C-SPAN: Promoting Government Transparency

Written on Wednesday December 11, 2013

On the Record Blog


Brian Lamb is the epitome of a man with a vision, who made that vision a reality. And, the impact of Lamb's innovation is unmistakeable on American politics. Lamb was the driving force behind C-SPAN, the revolutionary cable television network that brought live coverage of the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate to the American people.

It was an idea whose time had come, and Lamb's tenacity led to formation of one of the most important cable television networks in American TV history.  Before there was CNN or ESPN, there was C-SPAN.  C-SPAN's cameras gave an unflinching view of the workings of the federal government and the network later branched out to provide extended, in-depth coverage of the White House, political campaigns and much more.  The presence of C-SPAN even changed the way politics is performed in the U.S.  

Brian_Lamb_006SMALLI don't want to tell the story - let Brian Lamb tell you himself in Brian Lamb On The Record.  I interviewed the C-SPAN founder and host after he received the Gaylord Prize for Journalism Excellence from the University of Oklahoma's Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication.  In person, Lamb is much more opinionated than you would imagine for a man whose network continually walks the fine line of objective journalism.  C-SPAN's journalists avoid injecting opinion into their programs, giving viewers information so they can make up their own minds about candidates, issues and government policies.  

Brian Lamb stepped down as C-SPAN Chief Executive in March, 2012 and was succeeded by Rob Kennedy and Susan Swain on April 1, 2012.  Lamb stayed on as executive chairman and host.  

For more on Brian Lamb, I invite you to read this biography from Purdue University, his alma mater.  It was published on January 6, 2010.  On April 8, 2011 the Purdue Board of Trustees announced the creation of the Brian Lamb School of Communication at Purdue. On July 1, 2011, the new "school" officially replaced the Department of Communication at Purdue and is named after Brian Lamb, a department alumnus, Co-Founder and CEO of C-SPAN and one of two Purdue alumni (the other being Neil Armstrong) to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom:

 Brian Lamb is the CEO of C-SPAN Networks. He's been at the helm of the public affairs channel since he helped the cable industry launch it 32 years ago on March 19, 1979. Today, C-SPAN employs approximately 270 people and delivers public affairs programming on three television channels to the nation's cable and satellite customers; globally to Internet users via C-SPAN.org and 15 other internet sites; and to radio listeners through C-SPAN radio—an FM station in Washington that can also be heard on XM satellite service nationwide.

Brian_Lamb_019SMALLBrian has also been a regular on-air presence at C-SPAN since the network's earliest days. Over the years, he has interviewed Presidents Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Clinton, and George W. Bush and many world leaders such as Margaret Thatcher and Mikhail Gorbachev. For 15 years, beginning in 1989, he interviewed 800 non-fiction authors for a weekly program known as Booknotes. Four books of collected interviews have been published based on the Booknotes series. Currently, Brian hosts Q and A, an hour long interview program on Sunday evening with people who are making things happen in politics, media, education or technology.

Brian Lamb is a Hoosier, born and raised in Lafayette, Indiana. Interested in broadcasting as a child, he built crystal radio sets to pick up local signals. During high school and college, he sought out jobs at Lafayette radio and television stations, spinning records, selling ads, and eventually hosting his own television program.

After graduating from Purdue with a degree in speech, Brian joined the Navy. His tour included the USS Thuban, White House duty during the Johnson Administration and a stint in the Pentagon public affairs office during the Vietnam War.

In 1967, his navy service complete, Brian returned home to Lafayette. However, it wasn't long before he returned to the nation's capital where he began as a freelance reporter for UPI radio. Later, he served as a Senate press secretary and worked for the White House Office of Telecommunications Policy at a time when a national strategy was being developed for communications satellites.

In 1974, Brian returned to journalism, publishing a biweekly newsletter called The Media Report. He also covered telecommunications issues as Washington bureau chief for Cablevision Magazine. It was from this vantage point that C-SPAN began to take shape.

Congress was about to televise its proceedings; the cable industry was looking for programming to deliver to its customers by satellite. Brian brought these two ideas together with C-SPAN, which launched with the first televised House
of Representatives debate on March 19, 1979.

Brian and his wife Victoria are longtime residents of Arlington, Virginia. When he's not reading newspapers or non-fiction books, Brian is often in hot pursuit of the latest country music release.

(This biography was published on January 6, 2010 by the Purdue University College of Liberal Arts.)