Byline: Jennifer Harper, THE WASHINGTON TIMES
Behold the viewer with a view: In 25 years, 500,000 people have called C-SPAN to applaud, condemn, analyze or mock American politics and policy - all of it telecast straight off the telephone line, for better or worse.
There was that first brave caller from Yankton, S.D., who dialed the public-affairs network on Oct. 7, 1980. Over the years, former President Ronald Reagan, Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Edward M. Kennedy and entertainer Cher have been among the famous folks who phoned in and patiently waited their turn to speak.
C-SPAN is celebrating its silver anniversary by surrendering the entire broadcast to viewers, staging a 25-hour call-in marathon from Friday to Saturday night.
"The idea of a 25-hour call-in program may seem a little crazy. But call-ins are the essence of C-SPAN. We couldn't think of a better way to celebrate a format that's given a voice to the public and helped shape the political debate," said Brian Lamb, chief executive officer of C-SPAN, seen in about 90 million households.
The network doggedly highlights that public debate each morning on "Washington Journal," fueled by tenacious viewers eager to harangue public officials, lawmakers and journalists. The calls air at the rate of about 20 an hour, according to Executive Producer Peter Slen.
"We focus on the callers. They are not a sideline …