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The Cable Satellite Public Affairs Network went live in 1979. Its founder and CEO, Brian Lamb, became a pioneer in cable television when he pushed for public access to government proceedings. Congress at first resisted, but the House eventually opened its doors to cameras, and the Senate later followed.
The network now includes three cable channels, C-SPAN radio and an online video archive of all programming that has aired since 1987. Lamb is stepping down after 34 years with the network.
Lamb hosts several shows for C-SPAN, including Booknotes, Book TV and Q&A, the last of which he will continue to film. He talks with NPR's Neal Conan about what it was like establishing the unbiased watchdog of the congressional chambers, the future of C-SPAN and his as-yet unfulfilled wish for the network.
On whether he accomplished what he set out to do
"I guess. I mean, I didn't have a grand plan. Certainly when we started with eight hours a day, sharing the Madison Square Garden Sports Network, I wasn't sure where it would end up, whether it would even end up. I mean, after a short time, it could have gone away.
"But having three networks and a nationwide radio station and a network probably was not in my head, but I think what was in my head is that this whole world of communications was going to change dramatically, and if we didn't do it, somebody would."
On blaming Brian Lamb for the soundbite, because C-SPAN cameras roll in otherwise empty chambers
"I don't care what anybody's reaction is. They can blame us all they want to. This country prided itself on openness and yet, it wasn't open. It's still not open. And all we're trying to do is let people know how their money is being spent. And clearly ... they've tried to push it under the rug for years, and now we've got a problem."
On callers who curse during live broadcasts
"I don't like swearing on the air. As a matter of fact, I'm not a prude, but ... I watch HBO and some of the comedy stuff, and I'm constantly asking myself, why have we gone there? It seems like it's unfortunate. It's so cheap. It's so easy.
"And so when people take advantage of the fact that we have open phones with no delay and do what they do here, it's a disappointment more than anything. It usually comes in spurts, and then it goes away for a long time. ... We are always looking at this and we get close to [using] the delay and nobody really wants to do it because they want to keep it free and open. But if the American people abuse this privilege, some day we may have to do that."
On his unfinished business: televising Supreme Court arguments
"I have long since realized that's going to be one very difficult accomplishment, and it won't be on my watch, and I never did think it would. They're pretty well dug in over there, and it's too bad because I think they are a great institution, and I think that the public would benefit from the education alone."