Capitol Connections Founder Michael Kelley Dies at 73

Michael R. Kelley, who helped bring C-SPAN to official Washington before D.C. had a cable franchise, died of cardiac arrest Nov. 11 at Washington Hospital Center. He was 73.

In an academic career that spanned over four decades, Kelley was a professor at George Mason University -- English and Public Policy -- and founded of GMU's nonprofit instructional video service, The Capitol Connection, in 1981, to deliver business "cable" connections for public affairs, local TV stations and news channels via rooftop antennas.

Before cable came to D.C., Capitol Connection was used by the White House, government agencies, The Washington Post headquarters, and other key facilities throughout the city to give them access to C-SPAN for the first time, says C-SPAN vice president Peter Kiley. (Editors's note: Among those was B&C's former Washington headquarters, where the editors' relied on that access.)

Kiley points to a time in 1983 when a group of kids came to C-SPAN after meeting with President Ronald Reagan to talk with C-SPAN founder Brian Lamb on-air about their visit and field viewer calls. Lamb said: "Next caller," and the operator's voice said: "Hold, please, for the President." Reagan had been watching and wanted to follow up on an answer he had given them. "One moment in C-SPAN history made possible by Michael Kelley and Capitol Connection," said Kiley.

Bruce Collins, corporate vice president and general counsel for C-SPAN, knew and worked with Kelley for four decades--he negotiated the original C-SPAN carriage deal with Kelley. "Mike Kelley was a Renaissance man," says Collins. "Not only did he bring C-SPAN to noncable homes, he was an English scholar and Chaucer expert with such a mellifluous voice that noncommercial radio station WAMU Washington once offered his reading of Canterbury Tales as a premium."

Collins called Kelley something of a nonprofit entrepreneur. "Capitol Connection was nonprofit, but it made a lot of money to support GMU educational initiatives."

In an e-mail to staff following Kelley's death, university president Ángel Cabrera called him “one of the longest-serving, kindest and most dedicated members of the Mason family. Mike was an entrepreneur in true Mason style. Just in the last few weeks he was helping us explore several innovative ventures to expand Mason’s reach."

Kelley was founding director of the school's telecommunications masters program. But he didn't just talk the talk of communications policy. He was a former radio station owner and was a member of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting board of directors. He was also author of the book, "A Parent's Guide to Television."

He is survived by his wife, Robin, and a son.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.