What was it like to start captioning a program in 1991, for the very first time? TCG’s President, Tamra Stretch, shares the story of her very first on-air captioning experience, including what it was like prepping for a program without the extensive resources we have in today’s age of technology and how this became the start of what is now The Captioning Group, celebrating 25 years in business.

Remembering TCG's Very First Live Show
It’s 1991… and we’re up to our eyeballs in transcripts with our thriving court reporting business. So, why not entertain a new venture, closed captioning!  We had nothing better to do, uh-huh.  But it was so exciting!  Really?  We could actually put our steno skills to the test, live, for all the world to see?

 

I was in!

 

But how in the world to break into an industry—one that was so small and with so few providers!  In all of North America, we only knew of NCI, VITAC, and The Caption Center (WBGH Boston), in the U.S.  As for Canada, we knew of two court reporters who had just started doing some captioning work for TSN.

 

So why not?  We were always up for new challenges, and the more daunting, the better.

stenography machine | The Captioning Group

Hmmm, but it wasn’t going to be easy.

 

I spent about six months myself evolving my “computer-compatible” writing into something “air” worthy.  That was no easy undertaking!  There was no training available to me except two invaluable books put out by NCI and WBGH that became my captioning bibles.  And, of course, I watched all the U.S. captions I could get my eyes on.

 

I was hooked.

 

So, now the question was how to get a trial run with a broadcaster!  That was an even bigger challenge. Through a lot of sweet talking and convincing, two broadcasters took us up on our offer… CFCN (the CTV affiliate in Calgary) and CBC Newsworld (Newsnet, as it’s now called).

 

We were thrilled!

 

And I was personally horrified at the same time.  Did I really get myself into this?  What was I thinking?  Live TV, no mistakes, no room for error!  It seemed impossible, but I was going to give it my best shot.

 

We were given a 30-minute show, not even news, much to my huge relief!  It was a program called “Fashion File.”  Okay, it couldn’t be that bad.  After all, I liked shopping!

 

Back in the day, there was no internet that could be used for research, so prepping that way was not an option.  I had to scour through other resources at the library and get old scripts of the program (which was basically like pulling teeth) in order to have any clue about what I was going to encounter on my maiden voyage.  After what seemed like days of time-consuming research, I was prepped and ready for my first live half-hour show!

 

Jump forward to Saturday, the day of my show.

 

I hadn’t slept a wink on Friday night, nor could I eat.  My heart was racing like a madwoman all morning, and there was no going back now.  How did I get myself into this?!

 

In my mind, I was quite confident all the chiefs at CBC would be watching me, scrutinizing my every word!  Not to mention all those viewers in TV Land.

 

Did I say I was horrified?

 

I insisted my business partner be relegated to an anteroom where he could watch a TV instead of scrutinizing my frantic fingers.  I required no distractions, as I did my deep-breathing, pretending that this was just another courtroom, with “fashionista” testimony.  I loaded up my dictionaries on my DOS system, and I was as ready as I’d ever be.  It would be fine, right, and I would do great, right?  At least that’s what I told myself.

 

At least that’s what I told myself.

 

Well, everything after that is a complete blank, all memories stolen from my overtaxed stress-brain.  I honestly have no idea how I did, no memory of it at all, except that it was likely the longest 30 minutes of my life!  I guess, in hindsight, I must have done okay, as CBC has been a client of ours ever since, and we have provided them with some of the finest captions put to air over the past 25 years from our wonderful team of skilful and dexterous captioners!

 

Would I do it all over again?

 

In a heartbeat!

 

Hmmm, I wonder what’s next in our fascinating world of stenography and the amazing talent we all possess…

stenography machine | The Captioning Group
Booting up the old DOS system–everything still works!

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