When I Started at VITAC….

Amy Bowlen, Manager of Realtime Captioner Training, has been captioning at VITAC for over 22 years. She looks back on the good (!) old days.

Amy BowlenYou’ve heard your parents say, “when I was a kid …” plenty of times, and you probably rolled your eyes. Well, for those of us who have been at VITAC since the way back when, we have a few or our own “VITAC when” stories to tell. No eye-rolling, please!

“When I started at VITAC …”

We didn’t have to walk four miles in the snow with no shoes to get the office, but because all captioning was performed in our headquarters in Downtown Pittsburgh, during heavy snowstorms, we did have to stay overnight — in a record snowstorm it was a couple of nights — because the next shift of captioners and coordinators couldn’t make it in.

There were gas-powered automobiles back in the early days of VITAC, but there was also a gas station right next door to our building. Our offices were in the basement level of an office building, and on a couple of occasions the gas station’s underground storage tanks sprung a leak. We all managed to keep captions on air despite the overwhelming odor of gasoline.

Believe it or not, we also had indoor plumbing, and gasoline wasn’t the only odor that penetrated our basement headquarters. There was a morning when the 4:00 a.m. staff was greeted with the an overwhelming odor from a sewage issue. Again, no air time missed.

We didn’t have to use Morse code or smoke signals to communicate with the outside world, but (gasp) Al Gore had not yet invented the internet. With no internet, we waited anxiously every morning for the thump of the “USA Today” hitting the front door so that we could prep for our shows. We had employees in New York who went to the 30 Rock every day and faxed us any show information that was available.

We did have computers — tablets of stone were already old technology — but computer networking surely didn’t exist. Coordinators created files on PCs, copied them to floppy disks and literally ran to the control rooms to get the scripts loaded and ready by air time. Now, we say “what is a script?”

We surely were high-tech back then … we had a tech closet. Literally, a closet with a single rack of equipment. Have you seen our tech center lately?

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