C-SPAN, the Cable-Satellite Public Affairs Network, was first conceived in 1975 by Brian Lamb who was bureau chief for the trade magazine Cablevision. The 1970s was a time of rapid cable TV growth in the US, and Lamb envisioned a non-profit, cable-industry financed network that would televise public affairs, sessions of Congress and policy discussions. Bob Rosencrans, an early cable executive, gave Lamb $25,000 to launch C-SPAN in 1979. News of the new network traveled around the industry and other cable executives invested in the project and formed the first C-SPAN board of directors.
The concept was launched in March of 1979 when it televised the speech of Tennessee representative Al Gore in the House of Representatives. Over 3.5 million homes were wired into the network, which only had three employees. When the US Senate opened its doors to TV cameras in 1986 C-SPAN2 was launched. C-SPAN3 is the most recent expansion channel, which began full-time broadcasts on January 22, 2001.
C-SPAN is constantly expanding its coverage of government proceedings and is especially interested in covering the US Supreme Court. In 2009, Chairman and CEO Lamb wrote a letter to leaders in Washington requesting that their negotiations for health care reform be televised; leaders in the House and Senate agreed. Because C-SPAN's cameras have been banned from certain areas of Congress, Lamb wrote John Boehner in 2010 asking him to lift some of the restrictions. His request was denied.
Because the access that C-SPAN has in Congress is regulated by the controlling political party, much information that should be available to the public is filtered. Even non-government sponsored events like the annual dinner at the Gridiron Club is off limits for C-SPAN cameras. But the network has televised more than 24,246 hours of floor action since 1979, and C-SPAN2 provides uninterrupted live coverage of the US Senate so viewers can track the progress of legislation as it moves through both houses.
C-SPAN is a useful source of information for lobbyists, educators, journalists and government officials as well as anyone who is interested in politics. The unedited coverage of political events makes it a "window into the world of Washington politics."
C-SPAN does cover the proceedings of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, Parliament of Canada and other governments from time to time. The networks also carry news reports from around the world when major events occur. Those reports include funerals of prominent government figures as well as severe weather events, international incidents, space shuttle missions and political upheavals in other countries.
C-SPAN produces spinoff programs such as "Booknotes" that focus on specific topics. In 1994, Booknotes and Lincoln scholar Harold Holzer got together and produced a re-creation of the seven famous Lincoln-Douglas debates. The network also produces special documentaries on historical landmarks and American institutions, and those programs explore the historical importance of those national treasures.
In addition to the three TV networks, C-SPAN operates C-SPAN Radio nationwide as well as XM satellite radio. It broadcasts on channel WCSP 90.1FM in Washington.