Narrative Television Network helps blind watch TV and movies


By Jim North
Southeast Campus Editor

Introducing preparation to opportunity can secure a life-long friendship with success.

Jim Stovall was born and raised in Tulsa. As a young man, his ambition was to become a professional football player in the NFL.

One year prior playing a season of football, he was diagnosed with a condition that caused him to gradually lose his sight.

Due to the impairment, Stovall transitioned to becoming an Olympic weightlifter instead.

By his 20s, he did in fact lose his sight, and then founded the Narrative Television Network (NTN), a system whereby blind and visually impaired people can access television and movies.

Preparation makes opportunity valid, according to Stovall.

“Unfortunately, a lot of people aren’t willing to do preparation unless there’s an opportunity right in front of them and the world doesn’t work that way,” he says.

By the time an opportunity presents itself, it is too late to start preparing, he adds. Success happens when the two of them collide.

NTN was started in 1988. Stovall and a legally blind Tulsa woman named Kathy Harper came up with the idea of serving the 13 million blind and visually impaired individuals in North America, and millions more around the world.

Television and movies are the number one recreational activity in society, says Stovall, which became the open door of opportunity for the new network.

By 1990, NTN achieved a national distribution deal and an Emmy award won for its first season on national

Stovall calls those days the “beginning of everything.”

How narrative television works: writers prepare a script for the small breaks in dialogue between the spoken lines of a movie or television show.

If there is an eight-second gap between the lines, a writer will determine what the most important and effective sequence of words which can be used to describe the moment.

Stovall offers an example: “He slowly walks across the room and peers out the window. She points a gun. The car speeds away.”

In this way, the surrounding, spoken lines of dialogue come to life for the listener.

Listeners then can become watchers, accessing thousands of hours of television programming per year.

Stovall’s habits of preparation have opened the opportunity to author 30 books, with 10 million currently in print. He has produced seven major motion pictures, based upon his books.

For all his writing, Stovall says the hardest he has ever done is for NTN. Writing must be most concise, descriptive and well-timed to fill the small gaps in dialogue.

NTN programming has spread through North America and around the world on the major networks: ABC, NBC, CBS and FOX—as well as top cable networks.

NTN does considerable work for Annenberg Media and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. The educational programming makes it possible for blind kids to go to mainstream schools, and thus compete with their peers.

The focus of Stovall’s mission is comprised of five rotating opportunities: movies, television, books, speeches and columns.

“I’m in one business … I’m in the message business … I reach people with a message.”

Stovall comments on the key components of his success.

“It’s not about me. You’ve got to do what you say you’re going to do every time. No one makes money. We earn money, and the only way we earn it is we create value for other people, and the more we create, the more money we earn. Anybody that wants to have more success either needs to create more value for the people they currently serve, or serve more people.”

Stovall has advice for those with a barrier of blindness and other limitations or impairments.

“Focus on your mission, not the method. Blindness is limiting to my methods. It’s not limiting to my mission,” he says.

Though he can’t see, Stovall has travelled around the world more than 80 times.

Due to the loss of sight, he also could not read. But it has not stopped him from reading a book per day for the last 20 years.

Stovall estimates he has read 7,000 plus volumes by acquiring audio books and listening to them at high-speed, 700-800 words per minute.

“Yeah, I can’t read. But that doesn’t mean I can’t be the most-well read, most literate person I know. Becoming a reader made me want to be a writer,” he says.

Frustrated by not being able to watch TV or movies, Stovall turned preparation into an opportunity with NTN. “Obviously that created a whole business and career for me,” he says.

Differentiating between sight and vision, he explains that vision tells people where they can be and what is possible, as opposed to seeing what is immediately around them.

He comments on the value of great purpose.

“I believe the meaning of life is to find our gift, what it is we’ve been given … and the purpose of life is to give it away.”

Stovall describes those people as ‘happy’ and ‘satisfied’. Those who either haven’t found their gift or don’t give it away become frustrated in life, he says.

Blind and deaf, Helen Keller attributed a great deal of her success to Anne Sullivan who helped, supported and taught her. Stovall says he too has been surrounded with outstanding people, contributing to his success.

Like Stovall, Keller was a prolific author, overcoming her physical impairments.

“The problem is there are a lot of people out there that have all their senses, but they don’t have any common sense. They think they can do everything on their own, but when you collaborate with the right people—one and one equals 10—because it ceases to add and begins to multiply.”

Stovall wants to be remembered as one who did the best he could with what he had, in order to help as many people as possible.

“My legacy would not be what I did, as much as what other people do [as a result].”

He says, “Too often, we’re waiting for all the lights to be green before we’ll leave the house, and life doesn’t work that way.”

Stovall concludes by saying the world belongs to the man or woman with a big dream that will take the next step and figure out what to do after that.

“Find the most compelling ways to give your gift away.”

Those people, he says, will lead a most happy and successful life.

For more information about NTN or obtaining Jim Stovall’s materials, go to, write or call (918) 627-1000.