News from the National Court Reporters Association

National Court Reporters Association (NCRA) Discusses Captioning

When do you think that broadcasting captions first appeared – and for what purpose? The NCRA provides that info, plus plenty more, besides.

The answers: 1972 for The French Chef with Julia Child. These captions were “open,” which meant that they could not be turned off. The following year, ABC’s World News Tonight had a caption file added for their 6:30 p.m. news, one that could be added back, line by line, for the 11:00 p.m. news.

People with hearing challenges appreciated these, but some people who had no need for captions found them distracting. This lead to the development of closed captioning technology in 1980, with ABC’s Wonderful World of Disney and PBS’s Masterpiece Theater serving as pioneers.  Although only 16 hours of prerecorded programs were captioned, it gained momentum.

Realtime captioning debuted in 1982, first used for space shuttle launches and landings – and then to announce winners of the 54th Annual Academy Awards, to provide the acceptance speeches and to explain any script deviations. Soon afterwards, the Space Shuttle Columbia was captioned and ABC World News Tonight began to be regularly captioned.

In 1993, televisions were required to be manufactured with a decoder chip to allow people who wanted captions to have them – and for people who didn’t, to NOT see them. Fast forwarding to today, here is NCRA’s commentary: “With the recent anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, campaigns to increase captioning, not just on traditional television, but online . . . who knows what exciting changes are in store for such an important technology?”

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