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MIT Cable TV celebrates 25 years of operation this year

"Members of the Center for Advanced Engineering Study recognized that our instructional processes were lagging behind current technology. In an attempt to remedy the situation..."

Does the quotation above sound like a familiar refrain? It's taken from an article in the Tech 25 years ago, and it goes on to describe why the MIT Cable Television system was launched.

The mission was educational: to develop "experimental curricula materials" and build "a cable communications system of novel design." With a $620,000 grant from the Sloan Foundation, these plans moved forward.

The cable officially opened on the first day of IAP in 1976 with three MIT channels. Today, MIT Cable TV offers four MIT channels, four language channels, two student channels, a NASA channel and 11 Boston channels, all broadcasting 24 hours a day. A new research channel will broadcast courses and lectures from other universities.

MIT Cable also oversees the commercial cable TV service for student residences, where much of the educational content is watched, along with more conventional TV programming.

MIT Cable's offerings are not your standard fare: they can range from a lecture by Noam Chomsky to the Clinton Commencement speech, from live coverage of NASA's zero-G mission to MIT's famous 2.70 competition. In addition to the usual campus outlets, most MIT Cable programs are broadcast on the Internet courtesy of the StreaMIT webcast service.

Another MIT Cable service, "Today at the Institute," is an old friend. This community bulletin board of activities and events broadcasts on Channel 12 and can be seen in Lobby 10. An MIT student developed the script for this service in 1988, and it's been running on an Apple II computer ever since. To submit items, send e-mail.

MIT Cable Television operates out of modest quarters in Rm 9-050. The wizard behind the scenes is Randy Winchester, aided by a phalanx of students. Winchester works closely with MIT Video Production Services and Audio-Visual Services to bring educational programming to the community.

Winchester has seen many changes over the years, including digital audio, satellite hookups, and the introduction of broadcast-quality equipment. Right now, he's enthralled by a $300 Linux-based TiVo box. With a bit of coding, it can automate video playback tasks that would have required $30,000 worth of equipment in the past.

The MIT Cable TV web page includes a channel guide and schedule, as well as news and contact information.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on May 23, 2001.

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