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Election Computer Past and Present

election computer

The election computer for broadcasters arrived in 1952.

That’s when computers predicted Dwight Eisenhower’s  presidential win for CBS and NBS based on statistical analysis of early results. But producers were not yet confident in computing systems, and held back the prediction until later in the broadcast.

According to the CBS producer at the time: “This is not a joke or a trick,” Collingwood told his television audience, “It’s an experiment…We think it’ll work. We hope it will work.” And it did. Over the next decade, the election computer became a mainstay, although the machine itself faded into the background.

Today, elections and computers go together all the time to support live coverage and analyze opinion polling in the months leading up to the event.

Election Computer arrives at CJOB

In the late 1970’s, I was actively trying to introduce computers at CJOB. The early applications I was finding related more to display than actual computing. For example, we used an early personal computer to display our news wire service on a television monitor in the main studio.

Then came the 1979 Canadian Federal Election. I was asked if there was some way we should be using a computer to support our election broadcast. The idea we agreed on was to use a PC to display timely information on a screen to support the election coverage host, Peter Warren.

So, we set up our Sol-20 microcomputer in the control room. Next, we wired a monitor in front of Peter Warren. During the election broadcast, the producer sent a constant stream of video text information to Peter as he juggled the coverage. Most useful were messages to tell him who was on the various phone lines waiting to report or be interviewed.

This all sounds very ancient. Well, it was. Peter actually bet me $5 that the system would crash. It didn’t. Come to think of it, I don’t remember ever collecting that bet!

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