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Kristin Dolan

kristin dolan

Interview Date: November 28, 2017
Interview Location: New York, NY USA
Interviewer: Seth Arenstein
Collection: Cable Center Oral History Program

Seth Arenstein: Hi, I'm Seth Arenstein. It’s November 28, 2017. We’re in New York City. We’re here for the Hauser Oral History Project for the Cable Center. I’m joined by Kristin Dolan, who is the founder and CEO of 605 LLC. We’ll get into the name of that company in a moment, but welcome. Great to have you here.

Kristin Dolan: Thank you so much. Great to be here.

Arenstein: Where were you born and where did you first go to school, Kristin?

Dolan:I was born in Norristown, Pennsylvania. I guess the heart of cable. And then I grew up on Long Island. So I started school there. I spent my whole life pretty much there.

Arenstein: How did your family come from Pennsylvania to Long Island?

Dolan: I'm not really sure. I think my dad was down there for work and then they moved back up, but the family was originally from New York on both sides.

Arenstein:And your upper education, your college and your graduate degrees, is kind of interesting. And they kind of dispel the myth that English is not important.

Dolan: Exactly

Arenstein: Tell us about your college degree and your two Master’s degrees.

Dolan:Two Master’s, yes. So my undergraduate degree was in English; I always was a fan of writing. So I had an undergraduate degree in English with a business minor. My goal was to go into publishing. So after I graduated, I spent two months going cross-country, which was fun. Then I came back and Pace University in New York had just started a new program, a Master’s, an MS actually, in publishing. So I did that, which was interesting; that’s actually how I landed my first internship in cable. I had a magazine internship that wasn’t working out, and at the time, AMC Networks—American Movie Classics at the time—had contacted Pace looking for interns to work on some of the things they were doing marketing. So that’s how I got into the industry. So I completed the MS in Publishing, which is really like a specialized MBA. It just focuses, at the time, on the print industry, magazines, circulation, and a lot of things that are actually relevant to cable as a subscription business. And I actually wrote my thesis, my first thesis, on cable sort of as a magazine stand. And then much later in life, after I had my first son and was pregnant with my second, I decided to go back and get the literature degree because I'd always wanted that. So I went back and got an MA in English Lit as well.

Arenstein:OK, the elephant in the room is, do you feel that your English degrees have helped you in your career?

Dolan:Absolutely. Yes.

Arenstein: Good to hear that.

Dolan: I mean, we’re a communications business, right? And it's all about being able to communicate. I always encourage people to look at liberal arts regardless of where they want to go in the industry. Unless you're obviously interested in STEM and you're looking for mathematics, engineering or tech. Liberal arts degrees to me really help people communicate and that’s a key aspect of any role in our business.

Arenstein: Even in the company that you head now, which is more of a data analytics company, but still you need to communicate what you found in the data, right?

Dolan: Yes, exactly.

Arenstein: So I know we wanted to talk about—you mentioned that cable is a magazine, so I guess I also have to say, did that have anything to do with another product that came down the road about the time you were starting to get into cable? Called “MagRack.”

Dolan: It’s funny. MagRack was a little later. My thesis was around the concept of a magazine rack back in the time, back in the day, there were tons of them, they were on most corners in New York, and it was an array of content that you could select from. So doing a publishing thesis, it was talking about the same thing that cable television was essentially an array of content that people could purchase in various ways. So it did predate MagRack, but I did spend an interesting amount of time when that product was launching. And it launched some great careers. Matt Strauss, one in particular, at Comcast, and it was another brainchild of my father-in-law, Charles Dolan. It was fun.

Arenstein: Tell me about some of the things you did as an intern. You said you got an internship with AMC. What did AMC look like at that point? What were its biggest shows? Maybe that’s the wrong term, to say “biggest shows.” Maybe not too many people knew what—

Dolan: It was very early on.

Arenstein:Tell me what it looked like. How many people were there? Give us a feel for what you walked into.

Dolan:So it was small. We had about 20 million, I think, subscribers at the time, and I guess around then it was 1989-90. So the cable universe was smaller, but still, 24 million was not by any way fully distributed. And when I started out, Katie McEnroe was running the ship and Sharon Patrick was the head of Rainbow and there was a fresh young man named Josh Sapan who was starting on—he started about a month or two before I did, in a much more senior position. So it was small. We were in the corporate headquarters where, eventually became the call center for Cablevision at 150 Crossways Park in New York. And I started out—one of the main things I worked on was a program called “Community Classics” where we took classic films into two different groups. To children, so we showed a lot of classic children’s movies in public places, and then one for senior citizens, where we did the same. And the idea was just to get the brand name out there, and in a lot of cases, we would bring some of the classic movie stars with us to introduce the films. I got to meet Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Mitzi Gaynor and Shirley Jones, and all these interesting old-time movie stars. So it was really an exciting thing for me at that age.

Arenstein: Wow. Did you ever in your wildest dreams think that you make a career in this relatively nascent industry called cable television? Was it ever on your radar?

Dolan:It really was not initially because I was so passionate about books and about publishing. What happened was I stayed on as an intern and then eventually got a job as marketing coordinator at AMC Networks. But my heart was still in, you know, I had this publishing degree and I wanted to go into publishing. My goal at AMC was ultimately I wanted to go into the field, I wanted to move up to a manager role. And there wasn’t a role available, so I got an offer from Random House to go work there. I left the industry, I went to Random House and it was—I hate to say this—it was horrible because I was coming from cable. And everyone at the time was young and they were friendly and there were a lot of women and I never felt like there was a glass ceiling. I went to this somewhat very stoic, traditional publishing house, and it was just night and day for me. And the editors there, they told me that, “Well, you come from soft media. So don’t expect to get any respect.” This was back in the day. So I lasted all of five months in publishing and I got a call from AMC that the position I had wanted actually had opened up. So they called me back. Mary Murano at the time called me back. I started then as a marketing manager out in the field so it was a great time to be in the industry because AMC was starting to roll out across the footprint, and my territory was New York and New England. So back in the day it was Continental Cable and State Cable Maine, and Times Mirror and Dimension Cable, and all these different little—from Rhode Island to—all these different little cable companies all over the place launching the channel. And my job was to go in and train the field service technicians, train the customer service reps, and do local marketing in each of the areas where the channel launched. So it actually helped me incredibly through the path of my career because ultimately it gave me the opportunity to go all the way up to chief operating officer. I had been to every single cable system, give or take a few, from Maine to Long Island many times. And then later in my career, still in marketing out in the field, I had the Mid-Atlantic territory and also Pennsylvania. So I really got to do the whole East Coast. And when you went out in that, back in the day, a general manager could make a decision right then and there at the local diner or whatever, to carry the network. So it was very, very different than where the industry is today as far as many fewer players and a lot more hierarchy as far as decision-making.

Arenstein: And it seems to me, based on what you just said, not only did you see a lot of systems, you did a lot of things.

Dolan: We did a lot of launches. It was a lot of fun and at times, challenging. I was like a 24-year old. One of the things AMC was working on a few years after I started was the launch of romance classics, which ultimately became WE. And we launched that network twice. Part of what we had to do out in the field was to sell in the additional network or at least raise awareness about it, so one of the brainchilds of Katie and Josh at the time was that when we we’d go on a visit, if we were pitching romance, we would send flowers ahead to the general manager, male or female. So we were sending them flowers. And then they’d have us give out romance novels and candy while we were doing the trainings on AMC. So picture this 24-year old out in the morning at 6:30 a.m. in front of a group of techs in northern Maine, who all they want to do is get their work boots on and get out in the field. And I'm sitting there training them on AMC and handing them out romance novels and chocolate at 7:00 in the morning. So it was a humbling experience, but also I got to really do things and go places that I probably never would have in another career.

Arenstein:And you used a little bit of your college degree in literature.

Dolan:It was romance novels.

Arenstein: Not the highest form, but hey, you know, I’m reaching here.

Dolan: Good job.

Arenstein: What about—you mentioned working in those times as a 24-year old. But you’re also a 24-year old woman, you know, predominately male industry, most certainly on the tech level…

Dolan:On the tech level for sure. But the thing with cable I've always felt, and I've said this probably many times, I never felt like there was a glass ceiling. Like I said, when I came in, Mary was there, Sharon Patrick was there, Katie was there. There were women in programming, there were women in marketing, there were women in HR. And Cablevision in particular, I think, has always had the mantra of the best person for the job regardless of gender, race or any other dynamic. So I've always felt comfortable. And I always say this, it's kind of funny, too…I was an employee at Cablevision well before I was a family member. So I would say, employee first, family member second. So I had already gotten to the level of vice-president within Rainbow before I ever started dating and ultimately married my husband. There’s nepotism, I guess, everywhere, but I experienced a non-nepotistic career advancement.

Arenstein: What about today? What about—can you compare the state of women in the industry back then to now? I know you just said that you never felt like there was a ceiling or anything, but there must have been some sort of feeling that, my gosh, as you said, I'm surrounded here by techs at six in the morning

Dolan:It was interesting even when I was in my last role at Cablevision as COO. I would go out in the field a lot. And we did have very few women techs. We had a few, and it is a challenging role when you think about the ladder weighs 28 pounds and you're scaling fences and you're doing—so physically I think those jobs can be challenging for women. But at the same time, we had some amazing women, in all different roles. And the ones that weren’t as physically challenging, I think there is now more of a focus, like we said, on STEM and engineering and technology and mathematics where women are starting to aspire to those careers. And you're seeing that change. Some amazing women I've gotten to work with, Yvette Kanouff and Stephanie Mitchko, and a variety of women in technical positions and I think they do a lot to bring up other women behind them. I will say being in sales, because I had gone from marketing to sales, this was a pretty rowdy industry back in the day. I will say a glass or two was tipped over the years; there were some parties. So yes, I think it was different, but I never experienced anything that I would describe as negative in any way.

Arenstein: : Was there a feeling back in those days when you first started in the industry in your early days, was there a feeling that this was sort of a grand experiment and “it might work, it might not.” By the same token, was there a point when you were at AMC where you thought, “Oh, my goodness. This is a going concern. This is working. Maybe after “Mad Men” launching or something like that. It's easy for us here to sit back and try to find these big points in your career. But when you're going through the career as you did, were those points obvious to you? Was there any moment where you said, “Oh, yes, this is a business that’s going to last.” By the same token, when you started, did it seem a little bit not shaky, but more experimental?

Dolan: I think it was a little bit wild, wild West initially. Again, being on the content side, it was different. Because we were on Long Island, one of the first areas to get cable TV. So I had had cable in the house since I was in junior high. So I think we saw the value of that. My friends had WHT, but we had Cablevision. So I knew that it was a thing, right, to quote Josh Sapan, “It was definitely a thing.” But it took a while. I think when AMC first started doing original series, the first ones were Westerns and things of that vein. And then with the launch of Romance, having “The Thornbirds,” we used to call it “All Thornbirds, all the time.” And some of the other programming that got aired over and over. It felt like we were putting something together, but I think, once we hit like 40-50 million households for AMC and then you know, Bravo had continued to grow, and some of the other networks that were part of Rainbow—the local sports networks, and obviously News 12. I think the aggregation of all those things on a local and on a national basis made it feel like there was some stuff and some substantive elements there. And then, you know, the family and the company is always very entrepreneurial in a variety of ways. So after AMC, I got to work on a project called “Radio City Television,” which was another sort of interesting tidbit in my career.

Arenstein: I'm old enough to remember that launch at the Western Show.

Dolan: We talked about this the other day.

Arenstein: I believe I have a red jacket that says, “Radio City.” Tell us what “Radio City Television” was.

Dolan:It was a great concept. It was far enough back in the day, it was 1997 into 1998, where HDTV was a new big thing. And pay-per-view was still a very important aspect of revenue and an important entertainment thing for people. And so the idea was to create a library of high definition content that would be owned by the company and could be sold on pay-per-view, but ultimately over time that we would establish a library of high definition content. So the first thing that we decided to do was to film the Christmas spectacular. So an eight-camera shoot at Radio City and the idea would be to package that up as a pay-per-view event and sell it across the country. And so, what happened was the Christmas show has five—depending on the year—different versions that are in different cities around the country. And so, when we started working on Radio City Television, the idea of filming it and airing it on pay-per-view, some of the local markets felt that it would impact their ability to sell tickets to the live show. Still an interesting question today: does live cannibalize pay-per-view or vice-versa? So they put a stop to us actually airing the Christmas spectacular on pay-per-view. So it was interesting because we learned a lot about high definition and shooting high definition, but the idea to actually create this library of content started to go by the wayside a little bit and then at the same time, high definition started to explode, so there were a lot of people, from Mark Cuban on, starting to work aggressively on high definition content. But we did do, as you mentioned, probably one of the most famous network launches in the history of network launches, which was the Western Show, I believe, in ’98, it might have been ’99, where we put on a huge event where we created the world’s largest kick line. We brought the Rockettes in. We had a bunch of Salvation Army people there and we created a way to donate money to Toys for Tots. But what we did is we got all the executives, we had over 2,000 people from the Western Show all come out and learn a kick routine. And then they actually did the routine in the parking lot, followed by pyrotechnics with a series of Rockettes and Swoosie Kurtz in the middle, and we filmed all of it and the goal was to win the world record for the world’s largest kick line. The other famous thing, I think, from that event, which some people still also have is the room drops that we did. We went out and we bought—we had a variety of things. We had life-size Rockettes, cardboard cutouts in each room when people checked in. And then static stickers on the windows but the key thing that people remember the most is that we got 1,600 mannequin legs that were dressed in fishnet stockings with a dance shoe, and we had them sticking up behind the curtains as each person checked in to their room. And the flights home from the Western Show we got a lot of reports back that people were actually carrying the cutouts and trying to jam them in the overheads on the planes, and that they carried home the mannequin legs and kept them for years to come. So that was definitely a marketing…

Arenstein: I was one of those people.

Dolan: It was fun. It was really fun.

Arenstein: It was. Wow. Is it still fun? Can you still do things like that?

Dolan: It’s different. But it's still very fun. For me going from a chief operating officer role at a fairly large company of 15,000 employees to a startup with a very young millennial employee base and a much more technical—I'm used to producing things and seeing things physically, understanding installs and phone calls and things like that. And now we have, the product is bits and bytes and the output, it's not a physical, tangible thing the way an install would be, or a television show would be. So that’s been an adjustment. But at the same time, the energy and the excitement of working with young people and working in these new areas where there’s so much data available and there’s so many insights to be garnered, it’s still very exciting.

Arenstein:At Radio City TV, there was somebody that you worked with there who’s now on the 605 board, I believe.

Dolan:Yes, that would be David Kline. I had breakfast with him this morning. He’s great, he’s wonderful. And that is one of the things I love about this industry is even though we’re all a little older, and a little grayer, the value of the relationships from being—for me, I was at Cablevision for 27 years, 28 years? And so having that whole experience and now two or three years beyond, you really start to recognize and appreciate how people entered this industry and how they stay and the familial connections. Like for me, even having worked at Random House and then getting to know the Miron family and even some of the Newhouses by extension. Post-that, that part of my career has been incredible. It's one of my favorite things about cable, and I think it's somewhat unique.

Arenstein: And I notice that relatively recently Charter invested in 605.

Dolan: Yes, they did, right.

Arenstein: Let me ask you. I know there was a job that you had, Vice President of Field Communications at Cablevision back in 2000. Do you want to talk about that and how important that was? What does a VP of Field Communications do?

Dolan: This was definitely a historic, sort of stodgy old job because as not many people remember, we didn’t always have the Internet. So back at that point, it was my transition from the Rainbow side of the company over to Cablevision. So I got a job in operations in this field communications role, which reported up into marketing. And the idea was that we had at the time almost 5,000 employees in the call centers and out in the field that didn’t have email, didn’t have cell phones, right? So the idea of communicating, and at the time, we were pretty geographically spread out. So how do you get the front line employees to really understand the pricing, the packaging, the promotions because at the time, it was a big growth period in the industry and we were trying to do a lot of different offers and to bring on as many subscribers as possible. So the game of telephone to get information out to all these disparate places was challenging. The idea was to create a group within the organization that was actually responsible for selling sort of our internal information and going out and pitching it to the employee base. So we created it; it was myself and a former general manger from Cablevision named Glenn Brown who passed away about a decade ago. But we set up an organization and at the time we also had “Nobody Beats the Wiz” as our retail vendor of modems and things like that. We set up basically an internal field team like we had on the sales side of Rainbow that would go out every day and they had their territory and they would take out information about motions and packaging and pricing, and they would do some of the trainings on new products if the network reps weren’t available. It really became this machine that pushed out information in order to make sure that every person who interfaced with a customer was able to really articulate and communicate what the company was trying to accomplish. So that’s all changed. Now everyone has email and you can blast things out and you can have interactive screens and everyone’s got an iPad, but this was about really the old days when you didn’t even have a cell phone.

Arenstein: You said everything’s changed, but even today, I'm sure you know this. I mean, you talk to communicators at brands and if you ask them what the biggest issue that they have, one of the first things that they say is “internal communications.” So even with the Internet and everything and email blasts—

Dolan: It's challenging.

Arenstein: —it's still hard to make sure everybody’s on the same page.

Dolan: And when you're trying to move a company forward. Another point in my career in the past few years, was when we were really re-imagining Cablevision and turning it around ultimately so that it garnered a significant price when the company was sold. But in a highly competitive environment, making significant changes, which we started to do in 2013, completed with the sale in 2016, it's very challenging. You know, instituting things like performance-based management. Safety is a big thing in our industry and really trying to get down to x number of incidents per employee, which can be challenging in some of the roles that our employees have. And just figuring out ways to really get everybody to understand what you're doing as an organization. And the more people you have, the harder it is to get the message out. Then there's always urban legend or different things that come up that counter, you know, “Why do you have to wear a safety vest?” and “Why can't you climb a dead pole to get up to, you know, to run a drop?” And all these different things. Really, there’s no substitute for face-to-face communication. But we also instituted a lot of different things from a monthly all-hands call for supervisors and above where we would get the entire management team around a table, and it was open-ended questions for an hour. Anybody could ask us anything we wanted. And then sort of pushing that out, and then utilizing everything that still is out there between instant messaging and email. Then we put in interactive boards at every single employee location so we could push stuff out on an internal network to keep them apprised of all different things. But communication, I think, is the hardest part of running any organization.

Arenstein: And even in those days, as you sort of mentioned that new programs, new deals, all kinds of things were being instituted—

Dolan: The number of networks that launched and gained carriage, because that was really “Headend in the Sky,” and the opportunity to start doing digital and compressing signals and turning one channel into six, and really it's hard to imagine that back then, but having almost more space to fill than were networks available—it's not a problem we have today.

Arenstein: In that job, did it ever seem that by the time you sort of reached one goal—you wrote something down, you put together an effort or a campaign. By the time you finished writing that, the deals were different, the packages were different, by the time the ink was dry, the ink was dry, things had already changed.

Dolan: It’s true. And then you think about the complexities just of the billing systems at the time and trying to get all that information conveyed and what channel is it on and all these different things. It was a crazy time, but it was one of the, I think, one of the most interesting jobs and again, that coupled with my experience in the field, it just gave me exposure to every aspect of the organization. Because as you pointed out, I'm not a technologist, I'm not a math major, I'm not a contracts person, or a lawyer or an accountant, so for me to kind of take that liberal arts background, the on-the-job learning that I got by really being physically present throughout the cable system was what allowed me, I think, to move up through the company.

Arenstein: So let's take a slight detour. When you're not working, what do you like to read? Could you tell this from a literature—what do you like to read? What's the latest book that you’ve read that you’ve enjoyed?

Dolan: Bel Canto. Which is not a current one. I generally read literature. I'm not good with non-fiction so I listen to that. But mostly what I do, I like a lot of English novelists, so I look every year for when the Man Booker Prize nominees come out and I kind of knock all them off one at a time. Then a lot of American literature. Once I find one person, I read everything they’ve written. But I usually have four or five going at once. It's commuting, taking the train definitely gives me more reading time.

Arenstein: What about television? What shows do you watch?

Dolan: That’s a great question. So we have six children, four adult and two that are one tween and one eight-year old. My husband’s a huge sci-fi fan so we watch everything from “Stranger Things” to, what are my favorites? I like “The Good Place,” I like a lot of stuff on Showtime. I'm always telling Matt Blank how much I love the things on Showtime and HBO. Not a big fan of reality TV, but you know, we watch a lot of sort of things that are a little bit more like spine-tingly or compelling whether it's sci-fi or mystery or things like that. Then a fair amount of Cartoon Network, of course.

Arenstein: And what about some of the big shows at AMC, and how did those change your job and your insight or your vision, your career vision, what happened after the first couple of seasons of “Mad Men?” How did your job change?

Dolan: I had already left at that point, but once AMC spun, I joined the board. So as a board member getting exposure to really seeing the magic that Josh and then Ed Carroll and the team there create, Charlie Collier, just around their ability to pick things that resonate. There's another funny story that I’ll tell you. It was when we used to have a staff meeting before the company was spun, and Tom Rutledge was the COO, and he would do his weekly staff meeting with kind of the heads of all the different groups. So Josh would be in there and folks from MSG and all the Cablevision executives and we'd always go to Josh last because he would do a roundtable. And Josh was always sort of serious, but would be in some ways the comic relief. So there was a meeting when Josh pitched the concept of “Breaking Bad” to Tom Rutledge in front of the whole team. So he was like, “OK. We have this guy. He's a high school teacher. He creates a meth lab in an RV and he drives cross-country—” And Tom Rutledge was like, “Josh, you think it's good? I’ll trust you.” But it was Josh in his most earnest pitch mode, pitching “Breaking Bad” at a staff meeting in our conference room. It was just like one of those moments in my career that I’ll never forget. But you know, AMC has done an amazing job, as have the other networks that report up through that team, to pick real winners. And there's something about storytelling that…I mean, some are just lucky. Like Josh would say, they never ever imagined that “Walking Dead” would do what “Walking Dead” did.

Arenstein: Exactly. Exactly. We’re going to be talking with Ed Carroll this week and I know one of the questions is going to be, what is the appeal? Why do people want to watch “The Walking Dead,” and so many of them do? There’s got to be something. What’s your take? What do you think?

Dolan: I don’t know. There’s something about like dystopian, I don’t know, I think people maybe think “there but for the grace of God.” Like if I can watch all my craziness on TV, maybe it’ll make the rest of my life feel a little safer? I don’t know.

Arenstein: Good answer. I’ll take that. You know, it's funny though, you're right about pitches. Sometimes I watch a show and I go, “God, I would have loved to have been in the pitch meeting for that one.” There was a show that I just watched on AMC where Norman Reedus, one of the actors from “Walking Dead,” gets on a motorcycle and he just tours. He's touring Spain, the one I saw. Very simple. I just love the show. It's so well done. I don’t get to go to Spain, I don’t get to see all these things. And the camera work was fabulous. And Norman Reedus’ narration was quite good. Whoever wrote it did a very nice job. But again, the pitch must have been, OK, we put Norman Reedus on a bike and we put him in—

Dolan: We let him drive around, right.

Arenstein: It's like a very simple pitch, but boy, did it work.

Dolan: They get a lot of pitches. I mean, I have to give them credit, just their ability to pick. And then I think, you know, sort of over time you're got on what's going to work what might not. But they’ve had, I think, an unimaginable streak of picking winners, and that’s to their credit. They’ve done amazing things with those networks. Everyone’s really proud of them.

Arenstein: OK, one last sort of fantasy question. If you were sitting in Charlie Collier’s chair, money was no object, budgets were, you know, you’re doing great, no trouble, your passion project. You could put your passion project on AMC or one of the Rainbow Networks. Even on BBC America, let's say. What would it be?

Dolan:My thing again, on BBC America’s amazing content, is just continuing what they’ve done with the ocean work and all their environmental stuff. So “Blue Planet” and “Planet Earth.” Thinking about the ten years that it takes to film each season or each series for that content is amazing. So I think actually being able to sit at the table and figure out what they're going to do and how they're going to do it and then actually physically see that stuff being shot, I think, would be a real fantasy.

Arenstein: Agreed. I think that “Blue Planet Two” was some—

Dolan: Yeah, incredible.

Arenstein: I've never seen anything like it. I loved “Blue Planet,” it's fine, it's great. But “Blue Planet Two”—

Dolan:Just the technology of what they're able to shoot and how, is amazing. And “Planet Earth” also, just incredible. To me, death scenes, for me, I have to say, a lot of things get killed in “Planet Earth.”

Arenstein: That’s true. That’s true. COO of Cablevision. And now we’re in, a like sort of 2000, look here, about 2004; what was that like?

Dolan: So COO, it was sort of a progression from 2011, head of Optimum, kind of up through president, up to COO. So a span of five years of just taking on more and more. It was incredible. For me, the thing I love most about all of my jobs is the people. I'm definitely like my favorite thing is to be in a group of people and really hearing about what they're doing and helping them figure out how to do it better, or what works, what doesn’t, explaining things, that sort of thing. So for me the chief operating role was great. My favorite thing to do, as I said before, was just to be out in the field. So meeting with the techs and going to the call centers, and we were able to institute a lot of interesting things for the employees over the course of those four years that required, thankfully, a lot of time in the field. It's my favorite day. Get up early, go out, to Brooklyn or Newark, or go out to the far ends of Long Island and meet the teams. You go on truck rolls and it was just great. Then we re-did the Optimum brand with all the bright colors and re-establishing what that brand stood for and that was a big piece under my tenure at that point. And then just creating, having the executive team that we did, some people brought in from other places, some people had been there forever, and really just having a roundtable organization that was built on trust and intelligence and really everybody rowing in the same direction I think was one of the most rewarding things of all, being part of that team. So the chief operating officer role for me was really a dream come true.

Arenstein: I know one of the things that they always ask me to include in these interviews is people, and you just talked about how important people were. But people that inspired you, mentored you, people that you remember from your career. Who are some of those people?

Dolan: There were so many. You know, within Cablevision, some of the people that were there from the beginning. Wilt Hildenbrand was a great mentor to me. He taught me so much about technology and about just general organization and, those of you who know Wilt, cutting to the chase, not a lot of BS with Wilt. Sheila Mahony was another person who was there early on in my career, who ran government affairs and PR. She was incredible. Charlie Schueler, as well. This was always, I would say, “toddlers in tiaras.” He was always—took me out and stood me up and got me to do the things I needed to do for the job as I grew. That was helpful. You know, the family. My father-in-law, in particular, really just his vision and his passion and he still has it to this day at 91. And obviously my husband. I learned so much from him, and got a lot of opportunities to kind of grow up through the company and kind of execute his vision, which is really, you know, for us, that’s the tag team like he imagines it, and basically, I make it happen. So that’s been great. You know, there’s so many on the Rainbow side. Like I said, Josh and Ed, who I've known forever. Some of the real smart people: Jennifer Caserta. Just brilliant people everywhere and you know, it's been a great ride. I could go on for hours. I think, if you include some of the people outside the company, across the board, from some of the other, from Comcast to Time Warner Cable and obviously to Charter, and Tom Rutledge, Tom Montemagno, Jim Blackley—all great people to work with and to learn from.

Arenstein: OK. So let's get to 605. How did it come about? What does it do? Why is it important to measure?

Dolan: Measure, OK. So while I was still at Cablevision, I had the opportunity to run both the ad sales division and the marketing division. We had from a pretty early time had been aggregating all the viewership data from our 7 million set-top boxes. At first to 1% sample, then to 10, and then Jim ultimately pushed everybody to aggregate 100% of the viewership data in an anonymized, privacy-compliant way. So we started using that data to make internal decisions around marketing and advertising to utilizing our internal avail. So things like frequency capping for upgrade promotions, targeting different messages to different people to see what moved the needle, and doing a lot of—because you were aggregating all the data, you could say, “OK, this person saw a commercial to get a DVR and then I know from our CRM data that they actually did. So now they don’t have to see that commercial anymore. And really getting sophisticated on the marketing side of using that data. But at the same time, we also had a $300 million a year ad sales business selling the local avails around New York. So they took that same information and were able to start to monetize the long tail content, you know, selling networks that weren’t rated by Nielsen because they didn’t have enough viewership to be rated, right? So we could say, this is how many people are watching that network and could assign actually a price to the inventory there. And what that allowed us to do again was to sell the long tail network, long tail networks, but also to do customized sort of impression-based ad sales for local clients. So you could charge a higher CPM and then by selling the long tail networks, which got them the impressions that they needed, we then freed up other inventory on some of the other networks that you could also sell at a higher CPM. So it really helped us in three different ways. On the ad sale side, become more successful and to actually do a better job of selling our advertising inventories for the client. So we liked that idea and we had been looking at spinning that off into a separate business. The internal project name for that was DataCo Ventures. We brought in our friends from McKinsey and we did a yearlong study and we looked at the opportunity of taking that model and potentially doing it nationally. So aggregating set-top box data and other data from across the country so that we could apply those same methodologies to national ad sales. Lo and behold, we had a “Project Palermo,” which was our summer vacation in August of 2015, where Jim infamously met with Patrick Drahi on a boat in Palermo. And 19 days later, we had an accepted offer to sell the company, which was fortuitous but not quite as—it happened very quickly. At that point, we were unable to do anything to spin off any aspects of the company. So we were in a holding pattern, and then the sale closed in June of 2016. At that point, we decided that we still liked the idea enough that we wanted to create that business. Taking that old name of DCV and figuring out how to move it forward, we took it and converted the Roman numerals into actual numbers and I decided to name the company “605,” which is obviously DCV in Arabic numbers. From that point, we knew that we wanted to aggregate data and we needed a really big partner that could help us with that. Given our history with many of the people at Charter, and their understanding of the value of what we had been doing at Cablevision media sales, we reached out to them. Jim and Tom Rutledge had a handshake deal from a year-and-a-half ago to do this project together and we spent the last year getting the deal paid for, which was no small feat. And b), really creating the infrastructure around allowing Charter to utilize some of the same types of methodologies and thoughts that we had used at Cablevision. So they're now selling on an impression basis in the local markets, and we’re aggregating many, many millions of pieces of information from the Charter set-top boxes, but then also from other sources as well. And our goal is to have this national look so that we can go directly to brands and also to programmers, and allow them to utilize our inventory in a great way. And then also give them a lot of analysis and information the around the impact of the different campaigns that they sell are having. So it's very different, but it's also very familiar.

Arenstein: As somebody who studied marketing for a graduate degree, it's really kind of completely changed from…you're up in the wind and thinking what people are going to do to actually see what they're doing.

Dolan: And it's so interesting to me because I said I'm not a scientist, I'm certainly not a data scientist. So we have a group of PhDs out in Pasadena who work for 605, and they all come right out of Caltech. And the things that they can imagine for utilization of these data, you know, predictive models around people’s propensity to buy something, their affinity, combining actual data with qualitative focus group data and really being able to predict and project, and also to look at complicated media mixes to say, OK, it's not just the last touch, it's not the last impression that sold the car. It was this aggregation of outdoor advertising and television and digital and an email and you know, a bus shelter or whatever, and then the location of the dealership, and be able to tease out of that an ROI that you can ascribe to each aspect of that media. And it's incredible. Very, very different from direct mail pieces. You know, for AMC, that worked in 1990. But great opportunity and very, very interesting in the day-to-day.

Arenstein: What still has to happen? I'm sure you saw this article the other day about—it was just a Cyber Monday and people were saying that some of the email that retailers were sending out to customers, “Why don’t you buy this new camera?” And some of the customers were saying, “Well, gee, you know, I just bought a camera from you. Didn’t you know that?”

Dolan: Right.

Arenstein: So it's still a little dirty, isn’t it—?

Dolan: It's interesting because people, they want to avoid the “creep factor,” so they don’t want you to know too much, but at the same time, they expect what you know to be accurate. And there's a lot of data out there, there's a ton. And the challenge is really finding the right pieces in the right way and utilizing it in a way that actually benefits the customer. Because targeting and giving people more relevant advertising shouldn’t just benefit the brand or the advertiser, it should benefit the person who ideally will still appreciate having advertising because it gives them something that’s relevant or reminds them of something. So in the camera situation, it should be timed right. It should be the right camera for you or the “renew your lease” because we know your lease is coming to an end. I think we’re getting more sophisticated, but I think it's going to take a little bit longer for us to really reach where I think most consumers would want us to be.

Arenstein: What’s cable’s legacy in your opinion, or what should it be? You could argue, I guess you could argue that your company, 605, is one of cable’s legacies.

Dolan: I would say, to me, the legacy of cable is really the family business. It's the American dream. You look at families like the Rigases and the Roberts and the Dolans and you know, the Mirons, and all it—and the Hausers—and this was an industry that was created by people and families who had the gumption and the courage and the initiative to put it all on the line to create something that had never been done before. And to me, the technology will always evolve and things will always change and become more sophisticated and better and faster and sharper. But the legacy of this industry to me is just the people that put it together and the families that created it.

Arenstein: What about the broadband footprint that exists—

Dolan: Oh, there's that, too. That whole superhighway thing. I guess that a good legacy to…absolutely.

Arenstein: That’s why I say, 605 is sort of one of the legacies of cable.

Adams: : I'm teasing. I think the infrastructure having come from the cable system with 10,000 miles of fiber optic cable, and the differences in going from traditional coax and swinging drops to having literally trucks where people were dressed like Oompa Loompas and they're splicing fiber, however many strands at a time. The actual technical evolution, and the infrastructure that was created, I mean, that just speaks for itself. It's an amazing accomplishment not dissimilar to the highway system or I would argue, even the space program. It was something created that is, almost could have been unfathomable 20 years ago, 30 years ago.

Arenstein: Kristin, this has been a pleasure going down memory lane with somebody who looks far too young to have gone down memory lane with. But thank you so much. It’s been great. It was a pleasure.

Dolan: It was lovely.

Arenstein: It really was nice.



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Mark Dzuban

Mark Dzuban 2014

Interview Date: April 29, 2014
Interviewer: Larry Satkowiak
Collection: Hauser Collection

Satkowiak: It’s April 29, 2014. We’re at the Los Angeles Cable Show. We are with Mark Dzuban. Mark, welcome.

Dzuban: Thank you, Larry.

Satkowiak: Let’s just get straight into it. Let’s talk a little bit about your background. Where did you grow up, what part of the country are you from?

Dzuban: Well, I appreciate I had a chance to think about it. It’s funny, we’re moving so fast it’s like I actually had to think about my childhood and it should be natural, right? So I was born in Somerville, New Jersey, a little hospital, about forty beds, and it was a farming community. My mother was a telephone operator and my father worked in a Union Carbide plant not too far away. He’d just got out of the Army, I guess, a couple of years prior to that.

If I look at it today and what the culture is today in our environment, it’s kind of interesting because it’s a little bit of a different world. My mother’s side, my grandmother was a Quaker. My grandfather on my mother’s side was an Irish coal miner family and they were from Pennsylvania. My grandmother was from Chester County. Actually we recently discovered that the barn that we live in—we live in a Revolutionary War-era barn—was on the 5,000 acre land grant that William Penn willed to my great-great-grandmother’s family.

Satkowiak: Didn’t know that.

Dzuban: Till we actually did the title search. On my father’s side, it’s interesting. They came over in, I guess, the turn of the century around World War I. My grandmother is Ukrainian and she’s actually related to the Tatars. Genghis Khan was a Tatar and Kubla Khan was a Tatar. It was during the occupation of the Ukraine in, I guess, between the year 1000 and 1300. My grandfather was Polish-Czech so the name Dzuban (an umlaut is missing) was from that era.

Satkowiak: You would have had the simple name in my neighborhood. You didn’t really have to buy a vowel in order to pronounce Dzuban.

You started off in electronics at a pretty early age. I know you had a real interest in tearing apart televisions. It’s one of the things we’ve talked about over time. How did you get an interest in the kind of career that you eventually ended up being in?

Dzuban: I kind of tried to trace that; I had a lot of influence by my father. I guess it was the Thirties, during the Depression, work was hard to find and his family was generally into welding and machinists. He said, “I don’t want to do that, I don’t want it.” Because it was almost like a caste system in Eastern Europe. You’re born and raised to work on a farm; that’s what you’re going to do. He said, “I don’t want to do that. I want to do something different.” He actually ran away and joined the CCC corps. They sent him to training to be a surveyor and I have a picture of him in a surveyor’s hut in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, with a radio in it that he used to check in as a surveyor while he was surveying the elk migration route and that became the Bureau of Land Management property.

So his affinity for the radio became something that when I grew up, there were radio parts and there was a laboratory in the basement, a workbench, an oscilloscope, and all that kind of stuff. He was working for Westinghouse as an engineer. And I kind of grew up with it. It may sound crazy, but on a Saturday morning, the whole Slovak neighborhood was at the dumps looking for stuff, right? And I was cutting resistors and parts out of TV sets and taking tubes and we were testing them. My father showed me how to use a tube tester, how to read resistors to help him. And that was kind of the genesis of the relationship with cable because some of the first amplifiers he built were in mailboxes with homemade chassis and hole punches building out the tube sockets and putting it together. I think there were channel 2 through 3 amplifiers. They were used in Easton, Pennsylvania, in a system that was being built by...what became Twin County Trans-Video.

Satkowiak: Your father was an electrical engineer.

Dzuban: No, he was somewhat self-taught. But he was a surveyor and he was a certified surveyor. But because he was good in math and science, he was one of these technicians who came up through the ranks, became a non-degree engineer. He worked on some projects relative to the Apollo Project and he worked on backpack communications. Energy, especially, was one of his subjects—energy management. That was all about efficient power consumption by radio equipment that was used on some of the space programs. So that was kind of the beginning of probably my energy interests.

Satkowiak: It’s interesting knowing your later history and I know that’s one of the areas that you’re very interested in as well. We also share a hobby together, both being ham radio operators and so you got into that, I know, as a youngster as well.

Dzuban: Ham radio is kind of interesting because it’s a manifestation of things that you think about that you can actually do that becomes really a career path because of the experience. My father was a nuts-and-bolts guy. He liked to build and he liked to experiment. We called it the “smoke test” when he plugged something in—“did you see smoke, or not? Did it actually work?” We did a lot of that. It was actually very helpful because it eliminated the whole fear of failing. Because we failed a lot. But yet we made things work and it was a great education, learning about what worked, what didn’t. And then the science of really the analytical side to prepare for designs and building something. So we actually had a pretty good idea if it was going to work or not. So it was the combination of the analytics and the empirical that was for me very attractive and I ended up getting my first class broadcast license, I guess, when I was sixteen or seventeen. When I went in the Army, they had asked me to go into the Signal Corps and I said, “I want to do something different.” I heard about data processing and IT so I had an organization I went to in the service. It was how to use a core processor and it was basically tracking weapons and ammunition and vehicles and tanks and that kind of stuff. It was the first data processing using card processors.

Satkowiak: Let’s talk about your military career. I know you were drafted, I believe? What year was that?

Dzuban: It was interesting because my mother didn’t believe it. She said to me, “Why do I have to go to the draft office?” I said, “Because I volunteered for the draft.” She thought it was a joke. “OK, OK, I’ll drop you off.” What happened was during the Vietnam War, there was an accelerated draft and the draft was for relatively large number of folks. February 14th, Valentine’s Day, 1966. So I looked at the date and I’m going, “Oh, that puts me in basic training. I’ll probably have to go in July or August and I volunteered to go on February 14th because it was cool. And I have this affinity for cold weather. I like it. Maybe it’s part of the Ukrainian DNA, I’m not sure. But I actually enjoyed it to an extent because I was eighteen years old, I was on my own, I was independent, I grew up with a family that military was a requirement for all the men. My father was in North Africa and Italy. My uncles were in Europe. One of them actually worked for the Nuremberg Trials, hunting Nazis. So it was something at the dinner table we talked about all the time.

I had to fill out the “dream sheet,” when the guy said to me, “I’ve got to check you out because nobody volunteers to go to Alaska and Greenland and Korea and Vietnam. They usually want to go to Germany or Japan. I said, “I want to go to someplace that’s interesting.”

Satkowiak: And you were in the Army. Where were you stationed?

Dzuban: First stationed in Fort Dix, New Jersey, for basic training. Then I went to Fort Benjamin Harrison in Indiana which was kind of the data processing center but it was also around support for logistics, which was combat logistics. Then I went to Korea. I went to Eighth Army headquarters originally and they weren’t quite sure where to ship me so I was in the arriving depot for 24 hours. Now they only serve one kind of meal three times a day, but it’s chili. So I had three meals of chili and I said, “I’ve got to get out of here.” Although I love chili, but not that much. So the guy said to me, “We have a slot here at Eighth Army headquarters in Seoul. Would you like to try it out? But you take tours on the DMZ, they kind of rotate you out.” I was a private, but I was a private now getting combat pay and the combat pay was more than I was making as a private. So I enjoyed Korea, but it was an experience that I walked out, I had changed, I had grown up a lot. I was really managing some of the—people don’t realize the Korean War officially was a ceasefire in 1954. As far as I was concerned, they were still shooting.

Satkowiak: That was a dangerous place. I remember my military side of things. Korea was one of those places you really didn’t want to go because people didn’t understand what was going on over there, especially near the DMZ.

Dzuban: We had a lot of casualties. For me it was the first experience of carrying a loaded gun and actually going on patrol. My sergeant said to me, “Dzuban, you fall asleep on this outpost, I’m going to shoot you before the North Koreans get to you.” So it was pretty serious stuff and it was really my entrée to being responsible. When I got out at twenty—I was in Korea in a combat zone for sixteen months—I grew up a lot.

Satkowiak: You know, we’re both proud to be veterans. It’s kind of funny; just skipping ahead a little bit, I know you’re still involved with veterans in the cable industry and been involved with some of the initiatives with NCTA. While we’re talking about military service, can you talk about that for a minute?

Dzuban: Sure. I guess if I look at my experience with people who—and that’s men and women, not just men—who have gone through the military experience, it’s really a great education on priorities of life. It’s kind of interesting, the simple things—I mean, you see death, I mean you see things that occur that you’d never ever expect as a civilian. You really see what’s important and what’s not. And you really kind of sort of those that go in as paperboys, playing baseball with them, they come out as very responsible people. They sat with their back in a foxhole with you, covering your back and your life depended on it. And those people were not only responsible, they had a way of almost a look that became part of that experience. Even if you didn’t serve overseas, it was an experience around discipline, responsibility, taking commands and delivering and executing.

Satkowiak: Understanding a mission.

Dzuban: That’s very simply done. It’s understanding a mission. So the folks that I’ve worked with—and the proof is in the pudding—that have come out of the service and are looking for a job, they may have started as an installer, they may have had some good technical experience, we put them in the job and they just excel. It was a rate of success far greater than the folks that came out of the field with really no background, never had much experience in the workplace but really took the work seriously and the odds of success were very high when we used veterans.

Satkowiak: I definitely think that’s true today, maybe even more so.

You spent two years in the military, you spent time in Korea, you came back Stateside, got out of the military. Where did you go from there?

Dzuban: I looked at the GI Bill but the GI Bill is related to how many months you spent in service. So I said, “I’d like to start my own business, but let me run my GI Bill as far as I can go.” But I had been going to Rutgers before I was drafted and didn’t have enough credits so I was working fulltime. My father was of the notion that you have to figure out how to be responsible first, then you could go to college on top of that...I was going to school, but I couldn’t avoid the draft. Actually from a family perspective, I wasn’t going to avoid it. I was responsible, I was going to be a patriot, that my family’s tradition was to do it so I went in. And when I got out, I basically said, all right, what can I do, I started back at Westinghouse just to get back to work and then I went to Vikoa for a short stint but then I went back to school fulltime and got my associate’s degree in electrical engineering and I started another degree in civil engineering.

Satkowiak: I know you’re married so you must have gotten married somewhere around this time. Am I right on that?

Dzuban: You are right but there’s two parts to that. It was probably typical of getting out of the service when I hadn’t driven in a vehicle more than 25 miles an hour for almost a year-and-a-half. I felt like I was an old man. I had carried a gun for a long time and it was almost no law. And it was a place that was almost surreal. So I had to go through some conditioning when I got home.

I ended up marrying the first woman I met, who was a dental assistant. Actually we had a no-fault separation and it was actually one of those deals where I didn’t blame her, there was no issue, it was me coming out of the service and really needed to just get my head straight first. And then I met my lovely wife, Shirley, thereafter. We’ve been married for 33 years, going on 34. She’s a sweetheart. She accepted my early days of the bad dreams and not knowing where I was and any kind of bang was an issue. In fact my parents, when I first got home, took the door off the bedroom after I blew through it twice. And that’s part of your survival training; actually it’s something important.

Satkowiak: It is, and I understand that obviously, too. Do you have children?

Dzuban: I do. Two. One’s 27, the other one is 33 and I’m proud of them both, hardworking. My son is a manager of a new business around rental and storage; he’s a manager. My daughter went to Fairleigh Dickinson. They both went to school. The son graduated from Cordon Bleu as a chef but then also graduated with a business degree so he’s using the business degree. My daughter went to Fairleigh Dickinson and graduated there and worked and now I have a five-year old grandson and probably in October, maybe a new one.

Satkowiak: Congratulations.

Dzuban: I’m thrilled.

Satkowiak: Been there, done that, too. We’re up to six at this point so it’s a real joy.

Let’s pick it up from Vikoa career-wise. Where did you go from Vikoa?

Dzuban: Vikoa was interesting because it was really a very serious approach to cable when we were starting to mature when cable was really a method of filling in dead areas of coverage for large metro markets. Now it was really growing, had much more diversity, news was much more important. And then the whole notion of potentially delivering other services on top of it, not off-air. So at Vikoa I had a chance to build a lot of products—actually in the museum of the Cable Center, the Vikoa products, the 467 line extender, I worked on the Bullet and that’s a little amplifier device and I think there’s a bunch of other amplifiers and switching power supplies. But it’s really the transition from tube devices—which are mission type of amplifiers—to semiconductors. And I had the great privilege of really getting educated by some of the best in the business: TRW and Motorola and others, who were building silicon devices that would be applied to the problem-solving in the new equipment.

Satkowiak: And I know you eventually ended up at AT&T.

Dzuban: I actually started my own company for a short period of time, got that launched, we sold it. Then I started a company before I went to AT&T that lasted just a short period of time. I like starting companies, getting an idea, then selling it and then moving on. So what happened after Vikoa though is I had the notion that there were some other things I wanted to do and I went to a small operating company. I kind of went from manufacturing to operations out in the field. I ran a field technical force. I was equivalent to the field engineer for a little company in Toms River, New Jersey, called Clear Cable. In fact I met my wife there when I was on top of a 300-foot tower working on antennas and dropped, I think, either a wrench or screwdriver and it went through the hood of my boss’ car. That was memorable. But it just shows you wear a hardhat and stay clear of the bottom of the tower.

But it was a great experience. I loved it and because there actually was a lot of fishing, I carried a fishing pole in the back of the four-wheel drive and then I had a station wagon too. But what was important about going to AT&T was I worked with a company shortly thereafter that was affiliated with TCI. It was called Cross Country Cable. Cross County Cable did a lot of franchising that was imminent that it would be sold; most likely TCI had the first right of refusal. Then if TCI wanted to, it could be moved to another potential partner. So I got to know John Malone, I met a lot of the folks—Larry Romrell, the CTO at the time--Dave Willis. Remember Dave Willis?

Satkowiak: Dave helped us at the Cable Center a lot.

Dzuban: Just a great crew. Then it became interesting because I did a lot of the franchising work. What was interesting was I not only did the franchising I had to deliver what I sold. So I was very conscious about what you deliver because you actually have to build it out. And we had some futuristic things in there that were important.

I went to AT&T because it was a great opportunity to take the next step. I really implemented a lot of the thinking that I couldn’t do in the field in cable operations but the whole notion of putting voice on cable, of putting high-speed data on cable or putting a lot of other services—that was a notion of mine. Actually we did it in the franchising as conceptual. Then we could actually take a stab at working with Bell Labs and doing it.

Satkowiak: You were one of the pioneers in VOIP for the cable industry in a lot of ways.

Dzuban: I was and I actually have to share the value with Bob Stanzione. He was my partner at Bell Labs.

Satkowiak: I didn’t know that.

Dzuban: Yes, he was, and it was just a great story because they were working on the first laser distribution systems to drive optical networks. If you just look at the fundamental math and science, the very long cascades were problematic, they were part of the reliability and performance issues. The optical network that was being designed by Bell Labs for analog systems, which was to reduce the cascades, really improved our performance a lot, it improved our bandwidth.

Now it also put us in another category of service that allowed us to potentially carry carrier services that were traditional carriers, like telephone and data. So I kind of did a rough view of what this looked like and I presented it to a bunch of folks in the cable business. Apparently somebody from Bell Labs had heard about it. I was working in England, I was finishing work on a franchise that we had won in Brighton, England, and the AT&T cable was coming up out of the Channel to the train station, British Rail, where they were going to run a long distance throughout England. It was connecting England to France and AT&T’s typical international play, right?

So I was talking to the guys, I’m going, “This is great. Tell me more about it.” I was learning a lot from them, and that’s what I like to do, ask a lot of questions. “So what do you do?” I said, “Here’s what I do.” And we actually drew a schematic of how you could put telephone on cable and how we could do it. And they were going, “Oh, this will probably work.” It was one of these, have you heard the atomic bomb was on a napkin? This was on a napkin, too. But it was great because it was the concept that said, “This is feasible. This is really feasible.” Therefore there was investment in a number of areas that not only AT&T and Bell Labs—to be a member of the technical staff of Bell Labs and MTS when I was working with folks like Penzias, discoverer of the black hole, sat at our lunch table. Of course the draw was on Friday, all the macaroni and cheese you could eat for $1.99. I mean it was just brilliant to sit at the table with these folks and learn a lot from them. That really inspired me to really think about what we could do in these cable networks and it turned into real products. I worked with CableLabs for about five years as the AT&T representative to the industry and I knew everybody. So it was very friendly.

Satkowiak: What years?

Dzuban: Probably 1991 to 1996. We did the deal in 1997 which was the, 1996-1997, which was the telecomm bill I worked on with AT&T, which was to allow the cable industry to deliver informational services and telephone was one of them and high-speed data and some other things. That was the gateway; we had the technology and now the legal/regulatory part to be able to launch it.

Satkowiak: And your title when you were there?

Dzuban: I was the SVP of engineering at AT&T.

Satkowiak: So you were there for the merger with MediaOne, TCI, those days?

Dzuban: Absolutely. In fact, when we did the TCI deal, it was kind of funny because in the book by Leslie Cauley, “The End of the Line,” Mike Armstrong, who was the chairman and CEO at the time, said, “I think we have a cable guy here. Where is he?”

So I met him on the elevator and he said, “Are you the cable guy?” And I said, “I am proud to be the cable guy.” The term ‘cable guy’ at AT&T was not always a very distinguished title. In fact somebody said to me, “If we ever have a nuclear disaster, we’ll send Dzuban in to do the repairs.” Only because it was like I was dispensable. But that was a little bit of humor.

But anyway, it was a great experience and he said to me, “Can we do this?” It’s all captured in the book by Leslie Cauley. Tony Warner is in there...

Satkowiak: We have it in our library. I know that for a fact.

Dzuban: It was a great experience and I’m very fortunate to have that opportunity.

Satkowiak: When you left, where did you go from there?

Dzuban: I had a company, it was called Hatteras Consulting, and it was actually a company that was designed to look at a few projects that I wanted to launch when I left AT&T, which I was there for probably close to ten years. Which was amazing because the work I usually do is to start a company and then turn it over in about three years. So this was a little bit longer than I’d normally done but I liked the environment. It was great people, great education. As long as there is value and I enjoy it…it’s not all about the money, either. I would say that if somebody said, “What about all these deals? You had opportunities.” I guess I was more interested in learning and the experience of things that I was doing that was of personal interest and the money kind of came with it. So I guess I’m like a lot of technical people, that’s not my primary interest in life, but it’s been part of a success. I’ve been very fortunate.

Satkowiak: Always one of those pieces of advice we give students. First find something you enjoy doing and if you’re good at it, hopefully the money will follow. I think that’s good for anybody.

Dzuban: But Hatteras Consulting was a way to sort through a couple of projects I wanted to do. And then I got a call from some of the folks who had actually worked at Bell Labs. They said to me, “So we know about your idea about IP networking which is the next generation of network...from a technology perspective, all IP networks.” It was moving from the analog to the digital domain. And I said, “Yes, and here are a couple of concepts.” So I looked at three or four projects at Hatteras Consulting I had. I think this is interesting. There’s a company called Net2Phone that Tony Werner and I and some others and I said, “Hey, let’s look at this, see what we can do to get them a step up from a technology perspective.” So we did that for a year. That was IP networking. We learned a lot with those guys. They were very good partners to work with.

Then I moved on as vice-chairman of Cedar Point. That was the first IP switch to really deliver to the cable industry IP voice and at that point in time, Motorola and Comcast were my stakeholders to launch it.

Satkowiak: Did the cable industry embrace VOIP right away or is this one of these things that had to evolve through the contacts and persistence?

Dzuban: It had to evolve. But what was most important in the evolution was analog telephone and the NIU in the side of the house that used more traditional 64-kilobit voice channels, but it was a way to get the application into the marketplace that technologically had to evolve. In fact one of the things we did at AT&T was important. It was moving to a digital network and that the decision to go IP was instrumental because they were looking at ATM and some other solutions. But the whole notion of going IP was important for the solution to be effective—the kind of service we were looking for at the right price point. The technology was evolving so everybody looked at IP as a toy. It wasn’t a toy. In fact, there are some great folks we had—I think one of them was out of the CTO of the FCC on IP, who was an expert that I worked with at Bell Labs at the time. So we had great subject matter experts on the technology.

Satkowiak: Did you ever think it would evolve to where we are nowadays? The prominence it has in the cable industry.

Dzuban: I wasn’t sure, but I guess I’m fortunate in—somebody says to me, “What’s the legacy you want to leave in life?” I said, “Having started something that most people argued with me that it would never fly and now it’s a billion dollar business.” And that’s happened in a couple of cases. I mean, I didn’t do it by myself. I felt that I was an enabler, one that was able to show that it would work and then as a team, we all pulled together to make it a business. In fact, when I left AT&T Broadband, we had 500,000 phone lines on and a concept two years earlier that it would never fly.

Satkowiak: There was always a good feeling amongst the engineers working on cable and working on these projects to help each other. When one person has an idea, you would build upon somebody else’s idea. It was a curiosity that you probably developed early on in life that helped you through this stage, I would imagine. You know, everything leads up to that point.

You were still at Cedar Point, I think, when the SCTE job came open. Tell me a little bit about that process.

Dzuban: Sure. This had a lot to do with people that I know that I feel responsible for, too. SCTE was at a point where if I looked at SCTE, it wasn’t of interest to me like I had an interest in SCTE earlier. From a technology perspective, I was interested in IP networking. I think SCTE was more the fundamental of the front end customer experience with installers and maybe some of the field techs. I was very interested in the science and technology around deploying voice. What are the other perspectives of the science? What are some of the other things I can look at to help solve problems? I mean, it’s really a puzzle you need to put together with a lot of minds putting together these solutions. I think SCTE was prime for evolving. This outfit wasn’t bad, it was a great organization, it was founded by folks that were really hands-on applied scientists from an empirical perspective. They launched cable, they evolved it, got it to a point. But to get to the next level, I think it was no longer just potentially an entertainment system. The entertainment was actually in time going to be the secondary value, I think, in the future. It’s going to be around—we’ll talk about it probably a little later. There was a lot of value that we, I think, our networks were...

Satkowiak: What year did you come to head SCTE?

Dzuban: It was 2009. I had pretty much done my work at Cedar Point. We had deployed 6, 7, 8,000,000 lines and it was mature and the interest is all about the cutting edge, about the experience of doing something exciting and innovative and really being able to move. And I think that was the time of the business that it would normally be sold. So I figured I need a new challenge. Tony Werner and Mike LeJoie said to me, “We have a mission for you.” They are two guys I’ve known for a very long time, I feel very obligated to. They fool around with me all the time. They said, “We’ve got this mission for you and here’s what we think we need to do to really create a material opportunity for SCTE in a very optimistic way as far as its future.” And that was my mission.

Satkowiak: You know there can’t be two other better people in your line of work than Tony Werner and Mike LeJoie to work with on these things and I know they helped shape the mission of SCTE and kind of where you’re at now. What were the bigger challenges when you first came to SCTE that you had to overcome? What was the biggest, maybe?

Dzuban: So I did approximately six to eight months of assessment and the assessment was around what is it today? Because I wasn’t that close to it. I didn’t even know the previous CEO; I had never met him before. I understood some of the history, but I was more interested in ET, Expo and not necessarily the inner workings of SCTE from an administrator perspective. So I really didn’t know much about it.

I got some great coaching from Tony and Mike. Here’s a vision. The vision was to be material in the marketplace. Think of it as a workforce as a pyramid. I’ve got the sweeet seat at say the top of the pyramid and if you just do the volume of the workforce, then you have the front liners, really the customer ambassadors, from the installer and service and maintenance folks. The discussion was how do we create a holistic value proposition that can not only enhance the value and step it up but create a value proposition for the senior technical folks so that the portfolio value was right across the board. And it took me awhile to do that. What was important about it is soliciting the feedback from these folks and looking at the marketplace, looking at our chapters. The thing about channels of training and development, does it happen in one? No, it’s actually many channels that create the value because to get to people’s minds and to alter the way they think and to provide them alternative thinking, it comes in a lot of different directions. So we looked at direct training, we looked at training in chapters, we looked at training at Expo from a potential...and what you see is that vision of 2009-2010 manifesting itself as real products and the discipline of how do we make material change. It’s always easy to migrate back to where you’re comfortable because you did it for ten or twenty years, but the change is the most difficult part.

And I have a great staff. I have folks that are willing to probably put up with me, pushing hard. Things don’t happen by themselves. I think the whole notion of a vision and then everyday looking at it: where are we, and how much progress have we made, and making some tough calls. People align or are we doing the work right? Working with people to get things done.

Satkowiak: The industry is changing so much at this time. You’re in the training business and really Comcast, Time Warner Cable, a number of cable companies depend on what you’re doing. You have to do your job well in order for them to do their job well. You’re concerned about your constituency and your members; the technology is changing and so it’s not just a television service anymore. You’ve got all these other technologies plus new things. You get right in the middle of that and so it must have been times when you sat there doing your evaluation and saying, “Gee”—you not only look at the present, but you have to look at the future and where the changes are going to be. Nothing happens overnight with these things. So in the time that you’ve been there, I’ve definitely seen an evolution of SCTE moving in a very definite direction to give your members a better experience. So the SCTE that you have now is certainly much different than when you got there.

I remember one of the first things we talked about was a thing you used to call the business of engineering. Can you tell us what that is and what does that mean?

Dzuban: Sure. Let me frame it too because the business of engineering is the product of a relationship that I wanted to build. When I came on board in 2009, if I looked at NCTA and CableLabs and ourselves, and other members of the industry, it was a rather loose relationship. There was a mission and a navigational direction that I think SCTE thought was right for them, but not necessarily aligned with the bigger picture. The MSO influence was minimal although it was there. We also had a few things we needed to solve. One was that our board...our bylaws require all board members to be elected, but if you want to get Tony Werner or Mike LeJoie or John Schantz. Cordova may have won but some of the others it was more difficult because you had to run, you had to promote the election. These guys are noses to the grindstone but they’re very influential and they’re visionaries. So we went through a bylaws change that basically organized it with the great insight of the folks that were in 2009 the original board members. We basically said, “We have to make change.” And working with me, we changed the bylaws to have eight elected and seven appointed members. Now we have a governance organization, we have a nominations organization to look for best in class to work with us, to really position us in the marketplace. But they frame it even better—you have to have a vision, right? The vision is, how do we become a partner of NCTA, CableLabs and SCTE? Because actually a very logical progression of a position at SCTE could really focus on and build value. Think about it in the notion of fundamental business. NCTA legal regulatory policy. Michael Powell is a great ally of mine, the whole team over there, Barbara York. I love Dave Snowden and Bill _____________ is a great partner of mine. We built that relationship. We still have more to go, but we’re building it.

So you look at that. That’s the front end. Then you look at CableLabs, which is the next generation of science and technology to allow our industry to provide tools and direction for the sciences to build new revenue and new applications so that in the marketplace we’re not only relevant, we actually have a forward-looking view of what a constant wave of new revenue would look like and we’re the applied science side. We’re the side of the partnership that, kind of the triple-play that says, once you have a notion or an idea of a specification of a new product and maybe associated revenue from a high level, how do you launch it? So we’re partnered with CableLabs and it manifested itself at the pre-conference expo last year as a trial of DOCSIS 3.1, and actually how do you deploy it? And how do you launch it so that your customer experience is optimal? You’re not really using the customer as kind of the guinea pig, which is problematic, but how do you do it in a way that optimizes customer experience? Then how do you deploy technology and reduce the time to half that it would take if we didn’t do it? So think about a methodology that delivers to the marketplace not only the vision but how do you do it in shorter timetable, higher quality, and sustain it to be optimal in the marketplace? That’s our job.

Satkowiak: One of the other things that you worked on an awful lot is energy management and I think a lot of people don’t understand that if you can reduce the power consumption in a headend by a certain percentage, that you’re actually saving money on something as simple as utility bills. So tell me about your efforts in energy management and what you’re doing at SCTE.

Dzuban: It started again with some thinking that was a motivator. $1.2 billion dollar electric bill or energy bill by the industry, which is a relatively high number. Now some circles are going, well, it’s a small percentage of my expenses and this and that but the problem is if I looked at the trends, the trends were pretty clear that the cost of energy was going to increase. It was probably the largest element of unreliability in all networks, not just ours, in carrier networks and just about all forms of telecommunications. The bottom line is it is movement of the electron in a reliable way. And in an efficient way.

There were some other things that I learned from my experiences at the labs and elsewhere that as the core temperature of our systems decreased, the mean time between failure doubled, which means it was more reliable. So the lower the energy consumption, the less heat you develop, the more reliable the facilities were. And it you looked at the problems you need to solve is how do we improve the reliability because there are some applications coming down the road that could be a huge opportunity for us. It was like high-speed data and voice, there’s more. There’s a queue of great opportunity that I think we’re going to be in a catbird seat to deliver and we’re paving the way for that.

Satkowiak: I think a lot of people don’t think about—when they think about SCTE, they think about education and training and they don’t think about the practical side of the business. There are efficiencies that you can wring out of the system and actually helps the environment and everything else along the way.

Dzuban: We have a program we started. It was called “SEMI,” in 2009, and it really started to open up the whole view of different energy alternatives, what was economically viable, what was not. Carbon footprinting, which was an efficient use of energy in our facilities. There is a consumer view of the use of energy and I know that carbon footprinting is something that they look to see if they’re going to buy a product, are you energy-efficient, and what’s that story. When we launched it we had a lot of good ideas and I guess my experience in the venture capital world building ideas from scratch—you probably have the 80-20 rule. When you take risk, you have the 80-20 rule in one direction, you find 20% of mistakes but that’s what you need to learn to get to the objective, right? That’s part of the learning process. On the venture capital side, it was the 20-80 rule which meant about 20% of the things you looked at were going to be viable business cases and that it was just part of I guess the law of nature in opportunity, right?

So when we looked at all of those things that can make material change, there was a few. Certainly energy reduction was one because it was an immediate expense line benefit as simple as most people got their electric bill and just threw it into be paid and never actually checked. “Is that power supply we’re being charged for actually exist?” Many of them didn’t. Power supply loading: they were never loaded to efficiency and saturable core technology requires more than 60, they like 80% utilization to be energy efficient. They’re not energy efficient if they’re well below that. There’s a lot of power supply sitting on poles we’re paying for that didn’t have anything on them. Or just a small number of devices.

So we started with that. We actually explored the use of hydrogen, which is one of the most common elements on Earth. I believe that’s the longterm energy source. We actually have a fuel cell in our facility that runs; we have photovoltaic; we sell 17 kilowatts of energy back to the utility everyday as long as there is wonderful sun. If you notice on our emails, it says, “Powered by the Sun”—because we have a 7 kw system of photovoltaic with batteries and fuel cells that can run our IT system for five to seven days. And we’re going to lengthen that with a projected view of looking at how do we generate our own hydrogen from water because the fuel cell—what’s the output of the fuel cell? Water. So it’s one of the cleanest and one of the most effective longterm fuels.

So the applied science piece says, “We’re not going to be visionaries out to the year 2050, we’re going to be visionaries out five to ten years.” So when you’re purchasing products or you’re thinking about what’s the next step, we can help you with that decision on not just doing what you do but what you do better, right?

Satkowiak: Let’s talk about some of the educational initiatives at SCTE and let’s just start with kind of the basics. What’s your vision for the members and certification for your membership in the cable industry itself?

Dzuban: There are a couple of parts to it. The traditional focus was on the front liners, mostly installer/field technicians. Let’s call the definition of a broader scope looking at advanced engineering. I hired the first CTO, Daniel Howard. Daniel Howard I’m very proud of. He’s from Georgia Tech. He’s one of the patent holders for DOCSIS and he was CTO of a company that was bought by Broadcom called Digital Furnace. They design compression, all kinds of things our industry is very interested in and he was going to help me define some of the new products. But what’s interesting is a lot of the products that we’ve built have not been through the origin of saying to the marketplace, what do you need? Because they’re tactical folks. Daniel brought strategic thinking. One of those problems that looked like we need to solve that may just not be obvious and that kind of content that would follow to build it. So we’ve grown significantly in revenue and our portfolio to include different levels of training as an example. A lot of things you look at you’ll see a word or a formula. And it’s almost like Pavlovian training, right? To pull the lever to get your biscuit kind of thing for the dog, which I have a cat that does that. But what’s important about it is training comes in all kinds of channels and one statistic that even may be older now is that twenty years ago when our technical force was developing, many of those folks are ham radio operators so they had good technical skills themselves. They knew signal levels, they knew carriers, they could measure stuff, they knew how to use a voltmeter, hone stuff out. They understood coax and connectors. Today that’s not the case. It takes four times the remedial training to develop an associate’s degree than it did twenty years ago.

Satkowial: That’s amazing.

Dzuban: And if we look at our intent, an associate’s degree in the next couple of years you’ll see SCTE partnerships that we’re working on with colleges and universities that will be accredited. For now our certification is important because you don’t want to go to a formal degree. It is a benchmark that we hold in high regard because it’s a level of competency. It’s a level of skills that you could be reassured that you’ll see the benefit. In fact, SouthernLINC, I have to give Jerry Canton and Terry Cordova and that whole team kudos because they’ve got the SCTE benefits literally aligned to the customer experience. And you can see a few points of benefit by the SCTE certification training. You can actually see it manifest itself in business. That’s what we’re here for. This is really about how do we help the business community which ultimately helps careers, it helps fund people’s paychecks, and helps do a lot of things that we need to sustain but it’s all around business and how do we do it effectively. And the whole notion of business and cable, especially the technology was when I did a lot of this franchising, when I did a lot of capital budgets for operations, the engineers were two-thirds of the operations budgets and two-thirds of the capital budgets and I’m going, “You want to lock this guy up and not talk to him? That’s crazy. How do we get him in play?” And that was the whole notion of the first program under Dartmouth. How do we find the best in class, some of the top schools in the country. There are a lot of good schools. I originally went to Wharton. You know, here’s our MBA program and some others, there was some resistance to change and I’m going, “Here’s what I need to do.” When I had other jobs and functions and I was bringing kids in from school. They wanted to go for an MBA or their master’s. I’d help them with that; when I was at the labs, I’d fund it. The problem is you ended up with a master’s degree or an MBA. It took a couple of years to become really effective in applying it. I said, “Now the day they leave, they have to be effective. That’s the deal.” And Glenn Britt helped me.

Satkowiak: That’s his alma mater.

Dzuban: That’s his alma mater. I’m not sure what class it was—1976 or 1977? But I’m going, “Dartmouth. I’m from New Hampshire; I lived there for a long time.” And he said, “Let me make a call.” The clouds opened, the music and the angels and what a nice guy because he understood the problem because he had that problem and helped me fix it. And it was all around leadership by saying, “All right, you may have technical skills but now how do you become a force multiplier?” Think of this from a business perspective.You have somebody who has a knowledge base that is rare but highly valued to the business. How do you be a force multiplier by managing others to develop those skills and manage them through their career growth so there’s one individual who can help five, six, eight, ten others. Now that’s manifesting those skills to expand the value in the organization so that competency now is expanded. A lot of it had to do with how do you manage people? Things you need to consider. I mean, one of the things we kind of looked at that was really important to us was why smart executives fail. So think about it as a situation where you didn’t have an experience that we ran into and you’re in a crisis mode. So it’s kind of one of these deals where you say, “Let me go for the best because I’ve never done it before. Why not take a preemptive strike to work with these folks to educate them when you’re in trouble? Here are things you need to think about.” By the way, there are billion dollar mistakes that hopefully you can learn by and not repeat them. You and I have seen a lot of billion dollar mistakes. And what I'm trying to do is head them off. And if we have one success, I'm way ahead of the game, right?

But I think it’s important and Georgia Tech was launched the same way. Most of them were—I’d say most of the work I’ve done in my career has been an objection in the beginning but a notion that had merit and it was highly potential as far as success and sticking with it.

Satkowiak: You know I can’t leave the education area without asking you—I know you’ve got an interest in young people, too. Can you tell me a little bit about the U.S. FIRST initiative?

Dzuban: Yes, and it has to do with Dean Kamen. I don’t know if you’ve ever met Dean. He was a speaker going back at Expo I guess two years ago. Here’s a man that has committed a good portion of his life and his wealth to the education of young folks. How I ran into it was I was working with Dean Kamen on a project around energy, actually. It was a unique science that I think he still holds pretty proprietary but it’s actually a huge problem solver and it will burn anything from African musk ox fuel or something similar to it—kind of a natural methane fuel—all the way to propane and natural gas and gasoline and diesel. We’re talking one day and he said, “I’m having a dinner and I want you to come with me and it’s our U.S. FIRST event.” One of the speakers was from NASA and told the story of the—I guess it’s the Mars Rover that they completed—that probably about 80% of the staff were FIRST graduates. And he said, “It’s a method of getting the understanding of the fundamental sciences at a young age and developing it because you find a natural passion.” I mean to work in a job that is just a job and you get a paycheck is not optimal from a position of perspective. You want folks that eat, sleep and breathe it.

Satkowiak: These are high school students?

Dzuban: High school and younger. I know my grandson is five...I think they’re starting a program under the LEGO League that’s very similar. And what’s important is not only the science team, organization, project management—the things you need to do to optimize results. Think about it as a whole army of kids and how do we help foster that? Because our industry is really not well known as a career path. We need to germinate. We need to plant seeds. We need to be the Johnny Appleseeds of technologists and future executives and leaders for our industry and I think that’s the benefit. We’re not going to be around forever. I’d like to live to 110 because I have a lot of projects I’d like to complete but the reality is I don’t see the technological skills evolving like they need to. We have to take a proactive position to get that done. U.S. FIRST and the military are both parts of it.

Satkowiak: Oh, sure, and I know that they had an active role last year at the Expo. And I enjoyed the robotic part of that. That was an interesting thing on stage.

Dzuban: There’s a point I want to make about that, too, because somebody said “Robotics. What is this?” It’s actually all IP networking. It’s wireless, it’s RF communications, it’s remote control. It’s actually all of the fundamental elements of our business that were embodied in the robots and it just manifested itself in the robots.

Satkowiak: How many members do you have right now?

Dzuban: So this year—going back about two years ago, there were about 12,000, going on 13. Today it’s in the 20s. The reason I say the 20s are the hard number is because there are so many in the queue—to get them as a committed number versus actually on a list (I want to be factual about it)—but our corporate alliance program has really been very instrumental.

Satkowiak: That’s where I’m going next. I know that your model now is more of a corporate model rather than an individual model. Can you talk about that a little bit?

Dzuban: Sure. Look at our partners at Comcast, Time Warner and SouthernLINC and others. It really worked its way to the top of the projects list by saying, “Every year we have to make sure we renew folks. How do we get the MSOs more engaged with us and how do we evolve a product that is very much aligned with problem solving. Not that we weren’t doing it, but what is a better mousetrap? I have to give the credit to Patrick O’Hara. I don’t know if you remember Patrick.

Satkowiak: Yes.

Dzuban: He’s a good guy. And we actually worked together going back to Castro Valley when he was at Viacom and the first pay-per-view programs that were experimental. What I liked about it, he said, “So there’s probably a deal we can do by the whole notion that we’ve proven by the SouthernLINC data that to be a member and to have an employee that’s associated with you has clear benefits to our business.” So that was the notion of corporate alliance and it was framed by the Comcast folks—I have to give Tony Werner, John Schanz, Martha Soehren kudos in the crew. Martha spoke at the WICT event today. Time Warner joined and SouthernLINC joined and probably—well, you also have, let’s see, Arris and Commscope and Alpha on the vendors’ side and I think the framework is constantly being fine-tuned to how do we help the whole cross-section of operators to include the operators who are in NCTC who may have probably more value than most in some of the training that brings really the most contemporary technology into the hands of the technician to be able to deliver and optimize performance to the customer.

Satkowiak: A lot of people concentrate on the large corporations in our business and they forget there are a lot of small players, almost family-owned businesses all across America that are providing service to their constituency and it’s sometimes a shame. We almost forget about these folks.

Dzuban: We do and where I think it was beneficial for me, it goes back to as a kid, seeing the evolution of cable start when you were nailing the coax to the trees, where it was twin lead before the coax, it was TV lead, and it was very basic but it was to solve a problem of shadowed areas from metro area TV stations and bring in some kind of signal by the antenna on top of the hill. So it was really community antenna. We’ve evolved. And seeing that whole evolution for me has been a catbird seat because it’s very appreciative where we started but then I look at the other direction where we’re going and it is just great opportunity.

Satkowiak: I know we’re getting close to the end of our time but put on your future-think cap—what do you think the future for SCTE is going to hold? What are the kind of new technologies and stuff that you guys are looking at now?

Dzuban: If I just look at our standards body where we’re going, since we are the standards body for our industry—we’re an ANSI-certified standards body but we do work with CableLabs on ITU, on ETSI and some other standards bodies. We have a relationship with CableLabs. They’re kind of the frontier where you get a white piece of paper, turn it into a standard that looks like it’s mature that we manage it through its life cycle, make the modifications and changes, but we see the vision. So there are a couple things coming down the pike. Let me talk about the energy first. If you look at our network, we’re going to launch a program called “2020;” John Schanz is leading that. What do our networks look like out in the year 2020? What do we need to do to evolve those networks to beat what would naturally occur? Now if you look at the evolution of technology and each vendor’s contribution, how do we do it as an industry and very specific to our networks and not dependent upon others? You have to remember a lot of our science comes from other businesses, right? It may come from the wireless industry, it may come from the computer industry, it may come from—I think it’s funny because somebody said to me, “Ah, you’re a forensic science guy.” And I said, “Old Marconi may be dead, but his antennas are not.” They manifest themselves in everything we do in wireless, the Marconi antenna principles, right? So we do forensic science looking back actually applied to problem solving in the future. People don’t realize that there are a lot of things we did that people have kind of forgotten about. Why recreate the wheel when you got one that works? So we’re looking to solve problems.

On the energy side, think of a world where our networks are alive. Think of a network that is transactionally based where why burn a watt of energy if you’re not conducting a transaction? Or it’s energy consumption is based on the amount of transactions. And this is being used in aerospace, being used in military, it’s how do you as an example when you’re a forward-looking observer and you’re calling in airstrikes? You want to be sure that radio is on the air and you don’t have to drain your batteries when you’re not saying anything. I’ve experienced that myself so I’m very critical about energy consumption applied to use. It’s like when my kids would run around the woods with a flashlight. So you burn out the batteries, but Dad, we’re having fun. Yeah, but when you need it, they’re not there.

But I think APSIS—it’s called “Adaptive Power Systems Interface Standards”—is similar to DOCSIS but actually is the principles of a system that is able to look at the transactions operating in its technology and then being able to manage the technology efficiently by either shutting it down or putting it into modes that can handle the capacity but do it in a very energy-efficient way. And even do it in a way that if we have a crisis, I mean, what if there’s terrorism on our secondary power grids, which is real? How do we hierarchically manage our priority traffic and reduce the energy consumption so our fuel can run in lieu of three to four days can run a week or two weeks or whatever that is?

Satkowiak: Before we leave, too, I need to ask you about how do you think DOCSIS 3.1 is going to change our world?

Dzuban: I think it’s going to change our world a lot and there’s more behind it. If you look at the future applications, let’s talk about e-medicine. Let’s talk about a really competitive environment for business; that our industry is going to start taking over some of that market share. Reliability of our networks, driving ?glass deeper but having bandwidth that has the kind of tools we need to succeed. DOCSIS 3.1—and there’s more coming down the road—is part of our evolution and we’re going to look back on it, but it’s a stepping stone. There’s more to come but if you look at some of the forward-looking applications that we’re going to need to serve—especially e-medicine—think of outpatient care where the cost of hospitalization is very expensive, that we have science and technology that can evolve in the next five to ten years to extend human life and our quality of life significantly and the cable network can play a role in that.

Satkowiak: It’s amazing to me when I talk to people about health care management and different systems, people don’t even think about the cable industry and obviously that’s where we see a big part of our future. Let me ask you just one last question. What do you hope your legacy in the cable industry will be?

Dzuban: I hope that some of the challenges I’ve had with people saying, “I don’t think it will ever fly,” that the bottom line will be the things we worked on. There will be clear successes when you have an industry that, even here today that we’re a different industry than we were with high-speed data, especially voice, which was one I had a very clear hand in and that I enjoyed as a team member of launching that. And also some of the new products. Launching all-IP networks, some of those standards. Looking at the energy program from a way that was never thought of five years ago and having material change. But you know something? I think in life things fade so my expectation is not to have a granite monument. It’s to be able to say, hey, in my own brain, I made a contribution and as long as most folks in an ideal world are happy with the results, I’m a happy camper.

Satkowiak: Fantastic. Mark, I appreciate you spending some time with us in going through our oral history project at the Cable Center, and best of luck. Thanks.

Dzuban: Larry, thank you. And I very much appreciate you doing this. This archive is important for our future and to tell the story of cable.

Satkowiak: Wonderful. Thanks.

Dzuban: Thank you.


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Development of Cable in Pacific Northwest

Interview Date: February 11, 2001
Moderator: Jim Keller
Panel: Roy L. Bliss, Ed Hewson, Les Hilliard, Jim Hirshfield, Mary Hirshfield, Bob James
Location: Sun Valley, Idaho USA
Collection: Cable Center Oral History Program

Development Pacific NW5

KELLER:  This is a panel discussion about cable television in the northwest U.S.  Cable television in the northwest has a long and distinguished history and many say perhaps the first system in the country, up in Astoria, Oregon. That is still debatable right now but our purposes for my discussion today, it seems like it was the first system. You could definitely, if it wasn’t the first system, it sure was part of the cradle of cable television. This morning discussion will center around the development and current operation of primarily the small cable operators within the northwest. The major operators are AT&T, Cox, Comcast and some of the others that operated in the area are not here today and these men and women at the table represent the smaller and medium sized cable operators in the northwest.  A group that is so often overlooked in the history of our industry. We have to remember that cable television did start in the small and remote areas of the country and I think we have to recognize that these people have made a major contribution to the industry. I hope this will be brought out in our discussions this morning.

We are at the Sun Valley Lodge in Sun Valley, Idaho. The date is February 11, 2001. The moderator this morning is Jim Keller. I’m going to start by asking each of you to introduce yourself and identify yourself. Roy, you want to start please?

BLISS:  Good morning. My name’s Roy Bliss. My dad built a cable system in rural Wyoming in 1953. That was my beginning in cable.


JAMES:  My name is Bob James. I’m with a law firm in Washington, D.C., Cole, Raywid and Braverman and I started there out of law school 30 years ago and we represented smaller cable clients and some larger ones too.

HIRSHFIELD:  I’m Jim Hirshfield. I entered the cable business in 1966 upon graduating from, getting a master’s in business. Our lawyers in the company that I went to with were Bob James firm and I’ve been in the cable business ever since.

HEWSON:  I’m Ed Hewson. I started in the cable business in 1966. I was with King Broadcasting Company and we started by buying some small systems on the Washington coast.

Leslie Hilliard:  I’m Leslie Hilliard, started in cable with my father in 1953 running his Dumont camera chain.  After the service and after college, my brothers and I finally bought our own cable systems in the late 1960s.  

HIRSHFIELD:  I’m Mary Hirshfield, I’m wife of Jim Hirshfield and former co-owner of Summit Communications and I got my start in cable by marrying into it and going with Jim on the return of our honeymoon in July of 1968 to apply for our first franchise in King County, Washington state.

KELLER:  King County was in the Seattle area, is that correct?

HIRSHFIELD:  That’s correct.

KELLER:  Jim was that your first system? First franchise operation or what? Did you get the franchise?

HIRSHFIELD:  Well, actually we did. That was our first thing as an independent operator. I’d been two years in the business and I think we can back from our honeymoon Sunday and Monday morning, Mary’s up holding the charts and these three county commissioners I think sort of liked these young people who were getting going.  Of course, as always happens, the larger company in the area, Brad Harrison’s outfit, I forget the name, Northwest Cablevision, came into the county the same time and took “Oh no, we’ll build that area” but the county in their wisdom allowed us to do it.  Also, the fact that I had knocked on every door in that 500-home area. One of the homes was occupied by the assistant to the head of the council. So you do your homework and sometimes things would work out.

KELLER:  Had you been operating systems prior to that?

HIRSHFIELD:  I’d been two years or year and half in the business but working for Telecable, Inc. About 15,000 customers out of Seattle and that was one of the largest operations in that time but nowhere near as big as Teleview Systems, Homer Bergren’s operation in Seattle. So we had two pretty large companies in Seattle but when I left Telecable and started my own company, yes, this was our first franchise.

KELLER:  Ed, what or how did King Broadcasting get started and why did they get started in the cable television business being broadcasters?

HEWSON:  Well, they did everything first of all to try to make money, an honest living but broadcasters looked at cable as cable antenna systems and we wanted to extend our signal within our ADI of King Broadcasting or of Portland or of Spokane or wherever we operated.

HIRSHFIELD:  Wasn’t Spokane about the first licensed granted in the Pacific Northwest.

HEWSON:  King was the first commercial television broadcaster north of San Francisco, west of the Mississippi.

HIRSHFIELD:  So that was the station that the cable system in Astoria was trying to pick up when Ed Parsons build it in 1949.

HEWSON:  I wasn’t there, Jim.  (Laughter)

HIRSHFIELD:  Tried to trap you.

HEWSON:  No, but that’s true.  

KELLER:  Primarily though to protect your own markets is the reason you got into it.

HEWSON: To protect our market plus we could see that it would be a growing business and the first systems that King actually negotiated to buy were outside of our markets I understand but they didn’t complete those. It was before my time. Deals fell apart. It could have been Pendleton, Oregon.

KELLER:  Which turned out was one of the very early systems and could have turned into a very profitable organization.

HEWSON:  Right, but there was as I recall there was something called the Second Report and it said that every viewer was worth maybe 60 bucks a year to a broadcaster, so if you could grow your viewers you could get a direct return but first you want to make a profit running a system.

HIRSHFIELD:  When I came to Seattle in 1966, I think that the three commercial broadcast stations had 99% of the TV market in the city of Seattle. That’s another interesting nuance. You had this great concentration of viewers.

HEWSON:  That’s true and then there was an independent channel, 11?

HIRSHFIELD:  It had no viewers.

HEWSON:  Viewers to speak of. I think the educational channel; Channel 9 may have had more market penetration than Channel 11.

HIRSHFIELD:  Yeah. So you guys were involved with Teleview systems which built Seattle as Master Cable TV, right?

HEWSON:  Teleview owned I believe, Homer Bergren came to the three broadcasters, put his hat on the table and said “Why don’t we make a deal?”  So we worked out a deal where King, Cairo and Como  would each have 24% I think it was of Master Cable Systems and Teleview would have 28% and Jim McKenzie was the manager.

HIRSHFIELD:  He got a topical map of Seattle and he put a little light bulb on top of Queen Anne Hill where the towers were and then he marked on a plat map everywhere there was a shadow.

HEWSON:  I believe Ken Hermanton made that and we brought it to over to the Teleview offices to show them where a cable system could build profitably.

KELLER:  Please explain that. It’s probably very, very common to Seattle…

HIRSHFIELD:  Oh, it is common.

KELLER:  …but it may not be to other parts of the country. Explain that, the shadow areas of Seattle.

HEWSON:  Well, Seattle is formed like Rome with 7 hills except I think they washed one down in the back and television didn’t get into the valley so the deeper, the further behind the hill you were the less able you were to get signals without building taller and taller antennas and they used to look around Seattle and it looked like Japanese flag ships with the cruise antennas on them and so you could predict where it’s profitable. You’d get a 100% penetration of television systems sent over and everybody didn’t own a television sets before that in 1966 and if you got up into the sunlight, less and less probability and so you could say that people with cable in the clear were sort of stupid. (Laughter).


KELLER:  We were discussing the shadow areas in the Seattle area which did play an important part in the development of the system in Seattle and Bob it gave the Commission’s some concern also didn’t it about what was happening in the Seattle area as opposed to some of the other major metropolitan areas in the country.

JAMES:  Yeah, at that time the FCC was regulating broadcasting as they still do and licensing amendment but anxious for the broadcasters to get good coverage so that was the very early days before the FCC got involved in restricting cable, they were interested in what cable could do in some of these pockets. But that very quickly changed to a more competitive environment between cable and broadcasting at least in the regulatory areas of the FCC.

KELLER:  It’s interesting to note that the broadcasters loved the cable operators as long as they stayed out in the boondocks. As soon as they came in to within their own coverage area then things got a little bit different.

HEWSON:  Or wanted to bring in a distant signal.

KELLER:  Or wanted to bring in a distant signal, right.

HIRSHFIELD:  That was the freeze. Was that 1966?

JAMES:  1966, the FCC imposed a freeze on cable companies bringing in signals from distant markets and relaying them in by microwave because they wanted to protect the broadcasters and they literally froze the cable operator, prevented them from bringing these signals in for a number of years.

HIRSHFIELD:  And as I recall it, if I have this right, Seattle had a little time warp, the Seattle area because they defined the stations you couldn’t bring in from the U.S. table of authorized stations and Seattle, we started to bring in the Canadian stations which weren’t included in the definition.

BLISS:  I think it was all of the border towns worked that way.

MHIRSHFIELD:  I can remember having grown up in Longview, a southwest Washington town at that time, we were allowed to receive signals from the Portland stations and therefore were much more oriented to Oregon news and what was going on as opposed to what happened later when Seattle stations were allowed to transmit into that market and people, residents became much more aware of what was going on within the state. It’s that simple. It was regulated.

JAMES:  So much of the FCC regulation was economic regulation to protect the broadcast industry in those days and it was largely a political decision. The cable industry was very small and that was just the political reality of it.

BLISS:  And the broadcasters were very strong. They always have been. Still are.

KELLER:  They had Warren Magnuson in their pockets (Laughter) and the Central Telecommunications Committee.  

JAMES:  They had the FCC convinced that they had to protect the broadcast license for free over the air television and that seems in today’s climate very foreign but it really was restricted and it led to lots of dislocation such as the kind of thing you were talking about where some cities could bring in signals from Canada and others were restricted and couldn’t bring in signals that were actually very close. So it took a number of years before the FCC backed off from that policy.  

HILLIARD: Did they totally back off?  I think we’re just switching from analog to digital now. (Laughter)

KELLER:  It started to soften a little bit when they permitted independent stations to be delivered in some markets that didn’t have an independent station and that’s where Roy came in I believe.

HIRSHFIELD:  And that was 1972, Second Report and Order in ’72?

BLISS:  Right.  Then it was a hodgepodge of rules about big you were. You could carry one; if you were bigger you could carry two.

HIRSHFIELD:  About 50 markets, wasn’t it?

HEWSON:  The big ones couldn’t carry but one. The smaller being could carry three.

BLISS:  A couple of hundred. Next 50 and if you’re outside of all markets.

KELLER:  How did you get started delivering WGN around the country, Roy?

BLISS:  Well we were in the microwave business early on and right after 1972 we had a little old bitty microwave system in Illinois that was carrying some Chicago network stations. Just signal improvement to people who could already get them off air, cable systems but we had a couple hops of microwave and got them back and after the 1972 order, we had filed a bunch of applications, microwave applications to carry Chicago all over Illinois and clear out into Iowa on the assumption that the rules would eventually soften up.  And so we started building microwave carrying WGN clear out into Iowa and down to St. Louis and other distant, primarily independents, into cable systems all over the Mid-West.

KELLER:  You know, Bob, that situation about importing or not importing Canadian signals into the Northwest market, Vancouver primarily – how did that finally shake out?

JAMES:  I’m not sure how that it ended up really…

KELLER:  I know going the other way the Canadian broadcasting regulators prohibited the import of U.S. signals into those markets. How did it operate the other way?

JAMES:  They would….Excuse me.

HIRSHFIELD:  I think the first break in it was we also had a thing called syndicated exclusivity in addition to complete TV station. If you owned certain programming and you sold it to a TV station in a market then there was a restriction on bringing that programming in and so that’s how they started to pick on the Canadian signals coming into the northern tier. The stations who had the programming say in Seattle or Spokane would say you can’t carry My Favorite Martian on the Canadian station and so we were then forced to blacking out an hour here, a half hour there. Which didn’t work.  You started to get this Swiss cheese type of operation.

KELLER:  It was 30 days either side of the programming wasn’t it?

HIRSHFIELD:  I think it was. Yeah.

KELLER:  Down to 7 days and then it was simultaneous non-duplication. What a mess that was.

BLISS:  But, if you were in a little tiny market you could carry Canadian signals. I think in Canada they could carry WGN in some areas.

KELLER: I think along the border they did.

HILLIARD:  When did they put restriction?  If you were 100 miles, 200 miles of the border then you could carry it but if you were farther south you couldn’t.

JAMES:  That came in the copyright act of 1976, where the copyright law ended up governing what the signals you could carry.

HILLIARD:  Yeah, that’s right.

BLISS:  That’s it Les.

HILLIARD:  We had it deep in Montana and then they put this restriction in but those of us who already had it were grandfathered into the thing.  So we had stuff, we had Canadian channels microwaved down into Montana. Way beyond the 100-mile mark and we got grandfathered.

HIRSHFIELD:  You know an interesting twist on that. The same thing happened using Seattle as a big city that they only grandfathered for it for that area that had been built at the time this ruled passed so you would have one area of the city that had a Canadian channel on the cable but right across the street you have another area that wasn’t allowed to have it. So again, this was our government protecting us.

KELLER:  Oh yeah.  Did King Broadcasting like that kind of protection? (Laughter)

HEWSON:  You’re talking… I imagine it was their business; they didn’t like it and did everything ethical to stop it. But yet a number of things extended all the way up to Vancouver, to Calgary, I believe it carried to Edmonton. It’s said the most widely distributed signal in the northwest so the cable guys were our friends and we really did not want to offend them.

BLISS:  They were a different kind of broadcaster than most. They were very forward thinking. Way ahead of their time.

HIRSHFIELD:  What were most of them like?

BLISS:  Most of them were not that way. (Laughter)  But since we’re talking about regulation. The original regulation was the Carter Mountain case which we talked about yesterday.

KELLER:  Please explain that Roy.

BLISS:  19 – I think the late ‘50s, 1958 when they, the FCC didn’t have any rules about cable, couldn’t really grapple with cable. Cable had grown in tiny little markets from the early ‘50s, the late ‘40s I guess. Grown very rapidly because it was the only way to get television if you were in these pockets or just a long ways from television but people – and my dad was one – starting talking about bringing signals quite a ways on microwave. One or two or three hops into a town and in Worland, Wyoming we had the littlest television station in the United States and they started fighting my dad who was trying to bring Idaho Falls television into Worland by microwave and the way they got to him because they didn’t have any cable television regulation but they didn’t regulate microwave transmission. So they ultimately ruled that he could not bring these signals into Worland, Wyoming.

KELLER:  The original freeze was the station in Thermopolis?

BLISS:  I can’t remember if it was. I think he was trying to do several cities at one time. It was the license to get it to that area.

KELLER:  That station was a one lone station that operated out of someone’s house as I recall.

BLISS:  Yeah, it was basically a repeater…

KELLER:  But it sure put a big….

BLISS:  All the broadcasters, all the bad broadcasters not King (Laughter), They all rallied around this teeniest little TV station like they were all barely surviving which they weren’t.  A lot of them were making huge amounts of money and acted like you know this was an enormous TV station which it wasn’t. Probably should have gone out of business way back.

KELLER:  Carter Mountain was one of your antenna relay sites, wasn’t it?

BLISS:  Yes, it was the name of the mountain that the signal was coming from.

JAMES:  Hmm.

HILLIARD:  That TV station does not exist today, does it? I don’t think so.

BLISS:  I don’t know.

HILLIARD:  I don’t think it does.

JAMES:  Must have been put out of business by the cable operators. (Laughter)

HILLIARD:  Because I don’t think that there are any broadcast stations in the basin there of Wyoming. I think the closest broadcast…

BLISS:  After college I left.

HIRSHFIELD:  You look at Bob’s joke or maybe that was put out of business by cable but a lot of stations were actually put into business by cable because as soon as you got to the UHF frequencies they suddenly had parity as far as their distribution and the FCC rules gave them parity. I was trying to count… doesn’t Los Angeles have 17 or 18 or 20 TV stations…

HEWSON:  22 I believe.

HIRSHFIELD:  22 TV stations.

KELLER:  UHF was supposed to be the savior of quote free television in the United States. They were going to open up every market with at UHF station, the FCC that is and they found out it didn’t work. It wasn’t going to work and without cable, they weren’t going to be able to extend the stations to the point where they were going to make it. Another big blunder by regulatory agencies was the Central Communication Commission, is that right Bob?

JAMES:  Yeah, and the interesting thing that you had mentioned before was comparing it to Canada, there were restrictions in the U.S. where really economic based between the broadcast interests on the one hand and the copyright interests on the other hand and the cable and we always like to say that the cable operators and the public together on opposing these giant industries but it really was politics.

BLISS:  The public definitely wanted cable. Yeah, they wanted more signals.

JAMES:  But everyone argues about the public interest is on their side but in Canada it was very different in that the restriction of bringing U.S. into Canada was much more… they were government but they were based on cultural fears as oppose to…and content as opposed to economic.

BLISS:  They still are.

KELLER:  Oh yeah. They don’t want those sitcoms up there.

BLISS:  But I sit on the board of directors of a Canadian broadcaster, their weather channel up there and they say it’s cultural but it’s also very economic oriented.

HIRSHFIELD:  You mean the protections?
BLISS:  The protections, yeah. Their afraid the U.S. would take over everything.

JAMES:  The whole entertainment industry, yeah.

KELLER:  Bob, could you give us a thumbnail sketch of the progression of regulation in the industry?

JAMES:  Well, I would say that it’s almost impossible to give a thumbnail sketch because there’s been so much regulation and so much paper and so much complexity has gone into regulating this industry. It’s just been… it’s absolutely incredible and you know the great majority of people…

BLISS:  Give you a good life.

JAMES:  Absolutely, most people in the country don’t realize the kind of regulation and the complexity of it was just incredible but I would say it really started in a big way with the FCC in the…I guess it was the early or late 1960s with freeze on bringing in distant signals and then gradually that started to fall but that period took a number of years and cable would have developed much faster had it not been for the restrictions on bringing in distant signals into local cable systems. And after that they had, there were reports after reports on all kinds of areas and more and more groups became interested in cable and in restricting cable or in getting some benefit from cable. So over the years the FCC had a series of regulations and some of which contradicted the prior ones, back and forth and then there were 3 major laws that Congress passed. The 1984 Cable Act which was de-regulated a lot of cable television. The 1992 Cable Act which regulated cable television, regulated rates and all kinds of things and then the 1996 Telecommunications Act which had less impact on cable directly but was intended to have all of the telephone, open up the telephone markets, the local markets to competition. So and on top of that you had the Copyright Act of 1976 which really also restricted cable as well.

KELLER:  Can you refer to the Ken Cox report? What bearing that had on the FCC and the industry? Before he became a commissioner?

JAMES:  Yeah, well that was very…he’s very well-respected in Washington.

KELLER:  Not this industry.

JAMES:  No, but in Washington he was and that was the basis for a lot of the early restrictions on cable. That this would be, it could be the end of the broadcast industry and that would be harmful to the public and that was the rationale of years and years of very restrictive policies.

HIRSHFIELD:  And you know, I think there’s a repeating of a pattern because some of the early restrictions, the Cox Report, the 1966 freeze, the 1972 Second report and all of those things which slowed down the growth of cable TV, I think a similar thing is happening since the 1992 Act which really I thought it was putting us out of business for a year or two. I had a lot of sleepless nights. I thought that was it and I had no retirement. But what that did by slowing down the industry was really inhibit the development of broadband services. So now we have this great demand for internet high speed data and it’s not built out and I think the reason it’s not built out is because the industry was crippled again in 1992. So this pattern just recurs where the other economic interests come politically after this industry and I think to the detriment of the American people.

M. HIRSHFIELD: And Jim I would also add in this regulation during the 1992 time period really took little distinction between the large and the small operator…

JAMES:  That’s a good point.

M. HIRSHFIELD:  And that’s what made it so potentially devastating for us as smaller operators and why Jim spent many hours in Washington, DC as I suspect other operators around this state.

HIRSHFIELD:  And you did as well.

M. HIRSHFIELD:  Well, I kept the home fires burning. (Laughter)

HIRSHFIELD:  I remember a visit with you to the FCC.

M. HIRSHFIELD:  Yes, that’s true.

KELLER:  Many people were concerned about what was going to happen in the 1992 Act; especially 1991 was a real downer for the cable television industry.  But those people who recognized no matter what the FCC did and they weren’t too much concerned about even the new rate regulation gave them the opportunity to buy out their limited partners on a very, very minimal basis and a lot of the limited partnerships were disintegrated during that period when they started to panic. But the guys who really knew and some of the people around this table were also the same way, that it wasn’t going to affect the industry that much and as a result it came back stronger than ever and I think right now the industry is stronger than ever.  Although some people still recognize and still feel that we shouldn’t have to pay copyright. We shouldn’t have to pay any fees at all. In fact we can go back to the Pastore fiasco in the late 1950s when Senator Pastore and with the request of the cable television industry through the National Cable Television Association requested that there be some regulation of cable television. And Senator Pastore submitted a bill and when it was just about ready to go the Senate floor to be passed, the industry backed out and we made one real, real enemy at that time. That was in the late 50s, early 60s and I’m not sure we ever recovered from that point.

HIRSHFIELD:  We had a little bit more of that in the late 80s and early 90s where some of the large companies in the industry were at odds at what we could support in legislation and maybe could have had some milder legislation passed. I would probably disagree a bit on what happened after the 1992 Act. Cable TV and this was one of the reasons we sold our company, simply doesn’t generate enough money at the rates we’re able to charge in order to service your debt, service your present capital, do what you need to do for future capital. And I think it’s evident even in the large companies because a lot of large companies have come out of the business. An example would be we now have AT&T Cable but that used to be TCI. Those owners sold that company. Many of the other large companies as well as the small companies sold. There’s been a consolidation but not…to a large part not with the existing owners. Cox is one that stayed in there. A couple have stayed in but largely have gone out.  I think that is still with us. There’s a perception somehow that cable TV makes a ton of money.  Well, I remember Mary saying in the 1980s if we’re doing so well why we don’t have any money. (Laughter)

HEWSON:  Dave says that to me today. (Laughter)  It’s still true.

HIRSHFIELD:  And that’s the truth, cable you never made any money when you were running the business. You made money if you sold part of your business because somebody valued the future prospects and then more regulation would come and the value of those future prospects would change.

HILLIARD:  That’s what John Malone said, you’ve never met a rich cable operator, you’ve only met rich ex-cable operators.

KELLER:  Ed, would you start back in your reactivation to the statement Jim made about the 1992 Act and how it affected economically the cable operators?

HEWSON:  Well, Jim’s point and I agree with him entirely, I think that was cash flow wasn’t profit. You have to continually put cash flow back into the business just to stay modern enough to keep customers. You never make a profit. If you look at the different cable, big cable companies, I look through there and I don’t see profit still and yet politically we’re castigated for raising our rates, for being I don’t know, monopolists, whatever the politicians care to call us but I don’t remember entirely what I was saying….

KELLER:  Talk about the Ellensburg situation.

E:  Well, in Ellensburg for example, you go to renew the franchise they want and you need a rate increase. So you ask for a rate increase. City of Ellensburg had the power, telephone, whatever their local utilities were, the city owned, they raised the rates 15-20% and when it came to our turn, one of the council people stood up and said “Well, listen we’ve got to hold the line somewhere.”  No.  So then you, you know…

BLISS:  The line at the guy who’s outside.

HEWSON:  Yeah and heck, you know this industry has gone from 330 to 440 to 550 to 750 to 1000, whatever they are.


HEWSON:  MHz (Laughter) and I was not an engineer, you know a finance guy. Okay and when you do that for all this new technology, there’s got to be a profit factor come in at some point so that you can run it and stop being bedeviled by politicians and by programmers too. Because programmers all want to get carried and as soon as they get carried they cross promote and that leads me to you – you can talk about that because that’s one of your pet peeves.

HILLIARD:  Well, you start out and you’re 450 MHz and you put on as many channels as you can get on, then all of a sudden ESPN comes along with ESPN2 and so they cross promote and you know, if you don’t have it, call your local cable operators, so you get all these [calls] and then you’ve got to run back out and figure how to expand your capacity and you know…

HEWSON:  And if you don’t carry it, they raise your rate on your single service because you’re not carrying the other one.

HILLIARD:  Oh yeah, oh yeah.  And probably the worst one for this is MTV. If you don’t carry all of their programming, then you know, Nickelodeon comes at you with $1.50 per subscriber. You know whereas, the big guys are getting it for 35₵, you know.

HEWSON:  Right.

HILLIARD:  And so you know, it just continues and then with all your programming contacts, they are all, they’ve got all these privacy things and you cannot disclose what you’re paying and so, you know sure that God made little green apples that TCI or Cox or these people aren’t paying what you and I are paying. We’re paying a ton of money for these things and you know, this is the same way with Disney. Disney came along and said you put Disney on basic or you’ll pay like a dollar, dollar five per subscriber but if you put it on basic, you’ve only got to pay 85₵ but you start figuring out, compared to the number of subscribers you got paying for Disney on a pay service and then you put it on your basic service at 85₵, you’re actually – the only people who are making money out of that is Disney.

HIRSHFIELD:  And it’s a declining product.

HILLIARD:  Oh yeah. It’s very declining.

HIRSHFIELD:  What was the first channel you put on from satellite or similar, some outside…


HILLIARD:  No. (Laughter) Actually, we made application and we were issued for a small dish. We used to have the big dishes and we got a 5 meter dish and we got license number 5 issued to us and our SA dish arrived and we put it together and it has to this day serial number 10 on it of the dishes that were built. And the first one that we put on was WTCG, which was Ted Turner’s system. And we were one of the first ones to put on the Inspirational Network and we had HBO on and running before TCI had it running in Billings.

HIRSHFIELD:  Where was that in Laurel?  Laurel, Montana.

HILLIARD:  And I remember when we had our dish there, they sent out and engineer to align our dish and we made a big fuss about aligning the dish.  Well, they didn’t have anything to align it to because HBO did not run, didn’t start until like 6 or 7 o’clock at night, so the guy called up HBO and said “Hey, could you through up some color bars?” They threw up some color bars and that’s how we aligned our first dish.

HIRSHFIELD:  You know, I remember in 1979 we put a dish into our cable system in Buhl, Idaho which is south of here, 100 miles up and they sent an engineer out – I had forgotten this – and he and I went skiing up here at Sun Valley while our company people actually aligned the dish. (Laughter) That was pretty good duty being an SA engineer.

HILLIARD:  Well, this SA engineer came in and set everything up in our headend. Our headend in our office were all one and the same and he had all, he must have had $20,000 worth of electronic gear to align this thing and we’re talking to the guy out there and he would crank it up and he would crank it down and he would turn it sideways and we were going back and forth. And I can remember my secretary said “Well, what are you looking for?”  And he said “We’re looking for the satellite.”  And she says “Right up there on the TV is your color bars that you want” and he says “Oh good.”  So forgot about all his $20,000 worth of gear that he hauled all the way out there but you know…

HIRSHFIELD:  That was what, late 1970s?

HILLIARD:  I don’t remember when it was…when that…

HIRSHFIELD:  When did you guys put WGN up?

BLISS:  Late 1970s, ’78. Fall of ’78.

MHIRSHFIELD:  What I remember about that time period is going to one of the conventions and I believe it may have been the West Coast Convention down in Anaheim and had gone to some of the other ones along the way which were as an industry still very small conventions with a heavy technology orientation. Basically your headend sites and all the equipment that went with that and all of a sudden this was a convention which was including Hollywood and Disneyland…

BLISS:   Entertainment.

MHIRSHFIELD:  And giveaways big time and people in suits were showing up. People in suits were… (Laughter) and to me this was no longer the mom and pop industry. That there had been a real explosion and I know it was technologically driven but it looked a lot different in terms of the marketing that was going on.

BLISS:  The satellite changed it dramatically.

MHIRSHFIELD:  Yes, exactly.

JAMES:  Well, this may have been a convention a little before Hollywood got into it so much but I remember in I believe it was one of the conventions in Anaheim where they had an experimental transportable satellite dish and it was one of the first FCC authorizations and Hub Schlafly was convinced that this would work and you could put these dishes anywhere. And he had the dish out there at the convention site and you could go in the trailer and see these signals, pictures coming down from the satellite and it seemed unbelievable. And within, three years after that, you could see that this was really going to change and I never saw how much it was going to change the industry.  What dramatic, total dramatic change that’s been for smaller operators and larger operators but suddenly made access everywhere.

HILLIARD:  Well the beauty of the Western Show was that it was so tightly confined there in Anaheim with the hotels and everything else, you know you’d see somebody on the floor and say “Ray, let’s have a drink afterwards” and so you’d get in a bar over there and discuss all of the technology that you’d seen and there were deals done and cable systems bought and sold right there in Anaheim.

HIRSHFIELD:  In these years, it was at the Disneyland hotel, right?  So the dish was sort of in the parking lot and I remember a meeting with Nick Nikolaus and Gerry Levin and one other name I’m forgetting in just a little small hotel room up there – that what’s this HBO stuff?

JAMES:  Right.

HIRSHFIELD:  All this coming out.

BLISS:  An interesting thing, being in the microwave business, we, in the early 1970s, did a lot of studies on trying to do what HBO did on the satellite.  Bringing Hollywood product by microwave clear out to Tulsa specifically which was losing its shirt because it didn’t have anything to really sell. They were selling the four local stations and a Dallas station and a Kansas City station so basically two independent systems just didn’t work and we just did all kinds of things trying to figure out how to bring quality movies primarily or sports, sporting events in there and the microwave system to do that from long distances just didn’t work. Just tremendously expensive. Satellite just changed that.

HEWSON:  With people [?] bicycle tapes of movies?

BLISS:  We tried that.

HEWSON:  It was an incredible…

BLISS:  A huge hassle.

HEWSON:  It was a huge hassle.

KELLER:  Les, do you remember what you paid for your five meter dish?

HILLIARD:  I paid $25,000 for the dish and $5,000 for each of the two receivers that we had.  We had a bill of $35,000 to bring two signals in.

HIRSHFIELD:  And each receiver had a solid state source that was about as big as your fist and that was a couple of thousand dollars’ worth. Now it’s just on a little board.

KELLER:  That was a long way from what they paid for the first 10 meter.

BLISS:  We were building out for $125,000. We build Tulsa.

KELLER:  And it just came down and down and down until we could afford it.

BLISS:  Has anybody got into DirecTV lately? You talk about all of the technology of aligning your dish and everything. Now it cost $250 and the guy goes out and click and you’re locked in.

HEWSON:  Yeah.

BLISS:  It’s just incredible.

HILLIARD:  You don’t need those engineers.

BLISS:  You use a little teeny field strength meter that costs him a hundred bucks.

HEWSON:  Actually, you don’t need anything. You just sit there and go [space sounds].  It’s 72% good enough.  (Laughter).

KELLER:  We used to orient our antennas.

HIRSHFIELD:  Yeah, the guy who came out and put a DirecTV dish in our place said he had tried to get on with the cable company and he couldn’t so he, I think it was his driving record because he was pretty confident.  (Laughter) When you mentioned bicycling tapes, what I thought of was Alaska and wasn’t that the late 1960s, early 1970s, people in Seattle, Merle Davis I think was one of them, started recording the local networks and then they would fly – and they were the big 1 inch video tapes at that time – and they would fly those up to these cities that they built in Alaska and they would run them all on one channel so you like at prime time, ten hours a day. And run them all on one channel and that became an exception to the Copyright Act in the late 1970s because Alaska and I think Guam were allowed to actually tape which you couldn’t do anywhere else.

JAMES:  And Hawaii, yeah.

HIRSHFIELD:  But the lengths to which the industry went in order to get product to people who wanted to watch product. Actually I was thinking of this when you were talking about dishes because in the…about 1973, I appraised the cable system in Barrow, Alaska for the North Arctic Regional Corporation and they were bicycling tapes in but they were going to use a dish. And they had a 10 or 12 meter dish there that RCA had put in and the expense was enormous and they had to go a mile out into the Arctic Ocean in order to get a ground for the dish.

JAMES:  Oh my …

HIRSHFIELD:  Couldn’t get a ground in the permafrost and the dish had a look angle of about 10 degrees above the horizon.  A giant dish in order to look through all this atmosphere and yet they went through all of that and they ended up with owning a cable system with the use of this dish having good product, lots of product on the cable system. You sit in a major city in the U.S. and watch TV and you just can’t imagine what a town like this went through.

KELLER:  I’d like to get back again to the point we were discussing earlier with the economics of a cable television system and as you pointed out your cash flow is not profit and in effect, we’ve been accused of and in fact did live on depreciation in all of these years. It was the only way you could show any positive results in the business itself but the bankers recognized that too. You know, you go to a former banker right now and Jim, I’ll ask you, where did you get your first financing?

HIRSHFIELD:  My first financing was $10,000 from the local bank because he thought I could pay it back I guess. I’m not sure why and when I built that system and then merged it into a larger system actually couldn’t get enough of a bank loan to build that and we went to Home Life Insurance Company.  And I had mentioned this before, a guy named Jim Straley, who ran the investment department at Home Life Insurance Company and he was actually making institutional loans.

KELLER:  Had you known him?

HIRSHFIELD:  I had known him maybe just a few months before then. He wasn’t an old friend but what do you do?

MHIRSHFIELD:  I remember going to dinner with Jim and Jim Straley and it was…the conversation was around an institutional loan and was this for Crystal Cable?

HIRSHFIELD:  Yeah, on Capitol Hill.

MHIRSHFIELD:  And he actually turned to me and he said “I am really making this loan decision on the basis of good faith.  I just believe it’s a good guy” and that was really how that was happening.

HIRSHFIELD:  But I think he made a lot of loans like that because they were a big lender to the cable industry and there was no basis, the bankers wouldn’t lend.  If a bank made a loan, the examiners would come in and classify it almost immediately and so many classified loans you had to stop. So he was one of the first. There were several other institutions but they jumped in and that was 1969 probably through early seventies that they did a lot of that. Teacher’s Annuity was another one. Connecticut Mutual I think. These guys came in where you really couldn’t get bank loans.

KELLER:  Where did you get your first loan, Les?

HILLIARD:  Well, we got our first loan by having the former owners carry back a note. So we’d go in and put down $10-20,000 and have them carry back a note and we started paying them off so we…most of my acquisitions were through carrybacks and we did it but later on when the notes got bigger and we had to buy systems outright, you know, my first loan was U.S. Trust. And so, I had to fly back to New York and meet those people and I got a rude awakening as to what the banking business was all about because we had a noon meeting, my wife and I and we went into the bank and I couldn’t figure why we were having a noon meeting. But we went up to a private dining room and it was about the size of this thing here and we had about 6 loan officers and my wife and I and we sat around there and we ordered off a menu and they served us. They had a person serving us and then we got done and we ordered dessert off a menu and there 8 of us in the room there and the guy went around and offered all of the gentlemen cigars and luckily no one took it because I’m very allergic to cigars. And then when we got all done they said this will be fine and we went down and they ordered a limousine to take us back to the airport.

HIRSHFIELD:  Did they make a loan?

HILLIARD:  Oh yeah, [tape garbled] what people. Oh I don’t know. It was only like $3 million, or something like that. It wasn’t a big loan but you know I had, to me my eyes were this big around looking at all this…everything was so posh. I couldn’t believe it. I never have lived in this kind of atmosphere in New York City and to order up a limousine to take us to the airport.  And I thought somebody’s got this whole thing backwards.  (Laughter) And of course somebody says “They’ll get their money. Don’t you worry they’ll get their money.”  

JAMES:  But the hard thing I think and I’m not a financial expert at all but just having watched a lot of this, is that so much of the day to day where you’re trying to generate enough cash flow to pay the debt but you’re not generating profit…

MHIRSHFIELD:  To make payroll.

JAMES:  To make payroll to do all these things. In hindsight now, you can see that you were building assets but at the time there was one problem after another and it took some very tough, resilient people to stay in that kind of a business where you really…it had to be hard to see that you were building value and I would just all of you guys, what I mean….

HILLIARD:  The interesting thing is my wife reminds of this is you’re in debt right up to here and you’re working hard and you didn’t want to hire contractors to do anything, so you were out there doing it yourself and she said I’d be working on things and one day I went in and had coffee with my insurance agent and he said “Les, you must doing a whole lot better. You’re not wearing dirty levis anymore.”  (Laughter)  You did get out there and put the cable in the trenches. You did get out there work the things, you climbed the poles and did these things back then and you built your assets a little bit at a time, a little bit at a time to the point where you could say “Hey, we can get a contractor in here to do this.”  You hired a contractor to put it in and you know it just, little stuff all the way up the thing.

JAMES: But did you feel like at the time you were just staying ahead, staying even?  But to see the value for the future and seeing the value that was eventually was built up, could you see it all along the way with every problem?

BLISS:  I think that what was always the scariest part is government regulation.

JAMES:  Right.

BLISS:  Which regulation will stomp on you one day and check your business. Change the rules and…

HEWSON:  Quite willing to trade your equity for a lot of votes. My wife said don’t forget to tell them, tell them about when you started Ocean Shores I had two partners and I went down 42 weekends. I slept in a Volkswagen bus on weekends. Now this is a Harvard Business School graduate, okay.  (Laughter)  I went down there and actually we did that at Ocean Shores which we still own today and I climbed 5 poles, only 5 poles but on the first pole I climbed these guys loaded me up with everything, strand, everything you could carry. I go up the pole in the middle of this little tiny town, my pants fell down. (Laughter) and all they did was stand around and they laughed and drank beer until I got reorganized and came down the pole.  Later I learned that you had to climb to 22 feet and that poles were hard and the first time I tried it, I put the gaffs on the wrong side of my boots. (Laughter) I learned a little bit, it did work. I never learned a pole but that was…you’re building equity and you turn around and some politician would be perfectly willing to trade you because you’re one person.

HILLIARD:  I’d like to quote my United States senator, Senator Conrad Burns, bless his little pea pickin’ black heart (laughter). He got up in front of a meeting in Billings, Montana and a little old lady said “But Mr. Burns, what are you going to do about our taxes?” and Senator Burns says “There’s nothing I can do about reducing your taxes but I can get your cable rates reduced and we will get your cable rates reduced.”  

JAMES:  That was before the 1992 Act.

HILLIARD:  Yeah, and hell, why he’d give away my equity for votes.

JAMES:  Which is still the problem the industry faces. Not just at the federal level but at the local level as well, it’s a political...

MHIRSHFIELD:  Yes, and right up to end when we sold Summit Communications and we were having and have always had a very challenging relationship with the city of Seattle and their franchising requirements and perhaps less so, but did exist with King County and I can remember Jim saying because we had real existing competition with overbuild of other franchise companies now in one community in Seattle and you said “Just let me compete. I can compete in the marketplace.”  It’s all these government regulations or lack of action on franchise requirements that have always been the albatross. That have always been [?].

KELLER:   Just let me compete was sort of a cry in the wilderness.


HILLIARD:  The one thing they say in, teach you in Harvard Business School, you can always compete but if there is a major technology change or major political change, those two things can kill you.

HIRSHFIELD:  Well [Sandy Lean] used to say if you don’t get up to bat then you don’t get a base hit.

HILLIARD:  That’s right.

HIRSHFIELD:  You can’t compete if you’re not allowed out there.  But I was thinking of your question Bob, I think we thought we were building that value to the cable customers worth 3 or 4 dollars a customer, we’d then do the math and subtract our debt and we’d say we created this, but the big thing that kept you up all night was what’s a cable customer worth?  Because that in itself is a marketplace and that number moved around a whole lot. I remember a meeting within the two years of when we sold our company with my major partners telling them that we weren’t sure the company was worth any more than the debt in it. Turned out that wasn’t the case, but the market…

JAMES:  But it changed that quickly.

HIRSHFIELD:  Yeah, changed that quickly.

JAMES:  It was going up and down and it’s still doing that.

HILLIARD:  Market goes up and down based on what the FCC or government rules.

HIRSHFIELD:  Well, that’s part of it. That’s part of it. These people wanted out and I think that’s the thing small business has, your investors or you lenders want, want to be paid back or they want out. So if the market is not right, you may not want to sell but you may not have choice because you have other constituencies, your investors, your banks, your lenders – that want you to get out. So you’re always sort of worried about well gee, how do I ultimately make money and we’re back to this point that you weren’t making money each month. Not like a lot of businesses where each month you make a little bit of money.  

KELLER:  When do you sell?

HEWSON:  Well, Dorothy Bullock used to say…

KELLER:  That’s a good one.

HEWSON:  She, who owned our company and is a grand old lady who, she would just say do what’s right but when she talked about investments, one of her favorite thoughts was there’s trading salmon and there’s eating salmon. You shouldn’t try and eat your trading salmon so when do you sell?  I think it takes a great deal of timing and you’ve got to know what product you have in the cans.

KELLER:  A long time, especially in the early days, people would sell when they ran out of depreciation.


KELLER:  Then they’d sell to another company that they had other interests in and then re-depreciate it again. Is that still the case today?

HILLIARD:  Oh, yeah. Depreciation’s a big key and then how much depreciation you’ve got left based on what your interest rates are and their [?].  You know lately interest rates have been going up, up, up and then all of a sudden it turns and starts down again.

HIRSHFIELD:  Let’s talk like a CPA for a minute. The reason depreciation is important is when you run out of it; you start to have to pay taxes.

KELLER:  There you’ve got it.

HIRSHFIELD:  I mean you’re generating profits and you don’t often have enough cash to pay that tax because you never were generating profits, you were actually living off your cash flow. So you’ve taken future value let’s say and spent it at present and that’s why it forces a sale.

HILLIARD:  That’s right.

JAMES:  But how does it tie in with for example, where you’ve upgraded like the system you just sold in Texas.  You really upgraded those systems and put a lot of money into doing that.

HILLIARD:  And that creates depreciation.

JAMES:  That created more depreciation and also more value too. That was another option. You constantly had to do that.

HILLIARD:  If you raise your asset values, in other words you take it from 450 to 750 and you change it from a one way to a two way system and you enhance it by putting fiber in it and everything, all of a sudden this structure will then run for 7 to 10 years without having to have a lot of upgrades done on it. So that you can produce it. The beauty is now if you put in your analog system but you’ve got your digital system and you can do a two way arrangement there where you can do Pay-Per-View and everything,  just on Impulse Pay-Per-View. Impulse Pay-Per-View is a lot more, produces a lot more revenue than just dialup.

HIRSHFIELD:  But translate that. Does everything that you just mentioned and went through generate enough profit to give you sufficient return on investment? I think it doesn’t. I think it’s still just generating cash flow isn’t it?

HILLIARD:  Well, it’s generating cash flow but what I’m saying is you have more product going over the same infrastructure.

HIRSHFIELD:  Yeah, but my thought is that even after all that investment and all that work, the profit you’re making is pretty minimal.

HILLIARD:  Oh yeah, oh yeah.  Like you say, it’s mainly cash flow and here you are sitting with this big debt that you put in to upgrade this thing, so it’s one of these things where you just keep adding.

BLISS:  We all know ahead of time.  

HEWSON:  Where you’ve got to make a decision. If you’re a small operator, am I going to put more money in this? Let’s say I’ve got a system worth $1700 a customer, if I put in $600 a customer to upgrade the system, am I going to be able to sell for $2300 a customer or more or am I just doing this to maintain the $1700.

HILLIARD:  Well, you get out the dice and roll the dice.

HIRSHFIELD:  And there’s another important part, you’re point is by the time I finish putting the $600 in will the $1700 market be back down to $1000 or because there’s a market place for that now.

HEWSON:  Or will the government be telling me that I have to carry every broadcaster, two channels of every broadcaster and that I have to carry a new UHF Siamese religious channel. Something like that happened in Los Angeles.

HIRSHFIELD:  No offense.

HEWSON:  No offense, but whatever and I have to continue to make capital investments which don’t generate any cash flow.

HILLIARD:  Well, I’ll give you an example of a kind of a backwards government requirement. We’re looking at the Geiger Correctional Center.  They want cable and so okay, fine, we’ll bring cable into you. We don’t want to have to build like 3,000 feet of ½ inch [?], so the economics are the same and look good, but one thing is the Federal agencies require a Spanish channel. So there’s a Spanish channel inside this correctional center.  You know being up in Spokane, Washington we don’t have that great a Spanish population that we put on a Spanish channel.  Well, all of a sudden here comes this Federal rule that all Federal prisons have to have a Spanish channel and so we’ve got to put on a Spanish channel.

HIRSHFIELD:  If you want the business.

HILLIARD:  If we want the business, yeah.

HIRSHFIELD:  And if you don’t want the business, you’ll be in the newspaper for not serving these people and being the bad guy.

HILLIARD:  That’s right. So you’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t. Here’s a government regulation.

MHIRSHFIELD:  I will say that early on it was hard to find a banker who truly understood the way these systems were being financed…

[?]:  Oh yeah, as Jim indicated.

MHIRSHFIELD:  And Jim would talk about going and…yes, right over their head and you really had to educate and cultivate.

HIRSHFIELD:  The first thing you had to do was find a smart one. (Laughter)

MHIRSHFIELD:  And you always had to have a suit to go to the banker in your wardrobe.

BLISS:  The early bankers who did it was on friendship.  They believed in that person because they didn’t understand the business. I believe in you and I’ll take it on trust that you can make this thing work.

HEWSON:  The banking industry has changed so much that you don’t have personal bankers.

KELLER:  That’s true, that’s true. No one understands what you’re doing even if you want to go in and open an account.

HEWSON:  Right.

BLISS:  Well part of it is they say you are never going to make a profit. Where’s the profit?  

HILLIARD:  But a lot of it, your banking…so many of the bankers have been taught asset banking. Show me the asset. In Montana we say if it doesn’t have a roof over it or say moo, they won’t loan you anything and they want assets. They can get their hands on and take to the auction and sell it.

HEWSON:   I don’t blame them.

BLISS:  But that’s just what they understand. Yeah, those assets can evaporate as well. Then your moo can die.

HILLIARD:  Oh your moo can die or moo can go down in value just like your subscribers can go that way but for some unknown reason they see that as something they can get a hold of and load it in a truck and take it to the auction house. That cable strung up there, what the hell is that thing?  And you get into these things where – in the Air Force they wanted us to take down all of the cable and put it underground. Well, can’t you take it down and roll it up and put it back in the underground?  Well, you don’t do that with aluminum cable. There’s a lot of things even to this day, they don’t understand and they just don’t understand the industry and what it is or how it works.

MHIRSHFIELD:  I know I had friends who didn’t understand is that our company was growing and we had more office space so we were becoming more than just operating out of the bedroom. We actually had an office and then the office got bigger and there were more employees and there were trucks. There was physical evidences of this big business which to people without business background thought you must have really made it. You must be rolling in it and the only thing in my layman’s approach to explain this was this is like owning your house and you’re always fixing up your house and you’re not getting anything out of it until you sell and that’s the best analogy I could come up with.

JAMES:  That’s a good analogy.

KELLER:  Talk about how you – what was your position in the early days, the very early days of your startup business.

MHIRSHFIELD:  My position as partner in this was mainly to keep the home fires burning however I did have a background in PR and I did for a number of years as our company grew do an in-house company newsletter for employees. Our companies because of a non-compete clause that we had from a sale of an earlier property in Seattle, Jim, if he wanted to continue in the business had to develop everything pretty much out of state or at least out of the county. So was gone for weeks at a time developing those properties and when they were developed, our employees were scattered all over. So it was hard to get a physical identity of this company. So our newsletter became quite useful to build those connections. It was a wonderful way for me to find out really what was going on and I can tell a story in the very beginning of getting those franchises outside the greater Seattle area, he took what we had was a used Buick, big guy, big car. They didn’t have four wheel drives that we knew about in those days and he drove that car up on small mountain tops for direct line of site, headend positioning in areas in Idaho and near where we are today in Sun Valley such as Buhl, Idaho and Shoshone and then went after franchises on the Oregon coast and so anyway that was really the very beginning. In terms of actually assisting a little bit of putting the company together, I do remember episodes of sitting watching TV and assembling wall plates. As Jim would say, I was paid piece work like 13₵ to 20₵.

KELLER:  Sweat labor.

HIRSHFIELD:  She wouldn’t work for free.

MHIRSHFIELD:  So then I also did accounts receivable for a couple of these small systems as they grew while we had small babies at home. I did that a little bit  and I’m not sure if I was helping the company or keeping my sanity but anyway I was there at the beginning and it certainly gave me an understanding for what we were building in terms of value.

KELLER:  Did you have that feeling that you were building value and accomplishing?

MHIRSHFIELD:  Yes, you could see the subscribership coming up and there came a time when that part of the work was going to grow far beyond the hours and the interest that I had to put in it, so that’s when you start hiring the real bookkeeper, accountant and those people then are not able to work in the bedroom down the hall, they need to go into an office.

KELLER:   I think you touched on something, right there. One thing that we haven’t discussed before and that’s the bankers finally began to realize that we have a predictable income flow and you can just about determine how much you’re going to be able to pay back on what your current income flow is and you know it’s going to be there every month. Every month, in and out. Very few other businesses have that capability.  Did any of you ever have any problems when they did away with the high leverage business when we used to be able to highly leverage our operations and the FCC, not the FCC but the IRS and Congress took away our ability to highly leverage anything?

HIRSHFIELD:   I actually think that started with the controlling of the currency of classifying HLT, Highly Leverage Transactions. It really started with that part of the regulation.  We never carried a large amount of debt and that really didn’t affect us. I don’t know about other folks.

HILLIARD:   The thing was as small operators we never got to that point where we had highly leveraged things. You know, your local banker, you went to the US Trust and they were just getting into the cable financing business. They didn’t do it either and so I don’t know that that really affected the small operator as much as it did the big operator.

HIRSHFIELD:  Yes, I think it affected the big operator because if you turn the question around, it was the Drexel approach to junk bonds, aren’t quite junk, there’s something good about them that really funded the growth of this industry.

KELLER:  I forgot about it.

HIRSHFIELD:  That was a big driver in the 1980s.  So when that slowed down and then we had the 1992 Act, you sort of had a double whammy and when stuff hit the big companies, it ended up being a problem for us smaller people as well. I mean we didn’t get some of the benefits for being big, but we seemed to get all the negatives.

KELLER:  I think that’s generally true in what’s happened in the business.

HILLIARD:  When they write rules and regulations, you know, they theoretically say well, we can’t discriminate so we’re going to beat the hell out of this guy and we see what’s down here at the bottom because the regulations…

BLISS:  Well, it’s a one size fits all. It’s what the federal government does all the time.

HIRSHFIELD:  I had an occasion, I was on a 3 or 4 day thing at the Aspen Institute that Reed Hundt happened to be on and I happened to end up sitting next to him for a day and we talked a bit about small cable operators and it was 1995, I think about 1995 and so he as he left, I think he was only there for a day, said “I’m going to send you this thing we’re about to enact.”  He said, “Will you give me your input.”  And he sent me...I forget the issue but it was something they were trying to do to ease the burden on small cable operators and I read it through and I called him up. He actually called me back from my home. He was pretty responsive at least and I said “This is irrelevant.”  “What do you mean?”  “Well when you go through all the calculations and all the reading and all the several hours to sort of figure this out and apply it to my company, it does absolutely nothing.” And I think there was a lot of that -- that they just didn’t get it but at least they worked and I think by the time 1996 came, they did start to get some of it. But you’re in that period where they didn’t get and you have a rule that’s sitting out there, it’s pretty scary.

KELLER:   And it scared bankers. You know there’s no question about the financial institutions, it really did.

HIRSHFIELD:  It scared me.

KELLER:  Something we didn’t talk about, you keep talking about the value of a subscriber, what the value is. [Jim] don’t we or didn’t we rather look at what the multiple cash flow was from each subscriber as opposed to what the value as a subscriber was.

HIRSHFIELD:  Yeah, the rule of thumb so much per subscriber was really a multiple of cash flow but that was just as uncertain as how much a customer because you don’t know what multiple was going to be applied and you really didn’t know what the cash flow was.  People that may not have created their accounting would have higher or lower cash flow; you don’t know what multiple the buyer would have attached to it. You don’t know where that multiple went, next year’s cash flow or last year’s cash flow, so yeah, what the value was very uncertain.

BLISS:  Just like the stock market, where the key ratio slips around depending on the mood.

HILLIARD:  Well, when we first started and we were bringing just cable. The ordinary cable and you charged $10 or $12 a month, you had x number of subscribers, you charged x amount, you had so much a subscriber [tape garbled] had to find a different way to value not by subscriber but by cash flow. How much cash flow do we commit? Then all of a sudden this applies to additional services that were being put over and so this idea of what a cable subscriber worth, this is an old, old, old theory of valuing.

HEWSON:  There was even cash flow in the 1960s.

HILLIARD:  Oh yeah, the point being the minute we brought in pay services the idea of per subscriber has gone. Well you had to figure out….

KELLER:   I don’t know if you remember this but I surely do, in fact [tape garbled] after a while a certain amount of predictable income and what your cash flow is going to be from that but then you added the revenue from pay subscribers, HBO or whatever else it was going to be. At first they were reluctant to give us the value of what that revenue was going to be and at first it was they said no and then they said we’ll give you a quarter [tape garbled] figured that we could get it. It was a big turnaround I thought [tape garbled].

HIRSHFIELD:  I think it was 1970s, early 1980s before banks really become comfortable lending because in I was in the mid-1970s comptroller of a large bank in Seattle while I was trying to support my family while I growing in the cable business right?  And we didn’t do cash flow. We did balance sheet lending, we did profit lending. If you did a cash flow lending, you’d get classified, bang and it was only I think the late 1970s, really early 1980s and maybe even the Milliken thing is really what got you into that.  They do it now.

MHIRSHFIELD:  Later on in some of the financing, it seemed to me they really wanted equity investment as part of that package, is that right?

HIRSHFIELD:  Yeah, what is a banker…say bankers are schizophrenic; they don’t want to give it to you unless you want to give it back and then they don’t want to take it back. (Laughter)  They would like it to be all equity and then they would be some debt in.

MHIRSHFIELD:  And as a result you did a fair amount of equity development for a while.

HIRSHFIELD:  Yeah, and part of that was the risk profile. Rather than give away some of what we might build to somebody else, in order not to take as much risk and some of the risk was just the sheer ability to put together the money. You needed just as much money to build a system.

HILLIARD:  And you had to put it together the best way you could.

HIRSHFIELD:   Yeah and you had to put it together usually pretty quickly because you had to get down the road.

KELLER:  Did you find that the multiple of cash flow value of your subscribers had to do with what the term of your loan was going to be from whatever the banks were, whatever financial institution you were taking it. Were you able to get a five year loan at first and then it was five times cash flow your subscriber was worth and ten years and so on. Did anyone ever find that to be the case?

HIRSHFIELD:  I think that for us it was more what I would call the politics of lending. You get to a point where a bank or an institution is [tape garbled] that institution you’re at risk if you don’t produce and out of that arises a shared community of interest and the way to answer your question, if you need a little more money, if you need a little less amortization, if [tape garbled] do that. So it’s like getting olives out of a jar, once you get the first couple of olives out of [?]. You have more parity. You have the ability to exert some negotiating leverage and make those things happen.

KELLER:  As a banker, how did you look at intangible assets?

HIRSHFIELD:  Oh we didn’t look at them at all. I remember being at a loan committee meeting where one of the big branches had made a cable TV loan. It was a very good loan. It was the people I knew and I thought “Boy, why didn’t they give them twice as much?”  And of course the internal committee, classified the loan internally, why wait for the examiners?  This is a bad loan. So that was really the atmosphere. That was in the mid-1970s.

KELLER:  For so many years we fought for the right to amortize our franchises which were intangible assets.  Took us a long time before we finally got that through the IRS and I’m surprised that the banks didn’t finally realize it.

HEWSON:  When you’re buying cable systems being able to right off your subscriber list.

KELLER:  That too. That’s another intangible asset.

HIRSHFIELD:  Well those were taxes more than lending issues maybe.

HEWSON:  Well, that’s true.

KELLER:  And value, value had to do with that too.

HIRSHFIELD:  But as a bank you had two things:  one you wanted to be paid back. Character capacity collateral right?  Is there a character we can support that has the capacity to pay us back and if they don’t, is there collateral, can we sell the business and realize that? So the only way intangibles would play in is if they created value that you could sell and that ticked off one of those three C’s in bank lending, if you will but they really wanted to know if they would be paid back. The second thing they wanted to know was would it be classified?  Because if the banker thought it was a good loan if the examiners came in and it didn’t meet the various rules and those rules changed each year, it would classify and as a bank, if you had too many classified loans, then your cost to fund would go up, your profitability would go down, the chairman would lose his job so there’s a lot of that going on.

KELLER:  The loan officer first.

HIRSHFIELD:  Yeah, and that’s just like in the big city. That’s a business everywhere. I think it affected us but I think it affected any business.

KELLER:  What other things affected you most in the Northwest during the development of your systems?  What single factors?

[HILLIARD]:  Well, you always have politics and politics is always originated from home. I think the state cable associations were very, very important and we in Montana built a very strong association and assessed ourselves per subscriber basis to run our association and literally put I think our cable TV association for the last 10 years has had over a $100,000 in CDs so that if we ran up against a big major statewide regulatory problem, we could cash a CD, hire a lobbyist and go after them.  In Montana, I can remember we had problems and as an organization we had crazy uniforms, gray pants, blue blazer and a bright red tie and all of us would get up there with our cable television badges and we would buttonhole our representatives and our senators and speak against these different bills for regulatory purposes they were going to regulate us every which way and we’ve been very, very successful in keeping a minimal amount of state regulations on our cable systems. To this day after 10 years, I still think we have over $100,000 in CDs waiting just in case.

HIRSHFIELD:  I hope you have a little more after 10 years. (Laughter)

KELLER:  You could make political contributions?

HILLIARD:  No, we were surprisingly we didn’t.  The one beautiful thing about Montana is Montana legislature only meets every other year and so we didn’t have to be there buying our lobbyist, buying our representatives every year.

KELLER: Not bag ‘em but make contributions to a campaign. You were buying them things.

HILLIARD:  No we have and as of this coming Thursday night in Montana, we have our legislative dinner. The cable television association puts on this dinner. We have all of our reps come in from all the different programmers and we’ll be handing out caps and t-shirts and sweaters and everything else to these guys and they love it.  They love this thing and we’ll put on this big dinner. We’ll buy these people dinner and everything else and as of this last reading of all the bills in front of the legislature, I don’t believe we have any major bills that we have to go up and defend but you know, it’s not a contribution but we do throw this dinner for our legislators.

KELLER:  Both of you two guys were presidents of the Northwest Association, did you ever make…

HIRSHFIELD:  I was not. I was actually president of the Washington but not the Northwest.

KELLER:  Okay.

HEWSON:  See and I was not either. I was…

[?]:  I was.

KELLER:  I know. Did you make political contributions?

[?]:  No.

KELLER:  Not personally but the association?

HEWSON:  No. I don’t think that the…I don’t really know how it worked. I do remember people, politicians coming and saying “Look, you can’t legally make a donation…how about a few rolls of postage stamps?”  I mean that’s pretty, getting down there pretty cheap.  (Laughter) Being with a broadcaster, King did not make political contributions. Individuals could.

KELLER:  Could make contributions otherwise?

HIRSHFIELD: Otherwise but we made contributions otherwise.

KELLER:  Jim did the Washington Association make contributions?

HIRSHFIELD:  The Washington Association for the last decade or more has had a PAC and in fact has made contributions and that PAC is financed by companies and companies can give to state elections but not to federal elections. I’ve personally give money to federal elections. Personally on more than one occasion had the pleasure of having an elected politician call me up and say “Well, Jim I need $150. I need $500.”  What do you do? I mean you send them the money if you value your business. It’s an ugly business when they do that but…

HEWSON:  But they’re not above doing it.

HIRSHFIELD:  Oh, that’s pretty common.

HEWSON:  It’s commonplace.

HIRSHFIELD:  And they never call you Jim before and you’re not sure who they are except you know they sit on this committee or the city council is going to vote on your thing, so you write a check.  You talked about business giving money but as a small businessman you really have no choice if you thought you were going to stay in business.

KELLER:  How did you feel about the FCC preempting the regulations by local city councils?

HIRSHFIELD:  Of rates you’re talking about? We had one city council that sent out a survey to every home in the city to see whether our rates should be raised. Now that’s the kind of regulation we had at the local level.  I thought it was a pretty good idea. We not only had silliness like that where you actually needed a rate, your costs went up, your programming, you’re paying your people more but somebody that they couldn’t get re-elected if they allowed you to have it. A lot of the cities didn’t want to be in the business and we actually in many of our towns, certainly more than half, the franchises didn’t have rate control provisions because the politicians were smart enough of know that they didn’t want to be in that business.

KELLER:  We use to make that point too.

HIRSHFIELD:  But some of the bigger towns, they would get in there, the city of Seattle again, when the rate regulations snuck past, we said “Don’t come after us and make us make a showing because we think our rates are fair and here’s some evidence that says they are.”  They never-the-less made us make a showing with about $100,000 cost to us to make the showing and the showing demonstrated that they would approve a rate that was about $7 a month higher than we were charging. But they would still go through the whole nine yards so taking them out of that business, I think was good for everybody. Certainly for the consumer.

HILLIARD: So how long did you wait before raising your rates under that?

[?]:  A month and a half.

HIRSHFIELD:  Well, we always worried about the marketplace. We always felt that our rates were what the politicians would allow us to charge. Our rates were what we wanted to charge in the marketplace. So we had this translation we had to do. We’d have to decide where we wanted to be and then we’d have to go back into the political process and figure out how to manage them so we could at least be where we wanted to be. What that did was give us about three years’ worth or three or four years’ worth of head room before we had to go back and do something. But as soon as you started to run your business based on what the regulators said, I thought that was a formula for disaster because they were regulators and we were the businessmen. They weren’t the ones that were at risk and had their money invested and had their lives on the line.

MHIRSHFIELD:  You asked about one of the challenges of doing or developing business in the Northwest and Jim’s talking about the franchise process and I looked back to some of the first franchises that we went after and particularly some that we didn’t get and I think there was a frustration in being a smaller system in that there seemed to be a greater level with the big guys and it didn’t correlate to living up to their performance level. In fact, we had the reputation of living up to our franchise agreements and doing the development things in the system within the timeframe whereas some of the bigger conglomerates would slide that and that’s very known in the industry today. That’s that purely a negotiation thing but I think that that was just one of the conditions that you had to work against as a smaller operator.

KELLER:  In the franchising process did any of your communities use a quote consultant unquote.

HEWSON:  Oh yeah. (Laughter)

KELLER:  Tell me about it.

HILLIARD:  We were negotiating in Missoula, Montana and they brought in this quote consultant out of Portland and come to find out his education was in aeronautical engineering.


HILLIARD:  Yeah, that’s guy, Les Page.

KELLER:  You knew him too, huh?

HILLIARD:  Oh, what a winner that guy was. Man, he was just a real pain in the old wazoo. He knew nothing about our industry or anything else. He was just out to raise money for the city.

HEWSON:  Well, saying the city brought in the consultant is sort of backwards. The consultants brought themselves into the city. They would…

HILLIARD: That’s true.

HEWSON:  Anyplace where they had success or whatever, they would broadcast that to all of the cities and ask when is the franchise up for renewal and we can do a good job for you.

HIRSHFIELD:  And I think their message was to give the elected officials deniability. If you vote on this and make an error, that may be your political career. If you have us recommend, even if we’re wrong, your political career is…

JAMES:  And that’s right and what a strong selling point for this cottage industry of consultants to develop was just to that very point. It took the pressure off the city. At the same time the consultant has very little incentive to get this process done efficiently and quickly. Their incentive was to drag it out and that is going on in a bigger and bigger way all over the country now.

KELLER:  Still today?

JAMES:  Oh yeah, it’s been a growing industry.

KELLER:  Did any of you ever deal with the Cable Television Information Center in Washington?

JAMES:  Oh yeah.

KELLER:  Well, you remember that because there was a point when everyone else…

HIRSHFIELD:  Well, not directly. I think they provided some information on some of our things but no. But what’s his name?  Harold Horn?

KELLER:  Harold Horn.  Excuse me.

JAMES:  And nowadays Harold is considered among the more reasonable of the consultants. That’s to give you an idea of the degree that this has just progressed to the point where many cities are of course short of money and they are made to see this as a possible way to, revenue source...

HIRSHFIELD:  Tax source, revenue source.

JAMES:  Not call it a tax of course but get fees for transferring a franchise. Get fees for franchise renewals. Have all these costs paid by the cable operator and of course, it’s just a hidden cost in the end for the consumer but politically it’s very, very nice for the city government to really take this and get a revenue source and take all the responsibly off their shoulders.

HEWSON:  Yeah but, come along satellites now. They don’t, they’re competing with us fiercely, in fact they are becoming the largest – I don’t know why Congress hasn’t recognized it yet. The largest bull in the pasture right now, the satellite companies they don’t pay any franchise fees.

JAMES:  Well they are protected from paying them.

HEWSON:  They are protected from paying them whereas you take a city and the city may put in laws like you pay them a franchise fee supposedly for the use of their rights of way plus they have permits, any time you go underground  a road, they want a building permit fee of some kind, so they may order you to go underground to get those fees. You know it’s, doesn’t seem equitable.

HILLIARD:  Then you’ve got various contractors insurance for these things. Oh yeah.

HEWSON: Right.

HILLIARD:  And you have carrying an ongoing contractor’s insurance if you are going to cut the city streets or anything and then the city gets in there on backfill. You trench all along the street and then they want you go in and put concrete in there and then we say “Well, how are we going to get back in there if we have to dig this up?”  “Well, you’ve got to put in this grade of concrete. It will bust up real easily.”  But you’ve got to build a basin.  They come up with 10,000 different reasons and 10,000 different fees for doing it.

KELLER:  Let’s get into the onerous provisions of franchises. Any of you ever accept any onerous provisions and what were they?

HEWSON:  We bought systems from Gus Hauser, some of which had really onerous provisions in them.

KELLER:  Like what?

HEWSON:  Well, for example, a city would have the right to—they were trying to have the right to reopen a franchise at any time.

KELLER:  To buy it at depreciated value?  

HEWSON:  I think we had that in there somewhere but they could reopen a franchise…

KELLER:  Which makes it a non-franchise…

HEWSON:  A non-franchise. But financially the most difficult part of one of the many franchises we had in the Minnesota area was they wanted a lot of really nice studio gear. They wanted beautiful stuff and then they would complain when we would say, why, because nobody’s watching it. And we’d say, nobody watching it. Well, we need a bigger budget to hire more people to run a better TV station, local TV station, so people would watch it. And then when that would happen, they’d turn around and say, hey, we need more capital dollars to have a big—you know, it was sort of an endless thing and we came and put a stop to that pretty shortly.

HILLIARD:  I just went in and talked to the city attorney in Missoula. We were up for renewal on ours and he said, well, our public access channel is looking for new space and more room and we’re going to need a lot more equipment and everything else. So maybe you can give some thought to that before we start meeting. So they have not gone away. The onerous threats or everything are still there and I'll be looking at that this next year. Our negotiations in Missoula, to take care of it. Of course, they give the entire 5% franchise fee to the city and the city turns around and gives it to the access channel and one-half of all that money goes to the manager for salary. The manager takes a bigger salary home than I take out of my own company.

HILLIARD:  That’s the American way…[crosstalk]

KELLER:  Jim, you said you wouldn’t accept any onerous provisions?

HIRSHFIELD:  We worked really hard just not to do that. And on renewals, you can do that. I was talking to Bob. I think we were 7 or 8 years operating on a franchise that had expired by date, but the county—King County, Washington, in this case—was still allowing us to operate and therefore we had a franchise by federal law. Because they wanted us to do a lot of things that were silly. Essentially they wanted to browbeat us, the small operator, into agreeing with terms that they could then take to AT&T, the large operator, and make AT&T go along with it. But we did agree on a couple. I was thinking of in Port Townsend. In Port Townsend, we renewed our franchise. Port Townsend, Washington. About four years ago, and the city in addition to all the franchise taxes, had a 45 cent customer. I think it started at a dollar and we got them down to 45 cents a customer local origination fee.

KELLER:  Could you pass that on?

HIRSHFIELD:  We added that on and we added it on as a line item. We also got in the franchise that they were required to spend it on the studio operation, that they couldn’t just amass it. But of course what happened two to three years into this, they hadn’t spent any of it. And so we were then faced with somehow trying to go and make the city that regulated our every move comply with their own document or simply ignoring it. That’s difficult to do. The other wrinkle there was more of our customers were in the county than in the city so the county came and said, well, we want you to redo our franchise to be the same as the city’s. And we said, well, this franchise has twelve years to go; why would we want to do that? And I think that discussion went on for two years. Usually “why would we want to do that?”  is an invitation to tell us something. There were a lot of things they could have done that probably would have helped us. But we almost had these people in another world of non-belief, if you will.

KELLER:  Bob, can you get into the rationale for franchising, for franchises?

JAMES:  I think the rationale was and is that the cable companies using the public rights of way and the city has to regulate those rights of way. And the city extends that to say that they should be paid for the rights of way. So with cable and with telephone and with the new competitive telecommunications carriers, the cities are looking very much at this as a revenue source. But the early cable franchising and some of the provisions that the cities were requiring and getting led to the federal law that imposed a 5% franchise fee limitation. And that’s 5% on gross which of course, as you all know, is a pretty hefty number. But because the cities are strapped for cash, there is an effort more so now than ever to share in the business.

BLISS:  They don’t want to raise taxes so they go around it and raise taxes on it.

JAMES:  And cable is one of the many industries where the cities are looking for revenue; it’s not a direct tax, it's an indirect tax, but it leads to things like provisions in franchises that say, if you transfer this franchise, you will pay the city $250,000 as a fee, which we may argue is illegal, but when that’s part of a transaction, companies end up agreeing to those kinds of things. So the city ends up with some money but the attitude for many of the consultants is “we want to be in your business. And share in your business.” Not in terms of regulating it or taking care of the rights of way, but as a revenue source for the city.

HILLIARD:  Share the wealth.

MHIRSHFIELD:  What kind of percentage on a monthly bill do you think are these fees?

HIRSHFIELD:  In Seattle, the 5% cap notwithstanding, we paid 13% of our gross to the city because they had constructed various arguments and if we didn’t buy the arguments, we wouldn’t have a franchise. They have a lot of power. So on a $30 cable bill right there, that’s $4.00 a month that’s just taxes.

HEWSON:  You had a franchise tax plus a utility tax?

HIRSHFIELD:  I can't even remember all the pieces. Lots of different things

JAMES:  Origination fees and things like that that were not classified as franchise fees but fees to support the access studios like you were talking about. In my cable bill at home I think I'm paying I think it's something like $9.00 in fees on about a $60.00 bill and this is going to the city.

HEWSON:  As I recall, one small franchise, one of the requirements for the franchise was that we not itemize.


HIRSHFIELD:  Even though federal law allowed you to do that.

JAMES:  That’s still an issue in many cities. We write letters constantly to the cities saying—

BLISS:  Can't do it.

JAMES:  The company’s allowed to itemize and show the consumer how they are being taxed.

HIRSHFIELD:  We had one city councilman once started calling us and say, I don’t want you to itemize it. And we sent him your letter and he said, I don’t care what the law is. I don’t want you to itemize it. He was head of the cable committee and he felt exposed.

HILLIARD:  The thing of it is, none of them want to follow the laws if it’s not to their advantage. But the minute the law is to their advantage, they insist upon it being upheld to the last…

JAMES:  Of course, that’s a good approach to business…we like that.

HILLIARD:  The whole point is they can twist and ignore the law so much. I'm dealing with a re-franchising of a military base. So I get the military franchise and send it to my lawyer in Washington, D.C., and I end up with the expert there and the young lady goes through there and says, you know, this is illegal, this is illegal, this is illegal. You’ve got to do this for the FCC and everything else. And all of a sudden, this thing has come to a screeching halt because they don’t want to comply with the FCC rules. They want to do it their way with the Air Force. So I can't get them to even communicate with the Pentagon to find out if our request to meet the FCC rules are acceptable by the Air Force.

HIRSHFIELD:  Are they exempt, being a federal body?

HILLIARD:  They’re not exempt but…

HIRSHFIELD:  They just think they are.

HILLIARD:  They just think they are and they're going to sit on this thing until they get their way. And how do you get them to move beyond that point? That’s my question to you, my current problem, Bob. We’ll talk about that tonight.

HEWSON:  The point of all this, I think, Jim, is that over the last 20 or 30 years, there has been an awful lot of brainpower wasted dealing with interventionist local and state and federal government applying rules where they have no knowledge or very little knowledge or occasionally, I suppose, too much knowledge. And think of where the industry would be without having to take the top people within various companies to contend with these things, endlessly.

HILLIARD:  This is one of the reasons that it's like having anemia or worse, leukemia. This is one of the reasons that you really would like to have all under one federal rule so it applies to everybody and just tell the cities you cannot do this period. At this stage, you cannot do this. Period.

HIRSHFIELD:  I have a big problem with that when we get to political philosophy because everybody that wants it under one rule thinks that that rule will be equitable and appropriate.

HILLIARD:  That’s true, that’s true.

HIRSHFIELD:  But there's no guarantee of that.

HILLIARD:  I'm probably mistaken there, too.

JAMES:  But in the end you wonder, and I think the point you made is a good one, that in the end, all these rules are supposed to benefit the consumer, the public. And they really don’t. They’ve retarded the development of the industry, they’ve cost the consumer and the cable industry has been singled out for financial support for different causes within the city governments or whatever it is, that these other competing industries don’t have and are able to avoid, like the direct satellite people, like other kinds of communications companies…

?:  MMDS.

JAMES:  That’s really the part that is so frustrating is that the industry has really been looked at as a source of revenue and other things for the cities as opposed to a business that’s out there competing.

KELLER:  I want to end this thing on competition. The general category of competition. Starting with number one: have any of you faced competition from telephone companies in your systems? So there's no sense getting into that if you haven’t.

Would you please give us, Roy, a background of the development of satellites in delivering television signals?

BLISS:  Certainly. The early satellite dishes, as we talked about earlier, the big ten-meter jobs, the first ones cost over $100,000, $125,000. That was in the late 70s when satellite first started. I did a whole bunch of calculations trying to figure out how many cable systems could afford a $100,000 satellite dish and came to the conclusion that there weren’t enough cable systems that could afford $100,000 satellite dish to get into the satellite business. But the price of that dish rapidly started coming down and the size of the dish started coming down. Satellites got more powerful, satellites in the sky were more powerful and there was a lot of work done by backyard electricians and technicians really worked hard at reducing the cost of that. I forgot we came down to about a 15-foot dish within two years maybe, like by 1979, we were down to a 15-foot dish and $15,000. And now we know from DirectTV or Echostar you can get a $300 dish and receiver, which will pick up 300 channels. I mean that just dramatically changed the distribution of product, entertainment and data, all kinds of data.

JAMES:  And particularly to the consumers which—you serve consumers directly with your…

BLISS:  We started with the big dishes and when we started WGN, it was just when the 15-foot size dishes were starting to be built. Obviously almost any cable system can afford a $15,000 dish. That just made the satellite business go like this. And helped all of cable. It's a self-perpetuating wheel. The more customers, the more services you can put on. The more services, the more customers and it just gets like a flywheel. Our backyard dish business: we were maybe the first company that kind of bit the bullet and said, we don’t know who has to pay copyright fees, but we’re going to serve these backyard dish guys with descramblers. And we charged people with their own dish—individuals, what DirectTV is now doing. But they were 10-foot dishes at the time. I was surprised to learn that even in the mid-80s, thousands and thousands of people who had their own dish and were willing to pay what cable subscribers were paying—actually there were a lot of them who didn’t want to pay…who wanted it free. And when we scrambled our signal and started charging for it, they would send us packages full of coins, $15.00 worth of pennies and stuff like that. And we got a few bomb threats. I mean, that really changed the business dramatically.

KELLER:  How do you think DirectTV is going to affect your business in the smaller systems within the next ten years? Jim, can you start that one?

HIRSHFIELD:  That probably was one of the major reasons I thought it was time to retire. The economics are for each channel you add to a small cable system, you have to put a certain amount of money—probably $3,000 per channel per cable system in your headend. If you only have 100 or 200 customers on that cable system, can you put another 10 or 20 channels on that cable system; at some point when you do that math, you just come to the point where you simply can't do it. Those people are going to get their product by satellite. So as the math changes, as the satellite gets cheaper, the size of the system that can't compete gets larger. I think that’s a big issue. I think we’re seeing that all around the country, but one of the caveats is that right now, the satellite is pretty heavily subsidized. If you look at the two major satellite vendors, they're losing a significant amount of money. If they sell to somebody else—and there’s been a bit of that in the news—then a new buyer will often spend another two or three years worth of losing money because they pay so much for something that they’ll keep building it. So at what point will the subsidization of a satellite receiver customer stop so that we’re actually competing head to head. There’s no subsidization of cable. In fact, we’ve been talking about how it goes the other way. We’re paying lots of taxes and fees.

BLISS:  The subsidization you're talking about is that they're selling you $200 worth of stuff that costs them $500.

HIRSHFIELD:  Thank you, exactly.

?:  Loss leader.

KELLER:  Then you don’t think there’s any future in a small cable system?

HIRSHFIELD:  Well, I think it depends on a lot of things. We've talked about a lot of things today. Where regulation goes. Where the economics of satellite dish goes. Where their programming costs go. I think they’ve had some favorable deals on programming costs. You know more about this than me, but I think we’re in the period where those are ending. So the economics I was just playing with can change. But right now they're pretty unfavorable.

KELLER:  Ed, how about you? You had the small system out on the coast.

HEWSON:  I still have a small system with about 3,300 customers. And yes, I don’t think the DBS guys are fair. What is it, DSS? I don’t really think they should be able to merge and become bigger and bigger. I know that Rupert Murdoch’s Newscorp gets to buy General Motors, the Hughes bit, puts that together, he has, I believe, the April “Economist” of 1999 shows that almost every corporation he owns runs through 65 different offshore tax-exempt…why should we, the United States, where’s our benefit to let somebody like that control something where they're not paying taxes? I think, on the other hand, that if you keep giving more and more—sometimes it's rendering because some of the programming’s terrible—programming to your customers, you're going to end up paying an awful lot in programming fees. When you look at market share, rating points of the different things that are on the satellite versus what we have on our cable system with maybe 60 channels on ours, I think you get up to about 97, 98% of all the viewing is already on our cable system. If you're on DSS, to have anything comparable to ours. In Ocean Shores, for example, it’s $31.95 plus $5.95 for five local channels. So the people are at $36-37 bucks a month. The problem is once they sign an agreement that they will stay on service for a year, they give a card to somebody and they will charge you back, the satellite customer back if they don’t stay on for a year. So you have to try and capture them back from the freebie, they all think they have a freebie. But nobody really wants to watch—I don’t know if it's on the satellite—the Appalachian Educational Network, you know. Or an awful lot of things that nobody here’s heard about but they count as part of that. Right now we’re hanging in there. We think that the high-speed access, what we provide to our customers at every home in America someday, will be on the Internet. They will have to be on the Internet and we’re going to provide a much better service than the satellite guys can.

KELLER:  Do you think that’s the future savior of the cable system?

HEWSON:  Who knows if it's the savior, but to me it's almost more positive having somebody who is a high-speed access customer or maybe i-net, $20 bucks a month or cash flow, $20 bucks a month versus having that as a cable customer. If I can have both, fine. I can make a darn good living just having them as an Internet customer.

BLISS:  I think broadband is the answer.

HEWSON:  We even have the city of Ocean Shores, for example, is our customer. All of Ocean Shores is on our Internet.

KELLER:  Les, what's your reaction?

HILLIARD:  I have to agree with Hack here on this that cable and the video presentation that we do today with our analog and then in the future with digital through hits is fine. It gives you your base. But I see the Internet as being the future of where the cable industry will go. It sounds crazy but we have a cable modem in our home and my son has a cable modem in his home in Topeka, Kansas, and we have cameras on top of the computer there. And we sit and look at each other and talk to each other for a base fee of $39.95. We can talk, have videophones, for an hour, two hours at a night. Every night of the week.

KELLER:  Are you both on a cable system?

HILLAIRD:  Both on cable modems. And it works out just beautifully. I think this is what's going to be coming in cable. This is why your upstream capacity has to be as big as your downstream capacity—

BLISS:  And that’s what satellite can't do that? Never, ever.

HILLIARD:  So this is the future. Then I believe—this is just a theory of mine—that video streaming is going to start and you see them talking about someone experimenting with it. And I think we’re going to reach the point where if you want to watch the Super Bowl, you'll have to pay “X” amount of money and they’ll sell advertising on that thing but you’ll have to buy the Super Bowl and you’ll get it through video streaming through the Internet into your home. Then all of a sudden, more and more of the sports programming will be this way. If my brother wants to watch the University of Nebraska get beat by Oklahoma, he's going to have to pay for it. [Laughter]

Anyway, the whole future, I believe, is going to go into digital video streaming and two-way video phones and basically the telephone of the future is right here.

HIRSHFIELD:  A bit smaller than that…

HILLIARD:  I’ve got an old big one. But the point I'm getting at is this is telephone. Cable will be video phones over the Internet.

HIRSHFIELD:  I think the question for the millennium is will the government regulator, those people, kill this new goose that might lay a golden egg or impair it to the degree they impaired the cable TV industry in the last 25 years? That’s the big unknown going forward.

HILLIARD:  I don’t think we've got the one competitor out there. We don’t have the broadcast industry trying to kill us all along the way, and the movie industry, they want to go to where they distribute their own product directly to the consumer. The fastest way they can do that is through the Internet. And they can eliminate all the different networks, eliminate the middleman.

HIRSHFIELD:  Well, those are all true, but when Ed renews his franchise in Ocean Shores, is the city going to say, we’re not going to pay anymore for this service because that’s part of the franchise? Those are the kinds of things that could hurt him.

HEWSON:  Fortunately we have a perpetual franchise.

HIRSHFIELD:  How did you get that?

HEWSON:  A letter, one-page letter of agreement.

KELLER:  He has a smart city.

Mary, do you have a feeling on that, about the future?

HIRSHFIELD:  I think it looks good for high-speed connectivity. I agree; I think that is the one possibility for cable going forward. As Les said, I think the difference is that radio and TV communications seem to be viewed in our society as a right. Whereas phone has not been. Phone has always been something that you’ve paid for. So I think in terms of the regulatory aspect, it's not to say it won't raise its ugly head in one way or another. But the high-speed connectivity is not viewed as a right so I see less of an onus for the degree of regulation that way.

KELLER:  Your feelings, Roy?

BLISS:  I agree with everybody here. I think the technology of satellite works really, really well for point to multi-point distribution. One up covers the whole United States. Cable television and telephone on the ground is point to multi-point so you could go back and forth in two way. It is possible that we’ll get all of our entertainment off the satellite. Or the mass entertainment at least off the satellite because it works so well that way and do all of our Internet exchange by high-speed cable lines.

KELLER:  You have a feel for that, Bob?

JAMES:  I'm much more of an observer of all this but I agree with what's been said here. I think that the idea of the cable modem which I've seen—if nothing else comes along that’s better, it's just incredible. I think you're right. What Mary said was that it is something that people expect to pay for whereas television was something that was coming in free. And people still don’t want to be paying even when these are networks are selling programming to the cable operators. So I think it is really a very promising future.

KELLER:  I want to wrap this up right now and I want to thank you, Ed Hewson, appreciate it very much. Les Hilliard, Jim Hirshfield, Roy. Thank you very much, Bob James and the master Hirshfield. Thank you very much. I appreciate it very much. I think it's been informative, it will go down in the archives as something that really will be appreciated for people in the future to see and hear some of the people that made this industry work. Appreciate it very much.

ALL:  Thank you.


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Jim Duratz


Interview Date: August 3, 2001
Interviewer: Jim Keller
Collection: Hauser Collection

KELLER: This is the oral history of James J. Duratz for 30 years the general manager of the Meadville Master Antenna system in Meadville, Pennsylvania. Jim is also a cable television pioneer, both with the capital "P" and with a small "p", and is a founder - it is an honorary title held by Jim - in the Pennsylvania Cable and Telecommunications Association. Jim is in his tenure at Meadville Master Antenna, Inc., was the early developer of many things, including an extensive local programming operation from a local cable standpoint. The date is August 3, 2001. The place is Gettysburg, Pennsylvania at the annual meeting of the Pennsylvania Cable and Telecommunications Association's Heritage Society meeting. Welcome, Jim.

DURATZ: Thank you.

KELLER: Jim, to start off with, tell us a little bit about your background prior to getting into cable television.

DURATZ: Right from the beginning?

KELLER: Right from the beginning. Once you got out of service.

DURATZ: When I got out of the service – I had four years in the service...

KELLER: Infantry man, is that right?

DURATZ: Yes, in the infantry, I served in the South Pacific and Germany, but after I got out of the service, it's something I wanted to do all my life, and that was to be a Pennsylvania state policeman. And I did that. And I was very proud to have been one, but after I was there for awhile, I decided I didn't want to make that my career. I went through the academy, and I guess that satisfied me more than anything. But I can say that that probably was what eventually got me into cable television. It's hard to imagine that, but it's true.

KELLER: Yeah, how?

DURATZ: Because I was stationed in Greensburg, Pennsylvania, which was a Squadron One headquarters, and from Greensburg I was transferred to Erie, and that was Troop E of the Pennsylvania state police, and Meadville was a substation of Troop E. They had 5 substations and Erie was the headquarters. There were 9 of us, and alphabetically I was first, and they needed somebody to go to Meadville to replace the guy who was going on vacation, so that was me. When I went there everybody said, "You'd better hope you don't go to Meadville. That's a really tough place." And it turned out that I liked it. It was a lot of work.

KELLER: You like anything that's tough, huh?

DURATZ: Yeah. And I enjoyed it, but at the end of 30 days, I went back to Erie and the first sergeant said to me, "Well, Duratz, how'd you like Meadville?" I said, "I'd go back anytime, Sarge." He said, "Well, don't unpack." Same day right back to Meadville. I never went to another substation. I stayed there.

KELLER: For how long?

DURATZ: I was there for two years, and there was a little college in Meadville called Alleghany College and every time I drove by that I thought now that's where I should be. So I resigned at Meadville and went to college. But in the meantime, I had met Helene.

KELLER: You met her while you were still a state trooper?


KELLER: Helene being Helene Barco Duratz.

DURATZ: That's right. She was George Barco's daughter and Yolanda's sister. Their house was next door to the barracks.

KELLER: For the record, these are names that are legendary in cable television in the state of Pennsylvania, and as a matter of fact, nationally, because both of them were very much involved in the National Cable Television Association also. I just wanted to bring that in as a reference, Jim.

DURATZ: Well, this was in 1950, I guess. This was before cable, before they even had the cable in Meadville. So, I decided I was going to resign and go to college and I did. There were a lot of things happening during the college time, but...

KELLER: You didn't get in trouble, did you?

DURATZ: Pardon me?

KELLER: You didn't get in trouble, did you?

DURATZ: Yeah, a couple times.

KELLER: Okay. I won't go into it, but knowing you I imagined you'd get in trouble.

DURATZ: I kept myself busy. But anyway, in the meantime I had started dating Helene and we got pretty serious. I don't think George liked the idea of my not having a college education, so I sort of vowed to myself that I wouldn't get married until I'd finished college. So I did it in 2 ½ years because I never stopped, I went straight through, finished about the 8th or 9th of July, and we got married on the 28th. Actually, I went to work at Westinghouse in Pittsburgh after I got out of college.

KELLER: Still living in Meadville, though, is that right?


KELLER: You moved?

DURATZ: We moved to Pittsburgh, and of course every weekend it was a trip back to Meadville, but then they started this cable television business.

KELLER: Were you involved in it from the beginning?



DURATZ: No. Well, no I wasn't really.

KELLER: In the concept stage, though, were you? In family discussions and things like that?

DURATZ: Yes, that type of thing, but I was still working with Westinghouse, and it got to a point where...

KELLER: What was Barco's thinking about the development of cable in Meadville?

DURATZ: Oh, that's an interesting story.

KELLER: Please tell it.

DURATZ: George and Yolanda used to go to New York City every summer for continuing education classes for the legal profession, and one year they went to New York, and when they checked into the hotel they said to George...

KELLER: They were both attorneys, that's correct?

DURATZ: They were both attorneys. In fact, Helene would go with them occasionally, but she wasn't with them on this trip.

KELLER: She was a paralegal in their office, is that correct?

DURATZ: Yes. George, when he was checking in, they asked him if we wouldn't like to have a television in his room because it was $2 extra for the television. He'd never seen television before, so he said yeah, he'd like to see it.

KELLER: What year was this?

DURATZ: Oh, it must have been, I would guess, like 1952, something like that.

KELLER: Early '50s.

DURATZ: '51 or '52, because it started developing shortly after the time of this story I'm going to tell you. So, when he got home from the class, got to the hotel from the class that first day, he couldn't wait to turn the television on, and when he turned it on it didn't work.

KELLER: At the hotel in New York?

DURATZ: At the hotel. It didn't work. Now, he was paying two bucks to get television, and he wanted to see it. So, he calls the desk and the next thing you know they had people in his room trying to find out what the trouble is, and to make a long story short, the next day – it was an RCA system – he had the president of RCA in his room trying to explain to him why it wasn't working. And then they finally got it to work and he saw television. So, during that discussion, he asked this fellow who was in the room with him, if this can work in a hotel, why can't it work in the town?

KELLER: And was Meadville getting any signal at all at that time?

DURATZ: No, nothing, nothing.

KELLER: There was no television in Meadville at all.

DURATZ: Well, up on the hills you could get... there was one station in Erie and as a matter of fact, Pittsburgh only had one, it was a Dumont Channel 3 in Pittsburgh.


DURATZ: I don't know. I don't remember that. It's now Channel 2, KDKA, but that was the only station in Pittsburgh, and Erie only had one, it was an NBC that Erie had. And Cleveland, I think, had two at the time. They could get a signal on the hilltops, but you could get nothing downtown, and so the guy told him, "Well, a matter of fact, there's a fellow in Pennsylvania who is starting to do this kind of thing for communities. His name is Milton Shapp, and it's Jerrold Electronics." The next week when he got back, he was in Philadelphia meeting with Jerrold, with Milt Shapp, and that's how it developed, that was early in 1952 and by July '53 Meadville had a system.

KELLER: There's a question, though, in my mind about that, and I think it's of interest: Jerrold was developing cable television in Pennsylvania and elsewhere. They would provide financing, manufacturer's financing, for the development of systems, but they would always take a percentage interest in those systems. Did that happen in Meadville?

DURATZ: No, George didn't do that.

KELLER: I was wondering why he didn't do that. That's the question.

DURATZ: No, he saw right away that that wasn't the best way to go.

KELLER: A lot of people felt that way after awhile.

DURATZ: It's interesting too, because one of his clients was a doctor, Dr. Winslow, and knowing George could talk somebody into anything, he talked Dr. Winslow to go with him as part of the corporation...

KELLER: As an equity partner?

DURATZ: ...because he was also president of the bank, and he was also president of the telephone company. So, you know, you had to attach to the poles, and you had to get the money. So, he had this guy who could provide that.

KELLER: So he had the local bank finance the system, then, is that correct?

DURATZ: Right.

KELLER: And how much of his own money did he put into it?

DURATZ: Well, I don't remember what that was, but anyway, after they started building the system it started to cost more than they had thought, and the doctor said to George, "I'd better get out. It's too much money." And so George had to take care of him, and that's how George became the sole owner.

KELLER: And so he bought the doctor out, or did he buy the bank out, at that time?

DURATZ: Well, he just took over the responsibilities of the bank loan, and then Yolanda was already involved in it too, but it was then just the two of them. In fact, Yolanda was the first general manager, and that's where I start coming into the picture. I had a nice job with Westinghouse. I really didn't want to leave Westinghouse, but it got to a point where I saw that Helene wanted to move back to Meadville and...

KELLER: What were you doing for Westinghouse?

DURATZ: I was kind of a troubleshooter when there was a problem. For example there was a problem with the iron, the Westinghouse iron, and I had to go investigate it and bring the problem back. The problem was the handle on the arm; that was the problem. I had to find this lady and find out what the problem was, and it was a little parting line that was bothering her fingers.

KELLER: So you were on the retail level?

DURATZ: Right. But I worked in East Pittsburgh where all of this was manufactured, and I'd just go out and find out what the problem was and then come back and get together with the engineers and try to correct the problem. And I enjoyed it. I covered all the Westinghouse plants, I guess, east of the Mississippi.

KELLER: So, George talked you into then... George and Helene talked you into going back to Meadville, huh?

DURATZ: Well, yeah. We came home one weekend and we were talking about it as a family, and I thought about it a little bit, and I thought, let's give it a shot.

KELLER: You weren't really confident, though, that this idea was going to work?

DURATZ: No, no, no, that was like digging an oil well, or a gold mine.

KELLER: What year was this?

DURATZ: That was in 1958, and I think they had around 9,000 subscribers at the time.

KELLER: They already had 9,000!

DURATZ: It's interesting, and I tell people this story: we started with three channels, and when they started the three channels it was more excitement than anything that had ever happened in Meadville. When we went to 20 channels nobody got too excited about it, but those three channels...

KELLER: Tell me about the excitement.

DURATZ: Because they had nothing!

KELLER: And how did the excitement manifest itself?

DURATZ: Well, they leased an auditorium from the Catholic school, and they had the dealers bring their television sets in, and they had them on display, and in fact, the dealers had promotions going, it was $125 to get connected and $3.50 a month for three channels.

KELLER: By this time, though, the dealers weren't able to sell any televisions in Meadville?

DURATZ: No. As a matter of fact, some of them had to call other places to get television sets. They didn't have any, because they couldn't sell them. They were selling a few, but not too many.

KELLER: So they were big backers, then?

DURATZ: They started promoting it and said, "Well, we'll pay for the $125 if you buy a television set, we'll pay..." They did a promotion together with the cable company and their store. Well, it went crazy. They had lines of people just signing up.

KELLER: You weren't involved at this time, though?

DURATZ: Well, by then I was helping them. I wasn't really officially working then, but I was helping them. I see advertised where the cable companies are buying back dishes. We were buying back antennas.

KELLER: Antennas, right.

DURATZ: Tons of them! We kept the scrap yards, we kept their bins full with antennas and pipes that were holding antennas up.

KELLER: Would you trade the whole $125 for an antenna, or only a portion of it?

DURATZ: Oh, we'd do the whole thing, and we'd take them down. In fact, taking them down got to be more expensive than anything, because some of them were pretty high, but we had bucket trucks and ladder trucks, and we got them down. It worked. All of the sudden, you'd see the house tops looking better, and the whole town started looking better. We'd promoted that appearance thing, too.

KELLER: So, how many homes did they pass when they had 9,000 subscribers, and what was your penetration rate?

DURATZ: You know, Jim, we didn't think about that. I couldn't tell you. Nobody thought about going and counting the houses because in fact we'd build down the street and sell that street.

KELLER: Collect the money and then do the same thing.

DURATZ: So we could get the money to build the next street. Once it got started, and then when I came to the company, we really started promoting it, and I would go out and I'd go down the street and knock on the doors and tell them we're coming down, pass little pamphlets out, and it worked.

KELLER: You probably got, what? Eight out of ten as you went down the street?

DURATZ: Oh, yeah. Especially in the low part of town. Jim, I had people offering me money under the table to get ahead in line, and I wouldn't do that, of course.

KELLER: No, of course you wouldn't do that, unless they were your friend.

DURATZ: Well, a lot of them were your friends – "Come on, you've got to do something", but there was so much excitement about those three channels, and that always interested me.

KELLER: And they were the three networks?

DURATZ: Yes. One out of Erie, one out of Pittsburgh, and one out of Cleveland, the three networks, and that was it. In fact, if you remember, you had to go 2, 4, and 6. You couldn't put adjacent channels in because they'd interfere with each other.

KELLER: And you weren't using broadband amplifiers, then, in the early days?

DURATZ: Strip.

KELLER: Strip?

DURATZ: One amplifier for each channel.

KELLER: A strip for each channel in each amplifier location.

DURATZ: And they had no filters on them, so you couldn't put them together. The first broadband amplifier was five channels. That was it.

KELLER: So you were using the Jerrold strips, then, at each amplifier location.

DURATZ: Yes. Meadville was always Jerrold, until later on when... Bruce Merrill's company...

KELLER: Ameco.

DURATZ: Ameco! We used some of his later on, and some Scientific Atlanta, once we started expanding out.

KELLER: Did you ever use CCOR, though, another Pennsylvania company?

DURATZ: Yes. As a matter of fact, just before we sold, we were designing the rebuild of the whole system and that would have been CCOR.

KELLER: Were you doing the engineering also, for the system?

DURATZ: Pretty much so, but our chief engineer, who was really the designer, and we worked together on it, and that was Wes Kuebel. You want to get him one of these days.

KELLER: To do one of these?


KELLER: Great! When did you go from three channels to, what was your next step, five?

DURATZ: The next step was five.

KELLER: And you went to broadband amplifiers then?

DURATZ: Let's see, we started in '53. It was a couple of years at three channels. But that didn't stay very long because, as they say, that was the broadband amplifier then, but by then things had geared up in the manufacturing. That was another thing about George Barco; in fact, every time Milt Shapp would see me he'd say, "Keep George away from me because all he wants is more channels." Every time we'd see him!

KELLER: Well, Shapp and his people didn't believe that the broadband amplifiers would work in the early days, isn't that right?

DURATZ: No, no, as a matter of fact...

KELLER: Isn't that true?

DURATZ: Well, it was interesting that most of the development that Jerrold created was field tested by operators. When we'd get something you never knew if it was going to work. You'd just have to put it out in the field and try it and make adjustments. When we went from 12 channels to...

KELLER: No, from three...

DURATZ: From three to five, and then five to 12.

KELLER: You had the two amplifiers though, at that point, a high-band and a low-band amplifier.

DURATZ: Right. And also, they were put in galvanized boxes. They weren't in the housing themselves, you had to put the amplifier in a galvanized box and that was a pretty difficult installation on a pole and it took a lot of space on the pole to put the box on. But anyway, I think it was when we went to the 12 channels, 12-channels tube was next, then it was 12-channels transistors, and then when that 12-channel transistor came about, I think by the time we started putting them up, they weren't working well. Jerrold finally sent a young fellow from Philadelphia to Meadville; he was there for six months making the modifications. I think there were something like 30 modifications on the amplifiers.

KELLER: Wasn't the original transistor, didn't it have transistors only on the input and tubes on the output?

DURATZ: That's when, yeah, when it first started, right.

KELLER: Jerrold had that type of amplifier also.

DURATZ: But that's how... I guess that's why they call us pioneers, because we really were.

KELLER: You were. Without question.

DURATZ: Actually... we didn't complain about having to modify them; we knew that what we were doing was going in the right direction, and sometimes became a challenge to make something work. Even back then, Jim, you know, we had to design our own antennas, and I can remember Jack Beaver from Jerrold, who was an antenna man, he'd send you a drawing and say that's what it should be.

KELLER: Stack 'em and make sure you've got 'em in the distance.

DURATZ: Four stack or eight stack, it just...

KELLER: The reason I like to go into this in detail is that some years, 50 years down the pike or whatever it's going to be, somebody's going to be looking at this interview, never having heard of cable television except what they see on their television set, have no idea of how this began, and you guys that were in developmental phase...

DURATZ: What you're saying now reminds me of a story that later in our years, a young fellow who met me at a social event was complaining about how bad television was, and it just didn't work, and I said, "You know, the trouble with you, you forget about what it was like when you had an antenna." And he said, "Jim, I never had an antenna."

KELLER: That's right.

DURATZ: So, that made me wake up and say we're really into a generation that really never saw television from an antenna, and now we're in dishes.

KELLER: But the fact that we're having these interview in the archive is going to be for future use by people doing books, and scholars, and things like that.

DURATZ: Well, there are a lot of pictures around that we've got to start putting these pictures into some kind of a form to show... you know, we took pictures of the antennas when we built them. Our Channel 2 from Meadville were two channel two wave lengths – two big screens that weighed about a ton a piece they had to hang on the pole. That was a big project. Now we have a nice picture of that, as a matter of fact.

KELLER: Well, I hope these pictures will someday find their way into the archives at The Center.

DURATZ: Right. I think that's kind of something that has to be done, so people can see what we had to do.

KELLER: Jim, I don't want to go into great technical detail, but I do have a big question. George Barco was always a firm advocate of the cable system only as a master antenna system, to receive signals, for whatever reason, and I thought it was for copyright purposes and others, but yet you were the first ones to develop, really, or one of the very first ones, to develop an extensive programming on the local level. Is this a dichotomy, or what happened that made this work? Because he was always opposed to any kind of local programming.

DURATZ: Well, first, I think the reason he was opposed – he had a terrific legal mind, he had no technical mind at all about how things worked, but legally he was very good at it, and I think he worried about copyright rights in the beginning.

KELLER: I think he did too.

DURATZ: And he felt very strongly about that, and later on he was part of that copyright settlement, and it was a thing that bothered him. But the reason we initially got involved with cablecasting, we called it then, is that he wanted it for education. He felt very strongly...

KELLER: In what way? The local schools, or bringing other programming in, or what?

DURATZ: To be able, I guess, the legal education stuff that he was doing, he thought that there was an opportunity - they had to go to New York City - he said, "Why can't we get a tape and show it in Meadville?" But it never developed, Jim. Even the schools won't... he said, "Well, let's try it with the schools." We tried everything to get education into the cable.

KELLER: In the meantime, you made quite an expenditure in buying all of this equipment for the studios. You had to have $50,000 or more involved in it, maybe $100,000.

DURATZ: Right. In fact, one of the reasons we built the building, we built a building just for the cable company for the offices and for the service department, but on the second floor we built a studio, a television studio, that was really, at that time, better than any studio that the television stations had in our area. In fact, one of the engineers from one of the stations...

KELLER: When you say your area, what do you mean?

DURATZ: In Erie, the Erie television area.

KELLER: The Erie area, okay.

DURATZ: One of the fellas from one of the stations in Erie, the UHF station, was a good friend of mine, and he helped a lot. In fact, we bought a lot of their used black and white equipment, because we started with black and white, no color.

KELLER: The big huge cameras, and the film chains, the big film chains...

DURATZ: And the tape machines are two-inch machines, and heavy, you couldn't move them around to well. But it was quite... in fact, Jim Strickler's still around. He was the first manager of the programming, and we're going to do a little session with him, too, because he started it.

KELLER: Now had you viewed local programming in any other system at the time you got into it?


KELLER: There were very few, I know, going on, if any at all.

DURATZ: We had heard about it, but we just knew we could do it. I had a pretty good relationship with a couple of the Erie stations, and we talked about it a lot, and at first even they thought it wouldn't be a bad idea to get some coverage of some kind in your own little town. The town itself couldn't support a television station, so it was not a moneymaker, in fact, we lost money for a long time with it. But that wasn't his concern.

KELLER: When did you start selling spots, or start selling programming?

DURATZ: Never did.

KELLER: Never did?

DURATZ: Never did.

KELLER: You had to lose then.

DURATZ: Yeah. We never did.

KELLER: They're not today? They're not selling ads?

DURATZ: They are now. A lot of the automatic stuff now. We didn't have that. Remember the weather station that had the camera that went like this?


DURATZ: That pretty much gave us the idea that if you stood in front of that camera, people could see you. In fact, that just reminded me, Jim Strickler and I... he worked for the radio station. He was a school teacher, and then became manager of the radio station, and then he worked for the power company and that's how I got to know him. And I was talking to him one day about it. Moab, Utah – he and I flew out to Moab, Utah, because we heard about this guy...

KELLER: What was the name of the guy that designed it? I know it...

DURATZ: Ed... Oh, I know his name, I just can't think of it right now.

KELLER: I can't remember it either right now.

DURATZ: But he has since passed away, but he had a man doing news.

KELLER: Automation, wasn't it?

DURATZ: And the interesting thing, the end panel – he'd take the end panel and put his face in there.

KELLER: That's a newscast, right?

DURATZ: And they sold it!

KELLER: They used to put ads on it too, car ads.

DURATZ: Yes, they sold it, and in the end it was kind of industry setup. So we got back from there, and the first program we did was the same way, and we did the election returns.

KELLER: Did you do...?

DURATZ: No, Jim Strickler did. I was on the phone getting the numbers from the newspaper.

KELLER: And he was looking through this panel giving the numbers?

DURATZ: And I was slipping the numbers and he'd announce what the vote was. I was getting that from the newspaper. In fact, I went to slip him the number one time and knocked one of the metal garbage cans over, and we were at the headend! That thing went rolling across – big noise! We thought people liked it, and everybody knew his face. So, our first studio was in the second floor of the YMCA. In fact, every time somebody used a diving board you'd hear it, downstairs, and then that's when we decided it was going pretty well as far as programming.

KELLER: What other types of programming did you have?

DURATZ: We had a girl do a little children's show.

KELLER: Well, George and you were always very involved in the infrastructure of Meadville, in various organizations and so on, and you developed that greatly over your tenure there, didn't you?

DURATZ: Yes, and it's shown its effect. It's a nice community, and George felt very strongly about Meadville. He lived there and practiced there.

KELLER: So did you.

DURATZ: Yes. It ended up being that was my home. I wasn't originally from Meadville.

KELLER: So what other program types did you do in the early days, and then as you developed the whole concept?

DURATZ: Oh, gosh. There was a lot of material available on tape and we did a lot of that. We even did a series of movies, old movies. Our logo was CTV-13, which is an unlucky number, so we had a cat, a black cat, and then they did a series of ghost type movies, and that really was pretty popular. And here again, we still didn't sell it. We could have, but...

KELLER: You could have? You had the opportunity to sell it?

DURATZ: We could have. But George was a funny duck as far as money. At budget time he'd always complain we're not making enough money, but he wouldn't let us raise the rate. He just wanted to keep the rate low. His idea was that he said, "You can always spend so much. You only need so much money. Why take more?" And that was kind of a strange attitude to have in business.

KELLER: Yes, it is. But you had an economics degree, didn't you?

DURATZ: Pardon me?

KELLER: You had a degree in economics, didn't you?

DURATZ: Oh, yes, and I kept telling him, I said, "George, we're putting new equipment in. You're spending money." And we were $3.50 for a long time, even after 12 channels, then we changed it, I think it was $24.95/$4.95 a month, but by that time we were up to 20 channels.

KELLER: Tell me, when HBO came on, when did you put it in and did you have a little problem philosophically with putting HBO on the system?

DURATZ: Well, we didn't put HBO on the system. We put ShowTime on first, because, quote unquote, they were a little cleaner.

KELLER: Oh, with smut and stuff like that, okay.

DURATZ: And that was one of George's problems too, and I guess all of them, I shouldn't blame George for that, we were all pretty conservative people and we thought we'd get some trouble from the church. There are a lot of church communities in Meadville. Then we later on put HBO on.

KELLER: When you put ShowTime on...

DURATZ: It was sort of a test to put ShowTime on, and we didn't have much trouble about it.

KELLER: This totally though blew his concept of being only a master antenna system, didn't it?

DURATZ: Well, yes, that's right.

KELLER: Was there a philosophical discussion of should we put it on or should we not?

DURATZ: Yes, yes, but there was enough requests for it that we just, Yolanda and I especially, sort of talked him into it, said let's just try it, and he decided okay, go ahead. It's interesting, he felt very strongly about something, but it didn't take much to change his mind if you could show him some good argument, and I sort of kept a record of the requests that we got for it. After church on Sunday morning, we had a family meeting every Sunday that we were in town, and that was pretty much, the meeting was talking about what happened the past week, and they both always wanted to hear anything that was unusual that happened in my office, and we talked about that a lot. Any decision that was made was made at one of those meetings as a group.

KELLER: And that would be the four of you – George, Yolanda, Helene, and yourself, is that right?

DURATZ: Right. In fact, even George's wife, my mother-in-law, would get involved once in a while, because she had her women friends. She'd say "I had some people ask me about this, and why can't we have it?" And that type of thing.

KELLER: You ever have the Women Garden Society on the programming, or the Ladies' Tea Society and so on?

DURATZ: Oh, yeah, I guess we eventually interviewed every special person in town for some reason. That was a lot of the programming, just interviewing.

KELLER: George, and you, I think also, were responsible for the building of the Pennsylvania Net, the Penn Net Inc. Tell me about that.

DURATZ: That started out as Pennarama. This was George and Joe Gans, Sr. Joe Gans was doing something, and here again, Joe was doing something with a college out in the eastern part of the state...

KELLER: They had a microwave system, didn't they go into the western part?

DURATZ: Well, Joe had his own little system going. He had some microwave going and he was telling George Barco about it, and so George said, "That's a wonderful idea; why don't we get a group of people together and finance a network and cover the whole state?" And it was 11 companies initially that George got money from, 11 different companies.

KELLER: Do you remember who they were?

DURATZ: I can't name them all now, but I have that list. (See appendix 1)

KELLER: I think that would be an interesting addendum to this.

DURATZ: I have that list in my office. I can remember there was TCI; Armstrong; Reinhard's group, Blue Ridge; Bob Tarlton; Joe Gans; Meadville...

KELLER: What year was this?

DURATZ: See, I knew you were going to ask me all these dates, and I can't remember the dates.

KELLER: Okay, generally speaking – mid '60s, early '70s?

DURATZ: It would be about 25 years ago.

KELLER: Okay, mid-'70s.

DURATZ: We had a 20th anniversary four or five years ago.

KELLER: ATC was involved in Pennsylvania at that time. Were they part of that group also?

DURATZ: No, no. TCI was, though.


DURATZ: That pretty much covers most of them. There's a couple I can't think of right now, but I have that list in my office.

KELLER: So how did it develop?

DURATZ: That's when they started building the microwave system, and Joe Gans's idea was to use the headends of cable companies. There are enough cable companies spread around the state that we could use their headends and their tower and put the dishes on there, but it didn't work that way. Once you start laying it out it ended up, we had a, we called it a figure eight, and Penn State was the center of that figure eight.

KELLER: Well, you made a big noise about developing this whole network, but it never worked, is that right?

DURATZ: Yeah, it worked. It eventually... We built the network; we built the microwave network.

KELLER: But what did it do?

DURATZ: Pardon me?

KELLER: What did it do? What kind of programming did it handle?

DURATZ: It was Pennarama from Penn State, and it was all education.

KELLER: Continuing education, or...?

DURATZ: You could take a course for credit. That was the general consensus, that we would make it available for people who can't afford to go to college, they could do it at home. But that didn't work. Surprisingly enough, that did not work, but then Brian Lockman came with us and sort of changed our philosophy about programming, and that started working then.

KELLER: What forward kind of programming did you go to?

DURATZ: It was sort of a public service type programming, and now we're into that pretty strong, and here again, it's still not selling anything.

KELLER: And it goes into all of the systems in the state, or those that want to participate?

DURATZ: Yeah, people who wanted to receive the signal would pay per subscriber, like other networks, and that worked pretty well. Now there were a lot of problems with the microwave system, the maintenance on it was pretty strong, and keeping it going... It was initially designed to go in two directions. That's why the figure eight configuration, but then changes in technology came about with compression, digital, and we finally were able to put it on the satellite.

KELLER: Oh, you are on the satellite. That was going to be my next question.

DURATZ: Because of the compression, we had to buy less bandwidth, and it became feasible to put it on the satellite, and that's working very nicely now. I think we can consider it successful now.

KELLER: Great! You're still on the board then, of Penn Net?


KELLER: What other board are you currently involved in?

DURATZ: You mean other than cable?


DURATZ: Oh, there's quite a few.

KELLER: Give me some of them. They're almost all Meadville except for some of the state wide associations, aren't they?

DURATZ: Well, I do a lot with the University of Pittsburgh, in the athlete department. I'm now on the board of trustees, again at a university, out of Erie.

KELLER: And congratulations, Dr. I heard you got your honorary law degree.

DURATZ: Yes, in fact, I said, to them, they must think I'm a lawyer, I'd better tell them I'm not.

KELLER: No, you're a doctor.

DURATZ: It's interesting, and I still do a lot of local stuff in Meadville itself. I'm on the Chamber of Commerce and the Redevelopment Authority, and that type of thing, and I still stay very active. I still have an office, although everybody's gone now except me, and I still maintain that. I want to keep the name as long as we can, and that's my goal.

KELLER: Do they still call it the Meadville Master Antenna System, or have they changed it to Armstrong?

DURATZ: No, Armstrong changed the name now. It's part of the Armstrong group of companies now. But most people still call it Master Antenna, MMA, that's still... And they still think I'm involved in it.

KELLER: You still get the calls and everything like that? You left there in '89, or was it after?


KELLER: '89?

DURATZ: Yes, '89.

KELLER: So you've been gone 12 years!

DURATZ: Yes. Well, I left there, but I was involved with the network. I volunteered for that job and I never lost it.

KELLER: I know how those things work.

DURATZ: The fellow who was doing the work that I started doing died and they needed somebody to fill in for him, and I told Yolanda that until they found somebody, I would do it as a favor. Well, they never did find anybody, and so I stayed with it. And I enjoyed it. I enjoyed working with the network.

KELLER: And you're president of the Barco-DURATZ: Foundation now, too.


KELLER: Tell me about that, and what does it do?

DURATZ: Here again, George Barco, and Yolanda too, I guess all of us, felt that if you were successful in a community you should make some arrangements to return something to the community, and I really don't think there's anybody that's done any more for Meadville than George and his family, in just Meadville. But then we still felt strongly about education and scholarships to help – it's kind of, and I don't say this to make one group look different or not as good as another group, but our philosophy was that the kid whose father was successful and had money and could afford to go to college, he didn't need any help. And the guy way down on the bottom could get help through the government in most cases. The guy we were looking to help was the guy in the middle, hardworking families, but just didn't have enough to get that son or daughter to college, but yet they were good students. And we felt very strongly about grades. We wouldn't help somebody just to get them through college; they had to have good grades. Anytime somebody would come in, or send an application in, the first thing you'd look at was their grades, and so we helped quite a few youngsters go to college that way.

KELLER: And you're still doing that?

DURATZ: We're still doing it.

KELLER: That's the primary function of the foundation, then?

DURATZ: Right. And there are certain guidelines that they have to go through.

KELLER: And do you administer this?

DURATZ: I'm the president, but now, since I'm alone, I've turned it over to the bank, and I have four trustees, but they call me the master trustee.

KELLER: The master trustee, huh? Now you're not only a Dr., but you're a master trustee! Who's this guy I thought I knew?

DURATZ: Everything they that they decide has to be okayed by me, but they're four good guys. We haven't been too wrong yet.

KELLER: Do you take their money on the golf course.

DURATZ: Well, usually I'm paying! I'm not good enough to take it, but once in a while I get them.

KELLER: Of the 30 give or take a few years that you were manager of a system, what were you most proud of?

DURATZ: Oh, I think the decision of changing over to aluminum cable was the biggest thing I've ever done, and Jim, that was really almost a mistake the way it happened. I don't know whether you remember that the University of Wisconsin had a...

KELLER: Very much so. That's where we first met.

DURATZ: Right.

KELLER: 1960 or '61.

DURATZ: Yeah, and we went there for a week or ten days, and the last day we were there was when I met Bud Shepard.

KELLER: From Canada.

DURATZ: From Canada, from Vancouver, and I liked him. We got a long very nicely.

KELLER: That was a great loss – a fine guy.

DURATZ: And on our way to the airport, I had already ordered the cable from Times, flat-braided.

KELLER: Flat-braid.

DURATZ: And on the way to the airport he was telling me about this aluminum cable. Now the only thing we had in the United States at the time was a half-inch aluminum cable, but that was it, and he was telling me about this three-quarter inch trunk line cable. I thought, three-quarter inch, that's like a pipe! But it was being made in Canada. So then I said, "Well, how do you put a tap in?" He said, "Just a pressure tap, just like you're doing now. You do a .412 for the feeder line." I said, "Why don't you send me a sample." So right away I got the sample.

KELLER: I want to put Bud a little bit in perspective. Bud Shepard was president – no, I guess Sid Welsh was president – Bud was vice-president/general manager of the Vancouver, Canada cable television system, which expanded to become Empire. Was that the name of the company?


KELLER: Big operators in Canada.

DURATZ: Big in Canada, and Vancouver is a big city.

KELLER: Yeah, and they were great, great guys.

DURATZ: But he was really a... I liked him very much, and I think he liked me too. We sort of had our philosophy was about the same. But he sent me a piece of three-quarter inch cable and a piece of .412 feeder line with a tap in it, so I got together with our engineer, Wes Kuebel, and the next thing you know we're up in Canada, talking to the Canadian wire people. I came back and called Larry, and said, "Larry, cancel the order. We're going to aluminum cable."

KELLER: You were still pressure tapping it, though?

DURATZ: Yeah, yeah.

KELLER: When did you go to in-line taps, pre-tapping?

DURATZ: We never did.

KELLER: I remember the great controversy in the mid-60s.

DURATZ: We never did, but now they have, but that was after we sold the system. We were still pressure tapping when I was still there in '89.

KELLER: Oh my, what a controversy that was!

DURATZ: It was big.

KELLER: Why spend all that money to pre-tap it when you're only going to use 50% or whatever. In your case, though, you had every home in town so it didn't make much difference. You still pressure tapped right to the end, huh?

DURATZ: Yeah, well, then when Armstrong bought it, it was about time for a rebuild. As I say, we were already designing... in fact, the system was on paper when we sold, and it was going to be CCOR and we had the layout all done. By going to that aluminum cable that sort of set the trend for the whole thing and now, as you know, everybody's using it.

KELLER: You never used any jacketed aluminum cable, though? In Meadville it wasn't...

DURATZ: Yeah, we did in some places, and we did where we buried it too.

KELLER: Oh, okay, when you buried it, yeah.

DURATZ: And it had that sealing stuff, the goo in it, and we used quite a bit. I built the system in California, Pennsylvania, and because there was a chemical plant in the area all the cable near there was covered. You looked at the screen doors and you could tell you'd better do something.

KELLER: Like Altoona. I remember that franchise – it used to eat the cable right out of the air.

DURATZ: Right, well, you remember all the trouble we had with plastic cable, with the moisture coming in and the water. Oh, that was the other thing – that when we were rebuilding the plant for Meadville with aluminum there was a section of about four or five miles that we had just put in braided cable. In fact, it was when we were going to the low-band and high-band, we were putting... it was supposed to be a broadband system, and we put the amplifiers in right where they were and all the sudden we couldn't get anything over them.

KELLER: You didn't re-space, then, you're saying?

DURATZ: No, they should have reached, but the high-band wasn't going through at all and it turned out that the cable was full of water, cut the span out in the middle and turned it on like a pipe.

KELLER: Put a spigot on it, to let it out.

DURATZ: So, then we took that down and put aluminum in.

KELLER: Looking back on your career, what was the biggest mistake you made?


KELLER: Great – you're the first guy I've known that's never made a mistake!

DURATZ: I suppose... seriously, Jim, we pretty much started everything out, as far as... I'm not so sure the programming wasn't a mistake, but this was something that George wanted to do, so you can't consider it a mistake.

KELLER: It didn't turn out to be a mistake, though.

DURATZ: No, that's right, but initially for many years it was not making any money, it was losing.

KELLER: Were you opposed to it, though?

DURATZ: Well, not entirely. If it would have worked for the education, and there was no reason why it shouldn't have, except that the schoolteachers were afraid of it, and that's as blunt as you can put it, they thought they were going to lose their jobs, which there was not any truth to that at all. It was just too bad that they couldn't see that as a tool. Nobody said anything when they brought movies in. Why they were afraid of that television... but I think that the interaction scared them, back and forth, and they knew that was coming. I think they sensed that was coming anyway, and that's probably what scared them more than anything, and I can see maybe that would have.

KELLER: And you only had one major rebuild in the time that you were there, and that was when you went to aluminum?

DURATZ: No, three! We had three.

KELLER: You had three?

DURATZ: Yeah, I was involved in three rebuilds.

KELLER: And you said you had another rebuild on the drawing board when you sold in '89.

DURATZ: That would have been the fourth one.

KELLER: What would that have been – 550, 550 megahertz, or 450?


KELLER: 550?

DURATZ: 550.

KELLER: That's a long way from the three channels and individual strip amplifiers it started with, huh?

DURATZ: In retrospect, when you look back and think of the things that happened, and how the development in 50 years what happens in the communication field is just tremendous, I think. Look where we are today. And the other thing too, is that we're past that development stage. Anymore you get a piece of equipment you're almost sure it's going to work the way it's supposed to work. I'm not saying anything bad about those guys in the beginning. They were doing what they thought was right, and that's what brought it where it is today, I think.

KELLER: Armstrong being a utility company, are they planning on instituting telephony in the Meadville system, do you know?

DURATZ: I don't know, but they're putting fiber in now, and I would guess that that's what they have in mind. They're already in the telephone business.

KELLER: Yeah, I know they're a telephone company, or a utility company.

DURATZ: But they're a small company. I can't help but think... they're already in the Internet business, so...

KELLER: They don't serve the city of Meadville telephone, do they?

DURATZ: No, Internet for commercial use only, but when they get all the fiber in, they're going to go to Internet for everybody. I'm pretty sure of that, but they haven't said anything to me about the telephone, but I can't...

KELLER: You've got to believe they're going to go that way.

DURATZ: It's going to be available and it's their business. I think that's going to be a very strong... You know, it's interesting too, you can't help but think that one of these days it is going to be one. It has to come that way.

KELLER: Oh, I think there's no question.

DURATZ: And that's going to be the big move, because it's awfully close to that now.

KELLER: There's going to be one cable coming into the home that is going to carry everything.

DURATZ: And it's kind of interesting that that piece of drop cable, how important that becomes today.

KELLER: Isn't that true? I often.... Remember when we were going to allow the telephone company to own all that kind of stuff. Well, the telephone company wanted to own that entrance into the home, but we said no.

DURATZ: That last piece of cable.

KELLER: And the converter is the other thing we had.

DURATZ: So, it's been a fascinating experience, is the best way I can talk about it. I enjoyed every minute of it. I can't quit now! Everybody says I thought you were going to retire by now, but what would I do if I retired? You can only play so much golf. I'm afraid I'm going to miss something. I still get the trade magazines; I still try to read the trade magazines, not all of them, but I still get three or four of them. I enjoy reading about some of my old friends who are still around, but I've got to tell you though, I went to Chicago this last (NCTA convention)...

KELLER: Yeah, I didn't make it.

DURATZ: I know you're not going to believe it, but I spent three hours on the floor.

KELLER: That much time, huh?

DURATZ: Because I was trying to find somebody I knew.

KELLER: Somebody you knew – I'm the same way.

DURATZ: I did not find one person in all that time. Both vendors and the people who registered.

KELLER: It kind of makes you cry, doesn't it, after all we've...

DURATZ: Oh, I went back to my room and I thought, boy, that's pretty sad, and where are they? And then I went to the Pioneer dinner and they...

KELLER: They were all there.

DURATZ: Yeah, they were there, but I couldn't find anybody... and I guess they were a little disappointed about the activity on the floor this year. You remember, Jim, there was a lot of business taken care of. I can remember it was almost like being at an auction to buy equipment. You could get bargains, and I remember the time that Jerrold showed their headend, the panels were all there and then you'd go in the back and there was nothing there. But we were buying it.

KELLER: Yeah, everybody was – it was the only thing that there was at the time. Other than George, who were some of the most memorable characters that you met in your experience?

DURATZ: Oh, the number one that comes in my head is Bill Daniels. I thoroughly enjoyed Bill Daniels. I thought his whole background was very fascinating and it was just interesting to discuss things with him and I liked him very much. I think he liked our family, too. And John Walson, I had a lot of good times with him. Joe Gans, Fred Reinhard, oh, gosh, I even went down to Tyler, Texas, Tubby Flynn?

KELLER: Tubby Flynn, yeah.

DURATZ: There was a problem we had and I can't even remember what the problem was, but I flew down there and he spent some time with me.

KELLER: Was Tubby in Tyler or was he in Arkansas?

DURATZ: No, he was in Tyler. At that time he was. That's an interesting point too, that I think is missing, because the companies are getting so big now, but if you remember, we could call the owner of that company - anybody - you always got a return call or they'd always take the phone call because we were exchanging problems back and forth. I spent a lot of time on the phone with John Rigas. We started about the same time, and I think that's gone now. You don't even know who to call.

KELLER: Oh, I think that's right. I think that's right.

DURATZ: I think I talked to almost – oh, gosh, Ed Allen, and the two brothers out... oh, gosh, I can't think of their names now, but anytime you had a problem you'd find somebody else had the same problem.

KELLER: Weary brothers, are you talking about, in Kansas? Bob Weary?

DURATZ: No. Schneider!

KELLER: Oh, Gene and... the Schneiders.

DURATZ: Schneider. They were very nice.

KELLER: Gene and Richard.

DURATZ: Right, and nobody ever not helped you. They wanted to talk to you.

KELLER: Until we got in the franchising battles.


KELLER: Did you ever go through any of those? I know you didn't in Meadville, but...

DURATZ: No, in fact, it's an interesting thing, Meadville still doesn't pay a franchise fee, and I had the California system and when I had it we didn't pay any...

KELLER: California, Pennsylvania.

DURATZ: California, Pennsylvania, and Titusville, I had that system and we didn't pay.

KELLER: How did you get the franchises? Just go in and ask for them? "We'd like to bring television to town."

DURATZ: I guess we... here again, George was very strong about franchising.

KELLER: Did you have a franchise in Meadville?

DURATZ: Oh, yes. Yes.

KELLER: Because some of those early systems didn't have franchises.

DURATZ: We didn't start with a franchise. They didn't come along for almost 20 years.

KELLER: Well, I know why it came along, because you had to have the intangible assets there appreciate.

DURATZ: We had, I guess you'd call it almost a certificate, that we could put our cable in rights of ways. That's about all we had. Jim, when we first started in Meadville, everybody laughed. "You're not going to be here but for a couple years." The telephone company, "Yeah, go ahead. Do whatever you have to. You're not going to be around very long." And that's the way it was. It was, I guess, a different attitude then. It wasn't that we had difficulty with either the power company or the telephone company. They were all good friends. I knew them personally and we worked together. But when I went down to California, Pennsylvania and had to deal with Bell – you see, the Meadville telephone company was just a local, it was the Meadville Telephone Company.

KELLER: Is it still?

DURATZ: No, it's All-Tel now, but it was just a local one, and right from the president, who was Dr. Winslow, you could go right into his office and talk to him about it. But you can't do that now. When we went down to California and had to deal with Bell, I had to go through Pittsburgh, but once I met them and once they saw the work we were doing, at first they were tough, they were really tough, but it got to a point after they saw that we meant to do it the right way, and we did it the right way, they sort of backed off, and then I'd call and say we're going to go down a certain area, and I'd give him the list of poles, and he'd go out by himself. I wouldn't even have to go with him.

KELLER: Tell me about some of the bizarre complaints you'd get from people.

DURATZ: I'll tell you a good one – see, that's another thing, the equipment and everything's more reliable now and you have battery backups, you don't have these kinds of outages, but if a big storm came through and you lost the headend, that was everything. My job was always answering that phone and directing the trucks, and one Saturday morning, the whole system went off, and boy, we had two phones and I kept them going. Finally, I answered the phone and it was some girl, and she was screaming. She says, "What am I going to do with these kids?" I said, "Why don't you just take them out and drown them." All of the sudden it was quiet on the other end and she started laughing. I said, "Read a book." Because we were having trouble, it was a big storm. I said, "You know we had a storm." And she sort of apologized, but later on, she came into the office to tell me how shocked she was when I said, "Why don't you just take them out and drown them."

KELLER: But you got her attention though.

DURATZ: But we were friends, it wasn't... But, oh, we had the wires shot – there was a lot of hunting in our area, and we always had shooting happening. Storms were terrible. We have a lot of trees in Meadville, and anytime the wind blew a little bit, we were out there. That was another thing – we extended our lines to another town from Meadville and got a bad batch of cable.

KELLER: There were a lot of those. What year was this? Roughly, again.

DURATZ: I don't remember, but I have a record of that. It was probably in the early '70s, and the cable was pulling apart.

KELLER: At the connectors?

DURATZ: At the connectors, yeah, and pulling right out of the connectors, and then it was too short and you had to add a piece. It was Christmas Day, and there were two crews out working and I said I've got to find these guys coffee or something. Trying to find a cup of coffee on Christmas Day in Meadville was impossible, and I couldn't understand how nobody was open. So, I used to make a little wine, and it looked like black coffee.

KELLER: Good old red?

DURATZ: I can remember handing a cup of that to one of the guys and he was shaking. That was the coffee for that day; it warmed everybody up. We didn't drink a lot of it, but you had to make fun out of it or you'd go crazy. But we really, our service crew was always pretty nice kids.

KELLER: At your peak, how many employees did you have?

DURATZ: Counting the studio, too?


DURATZ: Probably 30-35.

KELLER: And how many were in the studio?

DURATZ: It was up to about a dozen.

KELLER: Was there that many?


KELLER: Technicians, and directors, and...

DURATZ: Yeah, to run the equipment and everything. We had two guys who did nothing but maintenance on the equipment. The equipment – we had a lot of trouble with the equipment, constantly repairing, stuff would wear out, cleaning the heads on the machines, that type of thing. So we kept the guys pretty busy. It was interesting how the programming developed, and it's just like they're doing with PCN now, it's kind of gratifying now when you say, well, I'm connected with PCN and they know who you are. And that, for a long time, didn't happen.

KELLER: The same thing in the country when you said you were in cable television or you were in community antenna television, they had no idea what it was.

DURATZ: Yeah, nobody had any idea. That, I think, is a tribute to the people who are in it now, and I think it must make them all feel... it makes me feel good.

KELLER: I feel the same way. It's nice to become a part of it.

DURATZ: It's nice to be recognized as kind of a leader in an industry.

KELLER: Because you were.

DURATZ: And I'm very proud of that.

KELLER: You became a National Pioneer in '82, didn't you?

DURATZ: That's about when it was. Then I got the state too.

KELLER: Yeah, I know you were a state founder. We're starting to wind down now, Jim. Can you think of anything you'd like to add before we wrap this thing up?

DURATZ: Oh, there are probably a million things, Jim, but you go to long at one thing and it gets boring, I guess.

KELLER: No, it doesn't! Remember, people that will be looking at this will be putting together a lot of other things. They'll be writing a book about you someday, so they'll want to know about you, and how your personality comes across.

DURATZ: I just think that the most important thing is that I'm very proud to be part of the whole industry and I think it's a fine industry. To develop so... you know, we're only talking maybe 50 years, and what has happened in that 50 year period is really phenomenal, I think. I often sit down and think to myself... You know, one of the big excitements to me was the first time I saw a signal off a satellite, and I was on the telephone talking to a guy in New Jersey – you don't think about it until you actually see it – saw that delay, and he said, "The signal's on its way." And it was a delay. I thought, 22,000 miles twice! And I'm seeing it right here! And Jim, the first satellite receive dish we put in was $60,000!

KELLER: I remember it was $100,000 the first one we put in, in Jackson, Mississippi.

DURATZ: You had to put a base in that was four feet deep and twelve feet square and reinforced with rebars and copper wire all around it.

KELLER: Ten-meter, 30 feet.

DURATZ: Oh, geez! Today, you just put a stick in the ground and put it up.

KELLER: Would you have envisioned this when you first started?

DURATZ: No, no, no, no.

KELLER: I don't imagine anyone did.

DURATZ: You know, I did envision VHF and UHF being one someday. I just thought there's enough bandwidth there, but I never dreamt of 100 channels. I never thought of that kind of a bandwidth. It just never entered my mind, that or computer stuff, that never, ever entered my mind. It did later, but...

KELLER: 250 was mind boggling to me, when we went to 250.

DURATZ: Yes, right. And you'd say, "Why, what do you want it for? You certainly don't want it for television; it's just too much." But then this other stuff comes along and...

KELLER: Well, the first thing was radio, FM radio.

DURATZ: Yeah, remember that? 14 channels of FM, in between the two. That, I thought, was fascinating, and we had a nice demand for that, surprisingly, with the FM. That was pretty popular.

KELLER: Well, again, because you couldn't get any FM down in the valley there at all. Jim, we're going to wrap this thing up now. We've been going for quite some time. This has been the oral history of James J. Duratz, former general manager and all around entrepreneur and good guy, and an old friend, a man who has devoted much of his life to community service, both in the city of Meadville and the state of Pennsylvania, and nationally also. This oral history is part of the oral history program of The Cable Center and financed by a gift from The Hauser Foundation. Jim, thanks very much. It's been a great delight, as always.

DURATZ: Thank you, Jim. It's been a pleasure.

Appendix 1

Butler, Pennsylvania

Palmerton, Pennsylvania

Hazleton, Pennsylvania

Carnegie, Pennsylvania

Avis, Pennsylvania

Meadville, Pennsylvania

Connellsville, Pennsylvania

Austin, Texas
(TCI of Pennsylvania)

West Pittston, Pennsylvania

Murrysville, Pennsylvania

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Pauline Dunn

Pauline Dunn

Interview Date: Thursday March 30, 1989
Interview Location: Columbus, MS
Collection: Penn State Collection
Note: Audio Only

Travis Nabors joins interview.

ALLEN: Well, good afternoon. This is Thursday, March 30, 1989, and this is being recorded in Columbus, Mississippi, in the home of Ms. Polly Dunn. We will be talking to Ms. Dunn for the next couple of days about her role in the cable industry. This is a project for the National Cable Television Center and Museum. Good afternoon!

DUNN: Good afternoon!

ALLEN: I certainly feel very welcome in your community of Columbus. I appreciate your warm hospitality.

DUNN: I am delighted that you came and flattered that you did.

ALLEN: What we would like to do at the very beginning is talk a little bit about you, the kind of person that you are and some of the events in your early life that made you the leader in the industry that you have become. Where were you born?

DUNN: Well, I really didn't expect that I would talk about myself to that extent, but I certainly don't mind. I was blessed with a lovely, loving home. I had two people for parents whom I consider great and unmatched in my experience for courage, for vision, for unselfishness and I have felt that all the way through my life. My father made sure that all of us in the family realized our responsibility to put back into life the things that we should. My father used to say if you don't leave the world better when you leave it than when you came, the Lord will be disappointed in you. In fact, that's what you must do. And it wasn't a burden. It was just something that permeated our whole life.

My father was an engineer, a mining engineer, but when the company that he was working for left Kentucky where I was born, and went to West Virginia, he didn't go. He bought a farm, if I'm not mistaken it was somewhere around 1,200 acres, and he tried to bring scientific farming to not only his own farm, but into the county. He was instrumental in forming the Kentucky Federation. I don't remember the exact title, but anyway it was a co-op type of thing for farmers. He tried to get everybody in the county to upgrade their beef cattle so that if it came from Union County you knew that it was top quality.

ALLEN: So this was Union County, Kentucky?

DUNN: Union County, Kentucky. Right on the Ohio River. From my bedroom I could see the river. It was about a mile away.

ALLEN: And near what town?

DUNN: Well it's a tiny little town. It's still there. It's called Dekoven. I think that's German for a cove among the hills. But, looking back on it now, it was not much more than a whistle stop along the railroad. Before the Crash in 1929, there was a situation that is somewhat duplicated right now. Every farmer practically in the county went to the war. In fact, there was one time when the bank owned all but two farms in Union County. My father still had a standing offer for a place in the coal mines as an engineer so we moved to West Virginia.

My father could never leave anything alone if he could fix it or make it work better. So he did a lot of that with the mining machinery there. Then somebody came by and was very much interested in his inventions, his innovations. This young man went back and applied for a patent on it. But, of course, my father wasn't so stupid that he didn't have documented evidence that it was his invention. So he began to get inventions patented and after he was sixty years old he went into business for himself. He was, I guess, what you would call now a consulting engineer.

But, he customized equipment for mines. It was so good and so revolutionary that it was included in an exhibit in the Smithsonian Institute where they were showing, I think they called it the "Evolution of Mining." That was just one of the many things that he did. It always did make me feel good to know that he had been recognized to that point.

ALLEN: Can we pick up just a couple of loose ends here? Where was your family living in Kentucky when you were born?

DUNN: Union County, Kentucky. Outside of Dekoven, Kentucky.

ALLEN: And then when you moved to West Virginia, you moved to where?

DUNN: We moved to a town called Summerlee, a small town outside of Oak Hill. It was a mining town. Oak Hill was the town where I went to high school. I graduated from high school in Oak Hill.

ALLEN: What was your father's name?

DUNN: Armistead Rosser Long. And when I graduated, I was salutatorian, had taken part in the high school plays, was president of the National Honor Society. I worked with, I can't remember for sure what the title was, but I guess that I was chairman of the young people of the church. And then I went to Randolph Macon Women's College in Lynchburg, Virginia. My father's family came from there. We had a first cousin with almost exactly the same name as my father who was a prominent attorney in Lynchburg at the time. His name was Armistead Ragland Long. When I went to Lynchburg and went downtown as a college student to establish a credit account at Guggenheimers, I said my father was A. R. Long. "Oh well, we don't need you to sign." It was nice of them. It was nice. I got to know a number of the members of our family.

ALLEN: Can we talk a little bit about your mother?

DUNN: Oh my mother was a wonderful woman. A wonderful woman.

ALLEN: What was her name?

DUNN: Her name was Martha McCauley and she was an educated woman. I didn't go to school until I was in the third grade because she taught me at home. I just lose my breath when I think about my mother because she coped with so many things that I wasn't even aware of at the time. The life of a farmer is so much of a gamble. You work so hard and you have absolutely no control over storms that come, floods that come, drought that comes and all that sort of thing. Yet my mother was always in control and set the highest of standards for us. I can't remember ever having any unpleasant type conversations about "you shouldn't do this" and "you bad girl," that sort of thing. Always, it was the other way. She was proud of the things that we did and expected us to do them. She always found a way to manage to provide us with the things that she felt we should have.

ALLEN: Where were your parents from originally? Were they from Kentucky?

DUNN: Yes, they were from Kentucky. My father's grandfather came from Amherst County which is right outside of Lynchburg. And his great-grandfather, the first Armistead Long was in the Revolutionary War. Like so many soldiers of the Revolution, they had no money to pay him. He outfitted his own regiment. They all did that sort of thing and came back poor as church mice. So the government gave them lands out west which meant Kentucky. There was land there to be claimed and I know my father's grandfather came from Lynchburg.

It was interesting to me that when we drove to college we went on the Old Midland Trail which was exactly the same trail that the people who migrated from Virginia came over in wagons. We have a diary of my father's grandmother when she came to Kentucky. It covered the events day by day. It took them seven days to get from Bedford County which is close to Lynchburg, past White Sulphur Springs down through the Canole River which was exactly where I went back to school at Randolph Macon. It took us seven hours to get to Lynchburg.

ALLEN: Have you actually seen that diary and read it?

DUNN: Yes. My father had it printed so we have it here.

ALLEN: What were some of the kinds of things she reported on that trip?

DUNN: Well, I wished she would have told more names. She told or mentioned brother Albert or something of that sort. But she mentioned very few names of who was with them and what the names of the children were and all. But it was a testament of faith because when she left home she didn't know whether she would ever see her mother or her family again. It is one thing to get in a car and go seven hours, but in a wagon? And I imagine they walked. Don't you imagine they did?

ALLEN: Yes. And your mother's family was from Kentucky?

DUNN: Yes, they were from Kentucky. They had come down to Union County from ... I have forgotten the name of the county, but anyway from what is now Louisville. They lived out in the country and came down from there and bought a farm when my McCauley grandparents were young.

ALLEN: Is Union County in eastern or western Kentucky?

DUNN: It's in western Kentucky. My father told me it's Mark Twain country. It's the country Mark Twain wrote about. He wrote from the standpoint of where Indiana and Illinois come right down to the Ohio River. We were across the river from there. And Shawneetown at that time was a big port on the Ohio River. As a matter of fact, the little town where my grandfather settled was Caseyville. It is a beautiful spot on the river where they filmed a lot of the Davy Crockett movies you saw. And, they thought it was going to be bigger than Louisville as a port because water transportation was so important.

ALLEN: Is that where the Wabash comes into the Ohio?

DUNN: Not exactly, but pretty close.

ALLEN: How old were you when your father went into farming and left the mining business?

DUNN: A baby.

ALLEN: Just a baby. So you really grew up on the farm.

DUNN: Right. I have very indistinct memories of anything back beyond that. And as I grew older, I was not in accord entirely with my mother and my father because I heard my mother talking to her friends and they said, "Martha, how do you stand moving twice a year?" We moved into Morganfield which was the county seat after we were to the point where we were in high school to get the better schools. We moved in the fall, and we moved back in the spring in the spring wagon. My mother took her antiques and wrapped them in quilts and put them in the wagon and we moved.

Of course as far as I was concerned it meant that I left my school friends and went back to the farm. My mother described it as, "We do it for our children. We want our children to have as much time as possible on the farm." Well, that wasn't what I thought was the most wonderful thing. I loved it there. There was no question about that, but just about the time I got as we call it "in" with the group in school I left and I came back to the farm. Then in the fall I had it all to do over again. But, it was fine. That was one of the things that my mother was willing to do. She was my father's first line of defense.

ALLEN: You were so close to the Ohio River, did you have occasion to go down and watch the traffic on the river, the boats going up and down?

DUNN: Not a whole lot. One of the things that I remember most vividly about the river was that in one year there was a tremendous freeze and the river froze over. The only time in my memory that I think it ever did. Then when it broke up, you can't imagine the noise. It was almost like an explosion. It shook the windows.

ALLEN: Do you remember what year that was?

DUNN: No I don't. I know that I was very small because my daddy took me down there to see it. I can remember that he held my hand and I had to hold my hand up; so I must have been very small.

ALLEN: Probably maybe four or five or six years old.

DUNN: At least. I imagine less than that, but I don't remember. It's just a picture. It is almost like a snapshot in my mind.

ALLEN: One of those incidents in childhood that is so dramatic that it just stays with you.

DUNN: That one and when my father built a little playhouse for me. I could stand up straight in it, but my older brother couldn't. It had a tiny little stove in it. Actually it was the salesman's sample of a woodstove with little lids about the size of a quarter where you lift it up to look down into the fire. And a tiny little iron skillet that was possibly the size of a little cookie. That playhouse was my domain. If I was angry with my brother, I would go in and he couldn't get in because it was too small for him.

ALLEN: Did you have other siblings besides one brother?

DUNN: I have two brothers. One older and one younger. I didn't get my younger brother until I was six. I thought that he was my own. My older brother felt that about me and Jack. So I pushed him around in my doll buggy. Don't you think that makes him mine?

ALLEN: Absolutely, particularly when you're six.

DUNN: Right. Well it was a happy time but a time of worry, too. I can remember being upstairs on what we call the sleeping porch and hearing my father talk to his neighbors downstairs. Well, it was exactly the same as farmers do now. What are you going to do when it doesn't rain and you are going to lose your whole crop and yet there is nothing you can do about it. I used to think that if I ever grew up I would not be a farmer.

ALLEN: And you are not a farmer.

DUNN: No. I'm not.

ALLEN: I think that it is very obvious that a lot of the values that you hold are values that you got from your mother and your father. Could you talk a little bit more about your relationship with them? I know it's very emotional. I can see that. It helps us to understand some of the things that we will be talking about later.

DUNN: Well, I don't know. I think my father was a great man and my mother was a great woman. I thought so at the time and I think so more as time goes by. Once in a while I meet somebody who will tell me something that my father did or my mother did that helped them so much.

ALLEN: Could you relate maybe one or two of those instances?

DUNN: Well, I remember one Black boy who helped us and he got into some trouble and they were going to put him in jail. My mother was a very small woman. I was five feet seven inches. I suppose that she never saw more than five feet three inches or five feet four inches. She had intense blue eyes, very pretty, but rather on the tiny side from my standpoint. And I can see her now. She heard that this boy was in jail and she went up the hill. She looked like a bandy hen with ruffled feathers and she went into the courthouse. I don't know what she said or what she did, but when she came out that boy was free. He expressed his desire to go into the service which he did and did very well. He came back to tell her and thank her. That was one thing. They both were always helping somebody.

ALLEN: Your family had a religious orientation to it?

DUNN: Well, it was, I think, in my mind more the word is faith. They had a working faith. A practical relationship with God from this standpoint, I guess. I grew up feeling like the things that happened in the Bible were not necessarily all over. That if God talked to his prophets then he could talk to us now. My parents were active in church, but they were never rigid. Never rigid in their religious concepts so that it gave you an uneasy feeling. I was never frightened to go to church. Nobody preached fire, hell, and damnation.

When I was at Randolph Macon, I graduated with honors. I was a member of the Pi Gamma Mu. This was the honorary social science fraternity, and I had a scholarship. In those days, remember I was a child of the Depression, and you didn't go to college unless you had some sort of a side job to help which I did. And after two years of being in the Women's College, my older brother approached my mother and father with the plan that it was time for me to go to a co‑ed school. Looking back I can see why I would.

ALLEN: So you were his in a way then?

DUNN: You bet.

ALLEN: He was watching out for you.

DUNN: That's right. Sure enough I went back to the state university and I loved that. I enjoyed that a lot.

ALLEN: The state university?

DUNN: That was West Virginia in Morgantown. And then I got to thinking about how my family had pinched and scrapped and planned so that I could go to a really outstanding school and here I was going off to a co‑ed school where I had lots of fun. So I called them or wrote Randolph-Macon, I forget. I suppose I wrote them and asked if my scholarship was still good. They said yes, so I went back to Randolph Macon and graduated with honors there. Then a couple of years later I went to Cornell in the summertime. I went to a couple of summer schools there and worked on a graduate degree, but I never got it. I got married instead.

ALLEN: How long did you stay at West Virginia?

DUNN: Just the one year. The reason I went to summer school was I ended with a double major. Randolph Macon didn't accept credits for courses that they didn't have. I had taken a lot of social sciences at West Virginia and when I went back I picked up English Literature at Randolph Macon.

ALLEN: It is important to understand the early years before talking about the professional years. I hope you feel comfortable with that.

DUNN: It's all right. As I say I'm enjoying talking about them because I was so blessed. It's still a joy to talk about them.

ALLEN: You mentioned that you worked while you were at Randolph Macon. What kind of work did you do?

DUNN: Well, I wasn't "hip" to knowing what was there. A lot of students got the best places because they knew what they wanted. They went early before school even started and got the different things. I had a little job in an office where I answered the phone certain hours. I had an arrangement downtown with the dry cleaner and another one with a theater. The dry cleaner would bring clothes back and I would deliver them to the girls' rooms and they would give me the clothes to go and I would put them in a certain place and the cleaner would come and pick them up. The picture show gave me two tickets a week. All I had to do was put the poster up on the bulletin board. There were several little things. I can't even remember all of them. Wherever there was something that we could do, we did.

ALLEN: Resourceful.

DUNN: Well, you know when I think about it, many people were working when I was in college. Practically everybody had some little something going. Oh yes, I worked at a florist, too. My sorority was Chi Omega so I got the order for the flowers for the Chi Omega banquets. That sort of thing. Little things, you pick a little up here and little there, etc. One of my joys at Randolph Macon was working on the college magazine which was called the "Old Maid."

I enjoyed that, but the trouble was that in those days the big college magazine was called "College Humor" and for years after I got out of college I never heard a new joke because I found out that most jokes are reworked jokes. The same old ones over and over in a different disguise. Well, I was very fortunate when I came home because I came back to the same school that I had graduated from and with the same principal of the school.

ALLEN: This was the high school?

DUNN: The high school. About all you could do when you graduated from Randolph-Macon was to teach school. They have more things now, but then about all you could do was to teach school. The principal was the same one that I had had when I was there and he was very helpful. In those days the junior high was in with the senior high so that my younger brother was a senior in high school when I went back. A lot of youngsters who had been his friends ... in and out of our house ... were in my classes and man did they sign up for my classes. I had sixty to request to sign up in practically every class every hour. So I had to learn pretty fast then.

I decided I had a little discipline problem. I had seen other people go to the principal for help so I decided I would just go also. So I went to the principal's office but somebody else was in with him. I waited out in front and the girl who was in with him was a girl who had been in my class and it was also her first year to teach. She came out and she had been crying and she rushed on out and I went into his office. The principal apologized for making me wait. Then he said, "You know this is this girl's first year, and she really doesn't have the personality to override the aggregate personality of her students so she is having discipline problems. She was calling for help. And what can I do for you?" I said, "I came to see about getting some football tickets." I went back with a stiffer backbone and didn't have any more trouble.

ALLEN: Never had to go to the principal again.

DUNN: Never had to go to the principal again. There were many times when I would look at a room full of children and their will just comes at you-- will is as much as I can think to call it--like a wave and you think, "I cannot combat this." Then I think of her not having personality as strong as the children's. I thought that no child can intimidate me.

ALLEN: They sit out there and say go ahead; teach me something, I dare you.

DUNN: Right, right, right. Well I had a lot of fun though. I came out of it with a tremendous respect for particularly seniors in high school. They are real people. They are informed, and have excellent ideas and they are responsible if you give them the responsibility. I had respect for them every year that I taught.

ALLEN: Has that feeling about the young people carried over to this day?

DUNN: Oh yes, oh yes. My daughter had two Baskin‑Robbins stores in California for a while. Baskin‑Robbins has an excellent training program. She has had on her staff some wonderful young people and young people who want jobs. She had eight jobs to give and 200 high school students applied. So she has got the cream, of course. But they responded so well. Of course, everybody has problems. Once in a while you find somebody whose principles are not as high as they should be, but that is going to happen everywhere. I am tempted to tell you a story that I've told I think everyone that I know in the cable business.

After we were married, my husband came back to town. He was walking along the street and a big broad shouldered man stopped him and said, "Are you Miss Long's husband?" And Morris said, "Yes, I am." He said, "I just want to shake your hand, everything I am I owe to Miss Long." And Morris said, "Well, I know Polly will be delighted to hear that. It was nice of you to tell me. And what do you do Mr. Nelson?" He said, "I am the manager of the local liquor store." I don't know whether to cry or to laugh when I tell this story. I was proud of him, I really was proud of him. He later became local postmaster and a fine young man. I never did see what I had done that made him say that.

ALLEN: That drove him to drink.

DUNN: It certainly was a round about way wasn't it?

ALLEN: What classes were you teaching when you came back from Randolph Macon?

DUNN: The first year I did English and stuff. Most of the time I did political science, economics, and social sciences, history, and I was the senior sponsor so we did outside projects. For instance, we got to run the town one day and things of that sort. I enjoyed it.

ALLEN: This was in West Virginia in what town?

DUNN: Oak Hill. I taught a year in Oak Hill and then my family moved. As I told you, my father started a business after he was 60. And we moved to Fayetteville and I taught there and then I got married.

ALLEN: Fayetteville?

DUNN: Fayetteville, West Virginia. They all almost run together in extended areas.

ALLEN: Were you still teaching in the same high school or did Fayetteville have its own high school?

DUNN: Fayetteville had its own high school.

ALLEN: So you moved there. And were you living with your parents then?

DUNN: Oh yes.

ALLEN: Where did your older brother go to college?

DUNN: He went to Purdue. And my younger brother went to Hampton Sydney in Virginia where my grandfather had gone.

ALLEN: And what did your older brother do once he graduated from Purdue?

DUNN: Well, he had an engineering degree and he had always been interested in mechanics. I never thought he would ever be anything but an engineer. But strange to say after he got out of school he had a good job as an engineer, but somehow he got interested in insurance and he went into insurance. He became very well known nationally as a successful insurance man. My brother was always the kind that in Fayetteville, which is a tiny little town, was the one who saw to it that the cemetery was cleaned up. He was the one who was head of the United Way drive, March of Dimes. He worked with Boy Scouts until he died. He got all kinds of nice awards--Silver Beaver and stuff. Insurance just fit him. He liked taking care of people and seeing that they were safe and protected.

My younger brother, who never showed any mechanical inclination that we saw, was bright, much more than bright. We used to say we never knew when he went to school in the morning what grade he would be in when he got home that afternoon. He was just 19 when he graduated from college; well I guess he was 20, about two weeks before he graduated. Anyway, I told you my father went into business for himself. My brother was helping dad. I think the idea was possibly that he looked so young and so rosy cheeked and fresh looking, and that he would work with his father a couple of years and then maybe do something else. I always thought he would make a marvelous attorney, but apparently he didn't. He has become a designing engineer. I think he has retired two or three times already.

ALLEN: So the brother who was going to be an engineer turned out to be an insurance man and the brother who you thought should be a lawyer, Jack, turned out to be an engineer.

DUNN: Turned out to be an engineer. Jack took to it like a duck to water and to this day he is still inventing or modifying things to make them better. He has a new invention which he's beginning to manufacture overseas as well as in the United States.

ALLEN: And your brother's names were or are?

DUNN: My younger brother's name is John Broaddus Long. We call him Jack. There is a college, I'm not familiar with it actually, but I think I'm right. I believe there is a Broaddus College in Virginia that was founded by my grandmother's uncle or great uncle. Anyway, when Jack was five, he'd already taught himself to read and my mother went to see the first grade teacher to see if she would allow him to come to school. She was a very ardent Baptist and Broaddus College was a Baptist college.

ALLEN: The teacher was a very ardent Baptist?

DUNN: Yes, she was a very ardent Baptist. She said to my mother that her class was full. She couldn't take another child. She looked down at him, a little five year old, and he sort of clouded up when he couldn't go to school. She turned to him and said, "What is your name little man?" And he said, "My name is John Broaddus Long." She said, "John Broaddus?" He said, "Yes." She said, "I think maybe I can find a place for him."

ALLEN: And your older brother's name?

DUNN: Was Armistead Rosser Long, Jr. He has, well he doesn't have another Armistead Rosser, and he has Armistead Long. They split the name and his daughter's name is Elizabeth Rosser Long. They are grown and married.

You came here today and I am in the midst of two or three projects all at once. One of them, though, is that I am trying to update a family book, not the kind that tells about romance or is a novel, but names, etc. You can imagine how hard and difficult it is to get people to send you the names of their children and when they were born and got married, etc. They want the book, but they don't want to give me the information.

ALLEN: They don't want to put any effort into it. Well, you certainly have a very good trace on your family. You can go back quite a number of generations.

DUNN: Well with my father's family I can. My mother's family, the McCauleys is different. It's just a tragedy to me that my McCauley grandfather had a very bitter quarrel with his brother and when they moved from the Louisville area down to Union County he refused to have any more contact with his family and wouldn't let his wife do it either. To me it just stops there you see. I don't know where to turn. Not that I was going and digging up things, but I wouldn't know where to turn if I did. But isn't that a shame?

ALLEN: Yes, it is. So you're at this point teaching in Fayetteville in the high school. You indicated that you had gone to Cornell for a couple of summers. Was it right at the time that you began teaching that you took your summers and went up to Cornell?

DUNN: Well a year or two later. My mother was not well and I stayed at home the first year after I was out of college, but then after that I took a couple of summers at Cornell.

ALLEN: How did you pick Cornell? That is not a very obvious choice for someone in West Virginia.

DUNN: Well my idea when I was in college was that I would like, at least, to have gone to a different college every year.

ALLEN: When you were doing your undergraduate degree?

DUNN: Right. After all, you know, you allot four years to educate the young lady or the young man and then after that he is supposed to be educated and on his own. So I would have liked to have gone to Hawaii for one year, to a northern school for one year, and to a western school for a year. But it just simply did not work out that way. Also Cornell had such a high scholastic reputation. The library there was a joy beyond saying just to go in ... the things they had. Of course it has always been a well endowed school and they had everything that other schools didn't have. I had a wonderful time there.

ALLEN: What kinds of things were you studying those summers?

DUNN: That was during the time when Roosevelt, who was the perennial president, was doing a lot of things. The economics, of course, was taking that into consideration and that was very helpful.

ALLEN: So you had your social sciences and economics.

DUNN: Right. We lived on the top of a mountain and down in the valley. Two rivers came together just before you get to Charleston, West Virginia. Union Carbide had plants down there and a great many were social contacts. The unmarried crowd concentrated down there because they had so many young men they had brought in. That is where I met my husband, whose name was Morris Dunn. He was originally from Indianapolis, Indiana, but had been there for quite some time.

ALLEN: What was he doing at Union Carbide?

DUNN: He was in the office there. They opened a plant in Florence, Alabama, and sent him down to set up the administration office and the purchasing and all of that. So we married when he came down. That was in 1940. We lived there until we moved here. That was almost 15 years ago.

End of Tape 1, Side A

ALLEN: You mentioned a little bit about your husband and his role with his friend who owned a knitting mill in Florence, Alabama.

DUNN: Well, we were visiting in West Virginia and we heard about cable television. This is at a time when everybody was excited about television. But, it was available only to the people who lived either in or very near the bigger cities. We went to West Virginia and a friend of ours was building or getting ready to build a cable system in Beckley, West Virginia. The whole concept was so completely exciting and here was a market, not only a market, but a demanding market, and here was the answer. Morris and I would consider ourselves rather conservative people, but we were ready in fifteen minutes to cash in everything we could get our hands on and build a cable system.

ALLEN: Before we get into that, and I am looking forward to some of those stories, what further incident comes to mind during your courtship days with the man that turned out to be your husband? What is the first thing you think of?

DUNN: I think the first thing I thought of when you said that was that he told people he was going to marry me before he ever asked me for a date.

ALLEN: That is interesting. That's amazing how often that happens, isn't it? Where had he seen you or met you?

DUNN: Well, as I say, we had been in many of the same places over the years, through the college years and all. My social life was intermingled with the people that he knew. He had been married before and I had been to his home, as a matter of fact, I think at an intermission party during a dance. I did not, of course, think of him as a possible escort or anything, but I liked him very much. I admired him very much. He had a son who was so beautifully mannered, that impressed me. Unfortunately this was a time before penicillin and all the wonder drugs for pneumonia. The town in which he lived was right down in the crevice, so to speak, between two mountains and influenza hit the town and people got it one day and were dead in two days.

It was terrible, just terrible. I think it was such a short time afterwards that there was a cure for it. Now if someone gets pneumonia that is not a problem. But, then...

ALLEN: His wife died then of the influenza epidemic?

DUNN: Yes.

ALLEN: What about his son?

DUNN: His son was best man at our wedding. Unfortunately he has since died himself. We were good friends and he was in college when we met. When Morris was sent down to Alabama, we married in June of that year. He was in Alabama for several months before we were married. Florence was an industrial awakening for us. They have since gotten quite a number of industries, but Morris' office was the first new industry so a big "to do" was made. Except for the top men, the very top men, they had local men so that the spotlight was on us along with some other people. We were given a lovely welcome to Florence, Alabama, and I have many dear, dear friends there.

ALLEN: Did you continue your teaching career after you moved to Florence?

DUNN: No, no. I did some volunteer work of various kinds. The Girl Scouts there were trying to gather enough money to hire a professional director. I did pinch hit for that for awhile. But, I didn't teach.

ALLEN: I think you said you stayed in Florence about fifteen years all together?

DUNN: Just about. My children were born there.

ALLEN: And how long was he with Carbide as against with the knitting mill?

DUNN: I can't tell you those exact times.

ALLEN: Most of the time.

DUNN: No. About half and half I guess. See all that merges in my mind.

ALLEN: Tell us about the birth of your children. How many children?

DUNN: I have two children. One is a daughter named Martha for her grandmother. She was born in 1946. My son was born in 1949. He was named for his father. I lost him when he was twenty. He was beginning his senior year at Old Miss. Martha graduated from Old Miss and Mike would have graduated the following June. He was killed in October. Martha has married and lives in California and has two children, two adorable grandchildren.

ALLEN: I think that's a redundancy if I remember right.

DUNN: I also have sort of an assorted family. I had my stepson who we started with, then we had the two little ones. I was back doing Girl Scout work again and we had a little Girl Scout that we hired as a babysitter and before it was over we just kept her. We never adopted her. She still has her own mother, but she was ours from the time she was eleven until she married. We still feel a family foursome. She has three children so she stood in for me for awhile before Martha gave me any grandchildren.

ALLEN: And where does she live?

DUNN: She lives in Canyon Lake, Texas. It is just outside of San Antonio.

ALLEN: So it's just a little closer than California.

DUNN: That's right. A little closer.

ALLEN: There seems to be a rule nowadays that the grandchildren have to live far enough way to frustrate the grandparents.

DUNN: I think that is a very easily debatable comment. So that brings us up pretty much to now, doesn't it?

ALLEN: Yes, I think so. Who was the friend in Beckley, West Virginia, that got you all excited about cable?


ALLEN: Hard question. Jim.

DUNN: It is and I don't think he ended by being the one who built it after all. I can't think. It's terrible; I can't think of his last name ... his first name was Jim.

ALLEN: Ok. It will come to you.

DUNN: Well, I'm not sure.

ALLEN: Had he put the system on the air by then?

DUNN: No, no. In fact I really think it ended that he wasn't the one that built it. He was excited about it and everything just fit, you know. Think of the places that you had where you couldn't get a good signal, down behind a hill or over a mountain or something of that sort. And to be able to get a signal on top of the mountain and bring it down to the valley was just great.

ALLEN: One of the most interesting questions has got to be, how did you pick Columbus, Mississippi?

DUNN: Oh, it wasn't hard. We had our first franchise right where we were. We were in Florence, Alabama, and we got the franchise for the tri‑cities. A very, very lucrative thing has developed over the years.

ALLEN: The tri‑cities of?

DUNN: That's Florence, Sheffield, and Tuscumbia, Alabama.


DUNN: And they are all very close together. And of course we would do it on a shoestring. And some very heavily and deep pocketed financial interests became interested in it. They were able to convince Morris that it would cost so much that we wouldn't be able to do it. So we began to look for a different place. I must say I was pretty influential in that decision because I fell in love with Columbus. A beautiful town, school for girls right in town, school for boys fourteen or eighteen miles away. I just liked the atmosphere. There were times when I wondered about my judgment, however, because the very conservatism of the town that appeals to me, doesn't make for quick acceptance of new ideas.

ALLEN: How did you get exposed to Columbus? You were not from Mississippi originally.

DUNN: No. Morris was looking for places.

ALLEN: So you went visiting cities throughout the south?

DUNN: He did that. I didn't do that. I stayed home with the children.

ALLEN: And he came home and said, "I found a place."

DUNN: That's about it. As it turned out, I think it was instrumental in my losing him because as I say, we did it on a shoestring. In the first place, we had spent a lot of money in that preliminary time when we were waiting for the engineers to come from Jerrold to help us plan it. Well, anyway we weren't exactly flush for money and our living expenses were continuing to go on because Morris had already cut loose from his job.

ALLEN: He had quit his job at the knitting mill?

DUNN: Everything.

ALLEN: Are you talking now about the Florence experience?

DUNN: But anyway our interest in the company that did build Florence was fortunate because it gave me money at the time that he was in the hospital and that helped a great deal.

ALLEN: So you retained an interest in the Florence operation and...

DUNN: A very small interest.

ALLEN: And someone else took over the rest of it, and then you came to Columbus and began to build a system here?

DUNN: That's right.

ALLEN: Did you have any capital out of the Florence experience to start Columbus?

DUNN: No, no.

ALLEN: You were right down to nickels and dimes?

DUNN: Right. We sold stock and notes. If you bought five shares of common stock, that was a dollar a share for them. You had five dollars in common stock. You had five shares of preferred stock at $100 apiece. There was a note for $500 that had 6 percent interest and that was paid regularly. As we were able to we not only paid the 6 percent interest on the notes, but we retired the notes. Then in a few years we were able to also pay the 6 percent both retroactive and current 6 percent on the preferred stock.

ALLEN: Did anyone who was going to invest in the cable system buy both of those ... the common, the preferred?

DUNN: Oh yes they all did it.

ALLEN: That was the package.

DUNN: That was the package; $1,005 got you five shares. And, of course, break it down otherwise, too, but that was the common thing. Nobody put a whole lot of money into it.

ALLEN: How many stockholders did you have at the beginning?

DUNN: I don't remember how many.

ALLEN: Was it in the hundreds or in the teens or...

DUNN: No, no. It wasn't in the hundreds. I don't remember exactly how many, but it wasn't all that many.

DUNN: But anyway the investors owned the common stock which was face value a dollar a piece, which makes it very difficult for anybody who wanted to sell it, because they were dismayed when they found out what the tax was going to be. Not only that, we also had in our by‑laws that you can't sell the stocks to anybody out of the group. It has to be offered either to...

ALLEN: Either the company or to other stockholders. What has that stock been selling for recently?

DUNN: Nobody sells it. But, our contract at first was $125 for an installation. That was equal to what it cost to buy and put up an antenna. Then it was $3.50 a month and that was equal to about what it would cost to have your antenna taken down once a year and cleaned and straightened up and put back up. That went on for a few years, but in 1956 it had become pretty prevalent all over the country to just charge $10 to have an installation and $4.95 a month. The idea again there, it was a long term deal when you bought this. When we first went into the cable business, we thought sincerely, and I am not just talking about myself and my husband, but the general theory with cable people was that it was only going to last about five years anyway. Because nobody was going to have cable after they could get a local station. That would fill the need and that would be the end of cable so they needed to get it paid out as quickly as possible. Then by 1956 people were beginning to realize that you could get equipment that carried three channels or five channels. So that maybe there would be a place for the cable business in the coming years. This way we could take a chance on a $10 installation charge. Of course, it cost you a lot more that $10 then and still does. And we charged $4.95 a month.

ALLEN: Let me go back for just a minute. You decided after you saw Columbus that this was the place you wanted to build a system, but you had to come in and get a franchise, did you not?

DUNN: Yes. The mayor of Columbus was very strongly instrumental in our coming here. He wanted so much for his town that we were really helped a lot. As a matter of fact, we were rather discouraged about the sale of stock and were about to leave. He laid out a check for $1,000, $1,005 on the line and said, "I want to be the first." And then he whipped up a little enthusiasm.

ALLEN: What was his name?

DUNN: His name was Bill Prost.

ALLEN: Was he mayor here for a number of years?

DUNN: Yes.

ALLEN: So he was a real pillar in the community?

DUNN: Right. He was right. I don't know whether he lived to see, but I know that there were at least two different industries that came here in the later years. I was told by the Chamber of Commerce that probably not the single deciding factor, but a deciding factor was definitely that there was a television. At that time we had five channels. Not many cities had five. So it made a difference. I am still surprised at how much television is an integral part of most people's lives, and they are simply not going to be without it.

ALLEN: So you really had no particular battle to get the franchise?

DUNN: No. On the contrary.

ALLEN: You were welcomed with opened arms.

DUNN: Right. And we had tried to live up to that confidence in us. We didn't wait to be made to put more channels. We did it the minute we thought we could afford it. The payback period becomes longer and longer every year. We have so many basic channels that you get for your basic fee. We have no room for any premium services on the basic dial. So we have to furnish a converter that is also a descrambler. By the time we get through, we have $150 invested before anybody pays us a nickel. As the fees for satellite signals go up and up as I told you that many of them have doubled and tripled each year, then the time span before we get our money back, much less make any money, gets longer, and longer. So you need more and more assurance that you are going to be in business. So the fact that the city council was willing to extend our franchise twenty-five years made it, well they expressed their confidence.

ALLEN: Confidence in you that you are going to be operating the system for another twenty-five years.

DUNN: I certainly am going to try to.

ALLEN: The original franchise was for the city of Columbus.

DUNN: Right. That's right and then shortly thereafter we got a...

ALLEN: An agreement with the county.

DUNN: Yes, the board of supervisors.

ALLEN: Had you built the city by the time you got that agreement or...

DUNN: Oh yes, yes. We went to the county right away, but at that time the attorney general said that the county supervisors didn't have the right to grant franchises. Then the FCC came along two years later and said we've got to have a piece of paper. So I went to the board of supervisors and told them exactly that. So their attorney said we'll give you an order and said exactly the same thing as the franchise. But it was an order not a franchise.

ALLEN: Where did your first signal come from?

DUNN: Birmingham. When we moved here, that was the only possible thing that we could get. See there was no Meridian, there was no Tupelo, there was Jackson then. We tried to get Jackson, but it was just too far. Of course, this was the kind of thing that I used to tell people in 1956. The horizon is about 60 or 70 miles away which means from then on the earth drops down and the signals continue to go up and all you are getting after 60 miles is a reflection off of the ionosphere. If the ionosphere is high, you get one kind of reception, and if it is low, you get another kind of reception. Jackson is just simply too far to get, and at that time there was no microwave path. Now we have microwaves from Memphis. It is now a duplicate station. One of our local stations is ABC, but unfortunately they have had some problems that occasionally seem to put them off the air, so that unfortunately the time they go off the air is just the same time that we do. When we have a storm, it's in the middle of something that you want to see so that we continue to use the microwaves to back up the ABC local station.

ALLEN: Did you get just one station out of Birmingham to begin with?

DUNN: No, to begin with, we had two. Then the local station came on and that left us with only one. So we needed to get more stations and get equipment that would give us more. About that time, however, Tupelo came on the air.

ALLEN: Tupelo is about how far away?

DUNN: Well, it's about 70 miles by the road. But, we have had it now for many years.

ALLEN: How did you get the original engineering done? Did your husband have that background?

DUNN: No, but again this is the sort of atmosphere that the first systems grew up in. They learn pretty fast regardless of their background, but we also had a man that you would be interested in talking to. His name is Jim Collins. He lives in Memphis. In the last very few years he has retired from being their chief engineer in the Memphis system. I am sure they could tell you where to find him. He did most of the engineering for us and did for a great many other small systems which were going on the air at that particular time. We are talking about 1952, '53, '54, thereabouts.

ALLEN: Did you have any particular engineering problems that you had to overcome?

DUNN: Well in the first place we had to find the highest point in Lowndes County, and we had to find the tallest poles. And we found the tallest poles in the country, 110 feet and very expensive. Then as you bought them, you had the problem of how are you going to get them here? What kind of a truck can bring a 110 foot pole?

ALLEN: Where did you find them?

DUNN: In Alabama somewhere. Morris found them. We got them, and you will have to ask Travis to tell you how they put them up. It is very interesting to hear how they put those 110 foot poles up, and to put their antennas on.

ALLEN: So you didn't erect a steel frame, but a pole frame.

DUNN: That's right. We had four as I remember, four poles and we ran like a scaffolding-‑a walkway between so that you could get up there and work.

ALLEN: Where is the highest point?

DUNN: It is on Ridge Road. It's out past the country club.

ALLEN: Is that still where your antenna is?

DUNN: No, no. The man who owned that, a Mr. Quinn, was tremendously interested in our project. If anybody was as interested as the mayor, he was. He wanted television for Columbus, so he owned this property and he gave us a twenty-five year lease for $25. Unfortunately he died several years later and his daughter said she would like to have that property to build a house on, so we looked for another place. The location that we found is ideal in that it is as much as possible in the center of our system. But it is low. By that time we were able to buy a steel tower. We still have that same tower and we still receive Birmingham, and we get Tupelo and West Point.

ALLEN: West Point, Mississippi?

DUNN: Oh yes, Mississippi. It is probably 25 or 30 miles away. And the educational channel.

ALLEN: From?

DUNN: Well, it's a franchise or whatever you call it to the state university which is only a few miles away. But their transmitter is not there. It is a little farther away, but anyway those we still get off the air.

ALLEN: What did you do with your four 110 foot poles? Did she build her house on top of them?

DUNN: No. You will have to ask Travis that. Come to think of it, I don't know what they did with them. But by the time we took them down, I can't imagine what anybody would do with them. They had to go at least 10 feet in the ground you see. I remember that we put up a new, we called it "newfangled", kind of an antenna. You see them once in awhile. I forget what they call them. Again Travis will tell you. But if you take your hand and half open, a double angle, that was the way it was. They put up a giant hand with a mesh on it.

ALLEN: To catch the signal?

DUNN: To catch the signal. We had a terrifically hard time with the co‑channel, because Channel 6 from Birmingham was one that we got. Then they put in a Channel 6 in Greenwood, Mississippi, exactly an equal distance in the other direction and we had a beep that was very difficult to get out. Once in awhile, not much anymore, somebody will say, "I just don't understand, Channel 13 from Birmingham, sometimes it's not good at all. It used to be wonderful." And I would say, "Miss Jones, it's exactly the same or maybe a little better than it was when you were talking about it being wonderful, we couldn't get anything."

ALLEN: Our standards have increased.

DUNN: My goodness, who can compete with a satellite signal? Beautiful pictures. Think how far they have come. My goodness.

ALLEN: Did you have much resistance among the populace of Columbus? You said the mayor was enthusiastic. How did the people take to the idea? Did you have trouble selling cable television to the community?

DUNN: Yes, yes. Particularly after the paper came out. The local paper said that we were going to have a local TV station and it would have ABC, CBS, and NBC.

ALLEN: All at the same time?

DUNN: All at the same time on one station. That was the days of charity. And, of course, they did have some of each. People said, "Why should I pay $125 when it is going to be free?" They really used that word free very frequently. And I think that had a great deal to do with Morris' illness. I feel probably based on that experience that when you walk around with a knot in your stomach, you are an invitation to cancer. He felt very strongly his responsibility to those people who had put money into the cable company. At that time we knew we could walk out of here and go get a franchise somewhere else. But he felt like he had told them that he was going to make them some money and he was to really stick with it.

ALLEN: You started in 1952?

DUNN: No, 1953.

ALLEN: When did the story come out about the local television station?

DUNN: That was after we were already in business. I would say that was in possibly '56.

ALLEN: How did those first two or three years go before that?

DUNN: It was kind of touch and go. We didn't always know whether we were going to have money for the weekly paychecks or not. We put little bits and pieces in the bank. Morris was fortunate. He had a wonderful personality and he had the ability to walk into a crowd of people cold, walking back leaving friends. And he was a musician. He could play anything that he had ever heard or any kind of instrument. A piano he could tear to pieces. If you ever heard Ben Conroy play, you have heard my husband, too.

ALLEN: I have.

DUNN: I could close my eyes and declare it was Morris playing. They played so much alike. He made some very good friends and one of them was the head of one of the banks here, who was our friend in need a number of times.

ALLEN: When the payroll had to be met, he helped you make it?

DUNN: Yes.

ALLEN: Your husband sounds a little bit like your older brother.

DUNN: Yes, he was.

ALLEN: Never met a stranger.

DUNN: That's right, that's right. We went to the Waldorf‑Astoria one time. It was a very memorable trip. This was way back when we were first married and they had a band there. I knew Morris was shifting in his chair, and directly he popped up and went up and asked if he could sit in. They thought "gee another one" but they were nice and said, "Ok." So he went to the piano and you could see the difference. They were ready to cover up or drown him out or something. Then they just relaxed. It is like anything that you are really vitally interested in. It is the fraternity. It is a bond. Why inside of minutes they were hamming it up or whatever it is that you do when jamming. Is that what they call it, "jamming"? He was having a good time and so were they.

ALLEN: How big of a staff did you have right at the outset to actually physically string the cable?

DUNN: Well, we did have extra people for that. But, Morris supervised it all.

ALLEN: Just casual laborers then?

DUNN: We had one technician and one person in the office. Along about 1957, we had to let her go though, because that was just a tough time for us. I came down. I am not the world's best bookkeeper, but he knew how, and taught me a little. Now the man who has been our financial advisor is W.C. Hollis and he is a CPA. I just can't say enough nice things about him, because he is a person who never says anything critical. I try to run things by him always if there is any question of money. I say, now this, this, and this, what do you think of it? Dead silence. I would say, "Ok, I won't do it."

ALLEN: You know that if he doesn't say it's good, it is bad.

DUNN: That's right. He is going to eat dinner with us tonight, he and his wife.

ALLEN: Did you have any trouble getting access to the poles?

DUNN: I didn't have anything to do with that, of course. But that is still sometimes a difficult situation. And I can understand from the point of the power people and telephone people, they need those poles so they put them in the ground. And, of course, in their contract, I am sure with the city; they promise that they will share if they need to, because no city wants a half dozen poles in each spot. But, at the same time, it can cause them problems. It means that they have to have poles that are tall enough to accommodate renters so to speak. So once in awhile it gets kind of tough.

ALLEN: Were there some problems connected with the original pole agreements here?

DUNN: Well no, other than just taking time to get them worked out and everything. Again, as with almost anybody that Morris worked with, if it was somebody that he personally worked with, we didn't have any real problem. But, if someone from the higher echelon was involved, why sometimes their demands were rather large.

ALLEN: Were there any other cable systems operational in Mississippi at the time ... 1956?

DUNN: No, we built the first. But, Greenwood started very shortly after us. They finished theirs, oh I think within a couple of months after we did, or they started a couple months. Anyway there wasn't much time in between. It went like wildfire in Mississippi. It is surprising because you think of Mississippi as being a flat state. There were no small TV stations. There was one in Jackson and I don't know whether there was one in Hattiesburg or not. Anyway it was tantalizing to know that there were all these programs and things that you could get, and not be able to get them so there was a great demand for it, everywhere for that matter.

ALLEN: In some of the places where cable started, the mountains played a big part. It was the topography that forced it into Pennsylvania and Arkansas, but in Mississippi I am hearing you say that it was the population dispersion.

DUNN: I suppose so.

ALLEN: Just not enough stations.

DUNN: Right, right.

ALLEN: How long did it take to build Columbus? Did that get done pretty quickly?

DUNN: No. I can't remember exactly when we started, officially started because all this paperwork was being done, too. But we put our first customer on in September of 1954. If I'm not mistaken one of the first customers was a man who had gone to Alabama and been in the Rose Bowl. And there was a big game, I don't know whether it was a Rose Bowl game or it may have been just a game, because I think it was in September. The man actually held the cable in his hands so that he could watch the game.

ALLEN: We have been joined now by Travis Nabors, who is the Vice President‑General Manager and Chief Executive Officer, of the Columbus TV Corporation and has been with the company now for 31 years. Mrs. Dunn you said that if we are going to start talking technical things you want Travis here.

DUNN: That's right.

ALLEN: Also being a very young man he is able to remember things that you are not held responsible for.

DUNN: Now you didn't need to say that.

ALLEN: The question that I had posed and you had started to answer is how long did it take to get the system really built? Reflecting on that you said that maybe it never does get built. Maybe it is a dynamic process that keeps going on.

NABORS: You're right. It is constantly replacing, updating equipment that you use in cable. Back in those early days especially, things were always out of date. They had a replacement for it before they got it shipped to you.

ALLEN: Who were the major suppliers of equipment back in the early mid fifties?

NABORS: Jerrold.

DUNN: And then Entron because...

NABORS: Jerrold, Entron, and AMECO, and then after those came Vikoa.

DUNN: But that was a later date.

NABORS: Well that was a little later, yes.

DUNN: But you know Jim Davidson flew over here in his plane to sell us Entron stuff. When we had started out, Jerrold had what they called a "turnkey job."

ALLEN: So Jerrold was basically responsible for the original engineering of the system.

NABORS: This is true, yes.

ALLEN: And then once the system was on, then as you began to refine it and use the updated technology then you would go to other manufacturing?

NABORS: Not so much. We probably had about three different versions of the Jerrold equipment because Jerrold was in it well before Entron, or before we got to dealing in Entron equipment. We had, I don't recall all of these numbers because it was all tube type. We had put in electronic gear, about three different versions of it when we started into the Entron. None of these three versions that we used had voltage regulation and AGC was very limited. This caused quite a problem.

ALLEN: Do you have any recollection of who some of the early people were that you dealt with from the equipment side?

NABORS: I am trying to think, if you could hold that just a minute. Jerry Hasting with Jerrold was one of the main people that we dealt with. Then with Entron, Jim Davidson and Nick Abdo of Natchez. He lived in Natchez and he was a sales person for Jim Davidson with Entron. At that time it was called DAVCO. Nick and Jim flew all over the country in his plane selling equipment, carrying what he could into the system.

DUNN: He was very helpful, too, because he had operated his system and he knew what our problems were. We looked forward to his coming and sitting down and saying what makes this happen, and what can we do about that. In fact, most of our meetings at that time really evolved into, "What do you do when such and such happens?" It was an exchange of a lot of technical stuff. I miss all of that. It got to the place where we didn't have a technical session at the meetings because if you let your man go to one of those seminars he'd come back with three other job offers.

NABORS: This was quite an ordeal back then. I remember the first one I went to in Philadelphia. Some guy, I don't recall his name, didn't use a field strength meter. He only had a TV to set his amplifiers with, and he was up in Maine, and he wanted me to come to work for him. You would carry the TV set and cover it up to adjust your amplifier and when you got cross modulation, you would back it off a little. And that's the way it had to be done. There just weren't that many field strength meters being used in those days.

ALLEN: Was it a very hard decision not to move from Columbus, Mississippi, to Maine?

NABORS: Well, there is no way, born and raised in Columbus, Mississippi; I want to go to Maine. My clothes wouldn't fill the bill, that was one. I had a great offer. I came to work for Mr. Dunn late July 1958. I came to work on Monday morning, Monday night when I got home, I had a job application from Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville wanting me to come up for an interview and a physical. I guess it is ok to tell this. I brought the letter the next morning, they wanted me up on Wednesday, and like I said this was Monday. I laid it on Mr. Dunn's desk. He opened it and read it, and asked me what I was going to do. I said, "Mr. Dunn, I don't know what to do." He said, "Why don't you take off Wednesday and go up and see, you won't know 'til you go." I guess that is probably the one thing that kept me at Columbus TV Cable. I didn't really know the man. He didn't know me and yet that is what he suggested I do!

End of Tape 1, Side B

NABORS: When I came back on Thursday, he wanted to know what happened. I told him I had a job up there if I wanted it. He said, "Well, what are you going to do?" I said, "If you'll have me, I am going to stay here and work." He said, "Get the hell out of here and go to work." And I did. So I worked for Mr. Dunn from July until late November when he passed away. He was one of the greatest men I ever worked for. And Ms. Polly came along and I never will forget a meeting we had after the funeral. There were three men at that time and one lady. She wanted to know if we thought we could work with her. And we said, "Well, we'll sure give it a try." So thirty-one years later here I am.

ALLEN: Still testing?

NABORS: Still testing. And I have not regretted one moment of it. I don't know what it would be like to go look for a job, to be honest with you.

ALLEN: Did they hold a job open for you at Redstone? Could you go there if you had to?

NABORS: No. I called and told them I wasn't coming.

ALLEN: Could we talk a little bit about some of the technical kinds of problems that you ran into very early? Before we started the interview you were talking about voltage and variations in voltage that was a particular problem. Was that the biggest problem?

NABORS: Well, one problem with cable, as everyone in the cable business back then knew and still knows, is that the shield on it was not very good. Let me put it simply. With the cable of the fifties and sixties, there is no way that one foot of it would ever pass the FCC tests that are coming up in 1990. Most of it was braided or wrapped. When I am talking wrapped, I am talking just about copper sheets wrapped around so that it was almost open wire. No, it wasn't that bad, but it was bad. The problems in the early fifties, late fifties and sixties was AGC. The amplifiers had virtually none. Voltage regulation in the early part of the fifties didn't exist. The power companies couldn't control the power. It depended upon how many electric stoves were turned on for cooking lunch, how many were turned on for cooking dinner, and how much air conditioning was being used. You had to go back and level the amplifiers according to the voltage you got. This was a constant problem.

ALLEN: Constant. You mean once a week or...

NABORS: I mean every day. And just about every hour of the day. Virtually you wouldn't get through leveling until you had to go back and redo.

ALLEN: In a city the size of Columbus, how many amplifiers are you talking about?

NABORS: Well, if we are talking about the mid to late fifties, I would have to count them. We didn't even have all of the city wired at that time. But I would say some forty amplifiers or possibly fifty. Number one, the cable was not the cable we have today, so you couldn't get the spacing out of it that you do today. The way we got the best spacing then was we didn't run the cable on Channel 10. We would use subchannels, 0305, which would put it down lower. The lower the frequency the more distance you could get out of the cable. Then you would convert the signal up when you got to a group of homes. So not only did you have the amplifier but you also would have the torque converter. In the early days they were all tube type. Tubes were problems. They were noisy within themselves, plus the lack of voltage regulation. You had two pieces of equipment that you had to regulate. So this is one of the early problems with cable. You wouldn't dare do a radiation test on it.

DUNN: Tell us about the time when we used to dream of having a fancy-made box to hold the amplifiers.

NABORS: Well, as you know those amplifiers were open. The tubes just sticking down in the top. We made do with what we had and what we could get. We knew heat was a problem so we went and made galvanized boxes, or went to one of the places that made duct work.

ALLEN: Sheet metal shop.

NABORS: ... and made these boxes. We put vents in them and little fans to keep the tubes cool because tubes got tremendously hot. This would save changing them out so often. I know that somewhere we still have one of the boxes up. It was just as a keepsake. You would have to put AC power to each amplifier. You could not remote the power down the cable in those days as we do today to feed several amplifiers. So power outages were a tremendous problem and they still are.

Here in Columbus power outage is probably the biggest reason we are out. Ok, put in standby power--we tried that. What I am fixing to say is that theft, I guess; in every town is a problem. We took the worst location we had of power going out on the line. We got standby power, put two batteries in it to trickle charge it, to keep it charged up. The very first time we had a power outage because of a lightning storm, I thought, "Ah, we got you." The phone started ringing. We got out there. Somebody had taken a ladder, climbed the pole, used bolt cutters to cut the lock, and removed the batteries. We were still out. So that was the end of our experiment. We had two brand new standby power supplies at the headend that we never installed because there was no point. Somehow they know these are there. It's one thing to know that you are going to be out, but to more or less relax and think, "Well, I have got it," and then you're out, they you are not prepared. It takes longer to get out there and get it back on.

ALLEN: You live in an area where you have a lot of very violent weather.

DUNN: They call it "tornado alley." Now that we have the weather channel with all of their graphics, you can look at it time after time and it looks like somebody has taken a broad-based brush and come swooping up and making sort of an elongated S. The edge of the storm path hits Columbus almost every single time. We have not had too many times in the past thirty-five years, but one time we sat right here and watched a tree fall forward into the house and another tree fall over into another tree. We lost 150 trees.

NABORS: ... 300 and something trees.

DUNN: Was that the 300 and some? That was in 1958, wasn't it?

NABORS: The latter part, yes.

DUNN: So that people who move here from an area who do not have that type of electrical storm just can't understand why our cable goes off. And I stand there and say we have the best equipment in the world ... "Then why does it go off?"

ALLEN: Because God wants it off.

DUNN: And we are a little handicapped. I shouldn't say handicapped. Anyway, I refuse to say time after time, "It isn't out fault; it's the power company's fault." Well, it's not the power company's fault either. But they are the ones that are off first. It is a problem to them, but we never have convinced the people in town, have we?

NABORS: No, no.

DUNN: The night before last, I think I told you, a man called and was very much put out because his cable was off for five hours. Well, the cable is never off five hours. So I sent somebody out there and it turned out that they had pulled the plug in the wall when the storm came at twelve o'clock, so of course it wasn't on at seven o'clock.

NABORS: They forgot to plug it in.

ALLEN: Well it was out, but it wasn't your fault that it was out. Are there any particular stories related to storms that come to your mind?

NABORS: Well, yes. That storm where we lost in excess of 300 trees in town. We worked straight through. I know that this is hard to believe because we do everything here that is to be done. We don't have the privilege; I guess you say, of bringing in extra help from different towns because we just have this town. There weren't that many of us back in those days, but we worked about eighty-odd hours straight day and night. One might sit in the truck and grab himself a little nap while somebody was using a chain saw to cut a tree, but this was quite an ordeal. The other good thing in this, we worked along with the power company and the telephone company, and if we were out getting a tree, we got it off of their lines as well as ours while we were there. They did the same thing for us. So it wasn't only us out there. This particular time the power lines were the danger point. You didn't know if a line was hot or not. And it was dark. With a chain say you could go into a hot power line.

ALLEN: You only do that once.

NABORS: You only do that once.

DUNN: Just start, that's all.

NABORS: Well, that's about right. So I guess that is one of the toughest storms--no sleep, eat grabbing a sandwich here and there--that we have had since I have been here. I believe it was in '63. That was a tremendous one. So, that one was tough.

ALLEN: Have you ever had to clean up right after a tornado anywhere in the county? I know you said Columbus has never had a tornado, but has any place in the system had a tornado?

NABORS: Fortunately, no. It would hit just beyond the north side and down on the south side.

DUNN: One sat down on several mobile home parks. Actually before we got out of town on 45, then on out it kind of turns and goes at the edge.

NABORS: Northeast.

DUNN: Yes. There are a number of trailer parks there outside the base and it has flattened them down a couple of times.

ALLEN: Earlier before you joined us, Travis, Polly was talking about the first antenna--the four 110 foot poles. She thought you could talk a little bit about how you put them up which doesn't seem like an easy task. And then when the antenna farm had to be moved, what happened to those four big poles?

NABORS: They were big poles to be 110 feet tall. They were shipped, I believe, out of California.

DUNN: I thought he went over in Alabama and picked them up.

NABORS: Well, he did, but I think they came over to there and then here. But anyway, they were big poles, so the butt was very big at 110 feet, where you had about a twelve to fourteen inch top. To get these in the ground at that time, we would dig a hole ten feet into the ground. Now remember, we were on the highest hill in Lowndes County and it was red clay. And, my friend, it was hard. So you would dig the hole ten feet deep, and this would sometimes take three or four days to get one hole dug.

ALLEN: You had to dig it by hand?

NABORS: By hand and with the long post hole diggers. We didn't have an auger--we did it by hand. All right, to get those poles once you got the hole dug, you would dig another hole just a short way away from there and put in a fifty foot pole. They had boom trucks that would handle a fifty foot pole to get it up. In this era, we did not have any booms that would set 110 foot poles, so we would gin the 110 foot poles from the 50 foot poles. You know what we're talking about? Ginning ... pull it up, put a roller up and pull it up. So that is the way we would get the poles up.

DUNN: How did you use the Jeep?

NABORS: We used the Jeep to pull up some of the antennas; the antennas that we made right here ourselves. They were called corner reflectors. Now they were being used other places, but you would go out and buy this one inch mesh wire. We called it chicken wire, only it was heavy duty chicken wire.

ALLEN: Big chickens!

NABORS: Well, yes. I believe they called it one inch welding wire, and you would build a tremendous frame. Now, you know, the lower the channel the bigger the antenna is. Channel 6 was low which meant a pretty good sized antenna. I forget how many feet across it was. Something like eighteen or twenty feet. We would use four by fours to fasten this to, bore holes to hold it on the poles.

I'm trying to remember. You would use something like two by fours to make this in this direction. We put two dipoles in this antenna. The reason for the two dipoles is what we would call trying to phase out co-channel.

The older people who have dealt with the cable and antennas are very familiar with co-channel. Your highest, we call it stacking harness or baylems, to tie these two antennas together. You would cut them a certain length whether you wanted half wavelength, quarter wavelength, or full. We found that half wavelength did the best for us here. Remember, let us take Channel 6 ... we were picking up Channel 6 out of Birmingham. We had Channel 6; 120 miles to the east ... 120 miles behind us we had Channel 6 in Greenwood, 120 miles west.

If the weather was right, the clouds, etc., you wanted the front signal ... Greenwood was the unwanted. Along in there you were trying to get about 8 to 1 ratio front to back pick up. But if the clouds were so low and holding the signal down, you may have more than an 8 to 1 back pick up from Greenwood. So you would climb those poles and use the two dipoles which you would shove in and out. Somebody watching the TV down on the ground would be hollering, "Pull the left one, push the right one." And this is how you would phase it.

Now, thirty minutes later what you had done could probably be worthless and your picture snowy as all get out because that cloud had moved out or the sun would come out. You had to go back up the pole and do your phasing and shifting in and out again to get your picture back.

We had two of these: Channel 6 and Channel 13. It took two poles each to hold these antennas. The wind load on them was tremendous so we had a lot of guys--anchors--to hold these up. So that is the way we got our signals in to begin with.

ALLEN: Why did you build the antenna rather than buy one that was available from someone?

NABORS: Well, at that early stage, we had bought antennas but we couldn't do with the bought ones what we could with these that we made to fight the co-channel. If you put up a permanent antenna with no way of adjusting the dipoles, what you get was what you got. And it seemed that early October or late September when the World Series was on, which was big around here, that's when we had co-channel. Really and truly it was nothing unusual to run out and climb those poles and push those dipoles in and out to get your best picture just prior to that ballgame coming on in the afternoon. Seemed like back then they came on more in the afternoon than they did at night. Now they come on more at night. So it was just that for us in this area, it was a better antenna than the ones we could buy. We made the antennas and we weren't that smart but we had to try to find the best to do with what we could for the customer.

ALLEN: How did you get those 110 foot poles down then?

NABORS: Oh! Why did we get them down? Well, first of all let's get the antennas up there. They were made on the ground under the tower. I had an old personal jeep, four wheel drive.

ALLEN: A real old Army jeep.

NABORS: It was a 1940 something model. So we put two rollers up to the top of the poles and had big grass ropes to pull these up with. We started out and this, again, was the old Army jeep, the cut down jeep, and had all four wheels pulling. But pretty soon the weight got so heavy the back end of the jeep was up, so we had to back up and let it down. We loaded the jeep up with concrete blocks and brick to weigh it down to keep it heavy enough to pull the antennas up.

Later when we abandoned this tower site and built a steel tower 480 feet tall, we had to clear the land. So we sawed the poles down with a chain saw. Of course they had been up there several years and when they fell they broke all to pieces. We gave some of it away and salvaged some of it for posts. They were creosoted--gave them away, burned them up and released the land.

ALLEN: At this point, the system is operating and then you were faced with a very real life-changing decision. You husband became ill. How long a period of time was he ill before his death?

DUNN: Approximately three months. Remember we moved here from Florence, Alabama, and in Florence quite a number of our friends were doctors. We had already been to two or three doctors and they all told me that it was all in Morris' mind. That he was, just in a nice way, a hypochondriac.

ALLEN: What were his complaints?

DUNN: Well, his stomach hurt him a lot and his digestion wasn't good. He was losing weight. He felt that ... well, it was painful. They said it was just stress. So I said, "Let's go back to Florence where our friends are." Well, we went back there and a surgeon there was one of our dearest long time friends and we spent the weekend at his house. This was a Labor Day weekend. He said, "Polly, why don't you go back and I'll take care of Morris tomorrow. Tuesday I'll start some tests and when I go through the tests I'll let you hear from me."

Tuesday evening he called and said, "Polly, we did some tests today and I don't need to go any further at all. Why don't you just plan to drive up here tomorrow?" I said, "Well, what is the matter? Tell me." He said, "Well, I have to explain it all tomorrow anyway and this will save me from doing it twice." Well, of course, he just laid it on the line. Morris had a very short time to live.

He stayed up there. The cable company there built a line out, sort of like the one we did for that old football player. He kind of hung it with "J" hooks on the pole and ran it in the window of the hospital. Morris had the only cable connection in that part of town. He enjoyed it very much.

When he got ready to come back home, he said, "Now Polly, I want you to have some help. When you go home this weekend, I want you to hire somebody to help you." I said all right and I came home. Of course I knew what he had in mind and that wasn't what I had in mind. At that time we had white schools and black schools and I went to the principal of the black high school and asked him if he could recommend somebody to be sort of a male nurse and companion to Morris. He came up with one selection ... a young man who had been a military policeman in the service. He had just gotten home, didn't have a job and was willing to come and do that for what I could pay. So I took him back to Florence with me.

Again, we are talking about the friendships that you have in this town and all. The manager of the hospital said he'd teach him the basic things to do and how to give a shot, how to move somebody in bed and things of that sort. He just put him in his apprentice group.

So when we walked in Morris wouldn't talk to me. He was furious with me ... one of the few times in his whole life that he just wouldn't speak to me. And he said, "I thought we were partners." I thought oh, oh. He said he knew I was thinking of a woman, not a man. Well, anyway, John sat there and they watched the football game or a baseball game together. You know the funny thing when John went out of the room he wanted him back. He wanted him there all the time, just sitting there.

And it wasn't fun to watch the ballgames with me because I didn't know what was going on. He did, you know. Anyway, it was a wonderful choice and he was great. He has since come back here and became the first Black policeman, the first Black detective, and the first Black to the FBI school in Washington. I have been proud of him all the way. He was wonderful with Morris. I needed somebody strong that could handle his weight.

ALLEN: At that time you had already begun to keep books?

DUNN: Oh yes, yes.

ALLEN: So you were involved in the company?

DUNN: Oh, yes. That was when we hired Travis, too. And he didn't tell you that soon after he came to work here he "burned a pole." Do you know what "burned a pole" means?

ALLEN: No, I don't.

NABORS: Slid down it.

DUNN: And you broke your ankle didn't you?

NABORS: That was off the house, remember, off the two story house. Again, another gentleman who worked with us, Bob Fussel, went along to put this cable connection in. At that time when you got a cable connection you went and got it right then to get a little money flowing. It wasn't the easiest thing in the world and this is true. So we were trying to beat a cloud. I knew it was coming. I caught the house. You know how working relations are. There were three of us and whatever needed to be done, that was what we did. So I grabbed the house with the ladder and he went up the pole. Well, Bob was a 240 pound, six foot three gentleman who was fat as a mule. We were running through a pecan tree, you know, running a line through. I fastened off the top eaves of the house and he was going to pull it tight to the pole and it was hung on a limb. He kind of reared back and pulled. Well, the baseboard came loose, here goes the ladder and it is standing on a cement driveway. And twenty-eight feet down I come. I kicked the ladder back to keep it from falling on me. I broke my left foot all to pieces when I hit the concrete.

DUNN: So he was on crutches. He stayed inside and learned what it was like to run the office. It stood him in good standing all these years.

NABORS: On the bills, the billing, I guess that was probably some of the best training I had to know what was going on behind the scenes.

DUNN: I was commuting to Florence more or less and would take all of these things, you know the work orders and receipts, and at night I would work on the books. But, anyway, a certain length of time, about six weeks, we were up there and then came home for six weeks.

ALLEN: How long were you laid up with that broken foot?

NABORS: I stayed in the office, well, probably longer than I would have because I love outdoors and I was on those crutches out doing what I could and back in here doing what I could. This was in the early part of November and Mr. Morris died the latter part of November.

DUNN: The 22nd.

NABORS: I was on the crutches until just after New Year's Day because New Year's Day we were building cable. We had been building that week and we were trying to get it top notch. We were not building cable, we were hooking up customers. We had built the cable. I would go with what I could on the crutches. Miss Polly was out there on New Year's Day. She was handing us what she could.

DUNN: Food, mostly.

NABORS: Well, not really. We had a sandwich for lunch New Year's Day. I remember that she went and got the tools as we needed them. I would go in the house with my crutches. We were using a switch at that time, so I would drill a hole through and stay in there and when the bolt poked through I would hook it up inside. We were trying to get everybody we could for the bowl games so we worked until after dark. Miss DUNN: brought us a sandwich ... we would eat it between poles. We really didn't quit that day.

DUNN: That's right.

NABORS: We needed the money. Things weren't going that well. Tupelo had come on the air, and this had hurt us. So you know that when the channels would come on, we would have a lull because people would think we are going to get everybody with this new channel and it just didn't happen. Back in those days they cherry picked from one channel or one network to the other and new subscriber prospects would think they were getting everything so they wouldn't need the cable.

DUNN: That's right.

NABORS: You asked about the transition. Actually not a lot of people knew what the situation was because Morris wasn't here, you see, and we didn't socialize very much. We both tired easily. So that by the time the board of directors realized what the situation was, I had already been more or less in charge for three months. One man, though, just couldn't imagine a woman running a business so he was going around talking. In fact, he asked Slim, who was our head technician then, if he wanted to be manager. Slim said you get Miss Dunn out and we all walk out. That was the end of that. And then years later Slim had a marvelous opportunity to get a third of a system for himself and he left.

It never occurred to me that Travis would be worried but evidently he was. One day we were in the office by ourselves and he said, "What are you going to do now?" I said, "What do you mean?" He said, "With Slim gone, what are you going to do?" And I said, "Why Travis, you and I are going to do it together." He said, "Uh, it takes loyalty, devotion and hard work ... we'll do it." And I have never been sorry.

ALLEN: Did you ever have any thought when your husband was ill or right after his death that it was just too much and you were going to sell it?

DUNN: No. It seemed to me that it was not a burden but it was by duty. He was going to build the system for us and our children. If I had not gone on, I would have turned my back on him and what he had done and all that we had worked for. I mean I just felt like there wasn't any real decision to be made.

ALLEN: He died in November of?

DUNN: 1958.

ALLEN: How old were your children at that time?

DUNN: Nine and twelve. My daughter was twelve and my son was nine.

ALLEN: So they also had to become a part of this?

DUNN: Right. I had a talk with my son and said, "Mike, every woman needs a man in the house and you're mighty little and you will always be my baby but you're also the man of the house. I can't do things like fuss at you because you don't come in when you say you are going to come. I have got to know you're going to do it. And when we have a decision to be made, I will tell you what it is and you will help decide it." He did. Don't you think he did, Travis?

NABORS: Oh, yeah. Mike didn't do anything wrong.

ALLEN: There are a couple of advertising ideas of characters that were created and you continue to use.

DUNN: Oh, yeah. Frank Thompson was the one who first designed "Able Cable."

ALLEN: He is a character very similar to "Reddy Kilowatt."

DUNN: That's right. In fact, he made no bones about it that he had adapted it from that. And I think he was a little embarrassed and was willing for us to change the logo. We never have changed it.

ALLEN: You are still using it today?


DUNN: I did let "Ima Set" go.

ALLEN: Okay. Was this something that you created ... Ima Set?

DUNN: Yes. It was a sexy looking little girl that looked like "Able Cable.

ALLEN: It wouldn't go over too well in marketing in 1989.

DUNN: No. But we had a lot of fun with it. And even that came from someone else. We shared a lot of ideas in those days. I got the idea from a man, Bob Neathery, who had a radio station. He wasn't from Arkansas ... he was from Missouri, wasn't he?


DUNN: He had a radio station and he created "Mabel Cable." He had a girl who had a really husky, sexy voice and she did, "I'm Mabel Cable, why don't you come and see me sometime," and that sort of thing. And "I'd like to see you tonight." So I did the "Ima Set" and we used it for a number of ads. It was kind of fun.

ALLEN: When did you start doing this? Was this very early on?

DUNN: Oh, yes. This was in the sixties.

NABORS: Early sixties

End of Tape 2, Side A

ALLEN: Good morning. This is Friday, March 31, 1989. This is being recorded in Columbus, Mississippi, and we are talking with Ms. Polly Dunn. This is the second day of recording with Ms. Dunn. I think as we talked you indicated that probably the hardest time that the company has had since it first began in 1953 and 1954 was the time when the Columbus station came on the air.

DUNN: Right. And of course the station also had a radio station and also had a newspaper in town, run by a very prominent and very fine man. But his paper, of course, heralded the coming of the new television station and longest terms and pointing out that it would be free. That word free was used quite a lot, and also said that they would have ABC, NBC, and CBS.

Of course that was all there was to be had except for the educational channel. And, I am not sure that it was on at that time. But anyway our business suffered. We could have almost closed the doors.

ALLEN: Did you have a lot of subscribers who canceled their subscription at that time?

DUNN: Well really very few because they were already on. And even so, we grew a little bit during that time because the people, of course, knew what was going on from week to week, almost from day to day. And it was a very stressful time for us, particularly for my husband because he felt morally obligated to the city, to the mayor, to the council, to the people that he had painted a fine picture to. You know, to his investors who he promised would get their money back within five years. And he was faced with a lack of capital that would sustain such a period. We never lost faith in the future of cable. We never felt for a minute that we wouldn't go on generally. But it was just simply a case of meeting the payroll. We did let the secretary go and I took her place. Anyway we survived, but it was tough.

ALLEN: Going back, I think maybe over dinner last night, you indicated that the man who put the Columbus station on the air had the license and had indicated before you started the cable company that he had no intention of activating the license for several years.

DUNN: That is true. That puts him in a rather bad light and I don't feel he deserves quite that because he is a businessman. He had the license, and that of course kept anybody else from coming in. And so he was willing at the time that he talked to the mayor to continue to do that. But after we came and people began to buy television sets, it made a much different picture for him. For him to start a television station and not a soul in town with the exception of two people had television sets, why it wasn't the same business proposition it became after we sort of spurred the buying of sets.

ALLEN: I didn't mean to put him in a bad light, but in effect you primed the pump. You were the one who started the marketplace.

DUNN: Well, I guess.

ALLEN: Now at that point Columbus was how big--15,000 or 20,000 people.

DUNN: Well, I have heard various figures. When we first came here, the figure that I heard most was 10,000 and I thought that 15,000 sort of pushed it a little. And now of course it's an expanded population with Columbus and all of its suburbs I think would be somewhere between 25,000 and 30,000.

ALLEN: Now at the time that the Columbus station came on the air, was there a station in Jackson?

DUNN: Yes, there was a station and we tried valiantly to get it, but there was no way to get it except by air and it was simply too far. We couldn't even get a good picture sometimes. We could get a bad picture all of the time.

ALLEN: And then there was a station in Greenville?

DUNN: No, not then. The Greenville station didn't come on until later. Soon after we were there, I believe, but it didn't begin to give us trouble until later.

ALLEN: It was rather unusual for a town as small as Columbus to have a station at that time, was it not?

DUNN: Well, I don't know what to say because I don't really know. Television was new and it was exciting and everybody wanted it, but everybody thought that only big, big cities could support it.

ALLEN: Now is the time when you also started the business of repairing television sets?

DUNN: Yes, yes. We got the dealership for DuMont which was really quite a fine television set. Our chief technician, whom I told you was so effective in so many ways was familiar with television so he fixed them. That helped us. We called it a different company, but actually it was sort of a side thing.

ALLEN: So you were selling sets and repairing sets as well?

DUNN: Right. When Travis graduated from school, his graduation thesis, so to speak, was to make a television set himself, put it together completely. So he picked up where Slim left off and did a lot of repair work. In fact, he has always been open to opportunity. He continued for awhile with just a small group of people who wanted him to continue to do this.

ALLEN: How long did you keep that sales and repair business going?

DUNN: Not very long, not very long. I would say three years at the absolute.

ALLEN: By that time the cable company was able to stand on its own feet.

DUNN: Well, kind of wavering for all that time. There has just never been a time in the history of cable that we haven't been under a sword of some kind. If it wasn't the condition here, where we didn't get as many subscribers as we would like, it was something legislative you know. Of course, cable attracted a lot of attention, particularly of the big money. Anything that attracted attention of big money, gets the attention of the legislature. Everybody is out trying to make a dollar, but as soon as somebody makes one it immediately is the target of imitators and envious operators. I often wonder about that, because I don't think there is a red-blooded American anywhere who wouldn't like to make it, so to speak, financially. But when somebody does, he becomes the target of a lot of criticism.

ALLEN: Or at least a lot of competition.

DUNN: Certainly a lot of competition.

ALLEN: Have you ever faced the possibility that someone else would come into this county or into Columbus and try to put in a second cable system?

DUNN: I just have to answer that the way I answer all of our problems. I have said all along that the real secret to your success lies in your subscribers. You satisfy that subscriber and you are not going to have really unmanageable trouble. And that is what we have tried to do.

ALLEN: So you haven't ever had that kind of a problem that you had to deal with.

DUNN: Not that I know of. The few that have been in here looking at the situation--I don't know who they talked to, or what they said--but they have quietly gone away. They have so far. Of course it is possible to go anywhere and promise more than the people there can deliver because they have a solid thing. They can't say, I gave you twice as many channels as I have, because they have as many as they do have. But I can come in there with no equipment and nothing to prove it and say I can give you 200 channels.

ALLEN: Nothing but words.

DUNN: Nothing but words.

ALLEN: It doesn't cost you anything for words.

DUNN: Right, right. Of course there really have not been as many build-overs like that until comparatively recently.

ALLEN: So these were fairly difficult times, but then you were telling the story just a few minutes ago about the fact that difficult times were not a strange phenomena. You had gone through some of that during the Depression with your family. Could you go back and retell that story about how your mother determined that things were going to go well regardless? That was a nice story.

DUNN: Well, my father announced that he was going to go in business for himself. As I say, he was over 60 at that time. My mother cried all night and the next morning she got up and said, "Rosser, it is fine, and you just think about your business and I'll take care of the house and the expenses." So she went out and found a lovely old home with lots of rooms in it and rented it and then rented the spare rooms to lovely girls. One was a teacher, whose husband was an attorney, and attorneys did not make much money then, and none of us were making much money then, but they were particularly hit. So she had brushed up her teacher's certificate and she was teaching school. The other girl was a beautiful girl who had gotten her nurse's degree at Yale, and she was a nurse with the county health department. My brother married her. So we all enjoyed being together. On what they paid my mother, she supported us. My father had a garden, but she was the one, as I told you, she coped.

ALLEN: You were teaching school at this time?

DUNN: I was teaching school. I had a car we could all use which bucked a lot due to old age and weak springs. Her name was "Bouncy Bess". Our old car died and couldn't be revived. The first year that I taught I bought a new car ... $500.

ALLEN: And that was a brand new car.

DUNN: Brand new car, Chevrolet. And it did fine. It just did fine. My younger brother was still in college and I was the only one who had a steady salary, nine months at least coming in and I could help him with college. He had gotten a scholarship so everybody helped everyone else.

ALLEN: Yes. And you had some of that same kind of cooperation among the people during the very lean days with the cable.

DUNN: Yes. I think we did. Even when we had meetings, we would sit around and say, "What do you do when co‑channel hits you at such and such a time or from such and such a place?" We traded our discoveries and our habits. We helped each other. Sure we did.

ALLEN: Had you been attending any kind of regional or national meetings of cable operators before your husband died?

DUNN: My husband called the first meeting of operators in Mississippi himself. They did not form an organization, a formal organization at that time, but they did later and he, of course, was very interested in it. But, I can't remember that we were very active in any state organization before he died. I went to my first NCTA convention in 1960 and then in '61.

ALLEN: Where was that held in 1960?

DUNN: Philadelphia. I can't remember why I was there, because I don't think I went particularly for the convention. Because I was in Philadelphia I went, rather than the other way around. But, in 1961, the convention was in San Francisco. Previous to that, about a month or two before that, Jim Davidson had called together what became the South Central and then the Southern Association and we met in Memphis. The people who met there were later called the charter members of the association.

ALLEN: So the Southern Association started in about 1960 or 1961. NCTA was already well established by that time.

DUNN: That is right.

ALLEN: When did the Mississippi Association start? Before or after the Southern?

DUNN: Before.

ALLEN: Before. And how big of an association was that? Were there very many cable operators in Mississippi by the time the association got started?

DUNN: It seems to me there were something like twelve. But, I don't remember that exactly.

ALLEN: Do you remember some of the people who were active in Mississippi at that time?

DUNN: Oh yes. Millie Smith was the office manager down at Hattiesburg, but she left and before the end of her career she became the operator. But she was the catalyst that so often you find behind the scenes who really sees that the job is done. In Hattiesburg we had other people who were the actual operator, the manager, but they came and went, and Millie stayed. She is now our executive director for the Mississippi Association. And she isn't doing anything that she hasn't been doing for the past 30 years. There is Grady Perkins, Sr., who built a system in Greenwood, just a very short time after we built ours here.

ALLEN: Where is Greenwood located?

DUNN: That is due west of us. There were some people who are still in the cable business. Some of them have just recently sold out. I believe I mentioned Grady Perkins, Sr., and Grady Perkins, Jr., took his place after so long a time. I believe they recently sold.

ALLEN: That was at Greenwood?

DUNN: That was at Greenwood. They recently sold. But Ira Crosby was another one. That was another one where his son and later his grandson succeeded him in the business.

ALLEN: And where was this?

DUNN: That was in Winona and in Indianola. And Ira was a close old time friend of Senator Eastland, and Senator Eastland sent word over to the National Association. Eastland said, "Don't send any of your staff over here when you want something. If you want something, tell Ira to call me and that suits me just fine." And we had a good Mississippi lobby. I served my time on that in the '70s. As I told you, I had the unique pleasure and privilege too, of being able to open the doors because I was different. I was a woman operator and that did get doors opened. I found that man is still very gallant, and I certainly was received so.

ALLEN: Well it is difficult not to be, with you.

DUNN: I should have known you.

ALLEN: Ever much a lady. Always will be. What were some of the kinds of things that went on at the state association? What did you do? Did you have speakers in?

DUNN: Yes, we had speakers in. NCTA was always very cooperative and helpful with that, and could usually send us someone we wanted. The FCC at that time was cooperative also. Since then, now, they have a very strict rule about where they can speak which curtails that sort of thing. It is such a shame because how can they understand what their regulations do to us if they don't have any idea, and have no chance to talk to people who really run the system.

I know of a funny story that I think I can tell you about. I was very much concerned about the FCC situation because while the pending legislation hung over our heads, the NCTA used their pull of strength practically for fighting adverse legislation. Nobody was going over to the FCC and we were living by FCC rules day in and day out. So shortly after we organized the independent operator's board, I asked about who was going to talk to the FCC and anyway it seemed to me to be a void. We went there and one of the giants of cable, in my opinion, was a man named Maclane Clark, Mac Clark. He lived in Big Timber, Montana, and he had a system of about 500 subscribers. He worked very diligently with the independent operator's board. He and I went many times together to the FCC and we went in and talked nuts and bolts. We found a very welcoming and fair minded audience when we went there. When the cable bureau was first formed and Schildhause...

ALLEN: When was that? In the early '60s?

DUNN: That was in the early '70s. I believe. No, it may have been in the '60s. I could look it up some place.


DUNN: But when nonduplication came along, it was such a nightmare to try to obey that as a matter of actual fact most people said they did but didn't. That was what really got me out of my obsessive hiding so to speak. I couldn't go and fight against nonduplication if I was not practicing it. So it was a double whammy. I hated it you know because it made my girls hysterical and it made my subscribers furious and it did not work. It was a nightmare trying to make it work.

ALLEN: So what you were trying to do was to make sure that your system was operating in a nonduplication mode so that you could argue against the whole rule.

DUNN: Exactly. They had a congressional hearing and I remember the chairman of the committee was named Rogers. Anyway, we had a made a chart showing in colors and in sections, half hours and hours, etc., a grid sort of a thing, what it meant to have to cut something off for a hour or a half hour and you are not sure how long it's going to run. They tell you that it is going to be off at a certain time, but if you cut it off, you may cut off the end. I have a man here in town who never says good morning to me. Every time he sees me he says, "I still don't know how that movie ended." Because we cut him off years ago at the proper time, but the movie wasn't over. But, we could go in and talk to them about exactly what we had to do. Do you remember seeing a music box with all the little teeth, like a comb that had teeth broken out of it?


DUNN: Well we fixed those. You can't even buy a machine like that anymore. But we made a total wheel like that several times a week. We usually made two of them, twice a week. But, if there were games on the weekend, things of that sort, we had to make extra ones. I had at least three girls give up their job in tears and hysterics because they couldn't face it anymore trying to fix those wheels.

ALLEN: And what function did the wheel perform?

DUNN: Well you broke out a little at a certain time which was imprinted on the little comb as I would call it, a file whichever you want to call it. If you broke it one way, it was to be cut off then. Another way, it was to come on, so that as the wheel turned and the little fingers fell down there where they found a little gap, they either turned it off or turned it on as it was supposed to have been done.

ALLEN: So this was at the headend and would control which station you were putting on to which channel.

DUNN: Right, exactly. I remember when one time we went to FCC. I think there were three of us who went. We never went with more than three people because they didn't want more than three that they could talk to.

ALLEN: Was Mac Clark one of them?

DUNN: Mac wasn't one at this particular time that I was thinking about. Beverly Murphy went with us from NCTA. She was a wonderful help to us. She was Whitney's first secretary. Whitney and Beverly were in the NCTA office first. She went with us. She never lost her contact with the grassroots. We went to see a man who didn't stay on the FCC very long. His name was Robinson and he had been a college professor. He was pretty bored with the idea of having operators come to see him. He rather reluctantly said he would see us for fifteen minutes. We took one of these reels with us and showed it to him and told him that it couldn't be changed at the last minute. If we got word, or if we could see that a program wasn't going to be over, we couldn't get to the headend in the first place in time enough to do it. Besides that, not everybody could do it. We had two technicians at that time, and one of them could work it, the other one could not. He said, "Why couldn't he work it?" I said, "Because his thumbs were too big." Well that broke the ice. He could not understand that until I showed him the teensy, tiny little teeth that had to be broken out. One of our technicians was kind of pudgy and literally his thumbs were too big. He couldn't do it. And after that, we stayed 45 minutes and talked to him. I was always sorry after that that he stayed such a short time because we really did a good job.

ALLEN: This little device with the wheel, that was something that one of the equipment manufacturers had come up with?

DUNN: No. It was something that a time clock company had. And it was so unpopular in its use, with the people who used it; they don't even offer it anymore. Nowadays they have tones that each programmer is supposed to put on as his program ends, and the tone comes along and triggers something, but you have to have the proper equipment. Now to get that equipment is not easy. I mean it is not something that you just go down and buy off the shelf.

ALLEN: At this particular time then, there were still a lot of local stations who were carrying more than one network, were cherry picking.

DUNN: Yes.

ALLEN: So that was where the real challenge was.

DUNN: Well, that certainly increased the difficulty.

ALLEN: Now you mentioned that Mac Clark was coming in from Montana on a regular basis, and his system had about 500 subscribers. That was a very stiff economic factor for him.

DUNN: Right. He had a very supportive regional organization. My hat's off to him because they certainly did always support...

ALLEN: The Pacific Northwest group.

DUNN: Right.

ALLEN: And was the entire country organized into regions by that time?

DUNN: I really don't know, but I suppose so. About that time, was when we were expanding the South Central to the Southern. Now I have here something that I want to give you. It's a history of Southern up to the point where it became Southern, as long as it was South Central. I know exactly because most of that time I was secretary/treasurer. The South Central Association was formed in support of Fred Stevenson. At that time, we didn't have a paid president. Fred was the operator who had a small system in Arkansas, and he on his own, with his own money, traveled around and went to different states. He tried to get them to organize and to stick together and all that sort of thing.

That was about the time that the telephone company was going around saying, if you would like to get on our poles, we would be glad to give you a very nice contract, a leaseback. You can lease your space on the poles and then in fifteen years I have your system and you have nothing. He was saying don't sign any of these things, those telephone lease things. Our main objective was to make it possible for him.

ALLEN: Now he was traveling around the south central states or all over the country.

DUNN: Yes, yes. Arkansas had a very active state association. We had one, Mississippi had one. It wasn't probably as strong as Arkansas at that time, but of course again, the catalyst was pretty much Jim Davidson. He was really a marvelous organizer and everybody liked him. He had a little airplane and he visited everybody and knew everybody. Everybody liked him, and I remember I got a letter from him in early 1961, very early, saying come up here, we need a regional organization. We need to organize it, come on up here, and we went. If Jim said go, we went.

ALLEN: How had you first met Jim?

DUNN: I don't know. Oh, I do know. I know exactly. I can even remember the time. He flew down here and tried to sell us some Entron equipment. That was in about 1955, probably. He was so young looking. He still is so young looking, and so enthusiastic and so energetic. The time came when we did buy everything from his company, DAVCO. He called it the supermarket for cable. He was certainly a fine one to do that sort of thing.

ALLEN: But that first trip down here you didn't buy the Entron equipment?

DUNN: No. By that time we already had a contract with Jerrold, and we stayed with Jerrold for several years.

But, in 1956 I believe it was, the airbase here offered an opportunity to build a cable system and we bid on it. We called on Jerrold to help us. Jerrold sent Jerry Hastings down. He worked paragraph by paragraph with Morris working up the specifications to the bid. So they put the bid in, and when they let the bid, Morris went out there thinking he was probably the only one to have bid. He found out that he was not the only one to bid. Jerrold had bid against him and had gotten the contract. They bid $6,000 less than we did. That didn't exactly cement our relationship with Jerrold.

But Morris came back here--I was working as receptionist--and I was sitting at one desk and he was sitting at another. I was at the front desk and Morris was at the back, and he sat there and he kept reading the specifications. He went out to the airbase and asked to have a copy of Jerrold's bid. He came there and he sat and he read it and he read it. I must say I was impatient because I thought that it is over ... they have already given the bid to Jerrold. There is nothing we can do about it, and why is he sitting there looking at Jerrold's bid? All of a sudden Morris said, "I've found it, I've found it." And I said, "What?" And he said, in all of the specifications they laid out what they would do, almost word for word what we had had. But they left out one word--TOWER. $6,000 tower. They told them that they would build a system, but they didn't tell them that they would get the antenna that would bring the signals in to put on the system. So Morris went back out there and pointed this out to them.

Of course, Jerrold was down here like a shot to see if they couldn't mend the fences. We owed Jerrold $6,000. Now I understand Jerrold's approach to it. This was the first time that they had had a chance to bid on a military installation. They thought there are lots of military installations around, and if we could sort of become the one to do it, then we will not only get it here, but we will get it all over the United States, which they did. That is exactly what they did. So what they said was, we will forgive your indebtedness to us and we will build a system and you check on it for us which we did. And it helped us and helped them.

We were a little more open after that to other brands that we could buy. We have depended a great deal upon the salesmen for not only bringing us the news of what has become new and different, but for technical advice. They carried messages back and forth. All of us were operating on a shoestring and a lot of times you could pick up some used equipment that somebody else had that you were still using. For instance, first we had equipment that would carry only three channels; then we had equipment that would carry only five channels; then we had equipment that would carry only twelve channels; then we had equipment that would carry only twenty channels. Now we have equipment that carries more. But while we still had five channel equipment, somebody else had gone to twelve channel equipment. Then we might be able to pick up some good equipment that we could still use in our system. We didn't do a whole lot of that, but once in awhile it was very nice.

But, also like you say, what did we talk about? If somebody found a solution about ... a new antenna that Travis was talking to you about ... In fact, we heard about the Scientific-Atlanta, who really started their cable business with a new antenna, a breakthrough for co‑channel. And somebody came in and told us that they had sold one down in Louisiana somewhere. Travis was in the car and on his way to Louisiana the next morning, and we got the second antenna they sold. So I keep reminding Sid Topol that we are the oldest customer that he has and still serves. We have stayed with the Scientific-Atlanta ever since.

ALLEN: So the way at the outset that information was shared was really through the meeting and through the sales people who were moving around.

DUNN: Right, right.

ALLEN: The publications coming out of NCTA were still pretty few and far between.

DUNN: Well, there were a lot of things they couldn't know about. You can't sit in Washington not running a system and know what little piece of equipment is critical or what to do about it. It was a long time before they had somebody who had ever been in cable in the office. Even now they make no bones about the fact that to handle the work on the Hill is as much as they can handle and sometimes too much. I don't mean by that that they are bad, but they need help just like anybody else. And of course, legislatively speaking the legislators want to hear from somebody from home. When somebody walks in, the first thing on his mind is are you going to vote for me or not?

ALLEN: Or are you going to help influence other people as well, and if you are not in the district, it doesn't count.

DUNN: Right, right.

ALLEN: Did the Mississippi Association in those early days spend a lot of time in Jackson?

DUNN: No, not a whole lot.

ALLEN: There wasn't a need.

DUNN: We really have been pretty fortunate. We were always aware and usually when something came up we didn't lose any time in going down there and doing something about it. And most of the time it is just a matter of explanation of what the proposed legislation would mean. And most of the time, almost always, if you dig a little bit you find that the man who put the adverse bill in is for some reason a dissatisfied customer. More often than not he was living about a quarter of a mile past where he can get the cable and close enough that his neighbors can get it and he can't, and he is frustrated so he is going to get our attention. And he does get our attention.

ALLEN: And somehow that other quarter of a mile gets built.

DUNN: Usually. You're right.

ALLEN: Was there anything that the state legislature passed that was of concern? Any bills or any regulations that you had?

DUNN: Well one got by us. The bill went by. It came in to put us under the public utilities. Normally they would send a copy of the bill or a notice of the hearing to the association. Well, all they thought about was the cable office in Jackson of the ATC. So they sent a notice there and ATC had a manager who didn't live here and wasn't aware of how important this was. He just dropped it in the wastebasket. So nobody knew anything about the hearing and no cable people appeared at the hearing. So the bill went through uncontested. And we didn't know about it until it was already passed. That was in the House. We got down to the Senate in a hurry. That was a tough one. I mean to find out that they had held the hearing and we didn't even know it.

ALLEN: So most of the pressure really came from the federal legislation rather than the state or the FCC.

DUNN: At least that was what my feeling about it was. Of course, we were wrapped up in the fight for the copyright for years and years. I remember when we raised the dues for the South Central Association so that we could make a contribution to the copyright fight. Then to have the Supreme Court decide in our favor and the next morning the NCTA announced that they were delighted with the decision but of course we would go ahead and pay copyright. On the one hand we earned it and on the other hand we gave it away. I never quite understood that.

ALLEN: Would you talk a little bit about what your recollections are of how that copyright battle was carried out?

DUNN: I would rather not.


DUNN: I feel like somebody who has worked with it should do that. The NCTA has had a copyright committee and they have given extensively of their time and effort and they know what went on better than I.

ALLEN: You were not involved in that personally at all?

DUNN: Not that way.

ALLEN: What kinds of things did you get involved with in Washington?

DUNN: Well most of the non‑duplication fight is probably the biggest one single thing. My object and goal was to establish communication between either NCTA or operators and the people who are issuing these edicts that came out periodically. Travis was reminding me last night that we had gotten an extension of our franchise to 25 years by the city council. Then FCC comes out and says that you can't have that. You can have only 15 years. We had to go back to the city and say take back some of what you gave us. Then six weeks later the FCC said well you can have 25 after all, so we went back to the city and said give it back to us.

ALLEN: Was that 15 year ruling specifically about Columbus?

DUNN: No, it was just a national thing. They were doing the best they could, but they were people. When I started to tell you a while ago when they first formed the Cable Bureau I stopped by there and Sal took me around from room to room and opened the door and said, "I want you to see what a cable operator looks like." And of course he did it as a sort of joke because I am a woman, but it wasn't any joke. None of them had ever met a cable operator, never met one, and we spent a lot of time there and very pleasurable time because they were sure bright, intelligent, charming young men, practically all of them fresh out of law school. We invited some of them to come down to the different meetings and gave them a chance to talk to people who really ran systems. Tom Hendrickson told me one time that he and Bill Johnson when they were reviewing some policy or working on a phrasing would say, "Now how is this going to affect Mac Clark and Polly Dunn?" Well of course it made me feel wonderful for him to say that because I know what he meant.

End of Tape 2, Side B

ALLEN: This is the third tape recorded on Friday morning, March 31, 1989 in Columbus, Mississippi with Ms. Polly Dunn. Polly you were talking about working with some of the bright young lawyers in the FCC. Did any of them ever come to Columbus and visit the cable system here and get some idea of what a local operation is really all about?

DUNN: I don't believe that I ever had one of the FCC men come to Columbus. We did have them come to our state association meetings. We certainly sat around and talked and they listened. If nothing more, it made us realize how hard they worked to be fair. Of course they were implementing what the Commission decided, but at the same time, the wording sometimes was so important to us. Another one that I think of was Steve Ross. Steve stayed there. Most of them have been absorbed into the legal families in Washington and nearby, but Bill Johnson is still there and obviously invaluable to FCC. Steve Ross stayed until just recently. Quite a number of present day legal families in Washington had their start at the FCC.

ALLEN: It kind of sounds like you did not consider this an adversarial relationship.

DUNN: No, I did not. Well, at least not any more than you would any governing body that can make you or break you. But if they just understand, I feel that is the whole thing. This situation that has developed now I am most apprehensive about--syndicating and exhibiting. We fought that battle in these previous years and I really honestly believe that the people at the FCC have no idea of the exact meaning. On the face of it it sounds so logical and really not too bad a thing, but in operation it is a nightmare.

ALLEN: So you viewed your role and that of the other operators as one of educating the young regulators.

DUNN: Right. Well at least making them aware of the nuts and bolts.

ALLEN: Did Mac Clark take that same approach?

DUNN: Yes. He was just great. He told me one time, you can tell somebody all that is great, but that doesn't mean you can do it. But whatever I said, I said come as often as you can, don't stay, sometimes not more than to stick your head in the door and say how are you doing. Don't be boring. Don't go with more than three people, but invite them to lunch if possible, because you want a relaxed atmosphere. You don't want them to feel like you're trying to buy them. Lunch is not enough to buy somebody you know, it just gives you a chance to talk face to face. Mac did all of that and they loved him. They really did. You couldn't talk to him without knowing how honest he was, nothing sophisticated and glitzy about Mac. He was just Mac from Big Timber, Montana.

ALLEN: You must have made a very interesting contrast, the quiet lady from Columbus, Mississippi, and the...

DUNN: Oh I wasn't so quiet.

ALLEN: Genteel. How is that? Is that a better word?

DUNN: That's fine. Just so you don't call me "The Old Woman of Cable."

ALLEN: I don't think I would dare.

ALLEN: Who were some of the other operators who were active besides you and Mac in the whole process of educating these young regulators from the FCC?

DUNN: Well there are so many that I will leave out; I am sure, the ones that should be mentioned. But from Mississippi, John Humphreys went. He is still in Biloxi. Dan Boyd went. He at one time was at Hattiesburg. Of course I told you that Grady Perkins went. And Ira Crosby went. There were others.

ALLEN: You don't have to feel obligated to name them all, but it's interesting to record the names of those that you can remember who were active in this time.

DUNN: Well Beverly Murphy was a tremendous help to us. She was in charge of the division that worked with independent operators. The independent operators, and I keep trying to remember who it was, whether it was Birch or one of the FCC chief head commissioners, what do you call him, chairman, said that Mac and I were the best lobbyists NCTA ever had. That's a very nice thing.

ALLEN: Now when NCTA started, was it made up primarily of independent operators?

DUNN: Oh yes, everyone was independent at first, but it didn't take long for the monied interests to sniff it out.

ALLEN: And then the multiple system operators began to dominate NCTA.

DUNN: Yeah. And when Mike was killed in 1969, by that time, remember I told you that I went to ... '61 was a crucial year for me because that was when I went to San Francisco and that was when Fred and Edith Stevenson took me under their wing and wherever the top echelon met, they were there, I was with them see. So they just opened the door to me. I didn't have to climb to it. I just was invited in. It made a lot of difference because I knew all of these people. But that was in '61. In '69 when Mike was killed and Bob Beisswenger called me, and he was president of Jerrold then. First of all Wally Briscoe called me and he was on the staff of NCTA and said we want you to run for the board and I said, "No way, but no way." He called me two or three times and I didn't change and then Bob Beisswenger called and said, "Polly, do you want the board to be made up of all imbeciles?" So you see that is ten years and by that time they were almost in control really or were in control. And I said, "Well no." He said, "Well, then I have your answer." I said, "Now Bob, I don't think you want to back a losing candidate 'cause I am not going to ask anybody to vote for me, I'm not going to. I just don't think I would be elected." Of course, MSOs elected me, Ben Conroy, Irving Kahn, and Bob Beisswenger. Well, that's enough, I didn't need any more. They had about five, and it bothers me to this day that I can't see the others. I can look over and see them over in the corner talking, Irving Kahn, and Ben Conroy and Bob Beisswenger, I guess. There were a couple more and I can't remember who they were. I had that feeling they were talking about me, and in a few minutes I was elected.

ALLEN: Did the board elect its own members or did the membership elect?

DUNN: Well you see the membership elected but the MSOs are the ones that had the votes.

ALLEN: They had all the votes.

DUNN: Yes.

ALLEN: So you were elected to the NCTA board in 1969?

DUNN: 1970.

ALLEN: '70. How long did you serve on the board?

DUNN: I served one term and that's all I told Bob I would serve. I wasn't going to do anymore than that. That was three years. I believe it was a three year term. Yes it was a three year term. And then you had to be off for a year and I bid them all good‑bye. The next year they met in San Diego. Well, you know, with Martha living right there...

ALLEN: Your daughter?

DUNN: Yes. I felt it was imperative that I go to that meeting.

ALLEN: Absolutely.

DUNN: And those sweet men, members of the board of directors, unanimously signed a petition to nominate me to another term.

ALLEN: These were the men who were on the board?

DUNN: Yes. And that was something. Who could resist that? So they elected me to another three year term and after that I finally gave up. It's expensive.

ALLEN: Do you have to pay all of your own expenses to attend the board meetings?

DUNN: Yes, plus the rest of the big monied things you know. Well one thing for sure, I could give you a rundown on practically every expensive hotel in the country.

DUNN: We always went to the latest one and the biggest one and the most expensive one, and you could always tell what the president liked. If he liked tennis, we went to the place that had the tennis courts. If he liked golf, we went to Pebble Beach or someplace like that. And those are nice memories, wonderful memories.

ALLEN: How often did the board meet?

DUNN: Well there for a while it met every month.

ALLEN: Oh boy.

DUNN: You know in some of these crisis times, we really did meet often, but quite a number of times, more than just once or twice a year. But anyway I enjoyed it.

ALLEN: Were there many other local system operators on the board at that time besides yourself?

DUNN: Well you know one of my staunchest co‑conspirators or what have you, was Bill Bresnan. He was and even when he was president of the telephone company, Bill Bresnan used to install cable. Recently for some anniversary or something, they found his old climbing belt, gilded it and gave it to him. There was almost always somebody that had some experience, but sometimes it's not many. But I am not exactly bashful.

ALLEN: Did you find that there were times in the NCTA board meetings when your interest as a local operator and the MSO interests were quite different and you had to demonstrate your lack of bashfulness?

DUNN: Not too bad. I think it is a mistake to speak of the MSOs as if they are adversary. They want the same things we want, but they are several levels removed from the subscriber and this has been my song for 30 years. The farther you get away from the subscriber, the more troubles you are going to have. You stick with him, he'll let you know when you are going wrong, believe me.

ALLEN: So the real big difference then is not so much in purpose as it is in sensitivity to what's needed.

DUNN: Well, there's a difference. If your loyalty is to your investors, you are going to get a different slant than if your loyalty is to your subscribers. And sometimes you can't afford ... From their standpoint, I can see where they think they can't afford to be so sensitive to the subscribers. They have to be sensitive to the people that they owe money to.

ALLEN: But ultimately it is the subscriber who provides the money.

DUNN: Right. That is the way I feel. But if I sold this system, somebody would come in here, and the first thing they would do is cut my staff about 30 percent. Then they would cut the service about 30 percent and they would quit this business of letting people say, "Well, I'll pay you tomorrow." Pretty soon you'd have a much more efficient, much smoother running office. You wouldn't have quite as happy employees or subscribers I hope.

ALLEN: Being more profitable but not accomplishing as much.

DUNN: Well, it just depends upon what you want to accomplish. I feel that any success that this company has, I owe to the people who work here. I'm not the one who goes out and puts the cable in. I'm not the one who answers the service calls, so that I am trying to share as we go along. And I don't have to account to anybody, if I want to do anything. If we want to have a Christmas party, we do. We have at least one birthday party a month. I have gotten them to the point where instead of having one for each separate employee, we have one a month and whoever has birthdays that month we get to say happy birthday to.

ALLEN: This is a party that you have here in the office?

DUNN: On break time.

ALLEN: But you can walk downtown I suspect and in fifteen minutes you have some awareness of how subscribers are feeling because you have been in this town long enough that people are not bashful about walking up and expressing their feelings.

DUNN: No, they are not bashful. However, if you aren't careful, if I'm not careful, I get into a state of euphoria because I know that I am doing the best I can to give them the best service, the best equipment, everything that I can do to do it and I think they know that. Well, they don't know that. The minute that the cable goes off in the middle of something that they are looking at they don't know that.

ALLEN: It is very interesting how proprietary people are of their television signal.

DUNN: Oh, very, very.

ALLEN: It is not NBC's program. It's...

DUNN: My program. You cut off my program. And why they think I cut it off, that is another thing. Any sensible person would know that I wouldn't cut off my service to them. Yet that's the phrase they use. Well, I am starting to campaign right now. I was delighted with a picture; you can see it in there. It shows a cone, a tornado cone. It says "Tornado Alley." Well that is what I have been trying to tell people. You live on the edge of a tornado alley. So I went to Bernie and asked him if I could reprint that and use it. He was delighted that I wanted to. From now on everyone who gets on the cable is going to get a picture of that.

ALLEN: We are going to change the thrust of the conversation here for a few minutes and take a look at some of the technology that is on display here in a case at the Columbus TV Cable. We have been joined again by Travis Nabors. Travis, do you want to describe some of the things that you have here?

NABORS: Bob, we have some real oldies. We have some of the old Jerrold strip amplifiers which back in the early days we were using to run three channels. To utilize the most out of the cable that was available, we used some Jerrold 03 and 05 which is subchannel line gear. Again we were running three channels.

ALLEN: So this goes back to actually the original building of the system, the three channels.

NABORS: Yes it does. You would come down your mainline subchannel and then when you got to a group of homes you would add the subchannel strips, 03‑05s and convert it back up to a TV channel. Along with this we were running Channel 2, 3, and 5 on the system. That was in the early days.

ALLEN: Where were those three signals coming?

NABORS: Birmingham. Well we were pulling two out of Birmingham and Meridian had gone on the air at that time--Channel 11 out of Meridian. We were pulling 6 and 13 out of Birmingham. All right then yesterday I mentioned the LRA40 Entron amplifier and that's when we began to move a little. Again it is tube type. We have one of those sitting right back in the corner there that uses a lot of the old line.

ALLEN: Now what did that do for you that the smaller one didn't?

NABORS: It had AGC and also voltage regulation which we were not accustomed to. Voltage regulation at that time was a tremendous problem both for the power company and for us. When I say "us," I am talking about cable. The more power that was hitting the amplifier the higher the signal would go, and the less voltage the lower the signal would go. So you were continuously climbing the poles, tuning it up, peaking it out, getting the most for what you had to put in. Right over here is some of the tap off material that we used during that day. We called them 1401s. In fact, it is C-401s ... C meaning the C fitting. The F fitting was developed later.

ALLEN: The 1401 is that a Jerrold product?

NABORS: Jerrold originated them, yes, both the fitting and the tap off we call it now, or the 1401. Basically you have got the same thing in today's tap offs. It is just in a different case, but the theory of it is practically the same. At that time for each 1401 you could overrun one tap off. Today they have two tap offs, three, four, etc.

ALLEN: Some of this early equipment was not housed in any kind of weather protection.

NABORS: No, that is true. With the 1401, we weatherproofed it with a liquid called Simco. I really wished today that they still made it. We still have a can or two of it and we use it very sparingly. We use it mostly on the tile where we are putting fittings. In 31 years I have never seen anything that they came out with ... this fancy new fandangled stuff ... that does the job that Simco did. You would mop it on with a little brush kind of like paint.

NABORS: Today I can go ... some of the cable is still abandoned that we have up, but some of the 1401s and the "O" cable is still up. Now we just ran new lines. You can open that 1401 up and it is as clear and as pretty and bright as it was the day it was put up there. If you are using boots, we call them boots, heat patches you sometimes heat shrink, you close these up and you close moisture up in them and you set up corrosion, but with the Simco this didn't happen.

ALLEN: Was that a product that was made specifically for cable?

NABORS: To my knowledge, yes it was. We were using it in 1958 and prior to that we went in '54. I called a Mr. Harold Wilson, the last I got, he was the head sales person for DAVCO Electronics in Batesville, Arkansas, and when I asked him if he had some, he said let me look around and I'll call you back. So he called me back and said, "I got a case and two cans that the dust is about six inches deep on. Do you want it?" I said, "Send it." There is no telling how many years they had it shelved. When you opened a can of it, it was still as good as it was the day it was packaged. Again we use in tough places and we have got two cans of it left and I don't know where I can get anymore of it. I hate to see the last of it go.

ALLEN: And when they sent it to you, they charged you extra for the dust, too, didn't they?

NABORS: Well no, he was so glad to get rid of it, it didn't cost me anything.

ALLEN: Was this a case where a product was so good that you didn't need enough of it to keep the company going?

NABORS: I think it's a case of when a new tubing and the heat shrinks came along it was new technology, and people went to it. And so there was not a demand for Simco, it just phased out.

ALLEN: Now what about some of the other equipment here in the case?

NABORS: Ok. I mentioned the LRA40 Entron amplifier, again they were tube type. This is some of the earlier mainline splitters that go on the line to split it, and as you can see they are not that well weatherproofed. You can see the fittings, the old PL 25 I believe is the number of the fitting that screwed on. That was when we were using corrugated cable again.

ALLEN: Now the manufacturer on that is?

NABORS: Vikoa and Entron. They are two of the same just different housing.

ALLEN: Vikoa is a different company isn't it?

NABORS: Yes, Vikoa came along after Entron was going well. A fellow by the name of Arthur Baum brought Vikoa into play and later it changed names to Coral, and I think Coral is still in business today up in Hoboken, New Jersey. Then we had a line gear by the name of Cascade that came along.

ALLEN: There were quite a few of those.

NABORS: Yes. These were very good amplifiers, for the application at that time, the number of channels. I am sure that they are still on the market. I believe that all of Cascade is now moved up into Canada.

ALLEN: How many channels were those Cascade?

NABORS: Those were the twelve channels. The Vikoa was a twelve channel. By the way, that was a big step up for us.

ALLEN: When did this system go from three to five channels?

NABORS: From three to five, along about '56 or '57 somewhere along there.

ALLEN: Ok. And then to twelve?

NABORS: Oh, we went to twelve channels when the Vikoa came along somewhere in the early '60s. Slim was gone. It was somewhere around '64 that we went to twelve channels.

ALLEN: Now when you made those changes you had to go through and change the amplifying equipment.

NABORS: True. You changed the amplifier and as we could we changed cable. This system has probably been rebuilt ten times completely. We have moved locations. Right now we are, the biggest cable we are using is one inch mainline, most of the feeder is 3/4. People laughed when I told them some of the feeder we used was one inch feeder to cut out the number of amplifiers.

DUNN: Explain why it is better to have a bigger cable.

NABORS: With the bigger cable you get more distance so you have less electronic gear. You have a lot more of your problems coming from the electronic gear than just the cable. So when you cut down on the numbers of electronic pieces of equipment, you also cut down on a world of service calls. Service calls are where your expense is. It costs money to roll trucks, and manpower to keep the service calls going.

ALLEN: The big changes in cable have been both in size and in the shielding?

NABORS: That is true. There is no way that in the early days the cable could pass the FCC test that is coming up in 1990. The center conductor way back was solid copper. Then the shield was either a braid or a wrapped copper. This was not welded or soldered. It was just overlapped. In the early days the 102 and the 103 was a braided mainline cable.

ALLEN: Were you getting cable from the same supplier sources that the other equipment was coming from?

NABORS: No. You had different sources for cable. One of them was Macom. Jerrold was involved in cable. I believe they sold their cable out to Time. They may be partners. Then you had CommScope ... Superior, a whole different group of people making cable. Scientific-Atlanta bought a plant out and they got into the cable business. We tried it. It did a job. We were just about 100 percent Macom or CommScope whichever you want to call it. They had so many names. They jump from one name to another.

DUNN: We used that cable a long time.

NABORS: Yes, a long time.

DUNN: We liked very much to find somebody that we trust, and we think that the copy control is tops and we stay with them.

NABORS: Bob, one more thing. A step up in cable, the old preamps that we used to use right at the antenna on the tower, there were two tubes in them at that time. And then they jumped to transistors and so did some of the line gear. We thought we were really moving up in the world when we got the transistor preamps. Here is one of them right there. The only problem or the big problem with the transistor was when you had a local channel like we do, Channel 4 could overdrive those transistors on the wanted channel like Channel 6 and it could completely wash it out so you then put in traps coming off the antenna to trap out the local channel. Because they were not too weatherproofed, these traps would drift. So it was climbing the tower quite a bit and retuning the traps to keep the preamp from overdriving from the unwanted channel.

Here is a line splitter and line splitter to Jerrold, Model 1562. You better use it indoors. It was not made to go outdoors because the little lid on the bottom just slides around. It is far from being waterproof now. Sometimes we did use them outdoors. Again, back to the Simco, we could close that in with that Simco and it would stay high and dry. The little black switch that you see here, it will move up to twelve channels. We started this back when we were five channels.

We had the local channel that I keep referring to, Channel 4. We could use a pair of rabbit ears at the TV and put this switch on. They called these A-B switches that did the very same thing as your new A-B switch, but see the little two terminals on the top, fasten your rabbit ears to this and just flip the switch and your Channel 4 would come right in. Now when we were five channels that's when we were doing that. We had on five other channels so we were trying to utilize an off-the-air channel that was local and very strong. At that time you couldn't put it on the cable. We didn't have any room to move it up into the higher channels so we could utilize that channel on channel and we didn't have electronic gear to fool with, so if you did go off, they could still watch the local Channel 4.

DUNN: We spent thousands of dollars more on the local station than we did on the distant stations. We felt like it was our responsibility to give people clear television and that included the local channel. We had to do what we had to do to give it to them. That was when, you remember I think we were talking yesterday about the fact that we gave Channel 4 two places on our dial because it was going to come in on 4 regardless. We could not get a clear picture on 4 so we put it on 13 where it would be a clear picture.

We did that when people began to get remote controls because as long as you got up and turned the switch at the dial every time you changed the channel, it was no more effort to turn the switch. But when you had a remote control and the only time you stood up to go switch it on was when you wanted to see Channel 4, then it wasn't fair because people wouldn't get up. That was when we put it on 13 and we had it for years on 13 so that we only had 12 channels. Like we were talking about seats on a bus, we only had 12 seats on our bus and the local channel was taking up two of them. People sometimes seem to think that we could have put it on 4 whenever we wanted and there would be no problem, but actually we were protecting them. But we were glad when they moved their tower so we could put them on 4.

ALLEN: They moved farther away so that they weren't pushing you aside.

NABORS: Bob, here is a piece of 3/4 inch cable, aluminum cable, aluminum sheet. In this area and in a lot of areas squirrels are a big problem for cable operators.

DUNN: Can you believe that squirrels bit that chunk out of that aluminum? Not one hunk, but about three inches on one, didn't it?

NABORS: Now this can cause you some radiation. There is your cable right there, right inside, so this is radiating just like an open wire. There is no difference. This is going to be a big problem for a lot of people. We have a lot of squirrels here. This came from Columbus Air Force Base. They need to feed the squirrels out there just a little because I don't know how long they can carry this aluminum.

ALLEN: There is a section of this cable about a foot long where it shows definite teeth marks and in two or three or four different places the squirrels have actually chewed all the way through the outside aluminum covering and have exposed the wire completely. Now the squirrels then get radiated. Do they glow in the dark at night? Have you ever been able to go out and spot the ones that are doing it?

NABORS: Well, not exactly, but you feel like spotting them and shooting them.

ALLEN: Any idea what attracts squirrels to this? Does anybody have any idea?

NABORS: There's one answer that I have and this comes from a lot of climbing onto houses and this, that and the other. This center conductor in here is copper. Any animal and I am talking about dogs, squirrels, what have you, love to chew on copper. When I had hunting dogs, some of this copper cable that we had here I kept in the pen for them to chew on. Back in the early days when the RG 59 we were using was copper, the braid was copper braid. It was nothing unusual to have a service call and you get there and the dog had chewed the cable in two. There has got to be something in the copper that either they need for their teeth or their body. Dogs, cats occasionally will chew it, but squirrels they love it. So I think it has to do with something maybe their systems need and they chew it.

We can go back to telephone. They have a lot of problems also because they have the small copper wires inside. They had lead sheet on their cable and the squirrels would chew the lead to get to the copper where they could chew it. Around here there are miles of telephone main lines that they had mesh wire wrapped around to keep the squirrels from getting to it. Up in Mrs. Dunn's area, the fields up there where all the trees are, you would see telephone cable running along and just mesh wire right over it to keep them out. Because once they got in and got water in there then they had a problem. Now water is a big problem here also. Today you got pictures, tomorrow you don't.

ALLEN: So somebody calls and says my picture disappeared, so one of the things they have to do is go out and check and see if the squirrels have been at work.

NABORS: It's a good idea, yes it is. You take a pair of binoculars, that helped you. Most of all with today's equipment though you can drive down a line. It doesn't take long to find it.

ALLEN: Is there any other equipment in the case here that you haven't talked about Travis?

NABORS: Well there is a piece of AMECO that goes way, way back. It is tube type. That is a module out of the, I'm trying to think, that end piece, I believe that is a Channel 5--chandelier. That was what I was trying to think, they called them chandelier, yes ma'am. We had some gentlemen by the name of Don Atchison and Mason Hamilton who used to come through in what they called a "salesmobile." This is back in the early days.

ALLEN: They were working for AMECO?

NABORS: They were working for AMECO and they drove this truck. They had a lot of equipment on it. Matching transformers, the 1401s, the fittings and the splitters and this and that so that you could actually buy it right off of the truck. I guess maybe we could call that some of the good old days because things were changing quickly.

DUNN: Bruce Merrill was the owner of AMECO and he did a great deal of innovative engineering for the industry and he served as maybe the first or one of the first national chairman of NCTA. During that time that Travis is talking about they were riding high and then shall we say they were victims of a freeze. The FCC stopped all manufacturing you know and everything for about ten years.

ALLEN: Well they stopped all new systems going in and so the manufacturing just dried up.

DUNN: Right, right. But the industry owes a lot to the Merrills in my opinion.

ALLEN: There were a number of people who were inventing solutions to problems as the problems occurred, and he was one of those.

DUNN: Right, right.

ALLEN: I think Jimmie Davidson was another. He would find a problem and figure out a way around it.

NABORS: Bob, if I might add something while we are along this line talking about AMECO and the sales people ... Don Atchison and Mason Hamilton. Back in those days we didn't have a whole lot of magazines like the CED, etc., that were being published. Not only did these gentlemen serve you with equipment but they were in another town and these people had a problem they would discuss it with them and tell them ways they fixed it. Then when they got here you had a problem, and the first thing you know they carried a message from system to system that was a great help in the early days because they had found or could tell you what caused Joe Blow over in Anniston, Alabama, had said about a problem and see what he did to correct it. They were great carriers of different developments and things that you did to correct it. Not only was it AMECO, but Jerrold, and Entron sales people. We had a lot of those people through.

At one time one problem we ran into, Bob, and this was because of friendship, we had Jerrold equipment, we had Entron equipment, we had Cascade equipment, we had Vikoa. We had it all because you would buy from friends. They changed jobs you changed with them. So the one bad part of that was when you hired a new person, even though the equipment did virtually the same job, the screws of the whatever you turn or whatever you plugged in to make it do that job would be in a different location and it made it tough on the new people coming in.

End of Tape 3, Side A

NABORS: After all of this we had pretty well settled to about 100 percent Scientific line of dishes, heating equipment, line gear and the whole bit. This does make it easier both in your stockroom and for the people that you hire or the people that you have working for you. It also makes it a lot easier if you do have an outage, ice storm, lightning storm whatever to get a piece of equipment and put it in your truck and know that it will fit anywhere you go. Every day they come in with new technology, convertors to scramble, descramble.

ALLEN: What is the significance of the 1948 license plate being a part of this equipment display because that is well before the Dunn's moved to town?

NABORS: Well that is true. This used to be an automotive company where you are sitting right now. This was their showroom and we bought the building. We have a garage back here where we put all of our vehicles. We also have other storage. We just outgrew our original office. We found that license plate and we stuck it in the case. I don't know who owned it.

ALLEN: Have you covered all the equipment here in the case now?

NABORS: Pretty much. A lot of it does the same thing. One thing I haven't covered is the pressure tap. I talked a little about the 1401s and then along came the pressure tap. I think even the manufacturer will agree that this was a disaster. We started using the pressure tap, then they came up with the back matched pressure tap and that wasn't too much different. What you were actually doing was punching a hole in the cable, it would radiate, there was no way of keeping it from radiating. Also you got water in your cable. In two or three months after you put on a pressure tap, it looked about as green as a gourd. The deterioration set into your cable and transmission went down. This may sound very strange but you would go check an amplifier. It would be good on the output, you go to the next amplifier, on the input you would have virtually nothing. So then we would get a long pole and we would actually go along beating the cable. Then we would get back down and check the amplifier and it was beautiful. So, I think that came from pressure taps a lot because they were corroded and deteriorated cable that water had gotten into.

ALLEN: So I gather you used some of them but you found out very early on that you didn't want to use all of them.

NABORS: It didn't take long. We had followed up a lot of 1401s and so we went back to Jim Davidson, at DAVCO, and said, "Say do you know where we can get some 1401s?" And there was a gentleman by the name of Harold Wilson who had been with DAVCO so long that when you picked up the phone he knew everything that was in stock. He knew all the little systems. We bought used 1401s that people would take out. We are still using 1401s in a lot of our apartment houses. Again with the Simco, and the fact that you are going to enclose them in a box anyway, they are still great apartment taps.

ALLEN: So there was a lot of equipment used in operating the system that you didn't necessarily leave behind every time that you upgraded the system.

NABORS: That is true.

DUNN: That is something that the regulators don't seem to understand. They visualize you build a system just like you build a house, when it's finished, it's finished. That is not true. It goes on and on and on.

NABORS: It's an everyday effort. It is not five days a week; it is seven days a week. There is one piece of equipment that I had not mentioned and that is an FM tube type amplifier. We tried in the early days to put FM on the system. It just didn't work too good in those days. Now today we are talking a different horse. I think this goes back possibly to voltage regulation even with the FM stations. Today they will have more power than yesterday. It created a problem when the voltage of these signals shot up. Then you had cross modulation in your other adjacent channels. So it didn't take us long to abandon that. A lot of the early days were trial and error. It didn't necessarily mean that what would work in this system would work in the next system. You just had to hunt and find something to do the job.

Co‑channel was a tremendous problem in the early days before satellite came along. Everything coming off the air or microwave. We had the washouts ... rain, fog ... this and that, but co‑channel was the biggest problem. You could be watching a beautiful picture and 30 minutes later you couldn't see the picture or hear it. You would be watching some garbled up thing from one direction and hearing something from another direction. So I got the great idea once that I was going to stop the co‑channel. I got a piece of one inch mashed chicken wire and I put up a dipole out of copper tubing. I also got a 72 ohm resistor to go across and I thought I would put this in behind my antenna. I would pick this up and I would circuit it enough to block it, but that didn't work.

We put up the second antenna that Scientific-Atlanta made and shipped. They had made a Channel 6 antenna for Monroe, Louisiana, and they had installed it and I heard about it so I drove over to Monroe. Now they had left the other antenna up that they were using for comparison. They were battling co‑channel from Greenwood, Mississippi, and Lake Charles, Louisiana, on Channel 6. We had a very similar problem here except in our situation we had Birmingham that we wanted 120 miles due east and Greenwood which was an unwanted Channel 6, 120 miles due west. Greenwood was 180 degrees in phase with Birmingham.

So when I got over and looked at this new antenna I called Scientific-Atlanta from Monroe. We got the next Channel 6 antenna and installed it. We pulled this up with a winch. The antenna and the cross members that go with it weighed 600 pounds. That was a job. Channel 13 weighed less than Channel 6 because the higher the frequency you go the smaller the antenna. Channel 2 weighed quite a bit more than Channel 6.

When we installed this antenna, one of the nervier times I have had in cable, there I was with a gentleman by the name of Preacher Cochran who worked here. We were on the tower on the last day of March and this was a little bit after March. It was in the early spring and we were subject to quick clouds. We were on this 480 foot tower and were about 440 feet up hanging this antenna. We knew to watch for clouds. It was right after lunch and first thing we knew we heard a rumble and then it literally ate us up. The static electricity from the thunder and lightning was over Starver which is 30 miles away. Winches went everywhere. We were trying to fasten the antenna down. I kept hollering to him to get in the winch and go down, and I would just climb down because I had to stop and pick up a field strength meter that was tied off on the way down. And before we could get unbelted, it hit us again. It burned, but before the next one came along we were on the ground, I promise you.

NABORS: So, yes, it is hairy up there sometimes.

ALLEN: Particularly in an area like this where the storms come up so quickly.

NABORS: Right.

ALLEN: We are going to change directions of the discussion now and talk a little bit about some of the kinds of problems that you have. Not so much with the natural elements as with some of the human elements, either employees who have been working for the company and have gotten themselves into kind of unusual situations or customers who have, what did you call them, cockpit troubles?

NABORS: Cockpit troubles. That's Mrs. Dunn's word for it. I will start with one of the early ones that Mrs. Dunn is very familiar with. I just told you we were hanging an antenna in the lightning. There was one more instance on the tower that happened. We had a gentleman by the name of Slim Fussell, or Malcolm Fussell, I believe, his nickname was Slim. He would not wear insulators on his pliers. He just didn't like the insulators. One day he and I were hanging another antenna. He was left handed. Now those pliers had black handles that looked a lot like the "D" ring on your safety strap.

DUNN: How high were you?

NABORS: About 440 feet in the air. So he had to move around on the tower, and of course he had to unsnap his safety belt. He was directly across the tower from me, and when he snapped, he snapped into his pliers rather than his "D" ring. He had just started to lay back into his belt and I saw it and hollered. That was the first time I ever saw this guy scared. Our day's work was over. We came down. It scared him so bad that he fell over into the tower. And he was just inches away from about a 440 foot tumble backwards. So that is one of the wooly problems.

Back to the cockpit. There is a great percentage of the service calls in cable that are what we call cockpit problems. We are talking about problems that the TV operators in the home create for themselves. Unplugging their TV is one of those. The maid cleaning, unplugging the TV, and the person living there not knowing it; a bad cloud coming, somebody unplugging it, the other person not realizing this. Way back the fine tuner on the TV was also a great problem. You could take the fine tuner and tune from one channel to another. You could wind up with two or even three channels with the same picture on it. And you try to correct it over the phone and they will twist it a half of a turn then after they had untwisted it five or six turns, They can't get it so you wind up having to go out there. As we mentioned earlier, we had a switch that we had used back in the early days for the local channel. They would forget to flip it. They got the local channel but they didn't get anything else, so my cable's off. So you go to their house, you flip the switch, and they forgot what switch you were talking about.

I am trying to think. There is a world of problems ... unscrewing the cable and forgetting to put it back.

A lot of the problems today are related to the VCR. We use the Scientific-Atlanta decoders for the pay channels or the scramble channels that we put out. They unscrew one cable and there are several back there so they don't know where they go. Probably every day we get one or two calls concerning the VCR hookup. We have drawn maps that a lot of times we give the people on the way to hook them up. This helps but some of them couldn't even follow a road home, so they can't follow the map. But anyway, that is part of it. You get a good laugh after you get there and get it going for them. They go to apologizing or they go to cussing you, one of the two for not being able to tell them how to do it over the phone. This is a lot of the problem we have, customer-made problems.

Another big problem is people trying to save a call to you to come out to move their cable. They try to do it themselves. So they pull the fitting off to get it through the hole. They can't get it back on. Then comes the call, "My TV is off." They never tell you that they have moved the cable. You get out there and they lack 12 inches having enough to go right where the little lady wants it. Again, they were trying to get around this extra charge. You can do so much of it but you can't keep absorbing it. It gets expensive. So these are some of the problems the serviceman has in the home. Another of the problems we run into is with a new customer who wants cable. She comes in and signs up. You send people out and when she was here she probably knew exactly where in the home she wanted it, what wall she wanted it on. She gets back home and looks at her furniture and ... well do I want it there, or am I planning next week to move my furniture. In a lot of cases it takes as much time once an installer gets to the house for the person to make up his mind exactly where he wants the TV as it does for the gentleman to put the cable in.

This cuts down on the amount of hookups that they can do in a day. We even have customers who we hook up today and they call tomorrow, "I've changed my mind" or "he didn't put it where I wanted." Did he ask you, "yes ma'am." They don't want to admit that they have changed their minds because there is an extra cost to go back. Gosh, it's been a while since I have done a lot of these hookups.

ALLEN: We are going to change directions here a little bit and go back with Mrs. Dunn. The discussion earlier was about the formation of the South Central Association and how that eventually led five or six years later into the formation of the Southern Association. Now you have given us a document which I will include as part of this report which you wrote up as historian for South Central. The first meeting was 1959 in Arkansas if I remember right.

DUNN: That was a Lakeside gathering when they decided to organize.

ALLEN: That was when they decided to form an organization and then in 1960 they invited people outside of Arkansas. Were you at that 1960 meeting?

DUNN: Yes. If I am not mistaken, that was the one that was in Memphis. The entire proceedings of the August, 1960 meeting were tape recorded. I assume that Jim Davidson would have that tape or he would be the one to ask about it.

ALLEN: He would be the most likely person to have that tape?

DUNN: Yes. And then I went to the meeting in Memphis where Jim Davidson had sent out the call to come in and be a part of a new organization. Those who came are the ones that in following papers which I can give you showing the members of South Central, we call the charter members.

ALLEN: And there were about thirteen?

DUNN: There were more than that weren't there?

ALLEN: There were twenty-five operators from five states gathered in Little Rock in January of 1960.

DUNN: I was not at that. I was at the '61 meeting when the call went out, the first letter. Then it was in '61 when I started going to the national convention and I haven't missed many since.

ALLEN: Now what this says is that they met in January of '60 in Little Rock, and Fred Stevenson was elected president. Then in the fall of '60 they met in Memphis and Virgil Evans was elected president and Jimmy Davidson was secretary/treasurer for both years. And what did the South Central group do? What was their role as contrasted to the Mississippi Association or the NCTA?

DUNN: Primarily as the backup group for the volunteer representative of our area to the national board, national NCTA board. That was Fred Stevenson. He was trying to carry on as representative of the whole district out of his own pocket. He was going around to different systems and to different gatherings and carrying the message of organizing for strength. We had problems in Washington and we needed to stick together, that sort of thing. And as I told you the telephone company proposition was in the air at that time. Their idea was to lease the pole space to the cable systems and then at the end of fifteen years the telephone company would own the system.

ALLEN: Did any system operators that you are aware of sign that kind of a lease?

DUNN: I can't give you any names but a few, not many, did. I don't know what they finally did at the end of fifteen years. I didn't hear of anybody losing their system. Maybe they renegotiated, I don't know.

ALLEN: So the primary purpose of South Central was to give an economic base to support the work that Stevenson was doing out in the field.

DUNN: And to distribute the information, too, an easy way for that.

ALLEN: And Mr. Stevenson was a local operator?

DUNN: Yes, he was from Arkansas. He lived in Fayetteville, Arkansas, and had a system in Rogers, Arkansas. He was an outstanding national chairman of NCTA, and the last if I'm not mistaken, of the volunteer ones. In '61 we hired a paid president and have had one ever since.


DUNN: Yes, yes. This history that I wrote goes only as far as South Central Association went. When it became the Southern Association and included all the southern seaboard states, I was no longer a secretary or official. I closed this history out as of April 1971. That is when I submitted it. I believe it stops about 1965.

ALLEN: You served for two years as secretary/treasurer?

DUNN: Yes. And then it looked like I was going to become president and whoever had been secretary/treasurer moved up, that sort of thing.

Shortly before the end of the year I asked Fred Stevenson if he would serve as president again and he said he would if he were elected. So I resigned as secretary/treasurer and the board appointed him as secretary/treasurer which left him in the position to become chairman.

ALLEN: And this was because Polly Dunn was bound and determined that she was never going to be president of anything.

DUNN: That's right, that's right.

ALLEN: Why is that? You were a very public figure?

DUNN: Well I was trying mighty hard not to be, I tell you.

ALLEN: You were the toastmistress at banquets and...

DUNN: Well that's kind of in the family you see.

NABORS: She took first billing over Bob Hope at the Southern show also.

DUNN: Oh yeah, I forgot that. How about that?

ALLEN: Go ahead, tell that.

DUNN: Well, he didn't think that was funny. He didn't think that was at all funny. I thought it was hilarious. Anyway, see they had my picture on the front page by myself because I was honorary chairman.

ALLEN: This is the trade show at the Georgia World Center in Atlanta in 1982, Southern Cable Television Association. The program opens up with the honorary convention chairwoman Polly Dunn and the next page is Bob Hope and Art Buchwald. So Mr. Hope didn't think that was funny.

DUNN: No. He didn't think that was funny.

ALLEN: So what did he say?

DUNN: He didn't say much. But something else happened. I have another picture that you may see. It shows the two of us laughing because something else happened that we both thought was hilarious. So we forgot about the other thing. I didn't rub it in too much.

ALLEN: You don't think he would remember it today?

DUNN: No, I doubt if he remembered. But it was a moment of pleasure anyway.

ALLEN: What were some of the kinds of major issues that South Central was wrestling with during this time?

DUNN: Well copyright went on for years. We worked on that for years, year in and year out. We gave a great deal of time and effort and expense to that. I am sure that you have reams of it in the museum of the work that was done on it.

ALLEN: Very possible, very probably. And was your role as secretary/treasurer anything beyond maintaining the records and the financial records?

DUNN: Well that was pretty much the whole thing--getting the notices out and urging them to come.

NABORS: Setting up the show.

DUNN: Setting up the show. Now that was a pretty big job and we did that several times.

ALLEN: You had to do that yourself then?

DUNN: Well when you say that don't forget that what staff we had here were all involved in it and...

NABORS: Some of the directors helped.

DUNN: Yes, that's right. The directors helped also. Everybody helped. Millie Smith was a wonderful help particularly in setting up the conventions. It involved an amazing amount of correspondence. You know how it is. You have to hunt up people to appear on the program. You ask them and they don't call and they don't answer. Then when you ask them again they say they will and later they change their mind about the time you get the type set up, and all of those things. You try to think of gimmicks to make them come to the show, and come to the different seminars.

ALLEN: And you had a trade show in conjunction with the meetings. I see the two meetings where you were an officer were one in Jackson and one in Biloxi.

DUNN: Yes, well. I can't remember where they all were held. I did the shows at least twice that I remember.

ALLEN: Did you remember some of the companies that were exhibiting at those shows?

DUNN: Oh everybody that made anything. They all came. I think we still have a reputation for a good show. By that, it's a show that the exhibitors like to come to. I found in looking over these mementos here, that I ran across a letter a man had written to me thanking me for the show that we did that year in Mississippi. I have forgotten what title we called it. We made all the exhibitors our honored guests. There was appreciation of our exhibitors, not just exhibitors, some people who were in the hardware area who have meant so much to us. As long as I controlled it a little bit I refused to charge the exhibitors anything for coming to the show. We went to the show to see their exhibits and the exhibits were our life blood. If they had something new, we wanted to know it and it meant a lot to us. And then to turn around and expect them to pay $50 which I think the fee was at the time, seemed unfair. Some of them charged a membership fee, a registration fee, and they expected a party being given. This is expensive, all those things, and I just didn't think that the companies should pay that much. Maybe now it is a little different, but then it was not fair.

ALLEN: Are you saying you didn't charge them a fee to come to the show? Did they pay for the exhibit space?

DUNN: No, we just had what we called "table topics" in those days. This was back in mostly the sixties. And even for a while the reasonable was just "table topics", but that didn't carry over into the Southern. We were talking about the state as far as I am concerned. You remember the time we gave the party for the exhibitors. We had them as our special dinner guests. We asked every operator to take at least one exhibitor to dinner as his guest. It is a nice informal atmosphere and they knew we liked them, and they knew we appreciated their coming, and they liked to come.

ALLEN: So really what you're portraying is a partnership between the people who manufactured equipment and the cable operators who were using their equipment to hook up the locals. Do you think that this took place elsewhere in the country among operators?

DUNN: I don't know. I just don't know. I know there is a widespread feeling, "Oh I pay them plenty of money, they can give me a party," and as far as the exhibitors are concerned that's repeated again and again. Once a season is one thing, but to do it over and over. In some instances the salesmen had to do it out of their own pocket.

ALLEN: Travis do you think that this feeling was pretty much the feeling of all of the members or was there an awful lot of Polly Dunn in the idea that we ought to treat exhibitors as partners?

NABORS: The biggest percent of it was Polly Dunn. To give you a for instance, when sales people come here and they are here at lunchtime or at night for dinner, we do not, thanks to Polly Dunn, allow them to pick up the check. We pick up the check. They are doing us a favor by coming. They are spending money to come, so we pick up the check. I would rather they be obligated to us than us obligated to them.

DUNN: Well, I am glad it is something besides the Polly Dunn theme that you have going here.

NABORS: Well, it is just one of the things that we have always done, to try to make the people feel at home and welcome. I was kidding about the obligation bit. I remember a Mississippi show where we honored all of our people, and each of the operators were to get up and say something special about some particular person that called on them. We had a great time that night. Tracy Merrill, I think, stole the show as best I can remember. Tracy was the manager of Laurel, Mississippi, and he did a great job, if you remember.

ALLEN: Could you talk a bit more about that?

NABORS: Well, I just know that Ben Foster at that time was with Scientific-Atlanta and I forget all of what I said. I remember part of it. As you have been told before I love to hunt and fish and Ben does a lot of hunting in Georgia. Ben had been promising to come over and go hunting with me year after year after year and never did show up. So I just told him that I was going to introduce the biggest liar in cable TV which would have been Foster because he never did what he said he would do.

ALLEN: Polly is there anything more as you have looked over those notes on the history of South Central?

DUNN: Well I am tempted just to read them.

ALLEN: Well we will have them.

DUNN: I know you will have them already. I am joking, but it does matter. When I wrote this, it was closer to the time in the first place and in the second place I had all the records and everything at hand so I know it is correct.

ALLEN: What was the reason that the South Central then merged into what became the Southern? Was that Southeastern as well?

DUNN: No. There was only the Arkansas which as I said was active before we were. But the two of us, Mississippi and Arkansas were sort of the only ones representing the Southeast. We invited people to come and a lot of people came, but not enough to warrant a state association of their own. But Bob Jurningen, when he was president, traveled around and encouraged people and said I will come help you get organized and things of that sort. So they set up the Alabama one and they did the Florida one and...

NABORS: Tennessee.

DUNN: After around 1965 apparently it was, I have here, by 1965 more state associations had been formed and there was an increasing need for larger regional organizations. That was when we made it a southern association instead of south central.

NABORS: And then, didn't we have 12 states at that time to come in?

DUNN: I don't know.

NABORS: I think so.

DUNN: I don't have any of those records and I didn't include it because I didn't have it.

ALLEN: And where was Bob Jurningen from?

NABORS: Hattiesburg.

DUNN: Hattiesburg at that time. He went to Florida and I don't know whether he is in cable or not now. We haven't been able to find him. I located him one time and left a message at his home to call back, but he never did. I am sorry because I would like to know. I hate to lose track of my friends.

ALLEN: And did you maintain any kind of an active role with the Southern Association comparable to what you had with the South Central?

DUNN: Well.

NABORS: She always does. She is the first lady in Southern Cable Association. Everybody knows it, everybody tells her. I come back from meetings sometimes when she doesn't go and I say, "Mrs. Dunn you sure were missed". Oh no. Everybody in cable knows Polly Dunn whether they had met her or not.

ALLEN: The record also shows that she blushes.

NABORS: Yes she does. But she knows what I am telling is fact. I wouldn't come back lying to her. I would rather keep her all to myself, but there are too many other people out there after her. The young ladies that come into cable today look up to her. We had a young lady this past year who said, "Oh you are Travis Nabors, where is Mrs. Polly Dunn? I have heard so much about Mrs. Polly Dunn." This was a lady who had been involved with cable and WGN out of Chicago.

DUNN: You are going to use up all the tape in the machine.

NABORS: And this happens to all the people. One of the first names they knew in cable is Polly Dunn.

DUNN: That was quite an accolade.

NABORS: It is very true.

DUNN: I don't remember why but there was a clause in the bylaws, I am trying to think why it was, but that entitled me to attend the meetings at the Board of Directors meetings.

ALLEN: Of Southern.

DUNN: Of Southern. And it was a case of whether you wanted to pay any attention to it or not because I wasn't going to push it, but I have forgotten exactly what it was or how it was worded, but it was there.

ALLEN: It spoke specifically to you.

DUNN: Yes. And I could go to the meetings whenever I wanted to.

ALLEN: Was there anyone else so honored?

DUNN: Not that I know about.

NABORS: She knows there weren't.

DUNN: Oh I know one of the things was that if you were a member of the National Board of Directors you were invited, so that would apply to other people besides me, but ...

NABORS: They didn't take it up.

DUNN: No a lot of times they didn't take it up, that is true. But it depended upon whether I had something that I felt was important enough that needed to be brought to their attention. As you know, my concern has been focused largely on independent systems and it didn't take long for them to get lost in the shuffle of it. In any organization the first thing you know there are politics. Then there is sort of an organized way to get to be on the board. I just wanted to keep them aware of the independent system. I do think that there is a place for independent systems in today's structure regardless because independents are closer to the subscribers and the subscribers need to be heard from on the Hill in Washington as well as in your office in your local place. So I would like to see the continuing setup that is such that would encourage the independent operators to come to Washington to visit their legislators. Now NCTA would love to have them do it, but they are a little afraid of independent operators coming in and just going and visiting because they are afraid they won't cue the line of ... what would you call it?

ALLEN: The party line.

DUNN: The party line.

NABORS: And play the politics.

DUNN: Well, but nevertheless, at least in Mississippi I think we have been very effective with our representation in Washington. As I was talking to you the other day I had a very particular prerogative because I was the only woman on the board at that time. There weren't as many women lobbyists as there are now. Being a woman sort of opened the door a little bit for me over the years. In the last decade, I have been pushing Travis to go. He has a personality that is a distinct individual and he has made his own welcome there. Every place that he has gone, you can tell they remember when he comes again. He is an excellent lobbyist. It's been my great pleasure and pride that the cable industry has offered more and more for women. Now there are still not many women operating systems, but they have been a bonanza for women in the marketing area and other places in cable. And of course you can't get any better than Kay Koplovitz, who is the head of one of the biggest MSO's and that's no small job.

ALLEN: Did you ever serve on the Southern Board of Directors?

DUNN: Yes. Why did I?

NABORS: Secretary.


ALLEN: So you have been an officer of the South Central, of the Southern and you have served on the Board of Directors of the National.

DUNN: Right.

NABORS: And she has been on the board of the state many times.

End of Tape 3, Side B

ALLEN: Ok. This is Friday afternoon, March 31, 1989, and we are in Columbus, Mississippi, with Mrs. Polly Dunn. We are wrapping up two days of discussion about the early days and many of the people who have been so important to the cable industry who have worked with you and very seldom against you.

DUNN: They just didn't tell me about those times.

ALLEN: You were elected to the NCTA Board of Directors for two terms, I think, weren't you?

DUNN: Well, two terms. There was a term in between when I didn't run. I didn't expect to run but the one time because the terms as I remember were three years at that time.

ALLEN: When were you first elected?

DUNN: In 1970. I did a lot of work during that decade. That was the time that we set up the independent operators and we went to Washington a lot. We were pretty active during that time. Since then, I have been pushing it off onto somebody else.

ALLEN: Now the role of the independent operators, that was a group within NCTA.

DUNN: That is correct. At the time there was a great deal of feeling among the small systems that their welfare was not considered very much by NCTA. CATA was formed at that meeting in Texas, but at the same time we were considering a formation of a committee within NCTA especially for independent operators. David Foster, who was President of NCTA, persuaded Jim Davidson to organize such a group. Jim said he was willing to do it if I would help. I was not too excited about it because I felt it was somewhat a divisive action to take but nevertheless I said I would. Jim did, he sent out letters and rounded people up and we had our first meeting in Washington--a dinner meeting--and then a short meeting that evening. The next day we were going to work with the NCTA staff on bylaws and that type of thing.

After we met that night, the next morning Jim went home. He had organized it. He had done what he said he would do and all of a sudden I felt that I was all by myself. Fortunately I was able to persuade Mac Clark who was a wonderful choice for it to be the first chairman of the independent operators board which Jim really had founded. But Jim is such a wonderful organizer. That job is done, he thinks somebody else should take a turn, and he is right.

ALLEN: So Jim was instrumental in the organization of both CATA and the independent operator board both.

DUNN: Yes. CATA sort of, of all the people who were there, there was a room full of people, there were only about six who were not in opposition at least not within NCTA.

ALLEN: Did CATA last very long as an organization?

DUNN: It is still going.

ALLEN: It is still going?

DUNN: It has served an excellent purpose, I think. It does not have the influence that NCTA has on the Hill, but they have gotten an excellent leader, executive director, a man who personally commands respect. His name is Steve Effros and he was on the FCC staff when they made all these restrictive rules that nearly clobbered us. Incidentally, he comes to all of our Southern Association conventions that we call the Eastern Show rather than trying to maintain a separate convention. Of course, those of us in the Southern Association welcome their presence. They have some excellent panel sessions that we have enjoyed. I would like to also say that the independent operators board had some panel sessions at Southern that we also think were very, very informative.

ALLEN: Now did you have any kind of an official role in the independent operator's board after it was formed?

DUNN: Yes, I was on the first board and had been on the board ever since. I served as vice‑chairman I guess you would call it. I hardly would call it co‑chairman with Mac Clark. When we started we all worked very closely together. It always comes down to a small group of people who are willing to consistently work again and again and again. It reminds me of the story of the minister who was approached by a member of his congregation who said, "I don't want to come to your church anymore. Everything is done by just a little clique. Anything that you hear about it at all is just always that little clique." And the minister said, "Yes, you are exactly right. And the requirement for that clique is loyalty and devotion and work, and it is hard to find anybody to join it."

ALLEN: And you are obviously one who has been part of that fraternity of loyalty and devotion and hard work for a long time.

DUNN: Well, sometimes it has not been too enthusiastically approached because you get tired. There are so many little defeats. But looking back over the '70s as a whole I realize that we really did accomplish a very great deal particularly with the FCC. The NCTA is, rightfully so, primarily concerned with situations on the Hill. And it's as much as they can handle, believe me. But the FCC is more of a situation where you can talk one on one. After all there are only seven commissioners.

We found that when we would go there and talk if not to the commissioners sometimes, then sometimes their staff, that they were willing to go out to lunch with us and sit and just chat. We could talk to them about individual things which takes me back to my constant song about subscribers--how the subscribers feel about this that or the other. As you and I were speaking at noon today that sitting in the office and knowing all about cable because you have read about cable doesn't mean that the situation is always that optimistic, that nice.

If you sit in today and read the article about a system that has a 100 channel capacity, you have to think how are those 100 channels filled. Each one of them is filled with something different, that's not so. Not only that, but who has the set that can receive 100 channels?

Even in my little town here now, this is a day of what they call cable ready sets, but I would hesitate to say that more than 50 percent of my subscribers have cable ready sets. I have a very popular channel--TNT--Ted Turner's latest on Channel 31. Well if you have a cable ready set, fine. But if you don't have a cable ready set, that's a channel that you get without any extra charge but you can't get it. You have got to find a way to expand the capacity of your set and a lot of people don't even know they can buy a converter and expand it.

I am reminded of a conversation that I had with Brian Blow from Ajo, Arizona, recently in which he said that not only did most of his subscribers have a set that doesn't go above Channel 13, but he is in a greatly depressed town where not many people have bought a new set in several years. Some of those sets, they turn their fine tuner with pliers. This business of everybody having 54 channels is just not a reality in that town. Well that's true, but we could go to the FCC and as I say sit down and talk about these things. We would invite them to our meetings in the state where we would have discussion panels, etc., and find that it was effective for both of us. For us to try to understand what they were trying to do and for them to understand what their rules were doing to us.

ALLEN: So the focus of the independent operators part was to deal with the FCC?

DUNN: Well that was more or less my personal feeling about it. I felt that we did the best work there and it is a place that I would like to see us be encouraged to continue. Now about all the people that we talked to and tried to explain things to and give a better understanding of what grass roots cable is about, are gone. There is one commissioner and one staff member, well maybe two staff members that I know of that come to mind. There may be others that don't immediately come to mind that I know would understand what such and such a situation would do to them, such as syndication.

ALLEN: So what, you have been on the independent operator's board for 15 years now? Have there been any other independent operators who have put that kind of time and effort into the board?

DUNN: Joe Gans has. We had a lot of trouble about the definition of the independent operator's board, because of course any organization wants things tidy and listed and certain qualifications. Well, our definition has pretty much been if you feel like an independent, you are an independent. I look at Joe and how can you say independents are people who have less than 20,000 subscribers or less than 10,000 or something or whatever. How can you give it a number? Joe is as independent as any man I know, and he has lots of systems. He, of course, is an excellent one to be on our board because he is also an MSO. But still I guess the real definition in my mind is that he is somebody who is personally involved in the day-by-day operation of his cable system. He is a man who answers the phone; talks directly to the subscribers or lets the subscribers have an opportunity to talk to him.

ALLEN: Are there others besides you and Joe?

DUNN: Oh yes, there are others. John Wasson was with us for many years. Now Hart Walter represents his company in Pennsylvania and I know you know him personally. Another one is Tom Whitehead from Texas and Brian Blow who has been in the business since 1953 from Arizona. Mel Gilbert in Texas who has been a long and faithful member of the Board. I can go on and I think there are a good many others. Boyce Dooley is now the chairman of the independent operators, he's from Georgia. And if you look at these men's records, time and time again you will find that they have served as presidents of their state associations because we have found, at least in Mississippi, that when you need continuing help, get somebody who owns his own operation.

In our state associations we want to recognize everybody who is there. We try to pass around the offices and things like that. But a manager for an MSO never knows when his term is through or he will be promoted or demoted or moved whatever, and all of a sudden he is not there anymore. But a man who owns his own system is going to be there year in and year out. At least that was true up until now. For the last 30 years that has been true, not quite so true now. I think we have been a real service to NCTA. I would like it much better if NCTA agreed with me a little more.

ALLEN: During that first term on the NCTA board, what were some of the kinds of problems that the industry was having to face up to and therefore the board had to deal with?

DUNN: Well, nonduplication came pretty quickly at least after we started making ourselves known to the FCC. Again, we tried never to be a nuisance. We tried always to make it light. If we had a particular thing that we wanted to talk about, talk about it and leave, and not ever stay more than 15 minutes unless the man we were visiting wanted us to. Now we have had that happen a number of times, but I think I told you about the time that the new commissioner very reluctantly told us that he would let us have 15 minutes but no more and then kept us 45. They want to do a good job. I am sure they get a lot of pressure groups coming in. But if you own your own business, and it's your life's blood, you are not going to talk about it in a harsh and marketing type of way. You are going to talk about it because you know how much it means to you and that comes over. If you are sincere, I think they are glad to have the opportunity to know how these things work out.

ALLEN: At the time you were serving on the board, were you the only woman on the board?

DUNN: Yes, at that time. Now I am not the only woman who has been on the board.

ALLEN: Have there been any before you?

DUNN: There was one before me and there is one now, maybe more than one now. I am not sure.

ALLEN: Who was the one before you? You don't remember?

DUNN: A little lady from out in the northwest someplace.


DUNN: Carolyn Chambers is on now. Not only a very credible woman, but a pretty one.

ALLEN: Well, if being a lovely woman is a qualification for being on the board, I can see why you served two terms.

DUNN: That is sweet of you. Did I tell you about my second term?

ALLEN: No. We were just getting to that.

DUNN: After I had served the one three-year term and I was out for a year, the NCTA Board met in San Diego. My daughter lives in California not far from San Diego which made it a very attractive meeting for me to go to, and of course, I was a welcomed guest. One of the things that we did when I was on the board was to establish the position of sustaining director, translated that means ex‑director. If you are a sustaining director, it means that you are privileged to come at any time. Of course, anybody is privileged to come at any time unless they are in a closed meeting. But anyway, I went out to San Diego and went to the board meeting and the board unanimously signed a petition for me to run again. I feel like that was one of the highlights that I will always treasure.

ALLEN: That is a very great compliment.

DUNN: I felt that it was. I was just overwhelmed.

ALLEN: So you couldn't say no.

DUNN: Oh, how could I?

ALLEN: Being asked by or petitioned by the board to serve a second term was one of the highlights of your professional life. What were some of the others?

DUNN: There are some that I like to think about once in a while and am amazed that I have as many as I do. Before I moved here I was president of the Women's Auxiliary of the Episcopal Church in Florence and I thought that was about as high as I would ever be able to get. Then after we moved here we belonged to St. Paul's Episcopal Church. Here, too, I was elected as president of the Women of the Church and then later, I was the first woman ever to be on the vestry of St. Paul's Church in all of its history. I guess that is about as high a point as I could get.

There are others, too. I have worked for the community and one time I call them my three "Cs"; my three concerns, the church, the community, and cable. At one time I had been elected by my peers in each place to be on the executive group. I was on the board of directors for the Chamber of Commerce, and I was on the National Board for the cable, and I was on the vestry of my church. That was a pretty exciting time.

ALLEN: Certainly another exciting time has to be when you were specially honored by NCTA. If I can read just a bit here from an article that appeared in Broadcasting in April of 1974, April 29th to be specific. "The Sweetheart of NCTA easily the sentimental favorite of last week's cable convention was Polly Dunn, President of Columbus, Mississippi TV Cable Corporation who was presented with the Idell Kaitz Memorial Award at last Tuesday's annual banquet. The honor goes to that woman who has cumulatively over the years made a significant contribution to the advancement of the cable TV industry and NCTA. Ms. Dunn, who operates what was the first cable system in that state, was re‑elected last week to her second term on the NCTA board and is a key member of the new independent operator's board. She is pictured receiving congratulations from Mac Clark of Big Dipper, Montana, himself a winner along with Jimmy Y. Davidson of DAVCO Electronics in Batesville, Arkansas." So you were in pretty good company.

DUNN: I was in excellent company. I really was. It was the first time in my life that I had the pleasure that I thought I would never have again. That was when the award was announced, everybody in the room stood up, and I mean immediately, they didn't wait. I got catcalls and bravos and whistles. I just couldn't believe it. It was a wonderful, wonderful feeling. I hope that everyone I know sometime or other has that kind of thing happen to them because it is exhilarating.

ALLEN: If they are going to have it happen to them, they have to earn it.

DUNN: I am not so sure, but I felt that it was the spontaneity of it that really did the most for me.

ALLEN: What are some of the other awards that the cable industry has given to you over the years, Polly?

DUNN: They have been right sweet to me, I can tell you that. The Pioneer Club Award which was what we called it at first was the greatest at that time. Goodness, any time. As you know the Pioneers were formed with a nucleus of people that Stan Searle, magazine editor and publisher, called the most outstanding people in the industry. You have a list of their names in the Pioneer a lot of places I am sure. Well that small group elected, selected themselves the next award. We called that a class, so the class of, they were chosen in '66. They chose the class of '67 and I was one of their class which I am very, very proud of. Of course, always you look back and you know that some good friend went to battle for you which helps you make it. I am sure it was Fred Stevenson in my case. I have always been very grateful.

Then after that I kept seeing people I thought deserved it as much or more than I to be a Pioneer. Since it is an elective sort of thing, and you just couldn't include everyone, it was a problem.

At that time I was secretary/treasurer of the South Central Association and I formed what we called a "Tower Club." I have a lot of correspondence on that. I started with the small group. They got together and talked about organizing what became the South Central Association and then took the names of all the presidents of the individual states. I figured that if they served as president they deserved a Tower nomination, and called them the founders. Then the charter members, I believe, were the first ones to be elected by that group. The Tower Club now has become all award winners themselves in a sense and they are the ones who give awards in the Southern Association.

The group is under the leadership of Jim Collins who is a pioneer himself, pioneer engineer. They surprised us when they announced that there was going to be an award given each year by the Tower Club. The first year was a double award. They didn't say that to start with though. They kept saying, "This person." And whenever they say "this person" look out because it means they don't want to say "he" or "she." Well they said, "This person." Anyway with everything they said I looked over at Jim Davidson because I knew that applied to him and he smiled back at me. I thought afterwards he thought that's Polly you know. So what they had done was to have two awards. One for Jim Davidson and one for me. That was the start of what they called the "Morris Dunn Award." Of course Jim Collins knew my husband. He was in the industry for such a brief time that a lot of people had never even heard of him. Jim had met him and worked with him and felt that he was a great man and he had such a wonderful vision of what the cable industry was going to be, and it has, fulfilled the things. We talked then about what we called vertical channels--sports channels and things of that sort. We talked about pay TV. The things that he envisioned have come true. I, of course, appreciated very much Jim's action in naming the award the Morris Dunn Award. So that was the first one, and then in 1986 I was totally flabbergasted when Skip Meadows, the president of the Southern Association, was talking along about this person again. They had decided to have a special award and it would be voted on only by the presidents of the member states. That means eleven state presidents had to decide. One single nay vote and they didn't give the award at all. Then he said, "This person I remember said, if we had nothing but the subscribers to go by we wouldn't need any other regulation," and I thought, oh, oh, I better get out my lipstick.

DUNN: And sure enough you know, he called me up to the stage. He had people who were behind the stage. I could not tell what they were saying, but I could hear the tone of their voices. The first one, and I recognized him instantly, was Jim Davidson. They had gotten him literally off the high seas in his yacht and he had come in and flown up to be there. And there were other friends of mine from all around. Again I had to concentrate just on their voices. And the last one though I could not understand. It just sounded like a muffled murmur and it was my daughter. They had brought her from California with her husband. It was a wonderful evening for me. I don't know about the people who were there but for me it was just beyond words.

ALLEN: So the industry has on several occasions recognized you for the tremendous contributions...

DUNN: Far more than I deserved.

ALLEN: We are going to change directions again here for just a couple of minutes. Travis Nabors has rejoined us for one of the questions that I'd like to ask both of you. The FCC put a freeze in about 1972, I think, on any new cable systems being started up. You were already fully in operation. What was the impact of that freeze on an ongoing cable operation in a community like Columbus, Mississippi?

NABORS: The building and the expansion just came to a screeching halt. The manufacturers backed off from introducing new technology. They let a lot of people go. A lot of people switched jobs, going to other fields. It had the impact of a disaster. Entron, which at the time was going fairly strong, folded. AMECO went way down; Jerrold was on the brink. Virtually, as we say, a freeze. It froze the industry.

ALLEN: Were you able to continue to get replacement line amplifiers and replacement cable?

NABORS: Along about this time we were using Jerrold equipment and in our case we bought a little bit of equipment at a time. The equipment that was available I found was going to the biggest suppliers or the people that were using it most. We would slide back and they would have us on hold. That was the point where we switched from Jerrold equipment to Cascade and we had a real mixed up, jumbo mumbo mess. When I say a mess, I mean we had Cascade, we had Vikoa, we had Entron. We got it where we could get it. I don't advise this. The big problem is stocking enough equipment for spares. The next big problem is the new employees learning the difference and so forth. This was a biggy that I can see with the freeze.

ALLEN: Were you able to add new subscribers during that period?

NABORS: Not as fast as you would like to because you couldn't do the expanding with new cable reaching new areas. In a town like ours we were built. We had to rely on homes passed that we didn't already have on for new customers. A lot of the people weren't crazy about TV and they could get at this time two local networks off the air very easily--Tupelo which is NBC, and Channel 4 which is CBS. The two of them also cherry picked from ABC. A lot of ladies that only wanted to watch the soap operas that they had been watching all of these years, didn't care about a lot of cable.

The next thing that gave us a real boost was when the local channel here 4, switched from CBS to ABC. That was the one biggest boost that this cable system ever had because the cable system did not have to spend a lot of money. The people thought they were still going to get their soap operas. Even today my wife and my child and a lot of rural people watch these soap operas. The good part now since VCRs have come along is that if for some reason they can't get home to watch it, they can tape it and watch it at night. They are going to watch the soap operas.

I think it was on a Monday morning that Channel 4 switched from CBS to ABC. At eleven o'clock when the soaps begin to come on, these people realized that they couldn't get their program, so we went to work. Our phones began to ring off the wall. We turned our people loose. We told them that the hours are yours. If you want us to come in before daylight and start hooking these up, that is ok. Call them at home, and if they are willing for you to come go do it as long as you want to work it. If you want to work at night, do it, but call the people first. So we worked day and night virtually getting the people on that were missing their soap operas. They didn't care about the news. It was my soap opera. So that was the big thing during this time that kept us alive.

ALLEN: There was one other thing that you were going to respond to as a result of an earlier conversation. During the time that you were very active on the Hill in Washington, were there some of the senators or representatives from Mississippi who played an important role in the growth and development of the cable industry?

DUNN: Yes, I think so. I think that Senator Eastland was not only a good friend of ours, but he kept up with the thing. He had cable in his home and that made a big difference. He knew what it was about and what an asset it was to the town. Now you remember that even in the '70s not all towns had cable. It was something that meant a lot, and during that period I know two industries who came to Columbus not only because there was a cable system here, but it was a factor in making the decision. People who they would bring here from the city were not going to be happy if they didn't get, as Travis was saying, "their programs" that they were used to having. Eastland was aware of that and he was, I think, crucial on several different occasions.

Senator Montgomery has always been easy to talk to and interested in our business. Senator Cochran and Wayne Dowdy had cable in their homes. McCall understood problems and what it meant to the people of this time. Stennis was always attentive and interested and practically always voted with us. He is such a fine man. We were very fortunate to have the representation that we had.

ALLEN: Were any of those people from the Columbus area?

DUNN: Stennis used to live here. No, we didn't have anybody there.

ALLEN: Now did you personally work with Senator Eastland?

DUNN: Yes, yes. I didn't do it as much as Ira Crosby. Ira Crosby was a personal friend of Jim Eastland's and lived in the same town and they had known each other for many, many years. Eastland made no bones about the fact that he didn't want NCTA sending somebody from staff over to his office. In other words, he didn't want a professional; he wanted somebody from his district who had cable. Someone who knew what he was doing.

NABORS: Grady Perkins, Ira Crosby, and Jay Wolfe.

DUNN: You ought to get those names.

ALLEN: Do you want to give those again Travis?

NABORS: Ira Crosby; Grady Perkins, Sr.; and Jay Wolfe. Ira Crosby was from Indianola and Grady was from Greenwood.

DUNN: And they would go to Washington. I have known Perkins to go and Stennis have somebody meet him at the airport. I mean they had the red carpet put out for them. Grady Perkins was a statesman. He is still here. I don't mean to put him in the past tense. He sold his system.

NABORS: One good thing about Perkins. Perkin's daughter worked in Senator Eastland's office in Washington.

DUNN: That's a help. We have an excellent record as far as the cable industry is concerned. When I say we, I mean Mississippi. We have had friends of the cable industry and it has been because we have kept up those contacts. I am glad to say that Travis has taken over those long trips, those endless corridors and the hardest floors I ever saw. I was glad to have such a good replacement up and down those corridors. He has done an excellent job. Travis has been president of the Mississippi Association for three consecutive terms. In all the history of the Association, they have never done that for anybody else. He is now on the board of the Southern Association. What are you, vice chairman?

NABORS: Vice president. A lot of work, lot of work.

DUNN: Yes it is.

ALLEN: But very few good things come without a lot of work.

DUNN: Well, that is true I think as a rule. I think that the article that you read from Broadcasting Magazine kind of put the finger on it and said that a lot of it is sentimental.

ALLEN: Yes. What I would like to do is to just give you a name of one of the prominent people in the industry and just say whatever comes to mind and it doesn't have to be any great in depth kind of analysis. These are all people you have known, you have worked with and you have respected. Ah, Bill Daniels?

DUNN: Bill is a law unto himself. He is one of the kindest, most thoughtful people I have ever known. When my husband died, and again when my son was killed, one of the first calls I had was from Bill. How he knew it so quickly I will never know, but he called to say, "Polly, if you have somebody that you would like to come to you, I will send my plane and pick them up and take them there and take them back. Whatever I can do for you." To call like that and not offer just sympathy but something concrete, that really went right to my heart, and I will love him forever.

ALLEN: Travis, if you have anything to add, please feel free to do so.

NABORS: I think Miss Polly has said it all about this gentleman. I know one of the trade magazines in his hometown Denver where he was trying to do so much. Somebody seemed to be very displeased with the noise that the airplanes were making or whatever and if I am remembering right and quoting him, he said he would build his own airport. So that's the kind of man Bill Daniels is.

ALLEN: How about Jim Davidson?

DUNN: Well, we could tell tales on Jim Davidson for hours on end couldn't we Travis?

NABORS: Yes ma'am.

DUNN: But whatever Jim does he does it with a flair.

NABORS: And then.

DUNN: Right then, immediately. Right. Right. He was here one time, I forget what the occasion was, but all of a sudden it was somebody's birthday. I believe Beverly Murphy was from NCTA and he had come over to see her I suppose. Anyway it turned out to be her birthday so he put us both into his plane and we flew to New Orleans and had a whole weekend in New Orleans courtesy of Jim Davidson. Can you imagine?


DUNN: It was a wonderful time. With Jim you know what he says he is going to do he does and does immediately and does well.

ALLEN: I think the thing that I have been impressed with with Jim Davidson is he never seems to have run into some kind of a problem he couldn't solve.

DUNN: He is going to try.

ALLEN: Sandford Randolph.

DUNN: He goes way, way back. If I am not mistaken, he was the first chairman of NCTA. He has been out of cable as far as operating a system for some time, but thank goodness he agreed to serve as executive secretary of the Pioneer Club so that keeps him up with, we don't let him loose.

NABORS: If I might add to this, Sandford is probably the most widely known for his gold jacket that he wears.

DUNN: And he doesn't grow out of it you notice.

ALLEN: Now one of the people that you said was one of the most interesting characters that you had run into was Slim Fussell.

DUNN: Slim Fussell was a law unto himself. He was a gangling, wiry individual from Tennessee. He is very, very intelligent which he worked very, very hard to cover up, didn't he? He affected a rural type speech that he didn't necessarily need at all. But he could fix anything.

NABORS: Give him a piece of bailing wire.

DUNN: Bailing wire and some pliers and he would fix it. The trouble is the next person that came along had no idea how to work with it from there on, but he was our head technician for about 13 years I guess. He had an opportunity then to get a piece of a cable system of his own which I was very proud of him to have.

ALLEN: Where was that?

DUNN: He got that in Louisiana. Rock Hook who lived over in Bastra, Alabama, at that time was looking for this sort of thing. He didn't want to run a cable system and he didn't want to have to manage it or anything of that sort, but he had the money to build it. When he found somebody like Slim who could build it and then run it, he would say, "All right son, would you like to have a cable system? I will give you a third of it, I'll pay for it, you go build it."

End of Tape 4, Side A

ALLEN: Ok, we are picking up on the second side of Tape 4 on Friday the 31st of March 1989. The next name on the list is Joe Gans.

DUNN: Joe Gans is an independent spirit. Regardless of how many systems he has he is an innovator and is never content without improving something and setting higher goals. As we said a while ago, he knows no limit to his goals and then he makes them work. This he has proven over and over, not only on the independent operators board but in Pennsylvania as you know.

ALLEN: Yes. Mac Clark.

DUNN: Mac Clark was the operator from Big Timber, Montana, and he had a system of about 500, I believe. It was when I first knew him as a member of the independent operators board. In fact, he was the first chairman after Jim left, and he was an excellent one. He was one of the best lobbyists that the cable industry had. He was always forthright, simple not pushy in any way. He just kept what he had to say to a minimum, obviously sincere, and he was much liked by the staff at the FCC that he called on. I do want to say in passing, too, that so much credit goes to the Pacific Northwest Association for making it possible for people from that area to go to Washington when NCTA asked them to come.

ALLEN: They had a long way to go.

DUNN: It was expensive and a man who has a small cable system simply couldn't afford it.

ALLEN: How about Ben Conroy?

DUNN: Why you don't need me to talk about Ben Conroy. What I like best about Ben is his playing the piano. And, to be fair to Ben, there is so much to be said about him and the only reason I say that is because nobody else besides my own husband could play like he can.

ALLEN: Milt Shapp.

DUNN: Let's skip that unless you want me to tell the story about him? Alright. The last time I saw Milt was in 1973. I was toastmistress for the banquet that night and he was governor of Pennsylvania at that time and was the main speaker. As Travis has told you, we built a Jerrold system and at that time, by the time you ordered the piece of equipment and they made it and delivered it to you, it was obsolete because they were constantly changing it. Well, when we would get something that Slim Fussell would improve in some way, he would send it back to Pennsylvania either to be fixed or fixed up a little better than he could do it and they would incorporate it into their next generation of equipment. So when Milt came to the podium to speak, I had just introduced him, he said, "Polly and I are old friends, and this two way equipment that you all are hearing about now is nothing new to us, we have had it for a long time, I sent the equipment to Polly and she sent it right back."

ALLEN: Probably fixed a little bit better. I think you said he was one of the brightest minds in the...

DUNN: Oh definitely one of the brightest minds. At 27 years old he went in there, I heard with $500, and started Jerrold. He did it at a time when there was no place to go for cable equipment and he really had a start on the whole industry.

ALLEN: Well the next name is Fred Stevenson.

DUNN: Fred Stevenson, I can't even mention without a smile and a warm feeling of friendship and affection for a man who gave like Fred Stevenson did. He was the last volunteer or unpaid chairman of the NCTA and he worked so hard. It was at a time when we were being threatened, we thought, by the telephone company. He would go to a meeting of NCTA, and then he would go system to system as many as he could reach and as many different meetings that he could go to and explain what NCTA was trying to do and how we should belong and staying united and that sort of thing.

I met him in Memphis in 1960 when we went up to that organizational type meeting for South Central. He insisted that I come to the San Francisco meeting in 1961. He and his wife Edith took me under their wing and opened all sorts of doors for me. As chairman, he was of course, in on all the different high level discussions and wherever he went he took Edith and me. So that was my introduction to all of the people who were at that time, and some of them still are, at the top of the industry. It opened doors to some friendships that have meant a lot to me.

ALLEN: John Gwin.

DUNN: John Gwin was, in my opinion, one of the best national chairmen we ever had, one of the most organized perspicacious men that I have known. He could go to the heart of a problem with just unerring direction and brush aside all the chaff and get to the heart of things. I would have liked very much to have seen us hire him as president, but I think for his own career possibly he did better not to be there.

ALLEN: Fred Ford. You had a marvelous story about Mr. Ford.

DUNN: Fred Ford was at one time chairman of the FCC and we were looking for a paid president. When I say we, the NCTA was and they hired Fred Ford. This was right after all those piles and pounds and pounds of restrictive type regulations had been passed by the FCC. When Fred Ford came to the NCTA, they ushered him into his new office and on the top of his desk was a big two or three or four inch pile of FCC bulletins. So to start off his day he started reading the bulletins. There was no sound from his office until all of a sudden they heard him pound his fists on the table and he said, "They can't do this to us."

ALLEN: I think that is a great story. How quickly he became us.

DUNN: That's right. Well, he had never read the things in the first place in my opinion.

ALLEN: Sam Haddock.

DUNN: Sam Haddock was a very devoted and loyal member of the independent operators board.

ALLEN: Where was he from?

DUNN: He was from Idaho. And he was also active in the Pacific Northwest region, I believe. They both, he and Mac Clark, would come whenever NCTA called. He was very generous in his contributions to the people on the Hill and that sort of thing. Unfortunately, if you want to call it that, contributions really do matter to the legislators. It isn't that they can be bought, but they just appreciate somebody who is willing to help them out.

ALLEN: Not just take but to give as well.

DUNN: That's right.

NABORS: That happens.

ALLEN: Hollis Rogers. Do you want to join in on this one Travis?

NABORS: I would be delighted. Rogers was one of the early sales people that I was speaking of earlier that carried the message across the states and country and from cable system to cable system. Hollis was working with Vikoa. The switch that I showed you where we used the switch for the little rabbit ears, this was a Vikoa. Hollis Rogers introduced us to this to help us utilize another channel without much cost. And only as the people got on the cable would they use this. Hollis Rogers served Mississippi, Alabama, and Tennessee I believe was his territory. He did it very well. He was just like a clock. About every two weeks Hollis Rogers came through. Later on in his life he had left Greenwood, Mississippi, to come to Starkville and then on to Columbus to spend the night. In between Greenwood and Starkville, Hollis had a heart attack in his automobile and died.

DUNN: That was a long time ago.

NABORS: That was several years ago. I don't remember, but he was one of the first ones. I had praised Carole Simms. This was before her time that Hollis was involved.

ALLEN: Are there other names that come to your mind?

NABORS: Ah, yes. There are a lot of names. Bill McNair. Bill was with Times Wire and Cable. He later worked with Vikoa. Mayer Carver who worked with Vikoa. Rex Porter with Times Cable and Rex is now with Pyramid Connectors. Bob Garner was with Jerrold for many, many years. He was a salesperson who came through. Another one of the oldies who has passed on was Bill Bryant with Magnavox. Now I could place Bill Bryant and Hollis Rogers in the same category because they were just like clockwork and they did carry the message. Harold Wilson I think I mentioned with DAVCO. Jim Collins is another old timer. Miss Polly had known Jim actually before I had. Jim goes back to the very early, early days of cable. Jim was with AMECO when AMECO folded. The chandelier that I mentioned a while ago I have run that back through my mind and that is the correct name. We purchased this chandelier the hidden equipment; we now call this a processor that we get from Scientific-Atlanta. At that time it was compatible to the Jerrold.

ALLEN: Polly, is there anything about Jim Collins that you would like to add to this?

DUNN: Well, as an engineer he designed some of the earlier systems that are in the United States. I think you would find him very interesting to tell the stories. I think he has retired within the last year or so. I think he still lives in Memphis.

NABORS: Memphis. If I may at this moment, after AMECO Jim Collins took off a couple of years and was more or less out of cable and then went back with ATC in the Memphis system.

DUNN: Yes. He was their chief engineer.

NABORS: Then we have a Kim Sanford. Kim, after arriving here, was with TV Supply and has been with them quite a number of years. Kim goes all the way back to the Jim Davidson days with the DAVCO. I mentioned Harold Wilson. Kim and Harold worked together.

DUNN: And Nick Abdo.

NABORS: And Nick Abdo, way back at that. Then you have Frank Hamilton. I think Frank has been with Times for so many years that I can't even remember. Rex Porter I mentioned.

DUNN: Don Atchison ought to be at the top of your list.

NABORS: Don Atchison was on the top.


NABORS: We had him way back. Don Atchison and Mason Hamilton. So this is a list of people that did carry the message.

ALLEN: The people who you are talking about really were the commercial people who were representing the manufacturers.

NABORS: Right, right. We had Ed Dark, Bob Brooks, Don Spencer. I mentioned Arthur Baum, and Bob Berney that I remember offhand. They were also some of the older ones.

DUNN: We just couldn't have existed without them.

ALLEN: Uh, huh.

DUNN: It seems a shame for the operators and the financiers to be mentioned and heralded and then the ones that were so valuable to us all through the years not be recognized.

ALLEN: I would like to wrap up these two days with the two of you by asking you to look a little bit into the future. Here I am not talking about trying to predict what the new technologies are going to be, but what does the future of the cable industry look like to an independent operator in a medium-sized town in Mississippi? What do you see in the future for the kind of cable system that you operate here?

DUNN: I think that there will never be a time that we won't have problems as we certainly have had them all 30 years that I have known about it. But I think we will solve them as they come. I think it is going to be harder and harder for independents, particularly because we have the problem of the rising cost of our program sources. We are unable to meet the kind of prices that are available to the MSO because of their bulk rate. I don't mean by that that the bulk rate should be outlawed, but I do think that there should be some solution that would make it more equitable for independents.

I think there is always a place for independents where the owner of a company can fight for his own particular company. I think that as demands change our services will change. We have a place, I think, in the makeup of today's life that is an enviable place. People don't talk about whether they are going to get cable or not. They just talk about when, how, and how much--whether they just get basic or whether they get the options, things of that sort. Travis is very much concerned and I think rightfully so that our destiny is so often not only affected but actually changed in the legislative area. If we don't keep up our contacts there then we are going to be clobbered into the point of either extinction or ... I better let Travis finish, my voice is leaving me.

NABORS: I don't know where to start. There is so much that I think we can do. I think we will get more involved on the city, county, state, and federal level--each and every cable operator. Mayors are beginning to play a big part in the control over cable. Some of them are wanting to control the destiny of cable, what we put on, what we charge. A few of them are very happy. The only way to keep them happy is to keep them informed of what you plan to do, want to do, and need to do. I think the first thing each manager, cable operator, independent, MSO needs to do when he becomes a manager or whichever is to get to know the local, the state, and the federal authorities that govern our cable industry. Then we have the FCC.

I have been where when I would see a policeman I would shake in my boots. I have a feeling that there are a lot of people still out there who think of the FCC as the big bad bear. I found that these FCC people put their pants on just like I do, one foot at a time and they are there to listen, to learn. I have found that they are more than willing to set an appointment and keep this appointment. I have found that they keep this appointment more than a lot of people. They really like to know what's going on in the different parts of the country, what your complaint is, what complaints your subscribers have, and how they can help. I think this is a duty that we have to do and if we don't do, I think it can gobble us up.

ALLEN: Polly, I thought you had a very interesting observation earlier about the way that some of the MSO management people are leaving the large companies and going out and buying systems and becoming independent operators.

DUNN: Right. In fact, that was in my mind when my voice gave out a while ago. I know of several instances of men who have been either at the top or almost at the top of the biggest MSOs and are all of a sudden independents themselves. Of course that doesn't mean that they don't intend to build themselves another MSO as big as they headed up at first, but meanwhile they can't have smaller systems, in my opinion, without finding out a little more about subscribers. I am singing my song again that the closer the contact that he has with subscribers the better he is going to know how the cable systems can serve and the better he can present their case on the Hill or at the FCC or in the state or in the city. But Travis is right; you don't go in there cold and become effective immediately. You have got to know them and they know you and get to know you in a relaxed and open-minded atmosphere.

ALLEN: Would it be a fair observation to say that the next generation of independent operators is going to be really quite different from the pioneer independent operators?

DUNN: Definitely. Definitely.

ALLEN: There aren't any un-built areas to amount to anything left.

DUNN: Right.

ALLEN: And so you are going to have to go in and buy an existing system and you aren't going to do that on $500 and a promise.

DUNN: Exactly.

ALLEN: So we are going to have a different breed of cats running the show, not necessarily better or worse, but different.

DUNN: Yes, I think that we have been gradually coming to that for some time, but I think there will always be a place for independent operators or for owners. I still think that a very small contingent of them can do a very great deal if they persist and are willing to go back again and again and again. It really is discouraging to go and work up an atmosphere of cooperation and then go back and everybody that you have known and all that work that you did to make them understand how a cable system works is gone because there are a new bunch in there and they still have ideas that need to be tempered a little bit.

ALLEN: I gather from the tone of this that neither one of you are pessimistic that the cable business is going to go away.


NABORS: No way. It hasn't started yet.

ALLEN: I think you said at the outset that when you first got into the cable business you thought maybe five years.

DUNN: Right. That was the going hypothesis that you got in and you got your money back as fast as you could because at the end of five years that was going to be it.

ALLEN: And now thirty years later you figure...

DUNN: We are still talking about building something new and different.

ALLEN: Right. We are going to shift gears here again and go back. Travis you wanted to talk a little bit about the award that Polly Dunn received from the Southern Association about three years ago.

NABORS: Well, it was an award that was created three years ago. I was on the board but I had absolutely nothing to do with it. They called an executive board meeting and discussed it and pretty much finalized it before I was aware of what was going on. This award is called the Polly Dunn Award. The bylaws or layout of the award is that each and every board member on that board for that year has to agree on the person that is selected or there is no Polly Dunn Award that year. After it got rolling I did play a major part in it. Miss Polly had received hundreds of awards...

DUNN: Oh not quite.

NABORS: And not once was any one of her family at these receptions. I guess this was the only time I really lied to Miss Polly. She would ask me who I was talking to and I flat told her a lie because I was trying to get people to come. She had absolutely no idea even when she walked up on the stage. We got her daughter and her son‑in‑law in Atlanta. I slipped them in the hotel. She did not see them. We got Jim Davidson and his wife and some other people that I was afraid would give it away. I had to run Jim down. I had lost contact with him and he was down in Naples. But we found him and he was there, speedy as ever. So we had to go and rehearse for this and we would come out and talk a little and, boy, I boo-hooed and squawked like a young one. I got the Dunn Award this past year which nobody could ever take away. But to have worked with this lady and this be put together as such a surprise with all the people there, I don't know. And I lost her that night just before the thing. I likely went nuts. She was up in the bar at the top having a drink with a nice looking young gentleman. I was running all over the damn big hotel looking for her. We were trying to sit people down without her seeing them. So that's the way I would like to close this one out as far as my part. But, again, Miss Polly it was a delight.

DUNN: Thank you.

ALLEN: I think it is a fitting way to close and to point out that the two people who came to Columbus, Mississippi, back in about 1953 both now have awards that are given in their name. I think that is a very significant statement about the role that these two people and this system has played in the development of cable in Mississippi and in the whole sector of independent operation.

DUNN: You can imagine what it meant to me that night and what it meant to me to have Travis chosen for the Dunn Award, too, because you know I am not the one who selected, but I am naturally interested, very interested. I was very proud, not only for Travis himself but also for the Morris Dunn Award to be so well earned.

Let me tell you one thing, I don't know if you want to put this in. One of the things that they did was to get my picture and put it on the award plaque. I got up there to make the award to the man who won the Polly Dunn Award last year--Bill Strange ... I have known Bill a long time and I know the depth of his commitment to whatever he does and I couldn't think of anybody that I would prefer to have gotten the award. I was delighted that he was recognized. But for the first time since I don't know when I stood up and started to say what I was going to say and my mind went blank. I didn't know what I had said, I didn't know where I had broken off, I didn't know what else I was going to say. I was just blank, and I heard myself say, "I can't imagine why any man would want a prize with a woman's picture on it." And in his deep voice he said, "I do."

ALLEN: Thank you both very much on behalf of the National Cable Television Center and Museum. We want to express our appreciation for two days of your time and a lot of hard work in getting ready for this. I know this is not an easy kind of activity but we are very pleased to have this amount of information and this quality of information as a part of the permanent records of the National Cable Television Center and Museum.

DUNN: Thank you very, very much. You are the one who gave a lot of time and effort.

ALLEN: This will wrap up the entire interview process. This is the end of it all. Thank you.

End of Tape 4, Side B

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Lee Druckman


Interview Date: September 21, 2001
Interview Location: La Jolla, CA USA
Interviewer: Jim Keller
Collection: Hauser Collection

KELLER: This is the oral history of Lee Druckman, cable entrepreneur, first-rate – probably one of the most famed – entrepreneurs in all of cable television, who developed the first, I think it's generally accepted, the first cable television system in a major market, here in the San Diego area. Lee has been involved in the cable business since the very early '60s, and at the time that he got into the industry itself he was a salesman and the western divisional manager, sales manager, for Jerrold Electronics. Lee, how did you get involved in cable television from that stand?

DRUCKMAN: Well, first of all, Jim, I'd like to thank you for having such a flattering introduction. I got started in cable back in 1957 when I went to work for Jerrold Electronics as their western regional sales manager.

KELLER: You were an engineer? An electronics engineer?

DRUCKMAN: No, I'm not an engineer, strictly a salesman, I guess.

KELLER: How'd you get involved with Jerrold?

DRUCKMAN: Well, I was back in Philadelphia, actually looking for a job in those days. I particularly wanted to re-locate on the West Coast, and a good friend of mine had mentioned that Jerrold was looking for someone to be located in the San Francisco area and to be in charge of the western region, and that's how that happened.

KELLER: So, you took the job, came out here, and became western regional manager. Then how did it develop?

DRUCKMAN: Well, my office was in Redwood City, California, which is near San Francisco, and it was our job to go into various communities that did not have cable television, and not many did at that time.

KELLER: This was in the late '50s?

DRUCKMAN: This was in the late '50s, and we'd try to find appropriate cities and towns that were not getting good television reception, and we would then try to locate somebody in the community, either a doctor or lawyer or Indian chief that had the funds to build a system. In many respects, in those days, they were community efforts, which turned out to be very profitable ones.

KELLER: This was when Jerrold was selling the equipment and taking a piece of the action at the same time. Is that right?

DRUCKMAN: That's right. We, as you know, were probably the foremost leaders in the equipment manufacturing business, and we often would supply the equipment and build the system on a turnkey basis, turn it over to the owners and hopefully even get a piece of the action.

KELLER: Not hopefully – you DID get a piece of the action.

DRUCKMAN: Well, we found out in the courts later on that...

KELLER: So, the courts finally said you can't do that anymore.

DRUCKMAN: We can't do that. But I did that for about five years, and on one occasion. I was actually living in Tucson, Arizona at the time, even though I was officing in Redwood City. I was on my way home for the weekend. The main office in Philadelphia called me and asked if I would stop in El Cajon to see if I could collect a bill from a guy that had started a cable system there and was into them for about $25,000 and hadn't paid his bill. So, I said, "Sure, I would stop," which I did, and when I got to El Cajon, why, I found a note on the door that the system had been closed and there was a name to contact. After contacting this party I found out that they were essentially out of business. They had about, oh; maybe fifteen or twenty subscribers, but they did have a franchise. And I think we later found out that the owner was in prison. They had found out that he had been AWOL from the Army and had a record. His other two partners were not able to continue with the business, as they didn't know anything about it. One was in the plastering business, and the other one was an attorney, who had just undergone brain surgery. So, this fellow that was in prison, who had started this system, was basically an antenna installer, had learned a little about cable TV and had tried to get it started.

KELLER: So what happened then? How did you get involved?

DRUCKMAN: Well, I called the main office back in Philadelphia, to tell them the story, and asked them whether they might be interested in buying this existing defunct system. I was told by the main office that Jerrold wasn't interested because San Diego was considered a major TV market in that all three networks were already there, and there was probably not much that we could offer in the way of cable television. After walking around town a little bit, and seeing the 40 and 50 foot antennas on everybody's roof, why I realized that they were having difficulty getting local reception.

KELLER: Even in the San Diego market?

DRUCKMAN: Even in the San Diego market. San Diego is quite hilly, and therefore some areas have difficulty getting local reception.

KELLER: Millions of mountains.

DRUCKMAN: Right! So, it looked to me like there was real promise in this situation and I contacted some folks that I knew on the East Coast that might be interested. I was successful in finding some investors, and we raised a total of, I think it was about $150,000, and we decided that we were going to go into business. Well, I made a deal with the three owners of the business to pay them $5,000 a month for the next – no, it was $5,000 a year, for the next three years, and made a deal with Jerrold Electronics to pay them 50 cents on a dollar, and with the money I had raised on the East Coast, we decided to go ahead and build a test market.

KELLER: Where did you get the money on the East Coast? Was it New York?

DRUCKMAN: My father-in-law's accounting firm actually put up the money, and I also borrowed some money from a company in those days called Economy Finance, who didn't know very much about cable television, but they were courageous enough to think that maybe cable television had a future.

KELLER: And without Economy Finance many, many operators never would have gotten started. Do you remember who you dealt with?

DRUCKMAN: Yes, I dealt with a guy by the name of Jim Ackerman, and...

KELLER: A famous name in the history of cable television.

DRUCKMAN: Jim not only had some forward thinking about the future of cable, but he was willing to make us a loan. We did pay that loan off, by the way.

KELLER: Exorbitant interest rates, as I recall, at the time.

DRUCKMAN: I think we probably paid them about 10 to maybe 11 or 12 per cent interest.

KELLER: Is that all? I thought it was higher than that.

DRUCKMAN: Well, I really don't recall, but it was high at the time.

KELLER: Substantial. Well, they were in that kind of market.

DRUCKMAN: They sure were, right.

KELLER: You said they took a chattel on the system?

DRUCKMAN: Yeah, they wanted some security and we finally ended up giving them a chattel mortgage on the system.

KELLER: On the cable, and amplifiers.

DRUCKMAN: I don't know whether they would have actually climbed the poles and removed the cable and equipment if we hadn't made it, but that's what we ended up giving them.

KELLER: And how many miles did you build in El Cajon?

DRUCKMAN: Well, the initial test was about 35 miles, and we felt that that was sufficient to determine whether we had a product we could sell, and by the way, our service charge per month in those days was $5.50 per month. We offered the three local channels from San Diego, and we also offered the four independent channels from Los Angeles, and that was really the reason for our success. Our success was the fact that we could bring to the cable subscriber more channels from distant location than they could receive locally, and the four channels that we brought from LA were four independent channels, so there was a greater variety of programming, and that was the reason for our success.

KELLER: San Diego, at the time, only had the three network stations. Is that correct?

DRUCKMAN: That's right. There were no UHF, there was no educator, it was strictly the three networks.

KELLER: No independents, but you did bring the four independents from Los Angeles.

DRUCKMAN: We did, and we also brought some of the network stations from LA, and the reason we did that is that some of their local programming was different from the local network programming here in San Diego.

KELLER: And you were using the Jerrold 12-channel broadband amplifier at the time?

DRUCKMAN: No, we were using... we built the second broadband strip amplifier system, which meant that each channel was amplified separately.

KELLER: At each amplifier location.

DRUCKMAN: At each amplifier location, and all of the amplifiers in those days were tube type, so we had to have a power supply at each one of those locations. A lot different than what...

KELLER: And a box that looked like a coffin with holes.

DRUCKMAN: That's right, exactly.

KELLER: Where'd you go from there, after El Cajon got going? When did you get involved in the city of San Diego itself?

DRUCKMAN: Well, after we felt that we had something worthwhile in El Cajon, we decided to build the rest of El Cajon, and I think all told, in El Cajon we probably had, oh, maybe 150 miles of plant, and in the very early days we were able to attain 30 and 40 per cent saturation the first year.

KELLER: What kind of density did you have for homes per mile?

DRUCKMAN: Oh, we had great density! We had density of probably 125 to 150 homes per mile.

KELLER: So 30 to 40 per cent penetration was a good number of homes.

DRUCKMAN: Which was terrific.

KELLER: What did the Jerrold people say after this thing became successful and after they'd recognized that? Or what did Milt say, Milt Shapp, after he knew they'd turned it down?

DRUCKMAN: Well, I think they realized that they had probably made a mistake. They were at least happy to be the supplier of the equipment because we did buy all of our equipment from Jerrold.

KELLER: But you didn't give them a piece of the action, did you?

DRUCKMAN: No, they didn't get any pieces of the action.

KELLER: You tried to sell that to other people, but you wouldn't take it yourself.

DRUCKMAN: That's right.

KELLER: So, then was San Diego next?

DRUCKMAN: After we felt that we had something, a success, in El Cajon, we approached the city of San Diego, but cable television was very, very new to everybody in San Diego at that time.

KELLER: There's a question that comes to my mind, at that time. El Cajon was successful because it was behind the hills and you needed a large antenna, but you didn't find the same thing in San Diego, did you?

DRUCKMAN: Probably not to the same extent, but as long as we could provide more programming, and more variety...

KELLER: Again relying on the...

DRUCKMAN: Again relying on the independents, which were basically movie channels, sports channels, some educational, so it was quite different from the networks that they were already receiving. People were willing to pay $5.50.

KELLER: Tell us the story about the franchise situation in San Diego, would you please?

DRUCKMAN: Well, that's kind of a cute story because there was no precedent, obviously, and therefore there was no franchise ordinance that had been adopted, and of course, in those days, there were no rules for cable television, either local or federal. By federal I mean FCC. When we approached the city of San Diego, of course we had the opportunity of at least showing them what we had done in El Cajon, and the city was quite receptive to the idea, and they adopted an ordinance similar to the one that we had in El Cajon, and they then asked me what area of the city of San Diego did I want to serve. Well, I remember the day that we met with the city attorney in his office and he had a big map on his wall of the city, and I looked at it and I said "Well, we'll take everything south of the San Diego river channel." Because in those days, which was back in – oh, I think that was 1963-1964 – the majority of the population of San Diego was south of the San Diego River channel. North city, west, and La Jolla, and that area hadn't yet really been populated. So, the city attorney said, "Well, okay, we'll give you everything south of the San Diego river channel, and if you do a good job and we're happy with you, you can come back and we'll expand the area to include additional areas." And that's really...

KELLER: They were giving you the franchises as if you were a cab company or something like that?

DRUCKMAN: Yeah, when we went to writing a franchise, or an ordinance, there was none, so they finally decided that the closest thing to cable television was either taxi cabs or garbage collection, because we both, or we all, used the city streets, and therefore that was something similar to what they were acquainted with.

KELLER: What was your fee?

DRUCKMAN: And I was just going to mention to you that the gross receipts tax at that time, for the privilege of crossing the city streets and easements, was 2 per cent.

KELLER: And did you pay $50 for a...

DRUCKMAN: Well, you had to pay a minimum of $50 for a franchise, and I thought I'd outsmart any possible competition, so I bid $51. I was, by the way, the only bidder.

KELLER: And what year was this?

DRUCKMAN: That was '64.

KELLER: And then did you start building it right away? And how'd you finance it?

DRUCKMAN: We started building... oh, and then we ran into another problem. The problem of where were we going to find the funds to do this? And we went back to our contact in New York and they put us in touch with an investment banking firm by the name of Burnham & Co., and they liked what they saw in our projections and our success in El Cajon, and they raised another $175,000 for us of equity, and in those days, the investment banking...

KELLER: Was it straight debt, Lee?

DRUCKMAN: It was all straight debt. There were options, obviously, in a convertible position, but in those days the investment banking firms kept everything in house. There was a private placement of their partners, and their partners, I remember Tubby Burnham many years later saying to me that TransVideo, which was the name of our company, wasn't necessarily the biggest deal they ever made, but it was sure one of the best ones.

KELLER: And did they continue to finance you, then, as you built the city?

DRUCKMAN: They continued to finance us. About that time after we got started in the city of San Diego, we decided that it was time that maybe we ought to look for some opportunities outside of San Diego, and I decided that Bakersfield would be an appropriate city because the same parameters existed in Bakersfield as in San Diego, and that being that the cities were about, oh, about 100 air miles from the transmitters in LA.

KELLER: Before we get into Bakersfield, and I do want to get into that, there was another development in San Diego for the remaining portion of the city, is that correct?

DRUCKMAN: You're right, you're correct.

KELLER: So how did that work out?

DRUCKMAN: Well, one day we were quite surprised to find a couple of engineers appear in our office and represented themselves as someone who worked for Pauley Petroleum. That's the same Ed Pauley that built the Pauley Stadium at UCLA, and they said that they had done some investigation into the cable industry and they thought it was one that they might be willing to invest some money in. They then did a little bit more research and digging and found out that we only had everything south of the San Diego river channel, and they claimed that they had approached the city and the city was considering the possibility of granting them a franchise for the northern portion.

KELLER: Had they been in the business before?

DRUCKMAN: They had not been in the business before. So they asked me if I would be willing to build the system for them and manage it and get a 10 per cent interest.

KELLER: Now, this is the northern part of the city?

DRUCKMAN: This is everything north, everything at that time, north of the San Diego river channel.

KELLER: So you would have a 10 per cent interest in the north part of the city, and you owned the entire south part of the city?

DRUCKMAN: Along with our partners, yes.

KELLER: Along with your partners. And what did you call those two companies?

DRUCKMAN: Well, the system that was built in the northern part of the city was called Southwestern Cable, and the system that was in the original southern part of the city was called Mission Cable. We also used the same name in the other cities that are contiguous to San Diego, that being La Mesa, and El Cajon, and Spring Valley, and Chula Vista, National City, and so on.

KELLER: What kind of penetration were you getting in the city limits of San Diego? How did it compare to what you were getting out at El Cajon?

DRUCKMAN: Very close.

KELLER: It was?

DRUCKMAN: Very close. People were hungry for good television reception in those days, and they were not only hungry for good reception, but they were hungry for more variety, more channels. So when we were able to bring a 12-channel system, and at least 4 channels of brand new programming, why, they were willing to pay the $5.50 a month, and I might add, that the density in some of the areas in the city limits of San Diego was even better than in El Cajon.

KELLER: I would think so. I've always contended that it's not necessarily the percentage that you have, but how many homes that you are serving per mile of cable.

DRUCKMAN: No question about it, right.

KELLER: And so many times, as I recall, that some of the people who were in the financing business, or even the major companies getting in at that time never recognized that fact.

DRUCKMAN: That's right.

KELLER: They were all looking at penetration rate.

DRUCKMAN: Exactly. There were certain benchmarks that they followed and their blinders were such that they couldn't see behind them.

KELLER: 30 per cent of 100 homes is 30 homes, and 30 per cent of 200 homes is 60 homes.

DRUCKMAN: Right, exactly. No question. And about that time, which would have been, let's see... that would have brought us to somewhere around '64, somewhere around '64, '65, we went ahead and applied for the franchise in Bakersfield.

KELLER: Did somebody make an attempt to buy your system at that time in San Diego, or was that later on?

DRUCKMAN: That was a little bit later on, but at that time, we also saw the need for additional financing, and we knew that the franchise fight in Bakersfield was going to be a lot more difficult than the one here in San Diego, because the three local television stations and a group of 27 businessmen joined up together to oppose bringing cable television to Bakersfield. Their argument before the city council was that if they allowed cable television in Bakersfield, all of those programs and stations from LA will be brought into the market and the advertising would be exposed to the residents, and all of the people in Bakersfield would go to Los Angeles to do their shopping, in particular their car shopping.

KELLER: I think they believed it.

DRUCKMAN: Oh, they definitely believed it, but they lost that argument and the city of Bakersfield decided that they should have cable.

KELLER: Who owned the television stations there in Bakersfield?

DRUCKMAN: Well, one was Burt Harris from Harriscope, and another one was Time Life, the same as our channel 10 down here, and I don't recall the third one at the moment.

KELLER: They went in conjunction to big on the franchise against you?

DRUCKMAN: Oh, yes. First they opposed cable TV, and then they opposed us, so we had quite a battle there. About that time is when Time Life approached me with the idea of becoming a partner in the San Diego system, and they invited me back to New York. I think it was Edgar Smith, who was a vice-president of Time Life, and they invited me up to one of their private dining rooms up on the top floor of the Time Life building, which I must admit I was greatly impressed by, and we talked about the future of cable because at that time, no major broadcaster had seen fit to get into the cable business. Their fight at that time was opposing cable. They claimed that we were stealing their signal and turning around and selling it for a profit and so on and so forth.

KELLER: Pirates.

DRUCKMAN: We were called pirates, that's right. But in discussing the possibility of Time becoming a partner, why, I said to Mr. Smith, "I think we have a problem because we could join you in San Diego, but we're opposing you, we're competing for the franchise with you in Bakersfield."

KELLER: Was he aware of that?

DRUCKMAN: I think he probably was aware of it, but his response was, "Well, those are two separate divisions, and we wouldn't have that problem." And I said, "Well, Mr. Smith, we're only a little company, we only have one division, and I think we would have a problem." And that was basically the end of that possibility of them joining us.

KELLER: Eventually you made a deal with Cox up there, didn't you?

DRUCKMAN: Yes, it was only a short time thereafter that Leonard Reinsch, who was president of Cox Broadcasting, called me and we got together and I was very favorably impressed with Leonard. You know, Leonard was the guy who was responsible for the television interviews, the Nixon-Kennedy debates.

KELLER: A fine gentleman.

DRUCKMAN: And Leonard did a great job and if you recall, it was kind of comical, the people who helped Nixon forgot to put any makeup on him...

KELLER: Very well. I remember very well.

DRUCKMAN: And he stood before the cameras and he needed a shave; it looked like he hadn't shaven for two or three days, because I guess he had a heavy beard to begin with.

KELLER: Leonard Reinsch was very forward thinking in being able to get a major broadcast owner into the cable television business.

DRUCKMAN: Right. He really was the first major broadcaster to get into the cable business.

KELLER: Lee, as we ended that last tape, you had just received a franchise, or you were fighting for a franchise in Bakersfield, and you then were approached by Cox to join them in that venture up there. Did you do so?

DRUCKMAN: Well, no. Cox really approached us with the idea of joining us in San Diego. We didn't have the franchise yet in Bakersfield, and Cox became a minority shareholder in our parent company, TransVideo. I think, if I recall correctly, that was about an 18 per cent ownership, equity ownership.

KELLER: But they increased that as the years went by, didn't they?

DRUCKMAN: They did. As we required more funds, why, they were able to provide those funds for us.

KELLER: That was the Mission portion of the system?

DRUCKMAN: Right, Mission was the operating company, TransVideo was the parent company.

KELLER: Which finally was sold to ATC, wasn't it? Time bought you out, did they not?

DRUCKMAN: No, no, no.

KELLER: Okay, what was the chronology there?

DRUCKMAN: The chronology was that we ended up getting the franchise in Bakersfield...

KELLER: I'm talking about TransVideo in San Diego.

DRUCKMAN: Oh, well, TransVideo didn't sell out until some years later.

KELLER: But eventually, though, you did sell to Cox?

DRUCKMAN: Yes, eventually Cox bought us out 100 per cent. I stayed on as manager, but Cox became the sole owner of TransVideo.

KELLER: TransVideo. How about Mission?

DRUCKMAN: And Mission as well.

KELLER: And Mission also.


KELLER: How about the northern part? Did you ever put that into the deal?

DRUCKMAN: No, that... let's see. The Southwestern system was sold to ATC.

KELLER: It was that portion that ATC bought, and not the...

DRUCKMAN: Right, right. Now, one thing I think it's appropriate to talk about now, is during the time that we were applying for the franchise in Bakersfield, we were sued by channel 8, KMFB, here in San Diego. They applied for an injunction to stop us from any continuing construction. The basis of their suit was that we were fragmenting their audience by bringing in the Los Angeles channels and if we were allowed to continue to do that, the chances are we would put the local television stations out of business, and those folks who didn't subscribe to cable television would find themselves without any television.

KELLER: This was the very famous Southwestern case.

DRUCKMAN: This became the infamous Southwestern case, which...

KELLER: Landmark case.

DRUCKMAN: Which later was known as the landmark case in cable, and the reason for that is that the results of that case finally resulted in the FCC adopting rules to control cable television.

KELLER: How did the controversy develop?

DRUCKMAN: That lawsuit was brought in the lower court here in San Diego, and the court decided that they should enjoin us from further construction pending a review by the FCC. We took that case to the Court of Appeals in San Francisco, and we won. We were able to demonstrate to the Court of Appeals that no cable system had put any television station out of business in any other location throughout the United States, and that we were not intentionally degrading the signal of the local stations.

KELLER: Was that one of their claims also, that you were degrading the signal?

DRUCKMAN: That was also, yes. It was the two claims: one of the degrading of signal, and two, the fragmenting of their audience.

KELLER: How did they prove the degradation of the signal in the lower court?

DRUCKMAN: Well, they were able to prove to the extent that through engineering analysis that we in fact, or that their signal, in fact, was degraded to some extent. The fact that it passed through coaxial cable and the fact that the signals went through amplification and so on. But to the naked eye, a subscriber watching a television set, could not discern any degradation.

KELLER: And the Appeals Court agreed with you on that point?

DRUCKMAN: They did.

KELLER: And what was the other point?

DRUCKMAN: Well, the other point was the point that by fragmenting their audience we might put them out of business, which they found to be a ridiculous claim.

KELLER: That is the Appeals Court?

DRUCKMAN: That is the Appeals Court, and shortly thereafter, why, the KMFB took this to the courts in Washington, the Supreme Court, and the Supreme Court agreed to hear this case. The FCC at that time decided to join with KMFB and be a part of that lawsuit.

KELLER: Did you get any help from the National Cable Television Association, or anybody like that?

DRUCKMAN: I was wondering if you were going to ask me that question. They gave us some help. It was very costly. Cox paid for most of that lawsuit, and it was a very expensive one. The FCC never answered the issue as to whether we degraded their signal or fragmented the audience. They did put a stay on any further expansion of our system pending their review. Well,...

KELLER: Ultimately, then, that went to every major market system, did it not?

DRUCKMAN: Yes, it did, but I must admit that we did continue to expand. We expanded on weekends...

KELLER: Sub rosa.

DRUCKMAN: ...and evenings, and so on and so forth, and we added a substantial number of subscribers during, by the way, what was about, I think, close to a three year period that the FCC was reviewing this whole situation.

KELLER: You were never enjoined from...?

DRUCKMAN: We were enjoined from any further construction, yes we were.

KELLER: But you didn't pay any attention to it.

DRUCKMAN: We paid some attention, we didn't pay a lot. Pretty tough to find us out there, on the poles.

KELLER: On the poles, however, the protagonist in this whole thing was Augie Meyer, who owned that station, right?

DRUCKMAN: Who still owns, or his estate, still owns channel 8 here in San Diego, KMFB.

KELLER: He was a very difficult man to go against, wasn't he?

DRUCKMAN: He was. Well, you have to recognize that in those days, the broadcasters were vehemently opposed to cable television. Maybe if I was on their side I might have felt, to some extent, that I can understand their feelings, but after the FCC finally came out with their ruling, and their ruling was that they would adopt cable TV rules, both operational rules as well as technical rules.

KELLER: That was the first order in the report, wasn't it? Or was it the second?

DRUCKMAN: No, I think that was the first. I'm not sure, Jim. The first order may have been to study the case, and the second report and order, I think, were the rules themselves.

KELLER: Were you then grandfathered in San Diego...

DRUCKMAN: Yes, we were.

KELLER: ...for those signals from LA?

DRUCKMAN: We were, fortunately we were grandfathered, our whole system was grandfathered, and that was, fortunately, why we had continued to expand and add subscribers, and we had a substantial number of new subscribers by the time that second report and order finally came out.

KELLER: Are the systems in the San Diego area currently carrying LA signals?

DRUCKMAN: Yes. Yes, they are.

KELLER: On that same grandfathering?

DRUCKMAN: Well, based upon the current rules, whatever they are today. During that same period, by the way, we did get the franchise in Bakersfield, and we built that system, and an interesting side note, by the way...

KELLER: Even with the opposition of the three television stations there?

DRUCKMAN: Even with the opposition. They got the county, by the way, the county area, but we got the city franchise.

KELLER: That's how Burt Harris got his start in cable television.

DRUCKMAN: That's correct. That's right. An interesting side note was after we got the franchise in the city of Bakersfield, the problem was getting the signal there, getting decent signal, good signal that we could turn around and sell, and we couldn't find signal in the city limits. So we went to a little town by the name of Arvin, which is, I think, maybe 9 or 10 miles away, and we found pretty signal in a peanut farmer's field. Well, the problem was how do we get that signal all the way from Arvin into the city limits of Bakersfield, and we did something new that no other company had done at that time. We built a parabolic antenna, which was 270 feet wide and about 90 feet high. It acted like a catcher's mitt.

KELLER: You were not the first one to use a parabolic antenna.

DRUCKMAN: Is that right? Well, it was the first one that I was aware of.

KELLER: Jim Davidson did it down in Arkansas.

DRUCKMAN: Maybe that's the guy we copied, because we had seen or heard about another one, but we weren't sure where it was.

KELLER: He had developed it in Arkansas.

DRUCKMAN: Well, it worked pretty good, and we went sub-channel into town, because we were able to go many more miles sub-channel and then we converted back up.

KELLER: You didn't attempt to go microwave at that time?

DRUCKMAN: Well, you couldn't get a microwave path in those days. Everybody, the local stations, all they had to do was object and they would put a roadblock in front of us, so we knew the only way possibly was to build this parabolic, and it worked pretty good. It actually worked okay. We got pretty good signal.

KELLER: Constant? Consistency?

DRUCKMAN: Yes, as I recall, it was, because we did quite well in the Bakersfield area, so we had good signal.

KELLER: And you were importing, then, all of the LA signals into Bakersfield, or just the independents?

DRUCKMAN: I think it was all of them. I'm pretty sure it was.

KELLER: Over the three local network stations?

DRUCKMAN: Right, right, so we probably had a 12-channel system up there also, as I recall.

KELLER: But the Southwestern suit never encompassed, then, your operation in Bakersfield. Augie Meyer didn't extend it to that?

DRUCKMAN: No, no, no. No, he had no standing in that area, he had no station, so it didn't... But in fact, it really did effect Bakersfield when the FCC finally adopted their second report and order, those rules applied to cable systems nationwide, and that was why that lawsuit has always been known as the landmark case.

KELLER: You never were grandfathered in Bakersfield, then?

DRUCKMAN: No, no we weren't.

KELLER: So after that case was finally adjudicated did you have to cease carrying the LA signals in Bakersfield?

DRUCKMAN: I don't think so. Maybe there were some that didn't follow within the contours that permitted us to carry them in Bakersfield, I really don't recall. I just don't remember.

KELLER: They would not have been in the "B" contour of LA, but they sure were importing it into the "A" contour of the Bakersfield stations.

DRUCKMAN: Right, right.

KELLER: It's an interesting question.

DRUCKMAN: Yeah, I don't know.

KELLER: But you weren't satisfied, then, with just building Bakersfield, you had to go out and look for other places to build, didn't you?

DRUCKMAN: Right, we did. We, through a curious set of circumstances, we also became involved in Kansas, and we built the system in Chanute, Kansas, and Parsons, Kansas, and I think that was when we also started a system in Arizona, in Sun City, in a retirement community.

KELLER: Del Webb's Sun City?

DRUCKMAN: Del Webb's Sun City. But those were the very early days, and it was very difficult in a city like Phoenix, where we didn't have a source of distant signal, like we did here in San Diego and in Bakersfield, having the Los Angeles signals to draw from.

KELLER: Phoenix was always a difficult market.

DRUCKMAN: Yeah, it was a very difficult market, and it wasn't until satellite broadcasting came along that that system finally became successful, and it did, along with the whole city of Phoenix.

KELLER: And I think Cox had a part of that operation, too.

DRUCKMAN: I think they did have a portion of that.

KELLER: I think they divided Phoenix into three or four different areas, as they did here in San Diego. How long did you have the systems in Kansas?

DRUCKMAN: Well, I sold those systems to your boss, to Monty Rifkin at ATC, and we used those funds from the sale of those systems to continue to expand here in San Diego. I think that probably was in maybe '67, '68, somewhere in that area.

KELLER: '68 was when ATC was formed, and it was just after that that they...

DRUCKMAN: It was just after that, yeah.

KELLER: ...bought those systems.


KELLER: Then you also went up into Michigan, didn't you?

DRUCKMAN: Well, that wasn't until quite a bit later.

KELLER: What happened in the interim, then?

DRUCKMAN: Well, in the interim I went over to Europe, with an associate of mine, to attempt to start a long distance, toll free dialing system, similar to our 800 number here in the United States, and I don't know today whether that is still operative or not, but we were successful in getting that started to a limited extent. The problem in Europe in telephone is that going from one country to another, they have the language problem, and they want everything on a hard copy because of the conversion of monetary funds. There isn't any room for error there. So, not as much business is done by telephone in Europe as it is here in the United States. We were successful in dealing with the airlines and some of the brokerage companies and some of the trucking companies, stuff like that, but after about, oh, I guess it was about two years, maybe two and a half years, I came back to the United States, and started another cable TV company in Michigan, Saginaw, Michigan, and we bought Owosso, Michigan along with it. There Cox was a partner and Bud Hostetter also was a partner.

KELLER: Continental.

DRUCKMAN: Continental Cable. The three of us were applying for the franchise, and we finally decided rather than fight one another we would just join together, and we ended up building the system and managing it. Later on, I don't recall now how many years that was, but later on Cox bought the two of us out, so I've sold out to Cox now a couple of times, but I must tell you that they were wonderful partners.

KELLER: They followed the tradition of Leonard Reinsch.

DRUCKMAN: Right, and they've been extremely successful, obviously, in the cable business.

KELLER: And it's still going very well. Then what happened?

DRUCKMAN: I think at that point I went out and played golf and tennis!

KELLER: What happened in Tucson?

DRUCKMAN: Oh, in Tucson. I was afraid you'd bring that up. Well, I was back living in Tucson when the whole concept of cable TV came before the city council and Monty Rifkin from Rifkin... no, he was still with ATC at that time, approached me, and we decided to partner with Monty. That was a big mistake on my part, because my old partner Cox was also anxious for me to join with them, and unfortunately I made the decision to go with ATC, and Cox ended up with the franchise.

KELLER: You can't pick'em all.

DRUCKMAN: You can't be a winner all the time.

KELLER: So how did that play out?

DRUCKMAN: Well, that played out that Cox and their local partner built that system, and I understand it's been very successful. It's changed hands, I know, a couple of times since then.

KELLER: Wasn't a franchise awarded to John Kent Cooke, Jack Kent Cooke?

DRUCKMAN: Oh, that goes way back. That goes back to probably '65, when one evening, without it even being on the agenda of the city council, why, a franchise was awarded to Jack Kent Cooke. I learned of it the following morning in the newspaper.

KELLER: And you had applied for one there also, had you not?

DRUCKMAN: We had approached the city, and it hadn't gotten to the point of a formal application. So, we were rather surprised to hear that the city had actually granted a franchise, and it just didn't strike us as being something very legitimate, and we finally decided to sue the city, which we did. We came very close to proving, but were unable to prove for sure, that there was some dirty doings.

KELLER: Hanky panky.

DRUCKMAN: Hanky panky, but they withdrew the franchise, the city did, and Cooke did not build the system.

KELLER: I think as an aside to that, I'd like to mention, and I think you would agree with me on this too, all of our years in cable television, and in the franchising of cable television, we found very few examples of any so called hanky panky in the awarding of franchises.

DRUCKMAN: I think that's true. I've spent most of my working years, or many of my working years, applying for franchises...

KELLER: As I have.

DRUCKMAN: ...and I think that's basically true. Of course, it wasn't untypical of a company to partner with some local people.

KELLER: Oh, no, but never city council members.

DRUCKMAN: But not city councilmen. And sure, we tried politically to gain as much strength to sway the city council, but we never actually partnered with a city councilman.

KELLER: Or you never paid anybody off.


KELLER: And of course the industry has been accused of this.

DRUCKMAN: Oh, I'm sure, because as time passed, the acquisition of franchising became extremely competitive, and from the days of San Diego, when I was the lone applicant, in later years, it wasn't unusual to see 12 or 15 applications.

KELLER: Oh, I know!

DRUCKMAN: I mean, I can remember one up here in Del Mar, where Bill Daniels, as part of his application, offered the city $500,000 as a gift, and by the way, Bill was successful in getting that franchise.

KELLER: But he wasn't...

DRUCKMAN: It wasn't under the table, it was over the table.

KELLER: It was to the city and to the people of Del Mar.

DRUCKMAN: Right. So the industry changed considerably over the years. Today, I don't think there are any communities left that don't have cable service.

KELLER: I'm not aware of any.

DRUCKMAN: Yeah, I don't think there are any.

KELLER: There may be some new suburban areas currently being built, but I think that normally falls right into the hands of whoever owns that area.

DRUCKMAN: Right, and the philosophy of cable has changed. When I got into the cable business, we were purely a reception service. We improved what people could get from putting up a rooftop antenna. Today the cable industry is a programming service, through the advent of satellite programming and so much of the programming that is originated by independent companies, non-network companies. But you know, to this day, Jim, there's never been a cable system responsible for putting a local television station out of business.


DRUCKMAN: None that I'm aware of.

KELLER: Nor the networks, either.

DRUCKMAN: Right, exactly.

KELLER: You became partners with Cox in Bakersfield, but not here in San Diego.

DRUCKMAN: Oh, yes!

KELLER: You did? You did here in San Diego?

DRUCKMAN: Oh, yes, yes.

KELLER: And in Saginaw?

DRUCKMAN: And in Saginaw, right.

KELLER: But never in the Kansas systems?

DRUCKMAN: I think they were a partner. Of course! Sure they were a partner, because we sold out to them, as well.


DRUCKMAN: Yes, yes.

KELLER: Then Cox sold to ATC?


KELLER: I see. I wasn't aware of that.

DRUCKMAN: Yeah, I'm quite sure that I recall that correctly. I could be wrong. I know that Monty Rifkin at ATC bought our system in Chanute and Parsons.

KELLER: Independents?

DRUCKMAN: Independent. We didn't sell those to Cox. So, I guess there were some situations that were independent of Cox.

KELLER: Are you familiar with the name of the brothers that played around in that area of Kansas at the time called the Hudson brothers?

DRUCKMAN: Oh, Larry Hudson and his brother! Yeah, there were a few characters like that.

KELLER: Weren't they bankers?

DRUCKMAN: I think they were. They were a bit unscrupulous.

KELLER: I would say that.

DRUCKMAN: Yeah, let's leave it that way.

KELLER: They were interesting.

DRUCKMAN: So we're not all 100 per cent pure in this business.

KELLER: There are exceptions to that. Do you remember any memorable, obviously you do, but who were the most memorable people that you can think of having met in the cable business over the years?

DRUCKMAN: Oh, I think Leonard Reinsch by far was the most memorable.

KELLER: Tell us about him.

DRUCKMAN: He was a wonderful man, a wonderful partner, and an extremely intelligent man, and he did a wonderful job being president of Cox Broadcasting. They're a wonderful company. I can't say enough about them.

KELLER: Still to this day.

DRUCKMAN: And to this day.

KELLER: He was a real pioneer in the bringing of... and here is a very staid newspaper based company, Cox is out of Ohio, and he brought them into this business that no one knew anything about at the time.

DRUCKMAN: In fact, there's probably something I can tell you that you're not aware of about the Cox family. The old man Cox, who started in the newspaper business, in Dayton, Ohio, ran for president in 1920 with FDR as his running mate, and lost.

KELLER: I wasn't aware of that. I knew he lost.

DRUCKMAN: Yeah, but that's a well respected family in both the newspaper and television, and communications.

KELLER: The fact is, though, is it was so very staid and so very print oriented, and for Leonard to come around and just totally reverse that situation.

DRUCKMAN: Well, I think the handwriting was on the wall about that time that the broadcasters were not going to be successful in killing the cable television industry, and in not permitting it to expand and thrive, and they saw fit to get into the business at that point, and join.

KELLER: And he sold his board, which always amazed me.

DRUCKMAN: That's correct, yeah.

KELLER: Lee, at the end of that last tape, we were talking about Leonard Reinsch as being a very, very outstanding man, that you remember so much from the cable business, and what a fine gentleman he was, as well as a very honest and thorough businessman, and he was also the advisor to the Democratic party, was he not, in television matters back into the '60s?

DRUCKMAN: Yes, he was.

KELLER: Do you remember any other stories about Leonard that you can share with us?

DRUCKMAN: No, none in particular. I remember having long discussion with Leonard about why a television station owner should be in a complementary business like cable television, and it took a lot of guts for him to do that, and being the first major broadcaster to do that took some guts, because they were pretty strongly unified anti-cable in those days.

KELLER: The NAB was just, the National Association of Broadcasters, was just adamantly against us.

DRUCKMAN: Exactly.

KELLER: And he was the first one to break in.

DRUCKMAN: That's right.

KELLER: The first major one, but then the FCC rules prohibited the local television station from owning a cable system in the same market.

DRUCKMAN: In their own market, yes, that's correct.

KELLER: And I think some of those were grandfathered too.

DRUCKMAN: I think that's true.

KELLER: You mentioned some of the people that you've had a great deal of respect for, Leonard Reinsch, Jim Ackerman...

DRUCKMAN: Well, I think probably in line after Leonard probably would have to be Milt Shapp. Milt Shapp gave me my start in cable.

KELLER: He was the founder and the president of Jerrold Electronics.

DRUCKMAN: He was the founder. When I went to work for Jerrold, and Milt, I used to hear stories about him having started that company with 500 bucks in his garage, and I had a lot of respect for Milt. He always treated me very well.

KELLER: He later became governor of Pennsylvania.

DRUCKMAN: He later became governor, ran for President, as you know, unsuccessfully, but he was a great guy, and a real innovator. So, I had a lot of respect for him and thoroughly enjoyed him.

KELLER: And you worked and knew people like Fred Leiberman?

DRUCKMAN: Well, these were all ex-Jerrold people. After all, Jerrold was really the leading company in the cable industry in those days.

KELLER: If not the only one. Oh, no, I guess there were a couple of others.

DRUCKMAN: There were a couple of others – RCA, and so on – but nobody was close to the same level that Jerrold was. You know, we all knew, in the cable early days that ultimately we all wanted to own a cable system of our own, rather than going out and getting one started for someone else.

KELLER: So many of you did.

DRUCKMAN: And so many of us did, but the big problem was: who wanted to live in some of the communities that cable existed in in those days. After all, this was a business that only existed out in little rural areas. So, when the opportunity presented itself here in San Diego, although I was living in Tucson, why, I knew San Diego very well; I used to come over and vacation here and I loved San Diego. So the opportunity to get into business of my own, and be in a community like San Diego was a wonderful opportunity.

KELLER: Like coming to heaven.

DRUCKMAN: That's right.

KELLER: In La Jolla. When did you fully recognize that cable was going to be your career? And you have definitely had the entrepreneurial spirit from the beginning.

DRUCKMAN: Well, let me say this, when I started the system here in San Diego, and more precisely in El Cajon, I didn't have any money of my own, and I wanted to own a piece of the action and I worked for two years without any salary for a piece of the action if we were successful. So, I knew at that time that that was hopefully going to be my future business to be involved with, and fortunately we were successful.

KELLER: You're always going to be remembered as the guy that went to the mat against the broadcasters in the Southwestern case.

DRUCKMAN: Right. Well, that was fun. I mean, I must admit, I think the most fun, if I have to point to any one place in time, was probably the fight for the franchise in Bakersfield. There were times, and Hank Goldstein will bear me out, that we were actually afraid to get off the airplane in Bakersfield. There were some pretty heavy guys...

KELLER: Hank said the same thing.

DRUCKMAN: ...that were opposing us, mostly car dealers, but some of the big farmers were involved, and they were pretty heavy weights. That political, and I use the word "political" and it was political, that political fight to win that franchise was probably one of the real highlights of this business, and we went up there, and almost on a weekly basis, to see what we could do to further our efforts and to show the city fathers that we were the best company and the company that would provide the best service to that community.

KELLER: You were the only one that had any experience, weren't you?

DRUCKMAN: Yeah, I guess that's true. We probably were the only ones specifically in the cable business, but the three broadcasters made claims that they were in the entertainment business, they were in the television business. They even came down here to San Diego and made a presentation to the city council here in San Diego what bad guys we were, and the fact that we had come up to Bakersfield and tried to do some of the same things up there that we were doing down here, and that we were going to put local television out of business.

KELLER: And were you at that time fighting the Southwestern case in San Diego?

DRUCKMAN: No, the Southwestern case came just a bit later than that. I think it was just a bit later than that.

KELLER: Did you have any local partners in Bakersfield, the Bakersfield acquisition?


KELLER: Just Cox?


KELLER: They didn't have a broadcast station there, did they?

DRUCKMAN: No, no. Just Cox.

KELLER: Did you then become friends with Leonard, or not Leonard Reinsch, but Burt Harris?

DRUCKMAN: Well, I knew Burt from... actually from playing tennis with Burt at various cable conventions, but that was all. I knew Burt Harris and I knew the manager of the Time Life station – I can't think of his name at the moment, big tall guy, tall, think guy. I can't think of his name. But that's all. I didn't know the third station owner. I did get to know some of the other partners though.

KELLER: Burt, again, is one of the nicest guys in the world.

DRUCKMAN: Oh, Burt's a great guy. Absolutely.

KELLER: He's just resigned as the Secretary of the Cable Pioneers.

DRUCKMAN: I saw that.

KELLER: I hate to see him go. If there's nothing else that you can add that you can think of at this point, we'll kind of wrap it up.

DRUCKMAN: Okay, I can just say that it's been a pleasure to see you again after, what? 35 years maybe?

KELLER: Something like that, yeah.

DRUCKMAN: You haven't changed a bit.

KELLER: You're very kind.

DRUCKMAN: Except you're a little bit whiter up on top than you were before.

KELLER: This has been the oral history of Lee Druckman, one of the original pioneers and entrepreneurs in the cable television business, especially in the major markets. The date is September 10th, 2001. The location is Lee's home in La Jolla, California, and this is part of the oral history program of The Cable Center. It is made possible by a grant from The Hauser Foundation. Thanks very much, Lee. We appreciate it.

DRUCKMAN: Thank you, Jim.

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Fred Dressler


Interview Date: May 25, 2005
Interview Location: Denver, CO
Interviewer: KC Neel
Collection: Hauser Collection

NEEL: Hello, I'm KC Neel. It is May 25, 2005. I'm here with Fred Dressler, the Executive Vice-President of Programming for Time Warner Cable. We're here to talk to Fred about his career in the cable television business and to get his perspectives on the industry. Good evening.

DRESSLER: Hi, how are you, KC?

NEEL: I'm fine, thank you. How are you doing?

DRESSLER: Good, very good, thanks.

NEEL: Welcome back to Denver!

DRESSLER: Well, this is still considered home in my book, so it's great to be here.

NEEL: Let's kind of go way back. Let's go all the way back to when you were a little kid, and talk to me a little bit about what television was like for you when you were a little kid. What were your favorite shows? What kind of impact did that have on you?

DRESSLER: I guess the two things that stand out in my mind as a real young kid growing up were Howdy Doody and watching baseball games with my dad on TV. We didn't watch a lot of television. I can't remember that far back as to whether there was a lot to watch, but we went to bed early and we read our books and we studied and we did our homework, but we watched Howdy Doody in the afternoon and if there was a baseball game on, particular on the weekends, we would watch that as a family. So those are my early memories of television.

NEEL: Now I know that you attended the Newhouse School of Communications, and in fact you're still extremely involved with that organization, yes?

DRESSLER: That's correct.

NEEL: What made you determine that you wanted to get into the communications business? How did that whole thing evolve?

DRESSLER: Well, my dad was in the advertising business in New York, so I frankly thought that that's what I would probably end up doing. The communications program at Syracuse is very heavy on writing – it was then and it is now. So I always felt that being able to write would be a key to success in anything that I chose to do. I didn't have a specific target to be in the television business when I entered the school but when I was a freshman I paid a visit to the local radio station, the campus radio station, and was sort of blown away by everything that I saw – the activity and the enthusiasm and the excitement that was going on there – and so I stuck my head in to meet the general manager of the station, and it was a student-run operation, and the guy who was the general manager of the station at that time was a very erudite, even then, gentleman who was definitely in charge and sort of appeared to know everything. I think he went on and had a pretty decent career, and I'll mention his name in a minute, but he got me involved very early on in just being on the air as a disc jockey, writing some news, writing some sports, going out on the street and covering things and pretty much just got me so excited about what was going on and then you'd go back to the dorm and you'd find out, gee, the kids actually heard you and you became a minor celebrity as a freshman, that was a big deal. So my mentor at that point was a guy named Ted Koppel.

NEEL: No kidding!!

DRESSLER: But I went to school at that time with a lot of people who then went on and became on-air people, as frankly I did when I started my career. I didn't go on to the success of people like Marv Albert, who was a classmate of mine, and Dick Stockton, and people like that, but I frankly got out of school and came to Denver, Colorado and was on the radio and then on television until I got introduced to cable television.

NEEL: How did you get introduced to cable television? What made you want to go from broadcast to cable, and when was it?

DRESSLER: It was in 1968. There was a gentleman who tried to get the cable franchise in Denver, and I was a reporter for the all news radio station here in Denver. So in covering activities at City Hall I began to cover this series of hearings that took place about the launch of cable television in Denver. At that time I met the guy who was leading the effort and that was Bill Daniels. He was unsuccessful in 1968 in persuading the city council to give him a franchise, but he and I began to have a working relationship. Bill was just a terrific human being as everybody in the industry knows, but he was also very active in civic affairs here and in the sports world. So as a reporter at that time, he became a very important person for me. He owned a basketball team, he ran a car at Indianapolis, and he was behind a prize fighter named Ron Lyle who ultimately fought Mohammed Ali for the world heavyweight boxing championship. He was a Republican National Committee man, he ran for Governor of the State of Colorado. So during that whole period of time I got to know Bill more and more. Frankly it was at the Republican National Convention in 1972, in Miami, that I finally sat down with Bill and said, "What is this cable television all about? I don't get it." He explained it to me, which at that time was largely a replay service of the broadcasters and he took me to his office and he had this magnificent model of the Rocky Mountain West laid out in his office on a huge ping pong table and it was a model that had every mountaintop with the snow on it and telephone poles and power poles going all across the Rocky Mountains, and he showed me his vision which was to bring the television stations from San Francisco across the Rocky Mountains and from Los Angeles across the Rocky Mountains into Denver. I looked at Bill and I said, "But it's the same television stations as we have here in Denver, Bill." And he said, "Yeah, but the shows are on at a different time." Wow! Time shifting back in 1972. That was his vision. Then he said to me, "You ought to think about getting into cable TV. It's a burgeoning area." I said, "Bill, not for me. I'm a TV star here in Denver. Cable's not for me." But the truth of the matter is that in 1975 when HBO went up on the satellite he called, asked me to go to lunch, said to me "What do you think about this?" and I said, "I get that. People will buy that. If we can build on that, there's a business." So it was on that basis that Bill convinced me to get into the business. He offered me a job with his company. He suggested that I go to Waco, Texas and run a series of systems that he had down there and I said, "Bill, Waco?" He said, "Fred, you should never say no to anything without at least checking it out." So I got on an airplane and I flew down to Waco and the engineer of the system picked me up at the airport and we drove around, and he then said, "Should I take you to the hotel?" I said, "Do you think you can take me back to the airport?" Which he did. I took the next plane back to Denver and I called Bill the next day and I said, "Bill, I'm from New York City. I don't think I'd do Waco." So he said, "Well, it's all I've got at the moment, but let me call my friend Monty Rifkin over at ATC," which Bill did, and he sent me over to see Monty and Monty said, "What do you know about cable TV?" and I said, "Not a lot." He said, "Well, if Bill thinks you're a good guy we'll find something for you." So he said, "Why don't you go down to Shreveport, Louisiana and help us build this cable system down there." I said, "How long am I going to be down there?" He said, "Not long, but just go down there. You'll learn and it'll be a good experience for you." So I said okay because I thought if that worked out I'd get back to Denver where the corporate office was. The next day I get a call from Bill, he said, "Oh, you won't do Waco but you'll do Shreveport?" I said, "Yeah, but I sort of had a promise I was coming back to Denver. You didn't make that promise to me, Bill." So that's when I joined ATC and effectively that's the same company that I'm with which is now Time Warner Cable almost 30 years later.

NEEL: So how long were you in Shreveport then?

DRESSLER: I was in Shreveport for a little less than six months, and in that time we erected the tower to launch the system and we built a building in six months, sort of a prefab building, but we got it up and it's still the building, it's been added on to, but it's still the headquarters for the Shreveport cable system all these years later. After six months of being the assistant general manager down there they shipped me off to Fresno, California and made me the general manager of a new cable system that they were going to launch there. I worked another six months launching that cable system there – a little over six months – and then Monty had an opening for a position back in Denver and he called me and offered me the chance to come back to Denver which I jumped at. I was in Denver from that point on until Time Warner Cable moved to Connecticut in 1988.

NEEL: Now were you the first GM for Mile Hi?


NEEL: You helped get the franchise, did you not?

DRESSLER: That's sort of one of the highlights of my career, I feel. One of the jobs I had after moving back to Denver was being responsible for most of the franchising efforts that we had in the country. We had a pretty good team and I became the vice-president of franchising and worked on acquiring franchises from Council Bluffs, Iowa to Kansas City, Missouri and the like, and put together the partnership and the deal to try to seek the franchise in Denver. I went to Monty Rifkin at that time and I said I thought it was important that we have some local people be involved and one of those local people I thought was critical was to have Bill Daniels be a partner in that venture. He was still in the cable business but he was one of the smaller cable operators. His focus at that time was largely as a broker, but Bill became chairman of the board of the Mile Hi venture that we put together and we started that in 1978. We worked on securing that franchise for four years. He had been turned down, as I suggested earlier, in 1968, so it was ten years later we were putting this new deal together. It took four years. In 1982 we were successful in winning that franchise; United Cable and TelePrompTer were the primary competitors. It was very hard fought and with me considering this my hometown and Bill considering it his hometown, it was certainly very gratifying, although at that time it's important to note that this was the cable capital of the nation and United's corporate headquarters were here, TCI's corporate headquarters were here, Jones' headquarters were here, and there were at least another ten or twelve cable companies that were headquartered here. So winning the franchise in your hometown, and then what was considered the cable capital, was certainly a very, very exciting thing for us to happen. Then what happened after that was we got sued by a couple of different organizations trying to block the franchise, some people saying that it was illegally granted and others simply saying it needed to be ratified by a vote of the public. So it took, after winning in February of 1982, a little over a year of winning lawsuits and winning public elections before we finally secured the franchise and then actually launched the system in June of 1983, which was a big red letter day in my life.

NEEL: That's awesome. It was complex because of all the ownership structures, is that not correct? TCI wasn't involved then at the very beginning – it was just you and Bill, ATC and Bill.

DRESSLER: And Bill and some local citizens who were also partners and advisers to the project, yes. Then ultimately other people came in and became partners. In fact, Scripps became a partner when they were in the cable business. They owned some cable systems and I got to know some of the people from the Scripps organization at that time, and then I believe that Scripps sold out to TCI and they became involved, and then ultimately after about five years of running that cable system, when we were finished with the construction of it, I then moved on to another position in the company.

NEEL: At that point did you go pretty much corporate from then on?

DRESSLER: Yes. Well, as you know, the corporate headquarters for ATC at that point were here in the Denver area, so I didn't have any desire – I was raising a family at that point – to move again if I didn't have to and so I had a conversation with Trygve Myhren, Joe Collins and Jimmy Doolittle at that time, who were the leaders along with Monty Rifkin still, and we talked about what might be the opportunities after building out the Mile Hi cable system might be. The thought was that programming was sort of a new area that number one, we should get involved in as an investor and that we should help develop programming, and that we needed to do a better job of contracting with the program suppliers than we had done up until that point. At this point it was 1987, end of '86, beginning of '87, something like that. There were a number of networks but not anywhere near where we were then, and nobody really knew the programming business, so that was another opportunity for me. I didn't know it either but I had some experience. Somebody said, "Well, gee, weren't you on television once?" That made me the expert in the cable industry on programming at that point, at least from the cable operators side of things. So I got involved and we did launch some networks and we did get involved in developing some new projects, and then supporting the development of networks that people came to us and wanted to get launched and needed distribution and haggled over how do you determine what the price is. One of the interesting stories I think is in the early days, and a lot of people forget, when ESPN initially launched in the cable business, the first contracts that they signed with cable operators, they paid us, and a lot of people forget that. That was sort of the beginning of what I'd like to think for a long time, for over 20 years now, has really been a pretty good partnership between the operators and the cable networks because it didn't take long before ESPN came back and said our paying you is not a model that's going to be successful for us and if it's not successful for us then we're not going to be able to provide the programming for you to sell to your customers, so do you think we can sort of make this free? You don't pay us, we don't pay you. We worked up a long-term contract at that point and entered into a new long-term contract where there were no license fees. Well, it didn't take ESPN long to come back and say, you know, this free model doesn't really work very well for us. Do you think you could pay us something like a nickel or a dime? We, Time Warner, ATC in those days, and all the other operators ripped up those contracts and we started paying. Well, that sort of opened the floodgates to where we are today. Then it was once you determine that we're paying then it was how much are you paying? For a long time we always fought about the nickels and the dimes, and in those days, the pennies and the quarter of a cents – in fact, I remember being on vacation once and negotiating with somebody and we were literally haggling over the last quarter of a cent and whether we were going to pay two cents or two and a quarter cents for a network, and my mother was listening at her home where we were on vacation, when I hung up the phone she said, "I can't believe that you people spend hours haggling over a quarter of a cent." So I sat down with a pad and a calculator and I showed her how a quarter of a cent times millions of subscribers was real money, and she had a new respect for what it was all about. There was opportunity in those days to grow the number of subscribers, so whether you got the last quarter of a cent that was on the table or not was sort of made up at the end of the day by the fact that you got more subscribers then what the operator had when you started to do the deal. The difficulty that we face in today's environment is that there's sort of a zero sum game. There aren't that many new subscribers coming on so we're sort of, both sides of the industry and each company, faced with the same dilemma. We all want to grow, we all have budget targets, we all want to grow double-digit, we all want to tell Wall Street that we're going to continue to be the growth stock, and there isn't room for everybody to grow double digits because is we grow double digits then we have to take it out of someplace else because there isn't enough growth for everybody to do that. For awhile there, the programmers thought it didn't matter – when the satellite guys got started – because if they lost a couple of cable subscribers, why they picked it up on the satellite side and were probably charging higher prices, so that all worked out. Where we are now is everybody's paying about the same thing and if we lose a subscriber the satellite guys pick it up, and if the satellite guys lose a subscriber we pick them up and the programmers don't get any more subscribers at the end of the day. So all of the sudden that extra quarter of a cent that we were fighting about ten years ago becomes even more important to everybody and that's what's really led to the contentious atmosphere that exists today, is the fact that everybody's trying to do an honest job of doing what's best for their company. The beauty of our business is that none of these fights are usually personal in any way. People understand that you work for a company and you've got an obligation to the shareholders of that company to maximize the value and so you fight about it in an ethical and in a business sense, but then the beauty of our business is that you can go out and party afterwards and everybody gets along pretty well.

NEEL: Do you think that contentious is going to just continue to intensify? Is there a way to avoid that, and how important is it that the programmers and the cable operators work in tandem?

DRESSLER: Well, I think it's critical that we work in tandem and I think what we're experiencing is sort of an inevitable thing that happens in a lot of businesses as they grow up and they mature. The tension, I think, is going to continue and I think it will probably even intensify. A lot of that is because institutional memories and relationship memories disappear. You worked things out in the early days and you made friends with the people that you fought with and you grew the business with, and you had something in common and you could stand back and say, gee, we created this together, and then the new generation comes along and they had nothing to do with that and they had nothing to do with building the relationships between the companies and somebody has a job and they want to be successful and they want to prove to their boss that they can grow this thing. On the other thing you've got the same thing going on. So there's nothing of that history, there's none of that joint experience any longer, which is what kept the business together as an industry. All of that is sort of disappearing. There's still a little bit of it left; some of the older folks who have been around for awhile still appreciate that, but it is hard and I think it's inevitable that you're going to see some more of that stress.

NEEL: Does that make your job much more difficult? Does it take away some of the fun?

DRESSLER: Yeah, I think it does take away some of the fun because the collegiality of the industry has changed dramatically. I think you see it at the cable shows now. There just aren't the parties that there used to be and people aren't personal friends like they used to be. I'm not saying that's bad from a business perspective. Maybe in terms of looking out for shareholders' interests that's a better way to do it, and I don't want to sound like the old codger and say things were better in the old days, but they were different, that's for sure. I miss it because the people that you grow up with and who were your friends are sort of moving on and retiring or doing other things and it's just different.

NEEL: The relationship between the programmers and the cable operators – I've heard other people say they've pinpointed the beginnings of that contentiousness with retransmission consent. Would you agree with that?

DRESSLER: Well, no. I feel that there was always a tension that existed before. My view is that up until then, most of the leverage in the negotiations was with the cable operators, and I think that the cable operators for the first time maybe in their careers all of the sudden had a counterbalancing weight against them, and it was like, oh wow! We can't just dictate all of the terms all of the time. So it was an eye opener, but the tension was there. I think if you talk to the programmers they'll tell you there was tension before. Maybe as cable operators we didn't feel it as much because we were able, especially if you were a bigger operator at that time or really growing pretty quickly, it was pretty easy to dictate the terms of contracts in those days. I think retransmission consent flipped the balance of power a little bit, so it was just as contentious except that all of the sudden you had this grand awakening which was you didn't have all the control anymore.

NEEL: Let's talk a little bit about retransmission consent and what it has meant for negotiating contracts with programmers and how it has changed the way you do things now.

DRESSLER: Well, the problem that I saw with retransmission consent was that it was set up at least to appear to be a fair and balanced way to negotiate and the way the government, as I understood it, had set it up was that a broadcaster could choose must carry, in which case there was no negotiation and the cable operator must carry the channel on the channel position that the channel had in the market and that was it. If a broadcaster chose retransmission consent there could be a negotiation over what the compensation might be. Now, what makes that fair is that the broadcaster assumes entering into the negotiation that his programming is very popular and that the cable operator will want to carry that programming, in fact would want it so much that they would pay in some way, compensate the broadcaster to do it. The thing that makes it a balanced negotiation is that I presumed that if you couldn't reach terms that the cable operator could say despite the fact that you're a popular network I've decided that your compensation is more than what you're worth and therefore I will not carry you at all. And we would fine out, gee, well, it might cost the cable operator some business but it might cost the network some business too, if they weren't on the cable system. Well, what we found out through a very, very hard lesson was gee, that wasn't really the government's intention at all. The government wanted us to compensate the broadcasters but we did not as cable operators have the right to say no, that we will not carry you. So all of the sudden negotiation was about you must carry and how much are you going to pay. It wasn't whether you were going to pay at all or whether you had any other option. So that was the big eye opener and we learned that from a very, very hard lesson that became a cause célèbre in the cable and the broadcast industry when we took on a fight with the Disney Company's ABC broadcast network. We felt that as Time Warner at that time that ABC was seeking compensation that was far beyond what it was worth and the timing of that negotiation was also somewhat interesting. It was right after Time Warner had announced its merger with AOL. We in fact had a handshake deal with Disney the week before the AOL deal was announced. ABC decided once we announced this that they had some new leverage, that they could either fight the AOL merger in Washington and try to upset that merger, or get something more out of their negotiation with us on ABC. So they reneged if you will on the deal that we had had the week earlier and said they wanted to reopen the negotiations, and frankly had asked for tens of millions of dollars in compensation more than what they had asked for the week earlier. We felt that that was an unfair ask and we were willing to draw a line in the sand and not make that compensation. So on May 1st of 2000, the ABC television stations on all the Time Warner markets went dark and it caused the biggest uproar that I had ever seen then and to this day in the cable industry and the broadcast industry and among the politicians in Washington and in every market in which we operated. It all of the sudden became very clear as I indicated earlier that none of those politicians ever expected that a broadcast station could actually go off the cable system and they demanded that the broadcasters go back on. I believe it was 24, no more than 48 hours after they went off the air that they went back on and we entered into the negotiation that led me to the conclusion that this was all about how much we're going to compensate the broadcasters, not whether we were going to compensate them, and that's what's led to the difficulty in the negotiations with all of the broadcast networks and why I feel that the government really needs to take a look at the law because this has had unintended consequences. If it was in fact set up to be a balanced negotiation, it is not a balanced negotiation, and the people at the end of the day – and this is what we try to get the politicians to understand – who are paying for this are their customers, their constituents, and if they think that there isn't a cost associated with this they're fooling themselves. All of these new networks that are being launched cost money. There's some value but I can tell you that the broadcast networks not only seek to launch new networks, they also seek extraordinary rate increases on the other networks that are already being carried all on the theory that if we don't pay them that we could lose the television stations again and that the politicians will come down heavy on the cable operators. It's difficult and I'm hopeful that the Congress, as we speak now, has at least had an open mind, at least in some areas, to reexamine the must carry and the retransmission rules. I think it's critical or something is going to have to happen to change what's become just an unbalanced and, I believe, an unfair situation that is costing all of our customers and all the politicians' constituents enormous amounts of money inappropriately.

NEEL: What needs to be done? How would you like to see that law changed?

DRESSLER: I think it's simple. I think that the broadcasters should have must carry. They get the benefit of being carried on the cable systems. The argument as to why they thought they should get retransmission consent at the time was, gee, broadcasting is in trouble, if the government doesn't support it and give it a chance to get money in some other fashion it's going to die. Well, broadcasting hasn't died. Their audiences have gone down but their advertising rates and revenues have gone up significantly. They're a very healthy business and have been for the last decade and continue to be. The only people who are paying are cable customers and satellite customers who are paying for what is otherwise a free, over the air service that is being offered because the government has given the broadcasters a free license. So, it just seems to me that it's wrong and it needs to change and must carry solves it.

NEEL: Now, when it comes to programming, you spoke of this a little earlier about how you guys felt at ATC and subsequently, obviously, Time Warner, that having your own programming was very important. At that time, when all of the sudden everybody was rebuilding their systems, there was a lot of room, the industry was deregulated, there was a lot of need for that. Well, at this point, you do have a lot, there's a lot of programming out there, and yet I've heard you speak of wanting more programming, and just recently in talking about thinking about wanting proprietary programming for cable operators and wanting to have more of that, how do you envision that all coming about? For one thing it would be against the law, would it not? You'd have to change that law as well, the proprietary programming aspect of it, yes? And is there such a thing as a linear network anymore? What kind of programming are you talking about?

DRESSLER: Well, there's a lot in that question, KC.

NEEL: That was a lot, wasn't it? I kind of overloaded you there! Sorry.

DRESSLER: It's hard to know where to begin.

NEEL: Let's start with the programming part of it. Is it still important to own programming, to launch programming, to have programming that is differentiated on cable systems? Aren't people willing to provide just about everything you would want to you?

DRESSLER: Well, in the case of Time Warner Cable because we are part of a larger company, Time Warner, Inc. which owns HBO and owns Turner, Time Warner Cable, unless it's a very localized network, our cable company isn't going to be launching any national networks. We're going to do some local things that no national programmer would be interested in doing, and we've done that on the sports front, we've done that on the news front where we can do hyper local newscasts, and nobody else can make that go. We can afford to do that because we're serving our customers with a hyper niche service that we think keeps them loyal to us and so we can absorb that cost in our operating budgets if it helps keep the customers on the cable system. Other cable companies, I think, have taken a look at having their own networks I think for two reasons. One, it's a good business, so why not? And secondly, since this is a lot of leverage in the negotiations it's helpful to a cable operator to have networks to sell to somebody if they're also buying networks from that person as well, and it helps balance the negotiations sometimes, so I think that's largely what's happening there. When you talk about creating new programming, yeah, there are plenty of people who will do that for you. The question is at what cost and do they have the same agenda that you do. If we can find people who are willing to do that for us on reasonable terms we're happy to do business with them and we've demonstrated that all the time. The one area that is important, I think, that you're seeing the cable operators get more involved in is the sports area because sports programming has become so expensive. If it is at all possible to eliminate the middle man it's just a way of keeping the costs down to the customers. It's not of any benefit to the cable company to increase the price to the customer and simply pass that through to the teams, to the team owners or to the players. There's no ultimate benefit at the end of the day, so that's just a method that we're using these days to try and dampen down the pricing on what is otherwise extremely expensive programming in the sports area.

NEEL: And is that where a lot of that proprietary programming that you talk about, that you've spoken about in the past...?

DRESSLER: Well, what I'm talking about there is at some point, and I think we're approaching that point, cable companies and satellite companies have to differentiate themselves more than just on price. One of the ways that we differentiate ourselves as cable operators from the satellite guys is that we also provide high-speed data and telephone service, but for the most part, virtually all of the programming that we offer is available on satellite. The satellite guys, on the other hand, right now can't do high-speed data and can't do telephone, so what are they doing to differentiate themselves? They're coming up with exclusive programming, proprietary programming, starting with the NFL Sunday package, and I'm going to assume coming down the pike is going to be additional exclusive programming. I would also assume that whether it's through partnerships or otherwise, the satellite guys will then end up being in the business of being able to offer to the customer a package that includes high-speed data and telephone down the road. So how do you differentiate yourself? If your competitor has proprietary programming, you can't have only programming that they have and nothing different. The current law, which may or may not be changed in the future, still doesn't preclude us from having proprietary programming. It simply says that the cable operator can't own that programming, but for instance if the cable company were to buy the NFL it could have the NFL exclusively, or if we bought the NBA or if we bought a package of movies from somebody who wasn't a cable operator, that could be exclusive programming. I think what we're going to have to find, though, is unique programming. I don't think taking something that people currently get as part of their package and then all of the sudden making that proprietary or exclusive to one platform or another is the answer. You've got to come up with something new. One of the things that we're taking a look at is now that Howard Stern, for instance, is moving off of broadcast radio and he has a segment on the E! Network on basic cable that everybody carries, if cable could get the new Howard Stern show off of Sirius Radio, which one would think might be a little racier than it's been on broadcast and offer that in a pay-per-view or video on demand exclusive basis on cable, that might be some new content that's new, different and distinguishes cable from the satellite guys, and if we start thinking that way I think that's the kind of proprietary programming, or that kind of is the direction that I'm thinking we need to head. It's got to be something that's got high value to at least a large enough segment of the audience that they're willing to be cable customers rather than satellite customers or telephone company customers.

NEEL: In looking at the way you look at programming, do you think that coming from the operations side of the business and having a broadcast background for that matter, do you think that that's helped you morph into figuring out what's the right model for a programming package to provide to customers? Going from operations into programming is not a normal trajectory for most people.

DRESSLER: Well, I don't know what's been normal in the cable business. That's been the beauty of it, is people could do almost anything. There was no expertise in the business so you got educated or you educated yourself and you became an expert in a particular area. You know, everybody's an expert in programming. We all know what we like. We have hundreds of channels available to us now; we didn't when we were growing up. Even my kids today, who maybe had 20 or 25 channels all of the sudden have hundreds of channels today plus all of this content on demand and more on demand content coming. DVDs that they can purchase, DVRs that allowed them to time shift what they want to watch. Everybody is a programmer today and there's no right or wrong answer for "the entire audience". That's the challenge; frankly, of the programming world going into the future is how are they going to make those businesses work when everybody is a programmer. Everybody programs their own viewing habits. They watch what they want when they want to watch it. My own personal view of the future, frankly, is that there's going to be a huge consolidation, a collapsing of the number of linear networks that exist today. I don't think that we as a public are going to be able to support that many linear networks which get an audience through channel surfing. If you don't find something on your favorite channel now, you surf to find what you want, but if you know you turn to your favorite network and the program that you wanted isn't on and you know you can go to the on demand space and get that programming now, then you're not going to surf the other 200 or 300 channels that are there. So I think you will consolidate down into something like 100-125 or so, just an arbitrary number, it's not scientific, but the programming that exists on these 500 channels, a lot of these networks have two or three shows that are really gangbusters and then they have 22 hours of the vast wasteland of television. So those two or three hours will get on the server and will have an audience and they'll probably have advertising to support it and they'll be a license fee whether it's directly from the customer or a license fee paid by the operator of the model to be worked out, but the best of what's on television. People will never say again "there's nothing to watch that I want to see" because the answer is everything they want to see will be available to them. Now that's going to upset today's economic models.

NEEL: And when does that happen? When do you envision this?

DRESSLER: Well, it's an evolution. It's happening with DVRs, it's happening with video on demand today. It's slow, it hasn't totally disrupted any of the models yet and it's not like anybody's going to turn a switch and what I just painted is going to happen. It will evolve over time and as the networks or the content providers figure out how to deal with the transition of the revenue streams, they'll figure that out. The model that I look to, I think, as sort of interesting is look what's happened in Hollywood, and I've dealt with the people in Hollywood for 20 years now, and they always resist change because they have had this model. If you think back to their history, the movies were produced by the studios and they were played in their own movie theaters, and then the government said, well, you can't own the movie theaters. So they then had to deal with somebody else who owned the movie theaters, and then along came television and they said, we can't play movies on television, it'll ruin the business of the movie theaters. But they found out, guess what? They could be compatible and they could gain another revenue stream. And then, my God, what happened when HBO came along? It was going to take movies off of broadcast television and it was totally going to destroy the movie theaters. And then I remember when Blockbuster came along and we were trying to get movies on cable TV and they said, we can't give you those movies on cable TV because look at the money that we're making from movie rentals. And then along came the DVDs and the said we can't have DVDs because it'll destroy the Blockbuster business. Well, guess what, it evolved over time, now they don't care about the Blockbuster business. And we say give us the movies for video on demand and they say we can't do that; it'll destroy the DVD business. Well, the same thing is going to happen here. It will evolve and as the money is figured out, how the chain of that works, and the food chain is all determined, then the content will evolve and it will be played in a way that works for the customers because at the end of the day, the old argument about is content king or is the distribution king, I think we all know the customer is king and we now have both technology and content that the customer can manipulate to his own liking and that's nirvana for the customer and so nobody has to be a programmer other than yourself.

NEEL: So how do you envision the marriage of content with the delivery platforms? If there is no such thing as the development of linear networks how does that effect how you do your job and what is a consumer going to get at the end of the day? How are they going to make that work? How do you know what you're going to want to watch?

DRESSLER: Well, number one, that's why I say there still will be linear networks, but if you think about the money that is spent on creating programming to fill 24 hour a day, 7 day a week networks, and the cost to deliver that, if that money all went into marketing the two or three great shows that you had and worked with the cable operators to do that and there was a revenue stream, a license fee, that came along with advertising for that product and eyeballs went to that content because you marketed it... Why is it that people go to the movie theater on Friday? How do they know which movie to go see? Nobody has ever seen the movie before. How do they know they want to go see Star Wars versus something else? It's marketing. So we're just going to have to be better marketers of our content.

NEEL: How has the transition from analog to digital gone in your perspective, from your view? Obviously we're not at a fully digital place yet. When do you see that happening and what's your opinion on how it's gone so far?

DRESSLER: I think that the transition first of all is a technological transition that is irrelevant to the customer. The customer is interested in getting the content that they want. The fact that the picture's are better on digital, it allows them to manipulate the pictures better is important to some people and as a result more and more people are subscribing to the digital service. We still have lots and lots of people out there who don't want a set top box, or have second or third or fourth TV sets in their house that don't have a box and that need an analog feed in order to have all of their needs met in the household. So I think the transition is going fine and when it makes the most sense it will flip over and I think that they customers won't even know that there's a difference. The big question is the broadcasters and how they actually make it work for them. I think as digital gets to the point where it is so deeply penetrated on cable systems that the last handful of people in the marketplace who are either not a satellite customer or not a telephone customer or not a cable customer are given whether it's by the government or through some kind of subsidy a digital set top box then it will flip over one day, everybody will be digital and it will be irrelevant from then on.

NEEL: Of all the innovations that the cable industry has incubated, launched and gotten off the ground in your tenure in this business, which do you think has had the biggest impact on the industry?

DRESSLER: I'm not sure I follow your question.

NEEL: Was it putting HBO up on the satellite, was it getting high-speed data, was it... a lot of the things that the cable industry has launched over the years, of all the things you've seen how the industry has morphed and grown and introduced, is there something that stands out as a defining moment in the industry's success, something that really turned everything else on its heel?

DRESSLER: Well, to me there were two defining moments during the tenure of my career, I guess you could say. One is the launch of HBO. It not only got me into the business, I think it's what got cable into the major markets and made it a household product that everybody wanted to have. HBO in the early days was cable television. I remember in Denver they had an MDS service here, which was a single channel over the air service of HBO and that's all you could get was HBO, and you had this little cone and it picked it up, and then we launched cable television on Mile Hi Cable in 1983 and we had 50 channels of cable. We knocked on people's doors and said, "We have cable TV," and people said, "We already have cable TV," and we said, "No you don't." They said, "We have HBO." To them that was cable TV. So that to me was probably the single most important thing that actually launched the cable business as we know it today. The second thing I would say is the launch of high-speed data on our cable systems. It demonstrate what we had been thinking and saying for a long time which was that we had a pipe that was superior to anything else in the industry and we could start doing other things then just being traditional cable TV, just traditional television, and turn this enormous investment into a goldmine, if you will, for the companies and the investors who supported it. High-speed data then led to telephone and who knows what the next thing is, but the pipe that we have is so much more than television and we've only begun to tap, I think, its long-term potential.

NEEL: Of the things that the industry is working on today, the things that the industry is incubating and launching and creating, do you see that same kind of seminal pivot point in the industry looking forward? There's obviously going to be one at some point in time. Is it in its infancy or is it being incubated now or is there something else out there?

DRESSLER: What's being worked on, and I don't know, we've talked about this and experimented with it for a long time, we now have the technology in place to see whether we can make interactive TV work. The question still remains, I think, whether the consumer wants to interact with the television set or whether they just want to be entertained, if you will, by the television set. That's still a big unanswered question. We don't know that until you put the technology in the hands of the consumer and see how they respond to it. The first step in that direction, and I think it is inevitable, is the on demand world, which requires the customer to actually actively involve to push buttons in order to get the programming rather than just sit back and have somebody program it for them, but once they pick something they can still sit back and enjoy traditional television at that point. So that won't prove the case, but right now I think we're experimenting with games, with answering trivia, with playing along with the reality shows, and we need to find out whether or not that's something that is pivotal. We've seen in Europe, particularly with BSKYB that people like to gamble and that they do interact with the television a little bit but that the thing that drives the interactivity and the success of that is gambling. So, is there anything else other than gambling, which is probably not going to happen for a long time, if ever, in this country where you can actually gamble over the television. Are there other interactive applications that capture the public's imagination? I personally have my doubts about that but it's in the incubation stages and I think that we'll find out in the next few years.

NEEL: Did the full service network give you guys a glimpse of what that should be? In that experiment that a lot of people still think was a failed experiment, but I don't necessarily believe that.

DRESSLER: I think to the extent that people think it was a failed experiment it was because it was overly hyped. It was launched in a way that people said this isn't a test, this is the future and we're rolling the full service network out everywhere. The fact of the matter is that what we were doing in Orlando with the full service network is exactly what we're doing, and every other cable company is doing today with the two-way, with on demand content, with high-speed data, with telephone – it is a full service network, which is what this cable was hopefully going to do for it and we've proven that to be the case. So it was hardly a failed experiment because everything that we're doing today is really built off of the back of what we learned there, and what we learned was that people loved the on demand, the ability to choose the programming that they wanted. Some people like to order a pizza; that's sort of the question, is that an application that's going to have legs that people really care about? We still don't know the answer to that, but it's off of what happened in the full service network and now what's happening in the on demand world now that the technology is catching up in all systems across America that we're going to see the tipping point when it will be unacceptable to people to not be able to have their favorite shows available on demand. So what else came out of that is really sort of ho-hum and common today in all of our cable systems, so it was an enormous success if you want to look at it from the fact that it was necessary to do that in order to get to where we are today. It was a failure if you thought everything that we did then was going to work.

NEEL: I'd kind of like to go back to your early career for just a couple of seconds.

DRESSLER: I would too!

NEEL: When ATC moved back to the East Coast, to Stamford, a lot of people left, and a lot of people that you had worked with for a long time and you called Denver home, and yet you went back. What made you want to go back there? Denver was the cable capital; it wasn't like it probably would have been very difficult to find a job with somebody else.

DRESSLER: Well, I was lucky. I had found a home with this company. I'm still with the company 30 years later because I really like the people that I work with. I like what I do and I could probably do that with another company for sure, but I really like the people that I work with and the change in the personnel over time has largely been consistent. I think that I've seen over the years that each one of the MSOs has had its own personality and I just feel comfortable. I fit in the personality of Time Warner Cable. So given the opportunity to stay with the company it wasn't a hard decision. There was a little interesting story, not whether or not I was going to stay with the company, but whether or not I would move back to the East Coast having left there after college and moved to Denver. Joe Collins, who was the new Chairman and CEO, came to see me and said that we were moving the company's headquarters from Denver to Stamford, Connecticut and that he would like me to move back there. I suggested that we were still leaving some people here and had an office here in Denver and that virtually all of the programmers that I dealt with come to Denver now and would probably be willing to continue to come to Denver. In fact, the way I put it to him was everybody that wants to see me is willing to come see me, so why do I have to move. He just looked at me deadpan, as only Joe Collins could, and said, "Not everybody." And I said, "So when are we moving?"

NEEL: That's great. What would you consider the most rewarding moment in your career?

DRESSLER: I think the most rewarding moment was the night we won the cable franchise in Denver. It was the culmination of a multi-year effort, of a partnership that I had pulled together with my mentor, if you will, Bill Daniels and my boss, Monty Rifkin, and some other people who were important to me in my career at that time, to work together and be successful, to win the franchise in the town that you live in, in the cable capital, and a hard-fought victory was clearly a highlight. There was a news photographer who captured a photo at the instant that the vote was announced in the city council meeting with myself and Bill Daniels and Trygve Myhren at that time which I still have on the wall in my office because it just symbolizes that great moment in my career.

NEEL: That's neat. How do you view your personal and professional legacy to the industry? How would you characterize that in a sound byte?

DRESSLER: Well, I guess it's a bit humbling to think you've left a legacy. I've been in the business for a long time, and I think to the extent that after you're gone a year or two that anybody even remembers who you are, that the impact would be that I was part of a group of passionate people who built something that the American people now don't feel like they can do without. We built systems amplifier by amplifier and drop by drop, and we built networks one at a time, and we developed them and we launched them and we built friendships along the way and we built an industry, privately and successfully, and nobody helped us, not really, and to look back and say when we started there wasn't much there and we built something that is now just expected to be in everybody's home is sort of rewarding. Nobody does anything by themselves, so my legacy is to be a part of the group of pioneers that helped create that.

NEEL: Thank you so much.

DRESSLER: Thank you, KC.

NEEL: I appreciate your time. Have a great day. Thank you!


NEEL: What would you tell, say a high school senior is coming to you or a kid who has just gotten out of college and wants to get into the cable business, what kind of advice would you give them? What would you say to them?

DRESSLER: Well, I guess I would give them the same advice, if you will, that I got when I tried to get into the broadcasting business at that time because times are different. You need to get your foot in the door, you've got to be passionate about wanting to be in the business, and you have to not be afraid to start out at the bottom and demonstrate to people that you're willing to work and be on the team and learn. My concern is you've got too many kids who come out of college today with their 4.2 grade point averages and they think they ought to be the executive vice-president of something right away and they're not going to take some demeaning job, and anything below executive vice-president to them is a demeaning job, and that's a problem. This field – cable and broadcasting and whatever – just is a magnet, the entertainment industry is a magnet for people, it has always been that way. People just line up to get into this business and if you're not willing to take the lower jobs and be willing to demonstrate your enthusiasm for learning along the way, you're probably entering the wrong job, entering the wrong business. It's different when you get in on the ground floor of something that's not built. Kids that got out of school when I was starting in the cable industry, you could jump in and be a senior executive pretty quickly because you weren't displacing anybody and they just kept hiring and hiring and they didn't have enough people so you learned on the job. But once you get to a mature business, which is what cable has become, just like broadcasting, then you've got people who have been in their jobs for awhile and you have a natural progression and you just have to accept that. Go to maybe the next thing, which is the internet, and maybe that's where you want to go because that will also develop. There'll be video product in that platform. There'll probably be a whole new set of experiences that evolve on that platform, but if you want to get into cable or the broadcast business to me you've got to be willing to take that low level job and then just be passionate about it and prove to people that you can do the job and that you will do the job.

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Frank Drendel


Interview Date: March 16, 2000
Interviewer: Jim Keller
Collection: Hauser Collection

KELLER: This is the oral history of Frank M. Drendel, president and CEO of CommScope, the cable television industry's leading manufacturer and distributor of coaxial and fiber optic cable. Frank is a 32-year veteran of the cable industry and currently is on the board of C-SPAN. He is vice-chairman of The Cable Center and he has been a member of the board of the National Cable Television Association. This oral history, dated March 16, 2000, is funded by a grant from The Gustave Hauser Foundation and is part of the oral history program of The National Cable Center and Museum. The interviewer is Jim Keller. Frank, tell us a little bit about your background, where you were raised, where you went to school, what did you do before you got into the industry?

DRENDEL: Well, Jim, I was born in Paxton, Illinois in 1945, so that makes me 55 years old this year. Normal background, I grew up on a farm. We were reasonably poor, as I always remember and tell everybody. I got a football scholarship to Northern Illinois University in De Kalb, Illinois and that was my first cable TV experience. I didn't have enough money to go to college other than my scholarships, so I needed a job. I went to the dean of men's office and I was looking through part-time job opportunities. One of them said, "Needed: Cable TV Installers" and I thought, what could be to this? So I went down and interviewed. At the time it was Continental Telephone, a subsidiary called De Kalb Vogel Telephone. I interviewed with a guy by the name of Charles Milspol, I'll never forget it, and he was a big Northern Illinois University football fan. So he really loved the idea that I was playing football. I had no experience at being a cable TV installer, but he hired me anyway at the sum of something just south of $2.30 an hour. Charlie took me out and I went through training. In those days -- as you recall, because you've been in the business a long time -- you could do installs almost anytime you wanted. So I would go to class, come out and he'd hand me a schedule of installs. I'd go do the installs and then I could go to class, then come back and finish up the installs. That was my first experience with cable TV, and the system at that time had 12 channels. It was really a state of the art system, a SKL 222 system. I did that for four or five years, worked my way up from being a De Kalb Vogel cable installer, while I was going to school, to helping them run the system that they had built. Actually, they turn-keyed their own system and I ended up as an assistant manager for the Allied Video system while I was still in school.

KELLER: Do you remember how many subscribers you had at that time?

DRENDEL: Oh, I think it was 12,000-13,000. It was a pretty good-sized system because it was a university town. It encompassed both De Kalb, Illinois and Sycamore, Illinois, so it was two systems. That was in the '66-'67 range and, of course, it was the peak of the Vietnam buildup. Having not carried enough hours because I was working, I got the famous letter from the government that "you are invited to serve". So I had to suspend my cable TV career for approximately a year and a half while I went into the special reserves. I always love to tell this story: I got the draft notice, went in, and took all the tests. I'm certainly not a high IQ guy, but something happened on the testing that I had the right profile. Out of the 500 young men that were testing that day, they picked two of us for special assignment. I knew enough about the service that you never volunteer for anything. So I sat down with this recruiting sergeant and he said, "You gentlemen, we would like you to consider going to a special branch of the service that's highly classified and top secret, but I assure you that it will be beneficial for you because it will allow you to have an opportunity to go through this process in a special function. You won't have to face possibly dying in combat." Well, at that point, you thought, this might be all right. We agreed to it; we got off an additional four weeks because they had to do a security clearance on us, which we both passed. We were assigned to the chemical school and were going to be the first to mix Agent Orange. We didn't know what it was, had no idea what this material was supposed to do. We went to basic like everybody else, went to jump school and then we went to Fort McClellan, Alabama.

KELLER: You had to go to jump school?

DRENDEL: We had to be jump qualified. You had to do all of this because -- we didn't realize it at the time -- you would be attached to the special services.

KELLER: One of those nuts that jumps out of a perfectly good airplane.

DRENDEL: Oh, perfectly good -- stupid. I only had to jump once.

KELLER: Only once.

DRENDEL: Only once and that's the last time I wanted to do it.

KELLER: The second time, to me, would be more difficult than the first.

DRENDEL: That's right, absolutely, and that's a whole other story because I actually damaged my back doing that. Anyway, we showed up at Fort McClellan, which was nicknamed "the bug farm". All the rest of my friends that I went through basic with were going to infantry school – rifle training school, machine gun training school. Fort McClellan, Alabama had two great things going for it. 1) It was WAC Basic, WACO CS, all WACS; so you had this fort that had 14,000 women...

KELLER: It was Anniston, wasn't it?

DRENDEL: Anniston, Alabama. You are a very sharp guy! Anniston, Alabama, and you had this secret division, which was the chemical school that probably had 2,000 men in it. We went to school for 16 weeks and trained in chemical, biological, radiological warfare, but a high concentration on chemical. At the time, they taught us the whole area of Agent Orange and everything else. They put us back into the high ready reserve National Guard and Army Reserve, qualified services, because they weren't sure of what was going to happen with the process of Agent Orange. So, I was able to come back in a year. The training took that long; I was out the normal six months with an additional six months of schooling and came back into the workforce. I was able to go back to my former job and during that process we were kept up-to-date with what was going on with Agent Orange. At that time they had decided this was really bad stuff and they decided to suspend it. They had all these people trained with Agent Orange, so they decided they would cross-train us for doing teargas. Now '68 comes and we have the Chicago riots. They mobilize all across the United States for the riots all of us that had this specialized training for spraying Agent Orange. So now we have to spray teargas. I went from not being shot at in Vietnam to the front line of the Chicago riots, being shot at by Americans. It was one of those most confusing times in the '60s as a young man; here's America, they're burning down the streets of Chicago. The Chicago police and fire department are risking their lives trying to put out fires for Americans and they're shooting the fire trucks. In those riots, which were just incredible, we were out front using teargas to calm the riots. That was kind of the full circle of the Agent Orange experience. I mixed it and we still have stuff that's classified from way back then. But I came back and went back into the cable TV industry. At this time, I was still working for DeKalb Vogel and I got an opportunity to go with Anaconda Electronics when they were just forming -- the old Anaconda Wire and Cable Group -- so I accepted the job. I still had a year to go in college, but I could be a travel salesman and also take classes. So I did that and worked for Anaconda for a year and a half. I never will forget, it took me seven years to get out of college between the army and everything else, but going into sales for Anaconda I got to meet all of the emerging MSO young entrepreneurs. I mean, you go back -- Bob Brooks was my mentor. Bob had started Anaconda Electronics and he was there and Burt Harris and all of those. By doing that I got an opportunity to come back into the operational side. So I've been on both sides of the industry, in sales and support services. But I got very close to the Continental Telephone people and they offered me a job as an assistant vice-president of operations for Continental Transmission, which at the time was about the third or fourth largest MSO in the United States, located in St. Louis. I had an opportunity to go to St. Louis; got that job -- I'd been married by now and brought my wife -- this was 1968. I took my wife to St. Louis and I was vice-president of Continental Transmission. All of your old friends. That's where I first met Bob Brooks and that whole group that were in the St. Louis cable club. I was there for a year and a half.

KELLER: Bob had already left SKL by that time, right?

DRENDEL: Right, he'd left SKL, and he was doing his own kind of startups and stuff and Brooks Telecomm. Remember he had his own business, and we went on to become very good friends and that, as you remember Jim, was when you were beginning your career, you'd been there quite a while, doing the ATC... all the franchising had started. At the same time, that's when the telephone companies were forced to have to divest their properties. You had some experience with United, right?

KELLER: United Telephone, yes.

DRENDEL: Same thing happened with them.

KELLER: I was director of operations for them.

DRENDEL: Okay, well you and I both got caught in being sold because we did a good job.


DRENDEL: What happened, for the audience and history, is at the time Jim and I were working, the phone companies could own, in their same town, the cable system. The government, in its great wisdom, decided that that wasn't a good idea and they actually forced the telephone companies to divest of any co-located properties.

KELLER: It was one of the industry's first big victories.

DRENDEL: Bad for us, but great for them.

KELLER: For the industry, yes.

DRENDEL: For the industry it was a great victory. For Jim and me, it was kind of a career crunching point of view. I was running this MSO at the time. I think you guys were a little bit bigger but we were like 130,000 or 140,000 subs. You were probably about the same size.

KELLER: I didn't join ATC until '71. They didn't form ATC until '68, but United Transmission wasn't that big.

DRENDEL: Anyway, it was fortunate, I'd moved up to vice-president and chief operating officer for this MSO and so Continental Telephone, which was a huge independent telephone company back then, said, "Look, Frank, we can't keep these properties." I said, "Well, can I buy them?" Charles Wolstetter was the chairman of Continental Telephone at the time and he said, "Sure, you make us a reasonable deal, we'll run it through and you can have it."

KELLER: How did you figure you were going to finance it?

DRENDEL: Well, I was so young; if you get a deal you can probably find the financing. I knew enough of the industry guys, I thought, well, maybe Burt Harris would help me and he had Irvin Harris, who was with the banks. I knew that you could probably do the deal, either joint ventured with... I talked to Gene Schneider about being a joint venture partner, and Monty Rifkin I talked to about being a joint venture partner. So I had the thing reasonably purchased at about a thousand dollars a sub. As I recall, it was $1,400, just sub thousand-dollar range, in the good old days, 800-1,000 depending on the mix. We got a call from Steve Ross, God bless his soul, who at the time was chairman of National Kinney, which had just bought Warner Brothers. But he got his start, if you recall, from the funeral service. He had a funeral service in New York. Steve Ross was one of these flamboyant, just incredible businessmen. He calls me up, this was '68 and I was born in '45, so that means I was in my mid-20s, and I go up. I'd been to New York, but I'd never been to New York like really wealthy New Yorkers go to New York. So I go in and I get this address and it was on Park Avenue somewhere, I'll never forget that, and I go up and this penthouse is like three stories at the top of this building. It's just an incredible place in New York and I said to myself, "God, how does anybody live like this?" And you have this situation where here comes this brilliant, striking, tall, lean executive and we're having lunch in his apartment. As long as I live I'll never forget; I sit down, I'm nervous, I know he wants to talk about buying the properties that I just have on my list and all of the sudden we sit down to lunch and he's got these cups, crystal glasses, and they've got the silk napkins standing in them. He pulls the napkin out, shakes out the napkin, takes a felt pen out of his pocket, and starts writing on the napkin! I thought, "Whoa, what's going on here?" He writes down -- Charles Wolstetter at the time was chairman of Continental Telephone -- and it says "Charles" at the top. He says, "This is my offer for the Continental properties." Now, bear in mind, I had them bought for 14 million, so he writes 22 million, or 21, I can't remember exactly -- it was something in that range -- and he hands it to me and I look at it. I had just lost, in paper at least...

KELLER: He'd just picked your pocket.

DRENDEL: He'd just picked my pocket of 7 million dollars. So I had this face, this look, like God! Now, my daddy taught me, way back when, the only way you survive in business is to always tell the truth. If you can't tell the truth, don't go there. And you always do what, he said, were the three "P's": never promise what you can't deliver, never panic because it's going to change, and never piss anybody off. So I'm sitting in there and I say, "Well, Mr. Wolstetter, that's not what we expected." Well, obviously it was more than we expected, but I didn't lie.

KELLER: You mean Mr. Ross.

DRENDEL: Mr. Ross, right. "Mr. Ross, that's not what we expected." This story is critical because it was the pinnacle of telling the truth, losing a deal and getting a deal. He immediately said, "Well, tell Charles I can probably do a little better." So here I was not trying to lie and the deal improves. I went back, met with Charles and Jim Napier, who later became my all-time best friend and mentor for years and years. Jim was president and Charles was the head of Continental. They said, "Frank, if you meet the price and beat it by a buck, we'll keep our word and sell it to you." I said, "There's no way I can do that, guys. I appreciate it, but there's no way you can finance that price." That was the highest price ever paid in the industry until that time.

KELLER: So it had to be 1,500 a sub, right?

DRENDEL: Yes, something like that. It was huge at the time, as you recall.

KELLER: Do you remember what a multiple of cash flow it was at that time?

DRENDEL: It was big. I really don't remember, but it was... If you think back at what the revenue base was, it had to be in the 15+ types, so it was big. But he saw a vision. You've got to give it to Steve Ross. He saw a vision of movies somehow getting into cable. You and I didn't see that back then, but he did. So anyway, they bought it and here I was, I'd just sold my business and I thought, "Well, that's great." I had a job in the telephone industry and I didn't want to be in the telephone industry. But Napier and Wolstetter said, "You've always got a career here with us in the telephones." So I thought, "Well, gee, this is great." And then, all of the sudden, I got a call from Burt Harris and Burt said, "Frank, we've been following your career and Jerry Green and I would like to have you come out." God bless his soul, Jerry was a great guy.

KELLER: Yes, he was.

DRENDEL: "We'd love to have you come out and talk to us about coming to work for Cypress." So I thought, well, this is 1968...

KELLER: Cypress was one of the major multiple system operators at that time.

DRENDEL: That was one of the major ones. Located in Los Angeles, it was Burt Harris, Irving Harris, Marc Nathanson -- all still great. Jerry Green, bless his soul; John Cavetti, bless his soul. Both of them have passed away. But just a solid bunch of young, entrepreneurial runners and we went out there and we made a deal. So I packed my wife up and we moved to Los Angeles. Now, you know, I'd been from country boy on a farm, 30 miles north of Champaign -- you and I met there and competed on that franchise back in the same period of the Cypress days coming up -- and gone to St. Louis, which was big enough. Now my wife and I are living on Mulholland Drive in Los Angeles. So we're going through this cultural shock of being the country people. Business is great, we're building the company, and that's when I first met Jim, the incredible interviewer here and a long-time friend and great businessman. Jim was a competitor, quote unquote, for ATC and doing the Champaign-Urbana franchise.

KELLER: That's correct.

DRENDEL: Now, I was born 30 miles north of Champaign-Urbana, so I knew the Illinois culture, the farm culture. They thought I'd be a great representation of going down there for Cypress and trying to get that franchise. It was Marc Nathanson, who went on to build a huge cable operation. I went to Champaign and here are the ATC guys backed by this man and all the work he did on his promotional material. And I think there was a local group, as I recall.

KELLER: We had a very good local group.

DRENDEL: Both of us did, but there was a local, local independent group. It was the TV station at the time, wasn't it?

KELLER: That's right, Augie Myer's, I think.

DRENDEL: Augie Myer, that's right. So it was the three, basically.

KELLER: No, GE was also there.

DRENDEL: GE was in there. And Jim got up and it was the first time I'd ever seen a presentation. It was the best presentation I ever saw and Marc Nathanson and I sat in that room and said, "We're in trouble." That was so good. I remember Jim was taking these things on the desk and moving them around and saying how things would be like this and that and we said, "Whoever's putting this together has the depth and intellect to sell a university town." What we had made the mistake on; we hadn't played to the power of the university. We had played to the power of the farmer and the banks. Our local club, and you always had local partners, were basically the old line Champaign money people. They were involved politically but they didn't have the university float and, as it will be said to Jim's credit, they beat us, they won the franchise.

KELLER: Go ahead and let's talk about the use of local people to acquire franchises.

DRENDEL: As Jim knows, and I know, in the early days, cable TV was a totally local business and the only way you could ever get a franchise was to come to a community and bring in a partnership of very sophisticated and very powerful people along with your money and your technology to get the franchise, because you had to have a city vote. This was not a federal license, it was nothing like that. In the early days, part of winning these franchises was understanding the community -- understanding the locals -- because you had plenty of people who said, this guy can get it and this guy can get it. The truth of the matter, only one guy was going to do it but you never knew who it was and generally speaking in those days, you would end up with 3-4 competing, maybe sometimes as high as 5 or 6. In the later years, it even got higher than that and then you had to start – the cities got very smart -- you had to start promising the cities a bunch of stuff. Back then it wasn't too bad -- a city channel, a community channel. And Jim and his team -- and he helped build ATC into one of the greatest and biggest ones ever -- were very, very, very beneficial in doing that for them and that lesson I learned from you carried me through on the Hickory franchise.

KELLER: The tabloid press and some of the broadcasting magazines used to refer to that as "rent a citizen."

DRENDEL: "Rent a citizen," and it was. It's true; it was "rent a citizen." The fact of the matter, watching you, Jim, helped me to get the Hickory franchise. I ended up getting this franchise when I moved here. So, after the Cypress franchising period -- I was at Cypress and we'd gotten a few big franchises, but nothing the way you guys were going -- all of the sudden, I remember, I had sold the company that I'd lost buying to Steve Ross, then I had to go find a new career. We get this emergency meeting; Burt Harris wants us all in the building. So we all go in there; big news. I'm sitting there at the conference room table and Burt comes in and he says, "Gentlemen, we have sold the company to Steve Ross." I thought, "Boy!"

KELLER: How many times is this guy going to be in my pocket, huh?

DRENDEL: But this time, at least, I had enough stock options that I thought I'd have a little bit of money. So we were all excited. Everybody made enough money that you could almost retire back then and it wasn't anything like the mega-bucks now, but in those days if you had half a million dollars or a million dollars, it was a lot of money. And so we all had stock options and Steve Ross was trading National Kinney stock (now Time Warner stock) for the Cypress stock. Our stock options had maybe a twenty dollar spread, something like that, so we were all excited and I went home and told my wife I could be a consultant and do things – she was working – and she said, "I'd better keep working. You don't have that in the bank yet." This was my first really solid business lesson that I tell my son and I tell all the new employees that we have -- never ever count stock options until they're converted into cash. Here I was unemployed, had these stock options, but you had to borrow money to exercise the options.

KELLER: You have to have the collateral to be able to...

DRENDEL: Exactly. So I go down to the Wilshire Bank Group -- I never will forget it, these high loan guys, and the Security Pacific Bank -- I go in and of course, National Kinney, it's Warner Bros., it's the premier operation on Wilshire Boulevard, in that part of Los Angeles. I put up my stock option; I borrow the money to exercise them. Unfortunately, the deal was that the stock was lettered, as you recall, so we had to wait 90 days before we could sell it, but what could happen to Warner stock in 90 days? Well, about 30 days into the 90 days, I'm sitting at home, I get the LA Times, I open it up and the front headline is "Warner Indicted on Fixing Record Business." I thought, "Huh?" In this thing, the stock cratered. It said that Warner Bros. had been indicted because they were paying off disc jockeys to promote the records. Well, the stock went right through the option price. Not only did I not have any money, I owed the bank money I didn't have. So I thought, "Whoa, now I'm in trouble." So I go home and my wife now has really laid into me. She said, "How could you have done that?" I said, "Well, honey, I don't know. It looked like it was going to work." So here we're deeply in debt, I don't have a job, I'm in Los Angeles and, you well know, it's expensive living in Los Angeles. My wife's income won't keep it up. Then -- in life there's always that truth and faith, if you believe in an industry and everything -- I get an unexpected call from Jim Napier, the president of Continental, who said, "Frank, look, you did us a great deal on getting us all that money for the cable properties and I understand you're not doing anything now." He didn't know about my personal financial trauma, but he said, "We've got this operation in Hickory, North Carolina we don't know what to do with." He said, "We've got this piece of business that's in the cable TV industry and we've got this big operation called Superior Wire and Cable that we would like somebody to take a look at. We thought we'd like you to come to St. Louis and see if you'd like to go there and be a consultant for us."

KELLER: Were they buying Superior Cable for...

DRENDEL: They owned it.

KELLER: They owned it, but were they buying their cable to build their cable systems?

DRENDEL: Yes. At the time they wanted to be a little Western Electric; this was in 1972. I thought, "Well, I'm unemployed. I haven't got any money." My wife now, we really like Los Angeles and she says, "You mean to tell me we're going to pull up from Wilshire Boulevard and drive to Hickory, North Carolina?"

KELLER: Where's Hickory? (Laughter)

DRENDEL: Where's Hickory? She said, "I can't believe we're going to do this." She does some research, way before the Internet time, so she writes, etc... Well, they don't even serve liquor in this town. In the old days -- you traveled down there -- you used to have to go down, buy the bottle, put it in a brown bag, take it to the restaurant, buy a coke for $4 and pour the booze into the coke. Now, this was supposed to keep people from getting drunk!

KELLER: Once they pulled the cork, they drank it all.


DRENDEL: That's right! It didn't make any sense to us people from Los Angeles, so that was our first kind of experience at it. We agreed because it's all we had, this was all we had. So we came here...

KELLER: Reduced the cost of living, too.

DRENDEL: Absolutely, it went way down. We came here and you could buy the town for what a house cost in Los Angeles. The cost of living was incredibly low. We pulled up stakes and moved here and Hickory was in a boom. You couldn't find a house to buy, so we actually lived in a double wide trailer for about six months while we built a house. We started reviewing the Superior Cable opportunity. Superior Cable was a $150 million business; it had divisions in electronics and twisted pair and outdoor enclosures and early, early, early exposure to fiber optics. I mean, we're talking '70s. And so we started working on selling the different pieces and we sold the electronics group...

KELLER: You were working for the overall company?

DRENDEL: Overall, overall, overall. But I was kind of keeping an eye on a little piece of CommScope because that was cable TV and I knew everybody, but CommScope was the smallest division in Superior Cable, maybe 10 million in sales. We were looking at all of these things and we came together with an idea to start an individual liquidation of each business. We presented that to the Superior board and then the Continental Telephone board. The first one we sold was the electronics business to TRW – three times for what we thought we'd get for it! So, we're off the charts! The second one was the enclosure business called CAK and we sold that to Reliable and some other people, which actually ended up being part of Siemens and Corning. And then, the twisted pair group, which was the biggest group, was bought in an LBO by the management, one of the first LBO's ever done. So, at the end of the day, the only thing left was CommScope. We had completed all of our operations and CommScope was there and no one had bought it. Nobody in the telephone industry liked the cable industry so...

KELLER: Well, they couldn't. They virtually couldn't because they wanted to be in their own markets.

DRENDEL: Absolutely! Wanted to be in their own markets. So you had six months of hard work to close all these deals, but CommScope was out there on the edge. I thought if nobody wants to buy it, what I would like to do is see if I could buy it. Again, I didn't have any money. I was a working stiff at this point. I'd lost all my money in the Time Warner deal. By now it's '74 so it had taken us 2 ½ years to do all of this liquidation -- late '74, early '75. We were closing all these deals and the cable industry was really struggling, if you recall.

KELLER: Oh, yeah! We couldn't bring any signals in anywhere, non-duplication, everything.

DRENDEL: Before this interview, I was trying to think about the things that were going wrong in the '70s for cable. You had all the lawsuits going on on pole attachments, wouldn't let us hook onto the poles; we had non-dup, distant signal...

KELLER: We couldn't begin to build the top 100 markets.

DRENDEL: Couldn't build the top 100 markets. What else was wrong; this was '75? It was so bad that you'd have to be an idiot...

KELLER: To get into the business. No question about it.

DRENDEL: To get into the business. This was 1975 and anybody with an ounce of intelligence would say this is a bad industry. You wouldn't want to be in it. The opportunity came up, so we were in the process of looking at what would you do with this situation. It was so bad at the time we considered selling those assets and liquidating the business because the powers that be at Continental Telephone said, "There is no chance that cable TV will survive." And at that point, we looked at selling the whole process and going on into an environment that would say, we got everything done at a great profit, let's just liquidate it and sell the machinery, sell the patents, just get out of the business because it's losing money. CommScope was doing 10 million dollars a year and was probably losing half a million dollars.

KELLER: And no one was building.

DRENDEL: And no one was building. So that was kind of the beginning of the end, or the end of the beginning, for my new career, that was happening at that time.

KELLER: Frank, on the second tape let's pick it up with how you got CommScope.


KELLER: Frank, we were starting just about the time that you were in the process of buying CommScope from Superior Cable and the Continental Telephone Company.

DRENDEL: Now I'm in Hickory, North Carolina. We have done this fabulous job of liquidating all the assets except this little product line. CommScope was not even a company, it was a product line. I guess it had an incorporation around the edges, but it was about a 10 million dollar business and it was losing half a million dollars a year. But it was the same owners that I got the two deals for on cable TV -- when I'd sold those cable properties I'd lost at, those were the same two owners.

KELLER: Pretty much of a hero back there, weren't you?

DRENDEL: Yeah, at least I was respected as having gotten this money. So I thought, why not buy this thing?

KELLER: But, why, though? As you said, you would be crazy to get into the business at that time. Nothing was being built, you couldn't sell cable, Times had virtually a lock on the market.

DRENDEL: I guess I was so young and so believed that you couldn't keep cable down. I loved cable so much -- I'd never gotten out of cable TV. Even when I was doing this consulting I kind of ran CommScope for them. I believed in the people. The people in this industry are what made it. You had to bet on the integrity, the ethics, the Bill Daniels, the people that you started with, and the people you compete with. You and I were laughing about the fact, it's the only industry in the world that you can compete all week and then you go to a show and everybody's drinking together.

KELLER: Or even, you meet them after...

DRENDEL: Sure. And the industry had these people and I also, to be honest with you, thought that it was probably the only thing I could ever buy that was a reasonable buy because nobody else would want it. But I didn't have any money, so I had to go through this process of going to my partner, Jearld Leonhardt, who helped me start, and is still with me -- Jearld's my chief financial officer. He said, "Frank, you're crazy. Even if we buy it, how are we going to pay for payroll?" I said, "We'll worry about payroll when we get the company." So, we went around and we said...

KELLER: How many employees did it have at the time?

DRENDEL: It had 123 employees.

KELLER: How many do you have now?

DRENDEL: 3,000 plus. So it had 123 employees and we went around and said, "Look, it'll cost 5 million dollars to buy this company. We probably could borrow 4 million on the assets," so we needed 1 million dollars worth of equity. I ginned up my personal balance sheet and lied about how much money I had so I could borrow $25,000 to put into the deal. He did the same thing and we went around to the local Hickory guys...

KELLER: I was wondering, because you were a major industry here at that time.

DRENDEL: Right, a major industry. We went down to the local Hickory guys. Now, I have to stop here for a moment and back up to the second thing that happened to me when I came to Hickory. So freeze this, it's 1975. In '72 I came here and I went to the local country club and this was the South. These guys all looked like they had just walked out of... They all had silver gray hair, they had...

KELLER: Right off the plantation?

DRENDEL: Right off the plantation. They owned the town. It was the textile guys, it was the furniture guys. You had to be invited to join this club and I'm this thing from Los Angeles that didn't speak Southern, didn't have any of those Southern roots. I walked up to the bar and this very distinguished black gentleman was the bartender. Elijah was his name, I'll never forget it, and he had been there forever. I said, "Elijah, I can not believe it. I can't believe a town as progressive as Hickory doesn't have cable TV." Elijah said, "Well, sir, you see that man standing down there at the end of the bar? He can get the cable TV, he can get anything done in this town." So, typical salesman, I walked up, introduced myself to him and I said, "My name's Frank DRENDEL:." He said, "My name's George Hutton." I said, "George, I understand that you can get cable TV." He said, "I can have that franchise by the end of the month. You just show me somebody that's got the money to build it." Obviously, cable had been proposed in this town, but nobody had been prepared to finance it. The local party group was strong here, like you've never seen. I said, "Well, I think I can get the money." He said, "Oh, really? You think you can get the money." So we sat there and bent elbows for two or three hours and he said, "How do you think you can get the money?" I said, "Well, I have some friends in Chicago." He said, "I'll tell you what. I'll meet you at the Hickory airport tomorrow at 8:00 and we'll fly to Chicago." He had his own airplane. It was the first time I'd ever seen a corporate airplane. I thought, "Oops." So I got home, called Burt Harris, and said, "Burt, I've got these guys that think they can get the Hickory franchise. I think it's a great franchise because it's far enough from Charlotte that you don't get cable and it's got the mountains." But the density in those days, the homes per mile, was a little on the narrow end. So I thought, this guy's never going to show up at 8:00 and fly me to Chicago. He's not going to believe some wimpy kid like this. By God, there he was, standing at this little airport here in Hickory, behind a little fence. He had his plane parked on a ramp and he was the pilot. It was a twin engine Cessna. So we flew to Chicago and walked into the Harris Bank. There's Burt Harris and Irving Harris -- I don't know if it was the Harris Bank, but I guess I called it the Harris Bank -- and we sat down and shook hands right there. We cut a deal that they would give us 15 or 20% of the carried interest of the deal, we would get the franchise, and they'd give us $10,000, which was a huge amount of money back then, a retainer for each individual to support us. And we said, "But we need a world class consultant to help us on this deal." So we got Bob Brooks and gave Bob some of the equity. He came in, put this deal together, and then all of the sudden, the guys down here in Winston-Salem woke up that the franchise was coming, so they ran over and tried to put the franchise together.

KELLER: Would that be the television station?

DRENDEL: That was the television station. So we came and we had the local lawyer -- the right lawyer, the right businessmen, George Hutton and all these guys -- and we got to the city council meeting the night they were supposed to vote on the franchise, and we brought Burt Harris in. It was the first time Burt had ever been to Hickory, I think, and he probably only came once or twice after that.

KELLER: He's such a great gentleman. His presence just engulfs the whole room.

DRENDEL: His presence was everything, but it's one of the times that Burt was even smoked, and I look forward to Burt watching this because he'll remember it distinctly. Everybody was sitting there in the front rows, and the room was packed with our group and their group. You remember the story; you brought in everybody so that the councilmen had to look out and see who was on your side. Burt got up and started to make the presentation why we should win it. The mayor said, "Well, Mr. Harris, we appreciate this, but I don't think you understand what just happened. We just voted and you won." And he was, "Huh? How did I miss that?" Burt said, "Well, thank you. I was just here to answer any questions you had." So we had a celebration that night.

KELLER: You and the local people had the carried interest. How many local people did you have?

DRENDEL: I think there were five or six.

KELLER: But they didn't put any money into it.

DRENDEL: No, none of us had to put any money into it. That was kind of the equity I used on my balance sheet to get the CommScope loan, so it wasn't completely wrong.

KELLER: How many subscribers does Hickory have now?

DRENDEL: Let's see. 50,000? 45,000-50,000.

KELLER: I would think that would be pretty close. Who owns it now?

DRENDEL: Now it's Paul Allen -- Charter. So anyway, we had the franchise, we had the money and we were building it with CommScope cables, obviously. It's going along, the system's doing well and everybody's happy. So I decided I'd go to this local group that I got the cable franchise for to help me finance CommScope. Now I had a local group who understood cable TV and I owned a teeny piece of the franchise, with Burt. Burt owned 80% of it and I had this group that said, "Well, the kid's done us all right here. Let's see if we can back him." I took the same guys that were in the franchise with me and said, "Look, I've got to raise a million bucks." Now the last time they got it for free, so you kind of got this Southern look -- "Say what? How much?" A million dollars in 1975 was a lot of money. I think people forget how much -- and a million dollars is still a lot of money -- I think people forget how much a million dollars was. But, a long story short, George Hutton, the guy I had met at the bar and gotten the cable franchise with and split the equity -- we both had the largest piece of carried interest in the franchise -- said, "I'll put up a $150,000." They call them now "angel investors", the halo effect. He put up a $150,000 and the rest of the money came in. So we got the equity.

KELLER: Did the local banks get in too?

DRENDEL: Yep, local banks. We did a financing right up here in North Wilkesboro, Great Northwestern Bank -- turned down by the big boys. First Union flat turned us down, NCNB, but it had to be one of those moonshine banks up there across the...

KELLER: Burt didn't want it?

DRENDEL: No, no. He would have been an equity partner with me, but his point was that the operation guys had to be separate from manufacturing and I do believe that.

KELLER: I agree, too.

DRENDEL: Because everybody would think he was getting a better deal. So, we got the money, went down, made the offer to Continental and the same thing happened again. Somebody came in and overbid me on CommScope. I don't know if it was...

KELLER: It wasn't Steve Ross again this time? (Laughter)

DRENDEL: No, fortunately it wasn't Steve Ross, but the guys that bought Superior Cable thought they'd be better off liquidating that plant and using it for twisted pair, just get out of the coax business. So they'd made not a substantially greater offer -- a $600,000 better offer.

KELLER: They wanted the physical plant.

DRENDEL: The plant. They didn't give a damn about the product line; they just wanted the plant. I thought, "Oh, that's it. I can't raise any more money. I'm at the absolute limit, I don't think the pro forma make any sense at that level." So I was down there with Charles and Jim and I said, "Look, you've got to take the best deal. You're a public company, you've got to do it for your shareholders." Jim and Charles looked at me and said, "Look, Frank, you've made us a lot of money; we'll give you a note for 600,000 and a dollar. We'll let you buy this business because you've always been straight with us." They carried me on the note so I could bid over the other guys and the other guys quit because they figured, why fight the guy that's carrying their note. There was more to it. It was like, well, this is dumb. So anyway, we got the company. We had a great celebration and then we woke up August 16, 1976...

KELLER: So now you're in very strong with the local people.

DRENDEL: Oh yeah, I got their money and we're this teeny little company in Hickory. The biggest employer in Hickory at the time was General Electric. Unfortunately, they were making transformers, power transformers with PCBs and stuff, but they were the town at that time and the rest of the town was furniture and textiles and cottage type industries, but very powerful families. You had a couple of the Shufords and Boyd Lee George and the MDI people, who were all now involved directly or indirectly with CommScope. And so we got to...

KELLER: Were those part of your investors also?

DRENDEL: Oh, yeah.

KELLER: So you had the country club set.

DRENDEL: I had the country club set and the doctor set, and they called every day to find out how we were doing.

KELLER: I'm surprised that their financial advisors would have let the doctors in at that point, or didn't they have any?

DRENDEL: Lucky, just lucky. Either they figured they got enough in carried interest in the cable deal they'd cover their loss on the other deal. It would never have come together if it hadn't been for that. And so, now you have our first month. We knew when we bought the company that we couldn't carry payroll. We were fighting a company, Times Wire and Cable, now called Times Fiber -- who you know well -- who owned the industry at the time. At the time there was Vikoa, and all the Beldens, who are still in the business.

KELLER: Times had to have 70-80% of it at that time.

DRENDEL: Oh, absolutely. And there were 15 other people making this product, so we needed an "angel" customer. We needed a God-sent customer. We figured the South sticks with the South, so we went down to Atlanta and Cox Communications gave us virtually 90% of their business.

KELLER: You also had a good product.

DRENDEL: We did have a good product, we really did, and the company was a good product and that got us going. So we made the first payroll; we made the second payroll, but the third payroll was a little shaky. Jearld and I had to borrow some money on our personal Master Charges, I think it was, or somehow we had to come up with some money to make payroll. Jim, in all your years, you know, it's that payroll momentum. I never worried about being a powerful businessman or being wealthy; I always worried about meeting payroll. Business is so simple when you get it down to the basics: tell the truth, meet payroll, take care of your employees, take care of your customers, and you'll get it. But Jearld and I did something that was very unusual for its time.

KELLER: Jearld?

DRENDEL: Jearld Leonhardt, not the Jerrold Electronics, but Jearld Leonhardt. We decided to give all our employees stock in the company. It's not an uncommon practice now, but it was very uncommon back then. I mean, down to the plant employees, because we figured if you gave people equity in the company, they wouldn't steal from you, or they wouldn't steal as much. So we gave people equity in the company.

KELLER: What did they steal? Walk off with a roll of cable?

DRENDEL: Well, yeah. Interestingly enough, though, it was the raw materials much more than the finished product. Finished coax can only go to a coax guy, but copper! You carry 20 pounds a day out in those days -- you could put it in your pocket -- and it's 20 bucks. It was a dollar a pound and some of the materials we used were even more exotic. Not that that was going on, but you just figure, make them owners and then all the owners watch each other. That was 1976. We'd gone from barely making payroll -- losing a half million dollars in '75 -- to 13 million in sales, and making a million dollars. Well, our investors loved us.

KELLER: Rightly so.

DRENDEL: And the banks loved us.

KELLER: And that was after you'd paid off the note or after you'd paid the interest into the equity?

DRENDEL: Good point. We'd paid all of the high leverage, we were factoring our receivables, we were factoring our inventory, but we hadn't paid off the Continental note. We had enough cash and I said, "If we don't pay that note off the moment we have enough cash, we're making a mistake." So we went down to Atlanta, paid the note off early, and Charles and Jim Napier took us out to lunch. They said, "We honestly never thought you guys would get this thing to work. We're proud of you." By then the cable industry was just starting to come out of it. The hardest thing I worked on in my whole career was in 1978 to save the cable industry. I'd grown up in the telecommunications business and I was vice-chairman with Bud -- Amos now -- Hostetter on the pole attachment committee.

KELLER: I'm glad you remember that. It was Bud then.

DRENDEL: It was Bud then, but it's Amos now.

KELLER: Before he had millions, or billions.

DRENDEL: Billions. Amos and I and Bob Brooks and Harold Farrow, from out in California, were on the pole attachment committee of the NCTA board. I believe that was my first year of being elected to the California board -- CCTA board -- but we got that pole attachment deal.

KELLER: I remember very well.

DRENDEL: I've got in my home a wooden pole, cut in a three-inch section, hanging in my room with a little plaque of the first legislation the cable industry ever got -- the pole attachment bill. That broke the cable industry open.

KELLER: It really did.

DRENDEL: That allowed the cable industry to start growing, and by being on that committee and on those two boards, and everybody getting a chance to see my understanding of the telephone industry -- the big bad telephone industry -- because I'd grown up there, they all respected the fact that CommScope couldn't afford to do what it did. But we put so much time and effort in it, my business started improving. You always accuse me of this, but I decided the best role I could play as CEO was to be the best salesman for the company.

KELLER: I never accused you of that, I complimented you of it.

DRENDEL: Well, thank you. So, I decided the best thing I could do for CommScope was to help grow the company by being its chief salesman. In 1978 -- late '78, early '79 -- we were growing so fast, because we were taking market share from all our competitors, we were running out of money. We didn't have enough working capital; we didn't have enough bank lines to keep up with growth, and the competitors would have gotten on their sticks and caught us. We decided we needed to get more capital and looked at going public -- we were private -- and we said, "That won't work because nobody will pay us a multiplier times our earnings in sales." We bought a public company called Valtech, the very early leading company in fiber optics. So we got into fiber optics in 1978, way ahead of the fiber optic revolution. It was so successful that we were able, literally, to sell stock and increase our earnings by putting the money in the bank, and the interest from the bank was earning so much the stock increased. It was one of those... about like it is now.

KELLER: Did you have the technical people in the plant who were able to – oh, you bought Valtech...

DRENDEL: Right, we bought Valtech up in Massachusetts, so it was kind of that high-tech Massachusetts spin on it. Valtech had some really leading technology, especially in optics, in the sense of the lasers. We owned a company called Laserdial Labs underneath that. So from 1978 'til 1980, we did two stock offerings, had enough money to grow the company, and the company went from 14 million to 32 million in sales.

KELLER: Yes, but right now you're also paying 20% interest during that time too.

DRENDEL: Oh, absolutely, and if we hadn't had the equity and hadn't had no bank debt, we'd be dead because the interest was 20%. Now that was slowing down the cable industry because capital costs -- interest rates -- were very high. But the competitors other than Time -- there were 15 competitors when we started -- were flailing. They were dropping out. It was just Time and us, because I was taking all the business they had. Time wasn't giving up much and the industry was also growing. So we were not growing up against their market share, we were taking the other 15 competitors out.

KELLER: The major companies in the early '80s, let's go through those. TCI was just starting to get moving.

DRENDEL: Just starting.

KELLER: I want to go from there on. It was ATC...

DRENDEL: ATC, TCI, Cypress was Time Warner and there was that whole Warner grouping.

KELLER: In the '80s, ATC had already sold to Time.


KELLER: That was in '77.

DRENDEL: Cox was still independent.

KELLER: Cox was still in big.

DRENDEL: You had -- not Cypress, that was ours -- but what was the one Jack Crosby and those guys all had?

KELLER: Oh, well, that's Gene Schneider's group, United, by that time.

DRENDEL: Gene Schneider, right. That was United, that was big, and then of course you had all kinds of independents.

KELLER: At that time, though, was Time still selling all of its stuff to Jerrold and Jerrold in turn turnkeying for TCI?

DRENDEL: Basically.

KELLER: And so you weren't getting much TCI stuff.

DRENDEL: We didn't have any of TCI because Jerrold was financing it and turnkeying it, and we didn't have much of Gene Schneider's business because of the same Jerrold relationship. The next thing that happened was that the fiber optics business took off and we were doing a lot of business in fiber optics and growing that particular area. As fate would have it, here comes along the company that wants to buy us. Now, this is 1980, so we've owned the company from '76 to 1980 and they're willing to pay us -- bear in mind, we bought this thing for 10 million – 250 million dollars for the company. That'll take your breath away.

KELLER: Yes, it will.

DRENDEL: That'll make you stand up and say, hmm, we'd better consider this.

KELLER: Your board is still mainly the local guys?

DRENDEL: Right, the local guys.

KELLER: Were they also the board of Valtech?

DRENDEL: Yes, because we'd taken over Valtech. Now, you've got to remember the company was three times our size. We were probably 60-70 million and they had brilliant technologists. The company was called Maycom and it had Irving Jacobs, who started Qualcom and was on their board and everything. We agreed to do that on one condition. We didn't want to sell out because of taxes, so we had the option of taking stock for our stock. People always tease me that I've bought and sold this company eight times, or whatever it is, but that's not quite correct. It is correct in the sense that it's changed hands, but I never quite ever got out of the equity piece. I always stayed in the equity.

KELLER: Well, you haven't done any more than Jack Crosby did or Lieberman did or any of these guys.

DRENDEL: Lieberman... any of those guys.

KELLER: Gene Schneider himself. How many times did they resell their company?

DRENDEL: That 250 million included – they were doing two acquisitions. They were doing Linkabit, which was Irving Jacobs' Qualcom, so putting all four of those together we had a wonderful hit. We kept the stock and then it became Maycom.

KELLER: So you must have gotten along with the Maycom people.

DRENDEL: Oh yeah, we did real well. Of course, at the time Larry Gould -- Dr. Gould -- was chairman, so we kept building CommScope and then they took the fiber optic piece out of CommScope and put it into the DCCP, so CommScope came back down now to just a pure coax cable company. But that's when scrambling was about to start, and everybody was running around trying to get the scrambling contract. Irving Jacobs headed the military encryption business. We had so much top-secret stuff at Linkabit because we did all the space encryption -- talking satellites and dumping cans of pictures down so you could tape bombsites and everything. It was incredible, the stuff we had. We were able to clearly move their encryption piece in. We bid and we won the encryption piece and that became the digital part of cable TV and Maycom. That's why GI was worth 17 billion dollars to Motorola -- digital TV came out of Linkabit, came out of scrambling video cipher. GI bought CommScope and the video cipher division for 250 million, just for those two, so the Linkabit piece stayed. Now that piece had grown to be worth 250 million, and I went to General Instrument. That was kind of the GI period. GI took that video compression technology and created the scrambling and the video compression. That's the first time we broke open with Malone. Malone was so impressed with the capacity of video compression and scrambling that he started backing GI heavily to build the compression engine to save the absolution of cable.

KELLER: But he was going home again though, too, to GI, because he had been president of Jerrold and had that connection.

DRENDEL: Absolutely.

KELLER: He's a very loyal guy.

DRENDEL: Yes, just tremendous. That was the first breakthrough for CommScope to get into TCI. We coat-tailed on the back of Jerrold, and John and I became closer and better friends and grew in friendship. Now they're 90% us. We turned that all around. That's where we broke with Time. Once we had TCI, our lead went past Time and we were really lucky. Larry DeGeorge was a brilliant competitor but Larry wasn't willing to bet on expansion. I did, and it was just catching it at the right time. Now we have 65% of the world's market and they have about 25%, so it really switched.

KELLER: The world's market, not just the US market -- the world market?

DRENDEL: World market, because now we have a plant in Belgium. We bought out everybody in the world that made coax.

KELLER: And you're not doing fiber at all right now?

DRENDEL: Yeah, we are.

KELLER: You are doing fiber.

DRENDEL: We've got a 100 million-dollar business in fiber, so we're in fiber, local area network, coax. We are the concrete for the superhighway. CommScope's the simplest decision to make in the Internet because we're the biggest.

KELLER: Qwest -- are you selling to all these people?

DRENDEL: Basically in the last mile. We don't do the long haul fiber, but if you put a blanket over the last mile of technology, all of the money will be made in the last mile. All the connectivity's in the last mile; all the revenue comes from the last mile. Without the cash registers, you won't have the business. We were successful in doing that and of course, then, we got bought again. Now this is 1990. So here we are at GI; GI's a billion dollars in sales total. It has Jerrold, CommScope, General Semi-Conductor, a whole bunch of business.

KELLER: By this time, the industry is coming out of the '89-'90 depression that they were in at this point. Let's pick that up on the next tape.

KELLER: You had just sold the company a third time.

DRENDEL: Right, sold the company a third time, but this time I really sold it and really kept a lot of equity. We were a subsidiary of General Instrument and Ted Forstmann -- Forstmann-Little, one of the famous leverage buyout firms -- came into a board meeting of ours and said, "Gentlemen, I own 15% of your company."

KELLER: Uh-oh.

DRENDEL: Everybody went, "Oops!" He said, "It's not negative. I'm just here to help you get shareholder value."

KELLER: And you weren't aware of it up until he told you?

DRENDEL: I think we were aware that someone was accumulating stock. I think he had to report the 5% but he kept accumulating. So Frank Hickey and I began extensive negotiations – and Frank's a great person we should interview because he has all that early history.

KELLER: Frank -- who's that?

DRENDEL: Frank Hickey -- he used to be chairman and CEO of General Instrument -- we have to add to the list. He has all that early history of financing all these guys. So at the time, Frank and I said, "Look, what he's offering for this company is so substantially greater than what it's trading for we should probably go ahead and accept the offer." And it was a wonderful deal. It was like a billion and a half, two billion dollars, which was an unheard of price for any of these companies in 1990, which nine years later will make that number sound extensively small. But at the time it was a huge number.

KELLER: I want to put this in perspective just a little bit.


KELLER: That time, '89-'90, was really the second lowest time of the cable television industry. We couldn't really build anything, the economy was in the dumps again, after the '80s, and no one knew what to do at that time. Even some of the people that were in limited partnerships weren't quite aware of what to do, where John Malone and some of the others did. That's when they decided to buy them, when they were at the lowest edge and you knew right then that it was going to pick up and it was at the bottom.

DRENDEL: That was the low, and you're absolutely correct. We couldn't get financing, you had these HLT regulations -- highly leveraged transactions -- working their way through, banks were afraid and obviously construction was down. People weren't spending as much on capital, but FL saw that that might be a downturn...

KELLER: FL, again?

DRENDEL: Forstmann-Little. But they didn't know how bad it was going to be. So, Frank and I looked at it, we saw just like you did, we said, "Things don't look real rosy for the cable industry in the next few years." So we sold to Forstmann-Little for a billion and a half dollars. It wasn't four months later, six months later, halfway through '90, first part of '91, where I'm at a board meeting with Ted Forstmann and he says, "Frank, when we bought you guys you had an 80 million dollar backlog, now you have zero." I said, "Well, the customers cancelled the orders." He said, "Can they do that?" I said, "This is the cable industry, what do you mean can they do that? Of course they can do that. They did that." He said, "What are we going to do?" I said, "Well, we're going to scale this thing back and let people go and get out payroll in line first and get our sales done." Our sales, throughout GI, were just doing this and it looked like there was no bottom. They had put a modest amount of equity into buying GI and a whole bunch of debt and they had gotten a very famous, very bright businessman, Don Rumsfeld, who was...

KELLER: Secretary of...

DRENDEL: Secretary of Defense, wasn't it?

KELLER: Defense, yes.

DRENDEL: A very brilliant guy who was our chairman at the time. If it hadn't been for Don we probably couldn't have saved the company. We scaled it back but we came very close to defaulting on the notes. Then the cable industry kind of hit bottom and started working its way up.

KELLER: Well, at that time, as you remember, Frank, there was another impending cable act before Congress. The Vice-President, then Senator, Al Gore, got into it after the Tennessee fiasco.

DRENDEL: Oh, yeah. Our buddy.

KELLER: He wanted to re-regulate cable television after we had been de-regulated and everybody was afraid of what that act was going to do. Many people within the industry, John Malone being one of them, recognized at that time that it wasn't going to be that bad and as it turned out, it wasn't. But everyone was deathly afraid of it, especially the financial markets.

DRENDEL: The financial markets and the stocks were at an all-time low. Compared to where they're trading now you could have made a fortune just betting at that period. At the same time, as you recall, there was high definition television and GI was the only one bold enough to propose digital television. Everybody else had fallen into the Japanese trap of analog HDTV and people thought we were crazy. They said, "You cannot take on the Japanese consumer electronics group at teeny little General Instrument, a billion and a half, two billion dollars in sales, taking on Japan Inc., who said, in their collective wisdom, we need all this bandwidth to do HDTV." Now what Malone and Irwin Jacobs -- Dr. Irwin Jacobs -- realized was the cable industry would die on HDTV because the bandwidth it required would suck up all the bandwidth. They said, "There has to be a more elegant solution." We proposed it and we challenged the quality of analog versus digital and lo and behold...

KELLER: "We" being GI?

DRENDEL: GI. GI was the only one to propose digital but we had Don Rumsfeld, who knew his way around Washington -- knew his way around the administration -- so we got a run-off.

KELLER: This is still the Reagan administration at that time?

DRENDEL: Yes. We got a run-off between analog and digital and basically, what Don Rumsfeld did and what the cable industry did, is we wrapped this beautiful American flag around digital technology and HDTV the American way.

KELLER: Versus the Japanese?

DRENDEL: The Japanese analog, and as you know, that process went on for, I'll bet, five years.

KELLER: It just ended not too long ago.

DRENDEL: Just recently. And so many different proposals were made, 10/20I and this and this, but lo and behold, it turned out to be digital and multiply formatted digital. So the cable industry were the pioneers of digital but the real pioneer of digital was trying to protect the signals from the HBO thieves. You remember the big C-band dishes that were coming up in the late '80s and '90s in everybody's back yard because you would steal the signal? There were hundreds of channels up there for free. So HBO approached CommScope, and through us, approached GI, in early Maycom days, to produce a scrambling system that would not allow individual subscribers to get it without paying for it. All of that technology, the addressable technology, came out of the combination of GI, Linkabit, Dr. Irwin Jacobs, and my connections in the industry. We created video cipher, which is now the standard for scrambling, and that was the big breakthrough.

KELLER: That's a new story for me. I hadn't heard that.

DRENDEL: Yes, we actually invented video cipher and the amazing part was that we could turn off your satellite from 22,000 miles in space and leave your neighbor's on. When you think about what's happening, all of that's being directed – downfed -- into the satellite. We created this system; we thought it was bulletproof. We thought there was no way -- this was the state of the art, military DES encryption. I mean, the highest state of DES encryption. The hackers had it broken in six months -- absolutely destroyed the system. Boxes were coming back, people were screaming about the system being broken, and the greatest folly of that thing was that Dr. Malone knew it would probably be broken. HBO knew it would probably be broken, but it was broken just enough, and having video cipher broken just enough gave the cable industry enough time to build out cable plant before DBS could ever get its legs. Because unless somebody could figure out a secure encryption system, these small dishes weren't coming. The technology already existed for KU-band to do small dishes. What technology didn't exist was how to protect it: the cash register. So the folly of C-band being broken was probably the greatest thing that ever happened to the cable industry because the cable industry added 15 million subs in that period before DBS came. So now you're into the mid-90's, you've got DBS coming, you've got C-band up there, you've got scrambling, you've got HDTV, you've got cable getting better regulatory relief, you've got this whole process of addressability, you've got multi-tiering channels. Cable systems were building out to 750 megahertz, the gigahertz of bandwidth, and the industry is just really starting to take off.

KELLER: That's how we were able to obviate what was potentially burdensome about the '94 Cable Act.

DRENDEL: Exactly. So, here's Ted Forstmann, who almost went under, saying, "Well, it's time to take GI public." So we were taken out of the public market, and we came back with a public offering in 1996, I think. Very successful, paid off a lot of the debt, did two more equity offerings and then in 1997, we decided to split GI into three companies. We would spin off to our shareholders; we'd changed our name to Next Level, which was a big mistake in hindsight, because we had a whole bunch of digital technology. So CommScope would spin out, General Semi-Conductor would spin out to be an independent company, and GI would be a residual, independent company. We did that in 1997 and CommScope became independent. I finally got CommScope all the way back, my little baby, all wrapped up -- got my own company back and we're public.

KELLER: After selling it three times you got it back.

DRENDEL: I got it back. So now we're trading at like $11 a share and GI's like $30, $25-$30, and General Semi-Conductor's at $10. This is 1997. Total market cap of those three companies is probably three and a half billion.

KELLER: Billion?

DRENDEL: Billion. Bam! Fortuitous. The cable industry gets totally collected into the Internet phase. So right now you've got cable coming like this, and you've got Internet doing this and people were beginning to figure out -- I hadn't quite seen it in '97, actually '96 -- that the Internet was cable TV, but nobody had put it together.

KELLER: Separate system, though.

DRENDEL: Well, separate system. And the cable industry -- and again, total luck -- shows up with HFC. Now, no one had ever heard of hybrid fiber coax networks, but you could build a telecommunications network by bringing fiber into cable using the cable network for the bandwidth. Plus, the thing that saves HFC and wins it hands down -- why HFC will win -- is what's called Lifeline Telephone Service, because you have to have power. So coax was the only product that carried power, because it's two conductors, it has 90 volt...

KELLER: Always has, well, since the mid-'70s.

DRENDEL: Always has, but everybody took it for granted, that it has analog and digital capacity. The cable doesn't care; coax doesn't care if it's all digital, all analog or what piece it is. Fiber does; it's always digital. And glass doesn't carry electricity. So the smart engineers said, "We'll just bring fiber in, turn the amplifiers around, upgrade the coax, turn it into two-way, which we'd been doing for years, and now we've got the Internet IP play." So everybody's sitting around in boardrooms in the cable industry saying, "This is so-so." All of the sudden, AT&T flies out of the sky and buys the cable industry. Just buys it! And it all started when Bill Gates put that billion dollars in Comcast.

KELLER: In Comcast, right.

DRENDEL: All my friends said, "Well, what do you think that means?" I said, "I'm putting my money in cable. I don't know what it means for him."

KELLER: And into Comcast.

DRENDEL: And into Comcast. So all you had to do was trace that move. People forget that this little piece of product that we have 60% of the world's market share of is the enabling technology for the Internet. Now, I never dreamed that!

KELLER: Well, no one did.

DRENDEL: I never dreamed we'd be an enabling technology for AT&T and the Internet. So this little technology that we own the world's patents to -- we own all the processes -- is enabling technology for the Internet. AT&T buys in, Paul Allen buys in, Microsoft buys in, all the big money -- this huge consolidation of the cable industry with all the money they need to rebuild the plant to create an IP based telephony-video Internet service. So when you're all done, this HFC plant's going to give the average subscriber, for a reasonable amount of money, 24-hour Internet, four lines in your home numbered. One Lifeline, powered in a storm, 500 analog channels, 500 digital channels, pay-per-view. Nobody can touch that product. Plus, in AT&T's case, you're going to have AT&T One Touch cellular with Friends & Family, so all your friends and family have got the same phone system and network. Now you've got this period from '97 to present time where everybody wants to be in this technology. I mean, nobody cared whether CommScope existed or not. Now you've got all these guys stumbling around -- you know, the big guys -- wanting to buy into the industry. The first one to go down is General Instrument, January 5th. In fact, that Loving Cup sitting right there, that crystal cup, is a 17-billion dollar cup. Now, bear in mind, when Ted let this thing go, he let it go for maybe 5 or 6 billion. In two years, just the GI piece -- not CommScope and General Semi -- in two years we sell GI to Motorola for 17 billion bucks. Now that's how powerful the technology our industry has, but for the past 30 years, Jim, nobody believed in us. Nobody.

KELLER: I never believed in the technology going to where it is today.

DRENDEL: No, neither did I. So everybody says, "Boy, weren't you smart." No, I was lucky. I wasn't smart. I was lucky. Who knew that what would save the Internet in capacity would be a product that had the following properties: it's analog/digital, it carries power, and it works great with fiber. When people ask me, what do you do, I say, "Well, do you believe in the superhighway?" The information superhighway, the Al Gore information superhighway. Everybody says, "Absolutely, I believe in the information superhighway." I say, "Well, we make concrete." I mean, that's as simple as it gets. We make the off-ramps, we make the concrete because you can't have this future without first doing the basics. As you've known for years, we were what I'd respectfully call the "greasy fingernail" level because the craftsmen that have to build this network are our best customers. The guys out there twisting the connectors and putting it on the poles...

KELLER: Henry Ford said that back at the turn of the century.

DRENDEL: That's right, exactly. But I also have to say... I wish I could say that this was my perspective, but it was one of the most intelligent answers I have ever heard to why the cable industry is so valuable. I could give you all the reasons. I could give you the reasons that it's 700 channels, it's digital, it's IP, it's all that. This person shook his head and said, "No, no, that's not right. It's one foot of wood." I said, "Pardon me?" He said, "Yeah, think about it for a moment. One foot of wood, it happens to be around, but one foot of wood." I said, "Okay." He says, "The cable industry has a federally mandated right of way, granted to you in 1978 for one foot of wood. That's a right of way into every home and business in the United States." I don't care what the technology is -- a wired technology or a fiber technology -- you cannot put a value on what that right of way is worth.

KELLER: The telephone companies realized that at one time.

DRENDEL: Absolutely.

KELLER: But they didn't want to let it go for a couple of bucks a year.

DRENDEL: It's irreplaceable as a value point and so at the end of the day, I have a company that makes 60% of the world's product that's attached to that most valuable asset, that one foot of wood. I ended up at the pinnacle of my career with the biggest-in-the-world company doing a billion dollars in sales, with 3,000 employees, plants all over, selling to everybody.

KELLER: How many plants do you have?

DRENDEL: Oh, gee. One, two, three, four, five -- six.

KELLER: How many in this country and how many overseas?

DRENDEL: Most of them here. Just one overseas. We're building one in South America and one in Belgium. We used to have one in Australia, but we built Australia out and pulled the plant out and brought it here. So we own 100% of the cable in Australia.

KELLER: What did you say... this was a decision that you had to make, that cable itself would be obviated by laser, by the fiber optics. What was your reaction to that, that fiber would go all the way into the home?

DRENDEL: Oh, it absolutely scared me to death and that's, quite frankly, why we went into fiber optics. It was a defensive move and as it turned out, it was a great move for the wrong reasons, which all great business stories usually are. It got us into the field and we're a major player in fiber optics. But as it turned out, we forgot one basic thing. Glass is a non-conductor and as long as you have to have a powered network, if you think about it...

KELLER: Well, you have to tap it also.

DRENDEL: Absolutely, you have to tap it and power the network. But in doing the trials on IP telephony, 40 and younger people have no problem when you say, "I'm going to give you all of these services, but in case there's a storm, you've got to depend on your battery backed cell phone, or the battery pack that's in the basement." They say, "Fine. That's okay, I can handle that." You tell somebody 50 years or older that and they say, "No way. I don't believe in those batteries. Well, how long do the batteries last?" "24 hours." "Well, I've been in ice storms in Atlanta for four days, two weeks, that's not going to cut it." If you take the question deep enough, you have to have a physical network because batteries will not do it. So when AT&T decided this year that it was going to power the network -- the IP network -- with physical electrical power, it solidified forever -- or for the foreseeable future, unless physics change -- that the HFC network is the only network that allows you to do that. It's the only one that'll carry electricity into the house.

KELLER: Except for the power company, power cable.

DRENDEL: Right, power cable, but I meant independent of the power company -- what's called Lifeline Telephone Service. In a storm of four weeks, three weeks you're out of power -- like Hugo, we were out of power here for two and three weeks -- you can still pick up your phone and get a dial tone because it's got emergency generators running. If you've got that kind of power, then the IP networks up. Once they decided that, the physical characteristics of a coax cable being two conductors, analog/digital transport and a gigahertz of bandwidth -- one gigahertz of bandwidth – it made the product really robust.

KELLER: Well, that gigahertz also, with signal compression, can...

DRENDEL: Ten gigahertz.

KELLER: Whatever. Anybody's guess.

DRENDEL: Who knows what you need. So you see how lucky we were at CommScope, how lucky you and I both were to be in this industry.

KELLER: Well, you had to have more than luck, because there were times when major decisions had to be made to go one way or the other and you made them at the right time.

DRENDEL: Well, you make those decisions based on all the available data but the bottom line is, it's your gut. What made us the biggest and the best was that every time the industry was on its knees, we would still expand because we still believed that the fundamentals of the business would be there, and that took big guts. You can't build one of these plants overnight. If I decided today to add 50 million dollars of capacity, it would take 18 months. It takes Times the same amount, so you had to be 12 to 18 months ahead of how bad cable looked to be building bricks and mortar. Right now, we're sold out. We cannot make enough for the world. Our backlogs are going out 18-20 weeks. We make 15 million feet a day, 7 days a week. We go to the moon every three weeks and back. And I don't know where it goes.

KELLER: But everybody's building these new networks, though.

DRENDEL: That's right. Everybody's overbuilding everybody. That's exactly what's happening and everybody's building a network. The Internet is an incredible asset hog. It takes tons and tons of bandwidth. But I can't imagine where all the bandwidth goes and people need it.

KELLER: Well, they'll compress that too, I'm sure. Frank, you've gone from the very early days of the cable television business in small towns to the cable communications business -- and I guess you can still use that term with your explanation of what cable is -- to the year 2000. What are, say two or three, of the most memorable moments in your career? I know that's a difficult question.

DRENDEL: It is a difficult question, but the most memorable first would be, as it applies to cable TV, August 16, 1976, when I finally got a deal closed to somebody who didn't overbid us. Buying CommScope was without question the most memorable. The second most memorable deal in my life was being a party to the creation of the video cipher, winning the video cipher standard against Scientific-Atlanta and General Instrument for MayComm, and bringing the genesis of digital television to the world.

KELLER: And you credit that to Rumsfeld, right?

DRENDEL: Oh, Rumsfeld, and also Irwin Jacobs. Irwin went on to start QualCom and what a great success story that was. So those two guys. And I think that the last memorable moment was the closure January 5th of this year of the GI-Motorola merger. I am so impressed with where Motorola is going to try to take the cable industry, especially as it applies to the final retail availability of a digital box.

KELLER: They tried to get in earlier on, back in, I think, the '70s.

DRENDEL: Yes they did, in the '70s. They have the largest modem position for cable and those three are probably the most memorable of major foundations for the cable industry. The thought that the cable industry can show up at the table with a company with the stature of Motorola, puts us in the same league as fighting the telephone industry with Lucent. The cable industry now has all the pieces of the stool. For so long we built this industry, we didn't have anything. Now we've got money, now we've got technology, now we've got vendors that are strong.

KELLER: And believers.

DRENDEL: And believers and Wall Street. Now you have an industry that can go head to head with the LECs -- the local exchange carriers. Those are probably the most memorable periods of my career.

KELLER: You can look back on the days when we couldn't get financing and if you did get financing it was three years, 7-8% add on, whatever it was. Thanks to the man that we just buried yesterday...

DRENDEL: Bill Daniels. What a great man.

KELLER: Bill Daniels. The plow work he did with the New York bankers.

DRENDEL: Bill was a one-man band when we didn't even have instruments. He has meant so much to my career personally. To all of us, Bill was such a guiding light. In the troubled periods when nobody believed in the industry he would say, "Keep going forward." What an incredible leader, what a loss and yet in all of that, the guidance Bill gave was so correct and so far ahead. My vision was probably 18 months -- his was years. He saw it so far ahead and was so correct. I know he was very important to your career and very important to mine. When I was scared and didn't know what to do, Bill would always give that encouragement, "What's the worst that could happen?" You miss. Go forward. Going backwards is no fun. It's part of the military, aggressive fighter pilot...

KELLER: Fighter pilot syndrome.

DRENDEL: That's right.

KELLER: Who else? We mentioned Bill today. Who else would you put up in that overall category?

DRENDEL: My mentor group is Burt Harris -- clearly he was there for me in the beginning -- Bob Brooks, Bill Daniels, John Malone. All of those people were so important to helping me guide my career and to helping me see the value of the industry. So the higher part of the industry, you've got to go with that top – Irving Kahn, you've got to go back and ...

KELLER: He was a real visionary.

DRENDEL: Oh, tremendously! Early in fiber optics, he owned a big piece of Times, my big competitor, but you have to give him credit for vision. You have to give Amos and those people, the Boston...

KELLER: Amos Hostetter, that is, at Continental Cable.

DRENDEL: Amos Hostetter. You have to give those people the intellectual clout that fought through the regulatory piece. The regulatory piece in this industry was so complex, as you well know, that you had to have that real guidance. So you had that entire group. The depth and breadth of the intelligence that came to this industry is reflected in its building. There are very few industries that have gone in one generation -- in thirty years to the scale and scope of the cable industry. From nothing! It was from nothing.

KELLER: I want to make a reference, just a little bit of an aside – you mentioned the regulatory aspect of this thing. We have in the can right now an interview with Newton Minow and how he viewed...

DRENDEL: Plant a flower in the vast wasteland, right? Wasn't that his thing?

KELLER: No, that wasn't Minow, but he was chairman of the FCC, not when these major things were done, but when cable was in their development. He's seen how the political climate came together and the difference between the Democratic administrations, the Republican administrations, and it's an interesting type. We've been involved in... we didn't want to be involved in politics. In fact, we almost killed ourselves back in the '60s when we reneged, as you remember.

DRENDEL: Yes, we did. Reneged is a kind word for that.

KELLER: Frank, we've been going for almost an hour and a half right now. I think it's about time we wrapped this thing up. Is there anything you want to add?

DRENDEL: I want to add how much I enjoyed being the vice-chairman of The Center. Bill Bresnan and Bill Daniels -- putting up that first million dollars -- their great leadership. And now Marvin Jones and the work that you're doing, and I want to thank all the members. I want to thank especially Gus -- Gus Hauser -- what he's doing with this video now and oral program. When that Center is done, it will be the most technically sophisticated museum -- I don't like that word, but learning center I do like -- place in the world. You'll be able to go ahead and get this off the Internet. You'll be able to get streaming video. It's a fitting tribute to all of us that we probably couldn't pay for the gravel for the beds thirty years ago and we're leading this Center for education, for communications, and for growth. I think that will be the crowning accomplishment of all of us.

KELLER: I'm glad you feel that way and everybody appreciates the fact that you've played a major part in this whole thing. This has been an oral history of Frank M. Drendel and again, it was provided through a grant of The Gustave Hauser Foundation as part of the Oral History Program of The National Cable Television Center and Museum. Your interviewer was Jim Keller. Thanks very much, Frank.

DRENDEL: Thank you. I enjoyed it very much.

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Tom Dowden

Tom Dowden

Interview Date: August 19, 1990
Interview Location: University Park, PA USA
Interviewer: E. Stratford Smith
Collection: Penn State Collection
Note: Audio Only

SMITH: This is Tape One, Side A of an oral history interview with Mr. Thomas C. Dowden. This interview is one of a series in the oral histories program of the National Cable Television Center and Museum at Penn State University. Mr. Dowden is an early pioneer in the cable television industry and has endowed the Dowden Center for Telecommunications Studies at the University of Georgia. The interviewer is E. Stratford Smith of the School of Communications at Penn State, and the Director of the Oral History program of the Center.

DOWDEN: My name is Thomas C. Dowden. You asked where I was born, Strat, I was born in a town near Nashville, Tennessee with the unlikely name of Ridgetop. You've heard of Rocky Top. Well, I was born in Ridgetop, Tennessee. It's a little town of 350 people, now it's a suburb of Nashville. When I was growing up it was a little resort town in the middle of Tennessee and a very beautiful town. I was born there in 1935, one of seven children ‑ five brothers and one sister. We lived there until I was a late teenager and we moved to nearby Nashville. At that point I went to college for one year in Nashville at Peabody College and then I went into the military.

SMITH: Tell us about your parents, Tom. The nationality of them, their ethnic background. Any interesting items about their lives and careers.

DOWDEN: My mother was from Tennessee and my father was from Kentucky. The Dowden clan settled in Kentucky. In fact, we just recently had our 200th anniversary of the DOWDEN: family in Brandenburg, Kentucky, which is a community near Owensboro, Kentucky. It was the 200th anniversary of a fellow named Thomas Dowden settling in that area in 1789. We have a historian, as I imagine most families do--people in the family who trace such things. I thought it was interesting that on the 200th anniversary they named me Chairman of the family reunion. This Thomas Dowden had a lot of fun at that. But we were from the Kentucky and Tennessee area.

SMITH: Was that early Thomas Dowden, was he a Thomas C. Dowden?

DOWDEN: There was an early C. Dowden, but his name was Clementhius Dowden, which I thought was a very interesting name. He was either the father or the grandfather of these early settlers in Kentucky.

SMITH: Of course, that's back on your father's side. What nationality is this?

DOWDEN: Well, we are English-Scotch heritage as were most of the people who settled in that part of Kentucky ‑ Tennessee. These people came over the mountains from Virginia. We traced our family back to Virginia. Then, when the movement west took place, after the nation was settled and began to expand, they moved to Kentucky. It is very difficult to trace accurately because in 1812, as you know, the British burned most of our courthouses and burned most of the records of families. It's very difficult to go back prior to 1812 and find out where the original families came from, but we think and we have pretty good evidence that we were Scotch and English. So that's our heritage. In our family we have a scholar, the former head of the English Department at Rice University for many years, Dr. Wilfred Dowden, who has done some research in this area. He reported at our last reunion that that is what he has discovered. I would have to say I'm Anglo-Saxon in some ways because of my complexion and so on.

SMITH: Was your father born in Kentucky or did he move there?

DOWDEN: He was born in Sebree, Kentucky and is buried there. Both my parents are deceased, both having died in the early 1970s. My father worked for the L & N Railroad for about 40 years. The Louisville and Nashville Railroad. He was a railroad man. In fact, he was the station master of a little town about three miles away from the town where we grew up in Tennessee. So that's what I remember about my early childhood.

SMITH: Did you spend a lot of time down watching the trains?

DOWDEN: Well, we did. In fact, this little town of Ridgetop, which is a historic little town in itself in middle Tennessee, has an actual train tunnel, which runs the entire length of the community, underground. I have very vivid memories of hearing the trains roaring through, not only coming up the steep grade, coming through this little community, but actually hearing it rumble underneath the town, coming out the other end. It was a railroad town in every sense of the word. But it was a resort town too. As evidenced by its name, it was set in higher in the hills of central Tennessee. It was five, six, seven degrees cooler than down in the valley where Nashville was located, so a lot of the people had summer homes in this little town. We were part of the natives, or the "locals" I guess they called them. All these other people would come in the summer time. It was a unique little town.

SMITH: Was your mother a native born Kentuckian?

DOWDEN: No, my mother was actually from Tennessee. We've traced less about her family background. She was a Hunter. Her name was Anna Mary Hunter. She was from the town of Columbia, Tennessee. How she and my father met, I'm not quite certain. We just haven't traced the Hunter family back as much. She passed away in 1970, and it was some time after that that this interest arose over on the DOWDEN: name side to do some tracing of the family names.

SMITH: Somebody got the genealogical bug.

DOWDEN: Absolutely. It's interesting. Some people do this every year, every two years--get together with the family. It's been fun. It was in this small town that I grew up. During the war I remember vividly my older brothers going off to the war. World War II. One to the Marine Corps and one to the Navy. In fact, all six of us served in the military.

SMITH: You had six brothers. Any sisters?

DOWDEN: I had five brothers and one sister. So there were six boys and one girl all spread about two or three years apart. There was a large family spread out over many years. Again, by the time I was coming along, having been born in 1935, the older ones were already 18, 19, 20 years old, ready to go into the military and with the war coming on. So I barely remember the older ones as a child. Just their coming home on furlough.

SMITH: Do you mind mentioning their names for the record and perhaps what some of them are doing today?

DOWDEN: Well, yes I'll mention that my sister, who I always thought ironically, is named Jo or Josephine and then there were six boys. Josephine is deceased. She would have been in her early 70s. My oldest brother was named Robert, or Bob. He was a World War II Navy veteran and was an attorney in Nashville for many years having graduated from Vanderbilt University. He's deceased. Unfortunately, he had a stroke two or three years ago and died. My other brother was a businessman in the Nashville area in the electrical supply business. Unfortunately, he's deceased. In fact, Strat, I've had four siblings die in four years. None of us has a very good record on longevity; I hope to break that record.

My next brother, unfortunately, died at a fairly young age, and I'm coming down in order. He was next oldest to me. He was a career Navy man, chief petty officer. Unfortunately he contracted lung cancer, having been a smoker all his life. He died at a relatively young age. Then there is myself. And, of course, I live in Atlanta. And a younger brother, the last of the six boys lives in Memphis, Tennessee and he's an attorney. So he and I really are the... Well, I'm leaving out one. I have a brother named Charles who fits in there somewhere between the two or three older brothers. He is a teacher having spent many years in Texas teaching Spanish children along the border with Mexico. He now is an English teacher in Guatemala. We don't see very much of him. He was a free spirit back in the '50s and '60s before that was very commonplace in this country. We communicate by letter occasionally. So of the seven there are only three of us left. My younger brother and I are quite close--his living in Memphis and I in Atlanta. So that's it.

SMITH: What do you recall in particular about your boyhood? The schools you went to ‑ your sports, hobbies, and whatnot.

DOWDEN: Well, growing up in a small town in Tennessee, you have to grow up liking basketball and football and in my case, hunting. Being in a small rural area like that. I remember that it was an idyllic setting growing up in the middle of Tennessee. I remember grammar school being in a small schoolhouse in a little town. I remember the nearby high school was ... (Interruption to greet a visitor)

SMITH: When we interrupted to greet Ben Conroy, you were talking about the pleasures of growing up in a small town in Tennessee.

DOWDEN: Well, I remember all of the childhood things of playing in sports, and playing sandlot baseball, and later I must say, in high school, I played some organized baseball. American Legion baseball, they called it. I never was heavy enough to play football. Also, when I was 11 years old, I had an unusual thing happen. I developed a ruptured appendix, which had it not been for penicillin, which had just come out at that time, I guess I wouldn't be sitting here talking about any history beyond 1946.

SMITH: Probably not.

DOWDEN: When that happened fortunately for me, penicillin had come out. It was developed, of course, during World War II. Prior to that there was nothing we had to fight that kind of infection. There was the peritonitis that developed as a result of this ruptured appendix. All we had up to that day was sulfa drugs, which would not have taken care of this. Up until 1946, a lot of people died of that very disease, of ruptured appendix. I had that when I was 11 years old, and that pretty well took out most of my summer of my eleventh year. I remember being in bed most of that summer recovering. It was after that that I had no stomach, no pun intended, to play football or any hard contact sport like that. I did like baseball and again, as I said, I like hunting and swimming and things like that.

We had our local lake. In a small town like that there was no country club, or golf course. It wasn't until later that I took up an interest in golf. I had to go into the Army to do that. So I had an interesting childhood. One thing that I remember, particularly about high school, tenth, eleventh, twelfth grade was I had a great English literature teacher, Mrs. Byron Johnson who influenced me a great deal in terms of future direction that I was going to take in the journalism/broadcast/communications field. She inspired me a great deal. She also taught me a love of poetry and English literature, which I enjoy to this day ‑ reading and so on. Even in a small town where my graduating class of 1953, I think there were like 13 or 14 students in my graduating senior class, so you can see how small we're talking here.

SMITH: Is that right? You're not going to tell me it was a one-room schoolhouse.

DOWDEN: Well, my grammar school exactly was a one-room schoolhouse. My grammar school up until the seventh grade when I went to the nearby town to go into junior high and then high school was literally a one-room schoolhouse. I can't prove it today. They've taken it down and there is a city park there.

SMITH: Well, we'll accept your word for it.

DOWDEN: The old timers in my hometown will verify that we did have the proverbial one room schoolhouse. So that was it for my high school. It wasn't easy. My father was not a well off man--working for the railroad. My mother was real strong and worked hard. She was a housewife but we didn't have a lot of extra money. We lived in a modest house. During my early years, there was the Great Depression of the thirties and, of course, it hit places like the Tennessee Valley and a lot of the small southern towns probably harder than it hit anywhere else. Then the war came on. Of course that was traumatic, I'm sure, for my parents because two of their children went off to war and were in it from 1941 to the end of it in 1945. They were away in the Marine Corps and the Navy. No one really could expect to get much financial help from the family, in that type of situation. We were inspired particularly by our mother to get an education. To go on, and again from some influence from certain teachers like this one English teacher, to go ahead and finish your education and it was pretty rough to do. I saw my older brothers come out of World War II and use their G.I. Bills to finish their college. I knew that probably was what was in store for me, either working, the G.I. Bill or whatever. And, in fact, that is what happened. I went in the military in time to get what was later known as the Korean War G.I. Bill, and that helped me in later years to complete my college.

SMITH: Your military service was in the Army?

DOWDEN: I was in the Army. In 1953 when I graduated from high school, I first registered to go to college and this is where my communications career started. I got a job right out of high school in Nashville with WSM Television, which was an NBC affiliate owned by National Life and Accident Insurance Company. One of the early television stations that was put on the air in the south, if not the country, was owned by this large insurance company. Its companion station was WSM, which owned the Grand Ole Opry, the musical show in Nashville. I'm sure you've heard of it.

SMITH: I certainly have heard of it.

DOWDEN: It was one of the early 50,000 watt, clear channel stations. Of course it was made known and made prominent by the Grand Ole Opry stars of the '40s and '50s and on and on. It's still going strong today, of course.

SMITH: I don't think I can remember when I hadn't heard of the Grand Ole Opry.

DOWDEN: That's right. So when I finished high school I had a lucky break in that my sister-in-law was the secretary for the general manager of the WSM property ‑ radio and television properties. I let her know that I wanted to go into this field. I had sort of gotten the bug either through high school, or either through hearing about television coming on, in 1952, 1953. That is about when the FCC freeze ended, as you remember. There was a lot of publicity as I recall about new television stations going on the air. Of course, one of them was WSM television in Nashville. There was another one, WLAC television, which was a CBS station. There was a lot of publicity about the excitement of having television in the early '50s. I think I must have gotten caught up in that. It was natural, I think, that I gravitated that way. I was rewarded by getting a full-time job as a courier running errands and running the materials, films, etc, between the radio station which was in downtown Nashville, and the new television station which was out in the western part of the city. I was the courier pigeon for those stations starting out. Then I worked my way right into the television studio and became a boom operator, audio boom operator, a cameraman, a floor director, and prop man. I did all of those early chores at WSM television in the early '50s.

SMITH: You literally started on the ground floor.

DOWDEN: I certainly did. Television was brand new. It was very exciting. One of the people I remember, Strat, that I met in those days, was a young man named Pat Boone who won a talent show in Nashville. He had worked his way up and was about to win a trip to the "Ted Mack Amateur Hour". He would come out and do these programs at WSM television during the summer of 1953. I was a young 18 year old and I was quite impressed with this fellow. Of course, he went on to a very fine musical career, a singing career ...

SMITH: Still is.

DOWDEN: He's still around, but I got to know Pat that summer, I got to know him pretty well. So that was the summer of '53 and I was looking ahead at what was I to do about this education. So in the fall, because I was working and I was making some money, I thought I probably could afford to register for college right there in Nashville. I registered as a freshman in Peabody College. Peabody College, in Nashville, is now part of Vanderbilt University but in those days it was a separate teacher's college. I couldn't afford the big university across the street ‑ Vanderbilt ‑ but I did go to Peabody and I did it for a couple of reasons. One ‑ it was within range where I could register and take several courses and still work at WSM television at night, which I did. I could walk to the studio because it was very near the college campus. When I think back, it was probably a mile or so. But, of course, I didn't have transportation or anything. I walked to work, after my classes.

I would walk to WSM television and work the night shift, whether it was camera operator or prop man, put up sets for local news, weather and sports, whatever. I didn't do on-air work or anything of that sort, but I was getting experience. I was building up this and I was totally enamored with the work. It was great fun, knowing the announcers and getting to know some of the celebrities that came through. So this whole television thing really got into my blood. I worked there for one year and finished one year of college. And at the end of that one year, I knew that in those days you almost had to get your military service behind you. You could either wait to be drafted for two years or you could join for three and try to get some assignment or station that you wanted or schooling, or whatever.

In January I remember it was either the end of 1954, or right at the beginning of 1955, there was an announcement that the G.I. Bill was going to be discontinued. Of course, I had always thought that the only way I was going to be able to finish college was to have that type of help, so my older brother, who had finished his college with the World War II G.I. Bill, was a practicing attorney in Nashville in those times. He encouraged me in no uncertain terms that I should take advantage of that G.I. Bill so I would have it looking ahead to complete my education. And so after some resistance on my part, I finally saw the wisdom of doing this and so in January, I think it was January, 1955 I chose to step forward and join the military. That left me with just one year of college and I was on my way to getting my military out of the way and then looking forward to coming back and finishing my college at a later date.

SMITH: Describe your military career briefly.

DOWDEN: Well, it was really quite fascinating. I went through basic training at Fort Knox, Kentucky and wasn't quite sure what I was qualified for. I did not choose, nor did I think about going to Officer's Training School at that time. It was later. I had joined the Army so I had a three year commitment. I went through basic training and upon completion of the basic training I was assigned to go to Korea. This was in September of 1955, so the first part of the year I had finished my basic training. Now I found myself ready to go to Korea for sixteen months, which was a great experience. It not only broadened me as far as my coming from a small town in Tennessee, a boy from the country going out and really seeing the world, but it was also a time that I was brought into contact with people from other parts of the United States. I made some good friends, some of whom I still maintain today as friends that I met during that career, my stint in Korea. I was based in Inchon. I went over as an enlisted man. I think I was a corporal when I got there. I was assigned to a "Triple A" artillery battalion in Inchon.

SMITH: What does Triple A mean?

DOWDEN: Triple A means "Antiaircraft Artillery." I was assigned to a headquarters company as a clerk typist working in the administrative area. From there I took on other responsibilities, I remember at one point in Korea really more to break the boredom than anything else, I was the battalion mail clerk which got me a jeep to go up to Seoul when I wanted to. I was a hobby shop operator. I had a lot of little "businesses" like that going. I had a lot of fun in 16 months. But it passed very slowly. Broken only by the occasional trips to Tokyo for R&R which I thoroughly enjoyed.

I was also the editor of the battalion newspaper. One reason I took that job on in addition to these others that I mentioned is that it provided a trip, temporary duty to Tokyo every month or six weeks to edit the battalion newspaper. We had to go to Tokyo to have it published. They had no publishing facilities in South Korea. So that was a great deal of fun to do that. Because I was going to have a year or a year and half of military left when I got back to the United States, I applied for and was accepted to the Counter Intelligence Corps School at Fort Holabird in Baltimore, Maryland. I thought that would be pretty good duty and it wasn't that terribly far from my home in Tennessee. As I learned later, they did background checks and I had to be cleared for Top Secret. They frightened my mother and a lot of my neighbors by asking a lot of questions. Anyway, I was assigned then to rotate back to the United States and report after a 30-day furlough at home to Fort Holabird. I think this is a facility that the military has closed, but was the facility later on in the '70s and '80s where the Watergate, all the people who were involved in Watergate were sent to serve their sentence.

SMITH: That's where they took their enforced vacations.

DOWDEN: Right. Anyway, I transferred back to the United States. Went to Fort Holabird. It was there that I resumed my television career in the television industry. I approached the program manager at WMAR television, the CBS station in Baltimore, Mr. Ed Mick, told him I had some experience at WSM in Nashville, that I was a soldier at Fort Holabird, that I wanted to work part-time at night and on weekends to further my experience in television. He gave me a job in the production department at WMAR. This is a station that was owned by the Baltimore Sun papers.

SMITH: Yes, I'm familiar with it.

DOWDEN: So I picked up my broadcasting career at WMAR in late 1956. I had about another year, or a year and a half to go before I was discharged. I thought this would give me some good experience plus some spending money. So I started a year or more of delightful time in Baltimore which I thoroughly enjoyed and also got some good front line experience in television.

SMITH: Specifically what?

DOWDEN: I was now an actual technical director and producer of local news and weather shows and I signed the station off at night, I remember. I kept the logs. In those days, that would be called a director or producer. I had alternate days with other directors and producers, but I worked only at night. I would either work in the news department, where I wrote some news and prepared news for the people on air, or I directed shows. In one case, this is ironic I guess in light of my involvement with the University of Georgia and the Peabody Board which I serve on now. I wrote, produced and directed a documentary in 1962 that became an entry in the Peabody Awards.

SMITH: What was the subject matter?

DOWDEN: The title of the program was "Soldier, Why Are You In Berlin?". It was a story about the Berlin Wall and it was a story that was inspired because of the Berlin Wall going up in 1961, '62 and the crisis that John Kennedy faced in his dealings with Premier Khrushchev. It was a documentary to help describe the four-power agreement on the Berlin settlement and it was an attempt to show what the U.S. presence was there, what their mission was in Berlin. It was a 30-minute documentary. As I remember, it had some music, had some good action scenes and all of that. I would be afraid to look at it now, at how amateurish it would be.

SMITH: Do you have it?

DOWDEN: Well, it's in the Peabody archives somewhere. I don't have the nerve to go ask them to let me see it. I don't know if I want to claim authorship of it or not. I do remember that I was enthusiastic about doing it then. They were good enough to run it on the air two or three different times. They must have been desperate for programming in those days.

SMITH: You're too modest.

DOWDEN: At any rate, I remember it was unique in one sense, in that I wrote it, produced it and directed it. It was sort of a cradle to grave thing.

SMITH: That was at WMAR.

DOWDEN: That was at WMAR. Again that was a little bit ahead of my ... To make a long story short, I finished up my military career in 1958. I left Baltimore. It was at that time that I learned that because of being a military man, with the G.I. Bill, I could pretty much pick any university or college that I wanted to attend, assuming I could be accepted. There was a special requirement that I remember that discharged veterans did not have to pay out-of-state tuition. Now I may have that confused. At least that was the case in Georgia. One of the schools that I looked at and was interested in was the University of Georgia, because of its reputation in radio, television and journalism.

I looked at Northwestern; I looked at North Carolina; I forget the others. I did a little research while I was still in the military. When I got out in 1958 or during that period before I got out, I applied and was accepted at the University of Georgia. So that's how I ended up going to that University. But, back to my career at WMAR, I had a great time there. I was producing sports remotes from Memorial Stadium when the Orioles played the Yankees. I would assist when WPIX or CBS would come down for the Saturday game, or when WPIX would come down and broadcast the Yankee games. This was when Mel Allen was the announcer. It was a big thrill. I'd work in the booth with Mel Allen, or Phil Rizzuto when the other crew would come down. Being with the CBS station, they would use our personnel to do a lot of the in-booth work up there. I would get to work with them and I really thought I was pretty important. I'd hobnob with the likes of Mel Allen and so on.

I remember those days and then, of course, those were the great years of the Baltimore Colts with Johnny Unitas and Alan Ameche, and all those people in the late '50s. So I was in Baltimore during that period so I became a big Colt fan, and an Oriole fan, and actually got to meet Brookes Robinson, the great third baseman for the Orioles. So it was that type of thing. I was enjoying what I was doing. I finished up my military. I was looking forward to going to college. I was getting some experience in television and having a great time. And also gaining some really good experience. Then, of course, that ended and I left Baltimore to go back to Athens where I picked up my college career.

SMITH: All along here you hadn't mentioned marriage or a wife. I know you have a family, is this an appropriate place to tell us about your family or does this come in later?

DOWDEN: Well, we're getting mighty close because it was at the University of Georgia where I met my wife who was a student there at the same time that I was. I met Wendy, my wife, in 1960. I guess I was a sophomore at the University.

SMITH: Let's get a little on the record about her then at this point.

DOWDEN: Well, absolutely. Wendy is from Miami, Florida. She came to the University of Georgia because her parents didn't think she should go the University of Florida, that was such a party school. So they wouldn't let her go to the University of Florida. Her mother having been there and her father having attended the University of Florida ‑ "Well, we want you to go to some other school." Little did they know that Georgia had a worse reputation as a party school than Florida. Anyway, she was not that much of a party gal, frankly. I did meet her in the second year I was there. She was a Kappa Alpha Theta. While I wasn't in a fraternity, per se, I met her at some sorority function or some fraternity function. We started dating in 1960. I guess that was our sophomore year. Our junior year we came back. During the summer stints I would go back to WMAR in Baltimore and work. So I had the summer job situation that I had worked out with the television station. Every summer she would go back home I guess to Miami, or on trips or whatever she did. I'd go back to work.

By the third year, our junior year, I guess we became pretty serious about this thing. We got married in 1962 in our senior year. I went to the University in '58. In our senior year, we had about a quarter or two left of college and I was going on to graduate school, so we decided that if we were going to be in Athens, we should go ahead and get married. We did that in January of 1962. Finished our schooling. I went on to graduate school, put her to work to help out and so we finished up our graduate year and we've been married ever since. That's 28 years.

We have three delightful children. Our first child was born in July of 1963 and she was born in Athens while we were still in graduate school. Her name is Anna, named for my mother. She lives in Atlanta now and is married. Just married in the past year. She graduated and went to school at Sewanee University, University of the South, after having attended prep school at Choate in Connecticut. Quite a smart gal. She's teaching in a private school, Westminster School, in Atlanta. My second daughter was born in 1965. Her name is Constance Hardie, named for her grandmother. She has just finished her college in Mount Vernon, Washington and is attending the Portfolio School in Atlanta to round out her professional training. She lives in Atlanta. Our third child is a son named John who is a sophomore, second year, at the college of Charleston, South Carolina. So those are our three children ‑ Anna, Hardie, and John.

SMITH: This is a good place to turn the tape over. The red light is flashing.

DOWDEN: Ok, we'll stop right there and pick it up. Right. Thanks.

End of Tape 1, Side A

SMITH: Tom, I think you had just finished identifying your children when I stopped to turn over the tape. You had indicated that you and your wife, Wendy, were married during your senior year at the University of Georgia. Would you review your education at Georgia, the courses you took. I understand that the University of Georgia is highly regarded in the field of education and broadcasting and telecommunications.

DOWDEN: As I mentioned, Strat, when I was in the military I was looking around for an outstanding radio/television/journalism school. The University of Georgia kept popping up as one of the top. The Henry W. Grady School of Journalism has over the last thirty, forty, fifty years been ranked right up at the top with Northwestern, Columbia, the University of Missouri and some of the top journalism schools in the country. It had that reputation mainly in the newspaper era back in the '20s, '30s, newspaper area. As radio and television came along it developed an early curriculum in those two new services and so it was gaining a reputation in the electronic journalism area as well. That really impressed me because that's what I wanted to pursue. I wanted to finish my college career and get some practical broadcast and communications training in at the same time to round off some of the practical training I had had, at WSM and at WMAR.

Another thing that had attracted me to Georgia was the reputation of the dean of the school who was named John E. Drewry. Dean Drewry was a great man in his own right. He had a tremendous reputation among, particularly, the newspaper fraternity in the United States of the '20s and '30s and also in the magazine field. Many of the new magazines that were created in the '20s and '30s--The New Yorker, the American Mercury, and Harper's--all of these magazines had some writers or editors who were graduates of the University of Georgia. This was a credit to Dean Drewry.

In addition to this great reputation, Dean Drewry was quite a character himself. He also was there when they established the Peabody Awards. The University of Georgia and the Journalism School began in 1940 administering these awards. I've always felt--although I never read this and it isn't documented--that this was because of his tremendous reputation in the journalistic and broadcast community of the United States that they chose the University of Georgia and the Journalism School as the repository for these awards.

SMITH: I was going to ask you, Tom--pardon my interruption--if the Peabody Awards had any relationship to Peabody College that you mentioned earlier.

DOWDEN: I don't think so. I'm not sure for whom Peabody College was named. I don't think it was George Foster Peabody who is the man for whom the awards are named. He was an industrialist, an early entrepreneur. He was from Georgia. He was a great benefactor of the University of Georgia. Although it sounds like a very northeast Yankee name, this George Foster Peabody was actually from Columbus, Georgia and apparently left quite a bit of money to the University. One of the areas that he was interested in was this whole area of radio/television programming excellence. He got his name attached to that. So I don't believe there was any connection. I'm not sure who the Peabody in Nashville was named for. Could have been the Coal people. Peabody Coal or something like that.

At any rate, I heard about the University of Georgia and I went there and visited, and I liked the college. I liked Athens where it's located ‑ 60 miles northeast of Atlanta. I just liked the atmosphere. I was there, I must say, at a very historic time. It was during the late '50s and early '60s, when the integration problem was hitting the South. Of course, you would remember being an attorney and being a businessman and so on in that era that there was a lot of publicity the way the University of Alabama handled it. The way George Wallace handled it. It was a very traumatic era for the South. That was, of course, during the time of the freedom marches and a lot of the integration and segregation policies were breaking down during that period, the late '50s and early '60s. The University of Georgia--I was there when it was "integrated"--and the University handled, and the State of Georgia handled it--probably better than any other state or institution in the South. We were there during that period, so that added a lot of interesting history and sidelight to my college career, needless to say.

With respect to the University itself, and the class work, they emphasize a general liberal education and the last two years you would specialize in the area in the journalism field that you had chosen. They had different sequences ‑ radio/television, advertising, public relations, newspaper and editorial. They had the four basic disciplines within the journalism school. Of course I singled out radio/television to be my sequence; so I finished that part of my education in 1962. Again, as I said, I was working in the summers back at WMAR TV so I was building up good experience in that regard while getting my undergraduate degree.

SMITH: What would they have been teaching you in the radio/television field that you hadn't already accumulated by experience?

DOWDEN: Well, in terms of the mechanical training, i.e. directing, actual camera work, actual producing/ directing of shows, I was pretty far along versus my other classmates because I had had some experience at WMAR, particularly. I think it was more in the area of the well-rounded education that you were getting. In other words the broader picture of getting some business courses behind you, getting some production philosophy and production techniques behind you, news writing-- the professional way to approach news writing. Research. All of those when you started concentrating on your major in the last two years certainly went a great deal farther than I had been able to do just out working on my own. When I combined those two I felt I was really quite well prepared when I finished my undergraduate work. I wasn't ready to stop there. I wanted to go ahead and get my masters degree which I applied for in the School of Political Science and History and was accepted there as a teaching fellow.

SMITH: Why political science?

DOWDEN: I just felt I was interested in mainly the news editorial side of radio and television more than the mechanical, more than the actual production side.

SMITH: It was not a diversion from your interest in radio and television?

DOWDEN: Not at all. I felt it was going to enhance it. I was really quite interested in political broadcasting and some areas like that. I felt, in fact I wrote my thesis on the subject of Congress and the control of political broadcasting ‑ specifically on Section 315 of the Communications Act of 1934. At that time in my senior year, going into my graduate work, I was beginning to concentrate on more defined areas. I wasn't quite sure how that was all going to come together in terms of my career. I felt I needed that type of background to move into management or to move into news editorial position, editor ‑ whatever the areas that were beginning to fascinate me. I thought I needed that. So when they offered me this teaching fellowship which meant that I would teach a course in political science at the same time working toward my graduate degree, that was very appealing to me. My wife had graduated and she was now working and so we went on for one more year. Essentially that is what happened.

Before that, I must say, in the summer of 1962, another thing happened that really sort of changed my career direction. That was that I had been accepted as the first recipient of the Corinthian Summer Scholarship given by Corinthian Broadcasting. They were administering it through the University and through the National Association of Broadcasters. A man named Dr. Harold Niven chose the University of Georgia as the first recipient of this summer scholarship. You remember the firm, Corinthian Broadcasting.

SMITH: I do. And Wrede Petersmeyer? Did you know Wrede?

DOWDEN: I did know Wrede, quite well. Chuck Tower.

SMITH: Wrede was a cable pioneer too.

DOWDEN: He really was in West Virginia.

SMITH: Right back in the early days.

DOWDEN: He got out early. They sold the systems I remember he was telling me that story. Chuck Tower was another person that was with ... you remember him.

SMITH: Yes, I do.

DOWDEN: He was on several national boards. Anyway, I was given this scholarship in the summer of 1962. I had a new bride and this scholarship. They sent me to Houston, Texas to their station there. The CBS affiliate in Houston. We went out to Houston and thoroughly enjoyed it. Knowing that I was coming back in my graduate year to have this teaching fellowship and then I had this Corinthian stipend. It wasn't very much as I remember, $400 or $500--that was a lot of money to help me finish my graduate degree.

I really rounded out a lot of my academic training and learning and so on and so forth with this summer of interning in news and production. I sat in with Jim Richdale who was the general manager who reported to Wrede Petersmeyer. So I spent the time with Richdale in the news area and the remote area and so on. I made some nice contacts at Corinthian. Then I went back to the University in the fall of '62 to finish my last year in my master's thesis which as I said was going to be on the subject of political broadcasting. So I found the fall to be quite interesting. That was the time of the Cuban crisis. The blockade of Cuba and here I found myself teaching a basic political science course to 50 or 60 young students and we're talking about the Monroe Doctrine and we're talking about this and that and here down in Cuba we're under a war alert. It was quite an interesting fall. I do remember that. I thoroughly enjoyed the teaching aspect for the three quarters. While I was teaching it gave me enough time to do my research in this area of Section 315. I researched the early federal radio laws and the history of the 1934 Act and so on. I had a lot of time to do that and also to teach and finish up my academic career. That's what I was doing in the fall of '62 to '63.

DOWDEN: I had finished my undergraduate work and I had finished my graduate degree. I had written my thesis. It had been approved. I got my masters, my M.A. in Political Science.

SMITH: Now you were ready to take your bride and get started.

DOWDEN: Get started. That's right.

SMITH: Where did you go?

DOWDEN: Well, we went back to Houston.

SMITH: Back to Houston?

DOWDEN: Yes. I asked the people at Corinthian if they liked me well enough the year before to give me a scholarship to go down there, did they like me well enough to give me a permanent job? The answer came back yes. So they offered me a position in their advertising and local sales which was what I wanted to do to round out my career. So in June of 1963 we went to Houston and that started almost a two year career with Corinthian. Thoroughly enjoyed it. Gave me an aspect of the business I hadn't seen before, i.e., calling on advertising agencies. Working with advertising accounts. Learning that aspect of the television business. Gave me a great appreciation for the business side of things. Worked with some really fine people in advertising. Still had friends there from the year before.

In fact, one person I had gotten to know through the program director and had liked was a man named Dan Rather. He's of course, now the CBS anchor. He came from KHOU in Houston. Dan's career was very interesting as a little sidelight. He was a newsman at KHOU when we went out there for our summer scholarship. He was still there but he was working as a stringer for CBS or as the southwest correspondent, I can't remember which. He had made his mark earlier that year in a story that unfolded down on the Gulf Coast. That was Hurricane Carla which was this gigantic hurricane that came ashore at Galveston in 1962, I'm going to say, Strat. It could have been late '61, but in that time frame ‑ '61, '62. Dan did such a superb job of covering that storm, in fact made his way down to Galveston, was holed up in the Weather Bureau, five story Weather Bureau office building down there, which was about the only structure that was left standing, as I remember. Literally kept broadcasting for like 36 hours or something on the air. The only feed, reports, coming out of this storm ravaged area where there were hundreds and hundreds of deaths, was from Dan.

The people in New York at CBS caught sight of him because of the job he did, and so he was given a promotion or was hired by CBS to be their regional correspondent. Occasionally I'll see Dan, like I saw him last year at the Democratic Convention in Atlanta and we reminisced about some of those early things. His career, of course, has been meteoric and he's done such a good job, I think. At any rate, he was one person whom I met at that time and worked with during that time frame. When I went back in a full time capacity it was mainly in the area of advertising and local sales, as I said. We were there from 1963.

I must tell you a little sideline. John Kennedy on his trip to Texas came through Houston the night before. He was in Houston on a Thursday night. He was at the Houston Civic Center the night before. Our station, of course, covered it and so on. He went from there to San Antonio that evening and spent the night in San Antonio and then on the next day which was a Friday, November 22nd, 1963, he left San Antonio and went to Fort Worth and rode the motorcade. Just to paint the next episode of Dan Rather ‑ Dan was the only CBS reporter in the press entourage that was covering his trip to Texas. He again was "Johnny on the spot" and provided all of the local live coverage from the assassination scene in Dallas.

SMITH: That part of Rather's career I did not know.

DOWDEN: He was a CBS southwest correspondent and was on the scene in the bus just behind the motorcade. He was the person who Walter Cronkite talked to on the scene. That was his second big "break." He handled it well and was promoted then when Lyndon Johnson went in, being a Texan, he was promoted to the White House.

SMITH: That's sort of a case of being in the wrong place at the right time, wasn't it?

DOWDEN: That's right. Both places ‑ the hurricane and the assassination. Talk about remembering. I was at the television station that Friday when the news came in, when Walter Cronkite broke in. Of course, we were the CBS station. I think what people remember about the Kennedy assassination was the emotional description that Walter Cronkite gave that day. We were then the CBS affiliate. I remember something interesting about that and this is probably not important in terms of oral history, but it always intrigued me or puzzled me why it happened. I remember that day at the television station on that Friday when Cronkite broke into, if I remember, the show was a soap opera called "As the World Turns." It was about Houston time, Texas time, 12 or 12:15, something like that. The show was just getting underway and Cronkite came in from New York and said there's been a bulletin that the President has been shot. I remember the switchboard lighting up and these women, mainly women, who were watching these soap operas were screaming at the switchboard operator, "Where's our soap opera," "We don't care about that." In fact, it was so bizarre that the switchboard operator just broke down.

I never will forget the program manager named Cal Jones. He still lives in Houston. He's a great man. He got on the switchboard and for the next twenty minutes when anybody called they got an earful. Nothing was ever said. He ran the switchboard because this woman couldn't stand it. She was just emotionally distraught. That was a little something that I remember on that. I remember going home that evening. That was the strangest, eeriest thing I have ever been through. It was a beautiful Friday evening ‑ a big cold front had moved through. It was fall, of course, but it was like a beautiful sunset and this front had moved through. Going to my apartment, I'll never forget ‑ everybody was driving about 10 miles or 15 miles an hour, very slowly moving along these big expressways in Houston. There was just this pall over the city. It was the eeriest thing.

The next day I remember we had a trip scheduled to go down to San Antonio to visit a young friend of ours who was in the military there who was from Atlanta whose name was Jim Reinsch ‑ the son of Leonard Reinsch. We had been friends at the University. We had gone down to visit Jim in San Antonio. It was the next day that we were getting ready to go to lunch and we were in his room getting ready to go downstairs when the next episode happened. Jack Ruby shot Lee Harvey Oswald. It was unreal. It was just the whole weekend. I remember it so vividly. It was very unreal. I imagine you had your own thoughts about that period too.

SMITH: It was unreal all over the country.

DOWDEN: It was like Barry Sherman was saying today about the real time. A&E showed that three days of the Kennedy assassination that was on television. But being in Texas and his being in Houston the day before had a little more immediacy to it or something. Then I guess the behavior of a lot of the people. He wasn't generally liked in Texas and so we sort of fought that. I liked him. I voted for him and he was quite an inspirational person for someone being in their mid-'20s as we were and coming along. Then that really was a change. That started the '60s and the '70s.

SMITH: Yes, it did. It's important when there's an opportunity for somebody who experienced that firsthand to speak. I think it's good to have it on the record. You were there at Corinthian in Houston for two years you said.

DOWDEN: Right. I was there and after about a year I figured I learned about all I could learn about local sales and there didn't seem to be an opening forthcoming in terms of local sales manager or national sales or national sales manager. I must say I was getting a little restless. We weren't that keen on being in Houston. We really wanted to get back to the southeast quite frankly. Our friends from college ‑ a lot of them were in Atlanta. My wife was from Florida. I was from Tennessee. We were a little bit out of pocket then in Texas. We really had a desire to get back to Atlanta. Let me tell you how that came about.

In the fall of 1964, I'm going to say it was about October, I had a trip scheduled back to Atlanta and on over to Athens to either attend some sort of seminar or to see one of my professors or to I forgot the purpose of it, quite frankly, Strat. I was going back to Athens where the University was that particular fall weekend. I never will forget--I learned that there was a football game in Atlanta between Tennessee and Georgia Tech that was of some interest to me. I took the liberty of calling J. Leonard Reinsch whom I had met and who I had known through friendship with his son. I had taken the liberty of calling him to see if he could possibly help me with a couple of football tickets. So his secretary, Anna Mae Busky, who later when I went to Cox, she always befriended me and was a really fine lady. She told me that they indeed had two tickets and she told me how to go about coming by the White Columns on Peachtree where WSB Radio and Television/Cox Broadcasting is located to pick them up. I went to Atlanta and I believe it was a Friday afternoon that I went by White Columns just to pick up the tickets. When I got there Leonard was there. He proceeded to bring me in his office and we talked for a long time. He began to tell me about this new activity that the company had gotten into called cable television.

SMITH: Was that your first exposure?

DOWDEN: First exposure.

SMITH: Fascinating.

DOWDEN: Right there in his office that Friday. Well the long and short of it is that I didn't go to Athens. He asked me to come to his home for dinner that night and talk more about this. "In fact, if you're interested, we're looking to hire some people and we're going to expand our staff. You don't need to be in Texas, you ought to be back here." He was saying all the right things. He said, "If you are interested, then what I'll do tonight," and if you remember Leonard, he was a very aggressive and very firm in what he wanted done. "You come on, I'll call Mark Bartlett tomorrow morning (which was a Saturday) to talk to you and we could just wrap this thing up and you can go back and give him notice." Hell, this is moving pretty fast.

So that evening I did go to Leonard's home and we visited. Their son was still in San Antonio. We talked about that and we talked about the Kennedy situation because Leonard had come out to Houston right after the assassination. After the funeral in Washington ‑ Leonard had come to Houston to visit with his son and to have Thanksgiving dinner. My wife and I were involved in their dinner plans. He described his role in the whole "production" or the whole three days of television coverage. Of course, he was John Kennedy's communications advisor. He was handling all of the coordination, liaison, between the networks and the family and the White House. It was very fascinating to hear Leonard's firsthand account of what happened. Some of the things that he said to me I still remember. They would be kind of an oral history unto themselves if you could have Leonard describe those three days in Washington from his perspective.

SMITH: I'm very sad that it appears we're not going to be able to get one. I started to try to make contacts with him several months ago and he did return one telephone call at a time I wasn't available. I've never been able to put it back together again, but you tell me he's quite ill.

DOWDEN: He's infirm. I won't say he's ill. He is on some medicine. He's had some heart problems, but I think more importantly, the last time I understood his wife was seriously ill. We honored him in April or May ‑ I've forgotten when the NAB convention was in Atlanta (it was early April), we gave Leonard an individual Peabody Award for individual achievement. He was not able to accept it even though he was right there in Atlanta. His doctor had advised him not to go to a function of that sort. It would be too strenuous and the excitement and this and that.

I know his heart function is such that he can't do a lot of travel or things that require a lot of energy. I had talked to him on the phone a couple of times in the last couple of months since this happened because I was somewhat the sponsor of this award in my capacity on the Peabody board. He knew this was in the works. I've talked to him on a couple of occasions. Whether he would be amenable to sitting down and doing something like this, possibly in his home, I don't know. He might be. Whether he would be able to travel, I don't think he would be, I would guess.

SMITH: If he'd feel up to it, obviously, I would be down there in a minute because he is a very, very important man in the history of not only cable but broadcasting. You mentioned his being advisor to John F. Kennedy, and he was to Lyndon Johnson too.

DOWDEN: That's right. And he goes back to Truman. He was advisor to President Truman.

SMITH: I didn't realize he went back that far.

DOWDEN: Yes. Old Governor Cox of Ohio got Leonard that position back in the '40s. He worked in the administration of Truman in '48. To me he is one of the great pioneers of both. He's been given the National Broadcaster's Association award, distinguished service award, and I don't know what else he has received. He's received all that. I always thought he was a great man because of the way he had this vision for cable television. He was so certain about its future that he persuaded the Cox family and the Cox organization to get into that business, as well as maintaining the broadcasting side. He didn't see anything incompatible about that whereas a lot of people did, like Wrede Petersmeyer later. They were the champions of the AMST approach.

SMITH: Oh yes.

DOWDEN: Taft and all of these status quo type broadcasters. Leonard was never that way.

SMITH: Wrede was in cable before he was in broadcasting. When he made the switch he made it all the way.

DOWDEN: They were really the lead horse so to speak in the AMST group.

SMITH: Well, I've got you all the way to Cox which is the beginning of cable and the red light is flashing. I'll have to change another tape.

End of Tape 1, Side B

SMITH: This is Tape 2, Side A of the oral history interview with Thomas C. DOWDEN:. It's taking place in the Oral History Room of The National Cable Television Center and Museum at Penn State. Tom, we had digressed a little bit in our discussion to talk about J. Leonard Reinsch, a very early pioneer in the industry. Now let's get back to your own career. We had reached the point where you had met Mr. Reinsch and he invited you to dinner where he practically hired you without your getting a chance to say yes or no. Would you like to go on from there?

DOWDEN: Well, I recall that had been a very interesting evening. One of those type things that you will always remember because it changed your whole career and your whole destiny. Leonard really gave me a sales pitch that night, needless to say, in October 1964, about the need to come into this new field of cable television. He allowed as how Corinthian Broadcasting was a privately held company and they didn't seem to be going anywhere and that Cox had just gone public, had public stockholders. We've got to show growth and we need new young people coming along and this and that. So it sounded very exciting. Of course, my wife and I had already talked about our interest in coming back to the southeast and to Atlanta, particularly. So this was tailor-made for me. Of course, when I called her she was quite excited. I didn't have the job yet. This was just talk and Leonard was handling it as he usually handled things as you know ‑ well, we'll worry about the details later. He said this is what we're going to do. He said I do want you to go in and talk to Mark Bartlett whom I had never met. I had known his name and all. I knew he was one of the senior executives at Cox Broadcasting. In fact, Mark was the person who Leonard had put in charge of the cablevision effort ‑ Cox Cablevision was what it was called in 1964. It consisted of I'm going to say, approximately 20,000 cable subscribers centered nearby here at State College. They were in Tyrone, Lewistown and Lock Haven, Pennsylvania. The other complex that Cox Cablevision had was in Astoria, Oregon and The Dalles and some of the small remote areas of Oregon and Washington.

SMITH: Where Lou Davenport was.

DOWDEN: Exactly right. That's where Lou was the manager. Lou was the manager in the Pacific northwest of Cox Cablevision systems and Bill Vogel was the manager in Pennsylvania. If I recall, Bill was a graduate of Penn State and was very closely involved with this University. That was the extent of the cable holdings with the possible exception of a 50% interest that Cox held in the Findlay, Ohio cable franchise or cable system along with a new and upcoming company called Continental Cablevision and a young man named Bud Hostetter. I remember meeting him very early in my career. Anyway, Mark was in charge of Cox's effort and his assignment was to get the company involved in more ownership of cable of the classical type at that time. You know the type cable system where communities required cable to get reception and of course, Lewistown and Lock Haven and Tyrone, pretty much those kind of communities where without cable they hardly had any television.

SMITH: They were classic community antenna systems.

DOWDEN: At any rate, back to the story, Leonard called Mark at home and asked if he would mind meeting with me, Saturday morning and he gave Mark a little bit of my background ‑ where I had worked, that I had been with Corinthian and I wanted to get back to Atlanta, that I showed some interest in cable television and that he thought he should talk to me. So the next morning I went to White Columns on Peachtree, the home office of Cox Broadcasting and met this senior executive and before the end of the interview he had offered me a job, a position to come with Cox Cablevision on January 1, which was like a month later or six weeks later or whatever the time was. I forgot the exact timing, but it was at the end of the year ‑ January 1, 1965 and I accepted because I had talked to my wife the night before and told her what was happening and she said well if that's what you want to do, we'll go back because we've talked about it. So that was it. One thing I remember is that I took about a $5000 cut in salary to go into the cable TV business.

SMITH: Is that right?

DOWDEN: Because I was an account executive and I was working on a salary plus commission and I had been doing pretty well at KHOU in Houston and so, of course, there was no commission involved in the Cox offers. I came to work January 1. First I had to go back to Houston and give my notice and explain what I was doing and why I wanted to head off into this new career. I must admit I knew very little about cable other than what I had read in "Broadcasting." I had no exposure to a cable system, per se. I don't even think Athens was wired for cable when I was there in the late '50s and early '60s. So I didn't know very much about it. Of course, there was no cable in Houston and so I was really going into a real unknown situation pretty much on the strength of what Leonard was telling me. Also on the strength of wanting to get with a good solid moving company like Cox Broadcasting and Cox Cable.

So January 1, 1965, we showed up in Atlanta, actually we showed up before that, found ourselves an apartment. By this time we had about a one year, one and a half year old daughter, so we arrived in Atlanta with a new job, with new prospects and really excited about this whole thing.

My title was quite interesting. I didn't have a title per se. I was going to come in as a special representative which meant essentially that I was a franchise scrounger. So we couldn't figure out exactly what my title was going to be other than I was going to be working under Mark's direction. A person who was the general manager, as they called them in those days, of Cox Cablevision was a man named John Campbell. John Campbell was the person I would report to in this new position. It was pretty much understood that I would be working to look for new franchise opportunities; to set up new liaisons and partnerships with people that the company decided they would go into business with. For example, the Cleveland Plain Dealer. We had an agreement with on applying for franchises in the Cleveland area ‑ particularly Lakewood where we ended up building a cable system. The Toledo Blade where we also had an understanding. Sacramento Bee. We had an understanding with the McClatchey newspaper chain there. With the Perry people in Florida. We had discussions. If we didn't have a formal agreement at least we agreed to agree going for franchises in Daytona Beach in that area. We even had discussions with the Baltimore Sun, I remember, in terms of Baltimore.

So the whole thrust, and this was again, Leonard, the whole thrust of the company was to go into business with the established media company, mainly newspapers. We would bring the expertise from the standpoint of the cable business and they would bring the local clout, if you will, and involvement, and so on, to help us get the franchise. Our main thrust even in 1965 was the franchise route. At the same time looking for acquisitions. It was soon after that, I was there in 1965, if I'm not mistaken that Cox bought into the San Diego system. They bought 16% of the San Diego cable system from Lee Druckman and Hank Goldstein who were the principals and Dick Laventhol, I believe was the other principal in that San Diego operation.

SMITH: I remember Lee and Hank.

DOWDEN: The other one I think is Dick Laventhol, was the third one.

SMITH: I don't think I knew him.

DOWDEN: I didn't know him as well as Hank and Lee. Soon after I was there and I didn't work on that particular project because all that was was a purchase for Cox stock. If I remember, there was no cash involved. It was a transfer for 150,000 shares of Cox stock if I remember for this position and I believe it was 16‑17% ownership of the cable system. Of course, later they bought the cable system. They bought 100% of the system but that was a couple of years later, I believe.

I was traveling from Florida to Ohio to various places. I worked on the Ocala, Florida acquisition that we made. And so that was kind of the thrust of what my work was until the 1970s, we weren't gaining a lot. They were gaining more through acquisitions than we were through franchising because frankly the franchising game was still pretty well a hit and miss thing in the mid-'60s because of the uncertainty. A lot of the thrust in those days, Strat, as you remember as well as anyone, was the political situation. What's the FCC going to do to lift these restrictions on cable. So there was a lot of time spent on trying to analyze new reports and orders or their legal impact on the industry. I was brand new and of course, you had been fighting the battles out on the front line with all of these early problems ... trying to free the industry up. I was just coming into the fray at that time and really didn't have that much grasp or grounding in what was going on, but I learned quickly. I know by 1968 when they froze our industry, it sure had a specific impact.

SMITH: By "they" you mean the FCC?

DOWDEN: Yes, when the FCC froze the cable industry and were trying to decide on a set of rules. This is when things really came to very much a screeching halt. I would think most cable companies, but I know it sure did at Cox Cablevision in terms of activity other than for the people who were out in the field ‑ the Lou Davenports and so on who were out running the systems--corporate and staff activity was very much diminished.

SMITH: Nationwide.

DOWDEN: It affected activity, nationwide. So it became a practical sort of thing ... they had built up a small staff by this time ‑ Henry Harris who later was to become my boss at Cox Cable was now in and he was vice president of finance. They had hired Doug Talbot who was the chief engineer. Dick Hickman who was under Doug as an engineer. I was in the franchising area. By this time, John Campbell, by 1968, John Campbell was gone and Doug Talbot was the general manager of Cox Cablevision. That was prior to the company going public. I think once it went public, Doug was the general manager, Henry was still the business manager. Then after a couple of years and after the freeze was over and we got the Sixth Report and Order? Was that in 1971, '72?

SMITH: That would be the Second Report and Order. The Sixth Report and Order was the television allocation proceeding.

DOWDEN: That's right. That was on the television allocation. Ours was the Second Report and Order in 1971 or '72 if I remember. Then things started opening up again. But it was during that period I even questioned whether I wanted to stay in the business or not. And in fact, Mark Bartlett, who was our big boss at Cox came to each of us individually and said, "Here's an opportunity now. Things are not happening very much here in the cable side. If you'd like to consider other areas of activity within the company we'd be happy to set up interviews or let you go to these various divisions or TV stations or whatever for interviews."

In fact, Henry and I both had interviews along those lines. I went to New York to interview with the publications division of Cox. RAI, I think it was called, well they had several publications, I can't remember all of them. One was called Retirement Advisor's Inc. (RAI) which was a publication for retired people and it was more in the print area than the publication area. They also had some technical journals and publications as I remember based out on Long Island. I went to New York and interviewed some of the principals of their printing division with the thought of maybe seeing what was available there. That's how desperate it was in the cable side. Henry Harris, I remember, went to Pittsburgh and interviewed with Cox's television station in Pittsburgh, WIIC. Can't remember what the others did, but I know it was a very, very quiet time, sort of depressing time, frankly, to be in the business.

I always thought that Cox handled that very well with its employees, by making these other opportunities available, but by not closing the division down entirely. By continuing at least a skeletal home office staff. What I did really, I must say during that period to occupy my time which was a real problem having enough substantial things to do, to keep one's moral up and to keep one's interest, was that I got into the speech writing business. I wrote a lot of speeches during that period for both Mark and for Leonard. In fact, I would say during 1968 to '71, all the major speeches that Leonard gave that pertained to technology or to cable television I had some hand in during that period. I have all the copies.

SMITH: That was going to be my next question. Any chance of our getting hold of copies of those.

DOWDEN: Well, yeah. I've written a couple or three and I'm really quite proud of it when I think back on some of the things that we were predicting and some of the things that I was saying for Leonard and Leonard of course was the one who was saying them. A lot of the research and all that went into them. I remember he gave a speech at Georgia Tech on advancing technologies. This was about 1969, 1970. We hit on this very thing that we were talking about earlier about what the future looked like. Of course, Leonard had been touting this for ten or fifteen years.

By that time there was a lot of blue sky going on. A lot of speculation as to what cable can do and this whole business of wired nation and this whole business of a closed circuit transfer of information of data and so on and two way communication. There was a lot of talk about that in the early '70s. A lot of it was generated by the cable industry and by the NCTA and so on to kind of justify what cable has the capability of doing. Trying to get somebody to listen to what kind of medium they were holding down.

SMITH: A lot of it generated by those two men whose pictures are on the wall.

DOWDEN: That's exactly right. Particularly the one on the left.

SMITH: Irving Kahn and Bill Daniels.

DOWDEN: That's exactly right. I was in the speech writing business and they stuck with us and then, of course, during this period I will say that the other thing that happened was that I was literally on loan to the NCTA That was the other area of activity that I worked on. There were three or four others. This is one of the things, Strat, that I guess I'm most proud of in my cable career, is that I spent a bulk of 1969 in Washington ‑ week after week after week. In fact, it was the year my son was born. I wasn't home very much when my wife was pregnant with him and later after he was born, because I was in Washington lobbying, working with the NCTA There were three or four of us "on loan" ‑ I think ATC had one person who came in from Missouri and there was one person from Illinois that I think TelePrompTer or one of the other big companies had. I was from Cox. There seem to have been four of us but we used to work with Bruce Lovett and the staff there and the coordination of lobbying efforts on the Hill before Torby McDonald's house sub‑committee on communications. It was in that '68, '69 period that the House Committee on Telecommunications was preparing to hold hearings on the cable matter.

SMITH: Bruce Lovett, for the record, was general counsel for the NCTA at the time. Tom, when you remember the names of the other men who were working with you, in that group, we'd like to get them on the record.

DOWDEN: I will remember at the time I get the written record. I think one of them was Tom (from Missouri). I will remember it and we'll insert that. We were literally on loan and so while the companies were paying our salaries, we were literally working week after week on lobbying activity. In fact, I guess a little bit now, I'm going to get into a little bragging on this. I guess I was one of the three founders of the Cable Television Political Action Committee. Marty Malarkey, Chuck Walsh, and I had the original meetings and discussed this. I'm sure we were getting advice or we were getting encouragement from either the NCTA or other companies. We were doing the leg work. We had been working most of that year, lobbying the National Education Association; lobbying different groups, working with Congressmen, getting to know the members of the sub‑committee on communications, extolling the virtues of cable, free us up, free us up. Let the marketplace be the judge. We really had our lobbying shoes on and we really were pretty good at it, if I remember.

One of the things we did though, we knew we needed a little more political clout. We had good grass roots clout in that we could turn people out to come to Washington to lobby or to appear before the hearings or to meet with the National Education Association people who were very anti‑cable.

SMITH: Yes, they were. I remember.

DOWDEN: I remember that well. We worked on them hard. I remember in June of 1969 one of the things we did with this new political action committee was hold a reception at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco. It was the first function of the Cable PAC. You may have been there, Strat.

SMITH: I think I was.

DOWDEN: We had Toby McDonald and we had several Congressmen come there. I was out there about a week ahead of the convention, helping to organize that. Was there during the whole thing. I remember that was one of the first things that we did in a political action way. It was during 1969 that we worked on the Hill and worked with these various congressmen. I got to know quite a few of the congressmen I worked with, at the direction of the board and the legislative committee of the NCTA to interview lobbyists. I remember I was in a party of three or four people that went to New York to interview former Congressman Eugene Kehoe who was the congressman from Brooklyn and who was a lobbyist after he retired as a congressman. I remember we retained him to work with us because of his association with some of the members of the House Communications sub‑committee. That's how lobbying obviously operates. I remember we got pretty good at that. The result was that they held the hearings. We had a lot of favorable testimony for cable. We even brought the NEA back around to where they said, "You should free cable, but give us 20% of the channels." You remember that?


DOWDEN: Ok. At least they said yes it should be free but by the way, if you free it, give us 20% of the channels. At any rate, we had that whole lobbying campaign again. I wasn't at the decision making level but I was at the worker-bee level seeing a lot of that work that took place in Washington, during 1969.

SMITH: Do you remember the designations of the Senate bills and House bills that you were working on at the time?

DOWDEN: I could remember the one under the House sub‑committee on communication at Toby McDonald. I don't remember it offhand, but I've got material in my files that I can get.

SMITH: We can get it for the record sooner or later.

DOWDEN: Because that was the cornerstone bill that led to the eventual 1972 Act that we received from the FCC. Well, I'm not sure if there was a bill passed in conjunction with the Second Report and Order, do you remember that?

SMITH: No, there was not.

DOWDEN: Ok. Then it was probably the hearing or the testimony that led eventually to the law that we got. Those were the first hearings, formal hearings as I remember that were held on the issue of freeing cable television. Freeing CATV.

SMITH: This was after, during the period that the FCC had the industry frozen.

DOWDEN: That's right.

SMITH: There were hearings earlier on television in small communities, CATV and translators, and boosters. That was back in the 1960s. I only interrupt to put this on the record so that we will distinguish it from the legislation that you were battling, Tom.

DOWDEN: Frankly, I'd have to look at my files to see what the outcome was. I don't remember what the outcome was. I do remember, vividly, sitting in on the hearings and I remember a congressman from Rhode Island, Bob ‑ Do you remember his name?

SMITH: I was thinking of the Senator from Rhode Island, Pastore. That was in connection with S.2653.

DOWDEN: That was over on the Senate Commerce Committee side. Well, I can't recall his name, but he was a champion of cable and he stood up for our industry. I never will forget that there was no particular reason for him to do it. Nobody had promised him any particular campaign contribution and there was no one particularly in his state that was strong in terms of cable. Bob Tiernan, remember that name?

SMITH: Yes, I remember that name. Yes, I do.

DOWDEN: Bob Tiernan was an early champion of cable television in the late '60s, early '70s during the freeze period of freeing up cable. Let's see what it can do was his position. Who's afraid of competition? I remember he really blasted the president of NEA who came into the hearings at the time and said, "Oh yes, free it up and make sure we get 20%." Tiernan just jumped all over him. The Congressional Record, if you go back and read that testimony and you would verify that because that stood out in my mind. He was pretty courageous I always thought.

SMITH: Did you present any testimony yourself, Tom?

DOWDEN: No, the whole purpose of it was in addition to the, if I remember the NCTA had a position, the whole thrust was to bring in mayors and people from the grass root levels. We brought in a mayor from New Mexico who talked about what great benefits it would be for the community if they had cable. The jobs it would create and all this. We were just struggling to get somebody to say hey this is a legitimate business. No one was testifying too much on what cable had done or anything. They're just saying this is what it can do. It can free up some of the spectrum space. It can provide jobs in the community. It brings revenue to the community through the franchising fee. They were the simple basic arguments to get cable rolling. Most of the testimony was by people who we brought in and sort of orchestrated through the NCTA to appear before the sub‑committee. Again, Toby McDonald, I remember was the chairman and Lionel Van Deerlin was on the committee and I believe later became the chairman. Toby McDonald either died or became ill.

SMITH: I think Van Deerlin did take the committee over.

DOWDEN: That was during that era. That was late '60s, right at the dawning of the '70s, which of course, when everything started turning favorable toward cable. Back to Cox Cable. We had taken the company public and I never have understood this and I should ask Cliff Courtland or someone one day-- Cliff is a friend of mine--he was the chief financial officer at the time of Cox Broadcasting. In 1968 the decision was made to take 20% of the cable company public. In 1968, 20% of the stock was made available to the public. Cox Broadcasting owned 80%. We had a publicly traded stock in 1968. I was the first secretary of the company. Henry was a vice president and Doug Talbot, I believe, was the general manager of the company. He was the first vice president and general manager. Henry was a business manager. I was the secretary. Hank Goldstein was the vice president also. That was the first officer corps f Cox Cable Communications. That was the first time we used that name. Leonard named it. It was no longer Cox Cablevision. Cox Cable Communications.

SMITH: And Goldstein came over from the San Diego operation.

DOWDEN: He literally stayed in San Diego but he was an officer of the company. So the lineup was Henry, Hank, Doug Talbot, myself, and later I believe we brought in John Gwin. I believe John Gwin. Then even much later was Lou Davenport. He came into the home office as well as Bill Pitney. That was kind of a cadre group. When I edit this, I'll get my dates right. It was 1968 when we took that company public. I think it was 1968 because I've often wondered why, given the freeze and given the lack of growth that was evident by the freeze, why it was a prudent thing to do.

SMITH: It really doesn't sound like a good time to go public.

DOWDEN: At any rate, I've always wondered what would have happened if I had abandoned cable at that point because of this down turn in the fortunes of the industry. Because of it going into the deep freeze. I didn't and it was mainly because the senior executives at Cox were anxious to see that those people who had been there working to build this company stayed with them. I always thought that was a pretty good trait on their part. It turned out, of course, we were there when the great growth took place in the early '70s and on after the mid-'70s. So it came back many times over for them.

SMITH: Let's go back for a minute or for a few minutes to the period when you were an active franchiser. Do you recall any particular experiences that were interesting, appearing before local bodies competitively for franchises?

DOWDEN: Oh absolutely. Well, let me just tell you first some of those that I worked on during my career, late '60s and early '70s. During that period I was the front line representative of the company on franchises that were awarded in the Virginia Beach/Norfolk--the tidewater area, we called it, Roanoke, Virginia; Spokane, Washington; Davenport, Iowa; Moline, Illinois; Saginaw, Michigan; the Providence area, Rhode Island where we had to appear before the Public Utilities Commission.

SMITH: I was in that one too.

DOWDEN: Archie SMITH: was the chairman.

SMITH: The company was with, Ben Conroy, CPI, was an applicant in Providence and I was their attorney ‑ Ben and I did that one.

DOWDEN: Is that for Providence itself?

SMITH: Yes, and they broke it up as you know.

DOWDEN: We ended up applicant for Cranston and East Johnston, I think which they eventually got. I guess all of the projects were different and were very interesting, like in the tidewater area of Virginia, I literally had 73 local partners. I had like 20 partners in Norfolk and about the same number in Virginia Beach and at any one time, of course, I didn't deal with all of them day by day, but that's how many formed the local companies to go with Cox to secure the franchise.

SMITH: Would you organize those local groups?

DOWDEN: I would organize them. Sometimes I would generate the contact. Sometimes it would come from up above. Leonard or Mark or Cliff or somebody would say there's somebody here who wants you to call. They've contacted us. They want somebody to look into what's involved in getting the cable franchise in Davenport or whatever. Sometime in the case of Spokane, Washington I generated that myself through one friendship I had in the industry. I had a close friend in the industry at the time, unfortunately the man is now dead, but you may remember Sam Haddock.

SMITH: Oh, Sam Haddock.

DOWDEN: He was a great fellow. I loved the man. Sam and I were good friends and he was older than me but we always hit it off. I used to see him at the national conventions or Washington.

SMITH: Sam used to go to all of them.

DOWDEN: He would come in and bring his beautiful wife. At any rate, Sam and I had talked about Spokane. That's going to be a good market one day, he kept telling me. Of course, back when it was just three, one and one, it didn't look very good. Because they had three local TV stations and you couldn't bring anything in so far out in the boondocks, in eastern Washington.

SMITH: Microwave really hadn't gotten there.

DOWDEN: He really believed in it and so I started working with him to put together a local group. We put together the finest group of local people, people who were really pillars of the community and just really fine people along the lines of Sam. Sam lived not too far away in Moscow, Idaho. That's where he owned a cable system. He owned the Moscow, Idaho, and Pullman, Washington systems.

SMITH: Side by side across the state border.

DOWDEN: He was very sensitive to wanting to do the right thing and wanting this to be a very high type project which it was. Anyway, we went in with them in Spokane and that was one of the fun projects that I remember when working with Cox. We were successful. We had three or four companies in competition by the time it got down to application stage. We had ATC and some of the really heavy, the big guys were in there. We prevailed and I never will forget the thrill of winning that franchise. Now I'm sure it must be one of their finest systems--Spokane, Washington. They still own it. Each project was different. I enjoyed many of them, like Spokane. Each one was different. Davenport, Iowa. That was a different sort of kettle of fish.

SMITH: Different in what sense.

DOWDEN: Well, Iowa plays a key role in building my company and starting that myself later on in the '70s when I left Cox. Where I first became exposed to Iowa was working on this project in Davenport and Moline, Illinois. We got onto that when some local people called us and said we know you're active in cable television development, you got a good reputation, you're a publicly traded company. Cox had a big advantage back in those days because of that. Because of its reputation, because of Leonard, because it ran good broadcast stations and was a publicly traded stock.

SMITH: Not to mention its newspapers.

DOWDEN: Newspapers ... had a lot of entrees that came through that. We would get calls like that from people. One of the first calls that I guess it came was on the tidewater, came through a broadcaster that knew Cox and had dealt with them for years, and knew Cliff Kirtland, played golf with him and all. That led to the tidewater thing. I remember the sequence of events perfectly. In the case of Davenport, Iowa ‑ Iowa is the only state at that time that had a statewide requirement for a referendum to approve a grant of a cable franchise. A lot of communities there's local option. Wichita Falls, Texas had to go to a referendum. Springfield, Missouri had to go to a referendum. Iowa is the only state that had a statewide requirement that every franchise be granted through a referendum process. That was interesting in the sense that Davenport and Bettendorf if I remember, the councils granted it but I think later had to go back and run the referendum. Across the river in East Moline it was just a council vote.

There were some interesting nuances there, but back to my point, that was my first exposure to Iowa. That idea of learning about the referendum requirement planted a seed in my mind because then in '73, '74 we were looking for other franchises. We had gotten a lot of large ones, but one of the ones we tried to get and I did this when I was at Cox was in Fort Dodge, Iowa. We applied and got on the ballot and I went in and organized it like a political campaign. I had a person who was doing direct mail and we had radio spots and we did speeches before the Rotary Club ‑ on and on and on. You know, we only lost that election by six to one.

SMITH: That's a happy note to turn the tape over on.

DOWDEN: I want you to remember that because when I get into Dowden Communications, I want to tell you about Fort Dodge.

SMITH: We will. I noticed that it is about 4:30 and we agreed that that might be a good time to terminate for today.

DOWDEN: That would be perfect and we could pick it up at a later time.

End of Tape 2, Side A

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Tom Dowden

Tom Dowden

Interview Date: October 28, 1998
Interview Location: Athens, GA USA
Interviewer: Jim Keller
Collection: Hauser Collection

KELLER: This is a continuation of the oral history of Thomas C. Dowden. The original history was recorded on July 19th, 1990 at Penn State University by Stratford Smith, then the director of the oral history program. Tom Dowden, as the dedication plaque to this center indicates, is a cable pioneer, a proponent of excellence in telecommunications, a dedicated public servant and a loyal alumnus of The Grady College here at the University of Georgia. We are recording at the Dowden Center for New Media Studies at the University of Georgia and today is October 28th, 1998. Your interviewer is Jim Keller, special consultant to the program. This is one of a series of oral histories and video histories in the Gustave Hauser audio/video history program of the audio/video program of The Cable Television Center & Museum. Good morning Tom.

DOWDEN: Good morning Jim.

KELLER: As you concluded your first interview with E. Stratford Smith of Penn State University, you had just joined Cox Cable Communications from a job with the CBS affiliate in Houston, KHOU-TV. You had met Leonard Reinsch and he enticed you into getting into cable television. There are two questions involved as I see it right now. Number 1) Why did a very conservative company such as Cox Newspapers and Cox Broadcasting want to get into a new and very speculative business enterprise as cable television back in the early '60's; and Number 2) why would you, who had a bright future in broadcasting, want to take the chance?

DOWDEN: To understand the answer to that Jim, I think you have to delve into a little bit of the history or the background of J. Leonard Reinsch. Leonard, who is now deceased, was one of the great pioneer broadcasters, and I believe is a person who helped move the cable television industry forward, from that vantage point, from a broadcaster's standpoint, in the mid '60s through the '70s. Leonard was very far thinking in terms of telecommunications. He didn't think that over-the-air television was the final medium in the telecommunications area. He thought the wired form of transmission of television signals, data and so on, was probably the wave of the future and he wanted Cox positioned in that field. And he did it in steps. The first step was to acquire some small cable systems in Oregon and Pennsylvania and with that he acquired management, who had been in the business since its inception - like Lou Davenport in the Pacific Northwest, Bill Vogle in Pennsylvania. So I think Leonard saw this and had this vision of getting into this new telecommunications medium. Now he was pretty much alone, as I recall, in this direction in the '60s among the executives at Cox.

KELLER: And among broadcasters?

DOWDEN: And among broadcasters overall. There were only a couple of three other broadcasters who had done that. One that stands out is Wrede Petersmeyer at Corinthian. But he went in and got out and he became a very, what I used to call, a "status quo" broadcaster again. But Leonard was always out on the cutting edge of new technologies.

KELLER: Had Leonard been exposed to cable television from an outside source before they first got involved?

DOWDEN: You know, I don't know how he got this bug. I sometimes think that he got it from someone like Sol Taishoff, who was publisher of Broadcasting magazine, but who was also a close friend of Leonard's. I remember that Leonard used to have Sol as a guest or speaker to our executive groups and Sol always had a grand overview of communications. And while he pretty much was a "status quo" person himself, Broadcasting magazine touted the conservative broadcaster line - he also was pretty far-thinking and he was a close friend of Leonard's. I often wondered if they sort of figured out the future of cable. That was the next wave of growth in the industry. But nevertheless, Leonard did not get that much support as I remember, internally. Of course he was the boss. He was going to get the support but it was sort of reluctant, it always seemed to me. The broadcasters, the station managers, the head of the broadcast group at Cox and all of the Cox executives sort of looked at us in cable as the redheaded stepchild. We even had a small building behind White Columns in Atlanta that was an old engineering building. And so that was that group back there that was involved with this Cable TV. It was always that feeling. But Leonard was back in that building a lot. And he was very interested in where this was going. And then of course, after the late '60s, when the FCC instituted the freeze on cable, only to free it up somewhat in '72, things started happening. It was during that period that Leonard had positioned the company in such a way with major market partners in certain markets in Ohio and so on, that he was ready to go forward with campaigns to win major cable television franchises.

KELLER: Explain the "freeze".

DOWDEN: The best I remember, the FCC put a halt to all carriage of television stations in about 1968. It virtually froze any new construction, any new carriage of television signals on new cable systems being built, and when they unfroze it in 1972, which I think was the Second Report and Order, that gave us our scheme of what we could carry. If you remember the "three one and one" – 3 network, 1 ETV and 1 Independent. Which were very, very minor concessions as you know. But during the '68 to '72 period, there was virtually nothing going on in the cable industry. There may have been a few classical type cable systems that were being built, but the FCC would not approve during that period such things as microwave licenses or any sort of technical approvals for cable TV. Now that led to a situation in our company at least, where we thought this may be the end of our career in cable television. But to their credit at Cox Broadcasting, the parent company, they allowed some of us to look at other areas of the company, broadcasting, publishing and so on, but not a single one of us deserted. And we stayed there during that "freeze" period and when we came out the other end, we were ready to make our mark in the major markets.

KELLER: You were receiving a certain amount of revenue from the smaller systems in Pennsylvania and Washington. So you did have a stream of cash flow?

DOWDEN: That's right.

KELLER: Were you consolidated then with the overall Cox balance sheet?

DOWDEN: Yes. We were consolidated with the parent company because the company had spun off a separate Cox Cable stock issue prior to the freeze. The stock issue at that time was called Cox Cable Communications, traded on NASDAQ as I recall, but I do not recall the stock symbol.

KELLER: Was it a minority interest?

DOWDEN: Yes, it was a minority interest. Cox Broadcasting owned 80% and the public owned 20%.

KELLER: But prior to the freeze, you had obtained a number of franchises in major markets. Among them San Diego.

DOWDEN: Before the "freeze" we bought a part ownership of the San Diego system. As I remember it was 16% interest that Cox bought from Hank Goldstein and Lee Druckman, the two principals. And if I remember the number, I don't know why I should remember this number, but Cox paid 150,000 shares of Cox Broadcasting stock at the time for that interest in the San Diego system. I have no idea what that purchase price came to, and I cannot remember what the stock was worth at that point. But that was the first step on behalf of Cox in a major market. And then later, of course, they acquired the remaining amount. But there wasn't very much franchise activity going on during that period. That was really because the FCC "freeze" had bogged things down during that '68 to '71 period. But, we were positioning ourselves with companies like the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the Toledo Blade, the Sacramento Bee, some of the large broadcasters and newspaper owners in the nation. But, as best as I remember, no major market franchise was actually granted during that period. It was somewhat later than that. I could stand to be corrected on that if somebody checked those projects.

KELLER: Had you received the Lakewood, Ohio franchise?

DOWDEN: Yes, we had received the Lakewood, Ohio franchise, but that was a small community in a major market. We still couldn't import outside TV signals. There was no such thing then as "superstations". We couldn't import any stations. Of course there was no satellite, there was no HBO, no nothing. And so we were trying to figure out how local origination, that is creating our own channels, might add enough appeal to the cable system that people would be encouraged to subscribe. So Lakewood, Ohio was one of the first local origination experiments.

KELLER: You did build the system in Lakewood during the freeze?

DOWDEN: We did build it during that period and I would have to say that that was the late '60s. But again, we were still frozen as far as bringing any outside signals into the market other than those that were already there. So we had to come up with innovative ways to try to appeal to new subscribers and local origination, done well, and we felt that with Cox and the broadcasting background of some of the people involved, they would know how to develop the type of programming that might be interesting to the public.

KELLER: What kind of programming were you doing?

DOWDEN: It was typical local events. We had if I recall, some sports events. We did some remote events of local high school sports. We did shows that were put on and produced by local people. There was a full range of those kind of shows. Enough to fill up several hours a day of local origination. And, as I mentioned to you before, Greg Liptak of Jones Intercable, got his start in this industry in Lakewood, Ohio working with Cox. He was working out of a television station, a small market television station in Decatur, Illinois as I recall. I learned about Greg through an associate at the University of Georgia who went to the University of Illinois Graduate School with Greg. I felt Greg would be a good candidate because he was operating a small town television station and they had to put on that kind of programming to survive. I don't think it was even a network affiliated station. So he did that with the closed circuit cable as he was doing in a smaller market for over the air broadcasting. To the extent that our Lakewood system was successful, a lot of the credit goes to Greg Liptak.

KELLER: Was it successful?

DOWDEN: I wouldn't say that it was successful in terms of gaining the subscription that we wanted, the 40 or 50% penetration of the market. But I think it gave us a lot of experience in local origination at that time which later became a viable part of most of the major market cable systems. And I would say that while it didn't bring that Lakewood system to a positive cash flow position, it was good experience. So I'd have to say overall, it was successful.

KELLER: When did it reach a positive cash flow position?

DOWDEN: Well I can't say that I remember. In fact I can't recall whether Lakewood suddenly became part of the bigger Cleveland area CATV system which I believe happened. So I don't think it was singled out ongoing as Lakewood.

KELLER: Did Cox own a piece of the Cleveland system?

DOWDEN: Yes, with the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

KELLER: And of course HBO came on probably in '73 or '74.

DOWDEN: I think it was '75. Mid '70s as I recall, and that of course catapulted all of the systems that were marginal and that were not getting the penetration. That's what moved them on to the next stage.

KELLER: You also mentioned in your earlier session that you were intimately involved in franchising with Cox. Can you tell us some of the markets that you were involved in and some of the stories about the process?

DOWDEN: Right. Well that was my major role at Cox, and I was sort of the franchise point man. I guess if I had an expertise, it was the ability to go into a market and put together a group of local investors. Generally we had a format or a style that we would use and that was essentially that we would go to the local radio, television or newspaper owner in the market to learn if they were interested. It worked pretty well. Cox had a good reputation in that area and of course most of them knew Cox. And so a representative from Cox Cable was usually welcome. I would take it from there.

KELLER: What did the local broadcasters have to say about it?

DOWDEN: Well, they generally didn't like Cable TV, as I recall. But there was an unusual situation in those days in that the newspaper could go into the cable business, but the broadcasters couldn't in their own markets. So again, back to Leonard Reinsch, he had such strong contacts and had such a stature in the broadcasting industry, a lot of times the broadcaster said, well it's inevitable that cable is coming if Leonard is in it. If it's coming I think we'd rather have a company like Cox that knows something about broadcasting and our problems and/ or the newspaper which is an entity within our community than some outside company. Sometimes that wore pretty well. But as far as the franchising, it was all over the country. I've worked on franchises in Spokane, Washington to Norfolk, Virginia. One of my favorite projects was Spokane. I don't know if you remember a great pioneer in our business named Sam Haddock.

KELLER: Very much so.

DOWDEN: Sam and I worked on the Spokane franchise together. Of course, he had systems in Moscow, Idaho and Pullman, Washington. And Spokane being nearby, he was well connected there, and Sam and his group ended up owning 20% of that franchise as I remember. On the other side of the country, I worked on Norfolk, Virginia Beach, Tidewater area. I must have had 65-70 partners in that project and that was quite a logistical problem, but we were successful there too. And in the middle part of the country, I worked on the Davenport/Moline/Bettendorf/Rock Island franchise. So I was all over the country in those days. As you remember those days of franchising, you had to be everywhere at the same time it seemed like.

KELLER: I was your counterpart at ATC, so I remember that very well.

DOWDEN: Exactly.

KELLER: Often times we were faulted by various people in the media, specifically broadcasters and in some cases newspapers, about having "bought" franchises in these markets. Do you know anything about that or did you ever experience anything like that?

DOWDEN: No, one of the things that I was always impressed with is that Cox had a tremendous reputation, as I believe most companies in our industry did, and I got to see all of them on the franchise trail. We had maybe an aberration once in awhile of a company that might have gotten into trouble. I think TelePrompTer may have been one of those early on some franchising issues, but that was blown out of proportion. As far as I could tell, working from my perspective, there was pretty clean competition. You would go in and you'd have your local partners who would be advocates for your side, and the city council would make their decision. The only thing that got out of hand, I believe, in the early to mid '70s was that promises made by companies to franchising authorities seemed to escalate and escalate. And it seems to me that that got carried away, where one company would say we'll give you five percent of gross revenues and the next company would up the stakes and say we'll do seven percent. And that got a little bit out of hand in the frenzy of the franchising business in the '70s and early '80s as I remember. But as far as anything that went on behind the scenes or any kind of payoff or bribery or any kind of wrong doing in that area, I never saw any of that in my whole career with Cox.

KELLER: I agree with you. I worked more than 50 markets and I never knew of anything that had occurred. Incidental to that, there was an organization sponsored by the Urban League in Washington D.C. called the Cable Television Information Center. Tell us a little bit about that and what impact, if any, it had on the franchising process.

DOWDEN: CTIC, that's an acronym from way back in my memory. Again, they seemed to be there. They were funded by the Urban League and they were always at these large city franchise meetings. It seemed they were somewhat like the National Education Association (the NEA). They were always a thorn in cable's side in the early days. They wanted education to have 20% of the channels. And CTIC, I think they were somewhat along the same lines. I don't remember specifically, of any franchise project that I was involved in that they were given very much credence. I'm sure that there were some where they influenced the council or the request for proposal process that may have delayed it, may have been an example of where the company had to give more channels or more promises of local origination or whatever than they should have or probably it was feasible to do, because that group was there. I don't think that they were very effective or that they were very welcome at any of these franchise hearings that I participated in.

KELLER: After your success in achieving franchises in a number of major markets including Newport and Norfolk, Virginia and other places around the country. What did you do after the mid '70s when the franchising kind of came to a halt?

DOWDEN: Well, of course, they continued on, the large companies, Cox and others. I was able to take the expertise that I had developed in terms of franchising and do that for my company that I formed in the mid 1970s. Specifically I took some expertise that I had developed in terms of running elections in the state of Iowa. I had one election for Cox in the state of Iowa, and we had lost it quite badly in the early 1970's as I remember. But I saw the change taking place where the people were starting to see through this business of vote against cable because that's pay TV.

KELLER: Iowa was a pristine market, specifically for that reason.

DOWDEN: That's right. It was the only state that had a statewide requirement where cable had to go to a referendum. And you had to have 50% plus one vote to pass a cable referendum. So I hit upon the idea of doing that in some smaller, middle-sized markets in Iowa. And during the late '70s, I was successful in maybe a half dozen markets. With me as a partner was Heritage Communications and some other local people.

KELLER: Was Heritage a local company?

DOWDEN: Heritage was a local company in Des Moines founded by Jim Houk and Jim Cownie. They had had some trouble breaking this referendum barrier also. But Cox became a partner of Heritage in Des Moines and we were eventually successful there. We were successful in some of the smaller markets too. And so I had this vision of perhaps building clusters of markets where there was some efficiency in the technical service and marketing and some other things and it turned out that there were some economies of scale in doing that. So I built up a group of cable systems in the late '70s, and then in 1980 sold them to Heritage. That gave me an opportunity to develop a larger company in the 1980's, which I did.

KELLER: How did you come about leaving Cox? Did the entrepreneurial spirit finally get to you?

DOWDEN: Well, it was a combination of that and Henry Harris and I didn't see eye to eye in certain areas. That had a lot to do with my leaving.

KELLER: Henry Harris being the president of Cox?

DOWDEN: Yes. Henry had some ideas about restructuring some of the early franchise deals that I had put together, which didn't set too well with me. He saw it as something necessary to do and it was his decision, but I saw it as a situation where I had represented people like Sam Haddock in these markets, where one set of circumstances were presented to these partners but Henry decided that something else might be better. We had some clashes and it turned out that I had some Cox stock at the time, some stock options, and it was better for me to just leave at that point, and I frankly wanted to because I wasn't going anywhere. Henry was somewhat younger than me and he was moving slowly up the ladder, and ahead of him was a young man at Cox Broadcasting who was not ready to take Reinsch's place. So no one was going anywhere anytime soon. So I was somewhat in a frozen position and not getting along too well with Henry, so he asked me to leave. It seemed like in the era of 1976 that perhaps that was time for me to try it on my own. And, as I look back on it, I'm certainly happy that all those circumstances came together.

KELLER: I want to get back into that. Let's back up just a little bit. Do you remember, I believe it was in the mid seventies, when there was a proposed merger between Cox Cable and American Television and Communications Corporation. Do you remember anything about that?

DOWDEN: Yes, I remember that it was a nine month project that suddenly had to be aborted because the Justice Department came down on both companies and disallowed it. But for nine months, it looked like we were going to have a Cox/American company, I believe that was going to be the name of it. And you were involved on the ATC side, I remember that, and I was involved somewhat on the Cox side. We had management meetings. It seemed like the thing to do at the time because there was one large company in those days, as you know, and that was TelePrompTer. As I remember, they had 400,000 subscribers and each of us had, I think, 150,000 and had we merged we would have been somewhat "competitive" with TelePrompTer. Well, the Justice Department didn't see it that way, and I never understood the anti-competitive nature of that merger. But it fell apart. I was gone pretty soon after that so I do not remember any Cox history after about fall, 1976.

KELLER: Tell me how you went about obtaining the franchises and then winning elections in the small Iowa communities. How did you sell cable at that time?

DOWDEN: Well, it was like taking a person and running him for mayor. I just pretended I was running for mayor of the town. Only I was selling a concept. Cable television was choice. But I would do everything from hand out flyers at the local Hormel plant in Ft. Dodge to appear before the civic groups in the town. We used advertising, speaking engagements, etc. It was just like a political campaign.

KELLER: You had to get the franchises awarded by the city council which then had to be approved in an election?

DOWDEN: That's right. And many times the city council would say...they would allow you to go forward with the election, without going through the hassle of granting the franchise. Then, you would go forward, pay for the election and if you got the 50% plus vote, you could then go back and it was tantamount to getting approval from the city council.

KELLER: Where was your opposition?

DOWDEN: Opposition in the case of the small Iowa communities was from local over-the-air broadcasters and the antenna manufacturers. They would run ads and they would send out handbills, and all that saying don't vote for pay TV. And it was a very difficult point to get over to the public that it wasn't pay TV, that it was choice. They did not have to give up their "free TV". All they are doing is voting to let their neighbor make a choice. If they didn't want cable, they did not have to subscribe. Their regular TV would still be there. But, if they voted yes for cable, they'd at least allow their neighbor to make a choice of whether or not to subscribe. And that was a fairly effective argument.

KELLER: Do you remember the old ads from the antenna manufacturers about cable sucking the signal from your antenna?

DOWDEN: Exactly. I do remember that. But it turned out that the antenna people and the set and sales people, they survived very well, in fact probably better because once people got cable, they bought more sets and they viewed television more, not less, particularly in these under-served markets.

KELLER: Again, what goes around comes around, because in the very early days of cable television it was the appliance dealers who wanted to sell television sets and got the industry started. Interesting irony. After you developed these small systems in Iowa, did you eventually sell them to Heritage?

DOWDEN: The first group I sold to Heritage.

KELLER: And then what happened after that?

DOWDEN: I restructured with a group of venture capital companies. Narragansett Capital was one of them. Venture Capital Fund of New England, another. I had a great bank named Industrial National Bank of Providence, which is now Fleet Bank. Greg Barber, who was the lender at that time, knew a lot about cable and new start-ups and was very aggressive in his lending. He believed in the industry. And he made my first loan so I could build my systems out in Iowa. Then, that just mushroomed and by the mid '80s I had built up a company of about 50,000 subscribers. This was after I sold my first systems to Heritage.

KELLER: Which at that time was a relatively large company.

DOWDEN: I think we were like 70th if you can believe that looking at the size of the companies today. Anyway, we had restructured at that point with a company out of Boston named Barriston Associates and Centennial Fund out of Denver was a partner of mine. I had bought out all of the venture capital funds, Norwest Venture, Fleet Venture, Noro-Moseley in Atlanta, several others and Narragansett in 1986. I had taken them out by that time, but Centennial stayed with me and we restructured in 1986 and built the company up over the next year to somewhat over 50,000 subscribers. It was just the frenzy of the time that helped me be successful. You will remember the mid, late '80s when everyone was consolidating and buying everything to build their numbers and the prices went up, up and up. And in 1988 Triax Communications out of Denver who was operating in the mid west where most of our systems were located, made an offer that I couldn't refuse.

KELLER: Jim DeSorrento?

DOWDEN: That was Jim DeSorrento. And Jay Busch. And they're still operating. They're operating our old systems and doing a good job I'm sure. But they were aggressive and wanted to purchase our subscribers. My partners and I decided that was the thing to do and I must say the timing was excellent for me and for them because within six months or so after we sold the smaller markets that we had, I think they must have been depressed by 30 or 40% in terms of value.

KELLER: The entire industry was devalued in the late '80s and early '90s.

DOWDEN: Right. I held onto some systems and I kept my staff in place in Atlanta, because I wanted to do the same thing again. I was of an age I still wanted to stay in the business and keep building. But they offered us such a fantastic deal in 1988 that we almost had to sell and I did.

KELLER: What was interesting in that '89, '90, early '91 period when not only the economy was very depressed, but there was a threat of re-regulation and rate regulation by the FCC and a number of bills had been introduced at that point. But frankly, people were pretty scared about the industry.

DOWDEN: That's right. In the financial community the equity market had dried up for smaller entrepreneurs and I guess it filtered up but it dried up fairly quickly for us smaller operators. Being out of the business at that time, other than just on the fringes of system ownership, I can see, looking back, that it was quite a transition that happened in the late '80s, early '90s. And the whole thing moved toward the consolidation of properties.

KELLER: It gave an impetus to consolidation because the major companies were able to buy out a lot of limited partners at a relatively low price. And that's caused an awful lot of class action lawsuits. At that point the industry had taken a substantial decline. You were right, about 30 to 35%.

DOWDEN: I think that's right.

KELLER: Then what did you do?

DOWDEN: Well, after that I just kept the company going as best I could and those systems that we maintained I sold in the early '90s and kept some which I still have.

KELLER: Which ones?

DOWDEN: I have some small systems, a thousand or so subscribers in northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin. And a long time friend of mine and an excellent manager, Curt Melcher, manages those for me and he manages other systems too. And they're pretty much self sufficient. They're a very good investment, nice to have my hand still in the cable market and I get to talk to Curt from time to time about budgets and about new services and rate increases and so I get to keep a little bit in touch with the cable industry that way. But primarily I went on and did some other investments in real estate and cellular, and I must say I did take my cable expertise to Great Britain where I was successful in a venture over there.

KELLER: Tell us about that.

DOWDEN: I put together a group in Wales in Newport, a small community on the eastern side of Wales near Cardiff.

KELLER: How did you get involved?

DOWDEN: I met some prominent people in London. I travel over to England quite a bit for golf and other things and I happened to meet these gentlemen that were interested in getting a franchise from the British telecommunications agency for this area of Newport. The telecommunications agency was keen, as they say, on granting franchises during that period of the early '90s. And so we were able to acquire an 80,000 home market in that area in Wales. And that found its way into a larger company—Sid Knafel and his company, International Cable, now called NTLI. They've merged two or three times, but it's a public company, listed on NASDAQ. But the partnership was successful in going forward with the telecommunications agency there in London, which granted the franchise to our combined company. Later we folded it into Sid's company. He later put it into a larger company and the shareholders got some public stock. So that was quite interesting.

KELLER: But you had expertise?

DOWDEN: That's right. And it was following the same lines as in this country as far as the channels. It was like the early days of cable as we remember in the '60s and '70s. The only difference is you dealt with a national telecommunications agency and there was no local involvement to speak of, no local approvals needed. It was mainly on the federal level. What we call the federal level. And so that was successful, and then I've done a couple of things in the cellular business in terms of licenses with my friends at the Centennial Fund in Denver. And that's been a lot of fun.

KELLER: Have you actually been building and operating cellular systems?

DOWDEN: Actually, we acquired the licenses for small communities throughout the Midwest. Essentially, we filed for the licenses to build cellular systems in these small communities. We were prepared to perform, Centennial Telecommunications and its investors. But, a larger company, Nextel, came to us with an offer to fold it in with their nationwide network. And so that's what we did. They are the owners of these licenses now and are performing on them.

KELLER: Did you ever envision a day when you would be involved in an entirely new industry and become an entrepreneur in that industry and help develop it?

DOWDEN: Well, I can't say in the early days that I envisioned myself going out and building a cable company as I did. All of that happened, some of it my doing, some of it was just happenstance. Some of it was timing. In the '70s and early '80s obviously with the beginning of this industry, the small entrepreneurs could do that. I don't believe there's much opportunity in this particular industry today for that, so again, it's timing. I guess I've always had an itch to be an entrepreneur as evidenced by I'm getting in an altogether new business now which I know very little about. That business is real estate development. But it's a challenge and I think I saw that in the mid '70s, and I've seen it through the '80s, in the things that I've done and somewhat into the '90s. But I just find it exhilarating to build something, whether it's a franchise or take a piece of property or whatever and build something. I find that very challenging and that's what I've enjoyed doing. I didn't have any specific plans to do that early on, I guess. I pictured myself after graduating from the university here and the experience I had in the broadcast industry probably to be a director or producer or general manager of a TV station. I thought that would be quite a nice thing to do. I could have taken that direction I guess with Cox but I took the cable TV direction instead and that led to all these other things, including my ability to have some financial freedom of my own in these other ventures.

KELLER: Was that a conscious decision that you made to go with cable rather than broadcasting?

DOWDEN: Well, actually back to Leonard Reinsch. He convinced me that I should go into cable when I had an interview with him in 1964. I had known Leonard and his family prior to that and I had actually gone by White Columns one day just to speak to him. And he said "You know, we're doing some things in this cable TV you really should look into it. I know you're with Corinthian Broadcasting down in Houston, but they are a very "status quo" company. But we're doing all these exciting things in new technology. And I was a 27, 28 year-old, newly married, wanting to get back to Atlanta from Houston and all of that, and Leonard's pitch to me was very appealing. So he offered me a job to come into the cable television division, working under Mark Bartlett, John Campbell and those folks. And the rest just unfolded then.

KELLER: Tell me about your activity involved in the politics of cable television over the years. Not specifically the details that you went into in your earlier session, but how you got involved in it and what are some of the things that you received from your experience in Washington?

DOWDEN: During this freeze period that we talked about in '68, two or three companies including your company, ATC, provided people to work in Washington. During the "freeze" the whole battle cry became "free cable". The idea was to lobby the House or Senate telecommunications sub-committees and the commerce committee to have hearings and set up some rules and guidelines for cable's development. And so there were several of us that went to Washington on a regular basis to perform this lobbying. In fact, I remember in 1969, I spent every other week in Washington, working with NCTA, with Bruce Lovett whom you will remember was the general counsel then. We worked tirelessly with communities, with mayors, with groups to bring people in to testify before the sub-committee hearings. We worked with groups to tout the advantages of cable like the education groups and so on. So we had an agenda dictated somewhat by the NCTA board, and the folks at the NCTA at the time. But there were three or four of us that seemed to put the most time in. One of them was your man from Missouri, Tom Leegan, who did an excellent job. TelePrompTer had a fellow from Illinois. Also, we worked with Chuck Walsh who was a cable attorney. Chuck was a very aggressive and competent young man, did a good job. Marty Malarkey was kind of our senior advisor in all of this. In fact, between Chuck and Marty and myself, I think we might be considered sort of the fathers of the political action committee, Cable PAC that was founded in 1969. And that led to some activity in that area to get people more aware of lobbying, of trying to get our points over. I remember one of the people we retained with some of the funds that we raised from the companies was Gene Keogh of New York, who was a former Congressman. And we went to New York to interview him, and he worked with us during that period of '69. We also had a reception at our 1969 San Francisco convention, which I believe was the first PAC reception that the cable industry sponsored. And we had a good turnout of some of the congressmen and some of the people who were attending the convention. I remember Torby McDonald from Massachusetts Chairman of the House communications sub-committee, and others being there.

KELLER: I remember very well.

DOWDEN: And we had that affair at the Fairmont or the Mark Hopkins, didn't we? But that was successful, and that was in June of 1969. I remember that because my third child, my son John, was born the week before and I had to be out there working on this when my son was born.

KELLER: Over the years, obviously you've had some difficulties. Did you ever have any difficulty with the telephone companies as many people in the industry did over the years?

DOWDEN: We had some in the early days in Iowa but I won't say that we had serious problems. This was Northwest Bell, and they were really pretty cooperative with us. Maybe it was because we were in the smaller communities. But I didn't have that kind of relationship in these small communities that I could say that I had a real problem with Bell telephone. I know that there was an element in our industry that did have that but I can't say that I ever encountered any serious problems.

KELLER: Never were offered a lease back arrangement?

DOWDEN: No, but that was talked about in Toledo, and Ohio Bell was involved in that. I think that later led to some kind of lawsuit in Ohio.

KELLER: That's also when the Consent Decree finally came out.

DOWDEN: That's right. But again, by that time Jim, I was fighting my battles in the small communities where if you had a good relationship in the towns and you had good management and you performed on your franchise and did a good job, things worked out pretty smoothly.

KELLER: Your relationship with broadcasters especially when you were with Cox, was probably very good because of the respect the broadcasters had for Leonard and for Cox Broadcasting.

DOWDEN: Right.

KELLER: How about after you got away from Cox?

DOWDEN: I had a couple of partners who were in the broadcasting business even in my small communities in Minnesota and Iowa. And maybe it was because I had been somewhat schooled in dealing with broadcasters because I had put together several groups of newspaper people, broadcasters. But then that formula worked well for me too, and I continued to pursue that. And they were quite helpful. They were minority partners, generally, but they were interested in being involved in cable. And I had a couple of newspapers in the small towns, one in La Mars, Iowa, very outstanding newspaper there. The publisher was one of my partners. So I put together groups similar to the type that I put together at Cox, which worked for me.

KELLER: Well tell us, in addition to getting broadcasters and newspapers involved, when you would go into a community, how would you put together a group of local investors. Who would you look for?

DOWDEN: My goodness, there's no standard operating procedure for that. Again, I would look for the people who were the most influential people in town.

KELLER: How would you find them?

DOWDEN: Generally I would have a name of an attorney. Then, one thing leads to another. And I would generally go to an attorney or I would go to the owner of the radio station or to the newspaper. And it just took some digging. And you usually could have this intelligence built up before you went into the town. Or someone would recommend that you should see so and so. They're interested and they're well connected in town. So it really didn't follow any sort of formula. It ranged from where I knew an attorney in a small town in Iowa, retain him, and he would say I have a classmate who's the most prominent man in this other town, and I would contact him. And this just fed on itself. And so when I finished, I had about seven or eight different groups in the small towns which altogether gave me a cluster of cable systems.

KELLER: Earlier on, you mentioned that in the Tidewater area you had as many as 64 local people. How did you get involved with so many of them?

DOWDEN: Well, each group lead to the next group and they kept feeding on the momentum. You'd have one key person in a town - let's say in Virginia Beach. He would say, "Well, we can't get this done unless we have this person." And this person would say "We need these two people because they're very prominent, and they go into new ventures and they would want to be involved." And the next thing you know, you multiply that by four or five markets in the same metropolitan area and you've got a slew of partners.

KELLER: All in one organization?

DOWDEN: Actually they were broken down. We would have Cox Cable of Virginia Beach, Cox Cable of Norfolk and so on. So they were different. All of these franchise

projects were going forward at the same time.

KELLER: Do they ever get in the way?

DOWDEN: Not really. You had one, two, or three key people that you dealt with. And only occasionally would you see all of them at the same time.

KELLER: What would you expect from your local people?

DOWDEN: Mainly to be your advocate at the city level, to say that we were a good company. Here's their performance record. Cox is a New York Stock Exchange company. Cox Cable is a listed company. They own San Diego. And a person who has lived in a community for many years can say that better that an outsider. Someone coming in like myself saying the same thing was not as effective. Essentially, local partners would be an advocate for you and they could be tough on you too. They would say, "We want to make sure you are performing the way you say". You would go through the due diligence to show them that you were going to perform, you had the financial wherewithal, you had the technical know-how and so on. Then, that had to be translated to the city for them to make a decision.

KELLER: Now when you went from Cox to your own organization did you again have to prove that you had the same capabilities?

DOWDEN: Exactly. And that was harder to do, because starting out, I didn't have an engineering staff. I didn't have a marketing staff. I did have the financial commitment from the banks and from my partners in the beginning. But again, back to who you put together, they'd say "Well look, this person was with Cox for 10 or 12 years. He got experience there." And so it really is a credibility question.

KELLER: Did your local partners make a cash investment?

DOWDEN: Yes. They always did. I never gave the local people who were my partners a "free ride" as they called it.

KELLER: Cox did though, didn't they?

DOWDEN: Cox did. Sometimes upward of 20%. Back to the situation with some of the partners, I think I made some 20% carried interest arrangements in markets I worked. Later, they pared that down somewhat, and it caused some hard feelings I think among some of our local partners. But I was gone by then, but I understand that probably that reduction happened.

KELLER: After the founding of the cable PAC, what were your other political activities in Washington, on the national level?

DOWDEN: In 1976, when Jimmy Carter ran for president, I had an opportunity to work on his campaign with his Atlanta advertising firm.

KELLER: You spoke the language.

DOWDEN: I spoke the language. And they knew exactly what I was saying, as long as I didn't get too far north. But Jerry Rafshoon, who was Jimmy Carter's telecommunications advisor in the White House eventually, was his advertising agency man in Atlanta. And it was out of that agency that I conceptualized and ran a cable television project that entailed the cablecast of a 20 minute tape having to do with President Carter's candidacy. If I remember the numbers, we ran that tape over something like 150 cable systems that had the capability for local origination. And in 1976 there weren't that many, but more than you think. In fact, we reached approximately three million homes with that campaign. That was throughout the United States. And I still have a copy of that tape and I'll send it to you. I should put that in the archives somewhere.

KELLER: Wasn't that played at the national convention? I can't remember which one.

DOWDEN: This lead to President Carter agreeing to speak to the cable convention in Las Vegas in 1978. And I worked with Jerry Rafshoon to set that up. And TCI was very helpful in providing the equipment, the uplink from the White House. And so President Carter went on live. This was the first live uplink from the White House, which was beamed to our convention in Las Vegas. And there were some questions on the program. I remember I asked Bill Daniels to ask a question or two. He did. But that was the first example, and I felt like that when you say what political activity, I felt like what we did for Carter in the '76 campaign came back to us in some positive ways later on. Because it was during that era up through 1980 that the cable industry was freed up somewhat from the very heavy regulation that we had had for so many years. And I always felt that there was some sympathy on the part of that Carter Administration for what we had done for it in the 1976 election.

KELLER: Were you ever involved with C-SPAN and Brian Lamb?

DOWDEN: I wasn't involved directly with him. I never sat on his board or anything. I've always been supportive of Brian, in fact when we dedicated the Center, the DOWDEN: Center for Telecommunications Studies, here at the University, Brian was our keynote speaker. So I knew Brian to that extent, and he's a great fellow and has done a great public service to our industry and to the country.

KELLER: I had the opportunity to interview Brian a few weeks ago and it was a delightful experience. I thought CSPAN was something the industry needed in the worst way, although he doesn't consider it to be a public relations venture. He considers it to be a public service venture.

DOWDEN: I've heard him say that. But those are the examples. The Cable PAC, I worked on the CTAM originally. I was on the original board of directors, with Greg Liptak and helped conceptualize CTAM. The uplink at the White House---those type things I consider were my contributions in the '70s to this industry. We worked hard and spent a lot of hours in Washington and elsewhere.

KELLER: After you sold your Iowa systems to Heritage, you said you kept a few of them. Where did you put your efforts after that?

DOWDEN: Well actually, for the next eight years it was building up DOWDEN: Communications. We sold to Heritage in 1981 and that gave me the wherewithal to invest and go on to the next step.

KELLER: Which was?

DOWDEN: Which was DOWDEN: Communications Stage 2 I guess you could call it. So from '81 to '88, through restructuring, through my venture capital partners, and then through selling and the later in '88 selling the entire company. So during the '80s, I put together probably over 100 million dollars of financing, both equity and debt and built this 50,000 subscriber company and sold it. So that was my main effort. I was the day by day chief operating officer and brought the people together. I had an office, my home office was Atlanta. But we did our franchising activity and most of our work in the four state upper Midwestern area.

KELLER: Parenthetically, has the banking interest that you developed in the early stages stayed with you today in your new ventures?

DOWDEN: No, not really. The early banking, cable bankers, were an unusual but unique breed of lenders. They understood the cash flow nature of the cable business, they understood that they didn't have an asset, per se, to look to. They understood that their collateral was only that wire running down the street. And they had to understand the quality of management. Obviously, they understood that they were dealing with somewhat of a monopoly in the sense that there was not usually more than one franchise granted for a 15 or 20 year period. So the banker understood that. He had to understand that if anything happened to the system, he had very little salvageable equipment out there that he could have collateral on. And that's a different type of lender than a lender that's going to help you build a series of condominiums or something like that.

KELLER: How about cellular?

DOWDEN: I think they may be of the same mindset that would be a lender to cellular.

KELLER: You haven't tapped into that?

DOWDEN: I have not, no. Again, we folded our cellular activities into Nextel so I'm not in that. I'm more in the real estate development business now which has opened up a whole new type of lender and opportunities.

KELLER: Tell us how you developed the DOWDEN: Center.

DOWDEN: This was something, Jim, that was close to my heart, being from the University of Georgia and being from the Grady School of Journalism, the Grady College. It used to be the Grady School of Journalism. But the Grady College was where I got my degree, and also I got my Masters here at the University. And I always wanted to give something back and this was my opportunity to do that. So after I sold my company in '88, I arranged with the Dean of the School here, Tom Russell, and with the University Foundation to make a contribution to the school that would fund a telecommunications studies program. And that's led to this Center which is called the DOWDEN: Center for New Media Studies. Dr. Scott Shamp manages and runs this effort for the college. He does a very good job. We're now expanding the Center. We've gotten into a lot of the new Internet disciplines, it's a resource center, a research center, and a teaching center. I'm very proud of the fact that we're graduating a lot of students out of this Center that are going right into the whole discipline of internet, computer, the whole world wide web, the things that are on the cutting edge of telecommunications today.

KELLER: Is this different from what you had originally conceived?

DOWDEN: It's somewhat different. This Lab has evolved from the early telecommunications studies effort. We saw the early effort as more of where people would come together and discuss telecommunications issues, policy issues, and in fact our first conference drew people from all walks of the telecommunications industry, including some cable television people, including Brian Lamb and Jack Cole, the attorney in Washington. In 1990, when we founded this, that was the direction it was going to take. More of a think tank policy center dealing with new media, mainly cable, which was my interest. It's evolved into, with the advent of the Internet and all of the new media, into more of a training lab as you can see from all these work stations and monitors. The students now learn the discipline here under the tutelage of Dr. Scott Shamp and his staff, and then they go out from here when they get their degree from the Grady School, they go out from here to Turner Broadcasting, to Cox, to any of the Internet companies that are springing up, both in Atlanta and nationwide.

And so we're feeding these well educated, very bright computer literate students into the workforce in the South and the Southeast, this lab is also becoming recognized throughout academia in other ways, due to Scott's effort. He travels a lot, he deals with other universities and colleges around the country, and they do a lot of talking about cyberspace together.

KELLER: What degree would be awarded?

DOWDEN: I'm not sure it's a specific Internet or cyberspace degree per se. It is a discipline. They have four different schools here. The radio, television, advertising, newspaper sequence and the public relations. This one would be probably in the broadcast cable discipline with a specialty in this area. But the people who are trained in this, who have that kind of training on their resumes are in high demand. Everyone of them is placed, Scott tells me they're placed in a position before they graduate. So we're proud of that. And we have plans to expand this. One of my goals has been to be competitive with what they're doing at the telecommunications curriculum over at Georgia Tech. They're a big rival of ours. So we're on our way here to being recognized as being one of the top internet disciplines and training centers in the state.

KELLER: It keeps me interested in the point that in the last 30-35 years, we went from selling advertising spots on television in Houston all the way through to cyberspace today, all the way through telecommunications. Would you say it's been an interesting ride?

DOWDEN: It has been an interesting ride and I can't believe it's been 35 years. But the calendar tells me that. But it has been fun. It's an exciting field and anytime I get a chance to talk to the students here, Scott or the Dean asks me over, I try to give them that overview, that broad perspective on how exciting this field is. And there's so many opportunities I feel. And so at any rate it has been a great ride. I hope it goes awhile longer though, Jim.

KELLER: How do you view the three way marriage between telephony, computer and cable distribution systems as we go into the future?

DOWDEN: It sure seems to be coming together doesn't it. I'm not sure that I'm so versed in what is happening.

KELLER: Look into your crystal ball.

DOWDEN: Obviously, with the telephone companies, the lines are blurred now between telephony and cable and two-way transmission and all of that. I was writing speeches for Leonard Reinsch back in the '60s in which he talked about this. And I have copies of those speeches, but a lot of it hasn't come about, as you know. All the "blue sky" that we talked about in the '60s and '70s hasn't come about entirely. I think as you see the consolidation and as the lines are blurred between the big companies, the RBOC's and the big telecommunications companies like TCI and so on, that that whole thing is going to really change the landscape as far as cable television. It's all going to be the telecommunications industry.

KELLER: I think that we recognized that it wasn't going to happen immediately, but we sold it as if it were.

DOWDEN: We sold it as if it were. And it goes back to technology always outstrips the economic side of things. And the acceptance on the part of people. All you have to do is go back and look at radio and then television, then cable television. All of these technologies were really there before they figured out how to sell them, how to market them, and before government acceptance of them really. But technology always outstrips the acceptance. And we've got the technology now but the idea of making it work in the economy, where it is a viable system and the people accept it and you can make money at it. There's the whole key. And until then, you look at Scientific-Atlanta over here, they're out on the forefront of development the new digital set top converters and so on. But there aren't that many, as far as I can tell, there's not that big a market out there right now.

KELLER: Yes, but it has to become so. The interconnection of various technologies has to come through some kind of box.

DOWDEN: That's true. But again we've been talking about that since the '70s. And it hasn't happened universally. Now I know all of the plans are there and all of the infrastructure is being put in place. And I think now, with bringing in different expertise from this telephony area and in the computer area all of that is going to melt together. But as far as the public acceptance of it, the pricing of it and so on, I think there's still a long way to go in that.

KELLER: Let's look at the entire telecommunications industry as divided into two segments. I think you would agree with me on this. There's the distribution segment. And then there is the product that is going to be put through this distribution. The broadcasters I think in the early stages of telecommunications tried to be both. I think they got mixed up in their own mind as to what they were - whether they were a distributor or a programmer. I think that we knew at one point that we were a distributor, then we got mixed up as to whether we were going to be a programmer or distributor. How do you view the people who are in these classes today as where they fit in these two areas?

DOWDEN: I think they see themselves as content providers. I believe they see themselves and in fact they get training here in design and development of web sites and of providing product. Coming up with new ways to use the computer, to use the internet for commerce. So I see most of these people thinking of themselves as content providers as opposed to going out and starting a new hardware company or finding a new use for hardware. But again, like you said, the Turners and all the people that stayed with the content, and provided that, they've done very well. It's those who have stayed with the infrastructure, the hardware, the lines, the cable, whether it's telephone companies or not, that they have a huge capital expenditure. It takes much longer, it seems like to me to get that return.

KELLER: It's long been my contention that the newspaper publishers didn't recognize what business they were in. Whether they were in the news gathering business or the distribution type of business.

DOWDEN: That's right. Well I think so. But some of them that have tried to get over into that area and forget their main discipline, that is providing content, they've gotten burned.

KELLER: Very much so.

DOWDEN: I don't know. Jim, I wish I'd stayed a little more abreast of all of these happenings, but as far as the industry, you see it in Denver probably a little bit better than I.

KELLER: I only see it through the eyes of people I'm interviewing like you.

DOWDEN: My old friend Ted Turner's even moved to New York. I can't even talk to him anymore.

KELLER: Or Montana.

DOWDEN: Or wherever. But at any rate...

KELLER: If you were to summarize your career in telecommunications (and I'm going to use that term now) over the past 35 plus years, how would you do it?

DOWDEN: You touched on it a minute ago. I've seen the whole spectrum really from the early days of when I was a cameraman or boom operator at a TV station studio in Nashville, Tennessee in the 1950's when we were developing small, crudely produced programming which had no style to it at all. And the technology was very rough and very rudimentary. To today, where we're sitting here in this telecommunications lab. But all along the way one thing really stands out. If you do a good job, in these areas, if you provide a good service, if you build a good cable system in this case and you put good management in place that's dedicated to the service end of the business, that you can be very successful at it. I saw other people that have sort of fallen along the wayside because they were packagers of cable systems or product rather than good managers. And that has always made an impression on me and I've tried to pass it on to my son and my family, that if you perform and do a good job, then I think the rewards will be there. If you try to short change it or short cut it, it will catch up with you eventually, whether it's in cable or broadcasting or whatever area.

KELLER: Have any of your family members come into the telecommunications business?

DOWDEN: They haven't per se. My son-in-law was with my company in Atlanta for a couple of years, but he's now with Disney Corporation in Orlando. And my son is a partner of mine in real estate so he is not, and my other child is married and lives in Birmingham and is not interested. She's a graphic designer. So no. I haven't had any that have followed me in the telecommunications business. In fact, I had none who came to the University of Georgia. I get a lot of grief from my friends over here about that.

KELLER: As you develop more and more real estate, as you're doing, are you putting in the infrastructure for communications within those developments?

DOWDEN: Frankly, I'm so new at this, I can't tell you that I've thought that far ahead because we literally have just commenced construction of our first real estate venture in a small town in western North Carolina. But I have mentioned that to my son, who is my day by day management person. That eventually we've got to get the local cable system to bring those lines out here and put in a computer terminal. But I can't even tell you who owns the cable system in our town. We're going to bury cable, I do know that. I don't know if this will be fiber optics. This is a local telephone company that also owns the cable system. So it's going to be an interesting project.

KELLER: So how do you view the future of direct satellite distribution of television in the area?

DOWDEN: I live in western North Carolina as you know. I have a satellite dish. I don't actually need it to get the basic cable service, because I also have cable television. But it's quite prevalent, in the rural areas of western North Carolina. But I don't see that it's much of a threat other than in these rural areas.

KELLER: Why do you say that?

DOWDEN: Again, not being abreast of what the industry's doing overall, I would just have to go with the feeling that there may be, in the area where I live, there may be two other people that have a satellite dish. They rely on the cable primarily.

KELLER: As we wrap this up Tom, give me the names of five people that you consider to be very influential in the development of your career. If you can limit it to five.

DOWDEN: Dr. Worth MacDougall who was the long time chairman of the radio television department here at the University was a big influence on me. He sponsored me for a National Association of Broadcaster summer scholarship, which I won in conjunction with Corinthian Broadcasting when I was a senior here in 1962. And that led me to the CBS station in Houston, Texas. I would say that was the beginning of my career. It allowed me to go back to college with enough money to come back and finish my graduate degree here. I got my undergraduate degree and then my master's degree. So I would say that Worth was very influential. Then I would have to say Leonard Reinsch. I'd have to say Leonard because he took me from Corinthian in Houston to Cox and really gave me the start I needed in the cable television field. Later there were other people along the way at Cox that certainly I owe a great deal to, but Leonard stands out.

Third, when I went out on my own, in the mid '70s, I had some encouragement and some direct support from a long-time friend in Phoenix, Arizona. His name is Ray Smucker and he believed in what I was going to do in this small company in Iowa and he stuck with me there. Then I would say, later on in terms of building my company and going on from there, I would have to say my venture capital people, and Jack Tankershey in particular, from Denver, was a big influence and quite helpful to me in that phase.

KELLER: At Centennial?

DOWDEN: At Centennial Fund. Jack was a wonderful partner. And he encouraged me to build my company and provided financing and so on and that gave me the confidence and the thrust really to go on in the '80s and build a fairly sizeable company. And then after I sold it, I would have to give credit to my wife for putting up with me after I didn't have a company to run anymore, and who kind of went through this transition period with me when I "retired". So, did I name five? But of all of those, I'd have to say my wife, Wendy, has been the most supportive and most encouraging to me.

KELLER: We've been talking about all of your successes in the business. Have you made any mistakes?

DOWDEN: Oh my goodness, have I. I made a lot of mistakes.

KELLER: What do you think was your biggest mistake?

DOWDEN: I think I could have done a better job in the early stages of my career had I focused more on the financial and business aspects of things as opposed to the mechanical aspects of things. So I think I didn't prepare myself as well in the early stages of my career as I could have.

Later on, in terms of running my company, I'm sure that I've made some mistakes with people whom I lost for one reason or another. Although I had very little turnover in my company through the '80s, I only lost two key people as I recall, I'm sure I could have done a better job of managing. But I'm sure that was part of it. But Jim, I could probably send you a letter listing more things that I did wrong than I can think of now. I'm sure I made my share of mistakes though, as everyone does. Anyway, thank you very much for taking the time to come here from Denver. This has been quite an experience for me.

KELLER: It's a delight and I want to thank not only you but the people at the Center for their hospitality in loaning us the student facility and helping us put this together for posterity. Again, it's been a fascinating study in the development of telecommunications and especially cable. We appreciate it very much.

DOWDEN: Thank you so much.

KELLER: This again is a presentation of the Gus Hauser Oral/Video History program of the Cable Television Center. Thanks again.

DOWDEN: Thanks, Jim.

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Bill Domurad


Interview Date: August 13, 2005
Interview Location: York, PA USA
Interviewer: Kristin Van Ormer

DOMURAD: I was involved in a marketing company outside of D.C. and in 1980 we had sold it. I came back up to York wanting to see an old college professor who was a vice-president at Merrill Lynch and I was going to do some investments. I said, "I don't know what I want to do with my life," and he said, "How about computers? That seems to be the biggest thing," and I said, "You mean the ones that are the size of the room?" And he goes, "Well, yeah, kind of," and I said, "Well, yeah, I guess I can." He said, "But there are a couple of people that have a company and they're looking for a corporate development person. Would you be interested?" I said, "Yes, if I can have a little interest in the business." We chatted for a little bit further and I said, "What is the business?" He said, "Cable TV." I said, "Is that where you pay for your TV?" and he goes, "Yeah." I said, "Well, I just pay the bill, $5.25. Is that ever going to go anywhere?" He looked at me and he said, "You're entrepreneurial, you're a risk-taker, why don't you take a look at it?" So I did. I interviewed with two gentlemen and at that point I decided to go along with them and go after starting up cable companies throughout the eastern part of the United States.

VAN ORMER: And who was that with?

DOMURAD: That was with Alvin Miller. There was a corporation of a couple of individuals together and that broke up in '84, so Alvin and I again came together and did some additional cable systems from Maine to Florida, so it was quite an interesting...

VAN ORMER: So exactly what were you doing? Were you getting franchises, building the systems...?

DOMURAD: I was in both operations, franchises and marketing, so I was kind of a little bit of everything.

VAN ORMER: Sure – like many people, wearing a bunch of hats.

DOMURAD: Many people in the industry. Whatever needed to be done, you jumped in and did it.

VAN ORMER: So you were involved with marketing, what were some of the maybe negative perceptions that you had to overcome with marketing, or lack of perception at all?

DOMURAD: It was both in franchising and marketing, it was basically the same thing, and it's actually a two-step. First, there's always the community that says, oh, we don't need that, but at the same time, I recall in '81 being down the eastern shore of Maryland doing a franchise and President Reagan was shot, and it came across and I think it was on one of the network news and they only had a quick bleep of it and they went back to the soap opera, and I basically turned to the mayor and said, "If you had this now, we have 24 hours of news – CNN – you'd be seeing it all the time. You'd know exactly what's happening." That deal was done right there, so that worked out. Now on the marketing side, it was interesting – in some towns, after they heard that we had cable, people just came outside as soon as our trucks were there for construction. They wanted to start signing up. It wasn't like nobody was interested in it. It wasn't as easy as that in some areas, but as time went on people understood that it had value.

VAN ORMER: So at that point, in the early '80s, you were still concentrating more on rural markets or were you really moving into the urban markets at that point (you personally)?

DOMURAD: More rural markets. I got involved in an urban market in Baltimore. I was involved with a group that was going to put a bid in. Baltimore and Philadelphia, as you know, were two markets that were the last standing, but it go to the point where everybody had their hand out, everybody wanted to get something out of it, and in my point of view it wasn't worthwhile. So I kind of moved away from that and back into the more rural areas. Between the two urban areas there were a lot of areas that you could fill in and I felt that was just fine. I like dealing with those types of people, too. It was just fun to deal one-on-one and talk to the different communities that didn't really understand what the whole complex was because they heard all types of rumors, you know – "the earth stations are going to make everybody impotent in the community" and it was like, come on, that's not the way it works. So it was a different look into it.

VAN ORMER: Did you have any involvement in the organization of some of the early associations like CTAM?

DOMURAD: I attended a lot of the CTAM and PCTA, at that time, which is now Broadband Cable Association of Pennsylvania. I should know that, I chaired that when they changed the name, bringing it back to our roots. I was involved in the early '90s. A gentleman by the name of Stan Singer, who was then president, he and I talked about a number of issues and stuff and one or two were on a political situation that was happening and he asked – I was in a particular area – if I could go talk to those people since I knew some of the folks and I said, "Sure." He kept talking about the association there and in the early '90s I joined that one and became involved in that and since that time have served in a number of capacities, executive committees and chairman, now past chairman.

VAN ORMER: So what was your progression like? Walk us through what you did from being involved in all those marketing, franchising... from there to here where you're at with Clearview Partners.

DOMURAD: We're always looking for opportunity to expand like most businesses, so if you had an area that wasn't franchised you franchise it. You try to talk to the people who maybe have a smaller system and try to bundle it together with yours to make it a better economics, and we would do that too. We purchased cable systems. Sometimes they didn't make sense to try to expand them any further because there were some larger companies that had bought around it or somebody else had paid a lot more and it just didn't make sense. As far as the migration from that point, I would say that it was in the... I guess it was '85, '86 when we did some limited partnerships to grow our business because it's capital intense so you know you couldn't do everything that came out of your pocket or the bank. I know in 1980 we were one of the first cable lends from a bank down in Maryland, First National, that has now moved to M&T Bank, but we're still the oldest and first cable system that they lent to, and at that point they had nothing as far as their capacity but they did close to a billion dollars before it was transferred to M&T, so it was something that was interesting to watch as their business grew and ours grew. They always would call us up and ask us about different deals that they were doing and what we thought, so it was fun to see that side, but I also then got on the financing side of how we put these deals together, which was also intriguing. The industry changed in different directions so we changed too. You just watch and learn from some of the larger players what's going on and say, yeah, I think we can do that too. There was no real place you could go to and say, okay, I'll learn that. So it was kind of something that... I think one of the great things in this industry is the camaraderie that you have with everybody. They're willing to share so much with each other. You can talk to people in a big company if over the years you've made acquaintances with some of those people and they're just great people, they really are. I know people have left the industry and they'd call me or send me and email or something and I'd say, hey, you ought to come back, and they'd say, we miss it. There were so many great people in the industry and they'd always help you out, and I think that's one of the things that helped us grow a little bit and it was a learning session, just like now. There are a lot of things that are changing very quickly. One group can't do it by themselves. I think that's important that you have that relationship with the industry.

VAN ORMER: Sure. Things are changing very quickly right now, and I've got a lot I want to talk to you about on that front, but right now what are you doing with Clearview Partners, and describe that to us a little bit?

DOMURAD: Clearview Partners we started back in the mid to late '80s and at that point it was a new franchise down in Maryland. We built it from scratch. We competed with two other major companies. We beat the other major companies and got the franchise. At that point we started building it. There was an opportunity to buy another small cable system so we bundled that with it and bought out another partner and grabbed another cable system, so we had three headends and a microwave, and what we did with the oncoming addition of fiber optics, which was a great thing for the industry, but the pricing, when it's been out for a long time, didn't get down to the economics where you can employ it. Well, when that started dropping we were able to move from three headends and a microwave down to one headend and it made it very efficient so we can build on some other products and things that we wanted to do, and the reliability, also, was a big thing too. That helped out because if you had five, six power and utility companies that you're dealing with, it was confusing. If the power would go out here in one area because the power company is over here, the people in between said, hey, how come I don't have cable? So it was one of those things that you had to try to build into it where it would keep working itself out, and it did very well. So we're down to one and we've now moved from just your plain old cable, of course, from a number of years ago to the digital and the high-speed internet. Again, one of the concerns that we have and one of the reasons I was involved with the associations, both national and state, was in this state we had what was called House Bill 1560, which was forced access, which means you build a plant and anybody else can put it in there. I had a testimony with Senator McCall from the state of Pennsylvania here, and he said, "Well, we're thinking about doing this bill, you're on record." I basically said, "That's fine. If you put it in there I'll go to the next state to deliver that service because it really is our money that we're putting up for this business." At that point it was kicked out, but it was again that thing where the political side was trying to so-called even the playing field, but they weren't evening the playing field. Smartly they chose not to pass that bill and in that time we expanded into the fiber and the internet and it's gone gangbusters. It's absolutely wonderful, amazing. No matter what area – you said urban or rural area. I think sometimes people that you never would expect would take it want it now, and it reminds me of the days starting out when people would say, yeah, I want HBO, the movies, or the sports, and it's fun to see that happen again.

VAN ORMER: In today's climate, as a smaller operator, what are some of the major challenges that you're dealing with right now?

DOMURAD: The major challenges I would see are, again, talking about the political situation... you have some new services, they don't understand them, and so they want to regulate them. They want to control that. I think in its infinite wisdom, the FCC said, "No, keep your hands off, let it develop," and I think that was important, as have some of the states, they've done that. In one degree it's a political thing that can affect your business and it's a big problem if it goes in another direction where it starts using things... Bills that will affect you. The other part is learning the curve on the new products that are coming out. We spoke about digital, we spoke about the internet. Now we're talking about HD – high definition. We're talking about Voice Over IP – VOIP, as they call it. So there's a learning curve there and it's like, okay, how do I get to that learning curve? Who's doing what? You get to the sessions... we have a thing here in this state called Cable Academy that brings those people in and talk about it. You're talking to vendors, you're talking to other operators – "What are you doing?" In fact, at this recent meeting here, I had a discussion with one of the operators, one of the major operators, that we ought to come together on a couple of issues because we were very close as far as geographically that would benefit both of us. So we'll be in a discussion and "Okay, that's great! How can we do that?" Because now we have other people that see our business as very profitable, a very good business to be in, and gee, the broadband can bring a lot of different products across there – yesterday, today and tomorrow. So, it's something that's not going to go away in a heartbeat.

VAN ORMER: And maybe you've just answered this question, but what are the advantages of being a small operator in this environment of new technologies and constant innovations?

DOMURAD: I think the advantage is that being a large operator there's a lot of focus on the minute you do something, right or wrong, it's in the press. If there's a problem... because a lot of times you'll do a test on something and if the test isn't quite what you're wanting it to do everybody's jumping on it, and the public companies have a lot of pressure on them to perform and stuff. The smaller operator, I think the advantage of that is I can pick and choose, and we answer to our own stockholders, we basically control our own interests, but still you look at it and say, "Let's do what's the best for the company and the stockholders." Everybody tries to do that but I think there's a little bit of force from Wall Street to say, "Hurry up and produce," but we're finding out we're producing just as well as the big operators. It's something that as a small operator you have a lot more areas that you've go to move faster on, a lot less people that you have to do those same jobs that the larger one does, but you have opportunities that you can more around a little bit easier.

VAN ORMER: And what is your decision-making process as a small operator, where your bottom line isn't necessarily your shareholders, to make decisions of picking out the many technologies that are available? How do you make these decisions?

DOMURAD: History. I look at the history, I look at the numbers of other operators and see how they're doing. When you see those numbers you see how fast it's moving along. Like internet versus digital, when that first came about you saw how the internet was just flying out and the digital was slowly moving along, so it gives you an indication of what the people want. Surveys are another thing that we've done to see what the folks want. We recently did a fair called the Mason-Dixon fair down here that has 40-50,000 people show up, so we do fairs, we talk to the people and we see what it is that they want. It's always interesting – one, to get a feel of what they think of our service, give us some feedback there, what do you think of additional services and how you'd respond to it. At that point in time you look through it, you see what the cost analysis is to figure out what the rate of return... how are you going to get a rate of return on this? You just can't put a lot of money out. Someday the bank's going to knock on your door, as they do often, and say, "What are you doing here?" So we work through that process, and again, just test the market. I think we've done very well doing that in that progression.

VAN ORMER: In the landscape today – of course I think the word that's on many people's lips right now is Verizon, and the face of competition is changing a little bit, more competitors are coming into the field – how do you think this is going to shake out in the next five years, ten years for cable? Who are going to be the major competitors, how is cable going to change to remain relevant and differentiate itself from the competitors it's going to have?

DOMURAD: I'm not familiar with that name? What was that? Verizon? There are quite a few questions there. How's it all going to shake out? Verizon has a lot of money and they're going to be very competitive. I think, though, they have to more or less, instead of competing today with the video – they looked at the video and the voice – I think what they're looking at from my standpoint is that... a good example is Tampa, where they lost market share. Their different products that they have are dwindling down. They have an antiquated system that they have to rebuild. They have to spend a lot of money. So at that point in time I think we've got a leg up on some of the services we're doing, and they've now got to come into our arena to start competing with some of the services we've been providing for a long time. So we're adding on some of the services they have, we're looking into that area. Yes, they're going to be a very dominant provider, but I think cable's going to hold its own, and not only hold its own because of some of the new products that will be able to lead that industry, and I think you've seen a lot of different tests on the products that we've offered today and what we're going to be offering in the future. I know some of the larger operators and what they're doing on Voice Over IP – tremendous return as far as penetration. 30% in the first year, I'm hearing, or higher. So what does that tell you? That's a core service that Verizon and others have had that they're starting to lose revenue share on. I think that bothers them. That's a tough point to sit in that meeting, too, saying, hey, now what are we going to do with these cable people? In years gone by they've always thought of the cable industry, "They're not really a true business," and suddenly they're realizing that we have a lot of clout, a lot of business and we're doing very good business. Were there some other questions in there that I missed?

VAN ORMER: I think you pretty much covered that. Well, with the added competition... competition can be a real advantage. It can make you leaner, it can make you stronger as a business, and maybe you kind of addressed this, but what are some of the things that cable will be doing in the near future to make them a stronger, leaner business as they have more competitors coming into the field?

DOMURAD: I agree with you that competition makes you sharper. It will give you more detail of what the consumer wants because it really is about the consumer. If you're not keeping them happy – and price is not always the indicator – but it's customer service, how you're being treated, how you're taking care of the customer, how you're communicating with the customer. I think this industry hasn't always communicated. We've always said, "Look, we're not going to pat ourselves on the back. We just go ahead and do our job," and I've seen that over the years in systems that I've been involved in. You just go out and do your deal and you don't have to put your name all over the place, you just do one thing at a time, but now what we're doing with a lot of different products, you have to tie that all together in a neat marketing package and I think we have to do more and more of that. CTAM is a perfect example of a good instrument that cable operators, independent and large, can use to benefit out of it. So I think it's important.

VAN ORMER: Have you been involved much in public policy lately? Do you think there's any public policy initiatives that are coming down the pike that will kind of help level the playing field for cable?

DOMURAD: I don't see any for cable. I always see it on the other side that they're trying to take a little something... in the past, I'm a little prejudiced on this side, it hasn't always been an even playing field, and a good example is the dish, DBS. There are a lot of independent operators out there and they've got a few million subscribers. You've got companies that have 5,000, 10,000, 20,000, 30,000 subscribers. Well, that's not an even playing field. That's one-sided. Dealing with sports where they were able to get sports and we couldn't, certain sports. Well, I don't think that's an even playing field, and I think it's important. You know what? I don't mind playing on an even playing field. If it's square with everybody, that's okay with me. I don't mind competing, rolling up our sleeves, but that's why I think it's so important for small operators, large operators to get together with their associations, both state and national, to get that message out, get that information because I think in the earlier years we said we'll be quiet and nobody will pay attention to us, but that doesn't exist anymore.

VAN ORMER: How has programming been for you in the context of being a small operator? It's obviously a boon in that you have so much content to offer to your consumer, but costs are high. Have you joined with ACA or...?

DOMURAD: ACA is more the political end, NCTC is the buying co-op that's involved in that, and yes, we are involved in that because you could be picked off by programmers independently versus what they're doing as a group, and yeah, I feel a certain pain when you said programmers. Yes, it's something that we're always watching and there are some that, as we've rebuilt our cable system, people say we want to put you on analog and there are some other programs that we look at and say, you know what? We're really pushed to the limits on analog and everything's moving to digital and we're going to have to put you on digital, we're going to have to put you on digital. Of course they don't like that, they'd prefer to be analog, but I think it's something that we look at the programming, we look at what our customers would like and enjoy, and in some of the digital things that we've done is instead of putting as much on as possible we've tiered it a little bit and said if you want more sports, we'll get it for you. If you want more of the movies, we'll get it for you, but you're going to have to pay a little different instead of making everybody pay for the whole thing – kind of a grocery store of entertainment and information.

VAN ORMER: How are you seeing the digital trend panning out within your consumer base? Are you still doing a lot of analog? Is it really transitioning heavily to digital?

DOMURAD: You mean moving the programming from analog to digital? It's transitioning. We're moving. That's where it's all going. It's going to get there.

VAN ORMER: So it's steady.

DOMURAD: Yeah, and also, you're aware of the FCC rules that everything has to be digital by a certain period of time, and I haven't checked my email, so I don't know what the new date is today. I know it was different six months ago. I think there's a rush to make things happen quickly, but things weren't capable of doing that on the consumer side. There are a lot of consumers that may not be up to buying different sets.

VAN ORMER: I want to talk a little bit about your perspectives of the Pennsylvania cable community. I know you've had experience with a lot of different markets, but Pennsylvania is really unique in a number of ways. One being that there are a lot of small operators still running family-run businesses, and there's just a different culture here. What would you attribute that to?

DOMURAD: I would say it's the entrepreneurial spirit that I've seen with the different smaller operators. I think this is nation-wide for the independent operators that they have that entrepreneurial spirit. When they started doing the different venues of just cable, then HBO, expanding into it. I would just say it's a grassroots type thing and people felt in some cases, this is from one family to the other, that it's a great business. You look at a lot of it and I know some family members that got away from that business and came back. I know people that have left the industry and really want to come back or have come back because it is a great industry. I think it's a sexy industry, it's a fun industry, and there's something happening all the time. There's something new happening. Where at one point we're on only two or three revenue streams, now we're on five, six, seven revenue streams. Again, grocery store of entertainment and value for the consumer. So being part of that and still being able to not go through six layers of management to make a decision, I think there are a lot of people like myself – and I've dealt with large corporations too, and you have the political side, the personalities and stuff and we've got to weigh this and everything – well, I think the small entrepreneur will say "I want to do it, I'm going to do it because it's a gut thing. I've weighed it, I've valued it, let's go do it" and it can get done. I've always seen that happen.

VAN ORMER: So, you mentioned that you were chairman of PCTA when they went through the name change. Can you talk a little bit about the decision making process of changing the name of the organization that had been called that for what? – close to 45 years by the time you changed it?

DOMURAD: Something like that, yes. I think what we looked at is how the political end up in Harrisburg and other areas looked at our name, and people said first of all, there's a lot going on so we wanted to get more information to this people, be able to communicate with them, and so-called brand what we are just like what we were trying to do in marketing in our own systems. When people go, "Well, it's P, C, T...?" They couldn't figure it out. "And what is P? I guess it's Pennsylvania it stands for?" Well, when we looked at it, our marketing committee put together some input on how the different operators felt about it and how different things were happening, and one of the things I noticed too was that the competition was saying, well, we're going to be the broadband of the future. Well, that bothered me and a bunch of others to the point that we said, "Okay, let's take a look at some options here." What we found is that broadband was back in the '50s, the name, and it's something that we've always had, so it was our birthright. Why should we have these people that do great marketing programs come in and steal our birthright? So we took a look at it and we ended up changing it to Broadband Cable Association of Pennsylvania to bring that back in. Now, I've got to tell you, there are some pioneers and other people that were not real happy that we were changing a name that was around for a long time, but after sitting down and talking to some of them on the phone and saying, "Well, remember this company? What was that called again? It was Broadband..." Aah, yes. Again, we ought to go back to our roots and bring back what was our birthright. It's come off very well. I think we've got an excellent response up on the Hill and just in the community. So it's something that I'm excited that we moved forward on. Again, the association being the type that will move quickly when it needs to, just like the independents that you spoke about, and they've moved very quickly under the new regime that we have here and did an excellent job.

VAN ORMER: What would you say that the legacy has been of the Pennsylvania cable operators to the industry as a whole, besides the obvious of being John Walson in Mahanoy City?

DOMURAD: You mean the founders of the industry? I think as you look at it as people – and it's really about people – that had ideas and were willing to move behind those ideas. At one point a lot of it moved out to Colorado, some of the major headquarters, and now some of the major headquarters in the industry are back here in Pennsylvania again, and I think it's people that make things happen. If you look at some of the big companies, they started out very small so they still have some of that entrepreneurial pioneering spirit, and yes, they're very large public companies, but some of the people at the head understand that, they were there when that started that way. And as some of the people in that same family and different families take on that responsibility, they too have that passed on to them. So I believe there are a lot of people that look and say, yeah, if there's something these people in Pennsylvania are doing we'd better watch it because we want to see what they're doing and I think we'll follow also.

VAN ORMER: I know you're going to be involved in the industry for years to come, but I know that you probably feel, well, I would hope you feel that you've made an impact already and what would you say that would be? What's your most rewarding moment or what do you feel maybe your own personal legacy has been on the industry?

DOMURAD: You look at all these great people out there and I don't know if I really have a legacy. I'm thrilled to be around those folks. One of them that we bumped into coming in here, Les Read, some of those folks – I know a lot of those folks and it's just fun to be a part of it and be with some of those folks and see them and be able to chat with them about old times and where the future is, but I'm not sure if I per se have a legacy. What really excites me and I have since I was in college always thought about wanting to have a business that I can bring something to the consumer, something to people that they'd really enjoy. If you ever see the opportunity, and I know we had this at this last fair, to talk to somebody that never thought they'd have high-speed internet. They ask the question and we look at it quickly on the map and I say, "You know what? We're going to give you a call. We'll have an engineer go down and take a look. I think you'll have high-speed within the next sixty days." The guy just about kissed me. It was like no, no, okay, this is great. But just to see the excitement in people that you can bring something to, I think it's pretty neat, and it is fun to be part of something that for years people look back at the internet and being able to bring it into the community, bringing cable to the community, bringing internet, bringing digital and whatever comes forward, if it's voice or whatever, into these smaller communities which would not always have an opportunity to have what some of the urban/suburban areas have. So that I find is very exciting and rewarding.

VAN ORMER: Good. Well, did you have anything you wanted to add that we haven't discussed already?

DOMURAD: No, just thinking back on everything, I'm thrilled to be part of this industry. When you first start out you look at things and say where would I want to spend my life work at doing and I don't think I would have changed that decision. I'm just thrilled. Knowing the people that are involved with the industry is exciting, the things that we do... there's a lot of hard work in the past and one well-known founder told me, "You know, Bill," and this is about five years ago, "if you think you're busy today, this is the least busy you'll be for the next term of your life in the cable industry." and he was right. We look at it and say, wow! This is a tough stunt, but enjoyable, something that you look to and again, it's the people that I really enjoy working with.

VAN ORMER: Do you feel it's going to be a challenge to keep that kind of appreciation and attitude going with some of the younger people getting involved in the industry?

DOMURAD: That's a good question and I really think it's something that has to be fostered by the people that own the companies, that manage the companies, to bring them in. What we're looking at, at the state association, BCAP, is to bring some more of the younger folks in that are people just coming into the industry and we have a thing called Cable Academy that is not only educational, as an academy is, but it also gives a time to socialize with some of the people that are of all levels and to give them a little bit of history and culture that they can build on to see how, you know, "I was around when the internet first started," and I had heard that last spring when somebody said, "Yeah, I've been here FIVE years in the industry, and I remember when we first started on internet." Half laughing you walk away and say, "Yeah, I remember when I brought cable to this town that didn't have cable." So yes, I think that's something that we can't let go by. I think you have to build that too because at that point in time they will have a vested interest in the business, and I think that's with any business. People are people.

VAN ORMER: Great. Bill, thanks so much for sharing your perspectives and your time with us today. We appreciate it.

DOMURAD: Thank you very much.

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Doug Dittrick


Interview Date: December 1, 2002
Interview Location: Ridgewood, NJ USA
Interviewer: Jim Keller
Collection: Hauser Collection

KELLER: This is the oral history of Douglas H. Dittrick, currently Chairman and CEO of Douglas Communications, cable television entrepreneur extraordinaire, corporate executive for the last almost 40 years, Cable Pioneer, and one of the good guys of the cable television industry. We are currently in the Valley Health Systems offices in Ridgewood, New Jersey where Doug currently is serving as the chairman of the board of the Valley Health System. This interview is part of the Oral History Program of The National Cable Television Center and Museum and is brought to you by a grant from the Gustave Hauser Foundation for which we are very appreciative. Doug, to start out with tell us a little bit about your background before you got involved in cable television.

DITTRICK: All right. I was at General Electric Company, Jim. I'd been there in the traveling audit staff and some other functions. I had a stint in the Air Force after college and then GE, and GE formed a task force to look into the thing called CATV (5) as it was called back then in the mid '60s.

KELLER: CATV. Mostly by the telephone companies.

DITTRICK: Probably. But the big General Electric Company in Schenectady, New York and we had a small broadcasting company with a station, WRGB in Schenectady, and somebody had applied for a franchise in Troy, or Albany, New York, which was one of the three cities in that tri-station market. So the company said they should do something to find out what this was and I was asked as a member of the audit staff to be the financial fellow on a small group to look at this thing called cable television. So we set out to do this – there were three of us, a person from the corporate planning office, myself and a fellow who had run the broadcasting station. We spent three months, we interviewed everybody from Irving Kahn at the Algonquin, and Al Stern and all these names which I would later find out had been very active, obviously, in the business and we decided that we ought to try to get into that business. So we formed a company, General Electric Cablevision. We applied for franchises in our market.

KELLER: Why did they decide to go into it? What were the findings of your task force?

DITTRICK: Well, we said it was an interesting business as an adjunct to our broadcasting business and we ought to do it to protect our markets. There were other far-fetched things like the General Electric Labs were there and they were in the electric metering business and they said well, here's a wire into the home that perhaps we could do things with reading meters and other things, so we were early on looking at those kind of associated things.

KELLER: Did you look at the economics of the business at that point to see whether it would be a business or not?

DITTRICK: We tried to look at it. Certainly the economics of the cable business, that was back when you were paying $300 a subscriber and a $5 monthly rate appeared to be all right and we were small enough on the radar screen that we went ahead and did it. Things like the meter reading business and others were kind of far out and stayed far out.

KELLER: Still is today.

DITTRICK: It is. So we formed the company. I was able to meet a number of people, and in fact joined the National Cable Association board at that point.

KELLER: Right away you were on the board?

DITTRICK: Earlier than I should have. We got a call from Wally Briscoe one day when they heard that GE was getting in the business. I happened to take the call and when told that they'd like to have somebody from GE on the board I volunteered myself which was the first time I ever did anything like that and it was the best thing I ever did, obviously.

KELLER: You learned in a hurry.

DITTRICK: I did. So I was able to join the board and met all the people who were on the board in the late '60s and it was obviously a great learning time for me, but a lot of fun. We bought some cable systems.

KELLER: Let me put it this way, why were you finally tapped then to become president of the General Electric Cablevision systems?

DITTRICK: I never got to really do that job. I ran the operations and I did it only because when we formed the company the general manager, a fellow by the name of Bob Hanna, and I were told we'd go out and start this venture. Bob retired from the General Electric Company about a year later, and so I was the activist fellow. Through that association then on the trade association board met Monty Rifkin among others and Monty then asked me to join him as they were starting a new company which was going to be called American Television.

KELLER: Here you went with a brand new operation and left a major, major company who could pour – deep pockets – they could pour almost as much money as they wanted to into it. Why did you do that?

DITTRICK: Well, big companies have big pockets but don't necessarily spend it on small projects and I don't think they ever planned to really do a lot in there. I had just begun to learn about leverage and entrepreneurship and so I was fairly easy for Monty, who came from a background with Bill Daniels who you know and was one of our real grandfathers...

KELLER: TelePrompTer before that.

DITTRICK: Yes. So I learned about leverage and things that you could do that you couldn't do at a big General Electric Company. GE had 200,000 employees at the time, it was a huge company and it gave us a chance to do something different. Not that we totally knew what we were getting into but...

KELLER: Monty had an angel at that point in addition to Bill and that was Royal Little, is that correct?

DITTRICK: That's right. I don't know if he was an angel, but I think Daniels was running properties for Narragansett Capital, for Boston Capital, for ADT which was the investment trust of one of those, and Royal was kind of the fellow in the middle of all that – Providence, Boston circle – so that Royal who was very well known I think was the first living guy inducted into the Fortune business hall of fame with Andrew Carnegie and DuPont and Rockefeller, etc. And Royal was obviously a great figure, a great role model and added a great deal of credibility to what we did when we started American Television.

KELLER: He served as chairman of the board for some time, didn't he?

DITTRICK: He did. He did. We came public – back then Bob Rosencrans was taking United, whatever he called himself, but they took that company public and I think maybe Gene Schneider and ATC all came public back in the late '60s and we were able to do it because of Royal Little being our chairman.

KELLER: I think H&B American went about that same time, didn't they? '68, '69, about that time?

DITTRICK: I think they might have, yes.

KELLER: Do you remember the other people on the board of ATC?

DITTRICK: Well, we had Harvey Sarrows – I run into his son who's at the Fleet Bank – Gene Davalpin was a Boston Capital guy, Pete Conrad was an old buddy of Bill Daniels and was an astronaut at the time and he was on the board, and Monty. It was a relatively small board but ATC was formed really with the companies that Daniels had been running for those groups.

KELLER: And Daniels had been operating many companies before and finally he got these individual systems that he threw into and became ATC and gave them to Monty then.

DITTRICK: That's correct. And one of them that I think Bill and Monty might have owned in Fort Dodge, Iowa.

KELLER: Fort Dodge, I remember.

DITTRICK: Our big contract there was with the prison.

KELLER: And you stayed with ATC then for?

DITTRICK: About five years.

KELLER: What do you remember most about your experience with ATC?

DITTRICK: I think it was the fun of seeing a total start-up business. Monty was pretty good to work with for me, and Monty left all the operations in my hands so that I was able to work with all the people in the field. So while I was kind of learning the business I worked with some great people who were the real salt of the earth of cable back in the late '60s, early '70s.

KELLER: Tom Leegan, Vern Ribal...

DITTRICK: I was just going to mention Vern in Emporia and Chanute and the big thing that he wanted was a Dodge Charger so I coined a term to myself anyway that there was a thing called psychic income. You didn't have to pay these guys a lot of money but if I got him a Charger he was hot stuff in Chanute.

KELLER: And Independence.

DITTRICK: Parsons and Independence, Kansas, and then Tom Leegan down in Kennet, Missouri, just a class guy and fun to work with and these guys really worked the trenches out there.

KELLER: Was George Meyers with us at the time up in Minnesota?

DITTRICK: Yes, he was up in Mankato. An old line cable guy who'd probably been in the business since the early '50s, active in his town, loved Mankato and went with that whole Mankato group including Bresnan and a lot of the old names up there.

KELLER: These are names really from the past, but they really were operational guys at that time.

DITTRICK: They were. They were all the general managers of these systems or in the case of Vern and Tom had smaller systems and so they'd have six or eight or ten systems they worried about.

KELLER: It was great, and then as the company developed they became more and more important and they became regional managers and then a couple of us were over them...

DITTRICK: Jimmy Doolittle in North Carolina when we acquired that complex of systems. I met Jerry Marnell when we went down to Fayetteville to look at the systems, that was the first time I met Jerry who was with us but was living out in Kansas. Monty told me, "This guy's a bright engineer but he doesn't talk a lot." So we met at a bar when we both arrived in Fayetteville and we sat there and I had to drink six or eight beers and I don't think I got six words out of Jerry. He stayed a friend for 25 years.

KELLER: As the system developed, the early franchising efforts back in the early to mid '70s was starting to develop now, especially in the medium sized markets around the country. Do you have any storied about your franchising efforts at that time?

DITTRICK: Probably some but I couldn't tell them all. But we were there and in fact you were involved with us in doing that, and Bruce Lovitt who we'd hired who had been general counsel of the trade association and he came in to do that, and then we had our famous Jack Gault who was... Jack is Jack.

KELLER: Just Jack Gault, that's all you can say.

DITTRICK: You can't describe him any better than that. But we did a lot of that and before they came on board I was still doing a number of those systems and in those days oftentimes we would put together local groups to help us with the political infighting in towns, but everybody else was doing the same thing and we'd meet the same people on the road. I'd meet Les Read or Bob Hughes...

KELLER: Jerry Lindauer.

DITTRICK: Lindauer was there. I mean, we were all out doing the same thing and we'd meet each other and after the city council would meet we'd even have a beer together. It was a good process and as far as I know it was a pretty upfront and an honest process. It was an interesting time, and for us at ATC it was a good time to expand what we were doing, so we had some good luck. We got franchises, before I left anyway, in Shreveport and Jackson. I know when I left you were working up in Portland, Maine.

KELLER: Birmingham.

DITTRICK: Birmingham, Alabama. So we did a lot of places and as it turned out they've been good systems.

KELLER: They really have, except Monty really didn't want Birmingham that badly at the time because – do you remember Birmingham? As you came in from the airport?


KELLER: Until you got to downtown there was nothing. It looked like a disaster area and that was his first impression of Birmingham.

DITTRICK: Well, we couldn't do all. At the time we thought the best places were to get state capitols and/or good resorts and you ran out of those pretty quick. Columbus, Ohio was one of those.

KELLER: Tell us about the Orlando story.

DITTRICK: The Orlando story? Well, we got the franchise; we put together the local group, Orange County Cablevision. We had a very interesting group – an insurance guy, a beer distributor, these were people who had been active in Orlando politics. The franchise wasn't that heavily contested, quite frankly.

KELLER: Well, no one wanted it really.

DITTRICK: We ended up bidding on a dual cable system because we didn't have the capacity and amplifiers in those days to go beyond 12 channels, so we had all this fancy stuff with multiple channels. So we built and bid a dual cable plant. We continued getting all the franchises around there and did a pretty good job. The only person competing outside was Times Mirror, but it was a little sleepy western cow town called Kissimmee which literally had dirt streets when we were there.

KELLER: And it did until Disney went in there.

DITTRICK: Obviously if I'd known it I could have bought 100 acres of ground down there and sold it to Disney and made a fortune. But we built a dual cable plant, tried to do all kinds of things with it.

KELLER: It was a real drain on the company, wasn't it?

DITTRICK: It was a lot of work.

KELLER: It was the first really two-way cable system or services that the industry had done.

DITTRICK: And if you ever had a chance to go down there and look at the cable plant you could see why it was a problem. Poles would sag from the weight of the plant that we put up there, but it got us started and we sold the Vision – I remember doing one sample where we showed an ambulance out on a freeway videotaping back to a hospital because of the two-way capability the injuries that had happened in a car accident, not a real life thing, but trying to demo what we could do with two-way cable. So it was always an experimental thing and fortunately the market took off in Orlando, Winter Park and the entire Orange County area, obviously after Disney came, just blossomed. But for a long time that dual-cable plant was there and it was a drain and a young man was hired to be an assistant to our manager – we'd hired a manager who'd been a lawyer at the FCC who was struggling with this whole involvement – but we hired a bright young MBA who one of our directors, Collier Crumb, recommended to us, so Joe Collins arrived in Orlando, Florida.

KELLER: He's the only one that survived it, too.

DITTRICK: He probably was. Shorty Coryell came down from the Berks.

KELLER: But that just ate up managers down there trying to make that thing go, as I recall.

DITTRICK: It probably would've eaten up me if I'd stayed but I left and Joe was in good shape.

KELLER: Tommy Alexander was down there at the time, and who else? I think Gault was down there, wasn't he, for awhile?

DITTRICK: He might have been. Jack would go in and come out.

KELLER: It was a real disaster as I remember it then.

DITTRICK: It was a tough job because of the capital that we'd invested in that dual-cable.

KELLER: Somebody told me that the reason that Monty wanted Orlando worse than anything else was – did his mother move down there or somebody...?

DITTRICK: Might be. I didn't hear that story.

KELLER: Because no one really knew why Monty ever wanted Orlando.

DITTRICK: I thought we did it because we had a good shot at it and it was a growing market. I never heard the other story.

KELLER: That's fair enough then. When did you leave ATC and how did you leave, under what conditions and where did you go?

DITTRICK: Pete Conrad had been one of our directors and Monty was going to hire Pete to come in to be president of the company which was fine, and Monty and I just had some differences as to what role I might be playing going forward. So I'd been approached by some people to talk to Viacom (Vee-a-com), Viacome (Vi-a-com), whatever it was, at the time I think it was Viacom (Vee-a-com), and they were looking for a president for their operation and so after Monty had made that decision I went ahead and told a headhunter that I would talk to them and a couple months later I became president of Viacom's cable group and worked for Ralph Baruch in New York. I moved from Denver to New York, in fact moved here to Ridgewood, New Jersey where we've lived for 30 years.

KELLER: And how long did you stay with Viacom?

DITTRICK: I was there about five years. I went through two years as chair of the trade association.

KELLER: Before that – I do want to get into that in detail – but I'm more interested in Viacom acquiring CBS properties and how you got involved with that with the Goddards and things like that.

DITTRICK: Viacom was spun-off from CBS and they spun out their cable properties and their syndicated products business. Ralph Baruch became chairman of that spin-off; all these people were CBS people. I came in as the cable person to run that cable group. They had a group in California run by John Goddard who was one of the more capable guys I've ever known.

KELLER: Yes, and Scotty Bergren, was he there at the time?

DITTRICK: Scott was not. He came out of the Bergren-Goddard group that had been bought by CBS back in the early '60s, and so John was running that. We'd acquired a company in Cleveland they'd acquired before I got there and a company in Long Island which was...

KELLER: Was that Lakewood in Cleveland?


KELLER: Was that where Smiley... what's his name? Liptak, Greg Liptak was there, wasn't he at that time?

DITTRICK: No, not when I was there, but they'd acquired four fellows, one of them who was at the broadcasting company, a fellow by the name of Miller who was a football player from Notre Dame and a lawyer, Creighton Miller and they had sold it to Viacom. These were all done before I arrived, and the big one of course was on Long Island where we had 65,000-70,000 subscribers based out of Iceland. So I ended up there working out of New York, traveling a lot. For a fellow from Ohio who had just spent five years in Denver with blue skies and a ten minute commute, working in New York City was a difficult transition.

KELLER: And also your systems were in a major market at that time and that was at the very difficult days of the industry.

DITTRICK: Yes. San Francisco obviously was one of the markets and it had been up and down and the problems of construction, maintenance, and everything else in major cities was not easy.

KELLER: And the expenditure that no one ever really anticipated. As I recall, because I was involved in San Francisco, they were basing their financial projections on the history of the industry from small communities and it just didn't work.

DITTRICK: Yes. It was a big change so we were all going through that.

KELLER: And how long did you operate these systems in Viacom?

DITTRICK: I had a five year life cycle in all my jobs. I must have upset my boss whoever it was and after five years they'd move me on somewhere else. But after five years and I'd finished the trade association job, I was approached by a friend, John Saeman, who was also at Daniels and John knew of some venture capital people who wanted to get in the cable business and he thought maybe I would be interested in doing it with them. So I left Viacom to form Douglas...

KELLER: I want to com back to the Douglas Communications, but I want to go into your trade association experience. You said you went on the board early on when you became associated with GE Cable, you went onto the board, do you remember who the chairman of the board was at that time?

DITTRICK: Probably Al Stern, maybe before that, I don't know, it was the late '60s, early '70s. I don't have my history too well.

KELLER: What year was this?

DITTRICK: I'm guessing '68, '69.

KELLER: Crosby and then Stern was '66, '67.

DITTRICK: Al was, so I must have gone on in '67.

KELLER: Then Jack Crosby and then Bob Beisswenger.

DITTRICK: My interesting thing was there I was living in Denver – excuse me, I went on just before I moved out to Denver – but when I got to Denver I was on the board and I don't think Monty was, and then in those days you could only have one person from each company so I stayed on the board, but I would go to NCTA board meetings and we'd fly out publicly out of Denver's airport and I'd go with a fellow by the name of Bob Magness. So it was a chance to, for me anyway, to meet some of the real legends of the cable business and meet a guy like Magness and travel with him, if you will, and here I would find great stories if you could get Bob to talk which was sometimes a little bit of an effort but you'd certainly see him go chewing through those cigars. Bob Magness, as you remember, I don't think I ever saw him with a lighted cigar but he would go through four cigars a day and he'd just chew them down to nothing.

KELLER: And wouldn't even spit them out. I don't know where it went.

DITTRICK: But he was a wonderful guy. Some of those people who were here in those early days just were good people.

KELLER: Bob Magness was the founder and chairman of Television Communications, Inc., TCI, and brought John Malone into the business. I remember the opening statement that Bob made introducing John Malone. He said, "Smartest son-of-a-bitch I ever met in my life and so I hired him."

DITTRICK: And he was.

KELLER: And he still is. It was a shame when we lost Bob; he was great. When did you become chairman?

DITTRICK: I think '79, maybe two years, '79-'81.

KELLER: It was an interesting time in the development of cable in those times. The FCC had released a study called the Second Report and Order which followed the First Report and Order which had primarily to do with microwave served systems. The Second Report and Order said that the FCC probably should take cable television under its arm and regulate it in some way, it didn't know how, and then during the time that you were chairman they started to formulate their own opinions of how cable should be regulated. Do you remember anything about that?

DITTRICK: You're testing me now, but yes, some of it. I think a lot was shaped by our people in Washington and the attorneys who have always been very active. We've always had a cadre of attorneys who were very close to us who helped and obviously were retained by various independent firms, but there were five or six of those fellows who helped us read the tea leaves, if you will, as to what was going on there. The other thing was our trade association president – Bob Schmidt had been there and then we hired Tom Wheeler, and Tom was a pretty good po