Inventor of TelePrompTer Dies

Hubert Schlafly, Jr. Never heard of him? I hadn’t either before today, even though he’s been a big part of my work life for the past 30 years. It’s reported that Schlafly died April 20th in Connecticut. He was 91.

Schlafly invented the TelePrompTer. That’s the device that lets news anchors, politicians, and performers read what they’re saying by looking straight into the camera lens. It gives the impression the person is speaking from memory.

PrompTer malfunctions

The Prompter, as it’s usually called, was a fantastic invention. Trust me. But it can also be a source of misery and embarrassment at times when there’s a Prompter malfunction. Trust me.

When I first got into the business, it wasn’t as high-tech as it is today. Scripts and/or wire copy were taped together and fed along a conveyor belt that passed under a small camera that took a picture and sent it to the Prompter in the studio. Many times the papers on that conveyor belt would jam or the person feeding the papers would “fall asleep”. That’s usually what happened when viewers would see the anchor briefly pause (that momentary blank stare) and look down for the words on his scripts at the desk. What you wouldn’t hear is what the anchor was thinking at that moment. Thank goodness.

Operator ‘error’

There are many ways a Prompter is operated for an anchor or performer. Most of the time, it’s run by someone else, so the reader can concentrate on other things. But back in the early years, I remember operating my own PrompTer while anchoring. That was fun! The speed of the words scrolling by on the screen was controlled by a foot pedal, and a button on the desk allowed the anchor to take control from their co-anchor.

We used to play little games during a newscast (without the viewers knowing… usually). While my co-anchor was reading, I’d take over control of the PrompTer, and make her words fly by. The newscast went by much faster that way.

Where’s your co-anchor? Ohhh!

I had a new co-anchor once who wasn’t familiar with the PrompTer, and how to work it. Right before coming out for our first newscast together, she couldn’t find the pedal with her foot.  So during the news open, she’s under the desk looking for it. Too late. She doesn’t pop back up until after the newscast begins. How do you explain that one to the viewers? Best to leave it alone, and move on.

RIP

Thank you Hubert Schlafly. Your invention has certainly made my life easier and provided many memories over the years.

One Comment on “Inventor of TelePrompTer Dies

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