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A telestrator is a device that allows its operator to draw a freehand sketch over a moving or still video image. Also known as a video marker, this device is often used in sports and weather broadcasts to diagram and analyze sports plays or incoming weather patterns. The user typically draws on a touchscreen with a finger or uses a pen on a graphics tablet. From the touchscreen or the tablet, the drawing signal is communicated to the telestrator, which overlays the video image with the drawing and outputs the combined signal for broadcast or display.
Today, the telestrator is used in a wide variety of applications (from educational, boardroom, church and military presentations to telemedicine conferences), where it can be used by both the near and far ends to annotate precise details of microscopic images or other medical images that are under consultation. The telestrator is also used in courtrooms to communicate details of multi-media images presented to a jury, as was most famously seen during the O.J. Simpson trial in March 1995.
The telestrator was invented by physicist Leonard Reiffel, who used it to draw illustrations on a series of science shows he did for public television's WTTW-ch11 in Chicago in the late 1950s. After he’d been using it to help illustrate details to his young science audience, he approached Chicago’s CBS affiliate WBBM-ch2 suggesting it be used in sports and weather. Chicago Bears football player-turned-sportscaster Johnny Morris, who worked for Channel 2, began using it as did the station’s Chief Meteorologist. According to Mr. Reiffel, “After that, New York began to hear about it, and it went on from there.”
NFL color commentator John Madden famously used a telestrator during football games for many years, boosting the device's popularity. His trademark frequent use of the device has been parodied on a number of occasions by comedian Frank Caliendo.
During his time as a color commentator for NBC and TNT of the NBA, Mike Fratello has been referred to as the "Czar of the Telestrator" from Marv Albert for his masterful way of diagramming basketball plays on screen.
Howie Meeker, NHL hockey color commentator and studio analyst, used the telestrator for many years on CBC's Hockey Night in Canada to analyze plays during intermissions. He was famous for shouting instructions to the "boys in the truck" - such as "Back it up! Back it up!" and "Stop it right there!" - in his trademark squeaky voice.
Wrestling announcer Bobby Heenan briefly used this while in the then-World Wrestling Federation, calling it the "Brain Scan". He would usually use it during a post-match replay to doodle derogatory pictures or comments.
Today, telestrators are widely used in broadcasts of all major sports. They have also become a useful tool in televised weather reports. It is also used by Ian Waite on Britain's Strictly Come Dancing: It Takes Two and humorously on the U.S. reality game show Wipeout, mostly by John Henson. The telestrator was also parodied on an episode of the FOX TV animated series Family Guy in November 2009.
- Faye, Marcia. “Alumni News: Wide Margin of Victory.” ITT Magazine, Winter 2011, p.1
- Pointmaker Press Releases, re: courtroom use, March 1, 1995 & videoconferencing use, April 15, 1998
- 6 Questions for Telestrator Inventor Leonard Reiffel. Popular Mechanics, October 1, 2001.
- Oaks, Chris. WIRED magazine, "John Madden on Grid Iron Tech," January 22, 1999
- "Telestrator Invention Wins Emmy Just In Time For Super Bowl". prweb.com. February 7, 2005. Retrieved 31 May 2012.