Without Brian Lamb, there would be no C-SPAN and, in some regards, without C-SPAN there would be no Brian Lamb.
Monday marked a new era for C-SPAN. Lamb announced he will step down as CEO of C-SPAN after 34 years, or as Lamb put it himself, “The old boy is moving aside.”
Lamb, however, won’t be far from the network that he created in 1978. He will continue his hour-long “Q&A” show on Sunday nights and serve as executive chairman of the board. Co-presidents Susan Swain and Rob Kennedy will serve jointly as the new CEOs.
Regardless of the formalities, Lamb will continue to be a part of the lifeblood of his network and vice versa.
There are many similarities when comparing the public affairs network and the man behind it. They’re both known for being modest while having great impact, and the importance of honesty is apparent in the functioning of both entities.
Lamb was a self-proclaimed bad student while studying at Purdue; he rarely read the assignments given to him. When he created the network 14 years later in 1978, Lamb had a change of heart. He created a weekly show, “Booknotes,” that hosted authors of various works, and Lamb would interview them. In 2004, he renamed the show to simply “Q&A,” which allowed him to have a freer format and to include various types of people for the same one hour interview.
He has interviewed thousands of people and, on top of that, read thousands of books. From politicians to literary authors to other prominent figures in the media, Lamb has interviewed them all, but his modesty allows for a great interview each time.
“You just feel lucky,” Lamb said. “Being able to sit down and ask an hour’s worth of questions – it’s tremendous, it’s exhilarating.”
His interviews have even provided him with inspiration for C-SPAN. Lamb was inspired during an interview with Doug Brinkley, a professor at Rice University, who wrote a book, “The Majic Bus: An American Odyssey,” chronicling his trip on a bus with bunk beds and his students traveling the country.
“My reaction to that was we ought to do that as a network – get a bus,” Lamb said. “And we did, we got two buses. Since 1993, those buses have gone around the country, and it all came out of an interview with Brinkley.”
What C-SPAN has given to Lamb is minute compared to what Lamb has done for C-SPAN. Swain, soon to be co-CEO of the company, said she only hopes Lamb’s curiosity stays with the company even after this transition.
“What has animated Brian throughout my many years of knowing him is his enormous curiosity,” Swain said. “His curiosity for how things work has animated the company.”
Another quality she admires in Lamb is his interest in people and his ability to remember almost anyone he meets.
“He has an impressive memory which I will never be able to replicate,” Swain said. “He can walk into a room and remember a student he met five years ago.”
Those two attributes alone can be found in C-SPAN’s initiatives. His curiosity directly translates into vying for a transparent government – at least the proceedings – via television. The other lends itself to C-SPAN’s archives, located in West Lafayette, which hold over 180,000 hours of government proceedings and related videos.
Lamb has never forgotten his Boilermaker blood. By leaving a tremendous resource in Purdue’s reach and now having his name on the School of Communication, Lamb positions himself to be unforgettable at his alma mater, intentionally or not.
He will stay very much involved in the school, however from a distance. He plans to stay in Washington, D.C., with his “beautiful” wife, whom he’s known since kindergarten but only married seven years ago.
Lamb said he has the utmost confidence in his successors. Though it is an odd choice to have two chief executive officers, he knows the two will take C-SPAN in a progressive direction.
Although he knows the change is only symbolic, Lamb still carries his laissez-faire attitude toward the media frenzy over his retirement.
“Journalists love these kinds of stories,” Lamb joked. “I just got TIME magazine here, and on Page 16, there’s a small announcement. It’s the same page that announces two deaths; I guess that’s where I’m headed too.”