Today in Media History: C-SPAN started 36 years ago

March 19, 2015
Category: Uncategorized

The C-SPAN television network began on March 19, 1979 with a live cablecast from the U.S. House of Representatives.

Here is an excerpt from C-SPAN’s history page:

“….C-SPAN began with only four employees. Those four – Brian Lamb, Jana Dabrowski (Fay), Don Houle, and Brian Lockman – transmitted the television feed from the U.S. House of Representatives on March 19, 1979, the first day the House allowed television coverage.

This first televised congressional session began with a one-minute speech by then-Congressman Al Gore and reached nearly three million American homes. It marked the beginning for C-SPAN, but for founder Brian Lamb and the infant network’s member cable companies who then provided – and still provide – its funding, the House feed was only the beginning.

C-SPAN added what became its signature call-in program the following year, in order to provide a direct conduit between the American public and the nation’s political leaders, government officials, journalists and other policymakers.

In 1982, the network expanded from eight to first 16, and then 24 hours, enabling the network to add a wider variety of programming content to viewers, while maintaining its original commitment to carry the proceedings of the U.S. House, gavel-to-gavel….”

This is what you would have seen on March 19, 1979:

Last year C-SPAN looked back and produced a video about their history of televising from the House of Representatives.

Today there are a number of C-SPAN networks as well as a radio service:

C-SPAN covers live gavel-to-gavel floor proceedings of the U.S. House of Representatives.

C-SPAN2 covers live gavel-to-gavel floor proceedings of the U.S. Senate.
(On the weekend it includes Book TV.)

C-SPAN3 covers public affairs events, congressional hearings and history programming.
(On the weekend it includes American History TV.)

C-SPAN Radio

And according to the network, “for sixteen years, from 1989 to 2004, Booknotes was C-SPAN’s signature author-interview program. Focusing exclusively on contemporary nonfiction books, the Booknotes series created an unparalleled television forum for writers of history, biography, politics, and public affairs.” After the program ended, the network created a Booknotes online archive. They have also compiled a detailed history timeline called, “C-SPAN through the years…

“So few places do what we do. If you’re really interested in information, you want to know how things work. So the person that absorbs what we do walks away saying, ‘I know just a lot more than I ever thought I would…”

— C-SPAN founder Brian Lamb
2011 interview for the Archive of American Television