For nearly 35 years, C-SPAN has pursued its mission to make government more open to the American public, telecasting political proceedings in millions of households across the country. But before it became the service it is today - available in 100 million American homes, providing access each week to hundreds of public affairs and political events, U.S. governmental proceedings, international procedures and reaction, non-fiction book discussions and American history features - C-SPAN began with only four employees. Those four - Brian Lamb, Jana Dabrowski (Fay), Don Houle, and Brian Lockman - transmitted the television feed from the U.S. House of Representatives on March 19, 1979, the first day the House allowed television coverage.
This first televised congressional session began with a one-minute speech by then-Congressman Al Gore and reached nearly three million American homes. It marked the beginning for C-SPAN, but for founder Brian Lamb and the infant network's member cable companies who then provided - and still provide - its funding, the House feed was only the beginning. C-SPAN added what became its signature call-in program the following year, in order to provide a direct conduit between the American public and the nation's political leaders, government officials, journalists and other policymakers. In 1982, the network expanded from eight to first 16, and then 24 hours, enabling the network to add a wider variety of programming content to viewers, while maintaining its original commitment to carry the proceedings of the U.S. House, gavel-to-gavel.
In 1986, when the U.S. Senate also voted to televise its proceedings, C-SPAN launched a second channel, C-SPAN2, to provide unfiltered, gavel-to-gavel access to that body. On weekends ever since 1998, C-SPAN2 becomes BookTV, which covers non-fiction book and author events.
When the House and Senate are in session, C-SPAN commits to covering both bodies in their entirety, without interruption or editing. This is a voluntary commitment; there is no contract with Congress to carry proceedings. Because of this commitment, neither C-SPAN nor C-SPAN2 will break away for any other event - for instance, a White House announcement, Congressional hearing or political rally. Therefore, in 2001, C-SPAN3 launched to provide access to additional public affairs events, many of them live, in Washington as well as across the country and the world. On weekends, C-SPAN3 becomes American History TV, created in 2011 to maximize access to historical lectures, oral histories, video features and special series.
Beginning in 1988, with a letter to then-Chief Justice William Rehnquist, C-SPAN has asked the top institution in the third branch of American government, the United States Supreme Court, to allow cameras to cover oral argument. To date, the Court has refused this request. In 1989, however, C-SPAN televised its first live oral argument, a case before the then-U.S. Court of Military Appeals (now the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces). Since that date, the network has televised more than 100 oral arguments before courts which do allow cameras, including the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces in Washington, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit (headquartered in San Francisco), the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit (based in New York City), as well as the state supreme courts, all of which televise oral argument. And though the U.S. Supreme Court still refuses to allow cameras, C-SPAN airs the audio of each Supreme Court oral argument. It also televises dozens of speeches by and events with the nine individual justices each year, and regularly airs roundtables, panel discussions and other programs concerning the cases before the court, as well as live reaction to oral argument from the steps in front of the Supreme Court building on argument days. On occasion, when the national interest dictates, C-SPAN will cover lower court proceedings, such as when it telecast several cases in the Leon County trial court in Tallahassee in 2000, during the presidential election results dispute in Florida.
C-SPAN today has nearly 300 employees and averages 8,000 hours of original programming every year. In 1997, it added C-SPAN Radio, available in the Washington, DC area and nationwide on Sirius-XM. The radio station provides yet another, separate conduit for public affairs programming. All four streams of programming - from C-SPAN, C-SPAN2, C-SPAN3, and C-SPAN Radio - are available via a mobile app for both iOS and Android.
C-SPAN is the recipient of dozens of national awards and citations, including three Peabodys: one for institutional excellence in 1993 for its coverage of the 1992 presidential election, one in the historical documentary category for its 1999 American Presidents series, and one in 2011 for its comprehensive video library, which first became available online in 2007, and expanded to include all content in 2010.