John Edward Dewar Ball, a pioneer in the fields of satellite distribution of television programming and closed captioning, died this spring at the age of 77. He was a two-time Emmy Award winner.
Ball was born in Glasgow, Scotland, and immigrated to the United States in the 1966.
He began his career in broadcasting with the BBC and was first employed by Computer Science Corp. (CSC) and joined INTELSAT the following year. He was recruited by the Public Broadcasting System in 1971 to design and oversee the implementation of a satellite-based domestic delivery system for PBS programming. The successful completion of the system led other U.S. television networks to move to communication satellites for reaching their affiliates. Ball received his first Emmy Award in recognition of the successful deployment of the PBS satellite delivery system.
While engaged in the PBS satellite initiative, Ball attended a small demonstration of closed captioning (then called “subtitling for the deaf”) at Washington’s Gallaudet College (now Gallaudet University) and impressed by the response of the largely deaf audience. In 1980, Ball became the founding president and CEO of the National Captioning Institute, and remained with that organization until his retirement in 1993.
During his career, Ball participated on and chaired a number of committees within the telecommunications industry, including the IEEE, ITU, NCTA, NAB, EIA and others. He was also author of a number of technical papers. He was called before Congress from time to time as an expert witness and served briefly as a telecommunications correspondent for UPI.
Ball received a degree in mathematics and electronics from Glasgow’s Royal College of Science and Technology. He died on March 25 of complications from a stroke he suffered late in 2009.
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