Interview Location: St. Louis, MO
Interviewer: Marlowe Froke
Collection: Penn State Collection
Note: Audio Only
FROKE: This is a recording of the Oral History Project, The National Cable Television Center and Museum, The Pennsylvania State University. The recording today is with Ray V. Schneider.
Ray is a member of the Cable Television Pioneers. He is recognized for his early work in the cable television industry, particularly with the Williamsport Cable Television System in Pennsylvania and later for sales work with a variety of construction, installation, and manufacturing firms. The oral history recording is being made in the living room of Mr. Schneider at 1279 Coral Bells Court in St. Louis, Missouri. The zip code is 63146.
We're going to talk first about some of your personal life, Ray--where you were born, where you went to school, some of your family, your brothers and sisters, and the like. Then what we'd like to do in this first session is talk about the general direction of your career. Am I guessing right that you are a native of Pennsylvania?
SCHNEIDER: No, you're not. There's no reason to believe otherwise, but actually I was born and raised in New York City. I was born on August 7, 1918, in the Upper Bronx in New York City. We lived in the New York City area through the Depression years. My father was a recording clerk in the Bronx County Courthouse. My mother was what was then known as "the" housewife, so to speak.
She took care of the family. All the time that my father was alive we lived in apartments which is typical New York City living. Almost like living in slots. Although they weren't small apartments, not slum apartments or anything. They were always large enough to take care of the family. Usually three or four bedroom apartments because we did have a fairly good size family.
FROKE: And this would be back in the 1920s-1930s, Ray?
SCHNEIDER: Well, we lived in New York City until 1932. Most of the time in the same area in the Bronx-- around 240th Street. The thing I recall about living there was that we always lived on the fifth or sixth story or floor of the apartment houses, usually not with elevators. More reasonable rent on the top floors than on the lower floors.
I had an older brother. His name was Bernard but we called him Barney. That was my father's name by the way--Bernard.
My sister, Veronica--we call her Ronnie--is not quite one year older than I am. She was born in August of 1917 and I was born in August of 1918. Well, my family didn't waste a lot of time.
FROKE: What was the specific date in August of 1918 that you were born, Ray?
SCHNEIDER: August 7th. I have a younger brother by the name of Robert, who we call Bob. Bob is three years younger than I am--the youngest of the family. The thing that I guess I recall most of all, living in New York City, was the fact that, as we were growing up, we moved into apartment houses that always had other relatives in the same buildings. Aunts, uncles, or something like that, always lived in another apartment in that same apartment building.
I still believe today that what I wanted to be when I was growing up was an athlete. I didn't turn out to be a very good athlete. However, I can vividly recall playing games in the New York City streets. Stick ball is a ... most everybody's heard of stick ball in New York City. Roller hockey where you use a tin can for a hockey puck instead of a regular hockey puck, and you use roller skates instead of ice skates. I spent, I would think when I wasn't in school, 60 percent of my time on roller skates. Consequently, I did become very proficient on roller skates. I was very interested in any type of sport that came along.
We attended Catholic grammar schools, the whole family. Although I don't remember the earliest ones, I do remember my grade school was the Holy Spirit School in the Bronx, taught by nuns. It was on the viaducts that brought the water from the reservoirs from Upstate New York to the New York City area.
There was no such thing as busing, you walked to school. My dad died from pneumonia in 1928, and my mother went to work to support the family as a telephone operator. We then, as kids, were put on our own to keep the house and cook the food so that it was ready when my mother came home from work. Which was not abnormal, I don't mean to make that sound as though it was self-serving because every family is the same and that's the way things were done.
FROKE: Were your parents immigrants, Ray, or were they second generation?
SCHNEIDER: My mother was born here. My father was born in Germany. My mother was Irish. Her maiden name was Faye.
FROKE: Did your father come here as a young man or as a child?
SCHNEIDER: As an infant, really. He came here when he was about 2 years old. His family moved to this country.
FROKE: Do you have any recollections of his parents, your grandparents, from Germany?
SCHNEIDER: Not really. They died very soon after I was born. As a matter of fact, he didn't live very much longer than ten years.
FROKE: You were only 10 years old when your father died?
SCHNEIDER: I was 10 years old when my father died. I don't really have a big recollection of him either. At that time, working for the city, you didn't work eight hours, you worked like fourteen, you know.
We never were in a position that we needed or wanted for things. Under the same token, we didn't get everything that we thought we should.
FROKE: So your mother played an important role in your life development and motivations for careers and so on. Obviously the Catholic school that you attended as a youngster did, too. The sisters always do that don't they.
SCHNEIDER: Very much, very much. I think the best thing that happened to me, to be honest with you, was that I did go to Catholic school and was taught discipline. I don't have the longest fuse for temper and many, many times I was put in my place by these nuns. I was severely punished for losing my temper, and I think it helped. In later years it slowed up. Although some of the people I worked with may not realize that.
I graduated from grade school at the New York Holy Spirit School. About that time, my mother remarried. We moved from what is known as the University Avenue section of the Bronx to the East Bronx. She took, of course, the name of her new husband. All of her children kept the name of SCHNEIDER:--none of us changed our name to Thiebauth. We had nothing against the marriage, we just did not want to make any changes. Our life at that time was what you could expect in the Depression years or right after the Depression years.
My stepfather was a salesman for the Globe meat slicing machine, Toledo scales, and that sort of thing. He was a very hard working, husky, hot-headed individual and we had to tow-the-mark. But again, we were taught that early in life so I guess we lived with it.
FROKE: And the name was Theroberth?
SCHNEIDER: (Spells) T H I E B A U T H. Now, I think that's French, but don't tie me down on that. I think it is. He had one brother and a sister that I knew of. I never met his parents, that I recall. I might have, but I don't recall it. I was very, very close to my sister all through our lives.
FROKE: This was your sister Veronica?
SCHNEIDER: Veronica, that's right. She's not quite a year older than I am. She was born August 29, 1917, and I was born August 7, 1918. So we were always very close to each other as a twosome. My oldest brother, of course, because he was three years older, didn't want anything to do with the young kid and I was the same way with my younger brother. He was three years younger than me and I didn't want anything to do with him.
FROKE: At that age ...
SCHNEIDER: It's a normal family. Then I went to high school in the Bronx. I started to go to DeWitt Clinton High School in New York City.
FROKE: This was a parochial school again?
SCHNEIDER: No, this was not. These were public schools in the Bronx. My parochial school ended at the eighth grade. DeWitt Clinton was quite a ways away. It was up in what is known as Washington Heights in New York City. I had to take a subway train everyday in the East Bronx. I did that for one term. It just got too much for me, the time running them and going and coming from school. So then I changed over to James Monroe School which was closer to where we lived.
About that time, I'd only been in James Monroe High School a short period of time, when I took ill. I had a very bad case of pneumonia. I missed about the rest of that year of school. Never got caught up with that first year. At the same time that was going on, my mother and stepfather decided to move to Long Beach, Long Island. We lived in Long Beach for the rest of that year. I did not attend school. I went to doctors off and on. The pneumonia left me with a heart murmur. When we moved out after about a year in Long Island, we moved to the Kingston, New York, area. An area twenty-eight miles north of Kingston called Broadhead.
Now you can ask me why I know it was twenty-eight miles. I used to walk it. To and from school many, many nights. Walk or run, whichever I felt up to. I wanted to play football--the buses had already left--and the only way to get home was hitchhike or walk. So I know it was twenty-eight miles.
FROKE: That's a good four hours, even running at a pretty good pace.
SCHNEIDER: Oh yeah. I usually hitchhiked, quite often. Most of the time I'd hitchhike and get a ride. At that time there wasn't too much ...
FROKE: There's a certain amount of trust in ...
SCHNEIDER: That's right. And this is when I decided that I really wanted to get into athletics. So, I took up football--practiced football--and made this trip back and forth. Went down on the bus, which was government paid for. But the night bus wasn't waiting for me, they went on their way. So I had to get home the best way I could. That was five nights a week. That went on for about two years because my mother and stepdad opened a little restaurant in Broadhead because again the Depression was still there and his business had not been too good.
FROKE: So he started on another career.
SCHNEIDER: Well, not really. I shouldn't say that, because he never gave up the selling end of it. He always worked, wherever it was necessary. Why, like weekends, particularly, he'd spend in the restaurant. We all had jobs to do and that. My older brother, Barney, joined the CCC's.
FROKE: That's right. Nothing like it today. Wish we had it. Again, that was more or less to help out the family. I have to be honest and say we never had to go hungry. We were always able to put food on the table and a roof over our head. Maybe we didn't get that filet that other people were eating, but we ate well. Barney was in the CCC's for three years. All the time that he was in the CCC's, I was finishing high school.
My sister went to a convent school in Goshen, New York. I don't remember the name of the convent, I'm sorry, but she thought she wanted to become a nun. After three years she decided that that was not her vocation, so she left there and finished her last year of high school in the nursing profession. She then became a nurse.
All this time the younger brother, Bob, was just having a good time for himself. He was the one who could care less about anything, and rightfully so. He was the youngest. He got out of school, didn't want to go to high school, but he did.
Anyhow, I wound up finishing in Kingston High School. I got my diploma from Kingston High School in 1938.
Now, if you want to shut that off, I'll take a rest.
SCHNEIDER: I said Bob went to high school just because he knew he had to go. He was not a student who wanted to study although he was smarter than he let on to be.
When I got out of high school, I went to work for my stepdad, selling scales and slicing machines. Although he had an office in Kingston, New York, he also had part of his territory in New England, so he had an office in Boston. I went to run the Boston office, to sell out of there. I worked MINE, New Hampshire, Vermont, and eastern Massachusetts as a salesman for my stepdad. I'll call him my dad from here on out.
FROKE: All right.
SCHNEIDER: After I had worked out of Boston for about two or three weeks, I found out, hell, I wasn't selling anything. I was doing absolutely nothing. So, I got hold of one of the salesmen from Toledo Scales who I'd become very friendly with and discussed with him the situation, what my problem was. He said, "Well, you give up two weeks of your time and travel with me. When we're in visiting the storekeeper, don't open your mouth, just listen. If you're asked a question, just answer yes or no, period. But just listen, and listen hard." So I did.
I told my dad what I was going to do and he said, "Well, I don't know what he's got up his sleeve but go ahead." Because he had a lot of faith in his man, too. So I did. I went with him from Maine to New Hampshire to Vermont for two weeks. I learned to talk like a down-easter man by just listening. When I finally left Boston a little over a year later, I was "paaking the caar in the baan." I was as down east as they were. So when I went and talked to them, they didn't figure I was from New York City. I was from someplace in the New England area, and they were willing to listen to me. I started to sell, started to close sales. And that's all it was.
FROKE: It was not the technique of sales.
SCHNEIDER: No, not the technique. There was nothing wrong with anything else but they weren't going to buy from a "foreigner."
FROKE: You had to be one of them.
SCHNEIDER: Had to be one of the boys. So I did, and I did fairly well for a little over a year.
Then I had an opportunity given to me by my very good friend, Joe Garland and his dad. There were from Kingston, New York. Joe and I played basketball together on the same team in the city leagues in Kingston. We became very close friends.
FROKE: This would be in the late '30s?
SCHNEIDER: No. Joe got in touch with me in early 1940 and asked me if I'd like to go to college. I said, "Yes I would. I'd like to go to college but I could not afford it." So, he said, "I can get you a scholarship for football." I said, "Okay, you do it. Football and basketball. If you can do it, I'll go."
His dad called me about a week later and said, "Can you be ready to go to Pennsylvania within two weeks?" Now we're getting back into the fall of '40. I said, "Yes, I could." I finally went to Williamsport, Pennsylvania, on a scholarship to attend Dickinson Junior College. The coach at that college that I met was a fellow by the name of Earl McKay. (Phone rings) Whoops, excuse me.
Delay for phone call
FROKE: Did you have a relationship with what evolved as Dickinson Law School?
SCHNEIDER: No, I did not.
FROKE: Totally separate?
SCHNEIDER: Dickinson Junior College is in Williamsport. Dickinson Law School ...
FROKE: Down in Carlisle.
SCHNEIDER: Would be down in Carlisle. It had no relationship whatsoever. Now Dickinson Junior College was a Methodist-run school. Not that that had anything to do with it, but it was a Methodist-run school. Rather strict, strictly run by a Dr. Long who was the president. They had roughly 300 to 400 students. Two hundred were maybe boarding students, and 150 were local Williamsport students. I did play football for them for one year, and I played basketball for them one year. While I was at Dickinson Junior College I get a "Letter from the President of the United States."
FROKE: It was that time?
SCHNEIDER: It was that time. You all remember. On July 4, 1941, I was inducted into the armed forces in Kingston, New York. On July 4th, can you imagine!
FROKE: And that even ... that preceded the declaration of war ...
SCHNEIDER: Oh yes.
FROKE: I would like to go back just a moment, Ray. You had said that your scholarship to Dickinson Junior College at Williamsport grew out of the relationship with Joseph Garland. Did he just see you as a young person who was beginning a career?
SCHNEIDER: No. Joe Jr. and I were very good friends.
FROKE: And the father wanted to find some way to help you?
SCHNEIDER: No, not really. The father was trying to help the junior college because they needed athletes for football.
FROKE: Oh, okay.
SCHNEIDER: And he did it for both reasons really. But more because the school needed athletes.
FROKE: Have you pursued your athletic interests that followed the bout with pneumonia and the heart murmur?
SCHNEIDER: Oh, I got over them.
FROKE: So that did not concern you at all.
SCHNEIDER: No. As a matter of fact in the year that I told you I missed--a year of high school--I overcame both of those problems.
FROKE: So you really did not get to see Williamsport too much. One year is about it.
SCHNEIDER: Well, that's not quite true. I got to Williamsport a little bit more than that.
FROKE: Okay, but in July you went into the military?
SCHNEIDER: Yes, I went into the military. But, while I was going to Dickinson Junior College I met my wife in Williamsport. My wife was born and raised in Williamsport. Her family was a brewing family. The Flock Brewery was her family's brewery. That brewery was right next to us. Surprising enough the property right behind the Methodist junior college was the Flock Brewery--touching practically. Her dad did leave the brewery for some reason, and I don't know why. I never knew her dad. He was dead when I met Jeanne. He had left and gone over to South Williamsport and opened another brewery and kept that going until prohibition. Anyhow, I met my wife while I was going to school.
After I was inducted in '41, the first place I was sent was Fort Dix, New Jersey. Then from Fort Dix they sent me down to Fort Bragg in Fayetteville, North Carolina. Fort Bragg is where I took my basic training. I finished my basic training in the fall of '41.
In October of 1941, Jeanne and I were married. Now, I was earning all of $21 dollars a month when I got married. Tells you how smart I was! But anyhow, we got married October 19, 1941. I was then assigned, after finishing basic training at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, to Fort Dix, New Jersey. We were on our way back to Fort Dix from the training program in the Carolinas, and we had just reached the gates of Fort Dix when we were informed that Pearl Harbor had been bombed. So now we're at war--period.
We stayed in Fort Dix for about three months. Then they sent our unit, which was the 44th Infantry Division, to Fort Pierce, Louisiana.
If you've never been in a basic camp or a camp in the service in Louisiana, you've never been to a camp! Because there were three of them down there, one right after the other. Nothing but mud. We were then split up into units. I went into the field artillery unit. We were there in Fort Pierce for four months.
Jeanne finally decided that she was going to come down and live, you know, spend time at Camp Claiborne. The day that she got down there we got our orders to go to Fort Lewis, Washington. Now how far away can you get!
So, we made arrangements with another couple--two couples as a matter of fact and one of them had a car--for the three wives to drive out to Fort Lewis, Washington. We got on that good old troop train and we took off for Fort Lewis, Washington.
We landed in Fort Lewis and Jeanne and I got a little apartment. I stayed in Fort Lewis for about five or six months. Now we're into the year of '42. I decided being a corporal wasn't a very good way to raise a family so I put in for Officer's Candidate School. They accepted me and sent me to Officer's Candidate School at Camp Davis near Wilmington, North Carolina.
Well, as luck would have it, Jeanne had gotten pregnant in the meantime. She went home to live with her mother and I went to North Carolina to Officer's Candidate School. I came out as one of those "90 day wonders." I did graduate from Officer's Candidate School and was given a normal two week leave. I went back to Pennsylvania to spend it with Jeanne and the family.
Oh, when I finished Officer's Candidate School, I had a choice. They always gave you at that time a choice of where you wanted to serve. You had three choices. The one that I got was Redondo Beach, California. I had been across this country so many times now I don't know which end is up!
That's the one that they gave me, Redondo Beach, California. Guarding the plant--the aircraft plant that was making fighter planes. We were as much good to those ... I don't know what we were protecting them against. The Japanese weren't anywhere near the coast. But that's beside the point.
After I was assigned out there and finally got settled, Jeanne went out with me with child--she hadn't had the baby yet--and we got an apartment. I shouldn't say an apartment really, but I guess it was in a court. She had out first child, Suzanne, in the Santa Monica Hospital in Santa Monica. Here I was back in camp ... couldn't get out because I was on duty that night. So, our landlord took Jeanne to the hospital in Santa Monica. The next morning when I got there, Suzanne had already been delivered. Jeanne stayed, and we lived out there for a couple of years. Then Jeanne got pregnant a second time, and we decided that the best thing for her to do was to go back to Williamsport and have the child, because I didn't know where I was going to wind up. As luck would have it, I was transferred from Redondo Beach back up to the State of Washington.
I'm now protecting the Boeing plant in the anti-aircraft business just outside of Seattle, Washington. Don't ask me what we were protecting against but we were there. We moved up there to spend the rest of my time in service in the states in that general locality. We did have to go out to the Yakima, Washington, firing range for testing, you know, to make sure our gunners knew what they were doing and so on. At that particular point in time I received the appointment to first lieutenant.
Our battery was the first battery called out to the Yakima Firing Range to test. We test-fired against planes carrying towed targets. We were finished, and ready to back to our home area. The battery coming in to fire second did not have a range officer, which I was, a range officer.
So, I was volunteered by my captain to be the range officer to stay there and fire this battery. Well, this went on and I fired every battery on the west coast of Oregon and Washington that had 90mm anti-aircraft because none of them had range officers that could be qualified. So, I spent six months out in the desert firing at towed targets. Not the most glamorous job that I've ever had but it kept me out of the fighting anyhow.
Then I had a falling out with a major on the firing range because he did something that could very well have killed some people. I, frankly, decked him. So, they transferred me overseas. I went overseas as a replacement officer and took a bunch of recruits with me that I was to deliver to areas that were replacing their killed people. Our first stop was Hawaii. I spent some time in Hawaii. Jeanne's older brother happened to be stationed in Hawaii. So, at least I knew somebody there that I could meet with. I stayed in Hawaii for quite a few months then was transferred to the island of Saipan, again in replacement depot. On the island of Saipan I got hurt--in the line of duty--by breaking both ankles, one after the other, not at the same time. One now and one eight weeks later playing volleyball on crushed coral rock courts!
End of Tape 1, Side A
SCHNEIDER: So they sent me back east. They shipped me back to the states. I went to Martinsville, West Virginia, to the Veterans Hospital down there. I was finally discharged from there as a first lieutenant in 1946. Now I'm back to Williamsport because that's where Jeanne is living. I went to work for a very good friend who was in the automobile business as office manager and helped him in sales. His son-in-law finished his career as a baseball player. Joe could no longer keep both of us so Frank stayed there and I left and went into the automobile business with a partner selling used automobiles. So, I've had a background--I'm a used car salesman. I stayed at that for awhile and decided that that was not my cup-of-tea.
I went to work selling for the General Foods Corporation. I traveled the eastern, I should say the central, part of the state of Pennsylvania, for them calling on the stores and replenishing stock and selling what they needed. I was with General Foods when this cable television business reared its ugly head, so to speak.
The woman--at that time she was a girl--who was my wife's maid-of-honor at our wedding, her husband had an interest in the cable television franchise in Williamsport. He was an attorney and he and his attorney partner sold their interest to another group. But they also suggested that I talk to them about maybe being a manager or trying for the manager's job. I interviewed for that job. So that brings my career up to CATV. From here on out, it's nothing but CATV!
FROKE: All right. Going back to pick up just a few questions moving from the tail end of the conversation back through it.
Do you have any recollection of how the franchise came to Williamsport? In other words, you came into the Williamsport situation at the time that they were looking for a manager.
SCHNEIDER: Yes. All right. Dorland Rouse and Markin Knight got the original franchise from the City Fathers in Williamsport to build a cable system in Williamsport.
FROKE: And this would be about 1950 - '51?
SCHNEIDER: This was in 1949.
FROKE: Forty-nine, okay.
SCHNEIDER: Some local people wanted to make an investment in this cable system. But when they got together with Rouse and Knight, the local people wanted the major portion of the franchise for their investment. Rouse and Knight didn't want to give it to them because they were not in the position that they wanted to give it to these particular people. So, those people filed for a second franchise, and they got a franchise. At the same time a guy out of the coal regions filed for a franchise and he got a franchise. So, Williamsport in early 1950 was the first and only town at that time that had three franchises granted in one town. Now it's happened since, I'm sure. I can't pinpoint any, but it did happen then.
FROKE: This was very early in the history of cable TV.
SCHNEIDER: This was the very beginning of it. Cable TV started in '49, really.
FROKE: But how would gentlemen such as Knight and Rouse be aware of this new evolving business, this new evolving industry? Did they pick it up through financial information?
SCHNEIDER: Yes, I think they did. I never really asked that question but I think they did pick it up through financial papers. Although I went to work for the cable system that they had the interest in originally. When I went to work they did not have any interest in it. They sold their complete interest. How much, I have no idea. They sold it to people like J. H. Whitney, our Ambassador to England, his company; and Goldman Sacks, an investment broker in New York; and Jerrold Electronics, which is Milt Shapp's, you know ...
FROKE: Another motivation that was going at the time was the lack of television signals in central Pennsylvania.
SCHNEIDER: In Williamsport there were some areas that could get one channel, out of Binghamton, there were some areas that could get one channel out of Altoona, and there were some areas where you couldn't smell anything.
FROKE: So they may have also then been involved in some of the give and take related to "wouldn't it be good if we could find some way to get television?"
SCHNEIDER: Yes, but I'm sure ... I'm sure that somewhere along the line ...
FROKE: There was a financial motive.
SCHNEIDER: Oh sure, there was a financial motive. I'm sure somewhere along the line the idea hit either Rouse or Knight that this could be a good ... that there was a need in Williamsport, and that they might be able to do something about it. They went to the City Fathers and did come up, in fact, with the first franchise.
FROKE: We'll probably talk more about this later when we begin talking in more detail about cable. Going back again to your personal life history. Your mother died when you were 25 or 30 years of age?
SCHNEIDER: No. My mother died very recently.
FROKE: I'm sorry.
SCHNEIDER: My mother died very recently. As a matter of fact, a little over a year ago at a ripe old age of 87 or 88 years of age. She'd been ill for quite some time. She had lost one lung to tuberculosis back in the '30s. Had a part of her arteries replaced with plastic, because ...
FROKE: That's the new surgery ...
SCHNEIDER: Yeah, that new surgery. Independent--she wouldn't live with me or my sister or brother, or anybody else.
FROKE: She continued to live in Kingston, New York?
SCHNEIDER: She stayed in Kingston. Well, she lived in a little town of Woodstock, which was close by for a while and then moved into Kingston, yes.
My youngest brother, who I said didn't think much of school, this was Bob, finally found his niche in life in that he went into the service in '42 or '43, I don't remember which. But he chose the Navy. During his stay in the Navy, he went to Navy Officer's Candidate School and he made a career out of the Navy. He wound up as a captain, as high as he could go without a college education. He did not go to college, although he took college courses when he was in the service.
He just finished his thirty years two years ago. So, he's just retired about two or three years ago. He lives in Florida with his family. He's got a family of three boys and two girls, so he had a family of five.
My sister also lives in Florida. Bob lives in the Melbourne Beach area. My sister lives in the Palm Beach area. She had five girls. They're prolific--those two are prolific. I wasn't quite so prolific. I only had two girls. My oldest daughter lives here, as I said to you earlier.
FROKE: This is Suzanne?
SCHNEIDER: Suzanne lives here in this area. My youngest daughter, Donna, lives in the Binghamton, New York, area. She has two children. Suzanne has three. Suzanne's oldest child, Lisa, got married last summer and she's attending the University of Missouri in Columbia. She's is her last year except she wants to go one more year to get her doctorate in speech therapy. Her husband finishes this year, I believe.
Her second daughter goes to the University of Missouri-Southwest, in Springfield, Missouri. Now she's just a freshman this year. She's not absolutely sure what she wants to do but she wants to do something in medical terms. Her youngest is a boy, who just passed 16, and he's a sophomore in high school here, in Parkway North.
FROKE: Your older brother, Barney, is he still living?
SCHNEIDER: No, Barney died seven years ago.
FROKE: What career did he pursue?
SCHNEIDER: Well, he pursued a career of maintenance of these same scales and slicing machines that I was selling. He got out of the CCCs and went into the Coast Guard and became a chief petty officer. He was a great one for cooking--he loved to cook. He spent twenty years in the Coast Guard then got out of that and went into maintenance of the slicing machines and the scales. He was doing that up until the day when he died. He was working for one of the major scale manufacturers.
SCHNEIDER: Well, not that big a scale. It was stuff that they use in the butcher shops, you know, like the Toledo scale or something like that, but it wasn't Toledo that he worked for. He was married and his first wife died then he got remarried. They were living in the Boston area when he died. I was on oxygen then, so did not go up to his funeral. My sister, as I say, is still living and my younger brother is still living, but Barney is passed on.
FROKE: Mr. Thiebauth, your stepfather, is he still living?
SCHNEIDER: Oh no, I'm sorry. He died of a heart attack while I was in the service. Sometime in '44 or '45--somewhere in that area. I was in the service when he passed away. He was a big, husky guy, but he died of a heart attack.
FROKE: In the discussion earlier, you mentioned your interest in athletics. It then followed you to Dickinson Junior College in Williamsport and then to the military service where you injured your ankles playing volleyball. Did any part of that athletic interest pick up later in your career?
SCHNEIDER: Well, yes. When I came back out of the service, back in Williamsport, I was one of these YMCA jocks. You know, I played the volleyball court and basketball and swimming. I played quite a bit of basketball. When the eastern basketball league was formed many years ago--'52 or '53, I don't know--I was asked to join the Williamsport team. But I was beyond the point where I wanted to go through THAT. Although Lou Pickler, who was a very good friend of mine and owned that team, asked me to please come out and give it a shot. I knew that I didn't want to concentrate that much on basketball, because I just didn't have the desire to go on and punish my body the way it takes to do it. If I couldn't do it well, I wasn't going to do it at all, if I couldn't do it absolutely right.
FROKE: When did you become aware that you had a physical problem with your lungs?
SCHNEIDER: Well, I knew because I used to be a heavy smoker. I never smoked a cigarette in my life until I was 22 years of age. Never. Now I chewed tobacco, but I never smoked a cigarette.
My doctor on Connecticut told me that I was close to having emphysema. He advised me to knock off smoking and I did not. In September of 1977, I was in Atlanta, Georgia, and I had a cold. I was at a Southern Association meeting at the time. I had a stop in Greenville, South Carolina, on the way back to Connecticut and it turned into pneumonia. Into the hospital I went. From that time on ...
FROKE: You've been on the oxygen support system?
FROKE: Is that what also brought a conclusion to your active career in the cable industry?
SCHNEIDER: Oh yes. I took sick that September and I spent about five or six weeks in a hospital in Connecticut. It's a rehabilitation hospital for lung patients. When I got out of that hospital, I went back to work, gave it a shot, and talked to my bosses at the time.
After two weeks I knew I couldn't do it. The phones drove me too crazy, my nerves would not take it. I was afraid that I'd go into hyperventilation from it. I had decided I'd done enough. As a matter of fact, it put me back in the hospital. I was still in the hospital when I talked to my superiors and told them that was the end of it. They put me on sick leave and permanent disability.
FROKE: Were you on an oxygen support system at the time you tried to go back to work?
SCHNEIDER: Oh yes.
FROKE: So, from the time of your first hospitalization then you've been on oxygen?
SCHNEIDER: Ever since then I've been on it. I used to carry this pack in because I knew I could work for four to four and one-half hours anyhow. I'd take this to work with me. They even offered to get me the big tank in my office. If I could do it, they would get the big tank put in my office for me so I could do it.
But that's not really what I could do because if I couldn't get out 100 percent I didn't want to do it. Putting out 100 percent was traveling all over this country, which my job took at that time. At least I felt it did, maybe it didn't but that's the way I looked at it. I wasn't about to travel all over the country with this thing because you can't get on the airlines with it. That was the beginning of it.
FROKE: Do you want to briefly describe the nature of the support system and how it has affected your life in the later years?
SCHNEIDER: Well, I don't mind. I'm on three liters a minute of oxygen and I have this oxygen company that comes here once a week. They fill two tanks for me. One tank I use when I'm here at home. I've got a long hose--fifty-seven feet of hose--hooked to that so that I don't have to haul anything with me. I can just take the hose with me and go. Then every morning I fill the smaller tank. It only takes me a minute and a half to fill the smaller tank and I can suck off of that for four to four and one-half hours. If I want to go out for dinner, I just take all this long hose off and put a seven foot hose on. I sling it over my shoulder and I go out with my wife, or whoever we're with. We have dinner and when I'm ready to go to bed, I go back on the other tanks.
I've had many funny situations with it that I can laugh at now. I did at that time, too, I guess. I've been in a restaurant where a small child comes up to me, sees this thing sticking in my nose, looks up at me and says, "What's that?" I say, "Well, that's the way I listen to my radio." She then runs back and tells her father or mother what I said and they come over and apologize.
FROKE: So the receipt that you just signed is for another full week's supply?
SCHNEIDER: Full week's supply of oxygen, yeah. I guess the older I get the more this bothers me. You wouldn't think that, but it does. Maybe I had a better support system back there in Connecticut than we have here. There were more people back there that used it. Out here you very seldom see anybody in a restaurant or any place with one of these. Back there it wasn't unusual.
We had a Better Breathing Club back there. We had as many as seventy-five people belonging to it! That's a lot of people to have breathing problems and most of them on support systems of some kind. Here that's not true. I did set up a club here with the help of one of the people from the pulmonary department at Saint John's Mercy Hospital. Not an official club, but we meet once a month, every second Tuesday of the month. Anybody that had any breathing problems--you know it didn't have to be emphysema--it could be asthma or anything. We go and listen to lectures someone would give us for about an hour. Even at that, there's maybe two people that are on oxygen at those clubs. The rest of them are just having trouble breathing and they consequently use puffers like this to help them out.
I'm not as active here as I was back east. Consequently, that hurts, too. I should be more active than I am and I know it! But it's tough to get active and stay active yourself. Then with my daughter, as I told you, she's been ill. Then last October, my wife had quadruple bypass surgery. That didn't do me too much good. She's coming along well now. As a matter of fact, she's out now. She's at my daughter's house right now. So all in all, I think I'm a little bit depressed right now more than anything else. I realize that and I don't know how to overcome it. But some way it will happen.
FROKE: You're away from the center of the development of your own career and the people that were very close to your career.
SCHNEIDER: I guess it was two years ago when Jeanne and I did go to Houston to the NCTA meeting. Now we didn't get to the showroom floor, but we did go to the Pioneer's Banquet. I had put one of those tanks in the back seat of the car and we drove down. Took us three days. We went to the meeting and then drove back home. We thought seriously about going to Dallas this year (1986) but we had to give that up for other reasons.
We had to give it up because number one it's so quick. It's in March this year. I'm not sure I want to be on the highways in Missouri and Arkansas in the month of March. I don't know what they're going to be like.
FROKE: There could be some snow flurries in those gullies.
SCHNEIDER: That's right. Other than that, I guess I have no complaints really. I'm still alive and breathing and eating--I have to watch what I eat but ...
FROKE: In looking at your overall career, there has been a continuity with the various experiences that you've had. You certainly were introduced early to the idea that you have to go out and make a living. You were in the family situation where there was a certain amount of responsibility that you had to have as an individual. You then moved into the situation where your father was involved in sales and marketing types of activities.
SCHNEIDER: That's right.
FROKE: You gained further experience in the field.
SCHNEIDER: I think that's true, yes.
FROKE: You picked up experience from your friend who taught you a bit about interpersonal relations being a part of the group up in New England.
SCHNEIDER: That's right.
FROKE: You're not going to sell unless you're one of them.
SCHNEIDER: That's right.
FROKE: Or at least in certain situations. So all along you were really, in a sense, preparing yourself for this career that suddenly opened up in Williamsport as a manager of a new type of business, a new type of industry.
SCHNEIDER: Well, you know I never looked at it that way, but when I look back at the whole thing I think you're absolutely right. Every bit was another building block toward this thing.
I do know when we get into the Williamsport Cable system itself--where I went from there, where it has helped me--where all of these things have helped me overcome adversities. For example, being the third cable company to start in a three cable company town is a little rough. But I was used to that kind of stuff so I was able to overcome that.
And I had some, if you'll pardon the expression, "ivy league bosses" who gave me a rough time and I was able to overcome those, too. I had an Ivy League boss who was a hell of a nice guy, and I didn't want to overcome! I kidded him one time, not knowing he was an ivy leaguer. When I found out he was an ivy leaguer I said, "Oh no, not another ivy leaguer." He never let me forget it. But all in all, I think I'm able to get by and build on my early experience.
Now I'm not a very demonstrative person. I see my sister and brother seldom, write to them seldom. We exchange Christmas cards, and we exchange birthday cards. After I left Kingston, I did very little to ever worry about getting back to Kingston, because I don't believe you can go back. I guess I lived within a handful of people, so to speak. I'm very close to my family and I'm very close to a young man still in the cable business, and doing a job that I did years ago. And a few other friends in the cable business, one in engineering, one in manufacturing, one in accounting, that I stay fairly close to and keep in contact with from time to time. I also keep in touch with my former inside sales manager, a delightful woman who still works at Times Cable.
When I'm in Pennsylvania, for example, even though I was a director for quite a few years and a president for a year, I really put that behind me and part of the reason I went to that meeting was because now I had a chance to talk to people I knew to sell a product that I was selling. I think the thing that I learned most out of life, when I was a young kid, if you don't go all out, you're not going to do anything. I think that's the important thing that I learned as a kid.
FROKE: Yes. You had no real strong pull towards a specific geographical area. The Bronx was home for a small period of time, Kingston was home for a small period of time. The military experience had the tendency to break up the continuity of most lives at that time, and up to Williamsport which was just another phase in your life.
SCHNEIDER: Of all the places I've been in, I think I like Connecticut the best.
FROKE: So home then, in a sense, is your wife and ...
SCHNEIDER: And family.
FROKE: And that small group of people that had followed you for so many years.
SCHNEIDER: Yes, I never have been a very demonstrative type of person, even with my mother. Although I did visit her as often as I could, I didn't visit her as often as I should. I was capable of doing it. But I found reasons or excuses not to because, I guess that's how I'm made.
FROKE: All right. Let's end this first tape recording which has dealt generally with your personal life and then the development of your career. When we move into the second tape, we'll get into your love of the cable television industry.
End of Tape 1, Side B
FROKE: This is Tape 2, Side A of the oral history with Ray V. Schneider. We will now be visiting with Ray about the Williamsport Cable Television System which he served as manager and developer of for a number of years. It was his introduction to the cable television industry. Earlier on tape 1 we touched briefly on Williamsport being the only community in the country, at least at that time, that had in effect three franchises which put Williamsport into a competitive situation from the very beginning. Do you want to talk about those three again--develop the general background on each-- who owned them and how they came about?
SCHNEIDER: The original franchise was gotten by Dorlan Rouse and Markin Knight who were partners together as attorneys. When they wanted to get local investment, the local investors wanted more shares than they were willing to give up at the time for what they were going to wind up with. So Rouse and Knight got in touch with Jerrold Electronics out of Philadelphia which was owned at that time almost fully by Milton J. Shapp, the J. standing for Jerrold. He, in turn, got in with two investment groups out of New York City. J. H. Whitney, Jock Whitney who was then our Ambassador to England, or became or Ambassador, I don't know if he was at that time, and Goldman Sachs who invested. Shapp agreed to invest the necessary dollars into building Williamsport. While all of this was going on the local investors that wanted to get with Rouse and Knight had gotten a second franchise.
Some gentlemen from the coal mining region had come in and gotten a third franchise. The names of the other two systems were the Lycoming System, which was the third franchise granted, and the local group used the name West Branch as their cable company's name because the west branch of the Susquehanna runs through Williamsport. Rouse had tied up the "Williamsport" name in his cable application.
FROKE: It was not called Citizens at the very beginning?
SCHNEIDER: Oh, no. That's a long time coming--Citizens.
FROKE: So it was Knight and Rouse?
SCHNEIDER: It was Knight and Rouse in Williamsport. They "went to bed," so to speak, with Jerrold and the two investment groups. They sold all of their interests. For what, I don't know. How many dollars, I have no idea how they made out on it. But they decided that was better than going in with local people.
The other two companies had started construction. The Williamsport system hadn't put up the first foot of cable. All three had picked antenna sites on Bald Eagle Mountain which is south of Williamsport, and had started putting up towers.
However, the Williamsport system did not put any cable on the poles because the telephone companies in Pennsylvania had a policy of only allowing one cable company on a pole. The power companies would allow more than one on a pole if there was space enough to give the forty inch clearance in their high lines. Or else you must replace the pole and pay the cost of the pole replacement. But the telephone company said no, only one cable company on a pole. So it made it quite "hairy" where you were going to build a system.
The other disadvantage of the Williamsport system, when it got started, was that the only bridge that you could get into Williamsport from South Williamsport was the Maynard Street Bridge. The Market Street Bridge, which was closer to what they really wanted, nobody could get on because the state highway department wasn't giving rights on that bridge because they were going to replace it. So, they had to go all the way down Southern Avenue a mile, mile and one-half to two miles, to the Maynard Street bridge, cross over to Williamsport from South Williamsport on the Maynard Street bridge and then come back a couple of miles into the downtown area of Williamsport where they could service dealers. They were at least eight months behind construction when they got started.
The thing they had going in their favor was that Jerrold Electronics had the know-how. They brought in Hinkle-McCoy construction crews out of Philadelphia and instead of one or two construction crews, they had like six or seven construction crews running at one time, with the Jerrold Electronics' engineers following construction crews so that they made sure that things were being done right. It wasn't too long before they were catching up rather rapidly, in the amount of cable that was put into the air.
The other thing about those early days is that K-14 cable was the top cable for low losses and was about an inch thick in diameter, very heavy cable. In order to get off the mountain, which is 2,200 feet high, you had to have amplifiers half way up the mountain just to get your signal down to work on it. Which meant that you had to run power some way from the shack at the top of the mountain or from someplace down below.
But all the companies had the same problem. The original cables that we used for trunk and feeder were foam 11-U and 6-U size cables. Very rapidly the 59-U size came into effect. Now 11-U was used mostly for trunk, 6-U for feeder and the 59-U for house drops. Later on, the cables got better and better as the years went by. The cable manufacturers came out with low loss cables, better jacketing materials. All these cables in the original form had copper braid shields to keep interference in or out of the cable. All cable companies used the same cable. If you didn't know the cable market you wouldn't know whose cable was whose on what poles unless you had a map.
The Lycoming System decided that they wanted to try to lock up South Williamsport into Duboistown, which was a little town connected to south Williamsport that had a population of maybe 6,000 to 8,000 people at that time.
The West Branch System coming across the Maynard Street Bridge, decided that they wanted to lock up the Vallamount, Woodmont, Grampian sections of Williamsport because those are the people that had relatively more money than anybody else in town. Now you have to remember the price to get cable installed in your home at that time was a $135 one-shot cost for installation. The monthly fee was only $3.50 plus 8 percent federal tax. But that $135 was a lot of money back in 1951. There's no argument about it at all. That's why West Branch decided they would go to where the people had that money--that $135.
The decision was made by the Williamsport people, and this is all before I was involved, that they would do the High Street and Park Avenue sections east of Walnut Street to the downtown area first, because the density of homes was so much greater than it was up in those other areas. They were going to shoot the dice that they would be able to make it up. It was while that was going on and that system was being balanced out and put together, that I was interviewed along with others for the job as manager of the cable system.
As I said earlier, I had been working for General Foods and I came on a weekend and had my interview. About two weeks later they called and told me the job was mine if I wanted it. When I went home to discuss it with my wife she told me I was off my rocker. That, number one, she knew Williamsport better than anybody and cable wasn't going to go anyplace--much less in Williamsport. We always kid about it. But she honestly did not feel people in Williamsport would pay for cable to television. As it turned out, they did. We finally got a line into every dealer's showroom in the downtown area that wanted it.
But none of the dealers had a signal. They would not put a signal into anybody's showroom until they were ready to pull a switch and show it to everybody. They did a very professional job.
Now I'm aboard as manager but I'm following orders that this is the way it's to be done. One of the people responsible for that, by the way, was Bob Tarlton from Landsford who was helping Jerrold as a consultant. He's teaching me what CATV is all about. I couldn't have had a better teacher, to be honest with you.
FROKE: There had been a little bit of experience that Tarlton was sharing with other new systems.
SCHNEIDER: Oh, yes. Well, see Tarlton started in what--'49. He knew what was going on.
FROKE: When you were interviewed for the position of manager of the Knight and Rouse system, did they tell you that the manager's job entailed this, this, and this, or was it just a general interview?
SCHNEIDER: It was just a general interview. By this time, it's now called Williamsport Jerrold Cable Television. They got the name. Rouse and Knight are completely out of it as of now. It's now Williamsport Jerrold Cable Television.
FROKE: You spoke about they were suggesting to you what to do. That direction was coming then from the Jerrold Corporation?
SCHNEIDER: From the Jerrold Corporation, and a Charlie Brown, and a Charlie Reese, who were from Golden Sachs and J. H. Whitney. The financial interest, plus the technical, from Jerrold; Bob Tarlton from the business management end; a consultant for Jerrold was doing his portion in this, too. When they were ready, they were satisfied, the Jerrold engineers were satisfied that the pictures were as they should be, we then held an open house for every dealer in Williamsport who had taken the service into his place of business. At the Lycoming Hotel--at a sit-down dinner--all of the dealers were invited for the dinner and some speeches. I was introduced as the manager at that meeting.
FROKE: Was Jeanne there?
SCHNEIDER: Oh, yes. Jeanne was there. Everybody that was there had a set in that ballroom of the Lycoming Hotel. Every major set was in there. All of them turned on, but no picture on any of them.
They finished all the speeches. Then Kip Fletcher, who was a Jerrold engineer at the time and had been one of the top in command of that whole bit, was given the job of throwing the switch on orders. Whether Kip wanted it or not, he was given it. He threw the switch that put the power on the amplifier that fed into that area downtown. You could have heard a pin drop the minute he threw that switch until each of the sets lit up with a picture on it. Every set but one came to life. Now don't ask me why it didn't but it didn't. But everyone came on with a picture on it. The picture that was showing on those sets was so much superior to what was being shown by our competition it wasn't even funny.
Our competition was there because one of their investors was a dealer in the downtown area. So they were there. When they saw those pictures they almost died. But everybody was clapping and stomping their feet. You wouldn't believe it. It was big time. It was done right. It was done with class. They finally let everybody mingle around and do what they wanted to do and talk and the night was over.
The next night they had all of the service personnel from these same dealers come it. But not for a sit-down dinner. It was a beer and sandwich type thing. They showed them the same thing.
The next morning was when we were going to open the Williamsport Cable Company offices for ...
FROKE: General sales?
SCHNEIDER: Taking orders. We had an office on Williams Street which was across the street and down a little bit from the Lycoming Hotel. I drove up the next morning, I couldn't get near my office. People were lined up for a block and a half!
FROKE: With their $135?
SCHNEIDER: With their $135 in their hot little palms! I finally got into my office and had some people come and say, "I'll pay you half now and half when you install it." We said, "I'm sorry we can't do that." They dug right down and got the other half out and laid it on the counter. In one year, within one year, we had twice as many customers hooked up to the Williamsport Jerrold Cable System as both of our competitors combined.
FROKE: In West Branch and Lycoming?
SCHNEIDER: Yes, than the two competitors combined.
FROKE: Do you recall the specific date of the community event at the Lycoming Hotel?
SCHNEIDER: I went to work for them in October 1951. So, this had to be late October or early November of 1951.
FROKE: And the service personnel were the very next night and then your office opened the following day. So it would have been sometime in October or November.
SCHNEIDER: Late October or early November 1951. From there on it did eventually, in a very short period of time, become the very largest single system in the United States.
FROKE: One quick question, Ray, related to the Williamsport Jerrold Cable Company. You mentioned that there had been some financial involvement by the two financial houses in New York City. Did they come in as investors or did they borrow money or loan money to someone else who was the principal owner?
SCHNEIDER: Yes, they came in as investors.
FROKE: So in addition to Jerrold, it was the two financial houses.
SCHNEIDER: They owned between them 75 percent of the company. As I recall, J. H. Whitney owned 50 percent, Goldman Sachs owned 25 percent, and Jerrold owned 25 percent.
FROKE: As manager, then, you were responsible to all three of the partners?
SCHNEIDER: Well, yes and no. Between the three of them they got together and appointed a fellow by the name of Charlie Brown as their overall representative of the three companies. I reported to Charlie Brown and then to Charlie Reese who was right under Charlie Brown. Those are the people I reported to. However, about once every quarter I would be called into Philadelphia to meet with Milt Shapp, who was president of Jerrold, to give him a read-out from the standpoint of how the equipment and the cable and everything was working out. It was his equipment, his layouts and stuff that we were using to build the system. Charlie Brown and Charlie Reese were responsible for the operations and the money making of that system.
FROKE: You mentioned that in a two year period of time the Williamsport system that you managed became the largest cable system in the country. What do you attribute that to other than obviously your good management skills?
SCHNEIDER: Well, that had something to do with it, but we really worked at the thing. Number one, we went past more homes than anybody else. As I told you, we went where the homes were concentrated rather than spread out. We started the first door-to-door selling of cable television. We hired salesmen after the slowdown of all of these people coming in with their money. We knocked door-to-door and sold cable television to the homes.
FROKE: So you build up a regular sales staff?
SCHNEIDER: Oh, yes. As a matter of fact, most of the sales staff that we used were Holland furnace salesmen and Lennox furnace salesmen, too. Because these people were used to knocking door-to-door. They knew how to do it. We actually spent five days a week selling door-to-door.
FROKE: Did you put the salesmen on a commission or was it a straight salary arrangement?
SCHNEIDER: Salary plus. So they had enough to feed the family and anything that they sold was the gravy. I told you earlier, I'm not a very demonstrative guy but by the same token I'm not a pushover for anybody. Even when I was in the other end as we get further on in this business and had salesmen selling cable the wire and cable when I worked for them, I'd call a salesman in and say this is what I'll pay you. This pays your rent, buys your food, and clothes your kids. You want to put a fur coat on your wife, you go out and earn it. So, I paid them a reasonable salary, hung a carrot of commission out in front of them, and let them run.
FROKE: And it worked?
SCHNEIDER: Every time it'll work, I'll guarantee you!
FROKE: And they were selling at that time under the fee structure of the relatively high installation fee?
SCHNEIDER: Well, no ...
FROKE: That had already passed?
SCHNEIDER: The $135 thing died about a year and a half after we started. We didn't start it, that was the going rate. But, because we had the competition and we were getting the customers and they were cutting the rates, the installation fee not the monthly rate because that was too low as it was $3.50 a month. Then cut it down to $100, we lost on that. They'd cut it down to $75, we'd match the $75. About that time they were probably selling around, and I'm just guessing now because I don't really remember, $50 a connection.
FROKE: So as the system matured, the installation fee became less and less as part of the total financial structure?
SCHNEIDER: Well, yes and you really have to consider that when you look at it from a financial standpoint. The $135 was great. Once the first push was over with then you would find family after family sharing the same TV set on a Saturday night to watch the movies or the ones that they wanted to watch. They couldn't afford it. So then you had to put it on. Well, if you had 100 more customers paying $3.50 a month was a hell of a lot better than not having the three customers on the line getting $135. On that basis, we were not against matching these lower rates. Eventually, it got to the point where it was only $12.50 for installation.
FROKE: So the cash flow problem which led to the high installation fee initially, gradually went down as the result of one moving down to other segments of the market and at the same time responding to competition where you had this unique situation in Williamsport.
Your background as a salesman obviously led to these innovative strategies that you applied to the cable system.
SCHNEIDER: Yes, I think it definitely helped some.
FROKE: You knew how to sell?
SCHNEIDER: Yes. After I got out of the service, as I told you, I was with that car, the Studebaker people. I spent about a year selling Holland furnaces, knocking on doors to get into the homes and talk to people. I learned how to do it. I think it helped.
FROKE: And you built in a training program?
SCHNEIDER: That's right. I built the training program around the same basis. It worked out, I thought, very well--as long as you had the right people.
FROKE: Did the sales staff report through a sales manager to you or did it report through a business manager?
SCHNEIDER: No, it wasn't that big.
FROKE: So you all functioned as a team?
SCHNEIDER: They worked with me directly.
FROKE: Each one of them?
SCHNEIDER: Each one of them would come in directly to me. We only had five at the most at any one time. Most of the time it was three.
FROKE: What were the other functions that you organized for the Williamsport system from a management point of view? You obviously had to have a technical staff for the installation and the maintenance.
SCHNEIDER: The technical staff were hired by the Jerrold Electronics people, the top people were, because I did not know the technical part of this business. They had hired three or four technical people. They were young and had been in the service taking electronics or radar.
They worked with the Jerrold engineering people out of Philadelphia, who were building the system. Worked hand-in-hand with them every day, out putting the cable up and the equipment on the poles and learning how to use it. Those three people then worked with others ... assisted and grew. We hired other people that had some kind of technical training. Then these three people taught these other people the technical end, how to make installations, how to service these, how to balance out a system, which was necessary because at that time everything was tubes. There was no such thing as a transistor.
Those tubes used to go out overnight, the worst time of night, right in the middle of a fight or something, you know, and blow the whole bit. Of the three men we had hired originally, two I know are still in the business. I'm not sure of the third one, although I think he's still with the manufacturer as a sideline in the business.
One of them is manager of a system in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, now--that's Henry Lockhart. One of them has his own business in South Williamsport. He's in the distribution cable service. He sells the amplifiers and everything else all over the state of Pennsylvania--that's John Ruskowski. The third one was a fellow that left and went to work for one of our competitors, Lycoming. He finally left them and went to work for TelePrompTer down in Florida. Then he decided he wanted to become a minister, so he did. He went to school and became a born again Christian minister. At the same time he did that he went to school in Atlanta. He went to work part time for Scientific Atlanta. I think he's still doing part-time work for them down there.
FROKE: Do you recall his name?
SCHNEIDER: Yes. Vern Coolidge.
FROKE: When the three technicians were hired were they carried on the corporate staff of Jerrold?
SCHNEIDER: No, no.
FROKE: They were carried directly on your staff?
SCHNEIDER: On the Jerrold Williamsport system.
FROKE: So the Williamsport system did have a cost center?
SCHNEIDER: Oh, yes. Everything was its own cost center. We had to buy from Jerrold. We bought stuff locally, of course. We had the money coming into us. The only funds we were given were the monies J.H. Whitney and Goldman Sachs put in the bank originally to start this thing off. We had to go from there.
FROKE: The technical staff had both service responsibility as well as the installation responsibility?
SCHNEIDER: Oh, yes.
FROKE: What were some of the service issues that came up in those early days?
SCHNEIDER: Well, a system will go off the air and I'd guarantee you, if you were sitting there with your feet on the desk, you couldn't get your feet on the floor before the phone rang and somebody was calling because they lost their picture.
FROKE: Did you have devices in place to identify where the trouble might be?
SCHNEIDER: Not originally, there was none of that. We set up a calling system. We knew Mr. Smith, and I don't remember the other name, but Mr. Smith who was fed off the first amplifier off the foot of the mountain, and a Mr. Jones who was fed off the fifth amplifier, and a Mr. XYZ who was fed off the first splitter in the system, and all different locations and as soon as the picture went off in our office, boom!!! There were three or four calls made and we could fairly well pin-point. Then with two-way radios, we had the two-way radios in the trucks and in the office, we'd dispatch somebody and get that amplifier fixed.
FROKE: If an individual homeowner would call and say that the cable was out, occasionally then you identify that location in relationship to the place where the amplifier is. Or you might place telephone calls to other homeowners to see if their cable service was working in order to spot the trouble?
SCHNEIDER: Oh, yes. First of all we want to make sure that it wasn't their set.
FROKE: So every homeowner in a sense became part of the alert system that keeps them all going?
SCHNEIDER: We had a half a dozen or ten people maybe that we could rely on pretty well knowing if it was a set or a cable problem. Sometimes you'd get a call ... You'd get some of the craziest calls. People would call in a say, "How come I don't have television this afternoon?" "Well, what's on your screen--TV screen?" "Nuthing! It's just black." "Does it light up?" "No, it doesn't light up! I told ya I don't have it." "Do you have electricity?" "No, I don't have electricity!" You know. Some of the calls were very similar to that because people did not understand. This was something new to them. They didn't connect it to the fact that their radio wasn't working and they didn't have electricity--that doesn't make the same sense to them. Here was a wire we were running into the house and they thought it was going to give them electricity and everything else. So, a lot of their complaints were legitimate in their minds. In ours, of course, they got to be numbers on our board on who not to worry about.
Then another thing we found, after about three years in business, is that a lot of people were stealing signals. Now if you remember earlier in our conversation we were talking about the types of cable. They were all copper shielded. Some of them were double shielded with copper-on-copper. Others were single shield copper. Some of them were copper, polyethylene jacketed copper, double shielded, double jacketed.
But people would take and put antennas and lay it on the cable. And pick up what they could to their TV set rather than pay the $3.50 a month plus the installation.
Some people would actually cut the cable, you know, dig down into the cable to the center conductor, not cut the center conductor, but dig down to expose it so that it would radiate out of that cable. They'd take pins and stick them into the cable. Now if the pin did not short out against the center conductor and the outer conductor they had no problem. But once they'd short it out that'll knock everybody's system out. We found a lot of that.
About two years after we'd been in business, we had run into this pretty heavily, at least to my mind it was pretty heavy. So I went ahead and I hired some juniors and seniors out of high school in Williamsport. I don't know if they're doing it now or not, but I gave them a directory that was put out by Rueben Donnelly. It was a street directory or a city directory. Gave the people's name in one portion, gave alphabetical listing of names or streets, house numbers, and so forth. We got about eight kids from junior and senior high school and we had them walk the streets, every street that we had cable on. One would walk the front of the house and one would walk the back because quite often the cable feed would come in from the back of the house, off the alley rather than the front. The kid in the front would be able to look and see that this was 1200 Park Avenue and with hand signals the guy in the back would say 1200 Park Avenue was hooked up and active. He'd look it up in his book and mark it as hooked up. Right down the whole street that way. Every street in that city was done every year for three or four years.
Then about three o'clock in the afternoon they would come into our office and we had assigned one young lady in our office to work with them. She would take their book and go through it, because our records were kept numerically by streets. She'd take that book and go down Park Avenue and here we didn't have 1200 hooked up on our record. So she'd make a card out. The next morning one of them ...
SCHNEIDER: Not the salesmen, no sir. We sent a guy out in a truck to disconnect. Knock on the door and say you're hooked up and not paying for that service. We're here to disconnect it.
Now those people knew that they weren't supposed to be getting it. Somebody had moved out and they had moved in and they had kept the cable going. We would very casually ask them when they moved in. They might say, "Well, we moved in here four months ago, five months ago." He'd report that. But they wanted it left hooked up. Then one of the office girls would call and say, "You want to stay hooked up, you gotta pay at least half of that back service before we leave it hooked up or tomorrow morning we're going to disconnect it." We saved 75 to 80 percent of those people that did that.
FROKE: So you introduced a service-audit type of procedure.
SCHNEIDER: That's exactly what it was. We knew who was supposed to be hooked up and who was not supposed to be hooked up.
FROKE: In the Williamsport system, we're now talking about a five channel system ...
SCHNEIDER: No, we're talking about a three channel system to start out with.
FROKE: Three, when you began it was three channels?
SCHNEIDER: When we started it was three channels. There was one out of Philadelphia, one out of Binghamton, and one out of Altoona. Then we went to five channels in about two and a half to three years.
Because we had the Jerrold manufactured strip amplifier at the time, we had to go to the sub-channels, 0-3 and 0-5 as they were called. Our competitors, one competitor did not have to go to a strip amplifier because he had the Philco system. They covered the whole spectrum between 2 and 6, so all they had to do was much finer tuning to get the five channels in there.
The other competitor went to new equipment all together. They went to Entron equipment out of someplace in Maryland, I don't remember just where in Maryland, again a strip channel system. But they could go to 2 to 12, Entron put out 2 to 12. Then the Jerrold system used to have the up converter at every amplifier. Run it up, low band in the main trunk line, up converted the amplifier then put it out through the feeding lines on one channel of the five channels. Well, we knew that wasn't going to last long and frankly, if I had been one of my competitors, I would have put Williamsport Cable out of business immediately. Because I'd have gone to seven channels, there's no way they could have done it. I don't care what the other two channels would have been like, they wouldn't have had it. But the competition didn't. They just didn't look far enough ahead.
Same time as all this was going on, Jerrold was developing a broad band amplifier to cover the twelve channel spectrum. UHF was never considered to be covered, never has and never will be. I shouldn't say that never has, but the twelve channels were. But they did not consider it and that's all they had to do and they would have hurt like mad. Because why should I pay, as an individual, $3.50 for four or five channels, when somebody else would give me seven channels. Now, that wasn't a hell of a lot more they were going to give me because it was a duplication anyhow. But it was just the idea, you know. But those were some of the problems we did, in fact, run into in those systems.
FROKE: You did not have to do a rewiring or a redesign of your system to go from three to five?
SCHNEIDER: Oh, yes!
FROKE: You did? You had to do that, too?
SCHNEIDER: Yes, we had to do that, too, because the feeder cables, not the main trunk line cable, because the 0-3 and 0-5 would carry it because it was low losses. But, when I got on the feeder, I had to go up to channel 6, because I was only using 2, 4, and 5 on my three channel system. Now I had to use 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6.
End of Tape 2, Side A
SCHNEIDER: Well, the dielectric material used to be solid polyethylene. Then they started to blow air in it so there would be less loss; a larger center conductor and less loss in the cable. So now you could go to 5 without re-spacing an amplifier.
About the same time, Phelps Dodge got really interested in the cable television business. They were a manufacturer of cables. At the time the people manufacturing cables were Phelps Dodge; Times Wire and Cable; Superior Cables; and one out of New England, I don't remember what the name of that was. But, Phelps Dodge came out with an aluminum sheathed cable with a foam dielectric which almost made it radiation proof as long as your fittings were good. One of our competitors went out for that right away.
Now Jerrold had a tie-in at this time with Times Wire and Cable to use their cable with Jerrold's equipment. Times Cable did not have the solid sheathed aluminum cable, but Phelps Dodge did. Phelps Dodge came out and made a big deal about making semi-rigid cable for CATV.
At about the same time as they came out with that, a fellow by the name of Arthur Baum from New Jersey came out with cheaper-made cables. It started to cut the price out of all cables. But these were flexible cables, the 11-U, and the 6-U and the 59. The Phelps Dodge never really took off. Some people used it but not an awful lot.
I got to be very friendly with Larry DeGeorge, who was then president of Times Wire and Cable. They had been a New York City outfit originally, but had been bought out by the Insilco Corporation in Connecticut. I got hold of Larry one day and I said, "What's going on here. You know they're coming off the mountain without an amplifier, and I'm in a hell of a disadvantage." He said, "Give me a few months and I'll have your answer." And I said, "Okay." We went to a show that year. Larry DeGeorge--here he is a small company compared to Phelps Dodge--made Phelps Dodge look very insignificant. Because he'd been saying the semi-rigid cable would crack when it moved in the winter. He comes out with the same cable, but he called it semi-flexible. Now, his wasn't semi-rigid, his was semi-flexible! Just that change from rigid to flexible, put them number one in the industry.
FROKE: It was strictly a marketing ploy.
SCHNEIDER: He, by the way, was an engineer--DeGeorge. But a sharp cookie. Back home he and his sons now own Times Wire again. They just bought it from Insilco. But just that word made the difference. We then rebuilt our whole system over again.
But anyhow, let me go back if I may. We were talking about the owners of the system. It was known as Williamsport Jerrold System. After about a year and a half--might have been two years--J. H. Whitney decided they wanted out of that system. They had made their money and they figured this can't go on forever. So they wanted to sell. They sold their system to a group out of Houston, Texas. Now this was strictly an informal group out of Houston. Clyde Runnells was the president of that company. Arnold Farfeld was the chief honcho of that company, but Clyde Runnels was made president because he was a younger man. He's still in the business, by the way, today. He's one of the eastern ivy leaguers that I liked. By the way, Larry DeGeorge was another ivy leaguer that I liked, too. He was the one that overrode the other two ivy leaguers. And when they bought it they decided we'd go ahead, rebuild. They let our friends from the investment group make over a million dollars in profit in two years on that system just by buying it from them. Because they had already gotten their money back, as I told you earlier. They went ahead and rebuilt the system.
FROKE: They bought only the Whitney part of it?
SCHNEIDER: No, they bought the whole shebang. Lock, stock and barrel.
FROKE: Even the Jerrold?
SCHNEIDER: Even the Jerrold. They didn't want any part of only part of it, they wanted it all. They bought the whole bit, including Jerrold, with the understanding that they would continue to use Jerrold equipment as long a Jerrold could stay up to the state-of-the-art. They did that, Jerrold did. They sent me the order and they rebuilt that system. They bought about 6,000 subscriptions. So they paid about $250 a subscriber--in that ballpark. They bought that with the understanding that it would be maybe 9,000 subscribers eventually. Knowing they could get their money back, because it was paying a profit at the time, just on the monthly service. Now the installation fee figure that was already ... that's not wiped out, but they could make it on the profits that were being generated on service at $3.50 a head. They kept that system for five years--four or five years, I can't remember.
FROKE: They bought it in about 1955?
SCHNEIDER: Early '55, I would say because Clyde was in one of those pictures.
FROKE: And then they sold it about '59?
SCHNEIDER: Then they sold it about three years later to National Theaters, now called National General. Sam Norton was the purchaser for National General at the time. Although Kline was the president of National General at the time. He's one who owns the San Diego Chargers football team--Eugene Kline. Sam Norton was his right-hand man and Sam was an attorney. They wanted to get into the business in a big way. So they bought the system from this group in Houston, Texas, who made money on it when they sold it, which is fine. I don't know how much they made. They made enough and Clyde Runnells stayed in the business by getting involved with some people he remained friendly with. Taking pieces of this system and pieces of that system and investing in them. He made himself some nice money on those things. We also had to now go through another rebuild in Williamsport.
Right before the Clyde Runnells deal, before they sold, we bought West Branch. Bought them out of the business. Took them out of it. No, no that's wrong. Clyde Runnells' group did not buy West Branch. They sold their business to National General. Right after National General bought their business, they made an offer to buy West Branch. They, in fact, bought the West Branch people out. Now, that to me was the worst deal that was ever made in the CATV business. I fought that thing until I was blue in the face, but it didn't make a bit of difference.
FROKE: Because you were now moving to low population density?
SCHNEIDER: Oh, no. That didn't bother me at all because I was in there anyhow.
SCHNEIDER: We ran pole-to-pole! They ran into the same place I ran, and I ran into the same places they ran eventually, you know. No, I was against the deal because they would not write a clause into that purchase agreement that prevented any of the owners, the original owners of West Branch, of getting back into the business for five years.
SCHNEIDER: That was why I objected to the whole thing. No other reason. I saw no reason why not to take them on. I could take on their 3,000 customers a day ahead and maybe keep only two people, three people on the payroll. So, from a profit standpoint it was a good deal. But I said, "You've got to keep these guys out of the business for five years." They were also trying to buy Lycoming at the same time. They would not write that into the contract. They said it was illegal or some ... you know I'm not a attorney so I don't know. So, they did not do it. This is late 1958 or early 1959 this was going on. They were not able to buy Lycoming at the same time they bought the West Branch. Then they wanted to buy other systems. So we concentrated and I took one of my ... one of the people, not my people. Hell, I never had people. Nobody worked for me because I worked with them. I didn't own a piece of that. One of the people that was in the Williamsport system. By the way, we had to change the name from Williamsport Jerrold to the Williamsport Cable Corporation. We had to drop the name Jerrold because of the new corporation.
FROKE: Just when Clyde bought it.
SCHNEIDER: Yeah, and then when these guys bought it they dropped the corporation and just called it Williamsport Cable Company, period. Not corporation. They wanted to buy more and more systems. This is with the National Theater group. We bought Hattiesburg, Mississippi, from that group. We traveled all over the country trying to buy systems. Spent a year and a half traveling with Sam Norton trying to buy systems for National General. All the time Williamsport Cable Company is getting more and more subscribers. In late 1960 between Williamsport Cable Company and Lycoming, 80 percent of the homes that were passed had cable television. Now that's phenomenal. But it's not phenomenal when you think that they couldn't get anything off the air anyhow.
FROKE: How many cable systems did National Theater eventually gain under your management?
SCHNEIDER: Well, while I was still with them, they got Hattiesburg, we got another little town in Mississippi. I can't think of the name of that, it was a very small town. Then we got Man and Logan, West Virginia. We bought those two systems.
FROKE: Did you have to manager those in addition to Williamsport?
SCHNEIDER: No. I oversaw management for a short period of time. In Bluefield they had a very competent manager, Gordon Fuqua, so I didn't have to worry about him. In Logan and Man we bought it from the owners. We let the owners go, so we had to get a manager in there. So, I did spend some time there. They had a good manager down in Hattiesburg. So, maybe three or four times a year I'd spend a week with them.
FROKE: Going back to another comment that you made with the purchase of the West Branch system and the concern that you had because the five year provision was not in the contract. What were the repercussions of that?
SCHNEIDER: Citizen's Cable!
FROKE: So the competition then did that?
SCHNEIDER: Sure. I knew it was going to happen. It had to. I knew those people over there. I knew them too well.
FROKE: So, they simply recharted another corporation?
SCHNEIDER: As another corporation, Citizen's Cable, they came back and hit head-on the competition and they bought out the Williamsport Cable Company. After driving a wedge into them they finally bought them out. They're the only cable company now in the Williamsport area.
FROKE: At what time then did Citizen's get organized?
SCHNEIDER: I don't know because I was out of there by then. They were not organized while I was there. I guarantee they would not have gotten organized. No way!
FROKE: So this had happened after your ...
SCHNEIDER: Yes, we had an opportunity at National General to buy the Johnstown, Pennsylvania, cable system, which was a fairly new system. They turned it down. Just wouldn't even look at it. Said no way did they want any part of Johnstown, Pennsylvania.
Well, it so happened that without my knowledge, I didn't know it at the time, but the people that owned the Johnstown system had also contacted TelePrompTer Corporation about maybe selling to them. I didn't know this. I'm sitting in my office one day and I get a call from Irving Kahn, the TelePrompTer Corporation, asking me if I could take the time to come to New York and visit with him. I said, "Well I've got a job to do here. What's it about." "It's very important that I get a chance to talk to you," he said.
I said, "Okay." So I took a vacation and went down to see Irv to see that the hell he was talking about. All he talked about was the Johnstown Cable System. I was not about to tell him that we weren't buying them because we had not told Johnstown that we were not going to buy them. They had told me that they weren't going to buy it, but I hadn't given up on it. So, he talked about Johnstown, what I thought about it. I told him I thought it was a good system. He said, "Well, what are your people going to offer for it." I said, "I'm not about to tell you that!" So anyhow, we bantered around back and forth quite a bit. Finally when I got back to my office a couple of days later, they called me from California and said, "Look, get off this kick on Johnstown Cable system. We are not going to buy it." Because I had written a letter or a phone call, I don't remember. So, I said, "Now have you any objection if I tell somebody else that we pulled off this Johnstown Cable system." "Hell no, because we're not going to buy it."
So, I called Irv on the phone and said, "I'm telling you this and I'm not going behind my company's back because I've asked them about it and they said I could tell anybody I wanted to; Johnstown Cable system is up for sale." I said, "We are not bidding on it any longer." He threw a price at me and he said, "Do you think we can buy it at such a price?" Well, I knew that he could. I said, "Yeah, I think you can buy it at that price." I didn't say I offered him less or anything. I told him that I would not tell the Johnstown Cable people that we were not going to buy until he told me it was all right, because I'm not trying to play two ends against a middle. So, I got a call about two days later from the Johnstown Cable people saying we have an offer for the system, are you people interested in it? I said, "No we're not." They said, "Okay, we're going to sell." I said, "Sell." They didn't tell me how much an offer they had and I didn't ask. So, TelePrompTer bought it.
Then Irv Kahn asked me to come down and see him again in New York. I said, "No, I can't do it, I've taken some vacation time." He said, "Come down on the weekend, if you will. I'll pay your expenses." I went down and they offered me a job of running TelePrompTer's whole operation. (Pause) Now in the meantime, we had rebuilt Williamsport a second time. I thing we were up to ten channels and duplications. You turned on four channels, you'd get the same NBC show. But we had completely rebuilt it and I had a young guy who wanted to stay in the construction business to build some small towns that had to be rebuilt around Williamsport. We had nothing to do with it. So I loaned him some money to keep his construction crews together. He said, "I need a big job." I said, "I'll get you a big job, you need a big job."
So I called Irv Kahn and I said, "Now I did you a favor on Johnstown." He said, "Yes you did." I said, "I want you to do a friend of mine a favor." He said, "What's that?" I said, "You're building Elmira and rebuilding part of it." He said, "Yes, we are." I said, "I want him to get the construction work." He said, "You got yourself a deal. Have the guy come down and see me." So I said, "Okay, I'll have him do that."
So, I got hold of this guy and I said, "How would you like 129 systems to build?" Well, he almost flipped over backwards. "Going to cost you." He said, "What's that." I said, "It's going to cost you half of your business." He said, "What are you saying?" I said, "You and I are going to be partners. Not you and I but my wife and you are going to be partners." He said, "Good enough." That's how J and E Construction came into being. J for Jeanne, my wife, and E was English. His name was English. Jeanne and English was the J and E Construction Company. They were building like mad up there. They had about eight or nine crews. Making money hand over fist on the damn thing because they were paying a good price at the time.
Finally, Irv got back to me and said, "Look, let's stop horsing around. I need you to run my systems. I've gone to everyone I know and you're the one to do it." So he made me an offer to run his TelePrompTer systems. I went home and talked to my wife about it and she said, "Well, it means a move." I said, "Yes, it means a move to the New York area someplace." She said, "If you want to do it, let's do it." So, we did it. When I took the job with Irv Kahn, I had Elmira and Johnstown. First thing I did was go to Johnstown and fired the kid who used to own the business who Irv had kept as manager. I got rid of him-- boom! Because you don't keep the former owner. I had nothing against the kid, but you don't keep a former owner as manager of a system.
SCHNEIDER: HBO. He lives out on Long Island. I moved him out to Montana to run that system. Then we had Eugene, Oregon, another system TelePrompTer owned. I had to go out and let that manager go because he was an owner of that system, too, before TelePrompTer took over. I moved a young kid from Coop Bay to the Eugene system as manager. Bill Elkins, who was the manager that I had to let go in Eugene, Oregon; he and I are still very good friends.
I don't have very many enemies in this business, to be honest with you. I shoot straight from the shoulder. I don't beat around the bush. I'd rather hit a guy in the nose rather than pat him on the back and stab him in the back at the same time. So, at least they respect you. They might not be your friend but they respect you.
FROKE: Elkins went to ... ?
SCHNEIDER: Elkins, no he was gone. He then got another group together and they started a system in another town. A town in the eastern part of the State of Washington, which is fine. I had no argument with that. I think they are now up in Salem, too. I think they own the Salem, Oregon, system, too. More power to 'em.
FROKE: What year did you go to TelePrompTer?
SCHNEIDER: 1961. Boy, I'll remember that until my dying day because I went to work for them and my daughter was still in her last year of high school--my youngest daughter. I lived in New York and they lived in Williamsport until she finished high school. When my daughter finished high school, then we moved into the Stanford, Connecticut area.
FROKE: When you left Williamsport and the Williamsport Cable Company, was ten to twelve channels, it had gone through a major rebuild?
SCHNEIDER: Two major rebuilds.
FROKE: The system was in competition with one other company which was the Lycoming system.
SCHNEIDER: The Lycoming system on the south side and they did not come over into Williamsport very much. Just a little bit. We had well over 13,000 subscribers in Williamsport.
FROKE: We've talked about the organization that you put in place in Williamsport. We talked about the technical installation and service and we talked about the sales side. What were some of the innovations that you made at Williamsport on billing? Was it the conventional monthly invoice and procedures?
SCHNEIDER: Well, we put out a monthly billing originally. Then we went to the yearly coupon book. I'm not sure which is better. I'm sure now because it's now on computer, and that's the way to do it. I shouldn't say that, I know that's the way to do it now. But I'm not sure when I look back on it, which was the better. From the office standpoint the coupon billing was the better because it didn't put so much pressure the last week on the girls who give all the bills out. However, from the public relations standpoint or calling people and saying you didn't pay your bill out of your coupon, is a little difficult to do. So, in my own mind I don't know which is the better. I suppose if there's a way to get the billing out on a monthly basis that quick would be the way to do it, in my own mind. Well that's what you can do on a computer too, you know.
FROKE: Were either of those innovations that you put in place from a cable industry point of view or were these ideas that you picked up?
SCHNEIDER: No. I think they were probably ideas given to me by Bob Tarlton, really.
FROKE: Things that other systems were doing?
SCHNEIDER: Yeah, things that other systems were doing and how they were doing it. I think that the one innovative thing that we put into existence in Williamsport was twenty-four hour service. We had twenty-four hour service for our customers, which most systems didn't. You know six o'clock and that was it. We didn't. We took at least two or three crews ...
FROKE: Seven days a week?
SCHNEIDER: Seven days a week, we kept them on around the clock. Really, what do you have to sell people.
FROKE: What is your product? What is your service?
SCHNEIDER: There's a product. There's a service period. As a matter of fact, that was the slogan on our trucks--"Service is our byword." That was on every one of our trucks. We did. We felt that that was the most important thing because we're not selling them a loaf of bread, we're selling them that damn picture that's on that TV set.
FROKE: When you came to Williamsport, what was the legal relationship between the Williamsport municipality and the cable system? How did this change during the time that you were there? Was it strictly a straight ongoing franchise?
SCHNEIDER: All in all, it was a pretty straight ongoing franchise. There was no ...
FROKE: Wasn't anything unusual?
SCHNEIDER: No, pretty well standard.
FROKE: The municipality had pretty much accepted at that point that they had a role to play?
SCHNEIDER: Oh, yes. They didn't have much chance in doing anything else because they knew that 13,000 or 15,000 total households were TV and they're going to say, "No, you can't have it." You know, what are the politicians going to do.
FROKE: Had the fee arrangement come into place yet in Williamsport where they took a share of the franchise?
SCHNEIDER: No, no.
FROKE: The 3 or 5 percent did not come into effect?
SCHNEIDER: No, there was none of that at all. There was nothing paid to the city at that time at all.
FROKE: So there was absolutely no income that the municipality saw from the cable companies?
SCHNEIDER: No. We did collect 8 percent federal income tax and a federal excise tax the first few years, which we had to pay back. Boy, that was a bitch.
FROKE: Keeping track of all the records?
SCHNEIDER: Well, we had to go through every card, you know, and every twenty-eight cents a month for as many months as you were on--we had to send you a check. Boy, that was a job.
FROKE: I've heard some of the other cable operators talk about how they had been battling to get rid of that excise tax.
SCHNEIDER: Yeah, we wanted rid of it but we all knew we were going to keep it! When they came out and said, "Okay, you don't have to pay it but it didn't belong to you. You didn't pay it so you've got to give it back or give credit to the customers." Now I did not want to give an offer of both. One or the other.
FROKE: You did give the option then?
SCHNEIDER: Oh, no. I didn't want to because that would have been a real mess. So, I said, "No way." Because some of these people were no longer on the system. They were gone, they had moved out of town. How do you deal with them? So, I said, "No way." Everybody gets the money, period. That was it. Nobody gets credit. Some guy would come in and say, "Give me credit on ... " "No way. You wait, we'll write you a check out and you can endorse the check but you're not going to get credit for it." You know it was just too much.
FROKE: And then so long as you made a good faith effort to track down the various households ...
SCHNEIDER: The rest of them, yeah. We were allowed, as I recall, a small percentage for the amount of work that it cost to do it. We did not institute the tax ourselves. It was instituted by the government process.
FROKE: The relationship of cable television then to the existing utilities and the specific direct relationship with pole attachments and so on ... Did Williamsport have anything unique in its development there?
SCHNEIDER: Well, other than the fact that we had a hell of a time trying to get pole space with three cable companies fighting for the same poles.
FROKE: And that's what led to the geographic separation?
SCHNEIDER: Well, no, not really. We were even going to place our own poles. The telephone company didn't want that, nor did the City Fathers for that matter. So we made arrangements with the telephone company and the power company with the cable companies in Williamsport, which in my estimation, was unusually good. We were able to sit with them and talk with them. If it was a question of two companies having to get on a pole to get by someone, they allowed us to put a cross arm on it and separate the cables by one foot, which was their standard. So, I think really the relationship between the utilities and the cable company of Williamsport was very, very good. Now, we had problems with the public utility as a whole.
FROKE: In the industry?
SCHNEIDER: In Pennsylvania. Because the year that I was president of the Pennsylvania Community Antenna Association they wanted to raise their rates from $1.50 a year to $5.00 a year.
I very vividly remember going to the local newspaper in Williamsport, The Williamsport Sun
and having them physically, because I was very friendly with those people, make me up one page of an ad that was going to be run stating to the people in Pennsylvania about how the utilities were going to increase their monthly charges to CATV throughout the state not saying ten cents, twenty cents or thirty cents but our increase was going to be 300 percent, we were going to have to increase up to 300 percent. To cover the pole attachments the utilities we're thinking about charging.
Then John Walson and I went down to the utilities, to the power company in Harrisburg and talked to them. They were giving us the cold shoulder but we had to do it. Until I laid this out and said, "Okay, we want to know what your feeling was. This ad is going to hit every paper in every city that has a cable television in Pennsylvania." The guy took one look at that thing and said, "Hold it, hold it! Can I borrow that?" I said, "Sure, I had three copies." He took it with him and disappeared for about twenty minutes and came back and said, " Can we have this for a day or two?" I said, "Sure you can." Then we got a call and they said forget it, they were not going to raise the ante. Because they had no right to do it. That's the power we put on them to do it.
FROKE: So it was the utility pole people who were bringing pressure on the Commission itself.
SCHNEIDER: Yeah, sure.
FROKE: And then when they saw the possibility of public reaction ... ?
SCHNEIDER: Of what it might do, they wanted no part of it. It wasn't long after that that they did go up to two or three dollars--two and a half to three dollars--which is reasonable with today's prices. I don't argue with that. But, that was too much of a jump at one time.
For example, we were regulars with the telephone companies and the power companies in Williamsport when they had to replace a pole, because there wasn't room enough for them to be on and two cable companies and still have the clearance that's necessary. We were able to sit down with them and propose to replace a pole cheaper than they could do it. They had union labor, you know and they had nineteen guys to put a twenty foot pole in the ground. We had a construction crew there with five or six people who could put it in, in the same amount of time. Because one guy didn't have to stand there just holding onto his truck because he was a driver and wasn't allowed to touch the pole. We proved to them that we could do it for one-third the price.
FROKE: So, the situation in Williamsport was one in which the people who headed these organizations including the municipality, the local council, the people who headed them were of a mind that they could sit down and talk about problems together?
SCHNEIDER: Oh, yes. As far as I can remember in the ten years I was in Williamsport I never had a real confrontation with any of the officials of any shape or form that I know of. We had our differences, don't get me wrong. Because they'd say a pole had to be replaced, and I said it didn't. No real problems.
FROKE: You mentioned the West Branch which developed into Citizen's Cable. Before we leave Williamsport, could you briefly tell how this came about? I know that you had left Williamsport before West Branch came back as Citizen's Cable.
SCHNEIDER: Yes, I can tell you how it came about.
FROKE: Is this Times Mirror money now that came in with the Citizen's Cable or is that later still?
SCHNEIDER: No, that was later still. These were the same people that owned the West Branch originally that now owned the Citizen's. Al Desenzo and Joe Lechy--those people. The fact that the Williamsport Cable Company did so well and they knew there was somewhere between 13,000 and 15,000 people out there that had cable, you're never going to satisfy that many people as you can well imagine. Some people would say, "Why don't you guys get back in the business. We're sick and tired of letting these guys tell us what to do." They finally decided to do it.
End of Tape 2, Side B
SCHNEIDER: Now, I had a lot of friends who still lived in Williamsport and am still very friendly with. They were telling me that the service was going downhill and that they weren't getting the type of service that they expected that they should get. So, consequently, they were very unhappy and they weren't getting the type of answers that they were even asking for. So that's what let Citizen's Cable back in the front door. Plus the fact that in Williamsport there's a little club called The Republican Club, and it's the most tight-knit club that you'd ever want to see in your life. Everybody ate there for lunch. They were bitching and moaning and groaning back and forth and always giving anybody a rough time if they could. That's the kind of thing that leads to this. Very honestly, I don't blame the guys in Citizen's for doing what they did. Then when they tired, they turned around and wound up buying Williamsport. They kept most of the office personnel because those girls knew their jobs. One girl just retired a year and a half ago that had been there the first year we were in operation.
FROKE: That was the Williamsport Jerrold?
SCHNEIDER: Yes, that was the Williamsport Jerrold.
FROKE: Did Joe and his partner then gather up local money?
SCHNEIDER: Oh, yes. They used local money.
FROKE: And started a separate cable system?
SCHNEIDER: They started a separate cable system. In order to keep anyone else from overriding them, because they knew that they were going to have problems, they left their other cables on the telephone poles so that nobody else could get on them. Because the telephone company only allowed one company on them.
FROKE: So they already had the infrastructure?
SCHNEIDER: So, the ... yeah. That's servicing off the power poles and paying twice on the power poles plus paying it on the telephone poles at a buck and a half a throw on each one of them or four fifty, you might say, a year. Until prices went up, then they started taking the cables down, but then it was too late for anybody else to get involved.
FROKE: At what point did they buy out Williamsport Cable?
SCHNEIDER: Almost within the year. It wasn't long after.
FROKE: And National Theater, National General, sold directly to the local group?
SCHNEIDER: Yeah, they got out.
FROKE: Did National Theater get out with a small profit on the sale?
SCHNEIDER: I can't answer that question at all. I don't know. But, when Sam Norton left National Theaters they lost interest in cable television completely. They got rid of Hattiesburg and Bluefield and the whole schlemiel. They got rid of everything in one fell swoop. I think they went out to Bill Daniels in Denver and said to Bill, "You know our systems, sell them." I think Bill just turned right around and got a buyer to buy the whole schlemiel. So, I can't answer your question.
FROKE: So, they had had their day with cable television and lost interest and were ready to move onto something else?
SCHNEIDER: Yes, because the Williamsport Cable Company was making money, they were making money hand over fist.
FROKE: Another type of questioning for the project relates to the historical significance of Williamsport as a base from which so many people then went on to other aspects of the cable industry. There are two parts to it: (1) because Williamsport was early, you had a large number of visitors who were looking at your management practices, your service practices, and so on--could you talk about some of those who came to visit, and (2) later we'll talk about the names of some of the people who worked in the Williamsport system and then went on to other systems.
SCHNEIDER: Well, one of the first ones was Sandford Randolph.
FROKE: He came up from West Virginia?
SCHNEIDER: He came up from West Virginia and spent a couple of weeks with us, he and his wife, to learn what the business was and how the records were kept and the whole schmeel.
FROKE: Was he in cable at the time?
SCHNEIDER: They were just beginning to build and again they were owned by J. H. Whitney and Goldman Sachs.
FROKE: So, it was a similar deal with Jerrold?
SCHNEIDER: That's right. Jerrold was in on that, too. Then Bluefield, West Virginia, another one owned by Goldman Sachs and J. H. Whitney, sent Gordon Fuqua. He came in and spent a couple of weeks with us and learned the business. Then there was a fellow from out on the West Coast, his picture's in there, and I could pick him out but I can't think of his name. Jerrold sent him in. I was always having somebody come in and spend three or four days, maybe a week. Come in on Monday sometimes and leave on Friday. Just to go over how the set-up was, how we did our billings, how we set up our technician's benches and what was necessary. Who we did business with. For example, on buying tubes because we were buying tubes like they were coming out of our ears. I got out of the operational end from Williamsport before transistors ever came about.
FROKE: You had the headaches in the early days.
SCHNEIDER: Oh, I had tubes. I used to buy 5,000 tubes at a clip. Carl Williams, who became State Senator Carl Williams from the State of Colorado, he came in but he didn't come in for that purpose. He came in for a meeting but then spent a couple of days with me.
FROKE: Ben Conroy mentioned that he had come up to see you.
SCHNEIDER: Ben Conroy did. Ben came up and spent only about a week with us. I don't believe that Jack Crosby did, although he might have, but I don't recall Jack doing it. I had so many of them, it became part of second nature. The fellows that were there, of course, spread out and went to other places that wound up doing a job for other companies for example. Had one young fellow that went with a group out of Philadelphia, the TV Guide people. He helped them get involved with cable, but they didn't stay in it. They got out of it in a big hurry.
The other name that I mentioned earlier and I told you he went with Scientific Atlanta, and went with TelePrompTer was Vern Coolidge. I think he's now a preacher as well as working for Scientific Atlanta. But anyhow, it became routine to have people come in and spend two or three days or maybe a week with us, and then go on their way and move on out to other areas. For example, I can't think of the guy's name that came in and went out to Walla Walla, Washington, which was another working system. It was always happening that way.
FROKE: You mentioned in the earlier conversations that Milton Jerrold Shapp met with you once a month.
SCHNEIDER: No, once about every three months.
FROKE: Once about every three months during your work with the Williamsport system while they had a financial interest in it. How do you regard Governor Shapp as a figure in the total cable industry? What, from your point of view, is his significance?
SCHNEIDER: Without him, we wouldn't have had it.
FROKE: He was "the" figure?
SCHNEIDER: As far as the equipment is concerned, without his equipment to go with ... I shouldn't say, wouldn't have had cable, because that's probably not right. Someone else would have done it, but it would have been delayed.
FROKE: But it was the technical base?
SCHNEIDER: He was the technical base to put cable on its feet when it did come about. I don't know if you've ever heard that story about him starting at $500 in his garage.
FROKE: No, I had not.
SCHNEIDER: That's the way he started his business with $500 bucks in his pocket and using his garage.
FROKE: He and Bob Tarlton?
SCHNEIDER: Bob Tarlton, of course, got hold of some of the first Jerrold stuff and built that first system out there in Lansford.
FROKE: Sort of the prototype?
SCHNEIDER: As far as I'm concerned what I know about the management end of it and operational end of CATV comes from Bob Tarlton. I think Milt Shapp had a lot to do with my being hired in Williamsport. Because I remember very vividly after being interviewed by the group from Goldman Sachs and J. H. Whitney and Milt, asked me to come up to his room at the Lycoming Hotel. I went up to his room in the Lycoming Hotel about ten o'clock at night and Milt's laying there spread out on the bed in his pajamas. He said, "Do you think you'd like this business?" I said, "Yeah, I think I'd like the business." He said, "Okay, you're going to be the one we're going to hire." And with that he told me to go home! Sharp cookie.
FROKE: So you feel that without him, at the worst, the industry would have been delayed?
SCHNEIDER: I think without Milt's input from the technical end of it, that the industry probably would have been delayed a few years. Maybe not nearly as strong as it is today. He was a driving force.
FROKE: Would I be accurate from your perceptions in describing Williamsport as the first major cable television installation that was established under sound management organizational practices and it, more or less, was the bellwether, the one that people pointed to as the successful way of doing cable television in that time period?
SCHNEIDER: There's no doubt in my mind at all that everybody held the Williamsport system up as THE system in the country.
FROKE: It was the way to do cable television in that particular time period?
SCHNEIDER: Yeah, that's right. It was the bellwether of the whole industry at the time. Now not because I was there, don't get me wrong. I don't mean to be that presumptuous. But I think with all the help that was thrown in, and all the bodies--the good bodies that were thrown in there ...
FROKE: And bringing in your sense of management and your sense of sales ...
SCHNEIDER: Yes, I think that helped. It was just the way the whole thing was carried off. It was well done. It was the first big system.
You've got to remember that until Williamsport was built, towns of 30,000 population were big towns. Here's Williamsport with 80,000 people. Well, you know, that's a lot of homes--that's 18,000 homes. That's a big system. In order for that to be done, people were shaking their heads. Now it's not big by today's standards, not by a long shot. But it sure in hell was then. It sure was then.
I used to have a guy from the Ithaca system come down and spend the day with me and say, "Hey, I need some help on this." I was glad to help. Because really, it was an industry that I fell in love with immediately.
FROKE: And you were perfectly willing to share the knowledge you had?
SCHNEIDER: Oh, certainly. Absolutely.
FROKE: Is there anything else about the Williamsport system before we leave it that you would like to comment on or make some observations about?
SCHNEIDER: I think it was a very hard system to start out with, to wire, because Williamsport in itself, just to lay out along the Susquehanna River, is not a very deep system. But it was very long when you take it from Montoursville to Newbury. It's about nine miles long and only about four miles wide. So it was a difficult system to maintain with tubes Now, today, it would be nothing to maintain with the microwave and everything else. But at that time it was a very difficult system to maintain. It took a lot of work. It was a fourteen hour a day job for almost everybody there.
FROKE: The Williamsport system, by the time that you left it in 1961, had not moved into what was later called local origination.
SCHNEIDER: No, Hank Lockhart, who was the chief engineer at the time, and I had been talking about getting into local origination starting at the VFW in South Williamsport, which was right on a line coming into town, but we had not, in fact, done anything in local origination.
FROKE: By the time you left, the educational television broadcasting stations were not a significant factor. Then you were really not dealing with instructional television at that time or a special relationship with the schools?
SCHNEIDER: No, everything was entertainment oriented.
FROKE: And working with the consumer market?
SCHNEIDER: That's right.
FROKE: Ray, can you talk briefly about some of the contributions you have made through professional associations and the groups that work in the cable industry and some of the recognition that has come to you as a result of your work?
SCHNEIDER: Yes, as I said earlier, I had been at the origination of the NCTA--the first meeting at the Necho Allen. Then I've missed one of the meetings through 1978. I did make the 1977, but I did not make any after that except Houston. During that time I served at five different times on the board of directors of the National Cable Television Association, in one capacity or another. Most of the time as an operator, but one two-year term as the director for the original equipment manufacturers. I was president of the Manufacturers Association, which started out in California at the famous Corona Hotel about fifteen years ago. The first president elected to that was Bob Beisswenger. Ben Hughes was the second president, and I was the third.
That was set up purposely because we felt we were not getting the recognition from the NCTA that we deserved as manufacturers. The NCTA's budget is largely based on the amount of money that they make on the NCTA show. They make that by renting space to the manufacturers. We did not have a voting right on the board of directors. So, we formed our own association and asked for a voting right on the board of directors. I understand since I left they were going to ask for two seats. I don't know if they ever got two. But under the same token, they should have at least two if they're contributing that kind of money. We had at one time an equipment manufacturer who was president of Jerrold Electronics. That's, by the way, Bob Beisswenger who was also president of the NCTA. Jerrold owned cable systems as well as manufacturing equipment. They owned pieces if not all of it. Bob was elected president of the NCTA. One summer he was out sailboating and he drowned. A couple of years later they decided to honor Bob by making an award to be given to an equipment manufacturer, a representative of an equipment manufacturer. I'm very pleased to say that I was the first individual recipient of the Bob Beisswenger award. It holds a dear place in my heart, really. Because I liked Bob, though I fought with Bob many a time. That award meant an awful lot to me.
FROKE: And being the first recipient of the award ...
SCHNEIDER: The first year that they gave the award out, the award was given to the equipment manufacturers as a whole, which was really not the thing to do, but they did. I was the first individual recipient of that award and it makes me very proud to be able to say that. The fact that I served as the president of the Pennsylvania Cable Television Association makes me very proud. The fact that I served all the years that I did as a member of the board of directors of the Pennsylvania Association is something that shows that people think a lot of you, you know.
I'm not a great one for awards and I don't profess and mean to say that they mean that much but they do in the long run make you feel rather proud of what you have accomplished in your own industry. So, those awards are very dear to me really. I don't have a place to hang them in my home, but I do have them in a closet here. And if there is a place to display them reasonably well that will do the Museum some good, you are more than welcome to them.
FROKE: Thank you. They'd be very happy to have them.
SCHNEIDER: Because my wife doesn't need them. She doesn't want to look at them or polish them! I'd be more than happy to let the Museum have them, if they think it's worth it--if it's something they want. If they don't, they can return them to me and there would be no hard feelings whatsoever.
FROKE: Very good. I'll correspond with you at a later date about them.
SCHNEIDER: Oh, that's good. Fine.
FROKE: Was your work with the PCTA during its formative stage?
SCHNEIDER: Oh, yes.
FROKE: In other words, it was founded about the same time that you were at Williamsport?
SCHNEIDER: Oh, yes. It was founded while I was in Williamsport. Bob Tarlton and George Barco and the people down in the coal regions really are the ones who pulled that whole thing together. Ned Coswell from Oil City. Really the ones who started to pull that thing together. I don't remember the date that the PCTA started, but I was there. I think it was about seven years that I was on the board of directors. But when I left Pennsylvania, I resigned as a director because I was no longer in Pennsylvania and didn't feel as though I belonged in a seat on that board. Somebody that worked in Pennsylvania deserved that seat.
FROKE: The state associations and the national association, in their early years, served a most useful function in the exchange of information from one operator to another operator, from one manufacturer to another manufacturer. In the early days you were not that concerned, were you, by the regulatory and the legal issues?
SCHNEIDER: Oh yes. That was always there.
FROKE: That was always there ... ?
SCHNEIDER: Always. We always had to face legal and regulatory issues, from the very first. The state associations' growth was to supplement really. Although they wanted to be independent, it really supplemented the national association wonderfully. People that belonged to a state association might not belong to the national because of the distance they'd have to travel to go to meetings and so forth. The state associations may have sixty members in the state. Maybe only twenty of those were national members. But those twenty were representing sixty. I think that it's very important to have something like that.
The national association has had its problems from day one with the regulatory--the 8 percent. We fought the 8 percent excise tax from day one. Then everyone trying to throw another hooker in there--the telephone companies, the utilities were trying to take over. They wanted CATV business, and we didn't want them to have CATV business.
FROKE: And the broadcasters?
SCHNEIDER: The broadcasters wanted to be paid for the use of their signals. There was always something rearing its ugly head.
FROKE: Even the motion picture theater people.
SCHNEIDER: That came a little bit later, but it came all right. I can remember sitting at a meeting with those people saying it's never going to amount to anything, why worry about it. Four or five years later, boy they were on our backs wanting a piece of the action. The jump in CATV from two million to six million in a couple of years suddenly started to take money out of the cash drawer of the theaters. They don't like that. Not that I blame them. I think there were times when we could have made deals for the NCTA and these people, except that they were not as willing to bend as we were.
FROKE: They underestimated, I think.
SCHNEIDER: I do, too. I think they very much underestimated the strength of the people that were in the cable industry.
FROKE: One of the unusual things about the cable industry is the relatively few number of years-- forty or fifty years--in which one can almost look at a microcosm of all the economic battles associated with starting a new business on a major scale. All the legal issues, all the political issues. In forty years there's tremendous history of it here?
SCHNEIDER: Yeah, when you stop and think that really, here we are not forty years old yet. And where that business has gone to from nothing.
FROKE: And when Mr. Mooney, the current President of NCTA, and Mr. Loftus, a lawyer, talk about cable having rights of free press, free speech, that they now fall under the first amendment.
SCHNEIDER: That's a long way isn't it. That's a long way.
FROKE: It's come a long way in forty years.
SCHNEIDER: I can remember Dick Loftus when everything was a joke to Dick. But isn't not anymore.
FROKE: No, he's very serious about it.
SCHNEIDER: Yes, he is. He's a very serious man now. But everything was a joke to him years ago.
FROKE: The recognition that you have received has come through your participation on the board, being elected to the board of NCTA, the PCTA, the manufacturers group, and the award of the manufacturers to you. Are there any others that fall within that same category?
SCHNEIDER: No, I guess not. I think those are the ones that are important to me, really. I think that I got the ones that I deserved and hoped for.
FROKE: They're the ones that you really wanted?
SCHNEIDER: They're the ones I felt I deserved. I think we all have a niche in life. As you know, from earlier conversations, my education wasn't where I should be thinking of the biggest things in the world. But I think I got what I pretty well deserved as far as awards are concerned.
FROKE: You picked that education that you now talk about as coming from experience.
SCHNEIDER: Hardknocks. Cable hardknocks! It was in the spring of 1961 that I made the decision and went to work for TelePrompTer Corporation. At the time Irving Kahn was president of TelePrompTer. His chief financial officer was a man who became very big in the cable industry, Monroe Rifkin. Monty Rifkin as he was known. A very good financial man. Monty left soon after I joined TelePrompTer. But anyhow, I went to Teleprompter to run their cable systems for them because they had nobody in their organization. Although, they had quite a few systems, they had nobody in their organization in New York who knew how to run a cable system, period. They just didn't understand what the problems of a cable system were.
FROKE: The TelePrompTer systems grew out of Irving Kahn's relationship with Mr. Schlafly.
SCHNEIDER: Well, not really. The TelePrompTer drives itself and the TelePrompTer cable systems have no relation whatsoever other than their name. The TelePrompTer was the device that they still use today in major speeches. The President uses it all the time.
FROKE: It's common in television studios.
SCHNEIDER: That was developed by Hub Schlafly and Irving Kahn was the promoter to promote the TelePrompTer to the industry from the sales standpoint. The two of them became principles in TelePrompTer, period.
FROKE: From your knowledge, did the tie with Schlafly and Irving Kahn come about as a result of Kahn's relationship with the motion picture industry, and his work in film?
SCHNEIDER: Well, I don't know how it came about, to be honest with you. But Irving was, before he set up TelePrompTer, in the movie industry.
FROKE: It was TelePrompTer that gave a financial base or at least an organizational sense to move into the cable television field?
SCHNEIDER: That's right. They used the monies that they were making on their TelePrompTer ... TelePrompTer was all that they started out with. Irving got the idea that cable television was the next step that they should branch out into. And they did. They went out and bought some television cable systems that were in existence. Now, they didn't buy anything that was just starting, that was just brand new or any franchises to start. But they bought existing systems. And here they were with cable systems and nobody to run them. They had nobody who knew what it was all about.
FROKE: Kahn and Rifkin, undoubtedly, had heard about your work at Williamsport and your management abilities.
SCHNEIDER: That was part of it. Of course, the other part of it was the fact, as we talked earlier, the Johnstown, Pennsylvania, thing came about. I was bidding against them on that particular deal. After our people turned it down, I went ahead and told TelePrompTer that it was now available, that we would no longer be fighting for it. They thought that was pretty damn honest of me to come and tell them that my people had backed down and given me permission to tell them. It was from that that we got together.
FROKE: When you went with TelePrompTer, did you have a specific title?
SCHNEIDER: Yes. I was made general manager of the cable TV operations.
FROKE: And that covered six or seven of the systems?
SCHNEIDER: Well, at the time they had, and again I'm just going from memory on this, Elmira, New York, which was an existing system, but it was also an expanding system they were building up; Eugene, Oregon; Coos Bay, Oregon; Farmington, New Mexico; Rawlings, Wyoming; and Santa Cruz, California. They were running these systems. They were systems with subscribers. How do we get more subscribers was their problem. None of these systems had come anywhere near their potential. So my job at TelePrompTer was to get the potential out of these systems the same way that we had gotten the potential out of the Williamsport system. The conditions weren't the same in some of them, because they were getting off-the-air signals in some of these towns. But you know those problems had to be overcome one way or another. My job was to find a way to do it.
FROKE: How did you organize the corporate management approach to cable? Did you build up a staff at a central level?
SCHNEIDER: Well, no. I was never one for a big staff. I always felt the leaner the staff the better it was, the more efficient it was. So, I did not have a big staff. In New York City, I had one assistant, a male assistant, and one female assistant. I'm not so sure that Clare Feldman isn't still with TelePrompTer though she may be retired by now. She was my right hand woman at TelePrompTer at that time.
FROKE: And they were both a jack-of-all trades, so to speak?
SCHNEIDER: They did everything, yeah. I had everything funneling through me, really. I guess that's one of the problems I've always had. I was not much for delegating some of the duties that should have been delegated. If I can handle them, I wanted to do them myself.
FROKE: To keep in touch with what's going on?
SCHNEIDER: That's right. I wanted to keep my fingers in the pie all the time. We did have a very bright young man who was in the New York office, but he was working more for the TelePrompTer portion of the business than he was the cable portion of the business. His name is Jack Gault. Jack is now manager, general manager, and vice president of the companies that are building in New York City. I don't know what company it is, I can't honestly tell you who the parent company is. But Jack was a very sharp young man. One of the first moves I made was to have Jack Gault moved to Elmira, New York, as manager of that system.
FROKE: So that he would have the opportunity of field experience?
SCHNEIDER: Yes. As a matter of fact, not only was I offering him the opportunity, I thought I was doing myself and the company a big favor because he was a sharp kid. I say kid because he was relatively young, twenty or twenty-one years of age at that time. He was manager of that system.
FROKE: Your approach then was to strengthen the management of the local systems?
SCHNEIDER: In the field, that's right. Because that's where I felt it was necessary.
FROKE: And to give them the strength to do a good job locally?
SCHNEIDER: Whether it was with TelePrompTer or whoever it was, I wanted to hire people who wanted my job, who wanted to push me out of my seat and take my job over. If they were able to do that, that meant that I was doing such a great job they'd have to promote me in the company to give this guy my job. It made my job a lot easier. Yet it gave these guys something to shoot at. But we had people like Jack Gault, yesterday we talked about Les Reed who is with HBO. Those were two real young people who were with TelePrompTer when I went there. They were in on the prompting end of it and I used them in CATV. They did a very fine job, really both of them. Les went out to Great Falls, Montana, which we bought when I was with TelePrompTer. We owned Great Falls and Cut Bank and Shelby. Those two towns--Cut Bank and Shelby, Montana. You're never missing anything if you don't go and visit! They're nice little towns but you're not missing anything. They also had a man out there by the name of Ed Stout, who was a very good man. He was manager at the Cut Bank system that oversaw the Great Falls system for awhile until it started to get too big. Then we put another man out there.
FROKE: Your early work with the systems that TelePrompTer owned at the time that you went with TelePrompTer was focused on improving the local management, improving the technical quality of the system, the general operational types of activities.
SCHNEIDER: That's right You get the subscriber rate up to where it should have been and never had been.
FROKE: That was your first priority?
SCHNEIDER: The first priority, my first priority. I was told without any if, ands, or buts to get as much monthly income out of these systems as I could possibly get. TelePrompTer was loaded. On the other end, not on the CATV end, but on the other end of the business, the prompting end of the business, was personnel that wouldn't quit. They were not carrying their weight dollars from the standpoint of paying the bills. So my job was to get as much monthly income coming in every month, and build that up as rapidly as possible so that we could, in fact, override these expenses that were draining the money out of TelePrompTer itself--out of the prompting end.
FROKE: With the first priority taken care of then, did you move into expansion and purchase of new systems? Did you have responsibilities for that, too?
SCHNEIDER: Yes, I did. I had responsibility for everything.
FROKE: Related to cable?
SCHNEIDER: Related with cable. I reported directly to Monty Rifkin for about ten months. I don't really recall the exact amount of time. Monty was vice president and chief financial officer. Monty called me into his office one morning ...
FROKE: We'll have to change tapes here.
End of Tape 3, Side A
FROKE: And Monty called you into the office one morning and ...
SCHNEIDER: One morning and he said that he had made his decision that he was going to leave TelePrompTer and go to work for Bill Daniels out in Denver, Colorado.
FROKE: And this was about 1963 perhaps?
SCHNEIDER: No, I would say it was either late '61 or early '62.
FROKE: Shortly after you came then?
SCHNEIDER: When Monty Rifkin left and went with Bill Daniels out in Denver, I was made a vice president of TelePrompTer and started reporting directly to Irving Kahn. Irv was always one very interested in knowing what was going on on a week-to-week basis. He was never one to wait for you to come to his office. He was always waiting for you in your office, to find out what was going on!
FROKE: If I could just interrupt for a moment. When the offer came from TelePrompTer and Irving Kahn, you were living in Williamsport?
SCHNEIDER: That's right.
FROKE: So you and your family had to relocate and you moved to the New York City area?
SCHNEIDER: Well, no we did not relocate right away because my youngest daughter, Donna, was still in high school. They stayed back in Williamsport until she finished high school. We wanted to let her finish high school. She was in her last year. Then we moved into the New York area. It happened to be in the Stamford, Connecticut, area. I became one of those commuters! They are a breed all their own.
FROKE: This was an hour, hour and a half trip?
SCHNEIDER: About an hour and fifteen minutes really. If you've never been a commuter, you wouldn't believe the way they act. They'll stand on a platform waiting for the train to come and be talking with each other just as you and I are talking right now. The train pulls in, and we might sit in seats right next to each other, open the paper, and we'd never make a sound until 125th Street in New York City was hit. Then the papers were folded and we started to talk again. But it was absolute silence in those trains.
FROKE: The commuting time became the opportunity to catch up on the other morning ritual, to read the paper.
SCHNEIDER: That's right. I learned to read the newspaper being a commuter. I really did! I had the unenviable--wasn't a task I shouldn't say task-- the unenviable position of meeting and commuting on the same train many, many mornings with Howard "the mouth" Cosell! Before he became Howard "the mouth" Cosell. But he was always the mouth!
FROKE: Was he in the radio business at the time?
SCHNEIDER: He was in the radio business at the time, yes. Just starting into the television--not national prominence by a long shot.
FROKE: Was he a newspaper reader, also? Did he observe the silence?
SCHNEIDER: No, as a matter of fact he did not. Howard used to watch the people who were playing bridge. There was always so many bridge players. They had the same seats every day. The conductor would set the bridge board up for them and the deck of cards. They'd use the same seats every day. Howard would kibitz over the bridge table all the time. But he was not quiet, I guarantee. He was one of the few people who were not quiet on the train. But that's just a sideline.
FROKE: Irving Kahn was very interested in the day-to-day activities, even to the extent of going to your office to catch up to date?
SCHNEIDER: Oh, yes. He also spent the time going to the office of the men who headed up the prompter business, too. He didn't drop the prompting business just for CATV. Quite often, when I'd go in, he'd be there waiting to talk to me to see how things went.
I don't mind telling you that in '62--and I don't think that I'm betraying the confidence of Irving or TelePrompTer or anybody else--we were in very bad financial straits. We had to borrow week after week to meet payroll. And borrow from, not a bank because the banks wouldn't loan us the money. We had to borrow at high interest rates. So, my last job on Fridays was to call each manager of the larger systems to find out how much money they could wire us Friday night so that we'd be sure that we had money to cover the bank on Monday.
FROKE: This was at a time when the banking industry was not enamored with the cable television field and did not recognize it?
SCHNEIDER: The banking industry thought it was going to go down the drain like everybody else, in a matter of time. So, consequently, they were not very sympathetic to loaning us money. It took about eight months. I talked earlier about putting people knocking on doors to get additional subscribers. We did the same thing in Elmira; Eugene, Oregon; Santa Cruz, California; and Johnstown, Pennsylvania which we now owned. We brought our subscriber rate up tremendously in a matter of six months. I think we almost doubled, I wouldn't bet on it, but I'd say it wasn't far from that. Those $3.50 a month incomes finally started to bring us out of the hole so we could do what we had to do and expand some of these systems that needed expansion in order to reach the customers that were available to us.
In 1964, which was my last year with TelePrompTer, TelePrompTer was the largest single MSO (multiple system operator) in the country. I don't have records, because I never kept those. I'm sure that you could find out the answer to that--how many it was--because they used to put out a bulletin--Television Digest--out of Washington, D.C., that lists the top MSO and individual operators, as well. They always start with the top fifty, and then the next top fifty and so on. I'm sure that you should have no problem in contacting NCTA. They could give you the name and address and everything else so that you could look at those records and see which companies were doing what. I did stay at TelePrompTer for almost four years.
FROKE: Was TelePrompTer the first of the MSOs, from your recollection?
SCHNEIDER: No. I don't think TelePrompTer was the first MSO. I think, for example, Bill Daniels, out in Denver, had a couple of groups that pulled together. Well, actually when you get right down to it, J. H. Whitney back in Williamsport was an MSO because he owned Williamsport and Fairmount and Bluefield, West Virginia. That automatically qualifies him as an MSO.
FROKE: During that time period, the independent operator was still dominant in terms of the total industry?
SCHNEIDER: Oh, yes. The independent operator dominated the industry. The John Walsons and the Tarltons and people like that who had systems that maybe had anywhere from 3,000 to 10,000 customers.
FROKE: It was later, in the late '60s and '70s that the MSOs began to ...
SCHNEIDER: I would say late sixties the MSOs started to become very dominant in the CATV industry.
FROKE: And, of course, that really led the direction of the cable industry at that time.
SCHNEIDER: Yes, that's right because ...
FROKE: They had different interests than the independent operator.
SCHNEIDER: And they were buying the individual operator out of a good, fair price for those operators. Some of these operators, you know, that started in the business in the late '40s or early '50s, were forty, forty-five, fifty years of age anyhow. They were business people who had other successful businesses and had invested in cable TV. Here it is ten years later, they're getting into their late '50s or early '60s and they got a company as big as a TelePrompTer or an RKO General, or somebody else trying to get into the business and offering them a fairly good price for a system that was completely paid off. They would take the money and run.
FROKE: How many systems did TelePrompTer buy during the time that you were leading the cable?
SCHNEIDER: I think about five.
FROKE: So they ended up with probably about thirteen or fourteen systems?
SCHNEIDER: Somewhere in that vicinity, as I recall. About twelve to fourteen, somewhere in that vicinity.
FROKE: In addition to your role identifying properties that had potential and would be of interest to the overall TelePrompTer management, your primary role with TelePrompTer at that time was to introduce some management and sales techniques to increase the revenue.
SCHNEIDER: Increase the revenue. Find new systems, that was part of my job, too. Find systems that were available to purchase. Find franchises that were possibilities to be built.
FROKE: Did you travel a lot during that time period?
SCHNEIDER: Continuously. I made it a point to hit every system that TelePrompTer owned at least three or four times a year. I'd spend a week or so with the managers of each one of those systems. I thought it was important that they got to know me, and I get to know them and got to know the problems. Every system had individual problems. I constantly traveled. I don't know how my family put up with it, but they did. I would say forty weeks out of the year I was on the road. That's why I told you I had Clare Feldman, who was my right-hand back in the home office, who I relied on so much.
About the time I had been working for TelePrompTer, Meredith-Avco--Meredith, the publishing people out of Des Moines, Iowa, and Avco Corporation, which had offices in New York City, they probably still do--had gotten together, formed a partnership, and purchased a number of franchises in the southeast. Now, I can't even begin to tell you how many because I don't know how many there were. But they were looking for someone to build their company up into a major company. They came to me and offered me an opportunity at considerably more money than I was making at the time at TelePrompTer to sign a contract and run their operations for them. I debated, debated very hard.
As a matter of fact, after I made up my mind to do it, I went in and told Irving that I was going to make the move, but I would not leave him hanging in the fire. I would help him hire somebody to take my job or bring in one of the field people. Well, at the time we were in the throes of hiring an engineering man to head up engineering for us, which we had never had in the home office. We depended on engineering from individual systems. We had made the decision that we should have a home office engineer to oversee all the engineering problems we were getting to big to handle by ourselves.
We had made arrangements to interview Caywood Cooley, who had worked at Jerrold Electronics and been very high in Jerrold Electronics' engineering force. Caywood Cooley came in for an interview. It happened to be the day that was supposed to be my last day with TelePrompTer, because Irving said not to bother, he would get somebody to replace me. I gave my couple weeks notice, or a month, or whatever it was, I don't remember. Irving came in that morning to my office and he shut the door, and he said, "Look, if you want to stay behind that desk you stay, and if you don't, I'm not going to try and change your mind, because you know you're over twenty-one." I said, "Well, I've given my word to the Meredith-Avco people and I felt I should keep it." He said, "Okay."
He was not mad. We left on the best of terms. Before the day was over he brought Caywood into my office and said, "I'm going to have Caywood replace you to take your job instead of engineering. He's going to replace you. We're going to get another engineer." They did--Roger Wilson, also from Jerrold.
So Caywood took my job over and Caywood was a very capable man. I think Caywood is still in the industry, although I don't really know. I went with Meredith-Avco.
So, I was with Meredith-Avco. We built some systems in the southeast. I knew in a relatively short period of time that they were not fully committed to CATV. I'd go to board meetings every other month, and there was nothing but hassle on what they wanted to do, and how much they wanted to spend to do it. I convinced myself, it didn't take much convincing, that they were not committed to the CATV industry. One system that they were building and spending a lot of time on was the one down there at Cape Canaveral. The Cocoa Beach area was the system that they were all interested in building. So they could go down to Florida and spend time in Florida rather than worry about it. Before my first year was out, I resigned or asked them if they would let me out of my contract. It was a two or three year contract, I don't remember now. I told them my reason for it--I didn't feel they were committed to it. They let me out, graciously.
Then I went into the business of consulting for awhile. The first people I contacted were the RCA people, because I heard they were interested in getting involved in CATV. Now there was a big company with lots of money that I felt would be interested in using a consultant. Well, they didn't want to use me as a consultant unless I would be willing to spend all of my time consulting for them for a period of six to eight months. So, I did. They made it worth my while. Although I was a consultant, I was on RCA's payroll. I purchased the Kingston, New York, system for RCA, which was their first venture into CATV. Coincidentally, their last venture into CATV! Because, again, they decided that CATV was not the business for them. They sold the Kingston, New York, system shortly after I left, back to Kingston because that's where I graduated from high school and I said earlier you can't go back home. But I had to go back home because I found out that system was for sale. RCA did not spend too much time in the business.
I'd like to digress and go back a little bit with TelePrompTer, if I may. When TelePrompTer got really interested in building, another cable manufacturer became very prominent in the business.
A fellow by the name of Arthur Baum. He had Viking Cable and they manufactured out of Hoboken, New Jersey. It was Arthur Baum who, I would say, was responsible for getting the pricing on cable reduced tremendously. Because he undercut the pricing from Phelps Dodge, and from General, and from Times tremendously just to get into the business. I say this with no shame what so ever. I blame him for ruining the pricing in the cable business for the sale of cable. He could have gotten a better price. But he tried to buy his way in. Once he bought his way in at a lower price, there was no way he was going to get his price back up. But anyhow, we did not at TelePrompTer use him. We used Times Wire and Cable almost exclusively.
Earlier I mentioned that I had an interest in J. E. Construction Company. They were doing the expansion in Elmira, New York. After I went to work for TelePrompTer, I felt that I had suddenly brought myself into a conflict of interest. Here I was the one making decisions on who and what were used to build Elmira. And I owned the construction crew doing the work. So, I sold my interest in the cable construction company to Jim English, who was my partner, because I did not want that conflict of interest. Now, I probably still had, in a way, a conflict of interest from a friendly basis. But I don't know how you ever prevent that in business. From a financial basis, I no longer had that conflict of interest.
Jim subsequently finished Elmira, did a little more work for TelePrompTer, then went to Mississippi, built Oxford, Mississippi, and now owns a system in Long Beach, Mississippi! So he's doing well for himself, thankfully.
FROKE: Is J and E Construction Company still active?
SCHNEIDER: No, I don't believe so.
FROKE: When he moved to Oxford, he began to move away from the construction business?
SCHNEIDER: Well, he asked to keep the name. He used the name J and E Construction to do the construction business in Oxford as well as for his own company. I suppose he did it for tax reasons. I know that he went in with some other people in other towns in Mississippi as JE Construction, but I had no interest in it nor did my wife have any interest in it. When I sold out, I did tell him he could continue to use the JE name as far as I was concerned. Nobody knew other than my wife, his wife, and myself what the JE stood for anyhow. That's why I didn't use S instead of SE or ES. Jim is still in business in Longbeach, Mississippi, as far as I know.
I'm through with the TelePrompTer situation, I guess. I felt I did a hell of a job with TelePrompTer. I think I brought their installation, their monthly service customers up by about 400 percent in four years' time. Most of it through promotion not through purchase of new systems.
With Meredith-Avco, I built a system in Cocoa Beach. Did fairly well in Cocoa Beach from the standpoint of installations. They wanted to do Cincinnati and Dayton because at that time there was only five or six channels available to be used.
FROKE: And you also sensed the horrendous cost of them moving into a metropolitan area?
SCHNEIDER: Oh, I knew the cost would be there. We had Murrayville, Kentucky, which we did. That's when I became the Kentucky Colonel, when I had to do Murrayville, Kentucky.
Kennett, Missouri, was another we had built as part of Avco. These were all 300,000 to 500,000 subscriber systems. There was no large, large system at all. The Kingston, New York, system had about 800,000 subscribers when RCA purchased it. Within the eight-month period, we didn't do an awful lot. Although I worked as a consultant for RCA, all I could do was suggest to their manager what I felt we might try. Whether he did it or not was his business and not mine.
I got a call from Larry DeGeorge from Times Wire and Cable asking me if I'd come up and see him. I did, I went up to see him. They wanted me, he and Bob Burton, who was the sales manager at the time--vice president of sales--wanted me to take over as general manager and vice president of their sales of CATV products. Well, as long as it was all right with Burton. DeGeorge I knew well because I had been doing business with him through TelePrompTer. Burton I didn't know too well. I said as long as it was all right with him and I wasn't stepping on his toes, fine. So I went to work in 1966 for Times Wire and Cable as their vice president-general manager of the CATV operation. They made a separate division for CATV.
FROKE: Is Times Wire and Cable affiliated with The New York Times or Time magazine?
SCHNEIDER: No, actually the Times Wire and Cable company is owned by Insilco Corporation, which originally was and still is known as International Silver Corporation. You know, the International Silver Corporation is one of the biggest silver manufacturers of flatware and stuff in the country.
FROKE: So the Times has no significance to the ...
SCHNEIDER: No, the Times has no significance to anything at all. As a matter of fact, Times before I knew it ... Times Wire was a little loft plant in New York City. That was doing ...
FROKE: Piecemeal work ...
SCHNEIDER: No, they were doing pretty well for themselves and I don't know how they got together with Insilco or International Silver but that was the first diversified company that International Silver ever purchased. They had never been anything but silver. They wanted to diversify and Times Wire was the first company that they purchased. They moved it from New York City to Wallingford, Connecticut, where it is today. Times Wire has two divisions. They have the OEM, original equipment manufacturers division, from which they sell to the military, TRW, and people like that, that's one division. The other division is the cable industry division. I took over the cable industry division. Had nothing to do with the others whatsoever.
I started to build a sales force, because they had nobody. Bob Burton and Larry DeGeorge used to do their selling at the NCTA show. That's when the selling of the cable was done. The CATV operators made a commitment at the national show. CATV people are like nobody else. You're pretty well assured if they give you a commitment, that they're going to live up to it. Now they may change it next year. But, if your commitment is for this year, you can pretty well be sure that they're going to live up to that commitment.
The first year I went with them I was asked to maintain the level we were at, that time, because they wanted to see where they could build, how they could build, and at what level they could build. All this cable was being manufactured at Wallingford, Connecticut, being shipped out of Wallingford, all over the country. After two years we were getting bigger and bigger, increasing about 30 percent a year in size. So we were thinking about expanding someplace, somewhere, some way.
At that time, I found out about AMECO, of Phoenix, Arizona, who made equipment and also manufactured cable. Most of the cable they manufactured they used themselves on turnkey operations. So, I went into negotiations with Larry and Bruce Merrill, who were well known in the CATV industry. By the way, he was president of the association (NCTA) for a year. Started negotiations to buy their existing facilities in Phoenix. We did. We finally came to an agreement and we bought their existing facilities.
We moved some personnel from Wallingford out to Phoenix, revamped the plant in Phoenix, and started to manufacture in both locations. Customers east of the Mississippi we'd ship out of Wallingford, and west of the Mississippi we'd ship out of Phoenix, until it got to the point where we could no longer do that out of Wallingford because we were doing so much business in Florida.
Times Wire and Cable was always the front runner in manufacturing new cables. I told the story earlier about Larry DeGeorge using the word semi-flexible instead of semi-rigid. He was full of those kind of quirks. They no longer could handle all of the stuff. They kept coming up with new products, better dielectrics, better drop cables, better jacketing materials so that the fittings could be used easier. Different packaging for the customer in the field would have an easier handling for that particular product. They were interested in that kind of stuff. Consequently, we're number one in the industry in the sales of CATV products. Regardless of price. We were always a little bit higher price than our competition.
The big competition that we had at that time was our friend, I mentioned earlier, Arthur Baum out of Viking. And also CommScope, out of North Carolina, next largest manufacturer of cable. They had a very aggressive sales group. I, at the same time was building a sales group of my own. I had finally built up to five regional salesmen. Each guy covered four or five states. They were on the road constantly. I was on the road constantly. I did not give them the problem of calling on the large MSOs who were then beginning to build. As we said, late in the '60s was when the MSOs really came into being. I carried the MSOs myself. I'd go out and visit with them and try to get their commitment for the year, or meet with them at the (NCTA) show and try to get their commitment for the year.
We kept getting bigger and bigger as the years went on. I finally decided we had to have a national sales manager because I no longer could carry all the MSOs myself. I tried an experiment.
By the way, this meant that these guys were traveling a tremendous amount of time, because they had four or five states to cover. Most of the time when I hired one of these salesmen, or regional managers as I called them, I always met with their wives. Because if their wives weren't willing to have their husbands away from home four nights a week, I didn't want the husband. He wasn't going to be a happy guy on the job because his wife was going to be on his back. Now that was one of the quirks that I had talked about--having salesmen that were ready to go out and go to work.
FROKE: You wanted to make sure their family really understood?
SCHNEIDER: Yeah, the family had to understand what he was going for. Again, I paid them what I felt was a livable salary. If they wanted to buy that wife a fur coat or a new Cadillac, let them do it on a commission basis. Some of them made some pretty good money in their jobs, more power to them. But I tried an experiment of a western and an eastern sales manager. Now each of those guys had three men working under them, as regional people. But these were divisions, eastern division and western division. I wanted to see how that would work out, if it could be worked out. We were shipping out of the eastern plant and we were shipping out of the western plant. As it turned out, it was not the most successful thing in the world. Because those two started to get at odds with each other.
End of Tape 3, Side B
FROKE: This is oral history tape number four. The date is March 4, 1986.
SCHNEIDER: I said that these two guys were getting at odds with each other. That's not quite a true statement. They had differences of opinion on how things should be run. Rather than have them get into a fight among themselves, I decided that the best thing to do was to appoint one of them as my sales manager, which I did. I took the young man by the name of Rex Porter, who was my western region sales manager, and made him my national sales manager. The other young fellow I made an assistant manager. He did not stay. He chose to leave and go for another job. I didn't like to lose him but it was understandable. We were getting bigger and bigger.
We were also getting so cramped in Wallingford because the OEM and the military were doing quite a bit of work. We needed expanded space. We didn't have it in the Wallingford plant because we were locked in space-wise by a stream that ran alongside the plant. So, we were looking for a place to build another plant and we chose a plant in an area in Chatham, Virginia, near Danville, Virginia. We decided to build there. And we did. We built a plant and brought new equipment in.
We are now making what is known in the industry as the Dynafoam cables. It was a very low-loss dielectric cable. It did not turn out as well as we hoped it would, but it did the job of letting the CATV operators put a twelve channel system on the air by using Channel 12. They were never able to do that before because of the losses. Now Dynafoam was in aluminum tubing. Everything was aluminum tubing except the house drop cable itself which is a 59-U or 6-U foam type cable. But everything else was being manufactured with aluminum tubing as the outer dielectric. The inner dielectric had also gone from solid compound to a copper-clad aluminum, which was manufactured originally by Texas Instruments, and was a less costly cable. Because very few systems powered cable, powered amplifiers along their cables, it had no real affect on the signal, the CATV signal. The CATV signal only travels on the skin of the outer conductor anyhow. And as long as that was copper it was being well carried. What was in between didn't make a bit of difference because they were using electric power to power from amplifier to amplifier. That should have been solid copper because the aluminum wouldn't carry the power the same way that copper would. Same as in wiring houses.
But anyhow, we built the plant in Chatham, Virginia. We just got it in operation, and again we're robbing people from Wallingford to send to Virginia to train down there to do the jobs we felt they were capable of doing. A strike hits Times Wire and Cable in Wallingford. They were unionized and they went on strike. Well, we did not manufacture, much less ship, a foot of CATV cable or anything else out of Wallingford for eight or nine months. They were locked down solid. They didn't make a cable. We went in everyday, walked in through the picket lines, and did our office work the way we had to. But we were manufacturing, fortunately, in Virginia now, and also in Phoenix. Neither one of them were union plants. Both of those plants were operating normally. We were fortunate in that respect.
FROKE: And this was about 1967?
SCHNEIDER: No, let's see. I went to work for them in '66, so this had to be '69 or '70 when the strike hit. Seventy I was a ... they had a five-year contract ... '75 maybe a little later than that. But anyhow, we were fortunate to have two plants manufacturing so it did not affect our customers in the field because we were able to ship from the other plants.
FROKE: So the decision to go down to Virginia and open a manufacturing plant was in hindsight ...
SCHNEIDER: In hindsight it turned out the best. The thing that turned out the best for us was buying the Phoenix plant. That thing was putting out all the cable that we needed.
FROKE: And California was booming as a cable source.
SCHNEIDER: And California was booming ... Colorado and the rest of them were all going like crazy. But buying that plant in Phoenix was the best thing that's ever come down the pike. And I don't mind telling you, I had one hell of a struggle.
FROKE: In selling the idea?
SCHNEIDER: In selling the idea of that. I can very vividly recall Mr. Randy Blatt, who was the Chairman of the Insilco Corporation, putting the needle in me about six inches every time I went into a board meeting about when are we going to start making money on this investment that we made in Phoenix. Because it was about eight months before we started to make any money, even starting to produce enough to start making money. Every time I'd go in I'd get a needle in me for about eight months from Mr. Blatt. Good naturedly, but the needle was there anyway. So, the day that it paid off, Mr. Blatt got a twelve inch needle back in him. Not in a board meeting. I went right up to his office and told him about it. But it was good natured that whole thing--there was nothing malicious on either one.
FROKE: I understand.
SCHNEIDER: I was with Times then until I retired. I would say the business increased 400 percent, 500 percent from the time I went in until the time I retired.
Now, I was asked at the time I took the job to try to hold the increase down reasonably, not to go hell-bent for election because that's when mistakes are made.
FROKE: In other words, balance your market off against your manufacturing capabilities.
SCHNEIDER: That's right. Build your manufacturing to a point where we could handle it without making a lot of errors that would cost us money. Like a 25 to 30 percent increase per year would have been satisfactory.
FROKE: With the Times Wire Company then, you were with them until 1977?
SCHNEIDER: Yes. I was with them up through 1977. Then, I took sick in September and went into the hospital in October.
FROKE: With your retirement in 1977 and then going back to the earlier date that we had talked about in another context, the opening of the plant in Virginia and the strike at the Connecticut plant, there was a time period of about five to six years. During that five to six year period you were continuing to build the development of Times Wire as one of the dominant cable manufacturing companies in the country. You had already selected a national sales manager. You had introduced the idea of a sales force to complement the personnel contacts that would take place at the NCTA convention and so on.
What were some of the other things that took place during that five year period before you retired from Times Wire?
SCHNEIDER: Well, I don't want to get the thing in the wrong perspective.
FROKE: All right.
SCHNEIDER: I hired salesmen first. They were individual salesmen in regions. For example, the one region was the eastern region, which covered Pennsylvania, New York State, West Virginia, and Virginia. Handled by a young man living in Pennsylvania. Another region was handled out of Kansas City. That covered Missouri, Kansas, and Minnesota. I had six of those people working for me--working with me. I never had people working for me, they worked with me.
FROKE: Yes. I've noticed that all the way through.
SCHNEIDER: I worked for people but they worked for me because ...
FROKE: Your management style has come through very strongly during the entire interview.
SCHNEIDER: Well, I didn't have the money involved, so they weren't working for me. These people worked in the field. They spent a lot of time calling on the individual system operators. Some of them might have been an MSO system, but they called on the individual operator. I personally handled the home office MSO sales. I spent about 60 to 70 percent of my time traveling all over the United States. I'm very proud to say that the only state I've never been in is Alaska, and I don't care if I ever get there!
FROKE: Mr. (L. E.) Parsons is up there, I think. We'll have to go up and visit him!
SCHNEIDER: Not me! But then from having these six sales people that's when I decided to try the two divisional sales managers and that evolved into one national sales manager. The period from the time I went to work for Times in 1966 to the time that the strike took place, be it four or five years, whatever it was, was spent trying to build 20 to 30 percent additional business into our sales. Again the only reason we bought the plant out in Phoenix was because we were overriding the output in Wallingford. We needed additional space for manufacturing.
FROKE: The same thing for Virginia?
SCHNEIDER: In Virginia we decided we better build another plant or get another plant. The decision was made to build it because the other group, the military, was using more and more equipment in the Wallingford plant and they needed space of their own. So we were not pushed out, but we were in a position where we were easier to move out.
Our product line was not nearly as diversified as the OEM. They had very many sophisticated cables and cable assemblies that they had to work on. We didn't. We had the basic cables, the super trunk, the trunk, the feeder cables and the drop cables. That's what we had and it was made the same in Phoenix, Wallingford, and Virginia. It didn't make any difference.
FROKE: You've used the letters OEM.
SCHNEIDER: OEM, original equipment manufacturer. Now that is not CATV equipment manufacture as such, but it was manufacturers of ... like IBM, their computers. Times Wire and Cable made little cables for the components for their computers. TRW made for the government defense systems in airplanes and such. Those were original equipment manufacturers. That's why I used that term. That's what the group is called at Times Wire, the OEM group, and the cable group. They had their own sales force. They had nothing to do with us, and we had nothing to do with them from the sales standpoint. We shared the same offices, different parts of the building but we used the same facilities for bookkeeping and shipping and all of that stuff. It was all under one facility. So the two plants, outside plants, were strictly CATV plants because they did not want to get involved in intricate plans.
The EMO plant might have to change overnight, change one line from two blues and a red, to two reds and a blue on the same cable. You know that's the way they had to make changes. We didn't make those kinds of changes. The reason we had the other two plants was strictly for the amount of business that we were doing.
Now I don't feel that it's my place to throw dollar amounts in here because that's Times Wire and Cable's business. If Mr. DeGeorge, who you might want to talk to, wants to give you those numbers, more power to him. But it's not my position to do it. I will say that I know business increased 400 to 600 percent in the time I went with them to the time I left them. The business, CATV, grew as well, and with that grew more manufacturers as competitors of ours.
The Scientific Atlantic group, for example, out of Atlanta, Georgia; a second group out of Phoenix, Arizona, came into being. The group that I talked about earlier, I said CommScope. Superior Cable was the original name of their company before they became CommScope. The people that started a plant in Phoenix, a second plant in Phoenix, were the people that worked for AMECO before we bought the plant. When AMECO shut their plant down, these people were out of a job, so they went somewhere else in Phoenix, built another plant, and started to sell cable to the CATV industry. Nothing wrong with it, it was a good business decision. So now instead of one or two competitors, we had five or six. But at the same time we were continuing to grow at Times Wire and Cable. Times Wire and Cable was known as the technical leader in the manufacturing of the different types of cable necessary in CATV.
After the strike was over, we did not go back to manufacturing much CATV out of Wallingford at all. By now we had the other two plants going real well. And they were doing a fine job of manufacturing cable. We only made drop cable basically out of Wallingford for the CATV industry. We did store cable there because we had people in the northeast who wanted cable in a hurry, and we wanted to have it available. But we did not manufacture too much of it from the end of the strike on.
In 1975, I would think, the cable industry took a nose dive. I think, if you look at it from the beginning of the cable industry, you'll find it's almost an eight-year cycle. It started out in '49 or '50, and for eight years it went to a climb to about '58. And then it started to go downhill. Now, don't ask me why but that's the way it was. I don't mean the cable industry went down, but the sales of the manufacturers are affected this way. And in 1966, they were at a fairly low point, because of that eighth year. Now they're starting to climb up again, and here it is 1974-75 they're coming to a high point again. I said I didn't know why, and I guess, I really do know why.
FROKE: The regulatory climate probably.
SCHNEIDER: No, not really. That might have had some bearing on it. But when you think about the life expectancy of tube equipment for one, and the life expectancy of cables that are exposed to all kinds of weather for another, I guess that's what almost made that an eight year cycle; it almost looks like eight years and then they need replacing. So consequently, the business of selling equipment, and selling cable would have about an eight-year cycle.
FROKE: In addition to the natural growth that was going on there was also, then, replacement?
SCHNEIDER: Oh, the replacement was coming up at the same time. The replacement was the thing that made the top part of the cycle all the time so glowing. And it was honestly very glowing. When you hit the top of the cycle it was good business.
So 1977 is when I took ill at the southern convention in Atlanta, Georgia. By the time I got home, when I got home that night ... middle of the night, I woke up and I couldn't breathe. Went to the hospital and they transferred me from the Meriden Hospital. I lived in Connecticut in the Meriden area, in the town of Cheshire at the time. I went to the hospital and they kept me for a couple of days and then transferred me to a hospital called Gaylords Rehabilitation Hospital, which was rehabilitation for people with lung problems, and people that had limbs or parts of limbs missing. They had a gym for exercise and the whole bit.
I went in in September of '77--latter part of October I came out. Early in November, I called my boss. I said I'd like to give it a try, and go back to work. I tried in November of '77. I put up with it for about two weeks. But it just got to me. I just could not stand the pressure because I was going into hyperventilation. It put me back into the Gaylord Hospital.
In December 1977, my doctor declared me officially permanently disabled to work. And Times Wire and Cable declared me permanently disabled for work. Now, they just didn't cut me off and say, "You've had it, friend." They were very good to me. They gave me a six-month leave of absence, although, I was not working. They paid me for six months. And I was vested in my pension with Insilco and Times Wire, so I do get my pension from Times Wire and Cable. They also carried me in little things. If I had to make a phone call, I had a way where I could call into their plant, and get the phone switched around so I can talk to friends I have up there. So, I'm not mad at Times Wire and Cable because they declared me officially in December of '77 as not fit for duty.
For many years I got the magazines that come out in the CATV industry, but that wasn't making me feel any better. Because, I was missing the industry so badly, that I finally decided that I was going to try to cut away from it. So I took down all the plaques that I discussed with you earlier, put them in a closet and tried to forget the industry.
I haven't forgotten it, because the fellow that I had as national sales manager is now the new vice president and general manager of Times Fiber back in Connecticut. Right now, Rex Porter, the engineer that worked with me in Wallingford, Jack Arbuthnot, now that's one for you, is the chief engineer at Capscam Cable down in New Jersey. I talk to Jack a couple times a month. We're still personal friends. We were personal friends then. The manager of the plant in Phoenix, Kevin Lynch, is also at Capscam. I talk to him once a month, you know. So, I have not lost contact with those people. But I don't follow the cable industry the way I did the first four or five years.
After I left Times Wire and Cable in '77, I stayed in the Connecticut area until 1981 or for about four years. My wife and I gave up the home that we had, sold our home, and moved into a condominium in Southington, Connecticut. We lived there for about two years. When my daughter and her husband were transferred out here to the St. Louis area, we came out here, moved out here. We've been here since August of '82, I guess it is. So we've been here for five years now. And expect to stay here.
FROKE: You're now Missourians?
SCHNEIDER: Well, I'll never become a Missourian, I'm sorry to say that. But I'll never become a Missourian.
FROKE: Have you decided how to pronounce Missoura or Missouri?
SCHNEIDER: Either way is correct. That's what they say out here, anyhow. But they say some of the funniest things out here. On the TV yesterday morning, they were talking about fire that enveloped an area where men were trapped. It was "enveloped" the area, not "envelope." You know these are kinks that they have out here that I don't want to get into. I think that if my wife and I had our choice, we'd be back in Connecticut. Although the weather's not as nice back there as it is here usually. The weather out here is usually pretty nice. It doesn't get really too cold and really doesn't get too hot, although it gets very humid in the summertime.
FROKE: Connecticut emerged during your life, then, as what you regard as home?
SCHNEIDER: I would say, yes, that's true.
FROKE: Not the Bronx?
SCHNEIDER: Oh, no. I gave the Bronx up in a hurry ...
FROKE: Not Williamsport?
SCHNEIDER: My wife, for a long period of time, hung onto the Williamsport area until she had been in Connecticut for about five or six years and got to know a lot of nice people in Connecticut. I'm sure if she was to walk in here now and you were to ask her if she would rather be back in Williamsport or back in Connecticut, she'd say Connecticut. Although her best friend, who was her bridesmaid, is back in Williamsport. Jeanne did go back last year to a reunion, a class reunion, back there. But I think she'd say Connecticut if she had to make another move. I'm sure she doesn't want to make another move just for the fact that she doesn't want to make another move. I think she'd take Connecticut.
FROKE: I have a question on the manufacturing side. Back in the 1950s, when you were with Williamsport Jerrold, Jerrold, then obviously was the manufacturer of cable equipment, and at the end of your career you were with the Times Wire company. Could you talk briefly about Jerrold and its position of dominance in the early years within the cable industry, and then by 1977, Jerrold obviously was not one of the major competitors. Could you just make some brief observations about this?
SCHNEIDER: Well, I don't know why you say that about 1977 Jerrold wasn't a major competitor. Jerrold is still a major competitor in the CATV business.
FROKE: And he's still there?
SCHNEIDER: Oh, yes!
FROKE: As a part of General ...
SCHNEIDER: General Instrument. They are still a major ...
SCHNEIDER: Force in the manufacture of equipment. Now they never made cable.
SCHNEIDER: They just made equipment.
FROKE: Ray, you said that you would give me a quick lesson on the manufacturing business in the cable industry. You began to distinguish for me the difference between Jerrold and what it manufactured as compared to Times Wire.
SCHNEIDER: First of all, let me not only include Times Wire and Jerrold in this thing, but let me tell you that there was a firm distinction, normally, between equipment manufacturers and cable manufacturers.
The major equipment manufacturers are the people who make the amplifiers and the distribution equipment. Jerrold was number one. Spencer-Kennedy labs, out of Boston, Massachusetts, was another. ENTRON, which I spoke to earlier in our conversation, was out of Silver Springs, Maryland, and they were another major one. Scientific Atlanta became a major manufacturer of equipment. AMECO, out of Phoenix, Arizona, was a major manufacturer of equipment. They also manufactured cable. Viking, who I talked to you earlier about the cable, was also an equipment manufacturer. But Viking and AMECO were the only two, really, that manufactured both the cable and the equipment.
FROKE: The types of equipment that they manufactured were the amplifiers ...
SCHNEIDER: The amplifiers, the distribution equipment, and taps necessary to go into the house from the cable, then into the back of the set, the transformer on the back of the set, and any converting equipment that was necessary.
The true cable manufacturer was, number one Times. Never did make electronic equipment for CATV. Superior, out of Hickory, North Carolina, which later became known as CommScope, were the two manufacturers of cable themselves. Never did get into equipment manufacture whatsoever. Jerrold and Times, very early in the business, before I ever got involved with the manufacturing end of it, Jerrold and Times, and when I say that it was between Milt Shapp of Jerrold and Larry DeGeorge of Times Wire, made a deal that every time that Jerrold would build a system they would use Times Wire as the cable they would furnish to their customer. Unless the customer refused to use Times Wire.
Back early in this business, because no one knew much about cable television, systems were built on what was known as a turn-key operation. An equipment manufacturer, such as Jerrold or SKL or AMECO or ENTRON, would go into the customer and sell him the whole package. He would put the equipment on the pole, furnish the equipment, furnish the labor, furnish the cable, the whole bit. Then, when they got all finished and they got signal to a certain point, they turn the key over to the owner of the system and say, "It's your baby now, here it is." The turn-key operation was the training of the personnel which made it a real smooth way of an operator getting into the business, if he didn't understand it.
So, the relationship between Times and Jerrold was an ongoing relationship, for Times always sold to Jerrold on their turn-key operations. And, of course, for that Jerrold got a little better price than anybody else would get because it was all times Cable. Which was good business for both. And that relationship went on for many, many years. As a matter of fact, it continued until right after General Instruments took over Jerrold Electronics. Then, that relationship was busted. And I'm proud to say that I'm the one who busted it! Because I did not feel that it was the right deal for Times at that time. We, at that time, were big enough to let the amount of business that we were doing with Jerrold go to somebody else if Jerrold wanted it to go that way. Without hurting ourselves from a financial standpoint, from a profit standpoint. It didn't happen that way because after about fifteen or twenty years in the business, the people associated them together.
As a matter of fact, the code name for our cables that we sold to our customers, if you would get a booklet, would be JT-1400 or JT-1500, whatever the size cable it was. People always thought that meant "Jerrold-Times." That's not what it stood for! But it turned out that way.
When Viking got into the business, they decided just cable to start out with and very rapidly went to making equipment. Then AMECO was just equipment. They decided that as long as they were doing the turn-key operations why should they pay someone else for cable. So, they opened their own cable plant in Phoenix to manufacture their own cable. But they had a problem selling their cable. They couldn't make cable manufacturing a profitable enterprise with the amount of equipment they were selling on turn-keys. So, they shut their plant down and that's when we purchased that plant. Consequently, they wound up strictly then as an equipment manufacturer. No longer a cable manufacturer. They stayed in business as an equipment manufacturer.
FROKE: That clarifies it for me a lot, Ray. Thanks very much.
SCHNEIDER: It was the two distinctions. Just two or three companies that were in on it on a small basis. It was two large cable companies, and two really large equipment manufacturers. Most of the time, the equipment manufacturers did not own cable manufacturing plants. And most of the cable manufacturing plants did not own equipment manufacturing plants. They just had tie-ins of some kind.
FROKE: C-COR in State College, Pennsylvania, then was one of the smaller equipment manufacturers.
SCHNEIDER: C-COR was a small equipment manufacturer at that time. As a matter of fact, C-COR started by designing equipment for Jim Palmer's own systems in State College and Bellefonte and places like that. It's good equipment, nothing wrong with it. But the problem was he was never able to get it off the ground on a bang-bang level. He was fighting people like Jerrold, AMECO, Spencer-Kennedy Labs, and Entron. The big boys, so to speak. I understand that later on in the late '70s, he did hire Jack Ford as his sales manager. And Jack was beginning to build up the C-COR image. Now C-COR had a good name in the state of Pennsylvania, as good equipment. And I guess it was good equipment. I have no reason to say it wasn't. We sold C-COR cable on jobs that they did. But they were better known in the state of Pennsylvania and in the eastern part of Ohio. Because they weren't big enough to branch out really big.
FROKE: And become a national ... ?
SCHNEIDER: They were national but they weren't that big nationally. I guess the biggest exposure that they got from a national standpoint was at the national show once a year, when they would exhibit. And they always would exhibit at the national shows.
Now when the national show's exhibits kept getting bigger and bigger, they finally had to wind up with the national shows in exhibit halls. They could no longer hold them in hotels. I can remember table-top exhibits the first couple of years. And then, I don't remember what the footage was in the last year that I attended an NCTA show when I was working. But it was a tremendous show. The NCTA didn't put it on themselves. They hired an outside exhibitor to do it, to manage the show for them.
FROKE: Attendance at the shows, as you now know, are running fifteen to twenty thousand people?
SCHNEIDER: Oh, yes. I've heard that now. I think that the biggest one when I was there might have been eight to ten thousand. But I don't know really. But when I was there maybe ten thousand--they might have gone up to twelve. But I know they are a tremendous size because I did go to the Houston show a couple of years ago. I did not go to the exhibit hall at all. I just went down to the Pioneer's banquet. They were telling me, then, the amount of people there were. I think they said something like nineteen thousand people attended that show! Unheard of!
FROKE: Ray, in our earlier discussion you had mentioned the opening of a plant in Virginia, and the strike that occurred and that then ...
SCHNEIDER: Flashing ... (referring to the tape machine)
FROKE: Okay, we better change our tape here--flip over to the other side.
End of Tape 4, Side A
FROKE: Ray, you mentioned the strike that occurred at the Wallingford, Connecticut, plant, and that happening at approximately the same time as the opening of your new plant down in Virginia. Do you want to go back and talk some more about that as a result of conversations that you've had with some of your past colleagues since we discussed that?
SCHNEIDER: Yes. As a matter of fact, that happened about 1971 and 1972 because we, at Times Wire, were going to increase our facilities. Remember I said earlier we didn't have facilities at Wallingford, Connecticut, to do what we needed for CATV. We were going to increase our facilities. We had purchased a piece of property from the parent corporation, Insilco, up on Research Parkway. And we were going to have a building setting back of the Insilco manufacturing plant. Our headend was going to be up near what they call the "castle-in-the-sky," corporate headquarters. That was on Research Parkway in Meriden. They dug the ditch to lay the necessary pipe for draw line. They started to put the base in when the strike happened. Well, as soon as they found out that this was going to be a long strike, there was not much sense in continuing to build and wind up with these people still on strike and nobody being able to use the plant.
At the same time we looked at that property in Meriden, we'd been looking at other areas. So, we quickly switched plans and started to build the plant in Virginia. Now the strike was just getting ready to start. It hadn't started but we knew it was around the corner. So that meant that the plant that we had bought in Phoenix was a hundred times more valuable than we thought it was in the first place. Since we owned the place, we could not manufacture CATV cables until we got the plant built in Virginia.
We built a smaller plant in Virginia than we had planned to build in Meriden. But we did built a plant in Virginia, and, consequently, that has now been expanded tremendously, as I have seen it in years. I understand that it's about the size of the plant or bigger than the plant that we had in Phoenix. While we had our plant in Phoenix, we expanded that plant. Whether the plant in Virginia would have been built anyhow, regardless of the strike, I don't know. Because we needed lots of room, and we did not have it in our old plant in Wallingford.
I do know in the past few years, and when I say the past few years I'm talking now in the '80s, the plant that Times had in Phoenix has been closed. They no longer manufacture out of the Phoenix plant. All the CATV cable is manufactured out of Virginia. And it is much, much larger than it was originally. They had the plant in Phoenix up for sale--lock, stock, and barrel. The property, the plant, the whole works. If they ever sold it or not, I do not know that. But it is no longer in operation, and the manufacturing of CATV cables for Times Wire is now done out of Chatham, Virginia, which is just north of Danville, Virginia.
FROKE: So your time period that you had identified earlier was pretty close to target?
SCHNEIDER: Pretty close to target, but not quite. And by the way, the union contract that was '71 or '72, after about nine months of strike, was a three-year contract. I thought it was a five-year contract but it was a three-year contract. A second contract was renegotiated while I was still working for Times. But again, it didn't affect me one way or another because they weren't making CATV cable at that time. I was not involved in that at all. But the second contract was negotiated and signed.
FROKE: The Wallingford plant, after your plant opened in Virginia, became dedicated to OEM activities?
SCHNEIDER: To the OEM activities other than odds and ends for you know ... if they wanted to try to make a new type of cable, they may use the Wallingford plant as an experimental plant doing one portion of it. We did use the Wallingford plant as a storage area for shipping to the northeast. I'm out of it now as of '77.
Sometime in '76 our good friend Mr. Kahn came back to my life. He had a fiber. He had a couple of engineers making fiber optics in a plant in New Jersey. They had no way, no knowledge, of how they were going to take this fiber, put some kind of a jacket on it and make it usable for the CATV industry. So, he and Larry DeGeorge got together. Larry from the Times, and Irving from this other company.
They decided that they would move. Larry would buy or Times would buy Irving's group out with Irving being a partner in this new group. And Times Wire and Cable Company then became Times Fiber. As it turned out, on the movement, on all of this bit, Irving Kahn owned a percentage of it; Times Wire owned a percentage of Times Fiber; and Insilco, who was the money behind all this, owned 66-2/3 percent of Times Fiber. So they were the ones that were really footing the bill for this whole bit. They spent a tremendous amount of money in research and development. How much I don't know because I kept saying don't bother me with this I've got my own problems.
FROKE: We're not quite ready for fiber?
SCHNEIDER: I'm not ready to start selling fiber to the CATV industry. I had problems fighting my competition selling CATV cables. Right after I took sick, there was a split between Times Fiber and Irv Kahn, because they were not apparently doing, and I'm saying this just on hearsay, they were not progressing the way that Irv Kahn thought they should. He wanted out. So he got out of the thing and sold his interest, I understand, back to Times Fiber or Times Wire. Times Fiber was a public company, by the way, they were over-the-counter market. But with the full understanding that 66-2/3 percent of the stock belonged ...
FROKE: Would stay with Insilco?
SCHNEIDER: Insilco. They did go public with their files eventually. But Insilco owned the majority of the stock. When Irving got out of it he went into ownership of CATV. Larry DeGeorge stayed as chairman of the board of Times Fiber. Then, when Larry became 65 or 66 around in that age bracket, he finally moved out of the Times Fiber company. Larry also sat on the board of directors of Insilco for many years. I think at the same time he left Times Fiber he also left the board of directors in Insilco. Which makes good business sense.
Larry set up a new company, I want to say LDL. It'll come to me but it's named Lawrence, his younger son's first name, and his older son, Lawrence, Jr. So its L something L. It'll come to me. I should know. I know him better than I know the older son really. They went into a consulting business. And they were doing consulting for cable companies, CATV companies. They were doing consulting for manufacturers. About a year ago, not quite a year ago, they came up and made an offer to International Silver or Insilco to buy their 66-2/3 of Times Fiber. Insilco agreed to it.
The new people that had taken over to run Times Fiber, by the way, happened to be former Jerrold employees, but that had nothing to do with it. They found out that Larry was interested, and they came back with a counter proposal. It kicked around and kicked around for about four months. December 31st of this past year, 1985, Lawrence DeGeorge and his company finally became the owners of Times Fiber. Now it's a privately-held corporation as of now. I would assume, and I'm just assuming this because I know Larry and he's a smart business man, I would assume, he'll build that up the best he can in the next few years and then go public. He bought the Insilco's 66-23 percent at about twenty dollars a share value, as I recall. He bought all of it except a portion of the new corporation. Insilco owns the first shares in the new corporation. So, LPL ...
SCHNEIDER: Okay. Peter ... he'll kill me if he ever hears that darn tape!! I'm sure that's what they intend to do eventually, go public with the company, which makes sense.
FROKE: Does Mr. Kahn have a financial interest?
SCHNEIDER: Not as far as I know. I shouldn't be so positive about it. I just don't think Irv has any financial interest in this new corporation at all. My understanding is that Irv Kahn is back into the manufacturing of equipment and splicers and things for fiber optics. Which is one of the reasons that I was not too happy with it. Because when you take a hair out of your head, and try to splice it together in wind, thirty miles per hour, on a ladder, forty feet in the air, you got problems, you know! And that's the way it had to be done, because you could never stop at a pole and say, okay, this is where we start. The poles are 150 to 200 feet apart, and you don't waste that much cable just to stop at a pole. You have something solid to lean against. Swinging out on that strand on a ladder is no way to try and make a splice with the equipment that was available. Maybe there's better stuff available now. I don't really know. It's been so long, it's been almost nine years since I've been out of it. That brings you pretty well up to date on what I know of the CATV industry.
FROKE: Very good. I have two or three questions just to pick up a couple of loose ends.
SCHNEIDER: Go right ahead.
FROKE: One relates to Meredith-Avco. What would have motivated a company such as Meredith-Avco to jump into the cable business and then back away from it?
SCHNEIDER: Well, I don't know who originally talked them into the cable business. But they had a very, very active vice president at Meredith. By the way, both Meredith and Avco individually owned TV stations. Not CATV, but TV broadcast stations. This one fellow got very interested in CATV. I can see him sitting in front of me, but I can't tell you his name. He's the one who convinced me to make the move from TelePrompTer to Meredith-Avco because that's as good a salesman as he was. I think he was the one that got interested in CATV and talked the Meredith Publishing people into it. Then how they got together with Avco, I do not know. But he's the one, that I'm sure in my heart, but I don't know it to be true. He's the one that really and truly put that package together and got them interested in the business. Then he had a falling out with the people and he left. He went out and became president of KING back about 1967 or '68 somewhere in there. It would have been before that, because in '68 I was with Times, so it's about '64 or '65 in that area. He was, in my own estimation, probably the one involved in it, in getting Meredith-Avco interested in cable.
FROKE: That was the time when a number of people were speculating about such things as the wired nation and cable television was being spoken of as something that would revolutionize communications in the country. One could speculate that a company such as Meredith, with a history of newspapers and magazines, television and radio would feel that, yes, this is something they should be looking at, this is something they should be getting into.
SCHNEIDER: Yes, I would think so. But it took somebody with a lot of real push because the people that wound up running the Meredith-Avco group, and they happened to be Meredith people that were at the high end of it, although Avco had people on the board, the higher ups were from the Meredith group, and they really didn't have their heart and soul in cable TV.
FROKE: So when the one advocate left then ...
SCHNEIDER: I think the rest of them sort of found easy ways of getting out of the position they were in.
FROKE: They were satisfied with Cocoa Beach?
SCHNEIDER: Well, they had more than Cocoa Beach. They had four or five other systems but they sold them. You know, they sold them and got out of them. They made money on them, I'm sure. I don't know that, because I had nothing to do with it. But I'm sure they made money on it. But they did not want to stay in that business. They just didn't have the faith of where CATV would be, where it is today for example. Who'd ever think that towns like Akron, Ohio, and New York City, and places like that would have CATV. It was no great thing to sell three CATV channels in a town that had no channels or maybe one channel. It was a little harder to sell five channels in a town that might get two or three channels. And it became much more difficult to sell the CATV seven or eight channel system in a city that was getting four or five channels. You know when you start talking about an Akron, or a Philadelphia, or a New York, where there's eight, nine, or ten channels and sell CATV, it had to be closed-circuits and that's what did it. The cable channel's closed-circuits did it.
FROKE: Ironically, the great metropolitan areas are the last to get the benefits of cable television.
SCHNEIDER: That's right.
FROKE: In contradiction to so many of the other communication media, it was the rural areas, the small town areas, and the medium-size cities that really benefitted. CATV, cable television really brought cultural resources to those smaller communities that, ordinarily, were associated with the metropolitan areas.
SCHNEIDER: That's absolutely right. You know you'd be surprised at some of the things that really happen, and it has nothing to do with me personally except my knowledge of it.
I know of one system, for example, in Michigan that the system is built completely underground. I would say that 70 percent of the cable that's in that system are pieces of cable that are under one thousand feet long, which is unheard of. That meant that you had to splice and splice and splice. People try to get the longest possible length that they could without a splice. Because a splice is a potential source of problem. But, I happen to know this to be the truth, because I sold the man the cable. Every time I'd wind up with a hundred thousand foot of five to six hundred foot length, I'd call him and he'd take them! So, I know, and I'm not going to say where it is because he sold the system, and I don't know on what basis he sold it. That's one.
Another one--Akron, Ohio--is another perfect example. Now, Akron you would never think would be a system that would be built. Because, there was one industry, really, and it was down on its heels when the system was being built. But it got built. It's doing well.
I'll tell you one thing from my own thing experience. You asked earlier about my time in Williamsport on close-circuit. I did not do it in Williamsport, but close-circuit saved TelePrompTer's system in Farmington, New Mexico.
FROKE: In what way?
SCHNEIDER: Well, we had three channels. That's all you could get in Farmington. There was no way that you could get any other channel. The transmitting stations were just too far away. Somebody came along after we built a system in there--we had eight thousand subscribers-- somebody came along and put in what they call translator stations. They put up towers, picked up the same signals we were picking up, turned their signals around, and put them on frequencies that the sets could see. Then transmitted off-the-air these same signals that we were sending over the cable. All they were saying to the people in Farmington, if you can donate two dollars a month, do it. To keep this on, you won't have to pay the six or seven dollars a month for cable. That's what we were getting in Farmington. Now why should people pay that much for three channels when they could get the same three channels for two or three dollars, whatever you wanted or nothing if you didn't want to donate the money.
I.E. Shaehan was the manager down there. I.E., and I, and Irv got our heads together. Irving Kahn got our heads together and we built a studio down in Farmington, New Mexico. The camera stuff and everything was built by a guy in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, who was just a sharp cookie on electronics. He built the equipment in Pennsylvania, took it out to Farmington, and installed it in the studio that I.E. Shaehan had built out there.
Everyday after school, we would invite a different school group for dancing. You remember Dick Clark's 'Bandstand' in Philadelphia? We had the "Farmington Bandstand," and every day was a different school to come in to see and to dance. The parents were so proud of their kids, they wanted to see their kids dancing on TV. They could only see them once a week, but that's what saved cable there. Before we did that, before we got that on the cable, our connection rate went from about eight thousand down to about six thousand. It was falling off rapidly because we had people who hadn't disconnected yet, but weren't paying their bill. As soon as we put that dance program on the air, it went right back up. Not overnight, but it started to reverse.
I.E. Shaehan came up with the smartest idea for that system, so that it wouldn't cost us any money and the federal government would not stop us from doing it. We were not allowed to accept any money for advertising. We could not sell advertising on the closed-circuit by federal law. So, I.E. Shaehan went, and I don't recall who it was, but like Pepsi and Hostess Cakes, let's say those were the two, or some potato chip company. He had them come and put a big sign, a Pepsi sign on the back wall, a Hostess sign on the back wall. The kids would be down there dancing, and these two cameramen would be covering these kids.
Every once in awhile they'd dance by the Pepsi Cola and the other sign. They did it at every six to eight minute interval. And those people paid for all the equipment, all the cost for the cameraman, and the technician to run the dance program. They paid for the Farmington system. Didn't pay us anything. These people basically worked for them, if you want to put it that way.
FROKE: They covered the cost of the ...
SCHNEIDER: Yes, these companies paid the costs and Farmington put the origination on their cable system. It turned the loss around and slowly it grew close to that eight thousand that they had originally. And put the translators off the air. They finally went off the air, because people weren't paying them. The guys couldn't afford to keep them going. So, we did some origination. That was I.E. Shaehan, that's what he was called. I.E. were his initials, and Irving and I set that thing up. And I.E., I don't know where he is now, but I know he left there and went to work for another company. Then owned his own system in New Mexico. I don't know, not too far from El Paso.
FROKE: You mentioned Irving Kahn as you were talking about the New Mexico system. That brings me to another question. Earlier when we talked about Milton Shapp and the Jerrold Corporation, you identified Shapp and Jerrold as being one of the great innovators in the field. Had it not been for Jerrold Electronics, the field would have been at least delayed several years. So, in a sense, then, I think you were probably identifying Shapp as one of the early great figures in the field.
SCHNEIDER: Oh, I don't think there's any doubt in anybody's mind. Anybody that doesn't give Milt Shapp that credit isn't being fair to the man. Seriously, he is by far one of the industry's greatest.
FROKE: Moving to Irv Kahn in that same context. In earlier conversation with some people in the cable TV industry, a reference was made to Kahn as also being one of the great figures. It probably was in the context of the incident of Johnstown which related to the franchise which divorced him from the cable television industry for a period of time. But a comment that was made was, had Kahn continued with the continuity of the cable industry, it probably would have blossomed much more quickly than it did. The statement identified Kahn as one of the great figures but, perhaps because his career was interrupted by legal matters, took him away from cable, and thereby, cable was set back.
SCHNEIDER: Well, I happen to agree with that. Number one, Irv Kahn was an entrepreneur. He was a real entrepreneur, not only in cable TV. He was an entrepreneur in the TelePrompTer he so aptly put together. But he was an entrepreneur from the word go. He was maybe four or five years ahead of most people in his thinking.
Irving was one of the first ones that I can remember saying, we're going to wire New York City. People wouldn't believe him. I didn't believe him, and I was his general manager. I told Irv when he said to me we're going to get a franchise in New York City and wire New York City, I told Irv in no uncertain terms, "Fine. Get the franchise. Just get me somebody that will work for that particular job. He can report to me if you want him to or he can report to you. But I don't want to be the one involved in the headaches of the New York City franchise." It was just bigger than I wanted to handle because, here I was with a hundred and forty, hundred and eighty thousand subscribers out there in the boondocks, if you want to say. Now he's going to try and throw New York City on my shoulders. I didn't need that kind of headache, you know. Irv understood what I meant. I wasn't telling him he couldn't do it, because he would have told me to go to hell if I told him he couldn't do it. But he was, he was ahead of his time in his thinking of how things should be done, and what should be done.
He always felt that closed-circuit was ... Well, you've got your HBO, Turner Broadcasting, CNN and the whole bit. I think we would have had them years before if Irv had not been interrupted with his little deal in Johnstown. Because I think he would have taken TelePrompTer and run them a lot further than they finally wound up being. He was a forward thinker. He wasn't afraid to take the gambles that are necessary for an entrepreneur to take. I think when you get down to big people in the industry you got to talk about Shapp and Kahn. Seriously, the two biggest people in the industry.
Now, there's other people, don't get me wrong. Bob Tarlton for even thinking about getting started in this thing. (John) Walson who claims he was the first one in it. I never get into that argument, thank heavens.
FROKE: Astoria, Oregon ...
SCHNEIDER: Astoria, Oregon. Well, Astoria finally admitted that they put the system in, but it was just for their own benefit. They did not make it a commercial system. But Bob and John, I'm talking about a commercial system that they were selling.
Astoria was put in because four or five guys wanted television, and they couldn't get it any other way. Then they saw the way to make some dollars out of it and decided to get somebody else to help pay for it. You know, that's the part that makes them money.
I think that the fact that Irv was in the thing the way he was, he would have had by far the biggest group that ever came down the pike. No doubt in my mind, that he would have owned at least a half a million subscribers today. No doubt in my mind. And well run and well managed. Because, if he couldn't do it himself, he had a knack for getting the right people to do the work for him. He had a knack talking people into doing a job for him. I have a lot of respect for him.
FROKE: Someone mentioned that the song written by Irving Berlin, "Mister Five by Five," was really stimulated by Irving Kahn. Have you ever heard that story?
SCHNEIDER: I don't know if that's a true story but for your information Irving Berlin is his uncle. I don't know if you ever knew that.
FROKE: No, I did not.
SCHNEIDER: That's where he got his name, Irving Berlin Kahn. I.B. Kahn.
FROKE: I see.
SCHNEIDER: It's Irving Berlin Kahn. Irving Berlin is his uncle.
FROKE: So the physical stature and the family relationships ...
SCHNEIDER: Might very well have. Because Irving was about five foot eight and weighed about two hundred and sixty, eighty pounds. I don't think he ever told anybody how much he weighed. Had a very lovely wife and two girls. They lived in Larchmont, New York, when he worked in New York City.
He was another commuter. But after he got things going his way, he commuted in his own car. They picked him up! Which is fine, you know. Rank has its privileges. Then when he came back from service, you mentioned the fact that he got up at a meeting and the first thing he said was "before I was so rudely interrupted" and he just brought down the house with that remark. He got back into it. I don't know if he owns systems now or not. I know that he did build systems, since he got out, because my good friend down in South Williamsport, John Roskowski, built the systems for him on a turn-key basis. Now he used Jerrold equipment and Times Cable to do it but he was the turn-key operator for Irving. And as John has told me many times, he did it, but boy he's not sure he made many money off it, because Irv was a tight one with a buck when it was his money being used! I know that he did the area around Fort Dix, New Jersey. Irv was doing this while he was still in jail! He had somebody outside doing the work for him. The man who did the work for him finally left when Irving got out of his servitude. But Irving did a fine job.
And, of course, everyone knows what Shapp did, became Governor of Pennsylvania, so that showed them. Showed people where he belonged. He was a hell of a sharp businessman.
And very honestly, I think, not far behind, if behind at all, was my friend up there in Wallingford right now, Lawrence DeGeorge, who was a pretty sharp cookie in a different type of way. Larry sort of stays in the background and lets other people do things. But his ideas are out there all the time. I don't think he's the same pushing type, although always a great salesmen, and he's an engineer. Graduated from Princeton University. He got an engineering degree, but boy he's a sharp businessman, too. I didn't know too many engineers that are sharp businessmen, but he's one of them. Maybe someone would hang me on that statement.
I think Marty Malarkey he was another big name in this industry. He got the NCTA really going. George Barco became really big in the state of Pennsylvania, and became very big in the NCTA. Although George never got big in the country so to speak, he did in the NCTA. Bill Daniels became very, very prominent and big in the industry. Monty Rifkin who was with TelePrompTer, and left TelePrompTer went with Bill Daniels. You're ... again.
End of Tape 4, Side B
FROKE: This is oral history tape number five. Ray V. Schneider. Ray, early in our discussion, in reference to the early meetings of the National Cable Television Association, if I remember correctly, you said that the first one took place in 1951.
SCHNEIDER: No, 1952.
FROKE: Then you gave me three photographs. One is dated 1953, another 1954 and another 1955. Could we just talk about these early NCTA meetings, starting first with 1952, for which we don't have the photograph.
SCHNEIDER: All right. 1952 really was set up as a meeting of the Pennsylvania Operators at the Necho Allen Hotel in Pottsville, Pennsylvania. Although, there were only about fifty people at most at that meeting, it evolved before the meeting got half-way through that this was not only a Pennsylvania Association deal. It ought to include other people in other states. So, they started to talk about a national association rather than a Pennsylvania association. That was the first annual meeting, it turned out, of the NCTA.
FROKE: In other words, before the constitution and by-laws were written ...
SCHNEIDER: Oh, no. They didn't have anything. We didn't have by-laws or anything else.
FROKE: But there was an understanding ...
SCHNEIDER: From that meeting the by-laws were started. That was the momentum that started the NCTA.
FROKE: The momentum that came out of Pennsylvania, out of the cable industry, led to the feeling that this was really going to be a national movement, that really had to deal with national issues.
SCHNEIDER: Yes, because we knew back at that time that we were beginning to spread out, you know. We were going into West Virginia and Virginia, and towns in upstate New York. Some of them had started building systems. So, why should we be confined to Pennsylvania when other people might need the same kind of help we were trying to give each other at this meeting. We decided that the next time that we held a meeting, we would call it the annual or the second annual NCTA, National Cable meeting. I'm not so sure but I guess the National Cable Television Association was the name that was given at that meeting. (National Community Television Association) I would think that the minutes of the first meeting would be in the hands of Marty Malarkey. I think he still lives in Washington.
FROKE: In fact an oral history is being done with Marty.
SCHNEIDER: Oh, is he. I would think that he would have the minutes of that first meeting. It was a very slim meeting. I guarantee you. There weren't that many people at it! Not when you think of the Necho Allen Hotel. That's a real small hotel in Pottsville, Pennsylvania. That's where Marty Malarkey had his system.
FROKE: You gave me a photograph then one year later--1953--and the second annual meeting. This is quite a step up at the Hotel Park Sheraton in New York City. The second annual meeting of the National Cable Television Association. Actually, it says here (referring to photo) National Community Television Association.
SCHNEIDER: Okay. Then that was the original name for it. That's the name that was given if that's the name that's on the photograph. Subsequently, it became the National Cable Television Association. But I don't know just when that change was made. It might have been made in one of those other photos, I don't know. (Actually made in 1967.)
FROKE: The number of people who are shown in this photograph in the main dining room ... must be at least two hundred or so.
SCHNEIDER: Oh, I don't think there's quite that many but there may be. But that's everybody that was at that meeting that could possibly be a squeezed into that place. As you see, people standing up back here. We tried to get everybody that was involved.
FROKE: And the need for such an association then was apparent?
SCHNEIDER: Oh, yes. I think this shows that because if you look at this photo, these people are from Pennsylvania here. That's Ned Coswell. There are people here from West Virginia. There's a man from ... I was going to say Key West but that's not him. There's Mr. George Barco sitting back there. There's people from West Virginia here. I know because I've seen them here. This man is from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. There are people from all over the eastern part of the United States at this time.
FROKE: We will get a copy of this made and send either the copy or the original back to you so that you have it. The next photo is 1954 of the annual meeting of the National Community Television Association, Hotel Park Sheraton in New York--June 6, 1954. And the number of people is about the same. You're meeting in a different room. You now have a piano and orchestra!
SCHNEIDER: Yeah, here's a man from Wyoming, for example. From Casper, Wyoming. That's Gene Schneider. This man's from Key West, Florida. There's Lawrence DeGeorge. Marty Malarkey, he's up here as the president.
FROKE: You had a head table. That's what we're pointing to here on the photograph.
SCHNEIDER: That's right. And Bill Daniels from Colorado is now part of this thing as an operator. He was not a broker at this time. As I remember he was an operator. But as you see, we're now spread out to more and more of the country. And there may even be, and I don't want to say this to be true, but there may even be a second photo of this going this way or this. But I got this particular one because this is the one that I'm in.
FROKE: Right, right. I see you.
SCHNEIDER: See. I'm as bald then as well as I am now as my wife would say. But there may be more to this photo than shows. There may be a second one.
FROKE: Because of the size of the audience it was necessary ...
SCHNEIDER: And because of the way they are sitting. People might have been sitting out this way and so on.
FROKE: And then the third photograph is again ...
SCHNEIDER: Hotel Park Sheraton.
FROKE: Right. And now we're at the fourth annual convention and a trade show. Something new has been added.
SCHNEIDER: All right. Now, this is the first time that the manufacturers really started to display their equipment. They used to come and have a room with stuff on a table. If you wanted to go and have a drink with them, they'd show you their wares. This is the first show that they actually had booths where all the manufacturers were together in one room. And as you see, that table, for example, is twice the size it was last year.
FROKE: You had more officers or board members?
SCHNEIDER: That's right. And it is growing as we go along. And there's West Virginians at this thing, and there's again Wyoming people. Key West, Florida is showing up here. California. Texas. Oklahoma.
FROKE: And you're in this photograph, too?
SCHNEIDER: Yes, I happen to be here.
FROKE: There you are. Very good. (Pause) Mrs. SCHNEIDER:?
SCHNEIDER: That's my wife next to me. And this is Mr. and Mrs. Runnells. George Barco and Yolanda are in the back toward the head table. And Sandford Randolph, sitting up there big as life and twice as natural.
FROKE: And the date is June 8, 1955. And the hotel again is the Park Sheraton Hotel.
SCHNEIDER: This by now was getting to be quite a big thing. I don't know. I can't tell you from that time on where it went to. I don't know how many years we stayed in the Park Sheraton. I know it might be one more year, but I don't have a photo to show.
FROKE: Ray, are there any other comments or any other things you would like to visit about before we bring the recording to a close?
FROKE: Not as far as I'm concerned. I've enjoyed this. We've covered the territory pretty fully. I think the fact we're able to go this far is amazing that I can even think back that far, to be honest with you! But I've enjoyed the whole procedure and I thank you for coming out.
FROKE: Thank you, Ray, for spending the time and preparing for the recording. You've obviously thought a lot about it and consulted some of your friends and acquaintances to refresh your memory.
SCHNEIDER: I had to or I wouldn't have been able to answer your questions.
FROKE: We have a real valuable piece of history of the cable television industry in the United States. Thank you so much.
SCHNEIDER: Thank you.
End of Tape 5, Side A