Posted on September 3, 2018 in ATSC News
Since HDTV pioneer and ATSC Director Emeritus Joseph Flaherty passed away last month at age 87, the tributes have been pouring in. Flaherty, credited with co-founding the ATSC 35 years ago, led the planning committee on Dick Wiley’s FCC Advisory Committee on Advanced Television Service, and was a global ambassador for HDTV, among many other accomplishments in his storied career. Here are fond remembrances from industry colleagues, followed by the obituary penned by his long-time CBS cohort Bob Seidel.
DICK WILEY, Former Chairman of the FCC and ACATS
“I had the privilege of working with, and learning from, Joe Flaherty for over eight years, in connection with my FCC HDTV advisory committee. He was the indispensable man in our effort to recommend a new digital video transmission standard to the Commission. His technical acumen, innovative thinking, unique problem-solving capability and, above all, steely determination to make high definition television happen were essential to the Committee’s success. In particular, Joe’s wisdom led us to push for the formation of the Digital HDTV Grand Alliance, which proved to be the key to making the world’s first digital HDTV standard happen. Of course, Joe Flaherty was not only a great engineer and television visionary, he also was a highly enjoyable social companion – a genuine gourmet and oenophile. Joe will be sorely missed by all who knew him.”
GARY SHAPIRO, President and CEO, Consumer Technology Association
“Joe Flaherty was a visionary who believed the American HDTV standard should be the highest-possible quality. Throughout his decades as a CBS executive, he advocated for better national and global standards for all broadcasters. Joe often called me and urged me to take a strong position in favor of broadcast quality, and I never failed to heed his advice. Today, people around the world enjoy a richer TV viewing experience than ever, in no small part because of Joe’s focus on excellence. We have lost a true industry legend.”
PETE FANNON, Former President, Advanced Television Test Center
“For Joe it was HDTV or nothing. And thank goodness for that! He was determined that U.S. broadcasting have and use the best that technology could deliver, and he drove for that goal at every turn – opposing ‘enhanced definition TV’ and ‘backwards compatible’ schemes, both of which would have left analog NTSC in place, and in Joe’s view, permit ‘recalcitrant’ broadcasters to just continue business as usual thus leaving the ‘quality’ field to broadcasting’s satellite and cable competitors. Most importantly perhaps, Joe strongly backed the notion of a fundamentally transformative, all-digital HDTV. And when it came to broadcast implementation, Joe insisted that program producers supply – and cable operators maintain in retransmission– the highest quality HDTV at all times. His is a legacy of passion for the best in broadcasting technology and the highest standard of television service to the public; and for this, and so much more, Joe Flaherty will be remembered as an extraordinary, determined, and immensely successful leader.”
LYNN CLAUDY, Senior VP, National Association of Broadcasters
“Joe had a powerful, effective and entertaining way with words, in his quiet voice, especially when it came to promoting the benefits and value of HDTV, his decades-long passion. When the technology was young and rough, Mark Twain’s ‘Wagner’s music is much better than it sounds’ became ‘HDTV is much better than it looks.’ Or Joe’s famous punch-line, ‘This is the worst HDTV you’ll ever see,’ reassured attendees at demonstrations of the nascent technology about its future value. And at the ATSC, he kept the leadership of the organization on track and on their toes with well-meaning admonishments, prefacing his sometimes sharp criticism with the endearing, ‘Only your mother will tell you when your face is dirty.’ I miss his quiet voice filling every corner of the room.”
MARK RICHER, ATSC President
“Joe Flaherty’s lifetime commitment to the advancement of television technology was extraordinary. Among his many contributions to the industry was the pivotal role he played in the formation of ATSC in 1982. He served on the ATSC Executive Committee and Board of Directors until 2010 when he was named to the honorary ‘Member Emeritus.’ His unwavering commitment to the standardization of HDTV was contagious, motivating the industry to develop the highest quality system possible. He had the vision to understand that the specifications for HDTV should not be limited by the capabilities of the cameras and displays available at the time. Joe pushed industry groups to establish long term strategies often quoting one his favorite proverbs, ‘If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.’”
By Bob Seidel:
Vice President, Engineering & Advanced Technology, CBS Television Network
On August 7, the television industry saw the passing of a true technology icon, Dr. Joseph A. Flaherty. Television viewers around the globe are still benefiting from the technology innovations of Joe Flaherty.
Dr. Flaherty received his degree in Physics from Rockhurst College, Kansas, City, Missouri, in 1952. During 1953-1954, he served with the U.S. Army Signal Corps, and in 1955 joined NBC in New York City as a Television Engineer.
He joined CBS in 1957 as a television design engineer. In 1959, he became the network’s Director of Technical Facilities Planning, and in 1967, he was promoted to General Manager, and subsequently appointed Vice President and General Manager of the Engineering and Development Department, a position he held for 23 years, before being named CBS Senior Vice President of Technology.
In the 1970s, Joe revolutionized the television news industry by changing the process by which news stories were captured. His foresight led to the replacement of 16 mm film to gather news, supplanting it with ENG (electronic news gathering), thereby eliminating the painstaking and time-consuming process of exposing the film negative, transporting the film to the station, developing the film and transferring the film to television. The development of ENG enabled TV viewers to experience the world’s events in real-time, rather than watching history unfold, thus eliminating the catch phrase, “Film at 11.”
In the early 1980s, Joe began developing high-definition television (HDTV). On Feb. 7, 1981, he demonstrated “Hi-Vision” or HDTV to the Hollywood production community at the annual SMPTE technical conference.
This led to Joe’s appointment by Dick Wiley as the Chairman of the Planning Committee for the FCC’s Advisory Committee on Advanced Television Service, which oversaw the standardization of the current digital broadcast standard, known as ATSC 1.0. His efforts made the United States the first country in the world to convert to a digital HDTV system.
Not satisfied with revolutionizing the television system in America, Joe became a television technology ambassador to the world. His push for a worldwide HDTV program exchange standard at the ITU (the United Nations’ technical arm), led to the rapid deployment of HDTV on a worldwide basis.
Joe also challenged and successfully convinced the Hollywood production community to replace 16 / 35 mm film, used for primetime television production, with HDTV electronic acquisition and post-production. Today, all prime time television dramas and comedies are electronically captured and edited in HDTV.
Joe was an active author and lecturer, presenting more than 188 published papers and lectures during his career. Joe’s technology leadership was not only acknowledged in America, but throughout the world by the presentation of numerous major broadcasting awards and honors including:
Dr. Joseph Flaherty’s lifetime of television innovation is unmatched in the television industry. His efforts have brought real-time global events into our living rooms and through the clarity of HDTV made the viewer feel “as if they were there.” If anyone is to be credited with creating the “Television Global Village”, it’s Joe Flaherty.
Thank you, Joe, for being the Television Technology Ambassador to the World! He is survived by his wife Jan Flaherty, his sons Patrick, Daniel, Michael, Timothy, daughter Margaret and eight grandchildren.
Posted in ATSC News
Subscribe to The Standard, our monthly newsletter. Learn More
ATSC is a membership organization with both voting and observer categories. Voting members include corporations, nonprofit organizations, and government entities, and they participate actively in the work of ATSC. Observers are individuals or entities not eligible to be a voting member.
Subscribe to The Standard, our monthly newsletter, to stay up-to-date with ATSC news and events around the world.
Advanced Television Systems Committee, Inc.
1300 I Street NW, Suite 400E
Washington, DC 20005
The Advanced Television Systems Committee, Inc., is an international, non-profit organization developing voluntary standards and recommended practices for digital terrestrial broadcasting. ATSC member organizations represent the broadcast, broadcast equipment, motion picture, consumer electronics, computer, cable, satellite, and semiconductor industries. ATSC also develops digital terrestrial broadcasting implementation strategies and supports educational activities on ATSC standards.