Living the Dream

Deanna Baker seems to be living many people's dream. Baker gets paid to watch TV. More specifically she provides closed captioning for national TV broadcasts. (Jake Bacon/Arizona Daily Sun)

Jake Bacon

Deanna Baker gets paid to watch National Football League games, ESPN, MSNBC, FOX News and other live TV programs.

If she felt like wearing her pajamas while she worked, she could.

Baker is her own boss and chooses when she wants to work and what programming she wants to watch.

If this reads like a bogus online job ad: It isn't.

And as easy as getting paid to watch TV sounds, most people probably couldn't do Baker's job.

She can type 260 words a minute on a stenographer machine with an accuracy above 98 percent. Even on a standard keyboard she can type 120 words per minute.

Baker provides closed captioning for national television broadcasts from her home in Doney Park.

Beginning in 1996, the Federal Communications Commission required all broadcasters to caption their programming.

While you're vegging out watching the Cardinals and eating pizza, she's furiously typing on her stenographer's keyboard to make sure the hard-of-hearing audience can enjoy the game.

A software program simultaneously translates what she's typing into English and transmits it to wherever the broadcast is originating from, then it gets sent to your TV.

"It isn't just the guy on the treadmill in the gym watching the basketball game," Baker said.

Last week, she captioned weather coverage along the East Coast as millions braced for the arrival of Hurricane Irene.

Baker said she's inspired to do her job because of a friend in Manhattan -- and the millions like him -- clinging to the TV for forecast information and relying on captioning because they're hard of hearing.

The audience will read what she's typed within seconds, mistakes and all.

"It's one finger off of a key that may make something funny come up," she said. "It kind of blows my mind how fast it really does come up."

Thirty years ago, Baker was a court reporter. But she got tired of sitting in courtrooms, and she jumped on closed captioning technology early on in its implementation.

She says she was one of the first several dozen closed captioners in the country.

Since then, she's also provided captioning for major conferences and meetings across the country and even works NAU graduation ceremonies.

While many people assume that live captioning comes from voice recognition software, Baker says that sort of technology is still far off.

The intricacies of accents and terminology are too complicated.

That gives her confidence her job is secure.

"Not many people can say they get paid to watch TV," she said.

Nor is every assignment enjoyable, though.

Baker said one of the things people in her field fear the most is breaking news.

On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, Baker was captioning the "Regis and Kelly Show" when the program was interrupted to report the first plane had crashed into the World Trade Center's North Building.

She had to work through the events of that morning and for the next week of nearly non-stop coverage, working off-and-on in two-hour shifts with other captioners across the country.

Eric Betz can be reached at ebetz@azdailysun.com or 556-2250.

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