When the history of cable television is written its greatest story will be in education.
Like many towns in Pennsylvania, Meadville, where the Barcos lived, was surrounded by mountains that obstructed the TV signals reaching in from nearby cities.
Barco, who was then the solicitor of the Meadville School District, went home and pursued his idea in his spare time, approaching RCA about its master antenna technology. RCA referred him to Milton Shapp, whose Jerrold Electronics built community antenna systems and manufactured the equipment that went into them.
The two met in 1952 and soon after, Barco formed Meadville Master Antenna Inc. (MMA), hiring Jerrold to provide equipment for the three-channel system. MMA was an instant hit.
The Barco family ran the Meadville system for decades, but Barco's contributions to cable wouldn't come only from his background as an operator. They'd also come from his practice of the law and his love for education. As general counsel of the Pennsylvania Cable Television Association (PCTA) and a leader in both that group and the National Cable Television Association (NCTA), Barco would have a profound impact on the governmental and industry policies that sprang up to govern the way cable television did business.
Born of immigrant parents in 1907, Barco attended Allegheny College in Meadville and earned his law degree from the University of Pittsburgh. After serving as assistant district attorney and then deputy attorney general of Pennsylvania, he opened the firm of Barco and Barco, establishing a private practice with his daughter Yolanda.
The 1950s and 1960s were years of opportunity for acquiring and expanding cable systems, but Barco refrained from adding to his holdings. He served as legal counsel to the PCTA and several cable operators and wanted to avoid ever having a conflict of interest, or even the appearance of one, with a client.
Barco's most dramatic victory occurred in the NCTA board room in 1962, after the association had lost a pair of lawsuits over the question of whether cable should pay copyright fees in order to retransmit TV programming. Fearing another loss, board members felt it was hopeless to pursue the issue further.
Barco disagreed. A member of the board himself, he argued vehemently that cable, which received programming on its community antennas and then shared it among households, was not a transmitter of programming and therefore not legally subject to copyright fees. Barco promised to negotiate a fixed fee with attorneys representing the NCTA in order to hold down costs for the appeal. Finally, the board voted to pursue the case.
The Supreme Court agreed to hear cable's case and, in a stunning decision, reversed the lower courts and issued an opinion in the industry's favor. Barco's influence lives on every time a Pennsylvania college student registers for an on-air course and also through the Barco-Duratz Foundation, a philanthropy established to fund educational projects. It has made substantial contributions to literacy projects throughout the state of Pennsylvania and has helped a number of colleges and universities participate in the Pennsylvania State Network.
Founder, former President, CEO and Chairman, Daniels & Associates, 1998 Cable Hall of Fame
If there is any reason for them to call me the 'Father of Cable Television,' I would think it would be because I was the first guy to recognize it as a hell of a potential business, and I brought the financial community in to really make it a business...
Bill Daniels brought TV to Casper, Wyoming becoming the first community antenna operator to use microwave links to import signals from a distant city, in this case Denver, 200 miles away. He would build more systems and serve for a year as president of the National Cable Television Association (NCTA), an organization he'd helped found.
During his travels as NCTA president, Bill Daniels would realize that community antenna operators all over the U.S. needed two things: help starting, buying and selling systems, and financing to accomplish their goals. In 1958, after settling in Denver, he formed Daniels & Associates, a company that not only brokered cable systems, but also helped entrepreneurs get started in the business, providing management and engineering expertise in exchange for a percentage of the system's equity.
By 1988, Daniels' cable operating company ranked among the top 25 multiple system operators in the United States. Daniels merged all but two of the systems, both located in California, with United Artists Communications in order to focus on his brokerage and investment banking businesses and on Prime Ticket Network, a Los Angeles regional sports service. He would later partner with Tele-Communications Inc., in creating Prime Network, owner of a string of regional sports networks around the U.S.
Later in his career, Daniels would pursue a variety of philanthropic ventures, including establishment of the Young Americans Bank, the first chartered bank in the U.S. dedicated to providing a hands-on learning experience to children and young adults. In November 1988, he presented the largest gift ever awarded to the University of Denver, an $11 million grant to help revamp the school's master of business program to include new required courses on ethics, integrity, demeanor, communications, negotiations, manners and social involvement. At Daniels' suggestion, the school polled U.S. businesses, asking for feedback on the graduates it was turning out. Poll results convinced the university to revamp its business curriculum, integrating courses on marketing, finance, accounting and other disciplines so students graduating in any one field would be conversant in the others.
Today, Daniels & Associates continues to rank as one of the leading media brokerage/investment banks in the United States.
Founder, former President and Chairman, Tele-Communications, Inc., 1998 Cable Hall of Fame
I picked up some characters one night down at the cotton gin...they had lost their ride...I visited with them...they had just built their first cable system. The next morning, I went down and talked to those folks...In 30-40 days, I was in the business.
The founder of Tele-Communications Inc. (TCI), Bob Magness, began his career as a cottonseed salesman and part-time cattle rancher after graduating from Southwestern State College in Wetherford, Oklahoma. During a visit to a cotton gin one evening in 1956, he met two men who were having car trouble and needed a ride to the nearest town. Magness offered to help and during the 30-mile drive, heard all about the new business the men were building, a community antenna system in nearby Paducah, Texas.
Intrigued, Magness drove back to Paducah a week later, found the two men and picked their brains some more. Encouraged by his wife Betsy, Magness sold the cattle, mortgaged their home and borrowed $2500 from his father to raise capital for the couple's first community antenna system, in Memphis, Texas. Magness strung wires while Betsy kept the books.
Two years later, the Magnesses sold that first system and began looking for an opportunity to reinvest. A cable operator and broker named Bill Daniels showed them a community antenna system in Bozeman, Montana, and in partnership with another television entrepreneur, the Magnesses bought the system and later built six more in the area, reaching more than 12,000 homes.
By 1965, Daniels had convinced the Magnesses they needed to run their companies, which now included Community Television Inc., the cable company, and Western Microwave Inc., a microwave common carrier, from a more centralized city. They relocated to Denver and in 1968, combined their two companies into Tele-Communications Inc.
In 1972 Magness hired John Malone of Jerrold Electronics to help him restructure TCI's finances. Magness and Malone had adjoining offices. Together, Magness and Malone would build TCI into one of the most influential media companies in the world. Along the way, they'd help to finance numerous affiliated companies, including Discovery Communications, Black Entertainment Television Inc. and Encore Media.
Even as he built his cable empire, Magness kept up his life as a rancher. He'd bought his first Arabian horse after World War II and later in his life he raised and bred horses on a ranch in Colorado and another in California. He also raised and bred a prize-winning herd of Limosin cattle, a breed known for its vigor and low fat.
At the same time, he was a sought-after board member, serving as a trustee of the University of Denver, the Denver Art Museum, the National Western Stock Show Association and the Denver Area Council of the Boy Scouts of America. He and his wife, Sharon, whom he married after Betsy died in 1985, were also highly active in local charities.
Martin F. Malarkey
Co-Founder and former President, NCTA, 1998 Cable Hall of Fame
Word got around about what I was doing and people started coming in the store and offering me money and asking, 'How much do you want to hook me up to this system that you have?' I realized, that it was a system that could be sold.
Martin Francis Malarkey had begun his career following naval service in World War II. He worked in his father's store, Malarkey Music Co., selling pianos, violins and other instruments along with radios, phonographs and TV sets. On a buying trip to New York, he stayed at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel and was amazed by the crystal clear pictures coming out of the TV set in his room. The cord coming out of the TV set also fascinated him. It wasn't the usual flat twin lead, but instead was round and covered with black vinyl. He called the front desk and minutes later, the hotel engineer was giving him a guided tour of his master antenna system, which served 500 rooms and would soon add 500 more.
He approached RCA, which had built the Waldorf system, about providing a similar setup for Pottsville. Before long, his system was up, running and impressing the customers who came into his store.
Over the next few years, Malarkey would build six additional systems, in cities including Harrisonburg, VA., Altoona, PA. and Wilmington, NC. His work for the National Cable Television Association (NCTA) took him often to Washington, a city he loved instantly. Before long, he'd moved his home and business headquarters there.
Malarkey built the NCTA steadily into a larger organization, adding members and gradually expanding the group's annual meeting. "He was just a helluva persuasive guy," recalls Al Warren, president of Warren Publishing Inc., and a long-time friend. "He was gregarious and warm. He exuded friendliness and good natured humor. He was an exceptional man."
By 1960, at the age of 41, Malarkey had sold four of his cable systems and achieved a childhood dream: he'd earned enough to retire. So he did.
After realizing retirement wasn't for him, he opened a one-man consultancy in 1961 and ran it until about 1963, when he partnered with ABC Inc. in a venture that aimed to acquire a group of cable systems. After more than a year, ABC decided it didn't want to enter cable system ownership and bought Malarkey out of his investment in the project.
It was then that he convinced Archer Taylor, a respected engineer he'd recruited for the ABC project, to join him in creating a bigger consultancy which became Malarkey-Taylor Associates (MTA).
As the franchise wars broke out during the 1980s, MTA expanded, becoming extremely active in helping major operators compete for the right to wire major cities of the United States. By 1985, it was also providing research, marketing and advertising services. It opened an office in London and completed projects for a number of overseas countries and companies.
In 1987, MTA acquired Economic and Management Consultants International (EMCI), a company that would bring expertise in wireless telecommunications, paging, private radio and cellular services. Andrew Roscoe, who had founded EMCI, stayed on to manage that part of the company, and in 1992, led a management buyout of MTA, renaming it MTA-EMCI.
Malarkey continued his active lifestyle, jogging and swimming laps to stay fit and holding court at lunch with Washington's power brokers in the city's finest restaurants. He never lost his trim, athletic appearance.
From the beginning, Malarkey knew cable would be more than just a way for people in a hilly environment to get TV channels.
Milton J. Shapp
Founder, Jerrold Electronics, 1998 Cable Hall of Fame
(Our) package where we'd sell a complete system and train their personnel...is really what got Jerrold going. We became the leader in the business because we were the only ones supplying field engineers to put the systems in and train the people.Milton J. Shapp
During the 1950s and 1960s, Milton Shapp's Jerrold Electronics dominated the cable industry, producing the first equipment designed specifically for community antenna systems and partnering with scores of operators in launching new systems. From a basement workshop and an investment of $500, Shapp would build a career that also included vendor financing of cable systems and, one of his specialties, politicking.
In the early 1930's, Shapp worked as a sales rep for a radio parts manufacturer. With a colleague, he later went out on his own, representing a number of electronics parts manufacturers throughout the Midwest. He moved to Pennsylvania in 1936 to concentrate on the east coast market, and expanded his representation again to include other lines of transformers and condensers.
World War II interrupted Shapp's burgeoning rep business for a time, but by 1948, Jerrold Electronics Corp. was up and running, having expanded its product lines to include a small black box that enhanced TV set reception.
The booster later evolved into a master antenna system that allowed retail stores to show more than one TV set working at a time. Shapp discovered that the same system could work in apartment complexes and some of Jerrold's customers were tinkering with adapting the system to serve other purposes.
Shapp wanted to own cable systems as well as supply them with equipment. Gradually, Jerrold's cable systems multiplied, as Shapp offered newcomers wanting to enter the community antenna business assistance in building and managing their systems. Jerrold supplied engineering and operational expertise in return for a 49-percent share of ownership in the system.
In 1967, Shapp sold the company that would be acquired the following year by General Instrument. After an unsuccessful first run, he won election to the governorship of Pennsylvania, exchanging his business gains for a salary of $40,000 and later $60,000 a year. He served two terms and in 1976, made an unsuccessful bid for the Democratic presidential nomination.
Irving Berlin Kahn
Founder, TelePrompTer Corporation, 1998 Cable Hall of Fame
Originally, I didn't know what cable was and I wanted a place to experiment with pay TV .... When we got there, we began to see opportunities.
For much of his life, Irving Kahn remained at the hub of a cable industry that was just spinning into focus in the 1950s. He helped to invent the teleprompter, turning the device into a staple of the entertainment and political presentation industry and adding a new word to dictionaries of the world. Later, the same word would be associated with the largest cable operating company in the U.S., an enterprise Kahn began building in 1959.
Toward the latter part of his career, the resilient Kahn launched many companies that sprang from his cable background: BroadBand Communications Inc., to secure films and other programs for pay cable; Choice Cable Corp., a 55-franchise system in southern New Jersey utilizing fiber optics that he eventually sold to the New York Times in 1980 for $100 million; Times Fiber Communications, to develop fiber optics; and General Optronics Corp., to manufacture laser diodes for use in fiber optic systems.
The only son of Russian immigrants, Kahn grew up in a home where his parents' lack of formal education did not dampen an intense interest in the arts. Influenced by his father's affinity for poetry and physics and his mother's for Shakespeare and literature, Kahn developed an insatiable and passionate curiosity, a characteristic that propelled him through life.
His bravado earned him another role after college as a press agent for bands, and in the late 1930s for 20th Century Fox in film and radio promotions. After serving in the U.S. Air Force during World War II, he rejoined Fox, and demonstrated a knack for keeping his hand on the door knob in anticipation of opportunity's knock.
Kahn enlisted the engineering expertise of colleague Hubert J. Schlafly. By 1951, after numerous prototypes, delays and financing snags, they launched TelePrompTer Corp. The device that displayed script lines and cues for public speakers and actors led to adaptations for use in telecasting big-screen closed circuit events such as boxing matches and auto races.
In 1960, Kahn made waves at the National Cable Television Association convention in Miami, where he treated attendees to the live, closed-circuit showing of the title-fight between Floyd Patterson and Ingemar Johansson. An estimated 25,000 cable subscribers in 13 cable systems around the country were paying $2 each for the same showing.
Among the challenges Kahn faced in his life was a felony conviction in the late 1960s for bribing city officials in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. He admitted the payments, but said they were extorted from him for a cable franchise renewal. He served 19 months of a five-year sentence, but staged a memorable comeback upon his release.
Bill Bresnan, who became president of TelePrompTer's cable division after it merged with Jack Kent Cooke's H & B American Corp., and who today is president of Bresnan Communications, remembers Kahn as "provocative and bombastic, a rough-and-tumble kind of guy with plenty of sizzle. He was a visionary who made people think about where the industry was going."
As a futurist, Kahn realized that cable television was more than a one-track medium. "Cable," he reflected prophetically in 1987 while taping his oral history for The Cable Center and Museum, "is not the right word anymore. You have a variety of technologies, like coincidence of design, totally unrelated to cable, that have forced the development, causing a total blending of communications."