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Thursday, March 16, 2017

March 16, 1980

I have to be honest...I really struggled with finding a topic for today's Throwback Thursday post.  I had no idea that the 16th of March was such a horrific date in history.  So much bad stuff happened on that day that I wasn't sure if I could feature a positive entry for today.  As it turns out, I had to think WAY outside the box, but I've come up with a brilliant topic.  Let's just say that without this innovation, it would make television watching a lot less fun for 360 million people all over the world.

Now, before we get to that, I'd like to talk about the other historical happenings of March 16 - and you'll see why I had a difficult time picking a subject.

1521 - Explorer Ferdinand Magellan arrives at the Island of Homonhon in the Philippines 

1689 - The Royal Welch Fusiliers are established

1865 - The Battle of Averasborough begins during the final stages of the American Civil War

1872 - The Wanderers F.C. won the inaugural FA Cup - currently the oldest association football competition in the world

1917 - British armed board steamer "Dundee" and armoured cruiser "HMS Achilles" fights and sinks German auxiliary cruiser "SMS Leopard" during World War I

1920 - Author Sid Fleischman (d. 2010) is born in Brooklyn, New York

1926 - Robert Goddard launches the first liquid-fueled rocket at Auburn, Massachusetts

1935 - Adolf Hitler orders Germany to rearm herself in violation of the Treaty of Versailles

1936 - Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania is severely flooded following a warm spell that melts snow and ice along the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers

1945 - British bombers destroy nearly the entire city of Wurzburg, Germany during World War II

1958 - A Ford Thunderbird becomes the 50,000,000th automobile to be manufactured by the Ford Motor Company

1966 - Gemini 8 is launched

1968 - The My Lai Massacre takes place during the Vietnam War, which sees hundreds of villagers slaughtered by American troops

1978 - Former Italian Prime Minister Aldo Moro is kidnapped - he would be murdered by his captors just two months later on May 9

1984 - William Buckley is kidnapped by Islamic fundamentalists in Beirut, Lebanon - exactly one year later in 1985, journalist Terry Anderson would also be taken hostage (Anderson was released in 1991, Buckley died in captivity in 1985)

1988 - Oliver North and John Poindexter are indicted on conspiracy charges for the roles they played in the Iran-Contra affair

1989 - A mummy (estimated to be approximately 4,400 years old) is found near the Pyramid of Cheops in Egypt

1995 - One hundred and thirty years since the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment, Mississippi becomes the last state to formally abolish slavery

2014 - Crimea votes to secede from the Ukraine to join Russia

2016 - Frank Sinatra Jr. passes away at the age of 72

I told you March 16 was a depressing date in history - although there were some good moments mixed in as well.

Besides, the following famous people celebrate a March 16 birthday -
Harding Lemay, Jerry Lewis, Christa Ludwig, Chuck Woolery, Jerry Jeff Walker, Michael Owen Bruce, Erik Estrada, Victor Garber, Kate Nelligan, Ray Benson, Isabelle Huppert, Tim O'Brien, Nancy Wilson, Clifton Powell, Flavor Flav, Jerome Flynn, Patty Griffin, Gore Verbinski, Tracy Bonham, Lauren Graham, Judah Friedlander, Alan Tudyk, Sienna Guillory, Blu Cantrell, Curtis Granderson, and Stephanie Gatschet.

So, as I mentioned above, today's subject is about an innovation in the television that a lot of people use.

Imagine my surprise to find that innovation is only a few decades old.  In fact, it was on March 16, 1980 - thirty-seven years ago today - that this innovation was first broadcast...and it changed the way that millions of viewers all over the world watched television.

I know that when I turn on my television, I make sure that I know what show I want to watch, I check to see what time it is on, I check to see what channel it is on, and I adjust the volume on my television to make sure that it is loud enough that I can hear it. 

But what happens if your hearing has been damaged?  Or if you happen to have been born deaf?  That would have made your television experiences a little bit more difficult.

Believe me, I've had my television on mute before and as a little test to myself, I've tried to see if I could read the lips of the people that were on screen.  I found it to be extremely difficult.  

Fortunately, there is something called CLOSED CAPTIONING that really assists in making television much more fun for the hard of hearing.  All one has to do is click on a button on their remote control, or have it set to closed captions in the menu screen of a television, and the words of dialogue pop up along the bottom of the screen.  It is also a common feature for DVD and Blu-Ray movies and even YouTube has a closed captioning option on many of its videos.  In recent years, the process has innovated to include described video - a narrator describes the actions of characters so that people who have little to no sight can understand what is happening on the screen.

But it might shock you to know that closed captioning on television is a relatively new addition to television watching.  In fact, it was only thirty-seven years ago today that the first instance of closed captioning was demonstrated on a major television network in the United States.

On March 16, 1980, ABC became the first network to use regular closed captioning following the creation of the National Captioning Institute in 1979.  Now, back in the early 1980s, televisions were not programmed to display closed captions.  Instead, one had to purchase a special adapter called the "Telecaption" which you could connect to your television the same way you would hook up a VCR or a video game system.  If hooked up correctly, the captions would show up on the bottom of the screen as a black bar with white text. 

And what were the first programs that were broadcast in closed captioning?  It was a screening of the film "Semi-Tough" - a film that was released in 1977.

Throughout the 1980s, the Telecaption box was really the only way that television could implement closed captions on programming.  In fact, I even remember the television program "Sesame Street" actually showing a set of clips regarding how the box worked.  After all, at that time, Linda Bove was still a cast member on the show, and she was the deaf librarian that taught us how to speak basic words using American Sign Language.  It's such a strange memory, but one I recall vividly.  Unfortunately, at the time, the boxes were quite expensive.  Averaging out at $200 each, it was almost as much as a small television set!

Fortunately, several acts were passed in the United States Congress that allowed people who needed closed captioning on their televisions better access to it.  To begin, the Television Decoder Circuitry Act of 1990 was passed, making it mandatory that all electronics manufacturers make closed captioning available on all television sets with a screen size of thirteen inches or greater by the summer of 1993.  In 1996, the act was revised to include digital television receivers.  As of 2017, every new television has the option to not only broadcast closed captioning in English, but in several other languages as well.

There are even people who transcribe live television where someone will type out the dialog that a presenter is saying as it happens.  In most cases, this turns out to be a good thing, as the typist is usually accurate in what they type aside from the mild spelling error.

And maybe accidentally naming Zooey Deschanel as one of the Boston Marathon Bombing suspects.

But yes...37 years ago, closed captioning became a reality...and since that date, millions have to agree that it makes television watching a lot easier.

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