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Hank Hain

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Interview Date: Saturday August 13, 2005
Collection: BCAP Collection

VAN ORMER:  We’re here today with Harry “Hank” Hain. The founder of Lewistown Nittany Media and one of the very early cable pioneers. And he is actually being awarded tonight at the BCAP Heritage Weekend dinner on August 13, 2005. Welcome Harry.

HAIN:  Thank you very much. It’s a pleasure being here.

VAN ORMER:  Why don’t you start out telling us – I know you got involved in the cable industry very early. What were you involved with that made you first of all, hear about cable as a business and what were you doing in those early days.

HAIN:  The early days I was involved in radio broadcasting, engineering and some consulting from about 1952. Our first system that we owned and still own today, we first turned it on August 26 of 1957.  At that time I believe we went on with 5 channels at the time. I built most of the equipment and the transmission line for many reasons. One being it was very efficient. It was cost effective and I didn’t have a lot of capital assets at the time, so we built practically everything. In fact, I’d be hard-pressed not to think of anything we didn’t really build at that time. It was open wire. We constructed an open wire system. The first village to be served is about 3 miles from the only possible site at that time to receive signal. So we needed an efficient transmission system so I built the system initially with open wire, number 12 copper weld.  Attached to trees, as many in this industry early on were doing. I did not use the railroad track which was commercially available because number one, it was costly and secondly it wasn’t as efficient, especially with rain and icing and that sort of thing.  So we built our own transmission system at that time. The amplifiers as well. The antennas – some were available.  I believe Simplicity Tool, I did buy a quarter rays and modified it for phase cancelling some of the Philadelphia signals which were coming in, would you believe, on channel 10 at the time.  Our first initial signals were Channel 4, WGAO-Lancaster was on 4 and then after the notorious freeze, they were allocated Channel 8.  Unfortunately when Lancaster first went on the air Channel 4 was interfering with Channel 4, Washington and the congressmen who visited the city to see this newfangled contraption television, all of a sudden instead of having clear pictures, they had channel interference. So since the FCC allocated this perhaps but a little heat on them and so they did normally nothing until they could get it sifted out and the system established. So that was one of the channels we had on was Channel 8 early on in the area but our system went on with 8. Channel 71 which later bought the assets of the defunct Channel 27, I believe it was WCNB, and 55 – Harrisburg which was say the stack pole organization which later got Channel 21.  So we went on with 27, 21, 8-Lancaster and WFBG-Altoona. Floyd B. Gable, I believe it was. Of course it was. That was our initial lineup.  We carried them on channel.  Which was 2, 4, 6, 8 and 10.  I later added 13-Baltimore. Baltimore had baseball and this was another item that could not be received in the area. And that was very important of course for the marketing of the service which it is today. Content still drives the marketplace as you well know.

VAN ORMER:  How many subscribers did you initially launch with? Do you remember?

HAIN:  Initially? Well when we turned it on it seemed to me there was about 14 at a distance of about 4 miles. Now initially for distribution we used RG11U which was available. Was basically all that was available at the time. It’s very stable and it had high loss. And so this limited the cascade ability. Also at that time, there was an effort by most manufacturers and cable companies to run high levels and I would early on buy some of the equipment that was designed for high levels at 10₵ on the dollar, and just run low level and run more amplifiers. My figures were better than the new equipment of course running at the high level outputs and distortion characteristics and this is how we really started.

VAN ORMER:  So in the early days, cable was just bringing off the air broadcast channels into areas that couldn’t receive them because of the geography.

HAIN: Exactly. In the narrow valleys in Mifflin County where we began, the mountains to the south shielded the Harrisburg stations but you had maybe 5 miles before the mountain range or Jacks Mountain range to the north so the western stations were received on the southern side of the valley and the northern side, some of the southern signals got through. Although Channel 8-Lancaster was the most effective to the northern side of the valley. The UHF channels were a problem because of the power levels, the propagation and the inefficient and high noise levels of the equipment. Not until the All Channel Law was adopted years later did any – up until that time I don’t think there was any real effort to improve on the UHF reception. Receiving equipment was just sort of an add-on. I think you probably had the UHF converters that you attached to your VHF sets and so forth. That was pretty much the setting in the early 1960s.

VAN ORMER:  So what was it when you first got involved that made you feel that it could be a growth business, a long-term viable legitimate business when a lot of people thought it was temporary?

HAIN:  Yes, see it was always viewed as a temporary business. I felt that it had great long-term promise and it has. People seem to be willing to pay for additional services, additional product. It was always high on the list and the fact that they didn’t have to go up and change the antenna, the roof mounted antennas. There were many purveyors of product of dubious parity over the years and a lot of smoke and mirrors along the way just to cloud the issue a bit. So many were very happy and willing to pay for a more reliable product and that’s what we delivering then and we’ve tried to do the same presently.

VAN ORMER:  Did you even then have a vision of more and more content being made available and being able to grow the business in that way?

HAIN:  Yes, I thought that would be as the product developed, as content developed, it was obvious that there would be more use even into narrowcasting.  I felt that there was – and some of the movies, of course, you had, there’s quite a market for the old movies we found. We, in fact did run some of those at one time. Just to see whether or not there was interest. We were always seeking an additional channel. The first to become available to our area was Channel 5, WTTG. They had an excellent signal and with a lot of effort you could receive it in our area. Some of the first attempts I used was a rhombic antenna and then I used other devices, low noise pre-amps. I developed low noise pre-amps because there wasn’t anything available. Then from that I developed into a business for a while but then – there’s side manufacturing which happened to many of the people early on. Ben Campbell for one. Campbell Antenna Service. He sold a lot of amplifiers and some pretty good pre-amps at times, early on.  Many businesses started that way.

VAN ORMER:  That’s great. What were some of the other major technological improvements that you made to your system over the years, especially in terms of delivery?

HAIN:  Some of the major technological improvements?  Some of them were not going with the flow in some things.  We built the first, I believe, all solid state 14 channel system.  Actually the franchising authorities were accusing me, as was the other competing hopeful franchise prospects, due to the fact that held off for almost a year in building in one area, in Mifflintown area and the reason being, I recognized that first of all the initial cable was poly-jacketed cable. It was mostly developed for work in the military during World War II and it was very inefficient from a transmission standpoint.  It also however was stable. Well the first effort that I can recall was to go to a phone, like phone coax, well poly being very coarse if you view it under a microscope, you can determine that the moisture will pass through. Now the distances we served, we initially started serving areas that just weren’t attractive to others and so we had to devise a way of not only providing the service but doing it in a cost effective manner and so I realized that, recognized that a solid sheath, aluminum sheath cable would prevent and give us the longevity that was absolutely necessary. We couldn’t afford to go and replace a cable in two or three years, you know. This just wasn’t an option with the area that we had to serve. So we hold off on that and finally when it was available, we built the system with the aluminum cable, I think that was very important.

The amplifiers were, the AMECO, the first ones that we bought from a manufacturer new, AT&B 60s and they had an ADC piggyback, ADC they called it but it was an optional device that could interface with any of the amplifiers. I used these for headend and I had 14 of them initially at our headend site. I built the bandpass filters, I used a shivysheved. Design and also temperature control by having a light bulb in Solar Tex boxes in order to…this gave us stability and minimized the temperature changes.  And we went on with the Mifflintown system with 14 channels initially when we went on the air. We had channel 2 through 13. Channel 13 was Baltimore and they carried --  back to programming. They carried the Oriole baseball and 11 and 15 started to carry the Phillies. So in those days the tuners were a variable tuner and you could tune a channel higher or lower on most of them. So if you were a baseball fan you got 13 was Baltimore and then the next channel, which now is Channel 23 in our configuration of channels, I believe, that’s where you would find the Phillies. And then we carried Channel 6, Johnstown, which was fairly weak and again took some specialized, low noise equipment and an antenna work at the site and that gave us free baseball. So now we had extra programming and the next effort of course was to get Channel 5, Washington. Then we had the items that the others that you could not receive off air and that was very important. That’s how we did the signals in the early part of our development.

VAN ORMER:  Great. Who were some of the people you were working with in other parts of the state? Did a lot of the operators come together and help push for legislation and other things that would help push the business forward?

HAIN:  Yes, I remember of course, John Walson, he was one. Again we were looking for a way to get in additional signals and John had picked up the signals of Channel 5, 7, 9, 11, I believe 13, New York City, down on Pimple Hill. He relayed them from microwave from Pimple Hill to Berwick to Bears Head Mountain to Danville. And his brother, Pete and he built a wooden structure which was remarkable overlooking Danville. And it may still exist today, I’m not sure, but it was a quiet…towers have noise when you’re dealing with low signal levels and this was a wooden structure and he relayed it to that point. And then the effort was to move to Pittsburgh. He wanted to expand the Danville system on to Pittsburgh and I did not have the subscriber base to justify microwave hops. So John was going to lease my – and he had to maintain common carrier regulations as filed, so he needed to charge me the same as everyone else but he said you need to charge me a couple of dollars less than what I charge you so I can at least pay the light bill and no, I said, you’re getting your power for nothing. I’m providing the power but anyways that was what we had planned. That was one of our earliest associations with John on that and some other things. Some low noise amps and we did some fun things along the way. He was always very supportive of the business and realized that most of the problems in the business came from misunderstanding and the Congress was perhaps, mostly perhaps the Congress but anyways we lobbied on a number of issues over the years. Shared attorneys at times and did a lot of common work but helping each other. I know one time I needed some supplies and come get what you need. It wasn’t a financial deal. We didn’t keep score.

VAN ORMER:  Were there any other of the early operators in Pennsylvania that you worked with?

HAIN:  Yes, Joe Santelli, a neighbor, is a friend. He’ll probably be attending this affair tonight. I think he’s receiving a Pioneer award and certainly justifiably so. He is been in it and very active in the business over the years and his father was active as so many have that migrated into this sort of business. He was in the service business and electronics and music and then later involved in the cable business. He started, I believe, the McVeytown system which they still own. And they have several others. Joe was active in that. As far as others that were involved early on, George Gardner. George was involved in Lewistown. At one time he was …designed and was part owner of the Lewistown system. I think that was his first and went on and was very successful later in Carlisle. That system started in Lewistown, Lewistown area. That was also the first system that I believe that Cox Cable basically their system started in Lewistown. Have you, were you aware of that?

VAN ORMER:  I was not.

HAIN: Okay. I believe you’d find that the after George’s father died, they elected to sell the Lewistown system and the owners were looking for a buyer and Tom Metzger whom I worked for at the radio stations knew I believe Leonard Reinsch and he was working with WSB and they had the…so that was his association and so they bought Lewistown, Lockhaven and Tyrone, which later became our friends at SCB Property for a while. And they were kept together but that was…they were good to work with and George was always promoting the cable industry and very good at lobbying and pulling things together and sharing things. He had a parts business, major parts distributor for cable at one time and that was once in Lewistown. I think he called it Television and Electronics Service Company and then moved to Carlisle and that was Telco, I believe and parts of that are still in existence. But he was one that was very active in cable.  Later on, as things developed when the congress got involved, it seemed as though there was an effort to have local origination and one of the worst solutions is forcing it on the industry.  I think that the magic number was any system with over 2,500 subscribers would have to have local origination.  We arranged -- our systems were over that at this time but we had them segregated in such a fashion that we didn’t fall into that category. I wanted to have local origination and why it would be our decision and not something that would be forced on us and we were already doing it anyways. Some high school events at the time. Elections, I think it was probably 1962 when we first started our origination elections in Juniata County. We went back to the all solid state part of the business in aluminum cable. They did not have ½ inch available so we had 4/12 trunk and 4/12 distribution. When the ½ inch was put in place between our headend and our system, I had 4/12 available so we had a very early return path from Juniata Courthouse which could be used for emergency alert before it was required but they have a railroad running right through the center of the town and there is a need for this sort of thing, so we just provided it. So that’s some of my early people that were involved and some of the reasons that we put this together.

VAN ORMER:  It’s great. One thing I wanted to ask you about is having had this company all these years, do you feel like customer relations have been a real…do you feel you have been able to deliver superior customer relations and do you feel that’s been true of a lot of the small operators in Pennsylvania? As opposed to some of these companies that have merged and merged and are now so huge.

HAIN:  Yes, I think it’s absolutely essential and maintaining the stability of your franchise. The good customer relations is very important.  The rate sensitive and the public in general, but if you simply give them the information and once they, education of the public is some of the problems that cable has and how we’re trying to address seems to be a very important aspect of it. The retransmission consent issue has always been something that we have opposed in some ways. Must carry when this issue came up we had one station, Channel 27.  Some of our systems had retransmission consent, others were must carry. Since there’s no limits on what the demands are, the station’s arrangement is to have, to let the public carry the mail for them, let them argue the station’s position by blacking out the one area and the next adjacent system will have a signal on and of course the timing is essential. Like the last couple of franchise battles ago, retransmission consent -- timeout until I get my numbers right.

VAN ORMER:  Sure.

HAIN: I need to be careful because we have to renegotiate with these guys. Let’s see, what year, that was two sessions ago, was it not Mike?

MHAIN:  It was the early 90s.  1993 or 4.

HAIN:  I think it was around 1992 that we had this. Wanted to get the facts correct.  The question was on that one?

VAN ORMER:  We were talking about customer relations but then you were talking about retransmission. You know can you talk about that because it’s a key issue.

HAIN:  When we get to the public relations area, on this issue we were faced with an issue whereby we could take the ESPN2 service.

VAN ORMER:  This is for on the record?

HAIN:  Yes, we can go with that. ABC stations since the merger with ABC and the ABC network and ESPN2, if we would agree to carry ESPN’s new effort, then they would negotiate our carriage of the local ABC in areas where they wanted retransmission consent. Meaning that of course we had to have their consent to carry the signal and I felt if we needed ESPN and thought it was a good business decision and our subscribers need it, we would do that and we would not allow this to affect our ABC relationship. So I think the end result was we took them off. My two systems and I believe the system in Lykens, we took off Channel 27 and it was off for 3 or 4 days and we had a number of phone calls and the newspaper in the area, they covered the story. We were depriving our customers of this situation. We had been…there had been  Fall Fest in the village of Borough Port Royal at the time and 27 never carried any programs or done anything at all in that area and all of sudden they were sending their camera crews up to Port Royal to televise the Fall Fest. Well, the Borough Council got together after we had explained what was going on and they passed an ordinance that there would be no camera crews from 27 or anyone else without approval and the police officer was to escort them to the Burrow limits should they happen to show up. And then a few days later, we managed get retransmission consent agreement executed about an hour and a half before the Saturday Notre Dame and I believe Michigan State played. And they were listed like one and three in the nation. And this was what producing a lot of the heat but that was an example of good public relations and it paying off and the public being absolutely totally behind us once we explained our situation. And I think rather than some lobbying is as effective as simply telling it as it is to the public. Of course there are constraints in the contracts that you cannot divulge what the costs are, I think maybe sometime we should develop a situation to allow them to see what percentage of their bill of the total price the cable companies pay. What percentage goes to the services such as C-SPAN and what service costs of some the others such as of course ESPN.  This would be interesting reading.

VAN ORMER:  Yes, it would.

HAIN: And that’s a good case for perhaps going to an à la carte system in the future and the technologies pretty much in place for that.

VAN ORMER:  The next thing I was going to ask you actually what are the primary challenges in today’s climate for small independent operators and how do you think, do you think that’s one of the top ones?  Is it programming costs and how do you think it’s going to resolve itself?

HAIN:  Well there should be a flat playing field I believe on that. I have my own views as to how this occurs. One might be to simply raise the programming costs to a maximum of what anyone is paying and then everyone pay exactly the same for programming.  Then it reverts back to just being a conduit which is the best one. I think we’re positioned very well for that. Small, large, independents, we’ve always tried to be ahead of the curve on most things. We really want to be very much in advance of the art or the trailing edge. I’m not comfortable in the middle.  We need to lead or need to be on the trailing edge for a lot of reasons. As an example the all solid state system, it lasts, I believe, 27 or 28 years and when we finally replaced it, many of the other systems 4 and 5 times over that period for various reasons. The electronics will continue to change but your backbone and passive devices are going to remain relatively stable barring any telephone crashes and physical damage. That’s totally unavoidable. I think we’re in fine shape in that area.

VAN ORMER:  Is there anything that’s happened...that’s transpired in the history of cable that’s taken you by surprise?  Technologically speaking or from really any aspect of cable. Have you been able to kind of plod along as you’ve gone through your career or is there anything that has happened that you’ve been really surprised about?

HAIN:  Not really.

VAN ORMER:  You’ve been able to kind of follow it.

HAIN:  Yes, I don’t think there’s been that many things that were not really anticipated. The satellite areas, I think that it developed a little more rapidly than I felt that it would. I was surprised that MMDS did develop earlier but that was not due to the technology, it was the fact that there was no spectrum space. Had there been spectrum space allocated to that business, it would have flourished and maybe even been more sensible and cost effective than the satellite dissemination of service.  It was just the fact that the satellites were out there and all of sudden there was piracy and uncontrollable piracy and so this has developed.  We sort of backed into that business and then with KU band, it became of course cost effective with the higher power units to deliver in quantity to the populace.

VAN ORMER:  Of all the innovations that cable has made along the way, do you feel there’s been a singular pivot point where the industry really changed?

HAIN:  I believe the integrated circuit probably might have been the one development that enabled many of the other changes. Not only and on into the computer areas and I think that’s probably the most important development, the integrated circuit which has enable all of these other technologies.  Going from magnetic to static was a major advance in that area but I think that’s what’s enabled most of the other things. And this has been, this really was driven by the space program. Space technology probably enabled it because there was money available for our basic research which was always has been a concern of mine. A particular one now, where so much of our research is being done overseas, our military concerns may not be met by local suppliers. We’re not maybe controlling our own destiny as we should. These things are concerns I have and in the industry as well because I see so many of our companies going offshore. The educational effort is still there but if you look at the papers that are on the cutting edge of the technology, there are so many more, about 75% of them were from our country maybe 25 years ago. Now you might be looking at 3 to 5 areas of only IEEE and particularly if you look at the proceedings, these areas I’m concerned about. The business will be fine as long as we have innovators, then people who have imagination in addition to controlling the bottom line. We still have to look to the future.

VAN ORMER:  Do you think there are any innovations that you see that are being developed right now, that you think are going to be developed shortly that will again have a major effect on the future of the industry?

HAIN:  I do not think there are that many that are being developed for this industry but they’re out there. It’s for us to take advantage of them. Most of the things that were developed were developed to enable cable to flourish were developed for other purpose by other industries and it was just recognized by the people, some of the people that knew what they could do when others didn’t know that couldn’t work, so when they did work.

VAN ORMER:  That’s kind of continued to be the case.  From your perspective what do you think that the greatest contribution of Pennsylvania operators has been to the overall industry?

HAIN:  Talking to each other. Sharing a common goal and lobbying and trying to get position in Congress in areas where we’ve been playing on a very tilted playing field, I think the Pennsylvania operators have always worked together because of the geographical locations of their systems and early on, it was sort of an arrangement to help each other share the knowledge and share the problems and threats and everything else and not keep score perhaps.  But just do what needed to be done and I think that’s has been key in our Pennsylvania systems for a long while.

VAN ORMER:  What would you say that your proudest moment and most rewarding career moment has been?

HAIN: I have to think on that one for a little while. There have been so many. There’ve been so many.

VAN ORMER:  Do you think there’s been an overall legacy left in the industry?

HAIN:  I think it’s just quietly built over the years. I think some of the things that we’ve done have been, we did just because they were available. They could be done. We provided service in Juniata County since I guess it was 1992 or 3, somewhere in there to the school systems. We built a return throughout the systems primarily were planning to use it for monitoring equipment because our system’s being in rural areas, truck rolls are expensive so you can see a problem before it occurs then it’s a good time to address the issue and so we had return bandwidth and there was a need in the school systems for this so we provided it at no cost because our costs weren’t that high. We wired the schools and it seems to have pleased the public in the area. It’s been a good thing for the youngsters and then of course, when the internet became available, why we provided the return path and it was natural to move into that area. So now the school’s had the high speed internet available and then they’d go home to the plain old telephone technology and it was one of the better marketing tools that we’ve had. I think I’m very pleased with the way that has rolled out. There have been many others, that’s just touching on one of them.

VAN ORMER:  That’s great. Is there anything else you’d like to talk about that we haven’t discussed?

HAIN: I think no at this time but we can perhaps some of these things, I don’t want to be too lengthy on these. We could spend hours at this but probably the content might be a little redundant.

VAN ORMER:  Well, you definitely made an impact, not only on your community in Pennsylvania but national industry and we appreciate that. Thank you for your time today.

HAIN:  Well, the pleasure’s been mine. Thank you. There was CATA. You asked about what was one of the most important accomplishments or one that I feel most proud of things, I don’t know, there’s been a lot of them. Incredible weeks. I remember one week when I … probably one of my best weeks was when we turned on a new system a little bit ahead of schedule. I was involved in an ultrasound problem and I developed a system in ultrasound and Michael… then we stopped all of this and in three days built the winning soap box derby. I think that week was a very good week. That was a fun weekend. When you look back on it, I don’t know that there was five hours of rest in the whole week but that was a very rewarding week,  I would tell you that and you wanted to touch on the CATA thing. This is back to the origination part, when systems over 2500 would need to originate and pay copyright for a number issues and we belonged and George had suggested that I join the NCTA and at that time they were trying to get all systems to pay and since we didn’t originate and change the product, I didn’t feel that was really appropriate, so nor did a number of others. Bunk Dobson from Painted Post, New York and Warren Fribley and Cal Moore in particular, he was very vociferous and Bob Cooper who had CAD Corp.  At the time, he was sort of the glue at the moment that held the publications together. So we set up a committee and took our case to the Congress and were very successful and that’s what was the origination of CATA. In fact, one of the best things that I did in the group was we hired Steve Effros and he’s still involved with CATA and doing a wonderful job and they were working with the smaller organizations at that time and they still are now as far as I know. But that was one of the early things. The Congress will listen if you present your case appropriately and lobbying gets the door open but you have to show a good cause even if it doesn’t work, throw them out, get someone else to do the job. So often, he who has the golden egg makes the rules, that isn’t always the case. When you carry your cause and it’s correct and true to the people, you don’t have the problem. They’ll take care of it for you. They are the smartest populace in the world. Just don’t get any credit.