offer more than the sessions of Congress.

America and the Courts, Landmark Cases, State of the State Addresses given by the governors, numerous debates for governor, Senate and Congress, American History TV, Book TV, Book Notes, C-SPAN Classroom, The Road to the White House - following candidates on their campaign trails, are some of the many programs C-SPAN et al airs. Various sessions of parliament from Australia, Britain, and Canada are also televised by C-SPAN. 

A personal favorite is Washington Journal, first aired January 4, 1995, running 7-10 AM Eastern time. This program reviews headlines of various newspapers, but its highlights are the calls it takes from viewers - including the four or five times I have gotten through.

C-SPAN even occasionally finds itself mentioned in pop culture, which probably amuses founder, CEO, and host of Q & A, Brian Lamb, who seems to have wanted to go through his amazing C-SPAN career anonymously. Washington Journal is hosted by people who do not introduce themselves at the top of the program the way show hosts do on the news networks. Lamb was a longtime host of the program, and I recall an interview on another network about how he preferred the attention go to the guests and callers.

One caller of note, on February 25, 1983, President Ronald Reagan spoke with a group of students he had met with earlier in the White House. This did not seem to be planned in advance, and both the host, Lamb, and the students appeared surprised by the call.

Lamb, 77, was born in Lafayette, IN and is an alumnus of Purdue University, as well as a Navy veteran. Additionally, C-SPAN maintains its archives at the Purdue Research Park in West Lafayette under the leadership of professor Robert X. Browning, teaching at Purdue since 1981.

C-SPAN operates sans outside paid advertising, and with no federal money. “And there never will be,” said Lamb. C-SPAN was “created by cable, where history unfolds daily,” and is “your unfiltered view of government.”

In addition to Washington Journal, I continue to enjoy many C-SPAN programs including the sessions of Congress and Senate, Road to the White House, Landmark Cases, as well as the wall to wall convention coverage especially in the days of diminished coverage by the traditional networks and even the cable news stations. C-SPAN is a vital source of information presented in a non-partisan manner.

Happy 40th birthday, C-SPAN. Here’s to 40 more!

Sanford D. Horn is a writer and educator living in Westfield, IN.

No comments:

Post a Comment