Former Chairman and CEO, Bresnan Communications, 2000 Cable Hall of Fame
Bill Bresnan, a native of Mankato, Minnesota, was drawn to electronics at an early age when a local broadcast engineer taught him how to fix radios. After studying engineering following high school, Bill took a sales position with an electronics wholesaler. While selling supplies to a start-up cable TV service in Mankato he watched and learned as the company built the system, acquiring expert knowledge of cable technology. In 1958 he assumed the position of chief engineer for the Rochester, MN cable franchise, marking the beginning of his career in cable. By the close of the decade he had designed and built several cable systems in the region.
When entrepreneur Jack Kent Cooke purchased the Rochester system in 1965, Bill joined the Cooke executive team and a long and successful professional relationship between the two men was born. After a series of transactions, Cooke’s holdings were merged with Teleprompter Corporation, then the largest cable company in the U.S. Bill served as President of Teleprompter’s Cable Television Division from 1974 to 1981. In 1981, Westinghouse Electric purchased Teleprompter, and he became Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of the new company, Group W Cable, Inc.
By 1984, Bill Bresnan had spent half of his life in cable and had held every top position but one. That changed when he left Group W and founded his own company, Bresnan Communications, in partnership with TeleCommunications, Inc. (TCI). The new company acquired systems in Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin and ultimately Nebraska, all primarily in small and mid-sized markets. When that package of systems was sold to Charter Communications in 2000, Bill remained in the business exploring potential new ventures. In 2003 he acquired a group of systems in Colorado, Montana, Wyoming and Utah in partnership with Comcast Corporation, again in small and mid-sized markets.
Throughout his career, Bill Bresnan has played a leadership role in the cable television industry. He has testified before the FCC and U.S. congressional committees on a wide range of communications and copyright issues. Known as one of the cable industry’s leading contributors to technological advancement, he played a major role in the development of the first domestic satellite transmission as well as the country’s first commercial fiber optic communications system. In 1981, he was the recipient of the National Cable Telecommunications Association’s prestigious Larry Boggs Award (now the Distinguished Vanguard Award for Leadership) for outstanding contributions to the industry, and in 1987 he was honored with the Cable Television Public Affairs Association’s President’s Award. In 1999, his numerous contributions to the industry were acknowledged when he received one of cable’s highest honors, the Walter Kaitz Foundation’s Partnership in Diversity Award. In the spring of 2000, he was inducted into the Cable Television Hall of Fame. In May of 2000, he received the Stanley B. Thomas Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Association of Minorities in Communications. In November of 2000, he also was inducted into Broadcasting and Cable magazine’s Hall of Fame.
Bill served for over 35 years on the Board of Directors of the National Cable Telecommunications Association. He is currently the Chairman of The Cable Center in Denver, Chairman of the Executive Committee and a member of the Board of Directors of C-SPAN, and a Board member of Cable Television Laboratories, Cable TV Pioneers, and Cable Positive. A supporter of diversity in the workplace, he is also a member of the Board of Directors of The Emma Bowen Foundation, which promotes employment opportunities in media for economically disadvantaged minority students. Previously, he was the Chairman of CablePAC and has served on the Boards of Directors of Cable in the Classroom and the Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau. A firm believer in the advancement of women throughout the industry, Bill Bresnan is an honorary lifetime member of Women in Cable and Telecommunications.
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Founder and Chairman, Cablevision Systems Corp., 2000 Cable Hall of Fame
It was clear that if were going to succeed in Manhattan, we needed to provide the subscriber with content, with programming, that they were then unable to receive from broadcast television.
Charles "Chuck" Dolan was born on October 16, 1926 in Cleveland, Ohio. The son of an inventor, he served in the U.S. Air Force and studied at John Carroll University before blazing a trail in telecommunications. His earliest professional endeavors focused on the packaging, marketing and syndication of sports and industrial films.
Working together with his wife in their Cleveland home in the late 1950s, Mr. Dolan edited and produced short film reels of sports events for syndication to television stations. Selling the business, he joined the acquiring firm and moved to New York. Shortly afterwards, he and a business partner bought out the company's owner and formed Sterling Movies USA, which distributed industrial films to targeted audiences, usually groups gathered at convention hotels.
Sterling became the launch pad for Mr. Dolan's groundbreaking business idea of connecting New York City hotels with desired content originating from one location. This new distribution method enabled Mr. Dolan to deliver a range of content offerings to the lodging establishments. One such service was Teleguide, which allowed hotels in the city to receive local information of interest to conventioneers.
It was while wiring a hotel to pick up the Teleguide signal that Mr. Dolan recognized that the same method could be used to bring cable television to individual homes in New York, where tall buildings provided obstacles to satellite signals. In 1964, Mr. Dolan approached the city with his idea. The following year, he was awarded a franchise to wire the lower half of Manhattan -- so began Sterling Manhattan Cable.
Knowing that his fledgling cable service needed more customers to lure more funding, in 1968, Mr. Dolan struck an unprecedented deal with Madison Square Garden to carry the New York Knicks and Rangers play-offs exclusively on cable for $24,000. This would be the first of many local programming offerings created by Charles Dolan.
Building on this content coup, Mr. Dolan moved forward with his next programming venture, The Green Channel. This "Macy's of television," as Mr. Dolan liked to call it, was a service that would provide targeted, commercial-free sports and movie programming to those consumers willing to pay for it. To make this dream a reality, Mr. Dolan convinced Time Inc. to provide him with the money to start the new service, which was re-christened Home Box Office and launched in 1972.
The partnership with Time Inc. ended a year later when the company exercised its buy-out option, and Mr. Dolan used the money he received to purchase a 1,500-customer cable system on Long Island: Cablevision Systems Corporation was born.
Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Mr. Dolan divided his energy between franchising battles, and new network and programming launches. In 1986, he took Cablevision public.
Today, Cablevision Systems Corporation is one of the nation's leading telecommunications, media and entertainment companies. Its portfolio of operations ranges from digital voice service, high-speed Internet access and robust digital cable television packages to championship professional sports teams, world-renowned entertainment venues (including Madison Square Garden and Radio City Music Hall), and regional and national television program networks. Central to Cablevision's mission is a commitment to enrich customers' lives by providing the greatest possible choice of entertainment, sports, information, digital and telecommunications services utilizing state-of-the-art technology.
Founder and Chairman, Cablevision Industries, 2000 Cable Hall of Fame
I am the luckiest guy in the world to have gotten into this (cable) industry at 21 years of age, grown with it and forged the friendships that I have. I cannot think of a better way for a young guy growing up in rural America to participate in the American dream.
The son of a Liberty, NY frozen food distributor who had struggled to keep food on the family table during the Great Depression, Alan Gerry went straight into the Marine Corps from high school. He tried various jobs, studied television repair on the G.I. Bill, and then set up a two-man TV sales, installation and repair business in his hometown.
Because reception was difficult in this mountainous summer resort area 90 miles northwest of Manhattan, Gerry installed antennas at high points around the county, with each providing TV reception for a cluster of 10-15 houses. When he met some people from Jerrold Electronics in 1955, he learned about community antenna television. In 1956, Alan Gerry persuaded seven business men in his Catskills community to invest in the local cable system that he wished to create.
By the early 1970s, having bought out his original investors, Gerry's company had expanded into Pennsylvania and had a major franchise effort underway in Massachusetts. Then, to continue his expansion, in the late 1970s he obtained a $5.2-million loan from John Hancock Insurance. Into the mid-1980s, Gerry personally guaranteed all the company's loans. When Cablevision Industries (CVI) crossed the 100,000-sub mark, it financed further expansion by becoming one of the first small companies to access the high-yield ("junk") bond market.
In the early 1980s, Gerry installed the East Coast's first high-powered microwave delivery system and then used it to form his first 100,000-sub cluster, by tying together his cable systems in Orange, Sullivan and Ulster counties. More clusters followed. Gerry built systems in Florida, the Carolinas and the Mid-Atlantic States.
Gerry was one of the first cable operators to deploy fiber optic cable. CVI bought a Canadian-owned cable system in Los Angeles' West San Fernando Valley with a poor reliability record, and in 1989 he converted it to fiber. In 1996, he sold CVI to Time Warner.
Gerry's companies were known for their outstanding customer service, creative financing methods and extremely efficient operation. At the time of the merger, CVI was the largest privately held cable company in the country serving over 1.3 million subscribers in 18 states.
Today, Gerry still lives in the same house where he first repaired TV sets (although it has been greatly expanded). He founded and serves as chairman and CEO of Granite Associates, L.P., a diversified investment company that is active in telephony and communications and has helped many startup Internet companies go public. To help stimulate the depressed economy of his home region, Gerry purchased and resurrected the original 1969 Woodstock Festival site and several hundred surrounding acres. He has attracted music festivals there and is hoping to draw global tourists by transforming the historic pasture into an arts and entertainment complex that will hopefully also serve as the summer home of the New York Philharmonic.
Gerry is still active in many cable organizations, including CablePAC and The Entrepreneurs' Club. His $10- million donation to the National Cable Center in Denver helped spur $45 million in additional contributions from his fellow industry leaders. Gerry is a major contributor to educational and medical institutions in the communities he serves. He endowed a chair of orthopedic surgery at Harvard Medical School, established the Paul Gerry Dialysis Center in Sayre, Pa., put a wing on his local hospital and is involved in a program at Boston University to find a cure for amyloidosis.
In 1995, Mr. Gerry was the recipient of the Vanguard Award, cable television's most prestigious honor for distinguished leadership. He was inducted into the Cable Television Hall of Fame in 2000. Mr. Gerry has also received the Entrepreneur-of-the-Year Award from the New England chapter of the Institute of American Entrepreneurs, the Distinguished Citizen Award from the Boy Scouts of America and the Americanism Award from the Anti-Defamation League. He has received an Honorary Doctorate of Business Administration from Roger Williams University and an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from the State University of New York.
Chairman and CEO, C-SPAN, 2000 Cable Hall of Fame
There was no cable news network... It had never been discussed; it had never been mentioned... I said to the group, my idea is that we figure out a way to do public affairs. That we do our own 'Meet the Press' type program, because cable has no identity to this.
Brian Lamb was born and raised in Lafayette, IN. By the time he graduated from Purdue University in 1963, he knew he loved two things: politics and the media. He began to see there was something wrong with the relationship between the two while he was serving in the Navy. Assigned to the Pentagon's public affairs office, Lamb was able to listen to weekly press briefings given by Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara in his private dining room at the Pentagon. McNamara would divulge details about the war on condition that he only be quoted as "U.S. officials." After each briefing, lead stories would appear in newpapers and on TV, revealing new developments in the war, but sourced only by "U.S. officials."
To Lamb it seemed like a fraud, a relationship that allowed the government to control news about the war while handing reporters the stories they needed. Years later, when McNamara revealed he'd lied about many of the events of the war, the briefings seemed even more insidious.
At the White House Office of Telecommunications Policy in 1971, Lamb began to think about how cable, with its potential for many channels, might deliver a new kind of public affairs programming, one that favored longer, more informative interviews over the quick summaries that were becoming popular on network TV.
Then, on March 19, 1979, the Cable Satellite Public Affairs Network began beaming its signal. From the start, it was different from anything else on television, not just because of the live sessions of Congress it transmitted, but because of its approach to covering events. Cameras began rolling before a meeting or hearing started, showing people tapping microphones and getting ready to begin, and kept rolling after the event ended, while audiences gathered coats and began streaming toward the door.
His approach to interviewing people on the air was also radically different from what happened on most other TV outlets. He made it a rule that C-SPAN hosts never reveal their own opinions on the air.
C-SPAN's approach to call-in shows, conceived in 1980, was still another departure. The calls weren't just used to spice up a conversation between host and guest. They formed the backbone of the program, giving viewers a chance to talk back about issues.
C-SPAN continued to break rules for the next two decades, gaining particular fame in 1990, when it attached apel microphones to presidential candidates and followed them around for hours at a stretch, documenting the drama and mundane details of running for office.
C-SPAN added a second channel, C-SPAN2, in 1986 to cover proceedings of the U.S. Senate, and in 1989, it launched Booknotes, a weekly interview with non-fiction authors. The show would later spawn Book TV, a weekend program service on C-SPAN2 that is poised to expand as cable operators find room for more digital channels. C-SPAN Extra, a third channel offering more coverage of events, launched in 1999 and will be expanded to 24 hours a day this year.
Lamb, who several years ago delegated operating responsibilities for C-SPAN to executive vice presidents Susan Swain and Rob Kennedy, serves as the organization's chief standard-bearer and liaison with its cable industry board of directors. He keeps up a demanding schedule that includes hosting Booknotes 52 weeks a year and the weekly hosting of Washington Journal, the network's flagship morning call-in show. He travels to numerous speaking engagements and refuses compensation for them. Earnings from his books, the third of which is a tour of presidential grave sites, go to C-SPAN's education foundation.
Ralph J. Roberts
Founder, former President and Chairman, , Comcast, 2000 Cable Hall of Fame
Cable television is a pure, unadulterated demonstration of what can be done in America. We've taken a great idea and in one generation created a new industry and made it available to over 90% of American homes.
Ralph J. Roberts was born in New York City and spent his early childhood in the suburb of New Rochelle, New York. At age 12, after his father died of a sudden heart attack, Ralph's mother and siblings sold their home in New Rochelle and moved to Germantown, Pennsylvania to be near a sister who was in poor health.
After college at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School and four years as a lieutenant serving at Philadelphia's Naval Shipyard, Roberts partnered with an engineer to form a business that scouted for new products. After subsequent jobs at a local ad agency and Muzak Corp., Roberts joined Pioneer Suspender Company, the second largest manufacturer of men's fashion accessories. He rose to the top, bought the company and steadily expanded it until 1961, when he sold out after seeing the proverbial writing on the wall: beltless slacks were coming into vogue while cuff links and tie tacks were on their way out.
In 1963, Roberts formed International Equity Corp., which invested in launching new businesses. Dan Aaron, who had worked at Jerrold Electronics, came on board to run the cable division of the company and Julian Brodsky joined the firm as Chief Financial Officer.
For the next decade, Roberts, Dan Aaron and Julian Brodsky bought and launched cable systems. In 1969, the company's name was changed to Comcast, an amalgam of the words "communications" and "broadcasting." It went public in 1972.
By the early 1980s, Comcast's cable effort was in high gear, as the company acquired systems and bid for new franchises. It was already known as a financial innovator for arranging separate funding for each individual system.
Shortly after Group W put its systems up for sale in 1984, Roberts was contacted by Time Inc.'s then - chief strategist, Gerald Levin. He wanted to know if Comcast would like to partner in buying the Group W properties. Days later, TeleCommunications, Inc's (TCI) then - president John Malone called, asking if Comcast would like to team with them in the same acquisition. At Roberts' suggestion, the three companies worked together on the deal, and Comcast walked away with 26 percent of the Group W systems, bringing its subscriber count to more than one million and putting it on the map.
Throughout the 1990s, Roberts and his son Brian expanded Comcast with key cable acquisitions including Jones Intercable, Suburban Cable, Scripps-Howard and Maclean Hunter.
They also assembled the largest cellular telephone company in the Philadelphia area, which they later sold. In 1986, Roberts partnered with Joe Segel, the founder of the Franklin Mint, to create a home shopping network called QVC. In 1997, the company diversified into programming and invested in the Golf Channel, Speedvision and Outdoor Life Network and partnered with The Walt Disney Company to buy E! Entertainment Networks. In 2005, Comcast acquired the cable division of AT&T.
Today, Comcast is the largest U.S. cable company and is also the nation's largest broadband Internet service provider. Comcast has also expanded its content portfolio, creating or investing in services like G4, AZN Television, the regional Comcast SportsNet, PBS Kids Sprout networks and TVOne.
Today, Ralph Roberts still reports to his office in Center City Philadelphia, spending nights at an apartment in town and returning to his horse farm in Chester County on weekends. His wife, Suzanne, has a public service television show for viewers over 50 entitled, Seeking Solutions with Suzanne. Ralph and Suzanne maintain a close relationship with their five children and eight grandchildren. His son, Brian, who has been working for the company for 25 years, is now Chairman and CEO.
Robert M. Rosencrans
Founder, Columbia Cable Systems, 2000 Cable Hall of Fame
Once you've been in our business you have this feel, this smell, of being an individual, an entrepreneur. Not being overpowered by anybody. You don't want to lose that. That's the beauty of our industry.
In 1953, Robert Rosencrans entered the television industry and produced and distributed live television events to theaters and hotels through Box Office Television and later the TelePrompTer Corporation.
While planning the distribution of a heavyweight championship fight in 1956, Rosencrans granted a license to cable pioneer Bill Daniels to deliver the live event to his cable subscribers in Casper, Wyoming. The initial agreement with Daniels provided a first for the cable industry and shortly thereafter TelePrompTer acquired several cable systems and soon became a major player in this new industry.
In 1961, Rosencrans formed Columbia Cable Systems and acquired systems in Washington, Oregon, Arizona and California. In 1969, with a total of 30,000 subscribers, Columbia added other systems to its group and reached the 250,000 level though a combination of mergers and acquisitions.
In the early 1970's, Columbia began franchising in the Northeast and simultaneously used new programming offerings to attract subscribers who had adequate off-air service. Using HBO as its pay service and live sports events from Madison Square Garden, Columbia successfully franchised many contiguous communities in Northern New Jersey and Westchester County as well as San Antonio, Texas. The company's subscribers continued to develop internally as new systems were activated and supported by an array of new basic cable programming services as well as pay cable.
In the spring of 1975, Jerry Levin, who headed HBO, asked Rosencrans if Columbia would install an Earth Station in one of their systems to receive a satellite feed of the Ali-Frazer Heavyweight Championship fight originating in Manila on September 30th. Rosencrans agreed to the installation of the industry's first receiving satellite dish at its system serving Vero Beach and Ft. Pierce and simultaneously announced the planned installation of dishes in all of its largest systems. The satellite delivered signal proved to be an extraordinary success from both a technical and operational standpoint and overnight dramatically enlarged the range of the cable industry which suddenly had the capability to receive new programming at any location in a cost effective manner and deliver high quality pictures.
With HBO and then Showtime utilizing satellites to deliver their pay cable services, Columbia, in 1977, embarked on a venture to offer satellite delivered basic cable programming to the industry by joining with Madison Square Garden to distribute its live events. The Madison Square Garden Network, later renamed the USA Network, was the first proprietary satellite basic cable network and created the format for the multitude of basic cable networks that followed.
As the network expanded, the Cable Satellite Public Affairs Network formed by Brian Lamb with live carriage from the US House of Representatives was carried on the MSG network. Rosencrans became the founding chairman of C-SPAN which later expanded its offerings and required its own full time satellite carriage. Rosencrans also provided space to inaugurate Bob Johnson's BET Network which later became a full time service. Columbia Cable, with over 500,000 subscribers, was sold in 1981 to UA Theaters and Rogers Cable of Canada.
In 1984, Rosencrans, with several former associates, formed Columbia International and acquired and developed major systems in Virginia, Michigan, Oregon, Washington and Nevada. Columbia sold its operations to TCI, Cox and Jones in 1996. Rosencrans remained active in the industry as Chairman Emeritus of C-SPAN and was elected to the Cable Hall of Fame in 1999.