On Tuesday, for the first time, deaf television viewers in Washington will get a closed-captioned version of local news thanks largely to a WJLA executive with a deaf son and a Gallaudet University graduate who works at the station.
After more than a year of negotiations and planning, Seven and the National Captioning Institute in Alexandria will begin real-time (live) captioning of WJLA's "The Late Edition" week nights at 11.
John Long, WJLA's vice president and director of sales, said that the $100,000 cost of captioning the program for a year will be paid for equally by Martin Marietta, JKJ Chevrolet, People's Drug Stores and Riggs Bank. Eventually, he plans to find sponsors for the 6 p.m. news, then the 5 p.m. news and the noon news.
Long, 39, a former football player for St. John's College High School here and DePauw University, has a personal interest in closed-captioning: One of his four sons, Ryan, 12, has been deaf since a bout with spinal meningitis when he was 2.
With telecaptioning decoders for two of the family's TV sets, Long had become well aware of the necessity for captioning for deaf viewers. He also believes that captioning was partly responsible for the fact that Ryan and older brother are excellent readers. (The younger boys are 4-year-old twins.)
Meanwhile, at WJLA, Long said that news tape librarian Jim House, a deaf Gallaudet graduate who was understandably interested in the project, "kept pushing me." House joined Seven as an intern, worked part-time for the station for two years and has been a full-time staffer for another two.
With Tony Washington, director of local revenue development for the station, they first contacted Gallaudet, then put the captioning job up for bids. When the low-bidder, American Data Captioning, could not meet their requirements, they turned to NCI, which lowered its bid when WJLA opted for the 11 p.m. news because captioners were already staffed for ABC's "Nightline" at 11:30.
They also developed an advisory board "to keep us on the right track," said Long. Besides Long and House, the board includes Hubert Anderson of the D.C. Association of Deaf Citizens; Jackie Mendalson, Montgomery County Association of Hearing Impaired Children; Steve Brenner of Potomac Telecom; Connie Reardon of Happy Hands for Senior Citizens; Newby Ely, of North Virginia Association of Deaf Citizens; Tommy Williams, D.C. Black Deaf Advocates; Carolyn Rosyick of SHHH (Self-Help for Hard of Hearing); Frank Hutchinson of the Maryland Association of the Deaf; Karen O'Connor of NCI, and two WJLA employes, Tim Medina, who signs emergency information such as food recalls, storm warnings and major news events, and Daryl Ford, who serves as liaison to NCI. Ford worked previously for KDAK in Pittsburgh, where captioning programs was already underway by American Data Captioning.
WJLA's night news becomes the only local Washington news program closed-captioned. The only other regularly scheduled local program captioned for the deaf is "It's Academic" on WRC.
Long said that WJLA chose Tuesday to begin closed-captioning so the premiere would not conflict with ABC's "Monday Night Football," which pushes "The Late Edition" back to midnight.
But out at the Long home in Montgomery County, Ryan probably won't be staying up Tuesday night to watch WJLA's debut into the world of closed-captioning: He has to go to bed -- Wednesday's a school day.