P - Q Listings

Save to PDF
  BACK TO ORAL HISTORIES

Pioneer Panel 1: History of The Cable TV Pioneers Part 1

tcclogoblack

Interview Date: Tuesday August 14, 2012
Interview Location: 2000 Buchtel Boulevard, Denver, CO 80210
Interviewer: Paul Maxwell
Collection: The Pioneer Cable History Collection

Cable TV Pioneers Panel – Early History
Paul Maxwell, moderator; Gail Sermersheim, Stan Searle, panelists.


MAXWELL:  Hello, I’m Paul Maxwell. I’m here at The Cable Center in Denver for the Cable TV Pioneer Oral History Project and to do that we thought we would go back to the beginning. I’d like to quickly introduce my fellow panelists here. Gail Sermersheim is a former senior vice president of Home Box Office, HBO and Stan Searle who was probably kind of the original pioneer. So in order to start, Stan at the time was a publisher and editor also, because you let your opinions show more than once, (Laughter) like I have too and a mutual friend of ours actually, Sam Street, suggested it [Pioneers]. So why don’t you fill us in on what Sam said and what you did to get this started.

SEARLE:  Sure, during the NCTA here in Denver in 1965, Sam suggested to me that we ought to do something to honor the pioneers of the cable business. I was not one. I was a neophyte. Had been associated with the cable industry about 4 or 5 years. Anyway Sam suggested to honor the people who had started the industry and I thought it was a great idea, weighed the cost and decided that it might cost us too many friends and customers to pick out a dozen or two people and aggravate and offend another two hundred. So it was actually following that we got up our courage to do the awards. To recognize the guys who had originated and had been leaders in the industry. So we made the presentation at the 1966 NCTA Convention in Miami.

MAXWELL:  So, to set the context, you were publishing a couple of magazines at the time. Tell us what they were.

SEARLE:  We published a magazine called TV Communications that had morphed into being called TVC at some point and CATV Weekly. And had by then had ownership interest in a little cable system or two but mostly we were in publishing.

MAXWELL:  So you promoted the whole concept of the pioneers and I assumed you covered it from Miami?

SEARLE:  Yes. What I did really was just get some plaques made. I asked three guys whom I trusted, who knew everybody to select the first honorees.

MAXWELL:  And they were really the guys who built the first systems. I think to name just a couple because remembering 21 of them is pretty hard for us at our age. Milt Shapp was the originator of Jerrold. Bob Tarlton. A lot of people from Pennsylvania, right?

SEARLE:  Sure. George Barco was the third president of NCTA. Martin Malarkey, who was the first and Bill Daniels. They were the leaders.

SERMERSHEIM:  Ben Conroy.

MAXWELL:  Ben was one. It’s an interesting thing because it wasn’t really a formal organization and somebody, do you remember who, called the dinner that happened at ’67.

SEARLE:  I have no idea. All we did was honor some people. We didn’t start an organization. It became known as the Pioneers Club, CATV Pioneers. But who convened the dinner in ’67, I have no idea, but 15 of the 21 showed up and after that it just spontaneously became essentially a social group.

MAXWELL:  It still is a social group, by the way.

SEARLE:  We’re in the building that the social group created.  Tens of millions of dollars.

MAXWELL:  Yes, that’s true and I guess we were all partly responsible for that at some point. The three of us are pioneers. When did you get inducted?

SEARLE:  1975.

MAXWELL:  1975. Gail?

SERMERSHEIM:  1982.

MAXWELL:  I was ’89. I won’t make any other comments about the timing.

SERMERSHEIM:  I’m very glad you asked because I didn’t want to be considered one of the originals. (Laughter)

MAXWELL:  Well, none of us was originals.

SEARLE:  We’re sort of the sons of the pioneers.

MAXWELL:  Right. How did it develop into a group? It kind of was self-perpetuating. Did you in ’67 and ’68 add people to the group?

SEARLE:  I never added anybody. Although I took some abuse over who didn’t get added over a number of years but I called on three people and they selected the first 21 and then that group, ever since the Pioneers have elected others to be inducted and honored.

MAXWELL:  It was just a handful in the beginning. What was it – 4 or 5 or 6 got inducted each year in the beginning. And at some point, it got a little bit more formal because it’s not easy to hold a dinner for a couple of hundred people. It kind of kept growing. This last year in Boston, it was oversubscribed. One heck of a nice party actually. And later one of the guys who put that together will be up here to talk.

SEARLE: The hosting of the dinners has been passed around so one of the Pioneers is assigned the responsibility for each dinner. It’s not an ongoing committee. At least it wasn’t before.

MAXWELL:  Now there is an actual formal board. Self-perpetuating, formal board. That is kind of cloistered I guess in one sense.

SERMERSHEIM:  I think if you look back at Ben Conroy’s oral history and see some of the history of the Pioneers; you’ll see that he took care of sort running things, if you would, those few years. Then there was Bill Adler and Ed Murphy, who also sort of morphed into helping out dinners and helping with events.

MAXWELL:  So how did NCTA come around to recognizing it?

SEARLE:  Well, the presentation for a first time took place at the NCTA annual banquet. And the presentations of the plaques were part of the program from the first, I don’t know, two or three years. Then we got excused from the program because frankly, this was the highlight. It overshadowed the paid entertainment. And Wally Briscoe… whoever was executive director…I think it was during Wally’s time, saw that this sort of hybrid commercial thing sponsored by a magazine was the highlight of the evening. It didn’t take very long but it was what people really looked forward to -- who was going to be honored. So after two or three years, the Pioneer dinner which had taken off spontaneously, was then where the honorees were presented the plaque and that’s what led to how many years been now?

MAXWELL:  Quite a few. It was interesting that the 15 original dinner persons, all signed this [letter sent to members] and sent a note to the six that weren’t there saying “Okay, all of us endorse your resignation” (Laughter) because they didn’t show up. But Ben Conroy signed it as social director. It was interesting in looking through the records that Gail dug up from the oral histories, Tom Southwick did a – he used to be my editor years ago – Tom had asked how did it happen and Ben sort of created it himself. If you look back, he decided he was the executive committee and he would make up notes and sign them as the chairman, even though nobody else was there. He was the only one. Although you see George Spelvin’s name. He began to creep up in those things and we even when I was working for you years ago, would treat George Spelvin like it was a real thing. Which was always funny. Do you know how George Spelvin came about in that?

SEARLE:  I don’t remember.  George Spelvin, isn’t it? Anyway it’s a theatrical name for somebody who didn’t show.

MAXWELL: Right.

SEARLE:  I don’t recall who invented that but there’s a core group of jokers, including Conroy and Adler and I suspect one of them was responsible for that. He got treated as a real person and half the group thought he really was a member. He never showed up but you know the story of the first secretary of the Cable TV Pioneers Club was Fred Stephenson. 

MAXWELL:  That’s right Fred Stephenson.

SEARLE:  You remember what happened to him?

MAXWELL:  No, you tell us.

SEARLE:  Well, he invented the logo which was a covered wagon with a yagi antenna on it and he was the first self-appointed secretary and social director. I forget exactly what happened but people didn’t show up, didn’t cooperate, didn’t respond, so he got mad and resigned in about a year.

MAXWELL:   He’s from Arkansas. He just had nothing more to do with it?

SEARLE:  Well no, he just quit trying to be the social director and Conroy stepped in and you know he was a serious leader for a long time. Well into the era, what was it called, the Cable TV Museum Center and Museum, I think.

MAXWELL:  At Penn State.

SEARLE:  Conroy took it pretty seriously.

MAXWELL:  Well, it was an interesting thing to see how that changed. It was informal but formal with Ben and then the University of --- Pennsylvania State University decided that – Ben had been a naval officer and he got involved with the oral histories at the War College that the Naval War College put together and decided something should be done about that. And there were people in State College in Pennsylvania who had been in the cable business that had talked to the school about housing it. And I guess that kind of is it got here in a roundabout way.

SEARLE:  Undoubtedly Jim Palmer took the lead there. He lived in State College. Recruited Marlowe Froke, who was the director of Educational Television at the school and involved in the cable industry.

MAXWELL:  Well, Jim was at C-COR.

St: Right.

MAXWELL:  He founded and created it. The University had some rules that sort of took way the control of the group, I guess, and turned it into an advisory function instead of something real. Then a great mentor of mine, ours, I think, Bill Bresnan got involved and it kind of got away from him and stayed at that stage.

SERMERSHEIM:  Also, when Penn State was involved there were the oral histories.  There was the oral history project going.

MAXWELL:  It was in the basement right?

SERMERSHEIM:  They had a museum of sorts but they had relegated it to the basement which didn’t necessarily please the Pioneers. There was a chair attached also. The Pioneers had raised two million dollars, I’m not sure. So, we got out of Penn State that educational aspect of it but they weren’t totally committed to the housing the museum of cable and welcoming visitors and such. And you’ve got to consider that State College a long way from most places. And while it was nice while the heart of the industry was in Pennsylvania and the East and people gathered a lot around it but as it grew and expanded in the ‘80s and such, why it became pretty apparent that the commitment wasn’t there from Penn State.  Truly, keeping it going the way the Pioneers would like and the advisory board and that, it was not going to be very relevant to the rest of the world because nobody could get there to see it.

MAXWELL:  It was hard to get there back then.

SEARLE:   State College was not the epicenter of anything.

MAXWELL:  No.

SEARLE:  Denver was.

MAXWELL:  Denver went well with Bill Daniels here, ATC and TCI and all of the different – Cablecom-General, just a dozen different…

SEARLE:  Jones.

MAXWELL:  Jones was here.

SEARLE:  Alan Harmon.

MAXWELL:  Alan Harmon. All of those guys were here and kind of this sort of the epicenter of the business before it got bigger and bigger and bigger.

SERMERSHEIM:  Right.

MAXWELL:  But it was interesting to me that Penn State went out and got a new head of the Educational Television part of it and the guy was a Brit. Came into Penn State and he wrote a paper saying that regulation should shift in the states and telephone should be the cable providers and that really stuck in Bill Bresnan’s craw as I remember.

SERMERSHEIM:  That did become a big issue.

MAXWELL:  It actually became a huge issue.

SEARLE:  And yet there was a serious investment, financial and emotional in the end at Penn State. So it was with some contention and …

MAXWELL:  Yes, real contention.

SEARLE:  I don’t know if there were any hurt feelings but it wasn’t as smooth transition to Denver. However, DU, the University of Denver, without the retention of control, generously under Dan Ritchie as chancellor donated the location. Donated the real estate and that coincided with Bob Magness and TCI taking some ownership in it. I remember I was asked to go see Magness initially to get money for the Penn State operation and it took him about just under a minute to politely dismiss the idea and get back to talking about cattle and horses. (Laughter) But when the operation was moving to Denver, he really took hold of it. I remember he said that The Cable Center would be the mother ship for the cable industry. And then the others, Carl Williams and all the people you mentioned took hold and Daniels was an active interest.

SERMERSHEIM:  It was Bill Daniels who gave the first million in dollars to do the initial planning and development for this facility.

MAXWELL:  Bill gave some money and a good healthy chunk. Half a million and then a million. He took it up to and Alan Gerry made it really real. He had just sold to Time Warner which gave him the wherewithal and kind of impetus to do so but it was a really big deal.

SEARLE:  The whole thing evolved into a completely different vision and mission. I remember when Bruce Lovett, who had been General Counsel at NCTA, passed on a while ago; he was the first one who said that the Cable TV Pioneers should be more than a dinner club. That we should have come up with some way to contribute to the industry. People who had made some money in [the industry] should devote some energy and funds to doing things for people in the industry, who might be in the industry and for the general public’s perception of the industry. And so Lovett and a handful of others said “Hey, we need to expand the vision.”  And they did.

MAXWELL:  They certainly did.

SERMERSHEIM:  I think we need to be clear though just what the Pioneer’s involvement was. They were the catalyst and as individuals, as people who really made it happen and gave the money to make it happen. But the Pioneers organization has never run the Center. It always had a separate…

MAXWELL:  Separate board.

SERMERSHEIM:  …advisory board and I think that was probably true at Penn State too, that there was a Pioneers Group and there was an advisory board.  Mostly made up of pioneers.

MAXWELL:  It was a pioneer…

SERMERSHEIM:  Technically.

MAXWELL:  I don’t know when the Pioneers actually incorporated.

SERMERSHEIM:  I think Miss Polly [Dunn] took care of that. In about 1977 or something like that, maybe. I remember she was doing the bylaws and the decided to make it more formal.

MAXWELL:  Make it real. It’s about in that timeframe. That’s before me, so I didn’t…

SERMERSHEIM:  Before Penn State.

SEARLE:  One of the questions suggested that we should talk about is what is the vision? What’s the plan for the Pioneers Group? There was no vision. There was no plan. We just honored some people and gave them plaques to hang on their wall and they got together and enjoyed being together in a social situation rather than as competitors or partners in the cable business. So that spontaneously created the Cable Pioneers Club and then the Club sort of evolved into the sponsors of something bigger and better. And each case, it went from honorees to a club to an organization and each one was not responsible for the next. It just happened.

MAXWELL:  It was spontaneous. Well, it was interesting because in the franchise era, cable operators were always competing with one another for the franchises but the collegiality of it was something from an industry standpoint a very unique business in that era of real growth. It was always kind of fun to see all the same group of pioneers getting together. Your friend, some colleagues, some enemies, some frenemies.

SEARLE:  Some were both.

SERMERSHEIM:  Depending on the time of day.

SEARLE:  You wouldn’t find in any business or industry, whether sports or cable TV, that kind of creativity and energy without plenty of ego in the room. So it was unique that they came together as a social group and grew into something a lot bigger. Sponsored something a lot bigger.

MAXWELL:  A whole lot bigger actually. What exists today is an interesting thing in that the industry enters into all kinds of new times as well. As this happened, talk about Dan Ritchie, Dan ran Westinghouse and bought TelePrompTer and became a cable operator. After he had – I forget why he left or when he left exactly but he wound up here in Denver. Actually bought the Grand River Ranch along the Colorado River outside of Kremmling. For anyone who doesn't know the Colorado River was once the Grand and that there’s Grand Junction out there. That’s why it’s called Grand Junction. The river changed its name in the ‘20s. Became the Colorado River. But Dan bought this ranch, which was a might big ranch, and got active in the Denver society, really and wound up chancellor of the University of Denver, which he actually turned into one hell of a magnificent campus and university. And it was his saying “Hey here’s this land here. Build a nice building and you get a 99 year lease for a buck” and created what then coalesced around this with Bill Daniels leading a lot of the way back then. The board got creative and some of us had been on it and off of it and on it and so on. It’s a real tribute to a bunch of pioneers thinking about things. One of the interesting things about this social club aspect of it was how it kept involving all of the people who created the business. Lots of guys who run these things still show up. Which is nice.

SERMERSHEIM:   There’s another element too. The Pioneers helped greatly with and that’s the Hall of Fame. When we started thinking about the Hall of Fame being one of the primary things that the Cable Center would do, the Cable Center wasn’t built. In order to have a ceremony to honor distinguished people you have to have an appropriate venue and you have to have some people come. And it was really because the Pioneers agreed that they would host it. They have the dinner established as an annual event at the NCTA. So what better place to launch the Hall of Fame than at the Pioneers dinner. The only problem was, I think, the first time we did that at the Fox Theater in Atlanta.  Beautiful venue and it was produced by CNN, one of the main CNN producers but it took about 5 hours to induct the pioneers and do an appropriate recognition of the first class of the Hall of Fame. So that was a year we will all remember.

MAXWELL:  It was a long night.

SERMERSHEIM:  And the next year, the Pioneers, likewise because again we didn’t have the facility and that was Chicago. And then I think in New Orleans, one more time they did it joint and then after that the Center was built and the Hall of Fame dinner became a fall event. I think the Pioneers were ready to go back to having their club atmosphere, if you would, instead of a major show going on.

MAXWELL:  That was an interesting process that wound up with. Some of the early times when you were covering it in the magazines did you give it much play in the beginning?

SEARLE:  I’m sure we did. It was a main event and when we had the sponsorship roles, I’m certain that we did.

MAXWELL:  Because by the time I got there, we weren’t doing it that way because it was totally separate by then. So how many years did it feature in the NCTA dinner?

SEARLE:  I think just two or three years.

SERMERSHEIM:  The dinners were always during the NCTA. Just a different day.

MAXWELL:   And the NCTA has always given a hall pass to everybody.

SERMERSHEIM:  Yes. (Laughter)

MAXWELL:  It’s not active anymore. But so many people stayed active. I mean in the beginning of it a lot of the pioneers were still running things. And that lasted pretty far into I think.

SERMERSHEIM:  And remember too, I think, the first group, the first groups, we had to have been in the industry 10 years. And then it morphed, I think, to 15 probably about the ‘80s. And then to 20. And so they wanted to keep it a truly a pioneer group. They did have to sort of move the mark.

MAXWELL:  It still has some fairly tough rules to get in. There’s a blue ribbon committee appointed by the board that makes the decisions on who gets. There’s still the nomination that you have to two -- a primary and a secondary. And there’s still the 20 year rule. And the way it reads is you really have to have actually done something. Not just survived or kept a job for 20 years. Of course, I never would have made if that was the rule.

SERMERSHEIM:  You’ve done a lot.

MAXWELL:  Yeah, but in different places. (Laughter) It was interesting way to build that thing. Now the board does an interesting thing. From the incoming class someone from that class becomes a board member which has helped greatly with the continuity of it. And that was started by one of the great pioneers, Frank Drendel.  That was his suggestion.

SERMERSHEIM:  Good idea.

SEARLE:   As Gail mentioned, a few years before they were inducting, I don’t know, 4 or 5 or 6 and somebody figured out that the actuary tables were going to do away with the Pioneer Club. There would always be 32 people so there was at least one or two years where they brought in a tremendous number and somebody figured out that wasn’t the answer either.

MAXWELL:  When was that that it exploded? 

SERMERSHEIM:  I think it was in the ‘70s.

SEARLE:  Probably, in the second decade. And they sort of moderated it back to a manageable number.

MAXWELL:  There’s 20 max.

SERMERSHEIM:  There’s about 20 now. Looking at the…

MAXWELL:  I’ve got say that the dinners are fun. And this last one in Boston actually was just very, very good.

SERMERSHEIM:  Well, they’d even be more fun if we could add more women.

MAXWELL:  True.  That is a very good point. And how can we do that?

SERMERSHEIM:  Well, let me talk a minute about the women that have been pioneers because we don’t want to slight them at all. Of course, the first group of 21 was all male. And in ’67, two of the most distinguished women I’ve ever met in the cable industry, Polly Dunn and Yolanda Barco became members. Miss Polly, as we called her, was probably the first lady of cable and always will be and was running the system in Columbus, Mississippi after her husband died. And Yolanda was a lawyer and worked with her father in Pennsylvania and fought many of the big battles in the cable industry. Very distinguished women. It was then 12 years before any other women were added.

MAXWELL:  Twelve years?

SEARLE:  Who was next? Dawn Fribley?

SERMERSHEIM:  No, Esther Walsonavich.

SEARLE:  Walsonavich.

SERMERSHEIM:  In ’79, Sally Davison in ’80. By 1982, 16 years after the organization started there were 4 women and about 200 men.  It’s somewhat understandable, I guess, because the first people who really were in the business and building systems were men. There weren’t a lot of women. I remember being involved with Women in Cable when we started it in ’79; our mailing list was probably 50 women. So, there weren’t a huge number of women. But then you think about the Betsy Magness’s.

SEARLE:  There hundreds of women who were heavily involved, they weren’t the CEO.

SERMERSHEIM:  Right and they were there. I think that was an error, an omission if you would, that a lot of those who truly help make this industry possible just didn’t get the recognition that they should of. We’ll talk about that later. And then, in ’82, that was my year, Carolyn Chambers, [?] and Sue Talbott. ‘83, ‘84, ‘85, ’86, there were none. At that same time Women in Cable had grown to about 4,000 members and 23 chapters. Okay. 87 to 95 about one every year. Again some outstanding names like Bev Harms and Millie Smith out of Mississippi and Linda Brodsky.  And then it started to pick up and I think a lot of this, again, is the timing of when how many years you had to be in the business changed. In 1996, we added 3 and it started to get into about 3 a year and then 2000s, it became about 20% of the class. So it would be like 4 out 20 our something like that.

MAXWELL:  So it was almost 20 years from the first explosion of programming too.

SERMERSHEIM:  Right, exactly.

MAXWELL:  Which had a large impact on more women involved in roles that were more prominent.

SERMERSHEIM:  So there are some reasons but it still leaves us of at the end with one not catching up very well because there are so many fewer women. I guess, it’s about 15% or 70 or so that have been named out of 5 to 600. So perhaps…?

MAXWELL:  You’re trying to tell us to do better.

SERMERSHEIM:  Yes, I think we should maybe even make a plan. We’ll have to talk to the next group that currently involved.

SEARLE:  You need to explain to the women pioneers about the nomination process.

SERMERSHEIM:  Yes, I think that’s a good idea. I think some of it is that, as Paul was saying, a lot of the women in our industry are now in the programming side. They tend to view themselves not as much as just cable pioneers. They tend to think of themselves in the whole telecommunications industry today. And when they think of their contributions, they tend to think a little bit more about what they contributed to their specialty; be they a producer, be they a marketer so they’re involved in CTAM and all. So they think about the contribution they made to the women’s movement as being very important, a true measure of what they’ve done. So perhaps we need to do a little more to explain the importance of the Cable Pioneers and what it means and it is inclusive and does want to recognize all those who contributed in different ways.

MAXWELL:  That’s a good point.  At the Hall of Fame, from the standpoint of the Cable Center, has worked hard to be more inclusive and to recognize across those kinds of boundaries and even into programming for example. Which of course, to your point, why have awards when there’s so many people. It’s a tough one. We have those on the board of the Cable Center in a big way. Why do you even have an on air person for example or others has had some serious pushback. I still think it’s better to be inclusive and to draw from more parts of these businesses.

SEARLE:  There certainly was not reluctance to honor and recognize women.

SERMERSHEIM:  No.

SEARLE:  Consider that Polly and Yolanda got [inducted] in the second class. The first 21 were nominated by three gentlemen, that I recall would have been Charlie Clements, Bill Daniels and Bruce Merrill. Then after that, it’s the group nominating inductees. In the very first class, were Polly Dunn and Yolanda Barco. So it certainly was no hostility toward recognizing women and there are, as you say, hundreds of other. Carl Williams and his wife ran a business and you mentioned Betsy Magness and hundreds of others we don’t even know about. So I think it’s fine to recognize women but it would be wrong to assume that there was ever any reluctance to if they would get nominated.

MAXWELL:  Almost a moral center for the business, for a long time.

SERMERSHEIM:  There’s a great story about Polly. She was the first woman on the NCTA board, of course. And she only wanted to run one term. At the end of that term, they realized what an asset they had. Take her to the FCC or whatever. There was nobody like the southern steel magnolia who could slice and dice and you never knew what was happening. Someone called Polly and their argument was do you want the NCTA board to be made up of all imbeciles?  I think that didn’t totally do the trick and so her quote was “And then all those very sweet men on the NCTA board all unanimously signed a petition to remain for another term.”

MAXWELL:  Polly was always something else.

SERMERSHEIM:  One of those sweet men.

MAXWELL:  She was actually a terrific person. So I’m not sure where we are in our…it’s like what else would you like to contribute to the conversation.

SERMERSHEIM:  Well, we can’t leave the early days of the Pioneers without thinking about Burt Harris who every dinner brought his camera and bow tie. Took pictures of all us. A lot of the memorabilia we have from those early days are Burt Harris photos. And he would send them out to you…

MAXWELL:  “No reply necessary.”

SERMERSHEIM:  “No reply necessary.”

MAXWELL:  Do you know that I have a Burt Harris story that really talks to the unique part that a lot of the people in this business. There were a lot of friendships that transcended the business side of things. When I was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2004, on my table was a bottle of wine from the late Burt Harris, who had died two months before. But he had been a big proponent, I mean a big mentor to me. To have that on the table with a note from him that his wife and son got there. I thought that said a lot about this business, about how people behave in this business.

SEARLE:  Speaking of the way people behave. I remember a Pioneer dinner in Boston and there’s usually not a formal program but somebody bloviating. And Frank Thompson was speaking and talking and talking…

MAXWELL:  And talking.

SEARLE:  This says something about the spirit of the group. So two or three of us just sort of circulated the word and on a signal while Frank was still in full throat just got up and the room emptied. Everyone left. The program wasn’t over except it was over because we all left and Frank was still up there looking at the microphone.

SERMERSHEIM:  Well, you know, I hear but I was much too young but I heard that the early dinners were basically people just standing up and reminiscing about the days. Brief introductions of new people and it wasn’t until Les Read probably got involved we tried to streamline the presentation process. And we can’t forget about Sandford.

MAXWELL:  Sandford Randolph.

SERMERSHEIM:  Yes, the gold coat.

MAXWELL:  The gold coat that he wore.

SEARLE:  He was the executive of the Pioneers for what 15 or 20 years. A long time.

MAXWELL: And his gold coat is in a case here at the Cable Center. He retired it.

SERMERSHEIM:  Had a gold dinner jacket.

SEARLE:  And it fit him all 20 years.

MAXWELL: It did, didn’t it? I forget what year it was he passed away.

SERMERSHEIM:  I think he started in ’77.

MAXWELL:   He lasted a long time into that. He had a long run. It was always volunteer staffing at the dinners.

SERMERSHEIM:  It was a big job. It really was.

MAXWELL:  The Cable Center actually helps on the dinners, which is a big help.

SEARLE:  Well, the generosity of guys like Sandford and Ben Conroy and dozens of others that worked without worrying about who got the credit.

MAXWELL:  That was very common.

SEARLE:  That was sort of a hallmark in the Pioneers and maybe that’s what turned the recipients of the plaque and honor into a group that had a certain common bond.

SERMERSHEIM:  Help each other.

MAXWELL:  It is. It’s an interesting point and to your point that it was spontaneous is probably one of the more interesting aspects of how we even stuck together.

SEARLE:  You raised a question of how the dinners were like. There was no program.  It was a bunch a people having dinner together. That’s really all it was for a few years and some people with a little more vision and ambition created a mission statement at some point.

MAXWELL:   I’ve never read that.

SEARLE:  I assume it has one.

SERMERSHEIM:  It’s on the Cable Center’s website.

SEARLE:   I think the mission statement was “and let’s have dinner next year.” (Laughter)

MAXWELL:   In the first place it was, yes. And there’s nothing wrong with a social club.

SEARLE:  It’s the people in the business are what turned out to be the most important part of it for those of us long term survivors and we look back at battles and victories and a few losses and the friendships and the memories are more important than the Carter Mountain case and the copyright battles. Especially since the targets kept moving and our old enemies now own half the industry or two thirds. The Pioneer Club was sort of the focal point. The rallying point for the personal and social part of the business.

MAXWELL:  And it had some memorable dinners.

SERMERSHEIM:  Bonding opportunities.

SEARLE:  Especially for Frank Thompson.

MAXWELL:  (Laughter) That’s pretty good. I wish I had seen that one. That’s one of the characters. So I would like to thank Stan Searle and Gail Sermersheim for joining in me about talking about the beginning and some of the ins and outs of the Pioneers over the years. It’s one of the rare industries, I think, that turned into a people thing and a friendship thing and a fun thing instead of just a bunch contentious negotiations. Although I remember some tables that were doing that as well. I’d like to thank everyone for coming.

SERMERSHEIM:  Thank you.

SEARLE:  Thank you.