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Politics and Government

C-SPAN Celebrates 40 Years Of Offering Americans An Unfiltered Look At Government


In an era long, long ago, before Facebook, before Twitter - exactly 40 years ago today at exactly 12 p.m. Eastern, the public affairs network C-SPAN was born.


AL GORE: On this historic day, the House of Representatives opens its proceedings for the first time to televised coverage.


A young congressman named Al Gore took to the House floor to praise a new era of media broadcasting.


GORE: Television will change this institution, Mr. Speaker, just as it has changed the executive branch.

KELLY: And right he was. Since 1979, C-SPAN has offered Americans an unfiltered look at their representatives.

KAREN TUMULTY: It was absolutely radical.

CHANG: That's Karen Tumulty of The Washington Post. She was in Washington when the Senate began broadcasting on C-SPAN in the mid-1980s. One of the ways it was radical - it allowed younger, lesser-known members to speak directly to the people.

TUMULTY: The first person to really recognize this power was Newt Gingrich. He rose from the backbenches to the speaker's chair, and the Republicans gained control of the House back for the first time in 40 years. He owes a lot of that to C-SPAN.

KELLY: Not only did C-SPAN change the balance of power in Congress, the addition of cameras changed the way that lawmakers acted, something that was not lost on Ohio senator and one-time astronaut John Glenn. Here he is during the Senate's first C-SPAN broadcast.


JOHN GLENN: And those of us with thinning hairlines or little hair on the head have been advised that you do not lean over like this into the camera.

TUMULTY: John Glenn, the senator from Ohio, announced that this wasn't going to change him at all and starts sort of ostentatiously applying makeup while he's on the Senate floor.


GLENN: I wish to note that we've had advice on how to make certain that we cut that shine on the head and, if necessary, how to do the eyeshadow.

CHANG: C-SPAN's programming grew to include call-in shows, and sometimes those callers were pretty memorable.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Hello. Is this Mr. Brian Lamb?

BRIAN LAMB: Yes, it is.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Would you hold one moment, please, for the president?

KELLY: Congressman brothers Brad and Dallas Woodhouse once even faced a call from their mother in 2014.


STEVE SCULLY: In Raleigh, N.C. - good morning to you, Joy.

DALLAS WOODHOUSE: Hey, it's somebody from down south.

JOY WOODHOUSE: You're right, I'm from down south.

D. WOODHOUSE: Oh, God. It's mom.

J. WOODHOUSE: And I'm your mother.

CHANG: So how is this radical medium doing as it hits middle age? Well, Karen Tumulty thinks pretty well.

TUMULTY: I just think that the more sunlight we can let in, the better.

KELLY: Amen to that.

[POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: This story makes reference to "congressmen brothers" Brad and Dallas Woodhouse. In fact, they are not congressmen.] Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: March 19, 2019 at 11:00 PM CDT
This story makes reference to "congressmen brothers" Brad and Dallas Woodhouse. In fact, they are not congressmen.
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