W - Z Listings

Save to PDF
  BACK TO ORAL HISTORIES

John Willey

willeyJohn5

Interview Date: Monday December 02, 2002
Interview Location: Toledo, OH
Interviewer: Jim Keller
Collection: Hauser Collection

KELLER: This is the oral history of John D. Willey, currently retired but the past president of the Toledo Blade Company, the parent company of Buckeye Cablevision. John, I believe will agree that he was instrumental in founding the company and persuading a very conservative newspaper company into coming into the cable television business.

WILLEY: I think so.

KELLER: John, this happened when? In the early '60s?

WILLEY: 1964 we became interested through the Cox people in cable.

KELLER: Was Cox interested in building a system in Toledo at the time and came to you, or did you go to them?

WILLEY: Will Paul and Bill Block, who owned the Toledo Blade and Pittsburgh Post Gazette, they met in Pittsburgh with the Cox people and then sold the Pittsburgh television station to the Cox Broadcasting. They owned that with a family named Brennan. So they sold that to the Cox Broadcasting Company and while they were discussing it in Pittsburgh, Cox brought up the idea of a cable system which Paul and Bill had never heard of, and Cox asked if the Blocks would be interested in a cable system in Toledo. They came back from Pittsburgh and I had lunch with them. They mentioned what the Cox people had suggested, and I had thought that sooner or later there might be a system to transmit a newspaper from the newspaper to the home by facsimile using a cable. So I said that in case that should develop The Blade ought to be the one to own the cable system. Whether that is what intrigued them or not I don't know, but they did agree that we should set up a system of the Cox people to set up a cable system in Toledo. So our discussions proceeded from there beginning, I think, early in 1965.

KELLER: The main purpose of The Blade coming into cable was not to protect the market for their own reasons other than for the delivery of the newspaper, is that correct?

WILLEY: No, just to deliver the newspaper as a possibility.

KELLER: In other words, they were trying to determine what business they were really in, whether it was the printing business or the newspaper business.

WILLEY: Well, I had thought that delivering the paper to the home by facsimile would save a great deal of expense and would be a lot cheaper than the system we now have of printing the paper downtown and delivering it by carrier boy. But that idea never developed, although I did talk to various people about it. Nobody was interested.

KELLER: It's developing in the computer now.

WILLEY: A facsimile for a newspaper, yeah.

KELLER: Now, you became president of the Blade Company in 1969. What function were you performing in 1965 when you got into cable?

WILLEY: I was associate publisher in '65.

KELLER: To one of the Blocks?

WILLEY: To Paul Block, yes.

KELLER: Now, once you made the decision to get into the cable business, how did you go about it?

WILLEY: Well, Cox people, Mark Barlow was our main contact with the Cox people and he explained what cable systems were and I believe they had what they call the T-bone idea originally of picking up TV signals from Chicago and New York in the crossbar, and then the T down to Atlanta to bring signals to Atlanta, and that never did develop but they had the idea of setting up antenna, I think, at about 50 mile limits to transmit television signals over-the-air to a tower, and then from the tower by way of cables to the home sets. They explained that to us and we decided that would be interesting so The Blade and Cox Broadcasting got together and formed Buckeye Cablevision. It was 50% ownership apiece. We proceeded from there. We talked to Ohio Bell about putting cables on the Bell telephone poles. We talked to the city council and city officials about a city permit to use the city streets for cable.

KELLER: Who advised you to do that because there was some question at that time whether or not a permit or a franchise was necessary?

WILLEY: Well, I'm not sure, but Buckeye hired Joe Mazleson who was head of a law firm in Toledo and he had been the general counsel for the city of Toledo when I covered City Hall for The Blade and he and I were good friends. So Buckeye hired Joe to be its attorney and he was very familiar with utility work. I think he and probably Mark Barlow decided, even though it was not legally required, a city permit would be a good thing to have for public orations, if nothing else. So we decided to go for a city permit and we applied for one. We had several hearings and we had some meetings, a bunch of meetings with city council people and city officials to explain what cable systems were. I think John Campbell from Cox attended that because he was a cable man. So then city council had the hearings and there was some opposition from local TV stations and some so-called tax payers. Tax Payers for Free Television, I think, was one of them.

KELLER: Among others.

WILLEY: Among others... but we wound up getting the city council nine votes, a unanimous vote in favor of the Buckeye permit.

KELLER: It would have been almost impossible for anybody else to get it.

WILLEY: I think one reason that Cox liked to get in with a local newspaper was because of the possible influence with city councils, which I think was probably a good idea.

KELLER: I had asked some people from Cox whether or not they went out looking for newspaper partners, and of course they said they got a number of them over the years, but never went out specifically for the influence that the papers had.

WILLEY: I can't speak for Cox.

KELLER: No, of course, as you know, in order to get a franchise you had to have a certain amount of influence with the city council. A company from out of town doesn't have that kind of influence.

WILLEY: It helps. Well, I had covered City Hall for the Blade when I was a reporter and I still knew quite a few of the councilmen and several city officials, and also as associate editor I kept in touch with a lot of them. So I don't think that hurt any.

KELLER: No, I don't think it did. Did you play a part in getting the franchise, actually testifying before the council or providing any documentation or anything else before the council?

WILLEY: I don't recall that I testified formally. I think the Cox people mainly described what cable systems were technically and I don't remember any testimony I gave directly. I certainly contacted the people informally and explained a cable system would be a good thing for Toledo.

KELLER: Did any of them have any objections off-the-record?

WILLEY: I don't recall that they did. There probably were a couple of councilmen who didn't care much for The Blade but they were persuaded by the arguments, I guess, that they should approve a cable franchise because the vote was unanimous.

KELLER: It was almost unheard of in this part of Ohio at the time, though.

WILLEY: Yes, nobody knew about it.

KELLER: Nothing had been developed in Ohio at that point.

WILLEY: No, I don't think so.

KELLER: I think maybe a suburb of Cleveland, Lorain or something may have had a system there.

WILLEY: Well, Cox was dealing with Cleveland, I think, to set up a cable system at the same time they were working in Toledo.

KELLER: How long did it take you to acquire the franchise in Toledo?

WILLEY: I would guess 6-8 months, approximately.

KELLER: Did they ask for anything specific? Did they ask for insurance or anything?

WILLEY: Yes, there were some outfits running around to the cities and explaining what they should demand from cable system operators to permit a franchise, and as I remember that included a city fee percentage, free cable in the schools and probably in City Hall, and that's about all I can remember, but the city did set some requirements for the cable systems to pay the city either in a fee or also in free television, free cable set-ups, rather.

KELLER: For the schools?

WILLEY: Schools and City Hall.

KELLER: They didn't require any programming or anything of that nature?

WILLEY: I don't recall that they did. My memory's troubling me on that. It seems to me we did set up a local cable channel for local public interest groups but if we did it never panned out well and nobody was really interested in that.

KELLER: As you were asking the Toledo Blade Company to get involved in cable television, one of the arguments you used was that there may be a potential for delivering the newspaper through a wired system of some kind. Did you use any other arguments to persuade the Blocks to get into the business?

WILLEY: No, I used the arguments that Cox had presented to us that it would be financially profitable to set up a cable system. I can't remember any other reasons the Blade would be getting into it.

KELLER: What evidence did they have that it could be profitable?

WILLEY: I think only their own estimates because there was no experience at that time with any cable system that I know of. There might have been some small ones in mountainous areas, but I don't believe there had been any cable system established in a major metropolitan area.

KELLER: You were one of the first ones, yes.

WILLEY: I think we were.

KELLER: San Diego was building, portions of Cleveland, parts of New York, parts of San Francisco were building, but nothing to the extent of Toledo.

WILLEY: I think prior to that they'd only built in rural areas where people couldn't get television signals.

KELLER: Yes, it's one of the great characteristics about this business. Most businesses grow up in the cities and then spread out to the smaller communities. This one was just the reverse. Now, how did the decision... was the decision to get into the business made by The Blade board?

WILLEY: No, by Paul and Bill Block.

KELLER: They made the decision?

WILLEY: Yes, they were the owners. They're the only decision you need for the Blade.

KELLER: To this day?

WILLEY: Well, Paul died and of course Bill... the twins now take over.

KELLER: Did they have any direct contact with city council people? Did they call and say, "Hey, Joe, I want...."

WILLEY: No, I don't believe they ever did.

KELLER: So it was left to you to do that, or the Cox people?

WILLEY: Yes, right.

KELLER: So you fronted for it all the way through.

WILLEY: Yes, and Wayne Currant was involved. He was a Blade general manager and he was very interested in setting up a cable system.

KELLER: How did he become interested?

WILLEY: Just curiosity, I guess.

KELLER: Now, at that time you were associate publisher, and he was...?

WILLEY: General Manager of The Blade.

KELLER: So he was actually reporting through you, is that it? Or to you?

WILLEY: Theoretically, yes.

KELLER: Then you became a vice-president of Buckeye and a director.

WILLEY: Yes, right. We made Wayne Currant president with Buckeye. He was really more interested in the day-to-day details than I was. I was more interested in the political aspects and the corporate aspect, but he got interested in cable as a new system, technically. So we made him president of Buckeye and I was vice-president.

KELLER: Did he retain his title as general manager of The Blade Company?

WILLEY: Yes, right.

KELLER: Now, when did you hire your first general manager?

WILLEY: For Buckeye?

KELLER: Yes.

WILLEY: John Campbell of Cox was one of our early contacts with the Cox people and he hired Leo Hoarty as general manager of Buckeye, I would guess early in 1965. We started working on the details of setting up a system here.

KELLER: Did Wayne Currant, then, allow the general manager his head on what he was going to do and how he was going to do it, what the reporting functions were going to be and so on?

WILLEY: Oh, pretty much, although he did like to keep his hand in the details, but Leo was very good at public relations, a good salesman, and he worked very hard at setting up the system, selling customers, and working with Bell to string cables on the Bell phone poles.

KELLER: In those days, you had received the franchise but then the FCC came out with orders that required you to be an operation and defining that operation as having 50 customers or you would have to go back and go through the process all over again. Is that correct?

WILLEY: I don't know what would have happened... The FCC assumed jurisdiction over cable systems and said that in effect we had 30 days from a certain date to hook up 50 customers in order to continue wiring the city, continuing with our cable system. What would have happened if we had not gotten the 50, I don't know, but they were under a lot of pressure from the TV industry to try to stop cable from being developed in cities.

KELLER: The FCC was?

WILLEY: The FCC. So we found out that the FCC order I think came down something like September 1st and they first said we had 30 days from the date they had issued the order. We found out that under the law an FCC regulation could not be effective until 30 days after it was published in the federal register. I think that gave us a few extra days more than they wanted us to have but Leo worked hard and got at least 50 customers hooked up within a day or two before the deadline.

KELLER: Now, as you were beginning the operation, there were at least two others that were interested in building a cable system in the Toledo area.

WILLEY: Well, Ted Lamb we found out later had been talking to Ohio Bell at the same time we were about setting up a cable system in part of Toledo, and he talked with them about pole contacts and wiring part of the city. We were not aware at the time that Lamb was involved with Bell. They didn't tell us. The Buckeye activity was public; we had made public in The Blade that Buckeye was after a city franchise, so Lamb knew what we were doing but we didn't know what he was.

KELLER: And Bell never told you?

WILLEY: No, they felt that was confidential and I didn't blame them. Lamb, I think – this was learned only later – but he had readings and talked with the Bell people about setting up a small system about 20 or 50 miles in Toledo, and we had planned to wire the entire city, which I think is something like 700 miles. But he never did conclude an agreement with Ohio Bell to set up his system that I know of, so by the time we got our franchise and we got a contract with Ohio Bell to string cable on the Ohio Bell poles, by the time we got started Bell told Lamb they would not wire a second cable system in the city. Whether that stopped him from doing it, I don't know.

KELLER: But he never approached city council, though, is that correct?

WILLEY: He only approached them to complain about giving Buckeye...

KELLER: He never asked for a franchise?

WILLEY: No, I don't think so.

KELLER: What was the basis for his lawsuit?

WILLEY: For what?

KELLER: What was the basis for his lawsuit?

WILLEY: He sued The Blade, Buckeye, Cox Cable and Ohio Bell for conspiracy and anti-trust action for conspiring to prevent him from setting up a cable system in Toledo, and he filed a suit in Federal Court in Cleveland, and Judge Kurpanski who had just been appointed to the Federal bench there, that was his first trial in Federal Court and he was very punctilious about obeying all the Federal laws and rules for a court hearing. So we had an extended set of hearings there. I testified before Kurpanski. Lamb had hired a, I think he was a Cleveland lawyer, to represent Lamb's interests and we had John Lansdale from a Cleveland law firm to represent Buckeye and The Blade, or The Blade rather. Ralph Bragg from John Mazleson's Toledo firm represented Buckeye and I don't remember who represented Cox and Bell. They had attorneys of course there, but the meeting went on for some time and finally Kurpanski ruled against Ted Lamb, found that there was no conspiracy or anti-trust on our part.

KELLER: And you were never prohibited from continuing to build?

WILLEY: No, I think we continued to wire the city while the hearings were going on. No, we never stopped doing it.

KELLER: I'm surprised that he didn't ask for a temporary injunction to stop you. He didn't, though?

WILLEY: I don't remember anything. He asked the FCC outright to stop cable from being developed, but they turned him down.

KELLER: There were all kinds of rules about what you could carry and what you couldn't carry, and he was in the broadcasting business himself, wasn't he?

WILLEY: I think he owned a TV station in Erie, Pennsylvania and he owned a newspaper there.

KELLER: You sold your television station in Pittsburgh to the Cox people, right?

WILLEY: Yes, right.

KELLER: To Leonard Reinsch and Mark Barlow.

WILLEY: Right.

KELLER: That's how you were first introduced to the Cox people?

WILLEY: Right.

KELLER: You said that there was another company that came in to file against you. That would be the Obermeyer Company?

WILLEY: Oh, Dan Obermeyer owned the local UHF TV station and he and Storer Broadcasting had owned Channel 13 television. They both opposed the Buckeye franchise, I think before city council, but they didn't get anywhere.

KELLER: Storer got into the business not too long after that.

WILLEY: Oh, probably, yeah.

KELLER: They were in it for quite some time. Why did you and Cox finally decide, or how did you decide to buy Cox out rather than the other way around?

WILLEY: Well, of course Toledo was pretty much The Blade territory. I think we came to feel that we knew about as much about cable by that time as did the Cox people, and we were capable of continuing to build the system without them so we had The Blade lawyer, Bernie Baker, draw up an agreement with Cox whereby The Blade bought out the Cox interest in Buckeye and paid them, I think, over a period of some years and that worked out quite well.

KELLER: Were they agreeable to be bought out or was there some kind of discussion about it?

WILLEY: I don't think they were too anxious to be bought out but we persuaded them.

KELLER: They were building their cable operation quite extensively at that time.

WILLEY: Yes. Maybe they could have used the money, I don't know. But they did sell us their half.

KELLER: There must have been some persuasion there somewhere. At that time, you were building Toledo you didn't go into Maumee or Sylvania or Oregon or any of the other communities at that time?

WILLEY: Well, we did consecutively, but no, I don't think we did it simultaneously. Before we finished wiring Toledo we did go into these suburban areas, also, yeah.

KELLER: And acquired a franchise?

WILLEY: Yes, we got franchises from the Sylvania city council and Maumee and Perrysburg. Oregon, I think, there was something else that was very active in trying to persuade Oregon that they ought to do something other than give a cable franchise there. I don't remember if they were trying to persuade them to charge us an exorbitant fee or whatever, but the Oregon council finally did give us a franchise.

KELLER: Were there any other companies filing for franchises in the suburban communities?

WILLEY: No, I don't think so. Lamb filed, I think, in some area communities – Sandusky, Findlay and Freemont. I don't recall if he applied in any of the suburban communities except perhaps Perrysburg, but I'm not sure.

KELLER: John, after you were successful in obtaining permits both from the city and from the Ohio Bell Telephone Company to wire the community, you then applied for franchises in the suburban areas.

WILLEY: Yes.

KELLER: Maumee was one of them.

WILLEY: Maumee, Sylvania, Perrysburg and Oregon.

KELLER: And no one else applied?

WILLEY: Not that I know of. I have a vague recollection that Lamb applied in Perrysburg, but not very hard. He didn't get one, anyway.

KELLER: He didn't get one in Findlay or Fostoria either because Continental built those.

WILLEY: Oh, did they? I don't remember that.

KELLER: You were building dual cable system at the time, in the early days.

WILLEY: Yes.

KELLER: For what reason?

WILLEY: Well, I guess for reception purposes, as far as I remember.

KELLER: How many channels were you carrying?

WILLEY: Well, we carried three Toledo television commercial stations and one local public broadcasting station, and I think we carried three Detroit television stations and perhaps one from Windsor, Canada, and I think those were our original stations that we carried on Buckeye. We later expanded it. They now have over 70 channels that we carry.

KELLER: Didn't the local network affiliates object to bringing in the Detroit network affiliates? Do you remember that?

WILLEY: I don't remember specifically other than they objected to cable overall, and I'm sure they would have objected to bringing in the Detroit channels because they would compete with the local ones. Whether they complained to the FCC about it, I'm not sure, but the television industry overall was complaining about cable anywhere and anything they could think of to object, they did.

KELLER: Only in areas where there were television stations. They loved us when we were building out in the farmlands because we could carry their signals out there.

WILLEY: Actually, we felt the local UHF channel should not have objected to Buckeye because we greatly improved the reception with the VHF station, but he objected anyway, Dan Obermeyer.

KELLER: But you had to carry him and you did carry him.

WILLEY: Yes.

KELELR: This was an interesting period. You mentioned that you had to obtain 50 customers in a 30 or 60 day period in order to be legitimate, and I think in order to continue to carry the Detroit network stations into the Toledo market.

WILLEY: Your memory is better than mine. That seems quite logical, yes.

KELLER: After that you would have been prohibited from carrying them because of the new report and order.

WILLEY: I remember we felt we had to be grandfathered by getting 50 customers by a certain deadline, and we were, just barely.

KELLER: Just barely, so they're still able to carry the Detroit signals in the Toledo area?

WILLEY: Yes.

KELLER: Were you also on board when they built Sandusky, or when they went out into the Sandusky area?

WILLEY: The Blade? I don't remember.

KELLER: Or did they buy that from someone else?

WILLEY: They might have bought it. I don't recall Sandusky at all. We did get a TV station in Lima but I don't think we set up a cable system there.

KELLER: Lima was a good market.

WILLEY: I guess, yeah.

KELLER: Now, you said you built dual cable systems although each cable at that time because of the amplifiers could carry 12 channels.

WILLEY: We had at that time on the TV set we had to have two boxes.

KELLER: And a switch.

WILLEY: And a switch, Cable A and Cable B, so we did have the two cables at that time. As you said, it was because of the capacity of the amplifiers so they must have improved the amplifiers. I think we did rebuild and built new amplifiers so we now have just the one cable. We don't have Cable A and B anymore. There's just one cable and one converter on the TV set.

KELLER: Now I'd like to go into how The Blade company formed (Buckeye) Cablevision from a financial standpoint. Did they just tell the operators of Buckeye, go ahead and build them system, don't worry about it, we'll get you the money? Or how?

WILLEY: Well, we were the operators.

KELLER: But they were separate companies at that time. Cox had...

WILLEY: Cox had 50% and The Blade 50% of Buckeye Cablevision, so I assume that The Blade financed the construction of the system 50% and Cox 50%.

KELLER: And it's that that you bought out when you finally bought them out?

WILLEY: Yes.

KELLER: Now, when you went to the bank and said, look it, I need x numbers of millions of dollars to build so many miles of cable plant, what did they say to you?

WILLEY: Well, we dealt with the Bank of America, The Blade did, and we borrowed from them for various acquisitions. The Blade credit was pretty good so The Blade, I think, borrowed the money to finance Buckeye Cablevision and we borrowed it from the Bank of America. I even remember paying it back, originally from The Blade, but then subsequently out of Buckeye income.

KELLER: Do you remember at what point that the cash flow from the cable systems outdid the cash flow from the newspapers? Do you remember at what point that was?

WILLEY: No, I don't remember when but I'm sure it did happen because Buckeye became quite profitable.

KELLER: And still is.

WILLEY: Yeah, I would assume so.

KELLER: Now you had a pretty aggressive guy as general manager at the time, a guy by the name of Leo Hoarty.

WILLEY: Oh, Leo, yes.

KELLER: And by the way, I did his oral history about a month ago and I would recommend to the viewer of this tape that they might also wish to view the tape of the original general manager of the company, Leo Hoarty, also on file at The Cable Center. So you got this extremely aggressive man...

WILLEY: He was very active, he worked hard, yes. He really worked at building the cable system, selling customers, he worked with Ohio Bell pressing them to attach the cables to the poles faster than they wanted to but he kept pushing them.

KELLER: There's a great difference, and I think you'll agree that there's a great difference in the businesses and the business attitude of a newspaper and a developing company like a cable system. Was there any conflict between the two of them in acquiring funds or going after whatever they needed within the company?

WILLEY: No, I don't think so because Paul and Bill Block owned The Blade, the parent company. There was little room for disagreement or anything of that sort. Either they agreed to it or they didn't. They might have discussed it among themselves, perhaps they argued, I don't know. But in my discussions with them, we worked out whatever was necessary to work out.

KELLER: The capital requirements of the cable system in those early days were much greater than the capital requirements of The Toledo Blade.

WILLEY: Oh, yes.

KELLER: So there wasn't any conflict between where the capital dollars were going to go?

WILLEY: No, no.

KELLER: But if there were, if it came up that you came in and said I need a hundred million dollars for the cable system for the next five years, they would either agree to it or not.

WILLEY: Yes, right. There wasn't any great problem. The ownership was the same.

KELLER: But you were treasurer at one time of the company, so you knew where the funds were going and how they were being dispersed.

WILLEY: Yes.

KELLER: So as the money would come from The Blade – in the early days now – as the money would come from The Blade, you'd pour it into the cable system, did they have a reasonable expectation of what kind of earnings they wanted on the money they were investing in that system?

WILLEY: No, I don't think other than the Cox projections for cable system's profit, I don't think they had any particular set expectation other than it would be profitable.

KELLER: But if they were going out to buy, let's say a newspaper, and were going to invest x number of dollars in that newspaper, would they set a figure of what they expected from their capital investment in that...?

WILLEY: Not really. Both Paul and Bill were more interested in providing a good newspaper, a good local newspaper, than they were in the sizeable return. They were happy to accept a very modest return from the newspaper.

KELLER: Were you there when The Blade bought The Times?

WILLEY: The Toledo Times?

KELLER: Yes.

WILLEY: Yes. Oh, no, wait a minute. No, wait a minute, they bought that many years ago.

KELLER: But they've continued to publish in the morning, right?

WILLEY: The Times was still published in the morning when I was here, yes, until at one point The Times, I think... we were just unable to get enough subscribers to make The Times profitable and The Blade had to subsidize it. Paul was anxious to keep a morning paper and politically he felt The Blade should be independent and support the Republicans or Democrats and he felt that The Times would use their Republican voice. So we hired George Benson to be editor of The Toledo Times and he was a Republican somewhat to the right of McKinley. So he was a good editor for The Times but we reached the point where The Blade had to subsidize it and I remember one time we had to put in an advertising rate increase on The Blade and I told Paul I thought it was unfair to the advertiser to ask them to subsidize The Times because they didn't read The Times and we didn't have enough subscribers to make it worthwhile for advertisers, so we decided to close The Times and I remember when we did we only had something like 20,000 subscribers and we had 200,000 people who said they subscribed to The Times every morning and they were devastated, a terrible thing that we closed it. But we closed it anyway.

KELLER: But then you opted to publish The Blade in the morning then, is that correct?

WILLEY: Eventually, yes. It developed nationally that morning papers were more successful than afternoon ones, so we did switch to the morning.

KELLER: Now you mentioned subsidizing The Times, it was a subsidiary company of The Blade.

WILLEY: Yes.

KELLER: Did you, as The Blade, ever subsidize – using that term – the cable company?

WILLEY: Well, I don't know that I'd term it that. We did finance the construction of the cable system but I think cable paid that back over a period of time to The Blade, so in a sense we subsidized it by lending the money to build the system, yes. I guess you could call it a subsidy.

KELLER: Well, yes, but you knew you'd be repaid in a reasonable period of time.

WILLEY: We didn't give them an annual subsidy to cover their operating expenses, no.

KELLER: You must have in the early days.

WILLEY: Well, probably in the early days, yeah.

KELLER: Do you remember at what point the cable system became self-sustaining?

WILLEY: No, I don't. I would guess within three or four years, but I'm just guessing.

KELLER: There had to be funds pumped into it up until that time and The Blade provided those funds, right?

WILLEY: Yes, right.

KELLER: So without The Blade, the system itself could not have functioned unless they got some outside financing somewhere.

WILLEY: They would need outside financing of some sort, yes.

KELLER: To go back to your individual relationships with the nine member city council – you knew them all by name, you probably knew their wives and their kids and...

WILLEY: Oh, I wouldn't go that far.

KELLER: But you knew them very well.

WILLEY: Pretty well, yes.

KELLER: You didn't have to go with your hat in your hand and say, hey, Mr. Councilman; you'd go and say, hey, Joe...

WILLEY: Right, for most of them, yes.

KELLER: You said that some of them didn't think very kindly, to use your terms, of The Blade.

WILLEY: Well, The Blade did not support all of them when they ran for election. We didn't support all of them; some we opposed or we supported other people. So if they were elected with The Blade opposition, they weren't too kindly to The Blade editorially.

KELLER: But they didn't take it out on you.

WILLEY: Not for the cable system, no.

KELLER: But that in itself is rather remarkable. When did Cox get out of the system?

WILLEY: I don't remember... I would guess '66, but I'm guessing.

KELLER: They were only in it for a year or two, then.

WILLEY: I think so, yes. Two years maybe.

KELLER: If you were to do the cable business situation all over again, would you do anything differently? In the same position you were in with The Blade?

WILLEY: I don't think so. We did the best we could and as far as I know looking back we did it pretty well.

KELLER: I think you're right. Would you advise – well, most of the country of course is built out. Do you know how many other newspapers are involved in the business today?

WILLEY: No, I don't. Wayne Currant was more interested and was acquainted with people in other newspapers than I was. I was pretty much interested in Toledo. At one point early in the game, Wayne arranged meetings in Washington, I think, with other newspapers that owned television stations and were interested in cable systems as was The Blade, and I remember our purpose of the meeting was to persuade them to work with the FCC to permit cable systems to operate. As I remember, we had very little success with other newspapers in supporting cable, but that's just my recollection.

KELLER: Well, they considered it another potential advertising revenue, as they did radio and as they did television. And yet most of the newspapers got into one or the other of those over the years. It's very interesting that a company like Cox, who was even perhaps more conservative in their financial situation, brought in newspapers than The Blade was. That they got into it very early and very aggressively. Had you ever had any dealings with J. Leonard Reinsch?

WILLEY: Paul and Bill did. They had discussions with him but I don't think I ever met him.

KELLER: Who did you deal with at Cox?

WILLEY: Mark Barlow was the main one, and John Campbell handled details of the cable system. Mark was the Cox Broadcasting president, I think.

KELLER: Yes, he was.

WILLEY: So I dealt with him mostly.

KELLER: I think, John, this is a point where we can wrap this up. Is there anything else that you would like to express about your tenure in the business over the years? Anything you would like to say as we wrap this up?

WILLEY: Well, it's hard to say. I always found it very interesting, the cable system.

KELLER: Did you have any inkling at the time that the system used to bring in television signals would one day be used to bring in all kinds of communication services?

WILLEY: I don't recall that we ever anticipated that.

KELLER: With the exception of facsimile.

WILLEY: Facsimile – I explored that with the Goss press people and with AT&T research lab in Freehold, New Jersey, but they didn't seem interested in pursuing anything of that sort, probably rightly so.

KELLER: It was very difficult. Some people thought that there would be a day when you'd be able to print out a newspaper from a television set, and of course they're doing that on the computer now.

WILLEY: Well, I tried to explain that the savings to The Blade by eliminating the printing of the paper and the presses and the circulation delivering would amount to millions of dollars in a year and we could put that into a facsimile system, but nobody seemed interested.

KELLER: Sometimes I think the newspaper people think that they're in the printing business just as broadcasters think they're in the transmission business as opposed to the news function.

WILLEY: I guess, yeah.

KELLER: This has been the oral history of John D. Willey, past president of The Toledo Blade Company and the first vice-president and director of Buckeye Cablevision in Toledo, Ohio. We are in Toledo, Ohio on December the 2nd, 2002 and we very much appreciate you taking your time to speak with us today, John.

WILLEY: It was very enjoyable.

KELLER: Thank you, sir. This oral history is a part of the Oral History Program of The National Cable Television Center and Museum on the campus of the University of Denver and is financed partially by a grant from the Gustave Hauser Foundation. John, thank you.

WILLEY: A pleasure. Nice to see you.