For the last 25 years, Americans have been able to watch every minute of debate in the U.S. Congress, thanks to the cable channel C-SPAN. An independent non-profit company, C-SPAN has been providing coverage of U.S. public affairs in an unedited form. And Americans have been watching closely.
The audience may have been small; certainly the staff was at the new U.S. cable channel C-SPAN. But on March 19, 1979, for those lucky enough to tune in their TV that morning, viewers to C-SPAN watched history in the making.
"Mr. Speaker, on this historic day the House of Representatives opens its proceedings for the first time to televised coverage."
This was then-Representative Al Gore, the first speaker on the first day that proceedings of the U.S. House of Representatives were televised live across the nation on C-SPAN.
In the 25 years since its founding, C-SPAN has grown to three 24-hour networks that bring all Americans complete unfiltered, unedited access to the workings of Congress, and the U.S. government. The man who made it happen is C-SPAN founder and President Brian Lamb.
"Well C-SPAN stands for the Cable Satellite Public Affairs Network," he said. "It is a non-profit, private company formed by cable television owners and operators in the United States, and the purpose is for cable television subscribers and now satellite subscribers to be able to watch their government, watch our government in action.
And watch they have. C-SPAN's weekly audience now exceeds 20 million viewers, and politicians have discovered that a large majority of C-SPAN viewers regularly vote in elections. The loyalty and the involvement of the audience have surprised everyone, including Brian Lamb.
"Well they're much larger than people ever thought would happen if politics was on cable 24 hours a day, seven days a week," he said. "And now there are three channels. Yes, they're not as big as some of the popular television show, but no one ever thought they would be."