While at Purdue, Lamb got his first taste of business when he approached a television station manager named Dick Shively. He pitched a dance show called “Dance Date,” which was a local version of “American Bandstand.” Shively told him to go do it.
Lamb visited high schools, where he recruited student leaders to bring kids to the studio. He trudged to local businesses and asked them to advertise. He helped design and build the set. He emceed the program, getting an all-around education in the business.
He joined the Navy after graduation, spending two years on a ship and two at the Pentagon. There, he picked the brain of news correspondents such as NBC’s Bob Goralski and observed the news-gathering process.
His vision of C-SPAN started taking shape.
“The three networks did basically the same thing,” he said. “The correspondents were different, but they covered the same things. There wasn’t much choice as to what was on television.”
Lamb kept thrusting himself into situations, looking for opportunities.
He met a young Tennessee senator named Howard Baker at a White House social event, who helped find him a job in the Nixon-Agnew campaign. When he next tried to join a broadcast network, he was turned down, so he went to work in the communications office of a Colorado senator named Peter Dominick.
His views from the inside started to coalesce into a philosophy built around greater information opportunities for citizens and for the politicians who want to reach them.
“I had wanted everybody else to see what I could see,” he said. “If everybody could see this unfiltered, it would give them choice and better perspective.”
By the time Lamb went to work for a cable television trade publication called Cablevision, in the early 1970s, he wanted to marry his vision of a network dedicated to unedited content of the political system with emerging technologies that would eventually result in the television and telephone systems we enjoy today.
The owner of Cablevision, Bob Titsch, helped him win support from industry executives. Twenty-two of them signed on, including heavyweights such Bob Rosencrans and Ken Gunter, who owned systems around the country.
Lamb incorporated in December 1977 and officially launched C-SPAN in March 1979, with four employees and a $480,000 budget. It broadcast eight hours of U.S. House of Representatives activity from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., available in 3.5 million homes.
C-SPAN’s future was uncertain until Oct. 1, 1980, when Lamb staged his first call-in show featuring a roundtable of reporters. The switchboard lit up.
“They were so enthusiastic that they could talk back to somebody on television,” said Lamb. “I just knew I had a hit.”
The cable industry agreed to underwrite a full-time, round-the-clock network.
C-SPAN now has three networks, including one for the Senate, one for the House and one devoted to history. There are no reporters. No interference. Several staffers take turns interviewing guests. The nonprofit media company produces its own documentaries and has 25 Web sites with 165,000 hours of content dating from 1987.
There’s an iPhone app with the three channels and its radio station. Viewers can call up the Web site and view all of that content.
And they can see how he fulfilled the mission he started that day in the Pentagon 46 years ago.
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