Former CBS Senior Vice President and television icon of innovation for HDTV and offline videotape editing, Dr Joseph Flaherty has died age 87.

Dr Joseph Flaherty

Dr Joseph Flaherty 

Flaherty revolutionised television news, changing the process by which news stories were captured as well as successfully developing high definition television (HDTV) for audiences globally.

His work continues to be of benefit to the industry and viewers today. 

Championing technology and innovation, Flaherty was an active author and lecturer and Honourary Member of the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineer’s (SMPTE) receiving its highest award and the SMPTE Progress Medal Award, David Sarnoff Gold Medal. 

Flaherty received his degree in Physics from Rockhurst College, Kansas City, Missouri, in 1952. During 1953-1954, he served with the US Army Signal Corps, and in 1955 joined NBC in New York City as a Television Engineer.

In 1957, he joined CBS 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 after which he then became CBS Senior Vice President of Technology.

ENG development

In the 1970s, Flaherty revolutionised the television news industry by changing the process by which news stories were captured. His foresight led to the replacement of 16mm film to gather news, supplanting it with Electronic News Gathering (ENG), 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 catchphrase, “film at 11 PM”.

In the early 1980s, Flaherty began developing High Definition Television (HDTV).

On 7 February 1981, he demonstrated “Hi-Vision” or HDTV to the Hollywood production community at the SMPTE annual technical conference. 

Leading to his appointment as the Chairman of the Planning Committee for the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) Advisory Committee on Advanced Television Service, which produced the United States present day Digital High Definition System.

His efforts made the United States the first country in the world to convert to a digital HDTV system. Not satisfied with revolutionising the television system in America, Flaherty became a Television Technology Ambassador to the world. Pushing for a worldwide HDTV program exchange standard at the United Nation’s technical arm, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), led to the rapid deployment of HDTV on a worldwide basis.

Flaherty also challenged and successfully convinced the Hollywood production community to replace 16/35 mm film, used for prime time television production, with HDTV electronic acquisition and postproduction.

Flaherty was recognised in America and across the globe for numerous major Broadcasting awards and honours including:

  • Four Technical Emmy Awards:
    • The development of Electronic Newsgathering (ENG)
    • Development and installation of the first Digital Computer Automation System
    • Electronic Editing System of Film Capture
    • Vidifont electronic character generator
  • Two Personal Life Time Achievement Emmy Awards:
    • The National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences “Lifetime Achievements in Contributions to the Development and Improvement of the Science
    • Technology of Television”, and the “Charles F Jenkins Lifetime Achievement Emmy Award” from the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences in Hollywood
  • Two French Legion of Honors:
    • Chevalier de l’Ordre National de la Legion d’Honneur by President Mitterand of the Republic of France
    • In l989 he was decorated as a Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres and later promoted to the rank of Officer de l’Ordre National de la Legion d’Honneur by French President Jacques Chirac
  • National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) Engineering Award
  • NAB’s “Award of Honor” for “Introducing High Definition Television to the World”
  • “Giants of Broadcasting” award from the Library of American Broadcasting
  • Broadcasting & Cable Magazine “Hall of Fame” Inductee
  • Consumer Electronics Association “Hall of Fame” Inductee
  • Swiss Montreux Achievement Gold Medal for Electronic News Gathering
  • Fellow of the British Institution of Electrical Engineers (IEE)
  • Fellow of the Royal Television Society of the United Kingdom
  • Fellow of the Chinese Institute of Electronics
  • Honorary Member of the German engineering society Fernseh-Kinotechnischen Gesellschaft (FKTG)
  • Honorary Members of the Institute of Television Engineers of Japan
  • International Vladimir Zworykin award for Technical Achievements in the field of Television from the Russian National Association of Television and Radio Broadcasters