A network dedicated to lifting up the hearing impaired recently made a comeback after 17 years on hiatus.
The Silent Network was created in 1979 and won countless awards for the vast array of entertainment the network offered during its 40-year lifespan, Silent Network co-owner David Pierce said.
“We have received at least around 35 to 40 awards,” Pierce said. “Notable ones to mention are seven Emmy awards and five Barbara Jordan Media Awards from the Texas Governor. The network has classic television series, movies, cartoons, magazine shows, music shows, travel shows, educational shows, talk shows, documentaries and so on. It also has highly visual programs that are language free, presenting no language barriers for anyone around the world to enjoy.”
To celebrate the network’s return and 40th anniversary, Pierce said their programming was made available on new, up-to-date services.
“It is now available via OTT (Over The Top) television which is the best medium for a niche network like Silent Network,” he said. “It also operates a second network called Access Network, which provides mainstream programming with open captions for deaf, hard of hearing and hearing viewers. As part of the 40th-anniversary celebration, we launched a second OTT network for Roku players and Roku televisions in 2019 to complement the mobile OTT network, which launched in 2019. The Roku version is free for everyone.”
Throughout the years, the network has garnered an expansive footprint within show business, and bringing that history to audiences has required extensive restorative work.
“The network archive has 15,000 television programs, and they slowly undergo videotape preservation and restoration before they can be released as newly remastered editions in high definition” Russell said. “The restoration work is painstakingly done by our motion picture film and videotape preservation company, Davideo Productions, which is also based in Seguin and San Antonio. The relaunched network has over 300 shows running at this time, which is in the form of about 23 separate TV series of several episodes each and new episodes are released periodically.”
Pierce said the network aims to provide a platform of expression for a group that is often overlooked.
“There are about 300 different sign language systems around the world,” he said. “For people who communicate via sign language, closed captioning doesn’t necessarily serve them effectively. The original co-founders in 1979 saw the need for a venue where talented deaf and hard of hearing creators could work to produce programming in their native language of sign language. Today, there are many Spanish and African American networks on TV, but no deaf TV networks. The advent of OTT is the perfect venue for a niche network like ours to provide programming to this underserved population.”
Although the network offers entertainment for all, Pierce said that it has often had to fight a stigma that the network is only geared toward those who are hearing impaired.
“Even after the passage of the ADA, discrimination against deaf and hard of hearing people persists, and changing the attitudes to realize that it is not only for the deaf world is slowly happening,” he said. “There are those in the general public who do not support sign language, but these negative beliefs will not deter us from our work for this greatly underserved section of the population. In a standard household, you may have older adults who benefit from the captions and children who can improve their reading plus others who will benefit from improved English.”
The Silent Network went into “economic hibernation” in 2000 until it was relaunched in 2017 as part of a senior citizens channel in Las Vegas, Pierce said. Since its return, the network has worked to find its place back in the spotlight thanks to the work of Pierce who has been with the network for several decades.
“It has enjoyed the support of the community over the years, and the several awards we’ve won are a testimonial to this support,” he said. “When the network shut down in 2000, the loss was felt by many. People were thrilled by its return. When the channel relaunched in 2017, I got back in the saddle to get the network up and running again. As time progressed, we were able to branch out on our own and launched another network to complement Silent Network, which is called Access Network, which has programming that appeals to the general public.”
Pierce, who is also the co-founder of the Seguin Cine-Museum, said the network holds some of his fondest memories when he oversaw thousands of hours of entertainment throughout the ’80s and ’90s.
“I served in various capacities for the different owners until I became the sixth owner,” he said, “My job functions ranged form vice president to chief operating officer over the years. I am burned out but still trucking along as this service is needed. My proudest moments were when I was running the satellite operations for the network during the 1980s to 1990s. I was responsible for over 49,000 hours of national satellite broadcasts. This was accomplished using robotic automation 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with an average of 1,500 live edits on the air per day.”
Moving forward, Pierce said that he and the network plan to continue producing and refurbishing high quality entertainment until no longer able.
“Many of the series on the network are new along with the classic shows in newly remastered editions,” he said. “As a network, we do not produce everything in-house. We have relationships with producers all over the country who license their programming to run on the network, which helps lessen the burden of us having to produce everything. I plan to keep cranking out shows every week for the next 30 years, until I get too old to turn on the equipment. By that time, the younger generation should have already taken over to continue the job.”
Those who wish to view the programming of the Silent Network can watch for free on Roku players and Roku televisions on Access Network. Viewers without access to Roku will find the mobile network at www.AcessNetwork.tv .