Telestrator Invention Wins Emmy Just In Time For Super Bowl

Share Article

The Telestrator, which enriched SuperBowl 39 coverage last night was first introduced to a national audience 23 years ago by John Madden during Super Bowl 16. The invention is now used world-wide on many kinds of news and sports events. Physicist Dr. Leonard Reiffel, inventor of the Telestrator was just awarded an individual 2004 National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Emmy for pioneering the Telestrator and "Telestration". Engineering Emmys typically go to companies or groups. Only two individual engineering awards have been made by the Academy in over 10 years.

Twenty three years ago, TV coverage of Football and many other sports changed dramatically when the Telestrator—that now famous and familiar TV sketching device that enables experts to draw those glowing free-hand explanations right on your screen -- made its national debut before the huge audiences watching SuperBowl XVI. The device has been used globally ever since. But this year, its inventor, Chicago-based physicist Dr. Len Reiffel, was especially proud of his brainchild when those enlightening scribbles appeared on TV screens during last night's Super Bowl XXXIX.

The National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences had just presented Reiffel with its 2004 Engineering EMMY for his pioneering efforts in developing Telestrator technology. Reiffel’s award is only the second in more than 10 years given to an individual rather than to a company or group.

The first public showing of Telestrator was in the late 60’s when Reiffel hosted a TV series on science at WTTW-Ch11, Chicago in cooperation with the Chicago City Colleges. The first sale of a Telestrator was also in Chicago, at WBBM-Ch2 in the mid-seventies. (Early pictures of Telestrator in use at Ch2 are available. The early Telestrators were almost as big as small refrigerators. Nowadays high school kids could build one with a few chips and a touch screen.) The original application at Ch2 was in the weather segment, but Johnny Morris (ex-Chicago Bear and Sportscaster for WBBM) evaluated its use for NFL games, and Johnny and Reiffel’s team tried it out on a few Chicago Bear games. CBS then used Telestrator in the 1981 NFL Playoff Games, and at Super Bowl XVI, which allowed John Madden to be the first one to take The Telestrator national. Reiffel recalls, “When Madden first used The Telestrator in the playoffs and Super bowl, I was standing right next to him ready to help with any malfunctions or confusion. I soon learned that he got very excited when on-air. He’s a very big guy. As he jumped around and pointed and drew his “Telestration”, there were times when he almost knocked me right out of the announce booth.” Madden, of course, quickly became the most visible user of Telestrator technology in America.

When the Awards Committee asked Madden if he thought that the Telestrator was Emmy worthy, he said this in typical John Madden fashion: “Heck, I don’t know what’s taken you folks so long. The Telestrator is a great technical device that deserves the award.”

In its recommendation for the Award the Committee report stated: “There are so many telestration devices employed and manufactured today by a number of companies around the world that one must know that the Telestrator has made a tremendous impact. Telestration equipment is utilized in all aspects of media, and multi-media, education, and corporate communications – in live and interactive presentations or programs. Just a quick search on “Google” with a key word “Telestrator” will bring you enormous amounts of information (4700 hits) on uses for this technology. In our broadcast television world it is hard to watch a sporting event, weather cast, or news show that does not employ telestration techniques and technology.”

As for Len Reiffel, a prolific inventor and holder of about fifty patents, he has moved on to other things. Exelar Corporation. (, which he heads, is developing his inventions for improving radiation treatment of cancer using a novel superconducting magnet technique. Another series of his inventions, designed to create “Attentive Spaces” that can conduct many complex tasks simultaneously, is being developed by his Luxelar Corporation ( “In an Attentive Conference Room, a whole group of John Maddens could do Telestrator-like things just by waving their fingers in mid-air. Now that would be quite a sight,” Reiffel says with a smile.

# # #

Share article on social media or email:

View article via:

Pdf Print

Contact Author

Ronnie Rickhoff