PBS’s satellite developer John Ball dies

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John Edward Dewar Ball, who oversaw development of PBS’s first satellite-based programming delivery system and was an early supporter of closed captioning, has died at age 77.

He was recruited by PBS in 1971 to design and oversee the implementation of the satellite system. “The successful completion of the system led other U.S. television networks to move to communication satellites for reaching their affiliates,” notes TV Technology, which just reported his March 25 death. Ball received an Emmy for his work.

While working on that project in 1971, Ball attended a demonstration of closed captioning, then called “subtitling for the deaf,” at Washington’s Gallaudet College (now Gallaudet University). The enthusiastic response of the largely deaf audience led him to urge PBS to adopt the technology. By 1979, PBS had done so. He won another Emmy for that work.

Ball died of complications from a stroke he suffered late in 2009. Gallaudet University posted a detailed obituary written by his children, going back to his childhood in Scotland.

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