Chyron versus the smartphone

Susan Flanagan
Send to a friend

Send this article to a friend.

From clunky old computers to sleek new devices, technology never ceases to amaze (and escape) me

In 1990, I worked at CBC-TV in Halifax. At that time there was a computer named Chyron who was a marvel. Not only because of the fact he filled an entire room, but also because of what he could do.

An operator works at a Chyron machine, used by journalists to add graphics behind newsreaders who read the news on a teleprompter.  — Submitted photo

Chyron was like a magical graphics machine. He did wonderful things like make supers — that’s the term TV journalists use for people’s names that appear under their faces when they talk on TV.

Chyron could make graphics appear behind the newsreaders as they telepromptly read the news. He was truly amazing.

I was in journalism school back when I worked in the Halifax newsroom. (The profs realized the value in on-the-job experience and thus anyone who worked at a TV station, radio station or newspaper was exempt from class while working, but still had to do all the tests and assignments).

While I worked as a newsroom gopher, skittering up and down back stairs with lists of supers for the evening news in my hand, my boyfriend/future husband got a job at the same CBC building with Atlantic Lotto.

On Friday nights, he was responsible for receiving the winning lotto numbers via fax from New Brunswick. He then had to call N.B., confirm the numbers and make sure they got put into Chyron.

His first shift he received the fax, made the call to confirm, marched downstairs and started putting the numbers into Chyron himself. Bad idea. The technician made it clear that he was Chyron’s gatekeeper and that no one but he was to touch Chyron’s monolithic bulk.

Chris’s job was simply to check the numbers and deliver them to the technician. Period. Then he was free to go. Easy work, really, and great pay. Still, Chyron remained an intriguing untouchable mystery.

That year, 1990, was the first time I touched a computer mouse. At age 23, I was less adept at manoeuvring the cursor around the screen than my surprise baby was at two. I felt like I did when I tried to use a sewing machine.

The needle careened out of control, making seams on the fabric look like a map of downtown St. John’s. There was nothing straight about them.

My first computer experience was on a Mac, borrowed from my engineer sister, who has more patience than Rob Ford supporters. She stood by as the cursor zipped about the screen completely beyond my control and gently gave me tips of how to rein it in and tell it where I wanted it to go.

It is difficult for my children to imagine how it was back then. In journalism school at King’s in the early ’90s, nothing was digitized.

Radio stories, for example, were done on reel-to-reel tape. We had to produce a radio show every week and different students had to deliver news stories, cued up and ready to go.

I remember working on a radio story when I accidentally cut off the end of a word and threw the tape end in the garbage bucket. Real tape, not virtual. My former classmate, who now happens to be my editor here at The Telegram, Peter Jackson, dug through the reams of cut up reel-to-reel tape in the garbage. He whipped them back and forth through the machine, listening forward and back to the blup, blups, head cocked until he found the syllable I was missing.

He saved me that day and I don’t think I ever properly thanked him.

In fact, I seem to remember shortly afterwards he needed a camera person to film his TV story, but I had aerobics to go to and buzzed off. How horrible was that? So 23 years later, thanks Peter for saving my hide, despite the fact I didn’t repay the favour.

The following February, a bunch of people in my class loaded into a van and drove to Boston for the February break. There we toured the Christian Science Monitor and were all stunned to witness an employee put a photo slide — you know, the little thing in a cardboard frame — in a machine and a print popped out the other side. It was pure science fiction.

Flash forward to 2013 and I’m still amazed by technology — some days I’m dazzled by the fact images appear on my TV screen. I’m a little behind the times, technically.

So, three days ago, when I upgraded my ancient BlackBerry to a fancy-schmanzy Samsung something or other, everyone was gobsmacked. My children didn’t think I was ready for a touch screen, but I had taken No. 3 along to the store as my techie, and he thought because this phone has a simpleton mode, I would be OK.

I could have continued with the latest BlackBerry, but then I would continue to pocket-dial my husband or No. 2, whoever the BlackBerry wanted to talk to at the time. Now, thanks to South Korean software, no more pocket-dialling for me.

The store clerk, Sarah R., told me my new phone is smart. Yet it had a bit of trouble easing itself into email. After she helped me set up my Sympatico account, my phone could receive emails, but not send. And my company account was even more tangly.

Luckily for me, Sarah R. found the equivalent of my Mac-mouse-teaching sister in the form of Jason J., Telus’s learning specialist. Sarah R. set up an immediate appointment for me when she realized what she was dealing with. After working two years on the counter, Jason J. advanced to the chairs outside the counter to teach newbies like me how to use their phones.

It took a while for Jason J. to fix up my pesky email accounts, but after that things went along dickory-do. Since my session with Jason J., I am now able to pick up a call (the first time the phone rang after I got home with No. 3, I patted and poked but couldn’t figure out how to connect; needless to say the call was lost), send and receive emails, take a photo of a bird and send it to someone.

I can even text. I still have trouble with the fact the back button disappears within a second of using it. I’m a visual person and if there’s no button visible, then it may as well not exist.

I’m sure No. 3 or nos. 1, 2 or 4 could have told me most of these things but, like learning to drive standard, sometimes it’s best to have someone outside the family teach you.

So, now I have a hand-sized smartphone that has infinitely more brain cells than the mystical room-sized Chyron of the ’90s.

I was sure Chyron would be long obsolete. But I checked, and Chyron, I’ll have you know, is very much alive and well. He’s come a long way since he was first developed in the ’70s for use in departure and arrival screens at airports and for breaking news that appeared along the bottom of TV screens.

He continues to churn out on-air digital graphics like those used in Canada’s first 3D hockey broadcast at Toronto’s Air Canada Centre last year.

Chyron is proud of his achievements, as well as his new portable size. He trades on NASDAQ: CHYR and has recently joined with a Swedish company and has offices all over the world.

Like Chyron, I, too, am not yet obsolete. For example, I taught No. 3 something when we were buying my phone.

“I was thinking of getting Liam a turntable for Christmas,” I said. “What do you think?”

“What’s a turntable?” asked No. 3.

“It’s what you play records on.”

No. 3 gave me a funny look. “You mean vinyl? I thought you were talking about some sort of rollerblading thing.”

See, I still know a thing or two. Uh oh, my phone is talking to me and there’s no one here to translate what she’s trying to tell me. Jason J., where are you?

Susan Flanagan can be reached at


Thanks to Jason J’s lesson, I now know the following:

1. A widget is an on-screen display or short-cut to an app without having to go into the app, like a calendar or notepad. Widgets do not use up my 200 MG per billing period like apps would.

2. The menu button, although on the left, is the same as right-clicking a computer mouse.

3. Servers are not concrete things located in a building somewhere, but rather ethereal.

4. My email messages go to the ethereal server. Then my phone periodically checks the server to see if I have messages. That’s why sometimes a bunch of emails pop up all at once.

5. If I’m hiking alone on the East Coast Trail and break my leg, I can email for help even if I have no coverage at that time. As I crawl out the trail, as soon as the phone finds a signal, it will send the lifesaving message by itself.

6. You need a gmail account to get apps. (I’m not ready for apps, so no hurry in setting up the gmail.)

7. Those iphone gloves actually have special fibres in the fingers rather than just rubber.

8. Telus uses Bell Aliant towers.

Organizations: CBC, The Telegram, Telus Christian Science Monitor Samsung Sympatico Air Canada Centre Bell Aliant

Geographic location: Halifax, New Brunswick, Boston Canada Toronto

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5

Thanks for voting!

Top of page