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Leslie Ellis

Leslie Ellis 2006

Interview Location: Denver, CO USA
Interviewer: Jana Henthorn
Interview Date: September 9, 2015
Collection: Cable Center Oral History Program

Henthorn: It’s September 9, 2015. I’m Jana Henthorn, and I'm here with Leslie Ellis and we’re going to be doing her oral history. This is part of the Gus Hauser Oral and Video History Collection for the Cable Center.

Leslie, you are a long time friend of mine and I'm pretty excited to be able to do this oral history with you.

Ellis: I've known you for so long I don’t even remember when I met you.

Henthorn: Exactly. It’s been a long time. I'm looking forward to hearing more and getting this into the oral history archive for the Cable Center.

Ellis: I'm not used to be on this side of the questions, Jana.

Henthorn: We’ll talk about that.

You are a journalist, an author, an editor, a tech analyst, a tech advisor to CTOs, and a translator of all things cable related. You're really one of the most well-rounded executives that I know of in the industry.

Ellis: I love what I do.

Henthorn: And you just turned fifty and you took up surfing.

Ellis: Well, I took up surfing three years ago…

Henthorn: It's still admirable. And this is your thirtieth year in the cable industry. So to weave those things together, let’s talk about the waves of your cable career in the industry.

Ellis: I can tell you that I can stay on those waves much longer than I can stay on an actual wave. So yes, let’s talk about those things, those waves.

Henthorn: You're from Bucks County, Pennsylvania.

Ellis: Doylestown, yes.

Henthorn: Tell me about those formative years and how that prepared you for your eventual career in the cable industry.

Ellis: We’ll start with Mom and Dad. My dad worked for La-Z-Boy in the days of the Joe Namath commercials and the giving of La-Z-Boys to Superbowl champs who won. When I got older and got into cable, he used to love telling his friends, “It was natural. I'm in the recliner business; she’s in the cable business.” So there was that although I don’t really think that had anything to do with it. He actually didn’t talk like that either. And my mother was a court reporter. So she would drive down into Philadelphia and tape record usually reverse discrimination hearings for the Navy and then she would bring all these tapes home. She would sit there and write down the first name, like who was talking, and the first few words they said. She would bring the tapes home and our whole living room was set up with work stations with a typewriter and then a tape recorder on the floor that you could control—the fast forward and pause and everything—with your feet. And she would pass ten cents a page to help her transcribe all these tapes, which was a lot of money at the time. So it encouraged you to become a better and faster typist.

I don’t know if you’ve ever seen me take notes in our industry, but I take verbatim notes and it helps me in many, many ways but mostly so I never misquote people and I can always tell what the context of a conversation was even if it's thirty years later because that’s how far back my notes go.

Henthorn: You are a darn hard worker, I know that. Were there other things you did growing up that added to your cable career? Lots of jobs?

Ellis: I always worked lots of jobs because I always needed money for something. I needed money for a car, I needed money for college or I needed money for books for college. I like working. I like hard work. I like physical work and I always had two or three jobs at a time. I was one of those people.

Henthorn: And where did you go to college?

Ellis: I started out at Temple University and then finished up at Shippensburg University, at the time Shippensburg State Teacher’s College. But it is now and it was when I graduated, a university in south central Pennsylvania.

Henthorn: So everybody has a story about how they fell into the industry. And mine involves volleyball. What’s yours?

Ellis: Well, tell me yours first.

Henthorn: I was refereeing a volleyball match and one of the players said, “Hey, you did a great job doing that. Do you have a graduate degree?” And there I was. ATC.

Ellis: OK.

Henthorn: Pete Gatseos.

Ellis: Mine was far simpler than that. I had gotten out of college; I was dating this guy who worked for a company that sold all the things that you needed at the time to build a cable system. This was in the heyday of all the big builds. So that company, which was called Jerry Conn Associates, had a sister company called Telecommunications Products Corp—TPC—and they were early pioneers in the landscape of ad insertion equipment. So they needed somebody to come in and write their hardware and software manuals for this stuff. This guy I was dating said, “You should go and take that job.” I said, “I don’t know anything about that.” He said, “You're a good writer. Everybody tells you you're a good writer, you can do it. Go, do it. Do it.”

So I did. And here I still am.

Henthorn: So you started in ad insertion.

Ellis: I did.

Henthorn: And then you moved on to the magazine business.

Ellis: Getting back to ad insertion, I also would go then and install the equipment to the smaller operators that are literally in the field where you show up at the small headends and you practically push a cow out of the way, although that actually never happened to me. Then you get in there and it’s like and it's like these big ¾ inch Sony VTRs and I'm muscling them in the door and they're like, “Who are you with, little lady?”

“Just me.” I’m pulling sub-carrier audio cables down because that was back in the days that when the television show went to commercial, you'd hear that “Diddly-dit.” Then, “Kush-kush.” And then the local ad would switch in in those days. So it was fun, it was fun. I met lots of wonderful people.

Henthorn: Then you did go on to the magazine business, to the CED Magazine business…

Ellis: “Communications, Engineering and Design.”

Henthorn: Tell me how you got that job.

Ellis: There are two stories. I had always as a child wanted to live in the great state of Colorado, which is where CED was at the time—when I moved out here in 1990, there was like seventeen or eighteen cable companies headquartered here. This was the cable capital of the United States. To get back to the very beginning: my parents divorced when I was super-young and so the normal for me was that Dad would come pick us up and take us somewhere for a couple weeks every year. One year, I was seven or eight, he comes and picks up my brother and I in an RV filled with recliners.

Henthorn: La-Z-Boy.

Ellis: La-Z-Boy recliners. And his parents, my paternal grandparents, we’re like, “Yeah! Road trip!” So we were going to drive from Pennsylvania to Yellowstone and ultimately drop these recliners off in Billings, Montana. So we’re somewhere on that journey and I'm in the back of the RV, all the way back in a recliner, tipped back, looking out the back window and it was one of those perfect Colorado blue sky days. The sky was the color of your shirt and these beautiful white perfect clouds and like, “Dad! Where are we right now?” And he said, “Colorado, honey.” And I said, “I'm going to live here someday!” So when I learned that CED was looking for a managing editor and it was in Colorado, I was like, “Oh. I'm interested.” I already had a relationship with them because this little company that made ad insertion equipment, I was also in charge of buying the ad space in the magazines. One night we all went out to dinner, Roger Brown and Rob Stuehrk and a few other people. We were all about the same age. We were telling stories about things and I told them that story because it’s a good one. Things you think are normal when you're eight: La-Z-Boy recliners.

Henthorn: You set the intention early.

Ellis: Yes. And I said, “I want to live here someday. So if anything ever opens up, I'm your man.” And it did, so I out here for a two-week install in Thornton and started interviewing with Roger and Rob and ultimately got that job.

Henthorn: Anything more about that job interview?

Ellis: This is when you learn whether or not you're pushy or you really want something.

Henthorn: Great salesperson.

Ellis: But I’d had two or three interviews with them and we all got along great. We were friends. So it was like the third interview, it was a Friday, I had the weekend to find an apartment and then I had to go back to Pennsylvania, so I was like, “OK. I think this all is going really well. And I really want this job. Could you hire me? Could you hire me during this meeting because I only have this weekend to find an apartment?” They look at each other like, “OK, OK.” And they hired me. They took a big risk on me. I didn’t have a journalism degree, I don’t have a EE. I have a BS/BA with an emphasis on computer science, which was very different at the time.” So that was that; that’s how I got here.” Talked my way into the job.

Henthorn: And still doing that, I imagine.

Ellis: I love the work, and I still love the work. So it was good for everybody, I think.

Henthorn: Roger Brown was a great mentor of yours, wasn’t he?

Ellis: Mine and many other people, yes. He died in 2005 of melanoma cancer and it was a huge blow to many of us because he was very young.

He was that guy who, you would go into this office and he would put his things away and look at you and have a conversation. He never multi-tasked. He was the guy that we would walk around the trade shows and there was one instance where we were looking at some new amplifier development, very hot at the time, Jana, and I said something like, “What makes it different than the way it was before?” And he was like, “Don’t you worry your pretty little head about it.” Roger went off on this guy. And I feel like I have a big brother in this industry. And I did. We miss Roger very much.

Henthorn: Many people do…

Ellis: Yes, they do. He had a huge following.

Henthorn: So your first NCTA show, or your first cable show was in 1990. What was that like at your first show?

Ellis: That was like one week on the job and they said, “Come on, we’re going, have to do a daily.” What’s the daily? It was the thing they slide under people’s hotel room doors at the show. Oh, OK. So we get there and Roger divvying up what tech sessions are happening here and who was having a press conference. So he was like, “OK, Leslie, here’s your worksheet for today. Go.” “OK, So then what do I do? What happens?” He said, “Take really good notes and come back. We have to go to press around five. So come back; I need you to write these things up as little items for tomorrow’s daily.”

“OK, got it.” So I go to the first one and it’s like this dark room with this engineer standing in the front of the room talking about—I have no idea what he was talking about. And the conditions were like, I hadn’t eaten, I was starting to feel like I was going to fall asleep. So I thought, you know how to stay awake, you know how to take really good notes. So I cranked up my portable computer. At the time they were like thirty-five pounds and more like luggable and I cracked it open and started doing the notes thing. Have I told you about the hyper-listening thing that happens with verbatim notes?

Henthorn: No, what's that?

Ellis: I just learned this over the years because I still take notes this way. A connection happens between your fingers, your ears and your brain such that you can’t not focus, even if you want to. Your brain will not let you get to, “Oh, what should I get for dinner tonight? I need to make an appointment to take the dog to the vet.” You're so locked into what that person is saying that you're just totally focused on it. So I love that part because I am very easily distracted.

So I went in and started taking verbatim notes and then was able to go back to the press room and look at the notes and pick through it and find the lead and write a couple of pieces for the next day’s daily and I loved it. It was really fun. It still is.

Henthorn: Now that your court reporting, a dime a page, that came back. A dime a page, it came back, and you change that into hyper-listening.

Ellis: I still do.

Henthorn: That’s neat.

Ellis: It's a great skill.

Henthorn: Now you told me earlier when we were talking about some things that you had a great story you told me about Jim Chiddix. Can you tell me…?

Ellis: What happens when you don’t have the ability to take verbatim notes is you used the reporter’s notebook, a little—with a thing on the top. So I had to interview Jim Chiddix about something and I had such a platonic crush on him because that year, right around that time, he had been named “CED Man of the Year.” You know, he has that very statuesque way of speaking and uses the pause very well. I was kind of petrified to interview him but it was my assignment to go so I go to talk to him. And I'm kind of mesmerized by his speech and everything and I'm writing and I think I'm writing and I think I'm writing and I get back to the press room and my notes say, “And the most important thing is…”

Henthorn: That was it?

Ellis: That was it. So it was kind of a problem. That’s one of many Jim Chiddix stories. I also have the first…

Henthorn: Please tell the Post-It…

Ellis: The “While You Were Out” –remember the pink “While You Were Out” messages?

Henthorn: I still have them.

Ellis: One day I came back from lunch and there was, “Leslie, while you were out, Jim Chiddix called.”

“For me?” So I framed it. I still have it. It’s not pink anymore. It has faded over the years but I still have the first “While You Were Out” phone message I ever got from Jim Chiddix.

Henthorn: That’s great. And you also worked for Paul Kagan.

Ellis: I did.

Henthorn: That was after the CED?

Ellis: CED and then Multichannel News was where I learned news writing and also very fun. And then I wanted to learn how to do financial analysis and that whole side of the world, so I was lucky to be picked up by Paul Kagan, who I think is one of the industry’s greatest storytellers of all time. A lovely, lovely man.

Henthorn: And then you started your own company. “Ellis Edits.”

Ellis: “Ellis Edits, EE.” I started that—I think this year I found out from LinkedIn that this year is my fifteenth anniversary of that. I start getting all these “Congratulations, congratulations!”

“Oh, thank you, I had forgotten.” But it was right around this time in whatever year that was, 1999 or 2000.

Henthorn: What do you do at Ellis Edits?

Ellis: It started out that I wanted to do—fifteen years ago, my rules of engagement (and I'm sorry I am going to say a curse word now), but my rules of engagement were interesting work for people who aren’t assholes. You try to stay true to that. Usually, you fall down on the interesting work part because you become friends with everyone and they need you to do things that aren’t always interesting. But I wanted to do that. I wanted to help people to understand things that can be ridiculously complicated. And I wanted them to understand technology even if they didn’t have as much interest as an engineer. That’s where I live, that’s what I do.

So I started out with a column and I'm still writing for CED. I went through my actual Rolodex and picked out the cards of the people who I had really enjoyed working with over the years and called them and said, “I'm on my own now and this is what I want to do. Is there any way—do you need anything like that?” And the first one was Ray Katz at Bear Stearns. He and I had always helped each other because he didn’t understand some of the stuff in tech and I didn’t understand the stuff of Wall Street. So I called him and he was like, “I think that’s a great idea.” So he was my first really big client for a long time until the end of them—that was a very sad day.

Henthorn: And you’ve also authored books. How many?

Ellis: I don’t know. Three or four. They are not like book-books. They are not like—what's the one we just read—Bill Bryson, actual books. But they’re kind of like textbooks. I've done two illustrated dictionaries with the fabulous Stewart Schley. Stewart Schley—there are few people who are more fun to work with than Stewart Schley. We also did a field guide to broadband. So it's those kind of like illustrated dictionaries of tech stuff that are fun to do. I think those are the only books I've written; maybe there’s more, I don’t know.

Henthorn: You're also a speechwriter, both for yourself—and we’ll talk about your public speaking later—but both for yourself and form others. Allow me to tell the Jim Blackley story, just from this year because it's so great. Jim Blackley won a Vanguard Award, the CTO of Charter.

Ellis: Yes.

Henthorn: He got up and started to speak and did the usual, “I'm petrified of public speaking.” And it turned out to be the funniest speech…

Ellis: I’m so proud of him…

Henthorn: He even upstaged Josh Sapan and I was listening to him and I thought, “Oh yes, indeed.” And I thought, “Bet that just has a hint of Leslie.” So I texted you and said, “Did you have anything to do with Blackley’s speech?” And you texted me back and said, “Yep. I helped him write it.”

Ellis: He wrote it. I just kind of added some special sauce.

Henthorn: But you are a fabulous speechwriter. That was a great story. And you're also a much sought-after public speaker. In fact to the point where, when the NCTA Show schedule comes out, I kind of groan inwardly if I have my panel at the same time as yours. “Not again.” How many panels have you moderated, Leslie?

Ellis: Somebody asked me that last year and the number as of the middle of last year was over 200. But you know, moderating one-on-one Q&A’s, video interviews, all that’s up there. I like doing it.

Henthorn: What tips do you have for me?

Ellis: About moderating? How much time do you have? So first of all, people who say, “I'm just the moderator” should be removed from that position immediately, because you know a panel that has a weak moderator, it's a role that is important to the conversation. Never read someone’s bio; you're just wasting time. Everyone has the bio in their books. If someone is talking too much, tell them. “Harry, you're talking too much.” You have to stop them. Or “Stop. Stop.”

Henthorn: You taught me that once.

Ellis: “Stop. You're talking too much; you need to let somebody else talk.” Those are three; you want more? You go where the conversation is going. You have your questions, make sure they're really good questions, and then if somebody goes somewhere else, go with them because they might be even more interesting than your really interesting question.

Henthorn: Good tips, thank you.

Ellis: You're welcome.

Henthorn: And you have some rock star folks that you emulate when you moderate.

Ellis: Whose styles do I try to incorporate? I do.

Henthorn: Thank you for re-doing that question for me. Charlie Rose.

Ellis: Ellen DeGeneres. Jon Stewart. And Terry Gross from Fresh Air on NPR. I'm also a big fan now of what's-her-name, the funniest lady on television? Amy Schumer. National Treasure. Jimmy Fallon. I kind of cleave towards funny things but I also really like how Charlie and Terry interview. They just have a way of making people feel comfortable and they do the research such that they lead the conversation gently and I think masterfully. So I study interviewing and I think it's an art and a science and a talent…

Henthorn: I would say that you’ve mastered it, too.

Ellis: Trying. It's great.

Henthorn: You also write and I think you mentioned it before—you write a very popular column for the industry called “Translation, Please.”

Ellis: Yes, which is now in its more or less fifteenth year.

Henthorn: Right, right. Do you have a favorite column?

Ellis: I don’t know that I have a favorite column. I have a favorite topic, which is—all the CTO’s or technology people watching this who know me, know what it is, it’s the “Upstream Path.” So the upstream path of any cable system is 5% or less of their total available capacity. It used to be not a big deal because you click your mouse to go get a webpage but the bulk of it is the webpage coming back. Your part of the telephone call coming out of your house is not a big deal because voice is small. But not when you think about, “I'm going to attach my webcam to—“My assistant, Sarah, did this last week, she attached her webcam through her WiFi to her chicken incubator so that we could all watch chickens hatch. That’s video, that’s big and it's coming out of the upstream path. So I spend a lot of time fussing and fretting and worrying about the state of the cable industry’s upstream path to the point where the CTO’s are like, “Give it a rest, OK? Let it go, let it go.”

Henthorn: But what you do with all these is you make the cable technology understandable for the lay person.

Ellis: I say for people with less of a natural interest than engineers…here’s what it is, here’s why it matters, here’s what doesn’t matter, here’s how much it costs, whatever the theme is of that.

Henthorn: I’ll look out for your next Upstream Path.

Ellis: I’ve done so many of them.

Henthorn: They're all online now, too.

Ellis: Oh, yes, “translation-please.com.”

Henthorn: So you also changed gears just a little bit. You are a prolific volunteer and fundraiser both in the industry and out of the industry. Do you want to talk to me about a couple of those fundraising pitches?

Ellis: I don’t know I fell into fundraising…Colleen Abdoulah would say, “Here’s what I bring to the table: fundraising…” I started with the Avon breast cancer stuff and in two years I was with the Safe Second Base team for several years. In the last year that they had it, I was personally number one in the Rocky Mountain Region and the team was number two. Then, when Roger died, he had four kids who were about to be of college age and so I put together a cable team called “Run for Roger” and we raised $10,000 for each of the four kids for their college, which really helped them a lot.

Henthorn: That’s amazing.

Ellis: I'm doing one right now called “Healthy Bee, Be Healthy” that is to raise money for the biggest convention for beekeepers west of the Mississippi in early October.

Henthorn: Great. Can you talk a little bit about what you’ve done to bring women into the technical side of the industry? You’ve been a speaker, you’ve been a fundraiser, you’ve volunteered.

Ellis: So it's mostly through—there's a wonderful group of women in the industry who are all recipients of the SCTE and WICT annual technology woman of the year. Nomi Bergman is one of them and every year she organizes this dinner at the SCTE. Every year it gets one person bigger. And we talk…about how to fix the top and the bottom of the problem. So the bottom of the problem is still on our watch fewer and fewer young girls are interested in sciences and technology, so we’re trying to work that, which I can tell you about. And then on the top side, the numbers show that if you have more of a 50-50 blend of women and men on boards of directors, you have better financial results, but it's still kind of an uphill battle. As a group of women, we try to work the top and the bottom of those two problems actively.

Henthorn: Tell me a little more about what the programs are for bringing people in to…

Ellis: One I'm most involved with is one that Daniel Howard of SCTE and Sherita Caesar and I dreamed up at one of the National Shows; three or four years ago, we were saying, “We’re starting to do a better job as an industry at throwing money at this entity called ‘FIRST.’” And I can never remember what it stands for, but it's the robotics program that’s now global for high school students to get them involved and interested in the sciences and technology. She's like, “We can give them money, but every cable operator is in-market, we have feet on the street, why are we not helping with people to…?” So we’ve started this entity that is still very new but it's called “Cable First” and the idea is to get more of the industry in more markets with their own people in the teams mentoring the kids—like the engineering side doing the actual build—and then the rest of it. They all have a website, they need to be doing fundraising, they need to do marketing, business plan, all that stuff still needs to happen as part of that experience. So we’re trying to build that out.

Henthorn: I believe that you're instrumental in the huge success of the Rocky Mountain “Tech It Out” project. And that’s a national model for WICT.

Ellis: I can't take credit for that. That was Rebecca Rusk Lim’s baby. She's the one who took it and said, “Why are we just doing an hour? Let’s do it all day, let’s blow it out!” So she set the bar really high and we've tried to match her at really high every year since. Last year we had at a new place and we had to program all the screens around the wall and it was quite a to-do. It was fun.

Henthorn: Great opportunity. And there are high school students that come to that as well as young women in the industry who are reaching out not only to women already in the industry but to the next generation. The next generation, women in high school who we hope will be into the cable product. Exactly.

“Denver Loves Cable.” I still have my button that says, “Denver Loves Cable,” and you were instrumental in that, too.

Ellis: That was another one with Rebecca and Marwan and (I'll see if I can remember), Don Dulchinos and Mike Hayashi and me. Denver cable used to be a really big thing, like I told you. Sixteen or seventeen companies headquartered here and then one by one, consolidation; everyone kind of moved east. The SCTE was here one year and we wanted to have a party but we couldn’t figure out how to do it. So we were like, let’s form a little company called “Denver Loves Cable LLC,” and that way we were able to find sponsorships and throw a cable party like the good old days with the ten or so sponsors and it was great. So we still had this informal group called Denver Loves Cable that is the core Denver cable community.

You're part of it, Jana.

Henthorn: Thank you, thank you.

Ellis: All of us here are. And you don’t have to be in Denver to be in Denver Loves Cable.

Henthorn: I’m a button-wearing member of Denver Loves Cable.

Again, this is a little bit outside of your industry career, but you also co-founded a wonderful book club called the “Literati Sisters.” I’ve been a member of that for—

Ellis: Since the very beginning.

Henthorn: Since the very beginning.

Ellis: I don’t remember when that was…

Henthorn: It was 1988-1989?

Ellis: I wasn’t even here yet.

Henthorn: 1999…

Ellis: Yes. Let’s go ten years. Susan Marshall, Ruth Warren and I—I don’t know why or how it was started but Ruth was leaving Jones at the time. I don’t know, we just decided to start a book club and here we are that many years later, the literatisisters.net.

Henthorn: What’s our next book?

Ellis: I knew you were going to ask me about that. It’s the one about the French deaf girl and the German little boy. Supposed to be great, like if you did a piece, it’s great (?)

Henthorn: Leslie, you are just garden variety-type A.

Ellis: You think so?

Henthorn: Yes, yes. Overachieving personality and you said to me...

Ellis: Do I have the personality that goes with it?

Henthorn: No, you're a nice person.

Ellis: Thank you.

Henthorn: In my opinion.

You told me that you like to be involved in causes where you think you can make a difference.

Ellis: I don’t have any time, right?

Henthorn: Exactly. And you mentioned your fundraising for bees before, but you're also a beekeeper, you made a documentary about the plight of the bee population. Why? Why bees?

Ellis: So, my little speech. One out of three things on your plate wouldn’t be there without the honeybee. They're the world’s number one pollinator. Everything from apples to zucchini are pollinated by honeybees and they are dying at a rate of 50-60% per year every year since 2008. Nobody knows why. There are lots of theories. Every week I get ten different Facebook posts of new theories of why the bees are dying. So I was reading about it and decided in 2011—I became a beekeeper. And then in that same year I got into it so big time that I called a friend of mine who I had done a cable documentary about that I had filmed here, Jana—“Cable at 60”—and we had never met, David Knappe, we had never met before that day, before we did all that shooting. And I loved working with him. So I called him up and said, “I'm doing this crazy beekeeping thing and the people are really weird, like our kind of weird. I think we should do something, like we should do a movie or something.” And the one takeaway that the movie hopefully dispensed—the movie is called “Bee People”—is that we need more backyard beekeepers because if we can get a beehive every two miles, there’s a shot at sustainable pollination, because bees pollinate within a two to three mile radius of their beehive. So we made this kind of series of vignettes about weirdo beekeepers and strange things that have happened.

Henthorn: I’ve seen it; it’s great.

Ellis: Thank you. That was the point of it, a beehive every two miles. One way you can make a difference is to encourage more people to become backyard beekeepers towards this end…

Henthorn: Which you are.

Ellis: Which I am. I’m a fifth-year beekeeper. We just did our honey harvest last weekend.

Henthorn: So that’s someplace that you can make a difference. What else are you passionate about and put your energy into?

Ellis: I know where you're going with this. So we were talking at lunch today about all the things that are happening on the news with gun control and police officers being shot and this horrible story after horrible story. And what I noticed about it is that whatever side you're on—and I'm not really on either side—but they're mad as hell. No matter if it's the NRA side or the gun control moms’ side—mad as hell. So whenever I get drawn into that kind of conversation, my response is to say, “I will have this conversation with you when you can recite to me the four basic rules of gun safety in order.” Because they're so simple and I think if everybody knew them the same way they knew the alphabet, rote: stop, drop and roll, whatever your thing is, you'll never forget it, we would have far fewer gun accidents.

Henthorn: Tell me the four.

Ellis: Let me tell you the four. One is treat every gun like it's always loaded. It's a deadly weapon. Don’t fool around.

Number two is never point a gun at something you do not intend to destroy, which builds on the first one.

Number three in my opinion is the most important one. If you could produce a genie out of a bottle who said, “You could have one of these but not all three and I will blink my eyes and everyone in the world will know this one basic rule: it is, never put your finger on the trigger until you're on target and ready to fire.” Which if everybody knew that—so you put your finger out like this, on the side of the thing…so if everybody did that, if we could do that, that one thing, just think of the number of unfortunate accidents we could prevent at discotheques involving the male reproductive organs. Happens all the time, Jana. Never put your finger…

Henthorn: There’s number four, too.

Ellis: Number four is look at your target and beyond because bullets go through things. Now don’t you think that if everyone knew those four things—you don’t even have to handle a gun to know those four things—

Henthorn: They would make a difference.

Ellis: I think it would make a big difference. So memorize those and I will ask you in a few months’ time.

Henthorn: I will work on that. I just got stop, drop and roll from second grade.

You have been honored by the industry for your expertise and your executive presence. You’ve gotten a bunch of awards. Let me see: you’ve gotten Vanguard in 2005, WICT Rocky Mountain Women in Technology in 2007 and then you were the Technology Woman of the Year for SCTE and WICT, right? And Technology Communications Magazine.

A couple of favorite experiences from being on the stage?

Ellis: It’s just weird to like to sit here and “Yes, I was, yes, I was.” It’s an honor and I'm surprised every time and I'm deeply grateful to everyone who made that happen. Do I have a favorite moment? Yes, I do. The one that happened here, the WICT Tech Woman of the Year, I went to Target beforehand and bought all these little sunglasses, little glasses, and I put tape on the nose, then I gave them out to everybody in the audience who was tech so that when I got up, they all kind of stood and they had their nerd glasses on and then I went up and said, “I don’t know if you know what happens when you win an award like this, but here’s what happens. They put you in a room and they put lots of makeup on your face and they make up your hair and they put a bright light on you, and then they ask you questions so complicated that you realize that you haven’t had a deep thought in a really long time.” For example. And this is true. I mean, this really happened. One of the questions was, “Have you ever used your morals, ethics or convictions to solve a business problem?” To which I said, “ I was never convicted.” Got a good laugh.

Henthorn: That’s a good one.

Ellis: That’s my favorite of all time.

Henthorn: That’s good. That’s a good one. Now you have a tech lab in your house, I know…at your office, right. Not at your house, at your office. I've read your columns about that. What a great service for those of us not in the technology sector. How did you get that tech lab started?

Ellis: Here’s why. I come from a long line of gifted worriers. Every few years in this industry, starting with microwave, something comes along—microwave—that’s going to kill the cable industry. Then it was telco video; it's going to kill the cable industry. Then it was satellite; it’s going to kill the cable industry. Oh, my God, every time it happens, oh, no! So then this over the top video started to happen and you didn’t need a microwave antenna in your back bedroom and you didn’t need a satellite dish, you didn’t need telco whatever. You could go buy these things; they're like 99 bucks. So my assistant Sara—the lovely Sara Dirske and I went out. Actually before that, another friend’s daughter, who was interning—Kirsten Hull Nicholas—helped me build it. Sara runs it, and the idea was let’s just see. Is it really better? Is this going to kill the cable industry? We’ve been looking at this stuff for four or five years now and last year with the Google Chromecast, the Kindle Firestick, there’s such a profusion now of $50-99 streaming sticks that we kind of declare the hardware side of it “game over,” and we’re shifting our focuses now onto the Internet of Things and we’re looking at it because it’s such a high B category of things that are Internet-connected and are speaking to each other. We decided we would look at it through two prisms. One is: that’s the dumbest thing I've ever seen in my life, some really funny ones like the “selfie sombrero.”

Henthorn: Wait, wait, wait. The selfie sombrero?

Ellis: Oh, yes, it’s this bright pink sparkly huge sombrero that was designed for Lady Gaga and it has this dropdown bright pink sparkly thing that holds an Acer tablet so it’s already attached to your hat. Clever.

Then we also look at things that are plausible, like “I would do that.” That’s how we’re slicing it. It’s fun.

Henthorn: It’s again great for your tech translation work.

Ellis: Yes, it is. It all feeds together.

Henthorn: So what do you see as a lasting legacy of the cable industry or the legacy of the cable industry?

Ellis: You and I have talked about this before because you're very involved with the people around the customer care side of things. You have your cable life and then you have your non-cable life and usually the people in your non-cable life hate cable in some way, right? We are living in the era of—

Henthorn: Unfortunately.

Ellis: Right. I get so tired of it. So the nice thing is the work I'm doing now inside some of the operators, I truly believe—like it would be very hard to convince me otherwise—that it’s going to get a lot better. Thank God, right? I hope that the legacy is that in some period of time, ten, twenty years, people don’t—or maybe they remember laughingly how bad it used to be but our industry gets much, much better at care and user experience. It seems like it’s inevitable based on the work I see happening by so many people, but the chasm between the two is still very large and disappointing.

Henthorn: I would agree with you, Leslie. I know a lot of people are working hard…really hard…

Ellis: They mean it. It's not just a job.

Henthorn: What do you see as cable’s impact on society? Or what impact has cable had on society? That’s a big question.

Ellis: It is and I'll hone in on one side of it. I think the biggest thing that’s happened since I’ve been in cable is high speed data/broadband. So that when happens, I mean Doug put in the first cable modem in the United States in 1994 or something like that. At that time, this is at Viacom Cable they were doing focus groups and people were saying things like—especially people who were finally able to use their broadband connection to speak to their family halfway around the globe, saying things like you’ll have to pry it out of my dead fingers. So I think that broadband pervasive connectivity, which has given rise to so many other industries and companies—Netflix wouldn’t exist without broadband. I think that’s the big one for me.

Henthorn: OK. Let’s talk about you personally and legacy. What would you—I know you're only fifty, so you have lots and lots of time left. What would you like your legacy to be in the cable industry?

Ellis: That’s a hard question. I want people to know that I help people to understand complicated stuff. I don’t know. “Oh, she made me understand.” Like one time, Glenn Britt, dearly departed Glenn Britt, told me that he had gone into a meeting after having read one of my columns and the meeting was about how to expand their VOD offering and how many Qua modulators they were going to need. “Just read your article. Thank God. I understood what was happening in the meeting.” That was awesome. That kind of thing.

However you put that in a few words, that’s what I want my legacy to be.

Henthorn: What is it that you think that people in the general public—Jane Q. Public—what do they not know about the cable industry?

Ellis: You know what astounds me the most is that people don’t know that cable operators have to pay the programmers for the content. Like when all the scuffles happen: “We’re taking X channel off the air.” It’s like when you talk to taxicab drivers sometimes, they have no idea. So that’s one. The care is going to get better is another. People from outside the industry who want to be part of the industry kind of snark on us that we’re too chummy and too clubby. That’s not intentional; that's because the operators never have competed with one another. They chased franchises state by state, city by city, town by town. So as a direct result, especially on the engineering side, they split the load of the work. So like Cablevision went first with network DVR. Comcast went first with DOCSIS 3. Time Warner went first with switched digital video. And they come together and because they're not competitors, they say, “Well, here’s what worked with that and here’s what didn’t work.” So they're able to share the load of what needs to be learned and experienced and put into action, and I think that’s pretty cool. And I hope it stays that way.

Henthorn: You make more innovation that way.

Ellis: And sharing with you. We don’t even know how long we've known each other. It's the same faces but it's not like anyone wants to be exclusionary. It's just I've now seen you here every year for thirty years. We've become friends or whatever it is.

Henthorn: That’s right. So what haven’t you done yet? What’s your next big dream?

Ellis: Well, Jana, my next big dream is to be on the Jimmy Fallon Show.

Henthorn: The tech translator?

Ellis: I don’t know. I am a huge fan of Jimmy Fallon and lots of comedians and I just have a hankering to do comedy. I also don’t have the guts to do it so that and the surfing go together.

Henthorn: Exactly. What do they call that? BHAG? Big, hairy, audacious goal?

Ellis: That’s one. That’s good, except I heard it as BEE. And I am a Bee-hag.

Henthorn: But Leslie, if not you, then who, right?

Ellis: Right.

Henthorn: That’s a great dream. Leslie, it's been great to talk to you today. Thanks so much for coming to the Cable Center and doing your oral history as part of the Gus Hauser Oral and Video History Project.

Ellis: Thank you for having me, Jana, and having any interest at all in hearing my weird little journey through the industry we call cable.

Henthorn: My pleasure. It was fun.


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Phylis Eagle-Oldson

Phylis Eagle-Oldson

Interview Date: December 4, 2014
Interview Location: New York City, USA
Interviewer: Seth Arenstein
Collection: Cable Center Oral History Program

Arenstein: I am Seth Arenstein, I’m here with Phylis Eagle-Oldson, who is the president and CEO of the Emma L. Bowen Foundation. It is December 4, 2014 and we’re here for the Cable Center’s Oral History Program.

Phylis, welcome. It’s so great to have you here.

Eagle-Oldson: It’s a true honor to be a part of the Cable Center’s Oral History.

Arenstein: You know, it's interesting because your career, your background, encompasses so much of cable. And you are sort of a living cable center, cable museum. You started when it was a mom-and-pop operation and of course, we know where it is today in 2014, almost 2015. But then when you sort of semi-retired, you took on another great role and we’re going to talk about all that. So let’s start at the beginning.

You were born (and I'm going to have to say this) in Amityville, New York.

Eagle-Oldson: Yes, I was.

Arenstein: Which is not far from where I grew up. So it's good to have a Long Islander here. Where did you go to college?

Eagle-Oldson: I started out in Brandywine College just outside of Philadelphia. I transferred to St. Joseph’s to finish up my degree. I went at night because I worked as a billing clerk for a rug manufacturing company during the day. They offered me the opportunity to go to classes at night, tuition fully paid, if I worked as an assistant to one of their executives during the day. So it was a deal I couldn’t pass up. That’s what I did. The company decided to move to Georgia and I said I had always wanted to go to Washington, D.C. I headed off to D.C. and that’s where I met Marty Malarkey. Just to finish answering your question—I went to George Washington University and earned a second degree in accounting several years later.

Arenstein: So you were in Philadelphia, you were in Pennsylvania, which many considered the home of cable.

Eagle-Oldson: The heart of cable, absolutely. Marty Malarkey got his start in Pottsville, PA.

Arenstein: I believe Pennsylvania to this day still has the oldest state cable association in the country.

Eagle-Oldson: I wouldn’t be surprised, yes.

Arenstein: So tell us about meeting Marty Malarkey, who is a legendary name, and anybody who goes to the Cable Center is going to see his name. What was he like, how did he hire you, tell us about that.

Eagle-Oldson: Marty was ...first of all, very tall, very charming, a debonair type of man, and had a consulting firm in the cable television business and was the first president of the NCTA, as a matter of fact. I really didn’t know much about cable. Where I lived we didn’t have it. Just a quick funny story: I had come to visit a friend in D.C. I had the Washington Post and looked at the want ads and saw an ad from this agency, Executive Search. I called them on a Sunday to leave a message and the woman happened to be working that day and she said, “Why don’t you come in right now?” So here I am in my jeans going in for a meeting and she said, “I'll set you up with ten interviews.” And I was living in Philadelphia, so I had to come back. Marty was one of the people I interviewed with that day. I got to town at six in the morning. The interviews lasted all day and when I met Marty, I said, “OK, this is who I want to work for.” He just was a wonderful and charming man and the fun thing about working for him was that not only did we do everything in cable, but he was so involved in Washington, DC social scene ... the Redskins, all kinds of charities. I got to do all of that. I went to the Meridian House Ball, which is a wonderful ball for all the embassies, and I got box seats for the Kennedy Center because he always had box seats and when he didn’t want a ticket, he would just give them to me. Then he had this phenomenal twenty-eight room home in Georgetown. When he and his wife would go out of town, I would house-sit in this semi-mansion. I always laugh because—it's a funny story, but Walter Cronkite and he were very good friends. So when the Cronkites came, they stayed at the Malarkeys’ house, but when I stayed at the Malarkeys’ house, I stayed in the Cronkite bedrooms. Martin was a wonderful person to work for.

Arenstein: You said when you first him, you didn’t know anything about cable. In your defense, how many people knew about cable at that point?

Eagle-Oldson: Unless you came from a small town, probably not very many. And of course, part of the Malarkey-Taylor team was Archer Taylor, who was just another prince of a man. Really a wonderful man. In his honor—this past weekend at Thanksgiving— I made big batches of Archer Taylor’s wife’s pumpkin bread. Laverne Taylor, who was a lovely, lovely lady, had given me a recipe for pumpkin bread many years ago. Sadly they are both gone now. I miss them a lot. They made a great team.

Arenstein: It’s funny because memory, if you have something concrete like a pumpkin bread recipe that you make every year, you remember the person who gave it to you.

Eagle-Oldson: That’s exactly right.

Arenstein: It’s a great memory...

So what was cable like? What was cable doing when you first got in the business? It was principally what? To get a better picture.

Eagle-Oldson: And that really in essence was it. I mean, it was mom-and-pop. I think you're exactly right. A lot of entrepreneurs. My first cable show was in D.C. We all fit in one hotel.

Arenstein: Wasn’t that the first cable show, too?

Eagle-Oldson: No, it wasn’t quite the first because this was 1971 so they'd been around a little while. But all the exhibitors fit in one ballroom. There were no programmers then. It was all hardware. And Milton Shapp was the honoree that first year. It was a very different kind of a convention in those early days.

Arenstein: Do you remember anything more about that convention, anything that went on or...?

Eagle-Oldson: Malarkey-Taylor had a suite. My job at that was really to man the suite. To be honest with you, I didn’t go to any of the sessions. I did get to see the floor, but that was my first experience. I was twenty-two, naïve to say the least, and very wide-eyed about the whole thing.

Arenstein: I’ve been asking a lot of people the same question and you certainly are prime for this question. At what point—and I know we’re jumping in the story here—at what point did you realize, oh, yeah, this cable thing, this could actually be a real going concern.

Eagle-Oldson: You know, it's interesting because I really have, as you’ve said, seen it from its infancy to its maturity and all the iterations in between. It's probably not until I came back to work for NCTA that I really had the full feeling of it. When I left Malarkey-Taylor, there still were no franchises in large cities. They were just in the process of making that happen. There was no HBO. It was still mom-and-pop systems around the country, so it really didn’t have the feel to it that it had a few years later when I came back and went to work for NCTA.

Arenstein: Talk about some of the personalities in those mom-and-pop days that you met, that you encountered at Malarkey-Taylor.

Eagle-Oldson: Malarkey-Taylor did a lot of feasibility studies in those days. They also did the White House Office of Telecommunications Policy Blue Sky study. This was in the early QUBE days of Time Warner and Gus Hauser...QUBE was an early test-bed for innovative services that could be provided by the cable industry.

Also, there was a—I'm struggling to think of the name now—it was a cable equity firm that was put together; Marty was a part of it. As you may know, in those days it was impossible to get money to expand systems. Cable operators had a difficult time getting loans to do much of anything in those days. The banks were really tough on them. So this equity firm was put together with a fair amount of money to lend. I don’t think they ultimately did many deals but I do remember that financing expansion was a major issue in those days.

Arenstein: Let’s talk about your role in all this. You are a finance person, you're an accounting person. I have to ask: in an era or at a time when there was a mom-and-pop, a lot of handshake agreements, not too many signed things—did that make it hard for a finance person who probably wants to see paper and things like that?

Eagle-Oldson: In fairness, I didn’t get involved in industry finances when I was with Malarkey-Taylor; I was Martin’s assistant. At NCTA, my responsibilities focused more on the association’s finances rather than industry’s finances.

Arenstein: This kind of segues to what you're doing now or what you're just about to retire from, but how many women, and what were the roles of women back then in business? Forget about cable. In business. What was it like to be a woman in business?

Eagle-Oldson: It’s interesting because I think that’s probably where some of my empathy comes from, being part of the Emma Bowen Foundation, to have fought a little bit of that battle myself. I won't say the name because I don’t want to do that but I was in a job where I was really making some inroads, very significant inroads, in a job between my days at Malarkey-Taylor and before I started at NCTA. The man was a wonderful man who ran that company, but he literally sat me down in his office and he said, “Phylis, you have brought more business into this firm than anyone else here, but I'm 75 years old and I can't change now and as I'm getting ready to retire, I can't have a woman run my company.” That was it; he said that. And I had a similar experience a couple of years later. While working at NCTA, I got an offer from a law firm, a major law firm in downtown Washington. One aspect of my job at NCTA was to oversee the construction of the 1725 Massachusetts Avenue building in DC. The law firm that had helped us with that whole process was getting ready to move to new space, and the attorney that we had worked with at NCTA, said, “Phylis, we want to hire you to come and do our construction, get our whole building moved.”

I had talked it over with Jim Mooney and he agreed that it sounded like a really great opportunity and encouraged me to accept the offer.” So I'm all set to go and then the managing partner of the law firm, who was, I guess, very instrumental in the whole real estate deal, said, “There is no way I'm letting some woman run the construction and renovation of this project.” So now I have to go back to Jim Mooney, who was incredibly gracious and said, “Your desk is right there. We haven’t replaced you and you're fine.”

Had I seen those experiences? Absolutely.

Arenstein: And you bring up Jim Mooney. Of course that’s a name we really want to talk about so let’s skip to about 1980, I believe, and you're at NCTA. Tell me how that happened.

Eagle-Oldson: I had been working for an organization called Trade Associates. They managed the NCTA trade show before Dan Dobson. It was time to move on to new opportunities and Chuck Walsh, with Fleishman and Walsh, was a very good friend who I had known for years. He put in a word at NCTA to Kathryn Creech and Tom Wheeler and said, “I think you should talk to her about coming into NCTA.” And they took a huge leap of faith because they wanted me to oversee the management of the move from 16th Street to Mass. Avenue. I didn’t have a background in construction but they knew me from working on the trade show. I was a very determined person and I lived with my hardhat on the construction site. The plumbers and the electricians and the drywall guys taught me everything I needed to know to get that building done on time and under budget. When it was done, they said, “Why don’t you stay and manage the building. Later they asked me to create an HR department. When their comptroller left, I took over accounting. When we set up a local area network, Data Services became a responsibility as well. It was sort of an evolutionary thing. It just started out as one thing and then grew over time.

Arenstein: So you we're literally standing on Massachusetts Avenue and the building went up around you and you had a job.

Eagle-Oldson: That’s exactly right.

Arenstein: OK, all right. That’s great. And you spent almost thirty years at NCTA.

Eagle-Oldson: Nineteen years.

Arenstein: That’s why I'm not in finance and you are.

Tell me what you did at NCTA. We could probably sit here for weeks talking about the personalities, but let's talk about people like Tom Wheeler, who’s now the chairman of the FCC. A fellow named Decker Anstrom who was just a...

Eagle-Oldson: Phenomenal man.

Arenstein: Phenomenal guy. Then Jim Mooney...I know you were a big fan of his but he was sort of a controversial subject.

Eagle-Oldson: He was?

Arenstein: I think so.

Eagle-Oldson: You know, it's funny. I was thinking about this interview and I was thinking about those three personalities. I think if I had to categorize them for myself, I would say when Tom came in, things were, I think, a little loosey-goosey. So Tom came from the Grocery Manufacturers Association, a very dynamic personality, and he came in and I think he organized. You know, you had all these factors. You had the start of MSOs plus those mom-and-pops. Now you had programmers, now you had vendors, and all of this had to come together because they had a battle to fight. So Tom, I think, really helped to build the board, build that sense of camaraderie. If you think about a group of personalities sitting around the NCTA board table, these are all entrepreneurs, all these early guys. Every one of them: “I’ll do it my way.” And yet, they managed to come together as an industry to do great things together, and I think that says a lot about every CEO, every president of NCTA who could meld those personalities together. In thinking of Mr. Hauser, I can remember sitting in board meetings, everybody was expressing opinions and Gus would sit quietly. Then, at the end, he had this amazing gift of summarizing all the key points and saying, “Based on input from x and y, this is what I think we should do.” And everybody stopped and just listened to Gus. He really had a gift for that and I remember seeing that a lot.

So saw Tom was the organizer. He brought the industry together. Jim Mooney—brilliant strategist. I think he was the Jimmy Cagney of the cable industry because you needed a fighter in those days to get something done. And you needed somebody who’d lived on the Hill, who knew what was going on. Sure, he rubbed people the wrong way on occasion, but he played a key role in the evolution of the cable industry. Let me tell you, it wasn’t always easy to work for Jim, but if you had asked me who was the most influential person in my career, I would say Jim Mooney. He made everyone in that organization stretch way more than you ever thought possible because he never settled for less than 110% . If you didn’t walk into this office fully prepared he’d say, “Get the heck out of my office and come back when you're prepared.” It only took one of those experiences for you to never show up for a meeting without “doing your homework!”

So here’s the story: Remember Jim totally focused on government relations. I have all the administrative stuff: the budget, benefits, blah-blah-blah. He doesn’t want to deal with that much. He wants to know it’s taken care of; just come in and tell me your recommendation. I'm going to trust that you know what you're doing. And if he asked you a question and you didn’t have an answer...

Arenstein: God help you.

Eagle-Oldson: That’s exactly right. What I learned to do before I ever went in with a recommendation was to go through everything again and say, “What would he ask me?” And then sometimes, based on that, I would say, “Oh. I'm going to change my recommendation.” So he trained me in a way that nobody else ever would have because he was intimidating—let’s face it. And you just never went into his office unprepared. For the rest of my career—I can remember going into audit committee meetings with Amos Hostetter (in those days, it was Bud), and Bud’s another person who you don’t want to disappoint, or Bob Miron. So NCTA had whatever it was $20-30 million, so you better have your act together. I would have notes on the side of our audited statements for every single line item. God forbid they would ask me a question and I wouldn’t have an answer. And usually there would be only two or three questions—you know, I'd studied for a month. But I knew no matter what they asked me, I would have an answer. And that was because of Jim Mooney.

Arenstein: That’s great training.

Eagle-Oldson: It was phenomenal training. And I really tried to pass that on to our students at Emma Bowen, too. I tell that story all the time.

Arenstein: Talk a little bit about one chairman that I interacted with many times, Decker Anstrom.

Eagle-Oldson: So Decker was the peacemaker. Tom was the organizer, Jim was sort of this fighter/tough guy/Jimmy Cagney-type guy. Then after Jim had accomplished what we needed for the industry, but ruffled the feathers in the process, Decker came in with his very calm approach—he had great people skills—he came in and smoothed all the feathers. I don’t know whether this story has been told, but I will say that I think one of the smartest things that Decker did was hire Torie Clarke. Do you remember the name?

Arenstein: Sure. Of course I know Torie.

Eagle-Oldson: Torie came in as head of communications. She had been with a PR firm before she came to NCTA. At that point in the industry, everybody hated us. Rates were up, customer service was poor, we had all these new channels that had some things on it that parents didn’t like. We were the bad guys of the media industry. Torie came in and I remember her sitting in a board meeting and she was a very gutsy woman—and she was in everybody’s face. She essentially says, “What are you guys thinking? You’ve got to fix this.” So that was the birth of the parental controls, reaching out to the National Education Association, all the rules we had about being responsive with customer service within so many hours. She was such a very critical part of getting people to really get outside themselves and focus on what the rest of the world was seeing. And she said, “When you solve these problems, a lot of your Hill problems are going to go away. So Torie Clarke was, in her own way, very influential in turning things around—at least in my opinion—for the industry.

Arenstein: I think we also really have to talk about legislatively what was going on during your nineteen years at NCTA. It was a bit of a roller coaster. There was re-regulation, deregulation...talk a little bit about that.

Eagle-Oldson: I am always a little hesitant to because that was not my area. But certainly one of the great things about being at NCTA in those days, there was esprit de corps. People worked half the night. I was just at a birthday party for Brenda Fox a couple of weeks ago, and all of our old friends were there. We were part of this “it's us against them” spirit. Everybody hung in there to really fight the good fight. It was a very interesting time, but you're exactly right. It seemed like if it wasn’t Congressman Wirth, it was Senator Gore. There's a funny story about Senator Gore. I was on a flight going home to visit my parents and I think it connected through Charlotte, NC. It was the old...one of the airlines that no longer exists now. So I'm sitting next to this blond woman and we’re yakking. So she said, “What do you do?” I said, “I work for the National Cable Television Association.” In those days, you really were a little hesitant to say that you worked for cable because somebody was always complaining about service, pricing or programming. Lo and behold, it was Tipper Gore. Ooh. And I got such an earful. And I thought, why did I say where I worked?

Arenstein: It was a long flight.

Eagle-Oldson: Exactly right. Clearly she was doing her husband’s bidding. It was an interesting time.

Arenstein: One or two words about some of the other personalities that you met during your time at NCTA. I know you wanted to say something about Bill Bresnan.

Eagle-Oldson: The best. Bill Bresnan—I was looking on the Cable Center’s website and I was very familiar with the Ethics in Business Award. As a matter of fact I was one of the judges in the first award. Bill was a class act from the word go. I don’t know anyone who was more successful but doing it in a way that he could look himself in the mirror every day. Just a great man. My favorite personal story (I get emotional about Bill because I think he’s just somebody that it was my privilege to know.) Bill had a system up in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. So we were yakking one day and I said, “Oh, you know, my dad was born and raised in Sault Ste. Marie, and he’s going up to Michigan for his whatever-it-was—fiftieth high school reunion” That’s all I said. So a couple weeks later, my dad calls me and he says, “Who’s Bill Bresnan?’ And I said, “Why? Why are you asking?” He said, “Well, I got to my hotel today for the reunion and there’s this big gift basket in here and it said, ‘Welcome back for your high school reunion and the card was signed ‘from Bill Bresnan’”

So here’s this man who’s a multi-gazillionaire who thinks enough to go find out what hotel my dad is staying in and sending a fruit basket. That to me is the quintessential Bill Bresnan. For as successful as he was, he was a great friend to the common man. He was a huge supporter of Emma Bowen. He was the one who brought Emma Bowen to the NCTA board. That’s how I got involved. He was very instrumental in my going there as CEO, and Bill and I would have regular conversations a couple times a year. We’d talk for an hour on the phone about where the Foundation was going. He was also involved in another nonprofit for underprivileged children, so we worked together on that. He always made time to help me develop strategies for the Foundation.

The other person that does that on a regular basis is Rob Kennedy. I could not run Emma Bowen without Rob Kennedy. As for those who may not know, Rob Kennedy is co-president of C-SPAN.

Arenstein: And a very good piano player. I can tell you that from experience.

Eagle-Oldson: Rob has been with C-SPAN for many years. He understands nonprofit operations and he has been the chair of our finance committee for years. He is my go-to person when I don’t know how to do something. Rob’s been a great friend

Arenstein: I know you mentioned in passing Glenn Britt. What do you want to say about Glenn?

Eagle-Oldson: Glenn, another great person. He was very involved with the Kaitz Foundation early on. I know he was friends with Spencer [Kaitz] and I'm sure Walter [Kaitz] before that. So when the Kaitz Foundation switched from sponsoring their own associates, they decided they were going to put all of the proceeds from their annual gala into organizations that focused on helping to diversify the industry. The Emma Bowen Foundation, along with Women in Cable and NAMIC were all beneficiaries. I remember a meeting at the Mayflower Hotel with Spencer Kaitz and Glenn Britt. We had a long conversation about the Emma Bowen Foundation and of course, I knew them from my days at NCTA and that’s when they said, “We think we want to support you in your initiatives.” $4 million later over fourteen years that they’ve donated to the Foundation. It’s huge.

Arenstein: Let’s get right to Emma Bowen, but let's talk about how you left NCTA and then went to Emma Bowen. How did you leave this organization that you’d been at nineteen years and loved and were loved? How did you do that?

Eagle-Oldson: You know, it's interesting because I was there for nineteen years. The majority of the staff has been there a long time. Bobby Thorpe has been there 50 years. Jadz Janucik has been there almost as long. Barbara York is another staff member who has quite a history with NCTA. It is an amazing place to work in an industry that is constantly reinventing itself! It’s almost as if they make you sign in blood that you’ll never leave until you die.

Arenstein: It’s like from the Sopranos...

Eagle-Oldson: That’s right. But Decker Anstrom was getting close to leaving (to head up the Weather Channel) I had worked under a few CEOs (Schmidt, Wheeler, Mooney and Anstrom) and I was looking for something a little different. So in the same year I finished the second degree at GW, I got married, turned fifty and I changed jobs. It was truly a new chapter.

I had been on the board of the Emma Bowen Foundation for five years as the representative from NCTA...and I loved the organization. I could see that the passion was there but not the infrastructure. I was really concerned that the students would suffer because money wasn’t going to come in. My experience at NCTA really helped as I began building the infrastructure and using my network to add corporate support. When the Kaitz funding came through, it was a boost we needed to move the Foundation to the next level. The last fifteen years has just been amazing.

Arenstein: Let’s talk about who Emma Bowen was and what the Foundation does.

Eagle-Oldson: OK. Emma Bowen—you talk about women before their time. She comes to New York, her husband passes away, she’s raising her family, an African-American woman who gets her Master’s at Fordham in the late 50s, early 60s. So she’s already unique to start with. She’s working for Mayor Lindsay in New York in the mental health area. That was her specialty. She’s watching TV—and this is right at the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement—and she’s seeing a very one-sided view of African-Americans. Emma was close friends with Senator Jacob Javits. She said, “We have to do something because the mental health issue in our city and what they see on media are very connected. Perception is very important.” So she forms an organization called “Black Citizens for a Fair Media” to encourage media companies to hire African Americans as reporters and news directors in the hope that stations would have more balanced reporting.” She was formidable. I knew her later in life and when she was in a wheelchair, and everyone still said, “Yes, ma’am.” You know that type; she just commanded respect. And she had a passion. I've talked to former FCC commissioners who’ve said, “God forbid you did not show up at Emma’s annual meeting of BCFM at the Apollo Theatre, because if you didn’t, you’d hear about it later,
She was very instrumental in the early careers of a lot of people of color as generalists in the industry. And she also was responsible, along with Senator Javits, to get the first African-American page in the U.S. Senate. So Emma was doing Black Citizens for a Fair Media, and then when she retired, Dan Burke—Steve Burke’s father—was then head of ABC-Cap Cities. Emma knew all of the top network executives because she had worked very closely with them. So they said, “Rather than giving her a gold watch and a pat on the head, let’s do something that will really stand for what Emma believes in.” That was the early beginnings; Dan Burke gave the first $50,000 to start what was then called “Foundation for Minority Interests in Media.” We didn’t name it the Emma Bowen Foundation until after she had passed in her honor.

But Henry Rivera was there; Dennis Swanson was there and Bill Bresnan was there. All of those early players. Now Bill came into it because of Dr. Everett Parker and I don’t know if you know that name.

Arenstein: No, I don’t.

Eagle-Oldson: Dr. Everett Parker was part of the United Church of Christ’s Office of Communications. We’re in the Civil Rights era—he’s heading up this separate arm of the United Church of Christ and he’s doing radio broadcasts. He finds out that there's a TV station in Jackson, Mississippi that is blocking all coverage of Martin Luther King—any of the Civil Rights coverage because they don’t want to rile the people in their town. So the UCC documents the fact that the station is blocking information and goes to the FCC. It took them multiple attempts before the FCC said to the station, “We will pull your license if you don’t stop blocking civil rights related news.” So the first African-American news director was hired at that station to give more balanced reporting during those days. Dr. Parker came together with Emma Bowen and that’s really how the Foundation’s internship program was started.

Arenstein: What does the Emma Bowen Foundation do today? How many employees does it have?

Eagle-Oldson: We have a huge staff of five.

Arenstein: And one of them is sitting here.

Eagle-Oldson: We have somewhere between 250 and 275 students in the program at any one time. We recruit students as rising college freshmen and they are placed in any one of forty media companies. They work four summers as paid interns and they also get scholarship money on top of that. A multiyear internship is very unique because not only does a student learn the basics (how to run the copier, how to work the phones, and where the restrooms are) but by the second summer, he or she is doing substantive work, developing mentoring relationships, becoming an integral part of their company’s corporate family, and learning the culture. So while you're in classes during the day, you're also able to relate what you learned to what you do and vice-versa.

At the end of that four year period, you have this very sophisticated young professional who has had four years of direct work experience, four years of attending Foundation conferences which provide a broader perspective on the industry, participation in an industry mentoring program (Link), four years of being held to a high standard both academically and professionally, and the opportunity to build an enviable network of senior executives through our board, mentors and speakers. I think probably the most important thing they come away with is confidence ... because knowledge is power and knowledge and experience build confidence. So you can think about when somebody interviews for a full time job at the end of four years as an Emma Bowen student, they have sat with executives, they can name drop a little bit, they really understand the industry, they understand the culture. They’ve had a total hands-on experience and so the likelihood of them getting hired and starting to move up the ladder is significantly higher. From a diversity standpoint, if they had to do it totally on their own, it would be a much more difficult fight. So that’s what we do.

Arenstein: The interesting thing here—I know that you are sort of a world record-holder. I know you have grandchildren, but you have a thousand children. This woman sitting here has a thousand children. You look great! Somebody said to me, “If you talk to Phylis, just save a few minutes and say, ‘talk about your children.’” And then just sit back and let you talk.

Eagle-Oldson: There’s no off button when you do this so it is like a grandparent. We have just amazing students as you can imagine. Because we’re so hands-on with all of our kids the relationships last long after they complete the program. To this day I get the wedding announcements, baby announcements, “I got a promotion!” “I got on the Dean’s List!” And you are like another member of their family. So there is this amazing sense of pride and joy that you get—I've said this to many people. There is no executive perk that’s better than what I get at Emma Bowen. I have saved every single note and letter from students. And you just say to yourself, “Wow.” They all say, “This changed my life. I'm the first kid to go to college in my family.” And you know that will just start a chain going forward. What an influence that has. An obvious example might be Gio Benitez who’s on Good Morning America and many other ABC news shows (evening news and 20/20). Gio was at CBS in Miami, had two Emmys before he graduated from college. This kid was a superstar and he will do great things for many years to come.

Then you get a young shy person. I think about a young woman that’s at HBO in compensation. I won't say her name because I don’t want to embarrass her. She was at NBC in Florida and she’s Asian-American, and boys were much more important to her family. She’s very shy. So she came to me and said, “There’s an opportunity for me to go to work at 30 Rock in HR compensation. And I'm so concerned about what my parents will say.” And I said, “You know what? Sometimes you’ve just got to go for it.” She went, she did phenomenally well, and she now is at HBO doing amazing things. But it was so gutsy of her to make the leap to go out on her own. Now her family all moved to New York to be with her, which is wonderful. And there are so many great stories about young people who just took the chance.

I can remember this young man, it was his first time ever on a plane when he came to conference, first time out of his hometown and he came to me, towards the end of the conference, and he said, “In my neighborhood, I'm the only kid who goes to college. I thought I was a pretty big deal. My father said to me, ‘When you go to work, you put your head down, don’t make any noise, don’t make any waves,’ I came to conference...I've got to change this. If I don’t up my game, I'm not going to be competitive. I look around me at all these other students and what they're doing...my father’s great, but I've got to do what I've got to do.”
And there's another girl I can think of who works in Connecticut. And she handed me a note after her first conference. Michael Powell spoke; Michael was amazing with the students. I think we were all sort of dewy-eyed after he finished. Just so inspiring. And she said, “My dad told me that only rich people get to live their dreams. After hearing Michael Powell speak, I know that that’s my dad’s experience but it's not going to be mine.”

There are hundreds of these stories of kids and they're great students to begin with because you have to have a 3.0 to get in to the Foundation and we collect transcripts every semester so you really have to keep up with it. But there’s a whole new generation of young professionals coming into this industry with a lot of talent and smarts and hopefully what we’ll see in our industry—and audiences will benefit from that.

Arenstein: Let’s talk a little bit about diversity in cable today, or even broaden it out and say your views about how cable has approached diversity.

Eagle-Oldson: I think cable is working very hard at diversity. They are very supportive of organizations like Emma Bowen, like NAMIC, like Women in Cable. When you start to look at the ranks of people moving up in the industry, there are clearly a much greater number of people of color that are taking positions of authority in the industry. Are we done? Not close. Do we have a lot further to go? Absolutely. Because I think it's one of those things that you have to constantly keep on the front burner...otherwise you’ll lose ground. So organizations like Emma Bowen, organizations like NAMIC, anything that says we have to constantly look at this. And we can't just say we hired, but we have to say we developed and we have to say that we’re creating leaders at the C- level, at the board level. It’s so important because otherwise you don’t get that broad perspective. And it makes good business sense. I mean you're not just doing it because it's a nice thing to do. When you look at the demographics of our country, if you don’t do it, you're not paying attention to what the business model is.

Arenstein: Can we drill down just one more step? How about women in cable technology? That’s a big area...

Eagle-Oldson: You probably know Chris Lammers from CableLabs. Chris is on our board and a couple of years ago, he and I were having lunch together in D.C. On the back of a napkin we designed the Foundation’s New Media & Technology track. We got huge support from the industry. People like Kevin Leddy and Bob Zitter, Rich Wolf, Preston Davis—tons of people said, “We love this. We really want to do this.” So what we did was we designed a track within Emma Bowen so that the students that intern are either engineering or computer science majors. They will rotate within their companies and their internships each summer, but they will stay in a technology track. This program has been hugely successful and it's about half female. Which is great. And HBO, who has been just phenomenal in hiring Emma Bowen grads. They have quite a few Emma Bowen grads there. They had one of the first tech-track students and she graduated in May and she's already working full time there now. I think that’s a track that is of interest to virtually everybody in the industry so that will continue to grow.

Arenstein: Cable’s influence on the country. Socially, let's say.

Eagle-Oldson: It's interesting for me to have the perspective of looking over all of these years and being involved in the industry all these years. I think some of the best things about cable—I have two things to say. One is the thing I'm most proud to say now that I've been part of the cable industry. I think because it started with an entrepreneurial spirit. You can only go so far before you have to make changes. No industry goes without change. But think about what they’ve done. So they went from mom-and-pop to just providing a good signal to satellite-delivered programming to telephony to Internet to security to who knows what the next thing is. They have kept themselves flexible and innovative—they’ve changed the model to make the industry continue to grow. And I think that spirit is terrific.

What I hope that doesn’t get lost because we’re now a big industry and you almost hope that it doesn’t get too corporate that you lose that flexibility and particularly as the early generation of entrepreneurs is slowly going away, sadly. You hope that there’s still some of that spirit and that innovation and creativity. And then when you think about, if you turn on the TV, you can watch the Smithsonian Channel or a cooking channel. I was in the room when Ted Turner proposed CNN to the NCTA board. I remember that day when he was sitting there. And only in Ted-style, it was just so amazing. And of course he got industry support in the same way C-SPAN got industry support. Now everybody has 24-hour news but Ted was the one who really brought it to the table. And the Weather Channel. Who would have thought that people would sit around and watch the Weather Channel, but my husband, it's the very first thing he puts on in the morning. So I think that Dubby Wynn (that name pops into my mind), I think the cable industry has been innovative, it has been creative, it has been gutsy. It took chances. Also it stuck together in a way I think—I can't analyze all other industries—but despite their differences in big vs. small cable company or operator vs. programmer, vendor, whatever, they still have stayed together and spoke from one voice and that probably has been one of the important things, too.

Arenstein: Phylis, I can't ask you about your legacy because you have a thousand kids who are going to be your legacy. But what do you want your legacy to be?

Eagle-Oldson: I think the Emma Bowen Foundation is. I have to thank Marty Malarkey, Trade Associates and NCTA for giving the opportunity to learn and develop an industry network. I was able to take that experience and end my career with the Foundation. If I can pass on what I know, along with, the importance of creativity and excellence to the students and graduates, that will be a perfect legacy.

Arenstein: When I was getting ready to do this interview, somebody told me that you're so good at Emma Bowen, you're such an asset, that it's going to be really, really difficult to replace. But I'm glad you're retiring, enjoy your retirement...

Eagle-Oldson: Thank you.

Arenstein: ...and this has been a pleasure. So much fun. What a great story you have. What are you going to do in retirement?

Eagle-Oldson: As you said, I have eight grandchildren and I married late, so I have this prince of a husband, just a prince. So what we hope to do is to focus on each other and our families and grandkids and travel and...

Arenstein: And keep up with your thousand children.

Eagle-Oldson: Exactly. Well, I told all the kids. I said, “You know, I'm used to getting up in the morning and turning my phone on and watching emails pour in. And if it doesn’t do it right away, you know, you're kind of hitting the phone, like, where are my emails?” I told the students, “If you care about my phone at all, you won't just stop emailing me. So I hope I can continue to stay in touch with our graduates and help in any way possible.

Arenstein: I'm sure you will. Thank you very much.


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John Evans

John Evans

Interview Date: June 18, 2014
Interview Location: Washington, DC USA
Interviewer: Brian Lamb
Collection: Cable Center Oral History Project

Lamb: John Evans, where did you grow up, what year were you born?

Evans: Born June 3, 1944, in Detroit, Michigan. I grew up in Grosse Pointe. My father was the CEO of Evans Products Company, which was a Fortune 500 company. My grandfather died at a very early age in 1945. He was 66 and my father, being the oldest twin by twenty minutes, took over Evans Products Company. Why that’s important is because in 1926, Grandfather went around the world and set the world’s record. He went around the world in twenty-eight days. There’s a book out by Linton Wells, who I think you remember from being a White House correspondent. Linton and my grandfather set the world’s record a year before Lindbergh [flew across the Atlantic in 1927].

Lamb: What kind of plane?

Evans: Multiple planes. And he wanted to demonstrate to the world and more importantly, to the industry in Detroit, that flight was here to stay. So he invested in and became a controlling shareholder of Detroit Aircraft Company. The year would have been 1925, maybe. Along the way he became the majority shareholder [87%] of Lockheed and ran it, among other of his companies. During the Depression, Lockheed and Detroit Aircraft went into receivership. A group of investors bought Lockheed in 1932, I think it was, for about $40,000, and of course for Lockheed, the rest, as they say, is history. But more importantly is it taught my father and thus me about entrepreneurship and risk taking.

Lamb: Mother?

Evans: Mother grew up in Boston. Her father moved to Detroit sometime in the Twenties. She came out at that point in Grosse Pointe society. They had coming-out parties when you became of age, so she came out, met my father, they were married in 1933.

Lamb: Brothers and sisters?

Evans: I have an older brother and an older sister. My older brother is an entrepreneur as well, also now retired. My sister also was a trust officer and is also retired.

Lamb: When do you first remember being interested in anything communications?

Evans: As a weatherman.

Lamb: At what age?

Evans: Thirteen.

Lamb: What circumstances?

Evans: I was fascinated by the weather and so I would always watch the weather shows or listen to the radio weather shows, ultimately of course on television. Then as a junior high school, I got a National Science Foundation grant to study under Dr. Vincent Schaefer, one of the world’s great meteorologists who invented, along with Dr. Langmuir of GE, cloud seeding and the whole concept of cloud seeding.

So I went to the University of Michigan, went into engineering, I was going to be a meteorologist, but honestly the First Law of Thermodynamics sunk me. So I could tell this calculus was not going to be one of my strong suits nor was biology, so I decided to go into the College of LS&A.

I joined WCBN as their weatherman. And that’s really how I got into radio and communications. I switched my major, wound up being the news director for WCBN, which stood for the “Campus Broadcasting Network.” Then, when President Kennedy was shot, I was sent to Washington to represent our radio station and Robert Abernathy and Eileen Shanahan, with the New York Times—Bob Abernathy was with NBC—took me under their wing and got me White House press credentials and I reported back to the campus the events of President Kennedy’s assassination. Fascinating time. As a result of that, I became chairman of the board of the radio station, rebuilt the radio station and then was drafted. It was during Vietnam.

So I was drafted. Having come out of Michigan with a communications degree—then they called it a “speech” degree—I went in the Navy and was sent to Fort Benjamin Harrison, which was the Navy PR school, and then was shipped off to the USS America [CVA 66]. I arrived as a television officer and assistant public affairs officer. I arrived several weeks before the Middle East war of 1967. And that summer, of course, the Israelis attacked Egypt and press was sent to the America. Bob Goralski, who I think you remember, Bill Gill, who was then the White House correspondent for ABC, were among them and I was standing on the bridge with the captain and I hear this “crackle, crackle, crackle” over the speaker on the bridge. I hear “This is the USS Liberty, this is the USS Liberty, we are under attack.” The Israelis had bombed, strafed and torpedoed our communications ship. Thirty-Four of our sailors were killed [75 wounded, total ship’s crew 230]. Our ship, of course, went immediately to general quarters. The ordnance was coming out of the magazines as fast as they could get it on deck, planes were taking off and this was in the early afternoon—somewhere around 2PM [June 8th, 1967], as I remember. [See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USS_America_(CV-66)#Attack_on_USS_Liberty and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USS_Liberty_incident ]

Now we’re at sea. That night, Bill Gill had a standup piece from the USS America broadcast on ABC. And Secretary McNamara was furious, wanted to know how Bill Gill was able to do that. Of course, I was responsible; [when America went to “general quarters”,] I was instructed to round up everybody [in the press corps] and put them in the wardroom. I couldn’t find Bill. I looked all over the ship. I couldn’t find him. Meanwhile, it was chaos going on. You’ve got almost 4,000 people that are in general quarters and doing their job. So we did an investigation after this was all done. We never knew. How did he do this?

It was not until five years later, when I ran into Bill—I was out of the Navy—and I said, “Bill, okay, you’ve got to tell me. How did you do this?”

He said, “Well, remember the big black cases we brought on? One of them was loaded with Scotch. We handed out the Scotch because your pilots loved Scotch. We handled out bottles of Scotch. And when all hell was breaking loose, as they’re coming out of the ready room, I nabbed this one and this one and this one and I was able to piece it all together. We went down to our stateroom, took some lights out of the head, and created a little studio. I did my piece, we shot the film just as everyone was going out to man their jets. But then I had to get it off the ship. There were courier onboard deliveries—those are planes that deliver mail and take personnel off --. Some of those personnel were men to go ashore.” So he took one of those sailors, gave him 100 bucks and he said, “Look, this is really important for my family. Would you mind giving this to so-and-so in Athens?” So the sailor did that and presumably had a good time with the $100. And it flew to Rome and it appeared on ABC that night.”

Lamb: What year?

Evans: 1967.

Lamb: Where were satellites?

Evans: The satellite uplink was only in Rome. That’s why it had to go from Athens to Rome. They could uplink it to New York and that’s how it appeared on ABC News that night.

Lamb: What were your interests at the time about the new communications? What did you know about new communications?

Evans: Since I was television officer, I got to know a closed-circuit system. It’s kind of like a cable TV system aboard ship. Then I was detailed to the Sealab Project out in Long Beach, California. The Sealab Project is where we sent aquanauts down to 300 feet. As a television officer, we had set up underwater cameras to observe what was going on. Unfortunately one of our aquanauts was killed: Berry Cannon. They ended the project.

But at that time the CNO [Chief of Naval Operations] was Admiral Thomas Moore. And Admiral Moore directed that there be a study on television. I apparently developed a reputation and so I was ordered to the Pentagon with a captain—Rudy Longo—and for six months, we did a study of how television was being used.

I wrote the study in my Georgetown apartment because they [the Navy] didn’t have quarters for me and as a result of that [the report], the Vice-Chief of Naval Operations and the CNO read the report and the VCNO made it a [special] project [4-69]. He had a number of recommendations. So I was detailed to the staff of the VCNO to run the project. Only the Navy was crazy enough to take a 26 year-old, give him 4,000 people, $100 million worth of assets and say, “Fix it.” So I got into it—and I got into shipbuilding and I got into how cable and amplifiers and cameras and all that sort of stuff. I got quite an education.

So it was natural for me then to spend some time in radio—because I’d come out of radio. My family had bought a radio station down in Charlottesville [VA]. I became president of that, but it was clear to me that this was not a sunrise industry. So the year would be 1971. It became clear that radio was a great industry but it was not going to be a sunrise industry.

Lamb: Back to the study you did for the Navy and the involvement, what was the outcome of the study?

Evans: The outcome was we [OpNav] centralized management because what was happening is every command was buying their own stuff and they wouldn’t be talking to each other. So it was going to be centralized under OpNav, which was the CNO’s office, to write the specifications. A certain amount of frustration on my part. Just a quick story. I was dealing with a GS-16 and for all intents and purposes, I was speaking on behalf of the Vice-Chief of Naval Operations.

Lamb: GS-16 being a government employee.

Evans: Being a government employee.

Lamb: Fairly high-ranking.

Evans: Very high-ranking. So I went into his office and I said, “This is what we want to do and I’m speaking on behalf of the Vice-Chief.” He said, “Lieutenant.” [I’d made full lieutenant by that time.] He said, “Lieutenant, I’ve seen your type before. They come and they go. They come and they go. And long after you’re gone, I’m still going to be here.” And you know what? He was absolutely right.

Lamb: What impact did that have? Did he get in the way of it then?

Evans: He got in the way. I mean, he got in the way of it. So I wasn’t able to accomplish as much as I had hoped that I would. It’s like docking the Queen Mary, to use a metaphor. It worked very, very slowly. It would trickle down and get stuff done. But what it did teach me—now going into my cable career—it taught me project management. It taught me how you take an idea and then lay that idea out in steps to bring it into reality.

Lamb: Your first job in cable. What year?

Evans: It would have been 1972 with American Television and Communications, ATC.

Lamb: How’d that happen?

Evans: It was clear to me that I needed to move from radio to cable. So a friend of mine introduced me to Amos Hostetter. I went up and talked to Amos. He did not have a job for me. They weren’t hiring but he sent me out to Monty Rifkin [CEO] at ATC. So I interviewed with Monty and Doug Dittrick. And then a guy named Jim Stafford, who was their operating guy, called me and he said, “We want to send you to Charleston.” I said, “Oh, wow, that’s really great. You know, I'm a former Naval officer, Spanish moss hanging down from the trees. It’s a great port.” There’s a pause. He said, “No, no. I'm talking about Charleston, West Virginia.”

So that was my first job. I became manager and then regional manager.

Lamb: Was there a cable system already in existence when you got there?

Evans: There was. It was called Capitol Cablevision. It was sold to ATC by local investors. One of the great things about our industry is that we had lots of entrepreneurs all over the country that were building these new systems and then we went through, and in some ways are still going through, a consolidation. So local investors built the system, sold it to ATC. ATC then put their own management in. I was fortunate to be selected to do that.

Lamb: How long did ATC own it by the time you got there?

Evans: Gosh, I want to say a year.

Lamb: How big was the system in subscribers and how many...?

Evans: It was about 12,000 subscribers so it was a pretty big system. Charleston you know is on the Kanawha River and so it's surrounded by mountains. So the headend was up on the mountain and the cable was run down. It was a 12-channel system. That was a really big deal then because most of the systems back then were 6-channel. But this was a 12 channel system.

Lamb: Any original programming?

Evans: No. Well, there was a camera on a goldfish bowl with the weather in the background. But no, there wasn’t.

Lamb: So what kind of channels did you bring in? Or was it strictly local?

Evans: No, it was from Huntington, West Virginia. I think we had an Ohio channel [all distant signals]. Remember this was before satellite, before TBS, which was 1976 roughly. No HBO. So it was strictly off-air.

Lamb: Can you remember the kind of money the system generated in your first year?

Evans: Its rates were like $4.95 a month and I have to do the math, but it was probably under $1 million.

Lamb: What was your toughest part of starting out, running a cable system?

Evans: People. Finding good technicians, finding good engineers. I carried a set of gaffs—those are what you strap on your legs to climb a pole. And many times I would go out and have to do a reconnect or look at something that was on the pole. I burned a pole. That’s where your gaffs don’t hold and you go sliding down the pole and that’s not a very pleasant experience. I decided maybe I ought to have other people do that, but people and technology, weather—and I found the same point when we started to rebuild Montgomery County, which we’ll get to in a minute—weather is a very big issue. You get a lightning strike and it blows some amplifiers and you’ve got to stock them and then go change them out.

Lamb: Who were you answering to in Denver?

Evans: A guy named Jim Stafford. That was early on and then they did some consolidation and I wound up answering to Joe Collins, who later went on to do great things within Time Warner.

Lamb: You say you went from running the system to being a regional manager. When you were a regional manager what year was that and what were the systems under your control?

Evans: You may remember that Time, Inc. was in the cable business. The year was 1974 when they sold all their systems to ATC. Those systems at that time—their larger systems were in the Midwest. So it was Battle Creek, Michigan, Oscoda, Michigan, Terre Haute and Marion, Indiana. That was my region. I wound up doing a lot of traveling. In addition to—because we kept our costs low with overhead—I continued to run the Charleston system. But then I had the managers reporting to me for those systems. I had my first union fight in Terre Haute and the IBEW came in and they wanted to unionize and I sat with the employees and walked them through what the consequences were.

Lamb: How was the vote?

Evans: They voted for me. They did not vote for the union. Then I went up to Oscoda which was already IBEW and I convinced them to de-certify. The vote was very lopsided and they did de-certify them.

Lamb: What was the capacity then of the system and the amplifiers?

Evans: All systems were 12-channels.

Lamb: What was the megahertz? Remember?

Evans: I want to say 300. I'm not sure of that...

Lamb: What was the penetration in most of your communities?

Evans: Over 50%.

Lamb: When was the first time in your life as a cable operator that you had original programming to offer?

Evans: It was probably with ATC and probably in Marion and Terre Haute because Time, Inc. was starting to go down that path. The year would have been 1975 maybe.

Lamb: Was it stand-alone or satellite?

Evans: It was stand-alone. They had a camera and little studio. We didn’t start putting dishes in until after ’76. I left in ’76.

Lamb: Why?

Evans: You may remember the Office of Telecommunications Policy was vacant and the Ford administration was looking for a new director. Some friends of mine in Washington said that given my Navy experience and my cable experience and my broadcasting experience, that this might be a good job for me. So I made a run at it and I was one of the four final candidates. The White House brought me to Washington, parked me over at HEW—what it is now HHS but then HEW—and I was in the technology, communications, education area. Along the way, I got a call from Jerry Greene, who was one of the deans of our industry, and said that he would like me to consider running Arlington, Virginia [cable system], and building it. [Note: the company was Arlington TeleCommunications Co. “ARTEC”]

Lamb: Who owned it then?

Evans: It was a group of locals. There was a law firm headed up by Fred Ford and Lee Lovett here in Washington. Fred Ford, you may remember, was the former chairman of the FCC. He had made a business out of getting [cable] franchises. He put locals together, who paid them the money, and he got them the franchise. So it was with Arlington. There were a bunch, I think there were fifty, fifty-two shareholders in Arlington that had put money in and they got the franchise. You have to keep me honest here; you were at the moment before me—you were the Washington bureau chief for Cablevision magazine. I believe that was the first franchise that was issued. Gaithersburg and Reston were small cities way outside of Washington, were already built. But then Arlington was the next. So they interviewed me. I got the job and what they didn’t tell me was, “You’ve got to go raise the money, too.”

So I called on some family friends that introduced me to Thomson McKinnon [Then a US security and investment banking broker] here in Washington. We raised $265,000 to do marketing, engineering studies. Again, I'm very process-oriented so I laid out a whole spreadsheet and timeline of what I thought needed to be done. I'd already run the numbers. Remember that was just the first time that the Bowmar Brain, the little pocket calculator (it was about that big), had been introduced. So it was all done by hand. We didn’t have VisiCalc or Lotus 1-2-3 or Excel. So I did it all by hand.

Lamb: Can you remember the date that you started working for them?

Evans: The date would have been the fall—I think around October 1, 1976. I made a decision at that point that I would not pursue the government OTP job and as it turned out, wisely, because President Ford lost to Jimmy Carter. But I worked with them; after my day job at HEW, I would go over and work with them free of charge. I wasn’t being paid to do the consulting work and then I joined them fulltime.

Lamb: In 1976, you were how old?

Evans: I would have been thirty-two.

Lamb: You mentioned a bunch of names that you got to know in the cable business. First, Jerry Greene that you mentioned. What was he doing that he called you?

Evans: Jerry had come out of TelePrompTer and was doing, I think he was doing consulting work because he had been hired as a consultant to the Arlington folks, to help them. Jerry had heard about me through Cable Data because I was one of the first systems to convert to computer.

Lamb: Which system?

Evans: It was the Cable Data system. They're in Sacramento—

Lamb: I mean, what system...?

Evans: That would have been Charleston. So Charleston converted over and we had put terminals in and we’d send the tapes at the end of the month to Sacramento. They’d print the bills out. But the conversion went really well. Unbeknownst to me, word got back to Jerry that I knew something about running a cable TV system and that I was technically inclined. And that’s apparently how I got the call.

Lamb: If my memory serves me right, you went on to win the Jerry Greene Award.

Evans: I did.

Lamb: Why was there an award named after him?

Evans: Jerry died in a plane crash. You may remember the year. I don’t. But because of his service to—and he was young—he was under forty. Because of his service to the industry, the industry wanted to recognize his contributions. He was with TelePrompTer, I believe, and had done some really fabulous work so they named an award after him. I was honored to receive that award in 1984. Jim Heyworth, who was president of HBO, had received it the year before.

Lamb: You mentioned Monty Rifkin. You mentioned Doug Dittrick. You mentioned Joe Collins. Give just a quick thumbnail sketch of each of those people from your perspective at the young age of late twenties, early thirties.

Evans: First of all, I have the highest regard for all of them. All of them took risks, took financial risks, personal risks. They all had a vision. The creation of corporate culture is really important and as often happens in any entrepreneurial environment, things can get tense and sometimes the culture can be negative as opposed to positive. But all of that said, Monty had a vision and he had connections and he was financially oriented and knew how to lay out a plan and execute the plan...

Lamb: What did he want from you?

Evans: What he wanted from me was to be a successful regional manager and feed the cash flow that was coming out of the region so that he could continue to invest that both in acquisitions as well as investing in the system.

Lamb: How many subscribers when you were regional, do you remember?

Evans: I don’t.

Lamb: And do you remember what percentage of cash flow that he wanted from you, what was the margin?

Evans: All the cash, almost on a daily basis, all the cash was taken out of our repository and sent to Denver, which was just good cash management, by the way. So John McDonough, who was then the CFO, went on to be the CFO for Blount Industries down in Alabama. John had set up a wonderful cash management system so he could aggregate the cash from all over the country, invest that in overnight repos or other instruments so they could be earning on that. And then they would deploy that cash, both for capital investment as well as for acquisitions.

Lamb: Doug Dittrick.

Evans: Great operator. Doug left ATC to go on to Tribune. Wonderful mentor to me.

Lamb: How?

Evans: Remember I'm in Charleston, West Virginia. So Doug at that point was an industry leader and I was just beginning to understand, think about all the regulations at the FCC, and what Capitol Hill was all about. I was just focused on operating and doing the best job I could for the subscribers, so there was this whole other netherland out there called regulation and politics. So Doug taught me that. He taught me how to invest capital when you're making capital decisions that will give you a return on that capital. Very important lesson.

Joe Collins: Probably one of the brightest guys I've met in our industry. Encyclopedic memory, something I wish I had. Encyclopedic memory. A good leader, good with people, and then of course went on to run HBO and do lots of other things in the industry. Harvard MBA and I’ll always remember a trip that we did throughout the Midwest. We were going to our systems, Marion and Terre Haute. Very probative, asked really insightful questions. So that was a learning experience for me as well. Hopefully I taught him some things too, but I’d call him a digger. He would continue to dig to get to the bottom and dig deep into it, so he would understand.

Lamb: Up to this point in your career, what was the biggest problem you ever had?

Evans: The biggest problem with respect to Arlington—let’s go to Arlington because the biggest problem was financing. Now we were a stand-alone company. I had convinced General Electric to invest in us and they looked at 200 deals and they took one deal here—that was us. Later on, as I got to know Pedro Castillo, who ran GE Venture Capital, known as GEVENCO, I asked
Pedro, “OK, Pedro, tell me, how do you choose? I mean, you looked at 200 deals. Why me?” He said, “John, first of all, the business plan has got to make sense. We have to understand the business, numbers have got to tie and we have to think that there’s a good possibility of meeting your projections.” But he said, “At the end of the day, it’s here.” [Pointing to his gut]
I said, “What do you mean, it’s here?” He said, “It’s here. It's how I feel about the people I’m dealing with.” And it wasn’t until later several years later that I understood what it was that he was teaching me. So going back to your question, the toughest part for Arlington was raising the money to do Arlington.

: How much did you need?

: I needed $6.7 million.

: What was the history at that point of urban cable television?

: Awful. I say “awful” only because in the Arlington market, 50% were multi-dwelling units apartments. The industry was just beginning to understand how to wire these. How do you wire them? Well, there are cement floors so you have to develop core drilling techniques so you had these great drills, big drills, hammer drills, that drill down so you can go vertically and then you’ve got to figure out how to go down the hallways. We had to devise molding that would go down the hallway and we would drill into each apartment, hopefully into a closet. And yes, we made some mistakes sometimes and it wasn’t always pretty. But we had to develop those techniques so that’s one reason that Chemical Bank and a number of New York banks would not invest. A guy named Clark Madigan, who was then the loan officer for American Security Bank [a local Washington, DC Bank], said, “It's in our backyard.” I gave him a crash course in cable TV. He had confidence in GE and GE was there. So he committed the money, loaned us the money.

: All the money?

: All the money. All the money we thought we needed at that time—turns out I needed more money. I’ll get to that in a minute. You may remember in 1980 we started to see inflation. We started to see prime interest start to rise. I’ll never forget the day I was with Pedro, we were doing the final negotiations for the American Security Bank loan. So to Clark Madigan, this loan officer, we said, “We want to cap the interest at 12% so our interest could never go above 12%.” We were paying like prime plus 3½. So he came back and he said, “You know, we don’t want a cap.” Pedro said, “If it goes above twelve, then we are ‘a borrower at prime.’” He took me aside and said, “The prime rate has never gone above 12%.” We gave him the point, but I felt like we got something, right?
Prime went over 21%. So I could meet the interest payment but I couldn’t meet the principal payment because I was chewing up the principal [cash] I was going to pay on the principal. So we had to extend that out. Then we found that we had more homes than we thought we had so I needed more money to build out those homes.

: How big was Arlington?

: Arlington was 72,000 homes.

: You said you started with them in 1976. When was the first cable subscriber hooked up in Arlington, Virginia?

: That would have been in July of 1978. Commissioner Jim Quello, who was down at the FCC, came to the inauguration of what was then known as MetroCable [FCC Chairman Joe Forgarty was the featured speaker] and we launched it. I might back up a minute because this is an important part. There was another really important issue that I needed to get resolved and that was: under the FCC regulations, we could not carry the Baltimore [TV] signals.

: Forty miles from Washington.

: Forty miles from Washington and the master antenna systems on all these apartment buildings were picking up and they were carrying on their master antenna systems. I’m selling against a master antenna system that gets all the Baltimore signals; and so I filed for a FCC waiver, now known as the ARTEC waiver and it started out to be a close vote but then FCC Chairman [Richard] Wiley and [Commissioner] Abbott Washburn concurred; it was seven commissioners at the time, so it was a 6-7 vote. Finally doing away with the distant signal rule.

: You talked about being in Charleston, West Virginia, when it was a twelve-channel system and your biggest problem was people. You're now in Arlington, Virginia. How many channels was the system then?

: I committed to 35 channels with Scientific Atlanta and we didn’t have 35 channels of content.

: What did you have though that was different from West Virginia?

: First of all I had all Baltimore signals. At this point, I had all the Baltimore signals, I had the Washington signals, had more PBS signals, I had HBO because we put a satellite dish in. I had HBO, I had TBS, CBN and C-SPAN.

: How big a deal was it to build a satellite dish back then? How much was it a drag on your balance sheet?

: That’s an insightful question because it was expensive. So my deal with HBO was that they paid for the earth station and they financed my headend, which they did. They financed at 8%. This brings up another point that I think is important because Arlington was a special system in that it was the first in Washington under the shadow of the Capitol dome. We had Dick Wiley, Charlotte Reid—these were all [FCC] commissioners—Dick Wiley was chairman of the FCC, Charlotte Reid, Bob Lee, Bob Kastenmeier, who was then chairman of the copyright committee; all these folks lived in Arlington. They didn’t really experience cable. They didn’t know what cable was all about. There was a responsibility on the part of our company and me personally because I became the spokesperson for our company to demonstrate what cable was all about. Tom Wheeler was then the president of NCTA and would bring people over. We would give them tours. Bob Johnson, who was then at NCTA—who later went on to create Black Entertainment Television—was one of the first that would start bringing people over. He was involved with the government relations folks.

So we really had a dual purpose. First to take care of our customers but secondly, on behalf of the industry, to really be a showcase for the industry. That’s how I pitched it to our partners because throughout my life, I believe in partnerships. You pick your partners carefully but I believe in partnerships. So I went to HBO, I said, “I need your help. We’re a small company. We’re financed, not overly financed but we’re financed. So if you want to have HBO in Washington,”— and it was important for them for their reasons as well—“then I need some help here.” So they agreed to finance our entire earth station and headend for 8%. It was a five-year deal. They provided some help with the earth station [engineering].

Then Westinghouse got into the satellite news business and they came to me and said, “We need Washington.” I said, “OK. It’s going to cost you an earth station.” So they built the earth station for us. Remember in 1978, this was before CNN, before the Weather Channel, before Discovery. We launched [July 18, 1979] nine months before C-SPAN, which was March 19, 1979. As new product was coming on—the Weather Channel, MTV, Cinemax and all those—we developed the partnerships because they needed to be in Washington.
Remember in 1980, when CNN was launched, the only place you could see it was in Arlington. It was fondly known as “Chicken Noddle News” back in those days. Then we went to George Mason University. We struck a deal with them where they would use their ITSF frequencies in order to get CNN and C-SPAN into the Washington, DC, area.

Lamb: How many people worked for you in the Arlington system?

: It started out as one—me. Then I got half a person for a secretary or assistant and we grew to thirty over a period of time.

: Total number that you ever had? Thirty?

: No. By the time—we probably had sixty or seventy people by the time we sold it to Hauser Communications.

: In those early days, as you're building the system, did you run into any glitches from the money standpoint?

: No, thank goodness. I’m a numbers guy so we were doing cash flow projections out on a rolling basis. There was a time when I knew about nine months or ten months out we were going to run out of cash. So I called Pedro—

: At GE.

: At GE. I called Pedro and I said, “I'm seeing a problem. It’s both a good problem and a bad problem. The bad problem is I'm going to run out of money. The good problem is I’ve got more homes than I thought I had and I'm going to develop more cash flow than I thought I was going to develop, but I need to finance it.” So he sent his CFO down by the name of Lynn Saylor, who came down. He started on Monday morning. He might as well put a Greene eyeshade on. On a Monday morning in our conference room and he did spreadsheets about that thick [½ inch] with my help, running through every aspect of the operation, projecting it out over a five-year period. With a pencil and an eraser and a calculator. At the end we decided we needed some more money—I think it was another $2 million. And the bank agreed. We showed them the work and the bank said, “We’re in”. And we wound up selling the bank on the idea.

And then GE came to me, the year was 1982, and said they had made a decision to get out of the cable business. Now remember GE had invested in Cox. They’d sent Bob Wright down to run Cox. Of course, Bob went on to run NBC. But they made the decision they were going to get out of cable altogether.
They had their GE cable operations, they had their investment in Cox and through their venture capital arm, they had invested in us. We were separate and apart from any of the other aspects of that. But they made a decision—Reginald Jones was then CEO of GE—made the decision they were going to get out. They came to me and said, “We want to sell your company.” Which they had the right to do. And I had been elected the NCTA board in 1981 and I met Gus Hauser who was then head of Warner [Cable] and then Warner AMEX. Gus and I had this conversation by the tennis court in La Quinta, California, at an NCTA board meeting. And I said, “Gus, I just read that you're leaving Warner AMEX. GE has advised me they want to sell my company. Chase Manhattan Bank has said they’ll provide the debt financing but I don’t know the equity markets. Is this something that would interest you?” And we began a dialogue. Daniels and Associates and my good friend, John Saeman, was representing us. We hired Daniels on behalf of GE and our shareholders. I could not participate in the negotiations because it was likely I was going to go with our new company. So I could not have a conflict of interest.

: How was the penetration at that point?

: Penetration would have been well over 50%. I’m doing this from memory, but that’s some 30,000 subscribers we had.

: What year was that?

: This would have been 1982. Gus agreed to buy the company and we created Arlington Cable Partners. Gus then made me president of Hauser Communications and then we started acquisitions. We’ll talk about that in a minute. It was a very smooth transition. Franchise transfer was very smooth. We had just had our franchise renewed and Dick Wiley, former chair of the FCC, headed up the Arlington citizens to review all of the operations. We passed with flying colors, which was one of the reasons Gus wanted to buy it. We closed the deal in December of 1983. I was on the NCTA board and Gus was on the NCTA board. One of us had to go because you couldn’t have two directors from the same company. So I stepped down. Gus was vice-chairman. Gus ran the following year, in 1984, April of 1984. Gus ran for chairman. He was beat out by Ed Allen, and retired from the board and called me and said, “There’s a special election to fill your seat. Would you go ahead and run?” So I was off the NCTA board for about five months and then I got my old seat back and I’ve been there now for thirty-three years.

: What would you say was your approach to your relationships with like the Federal Communications Commissioners and the Arlington County Board, and if we were sitting in a classroom somewhere and the students in business wanted to know what do you have to do in order to get your rate increases which they don’t have to do anymore but you used to have to do that. What were your techniques?

: Openness and transparency. The coin of the realm was trust. And authenticity. Don’t play games. First be who you are. Secondly, be centered and thirdly, lay it out. Lay out what your needs are because in the final analysis, it's a partnership between the consumer, the community that you serve, the company, your employees and your capital markets. All of those have to work together. Of course there are going to be needs and wants and some are going to want more than others. And you're going to have to try and navigate through all that.

: Did you ever have a fly in the ointment?

: Sure. You run into some—

: And if you did, why...?

: Let me answer the question this way. Gus and I later went on to purchase Montgomery County.

: Around Washington.

: Around Washington. It’s a suburb, a very large suburb in a county outside of Washington. And we bought it from the Tribune Company.

: Doug Dittrick.

: Doug Dittrick. The Tribune Company had decided to implement a technology called “TRACS.” They took the converter box out of the home and they put it on a pole.

: Outside of everybody’s home?

: Outside of everybody’s home. If you wanted four TV sets, you had four wires going into your home. It was a failed technology and when a thunderstorm, as happens in Washington, comes through, a lightning strike—it blows the box. They had 21,000 subscribers and they were running about 20% service calls because these boxes were failing. Montgomery County sued the Tribune and the Tribune countersued the county. It was a mess. So the Tribune said, “We’re out of here, we’re getting out of cable, this is not our strength”. And so we wound up buying the Montgomery operation because we were local here in Arlington. We went in and just told them the truth: “We’re going to have to tear the system down, we’re going to have to rebuild it, we’ll do the very best job we can in cutting over subscribers; but you're going to have to be patient.” There were 1200 miles of cable plant that we had to rip down and start all over with. It was a $40 million purchase and ultimately it was a roughly $250 million project. All along the way, I and some members of my staff, kept the county informed. We ran into problems. We would dig up a street or something would go wrong. We would screw up in some way. Call the county, tell them we screwed up, we got this problem. Now we did a lot of things right, by the way. In fact, I would argue we pulled their bacon out of the fire. And we did everything on time and when we said we were going to do it, we met all of our deadlines.
The fly in the ointment: when it came time that we decided it was time to sell the properties. We went to Montgomery County and said, “We want to sell.” And in that conversation they said, “OK, we want $10 million to transfer the franchise.” I said, “What?! You want how much?”
“We want $10 million to transfer the franchise.”

By this time we had paid them over $100 million in franchise fees for the period we had been there. I’m skipping forward, but the year was 1992 or 1993, when we announced the deal. I was livid. That’s not the way I do business because we lived up to all of our franchise—so I asked him, “I said, where in the franchise does it say that you get $10 million just to transfer the franchise?” They said, “Well, it doesn’t, but that’s what we want. If you don’t give it to us, we’ll go through a whole process and it’s going to take a lot of time.” So I’ll never forget—then we go back to our Minnesota operations in a minute—I’ll never forget the dinner I had with my partner and dear friend, Gus Hauser. And Gus and I had never had a disagreement. We had lots of passionate discussions [over the years] and I’d have a solution to a problem and he’d have a solution and usually neither one of our solutions survived. [A far more elegant solution evolved.] [He was] one of the great teachers and mentors to me—and I’m so fortunate to have been and so privileged to be with him and with also his wife, Rita. But on this occasion, my own ethics and morality was getting in my way.
So we had this discussion over at the Hyatt Hotel in Arlington; He said, “John, first of all, you're right.” I said, “It's illegal, we can sue them and embarrass them.” He said, “You're absolutely right. We’ll probably win and it will probably take us three years.” Now remember Gus is a lawyer. He’s got three law degrees. And he said, “You're probably right but you’ve got to ask yourself, ‘Do you want to do the deal or don’t you want to so the deal?’”

Now remember you’ve got shareholders, partners, you’ve got your banks. We have our employees and we have our consumers. On balance we have to decide whether having a fight is going to help them along with ourselves or is it going to put the operations in jeopardy? And as I began to look at it in that framework and look at the total responsibility that we had, I came around. I said, “You're right.” So we wound up paying them $6 million instead of $10 million, and SBC, as I remember, had to pay them something when we sold the company. That was a real lesson for me in overreaching on the part of a local government.
Lamb: You sold in 1992?

Evans: We announced a deal in 1993 and we closed in 1994.

: When had you bought that...?

: 1986.

: 1986. And you sold it to?

: Southwestern Bell, now AT&T. It's the first Bell operating system to buy a facilities-based cable system. It set the market—it was the highest price ever paid.

: What’d they pay?

: It was $3000 a subscriber. It was a $650 million, you take into account some of the other accounting, it was really $675 million but it was announced $650 million deal. For every dollar that our investors put in, they got $21 back.

: By now, you’d made some money. What has happened to you as you're making money? You came out of a family that had made money. But you were making this money on your own. What’s the impact on your life?

: First of all, it's been a wonderful impact. My father said to all of his children and said to me, when I was commissioned as an officer in the Navy, he said, “I'm done. I'm so proud of you for being a Naval officer, I'm going to buy all your uniforms for you.” Because at that time, you may remember, you had to buy your own uniforms. “But you're on your own.” So I was on my own. I didn’t go into the family business. I took a totally different way.
So as I began to have liquidity events selling our properties—we were also the largest cable operator in Minnesota, which is a whole other story—as we began to sell our systems off to further the consolidation of our industry, my cousin, Jane, said to me, “And now you will have the adventure of wealth.” I sort of knew what she meant, but I didn’t really know what she meant.

Gus and I had this conversation and he said to me (he gave me some wonderful advice), he said, “Look. I know you really well. If you make any more money, it is not going to change your life. But you have the opportunity now to do some other things with your life if you wish.” And at that time, Clayton Dubilier, who were investment bankers, arranged a meeting with me and said, “Look. We can raise a billion dollars for you. You can multiply that on six to one because you could usually take—for every dollar of equity, you could borrow usually six dollars, seven dollars in our industry.” You can't do that anymore but back then, you could. I could have had a war chest of six or seven billion dollars. And I said to myself and in talking to Gus, “Now you know you're right” Because I could see another fifteen or twenty years keeping my feet on the sticky paper. Where the time is not your own. The business is not only getting more complicated—and for me that was in a fun way—but maybe I could take what I've learned and do some other things with it.

So I chose to be associated with and be on the board of Nelson County Cable so I could give back to—

: Where is that?

: That’s down in Wintergreen, Virginia, outside of Charlottesville. It’s about forty-five minutes west of Charlottesville. I'm still on their board and still guide them. I created a foundation called the Evans Foundation. We’re involved in higher education and social justice, global health and specifically AIDS vaccine research.

: You alluded to the Minnesota properties. Did you buy two up there?

: Bought two up there.

: And who owned them? And what year did you buy them? And then what year did you sell them?

: 1985, we purchased the Storer systems. Storer was getting out of the business and they had overcommitted, which was not unusual. We went through a franchising period where dual cable systems and all these promises were being made but the financial models to support that weren’t there. Frankly, technology was not there. So Storer won the franchise for some of the suburbs of Minneapolis-St. Paul. Brooklyn Park, Golden Valley, Bloomington, and so we went up there and purchased those systems. They wanted to get out of the business. They had built a dual-channel system so they had two cables. It's really cold up there and they weren’t working very well, so we told the community, “We’re going to shut cable B down. We are going to run a single cable.” Then my staff up there said, “OK. What are we going to do with the rest of it? It’s inventory hanging in the sky.” So we took all the amplifiers out, put them in a warehouse. We wound up using those up over a period of time.

Westinghouse did the same thing. They had the other half of the donut for Minneapolis-St. Paul. So when Westinghouse was sold and there was a consortium—it was Daniels, it was Comcast, TCI, I don’t think Cox was in it—then we became a part of the consortium. So we took over the Westinghouse portion of Minnesota, which made sense to us because we were right next door. That year was 1986, so that was a year after we purchased the Storer system. Same issue: shut down a B cable, streamline the operations. I consolidated the operations. They had offices in all these various places; I consolidated the operation, brought our costs down, started generating cash flow and we also had a wonderful partner, Continental Cablevision. They were our 50% partner up there in the Westinghouse deal. Of course, it was great to be back with Amos Hostetter who had originally brought me into the industry, sent me over to Monty, so Tim Neher, who was his chief operating officer, and I became close as a result of that. And of course, it was great being with Amos.

: What was the total number of subscribers that Hauser Communications had when you were at your biggest?

: The biggest was close to half a million subscribers.

: What year did you sell them all off?

: The Storer system was the first to go and that was, I want to say, 1988 or 1989, and Westinghouse—we sold the Storer systems to King Broadcasting. Going back to one of your earlier questions, the most important job that a CEO does or a chief operating officer does, is set the culture. And the culture is either going to be a fear-based culture or it’s going to be a transparent, open trust-based culture, authentic culture. I go for the latter, not the former. The forty years that I've been in this industry, forty-two years this year, that I've been in this industry, I've seen both. I've seen companies that have been run by fear and I've seen companies that are run by openness and transparency and trust with employees. Over that forty-two year period, the companies that are run by fear, have been mediocre or have been subsumed by other companies.
So when we sold to King Broadcasting, about six months later, the CEO of King Broadcasting comes to me and says, “John, I don’t know what you guys did, but when you left, you took the magic with you.” I said, “Ed, what do you mean?” He said, “It’s not running the way you ran it. it's not delivering the kind of cash flow...” And what I wanted to say, but I didn’t, was, “What you did was you injected fear in the organization. And when you inject fear in the organization, you diminish risk-taking because you always want prudent risk-taking. You diminish the employees because you're not empowering them and they become apparatchiks. You don’t allow them to solve their problems and to grow, because you either grow or you die.” And that’s been my experience.
So we sold to King and then we sold to Jim Cownie and I'm drawing a blank on the company.

Lamb: Heritage?

: Heritage, yes.

: They had re-constituted.

: They had re-constituted themselves.

: What was the last day of your ownership other than your Nelson County experience in Virginia? What was your last day that Hauser was a company?

: The last day of operating was in January of 1994 but we had a five-year warranty period with SBC that if things had gone wrong, we were responsible. So Gus and I stayed pretty much in constant contact during that. We’re still in constant contact now, but from a professional standpoint over that five-year period.

: Biggest mistake you ever made?

: I would have liked to have bought more systems. I’ll give you an example. I still look back on Prince Georges County, which is right next door to Montgomery County as part of the donut around Washington. I really wanted to buy that system. It was owned by Metrovision; there was a north and a south that went through some hard times...

: Run by Henry Harris?

: No. Early on—then they sold it—I can see his face but I don’t remember his name, an entrepreneur in the north—they sold it anyway. I ran the numbers on it. I could not make it work at the price they were asking. Prudence said to me, “Don’t do it.” In hindsight now, we probably should have done it. It probably would have worked out fine. I won’t say that was the biggest mistake I made, but that was certainly one of the mistakes that I made.

: Why did you and Gus Hauser decide to sell?

: Technology is moving faster and the ability to process from a computer chip standpoint is like Moore’s Law. It continues to double. So Gus was about to turn 65. We were looking at having to do a major upgrade. We were still hub-and-spoke so we had a hub and then spokes out as opposed to what we knew we’re going to have to do is to build a SONET ring, so we had to build a ring all around and connect. Put fiber in. So it was going to be a major upgrade. And it was going to be a long-term payback. So Gus—and I can't speak for him, but my guess is he and Rita were saying, “OK. I am 65 now and there are some other things I want to do with our life.” Indeed, he has gone on to do some extraordinary things with the Hauser Foundation. He and Rita established the Hauser Foundation, convinced me to establish the Evans Foundation and they’ve gone and done some really spectacular things, stepping away from the cable business.

: What’s the rule of thumb when you create a foundation? I know this is not cable related but a lot of cable people have done that. How much money on a percentage basis do people put in a foundation and why?

: At the end of the day, my own value system is that we’re nothing more than stewards. Yes, everyone knows I do believe in reincarnation, I think we've done this lots of times. That which has been entrusted to us—whether they're assets or whether they're people or whether it’s intellectual capital—we’re just the stewards of that for the 70, 80, 90 years that we’re here.

The reason I created a foundation—and it varies from family to family, individual to individual—was that I saw a way in which I could take what I have learned and maybe make a difference in higher education; one of my passions is AIDS vaccine research because I want to see the AIDS pandemic end in my lifetime, and use the technology that I've been schooled in and that is moving [rapidly] forward to connect people, connect ideas, preserve content so that if we don’t—if we don’t understand history, we’re likely to repeat it.

As you know, I'm very big into digital preservation. Whether it’s for the C-SPAN archive or whether it's with the Academy of Higher Education’s libraries, we've got to preserve our intellectual capital. I use the foundation as a vehicle for me both to give ideas and seed grants. We’re a small foundation, it's all public, we’re about an $11 million foundation. We give away about $500,000-600,000 a year. This is not the scope of a Ford Foundation or a Gates Foundation. But what it does do is allow me to bring the skills that I have at this point in my life to help solve social problems. I’ll give you a couple of examples.
A couple of years ago, Dr. James Hilton, who is the [University of Michigan] dean of libraries right now but was then the CIO for the University of Virginia, called me up one day and said: “John, I've got a really stupid idea or it's a really clever idea. I’ve very concerned that the libraries of our higher education are vulnerable in the digital age. Remember, 2000 years ago the great Library of Alexandria was destroyed by the Romans, so if an asteroid hits the planet, or if we do something really stupid and blow ourselves up, how do we preserve man’s knowledge? We learned from the Space Shuttle. The Space Shuttle had three independent systems that all three had to agree and if they didn’t agree, it [the command] got kicked out to a human. What I propose is three—[now five]—but I propose we have three repositories...”
And you may remember the University of Michigan was the first, and now it's Harvard, Stanford, Virginia and a number of others where Google and others have digitized their entire libraries. As we speak today, we are ingesting into five sites all the digital material from these libraries that will be maintained forever.
Now there are three parts to it [The Archiving]: First, the written work. So when you publish your book—which by the way, I loved your last book—when you publish your book, once the ink is on the page, you can't change it. But if it's digital, you can change it, you can corrupt it. So there are five repositories for all the written work. [Second] Then you have research data and big datasets. And [Third] you’ve got multimedia. So at some point for example, I would like C-SPAN’s entire archive to go into the digital repository so that if anything happens, we can at least go back and see what our leaders and how our leaders dealt with so many of the issues which are likely to come back up again 100 years or 200 years from now.

: Go back to your career in cable. The first year was 1972. Your last year was 1994.

: As an operator.

: So that’s 22 years of being an operator. Your cable system in the beginning was twelve channels. What was the biggest cable system channel capacity in 1994 for you?

: We had not yet gone digital in 1994. So when we sold; it was probably 60+ channels, I would guess.

: Your first cable system was $4.95 to the customer. What was the last one?

: On a per subscriber basis, we were probably pulling in $50-60 a month. Now my cable bill is $300 per month for broadband, for telephone, and for pay TV and the rest of the content.

: Your view of the programmers and the cost of programming over the years?

: First, we collectively created an ecosystem which was really quite extraordinary. And there’s always been this tension between the content providers and the distributors. So remember the building blocks of the digital age. The building blocks are technology, distribution and content. At first, we in the cable industry were in the distribution business and we were kind of in the technology business. Now when we signed the deal—and I’ll never forget the Sunday night in 1993, February, 1993, at my apartment in Arlington—I was the last one to sign all the papers to sell our company to Southwestern Bell. I knew when I hit the send button on my FAX machine at home, the entire landscape would be changed forever. Because now we were getting a Bell operating company, we were getting the cable industry, content providers—we were all starting to come together and merge all these technologies. We've also along the way had seen our costs go up, content costs go up. Content costs have gone up faster than inflation and this is a sore point with so many of our consumers. Specifically we've seen sports costs go up, disproportionately. I've tried to resist that.

When I was running our company, we had local sports here; you may remember Home Team Sports here in Washington. They wanted to be on Basic and I would not put them on Basic because I felt strongly that people who wanted sports should pay for sports, but I shouldn’t force sports down the throats of all of our subscribers because that was the most expensive product that we have. Now today of course we’re seeing the cost of sports, whether it's a regional sports network or ESPN, or the NFL Network or the Big Ten Network—all these costs are now being aggregated and being passed on to our subscribers and we’re seeing real resistance. I don’t know what the answer is, but I do know the ecosystem is at risk today and that’s an ongoing issue for us as an industry.

Lamb: Over the length of your career in communications, what has been in your opinion, the most important discovery or the biggest change that has a significant long-term impact on society?

Evans: It's clearly technology and broadband. I'm really passionate about the industry, of course. This industry stepped up, took enormous risk using its capital to deploy a system we now know as broadband, which we now know as the Internet. It wasn’t financed by the government, it was all risk capital, the industry spent, the last number I got was $220 billion, to wire America. By the way, we wired it for content. What cable did—back up a minute to the 1970s—what cable did was create a level playing field for content for people all across the country, whether it was in Charleston, West Virginia, or Terre Haute, Indiana, or Washington, DC. Of course what C-SPAN did was to open government up so all of us could see what our elected officials were doing on our behalf or not doing on our behalf. The industry then built on that and said, with the Internet, with IP, Internet Protocol—we can use this network to connect digitally. We can connect computers. Now of course we can connect smartphones and we connect wirelessly. We do all kinds of really neat things. So the most important thing that our industry did was to continue its passion, continue its focus, continue its vision of using technology, which has a multiplying effect.

And I would argue we are in the second Machine Age today in 2014, that we’re seeing a combination of all these technologies coming together on various platforms, but being driven by our industry because we created the network, we created the ecosystem that is allowing this.
Let me take you back to 600 AD. In 600 AD, there was a guy that created the game of chess and his emperor (it was India) was really pleased by it. And the emperor said, “I'm really pleased by this wonderful game. I would like to reward you. What would you like?” He said, “I just want rice to feed my family. There is 64 squares on my chessboard. If you will give me a grain of rice on the first square and double it for every square [thereafter], I will be a very pleased man.” The emperor said, “So be it.” It turns out it’s 18 quadrillion grains of rice, more rice than has ever been produced in world history. More rice than the height of Mount Everest. By the time you get to square 34 on the chessboard, you're at about four billion grains of rice, which is about the equivalent of a very large field of rice, which would probably have been OK with the emperor. Once the emperor discovered he had been duped, he beheaded the guy. [So the story goes.]
So the point I'm trying to make is we’re at square 34 right now metaphorically on the chessboard. From a technological standpoint and a distribution standpoint. Go back and look at a computer of 1996, the government developed the ASCII-RED computer, $55 million, 1.5 teraflops of capacity. Big computer. 100 cabinets and ¾ of a tennis court. Nine years later—that’s $55 million—nine years later, the Sony PlayStation comes out, same capacity, at $500.

So what we’re seeing now is this industry through Comcast X1 Box through what is now known as a Gigasphere—it’s DOCSIS 3.1—we’re going to put a gigabit connection into your home. We’re seeing this multiplier effect. But none of that would have happened if it hadn’t been for the industry stepping up and saying, “We can do this.”
Lamb: Final couple of questions for the MBA students or people that have an MBA or people that like entrepreneurship. From the beginning of your time in cable until you sold, did you ever personally have to invest any money in cable?
Evans: Yes. I invested in every one of our operations from the time I came to Arlington. I took risks. In fact, when I first came to Arlington, I had stock options. My stock options were about to expire. So I went to Clark Madigan—he’s ARTEC’s banker at American Security Bank—and I said, “Clark, my options are going to expire. I need to buy them, but I don’t have the money.” He said, “That’s all right. We’ll loan you the money.” I said, “I don’t have the interest to pay on the loan.” He said, “That’s OK. We’ll loan you the interest to pay the loan.” You can't do that today. It was a partnership, it was a relationship and they believed in me.
At the end of the day for the MBA student, it boils down to people and it boils down to trust and it boils down to your handshake. An example that comes to mind is a five-year contract that I did with Peter Frame, who was executive vice-president of HBO. We negotiated that in a restaurant over dinner and no one had any paper so I took the linen napkin and I wrote the deal down on the linen napkin. And I gave him the linen napkin. I said, “That’s the deal.” Reached across the table, got a handshake, that’s the deal.

: Did you pay the restaurant for the linen napkin?

: I think he paid but I'm not sure who paid. I don’t remember who paid. But we did tell the maitre’d we took his napkin.

: This is probably very private, but what you sold your company for, Hauser Communications to Southwest, did you sell the 500,000 subscribers to them?

: No, remember there were tranches of 500,000, so we had about half of those up in Minnesota, a little less than half. A little more than half were here in DC. So we had three transactions. First was Storer transactions, which we sold off. We sold off Westinghouse transactions and then we sold off the Washington, DC,

: The reason I ask that is (this is going to be our final question, I think) is was it ever public how much you sold your company for?

: Yes. It was $650 million. It was all over the papers.

: For everything, or just the Southwest...?

: Southwest Bell.

: So you had the other tranches?

: Yes, right. And I don’t recall—in fact, I'm not even sure at the moment I can remember the numbers without doing some homework what we sold the systems for up there.

: You said earlier -- and this is the last -- you were going to come back. You were just here functioning as a steward. When you come back in your next life, what do you want to be?

: A geek.

: Would you like to define that?

Evans: Sure. Technology is playing such a large part in our world I want to be a part of envisioning and helping to evolve mankind for that. So the work I'm doing at the State Department right now—Secretaries [of State] Clinton and Kerry appointed my partner and myself to the Global Equality Fund [to support programs that advance the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) persons around the world.]. There are 76 countries where it's illegal to be gay. Uganda and Nigeria will put you in jail and kill you. There are eleven [donor] countries—Sweden just contributed $14 million to this, so that’s part of my social justice activity in addition to my work with HIV. And of course my work with C-SPAN now. One thing we have not talked about but I want to say is I've done so many wonderful things in my life. One of the things I am the most proud of is what you and I and our colleagues have done for C-SPAN in opening our government up.
Our freedoms rest, in my paradigm, on five cornerstones. A strong defense, including homeland security; strong economy; an informed electorate; social justice and economic opportunity and global stability. And if we as a free people don’t nourish all five of those, we too will go the way of other great societies of our last 3,000 years. And I take you back to June 22, 1897. On June 22, 1897, a quarter of the world’s population was given the day off and paid for it. Now think of that. A quarter of the world’s population given the day off and paid for it in celebration of Queen Victoria’s Jubilee. And in twenty short years, the Great British Empire was near bankrupt. Through Boer War I and II and World War I and they came to us for Lend-Lease. So the challenge we have as a free people, which tie into our industry because we’re the connectors, and to our content providers, is how do we navigate through these compelling times in a thoughtful, responsible way for the next generation? Obviously I don’t have the answer. You have more answers than I do, I suspect, on this but I don’t have the answers to that.

As I look back over my career, I think I would argue that we probably as a country made four mistakes which are probably irreversible: The first is we did away with the draft. Because when we did away with the draft, we did away with the skin in the game. When I was drafted and when you were drafted, draft cut across the entire socioeconomic fabric of our society. My Navy career was some of the most important learning experiences I've had in my life. It sure taught me a lot, particularly as we’re bringing the body bags off the USS Liberty, how precious our liberty is.
The second mistake we made was we substituted the media for the smoke-filled back room [to select candidates for public office]. Now I know there are roblems with the smoke-filled back room and I'm not sure I know what the right answer is to this; but once we did that, once we turned the vetting of the candidates over to the media, it became more sensational and private lives are really delved into. Now we can argue whether that’s good or bad, but the first one to fall that I remember was Gary Hart aboard the yacht “Monkey Business” with his girlfriend.
The third mistake I think we made was [gerrymandering] using supercomputers to really refine gerrymandering.

And the fourth mistake we made was the Citizens United decision by the Supreme Court, which allows money to go almost unfettered into the election. Combine all of that and we have a government which is not—I would almost say dysfunctional but is not functioning as well as it was when I first came to Washington in 1969.
I had the occasion to be with Doris Kearns Goodwin who is just one of my favorite historians and we were talking about this, and I asked her the question: has she ever seen our government as dysfunctional as we are now? She said, no. So the role that our industry plays is to be perhaps to help heal us and bring us together in ways that we haven’t done yet. That’s part of our challenge. That’s the wonderful challenge that C-SPAN—and I bust with pride and there was never a more prouder moment for me standing next to you and the President [George W. Bush] when you received the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

: John Evans, we are out of time and I thank you so much.


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Tom Elliott


Interview Date: December 12, 2002
Interviewer: Rex Porter
Collection: Hauser Collection

PORTER:  I’m Rex Porter and we’re at The Cable Center to interview cable industry pioneer, Mr. Tom Elliott. Good morning, Tom.

ELLIOTT:  Morning.

PORTER:  Why don’t you get us started off by giving us a little background on your childhood days growing up wherever you grew up and some of your school experiences and so forth.

ELLIOTT:  Sure. I’d like to certainly kind of work our way through a chronological thing but I think also maybe it’s important to capture a little bit of an executive summary. Almost to start in the sense that I’ve been really fortunate to be involved in the industry from the early rebroadcast days. We’ll talk more about that later through what I’d call ad choice days or the ability to bring diversified programming via satellite to the industry which really allowed us to penetrate the whole American scene to now what I think will become personal television. Along with that it seems the natural huge changes this industry brought and the huge changes we had in TCI caused huge changes in myself. Where I migrated from being a person that was largely interested in technology and physics to a person today that is more interested in how this affects the human animal and the things we need to learn and do to deal with this rapidly changing society we have today. That’s kind of, I think, a good way to look both at what’s happened in the industry and to some extent what’s happened to me. As you look at the early underpinnings that I had I think all of us are typically well served by really our parents and certainly I was very fortunate to have been raised in a very family environment. I had lots of aunts, uncles, cousins, grandpas, grandmas and so forth around. All of who had a big influence on my life one way or another and I think it certainly served me well.  That rural dry land environment that I grew up in central Montana gave you both the opportunity to really develop as an individual but also forced you to be extremely pragmatic.

PORTER:  Where in central Montana?

ELLIOTT:  It was on a ranch -- if you put a dot between Billings and Great Falls, right in the middle of a line between those two cities. It would almost be on Dad’s place. It was in the Lewistown, Harlowton area for people a little bit more familiar with the state. A rural part of the state. At the time I was growing up, in the 1950s and 1960s, that part of the country, the whole state of Montana had less than 500,000 people. As you got into the rural part of the state, away from the Great Falls and Billings and Dubuque's and whatever, it was rural. I still miss that. I enjoyed that experience. People, as you are certainly well aware of, are quite real in that kind of environment. They have to be to survive but I think as far as having an influence on me, it’s been extremely useful throughout my career as to the fact of what it is, is what it is. If it rains, it rains. If it doesn’t rain, it doesn’t rain. People have to get very use to the fact that life is not particularly fair. You’ve got to make the best of it. You’ve got to have a sense of optimism. You have to have a sense of belief that you can virtually deal with any kind of a circumstance that comes along. Whether it be your entire crop gets hailed out or it’s extremely dry or whatever it might be.

PORTER:  So nobody in your family and your background, in your family was involved in broadcast or electronics or anything?


PORTER:  Just rural, ranch.

ELLIOTT:  Right. I think I was lucky in the sense that one of the things that Dad valued a lot was intellectual curiosity. He was a curious guy. He’s done a lot of inventing in his life. Always was trying to fix things, make them better. Kept the place in tiptop shape. Was looking for ways to make things easier. So he is an inventive sort of guy. A curious guy. He expects you to think. We would make mistakes as youngsters --I have two younger brothers and a sister and that was okay with Dad. What was not okay, if we thought as we made those mistakes – what was not okay was making a mistake based on not thinking. That was pretty frustrating to him. He didn’t like that much. I think his constant attention to detail and paying attention and thinking had a huge impact.   And I think that had something to do with me becoming interested in physics. Which of course in those days was mostly what you did if you wanted to be in electronics.

PORTER:  You finished elementary school obviously in Montana. You went to high school in Montana?

ELLIOTT:  Right.

PORTER:  Was there anything in your high school experiences that made you think that… had you already started delving into electronics?

ELLIOTT:  I was always interested in what was going on, the law of physics. How did this happen?  How did that happen?  Very curious youngster I think, probably to the point of being a real pain in the neck. But television was just coming into the area at the time in kind of a goofy sort of a way. We’re roughly about 120 miles to either Big Falls or Billings and those TV stations like so many in the United States went on the air in the early 1950s. So there were some of the more aggressive folks around the community that would put up a tower on top of a hill or something and they’d get a little bit of snow, once in a while a picture and that fascinated me. How does this stuff get through the ether, if you will, to us and what was the background of how that worked? And of course that led me into the normal progression that most of us went through I think. The early crystal radio sets and you know, seeing if you can make those things work and trying to make the cat whiskers actually produce something. All that stuff that most of us I think played with. Had some help in the sense that it was a very small school that I went to there, Judith Gap High School, I think the year I graduated was down to around 30 pupils or something. Typically ranged in the 60 or so kids area and so we didn’t have a broad diversification of programming available but I was lucky that we had a couple of instructors there that were interested at least in math and I could get some advance math courses. That was kind of just a lucky break, really at that point in time. And of course that’s kind of the foundation of how you can delve in and actually understand in some detail most of the stuff that we needed to deal with in those days. As you remember most of that of the double EE courses in those days tended to be radio electrical. You tended to get your degree in electrical engineering with a minor in electronics. So I found it was typically more effective to pursue physics and deal with the essentially electronics as a branch of physics that they had in those times than it was to actually go into the electrical area and deal with these huge transformers that put out 100 amps or 1000 amps or whatever. It was kind of a simple rule. If you wanted to talk about amps, which I was interested in, I liked electricity but that’s not what I wanted to spend my time on.  I wanted to spend my time in milliamps.   So there more to an amp that I didn’t want to deal with. I wanted to get back to the milliamps.

PORTER:  So you took physic classes and tended to aim toward the physics? So you graduated high school.

ELLIOTT:  Right.

PORTER:  Then what happened?

ELLIOTT:  I came here to Denver actually, interestingly enough, to the Colorado Institute of Technology which was focused almost exclusively in the general technology area and specifically had electronic programs available. It was a really a great opportunity. One of the things that they tended to do more than some of the colleges at that time is have people on their staff that also held either full-time or fairly extensive positions in industry. The guy that ran the school felt pretty strongly about having the students well immersed essentially in commerce if you will, as well as learning a particular trade. I think that was important just in the sense that it was much easier to get a placement as you got out of college that way. I don’t think that hardly any of the folks coming out of that group had much trouble finding job opportunities.

PORTER:  Was it intermeshed with actual work, in other words did you leave campus and go to a business and do a little….

ELLIOTT: Right. We did a fair amount of that. I think it was unusual in those days to have those sorts of type programs but Honeywell was here in town.  Hathaway was here. Hathaway was probably the one that I spent more time with than any of the rest because the particular professor, I’ll never forget him, Mr. Alme [sp], was the guy that I tended to identify I guess more closely with.

PORTER:  What did Hathaway do?

ELLIOTT:  They were in the test equipment business. They were very heavily involved in well instrumentation, the wild catting kinds of stuff, so a lot of their instrumentation was one way or another involved in essentially geological sciences type of stuff at that point in time.

PORTER:  When you were going to this school, did you have any idea what you wanted to do? I mean were aiming toward a…

ELLIOTT:  No, probably not. At that point in time, I was probably still you know like most kids in their 17, 18, 19 years old, wondering what the right approach really was. I had started driving when I was I guess about 6 years old but by the time I was 10 I was working full time on the ranch. By the time I was 11 or 12, myself and another young guy that had the same background was operating heavy equipment. I did a lot of somewhat fairly dangerous work in some cases that you know just our reaction times as youngsters let you accomplish and so by the time I was out of high school I was making good money as a heavy equipment operator and there was some thought that “Gee, well maybe what I should do is pursue this interest that I have. This hobby that I have, this fun that I have as a backup to what happens if I get hurt.”  Because of course, fighting fires and so forth on those caterpillars which in some cases was a little bit dangerous.  So there would be some chance, you know, that you might be disabled and maybe the way you think about this is what you should do is primarily get yourself at least some education as a fallback in case that something nasty happens. I certainly made a hell of a lot more money operating that heavy equipment than was available in the electronics.

PORTER: Probably had more ready jobs too.

ELLIOTT:  Yeah, lots of opportunity. I graduated from high school in 1960 and as such there was lots going on but as I went on through the academic process there at Colorado Tech, you know, it just hooked me. It was what I wanted to do. I got lucky when I came out of school there was five of us there in the top of the class that went around, it was kind of buddies, testing the lots of different places. Had a lot of offers. Probably would have went to work for IBM except that they got into the psychology profiling that they were sort of heavily into in those days and while I didn’t drink that much and I certainly didn’t smoke or the rest of the stuff, I objected to the fact that they started asking me all these rather intimate questions about my personal behavior and I decided “Gee, I’m probably too much of an individualist to fit particularly well in that kind of environment.” So I ended up going to work for a company called EG&G. Edgerton, Germeshausen, and Grier, down in Las Vegas, blowing up the nuclear bombs in their weapons testing engineering department during what we called priming, firing and instrumentation. It obviously an event like that happened so fast that you really are only interested in the first few picoseconds. The guys knew what was happening after that. You know you’ve got to time it and fire it so you can get that little snapshot in time. It also turned out that company did all the missile launches and all the other things because in those days the sequencing to launch essentially a liquid fuel device was the same the sequence to blow up a nuclear event.  It was really a great company. That company was founded in old Manhattan Project days when the government came in to Dr. Edgerton and asked him to essentially put together a company that would do this sort of stuff. He was the guy that got the Pulitzer Prize in 1926 for the milk dropped into the bowl. Milk that put up the milk crown which you know, you and I can do at home today with our camera but at the time that he did it, you know, was pretty master. Just a wonderful guy. One of those guys who’s extremely curious. Certainly it’s well recorded in history. Found the Thresher as an example, for the Navy when they couldn’t find it with his underwater camera techniques, etc., etc. So, it was a huge learning experience to be there and be around literally the best in the world. Physicists, you know, engineering talent. I really loved the job. It was a great job. The problem was it wasn’t in Montana. So, as time went along by then I was married and had married a gal who had grown up about 15 miles from where I’d grown up out in the country. We both had our parents and our relatives and so forth back in that part of the country and we thought it would be nice to see if we could find an opportunity to be a little bit closer to them. So, hence, the contact with what was at that time Magness’s operation.

PORTER:  How did you meet – you were at AT&T?

ELLIOTT:  Right, in Las Vegas.

PORTER:  How did you learn about the Magness's?

ELLIOTT:  Well, I knew something about it in the sense that I had looked at going through college in Bozeman and still was interested in furthering my educational experience in Bozeman. They were, I think, clearly the best engineering school for this type of thing in the state at that time. You had the more liberal approach in Missoula of course and they’re internationally known as a forestry school and then you had a great minerals, geological school in Butte. I think again had a great reputation. But if you were looking into more the sciences and other than that, Bozeman was the place. So, looking at Bozeman, I knew something about it but interestingly enough a gentleman who also went to Colorado Tech, had landed a job with Western Microwave, which was one of the many, many companies that Bob and Betsy were invested in at that point of time and so I talked to him. And he said “Yeah, we’re probably typically looking for people as we expand” and I interviewed and lo and behold, I ended up back in Bozeman, Montana.

PORTER:  How big was the microwave system that they had at that time? Do you remember?

ELLIOTT:  Yeah, it’s an interesting story in and of itself. The system had come into fruition in a kind of the 1960ish time frame when Bob and Betsy looked around after they sold their system in Memphis, Texas. Looking at probably spending at least the next piece of their career in specifically the cable environment. As I’m sure you’ve heard this story from lots of other interviews but they did a fairly exhaustive search of the United States to see what they thought the best opportunity was and then pretty aggressive folks as you know, they bought this system in Bozeman that was essentially in a state of a bankruptcy and Paul had flown into a mountain down here in Colorado and killed himself. So this was a terrible, terribly fouled up situation and a matter of fact they were able to buy it at least inexpensively and clearly understood the problem was that they had I believe 5 signals on the air, all of which were KID or out of Idaho Falls, Idaho or a derivative of KID.  KXLF was also an Idaho Falls off air pickup. KFVB in Great Falls was an off air pickup of KXLF. KWOK in Billings was an off air pickup of KID. They had all this stuff on the system but it was essentially the same thing and I think principally the reason the system hadn’t made it. So they filed when they first got there two microwave routes. One from Spokane over with the idea of extending to Seattle at some point in time and the other one from Salt Lake up. Fortunately, this commission granted the Salt Lake route and the reason I say that is that it was the same time zone and it had more of a commonality of interest I think in the sense that the weather reports were more applicable in that part of the country than say the more coastal weather reports would have been. So that system’s operational. The system from Salt Lake, I think we had a 150 mile or something off air pickup down in out of Pocatello and from there hopped it up all the way to East Butte which is where Idaho Falls KID was actually located and on up until the continental border and one more hop through, two more hops excuse me, through up the Gallatin, the Madison valley over to a side out of Butte in Bozeman. We covered a lot of territory in those days.

PORTER:  Both common carriers?

ELLIOTT:  All common carrier. All 6 MHz.  Which is as your know there’s always lots of stories being told about that. I mean this was before the Commission froze the 6 MHz ban for cable use and by then they had extended the system on across into Billings and also up through into Great Falls. So that was kind of the nucleus of the system when I got there. Along the way they fed the little cable systems of course, that existed at that point in time and also the TV stations. So it was a joint use common carrier, microwave system that brought television into essentially that whole part of the country.

PORTER:  Had you gotten your first class ticket while you were in college?

ELLIOTT:  No, I picked up the…I actually got my second first and the first class later. As a requirement to go to work in the microwave environment. I mean when they said “Gee, if you get work here, we have no choice. You’ve got to have at least a second class in order to be able to legally…”, actually the way the FCC looked at it in those days to set the frequency and the power of the transmitter, that was the theory behind why you had to have that license. Fortunately, for me that was not a big trek. Learning the regulations and all that stuff took me some time to memorize that sort of stuff because there’s no logical or deductive way you can get to what the particular frequency requirements are and you know, tolerances and so forth and so on of a given whatever it is that they asked you questions on. The test that I got, unfortunately, was a test that was full of public service radio questions and unfortunately hadn’t studied…

PORTER:  Mine was too.

ELLIOTT:  Had nothing to do with what I was going to do. I guess that’s kind of the government for you. They don’t care about pragmatic practical things. So the good news was, I studied that enough that I didn’t have any trouble with it. The radar endorsement probably had more to do with what I was doing.

PORTER:  I never did get that and yet I worked in radar. That’s a good endorsement.

ELLIOTT:  It had more applicability. I mean after all we were running clash drawn, etc., etc. All be it relatively small clash drawns compared to the radar rigs. So, that was the nucleus of the system. We were expanding fast and in those days we…some cases actually built the buildings ourselves. We certainly put the towers up, welded them ourselves. Did the whole thing from top to bottom.

PORTER:  But at that point in time you’re pretty much in the Pacific Northwest area?

ELLIOTT:  Yeah, really in the Northwest I think. Not so much Pacific. Remember the old intermountain microwave stuff, [?] and those guys are part of TelePrompTer were bringing the Spokane signals over into Kalispell, you know, Missoula area. Bob Sherpinseal [sp], Ray Rohrer and those guys were up there doing that sort of stuff and we were more kind of from the Salt Lake north area, up and kind of met them essentially by at Butte really. Then we went East from there and carried those signals on over into, actually all the way to Williston, North Dakota. In a fairly short period of time.  I helped build the network that took the stuff on East.  

PORTER:  But now Bob Magness’ group TCI wasn’t very big then, was it?

ELLIOTT:  Well, they didn’t have a TCI, of course in those days.

PORTER:  Okay.

ELLIOTT:  We had a loosely affiliated bunch of partners that tended to be whatever they were.  I mean it wasn’t – it was still early enough that the world looked somewhat like it did I think when basically cable got started where you typically had appliance dealers in town, that had been selling washing machines and all the different appliances for a long time. And of course their buddies in the big cities would have had this new appliance to sell called a television set and they couldn’t sell one. So a lot of times these folks would tend to be the local entrepreneur that had an appliance store but he was also the plumber, he was the electrician, he was whatever else he was in these little towns. And these guys would then typically know somebody in town that had a few bucks, the dentist or whoever it was. You know how those small environments work and that group would put together a partnership which usually would partner with Bob and a gentleman, Paul McAdams, who was Bob’s principle partner. Most of the things that Bob and Betsy did in those days, they had a 50/50 agreement with Paul on and then they in turn had a number of other partners who were involved in each little system as it went along. Bob and Betsy had Bozeman as a system that they personally had control of and Paul had a little system over the mountain there – Livingston, that he had control of. But other than that most of the rest of the stuff they tended to be in partners with. They were a great team. Paul was a very farsighted, futuristic guy. A guy that had more on the ball than anybody I think we’ve ever met period since then. He just had no concept of what the word “no” meant. You can tell Paul “no, hell no,” scream at him – didn’t have any impact at all. Whatever his idea was, that’s what he was going to do and this no stuff, he just literally didn’t recognize the word “no.” Was quite a character. Had been very heavily involved in the theater business and had properly recognized that the theater business was going to go through quite a dip and probably even as you know, many of them actually went out of business in kind of early 1960s, mid 60s.  So he had transferred out of the theater business and into what he thought was the next wave, mainly cable television. A powerful group. They did well together.

We had lots of different names. The company I worked for at that point in time was called Western Microwave. Most of the stuff that Paul and Bob did together in the cable side was generally loosely affiliated under the name Community Television. So we had lots of different companies as we did the whole time TCI operated but in general that’s kind of what it was. Paul had a heart attack in 1966 and Bob and Paul started thinking about an exit strategy for him and it occurred to them that there were a number of different potentials but probably the best opportunity for them to see if they could get George Hatch and his team out in Salt Lake involved. And so I remember yet today, we were around discussing in those days, it was open seating of course on airplanes, so they were debating who had to get on the plane the next time Hatch flew back from Butte to Salt Lake and sit down next to him and try to sell him. Because of course, in many ways, he was kind of quote/unquote the enemy. Ed Craney knew him. Joe Sample and George Hatch and those guys were the broadcasters that more or less controlled that part of the world. In many cases were trying to keep us out of business or put us out of business as the case may be. So that was an interesting debate. I don’t know if Bob, when they flipped the coin, called tails and tails or what happened but he – because he was probably the better sales guy to – he ended up losing quote/unquote and rode back to Salt Lake with George on the plane by just watching and you know waiting for which flight he got on. He got on the flight with him and that kind of started I think the momentum for having the company consolidate all of these various different pieces and parts into a company that would eventually become TCI which we…

PORTER:  Along with the microwave.

ELLIOTT:  Yeah, yeah, I mean George was – he had access to some dollars which is what we needed mostly and so he became part of the company and at that point in time basically it now transferred into more or less a 50/50 partnership with essentially Bob and Betsy and George. So George picked up Paul’s part of the process and we started kind of sweeping enough of these other minority interests that were around such that it would begin to have a nucleus of a company. And we went through a naming process in kind of the late 1960s. Actually filed a name – filed two or three names before one stuck but Telecommunications and TCI was then actually formed in 1968. Still not public of course, but it was formed. We went through then some financing activities. Continued to grow fairly nicely and then went public in 1970.  Along the way you know things happened. I think Bob and Betsy clearly recognized that the company was not going to be successful growing at the rate they wanted it to grow if we stayed in Bozeman. I think they loved Bozeman. Certainly all of us who worked for them loved Bozeman. It was the principle reason I actually gone back to work for them. I’d gone to work for them in the first place but it was hard to travel into that part of the country at point of time. It had a lot of things going for it. It was well-known as the gateway to Yellowstone Park, etc. etc. but still you know you just had people accidentally stop and see you here in Denver. It was a big deal for them to make the effort to go find you up there in the middle of no place. Snow weather a little bit tougher. So you know as part of the process we just kind of had to find someplace. I think Bob – we had a lot of pressure to go to Salt Lake and I think Bob and Betsy realized if we went to Salt Lake we would kind of disappear under the big corporate umbrella that George and his team had put together there. So it seem like the more logical thing to do was to come to Denver. They had some good excuses for that. Along the way they had picked up the Collier systems here that run from here up into the north into the panhandle of Nebraska, northeast Colorado and Nebraska. And to get the franchise transferred they had to live in the state. So they actually lived in Scottsbluff, Nebraska a year on the way from Bozeman to Denver, then subsequently they moved on to Denver.

PORTER:  You mean to own the microwave?

ELLIOTT:  No, it was not really the microwave licenses. Those are Federal licenses. It was the state, I mean the local franchises. The city’s franchises. Scottsbluff, Alliance, so forth and so on. To get those franchises transferred you had to be able to sign as a resident of the state. As you know this is now long before 1984. This is 1964, 65 timeframe and as such, you know the cities could do whatever they wanted to do essentially. That was one of the acronyms of that particular part of the world. That turned out of course to be a nice addition to the company. It was a pretty good sized addition for us at that time but we also picked up some great people, lots of great people. But of course Dave Willis and Bill Brazeal came from that Collier operation. Were all instrumental in helping us grow as we went forward from that and the microwave part of it we then wrapped in under the umbrella of essentially the company we operated in this part of the country called Mountain Microwave. And Mountain had been started to take signals from the east slope area in western Colorado. So at the same time we were building a lot of things, actually slightly later but up in the mountains, Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, North Dakota, South Dakota area, we also had some operations going down here. Start building out things like Salida, Grand Junction, Montrose, you know that sort of thing. Of course, Grand Junction was kind of a plum over on the West Slope and you probably remember King Rex, K Rex over there and all of the things. I guess you can take your name to that if you wanted to.  And so, we ended up with the actually a partnership with United, with Gene Schneider and his bunch to build Grand Junction and built the microwave on over there. So it was all going on in kind of the mid-1960s. I was pretty busy running around trying to keep all that one way or another working. Mostly up in the northern part of the system, Ron Roe and Cecil Emery and some of our guys that had already moved down here and were managing the microwave activity down here at that point in time. Also, it just turned out a coincident with that for some other reasons; Bruce Merrill and Bob had been talking for some time about maybe combining their activities. So as you know Bruce was the guy that took the independents out of Los Angeles and moved them across essentially East into – really everything around the country.

PORTER:  Arizona, Texas.

ELLIOTT:  Yes, Arizona, and into Texas. He was by that time he was already to El Paso. His plum was Phoenix. Bruce had – this was in Phoenix kind of like Bill Daniels was into Denver and so Bill of course had had the franchise here in Denver forever I guess and I don’t know the exact dates anymore but Bruce had had a franchise there in Phoenix forever and of course neither one of them had built until much, much later. But Bruce was without question one of the original entrepreneurs in this space and of course had all kinds of things going. He had cable systems going. He had microwave operations going. He called it American Television Relay and he also had a company called AMECO as you know built a wide range of products. Almost everything actually in the cable space. So we had looked at combining our systems, actually going back into the late 1964, early 1965 timeframe when Bruce was a lot bigger than we were then and when it looked like we would probably – he would more or less acquire our microwave side. Not all of the operations. By 1967, when we actually got the deal done, Bruce had went through one of his famous dips along the road and we had acquired him. We were busy at that point also, looking into how we were going to integrate ATR facilities one way or another and what they were going to do. Coincidentally, with all this other stuff in the microwave process, Bruce had gotten really aggressive in 1966 and had filed the LA systems all the way across to Atlanta and up the East Coast. We had all begged him not to do that. He had been nibbling along, moving them  kind of a few hundred miles at a whack and consequently had entirely had the ire of the broadcast community and essentially AT&T. But the telephone community descended on the FCC to stop him and while under theory, federal regulation isn’t supposed to work this way, the guys with the big bucks usually control the circumstances and so we were quite nervous that if you did something that aggressive that it might have some bad repercussions. I don’t think any of us thought that they would be as bad as they were. The FCC put a freeze on use of all microwave for CATV purposes in 1966 and that made it miserable. You could in fact get some waivers to essential do some additional power splitting or an occasional case to put in one repeater, kind of a spur sort of a thing off your backbone but they basically were really focused on shutting down essentially, leapfrogging or backboning the signals around the country. So that aggressive filing that Bruce and his team made to take those independents right across the country and up the coast really clipped our wings there for a while. It put enough damage into the process, if you will, that by the time it made any sense to maybe start thinking about that again, other things had moved on. That system was never built. It was a tragedy in some places.

There’s a story that’s not told, I don’t think, in the history books much but it’s a very good chance that the whole process of using independents to essentially crack through the markets would have looked differently if in fact Bruce would have been able to do that. There’s no question in my mind that the concept of superstations would have developed much, much earlier and of course those independents out of LA would certainly have been in the lead position to become basically the superstations of the country and of course would then have had the underpinnings and financial wherewithal to attract the kind of programming that you need to really make that sort of thing work, so forth and so on. So there was a misfire if you will in the 1960s that about 10 years later happened with satellites. And that was too bad but from our perspective, we were busy anyway. We were growing as fast as we could grow, I think, given the access to capital, etc. etc. Expanding these microwave systems. Picking up additional microwave systems and eventually put together by far the second biggest microwave system in the country, second to AT&T. Now admittedly there was a big step from one to two but we operated by the mid-1960s in some 17 states in the western part of the country, on the way at one point to operate in some 38 states and we were pretty busy. Picked up a lot of systems along the way and consolidated them. Got scale economics. As you know Bob and Paul and in later years, John and me, there really was one word that was our mission statement “Growth” and there was one way you drove growth, principally and that was to drive scale economics. Now of course, they tried to avoid making a profit, so they didn’t pay taxes and lots of other creative ways to move all your dollars to drive growth, but it was never a mystery from the day I went to work for Bob and Betsy what the job was and the job was to drive growth, period. It was fun process.

PORTER:  When you are at this point, where you’ve got the microwave and now ATR, the old, I guess it’s WIC…

ELLIOTT:  Yes, when we put it together, it was long before TCI. All of this was pre-1968. It’s pre-1970 for sure when we went public, so this was done under the corporate umbrella at that time of Western Microwave. We had a number of divisions at Western Microwave including what we continued to call Mountain Microwave, which was the one that operated here in Colorado, Nebraska, part of Wyoming, over in Utah type area and then we went ATR down there.

PORTER:  But you had headquarters here in Denver.

ELLIOTT: Here in Denver, yeah.

PORTER:  So you would travel to wherever the microwave location was that you needed to check on or to install or to modify or whatever you had to do?

ELLIOTT:  Right.

PORTER:  But there came a point where you pretty much through with the microwave growth?

ELLIOTT:  Well, there was a transition I think, Rex, in 1967-68 timeframe through obviously our affiliation with George Hatch and his team in Salt Lake; we thought we had an opportunity to step into offering essentially national broadcast delivery processes. Whereas you know, in those days, one of the ways the major networks maintained control of their affiliates was they paid to get their signal to affiliates. So they contracted, obviously with AT&T at that point in time to move the signals largely across the country from New York into LA and then up the West Coast. So there was different points of microwave.

PORTER: Microwave.

ELLIOTT:  Right, via microwave. They reversed those processes and they would move the signal in the opposite direction. Kind of an outgrowth of an old concept that had been around for years in radio and networking schemes. Those guys were charging at that point in time, $53 a mile a month for that. We were netting out of our CATV, a small market TV station, microwave systems about $16 to $17 a mile a month. So being a fairly aggressive bunch of guys, we’re saying “Gee, you know with that [belt] there of some 30 bucks a month, 35 bucks a month, -- a mile a month, we ought to be able to build a system and operate it and do a better job than AT&T can.” First of all we’re video guys, etc. etc., and secondly we don’t think we have the cost structure and overhead that they have, we should be very competitive in that space for substantially less dollars. The first system we filed and went through hell getting this granted because of course AT&T kept putting pressure on FCC not to grant it, was from Denver to Salt Lake. And we started carrying NBC from Denver to Salt Lake, where the check came from NBC in 1969 and that was system that I felt was a real breakthrough sort of thing for our company in the sense that it now set us up to be looked at as a company that could offer very high quality, extremely high reliability systems essentially to the network.

PORTER: Salt Lake City, how many – did you take the NBC signal to stations in all the in between to Denver and Salt Lake.

ELLIOTT:  We did. We had to drop essentially at Grand Junction but if you look at the cities between here and Salt Lake, it turns out its essentially Grand Junction. (Laughter) So in that case, that was really what happened there. We were very successful there. We did some firsts. It was the first non-Bell microwave where the check came from NBC. I was proud of that. I was proud of the engineering and installing and operating of that. I put the first computer operated fire alarm and monitoring system I believe in the world in place because again I was trying to solve that problem with essentially with technology not with people. The telephone companies in those days had 53 bucks a mile a month. Could afford to essentially man all of their important sites. They did man all of their switch sites. All the ones were in switch sites that made the system work when something went wrong of course the other kicked in.

PORTER:  Routed around.

ELLIOTT:  So I thought in order to be competitive and frankly I thought we could offer a higher degree of service if in fact we would do this and what I would consider would be a more modern scheme. Now admittedly that was an old CA 102 machine. It was pretty light duty. A PC, I mean actually a calculator that you have today has got more power than that did but it let me monitor what was going on 24 hours a day. It took all the "Gee, you know let’s not tell him" – this out of the loop – in other words what happened, happened. It was recorded. It gave you a chance to analyze what was really going on. It gave you a chance then to get back with the manufacturers and say you know you can tell me whatever you want to tell me, but this component is not working. It’s failing, you know. I could give them all of the records associated with that. You could actually prove what was happening on site. We’ve all noticed the years that telephone company – the system works better on the weekends when people are not working. Turns out our cable systems are reliable on the weekends. I mean and their principle problem with failure and of course they always have some way to camouflage that and say they really didn’t do it but when you can monitor then you can figure out what actually did happen and more importantly you can train people and you can work with them.

PORTER:  Did you do more links after that?

ELLIOTT: Yes, yes.  I mean that one was the first one. The second one that we built was essentially laying CVS over the top of that same link. Then we built the whole state of essentially Washington where we interconnected in Portland and distributed the microwave systems for the networks throughout that state of Washington. Then we about that same time as we got successful at that, some of the other guys started to do this sort of stuff around the country. Midwest Relay built their system up in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area. Put the signals around there. The system that went from New York north was built. The system down in Texas and across that part of the country was built. All based really on -- essentially we had cracked the mold if you will and started that process. We then also brought the signals from Omaha to Denver to Salt Lake and included then the rest of the networks. In other words, ABC and typically once you picked up all the networks, you also picked up PBS. The kind of deal the Telcos had had all those years was PBS got essentially half price. So whatever they were charging – now remember they were 53 bucks a mile a month in the mid-60s. Filed to go to 86. Went to 86 and filed to got 101. You know so there was some room in there for the rest of us. Now with the pressure that we were able to bring to bear, they backed off and actually for us it was kind of a problem for a while but they went – they actually rescinded and went from $86 back to $53 a mile.

PORTER:  You drove the rates down.

ELLIOTT: Yeah, the networks liked us. They liked us a lot because they would have been paying $100 a mile a month for that route nationally. We were saving them just on the deal. 53 to 86 which actually went to we were saving the 70 million bucks a month – a year. So you know and we were doing a better job because we were focused on video. We were all video guys. We actually understood when the TV stations, affiliates whoever they might be – Denver, Salt Lake, Seattle, you know, Omaha, whatever, when they talked about piano keying or some other thing we knew what that meant. So I like that. That was a fun time to be involved in really something very different. The first of sort of thing. It was exciting during that same period of time we began to realize that satellites were going to be the next wave or at least I did. I’ve always been a futurist and probably be in both worlds.

PORTER:  So does this mean 70s era again.

ELLIOTT:  No this is back in the 60s too.


ELLIOTT: In 1967, the FCC as you know, satellite do these rounds, they had these rounds and they opened up and there’s lots of comments and it goes on and on and there’s a round. And they close the round based on something and there’s all this negotiation goes on – on who gets what slots and eventually those slots get granted and that round gets built to some extent and there’s usually another round. And that particular one closed in 1967 under theory. So we were one of the original seven [?] sat filees that got into that early round with a partner of North American Rockwell. As it turned out, along the way, they had some other opportunities. They had some opportunities to chase some massive business and big mergers they were looking at such that they decided not do that and consequently we decided not to do that. And it’s always been kind of an interesting kink in history. I think if we would have launched, we would have essentially been RC or Americon of that space and would have probably captured I think most of that business. So I think probably it was a mistake that we didn’t launch. We would have had to find the money. We would have had to find somebody else…

PORTER:  How expensive was it?

ELLIOTT:  Well, you know to get a bird up in those days was in the neighborhood of a 150 million bucks. It was three times money. So it was expensive. It’s hard to… it was still considered kind of black magic.  There’s another story that goes with this but you know the Canadians launched in 1972 and Western Union actually built their early business on Aniki birds with an agreement of labor essentially between United States and Canada. And then Western Union launched in 1974. So to kind of give you a time frame here, that stuff all started in the early 60s. Got serious in the mid-60s. The round was actually closed in the late 1960s but it was the mid-1970s actually before that came to fruition and you started seeing domestic satellites of the kind that would do us any good. The dual synchronous wideband satellites in the United States. In the meantime we had moved ahead and started into the domestic data business. NCI, Golcun[sp] and his team had built that route from Dallas to Chicago and it looked like they were going to be able to be directly competitive with essentially AT&T and so that kind of empowered the rest of us to start looking into that sort of thing. Because you know Jack was in it seemed like every day negotiating with Bob, who had joined the NCI group. Golcun[sp] had this theory of taking all these little common carriers all over the country and putting us together as a group and creating essentially a pretty powerful combine that would compete for long haul business. Lots of different reasons why that didn’t work out too well. In any case we then had built, basically took the time and effort and dollars that we would have put into the satellite environment and built what we called the Southwest data system and that was over at an old ATR plant we put some high pops in and so forth but we built a message data system in from Phoenix to LA to San Diego and vice versa. And along the way picked up the Cubic business which was a company that did the monitoring for the Navy on their bombing range out of Phoenix there. So we carried all that traffic back to Miramar for the Navy. That’s was kind of our anchor customer in that case. So we got that baby built. Was doing okay with it. It was very, very tough business as a regional carrier.  NCI of course was still really, really struggling and everybody was – I was in a number of pools predicting the day when it would declare bankruptcy.  You know, it was just turned out that it was hard to make that business go unless you had a national footprint. So we along with a lot of other people were very aggressively busy filing a national footprint. We at WTCI -- then it was WTCI. This would have been in the 1972, 73 timeframe. Were in fact putting together and did file a national data message system. However, the business was moving along in strange ways. The FCC had allowed the Southern Pacific Railroad Company to have waivers to carry common carrier traffic on their old private microwave system. Which to this day I don’t know quite how they pulled that off. And when they did that they had, we had all taken the dollar mile a month, which had been around forever. That was the rate that you got for private, essentially dedicated circuits. I mean that’s what Telcos had been charging forever. We were down into the 20₵ a mile a month and could show that we could make pretty good money at that. Actually to tell a story correctly, at one point the AT&T guys were at $3 a mile a month but they had now come down to a $1 a mile a month and most of us were well below that. The Southern Pacific guys filed 5₵ a mile a month and all of sudden that whole business didn’t look anywhere near as attractive.

PORTER:  How many circuits did they have?

ELLIOTT:  Not very many. (Laughter).  Their instrumental cost was almost zero because they were allowed to put it right on top of their old private microwave system and they were trying to make a splash. As you know that was the company the eventually became Sprint.  So we were looking at that and saying “Oh my gosh, this is maybe a little different economics than when we thought the competitor was a buck.”  We thought we had some pricing elasticity below that. Carter Page as you know was the president in those years and primarily a CPA and financial guy that had come to us through ATR acquisition and right around myself was more or less trying to figure this stuff out. It was a shock. So essentially what happened was we then did a deal with NCI where they used our route from Phoenix on over to that West Coast was their entrance link to the West coast and essentially the banks gave NCI enough dollars to finish a few of their sites which had be sitting there really half built for a couple of years to get to Phoenix. So it turned out to be a winner for both of us. Loaded our route up. Gave them a national footprint at that point in time and of course, history has shown what happened there. That company became a really big, very competitive company over time. But that’s how that series of events went instead of us launching a satellite.  It’s always been interested to me to apotheosize kind of what would have happened if we would have launched that bird. So we moved on and we did a lot of other things. In the 1976 timeframe, as a long story to this, well as a favor to the White House I put together the first transportable uplink in the world that was commercially licensed. We took that thing and it was a long story building that baby but we took that thing up to Jackson Hole and basically was able to bring the process of Jimmy Carter floating a snake out of there back to the world. So that was the leverage I had to get the license because the FCC didn’t want to grant this transportable stuff. They were still in this class A. You had to have a 10 meter sort of stuff but that broke the back of that. One of the things that I’ve been proud of in my career was that I’ve been able to actually introduce new business segments as an example in the case of the non-[?] microwave thing. Was able to build a whole new business. A whole new set of opportunities. In this case, it wasn’t too long before a lot of guys were entrepreneurs out there putting together these transportable uplinks, were moving around. But we had the first one and the only one for several years. We did a lot of network business with that thing. We hauled it all over the country and it made the networks really look good in a spot and it made us look good. We went into Elizabeth, North Carolina as an example which is right on the coast. There is no way to get anything out of there and a little team there, one of the local colleges that had national stature that year and did the playoff for ABC Sports. Almost didn’t make it.  It turned out the DC part blew up at that time. So I had my guys go around and start taking the batteries out of the rental cars and putting them in there and were scrapping those things to keep the things running. We’d take the other ones out and put them back in the car and try to charge them up you know and keep things going. Well, we were running out of batteries. It turned out that as soon as we put out the call for batteries, we had more batteries than we knew what to do with. All of those kids parents that were there, damn sure didn’t want to see that thing go off the air. I mean this was their proudest moment in their entire life. (Laughter)

PORTER:  A caravan of batteries.

E:  Lots of batteries real quick.  So you know, those are all kind of fun things that happened and also first that were fun to do. We also in the 1976 timeframe through a long term interest that I had in fiber optics going clear back to actually AT&T, we were using fiber optics down there because the cost was not really an issue clear back in the 1960s. We followed fiber pretty close and we put up fiber in NORAD down here to take essentially information in and out of the hill. Of course, the Air Force liked that because it was not going to essentially clot any E (t) pulses in the fiber. So to my knowledge that was the first commercially operated fiber link in the world. I know it’s the first one in North America. So you know, it’s fun to again say “Folks this stuff’s real.”

PORTER:  I think the only people that would argue with you are probably the Brits. They claim that had something going…

ELLIOTT:  Well, there was a lot of stuff that was done in conjunction with essentially government support one way or another around the world and yeah, you know but I don’t know…

PORTER:   But certainly here in the United States and I’m not sure it wasn’t in the world. I’m just saying they probably…

ELLIOTT:  Well, these are always an interesting argument. I mean remember in those dates and point in time the PT&T’s, the post telephone and telegraph around the world were really owned by the government and that’s essentially a taxing authority. I mean they could do anything they wanted to do. Didn’t matter if it made any sense or not. So I’m trying to differentiate in here in terms of something that yeah, we had to make money. I mean we were in a growth mode. We had to produce cash flow. So I know in that sense it was the first one in the country and I would actually probably argue the first one in the world that legitimately operated in a non-tax environment. But interestingly enough, clear back in the 1970 timeframe, we had decided that wanted to try to see if we couldn’t carry essentially the rating networks around the intermountain west here for a number of different regional networks. And not surprisingly one of the principle drivers of that was George Hatch and his team with their Intermountain Microwave Network or radio network which I believe was the biggest regional network in the country at that point in time from a geographic perspective. So doing that with kind a traditional sub-carrier techniques on the microwave systems was not very efficient and we began to look into other schemes. The scheme that I thought made a lot of sense was to see if we couldn’t essentially take the whole T-1 carrier scheme that had been around by then forever to of course, multiplex, multiple places on a pair of twisted pairs and just basically up convert that and hook it onto a microwave system. So we contracted with Don Kirk, who had been one of the famous engineers out of the Milt Shapp, Jerrold days and had his own company at that point down in Florida to help us do that. Move it along and demonstrated that the process in fact worked to the point that we thought it was the right thing to do. It had some pretty innovative schemes to deal with all of the intermodulation and other sorts of junk that you find up on the top end in one of those old non-linear microwave systems that are modulation with video. But you know Don understood all that quite well and I think I understood it quite well and we know how to try to deal with that and basically decided that we’d move ahead. We filed with FCC. You had to file your entire spectrum with FCC in those days. Not only your base video that you had on microwave but all the other things that you might incidentally have there. Right down to point of even maintenance types of things. Like the wires and stuff that you use to talk to each other to maintain the sites. So we filed to put this digital modulation on the system and the FCC literally came unglued. For years, unbeknownst to me and I don’t know why I had missed this but it was illegal to modulate a carrier with digital modulation. And of course that was an old takeoff of the military pressure. Putting pressure on the FCC so that they were the only ones that could use essentially digital modulation. And that was kind of a way that they had of more or less maintaining security because they felt like if there wasn’t a bunch of receivers that could in any way handle digital modulation not just in of itself, then a step up. So man, we got some really nasty responses from the FCC on this whole issue of dealing with digital modulation. Of course we went back said “We don’t see any reason why that doesn’t work. It’s in the public interest to do that.” We had some political help from some of our senators and so forth and so on. The FCC then came back and said well, you know the equipment you have out there is not type accepted for digital modulation.  That was their way to try to put a stop to that. So old Don and I we gathered up one of everything we had and we had a lot of different kinds of old microwave around out there from A to Z. You know, old Jerrold stuff, old Motorola stuff, old Atlanta Pacific stuff and on and on. Collins, Raytheon, on and on and literally went through a big elaborate type acceptance on all of that stuff and got it all type accepted because we just made sure it all fit within all the parameters if the FCC required them.  There was really no way they could say no for digital modulation. That was for me kind of an eye opener I guess and a turning point somewhat in my own career where I started to really think a lot about how the transition from essentially analog to digital was going to happening. At one point in a DOD space they had actually projected they would in their case have everything digitally modulated even by 1996. Then they rolled that forward and rolled it forward and rolled it forward but it was really clear that the way the by then the t-one carrier equipment was coming off the production lines that digital has a tremendous advantage and you either get it right or you don’t. But you don’t spend hours and hours and hours tuning and tweaking and fixing and so forth. You get the recipe right and the production lines just run and the cost comes down, etc., etc. and this was even before Moore’s law. But the process of going digital really makes a difference and I enjoyed that project even at the time. Don was a great guy to work with. A really sharp guy but I also look back at it now as a real turning point in my own thinking of saying “Gee, now this digital stuff is going to work” and you know, there’s more to talk about later but that was all kind of captured in the 70s timeframe, the sort of things that we were doing in the building all these high capacity, high reliability networks, getting satellites started. Doing a bunch interesting things. Our company at essentially was WTCI at that point in time being did a lot of contract. We did a lot of worldwide consulting. I personally was involved in a bunch of international stuff that was a lot of fun. Turn on and testing the Spanish air command system. They tried to call it essentially a commercial system but it really was a defense system. Turn on with a bunch of guys that I thought was the best in the world at what they did. I thought that our troops at WTCI were the best can-do troops in the world. AT&T couldn’t get the Saudi Kingdom network turned on. They just couldn’t do it and it turned out that we took about 30 guys over there and turned it on in about 90 days. You know, it was just fun to have a bunch of good people that were – you tell them to do something, you better get out of the way because it was going to happen. Might not happen the way you wanted it to exactly but it was going to happen. And of course the reason the AT&T guys couldn’t turn it on because they would drive in some cases 300 or 400 miles out into the desert to work and then drive all the way back to Riyadh to their compound that night. Well, of course you drive 500 or 600 miles a day you don’t have time to do anything else.

PORTER:  Comfort was more important than efficiency, right? (Laughter)

ELLIOTT:  We actually took trailers. Moved them out in the desert. Put a little generator there so we could hopefully have some air conditioning. It didn’t always work. Put a hand rig in so they could talk to each other and put a truck on the road and essentially take supplies to them. The guys could actually work. Of course out in the desert there was nothing else to do. They worked 20 hours a day out there. Mostly at night. It was so hot in the day time. During the heat of the afternoon you’d have to quit but got that thing turned on fairly quickly. So I was always very proud of being part of that can-do kind of operation. Liked it a lot. Did some over water stuff which was kind of crazy. Out of LA. Became pretty well internationally known as the over water propagation expert. Not something I wanted to be but you know, you do what you got to do, but in the 1980 timeframe, John basically – Malone you know had joined us in 1973 – said “Look Tom, you know, the cable side of the house is 90% of our business. This is 10% of the business. You’ve got to move over to the 90% side” and I was, argued with him. I mean I’d always worked as kind of a technical consultant and whatever with the cable folks and really enjoyed that. Dave Willis is just a terrific guy and maybe a guy I feel most blessed to have worked with in all these years. Just a wonderful guy. But John felt pretty strongly that it was time to relook at what was going on here, so I moved over, really kind of reversed roles and moved over to the cable side of the house full-time and more or less consulted with the microwave satellite, fiber side of the house. It turned out that a lot of the experience I had really benefitted me a lot because we were as a cable industry at that point doing all these crazy franchise filings where we were proposing every kind of communications known to man. Home banking, home shopping, electronic mail, etc. etc. So I took the suburban system here in Denver, Lakewood which we had operating in that point in time and converted it to a test platform to test all of these kinds of things in real world time environment. That was quite a struggle. It was interesting that we had filed with all the cities about this good, great two way stuff but you actually went out and tried to make a two way amplifiers and so forth work. They didn’t work. So we went through a huge round with all of the manufacturers. Put a lot of pressure on them to get the right kind of diplex filters and so forth so that you could actually cascade 15 or 20 of these things in a row. Which we needed to do that in those days. This was pre-fiber remember and make them work. And we did. We worked hard on it. We got the system up and running. We then in turn carried in a non-commercial way, in a test sort of a way all of this stuff. We put a home security system in. Monitored a lot homes here in Denver. They were friendlies. A lot of them were employees. They were city employees. People we knew. In some cases just people, we would knock on their door and say they wanted to be part of the process or whatever. Kyle Ackers was one of those guys. He was of course the famous newscaster in town at the time. On and on and did high speed data. Worked with Stanford Research to put 10 megabits scheme between Golden and Lakewood. Monitored that for several years. To look at the bit air rates and this stuff really worked good as it turned out. Did the home banking, home shopping, all of those sorts of things. In all cases found them to be technically feasible but commercially probably not successful at that point of time. And that’s actually what led me to get really serious about “Gosh guys, we ought to fix this basic stuff.”  Turns out that the same thing that was costing us so much trouble with this these more exotic services were our major cost problems with our core business and in those days we still had the f-fittings that were many of them two piece. All of them I guess were two pieces but some had the little bitty ring and some had the bigger ring. I guess you were first class if you had the longer compression ring. We had things like I discovered there as we delved into this that we were paying 3 to 8₵ for those things. Typically about 5₵ and we were spending about 50₵ per year maintaining them which is crazy. We would have been much better off just spending another few cents on the device in the first place and dropped that maintenance cost. So our lab there started transitioning and focusing on driving the costs down of operation and driving reliability up for the plant. And we built a little expansion loop tester there and started taking the mystery out of all these loops.  Wide loop circular loops, square bottom loops, round bottom loops.  

PORTER:  Loops.

ELLIOTT:  That’s right. I didn’t understand the mystery. I knew some of the scientists and followed the literature over the years but probably not delved into it a lot because I did more on the microwave long haul part of the business. What I discovered all of the expansion loop testing that had been done until that point in time had been time without strand. So the loops had set there and moved around in the air and go wherever they wanted to go and the physics of that is very different than if you grab both ends and slide it back and forth on a piece of strand. So of course we put strand on our expansion loop tester and quickly began to take all this nonsense and folklore out of these different kinds of loops. It turned out the square bottom loop, you know, is the right way to go because of course you have four radiuses. If you get those four radiuses, the two going into the loop, the two essentially making a bottom loop, make all those the same, you now have four points for that cable work against as compared to any other kind of scheme that you can do. Once again, there we learned that you had to be very careful because if you weren’t, one of those radiuses would start to leak and then all of the movement would be contained in that one spot. So we started looking at everything. The F fittings we put a lot of time into. Over time I kind of segmented my team there. I think Barry Smith and his work essentially in cable and fittings; I believe he was the most knowledgeable guy in the world at one point in time on how he actually made this stuff work. He wasn’t necessarily in the materials side and so forth like you find in the vendor side of the community but in terms of knowing the practicality, I had him spend a lot of time at the Gilberts, [LRC’s], the Pyramids and you know the different TPCs, different connector companies learning how the screw machines work so that we wouldn’t be coming up with ideas that weren’t practical to put into production. We had a very good working relationship with these guys. Barry – even yet today I believe is one of the world’s geniuses in understanding how you do this sort of stuff from A to Z, so that it’s practical and it’ll work and yield the results that you want at the cost points that you need. Dean Sites [sp] became my expert on passes.  Turned out I learned that the reasons these passes were squirrely is they all tested in the factory with 75 ohm resistors essentially with a perfect termination and yet we would go out in the field and screw a trap on to them, which is a terrible mismatch as you know. So we started testing all this stuff with appropriate mismatches and boy the vendors just went nuts. “What are you guys doing?” We said, “Well, you sell us a tap and you sell us the trap. I mean least in your own factory test these things with the trap screwed on.”  And they don’t want to hear that kind of stuff. And that’s why a lot of the hybrids didn’t retain balance and consequently all of the other isolation and performance specs that you needed out of the little [?] when they were round is because they hadn’t been tested in what I considered a real world mode.  Dean became very good at that. We started looking at power supplies. We found that most of the standby power supplies had crazy transfer characteristics and many of them weren’t regulated.  You build your system to getting 40 volts to the end of the line and you have the 40 volts for the first 5 minutes that the power went into standby – the thing would start sagging and you would have humming at the end of the line almost immediately. So you know we drove the process of saying "Gee, wait a minute we’ve got to have a power supply here that actually works" and Pat Kelly and Steve Wigo[sp] and some of the guys helped me with that and became very much kind of the world experts in that. In the meantime you needed a procedure and they actually used get the stuff out there and installed properly, get the construction procedures updated, get maintenance and installation procedures. Steve Willardson became I think the world expert in a lot of that sort of stuff. So out of that small group of guys, they literally began to change the way that cable industry at least from an MSO perspective and the vendors worked together to solve the problems such that it would meet the cost points we needed and also do the job for the consumer and it was really interesting. I spent a lot of time in all of the different vendor’s plants in those days – which I enjoyed doing of course, but saying well, you know guys, if I buy this stuff, why is it you can’t tell me what the specs of it are? Oh, that’s proprietary. We can’t tell you that, you know. So you’d have goofy things like you’d have cable that was called ½ inch cable that ranged anywhere from about 505 nominal down to 486 nominal and now the connector guy is caught with trying to build a sleeve trying to go into the smallest one and you had a jam that collapses at down to that sleeve big enough to go to the biggest one. And you had all this funny stuff going. You had a situation where you would call any of these guys and these were all good men, manufacturers but you’d say I need an F-59 fitting and they would say well what cable did you buy? I mean, you actually had different fittings. On theory that it’s all F-59 but you needed to know if it was Commscope or Times or whose it was in order to be able to make it fit. Well of course what would happen is our – we’d change cables or our guys would get the fittings mixed up in the trucks. We’d have contractors come to down. You know so you’d have guys with knives carving up part of the dielectric so it would fit a little better. They would be folding back extra braid trying to make it fit the big one. You can imagine the times there would have been environmental problems. In other words, water leakage problems and stuff. We had the problem where the F-ports would seize on connectors because they would just screw it into aluminum. Finally I said there’s only one way I think we’re going to be able to stop that is that we’ve got to put like to like. If we’re going to continue to use brass fittings, which it seemed for various mechanical reason we needed to do, we’ve got to get brass ports. And boy was that a battle. It was like a 3-year battle to get that started. I believe everybody even in my own company didn’t believe I’d get that done and that was just a huge challenge.

PORTER:  I didn’t think so. I used to wonder how you could – I mean you were going from company to company, really straightening things out and I always called that the era of taking on Tom. (Laughter) But you did it.

ELLIOTT:  Yeah, it was a lot of work. I was fortunate to be working for a big MSO. So that I had some leverage with the vendor community. I’m a pretty – really a physicist at heart, but I’m a pretty pragmatic guy I think because of going up there on that ranch and secondly you know I had a great environment. We had John who among all his other degrees has got a master's in electronics. So when I would make a pitch to him, he understood it right away. Whereas some of my friends that worked in other kinds of environments – some great people, they all contributed to this industry, but when they made their pitch to a gentleman or gal who had come up say through the marketing background or maybe a financial background and was now a CEO, the other person didn’t really intrinsically understand in their gut that this was important stuff. This probably has to be done. What this guy is saying makes sense. Whereas in my case, you know Malone got that right away.  You could see – he was very helpful. I mean in some cases under the concept of huge financial leverage you know he would say “Well, gee, you solved that problem and it’s not going to make much difference to our company.” Where he could see if I could solve an F-fitting problem as an example. Those things are every place. Would make a huge difference to the company. He got it if you will. He understood the laws of physics quite well. He certainly understands the laws of numbers really well.  

PORTER:  But you didn’t just do that for TCI.  You ended up at the auspices of the SCTE.

ELLIOTT:  That’s a whole other story of course because by the mid-1980s when we were going to – it actually started all of this in the early 1980s, 81, 82 timeframe – by the time we collected enough information and really started making some [?] I believe I got as an example the coax size, a ½ inch piece of coax was literally a ½ inch piece of coax with the appropriate manufacturing policies but you didn’t have it all the way from this size to this size with the tolerance around that without it all or least nominal ½ inch coax was 1985, I think. So, you know we had those kinds of specs inside of TCI and they were having a big impact because clearly a coaxial company is not going to build me a piece of coax and build somebody else a piece of coax. You’ve been in that business most of your life. That makes no sense. You can’t stop these machines and all that kinds of nonsense. So by definition once they built it for me that’s what everybody else got and everybody else was very supportive. I was an aggressive member of SCTE Engineering committee in those days. Was very actively involved in SCTE, etc. etc. So all the rest of the guys were out there saying "Good for you Tom.” Do the best you can there and they were very happy when I was able to make progress on that. The one piece F fitting that we got in place in the early 1980s, I mean I think everybody in the industry said "There’s no way you’ll ever get that done." It’s going to cost 10-15₵. We’ll never pay for that and yet once we got it there and got things moving, I mean the whole industry just adopted it literally overnight and it was better off for everybody. I mean it was better off for the manufacturer, actually had something they could charge a little bit for. You could train people now. You could actually show them how to use a pair of crimping tools because those pliers didn’t really work very good with that. Pliers and whatever else. Almost nobody used crimping tools on their old junk. So now you could actually deal with your craftsman and help him and teach him how to do things and they would do it right. They liked to do it right.

PORTER:  Built tools.

ELLIOTT:  Built tools and so on and so forth. That was all going well in the 1984 timeframe. I went to SCTE and said “Gee why don’t we let me start a standards operation here.” They were so afraid of the word standards for legal reasons, they made you call it practices. So we started this whole hierarchy of a practices group and the first one that I formed under that hierarchy and I was real careful to put all the approaches in place. They’re still there today actually. Headed toward what I hoped and dreamed would be an ANSCII process and that’s another story and eventually got there. And Laurie Smith should probably get the credit for that. She took all those EIA documents and all the IEEE stuff and synthesized that so that I could actually make a whole hierarchy of documents that show you how it’s built, the governances in place, etc. This was before we used a lot of word processors so she did this on the typewriter. God bless her and you know those documents have been amended to some extent but they are still the backbone of the way the process works. The committee I put in place was Interface Practices Committee because really the thing that was costing us money in the cable industry, in the plant side was the interfaces. We had good cable, had good fittings, had good passive but those interfaces where you hook them together was where the problem was. It was where the water got in. It was where possible craftsmanship problems. It’s what caused this trouble that in turn was what cost us a lot of money and also irritated our customers. So we attacked those interfaces aggressively and we began through that process to create industry specs around cable, around fittings, around these other things which is where the big dollar issues were in the early days. So that was something that I am probably pretty well remembered for is just aggressively taking kind of the old life cycle cost kind of approach which is common in the telephony business. They’ve been doing that forever. I think they used this life cycle cost for largely trying to pull the wool over the PUC’s eyes. If you use life cycle cost right, well you look at what your original costs are, you look at what your maintenance costs are and you look at what your replacement costs are, that is a powerful analytical tool that’s old and been doing it forever to really understand how you should make your investments in whatever it is you’re making them in. And that will quickly surface then where is it that you need to pay some attention to things. So that was a lot of fun. I mean we put a lot of time and effort into that. That was about the time I was beginning to get really interested in digital television – was in the mid-1980s. It seemed to me that the time had come for us to start thinking about what were we going to do as the follow on to essentially NTSC which has been a fantastically successful processor, specification or standard. Really the entire world uses it and that old standard is used, was developed really before the Second World War It was largely put in abeyance during the war and was finished after the war and then was adopted worldwide. Admittedly in Europe they go at 6 MHz and call it [?] but it’s the same format. The French of course had to change something so they got [?].

PORTER:  They always…

ELLIOTT:  Something’s got to be different. So they changed the way they did the modulation on the color but in general there’s a real lesson there. You need a standard that will last a long time if you’re going to have a commercial success and it occurred to me as I was looking at this stuff that doing a hybrid scheme which was where HDTV, which I think all of us thought at the time was going to be the driver for the next round in television – was going to be news and everybody was talking a lot about using the systems that are associated with news. As you know that is essentially a component system. It’s a hybrid digital analog system. Well, I was kind of looking chronologically at the mid-1980s timeframe which was when we were doing a lot of really interesting things and I think consolidating or base, in other words from the technology perspective, actually starting to make things work. Get cable to work. Getting converters that would work. Getting amplifiers that would work. Getting a lot of this funniness out of there. Driving specs hard. Working hard at making things, getting the brass taps and ports in place. But I was also in the role of a futurist. Trying to understand what the next round was going to look like. Beginning to develop a lot of interest and understanding basically could we get to an all-digital transmission scheme for television and that was starting to pick up a lot of momentum in my mind because in fact on both ends of the system you had digital at that point. You had the digital techniques that were being used in all the major studios and so forth around the world for production techniques. Then of course the digital tape machines were there for those folks and then you started to see digital television techniques being used. Admittedly the early ones, I think the very first ones were shipped by Phillips didn’t do too well but you began to see digital processing on both ends of the system and it just seemed inevitable to me that sooner or later we were going to want to transmit between these two terminal points digitally. I mean all digital not a hybrid analog digital scheme. So basically the reason I think I was literally the only guy in the world that believed in that in that point of time was that nobody thought that the silicon substrate would hold below around 2 microns or so. In fact most people if you read the literature in those points were saying you know Moore’s Law is about out of gas, we’re going to have to go to some other substrate and people were predicting [?] as the next probably most likely winner but to be able to get the language down, you know much below a couple of microns. You could show if you plotted essentially what was happening with computing power from even the early 1950s that mainframe for going up about a decade per decade and the minis were going up a little faster than that. The micros were going up a little faster than yet than that and the risks were doing a little faster than that and interesting enough when I did that plot all of those lines converged in the mid-1990s and they converged at a 100 MIPS. We were actually at essentially about 10 MIPS in the mainframes at that point. So they were going to make another decade improvement I thought and 100 MIPS was what you need to do essentially a decomp, an inexpensive, you need it inexpensively but to do a high quality decompression decoder, you need about 100 MIPS. So I’m starting to think Well, gee if this silicon substrate will hold – you know you can just project it and lo and behold in the mid-1990s that will happened. So fortunately I was a big enough customer of enough people and sometimes a secondary customer of silicon around the world that as I would travel to the west coast or Japan they kind of had to let me inside the clean room, that was inside the clean room and they don’t like to let you do that because there’s a chance that you’ll contaminate things. Where you’ve got to go through, take all your clothes off, put on all the stuff, take them all off again, put on all the other stuff, takes a long time to get in there but they could hardly tell me no and when I got in there and talked to the lithography techs who were actually running the machines, they said “You know, I think we could do it now if the bosses would get out of our way”. I mean these are the people working there actually doing it and I’ve always found you learn more from the people really doing it than the characters who think they know what’s going on.

PORTER:  Oh sure.

ELLIOTT:  So, they would only tell me that if they thought I would protect them because their bosses where saying “You know, there’s no way.”  In any case, that started giving me a great degree of confidence that we would in fact be able to go to an all-digital system. So I started working on that pretty hard. I actually filed the first I think public document of any nature that might have some historic reference at this point of time in 1988 in the response to the NOI, Notice of Inquire on HDTV to the FCC.  Where I strongly suggested that we go with an all-digital system and actually had some papers written by a couple of guys to back that up and boy did we ever catch a lot of heck from that but the good news was that John Sie started getting on that kick at that point in time and he was our publicist there at TCI. So he wrote a fairly thoughtful paper on this and actually I think today Malone still gives him the credit for this idea but it tracks well before that and it was something that boy I would go to the NCTA engineering committees and all of my peers would tell me “Not in our lifetime.”  You’re a good futurist Tom but this one you’ve got wrong. Not in our lifetime.”  So that was one of the technology leading areas that I was working hard on but another one that I worked on pretty hard during that period of time was fiber. Fiber had become something that you needed to do with all of the franchise stuff that we had promised with the momentum that we had built with satellite delivery and now had a number of different programmers coming to us with ideas that seemed like would actually work in the marketplace but we just didn’t have the capacity. We needed a new medium and as you know fiber is very low loss but not particularly flexible. It’s kind of hard to handle. Whereas coax is very high loss but very flexible. I mean almost anybody can put a connector on it. So they are a great complimentary medium and we needed to move. Fortunately Jim Chiddix and his team had pretty well proven by then that it would work at their lab here in Denver and they were good friends. Dave and I would go over and look at their progress from time to time but we needed to break the financial conundrum so I worked with JC Sparkman who I think probably should individually be given the credit for the guts to make this happen. To put together a process, I was on the road for quite a while trying to make this happen where we essentially broke it up into three parts. We said you know we’re probably going to have to – it looked to me like it was a $30 million nut and we’re probably going to have to take our $10 million share of this – somebody who sells it to us is probably going to have to take theirs and the guy who makes it is probably going to take his. So we got Antec to sign up for taking their chunk of the medicine and we got AT&T who was supplying the laser to Antec and also built their early transmitters and receivers, to take their chunk. That was a rather historic day when JC signed that big order that essentially we paid $10 million too much and those guys both took a $10 million bath but what we felt would happen is that it would drive down the price curve such that and of course the fiber itself came from AT&T, the glass in our case in those early days. Such we thought that the whole industry would essentially begin to deploy fiber rapidly. Fortunately they did and that was a great coup I think for the industry. I think if JC hadn’t have done that we wouldn’t have had as much as a 3 or 4 year lag from the time we actually started deploying fiber in a meaningful way which was in the 1988, 89 timeframe to when it would have actually happened. I hesitate to think, it kind of scares me to think that if we would have waited that additional 3 or 4 years, the whole story of this industry might have turned out to be a different story and it’s interesting to note that was a tough decision. John himself didn’t believe in fiber at that point of time, not a big fan of it and most of JC’s peers were saying “JC that’s too risky. You just don’t really want to be doing that.”  Yet he got it. He understood it. I think he understood what I was trying to do from a technical perspective, the complimentary nature of the medium and we just desperately had to have something that was more practical than EML and other kinds of schemes. I mean we were headed to super trunking with FM super trunking that had 1 ½ to 2 inch cables. God know where we were headed. I actually had my guys worried about what would happen if you had to start putting 3 inch cables on the wire because of course, can you imagine the wind loading, the ice loading. We had to do something so we could cut those cascades down and get more bandwidth out there. While the hybrid guys had done magic work in pushing up capacity, essentially bandwidth on hybrids, the problem was just not practical to cascade those things because of course every time you went up in bandwidth and really were stuck in the 22 to 24 dBm numbers. I mean you could got feed forward and push that a little bit but since the square law of nature of cable every time you went up in bandwidth you shortened essentially the distance between amplifiers and drove your cascade numbers up!  It was a runaway issue that had to be dealt with. It seemed to me having been around fiber a long as I talked about earlier in blowing up the bomb days that fiber was clearly the right way to go and fortunately they could see guys that had shown it could work and now it was a question of breaking that economic logjam to get it done and JC did that.

PORTER:  Where’s the first place that you put it?

ELLIOTT: You know I think the first one we put in of any significance was in Medford, Oregon and we had this terrible cascade up there that we probably were lying some when we said it was 45 cascades when it was probably actually 60 or something. I mean it was just crazy and we went into that system and initially broke it done into something like 20 cascade or something of that nature which you know in those days was something quite manageable. Lots of systems had cascades much deeper than that and of course the folks up there went from having out on the end of the line pictures once in a while to having great pictures right away. So it was a fantastic success and we used it initially fiber for cascade reduction and AML replacement. That’s really what the industry did in the first few years of fiber and then we started developing these techniques that helped head towards where we are today and that’s time maybe a good segue into talking about my time at the Lab. We had been looking at some sort of industry consortium to help us solve the kind of problems that I think all of us were interested in. I’m speaking mainly about the technical community here but it’s hard to do in an operational world. It’s hard to do in the pressure of the day to day operational P and L world. I have a little bit more of a science or technical bend than some so I was really interested in this. Had worked a lot on it. Fortunately along the way had found a real friend on this idea in Dick Leghorn. Dick I think said without question to be given the credit essentially the George Washington or the Father of CableLabs. So Dick and I were working on this and had lots of other people helping us. Jim Chiddix wrote a pretty thoughtful letter I think to the NCTA Engineering Committee along this period of time and it was just hard sledding. We were all so busy and so forth and so on but Dick kept his teeth in it. He would come into town, I don’t know 2 or 3 times a year and we would refine our proposal and haul it into John and try to get John signed up. The good news is of course with his technical background he had some sympathy with plus he realized that there were things like the AT&T lab model that worked well over the years. So finally in the 1987 timeframe, we were able to get enough of a charter put together with enough of the right kind of a theme behind it which is really gathering technology, evaluating technology, and transferring technology that Dr. Malone was willing to sign up and he kind of begrudgingly agreed to be the chairman if you will of the operation for fundraising purposes. So we actually incorporated, 1987, March of 1987 I believe and went out to try to raise money. We got some great fundraising folks. Loftus and some of those folks signed up. They went around and twisted arms hard and within about a year we had actually gotten enough people signed up on some conditions. Usually the condition was we’ll do it if everyone else does sort of a condition. That we became serious in an executive search to get the doors open and that’s what led us to getting Dick Green and his team to join us. The probably the best single decision we made along the line was that. Dick is very unique guy that has the ability to understand in depth technology but also is able to herd cats. Had got great political skills and great ability to get along with people and really understand what the right way to solve all these different pressure points are from the different leaders in the industry. So that was a lot of fun and having been pretty heavily involved in it, Malone had agreed to be at the point of time continued to be the chairman. He strongly suggested that maybe it would be a good idea if I would go up there and help get the doors open. So I took a 2 year sabbatical from TCI and joined CableLabs and basically I was saying well gee,  if I’m going to do that, I can play all the positions on the field, I’m going to hire talent. So we got Dick. Broadcaster. We got Craig Tanner, who was kind of a broadcaster consumer electronics guy and he maybe had a double strike against him. We had Tom Gillette, who was a Telco guy. All of our chief people there were all essentially one way or another most of my peers considered enemies and caught a lot of hell for that but you know, I think history has shown it was the right thing to do. I could basically kind of tutor these folks in the early days so they didn’t stick their foot in their mouth too bad. I had a simple agreement with all of them which was no presentation; no speech was made by any of them until I reviewed. Just to make sure that they didn’t touch too many sensitive things. We had a vendor’s symposium here in town that I asked the CEOs of all of the major vendors. I think we got 80 people or something in and talked to them very directly in kind of a closed session about their concerns. Maybe of them were very adamantly opposed to CableLabs and were quite concerned about it and I feel like the way to deal with that is to deal with it, I’m one of those kind of guys, I like the problems on top of the table, and I think we were able to convince them that first of all we were going to do it and secondly there was a real role for them to play. I mean there was no way the Lab’s going to be successful without their participation. It actually worked out well. John was our keynote speaker of course but it turned out his plane had gone down back in New York and fortunately I think Glenn Jones, I’m not sure but was there that day and he was able to catch a ride back with Glenn but it was a couple of hours late. So we kind of changed the agenda around but John came straight from the airport over and he was in his bomber’s jacket and just really relaxed and informal. It couldn’t have happened better as it turned out. He’s terrific at pulling things together, explaining the future, weaving the story with all these disparate facts in such a way that it makes sense to people but it worked even better when it was just kind of us guys having an informal discussion. I mean that’s the way it came across. It was a magic day and I think turned the industry, the vendor industry from thinking you know we’ve got to figure a way to kill us to thinking okay…

PORTER:  It’s going to be good for us.

ELLIOTT:  Okay, these guys are going to do this anyway; maybe we ought to figure how to work with them. You have those magic days in your life sometimes and that was I think that was one of them. So we moved ahead. I did a lot of things at the Lab that I just wanted to do. Kind of my deal with John was “Well, if I’m going to go up there, you know I need a few bucks just to spend on things that I’ve always been interested in.”  So we did a lot of projects. I actually put some real science behind what was going on with the corrosion with our fittings. It always has driven me nuts that the pipeline guys, shipping people – all those people understand this corrosion stuff right down to the nth degree and here it is, I believe in the field our number one problem and we still had to really put some science behind it. So we did that and did some good work there. We continued the work with Ferrugia [sp] that I thought was an interim step to expand and improve NTSC until we got to an all-digital scheme which I thought was the right approach as compared to making a half step to analog and digital scheme, which wouldn’t have held anyway and then making the step, let’s just improved what we got. And Yves was probably the single best guy in the world in that and so his line doubling techniques and stuff and we used those. We did the NTSC impairment studies which I really enjoyed. You know none of this you can do on a real P & L type environment but where I got the GI guys to build the best single test bed I think that has ever been built in the cable industry that duplicates all these nasty impairments that you find in the field and sure enough just use the nasty field. We used amps to generate noise with them. We built the echo machines and all the other phase noise stuff and put it together and I had my buddies, I called them miserable eyeball group come in and look at the stuff and they all got their own thing. You know, Wendell Bailey is more sensitive to this and Dan Pike’s that and Walt Ciciora is this and Archer Taylor is that and so forth and so on. And when they say that that is really what it is then that probably really is what it is. So we did some really good science there. You know I had Dr. [?] Jones come and Dr. [?] Jones and make sure that we were doing this properly from a sequencing perspective so that we met the CCIR requirements. It really was ram and the test weren’t biased and all that. We got the NTSC stuff that had not been done since the Tasso days in terms of being published. Now fortunately Archer had had some access to some tests that had been done along the way so he could informally show us that the slope here was in fact constant.

PORTER:  Constant.

ELLIOTT: Through that entire period of time and people in fact their eyeballs were getting more sensitive to impairments at about 3D per decade and sure enough and they still are. Eventually they will get good enough that that won’t be the case but that was really important work. It helped the industry make some of these decisions. It helped us quite fighting this pressure we were getting from the cities to get our signal noise and our internode up because we could see no reason to fight with those, customers are going to insist on it anyway. So we did that and of course so with my theme of being really interested in digital television, we used the platform there at CableLabs just to drive that process. All be it, every single one the guys at Labs gave me the same quote that everyone else did which is not in our lifetime. They’ve all conveniently forgot that now of course. But it was a good platform. These guys were scientists. They were interested; they just didn’t think it was going to happen as quickly as I did. But I put together a consortium with CableLabs under the National Cooperative Research Act of Scientific Atlanta and Jerrold and CableLabs to investigate and promote and deploy NTSC light – standard definition television. We did that to stay out of the political ramifications of fiddling around in HDTV area.  That would have been politically…

PORTER:  You didn’t want to get into the Quad vs. ….

ELLIOTT:  No that was okay. I didn’t mind taking that one on but I didn’t want to get into the work that ATSC at that point in time was doing.

PORTER:  Duplicating…

ELLIOTT:  Well, just politically they were very jealous of that space so we stayed out of that space. We went straight out in what was more practical for us anyway and we went after the space of that. I felt pretty strongly that this was going to work and I thought that we had to get our two principle vendors involved. Of course, with GI that was not too hard since they had largely done most of this work clear back in their VideoCipher days. VideoCipher 1 was largely and all digital scheme that was basically kind of a new scheme from a transmission perspective and so they had done a lot of work. The guys at Scientific Atlanta had begun to get interested in this largely from pressure from me and were working with the Utah State, Utah University people. Not Utah State but Utah University there in Salt Lake on this record quantification thing that you probably remember that they pushed for a while. So if I could get the three together and actually get them to sign and of course CableLabs I could do, then John agreed that he would essentially support this process and his theory was “Look Tom, this is impossible. You can’t get those two guys to ever agree on anything but if you do….” I finally got that done on one really cold night up in Aspen on a terrible situation with Bill Johnson and his team. He was the last one to come in. And that’s where really digital television started to make some progress even though still most people thought we were nuts. Subsequent to that, I guess about 3 months later, through some business dealings we had with AT&T and GI, I was able to twist their arm and get them to come into MPEG 2. And that actually made MPEG 2 real because minus those two guys intellectual property, MPEG 2 was not going to go anyplace and so Leonardo Chiariglione, I always say his last name wrong I think, but the gentleman that drove MPEG 2 was just ecstatic obviously when I was able to get those guys. Came over and visited us, outlined some of the things he was willing to do for us if we could get in fact these two guys with all this intellectual property under his auspices. At least get them come and participating in the process. So we were able to strike some deals and it was very interesting in how the process sorts out. Sometimes things just happen by good fortune. By then Telewest was operating in the UK so the next MPEG meeting was in --- the SLI called my buddies over there and said “Gee I’d like to have a hotel suite with you know Apples and IBMs and so forth set up for word processing purposes so anybody in the world could come in and use those but I really want is a couple of high speed copiers there” because in those kind of forums in those days, now you do it electronically but you had to…if you wanted to introduce something in a plenary, you had to copy everybody intended and typically there would be 300 different companies attending that. Well of course, you worked 24 hours a day in those kind of environments and you usually get that done about 1 or 2 o’clock in the morning and you had to have it copied and ready to go for the plenary. Well it turned out that I had the only copy machine. So I said well sure you can come use mine but here’s kind of how I want it to read. (Laughter). So it turned out you could literally take over the process with a copy machine, if you just did it right and I knew that having been in these things many, many times. So we put together the process and introduced the whole concept of profiles into the MPEG 2 and of course largely wrote the name main level name profile so that it worked for cable. The profile concept is still there today but that was the single biggest contribution that we made. Made sure of that this thing didn’t go off in a ditch someplace and wouldn’t work for cable. And of course they moved ahead and eventually endorsed the whole scheme as part of our digital lot at TCI.
PORTER:  So that was two years at CableLabs.


PORTER:  After two years your sabbatical was over?

ELLIOTT:  Right.

PORTER:  Did you come back to TCI?

ELLIOTT: Yes, of course things had moved on. I mean one timeframe when I was coming back to TCI, we were also consummating the merger with United Artists process which of course was United Artists, United and Daniels as a company at that time was the third biggest MSO out there on their own. So obviously that was a big step for the company and as we did that, I was asked to move back into the operation side of things with a little bit more, with a lot more things to do as well as continue to drive the digital part of the process. So I was happy to do that. I really like operations. So the engineering team, the technical operations team, the purchasing teams, the project management teams, the capital management team which I didn’t necessarily think made sense but anyway reported to me. I then started trying to see well how do you build a world class team to deal with this huge behemoth that we were now putting together to do what I thought was the right sort of things in that space and really enjoyed that. In that point of time I had transitioned enough I think in my personal growth over the years where I’m an extremely curious guy and the single most important word in the English language to me is “Why?”  So I want to know why on everything and people use that essentially as leverage against me also. So I would be making all these great debates with principally by then younger folks and they would use that same thing to say “Well, you know Tom, you’re ideas are probably good but there are a lot of ways to do this stuff.” So I become a great believer by then of you don’t have to do it by yourself. It’s probably best if you can but you don’t have to. In fact what you need to do is find the best possible people and then find a way that works for you and works for them to support them. So I had some pretty simple management theories and a lot of them worked well for them. One of the theories I had for my guys in the later years certainly was you know it’s an inverted pyramid. My job was really to work for them almost all of the time. The occasional case for some reason they can’t agree or we got something, well then sure I need to step in, make the decision and move on and I’m not a bit bashful about that give environment I grew up in obviously. But most of the time it shouldn’t work like that. Most of the time it should be just like a family where you step into the house and you can’t tell who’d running what. This person takes care of that, this person takes care of this and you know, I believe strongly in an inverted pyramid thing and I have a real simple rule that I use to have people work for  me which is kind of a ten by ten by ten rule, in other words for everything that you want me to make a decision on you have to bring ten things to me that you just want my advice on. And then I actually work for you as a senior adviser and I’ll give you my advice but you still make the decision and you’re still responsible for and for every ten of those things you want my advice on, I want you to be bringing ten things to me that are just simply information. And I do want to know what’s going on. I want to know what’s going on in everything. You never know, I might get a call from Magness or Malone or somebody and I better know what’s going on but I don’t want to be involved in that stuff. That’s what I’ve got you there for. I just want a heads up. It can be very fast. It doesn’t even have to have any commentary to it. In other words I don’t have to interact. The real advantage, one of the many advantages at working at TCI was there wasn’t a lot of things that we had to do the TCI way, so to speak. We had this very clear growth oriented entrepreneurial TCI way but each one of us as individuals was allowed to largely manage and operate our particular part of the pie the way we thought made sense. So that was lot of fun and the same time, clear back to the CableLab days, I had conned, coined the name HITS, the headend in the sky. So it became apparent we needed leverage to do that. One of the stories I don’t think we did tell was back in the mid-1980s when we put in place the National TCI addressable center and the huge success it became and that was a huge story in of itself. But playing on that theme, we were scale economic guys remember?  We thought the way to introduce digital to the industry; no different than the way we thought we needed to introduce essentially addressability at least in our company was a national scheme. We didn’t see any other way to do. The encoders were 100s of thousands of dollars apiece at that point in time. So we started down the road to put HITS and that was also under my preview where we built the two facilities here in town. The one that’s over here on Colorado Blvd. and the one that’s out on Santa Fe there. That was a lot of fun. A tremendous amount of work there and like anything where you’re the pioneer, it doesn’t work quite the way you thought. I mean those pioneers didn’t you know die of thirst or starve to death as they were going across the country because they were stupid but it’s because they didn’t have a map. (Laughter) and I didn’t have a map. I knew where I wanted to go. I knew where I thought the industry had to go. I thought I understood pretty well the competitive aspects of it. As an example they enabled essentially satellite DBS. It enables to a degree the broadcasters to compete with them in some ways but I felt like it was going to happen plus or minus and the best way to do it was to lead it and consequently have some control over the process. So we worked on that. There were a lot of other things going on at the time that was a lot of fun. We did I think some unusual project management schemes that I think a lot of the other companies have now adopted. Our capital management process I think was second to none at that point in time and they had a guy, Bill Meyers that headed that up for me. We did some things like basically this waster of dropped cable. Stopped this nonsense of kind of adjusting your quarterlies by how many converters you capitalized versus expense. You know we got the companies numbers real I think. We were doing some pretty magic things but unfortunately the company got too heavily involved in some future stuff that didn’t pan out too well. Too much playing on gosh spending hundreds of millions of dollars with consultants figuring out how to redo the culture in the company which I don’t think was doable anyways to be honest with you. Push the telephone world a little too hard, etc. etc., etc.  That caused the process to begin to look a little threadbare at the seams which of course is where Leo [Hindery] joined us to get the company in a position we could sell it and subsequently essentially did that. And that was really the time for me to look at something else. We had tried to sell the company – I don’t know how many of these stories have been told but a couple of times prior to that, AT&T and in this case we were successfully able to do that. It’s pretty clear that I don’t fit real well in a big bureaucratic organization.

PORTER:  Me either. I understand the feeling.

ELLIOTT:  Yeah, it’s just not my style. I think – we had a simple rule at TCI, if you talk about things 3 times, then go do it and vice versa I mean if – and nobody told you to do it. It was we discussed this thing 3 times, it’s time to do it and so if you ran into John or Bob or JC or some other guys later and you hadn’t done it, they’d say – I mean they didn’t actually say these words but the words were more or less “Do I have to tell you to do this?” I mean, you know we’ve talked about it, let’s get it done. Whereas of course in the whole world where you have to drive consensus on everything to the last nth degree, you know I would come back into one of those kind of environments after having done it and everybody would be mad because I did it and I would be equally upset with them because we had already talked about it a least 6 or 8 times and they hadn’t done it. I’m just out of sync with that particular management style. I’m not saying it’s right or wrong. I’m just saying it’s not…

PORTER: I understand where you’re….

ELLIOTT:  It’s not where I want to spend my time.

PORTER:  Let me ask you one question when you talk about projects. Looking back over the years, is there any one project that always bothered you? I know I’ve got one or two things in my life that…in business that I wish I would have done. Not to get rich. I mean that’s nice to get rich, but just because from a technological standpoint, it would have been the right thing to do. Either I didn’t get it completed or somebody else didn’t get it completed. Is there any one project?

ELLIOTT:  Well, got several. (Laughter) One that frustrated me, when the VCR really started to take off, which you could just pick 1978 as the date for that, I was frustrated that the industry didn’t really started pushing essentially pay-per-view we thought of in those days, hard because I thought we could stop the video stores or at least the video stores would never have gotten the huge momentum that they got.

PORTER:  The rental stores?

ELLIOTT:  Yeah and see that’s our problem in this space, the video retail stores spend to Hollywood than we spend, send to Hollywood by a big factor by the way. Historically way more than a 10 to 1 factor. It’s about 10 to 1 right now. I mean that’s just crazy and I really feel that we could have done better at that. I think that PrimeStar, which started out as cable partners and evolved into PrimeStar, is a black eye for the industry in general. I think we created essentially a government structure that wouldn’t work. The super majority voting nonsense which we did so we felt like the other guy wouldn’t get ahead of us which was silly. We would have been better off to have anybody manage it. Time Warner, TCI, Comcast, anybody. Just blew it. Sure might not have done it our way but we should have done that one. And Express, which was TCI’s – was a joint venture in the early days between TCI and Clint Ober and that team but and I was involved in that on the side with Clint before we brought it into TCI but that one should have been essentially developed into AOL. We were way early. We had a great service. We had the problem that we didn’t, we couldn’t energize the industry. We go in at the system level and the guys said “Gee, I run a promo for HBO on the weekend and I’ll make more money than I will fiddling around with you guys for the next year.”  And actually that was true but we were trying to push the concept of “Guys, this is coming. These PCs are not going to go away. They are going to continue to follow Moore’s Law. They are going to find themselves in all your customers’ homes. We need to be the people that world looks at that supplies that information. No differently than they look at us to supply essentially their entertainment.” We felt very strongly that the one of the things that’s extremely important to most parents is educating their children and this is a great vehicle to help the kids and today of course the kids don’t use encyclopedias, you know. So while we didn’t see the internet coming I don’t think quite like it developed. I don’t think anybody actually saw the search engine coming. I mean I’d been involved in our intranet way back in the early days of the internet. I watched the doubling of size every year that went on forever. One to twos not much. Two to fours not much but when you start talking about 4,000, 8,000, 8 to 16, that’s kind of where it was right then and it still was all pretty much in the academic community but it was making big progress. You know, so we thought that was really important. We had the UPI databases exclusive use for cable. We had powerful tools there. We just somehow were not able to convince the industry as a whole and ever really very effectively in TCI that this matters. That this is strategic. That this is positioning yourself for the next wave. So probably if I had to rate those, I suppose it’s kind of hard to rate. I guess maybe the Express one is my most frustrating. I think PrimeStar is almost as close to frustrating but we probably would have lost that at the government level anyway sooner or later I suppose. And of course the video store thing, I think we would’ve been so much better off if we had a little more leverage on the creative side by sending them more money than anyone else does. There’s lots of others but if you pick the big ones, those are probably the ones that…

PORTER:  What do you see out in the future from a technological standpoint and otherwise?

ELLIOTT:  Well, you know I’ve actually been a good futurist I think my whole career. I probably have caught more hell for being front almost my whole life actually even going back to being a youngster than I did for ever being behind too far. It’s safest in the pack and I’m one of those characters who spend my time, most of my life on the extremes of the bell curve. You know you find lots of people who are really good at the middle. That’s just the human nature and you find some people are really good at really down and dirty and nasty stuff where you’ve got to understand the atomic chart and really got to --- and you find a few people who are really good over here at this really futuristic, put it all together and make it happen. So I kind of peaked like this, where most people tend to peak in the middle and of course at TCI we had a great one-two punch because they had Dave Willis, who covers that middle better than any other man alive ever. I mean he is spectacular at that and so I could have fun working with Dave there because he took care of that so well and he had fun kind of listening to my nonsense on either extreme and moderating that to some extent. I think we were a spectacular team and I had a great deal of regard for Dave and I think he does for me and it was just fun. So I have some themes that I’ve developed over the years and these aren’t accidental. I mean I feel like if I go over here there are only 3 other guys playing. I can really get some leverage. I get in the middle, everybody’s playing. Millions are playing and I get over here and there’s only 3.

PORTER:  That’s too safe for you, huh?

ELLIOTT:  Spend your time on not – I’m a risk taker and I like this. I like controversy not for the sake of controversy but for the sake of getting some blood going, some thinking happening, some neurons firing up here and so I also then tried to develop some context to deal with these issues. Even on a personal basis. It’s become pretty clear to me that if you study technology over the history of man and I kind of have you know, four timeframes that I look at things. I was very fortunate in my life, my uncle who I was very close to, was a world renowned geologist. So he thought of things in terms of geological time. Two billion years and that gives you a very different perspective if you look and yours and mine interview today against that. It probably doesn’t matter much against that. Whereas if you look against the timeframe of man being around about 4 million years, that’s another timeframe and things look a certain way. If you look at things essentially a lifetime, which I would look at as kind of essentially my grandfather to my grandkids and look at that, things look different. If you look at things against a generation, essentially twenty years timeframe, things will once again look different. So I try to use all of these different ways to slide ides against and see, how to they kind of stick, where do they fit, what do they matter, how do they do that?  If you look at technology on essentially the mankind timeframe, what you see is is that the actual formula is about the same. Mankind has been progressing at the about same kind of rate since the beginning of time but it’s the same old doubling rule again, exponential rule, not quite the doubling rule in this case but if you make a .001 to a .002 change, I mean you can’t hardly tell it. The slopes the same but what’s happened is during all during the history of man until about now, technology was always developed to keep the kind in charge. Really always developed for military purposes and it doesn’t matter if you go clear back to the bows and arrows days or what technology you pick, and the king always tried to keep it just for him. Nobody else could have it and so what we’re in now is a place where the curve is actually like any exponential curve is going asymptote.   So we have an asymptote here that is the kind in charge asymptote but now we’re transitioning to an asymptote that the consumer’s in charge. This is a huge change for the human animal and it will take of course a few thousand years to get around and if I kind of said “Where do you think you are today?, I think were in the middle of that curve.  In other words I think we’re the furthest away from being close to either asintope. Which you could also argue is the single most dangerous piece of time if the human animal makes it through this and we can write history say 15-20,000 years from now we’ll say “Well, this was really an extraordinary dangerous period of time. Right here when it turns out you and I happen to be alive.”  Where people have to figure out how to deal with this stuff themselves. It used to be it didn’t matter if they wanted to figure out how to deal for themselves, they didn’t get to vote. (Laughter) The king made those decisions. Whoever the king was. The king in later years might have been a national government or whoever it might have been. Now of course we’re headed to a point where you actually see video game technology being uploaded into the military. You know. The typical kid at home has more exotic software in the stuff that he’s doing, largely gaming, than the airliners do. I mean because of course they go replace this thing at home every 6 months. While the airliners got to fly that thing to get his money back. I mean it’s just a big reversal and consequently we’re going to see all kinds of things happen in the world over the next few years that are just going to be striking and I would say that technology is now well ahead of application and I would actually pick just for the sake of picking it, 1969 was the day. And the reason is is that was the year we went to the moon and I don’t know how anybody can sit here and argue anymore that you can’t do it from a technology perspective. You could argue that you can’t because it cost too much, which is by the way the major argument when I get my buddies and hammer them back in the digital days. I said “Well you can’t tell me that I can’t do this.” So when you speak as a technologist and say I can’t do this, it really is misleading to the people. But I think you’re saying is that you don’t believe that it’s economically feasible and that actually would be true, but what they would say just not in our lifetime, it’s just not feasible. I would ask them to humor me and say they don’t think it was feasible from an economic perspective because that’s really where we disagree. I thought it was. I thought we were going to get below two microns in this timeframe. They didn’t and so today the arguments come down on that side of things. We as engineers can no longer say we can’t technologically do things and I just pick the moon launch as a date. You can pick whatever you wanted to.

PORTER:  With the MSOs becoming less and less in number and bigger and bigger, do you foresee any problems in that area as far as local government concerned?

ELLIOTT:  Well, I don’t know, Rex. One of the issues is that everybody has to deal with is you do need scaled economics to create change. You can usually incubate change outside of that environment. I mean if you look at electronics -- ham’s usually have incubated most of the change we have had in the history of electronics but they can’t drive it into place. You know, it’s just not enough scale economics. So somebody’s got to find whatever that is. General LeMay got to fly around the world with Art Collins or something and decide that this really makes sense and all of a sudden starts using, the costs come down and now all of a sudden Ham’s can buy their 6146’s cheaper or whatever. I mean that’s just the nature of the beast. So the cities that get it, no, they’re going to be in there negotiating for how do these big companies that have scale economics help if you will in their environment? By the way, I’m not overly optimistic that government gets it at any level. So I’m not a big fan of government but you know, there’s some really bright people that think that their call to be public servants and hopefully there will be some leadership that shows up here in the government environment at all levels that says “you know against the curve I’m talking about, that’s why I use these different scales. If we’re going to help mankind here, while we’ve now transitioned where the advice used to be from the grandfather to grandson almost perfect. You know keep your nose down, keep it clean, work hard, learn a trade and get better at the rest of your life. I mean not that many years ago, in the great cathedrals in Europe a person spent their entire life putting a terrazzo floor in that building, okay. They knew what they were going to do for their life. That’s not that many years ago. Three or 400 years ago. I mean today, a youngster has to think about how does he manage himself in terms of him or her, in terms of how do they think about continuing to get educated while they are also working. I mean they used in their mind think about education and work as two very separate things. There’s no way you can consider that today. You got to continue learning and you’ve got to continue training yourself in ways that are pretty fundamental. I mean remember the statistic up until about now is that people spend 2 hours thinking for the rest of their lives after they get out of their other academic part, their goals.   I mean there’s no way.  So the cities that are on point here and it’s not just the cities but the parents, everybody that’s on point here, should be thinking about “Gee, this is uncharted territory. This is an absolute difference in the history of man.”  Change is collapsed well inside of one person’s lifetime to the point that it’s collapsed well inside just your career as part of one lifetime.  Consequently how do I advise people that matter to me – my sons and daughters, my grandkids, anybody else that really matters to me? To think about how do they deal with these kinds of issues?

PORTER:   Let me ask you something else then. You’ve a lot of change. You’ve seen…

ELLIOTT:  I’ve created a lot of change.

PORTER:  To transistor, to chip, to microwave, to satellite and basically a person in cable communications today would say well we’ve got digital television; we’re going from analog to digital or mixing them. So digital television is a big thing right now and we’ve got the internet, high speed internet – that’s a big thing right now and we’ve got cable telephony. That’s a big thing right now. So we’ve got three superior services that are really make the late 1990s and the early 2000s, what’s the next big thing that you see, Tom.

ELLIOTT:  Well, the next big thing is that you won’t think of it that way. You know, from a technician’s perspective a bit is a bit and when you get into kind of the pipe world, you don’t really care what those bits are in there. You sort them out in the end and give them back to the people for application reasons but they are just bits. Now if you take a little poetic license with this, they are just information. Okay? So if you are transitioning now from the old world where the premiums was on strength. Not that many years ago, you and I got paid more based on our strength versus anything else. Generally speaking if we were stronger than our compatriots we got paid more. That’s the premium.


ELLIOTT:  Today of course, your strength needs to be in intellectual capacity. That’s what you get paid and compensated for. That’s another huge change in the history of man. It’s just happening, you know, in the fairly recent future. If you watch the youngsters today and that’s really where you want to learn, is go watch people that aren’t conditioned. I happened to grow up in an environment where people my age largely grew up with television in most the country. I didn’t. There was not television in my home until after I rebuilt one. I bought it at auction down here and sent it home to my parents. Okay?  But most people of my generation think of things against a television background because they always had television in major cities and that’s where everybody lived so certainly long since, youngsters have grown up with television. They don’t think about the world minus television. Youngsters today are growing up with PCs and essentially the internet and they just don’t think about things minus the internet. It’s just obvious to them -- it’s always been there…

PORTER:  It’s always been there.

ELLIOTT:  That’s the way they do things. So you watch what they do. They go into their home. They use call forwarding  -- they’re not supposed to do it, the telephone company doesn’t like it,, but to take their buddies on the line, so I call this guy and this guy calls this guy and this guy calls this guy and pretty soon they’ve got 15 or 20 of them on the line all at the same time. In the meantime they are all sitting there with their PCs typically in a chat room with those same folks but also some people, right?  And they’re all watching television. So the services you just, you know, they don’t’ see them as separate services. They just integrate them. Now they integrate them themselves admittedly but they don’t’ see it as watching television. They’re watching television while they’re talking on the phone while they’re using high speed.  That’s just the way they do things. They multitask.

PORTER:  Let me ask you about something else then. If you’ve seen fiber, we accept fiber.

ELLIOTT:  Right.

PORTER:  We’ve even seen lase applications and there have been people, of course we know can carry information over a laser beam. I mean we can modulate that.

ELLIOTT:  Right, right. Sure.

PORTER:  Other words you couldn’t have fiber anyhow but there are physicists who are talking about actually being able to bend the direction of a laser beam, you think there’s any application for the future of cable telecommunications where you might use that applications and take away the cable all together?

ELLIOTT:  You know my personal view is that if you looked at generally what happens with these kinds of things, they become an overlay as compared to replacement.  So you look at copper pair, it’s still out there.

PORTER:  Or something additional like sort of wireless to wire.

ELLIOTT:  Right, very rarely does existing infrastructure disappear. It actually gets augmented by a new infrastructure. So I don’t think there’s much question at all these different transmissions schemes are going to go into play. I’m not sure exactly what they’ll be used for. I mean at one point in time I spent quite a bit of time looking a meteor burst technology and I thought “Well, gee maybe that’s something we can use.”  As you know, I can’t quite get those meteors reliably come by at the right point in time.  But it was fun and I learned something I think. I’m still a fan of essentially the automated flying processes where you put basically a platform in space, not in space, about 70,000 feet up and you just use that as a low earth orbit satellite kind of a thing. I believe that technology is going to go places.

PORTER:  Low orbit right?

ELLIOTT:  Yeah, I mean the problem today is that we haven’t been able to get the cost down quite enough on you know the field to sustain those things but they’ve got it so you can typically keep that plane up about three days now and of course you know you need a fleet of 4 or 5 of them to make it work right and there is still a few weather problems and some other things.  But the military’s been doing this forever, tethered balloon schemes, etc., etc.  I think that’s going to happen. So you know, the reason that light is going to be dealt with is that you need to get into these processes where you have these really short wavelengths. Such that you can now manipulate them much more effectively than you can with these huge wavelengths that we do with the UHF and VHF level. So you know the whole concept of building essentially optical computers and optical switching and optical etc., etc. All of which is based like you say on someway of permulating the electric magnetic spectrum at the light region, no different than we’ve long since permulate the electric magnetic spectrum at the essentially RF reason. It’s the same really general techniques. The same techniques. Are going to happen. I’m convinced of that. Of course as you can begin to think about how you would build essentially circuitry to be able to manage that sort of stuff. It becomes apparent that you don’t mirrors, big old filters. You don’t need big old cavities and stuff to deal with things that have been done at those kind of wavelengths as compared to the things that you and I probably spent most our career doing. You know, what I see happening is as we turn this curve here, technology speeds up and it gets way out in front of our ability to apply it, then essentially the ideas are now the limiting factor not can you do it. You know the limiting factors.  I think amazing things are going to happen here. It’s very hard for any of us to predict today. I think a better way may be to try to think about what’s likely to happen is – how do people what to live their lives, you know. How do you want to educate your youngsters? How do you want to interact on a day to day basis with – in an environment where knowledge is really your thing that you get compensated for? Optimizing knowledge, trading knowledge, building knowledge, you know, sorting knowledge, etc. etc. As compared to brute force going over to lift so many bricks into place or whatever. So the world really changes and my view is that the limiting factor on how these things go into place is really built on people’s ability to assimilate and so where you had – I think Toffler pointed out in Future Shock, 300 hundred years from the time the sewing machine was invented until it was in common use. So you had all kinds of time to make lots of mistakes and you didn’t have a problem with a generational issue. It was going to go into place so slowly that the generations were going to turn over anyway, so you weren’t going to have the old people saying “No, no we always did it the other way. Get the needle out.”  That was just; it took care of itself because it happened so slow. Today, I think what happens is the limiting factor probably is people’s ability to assimilate what we’re talking about and change the social structure as such that it makes some sense. I mean if we just built this great big new government building or whatever it might be, schoolhouse or whatever and the next say “I guess that was a bad idea. What we ought to do is do it this way.”  That doesn’t work too good, I don’t think. So I predict that you’re going to see a huge essentially I don’t want to call it a democratic because while I’m a big fan of democracy – democracy in of itself always turns into anarchy, what you really want is a republic form of government like what we have, a representative form of government. I think that there’s some big changes that have to happen here as they get essentially our social structure lined up so that we can allow youngsters as an example to say “Okay, the way that my life is going to look is…” and the point is they won’t look at education and essentially vocation as two separate things. Be one and the same. They won’t look at the way they do their essentially their leisure time and that sort of stuff and I’m not talking about probably the non-physical part, in other words skiing and that sort of stuff.

PORTER: I understand it’s quality versus…

ELLIOTT:  Well, it’s using tools.

PORTER:  We’ve got to bring this to a close. It’s been quite an experience listening to you and learning about Tom. The only thing I hate is that you haven’t given me any great ideas toward making money in the future.

ELLIOTT:  We’ll talk about those offline.

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John Egan


Interview Date: August 11, 2003
Interview Location: Denver, CO USA
Interviewer: Craig Kuhl
Collection: Hauser Collection

KUHL: Hello, I'm Craig Kuhl. I'm the contributing editor to CED Magazine, Multichannel News and a number of Reed Business publications. Today we're going to be interviewing John Egan. John is the former chairman of Arris Group, Inc. and the former President and CEO of Antec and a vital cog in the progress of the cable industry since the early '70s, I believe. This is part of the Oral History Program for The Cable Center here in Denver, and I want to introduce John Egan, the former chairman of Arris Group. John, talk to me a little bit about early on – where you were born, parents' names, education and sort of walk me through, if you will, some of those very early days.

EGAN: Okay. I was born in New York City, actually the Bronx, the south Bronx. My parents were John and Nora Egan. My dad is from Mayo in Ireland and met my mom in New York. I lived in New York until I was about ten years old and then moved right across the river to New Jersey. I went all through Catholic grammar school and then went to an Irish Christian Brothers high school, Bergen Catholic, and after graduating from there I went to Boston College – a Jesuit school – and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in economics.

KUHL: Any early passions, John? We know you had a brief stint with the Miami Dolphins back in the late '60s, but were there any early passions for you? Was there anything that you were really driven to do early on in your education? Did you have visions of being in the cable industry? I suspect not.

EGANS: No, I never really did. Athletics was a big part of my life. Actually, I thought I was a better basketball player than a football player and went to Boston College to play basketball. Bob Coozey was the coach, and I went to BC, besides the fact that it was a Catholic school and a great academic school; I went there because it gave me the opportunity to play both sports. I actually started as a physics major. I always wanted to be an engineer. It was, given the three jobs of physics, basketball and football; I had to start dividing my time. I switched majors in my sophomore year, took a minor in physics, but wanted to get into more of the business side, and played both football and basketball and then one day woke up and weighed 260 pounds and realized that the rim wasn't getting any further away, it was actually me who couldn't jump as high, so I decided to play football and then was drafted and spent a couple of years in Miami. But in between the first two seasons at Miami, I came back to New York City and started to look for a job, and at that time, the fellow who was actually in charge of sales for IBM – a guy by the name of Donegan – had left and joined RCA and RCA had a goal of trying to get into the computer business. So they decided to hire a hundred young men and send them to Dartmouth, to Amos Tuck, to learn how to sell computers against IBM and this new world of computing. SO I was able to go up there in the off-season and further my education on their nickel, and then when I quit playing football I took a job with RCA and sold computers. My territory was 42nd Street to 59th Street, east of 6th Avenue, and I quickly realized there were some 150 IBM salesmen in that same territory. So the training that I was able to get with RCA was terrific, both the formal training at Dartmouth, at Tuck, and the technical training that they gave me. So it allowed me to use both the business side and the technical side, and I was successful to a certain extent. I sold a very large computer – at that time, the largest computer we had was 64 K and it sold for 11 million dollars. I was able to sell one to a company called Anaconda, Anaconda Wire and Cable, actually, was a subsidiary of the Anaconda Mining Company, and just as I finished getting the order I was actually about to celebrate what would have been quite a commission check and Walter Cronkite came on the news and said that RCA had had a board meeting and decided to get out of the computer business. They weren't making money at it. So, it was obvious that I wasn't going to be able to complete the sale of that order; these were two or three year sales cycles. So I went back to the chief financial officer of Anaconda, a fellow by the name of George Hanley, and told him thanks for the interest, but I wasn't going to be able to take the order. He had become a good friend and he asked me what I was going to do. I told him I had no particular job; I was going to be out of work in another month or two. He said, "Well, we bought some electronics company out in California, a company called Astro Data. We just changed the name of it to Anaconda Electronics and they make electronics. I don't understand what it is, but you're a technical guy. I don't know any of those people, so if you'd like to join that company I'd be happy to hire you for that." So I asked him where I'd have to live. He originally said Anaheim, California. I had no intention of moving to California, so we compromised and I agreed to move to Florida. So, Anaconda had two interesting businesses. The electronics business – they had a company called, as I said, Astro Data which was the first company ever to get pair gain devices with the telephone company. They actually were the only company to get a Bell System purchase product division spec number. This was at a time when Western Electric provided everything to AT&T and this was the ability to put up to four phone conversations on a single twisted pair. The other half of their business was the cable television amplifier business. They had worked a deal with Hewlett Packard to build the first micro-circuit amplifier. So, they had a line of equipment called Century. So I got to see both the telephone and the cable capability very early in my career and had a background in computers. I really started to gravitate to the cable side because it was obvious to me when I saw how much science was going in just to put three slow speed telephone conversations on a twisted pair, versus the ability to expand six megahertz channels on cable, it struck me that in a race between the two technologies, cable would ultimately have the biggest pipe. So, I stayed with Anaconda until President Allende of Chile, who provided most of the copper for Anaconda, expropriated all of the Anaconda Chilean mines. Anaconda was unable to recover from that and basically sold out their businesses and decided to get out of the cable television and telephone business. At that time, because it was fundamentally a wire and cable company, this small division was really the only thing that dealt in electronics, many of the executives of the wire and cable company went with a large distributor of wire and cable, quite frankly not communications wire, mostly power cable, in Skokie, Illinois called Anixter Brothers. They acquired a company in Seattle, the Jack Pruzan company, which they thought was a wire and cable distributor. It turns out that it was owed money. When Lew Davenport built the first systems out in Astoria, Oregon – there's a lot of history about the great first systems, but when you got to the nuts and bolts he didn't have any money to pay, so the Pruzan company was very involved in the first systems in cable because they were owed most of the money on it and so I got to learn... I was asked to join Anixter as the cable TV guy, and that started a very long career with Anixter where I stayed. Originally I went up to the northeast and ran their cable television business in the northeast and then ultimately east, then I was asked to move to Chicago in the late '70s, early '80s, to become president of their communications business, which I think when I joined it was a 200 million dollar wire and cable distribution company and when I left it was a 200 million dollar wire and cable distribution business with an 800 million dollar communications business, and today it's a 3 ½ billion dollar company. So, we really, in the early days of cable, when the systems were rural – this is the early '70s – and the systems were typically financed by insurance companies and there was a requirement for benchmarks. You had to build a system, turn over so many subscribers, and when you got that many subscribers you would go back to the bank and take another take-down. Well, in those crazy days, most of the money that was being taken down from the insurance companies was being spent on buying new systems, not on building old ones, and they really were relying on vendor financing in the early days to do most of the short-term gap financing, and I think one of the reasons that we had such a good reputation and got so involved with many of the people in this cable museum who are on the walls – it's kind of scary coming in here and seeing all my former customers and friends on the walls – the combination of the economics and the technical part started to work in.

KUHL: That was the next question I had, John. I think that's a really interesting tie-in – as an economics major in college how did you handle going to work for essentially a technology company with an economic background and tying those together. Today that's obviously a very, very crucial mesh, technology and economics and the business of technology. How did you go about doing that? Were there some challenges for you?

EGAN: Well, I think I did it the same way most of the cable operators did it. Typically the partnerships that formed the great MSOs were guys who climbed poles and understood what local communities wanted in terms of television. If you recall, in the very early days, the whole genesis of cable television was to sell television sets in rural areas where there was no signal. So in order to get the dogs to eat the dog food, you had to have dog food, and the dog food was going up on the top of a hill and putting in an antenna and getting a distant signal. So, those early cable technical pioneers were really technicians more than they were engineers, and the ones who really grew and were highly successful were the ones who partnered with financial people who understood the economics of cable and then later on the marketing people who understood that programming was the key to moving cable from a rural environment into a suburban and ultimately an urban environment as they had enough programming to overcome the fact that in many suburbs and cities it wasn't about quality of signal, it was about quantity of signal. How many channels could you have? To me it represented a great merger of what I had learned technically from the computer business and then at Anaconda, and I'd love to say that I took the job at Anaconda and decided to get into cable after much thought and much turning down many other offers, but that in fact was not the case. It was the first job that somebody offered me and I took it. So that's how I got into the cable business. But I stayed in it because I think it provided a technical challenge, an economic challenge and a financial challenge. So I thought it combined all those things, and I thought it had great potential because the whole idea of putting fat pipes into people's homes in the future seemed to make a great deal of sense.

KUHL: At the time, John, were there any specific people that really inspired you in the cable industry or that you considered maybe a mentor or someone that was helping guide you into this business? Were there some people that you really looked up to at that time in the industry? And at that time there were pioneers, too, I suspect.

EGAN: Sure. In those days, you had two very different groups. You had the eastern group that typically came out of Pennsylvania, and then your western group. Again, it was a rural business at that time. Although I was from the east and a New Yorker, the company that we bought that was the foundation of our cable business was Seattle based company. So I think from the point of view of customers – at that time Bill Bresnan was the president of TelePrompTer, which was the big player in the east and at that time Bob Magness was building in Denver the TCI empire. He then brought John Malone in and J.C. Sparkman, and John was the strategist and had incredible financial capability, and J.C. was the down in the basement operating guy. We did a great deal of work with TelePrompTer in the east and a great deal of work with TCI in the west, and then the other consortiums started to get together and the first real technical on the vendor side relationship I had was a fellow in Seattle by the name of Phil Hamlin, who with Irving Kahn in the east, really invented the converter. The original converters were really required in New York City because in Sterling Manhattan – the first cable system really in the city – there were so many buildings that the signals, when you got an antenna, would bounce off the buildings, so you got lousy pictures, not because you were too far away from the antenna but actually because you were too close. So the original converter concept was to put a device on channel three but not have it really be channel three, have it be another channel that was clearer and then just convert that to channel three. He actually, I can remember him talking to Irving Kahn and saying, "Well, what kind of device should we use?" and he looked at a dial, which most televisions had, and he didn't like that because it looked too much like a television; and then he looked at a push button like many cars in that era had, and he didn't like that because it looked too clugey; and then Phil Hamlin, in the back of his desk, had a thing that he kept his telephone numbers on – most people had them and some still do – that you would just slide it to whatever letter it is and then push the button and it pops up. Irving thought that was a really good idea and really the three converters then of the time were Oak, who was the dial; Jerrold, who was the push button; and Hamlin, which was the slide. That's really how all those converters... the first use for converters, and then they were really never used for channel capacity, they were used just for shifting channels. But they provided a terrific vehicle for as we ran out of the 12 channels that were on a TV dial, cable had a wonderful device that was able to give it easy... It actually was a wired remote, if you remember, and it was kind of the first remote control. The remote control was either a dial or a push button or... So I became fascinated with that and got to know Phil very well and ultimately became the exclusive distributor – because we were just a distributor at that time – the exclusive distributor for the Hamlin product, and ultimately bought Hamlin and became the manufacturer of it. So that was really the first move into... but those three, I think, were the ones who influenced me the most, certainly in the '70s.

KUHL: As well as many others they've influenced too, I'm sure. John, the crucial role of fiber is obviously well documented in the cable industry today and you were a part of the initial roll-out of fiber back in, I believe, 1988. Walk me through that time, if you will, John, and your role in the evolution of fiber and the importance that it's taken on today.

EGAN: The simple difference – when I was at Anixter, we were a very large distributor, and if you recall in '84 a fellow by the name of Judge Green decided that the telephone companies needed to be broken up, number one, and the manufacturing needed to be separated. So, we at Anixter – by that time I was president of the communications group – we decided to try and become the first and only distributor of Western Electric products to people outside the Bell system, and we were able to get that, and I got to know many of the executives on the technical side of what is now called Lucent, but at that time was called Western Electric. Fiber optics was the big buzz word – this is the early '80s – in the telephone business. The problem cable had with it is that the fiber optic business was by definition digital. A light went on and off and you injected that light through an optical cable and at the end of it it detected whether the light was on or off. On was a one and off was a zero, and so it was a binary way of communicating and all the technology was geared around how fast you could turn the light on and off and how fast you could detect the light's presence. That really had very little application for the cable and analog world. It was clear though that cable was coming up against the wall of the ability of copper to provide its service. At that time – this is the mid-80s – we were going to 40 channels, 60 channels, and on a cable television amplifier, it was like a Christmas tree light, when you ran out of signal or needed to go to another home you would just add a piece of cable. If the signal strength wasn't enough you would put an amplifier in. At 220 megahertz, even at 300 megahertz, you could put an amplifier every 2,000 feet or so and you could cascade it up to 40. It wasn't very reliable because like most Christmas tree lights, if you lost one amplifier, the whole string would go out. So you had these things, kind of these Christmas tree lights, sneaking through all these neighborhoods. The higher the frequency went, the shorter the amplifier spacing had to be, so by the time we got to 400 megahertz, we could only space them 1,500 feet apart and because of the nature of the electronics we couldn't cascade them like we used to be able to. So, cable really had a difficult time taking advantage of the channel capacity, even in the existing networks it had because the signal quality got worse and worse. So the further away you were the worse your signal was, and when you're trying to deliver consistent service, certainly if you're trying to deliver telephony quality service, which was the phone – the dial tone ten miles away from the switch is just as good as the dial tone a mile away from the switch – they had a real challenge. So I asked the fellows at Bell Labs whether there was any way to keep the light on, and instead of turning it on and off just modulate the intensity of the light from dim to bright. That's a very layman's definition of what happened, but that's what an analog carrier wave is like and then modulate signals on top of the carrier wave. So, they thought that was, at Bell Labs, an interesting concept. So they looked at 5,000 or 6,000 lasers and they found one that was actually a very poor digital laser because it didn't have a clean drop-off between turning it on and turning it off. It had a sloppy drop-off, which was exactly what we were looking for. In many regards, the worst digital lasers became very good analog lasers. So we needed a place to try that concept out, so Jim Chiddix was really doing a lot of pioneering work in Hawaii on the optical business and he had now moved back into corporate. In Florida, they had a particularly interesting problem in that every afternoon in Florida it rains, certainly in the summer, and when it rains the broadband microwave, which was really the way to get signals around at that time, a system called AML, was terribly susceptible to rain fade, so we asked if we could have a friendly demonstration and a friendly trial down in Orlando, Florida. So we built a fiber optic link to back up the AML, such that they were having terrible customer complaints in Orlando, so when the signals went out, if it went below a certain threshold, it would switch over to the optical business. This was a remote headend. One of the engineers down in Orlando had built a little switching system that sense the threshold of the microwave and then would switch it over. We put that in with great fare, 'the first fiber optic link in the United States', etc, etc, and about two weeks later the switch failed. The fiber didn't fail, the AML switch failed and it switched everything over to fiber. None of us had any idea that the signal was actually being fed now 100% by the fiber and they started getting phone calls from their customers saying, "I don't know what you've done, but..." This is an odd thing but in Florida when it rains, everybody goes in and turns their TV on, so all of the sudden the pictures got terrific and in trying to find out why we were so good we realized that the optical link had actually been the one that was carrying all the signal. That really gave everybody the charge to say, "Whoa, this might make some sense." And from them on the architecture of taking those Christmas tree lights and overlaying a fiber that every once in a while would break the cascade of amplifiers and regenerate the signal optically and put it back in for distribution, that really was the genesis of the whole hybrid fiber coax business. You had a massive advantage over the telephony network in that telephony was a roll-up network. A telephone call had the least number of bits and when it went to a central location it was combined with more bits combined to more bits combined to massive pipes of bits. Cable had the advantage of whether it was optical or copper it was the same bandwidth, so the pipe was the exact same width, so all you had to do was go from photons to electrons and you could regenerate the signal very inexpensively. So the whole idea of this pipe now that used to go into a piece of coax and have to serve perhaps 10 or 20 thousand subscribers, we could now break it up and service initially 5,000 subscribers, then as you needed more traffic down to what we have now with 600 subscribers. So the technology – I always called the technology "Fiber to as far as you could afford" because fiber at that time was very expensive. Well, now fiber's cheaper than copper, so fiber to as far as you can afford, you know, all these telephone companies that talk about fiber to the home and all of that, sooner or later you have to change it into coax so you can get it to analog because as long as you don't have a digital connection to your ears and your eyes, sooner or later someone's going to have to convert that so the eyes and the ears can accept it.

KUHL: John, we were discussing the role of fiber and your role in the evolution of fiber optics. You were talking about the next phase of fiber and that is getting it into the hands of cable operators as a much more cost effective way of rolling out digital services and the triple play of services. Why don't you continue on with that and talk about the economics of it and your role in that.

EGAN: Sure. Well, I think John Malone expressed it best when he said on technology, "On this one we were on the side of the angels." As I just explained, we really needed fiber optics in cable for quality of service because the further we got away from the headend, the lousier the signal got. We looked at actually paying for cable by adding channel capacity as we built these networks, initially for quality, subsequently for quantity. We found another rather fascinating result of dividing the neighborhoods into smaller and smaller node sizes, and that is that cable is fundamentally a bus. It's not a point to point service. It basically is a cable that's strung around and you see who wants to join, who wants to subscribe. There have been, in my career of 30 years, many attempts in the early days to use the reverse capability of cable. Of the thousand megahertz that we can now send in one direction, only 5 to 40 is still available to come back, so it's very easy to spread signal out to all of these homes, but when you have to come back and get all of these, initially, 20,000 homes back into that pipe and put it in a band that in the analog world is a very noisy band, the low band from 5 to 40, our reverse services really never worked, but as we started getting node sizes smaller and smaller we had the ability then to have fewer and fewer homes using that 5 to 40 megahertz. So the whole idea that maybe the reverse band, maybe we could start to get into some two-way services, started to come up, but that was trouble because the analog world was a big eater of bandwidth and we needed more and more bandwidth with six megahertz, but as the digital revolution started, initially, if you remember, the Japanese MUSE standard was thought to be the only HDTV standard and at the very last minute Don Rumsfeld, when he was running General Instrument, put in an all American, all digital bid to the world community for an HDTV standard, and it involved this enormous compression that would allow you to put digital signals, which would have saturated cable, you could compress them and we got to the point where now we can put in what was an analog signal we can put 15 digital signals, or a couple of high definition signals. So from the video point of view, in my tenure as the CEO of what was Anixter, I said to our management, "There are really three things that are going to happen if cable is going to reach its potential. One, and that has to happen first, is the move from copper to glass. Second is the move from analog to digital. And third is the move from very simple networks to complex networks." So during this time, 1985-1986, Sam Zell bought Anixter Brothers - he's a famous Chicago real estate baron and a terrific guy, and he really challenged us to grow the business – and I suggested to him that to take advantage of these three opportunities in the cable television business we really couldn't be a distributor because we needed to get some very proprietary technology that would be a danger to the embedded base of a lot of our baseline vendors, including at that time Western Electric. So I suggested that we take the distribution business that was cable TV, which represented about 20% of our business, or about 200 million dollars at that time, and that we move away from being just a distributor and start to be a proprietary distributor, and that's what we did. The first things we did was the optical laser business. Although Western Electric was the manufacturer of that and spent a lot of R&D on it, we owned the name Laserlink and we owned the product and contracted them for the R&D and the manufacturing. So as soon as we started putting our own name on things, the traditional vendors are going to get a little worried. So, I told Sam Zell at the time that we should attempt to separate the cable television business from the rest of our distribution business and we were distributing to telephone companies and private network companies throughout the world, and then start to look at getting into manufacturing, start to look at really getting much more proprietary, much more technical in our business. He agreed to do that, so we separated the business initially under the Anixter public company umbrella, and then in 1990 went out and took it public, and the name Antec really stood for Anixter Technologies, that was the acronym, and we then went out with a vision of what this little company could do. We started by saying most of the embedded manufacturers in cable were in copper, and fiber represented a real problem for them because one fiber optic node would eliminated 25 amplifiers, and if you had no fiber technology, whether you were at Scientific Atlanta or General Instrument, this represented a problem. So we thought we could use that moment in time to really ease our way in and be a major infrastructure provider. Then with the digital world, with video going digital, as soon as you're able to transmit digital over cable with smaller node sizes, the whole world of telephone and data is open to you. I think it's noteworthy to say remember in 1980 there were no PCs and no cell phones and no video games, so the applications we were looking for were growing at the same time the technology was growing. Again, for me it was a challenge because the economics of the technology was growing in lockstep with the technology, so again, cable looked like the perfect way to do it because it was easier to fiber an office building and to take advantage and put high speed in the office building, but to put it in the home when there were no computers in the home anyway was a bit of a fool's game, and at that time the telephone company was growing topsy and so it looked to me that the first non-video application, we didn't want to compete on the second phase of our growth, which was the move from analog to digital and we didn't want to compete with Scientific Atlanta or General Instrument, the embedded guys, and they did, I think, a magnificent job of changing the converter from an analog device to a digital device, and it had to first be a hybrid device because it has to handle the analog and the digital signal. We didn't think we brought any value added to that so we decided – we'd had a lot of telephone experience in the early days of Anaconda and certainly in the Anixter days – so we said, "What if we bundled up a T-1, put that on a fiber optic link and ran that out and let a circuit go to each home. So we went back to Lucent, Western Electric, who was our original supplier, and they thought that was a good idea but they were very scared of ticking off their core companies who were the RBOCs who had just been spun off from them. So they agreed to look at the technology; we called it cable loop carrier and we could provide to 500 homes, a fiber node of 500 homes, we could provide a T-1 and do telephony. They were afraid to do it in the United States. Western Electric, because they had just broken away from the Bell system, wanted to get into international so we decided to go over to England. We had good friends at Telewest so we decided to do a trial of this technology in Telewest and it worked. The concept made some sense, but it became obvious to me that there was no way that Western Electric was going to face the Seven Sisters and say that they were going to put a competing technology in. At the very same time that we were doing that, we had bought a company that was really a collection of famous engineers – Jim Farmer, John Lappington, several other guys – a company called ESP down in Atlanta, an engineering consulting business. They had formed a relationship with Bell Northern Research, which was the Western Electric or the Bell Labs of Bell Canada. All of the sudden, when I saw that 80% of the consulting engineering resources of this company I owned, ESP, were being bought up by Bell Northern Research to research an opportunity for Bell Canada to get into cable TV in the Maritimes up in Canada, I looked at the technology, added the technology from cable loop carrier that we had with Western Electric and I suggested to the fellows at Nortel that we form a joint venture to explore cable telephony. When we got the joint venture we called it Arris. Arris is a Greek word. I know this because they charged me $25,000 at Nortel for the research. It's a Greek word that means two planes coming together to form a sharp edge. It made a lot of sense to me, a cable TV company with a major telephone supply company forming a new technology, and we came out with a technology called Cornerstone, which to this day probably has 80% world share in the constant bit rate approach to providing telephony. Back in those days there were no standards. There was another company up in Boston called Lan City that at the same time we were getting into the telephone business got into the proprietary... they were using the same kinds of techniques in putting high speed over cable television and at that time the cable industry recognized that if they were going to be a major player that one of the real strengths they might have is a standards based approach because in the analog world there were no standards. So the cable operators formed Cable Labs. Lan City was the major supplier of high speed data, albeit in a proprietary way. There were five or six other proprietary ways. The Cornerstone product was a proprietary constant bit rate system, and two or three other competitors were in that. While all this was happening, Lan City was acquired by the company that was acquired by Nortel. So all of the sudden, Nortel, in addition to having this joint venture with us, had ownership of this company called Lan City. So we decided at that time to put Lan City into the joint venture and to go to Cable Labs and say look, we have an awful lot of resources here and we'd like to be a partner of yours in helping you get... with the background we had in Western Electric, and certainly with the background in Bell Northern Research, our technology was all manufactured and designed in a standards based kind of environment, so we thought we could really help and we worked closely with Cable Labs as Cable Labs developed a DOCIS – a data over cable interface standard – and we became one of the early DOCIS 1.0, DOCIS 1.1, now DOCIS 2.0, so we have a portfolio of product now. As we enter the third phase, which is the simple network to complex network we have a very terrific portfolio of standard based product. We actually built it to reflect our goal to move ahead in that environment. We changed the name; we actually acquired Nortel's interest in Arris. They owned for awhile 49% of our company and then we've taken them out over time and the company now is called Arris to really reflect the idea that we've really gone into this third phase, which is really I think the wildest of phases, because there are so many elements now, the networks are becoming so complex, digital is so pervasive in everything we do and the blur between what were very easy things to differentiate, you know, telephone, data and video, my generation can see the difference. My sons start to see that it might merge. My grandsons have no idea that it used to be separate. So the idea now, again, where cable has a great opportunity, they don't care what's coming down the pipe – it can be voice, video and data, and at the end of the day it's going to be a digit that someone has to sort out at some point, so the bigger the pipe the better you're going to be. Really, I think, this third leg of the stool, this complex network is really in full fruition right now and that's really where we are. One of the reasons I retired is when you set long term goals for yourself and you hit them, you have to decide either to restart and get some new goals or decide to take a rest. My sons gave me four grandchildren, so I decided to take a rest.

KUHL: Well, I don't know how much rest that's going to offer you, but at least it will be fun.

EGAN: It's a lot more fun-tired.

KUHL: Well, John, you spent 30-some odd years in the cable industry, at least. Give us some of your thoughts on, I guess, the emerging technologies today – interactive, voice-over, IP, and some of those whiz bang technologies that are out there that probably 25 years ago, I suspect when you were just getting into this business, if you'd have heard of this you'd just be shaking your head in amazement. Give us some of your thoughts on those. Are they legitimate? Are there businesses ahead for those types of technologies?

EGAN: First, I think the important thing to understand about cable TV is the formation of cable really caused an environment that I think cable can use to its advantage in taking advantage of these opportunities. By that I mean initially everything was rural and cable operators didn't compete with each other. One was in rural Idaho, one was in rural Pennsylvania. As channel capacity started to increase – Turner put in seven satellites to move the Braves games around – and all of the sudden there were these franchise wars, initially in the suburbs, and cable operators found themselves competing with each other. I've been to so many meetings, city council meetings, where five or six of the cable operators would basically be standing up in front of people who didn't know a thing about technology and explaining in fifteen minutes why their system was better than the next guy. So for years and years, the only time cable operators got together was to take advantage of a common problem, be it pole attachments, retransmission, so the board of directors of cable television was really an association that was put together to try and figure out a common defense to save this fledgling business from the big guys as it started to sting some of the potential big guys, but internally the only way you could get a franchise was to differentiate yourself with some new idea. If one guy had ten channels, the other guy had twenty. If one guy had local origination on one channel, the other guy would say "I'll put four channels in." So you've got this craziness and all of the franchising was to attempt – because of the way the franchises were granted, it was rural into suburban into urban, if you didn't have enough channels you had to go into urban. So if you were in the Chicago area, there might be six or seven cable operators vying for the 50 or 60 cable franchises, and at the end of the day one would get ten, one would get four, one would get two, one would get six, and then the Chicago franchise would go to one person and the people running the five franchises, who they only got because they wanted to ultimately get Chicago said, "What are we doing with these five franchises?" So you went through this period of consolidation, but it wasn't consolidation by one company buying another. It was consolidation of saying I have a subscriber in Chicago that's in a suburb, I have the whole city of Detroit; you have a subscriber in a suburb of Detroit and you have the Chicago franchise. Why don't I swap subscribers with you? So you got this clustering phase. But in the clustering phase, what you were merging was all the ideas that all these different cable operators had because the 30 franchises that were in Chicago had a bunch of different services that they had to provide to the cities that they were in in order to get the franchise. So the differentiation was homogenized so you have enormous innovation that's been embedded into that whole network. So as we start to get really professional, consolidated, really strong financial companies owning cable operators, the spirit of innovation is still there. So they knew that the only way they could grow was to get more subscribers. Once they built out, the only way they could grow is to get more channels, and then once they got channels and they couldn't really raise... you get more and more and there's only so much time in the day, they said, "Let's add services. Let's add high speed data, let's add voice." And now, I think, the whole genesis of the cable system is looking for what's coming next. The great thing is they have this pipe, and it's digital and it's rich optically, so they have the ability to handle all of these things. The computer business didn't want video streaming because it mucks up the network terribly because it's so asymmetrical because so much traffic is going in one direction and not the other direction, and most data backbones are built to be symmetrical and bi-directional. So cable said, boy, that's nothing but video with a little computer coming back. So I think the idea of the innovation caused by the franchising wars and the technology that quite frankly is cause by the angels because we didn't get into this because we had this long plan, we got into it because we adopted other technologies and came up with our own unique technology. I think the cable industry, if they can keep their entrepreneurial spirit – and it's very hard to stay small and get big – they have an enormous opportunity, but laws have been written around the Communications Act of 1934 and they weren't written around the wireless business and the high speed data business and the video streaming business, but where a lot of this innovation is coming is from the unregulated world, you know, from the consumer electronics world, from the software programming world, and as capacity and memory chips get cheap, the human mind's ability to program is virtually boundless, so the idea of being able to seamlessly transfer that... and you know, you can pick off technologies for each individual one – satellite's good for downstream video, wireless is good for rural locations or moving around locations, but if you want to put it all together and do it seamlessly behind the scenes, I think cable has a unique opportunity to do it.

KUHL: You mentioned entrepreneurial spirit, John. I think that's really good point. When you first started in the cable industry, I suppose there was a continued amount of entrepreneurial spirit. Do you see that alive today, and if so where do you think that spirit is coming from? Now we have Wall Street involved in cable far more than they were years and years ago. Is there still an entrepreneurial spirit in the cable industry, and if so, where is it?

EGAN: Yes and no. I think from the financial point of view, the attraction of cable to an investor was not its earnings but its growth capability. So the very simple concept that every dollar of free cash flow is going to be reinvested in making our systems able to handle more so we can grow faster, so we're sorry we're not making any money, but boy, this is a good investment. I think that whole cash flow accounting way of looking at public companies fueled the financing of cable in the '70s, '80s and 90's, well, certainly in the '80s and '90s. I think because of what's happened in the whole telecommunications world, I think there's a pendulum swing there that basically investors are saying, "Okay, you said if you ever stop spending money you'd start making money. Why don't you give it a try and see if the model still works." So, I think we're in a phase now where there's a tendency to ooh, boy, let's tighten things up first, but I think when you realize that when you've been running as fast as you can because there was opportunity ahead of you, you never look over your shoulder really and look to see if anybody's catching up, and I think the cable industry, as they've kind of slowed down a little to let this capital absorption and consolidation take place, we're starting to now lose subscribers to satellite guys on the video side, potentially lose some high speed data to DSL, potentially the wireless people could come in and start to do some things. So I think the innovation and the entrepreneurial spirit is rekindled not so much by what's ahead of you, but I think the kick start of it will be, wait a second, if we slow down we're going to get commoditized and we can't make any money selling a commodity, so if we want to continue to differentiate, we've got to continue to innovate. So, I'd like to see cable start running because they can, not because they have to, but the good news is the kick to get them running again is here with competition, and I think that will keep cable and if it has to keep re-testing whether this technology it has makes sense and what cable is good at is adopting other people's technology. So they'll adopt to the wireless technology, they'll adopt to the satellite technology, and they'll just realize that the uniqueness and the entrepreneurial is the things that is their biggest weapon in this increasingly competitive world environment. I think we're in a flat spot now, no question, the vendors in this industry have been decimated by the slow down in capital spending, but I think that's more an absorption issue than anything else and I think the entrepreneurial spirit... quite frankly, if they don't you shouldn't invest in cable, but I think they have everything that's necessary to do that, and I think the story they're telling to their investors is okay, we're going to be a profitable company but we're also going to be an innovative company, and the ones that are more innovative are getting better prices and the ones that are expanding into different services are getting the attraction of investors. I mean, it's coming from a different place, but I think it's still there.

KUHL: We were talking about the entrepreneurial spirit of the cable industry and it seems that one of the cornerstones of that spirit seems to be in giving back to the cable industry. A number of cable pioneers and cable people throughout the years have taken it upon themselves to give back to the industry. The Cable Center is a classic example of that. Talk to us a little bit about your feelings on that, and I know you're involved in a number of organizations. Why don't you tell us a little bit about those.

EGANS: Well, I think the cable industry as an industry is the most successful construction project in the history of the world, and it's never gotten any government funds, it never relied on state regulation to protect it or give it an umbrella. The cable operators, in order to get the franchises, and then to get the confidence of the cities and the communities they were in, had to become part of that community. So much more than a big conglomerate, cable is a very localized business. That's a big differentiator between cable and satellite is this local content, this local relationship, people on the ground, programming on the ground, city council meetings, things like that. So in terms of giving back, I think I'd take a little exception in what you said, "Giving back to cable." I don't think it's about giving back to cable, I think cable operators, cable vendors, cable programmers have taken a lot out of cable and the question is what you take out of cable what do you do with? And by and large, they've given it back to the communities in which they serve. I think wherever a cable operator has had its headquarters, has had its roots, wherever a large system has been there it has a great participation in that local community. I think the grassroots part of cable is an important one, and the giving back – this Center really represents a collection of local citizens who are all pillars of their own communities, whether it be in Pennsylvania or on the west coast, not employees of companies, but employers of local people, and this really represents what those employers have done in their local communities and I don't think it will ever capture what upper New York State thinks of Alan Gerry or things like that. I really think that's the great part of cable television. There's no question though that as cable developed, remember a rural to a suburban to an urban environment, it came last to the urban environment and it came with an infrastructure already and that infrastructure was not very diverse, so in the spirit of getting involved in the community I think many people in cable decided that we had to do something to accelerate the diversity inside of the cable industry and there were several foundations set up to do that. Ultimately, it should clearly be and has been the goal of cable that the local cable systems should mirror the cultural and ethnic diversity of the environment that they're in, and I think clearly that's the goal and the desire of the cable industry. How do you get there? You get there in a couple of ways. You have local programs; Bill Bresnan is very involved in a program 'Minorities in Communications' where he works with high schools and they hire apprentices in the local cable systems and in addition to paying the high school students, who are selected by the principal, not by any political body or any organization that's outside of the local environment, these are principals of high schools who pick people of color to work in the cable systems and they work at the whim of the cable operator, but the same amount of money that they're paid goes into a fund that is to be used for that individual's education, but they have to stay working. If they get fired by the cable operator because they're not doing their job, they not only lose the revenue stream of their pay but they lose this cache of money. In the long term, if you have four or five years of service working in the summers for a cable system and then you graduate from college and then you come back into that community, the cable operator is not doing you a favor by hiring you, he's going to want to hire you because you're experienced and you're local to the community. So in the long term, grassroots things like that make sense. But the Kaitz Foundation was formed to really at the top level change the attitude of management of cable by going out to other industries and by seeking people of color to come in and serve in mid and upper management roles of the cable systems and to ask the cable operators to make a commitment to see that that happens. That involves a great deal of mentoring and moving things along. I think cable has its heart in the right place. I think people can say they should have done this or they should have done that, but I see no indication that cable operators are not desirous of getting localized in their community and they don't want to be one big system. They want to be hundreds and hundreds of little systems that has the leverage of a technology base and programming. I think you can see it with the way cable operators are diversifying their programming. You can't sit in a meeting and say we've got to diversify programming to get to the African-American community, the Hispanic community, the Oriental community, the Indian community, and then say, well, by the way, we should develop programming for all these but we're going to do this without a diverse workforce. It doesn't work that way. So back to my 'the dog eats the dog food', the best way to find out what dogs like to eat is to get to know the dogs and raise a lot of different types. So I think cable is doing a very good job. Some people say it's not fast enough, but if you do it too fast you do it wrong and I think it's every year when you go to the Kaitz dinner it's moved another step further and another step further and it's less about a bunch of rich guys feeling good about themselves now. There was a certain element of that's how it started and gee, I want to give back, I don't know how, so let's put this organization together. It's far more sophisticated than that, it's far more embedded than that, it's far more diverse than that, and I'm very proud of what has happened in that environment. So from that point of view I think cable is really getting very close to mirroring the communities that it lives in.

KUHL: Great. One last thing, John – you've had a long distinguished career in the cable industry with Antec and Arris, etc, just sum up briefly for us, if you will, the upsides to this career of yours so far in the cable industry and now what are you going to do?

EGAN: The biggest single opportunity I had was I never had to work my way up through an organization because there was no organization. I never had a job that somebody had before me, and as I look back now, the thing that was the most thrilling to me through the whole career is I always got to design a new job, I had to understand what it was going to take for that to be a job, had to understand what it was going to take to make money at that job, and then I got to go do that job. I was fortunate in the early days and then with the Anixter organization I got in an organization that liked that. They were growing very, very fast and they liked innovation and then once I broke that away I got to lead the company. Having said that, it's my company, I ran it, and as you start to realize as it starts to get bigger it's got to become a company that somebody else runs and you can't have a company that you founded and you lead that somebody else runs. If the people who are running it are any good they're going to want to make it their company. So there's a point at which you have to, I think, move on and just stop doing what you're doing, and that's what I did last May. I finished a three year transition out of a job. My last job that I designed for myself was not to have a job, and I worked on that for three years and May 31st of this year, I succeeded in getting the job I wanted, which was to not have a job. So I now have that job, and that's where I sit right now.

KUHL: That's great. Now, your future lies, it sounds like it lies with four grandchildren and a couple of children. Is that right? Is that the plan right now?

EGAN: Well, I wanted to take a rest because in the cable industry, like most cable people, you work awfully hard and you travel a lot, and as cable went international. I think that's very hard on you physically. But it's been kind of a family business. I think a little of that has changed. So I'm taking what I think is a well deserved rest, and there's a motto I want to use if I work again. I want to work at my pace at my place. So I've had an opportunity to make some investments and look at some entrepreneurial things where I could play a role, but I'm quickly realizing that the longer you're out of things, the less current you are and the less able you are, so I'm looking at a couple of entrepreneurial opportunities now, but I'm not sure that going back to work full-time is anything that really has much appeal to me yet. We'll see. I have the luxury of not having to worry about that, so at this point I'm very comfortable with the job I designed for myself, but I'm starting to think about maybe another job I might like to have if I can figure out how to put it together.

KUHL: Well, I'm sure that you'll bring a lot of entrepreneurial spirit to that job as well. John, thank you so much for spending some valuable time with us. We really appreciate and I know Te Cable Center appreciates it, too. Thank you so much.

EGAN: Thank you.

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Steve Effros


Interview Date: July 6, 2001
Interviewer: Jack Cole
Collection: Hauser Collection

COLE: I'm Jack Cole, and we're at the offices of Effros Communications in Fairfax, Virginia just outside of the city of Washington. The date is July the 6th, 2001, and we are here to do the oral and video history of Stephen R. Effros, a gentleman who has been a significant player in cable communications and the cable television industry for the past 30 years. All of this is made possible through The Cable Center and the Hauser Foundation. Steve, it's a pleasure to be here and to see you, and I know you have some stories to tell about a 30 year history closely aligned with the powers in the cable television industry.

EFFROS: Sometimes.

COLE: I think I will lead you in by saying that I know that you came to work with the Federal Communications Commission, which was probably your first contact with cable, in 1971. So, we're facing the 30th anniversary of that event in your life. Why don't you tell us something about coming to the Commission and how you got there?

EFFROS: Well, I went through college very rapidly at American University, finished in 3 ½ years, wound up at the New York Times. When I was at the New York Times, I was a full-time staff writer there at the age of 21, and I wound up meeting Irving Kahn. Irving Kahn, as you know, was the head of TelePrompTer at that time, and TelePrompTer was the largest cable company, and cable as nowhere on the map.

COLE: I well recall both of those points.

EFFROS: But Irving was a very, very effective salesman, and Irving was the proselytizer for the cable industry at the time, saying that this was the future, and I sat and talked with him for a long time and he was the one who first got me interested in cable television, and I knew at that time that I was going to law school and that I was specializing in communications law because I had been in the news business. So I went to NYU Law after the New York Times, specialized in communications law, and then interviewed at the FCC and they offered me – this was in 1970 – and they said, "Well, we want you. So you can have the broadcast bureau, if you want to go to the broadcast bureau, or you can have the common carrier bureau, if you want to go to the common carrier bureau. Or there's this new thing... you may not be interested in this. It's the cable television task force that we just set up." And I remembered the discussions with Irving Kahn and I said, "That's the one I want!" So I would up at the cable television task force in January of '71 when the effort was being made to create for the first time real federal rules for cable.

COLE: I recall that at that time, Sol Schildhause was the head of the task force. Interestingly enough, the day I went to work for the FCC in 1956, Sol Schildhause was my immediate boss. So I'm sure we had some similar experiences working under his supervision. Tell us a little bit about those early days in the task force.

EFFROS: Well, cable television was the new guy on the block, and as you remember, cable was considered a threat to the broadcasting industry, still is today 30 years later, and so because of the structure of the FCC, which was a bureau structure, each industry had its own advocates in essence in the House, in the Commission, and there was a very powerful broadcast bureau, cable was pretty much suppressed. The rules for cable were written specifically to protect the broadcast industry, and therefore, when I got there, there was something that was generally known as the cable freeze at that time, which basically stopped the development of cable television in the major markets of this country. The objective of the cable task force was to be a new power, another power locus inside the FCC to start advocating for the cable interests as opposed to the broadcast interests, and it turned into a major battle. It was a free-for-all inside the Commission for a long time.

COLE: Now with respect to protecting the broadcast industry, I think you were talking about protecting them against competition, enhancing their commercial or competitive interests in the industry. That was a phenomenon that had been ongoing for some time, and as you just said, goes on today. Tell us something about those early disputes within the Commission hierarchy when the cable bureau was being formed.

EFFROS: Well, the general counsel of the FCC at the time, Henry Gellar, was very concerned about making sure that the broadcast interests were protected, as was the broadcast bureau. Sol Schildhause, with his merry band of troops in the cable task force, was trying to figure out ways to write rules that would be as open as they possibly could to allow the cable industry to develop, and that's what we did. Our charge was to try to write a set of rules that would pass muster, not only with the Commission, but this was a large enough issue that we knew that it would wind up at the White House, and we knew that it would wind up on Capitol Hill, and it did indeed wind up in both places before we were able to finally cut a deal on what the new rules for cable television were, which went into effect in early 1972, which in essence broke the freeze and allowed cable to start developing in the major markets. But there were all sorts of things. It got so bad inside the Commission as the rules were being developed, at the time the chairman of the Commission was Dean Burch, and Dean Burch had made it very clear that his objective was to get a new set of rules that would allow cable television to operate in the major cities. So that was the primary focus. The objective we knew. Now the question was how did you do it? While at the same time protecting the broadcast interests and getting this politically to the point where you had enough votes to get the rules done. It was a very difficult process. It was a very contentious process to the point where there were five of us who were writing the rules, who were actually trying to design and figure out the sensible way of writing these things, and things got so contentious because Sol Schildhause would be advocating for the cable industry, and the broadcast bureau was advocating for the broadcasters, primarily being led by Henry Geller who was the general counsel at the time, and telephone calls would be flying in left and right arguing to write the rule this way, write the rule that way, this was prior to the sunshine laws of later years where everything had to be done in a different way. But it got so bad that Dean Burch ultimately, and his assistant, who were key in getting this done, Chuck Lichtenstein, took the team of five who were writing the rules, took them out of the cable task force – it was named the cable bureau at that point – took us out of the bureau, put us in his offices, took out all the phones in an extra office in the chairman's office, and had us finish writing the rules without anybody being able to get to us. It was that contentious at that point.

COLE: The broadcast industry had always been an especially powerful lobby in Washington D.C., and that lobby was really concentrated in the power of the then three major television networks. Tell us how they wielded enormous political power behind the scenes to keep the cable television industry somewhat under wraps.

EFFROS: Once cable started developing, there were three legs to the stool. There was the broadcast industry with, as you say, primarily the network powerhouses. There was the cable industry, and there was the motion picture industry. Jack Valenti in the motion picture industry being the supplier of product to the television industry, and the television industry being very concerned about protecting its advertising base against this new guy on the block, the cable television industry, and also being very interested in making sure that the markets that had been carved out for the broadcasters because of the technology of broadcasting, you know, in New York you could only reach a certain number of people in the New York area, and in Philadelphia you could only reach a certain number of people in Philadelphia, and Washington, and so on, the net result is everybody had carved out their markets. The thing that created the problem with this new kid on the block, cable television, was that it blurred the markets. The cable operator had the ability to move that signal from New York into the Philadelphia, or that signal from Philadelphia to the Washington market, and therefore the local broadcasters lost what they saw as their God given right, which was the exclusive ability to deliver video in these markets. The motion picture industry was also concerned because it liked the ability to sell its product, whether it was motion pictures or series or whatever it was, they liked the ability to sell their product repeatedly in different markets. So they could sell it not once to the East Coast, but they sold it in New York and Philadelphia and everywhere else, and this was a very comfortable market structure for these folks, and they certainly didn't want anybody interfering with it, and that's what cable did. Cable was going to interfere with it, and the broadcasters being the powerhouse they were, primarily because they were perceived, correctly, still are, as the primary vehicle for politicians to reach local audiences. The politicians in Washington are afraid of the broadcasters. A senator can get either good press or...

COLE: With good reason.

EFFROS: With good reason, yeah. They can get either good press or bad press, depending on how the local broadcaster wants to portray whatever they're doing in Washington. You don't have to have an endorsement from a local broadcaster, but it sure makes a difference how that newscast comes out and how many times their face shows up on the screen, and therefore they always - they, the politicians – were very solicitous of the broadcasters, and when the broadcasters went to Capitol Hill and said, "Hey, this cable thing is going to be very dangerous. It's going to threaten broadcasting, it's a bad thing and you've got to watch it very carefully," that message went from Capitol Hill to the FCC in a phone call very rapidly. So we all had to deal with that day in and day out.

COLE: Well, people today who can access 40, 50, 60, 70 channels on their television set should be informed, I think, about what the typical available television fare was limited to back in the early '70s, even in the large cities, but certainly most of the country in the rural areas.

EFFROS: What people don't remember, and even in the '70s, those of us who lived in the larger cities didn't realize, was that in a lot of places even three networks were not available in the more rural areas. It was usually one or two and the third station, if there was one, would switch back and forth between various networks cherry-picking one versus the other depending on what part of the day it was and what programming seemed the most interesting to that broadcaster. So while we in Washington or New York may have been used to three networks and a couple of independent stations and an educational station, out in the rest of the country maybe they got three networks. Maybe they got one independent station. And that was it.

COLE: So in sum it was a fairly exclusive club among those who provided cable television programming to the public.

EFFROS: Sure. And they wanted to keep it that way. Their revenue was based on advertising.

COLE: And they were very successful in that for many, many years.

EFFROS: Yeah, they were. And that was the fight that we had. There were some legitimate arguments. I mean, you and I might not thing they were terribly legitimate, but there were some legitimate arguments of saying you can't simply ignore the copyright, the rights of the authors of programming, the creators of programming. It's interesting, we're going through the same issues again today with the internet, with Napster and all of the things that are going on now you see echoes of the fights that we had in the early and mid '70s with regard to cable television and the carriage of broadcast signals. These are not new fights.

COLE: I have always thought that the practice of communications law, ever since I have been in it for almost fifty years now, was a constant battle between the ins and the outs, and those that wanted to maintain the status quo.

EFFROS: And the producers of programming, the intellectually property owners, who almost uniformly have been wrong every time they have tried to protect whatever the existing structure was. When they failed at protecting the existing structure, they found out that they made more money by not protecting the existing structure. Video-tape recorders are a great example of that, the whole VCR, Sony Betamax fight that the movie industry fought trying to stop video-tape recorders from proliferating in the American public, and they failed ultimately at the Supreme Court. Video-tape recorders did get distributed around the country, and lo and behold, the movie companies were making more from tape rentals than they were from selling the product to television, and they were just wrong in the way they analyzed the market, and it may again be true today with the internet. I don't know. But so far it's been pretty consistent.

COLE: That will be for another generation.

EFFROS: Not on this tape!

COLE: Steve, you stayed at the Commission until the mid '70s. Is that about right? '76 or so?

EFFROS: Right, I left in January of '76.

COLE: And then had an opportunity to go into private practice, into the law firm of Brown and Effros, and you were in private practice for approximately two years or so?

EFFROS: Two years.

COLE: Was that practice cable-oriented in essence, or was it a broad spectrum of communications?

EFFROS: It was primarily cable. We helped start an association of small cable operators, the Cable Telecommunications Association, they were originally called the Community Antenna Television Association, because at the time there was a growing disparity between the business interests of the large operators, the growing operators, such as TelePrompTer, the big operators like TCI, which ultimately became AT&T eventually. There was a disparity in the interests of the big operators and the small operators. Brown and Effros was the firm that helped start CATA, and I was counsel to that group. The other thing that we happened to do at the time was CB radio. We were the representative to the largest CB Radio manufacturer in the United States, and that was during the CB radio craze, so we were pretty busy.

COLE: Well, back in those days, I guess there was a division of interests between the smaller operators, and we got to recognize that cable really started as a mom and pop operation, a family-oriented operation in hundreds and hundreds of cities throughout the country, and then on the other hand, many of those smaller operators sold out to larger operators who became bigger and bigger and bigger. So you had the small operator on one hand, and you had the major growing businesses, corporate monsters, all over the country. Tell us about the division of interests that really required the development of a trade association to look out for the smaller operators.

EFFROS: Well, there always was an association for the industry, cable operators in general, and that was the National Cable Television Association, and when I was at the FCC, the National Cable Television Association was the association that lobbied me when I was trying to help those rules. When I got out of the Commission in '76, it was increasingly apparent that since the FCC had written rules pretty much designed to help cable get into the major metropolitan areas that those companies were going to be very different from the companies you just discussed as the mom and pop companies in the smaller communities around the country because the small mom and pop operation couldn't build New York City or Washington D.C. or Philadelphia. So you were seeing an entirely different type of business develop. It was a business that relied on distant broadcast signals. Again, think of the difference between that rural area we talked about a little earlier and the urban area. In the rural area, as I said, you may have had two, not three network signals. You may have had one independent signal. You may have gotten an educator, but not necessarily. So when a cable operator, or a CATV system, started in those rural areas, it brought in signals that were never there before.

COLE: And if it could bring in two or three outside signals, that might have doubled the number of television channels.

EFFROS: That was a miracle. That's right. And that was the business they were in, and the people loved it. Now you move to the big city; in the big city they already had all three networks, they already had the independent stations.

COLE: And an educational one.

EFFROS: And an educational station. So the benefit that was brought in the big cities was two-fold. One, in a place like New York City because of technical reasons called multi-path distortion, people couldn't get the signal over the air very well, so the cable system helped them get the signal, and the second thing it did is it imported other broadcast signals that they couldn't receive. So the folks in New York got the Philadelphia network station so that maybe you could see the NBC evening news at 6:30 instead of 7:00 by watching the Philly signal rather than the New York signal. Well, that's when the broadcasters went crazy. They weren't terribly worried about what was going on in rural America, but when they saw their major money bases, the big cities, start to be threatened, they started to get very active against cable television. It was because of that that a whole series of rules were written. Meanwhile, the small guys are saying, wait a minute, all of these rules are being written because of what some big corporation is doing in New York City or Philadelphia, and I'm the one that has to pay the bill. I have to start hiring lawyers like Jack Cole, and I don't want to hire lawyers like Jack Cole, and I don't want to have to do all this stuff. So the small guys were saying leave us out of this. If you want to deal with TelePrompTer or whoever in New York City, you go ahead and do that, but leave me out of it. This got to a point in 1976 where one of the deals, if you'll remember I was saying to you before that a lot of deals had to be cut and a lot of negotiations in the backrooms had to take place to get those early 1972 rules into effect. One of the deals that was cut was an agreement by the cable industry that they would pay copyright fees. Up until that time, the Supreme Court, through a series of decisions, had said the cable industry is not responsible for copyright fees because they are not the copyright user. It is the broadcast station that is sending the signal; it already pays those copyright fees. You don't have to pay them again to transmit the signal into people's homes via cable. This was one of the major issues for the movie companies. It was a major issue for the broadcasters, more so for the movie companies, and one of the deals that was cut in 1971 to get the '72 rules out so that the freeze was off on cable television was that the cable industry would agree to pay copyright, to agree to negotiate on Capitol Hill to change the copyright law. That didn't happen until 1976. '75-'76 was the time where that negotiation was seriously taking place. There had been eleven years worth of fighting in Washington over copyright law, and the big operators said, all right, we've agreed we will pay copyright. The problem at the time was that the National Cable Television Association named as its chief negotiator Al Stern, who was the head of Warner Communications, which was Warner Brothers at the time, which was also a member of Jack Valenti's Motion Picture Association. So the cable operators were naming as a negotiator somebody who's company was also a member of the negotiator on the other side of the table. The small operators said, wait a minute. That means that the guy who's negotiating is simply taking money out of one pocket and putting it into another pocket. So he doesn't care how hard he negotiates this deal for cable. Meanwhile, the small cable operators were saying, we're not even at the table. We're not being represented, and yet we're the ones that have to pay the bill so that these guys can get into the big cities, and we're not interested in going into the big cities in the first place. We were perfectly happy where we were. So they decided they had to have their own representation, and that's what my law firm helped them do is start an association, and it started primarily on the copyright issue, and we got deeply involved as a negotiator.

COLE: You were really the founder of that association. You were the first head of the association, and were trying to give those operators a real voice on the Washington scene.

EFFROS: I was the general counsel. Rick Brown, my partner was the guy who helped found it. They had an executive director. It was started in Oklahoma. It was small operators all the way, and we represented them through the law firm. It became clear to me after two years of being in the law firm that I wasn't comfortable practicing law. I didn't like being hired out by the most money. Whoever had the most money got...?

COLE: You didn't like the hired gun.

EFFROS: I didn't like being the hired gun that way. I preferred to argue for the things that I really firmly believed in. I also didn't like the idea that seemed to be current at the time, and I was not the biggest friend of most lawyers in Washington, that the way you deal with all of the new rules and things that are going on in Washington is you simply tell the business people, well, go hire a Washington law firm. They'll take care of filing this application and filing that application. So I started doing something a little different. I started writing material called CATA Briefs at the time to explain to operators how they could file these things themselves. How they could do it without a lawyer. How do you teach them to be self-sufficient? And they loved it. And I preferred operating that way, so I left the law firm and became president of the association.

COLE: And that was in?

EFFROS: '78.

COLE: '78. My recollection is that the cable industry, all facets of it were able to tie up the copyright legislation because they had a particular in with an Arkansas senator, John McClellan.

EFFROS: McClellan, yeah. That's not quite accurate. I have to take exception to that. Certainly we had a friend in Mr. McClellan, but there were a lot of deals that were cut for that copyright law to be written, and McClellan had spent well over eleven years trying to tie up the copyright law. It wasn't just cable television that was holding it up. It was also, at that time everybody called it the Xerox machine, photocopying, and the legitimate use of photocopying in libraries and schools was one of the big issues, and another big issue was jukeboxes and how you dealt with jukeboxes. These were the things that... he was totally frustrated because these were the last hurdles that he was trying to get over and he couldn't get over them, and yes, you're right, we had a lot of small operators in his state, and he was a friend of the cable industry in terms of helping to structure the legislation in way that was effective for us.

COLE: Without John McClellan's assistance, I think it was thought fairly that copyright laws would have been enacted prior to 1978, and that they probably would have treated cable much more harshly in terms of fees.

EFFROS: There wouldn't have been a cable industry. I don't think they could have afforded... The original copyright laws that were being proposed were designed with fees that everybody understood would have prevented the importation of distant signals, and that would have meant that there was nothing, basically, for the companies to sell in the major markets, and that was their intent, and I think politically there was an understanding as far back as 1972 when the cable industry agreed to negotiation a copyright law that if there was any set of regulations that looked like they would threaten the ability to bring cable to the major markets it would be unacceptable, and McClellan made that clear, but so did several others.

COLE: Our friend and colleague, Strat Smith, his theory of the master antenna concept prevailed in the 1968 litigation, and that gave the industry a time to fight a rearguard action against harsh legislation at that time. But moving on a little bit, the trade associations in Washington that represented the cable interests, the National Association and CATA, their real interests were in fighting the political wars against a very entrenched, and when I say entrenched I mean extremely potent politically interests of both broadcast, and as you say, the motion picture interests, but it's always been interesting to me that as much as the cable operator was outgunned at that particular time, the trade associations did such a marvelous job at keeping the industry's head above water while it was able to make progress, albeit somewhat slowly, but one point that we have not touched on took place in 1975, and that was a momentous move in the history of the industry that we enjoy and love, and that was when the Thrilla from Manila was distributed via cable, and that opened up the cable industry for original programming, or non-broadcast programming. Tell us a little bit about those effects because that was really the first time, and they didn't all develop in 1975, but between 1975 and 1980, the CNNs and the ESPNs, and all of these other services came onboard and made cable a very attractive commodity.

EFFROS: Well, you aren't going to see this in most of the written histories. The Thrilla from Manila, and the entire business of Home Box Office going up on satellite would have been a very short-lived event for most of the cable industry had it not been for CATA, and I'll take credit for this one, because HBO and the big operators at the time were looking at what were known as 10-meter dishes. You had $125,000, 30-foot across dish to pick up that signal from the satellites, and the small operators, who needed this satellite distribution much more than the big guys did because you could effectively distribute to a major city through land lines. You can't effectively distribute any video to smaller markets via land line. So the small guys needed those satellites. They couldn't afford those big dishes and nobody at the National Cable Television Association, and nobody at Home Box Office was pushing to eliminate the then current FCC rules that said it had to be a 10-meter dish. You couldn't have a dish that was smaller than 10-meters to receive programming, satellite programming. The theory behind that, by the way, was that they wanted to assure the quality of the signal. Now this is the broadcasters again trying to figure out a way to stymie distribution, but the National Cable Television Association being the representative of the big operators, they didn't see any problem with spending $125,000 for a 10-meter dish in their major market systems, and therefore they said fine. CATA jumped in with both feet, and you were saying before about how is it that the associations were able to help the industry survive during a politically tough time, and I think the answer is we were pretty good at guerilla warfare. You couldn't go head-to-head with the broadcasters; they had too many guns. But you sure could play guerilla warfare with them. So we did things like organize a drive onto Capitol Hill with the small 3 ½ meter dish, plant it right on the lawn on Capitol Hill and tune it in, and show congressmen and senators right on the lawn of the Capitol that we were getting a perfectly fine signal. There was nothing wrong with this 3 ½ meter dish, and that the only thing that was going on was the FCC was helping the broadcasters by keeping those dishes at 10-meters. We had them on trucks; we organized all sorts of things like that, and then filed the petition to allow small dishes to be legalized.

COLE: The first mobile demonstration was at a convention in California, and one of our clients, TelePrompTer, Hub Schlafly put that demonstration on. I would take issue with CATA taking all of the credit because I can remember very deep involvement in some of those issues on behalf of big clients and small clients.

EFFROS: I would just recommend that you look back in the record and you will find in the minutes of the NCTA that the strongest proposal that was made was let's have a committee to look at this, and CATA said to hell with the committee, we're filing petitions, and we filed a petition, and the petition won.

COLE: I agree that NCTA at that time was not really representative of the small operator, but many law firms in Washington, including our law firm; we had hundreds of smaller operators, many of whom were members of CATA. So it was a joint effort.

EFFROS: What happened there was we filed petitions with the FCC to approve small dishes. It wound up that there was another piece of legislation that was of interest to everybody, and Lionel Van Deerlin – and this was the pole attachment bill – and Lionel Van Deerlin was having hearings at the time, and we educated Van Deerlin on what was going on with small dishes in rural America and the need for small operators to have these things, and he basically let the Commission know that he felt that this should move rather rapidly and if the Commission wanted this other legislation maybe they ought to finish this piece first. There was a very rapid move at the FCC to approve small dishes and they got approved.

COLE: You should point out for viewers that Van Deerlin was the chairman of the communications sub-committee and had a very powerful hold on the Commission's budget, so he was a man to be listened to by the regulators.

EFFROS: That's right, and as you well know, that's the game we had to play all the time. You found you, like McClellan, like Van Deerlin, Carl Albert we used once when he was Speaker of the House, and we blocked a piece of legislation because the Speaker had certain powers. That's what I mean, guerilla warfare.

COLE: The end result of the satellite distribution of cable programming, of originated cable programming changed the face of the industry.

EFFROS: Absolutely.

COLE: It became not a signal delivery business, but a programming business, an entertainment business, and that's when cable began to take off throughout the country. That's when the subscriber growth just mushroomed. Tell us about some of the smaller operators, how they joined in that rush to 20 and 30 channels of programming.

EFFROS: Well, again, because of the structure in the small operations where they didn't have, for instance, small independent signals, one of the first signals that went up on satellite after HBO's experiment was WTBS. It was WTCG at the time, Ted Turner's station in Atlanta. It was the first independent television station on satellite, and the net result of that was that the small operators all over the country picked up that independent station via satellite. That's why we were so interested in those small dishes because we wanted to bring in signals that you couldn't get any other way. Ted, as a matter of fact at one point we gave him an award at CATA, and he said without you guys supporting me I never would have made it because the big guys in the big cities didn't need WTCG. They already had WPIX or WGN or any of the independent stations. It was the small guys that didn't have any independent stations. So that was the first real success on satellite distribution of programming other than pay programming like HBO.

COLE: I remember back in those days being out at a cable meeting in the state of Washington and seeing a promotion of Atlanta Braves baseball caps, so that's a pretty good indication of what happened.

EFFROS: It was very successful, and it proved Turner's vision that this type of distribution could work and change things, and they did change things. His signal, which was then named WTBS, was called the Superstation and it changed all sorts of things with copyright law. It had major implications as you went down the road, and then you got CNN, again from Turner because he got the money from TCG and so on, and it started to take off, and all of this programming was totally unique both in urban and rural areas, and you're right, that's what cable became was a distribution medium for multichannel video programming. And that's what we still are, as well as now a distribution medium for a lot of other things.

COLE: What do you see for the future of the industry, for other young men to tackle and carry on with?

EFFROS: Well, I think what has happened is we have built an infrastructure that nobody else has. It's gone through a lot of iterations, we've made a lot of mistakes, but in essence when you look at it, we have built an infrastructure the likes of which, in a way, nobody has ever done before. If you built the road system, you were financed by federal money. If you built the telephone system, you were not only financed in rural areas with federal loan grants and so on, but you were guaranteed a monopoly so you had no problem financing it to build it. Cable was built competitively, now granted there's usually only one cable company in a given market, but we had to convince the banks that this was a business that would really work. We do have competition now with satellite, among other distribution media, and the good news is that we've built an infrastructure that has more capability than any other distribution infrastructure. We are more powerful in our distribution capability than the broadcasters. The broadcasters are only one-way; more powerful than the satellite companies. They have at the moment more channels until cable goes fully digital, but they are also effectively only one-way. You can do two-way satellite, but there are time delays to get up to a satellite, to a bird at 25,000...

COLE: And very expensive.

EFFROS: Yes. And we're certainly stronger than the telephone companies because the twisted pair, the infrastructure that they still are totally reliant on, can't effectively distribute high quality video signals. The cable plant that has been built has the capability of doing all of those things. It can distribute a high-quality video signal; it can distribute data very efficiently. That screen behind me has a cable modem on it, and I've been saying to the cable industry for years that cable modems are the nicotine of the cable industry because once you get that you never give it up. You'd never want to give that up! We also have the capability now for video-on-demand, and telephony, and a lot of other things, all in that same infrastructure. That is going to lead to the same types of fights that we had in the '70s over copyright. So if somebody wants to get into the business in terms of the legal and political side of this, I think we have a lot of lessons to teach, you and I, but I think the fights are going to go all over again.

COLE: I also see in this same regard that many areas of the rest of the world are imitating what we did over the last 30 or 40 years. It's beginning to take hold worldwide now, the establishment of broadband networks.

EFFROS: And interestingly, some of the major American companies who have the most experience in it are now the owners and operators of those systems. You can follow the line from TelePrompTer through TCI to AT&T to Liberty, and Liberty is now the largest owner of cable systems in Germany, and a major partner in Japan. A good friend of ours, Bill Bresnan, just sold major interests in Poland or Czechoslovakia. So, yeah, the same folks who had the expertise to build it here are helping around the world, and broadband information technology is a very exciting technology. It took a long time to get here; we have the fights between the bigs and the littles, and we have all of the politics of who owns the programming and how that programming is going to be distributed, and those fights will continue as we find new ways to distribute.

COLE: And many of the same political battles are being fought in these other countries also.

EFFROS: Follow the money.

COLE: Exactly.

EFFROS: Just follow the money and you'll see where the fight is.

COLE: Steve, tell us a little bit about CATA's growth. How many members or subscribers did it represent at its zenith?

EFFROS: At its peak we were close to equivalent to the National Cable Television Association. We were up around 30 million-35 million subscribers because what happened with CATA was that we started representing the small operators. We started from a position of trying to equalize the interests, or at least recognize the interests that were not being recognized at the NCTA. That succeeded after a period of time, and the sensitivity grew that you couldn't regulate somebody in Enid, Oklahoma that same way you regulated somebody in New York City. That type of sensitivity grew in part because folks like me, who had been at the FCC, who had been lobbied, who had written rules... I mean, I remember writing rules in 1971-72, and you'll remember these, where we had a certificate of compliance and we required all sorts of things that the operator had to fill out, and then you had to give a copy of everything to the city, to the town that you were in.

COLE: I sent my son to college on certificates of compliance.

EFFROS: I believe you did. I wrote that rule. I was in charge of writing all the rules on federal, state, and local relationships. So all the franchising issues I dealt with, and all of the access and program access issues I dealt with because the team that wrote the rules split out what each person would write, and I remember being lobbied at the time by the NCTA, and working with them to try to write these rules reasonably, and nobody at the time ever mentioned to me, it just never came up, that we were all making an assumption that every cable system had a photocopy machine. It just never came up because we were dealing with lawyers in Washington, we were dealing with general counsels in New York City, and nobody ever said, wait a minute, you're writing a rule here that assumes that we can do this easily. Same thing happened in '76 with the copyright rules. The copyright office wrote a rule that required that you have a certified check, treasury check; go in to pay for the copyright fees. You couldn't write a check on your own stationary, and they didn't appreciate that for a small operator where there's only one person in the office, and maybe one out on the road trying to keep the system up and running that you didn't have a huge office staff that could just go run down to the bank and get... this was very simple. So when I helped start CATA, those were the sensitivities I had when I started learning from the small operators what the problems were out there, and it's not like they couldn't have been dealt with. They were very easy; it's just that nobody'd ever mentioned them before. It isn't that the regulators in Washington wanted to hurt the small guy; it's just that nobody'd ever mentioned it. So that was our first objective in CATA was to educate the regulatory agencies and Capitol Hill on how the distinctions should be drawn in what you do in regulation. Well, after a period of years we won that. It got to the point where on any regulation when they wrote the report and order, or when they wrote the effort to look at what the rule should be, they always asked, well, okay, this is what we can do for the big operator, now how do we deal with the small operator? So we were successful in that, and CATA moved on to doing a different role for the industry, and that was as somewhat of a mouthpiece, somewhat of the responder to criticism of the industry. I became known as the institutional loose cannon of the cable industry because you always knew that a reporter could call up and get a response from me, whereas the tendency in major corporations and the tendency at major trade groups, including the NCTA, was to duck. They were always saying no comment. They didn't want to be out front. So I was writing a newsletter for the industry in essence at that time. We had the CATA Briefs, which explained how to do the rules, how to deal with the rules on a practical level at the local system level, which the operators loved because, with all due respect, Jack, law firms don't know how to write things without footnotes, and general managers of cable systems don't know how to read footnotes. So there was this disconnect in terms of communications. CATA filled that gap, and we wrote the simplified rules, all right? And I always worked with you and your folks, and with folks at the NCTA, and none of them would be willing to put their name on the stuff that we wrote because they'd say, well, yes, that's true, but there's this exception and that exception and this exception and so on, and that didn't help small operators or any operator. What the larger operators found out, TCI, for instance, was in essence, they were just a conglomeration of small cable systems in most instances. So their general managers were just as interested in that material as the mom and pop operator because it helped them do their business. So the operators, the general managers, were asking the front office, look, can we join CATA so we can get that material? And then I was writing a newsletter as well just trying to explain what was going on in the industry, what my take was, what was interesting and what wasn't, what to watch out for, and that became very popular. I've been writing a column now, once a week now; it was once a month, for 25 years in this industry.

COLE: That's a lot of writing.

EFFROS: That's a lot of writing! But it was writing that said five years before anybody recognized it that cable modems were going to be something important, you'd better start watching out for data, or watch out for the vertical blanking interval, the information within the television signal that the public doesn't see, because that vertical blanking interval is going to have economic value in the future. I mean, we were writing about that five, seven years before it actually happened in public in terms of negotiations. So they found a value in that, the big operators, and they started joining, and by the time CATA was done we had virtually of the top 30 operators were members of CATA. As a matter of fact, we had all top ten and NCTA didn't.

COLE: Did that create any divisions within the association between the mom and pop operators and these big guys?

EFFROS: Sure. The biggest problem, and it is still the biggest problem today, is program negotiations. Negotiations for programming contracts. The big programmers, such as ESPN, have a relationship with the biggest operators with discounted deals that they don't have with the small operators because the small operator doesn't have leverage for that type of negotiation. And the small operators were always asking me to do something about that, to figure out some legal challenge or some way to fight this, and unfortunately, I haven't found a legal way to fight tit. It is one of the thorniest issues around, and it's always been the thing that created the most friction between the small operators, the big operators and the programmers, and of course the operators and the programmers are both members of the NCTA. CATA that was not true, CATA was purely operators. So that was one that I couldn't figure out a solution to that, and the small operators were not happy with that. The best solution we came up with was a buying co-op for the small operators and we helped set up, we helped do the legal work to set up the National Cable Television Co-op, which is a buying co-op that now represents 14 million subscribers, it's in essence the third largest.

COLE: Quite a bit of buying power.

EFFROS: And they have buying power. But that was our solution to that, and I said this is not a political solution. You don't go to Capitol Hill for this one. You do an economic solution, and we helped set that up and we stayed totally out of it, so at that point CATA became sort of the information flow, the membership services, newsletters and so on, for the entire industry, and we did that until the industry started its serious consolidation, at which point the big operators started saying, well, why do we need two because if you're the biggest operator you theoretically have your own public affairs department, you theoretically have your own lawyers. I think they made a mistake because I still don't think they do a very good job on public affairs, but NCTA and CATA got closer and closer together. As a matter of fact, the NCTA funded CATA to run a public affairs training program for the entire industry to train general managers in public affairs because they knew they weren't very good at it, and they knew that was our expertise. So for about eight years we did an entire training program for the industry, which was very successful at the time.

COLE: Well, has CATA effectively merged into NCTA? They are one trade association, speak as one voice now?

EFFROS: Yes. Well, I don't know that I would go that far. The problem for the NCTA is now that we have as consolidated an industry as we have, you find that the three or four largest cable operators because of all these other things I was talking about whether it's telephony or data transmission or video on-demand and all of these other things, the various major companies have different business plans, and therefore it's very difficult for any association to speak with one voice for the cable industry because the biggest players in the cable industry have totally different opinions on where it should go.

COLE: But what I mean is they speak...

EFFROS: The only national trade association is NCTA. CATA merged into the NCTA close to two years ago, and there hasn't been a CATA Brief since. They were going to write CATA Briefs, and the first one, my executive vice-president, the guy who was with me for eleven years and helped do all this and was brilliant at it, Jim Ewalt, went over to the NCTA as part of the merger.

COLE: I know Jim well and always had a high regard for him.

EFFROS: Well, one of his original missions was to maintain the publication of the CATA Briefs. As I understand it, he drafted the first one over there, it went into the legal department, and never came back out. So you really do need sort of a loose cannon around to do some of this stuff.

COLE: Well, Steve, you've really left a mark, and it only took you 30 years of hard work to do it. Is there anything you'd like to add for the benefit of our viewers that I haven't been able to bring out or think about yet?

EFFROS: Well, there's lot of things that go into the industry, and as you well know, we all have our memories of all of the little vagaries of what really happened and how it really took place as opposed to what it looks like on the record. I think the important thing is I think we've all had fun, and as long as people are still having fun doing this stuff and making an impact, making a difference in what we're doing, then there's still a lot of chance for younger people to come along and to do it again.

COLE: I don't think I'm deluding myself to say that there have been a parade, and I mean a parade of fascinating characters in this industry. If you don't have anything further, I think we'll wrap this up and say thank you very much, not only on behalf of The Cable Center, but on behalf of the industry at large.

EFFROS: Well, thank you, Jack.

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Len Ecker

Len Ecker

Interview Date: January 12, 1994
Interview Location: Wyncote, PA USA
Interviewer: Archer Taylor
Collection: Archer Taylor Technical Collection
Note: Audio Only

TAYLOR: All right. We're on the record now. I'm interviewing Len Ecker in his apartment in Wyncote, Pennsylvania, on the 12th of January, 1994. It's a miserable day outside. Len, I'd like to start out by asking: "Have you always lived in this area?

ECKER: Yes, I am basically out of Pittsburgh. I graduated from Georgia Tech 1939 and I was ROTC, Signal Corps ROTC. I graduated with a BS in EE, and I went to work with Westinghouse, after I graduated from school, back in those days, working on power equipment – basically for the Hoover Dam in Nevada. I had that job for a very short period of time when the Army called me into service. I reported to Fort Monmouth, and was there for some period of time, with absolutely nothing to do. I learned how to play gold, learned how to play bridge. There was a whole conglomeration of options there, with very little to do. In fact, I had one day's assignment in my entire career at Fort Monmouth, and that was to take a laundry convoy to Brooklyn and back. I was a second lieutenant back in those days. What I didn't know at the time was that I was being groomed, in a way, to go to England, ostensibly – for the record -- as a military Attaché to the American Embassy in London. And this occurred back in 1940. And, by the way, strangely enough, Milt Shapp also was on that same program. I never knew him at that particular time, because we were individuals. When it finally came time for me to go to England, they gave me a railroad ticket to go to Montreal, to Halifax, and get on a boat and go over to England. When I arrived over there, then I found out what my job really was. What my job was, was to learn Radar. At that time the British were probably miles ahead of the Americans as far as Radar was concerned. I was assigned to the Royal Air Force. And I spent the next eight months with the Royal Air Force, and the fact of the matter was I was in Scotland, at a place called Prestwick, which was the eastern terminus of the ferry command which was flying aircraft across the Atlantic.

TAYLOR: That's where the Glasgow is now, Prestwick.

ECKER: Is it there?

TAYLOR: That's right.

ECKER: That's where I was when The United States went to war, sitting in a hotel in Prestwick, because, as I said, that was the eastern terminus of the ferry command. An interesting thing happened there. Because... At other times, I was on a British base, but here I was in a private hotel. So, sometime after that, I got a check from the British Government, for the amount of money I spent for my hotel room. I then proceeded to get a bawling out by the American Embassy, because you don't accept money from a foreign government. So I sent the check back – never cashed the check -- to the British Government. I then was selected to come to the United States to bring some material back from G2 there. And just before I left England, here came the check back with a notice saying that they had no way of putting this money back into their funds. So I arrived in the United States with a British check and finally cashed it then. But anyway, after that... It wasn't terribly long after I got out of the service – I didn't get out of the service until 1949... By that time I had managed to promote myself a couple of times so that I was now a captain and finally was discharged as a major in service. But anyway, I had come home, and when I returned from England, I was assigned to Florida to a radar training school as an instructor. There was a colonel came down from Washington to take that course... He wasn't very interested in the course, but he liked flying, so he didn't do very well. Shortly after he got back to Washington, I got orders. I was sent to Tampa, to a place called Drew Field -- which is now their airport in Tampa – to form a separate radar company, which I did. There were 166 men, and we were then shipped back overseas. So I had two tours of duty. My second tour took me through the invasion of North Africa, across Africa as far as Alexandria and Egypt and from there into Sicily, and from Sicily into Italy, Italy into Southern France with a stop in Corsica to stage for there, and finally around Belgium and into Germany. I was in Munich when the War was...

TAYLOR: You were in all these places?

ECKER: Yes. This was my career in the service.

TAYLOR: This was prior to...This was during World War II? You said you came back in 1949?

ECKER: No, no. I said I got out of service in 1949.

TAYLOR: So this was before you got out?

ECKER: I was in the service here for a while. I would have stayed – I liked the service. It was a lazy man's kind of life.

TAYLOR: You went to Florida during the War, then?

ECKER: Yes. I went to Florida in late 1941, returned from England, went to Florida in 1941, was an instructor in a radar school down at – well, they hadn't built the base yet. We were in West Palm Beach. Then I got orders to go to Tampa and put together a separate company and we went overseas. We were attached to the 12th Air Force. It's a strange existence in the army to be a separate company attached to some big headquarters, because they really don't care much about you. In fact, they don't pay much attention to you. In fact, when I was in France, my headquarters was in Italy, and I never saw them, never heard from them. I'd get paper work from them from time to time. So we didn't pay much attention. I came back from the War in late 1946 and was on active duty until 1949. From then until 1958 I was in the Reserves. I got out of service because my wife hated it. We moved around from place to place, and we weren't very long in any one place. But she didn't really like it. And so I got out. But here's where the strange part occurred. My wife comes from Berwick, Pennsylvania, which is upstate from here, about a hundred miles, almost due north from here. And on the same block – we, of course are Jewish – and on that same block with her – it was just a small town, they didn't have very many Jews in that town. But a block away from there was another family. And this family had a daughter who had married a man from Shamokin. The man from Shamokin was in the meat business. He was a... He had a slaughterhouse – very rough. And somehow or other, he got connected with the mayor of Williamsport and a group from up there decided that since cable had started to come to that part of the world that they'd like to be in the cable business. It just so happened -- purely by coincidence – that my wife was home visiting her family, and his wife was home visiting his family, and he came to pick up his wife. And somehow or other, my wife and he got together, and in the course of the conversation he said to her that he was looking for an engineer. My wife said, "Well, my husband's an engineer." So he said, "Well, have him call me." I called him on the phone and he said, "Well, would you come to Shamokin and talk to me?" And I said, "Yes." And he said, "After you talk to me, we're going to go up to Williamsport and talk to that group up there." And I said, "All right." But they hired me. I didn't know a goddamned thing about cable! I really didn't. All the work I'd done as far as real engineering was concerned was on heavy power equipment – the kind of stuff that was used at Hoover Dam in Las Vegas. And my career in radar was... I learned about radar, obviously. When I went to England I spent time with every part of the RAF and what they were doing with radar. I knew operation. I had obviously not been involved in any of the design work. And in fact when I got back to the United States and finally got to see some of the American radar, I was kind of amused. Because, in England, whoever designed their radar would start out, as any bench engineer would, starting out with a particular circuitry and finding out whether the circuit wasn't quite what he wanted. So he'd try a lot of resistors there, a series of chokes... And that's the way they built the units. Some of those units would have four or five resistors in parallel, and they never bothered to... And when I got back here to the United States, I saw all this finely design stuff with everything just exactly right. The only difference was that the first radar we had here in the United States didn't work, theirs did. But anyway, they hired me to build this cable system, and to plan its cable system. I didn't have the greatest idea what a cable system was. One of the gentlemen that was a part of the body they put together out there knew about Entron and Hank Diambra and his group. So, they sent me down to see him. I must admit he didn't know a helluva lot about a cable system either. At least he was accustomed to handling cable in apartment jobs. So anyway, the final outcome was that we built a tower on top the mountain there at Williamsport.

TAYLOR: What year was that?

ECKER: This was 1950. At the same time Philco and Jerrold were building a cable system in Williamsport.

TAYLOR: Oh really?

ECKER: Yeah. All three of them. And in fact...You would remember Frank Ragone.

TAYLOR: Oh yes, very well.

ECKER: Frank Ragone worked for an outfit that was building a system for Philco. So I knew Frank Ragone in Williamsport, but not as a member of the Jerrold system.

TAYLOR: Was he working for Philco?

ECKER: He worked for an outfit called Genslinger.

TAYLOR: Denslinger – D-E.N...?

ECKER: Genslinger – G.E.N...And they had a contract with Philco to build that system in Williamsport. So as a result, I decided that in my group, that I would concentrate on South Williamsport, because the other two outfits weren't interested in South Williamsport. They were interested in the big city. So, we built the tower on top of the mountain in Williamsport, and we had some great experiences up there. I probably am the only – well probably not the only one but one of the few – field engineers that were bitten by a rattlesnake.

TAYLOR: Oh, really?

ECKER: Oh yes. On top of that mountain. The mountains in Pennsylvania are loaded with all kinds of game including rattlesnakes and water moccasins, and deer by the thousands, and bear, and wildcats – you know, that sort of thing. The country has pretty good game... I didn't know this at the time, but I found out later that 50% of the land in Pennsylvania is owned by the state. It is held in reserve as a game preserve. Most of it's in the mountains, of course. But anyway, we built this tower up there, we built the 100-foot tower. We built it in an H-frame so that we'd have lots of support for big antennas – because you need big antennas. And we could pull in channels 3, 6, and 10 from Philadelphia.

TAYLOR: How far is that, airline?

ECKER: About 80... Just at 100 miles. But we were up pretty good. The mountain top there is about 3000-3100 feet above sea level. It's about the highest point in the state. It's pretty far up there. We had some pretty good decent signals up there. The day we had a hit this past week, it sort of reminded me of my history up there. But when it would be raining in downtown Williamsport, on top of the mountain was always ice. By the way, I had a good crew there. I had six technicians that I trained, that I think were as good as there ever were in this business. One of the names you will recognize: Shorty Coryell.

TAYLOR: Oh indeed!

ECKER: Shorty came to me as an itinerant lineman working for a power company here, there and where ever they had work for him. And I hired him, and he worked for me for a long period of time – in fact for as long as I was in Williamsport. He got married there. I went to his wedding of course. He had his first child in Williamsport. He has become a self-taught, pretty damn good engineer in cable.

TAYLOR: Yes, we had a guy like that up in Kalispell – very good, not as well known as Shorty. Where is Shorty now, do you know?

ECKER: He's with... He's in Denver with...

TAYLOR: ...he was with ATC, but probably Time Warner now?

ECKER: The last I heard he was there... No wait a minute... Who had the system in Orlando?

TAYLOR: Yes, that was ATC. The last time I saw him he was in Orlando. That was quite a while ago.

ECKER: Yes, he was the guy down in Orlando decided to put the traffic lights on the cable, and I don't know what the hell else they were doing down there.

TAYLOR: I didn't know about that.

ECKER: Oh yes. Shorty was really something. I'll tell you some stories about Shorty -- a fantastic guy, really, a tremendous kind of person – no real formal education. As I said, he was an itinerant lineman, travelling from one job to the next, where he could find a job – but a good brain, and really able to retain what he knew and, for me, he was a great technician.

TAYLOR: Why don't we preserve some of those stories about Shorty, are they publishable? Go ahead.

ECKER: Let me give you one or two of them. Shorty was a real eager beaver.

TAYLOR: Let's spell his name for the transcriber.

ECKER: OK. His name is Austin Coryell. We always called him Shorty, because he wasn't very tall. But he is a real eager beaver. In those days we did not have such things as bucket trucks, so what we did was buy an old truck from the Telephone Company -- had a ladder in the middle that was raised and lowered. He was such an eager beaver that when we went out to work on an amplifier, or check an amplifier or something, before we ever got the truck stopped, he was out the back and up the pole. Well one day he forgot to put his spurs on. He hit the base of the pole and was about 6 foot up before he started to come back down. When he got back down, his face was just filled with creosote splinters and if you know how creosote splinters hurt when they go in. He was in absolute agony.

TAYLOR: Oh man! Was that all he got hurt?

ECKER: Yes, it was just his face.

TAYLOR: What did he do, hug the pole as he came down?

ECKER: Yes. The fact that he got up as far as he did before he... On another occasion, I had a technician named Evans who was working on the top of a pole. The original field strength meter that Jerrold made, the 4...

TAYLOR: 704?

ECKER: 704. No. The 704 was not the solid state unit.

TAYLOR: No. 704, and it had a "B", why, I'll never know, but it had a "B" on it.

ECKER: Because there were two models of that thing...

TAYLOR: ...one that didn't work!

ECKER: But anyway, this guy was working on the pole and Shorty is down below. He dropped this meter, hit Shorty across the head. Fortunately for Shorty, it didn't hit him solidly, but it took half his ear off. We took him to the hospital. They sewed that ear back on him. It stayed that way. He had a pretty good scar there where it hit him. We had a lot of ice on top of that mountain and the antennas would ice up like crazy, and when they iced up, the signals were pretty damn lousy. Shorty would climb that 100 foot tower and break the ice up. Then he got an idea. He said to me, "What do you suppose would happen if we took a shot gun with just bird shot and fired away at the tower?" And sure enough that bird shot would knock the ice off that particular tower.

TAYLOR: And didn't damage the antenna?

ECKER: It didn't damage the antennas at all. These were some of the things that Shorty did. This is the final story I want to tell you about Shorty. I was the first Engineer that I know of to use aluminum cable.


ECKER: We wanted to go from South Williamsport into Montoursville, which is a suburb of Williamsport. But in order to get there without going through the whole city in order to get over there, we were going to go right across the river. Because Montoursville was on one side of the river and Williamsport was on the other side. I ordered from Phelps Dodge Copper Products Company, 6 miles of half-inch aluminum cable that was made under a German patent, called – let's see if I can remember what they called it – Styraflex.

TAYLOR: Spirofil, I'll bet. Was it foam?

ECKER: No, it was tape, wound in that fashion, one tape on top of the other. And then they extruded their shield onto that.

TAYLOR: They had one they called Spirofil.

ECKER: Yes that was filled with foam cable. That came later.

TAYLOR: There was one that had a round – not exactly a ribbon...

ECKER: Maybe it wasn't foam. But the original cable was a center conductor, and they took tape and put layer after layer of tape to build it up to the point where they could extrude the outer jacket – the outer shield – onto it. And they called that Styraflex. I got a call from the manager of Phelps Dodge Copper Products, asking me if I'd made a mistake.

TAYLOR: Yes, what are you going to do with six miles?

ECKER: He said, "We don't get orders for six miles of cable. We get orders for 100 feet, 200 feet, 300 feet... But nobody ever ordered six miles." And I said, "On top of that, I want it to be as long as you can possibly make it." He said, "The best we can do is 1080 feet." Why 1080 feet? Well, the extruding mill was 1000 feet, but on the end of it there was a drying shed that gave them another 80 feet. If they took the whole distance, they could get me 1080 feet. It was 1600 feet across that river. Anyway, we used the cable. Instead of doing anything with it, we were in a hurry to get into Montoursville before the competition got into it from Williamsport. So I just dumped the cable in the river, and went across. Well, that winter, in January, in fact it was right at New Years...

TAYLOR: Was that jacketed cable?

ECKER: No. It was just bare aluminum.

TAYLOR: How did you protect the splice?

ECKER: We spliced the cable.

TAYLOR: Did you let that go in the water?

ECKER: We put that right in the water. Well, we protected it. We taped it up. And in fact, I remember that the fittings that we used were fittings that were made for gas line. They had vents on them and all kinds of... And we just dumped it in the river. And on January 1, that cable parted. We lost it.

TAYLOR: When did you put it in?

ECKER: It was in the summer. It was in the summer that we put that in.

TAYLOR: Then you got only about six months out of it.

ECKER: We got about six months out of it. So I got on the phone to Phelps Dodge, and they sent me some additional cable – enough to get across there. We got an additional two miles. But anyway – so now I'm not going to dumb that cable in the river anymore. Because, hey, the river that freezes over, and the ice, and all of that. So how do we get across, if we don't dump it in the river? I bought two 75 foot, class I poles. They were 36 inches around the base. I had to get permission from the Pennsylvania State Troopers to bring that thing up the Pennsylvania Highway. It was 75 foot long. We stuck one on one side of the river, and one on the other side of the river. We used half-inch steel rope to support that cable and we put that cable across. Again we had the problem of splicing the thing and we spliced it in the air. So who is going to do the splicing?—Shorty! Out over the river! Now this is in January and it is cold that morning. You know, if it's cold here in Williamsport, it's ten degrees colder out there.

TAYLOR: And the water is even colder.

ECKER: It's freezing! It doesn't freeze to the point where there is no running water, but along about ten feet out from the bank, it's frozen. So we get a cable car, and we get him out in the middle, and he splices it, and now we can't get the cable car back. Because the sag in the cable is so great, that we literally could not drag that cable car back out of there. So we finally decided that we'd run a boat out in the middle of the river and Shorty would jump off in the boat. But as you would expect, he missed the boat and into the water he went. Anyway we got him out of there. And, to this day, whenever I see Shorty, we still joke about his bath. He was a great guy, a great guy.

TAYLOR: (Laugh) Oh man! That is a great story!

ECKER: Well, anyway during my experience there, much of the work I did with... Hank Diambra spent a lot of time with me. We would work until we literally so fatigued that we were ready to drop. Hank tells the story about how we'd sit on the curb where we had been pulling cable down over the mountain and be so exhausted that we couldn't move. There was a motel right there, and the motel owner came out once and he said, "What's the problem?" We said, "Well we're tired." And he said, "Well, I've got an empty room. Do you want to take a nap?" So from then on, he let us use that room, and every once in a while, when we got so tired we couldn't go on, we would go in and take a nap. Anyway, this mountain had a road across the top of it that went down on one side and up on the other. The total distance from my office to make the round trip, up the mountain and down the other side and back to the office, it was about 18 miles. And so one day we would go up one way, and one day the other way. I go up there one day. We had an old beat-up Jeep, as many of the cable operators had in those kinds of places for working on the mountains. In fact, the one that Frank Ragone had... They finally got it off, in a place in the mountain they couldn't get it back out again. So for years it just laid up there. They couldn't get the damn thing back out. I think that Jeep may still be there, as far as I know. Anyway I'm going up to the top of the mountain one day, and as I get to the crest of the mountain, here was a brown bear sitting there, fussing and fuming and snorting at me. And I'm blowing the horn and doing everything to make him get out of the way. That bear isn't going to move. I say, "Aw, to heck with it." I turn around and went down and came back up the other side of the mountain.

TAYLOR: (Laughing)

ECKER: But my little experience I started to tell you about getting bitten by a rattlesnake... One Sunday afternoon, at that time my kids we small -- it was Sunday, it was a nice day, it was during football season – and they were pestering me. So I finally decided I'm going to the top of the mountain and watch the game up there. Instead of doing as I normally did... When I worked on the mountain, I always wore boots that came up to here (my knees) because rattlesnakes really can't get up very high, and neither can the water moccasin. But this day I'm only going to the top of the mountain and go in the shack -- bedroom slippers!

TAYLOR: Oh, oh!

ECKER: I get up there and I watched the game... We had built a plywood shack, and literally, in those days the antenna buildings were literally shacks.

TAYLOR: Yes. We've been through that. I know exactly what you mean.

ECKER: They had all kinds of environmental ones that – what's his name? Why can't I think of his name? The guy who says he was the first guy in cable?

TAYLOR: Oh. Walsonavich?

ECKER: Walsonavich. I have a story to tell about him too, but I don't know whether we should put it on record. Anyway, I remember one antenna site that he had that the damn equipment was in an old refrigerator. Anyway, I go up there, and I watch this football game. Pretty soon my conscience starts to bother me. There's my wife stuck down in town with the kids, and the kids are probably bothering her, so I'm going to go back down, but it happened to be a beautiful day in the fall of the year, and the sun was shining nicely. In order to get into this shack, we built it up off the ground. We had three of these concrete blocks. Two were the first step, and then one and you were out of there. Well, I walked out of that place, took the first step and got hit by this damn snake that was sunning himself on that concrete block. Well, I had brains enough to... I knew from what I'd heard that the worst thing you can do is to get terribly excited and start flying around, because the faster the blood circulate the more it circulates this poison. I had brains enough to remember that. I went back into the shack, called the emergency service, laid down – we had a cot there -- on a cot and stayed as still as I could. The ambulance came up picked me up and took me to the hospital. By that time my ankle was about that size (gesturing). I was in the hospital for about three days with anti-venom shots. I got over it, sometimes when the weather is kind of bad you can still see the fang marks where that thing hit me. That was my experience, and there were lots of rattlesnakes up there. I remember... I had a guy working for me whose name was Weslosky (Sp?) -- he was Polish – that I used as a kind of a grunt on the system up there. There was no real road down over that mountain. We built the pole line down over there, but we didn't actually have a road down that pole line. Some places were too steep, and so we'd walk. In those days that mountain run was about 9,000 feet and there wasn't the kind of equipment that would get you down through 9,000 feet without amplification. So there were amplifiers in that line. In order to service those damn amplifiers, we used to carry a ladder in. and two of us would walk in with that goddamn ladder and carrying one of those damn field strength meters that we used to have in those early days of Philco Television sets. Oh yes! I remember walking down over that mountain one time with Weslosky, I'm in front and he's behind, and I hear these rattles. And I look down and we were walking through what must have been a half a dozen of them. We just walked right through the middle of them. And it wasn't until we got through, I said to Wes, "You know what! You just walked through a nest of rattlesnakes." He came from Pottsville, by the way. Pottsville was – I believe – the county seat of Schuylkill County. Schuylkill County this was the county in Pennsylvania that sort of ran itself. It had nothing to do with the rest of the state. They had gambling there when there was no gambling anywhere else. Anyway, When it came time for election, Weslosky would go back to Pottsville to vote. When he'd come back I'd say to him, "Weslosky, how many times did you vote this time?" He'd say, "Twelve, thirteen, fourteen times."

TAYLOR: & ECKER: (Laughter)

ECKER: Oh yeah! I learned about Pottsville after that because one of the guys that was on the... supplied the funds for that Williamsport system was on the board... came from Pottsville. And in fact, in my early history in cable, after I got Williamsport up and running -- and I had these six technicians who were perfectly capable of running this damn system without me, and they really didn't need me anyway -- I started to do some Consulting work. And I built a lot of cable system throughout Pennsylvania.

TAYLOR: When did you go to Williamsport?

ECKER: In 1950.

TAYLOR: And when did you decide that they'd had enough of you?

ECKER: In 1953. I still was with the system. I stayed with the system until 1956.

TAYLOR: I see. But you didn't have anything particularly to do with them?

ECKER: Well, you know, the system was built. I had six of the best technicians – Shorty Coryell was one of them. If I could remember another name, you would remember him as well, because he was with... (Pause) The outfit that was big in television back in those days, the multiple system operator.


ECKER: No, before that. The one that Bresnan came from.

TAYLOR: TelePrompTer?

ECKER: TelePrompTer. One of my technicians then became a damn good technician with TelePrompTer. But anyway, I built some cable systems, started out with small ones. And most of the systems I built in central Pennsylvania – that part of Pennsylvania – were systems for the Mafia. They were the big wheels. And they all came out of Pottsville. And they were very generous – very generous. And in fact some of the biggest mistakes I made in my life I made during that particular time. The first system I ever built for them was in Montgomery, Pennsylvania, which is a small town about 12 or 15 miles out of Williamsport, and only 2500 population. And I gave them a bid... Because what they wanted was, "You tell us what it's going to cost, and then you build it." So I did that.

TAYLOR: Turnkey?

ECKER: Turnkey. Absolutely. The whole system, in those days cost, like 25 grand, no damn big deal. And they would say to me... And I would say to them, "Well, I want ten percent of what the system costs for building the place." Remember, I'm working at Williamsport at the same time, still on a salary. And I also had a piece of the action. And they would say to me, "Well, instead of taking your money, why don't you take a piece of the system?" And I'd go home and I'd say to Ruth, "Ruth, these people don't want to pay me. They want to give me a piece..." She said, "Get the money!" This was the most stupid thing I ever did in my life. I built, I guess, about a half a dozen systems for them in Pennsylvania. And then... And this is the wildest story you ever heard in your life. There was a system in Reno, Nevada, and the system in Reno, Nevada, was built by the West Coast Mafia. And they came under pressure from the IRS as to where this money was coming from that they were using. So they wanted to get out of Reno in the worst kind of way. And somehow or other these two groups got together and the group from Pottsville agreed with the group from the West Coast that if there was anything there, they would take over that operation. They sent me to Reno, Nevada, in 1954, to take a look at what was already there and see what it was worth and come back and give them a report. I went out there with their attorney, an accountant and somebody from Entron, not Hank Diambra, but a salesman with Entron. And I looked the system over, and I found out what was there – and there wasn't a helluva lot there at that particular time. But it was in operation, and they had subscribers. I came back. We were there for five days. It was my first trip west of the Mississippi River. I'll never forget, I was in Williamsport and I was to meet this group, that were going out there, in Philadelphia. And so I came down on the train from Williamsport, and I'd never been in a sleeper in my life. Because they were paying all my expenses I took a sleeper down to Williamsport.

TAYLOR: Sure, sure.

ECKER: They met me in the Philadelphia train station, and the guy who was going along with us -- I'll never forget him, his name was Paul Cutler -- met me. As he shook hands with me he passed me something. I looked in my hand and there were three $50 dollar bills.

TAYLOR: I'll be darned!

ECKER: I said to him, I said, "Hey you don't have to do this. I am going to send you a bill for whatever my charges are." "That's all right," he said, "You may need cigarette money or something like that." Well anyway, we got out there to Reno, Nevada, and we spent five days there, and I went over what was there. The accountant went over the books. The lawyer went over the contract with the city and the rest of that. And we came back. The group here had agreed that if they decided to go – if they decided to take over -- they were going to spend $280,000 for what was out there. Because that was the number that the West Coast syndicate was asking for. There were four of them in that particular group. I will tell you about one of them in just a minute. They agreed that each one would contribute his 70 grand and they'd go ahead and do the job, depending upon the report they got. So I came back, and I told them, "Well, it was a good town and all the rest of that." And I said, "Well, standard. There wasn't a helluva lot there, but it was a good franchise." So they decided to go, and this was at a meeting that I attended with that group. And I never saw this in my life before, and probably never since, I guess. But anyway, when they decided they were going to go, three of them dropped 70 grand apiece, on the table, in cash. The fourth guy didn't have his money and they're really be-rating him. They had agreed, why didn't... Finally he said, "OK." And he left the room, came back in about 20 minutes -- this was at night, about 10 o'clock at night -- dropped 70 grand on the table. So there is 280 thousand bucks – in cash! -- sitting on this damn table.

TAYLOR: Oh boy!

ECKER: Anyway, they decided to go along with it. And finally, after they decided to go, they said to me, "Would you go out and build that system?" Well, I'd done some work for Entron in other systems, Tyler Texas, Williamson, West Virginia...

TAYLOR: Tyler. Was that for Tubby Flinn?

ECKER: No, no. This was before. I did the original design work for that for Entron. And Williamson WV, Tyler TX, Palestine TX, several systems...So they asked me if I would go out to Reno to do this job. Now I'm in a bind, because, hey, if I go out to Reno, I've got to be there for a while, and the system in Williamsport isn't going to like that idea, because there I am still the chief engineer for the Williamsport system. I debated for a while. I had been doing consulting work anyway, and I thought, "Well. Gee, I can always make a living doing consulting work. I know how... I thought I knew how to build a cable system and all of that kind of stuff. So I told the Board of Directors at Williamsport that, "Hey, I was going to go to Reno, Nevada to build this cable system." They said to me, "You've got a choice. You can't be a chief engineer here and go there, because you're going to be away for months, and we'll need you. I said, "Well I could come back." They said, "No, they weren't satisfied with that." So finally, I said, "Well, I'd like to take that job, and one of the reasons I'd like to take that job is because of what it paid. They offered me to go out there a hundred and a half a day – remember this is 1954 – and if I thought that it was necessary to work on weekends, they'd double it." But that was one tremendous amount of money, especially for me at that particular time. So, I just couldn't let that go by. So the group in Williamsport said, "On top of everything else, we're going to buy you out, if you leave. I said, "Well, OK." Which was a big mistake, because, hey, what I got out of that was peanuts. Two years later, when they sold the damn system for seven million bucks... So, that was another one of the big mistakes in my life. Well, I went to Reno, and... Entron had design... Always we had the problem of the change in temperature and what it did to the levels of the cable system – age-old problem, right?

TAYLOR: Age-old, yes, yes.

ECKER: And in fact I have to tell you the story about Walsonavich. Johnny had a system that ran from where he was, Mahoney City, to -- I believe it was...they called it Iron City. Anyway it was a distance of about 20 miles, another community, and he ran a cable system. The age-old problem. In the middle of the day, sun is up, it's a warm day, signals are down. At night, signals come back up. I used to tell this story in seminars about how he solved that particular problem. What they did... In those days all the amplifiers were tube amplifiers. So, what did they have? They had a pot in the bias circuit, and you turn the pot up -- reduce the pot, which puts less bias so you had more gain. Turn it in the other direction, and it did the other. He took all those pots out of those amplifiers, ran wires down the pole, And he had an open flat-bed truck, and he put those things so you could only reach them from the back of that truck, and he put those pots at the base of the poles. Three times a day, he used to go up and down that goddamn line to adjust those pots. And I used to tell people at seminars, this was the first time I ever saw automatic gain control done manually. Johnny did that on that system, I remember that very, very well. Well, anyway, I did the Reno system and when I was working in Williamsport, Jerrold had developed an automatic gain five-channel amplifier. Prior to that, Jerrold never had a five-channel system. They had single-channel amplifiers, three-channel systems. And I had built the five-channel system with Entron up in Williamsport. Well Milt Shapp came up and talked to me and said, "Would I come down and visit him here." And I said, "Yes, I'd come down." I didn't know what he had in mind at the time. So he said, "I'll meet you at Williamson's Restaurant, which was a restaurant down here in Jenkintown, and we'll have breakfast together and then we will go over to the Lab, which was up here in Hatboro."

TAYLOR: What year was this?

ECKER: This would have been 1953. So I met him for breakfast then we went up to the Lab, saw Hank Arbeiter up there. Mike was already there and Don Kirk was his chief advisor at that time. I understand Don is pretty bad with Parkinson!

TAYLOR: I interviewed him. Yes, he has Parkinson's, and it's an up and down thing with him. He was sure pleased to have me interview him. It lifted his spirits.

ECKER: I tell you, I always enjoyed... I'll tell you about one of the projects I worked on with him and Frank and Mike at Jerrold after this. But anyway, what Milt wanted me for is they have developed a five-channel automatic gain amplifier, but he did not have a five-channel system.

TAYLOR: Jerrold had developed the amplifier, in 1953?

ECKER: Yes, and wanted to try it out on my system in Williamsport. I was thinking to myself that he knows that I am using Entron equipment and Entron is sure as hell going to come and look at this thing. Well anyway, he went into the Lab, brought the amplifier out and showed it to me.

End of Tape 1, Side A


TAYLOR: We've got the tape going again. We were just mentioning about Vic Nicholson, and you were going to tell about his patent?

ECKER: No, No. What I was going to tell you was that Milt introduced me to Vic Nicholson, and said, "By the way, he's (Vic) going with you." So Vic came with me to Williamsport, to make sure that we didn't open the amplifier and try and take a look at it. That was my first association with Vic Nicholson. At that time Milt asked me if I'd like to go to work here. And I said, "No."

TAYLOR: Now that amplifier had AGC?

ECKER: This amplifier had AGC and the Entron amplifier originally had no AGC. Their engineer which was... Hank was not the chief engineer there, although that was his title. He had a guy working with him – Hans...

TAYLOR: Heinz Blum.

ECKER: Heinz Blum, right. ...That was really a pretty sharp engineer. He designed -- and I used in Reno, Nevada -- an amplifier that was supposed to be an automatic gain amplifier, which had incorporated in it a motor driven coil that operated with temperature. Motor driven, using a Selsyn motor that drove this damn coil, either in or out of the coil, depending on what the temperature was. I used that amplifier in Reno, Nevada. It was a disaster. It was an absolute disaster. Sometimes the motor wouldn't have sense enough to stop and would drive the cork right out the other side. Not only that, but it was a monster in size, a monster, a literal monster So they had what they called an automatic gain amplifier, never very successful. My Reno job I got most of it built, was in a fight with the city because we had to bury everything there. What did I know about burying cable -- in concrete? So I hired an outfit to come up there to cut a slit in the concrete so we could bury it and put the cable in there. We only cut the slit big enough so it would handle the old RG 11 type cable. And then the city demanded that we close that trench up. And I had people from Monsanto – and, oh, I don't remember who all – trying to tell me how to close up that slit in the concrete. We closed it up with whatever they'd tell us about, and the first car that would come along would pick up the edge of it, and the next thing you knew there would be a half a mile of this junk! And it just wouldn't stay. I said, "Well we made that damn trench just too narrow, and there was nothing for this stuff to hang on to. It was just laying in there.

TAYLOR: I have heard this same story about the guy down in Cannel, California. You know his name I'm sure. He was head of one of the cosmetic companies – I want to say Avon, but I don't think that was it. He had the same problem burying cables.

ECKER: Well, November 26 came along, and that happened to be my son's birthday. I had gone home for the 4th of July from Reno, Nevada. My wife had found a house she wanted me to buy this house. So we bought this house while I was there. I signed papers and everything that had to be done. My wife moved in by herself. I went back to Reno on the 6th of July. On November 26th, she called me on the phone, and she gave me a choice. I could either keep roaming around all over the world while she raised the family... And by the way, she didn't like this house that we had moved into and that we had bought. She sold the house. I never slept one night in that house. She moved in by herself, sold the house, moved out by herself. I never spent one night in that house. But she gave me a choice. She said, "Len." She said, "Either you can be a husband and a father to your children and come home, or you can roam around all you damn well please, but you can't have both ends." So, by that time, I had finished what I'd wanted to do in Reno, basically, and I was in the middle of trying to cover up this hole in the street. And I said to her, "I'm coming home." What I did, very simply, was I hired a trucking outfit to haul sand and pour sand in these damn trenches. So, they wound up with nothing but sand in there. Now,, I don't know what they finally... I guess the city repaved them. I remember trying to fill those slits--it just couldn't be done. We didn't have brains enough to create a big enough trench so that you could get some kind of... Maybe cut it at an angle... We just cut it exactly a size big enough to bury the cable. As I said, if I knew then what I know now, I probably wouldn't have been in any of it. I came home...

TAYLOR: What year was this now?

ECKER: I came home in December of 1954. And the outfit in Williamsport... I checked in over there, and they said, "Well, we'd like you to come back to work. And I said, "OK" I went back to work for this outfit in Williamsport, but now it is purely as an employee and not as a part of the owner. And Milt Shapp sent Caywood Cooley to Williamsport to look over the Jerrold System. Jerrold had a system up there at that time.

TAYLOR: Is that the one that Ragone was working with?

ECKER: No, Ragone was working with the system built for Philco. Milt eventually bought that system from Philco. But anyway he came up, and he was there for awhile and I ran into him. He was in charge of the field engineers for Jerrold at that time. But he said to me, he says, "Hey, how about coming to work for me?" I didn't like the idea of being nothing but an employee on this system that I had built, you know. So I finally talked to Ruth about it, and she said, "Well, if you want to go, go ahead. If you don't like it here, you're unhappy here – go ahead." So I joined Shapp at that time.

TAYLOR: 1955?

ECKER: in January of 1955. I worked for Caywood Cooley, and my buddy was Vic Nicholson. We were the only two field engineers that Jerrold had, and we were running all over the place, doing all kind of things for them. But, again, my wife didn't particularly care about – you know, travelling like that, you're away from home all the time, and the kids were small. She said, "I thought you had enough of that." So finally, I told Caywood, I said, "You know, I've got to get off of this kick. I've got to do something else. My wife keeps complaining." So, he said, "How would you like to go work in the Lab?" I said, "Well I'd like that." By that time Jerrold had built the Lab where they are now, where they have their headquarters.

TAYLOR: Hatboro?

ECKER: Yes. That was their original Laboratory. It was not the Laboratory where I had picked up the amplifier. That was in an old farm building in Southampton. They had built this new Laboratory, a guy named Dalck Feith built that Lab.

TAYLOR: Dalck was really the angel for Jerrold's operation.

ECKER: Hey, there were times when Milt wasn't able to pay our wages, Dalck supplied the funds. I remember the first year I joined Jerrold, the total business we did was $1.75 million, which was nothing back in those days. It was a small outfit. Anyway, I joined Jerrold as a bench engineer. And the first job I ever worked on was... Back in those days, when the systems started to go broadband five channels, and eventually twelve channels, there was no test equipment. I worked on the first broadband sweep generator that Jerrold made. It didn't do it all in one step, one jump. It kind of ran in octaves, you know, 245...

TAYLOR: (Interrupting) Was Ken Simons involved in all of this?

ECKER: Yes Ken was my immediate boss on that particular project. So, that was my first project with Jerrold, that broadband sweep generator under Ken Simons. Then, lo and behold, Jerrold got involved in the pay television system in Bartlesville, Oklahoma. Now, by the time I got to Jerrold, that Bartlesville system was already in difficulty, principally because it had two pay channels, and that's all it had. It was done in conjunction, as I remember, with Paramount Pictures and the South West Exhibitors.

TAYLOR: With Jerrold?

ECKER: The subscribers came on by the hundreds because it was something brand new, and they went off just as fast. They went off primarily because... The age old story that you get with subscription pay:-- "There wasn't anything that I wanted to watch that much, and I had to pay for it" Jerrold decided that, "Hey, the only solution to this was to be able to do a system that you only had to pay for what you watched." So Jerrold was working on something called PBPB, Program By Program Billing.

TAYLOR: Oh yes. Ken told me about this

ECKER: PBPB, Program By Program Billing. I got assigned to that project along with engineers that Jerrold hired from the outside world. I remember, Frank Ragone was on that project as well. As I think back about that project, the first thing we needed to do was -- information which was coming back, which came back within the power portion of the band -- was to strip all the video information off it. And so we used... Gee, I've been away from this stuff for so long I can't even remember the terminology any more. Oh... that's terrible isn't it? Well anyway, what we were trying to do was to strip the video off of this low frequency carrier. And we built ____ and we built bigger and bigger suppressors... What's the word for that? I'll think of it before too long.

TAYLOR: I don't quite follow; you were sending video downstream. Was this something coming up stream?

ECKER: Upstream you had going the two channels that had the Pay television on it. Then in each one of the homes – I'll tell you about this in a minute -- they had a little box they could select any one of the two channels. That information from that box was sent back down stream within the power band, somewhere in the neighborhood, if I remember correctly, of a couple of thousand Hertz or something of that nature. [Apparently Len refers to transmission from headend to homes as "upstream"; homes to headend as "downstream".]

TAYLOR: It was not amplified or anything?

ECKER: No, no it just came back down... There was video. You had to get rid of the video so you could... What in the world do they call that kind of circuit?

TAYLOR: Are you talking about a filter?

ECKER: It's not a filter. Well, anyway. I'll think of it before we're through. In order to do this then, it was very easy to get rid of 50%, 75%, 90% .You just kept building more and more circuitry. When you get down to about 95% it gets more and more difficult. You double the circuit, you get another percent. Double that and you get another two percent. We could never get to the point where you could get rid of all of it. In any event we finally built a system that would work. We built it, and we put it on display. Jerrold at that time had a factory down at 15th and Lehigh in Philadelphia, where they manufactured equipment. Was it 15th and Lehigh, or 25th and Dickinson – one of those two places. We had a room in that factory – it was upstairs. We put the equipment in. People came from all over to see this damn thing. The only trouble is nobody ever bought it. And by the time we got it finished, Bartlesville had already gone down the drain. So Pay TV, Program By Program Billing, or what they call today, Pay-Per-View, it wasn't anything new. Jerrold did this back in 1956 or 1957. Never sold it. That Exhibit stayed there for years. People would come and see it, just to see how that all works.

TAYLOR: What was the one in Toronto or the suburb of Toronto?

ECKER: That was the one that Sruki [Israel Switzer] was involved in. I don't know what went in there, but I know that Sruki Switzer had worked on a system similar to what Jerrold was trying to do at that particular time.

TAYLOR: Jerrold supplied equipment for it.

ECKER: But not the pay equipment. Sruki designed that in Memphis, Tennessee. You know, Sruki designed and invented a lot of things, and some of them didn't make much sense, but that's all right. I'll tell you another story about my association with Sruki. Oh boy. He's quite a guy. He still is. He's got an imagination that runs absolutely riot, and he's got enough technical knowledge that he can make it feasible and understandable. He is an interesting guy to talk to. I'm sure you have had conversation with him.

TAYLOR: Oh gosh! I have known him... See, he started out in Calgary, in Canada. He went to school in Edmonton, worked as a photographer for a TV station. After graduation, he got a job with geophysical prospecting in the oil fields. If I recall, one of his first cable ventures was in Lethbridge.

ECKER: I think he was the guiding influence on that system in Toronto, which turned out to be a tremendous system, big. Even in the early days, it was big.

TAYLOR: They were trying to feed that with high power amplifiers for some reason.

ECKER: But also that system originally provided the terminal. The terminal had no RF equipment in it. They built the equipment that converted the channels down to video.

TAYLOR: And delivered it video?

ECKER: Yes. The sets were just video monitors. There were no channel changers or anything of that nature. I have been involved in so many things that you keep bringing back to mind. During this period of time, when I was working in the Lab at Jerrold, Milt had gone out, before I joined them, to-Dubuque, Iowa. And in Dubuque there were so many people who wanted to build that cable system that the city fathers decided to put it on a ballot. Milt Shapp went out there and electioneered to get that system, and was successful. And in fact, we always blamed Dubuque. Iowa, for his desire to be in politics. When he came back from Dubuques, he used to brag about the fact that it cost him fifty cents a vote to get the Dubuque system. He used to talk about it, for heaven's sake. Anyway, they went out to Dubuque, Iowa... Unfortunately, in Dubuque, Iowa, you couldn't get any signal. All the signals were out of town about ten miles, on top of a hill. Well, how do you go ten miles, back in those days, in RG type cable? It was not possible. So Mike was involved in this. I only got in it because I had to go out to Dubuque, Iowa. That's where every new engineer that came in to Jerrold was sent out to Dubuque, Iowa. Mike was a part of this system. They built a system at the time called NQV.

TAYLOR: Not Quite Video. I knew about this at the time or shortly thereafter and heard about others.

ECKER: Well, anyway, I got sent to Dubuque, Iowa, because, what they did was, they had five cables coming from the top of this hill into town. There were – as I remember it -- two amplifiers on that run. The frequency was from 1 to 6 MHz, as I remember. And every time the weather changed, these damn cables would talk to each other – they cross-talked. So I don't remember who was responsible for designing this piece of equipment. I kind of think maybe Don Kirk had something to do with it, because, it was his kind of nightmare. Don was always into this kind of stuff, you know. He built something that Jerrold called the "dehububber"...

TAYLOR: Yes, I've heard about that too.

ECKER: ...which was a twelve matrix design, and by adjusting the 12 matrix you could balance out the goddamn cross-talk on this system. But, you had to do it almost on a continuous basis.

TAYLOR: This was at the termination?

ECKER: This was at the termination. But you had to do it almost on a continuous basis. I got sent out there on a day when the temperature was like zero. It was in the middle of the winter. I remember getting off that airplane. In those days, they didn't have jetways and you had to walk across the tarmac to get to the terminal. I'd never heard snow crunch under your feet like that, because of the cold. I spent two... That was my initiation with two weeks out in Dubuque, Iowa, juggling these 12 knobs trying to keep the cross talk out of this system. That was NQV, Not Quite Video. TAYLOR: I guess Ken has told the story about the solution that Kirk came up with to bury the stuff and then he called it HLD (High Loss Dirt).

ECKER: You know they never figured out a way to keep those cables from talking to each other. There is just no way. At that frequency that shield on that cable was as good a radiator as you could get, and those cables talked to each other all the time. Every engineer that came to work for Jerrold had to go out to Dubuque, Iowa, and operate the dehububber. And I'm sure that was Don Kirk's thing, because Don was always involved with the crazy kinds of things like this. We also had a guy named Don Rogers. Have you ever heard of him?

TAYLOR: No, I haven't.

ECKER: Jerrold at that time had two divisions, there was the Cable division, and then there was the Consumer Product division. Eventually, Jerrold bought out an outfit called Taco, which was in that consumer...made antennas within the consumer business, and did a lot of work in that. Well anyway, the chief engineer of that group was a guy named Don Rogers, another one of these guys with an imagination unbelievable -- unbelievable imagination. And if it didn't fit into Milt's scheme of things as to what Jerrold ought to be doing, he would build it on the fly, you know. He would stick it in a drawer. And if you come to a point... And you come to Don and you say, "Hey Don, I've got a problem over here." And he'd say, "OK, I've got an answer." And he would open a drawer and there he had it. He's the guy who designed the first -- that I'm aware of -- two-way splitters and things that separated FM from...

TAYLOR: (Interrupting) He was probably responsible for the I Jacks?

ECKER: No, that was my patent. I was the engineer on I Jacks. I got... I don't know, we keep jumping all over the place. I got involved in all kind of things with Jerrold. Jerrold got involved into all kinds of things they had no business in, in many cases. I got sent once to Norfolk Navy Yard. To do what? The Navy decided – or some big wheel in the Navy decided – that on an aircraft carrier, from the time that aircraft left the hangar deck till it got to the flight deck, the commander-in-chief – the CIC – didn't really know where the damn airplane was. So some wise guy has an idea that, "Hey, we ought to be able to watch that airplane as it goes to the hangar deck to the flight deck. So, who gets sent down to Norfolk, Virginia, to see if this can be done? Me. I get a camera -- a black and white camera – and I go down, and I get on board this aircraft carrier. I don't know from nothing about any of this kind of stuff, because my experience with cameras was about zilch. Jerrold never cared. They took on any damn job. They didn't really care back in those days. I remember once we even built a power station, up in Michigan. I get down on this aircraft carrier, and I learned things about an aircraft carrier that I didn't think possible. I finally get this thing going and all the rest, and I got this thing on the elevator. And taking a shot, and where the aircraft is coming up on the opposite wall from where I was with the camera, I could see the aircraft, but they also had markings on the wall which indicated what level. So I put the camera up so they could read that level as the damn thing went up. We got to the top. I hadn't anchored this damn camera. And I don't know if you know how fast one of these damn elevators go. They go at one tremendous... I never could figure out why they need to know where the airplane was during the couple of seconds it took to push it... Anyway, the camera went overboard – disappeared overboard. I must have gone this far off the deck. I hadn't anchored it. It never occurred to me that this thing went up there at this rate of speed. This thing went up at a fantastic rate of speed. I finally got down and squared away. But they never hired Jerrold to do this on any other aircraft carriers, to my knowledge.

TAYLOR: Laughing, They're probably laughing about it still.

ECKER: I'm sure. But, you know, I said to myself, "I always thought the Navy was pretty spic and span, you know pretty savvy. But this aircraft carrier was about as sloppy as anything I've ever seen. And then, one day out of a clear blue sky, the ship shaped up, just like that. But then I found out that the reason it was sloppy was that the captain wasn't on board. They had a watch on the fantail, because he drove a little Volkswagen beetle. And they'd watch, and when he made the turn to come out onto the pier, that ship just jumped like that. It came over the loudspeaker -- the captain's coming on board. The whole ship changed, in nothing flat. Well anyway, that was a job that I did for Jerrold. Well, anyway, Jerrold got a job in Chelmsford, Massachusetts, about 1956 or 1957, where the city decided that they were going to use the cable system to tie all the schools in the system to it. It wasn't going to be a cable system for subscribers, it was only going to be a cable system for schools. And they were going to build a studio in the local high school, and they would provide programming to all the schools in the city. Well, who got called to do that job? Me. So, I went to Chelmsford, Massachusetts, and we built the system. And it then became apparent that there was a little bit of a problem. The problem was that, hey, you wanted to be able to pick the signal off in whatever classroom was necessary. So the obvious way to build this was to build a round robin system in the school. But, how do you get into a round robin system? That became the problem. Well, Eric Winston and I put out heads together to build the stuff that would go into this system. Eric Winston was Mechanical engineer at Jerrold, and a damn good one, and I was the RF engineer. And we built something called "J-Jacks" and we got it patented. And for many years, I used to get a buck every year, from Jerrold, for that damn patent. It never was a tremendous success at Jerrold, but they would sell about $100 thousand worth of that equipment every year, for a period of about 15 years. We had a guy named Bob Venderland. Do you know Bob?

TAYLOR: Yes. I knew Bob.

ECKER: Well Bob Venderland knew somebody at the University of Chicago who was an expert in what ought to be done in schools with regards to equipment, not the electronic parts or any of that sort of thing. But what to do, because, hey, here you've got an external piece of equipment and the kids in the school are going to take it and go away with it. Right? Or they're going to stand on it and do any kind of stuff. So Bob Venderland got this guy and we got together with him, and he helped us with the mechanical design of it. It was designed in such a way that it had a rounded top, so the kids couldn't stand on it. It had a keyed bolt. To put it in you needed a special tool to put that bolt in and take it out. And that product was made so that you could get anywhere in the system – you could get in and out of the system anywhere in this round robin kind of system. And that was J-Jacks. And that was my project. So Venderland, Eric Winston and I had the patent on that. And as I said, Jerrold paid me a buck for many years after that patent came out. And he used to sell about $100 thousand dollars a year of that stuff, up until about – maybe the '70s. This system went in in 1957. And I have a strange story to tell you about that.

TAYLOR: Bob Venderland went to Conrac for a time, then he went to Dynair with Gary Gramman. He is probably retired by now. He communicated with me, probably every year.

ECKER: The last time I heard of him he was at Dynair. I needed something for a project and the Dynair name came up. And when I wrote to them, Bob recognized my name and wrote me back. I have an aside for you if you will turn that machine off.

[Off the record]

ECKER: My freshman year at – Christmas vacation – I learned that Einstein was going to be speaking at the University of Pennsylvania. I lived in Pittsburgh then – a small town northwest of Pittsburgh.

TAYLOR: What year was this?

ECKER: This would have been the Christmas of 1953.

TAYLOR: OK. That was your first year at Georgia Tech?

ECKER: Georgia Tech, yes. It was my Christmas vacation. And in order to do that, I came through Washington, DC. I called my brother and he met me at the train station. I had deliberately arranged for about two hours for the layover there, thinking that he was going to take me to his home. But his wife was very, very bitter – didn't want to know anything about Jewish people.

TAYLOR: Really!

ECKER: Didn't want to know anything. We sat – you would remember this – most of the major railroad stations in the United States had this Savarin restaurant, maybe still do.

TAYLOR: Yes, I remember. There was one in Washington.

ECKER: Philadelphia had one. New York had one. Well anyway, we sat in the Savarin restaurant for about two hours together and had this good conversation. And then I left – and got a chance to hear Einstein. And I remember one of the things that stuck with me. Einstein, of course, was Jewish, but he was not in the true sense a practicing Jew. But he believed in a Master Plan to the extent that one of the comments he made, during that discussion that I heard, was that everything that man needed, or would need in the future, to progress was already in place. I remembered that. I remembered that when I went to school and I studied Physics, you know, we had the Periodic Table that had this whole bunch of stuff out here that nobody knew anything about. But they knew that it had to exist. Right? And some of that stuff, if it hadn't been available, we wouldn't have a lot of the things we have – jet engines, for example. No steel was able to handle the kind of temperatures that were involved in jet engines.

TAYLOR: Erbium in fiber amplifiers.

ECKER: Yes. All this kind of stuff. And that was the corner stone around which Einstein made his speech, about the Master Plan. Everything that man would need, or would need in the future, was already in place. As you go along, you see that this is actually true. The laws of physics don't change. They are there. We know more about them. We know more about the elements. We know more about these kinds of things. But there's nothing new that has come along, that we found that we didn't know ever existed before. Well, anyway, that's beside the point. I saw him [my brother] again when my children were already of an age where they could enjoy Washington, and we took a trip to Washington. I called him on the phone, and he met me, and we sat in the car, and we talked for a long period, my kids talked to him, and my wife talked to him. I never went to his home. I never met his wife. I never met any of his children, he had two. The next time I ran into him...No, the second time I ran into him...

TAYLOR: This is your brother you're speaking about?

ECKER: This is my brother. ...I am in Naples, Italy. I am actually stationed in a little town south of Naples. The American Headquarters were in Naples, and I needed some things I didn't have. So I took my supply officer and we drove into headquarters at Naples here, Twelfth Air Force. And who do I run into at the Twelfth Air Force headquarters: my brother. So, again we had conversation, had a very nice meeting, very congenial, always. Then I had the meeting with him in Washington with my kids. Now the next time I meet him was interesting, which brought up this whole story because of Chelmsford, Massachusetts. There was at that time, and I'm sure it still is there, a Channel 26 in Washington, DC. Channel 26 at that time was an educational station. I don't know whether it still is or not.

TAYLOR: Yes it is. It's PBS

ECKER: The School Board in Arlington, with Channel 26, decided that they would like to do some educational work with Channel 26, and they heard about my project in Chelmsford, Massachusetts. I was invited to appear before the School Board in Arlington, Virginia, to discuss a system similar to the one that I had built in Chelmsford, Massachusetts.

TAYLOR: What year is this you say.

ECKER: I can't remember precisely what year this is. This would have been somewhere around the late 1960's, possibly 1968 or 1969, somewhere in there. Because it was before I started as field engineer for Jerrold, which occurred in 1971. Well anyway, when I get down there, who do you think is the Chairman of the school board?

TAYLOR: Your brother? For goodness sake!

[Off the record for some personal history]

ECKER: Because of his wife not wanting to know anything about his religion and where he came from, he had taken what was common in Europe and hyphenated his name with his mother's maiden name. So his name was Ecker-Racz, which was his mother's maiden name, in Hungary.


ECKER: R-A-C-Z, which by the way is Hungarian for "red" and would be the equivalent for Rosenberg here in America. He didn't acknowledge me, so I didn't acknowledge him. And I guess no one on that board associated ECKER-Racz with ECKER, because nobody asked the question. And I think that he didn't acknowledge me because he didn't want to go into any kind of an explanation as why things were the way they were. The very next time I saw him, I had retired from Jerrold, 1982, my 65th birthday. My wife threw a big party for me, and my sister, who lives in Tucson, Arizona, came for my party. She decided she wanted to see our brother. So we called. By that time his wife had died, his daughter had sold his home -- and he had retired of course -- and built... Because he was 11 years older than I was, when I retired at 65, he already was 76 or thereabouts. His daughter had built an apartment in her basement in her home in Silver Springs, Maryland. He had lived in Arlington, Virginia, all of his working life. We drove down there. His daughter wasn't there. The excuse that she -- the mother-in-law was there -- and the excuse that she gave was that her son was playing soccer and she had to be there to watch him. But I kind of felt that the reason she was not there was because she did not want to meet us. Anyway I had a very nice visit with my brother, and that was the last time I saw him alive. He died in 1988 at the age of 80.

TAYLOR: The material that we left out of here leaves some of this kind of confused. Let me, between us, kind of quickly straighten it out. The man you speak of as your brother, Ecker-Racz, was your father's son from his first marriage in Hungary.

ECKER: Yes. Both of my parents came from Hungary.

TAYLOR: When you were born, it was her only child?


TAYLOR: She was divorced. She didn't have any children previously.

ECKER: No. In fact, I told you, my Dad said he married her – he used to tell me this all the time – she was past it. Remember, she was 41 years old when I was born. The fact of the matter is she would have been 42 in November, and I was born in September. So she was already considered to be not of child-bearing age.

TAYLOR: So the brother you speak of was by your father's first marriage, substantially older than you?

ECKER: Yes, We had a common father. I'm the youngest of the crew, that I consider to be my brother and sisters. I am very close to my two sisters, who, by the way, we had the same father, but not the same mother.

TAYLOR: They are the sisters, with the same mother as the brother you speak of?

ECKER: Yes. In fact the girl who was left behind in Europe is the sister who now lives in San Diego. She was caught in the Holocaust and spent four years in the concentration camp. As a result of that she has constantly had stomach problems I remember when she first came to the United States, she lived with us for a very short period of time. She lived on baby food. She was in the same camp that was run by this famous Mengele. She tells stories on him. She lives in San Diego now, and I get out about once... I was going out at the rate of about once a month for the longest time trying to help her with her problems since her husband died. Her husband was a story in itself, he was a cousin and found her afterwards. She lost a husband and a son in the camps. And it wasn't until recently that we discussed her husband, but she's never talked about her son. I have pictures of her, but she's never mentioned it. But anyway she had this cousin who escaped out of Europe went to Africa, became an officer in the pre-Czech army and fought with the Czechs all through World War II and achieved the rank of full Colonel, in the Czech army. In fact, he went back to Hungary and found her after the War, married her, and got her out of Hungary, because he had to leave because he was on their wanted list. You have to know a little bit about the geography of Europe. During the time that I speak of, when my father was there as a soldier, there was something called the Austria-Hungarian Empire, which included not only Austria and Hungary but Czechoslovakia, Romania, Transylvania, part of Yugoslavia...

TAYLOR: Bulgaria?

ECKER: No, Bulgaria was outside. It was a conglomeration. That part where my father came from was in Czechoslovakia. Where my mother came from was still a part of Hungary, even it was all split up. And many of my relatives who came from Europe... I have a cousin who also escaped from that whole era. He came from what is now Romania. But they lived in that area which was all three of these kinds of things, you know. But anyway, that's a little bit of the geography of Europe. Those countries have been split up so many times and I don't know whether anyone knows who they are. In fact, I guess that's part of the reason for the trouble over there now. As long as they had somebody up here that was holding everything down there together it worked reasonably well. But the Russians disappeared, and all of a suddenly everybody wants to be his own thing. And so you find all this fighting and carrying on and all of the rest of that, because there just isn't a top that appears to be holding it all together. Anyway, that was a little bit of my own personal history. The thing that brought it all up was Chelmsford, Massachusetts, and being invited to go down and talk with the School Board of...

TAYLOR: This was in the 60's you're saying?

ECKER: The late 60's

TAYLOR: The one in Hagerstown, that Chesapeake & Potomac, C&P Bell, with Ford Foundation money. That was earlier than that, I think.

ECKER: It was earlier, yes.

TAYLOR: It may have been 1960-1961, somewhere in there.

ECKER: Chelmsford, Massachusetts would have been somewhere in the very early 60's – 60-61 -- about that period of time. As I remember Hagerstown came along not too long after that. It was very close to the Chelmsford thing. There was also one out on the West Coast -- I don't remember where it was any more, though -- that did much the same kind of thing. And by the way, J Jacks was supplied to that Hagerstown system.

TAYLOR: I think I knew that. I went to Hagerstown. This was while I was still in Montana. I left Montana in the latter part of 1964 to join Martin Malarkey. But I had visited Hagerstown before I left Montana, so it was the early part of the 1960s I suspect.

ECKER: Yes, it would have been. And as I remember, it almost coincided with Chelmsford, Massachusetts. I do recall that they also bought J Jacks equipment.



ECKER: Do other people kind of skip around like I do? One thing sort of leads into something totally different.

TAYLOR: Oh yes. It's fascinating, though. OK, we're back on the tape, we ran out of tape. Len is talking about the NCTA Convention that I think we have decided was in 1968 at the Prudential building in Boston.

ECKER: Were you aware of that Convention?

TAYLOR: Oh yes, very much.

ECKER: Were you aware that they lost the air conditioning at that Convention?

TAYLOR: Indeed I do! Very, very well!

ECKER: Good, we are talking about the same time. It was hot.

TAYLOR: It was terrible!

ECKER: The wheel at Jerrold at that time was Bob Beisswenger. Milt left Jerrold in 1966. He decided to run for Governor in the state of Pennsylvania. Dalck Feith decided that Milt could not run for governor and manage Jerrold at the same time, so he started a proxy fight. Milt, with his wife, owned 550 thousand shares of Jerrold stock. Dalck Feith owned 400 thousand shares. He paired up with another stockholder to where they had the majority of the shares. They made arrangements with a Brokerage house in Philadelphia, called Butcher and Sherrod, to buy up Milt's shares at $18 a share. Milt got $10 million for his stock, which wasn't too bad for a guy who started out basically with nothing. But Hey! Two years later Butcher and Sherrod sold that same block of stock to General Instrument for $46 a share. They didn't do too badly themselves. Dalck Feith wound up as the major stock holder in General Instrument. Because of splits and things like that, he wound up with 840 thousand shares of General Instrument stock.

TAYLOR: Interesting

ECKER: And I was kind of friendly with Dalck. I got friendly, but he would keep skipping around. In the very early days of the Jerrold manufacturing business, most of the equipment was made on sheet metal chassis. That's the way they were made. Who supplied those sheet metal chassis? Dalck Feith.

TAYLOR: Yep. I have heard stories about this from Ken and Mike and I think from Don Kirk also.

ECKER: In the early days of the Jerrold Laboratory, every engineer had more than one job. One guy was in charge of the building, one... My job, in addition to my normal bench work, was to take care of all of the engineering change orders. That was part of my job. I had a technician who worked with me, and someone who did all the typing. But my responsibility was the engineering change orders. Well Jerrold had a purchasing agent, whose name was Smith – I can't remember his first name, but it doesn't really matter. We had made a device -- rather Jerrold had designed a device -- to be used as a distribution unit, called an ADO-3. This was a little box...

TAYLOR: I remember it

ECKER: This was a little box, in and out, and had three spigots that you could take off called ADO-3. At Jerrold, when anybody designed anything, before we ever put it in production, we used to send the metal work out to Dalck Feith, and he would make 25 pieces and we would build the damn thing to see if it was working before it went into production -- called a pilot run. I'm sure that most manufacturers do that. It makes good sense to do that. We had made the pilot run of the ADO-3 and it did its job. And... I was trying to remember the name of that little peanut tube that that damn thing used, an AK-something. It was a 6AK5, but it had a number 5654, or something like that. We were getting ready to make a slight change in it, the purchasing agent said to me, "You know, when Dalck Feith made the original pilot run of 25 chassis, he charged us $3.90 apiece for them. We buy them now by the thousands and he still charges us $3. Don't you think we ought to be able to get a better price when we're going to buy them in the kind of quantity...?" By that time, I knew a lot about Dalck, because having engineering change orders, I did business with him, and I knew that If Jerrold bought a thousand at a crack, he was making 5000, putting 4000 on the shelf – because Dalck was a sharp, sharp business man. So Smith says, "Maybe we ought to say something to Milt about this." "OK, we'll say something now." So Milt calls a meeting, and there's Dalck Feith, Milt, and me and Smith. And Milt says to Dalck, "My guys think that we're paying too much for this metal work for this ADO-3. When you made 25, you charged us $3.90. Now we buy them a thousand at a time, you still charge us $3.90." Well Dalck started – doesn't say anything for a moment. Then he turns around and he says to him, "What do you think you ought to pay for that?" And Milt says, "I don't know anything about punching holes in sheet metal, and bending sheet metal. How do I know?" Dalck doesn't say anything for a minute, then says, "You're right. I've made enough money off that. Now, you'll get them for nothing." And Milt says, "I can't take them for nothing." Dalck says, "You don't want to tell me how much you want to pay. You don't want them for nothing. My price is $3.90."

TAYLOR: That's how he got where he is!

ECKER: Oh yes, he was a shrewd, shrewd guy!

[Laughter from both men]

ECKER: The guy is a multi-multi millionaire. When Forrest and Little (sp?) bought General Instrument out, they forced him to sell his stock. They didn't have stock. That was a private owned investment house. They didn't want any stockholders. It was only here lately that they put some stock on the market. So, he had to sell out. I don't know what he got for his stock, but it had to be something better than $46 per share. And he had 840 thousand shares.

TAYLOR: That was enough to buy a few breakfasts!

ECKER: He is very philanthropic. He really is. He is in Israel once a month – once every six weeks – and does a lot of good work over there.

TAYLOR: Now go back to the story about the dual cable design that you were suppose to make.

ECKER: Oh yes. Milt was gone in 1966. Dalck Feith brought Bob Beissweinger in, originally as sales manager, and then, very quickly – because Bob had been with a wire rope outfit before that as general sales manager. And then he became president of Jerrold.

TAYLOR: What was the outfit that he was with?

ECKER: A wire rope outfit. I don't remember precisely what the name of it was. The Lab had designed a technique of using a dual cable system, and by that time they were up to 27 channel. It was the original -- as I remember -- the 27 channels fit onto a 270 MHz system, if you used everything. By that time I had gotten involved in doing all the technical work for Jerrold's shows. And that was my responsibility for the longest period, right up until – well even after I retired, I used to do the technical part of the shows. Anyway, along comes this two cable 54 channel system, and I'm saying to myself, "Who needs 54 channels? What're you going to put on 54 channels?" Well, during the course of the business in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, I had gotten to know some people from Paramount Pictures. So I got in touch with Paramount Pictures, and my question to them, very simply, was, "What does the movie Industry have in cans, on the shelf, that could be used for programming?" They gave me a number, and wanted to know why I wanted to know. And I said, "Well you know we're talking about a system that has multiple channels on it, and I'm just wondering whether we would ever be able to program all those channels." So he said, "Well, I know where you could get a lot more video information, if you want it." And I said, "Where is that?" And he said, "This outfit..." Oh what is the name of that magazine that... Oh, National Geographic! And he said to me, "They got tons of video information." So I called them. And they gave me an idea of what they had." And he said, "I can tell you about someone who also has information." So he tells me about an outfit that brings in foreign films to the United States. Anyway, I talked to all these people, and then I put together a white paper for Jerrold. I said very simply... I remember Jerry Hastings, who was national sales manager, was annoyed with me, because Beisswenger almost decided to do away with it. But anyway, I wrote this paper and I said, "Hey, if you take all the programming there is available in this world, a 54 channel system operating at 20 hours a day is going to use up the whole damn works in eight days." I remember it created a helluva stir, because what the hell do you need a 54-channel system if you can't get any programming for it? But now that they talk about the number of channels that they can use now, I keep saying to myself, "So you expand that out, instead of taking that amount of time, it would probably take about twenty (days) [he said "hours"]. You know, television consumes a fantastic amount of programming.

TAYLOR: One thing that I began to realize -- in fact, I just commented about it a few days ago -- the programming that you see on... We've got a 120 Channel system there in Fairfax County. About 85 channels, I think, are active programming.

ECKER: ...Built by a young man who used to work with me in the Lab.

TAYLOR: Bob Dattner?

ECKER: If ever there was a guy who gold plated a system, he gold plated that.

TAYLOR: Well, I think those were his instructions. You watch on these channels and you will find that there are repeats – the same day. They'll put the same program on maybe four or five times a day. And then it will be on again next week. But that is a kind of a service, you know. You can see it now, or if you miss it now, you can see it another time.

ECKER: That's true of HBO and any of the subscription pay channels. But some of the stuff they put on – there has to be a limit somewhere.

TAYLOR: Some of them running the old movies and most of the old movies aren't worth watching, but they're there if you want to see them.

ECKER: But at least they're clean. I happened to tune in to HBO the other night. I could not believe what I was hearing from that program. There was a woman, who supposedly was a comedian – I just couldn't believe what I was hearing. I don't know how they get away with it. But, anyway, I built this 54-channel system. We needed a lot of channel, and what I did was simply duplicate some of the channels that we had. We had tape decks running, we had all kind of things running, and a lot of the channels were duplicate of other channels. But I built the headend on top of that hotel that was adjacent to the Convention Center. We ran the cables over the roof and down into the Convention Center from there. It took a long time to build that damn headend. You know, a 54-channel headend takes a little while to build, What I did was, I took two rooms in that hotel. That hotel was one of the first hotels that I remember that had a swimming pool on the fifth floor. And the called it a ____ floor. And I took two rooms there, and we had those two rooms for months. We never checked in. We never checked out. Whenever we went up to work, we just worked and that was it. When it came time for the show, I got thrown out of those two rooms, and they were taken over by the national Sales manager, a guy named Bob May, and somebody else that counted in Jerrold more than we did. After all, the engineers didn't count very much.

Laughter from both men.

ECKER: I will never forget, I was downstairs at the desk when Bob May checked out. He had a bill of $3,800 for three days. Do you know who else worked with me on that system? You would know him too: Dick Cavell. He was the technician from there on that system.

TAYLOR: He is with Texscan, He's with Bill Lambert now. I saw him at the show in Anaheim.

ECKER: I had intended to be there, but you know, my wife is in a special care center now.

TAYLOR: Yes, you told me that. Sorry about that. It was about ten years later, I guess, that the 400 MHz hybrids came along. I remember Sruki Switcher was trying to sell 400 MHz single channel in Atlanta on behalf of his franchise client whereas Warner-Amex was talking about going for a dual cable.

ECKER: I'm trying to remember the name of a town. I believe that in Michigan there is a place called Detroit City. Is that the name of the city? Before I lose this train of thought, Jerrold installed that system on a temporary basis as a trial in that Community. Sruki Switcher came down, because what Sruki said was that if you synchronize the carriers... He had some kind of crazy notion that if you synchronize the carriers, you didn't really need a push-pull system -- or was it negative feedback already by that time?

TAYLOR: Are you talking about the HRC?

ECKER: Yes. He said you did not need HRC what you needed to do was to synchronize the carriers, not on an HRC technique, but based on a few cycles one way or the other as far as each one of the relationships to the carrier. He came down when I was doing the testing on that system. Was it Detroit City? Somehow that doesn't seem like the right name. I remember it had "city" on the end, whatever that damn town was. So we built the system there. Sruki came down and pooh poohed the whole HRC routine as being totally incomplete, and unnecessary.

TAYLOR: He was? He's got the patent on it!

ECKER: Well, what did we do that was different, at that time? I have to try to remember.

TAYLOR: I've got that patent lying on my desk.

ECKER: Well, maybe it was the HRC system because he... I remember he talked about synchronization of carriers. But what was the system that we used in that town that was not HRC? Isn't that funny? I can't remember. When we have dinner with Mike, he will remember. Mike is younger than I am, he'll remember. I would guess that Mike is about 66 or 67?

TAYLOR: Gosh, I don't know.

ECKER: I know he is past 65, but not by much. I probably have about ten years on Mike, and those ten years make a big difference. If I could just remember the name of that town... I'm trying to remember the system that we used. We had a 54-channel system, 450 MHz system.

TAYLOR: Gosh, he pushed that 400 MHz so hard. He sent me copies of letters. There were several things that he pushed, one was HRC, another he called Phase Phiddling.

ECKER: That was the one!!! Phase Phiddling. He came down with an oscilloscope and he checked all these carriers... That was the one.

TAYLOR: And if you phased them all properly... His other technique that he pushed so hard too, that kind of disappeared, was Frame Synchronization, where you put the sync pulses all on the same time frame and that made all the distortion come -- because that is the highest power -- in the blanking period.

ECKER: The only thing is you lost the tail end of the picture.


Laughing from both men

ECKER: Oh Yeah. He had all kinds of ideas. I tell you, he had an imagination that was an absolute riot. But he had the brains and the knowledge to be able to, at least theoretically, make some of these things work.

TAYLOR: He also had the guts to push them, and got people to put money into them, so that they got done, and tested out, and he made money on them. He is very good. HRC is probably the one that has been most widely accepted. And there are so many of those systems out there... But, you know, they are trapped. They can't get out of it. It is very difficult to change from HRC back. But, they tell me... I was looking at one of the systems – I guess it was Las Vegas – and they say that the cable-ready set – modern cable-ready set – is wide enough to make the adjustment without doing anything. So they can operate without converters. You know, most HRC system have to have a converter just to take care of the 1.25 MHz difference. They were telling me -- Dan Pike from Prime...

ECKER: Another sharp character.

TAYLOR: An extremely practical guy...

ECKER: A little hard to deal with. I've known Dan Pike for many, many years.

TAYLOR: I wanted to ask you – way, way back, and we've been jumping from all kinds of things... Fascinating, though, Len. But I wanted to ask, "Why did you get into Engineer in the beginning. You went to Georgia Tech to study engineering. What got you thinking to do that?

ECKER: You won't believe me – because I don't know. As a matter of fact, I've got a little vignette to tell you about that. Engineering was no place for a Jewish boy to be. There were lots of places that were not open.

TAYLOR: I did not realize that.

ECKER: One story I'll tell you. When I came back from Europe, and couldn't make up my mind whether to stay in the Army or not, -- this would have been 1946 or 1947 -- I got a call from AT&T asking me if I would come in and talk to them. The reason they wanted to talk to me was that the kind of experience that I had in the service... I had been a company commander almost throughout the entire War and they kind of liked management skills and all that kind of stuff – and they would like to talk to me. Maybe this will make up my mind about whether I wanted to stay in the military or not. So, I had an interview with AT&T and I was exactly what they were looking for. So they said to me, "Would you mind filling out an application blank and all the rest." And on the application blank, one of the first things was religious preference. No sooner did that interviewer get that application blank, they didn't want any part of me. That was the end of that. They had called me, I didn't approach them. They approached me. But the minute he read on that application, religious preference, that was the end of that.

TAYLOR: Even after fighting a war which had a lot to do with...

ECKER: Hey! They didn't want any part of me. In fact, it was because of that that I really decided to stay with the military as long as I did. Why did I go to Georgia Tech? I don't have the vaguest idea. The only idea that I remember was that I had a mother who was old when I was born, was very doting. I used to continue to feel smothered by that mother. I could not do anything without her wanting to be a part of it. I never was able to buy pieces of clothes that she didn't buy for me. She never approved of anybody I ever went out with, and made it very obvious that she didn't approve. She would reward me very generously when I did what she wanted me to do. She showed her displeasure very completely when I didn't do it. And I just wanted to get away from home. Why I picked Georgia Tech, I don't really know. I came from a little town in Pennsylvania, 25 miles northwest of Pittsburgh.

TAYLOR: You ended your military service in Florida?

ECKER: Yes, but hey, I went to Tech before I was in the military. I graduated from high school in 1935. I graduated from Georgia Tech in 1939. I was in the army by 1940, because I was ROTC. I've always been good in mathematics, and I always enjoyed physics and things like that. But I have this little thing yet that I wanted to tell you. Like many women, my mother belonged to a little coffee klatch – a group of women that would get together from time to time. And, especially among Jewish women, what did they talk about? They talk about their children. This one had a son who was a doctor, this one had a son who was a dentist, this one had a lawyer, and, you know. These were the kind of professions that Jews got into, because in many cases they were barred from getting into other kinds of professions. My mother never said anything. Finally one of the women said to my mother. "You have a son don't you?" And my mother said, "Yes." She said, "So what does he do?" My mother said, "He is an Engineer." The other woman said, "What! You mean he drives trains?"

TAYLOR: You had Carnegie Tech right there in Pittsburg.

ECKER: That was too close to home.

TAYLOR: Oh, I see. You wanted to get away from home. That I can understand.

ECKER: I enjoyed my time at Georgia.

TAYLOR: There was MIT, why didn't you go to MIT.

ECKER: I don't know why. A lot of people have asked me. "How in the world did you ever get to Atlanta, Georgia, Georgia Tech?" I don't really know. I remember vaguely that I applied to maybe three or four or five different schools and I was accepted in all of them. I was a pretty good student in high school. I used to get in a lot of trouble. I was a member of the national Honor Society in high school. You didn't have any trouble getting into schools in those days. One of the reason I went to Georgia Tech might have been – and I'm not so sure this is true -- that it was a land grant school and the tuition, even though I was an out-of-stater, was not too damn expensive. I came out of a family that was not wealthy by any stretch of the imagination. My brother came from a wealthy family, but I didn't.

TAYLOR: But engineering was because you enjoyed math and...

ECKER: Yes, and I did reasonably well at Georgia Tech. Unfortunately I didn't work as hard as I should have, but I had a lot of fun. I have been in Atlanta many times since then because there have always been shows in Atlanta, and when I did shows for Jerrold I was always there. In addition to that I used to do seminars for Jerrold, and we would have one in Atlanta every once in a while. On one of my trips back, I decided to go back to the school. The dormitory that I lived in as a freshman is still there, and it is still used as a dormitory. So I went in the dormitory, went up to the room that I had when I was a freshman here. By this time, I was maybe about 55 or 60 years old, I don't know exactly when this was. I knocked on the door, and some kid came to the door and he looked at me and he said, "Can I do something for you?" I said, "Well, you know, this is the same room that I had when I was a freshman here." He said, "You're kidding." I said, "No, I'm not." He said, "This building wasn't built back then." I said, "The heck it wasn't." He said, "It's a long time."

Laughter from both men

ECKER: The kid couldn't believe that, hey, that building was here, because it was obvious that I was an older man. He couldn't believe that I had shared that room that he had – all those years ago.

TAYLOR: "A rambling wreck from Georgia Tech, but a helluva engineer!"

ECKER: In fact, one of the things – and again, this is an aside. In 1939, the war had threatened in Europe all right. The war didn't start until September 1939. And the United States decided that maybe they were going to have to have a group of pilots. So they started a Pilot program to train college students to fly. Georgia Tech was one of, I think it was like 13 schools or something around the country. At Georgia Tech they picked out thirty guys that they were going to train to fly, and I happened to be one of them. We learned to fly on the same airport that is now the big International airport. Back in those days, it wasn't anything like it is now. We flew Piper Cubs. We had skids for the tail, no wheels on the back landing. Didn't have such things as nose wheels in those days. These were small Piper Cubs, and we had ten of them. Thirty guys were flying continuously. So they really didn't get the kind of maintenance that they really should have had. Two things stand out in my memory about that program. The day I soloed, I can remember as if it were yesterday, and I'll tell you about that in a minute. I had already soloed, and I was going to go up alone for touch-and-go practicing. We didn't have radios in those days. Instead they used an Aldus (?) lamp from the tower. A red lamp, you had to stay where you were. A blinking green permitted you to taxi. A green light was "Go". We didn't take off on the concrete runway, we took off on the grass along side, because we had skids on the back, and didn't have tail wheels. I get this blinking green and taxi into position, get a full green light, pile on the throttle. I get it up there, when all of a sudden this damn airplane literally jumps into the air. So, I'm going around, and I'm going to come in for the first touch-and-go, when one of the other airplanes – one of the other cubs in the group – cuts me off. And I'm teed off. So I go around again, and again he cuts me off. By this time I'm paying more attention. He's waving at me and doing all kinds of things. And I finally get the impression that something is wrong with my airplane that I don't know about. These Cubs didn't have doors that opened up sideways. They had doors that opened up and down, with two halves. We always flew with one of them up anyway. So I rolled the plane up on its side and I looked out the side, and suddenly realized that I didn't have any wheels. The under carriage had just fallen off when I took off. This was after I had soloed – later. I land this thing on the grass. The only thing that happened is that it took some of the fabric off. The day I soloed, I can remember as if it was yesterday. It's amazing how things like that stick in your mind. These airplanes didn't have a wheel [steering] or a yoke. They had a stick -- Joy stick -- in front and back seats, and students sat in the back, and the instructor in the front. So we'd do touch-and-go and the instructor tells me to pull the airplane off to the side. He gets out – the sticks are held in place by a cotter-pin -- pulls out the cotter-pin, takes the stick out, throws it on the ground, gets out, and said, "You're on your own, go!" Not me. I'm not going up in this thing by myself. I get a blinking green light and I say, "Well I'll taxi in, but I'm not going to take it off, I don't care what happens. So I taxied into position and the next thing I know I get the full green light and I said I'll move but I'm not going to leave the ground, I cut the engine to prevent me from taking off.. The next thing I know I'm airborne, I fly around came back in on the approach and I'm flying and flying, and suddenly the Instructor appeared at the site and said "You know, that a great landing you just accomplished" I did not even know I was on the ground.

TAYLOR: (Laughter)

ECKER: And I have loved to fly ever since then. And it's an amazing coincidence, my oldest grandson just graduated from the University of West Virginia, and in ROTC, and is now in the Air Force. He has learned to fly, just as I did. He took a course almost parallel to mine. It's almost uncanny. The only difference is that he specialized in mechanical engineering whereas I did electrical engineering. Very close, very close to what I did. In fact he did better than what I did. He graduated with a 3.8 GPA in mechanical engineering, which is pretty damn good. But anyway, it's amazing how that fellow sticks out in my memory. But I flew for many years, and in fact again, it was my wife that made me stop. We were in Williamsport and I belonged to a Flying Club up there, and my wife always liked to sleep on Sunday mornings, so I'd keep the kids quiet. Well, this Sunday morning, I get up and... My daughter, who was younger at that time, just a baby, about two years – three years old. My son, who was two and a half years older than that, was about five, five and a half. I get up, my wife is sleeping, I take my son and go out to the Club, take the airplane and fly back to Pittsburgh to see my parents. We get socked in. I can't get back to Williamsport. Finally about noontime, I get up enough guts to call my wife on the phone and tell her we're in Pittsburgh with Steve, the baby, you know my son. She was fit to be tied. That was very close to ending my flying career. She just raised so much cane after that. And besides, even back in those days, it was an expensive hobby. But since my grandson has started to fly, I've been up with him a couple of times. I have been tempted to renew my license. Kind of silly, I guess, for a guy who is 76 years old. I really get kind of itchy about that kind of thing but since Ruth is not at home anymore, I really need things to occupy my time. I get very morose and down in the dumps. With this kind of illness that Ruth has, there's just no light at the end of the tunnel. It's just something that periodically gets worse – goes from plateau, gets worse, plateau, gets worse, plateau...

TAYLOR: Well, go ahead and do it. You'd have to go through a physical in order to fly again wouldn't you?

ECKER: I wouldn't have any trouble with that.

TAYLOR: If you are in good health. Why not, why not. I think you ought to go ahead and do it.

ECKER: I've been very much tempted. You know, and I don't mean to cry in my beer, but this thing that Ruth has is not cheap. Where she is costs me forty grand every year. And that's a pretty good nut to pitch out. It's a sum of money that has to be spent. And flying is so expensive. That's the one thing that's been kind of holding me back a little. But I'm very sorely tempted, and I may very well do that. You know Mike Jeffers?

TAYLOR: Yes, Oh Yes.

ECKER: You know what Mike looks like now? Can you imagine him as a pilot on an aircraft carrier?

TAYLOR: He must have been slimmer.

ECKER: Mike was a pilot in the Navy and flew off aircraft carriers. Mike is quite a guy. You could not hope to meet a nicer guy. He doesn't have a mean bone in his body. He's an amazing guy.

TAYLOR: Did you know Norm Penwell?


TAYLOR: Norm, of course and I started up out in Montana, so I have been associated with him a long, long time. In fact when I first went out to Montana as a consultant, in my freelance one man shop, he was just about my first client. He wanted some help building a radio station which I help him do. Norm was a flyer and it was not till later that I learned that when he was about seven years old he poked one eye out, so here he had only one eye and he was able to fly. That has always puzzled me how you could do that. You have to learn depth perception in other ways.

ECKER: I would not have thought so, but l don't really know. You know when I was over in England on this radar training job, I flew everything the Royal Air Force had, because everybody was nice to me and they knew that I could fly. And we'd be up, and the guy would say to me, "Do you want to take the controls?" And I'd say, "I'd love to." The British had something called the Sunderlin, which was a flying boat. In its day, it was a big aircraft. Alongside a 747, it would look like a cup. As I remember it was a big aircraft, had two decks, had a galley kitchen on board and was used by Coastal Command for coastal patrol.

TAYLOR: Was this like the flying boats that Pan Am used -- clipper ships.

ECKER: Yeah, It would have been similar to that. It was bigger than the clipper ships. Made by an outfit called Sunderlin. And it was used by Coast... The particular Squadron that I was assigned to were Australian, and they were a wild bunch of people. We'd go up in this boat, this flying boat, and the captain would say to me, "Do want to fly the thing?" So I'd get behind the yoke of this thing and he'd say to me, "Hey, the right wing is down. Get the right wing up!" Part of my career, after I came out of Georgia Tech and went back into the army... Before I was actually in the Signal Corps at Monmouth, I spent some time with the Air Corps – in those days it was called the Air Corps, it wasn't the Air Force yet. It wasn't that until after the War started. But anyway, I had had some experience with P36s, which was an in-line fighter plane. So I had flown single engines, fast aircraft. And in those kinds of things, whatever you did, you got a reaction quite quickly. So he'd say to me that the wing is down – or something like that, and I'd ease it over. And he'd say, "Come on get that wing up!" And he'd grab hold of that yoke and yank it over and that thing would pick up its wings very slowly.--It didn't do anything very quickly. It was a four-engine aircraft. I was on that aircraft on a patrol when we were out looking for the Hindenburg – no, the Bismarck – I was on patrol with that Australian Squadron when the Bismarck was spotted in the North Atlantic. We did not wear uniforms, we went in plain clothes, wore British flying suits, because at that time the United States was at peace and we were supposed to be neutral. I would go into London on a weekend, stay at the Cumberland Hotel, which was across the Street from the American Embassy at Marble Arch. "Have you been in London?"


ECKER: Then you would know Marble Arch where the American Embassy is. I'd go out to have a drink, I'd walk in and people would look at me kind of strange. You know, here's a guy in civilian clothes that look like he ought to be in the service. And the minute you opened your mouth, all they wanted to do was buy you a drink. They knew you were a Yank right away. When I got over to the Embassy there, before I could get in there, the Marine on guard wanted to know what I was doing. Remember England was already at war. When I showed him my identification, he snapped to attention and saluted. I went into the Embassy I saw all these guys in civilian clothes and I say to myself, "Boy they've got a lot of clerks in this place, you know." On December the 7th, late in the afternoon, Pearl Harbor gets bombed, because in Scotland it was late in the afternoon I get a telegram from the Embassy telling me to report to the Embassy immediately in uniform. I go down.



ECKER: What else can I tell you that might be of interest to anybody? I think I mentioned to you, Archer, that the Museum has a 40 minute videotape of me. Let's see I got the Founder's Award from the Pennsylvania Association in, I think, 1990 and the presentation was made at Penn State. It was on a weekend and the Museum was closed, but Froke...

TAYLOR: ...Marlowe Froke

ECKER: Yes. He was at the presentation, and he agreed to open up the Museum so my kids could see it. My kids were fascinated because, I guess I must be in, maybe a half a dozen more or less, pictures that are hanging on the wall. Then he ran this videotape, and my kids and grandchildren were just fascinated.

TAYLOR: Was the tape about your background and your history and some of the things you did?

ECKER: It's amazing how your spouse can really put you in your place. About half way through this tape, she said to me, "Did you really have to talk so much?'

TAYLOR: "How many children do you have?"

ECKER: Two, a boy and a girl and I have four grandchildren.

TAYLOR: What do your children do?

ECKER: My son heads up a mental health clinic in Richmond, Virginia. He has a PhD in psychology. My daughter has a very interesting job. She is out of the University of Pittsburgh. She works for an outfit called SOS International. It is a rather unique organization, I had never heard of it but maybe there are others as well. What they do is, they're like an insurance policy for major corporations, or individuals, but mostly major corporations that have people travelling abroad in out-of-the-way places. And what they do is, they handle any kind of emergency that has to do with either legal or medical problem. They maintain, out of Geneva, a medical evacuation unit. If you have a medical problem and you can't be treated where you are, they will evacuate you back to a hospital where they can handle your kind of a problem. Or if you get into legal problems that require legal help, or even monetary help, they are there for you. They do this basically for large corporations who have many people travelling, and they are available 24 hours a day. The man who started this company, it's basically a one-man corporation, I believe is Swiss, comes out of Geneva. His main headquarters is right here, just outside Philadelphia. And what my daughter is involved with is very interesting. She gets involved in paying the various charges that occur because of the problems. She deals in all kinds of currency, and in fact has learned how to buy and sell options in foreign currency, so as to have a supply of money whenever they need it. And to assist her in the office in dealing with some of the places that she can't talk to because she doesn't know the language, they have a Japanese girl, a Chinese girl, a man who speaks French, Spanish, most of the languages of the world. She tells me some of the interesting things that happen. She had to pay for medical evacuation for Elizabeth TAYLOR:, out of wherever the hell she was in Africa. She got sick and they evacuated her back to France, or wherever it was. (Interruption for a telephone call). That's her. It's very interesting, that job. Gets to talk to people all over the world, handles the monetary reimbursement for whatever these services are, for people that they hospitalize.

TAYLOR: Did she take economics, or finance?

ECKER: No. Strangely enough, she's learned it all since she went to work for this outfit. She does very well. They like her. Well, she's a hard worker – she's a workaholic. Sometimes I call and can't get hold of her because she's at work at seven o'clock at night, six-thirty in the morning. Her husband also has a very interesting job. It's amazing how my kids and their spouses have gone into things at work. He is the chief probation officer for the Juvenile Probation Court here in the city of Philadelphia. He's got some stories to tell because of the kids he deals with (whistle).

TAYLOR: I'm sure.

ECKER: My daughter-in-law is on the staff of the Governor of Virginia.

TAYLOR: For goodness sake! Wilder's staff?

ECKER: Yes. And she has already been told that the new governor wants her on his staff. She has a master's degree in psychology as well, and her expertise is in the area of women and child abuse. She does no work as far as the active part of that is concerned. But literally, she travels, not only the state, but outside of the state as well, to counsel police forces, district attorney's offices, and things like that, in the manner in which they ought to handle those kinds of cases. A couple of weeks ago, she was in Seattle on that kind of a program. She has been to Washington many times, goes all over.

TAYLOR: They have the most famous case in Washington at the moment, the Bobbit case. What did you say you son was doing?

ECKER: My son is a psychologist, and he heads up a very large mental health clinic, and his specialty is substance abuse in families. I was down for Thanksgiving and he was telling me about one of the more interesting parts of his job is that he gets policemen who are alcoholic and have been sent to him for treatment. He gets pretty rough with them because they don't want to believe that they are alcoholic. He gets rough with them by telling them that if, hey, if they don't want to follow the program that he lays out for them, he's going to go to their commanding officer, and they don't want any part of that. Some of them have been sent here by the sergeants, or immediately above them, and they don't want the hierarchy to know that this guy has an alcohol problem.

TAYLOR: Does he have MD training?

ECKER: No, he has a PhD in psychology. There's a kid – You wonder to yourself – terrible student in high school. So finally, in his junior year I took him out of school and sent him to a private school. Couldn't get him into a college. Finally get him into a junior college in a small school here in Pennsylvania. Then finally got him into a school out in Nebraska, which was a nothing kind of college as well, and barely got him through there. In fact, that school was in existence only about six or seven years, and then went out of business. So it was one of these kind of places. Finally, he went to Villanova here for his master's, and he got that. And he then went to Virginia Tech in Blacksburg for his PhD. Suddenly, I don't know what happened. I wouldn't have given you a plug nickel for what he was going to be when he was going to school.

TAYLOR: My daughter graduated from Virginia Tech.

ECKER: At Blacksburg?

TAYLOR: Yes. We visited down there a number of times. Pretty country down there.

ECKER: While he was going to Blacksburg, he lived in a little town of Christiansburg, which is just south of there. We used to go down and visit. I once taught a seminar in Harrisonburg. It was done for that outfit down there...

TAYLOR: ...Warren Braun...

ECKER: Warren Braun's old outfit, Comsonics. We went down to visit Steve once and coming back on 81, I think it is. We stopped for lunch, and went into a Holiday Inn for lunch, and the waitress said to me, "I know you. I've seen you before." But how could she possibly know... She said, "I know you. You've been here before." And I didn't remember that I'd been there before. And then I got to thinking and remembered that I ran a seminar here, about two years ago, and it was in this hotel. She handled the lunch during that seminar, she remembered that. You know, I did, by Jerrold's reckoning, about three hundred and fifteen seminars, total attendance of pretty close to seven thousand people. That stood me in good stead when I retired out of Jerrold. When I started my own little consulting outfit, I had had so much exposure on the outside that I had no trouble at all.

TAYLOR: Were these seminars all in the States?

ECKER: All over the World. I did seminars in Brussels, in London, in Israel, in

Venezuela. Oh yes, I had seminars all over... The fact of the matter is, Freddy Lieberman sent me to Israel the first time to do the feasibility study for Tel Aviv, and during that period of time I got to know the Israeli government reasonably well, the people who mattered from my stand-point. And so when they finally decided that they weren't going to be able to keep cable out of Israel, the Israeli government hired me as a consultant to establish the standards for Israel. I worked with the Ministry of Communications there, which then ran the Telephone Company.

TAYLOR: Yes, Bezeq.

ECKER: No it wasn't Bezeq. It was the Ministry of Communications then. It wasn't until after that that it was separated out and became Bezeq, which was the Telephone Company of Israel. Then I worked with Bezeq for quite a while. There was a woman there who was there from the beginning, Mrs. Segal.

TAYLOR: Yes, that's right. Vivien, wasn't it? Vivien Segal.

ECKER: Yes Vivien, Vivien Segal. It was with her that I did the specs for Israeli television – for cable. She was bound and determined to make it European specs. And I remember the fight I had with her. She wanted to use only copper cable, and based on the argument she had with me, she finally wrote her specs to exclude copper cable, and was absolutely amazed when I told her, "You can't exclude copper."

TAYLOR: I met with her in Montreaux. We had a client who ended up building two of the systems in Israel, Beer Sheva, and there was another one

ECKER: There was a Mort Allon who was the engineer at Beer Sheva. Mort Allon was here about a month ago at an outfit here.

TAYLOR: Yes, he came by our office. I met him again.

ECKER : Just recently? He tried to get in touch with me and couldn't, so the outfit that's

here in Philadelphia – Ralph... runs an outfit here called Peca.

TAYLOR: A former Jerrold guy. I meant to ask Mike what his name was, but got sidetracked.

ECKER: His name is Ralph... Ralph... I can't think of it. But his wife was a sister to Hank Arbeiter's wife. Ralph worked with me... There was a period of time in my life with Jerrold when Don Kirk had left Jerrold and joined up with Dalck Feith to create K&F, making microwave equipment. Dalck decided that he did not want any part of that business.

TAYLOR: Except the money. Listening to Don he got skinned out of everything he should have had.

ECKER: Dalck decided to sell that business to Milt and he got for that business $900 thousand in cash and 300 shares of stock.

TAYLOR: ...in Jerrold?

ECKER: In Jerrold. Ten percent of which was to go to Don – of everything -- and five percent was to go to Bill Lambert. So Bill was a part of K&F and so was Ed Ebenbach. When he sold it to Milt there was supposed to be some quantity of finished microwave units. So Milt sent me over to the plant to find out what was there. When I got over there I found out there was a lot of metal work but there wasn't any finished material. Milt decided that we would finish out the metal work that was there. So we got into the business of making microwave equipment. The first microwaves we made were supposed to go to Thailand for the American Army. We built it for Philco, under a Philco label, private label stuff, 6 GHz stuff. And this Ralph – that we're now trying to think of his name -- was a field engineer for there and we sent him to... It was originally to go to Viet Nam, and then because Viet Nam blew up at that particular time, it went into Thailand. But he was sent over there to put this stuff into operations. That was my first association with him, I was the plant manager there for three and a half years, as long as we were in the microwave business. I'll tell you, those were the days, with Bill Lambert, Don Kirk, Ed Ebenbach. Those were the days. And that was the basis of the eventual 840 thousand shares that Dalck owned. He had gotten stock before that, but that was a big portion of it.

TAYLOR: Was this the very late 50's?

ECKER: No. I'll tell you exactly when it was. It was not in the 50's. It was in 1962, because of the pressure from one of the FCC directors, Robert E. Lee, the FCC was toying with the idea that all Television should be in the UHF band.

TAYLOR: Oh, yes that was his theme

ECKER: Yes. The reason being that they could not afford to take the 6 MHz out of the band we we're in, they needed that for mobile stuff, because mobile was going out strong. They hired Jerrold to go to New York to do a survey to find out if UHF was comparable to VHF. OK. Who got picked for that job?

TAYLOR: (Laughter)

ECKER: I was in New York for 12 months. It took me a month to get the project under way. We built a station, Channel 31, which is now WNYC, I believe. And we built a Channel 76, which we put on top of the George Washington Bridge. Channel 31 was on the Empire State Building. Originally we didn't have an antenna on the tower so we had a horn that we stuck out of the window of the 80 floor of the Empire State Building. I ran that particular test, all with temporary help that I picked up off the streets of New York, for ten months. They supplied us with 5,000 addresses in New York that were picked by the Census Bureau out of Rolla, Missouri, or Columbus, one of those places -- addresses only, no names. In order to do the test we had to get into the location. We had five guys who did nothing but try to make appointments to get into these places.

TAYLOR: The addresses were selected at random, that was the point.

ECKER: Twenty-five hundred of them were in Manhattan, twenty-five hundred were in a radius of twenty-five miles of the Empire State Building...as far up as Rockland County, all the suburbs and all the rest of them. You know, getting into someone's home is not an easy job. The FCC insisted that it had to be in the location where they were. Now, they supplied us with field strength meters made by RCA, television sets made by RCA. We had a hundred black and white sets and we had ten color sets. This was in 1962. Just as an aside, when I finished that job we had none of the original hundred and ten sets. Each set had on it, "Do not tamper with this set. Protected by the FBI." Every time one of them disappeared, we would call the FBI on the phone. That was as far as it went. They'd supply me with a new set. We didn't have one of the original sets when we finished that. They would just disappear.

TAYLOR: You would put them in the homes, and leave them for how long?

ECKER: Thirty days and every tenth location, we would put in a color set. I trained my people... And the fact of the matter is this was when I first got into this business of how do you read what you see on a television set from the standpoint of signal-to-noise. Every week we would have a renewal session, and I'd run different signal-to-noise ratios and show them what it looked like on the television sets. And they got pretty damn good about it. They could call any carrier-to-noise ratio within about half a dB, one way or the other and we changed continuously. I had twenty crews on the road. Each crew had a top man and a helper. Parking rates in New York became ungodly. Jerrold was getting $100,000 per month for that job, we got a million bucks for that job. That was a big project in those days.

TAYLOR: This was Federal money.

ECKER: FCC money, yes. As a matter of fact Jerrold had a plaque, for the longest time, from the FCC telling us that they appreciated what we did. But since that plaque referred to me, I don't know whether it's still around anymore. We did that test, and I had five guys out working, and there were some places you just couldn't get into. One of the places I couldn't get into, no matter what, was Spanish Harlem. You knocked on the door there and you said, "I'm from the Federal Government." And, boy, that was the end of that. The door was locked. Nobody would want to talk to you. I don't know whether you would remember a Congressman named Adam Clayton Powell. Adam Clayton Powell was the representative from New York City for Harlem. Had an office down in Spanish Harlem. I wasn't getting anywhere. Any time we had a location in Spanish Harlem, we couldn't do it. So I finally went to see Adam Clayton Powell. I went to see the Congressman, and I said to him, "Hey, I'm on a Federal project here. I just can't do anything in this area. And I described what we had to do and all the rest of that. He said, "Well, give me a little time to think about it. I'll work something up for you. Get back in touch with me in a couple of days and I'll tell you what I'm going to do for you." I called him back and he said, "Come on in, I want you to meet somebody." So I go in. He's got this Puerto Rican there who is about 6'4" tall, and as broad as he is tall, and he said to me, "I want you to meet the King of Harlem. If you put him on your payroll you won't have any more trouble." And he was right. When I had a job to do down in Harlem I'd send... He became a crew chief for me. Didn't know a damn thing about what he was doing, but that's all right, the guy was effective. When we had a job down there, I would send him down there. He would knock on the door, they wouldn't open the door, he kicked the door in – literally kicked the door in. We completed 97% of the locations that they gave us. Eventually, we had an antenna up on the tower and we had the transmitter on the 80th floor. The transmitter on the George Washington Bridge never worked well. We couldn't find that channel that was up in the 70s anywhere. The minute you got a mile away from the George Washington Bridge, it was done.

TAYLOR: It wasn't very high, either. Was it on one of the towers?

ECKER: It was on the bridge tower, not very high but it really wasn't very powerful either. The one in the Empire State Building was a pretty good size transmitter. We compared it to Channel 4, which was NBC and Channel 7, which was ABC. We had one low band and one high band to compare it to. We did all those tests, and it was based on those tests that they decided that instead of going UHF with everything they ordered the all Channel Receiver. Up to that time if you wanted to receive UHF, you had to have a box on top of your television set. It was only after that test that we did in New York – it was a total of a year. It took a month to get started, and it took us a month to tear it down, and I have an interesting story to tell you about that. Since the television sets were all given to the FCC by RCA – they may have been bought, I don't know about that – and we used their field strength meters and their television sets, the FCC decided that they would donate all the technical equipment to the City of New York. And it would then be known as WNYC TV, Channel 31. It was decided that the presentation would be made to the Mayor of New York, who at that time was Lindsey. The Commissioner of Police was a guy named Murphy. They were going turn this over to the city, and they decided to do it in a very fancy affair at Gracie Mansion. At this mansion there is a police box at the entrance, with a policeman on duty there all the time. Well, when the other set manufacturers heard what was going to happen, that we were going to set up this thing at Gracie Mansion, and there were going to be all these people there and we were going to broadcast this whole thing, transmit it back down to the Empire State Building and out over the air, and we were going to have these big groups at Gracie Mansion, All the other set manufacturers got teed off. The only manufacturer that was going to be there would be General Electric sets. [RCA] The City and the FCC agreed that everybody could send a television set that was making television sets. So I got eleven different kinds of television sets to put into the Gracie Mansion. And in fact, it was very funny, because we were wiring up Gracie Mansion for this whole damn shebang and in order to get to the roof, we had to go through the Mayor's bedroom and frequently he and his wife would be in bed and we would go through dragging all this cable. I got an invitation, and I still have it here somewhere, a special invitation to come to this big shindig at Gracie Mansion. Now while I was working up there I took my wife up once, and in order to get her out of my hair while I was working at Gracie Mansion, I got her some passes down to the studio to see a television show. And, lo and behold, she gets picked to be a participant on the Price is Right. Back in those days, it's different now.

TAYLOR: Which Studio, was it NBC?

ECKER: I think it was. But anyway she gets on the Price is Right. The day that she gets on the program is the same day as they had this affair, but her big deal is in the morning, and that's fine. So I made arrangement for her to pick up a cab, come out to Gracie Mansion to be with me during this Presentation. Newton Minow was there, Robert E. Lee was there and Kenneth Cox, member of the FCC, was there, the Mayor with all his dignitaries was there, and the guy who just died with Lou Gehrig's disease. He was a Senator then, from New York – just died, a very prominent Senator. I'll think of his name. Anyway, he was there, a couple of Congressmen. It was such a big affair they couldn't have it inside the Gracie Mansion. So they had one of these tents outdoors, and all kinds of drinks and hors d'oevre and everything like that. My wife comes, and I prompted the policeman on the box that my wife was coming, and please let her in, because I had the invitation. She couldn't have cared less about the program thing. All she wanted to talk about was being on The Price is Right. I introduced her to Newton Minow, I introduced him as Chairman of the FCC and she says "I'm in television too," and started to tell him about the Price is Right,. She had won a bunch of stuff, which we had for living room furniture for a few years afterward. The end of this story is, the shindig is over and I go back to the Hotel and come back the next day to take all this apart. One television set is still there, that I could find. That happened to be from Sears and Roebuck, it was an entertainment center that must have weighed about six hundred pounds. I went to the Policeman on the box and I said, "What the hell happened to my ten television sets?" He didn't know a damn thing. I'm sure. Yeah, he knew. Maybe it was the Commissioner got one of them. Maybe, I don't know who the hell got them. The worst part about it is... There was an outfit called – it began with an "E".

TAYLOR: Emerson?

ECKER: Did they make television sets? They had sent me a prototype model. That was gone. And, Oh my God! They were up in arms, for crying out loud. It was a prototype. It had something special on it. Ten television sets out of eleven disappeared out of Gracie Mansion, between the end of the evening and when I got back there the next morning. And the cop on the beat doesn't know a damn thing about it. I'm sure that every one of those sets that went out of there, that some wheel purloined that television set. I had a lot of strange while I was with Jerrold.

TAYLOR: You sure did.

ECKER: In 1971 Jerrold asked me to create for them a World Wide Field Engineering course, which I did. And I had field engineers from all over the country reported in. Prior to that Jerrold had many sales regions and each of the regions had its own field engineer. We consolidated under one head, and I headed up that group until 1977, and Jerrold decided that they needed what they called an Engineering Application group. This would be the interface between the field engineers, the Lab, and customers in the Lab, and he wanted all graduate Engineers. They gave me a $25,000 per man budget to hire guys right out of school, and I did. I went down to the University of Pennsylvania to the engineering school there that was known as the Moore School, hired some guys from there, some guys from Drexel and built up that particular group. The best engineer I had was a woman that I had hired. But I also had some bums. One of the guys that I wanted very badly was a guy who was already in Jerrold who was working as a bench technician. He did not have a formal degree, but I knew him and wanted him for my group and so I promoted him and gave him a raise that brought him up to what the guys I was hiring right off the campus were getting. The Personnel Manager of Jerrold had an absolute fit. You can't do that! They had guidelines on the maximum raise a guy could get, and this was well above that. I remembered that I had to go to... Who the hell would have been President then? The President then would have been John Malone, young Dr. John... And I remember going to him and explaining it, and he finally ok'd it. The Personnel Department totally hated me for that. And I don't know whether you know this guy or not. His name is Bill Beck. Do you know him at all?


ECKER: He has since become a very important cog in that organization. He is the Engineering Manager for amplifier design and that sort of thing. He has done very well and bringing him up was one of the best things... He was ready to go, as a matter of fact Magnavox had offered him a job. And that is one of the best things I ever did, was to keep that guy. There was a period of time in my bench career when I had Mike on one side and Frank on the other side. I remember one of the things that always amused me was Ken Simons had designed a broadband sweep generator called a 900A, and it used a Quam vibrator out of a speaker cone that operated a capacitor that did the sweeping. Hank Arbeiter was in charge of the group that make the heads for that damn 900A. And we had a clean room at Jerrold where they made those things. And the guy I mentioned earlier, Caywood Cooley, was the salesman for the Test Equipment group. And he sold the United States Navy on putting a 900A on every new ship that was commissioned. It did not work very well in the cable industry for which it was originally intended; it was too damn expensive. So with Jerrold's penchant for naming things, they cheapened the thing down so it could be sold in the cable industry and called it an 890. Why an 890? Because it wasn't quite a 900! Oh yes, Jerrold had a penchant for doing things like that – you know, NQV and this kind of stuff. I tell you, my career with Jerrold would span about 26 years – they were great years for me. They gave me a chance to get a tremendous amount of exposure that stood me in good stead when I decided to go out on my own. I got a letter from Hal Krisberg a few months ago lauding me for been a loyal Jerrold employee and being totally Jerrold even after I left Jerrold – which was true. I wrote him a little answer about how guys like me were kind of designated to have Jerrold tattooed on both cheeks. I don't think that Frank Ragone ever left Jerrold either, even though they used different kinds of equipment.

TAYLOR: Yes, there was a spirit to Jerrold, a way of doing things.

ECKER: Not only that, but being a part of Jerrold was being in the birth of this industry. Jerrold was Jerrold. I remember the early days of shows. I remember the Hotel shows in Palmer House and the Conrad Hilton in Chicago, where the hall where we had the exhibit wasn't big enough for everybody, so they would put Jerrold in the Red Locker room. But it really didn't matter where they put them, because, hey, everybody who went to the show, who did they look for? They looked for Jerrold. To have been a part of that era... How many people get an opportunity to be part of the inception of an industry, and to be a part of having grown with that industry. There aren't many people that get that opportunity. You and I have been very fortunate.

TAYLOR: That's right. My wife has said to me many times, "Did you ever believe, when you were working up there in Kalispell, that you were going to be part of this thing that is now cable television?"

ECKER: I wanted to ask you about Montana. One of the men I met in Jerrold, who then became a client of mine and then eventually died. He was a guy that had a system in a small town in Montana...

TAYLOR: Mac Clark...

ECKER: He was legally blind.

TAYLOR: No not Mac Clark. I know exactly who you mean. He built the system in East Missoula. Oh gosh, I know who he was, very well.

ECKER: He was a client of mine. I use to design systems... He used to run up every damn canyon. He had that system spread out all over hell's half acre. In his particular system, it was the only system where I ever agreed he could use the trunk line to tap. He was legally blind and used to climb up the poles! And you know, I did things for him for so many years, and when he would call in to Jerrold, he wouldn't talk to anyone but Len. That's all. And the name of that town in Montana was kind of strange – it was a strange name. Now why can't I remember that?

TAYLOR: He was in East Missoula, Milltown... I know exactly who you mean, but just cannot come up with his name.

ECKER: Did you know the guy who built Colorado Springs? It's funny that I can remember his wife's name but not his. He originally came out of Ardmore, Oklahoma. When I was in Williamsport, he came and spent a month with me to find out about cable before he built Ardmore. He was a drunk, a sot, flew an airplane, but I have a story, a little vignette again. I was in Colorado Springs. By the way Colorado Springs was the reason why we went from 30 Volts to 60 Volts in power. Were you aware of that?


ECKER: Colorado Springs was designed with a 30-Volt system. The television station in Colorado Springs got an injunction against the cable system to prevent it from building that system. That injunction was in effect long enough so that the price of copper rose to the point where it was no longer economically feasible to use the copper center conductor, so they switched to copper clad aluminum. When the system finally got built instead of being built with copper center conductor, it was built with copper clad aluminum and the 30 Volt system didn't work.

[The tape runs out, and the interview is terminated]

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Ken Easton


Interview Date: November 26, 2001
Collection: Hauser Collection

CALDWELL: This is an oral history of Ken Easton, one of the early pioneers of cable television, not only in North American, but prior to that in England. Today is November 26, 2001 and we are interviewing Mr. Easton in Halifax, Nova Scotia at the studios of Eastlink, the company providing cable services to this, and many other communities in Nova Scotia, Canada. This interview is part of the Oral and Video History Program at The Cable Center in Denver, Colorado. I'm David Caldwell, Senior Director of Business Services at Eastlink. Ken, tell us about your background, when and where you were born.

EASTON: Well, I was born on August 1, 1916 in Harrow in the County of Middlesex, England. Harrow is a community on the outskirts of London, and as a matter of fact, since that time, the county of Middlesex, and with it, Harrow, has been incorporated into greater London. So I guess it's fair to say I was born in London, England.

CALDWELL: What's your family background? Tell us about what your parents did, and do you have any brothers and sisters?

EASTON: My father was a bank official, and was actually employed by an American company in their office in London, the Guaranty Trust Company of New York was the company he was with. My mother was a stay at home homemaker, which was pretty common in those days, even in today's climate she wouldn't have had time to do very much else because she in fact had six children in a period of ten years, of which I was the eldest. I had a sister and four brothers. That was the background in which I was brought up.

CALDWELL: Where did you go to school, Ken?

EASTON: Well, I went to school in Harrow. Harrow, incidentally, is the site of one of the famous upper crust English schools. It was in fact the school at which Winston Churchill, among many others, was educated; however I did not go to Harrow, the school. I went to school in Harrow. As was common in those days, I did five years in the equivalent of high school, going into high school at the age of 11, and graduated from high school just before I was 16. I actually finished school in June of 1932, and I wasn't 16, of course, until that August. And then after that, I did not go beyond that. For example, in this day and age I would have gone on to university, but in England in those days there wasn't the facility for going on to university as there is now, and certainly not for engineering. Only about 5% of high school leavers went to university in those days, and they were mostly youngsters who were going in for medicine, the law, or the classics. There was very little opportunity for engineering study in universities before the war. So in actual fact I left school, as I say, just before I was 16, got my first job two months later in September of '32, and I then started a course of after school evening classes, and I studied engineering for five years at evening classes while I was doing a full time job during the day.

CALDWELL: So I take it even as a very young man you were interested in the technical side of life.

EASTON: Yes, yes. I can't be very specific. I didn't in those days have a particular interest, surprisingly, in electrical things. I was interested in mechanical things and I know one of my main interests in those days, indeed one of my hobbies when I had any time for it, was model building. I was keen on building model railroad equipment, ships and so forth, and it's rather interesting that that was my hobby in those days, and my main interest. I had to drop it for many years through my career, mainly for lack of time, sometimes lack of opportunity, but since I've retired I've taken it up again, and it is now my retirement hobby, and a very good hobby too for retirement, I can tell you.

CALDWELL: So in 1932 you left the world of formal learning and began work. What was your first job and how did that progress?

EASTON: Well, the first job I went to in September of 1932 was as an electrical tester. I joined a company who were making small to medium sized electrical motors, and my job as a tester was at the end of the production line to take these motors off of the production line and run them through a series of tests to prove that in fact they were doing what they were supposed to do before they were sent out. It was an interesting job and it taught me quite a lot. One of the things it certainly taught me, for example, was the use of the slide rule, which was the dominant means of calculation in those days, long before calculators, and I was with that company until April of 1933, when I obtained entry to the post office engineering department through a very good friend of mine, whose father was chief engineer at that time, so we pulled a few strings. I started with the post office engineering department as a youth in training. That is what now would be called an apprentice, I guess, it was what the post office called their apprentices, a youth in training, and I was posted to the post office research branch in London, which is an establishment which still does, and did then, a major amount of research and development in just about anything in the communications field: telephone, telegraph, and radio. They had a radio branch as well, and I went through that whole mill as a youth in training doing everything from cable testing, to chemical analysis, to physics work, to switching design and switching development and so forth. And then in 1935, I guess, I was upgraded from youth in training to what the post office called an unestablished skilled workman, and I gradually worked up to the grade of skilled workman class one by the time I left the research branch.

CALDWELL: So the British Post Office was the operator of the telephone system in England at the time.

EASTON: Oh, yes.

CALDWELL: And they were also involved in radio distribution?

EASTON: They were involved in all communications, yes. Primarily telephone and telegraph line communications. They were, if you want to compare, sort of the Bell of England, and they also did radio as well. They were operating some of the long wave cross Atlantic radio stations, which were the only trans-Atlantic communication at that time, before the first coaxial cables were put in.

CALDWELL: So while you were learning in a practical sense in the post office, you were also working towards your engineering degree at the same time?

EASTON: Yes, every night, six nights a week, for five years, and as a result, eventually, in April of 1937, I finished my studies and I achieved what was then called the High National Certificate of Electrical Engineering, which is approximately equivalent to a Bachelor of Engineering degree issued by a university. It wasn't a degree as such, but it was a national qualification. So, by 1937 I'd done a fair amount of practical training with the post office in communications work, quite a variety of communications work, and I had my qualification for academic study.

CALDWELL: So with that learning, how did you become involved in what we would today refer to as the cable industry?

EASTON: Well, that came sometime later, actually. In fact, in May 1939... 1938, I think, actually, I took a competitive examination in the post office for the grade of inspector. Inspector is the lowest of the executive grade in the post office. I won this competition and in April, 1938, I started training as a probationary inspector. This involved a number of courses, which I took at Doles Hill, which is the location of the research station, but also they have a training center there. And then in July of 1939, I was transferred to the southwest region of England, of the post office in England, to Tonton, in Somerset, to one of the regional headquarters to continue training out in the field, and it was there that I did a fair amount of field training on the practical aspects of communications, such as cable installation, maintenance, switching equipment maintenance, and that sort of thing. And I was there in Tonton when the war started, the first war started, in September of 1939, and I carried on there doing this training through the whole of that winter, the winter of '39, until April 1940, which was the time of Dunkirk and the fall of France, and the imminent threat of invasion of England, and I was transferred back to London to join a group which had been set up at headquarters called the War Group. The job of the War Group was to provide all the line communications required by the fighting services and to maintain those communications. The latter, of course, was almost the more important part of it in that state, because there was substantial damage of course, due to air raids, and so forth, not only in London, but in many of the major cities in England, and part of the job I had was to go out to these places and supervise the restoration of communications after air raid damage. By restoration of communications, I mean, primarily, services communications, and that of course meant putting cables back into operation which were carrying commercial traffic as well. So that occupied me from 1940 until about 1943. In 1943, we started - without really knowing it of course at the time – we started the planning for communications required for D day. We didn't know at that time it was going to be D day of course, but we knew sometime we had to get across the channel and this required all kinds of special communications and we spent about 18 months in the war group doing all the planning an provision required for that. And then immediately before D day, in June 1944, I was posted at the south coast and I was actually in charge of a terminal on the south coast at which was located the radio facilities required for the naval attacks on D day, for the landings, and not only the British services, but also the Americans. The Americans had substantial radio communication facilities, and my responsibility was to make sure of the connection between those radio facilities and the land lines, and to make sure that they stayed connected, and so forth. That happened on and around D day; I was there actually most of the next six or nine months, right into early 1945, including establishing... by the time the force had moved up the coast towards Cherbourg, the Navy was then able to place some submarine cables and my responsibility then was to ensure the connection of those submarine cables to the land lines on the English side, for which purpose we had a submarine terminal not far from Newhaven, which is west of Dover. And as the forces moved up the coast on the French side, so I moved up with them ensuring their communications back to headquarters and so forth. That went right through until VE day, the end of the war in Europe, when all that of course was no longer required, and at that point I was transferred to another branch of the lines group in engineering headquarters, which was concerned with the provision and maintenance of coaxial carrier systems, and that was my first contact with coaxial. I had nothing to do with coaxial all this previous history because there wasn't any coaxial in use for the communications system as a whole, but we at the post office were starting to place a number of coaxial carrier systems, multi-channel carrier systems, throughout England to supplement the backbone network, and the job I had then was concerned with the design and installation and the maintenance of these systems. So that really gave me the first insight into coaxial and what it was and what it did and so forth, and then I did that for about two years, until June of 1947, by which time I was getting pretty fed up with employment at the post office. It was a civil service job and had all the problems involved in civil service employment, and so forth, and I decided I wanted out, and I actually answered an ad and was accepted for a job with Rediffusion, and Rediffusion at that time, was one of the few major companies in England doing radio relay. There was a special reason why I was particularly adept for this job: radio relay – first of all, I should say that radio relay is a method used of distributing radio programs by cable.

CALDWELL: Now, that's interesting. It's something that we're not familiar with in North America. Can you fill us in a bit about how radio relay came to be in England and what created it?

EASTON: Well, radio relay started in England back in the early '20s. Rediffusion, in fact, was formed about 1925, and it was formed to install and operate radio relay systems. There had been radio relay prior to that in some parts of Europe. There were radio relay systems in Germany, some in Russia, some in Switzerland, some in Sweden. They all used the same principle: the radio programs were received at what today we would call a headend, demodulated audio, and then distributed on the cable at audio, not at high frequency as we do cable.

CALDWELL: So the very first cable systems that we can think of were not really for TV, but rather for distribution of radio programming.

EASTON: Oh, no. There was no television then. There was no television even in the United States at that point, and I'm talking about before the war, in the '20s and early '30s. These were essentially cable systems which distributed audio programs received from broadcast stations by cable. The cable was not coaxial, the cable used was multi-pair, generally what we called a quad cable, which was two pairs in quad formation, in star formation, and the pair would be formed by the two opposite wires in each pair. There was a very good reason, too, for the popularity of radio relay in England, particularly at that time. Radio receivers, which were becoming fairly plentiful at that point, were crude, quote unquote, in the extreme. They used vacuum tubes and the vacuum tubes were powered by batteries. You'd have a wet acid batter for the filament supply, and then some dry batteries for the HD supply, and for good bass. And these were fine, but they were a damn nuisance, you had to keep recharging the wet batteries and replacing the other batteries and so forth, and eventually powered radios were introduced. This would have been around, oh, the late '20s.

CALDWELL: And I suppose homes weren't widely powered in some parts at that time either.

EASTON: Well, it's significant that Rediffusion, among other companies, and there were other companies in this at the time, but Rediffusion was by far the largest – Rediffusion, for example, at the beginning of the war, had over 900,000 subscribers to radio relay, and most of their success and most of their radio relay activity was located in industrial centers: places like Newcastle, Tyneside, South Wales, Merthyr, Swansea. These were all industrial areas, what in those days we used to call working class areas. They had no power. The homes used to be heated by coal and the lighting was provided by town gas, coal gas, generated locally in coal fired generators, and there was no electricity at all. So these battery-less radios, which we'd use, couldn't be used in those areas, and that's why in those areas thousands and thousands of homes connected to cable, to radio relay.

CALDWELL: So it provided both convenience, to the people in not having to be fiddling with batteries and recharging them, as well as saving them money.

EASTON: Those were generally cheaper, and more effective, that's right. And so, anyway, I was getting around to why I was hired for Rediffusion in London. Radio relay cables could not be installed as we install cables here, on poles. In England, particularly in those times, there were no overhead distribution systems, either power or telephone, they were all buried, all underground, and it was terribly expensive, of course, to go along and cut everything up in order to bury radio relay cables. So the way in which the cables, the radio relay subscribers were served, was to run the cables along the homes, under the eavesdrops, and most of the homes, in those days particularly, were terrace houses, they weren't single family dwellings, they were rows of terrace houses, and it was fairly easy to run a cable along under the eavesdrops for a distance of ten or twelve homes, or whatever, and then way leaves would be provided to get across streets by overhead lines, again, not using poles, they'd be run from house to house across the road. Anyway, Rediffusion took over a company at the end of the war, in 1955, a company called Radio Furniture and Fittings, which had been set up before the war to provide high class radio facilities in blocks of apartments in London, high class blocks of apartments, where money was no object and they wanted the best of everything. Rediffusion took this company over and decided that they were going to expand radio relay into this area in London. Unfortunately, the apartments served by this system were scattered, they were just blocks of apartments, here, there, and everywhere, they weren't bunched together, and it would have been impossibly expensive to dig up roads to put cables down to serve them. It also was not possible to run eaves top to eaves top, as you could in private homes. So what they wanted to do was to serve these apartments by post office line, post office cable. So they would rent music grade lines from the post office, from the central office where the headend was, out to these various apartments. But the apartment buildings were so scattered that it would have required a tremendous amount of line plant, particularly coming out of the headend to serve all these. So they decided the only way to do it was to take groups of apartments, take a central one, treat it as a repeater station, put an amplifier in there, run lines from the headend out to that apartment and then go spread out from there. That was the beginning of what today we call the system...

CALDWELL: Master antenna type systems?

EASTON: That's right, yes, yes. And the reason I was hired for the job was because with my post office experience, I knew all about post office lines, how to deal with them, how to deal with the post office, and so forth. So literally my job to start with was to set up this network of post office lines across the whole of central London, feeding all these various apartment blocks, but I actually took charge of it. I was hired as chief engineer and took charge of the complete operation.

CALDWELL: Very interesting.

EASTON: And really, it was that which gave me my first contact with coaxial cable as we know it, television cable, because this company that Rediffusion took over were also providing television facilities in these blocks of apartments and they were doing it by installing what we now call Master Antenna Systems. An antenna on the roof with a single powered amplifier and then cable all around the building, and the cable was coaxial, and that was distribution of television at the originated frequency over coaxial cable, just like we do it now.

CALDWELL: So England was a very early pioneer in the television industry, had done some work in that prior to World War II, and began in earnest immediately after the war.

EASTON: Yes, television started in England in 1936, three years before the war started, closed down at the beginning of the war. There was only one channel, a BBC channel, broadcast from Alexandra Palace, which was an old exhibition site in London, in north London, and that closed down of course at the start of the war, and reopened again later in 1945 after the war finished, but for some years that was the only television station there was. It wasn't practical in those days, even if they were available, to get program broadcasts from the continent, and the BBC only had the one transmitter. So, it was very basic cable television, but it was still cable television as we know it today.

CALDWELL: Ken, can you tell us about how the cable system then developed in London, and perhaps in England as well, from that first start in master antenna systems?

EASTON: Well, the interesting thing is that although at that point, as I had explained, I had had some experience with coaxial in these apartment systems, my first experimenting with cable television was in carrying television programs on paired cable, the kind of cable which we were using for radio relay, and it started, as a matter of fact, at an installation called the London Clinic, which is a very high class nursing home in the west end of London, which Rediffusion had wired some two or three years before for radio relay, wired with four pair cable, and they were anxious to put in television facilities. They had patients coming in bringing television sets with them and wanting to look at television while they were in there, and so forth. They were also interested in the possibility of acquiring some television sets for rental to patients. So, they approached London Rediffusion, and actually approached me, and asked whether it would be possible to install television. Well, it would have been nicely possible if we could have put a coaxial cable system in there, but I was very much aware of the fact that when the original radio system was introduced and installed, London Rediffusion had a heck of a job putting it in because they wouldn't allow any external wiring, everything had to be hidden, and it was a real job to put it in and to meet those terms, but they did it. The question was then, were we going to have the same thing putting in coaxial cable? Were we going to have to duplicate the whole of the existing network with hidden cable, and so forth? In pondering the problem, I came to the conclusion that it ought to be possible to distribute the television over the existing cable, the existing radio relay cable, particularly as the relay service in the building was a three-channel, three-program, service. It used four pair cable, and one pair of the cable throughout the building was therefore not being used. So, I decided to experiment with using this pair for distribution of the television program, which was only a single channel, and it worked. It then involved a lot of work designing tap offs and splitters and so forth suitable for this cable, because it's quite different from using coaxial, but eventually, we did in fact get the system operating. We installed television, I think, to about fifty or sixty rooms, and met the requirements, and it was that really that started the thirst, I might almost say, by Rediffusion to expand television over other areas of the country as and when television became available. This was in 1950-ish, and shortly after that, the BBC opened their second transmitter in the mid-lands, and there was then a clamor for television facilities in many of the big cities in the mid-lands, like Manchester, Nottingham, and so forth, and there was a lot of pressure to try to do in these cities on the radio relay networks what I had done in the London Clinic, and we did have some success with it, but it was much more difficult because of the greater expanse of cable involved and all the kinds of problems that came up susceptible to weather. We found very quickly that this cable was susceptible to weather conditions, to dirt deposits on the cable, to rain, and so forth, and the losses would vary and the impedances would vary on the cable according to the weather conditions outside, and so forth. But anyway, we did do quite a bit of expansion along those lines using radio relay cable to distribute television.

CALDWELL: So a good business model for Rediffusion to use its facilities already deployed for radio relay.

EASTON: Of course.

CALDWELL: I suppose they had an opportunity to have some savings in the television set cost?

EASTON: Oh yes, because a feature of the television systems installed by Rediffusion in those days was – and in this way they were distinct from cable television as we know it now. Cable television, as we know it now, of course, distributes the broadcast programs at broadcast frequencies, or at least at VHF frequencies, to standard television sets, using the standard television tuner, and as long as you keep within the confines of the channels available, that was fine. We didn't do that in England. In England they still stuck to the radio relay principle. The radio relay principle is you save a lot of money, both capital costs and maintenance, by taking as much as you can out of the subscribers' equipment. That's why radio relay was so successful, because the subscribers' equipment consisted only of a loudspeaker, a volume control, and a switch. Very low maintenance, much lower cost, it was cheap to the subscriber, and that's how it was done, and audio of course went into the subscribers premises and was picked up by the loudspeaker. Rediffusion tried to adopt the same principle for television, and instead of having a standard television receiver in the subscribers' home, they introduced what were called terminal units. First of all, the distribution was not done at VHS or broadcast frequencies; the received channels were converted down to much lower frequencies of the order of 10, 20, 30 megahertz, down in that band. The receivers were designed to receive those frequencies. They didn't include a frequency changer or high frequency amplifiers; they didn't have any audio, because the audio was distributed at audio on radio relay principles, and it simplified the design of a television set considerably, and therefore the cost, and was popular.

CALDWELL: This made it much more affordable to people who were struggling as the economy was recovering at the time.

EASTON: That's right, that's right. But in that respect, it did differ from cable TV, or CATV, as we know it here in North America.

CALDWELL: So when did you come to Canada?

EASTON: I came to Canada in November of 1953. At that time, my interests had been transferred sort of out of London proper, into England as a whole, and I was acting as consultant and advisor to regional engineers across the country on the design and installation of these cable systems, and also we were doing a very big business in renting these terminal units, and we had a substantial business involved in maintaining them. We had to do maintenance of all these units because they weren't standard television receivers so we had to provide our own maintenance facilities and so forth. Then in 1949, Rediffusion started the design of a system in Montreal, Canada. They started the design actually... what they wanted to do is they wanted to expand radio relay into Canada. They already had radio relay facilities in some of the colonies of that time, and they wanted to expand into Canada, and they chose Montreal as the place to do it. Mainly, I think, because the high density housing in Montreal is such that it is very close in economics and so forth, and general design, to a situation in England, where you have high density housing. In England it was row housing, in Montreal it was tenement housing. But they started radio relay in Montreal. And this was in 1949, and they did a substantial amount of construction of radio relay, and then in 1950, late '49 or early '50, it was learned that the CBC were planning to start a television service in Canada, and they were planning to open their first station in Montreal, and it was obviously expedient from a business point of view, certainly, that Rediffusion should follow the trend if they were going to be in the business of distributing broadcast programs throughout Montreal, it better be television and not much radio, or the business would collapse. So, they then started the design of a television system specifically for Montreal. They did not design a system along the lines of the ones which I was using in England, using the radio relay cable. The main reason for that was because the situation in Montreal, or typically in North America is such that you've got a lot of broadcast and other radio facilities on the air, and the amount of interference likely to be generated in balanced pair cables was going to be unacceptable. So it was decided that the system would have to be a coaxial system, but the only coaxial cable available at that time was braided copper, and braided copper wasn't good enough for this purpose. And so a special cable was designed for the Montreal system, and the special cable used a solid aluminum sheath, and that cable was designed and manufactured specifically for the system which Rediffusion installed in Montreal. As you know, it's since become the standard across North America for cable TV, but it started in Montreal with a Rediffusion system.

CALDWELL: And this system was designed at the onset to be a very large system?

EASTON: Yes, yes it was. It was designed; actually it was designed initially as a two-channel system to serve a fairly large area. In fact, by about – let's see – well, the system actually was the first cable TV counted system in operation in Canada because it actually started as a CATV system on September the 6th, 1952, which was the date the CBC opened CBFT, the first transmitter in Montreal, and the cable system was ready then to carry, that day, and did. The cable system had been operating before that for a period of six to nine months, but there were no broadcast signals to carry, not even from the States. There were no American transmitters at that time within receivable distance in Montreal. So, what Rediffusion did was to build a studio. They built a studio equipped with a film chain slide projector facilities and for about five or six hours a day, over a period of about nine months, they distributed programs to the subscribers consisting of film almost entirely in French – French movies, news reports, and talking head programs. So, Montreal – Rediffusion in Montreal – in fact was not only the first cable system to be operating in Canada, it was also the first cable system in North America to originate its own programs.

CALDWELL: So a number of firsts for that system.

EASTON: Oh yes.

CALDWELL: As cable began in much of North America it was really a phenomena of small towns who were remote from major metropolitan areas. Yet, this system began in the heart of the major metropolitan area in Canada.

EASTON: Which is one of the reasons why up until 1985 (Editor's note: the correct year is 1975), when Home Box Office first distributed programs by satellite, up until that time, or certainly up until 1980, anyway, '75 I think Home Box Office was, up until about 1980, American cable was essentially a small market phenomenon. It was serving remote places which were remote from any of the broadcast stations in operation, and has stayed that way, partly because of an FCC requirement which forbade anybody from bringing in what were called distant stations. Distant stations were stations which were not licensed to serve that particular area. Of course when satellite came in, the whole distant station idea just went flat. There was no such thing as a distant station with satellites because they can be received anywhere, and that's when the big push for franchises in big cities in the United States started, in 1980, and built up from there. Until then, American cable TV was a small town phenomenon. In Canada, on the other hand, where it was started in a big city like Montreal, and we had something like, by about 1954, the Rediffusion system in Montreal was passing something like 80,000 homes. It wasn't a small system by any means, even by today's standards, but then it carried on from there, and partly for that reason, in Canada cable did develop as a large city phenomenon, and as you know, we had most of the big cities wired here in Canada before they really even got around to it in the United States, for that reason.

CALDWELL: So the Montreal system began with customized terminals, or did it use standard...?

EASTON: Yes, it started with terminal units, and that became a problem too, because it started with one channel, CBFT, which was the first CBC transmitter, which opened in September, 1952. The CBC opened a second transmitter in Montreal, CBMT, the following year, and Rediffusion carried that, was required to carry it, as a matter of fact, and they only had two channels available. It was designed as a two-channel system. So, up until the time CBFT went on the air, Rediffusion was carrying these locally produced programs and they were very popular. Many subscribers were connected just to get these programs. Television was something new in those days; it didn't matter where it came from. You could produce it out of a local studio out of a hatbox and people would watch it. And then, of course, when CBFT went on the air, that was broadcast television and it was CBC, but it was the only channel available. That on one channel of the system with the locally produced programs on the second channel was the offering for the next nine months or so, until the second CBC channel came on the air. That was required to be carried, so then Rediffusion had to take off their locally produced programs and they had CBFT on one channel and CBMT on the other, two channels. That was the point at which people started to get itchy, because by that time they'd seen enough television, and also seen programs which were being re-broadcast from American sources that they were aware of what was available a bit over the border and they started wanting more. It was about 1954 or early '55 that the first two American channels, the first two American transmitters, became available across the border in Montreal. One was in Poland Springs, Maine, the transmitter on the top of Mt. Washington, and the other was in Plattsburgh, New York. They could be received in Montreal with a good antenna just, but with a good headend antenna; we could receive them and transmit them. We could carry them on cable, but we only had two channels available and we had to go through all kinds of technical shenanigans to add first one, two, and then three channels to the system.

CALDWELL: I understand Montreal's system was one of the first to have, in effect, a set top box to be able to select stations.

EASTON: Yes, that was because that was the means by which we were able to receive and to distribute these two American stations became available. We didn't have the channels on the cable because they were occupied with the two CBC programs and we were almost dared to take those off. So, we did all kinds of design work to receive the American channels and transmit them at a higher frequency and then use a set top box to get them on the terminal units.

CALDWELL: Early on, you were also involved in some of the first pay TV experimental and first introductory systems. Can you tell us some about that?

EASTON: Yes, while I was with Rediffusion in Montreal during that period, I was regularly attending the conventions of the NCTA down in the States, and it became apparent that a lot of work was going on on pay TV development. I think the first system that I saw was an experimental system which was installed near Tulsa, in Oklahoma. It was a system installed by a company who operated the movie theaters in the community, and they wanted to be able to provide these movies in the home, sort of television in the home, and they installed this system and technically it was quite successful. Commercially it was successful, except that they had to rent their lines from the local telephone company and they jacked up their prices and it got to the point where it just wasn't feasible, and they backed out of it, but that was almost the first system. In the meantime, Paramount Pictures were doing experiments out in California with a system which they called Telemeter, and this was... well, they started this; they were working on it for some years. This was a system which used coin boxes as the means of collecting the money.

CALDWELL: So a coin box would be installed in the home by the set?

EASTON: Yes, yes, and the money was collected regularly by collectors who went around on a regular basis. The reason for the coin boxes was the fact that Paramount, who of course was primarily a movie company, was sold on the fact that you couldn't sell entertainment by credit. Nobody had ever successfully sold entertainment by credit. It was a cash and carry thing. You went to a movie theater, you paid your cash, and you went in. You didn't do it by credit card or anything like that, even if credit cards were available in those days. They were convinced that entertainment had to be sold on a cash basis, and therefore the system, the Telemeter system, designed by their people in Los Angeles, was based on cash connection. This was the Telemeter system, and I first saw that system, I guess, around 195..., late '50s. It was still under development. They did an experiment, they built an experimental system in Palm Springs, California, which technically was successful, but they came up against problems, objections from local theater owners, who refused to provide movie material and so forth, and eventually closed it down. Eventually they decided that the way to do this experiment was to do it in Canada, and Paramount, in those days, were 51% owners of Famous Players, which is a Canadian Corporation, as you know. But it was 51% owned in those days by Paramount Pictures. Paramount later sold out to Gulf & Weston, but Paramount decided that the way to proceed with this experiment was to do it in Canada in conjunction with their partners, Famous Players. They did eventually build the system in Etobicoke, Toronto, which was used as an experimental system and ran as an experimental system from 1960 to 1965, and technically was highly successful, commercially was highly successful, but they finally closed it down in 1965 because it was costing a lot of money to produce special programs which were not available. We did a lot of specials, staged in Toronto for that purpose. We did things like... we carried the away games of the Maple Leafs hockey team when they were playing in Chicago and Detroit, and so forth, all of which was done by camera crews sent out from Toronto, so it was an expensive operation.

CALDWELL: So this was conducted as a market trial.

EASTON: It was conducted primarily as a market trail, yes. The technical development was done by Paramount in California.

CALDWELL: So was the cable system in Etobicoke built specifically for the pay TV, or was it added to a cable system that was under construction there?

EASTON: No, no, it was built specifically as a cable TV system for the Telemeter experiment. The main reason for that was in those days, and I'm talking now about 1960, it opened in 1960, it was designed in 1958-59, in those days, Toronto was not a CATV market. There were a lot of people in Toronto looking at American channels coming from Buffalo, but they were reasonably well received on a domestic antenna, and there was no real incentive to pay somebody to distribute them by cable, so Toronto was not at that point a CATV market. Consequently, the system which was designed and built in Etobicoke, was designed specifically to carry these closed circuit programs for Telemeter on a pay basis. Only later – it was originally closed down in 1960 as a pay TV operation, but it was then that I was instrumental in developing Toronto as a CATV market, and it was based partly on the network which we'd used for Telemeter, but it was based mainly on the fact that at that time, there were two things that happened. Around 1965, there was a lot of high rise construction going on in Toronto. Many of the big downtown skyscrapers, which exist now, were going up I that period around '64, '65, '66, and there were many high rise buildings going up out in the suburbs too, high rise condominiums and apartment buildings, and these, as you know, interfere with off-air reception, especially from places like Buffalo, which were 50, 60, 70 miles away. You couldn't get decent reception with a rabbit ear, you had to have a good outside antenna, and even then it was a bit dicey, but what really capped it was in 1962, I think it was, the CRTC allowed Canadian broadcasters to go to color. Up 'til that point, broadcasting here had been entirely in black and white, and as you know, as an engineer, receiving black and white and receiving color are two different things.

CALDWELL: So the demands of color...

EASTON: The demands of color plus the confusion of all the high rise buildings made some sort of a cable system in Toronto almost mandatory, and that's how cable started in Toronto.

CALDWELL: You were also a founding member of the Canadian Cable Television Association. Can you tell us about that organization and the role that you played in its operation?

EASTON: Well, as I said, in the early years, I and many of my colleagues in the cable business here attended conventions in the States of the NCTA, which had been formed by that time. The NCTA were beginning to get into the political field with regulations by the FCC and so forth. We, in our turn, were getting into problems here with threatened regulation by the government. At that time, the regulating authority, if you can call it regulation, was the Department of Communications, and their regulation was very minor, mostly of a technical nature, but in 1968, or before 1968 the Board of Broadcast Governors was formed, and later of course, the CRTC was formed with the Broadcasting Act of 1968, but moanings were becoming quite loud about regulation, what they were going to do to restrict all this flood of American programming coming in across the border, thanks to cable television. You know, we were blamed for it all, no question about whether the public wanted it or not. But we were a threat. We were a threat to the Canadian private broadcasters and so forth. And it became obvious that we had to have some kind of an organization here in Canada able to deal on the political level as well as the technical level as they were doing in the States. So, in 1957 a group of us got together and decided to set up a Canadian cable association, which was the beginning of the CCTA. It wasn't called the CCTA in those days because we actually wanted to call it the National Cable Television Association of Canada. When it came down to getting a corporation, the Department of Communications in particular, or it was the Department of Transport then, objected. They didn't like... the implication was that we were serving receivers through broadcast means. They didn't like community television. Community television to them were low power re-broadcasters. So they insisted on the word antenna being in there, and we finished up incorporating as the National Community Antenna Cable and Television of Canada – thoroughly wordy – and it wasn't until about seven or eight years later that the CCTA got around to re-incorporating as the CCTA and cutting out the antenna bit and the national and so forth.

CALDWELL: Regulations aren't always as helpful as they're intended.

EASTON: They weren't in those days. They made life difficult very often.

CALDWELL: You were also involved in the early establishment of the CRTC, or the Canadian Radio and Television Commission, as I understand. Can you talk about your involvement as CRTC got setup after 1968?

EASTON: Well, when the cable association was inaugurated in 1957, we elected a board of directors and I was elected as secretary on the board, rather reluctantly because it was a part time job and I had my own job to do anyway, but anyway, I had a lot to do with the setting up of the association and drafting of its rules and so on, and they decided that I should be elected secretary and I was in fact secretary from that point until... I finally resigned as secretary, I think, in 1978, something like that. Anyway, I was secretary, and let's see, what was your question?

CALDWELL: You had involvement with the CRTC in its founding.

EASTON: Oh, yes. As secretary, I was also involved in the setting up of a group, which we had, consisting of myself, and the president of the association, and several of the board members to negotiate with the government on the terms of any regulations that they wanted to bring in, and we knew was coming in, and we had many discussion with the minister of transport, the minister of revenue, and others, on these regulations. Finally they setup the BBG first. We were not regulated by the BBG. The BBG, when they setup, were setup as the commission to regulate broadcasting.

CALDWELL: So BBG was Bureau...?

EASTON: Board of Broadcast Governors. They were setup under the 1958 Broadcasting Act, and they were setup to regulate broadcasting. At that time, cable was not considered as part of broadcasting. That had its advantage; it had its disadvantages too. But anyway, during this period between 1958 and 1968, the government got into all kinds of discussion as to whether they should... they were under pressure to regulate cable. Under pressure, particularly from the broadcasters, who could see this as a very fruitful source of competition milking off their audiences, and the fact that we were bringing in American programs, which they were carrying themselves, and so forth. But anyway, I was involved together with other members of the board in these many discussions with cabinet ministers and so forth, which eventually led to the government setting up the CRTC under the Broadcasting Act of 1968. So yes, I was involved heavily in all the negotiation up to that point.

CALDWELL: So by 1970, you had served for a number of years in large corporations, and I understand you were a vice-president of communications with Famous Players, and then you took your career in a...

EASTON: I joined Famous Players in 1960, and I joined Famous Players primarily to take charge of the engineering of the system which they were going to be building in Etobicoke to experiment with pay television, and that kept me occupied for the next two or three years, but then I gradually got involved in expanding Famous Players' interests in cable as such in Canada. I was negotiating for numerous people to participate in cable management in cities large and small across Canada, and finally in 1966, I think it was, after we closed down the Telemeter operation and I started developing cable in Toronto, I was then appointed vice-president of communications at Famous Players, and in charge of all of Famous Players interests in Canada in cable throughout Canada. By that point it extended from Montreal in the east, right out to, we had interests out in Vancouver Island in the west, across the prairies – Alberta, Saskatchewan, we had participation interests in oh, a dozen or fifteen cable systems. In fact, at one point, we were the largest multiple system operator in North America.

CALDWELL: And a number of those systems would have varied greatly in size from the large systems in Montreal and Toronto, as you built some systems in small towns to receive distant signals.

EASTON: Relatively small, not really small, no. The smallest we built would probably have been – well, we had a system in CALDWELL:, Ontario that wasn't particularly small, but it wasn't the size of Toronto or Montreal. We had systems in the lake head, we had systems in Vancouver Island, Port Alberni. We had systems in Pale River, British Columbia, and so forth.

CALDWELL: So building some of those systems in the mountains of the west coast had its own set of challenges and some opportunities, I guess.

EASTON: Particularly later one, where I was involved in the experimenting and building of parabolic antennas for distant station reception, and I built a number of those, including some out in British Columbia on the tops of mountains. And building a parabolic antenna, which is about 100 to 150 feet wide and about 60 feet high on top of a mountain isn't funny.

CALDWELL: That sounds like a very challenging engineering assignment.

EASTON: It was. It certainly was.

CALDWELL: Both to get it to stay there in the winter as well as to design it to receive the signals.

EASTON: Particularly as eventually I got to the point of designing and building parabolic antenna systems for space diversity reception, and we were able to receive stations from as much as 100 to 120 miles away across the border, mostly Americans using spaced antennas, and these antennas were on the order of 60 or 70 feet high and up to 150 feet long. You get two of those spaced – and they had to be spaced several hundred feet apart to get space diversity effect – that wasn't easy.

CALDWELL: And you were doing this to overcome the fading of systems as the atmospheric conditions changed?

EASTON: That's right, sure. For exactly the same reason as space diversity is used for example in microwave reception.

CALDWELL: Very different...

EASTON: Different frequencies.

CALDWELL: ...different frequency and therefore a great challenge in the physical constructions.

EASTON: And much bigger antennas, that's right.

CALDWELL: I understand some of these systems actually worked on what we refer to as a troposcatter system using anomalies of the propagation in the troposphere.

EASTON: Yes, that's true. Particularly out in British Columbia. There were several systems out in British Columbia which were receiving American stations from as far as 180 miles away, completely beyond line of sight, and they were able to do it by taking advantage of a phenomenon which actually bends radio signals across an obstruction. It's called, as you probably know, knife edge diffraction. You have a knife edge, which might be at the top of a mountain, and the signal coming from the transmitter hits the top of that mountain, bends, goes over the other side, and you could get phenomenal distances that way, and there were several systems in British Columbia which were receiving that way. Actually, the first system ever to use that technique was a system in the States, in... I forget where it was. Anyway, it was a system in one of the Western states which was receiving from Spokane, at that kind of a distance.

CALDWELL: So that's really a case of making adversity work in your favor.

EASTON: Yes, indeed, that's right, because normally the mountains just blocked you from any reception.

CALDWELL: So you spent a number of years of your career as a consultant to the industry and helped with the design of many systems, it seems.

EASTON: Yes, I was with Famous Players up until 1970 doing the design and administration of these systems across Canada, and in 1970, the government decided in its wisdom that all cable system operators, all companies operating cable systems had to be primarily Canadian in ownership, and primarily Canadian, in those days at least, meant at least 75% Canadian. Well, Famous Players has always been a Canadian Corporation, it's been quoted on the stock exchanges in Toronto for years, but it was originally 51% owned by Paramount Pictures, and then Paramount sold out to Gulf & Weston and it was more recently 51% owned by Gulf & Weston, so it didn't qualify as a Canadian company, and by Ordering Council, in 1969, the government said any company which is not qualified as a Canadian company is not authorized to hold or participate in cable television licenses. I spent about a year, as a matter of fact, selling off our interests in all the companies that I'd spent 10 or 15 years trying to build up, and eventually, in 1970, I left Famous Players because they were no longer in cable television. I had no interest in the movie business which is their primarily business, and so I decided to leave and go into consulting, and I did in fact set up my own consulting company, and I practiced in consulting both in Canada and throughout the United States for the next 20 years, until I finally resigned in 1991.

CALDWELL: So a career which spanned nearly 60 years of working – a career of remarkable duration.

EASTON: That's right. Pretty close to 60 years.

CALDWELL: What have your interest been since your retirement?

EASTON: Well, you know, I've always said that no man should retire without a hobby, and I strongly believe that. There are so many men who do retire and they find they have nothing to occupy their time at all, and they're either dead of boredom within about six months, or their wives are dead of frustration. So, I strongly believe that no man should retire without a hobby, and fortunately I had a hobby, which I was very interested in in the early days, I think I mentioned it earlier on, in my youth I was very interested in model building, scale model building, railroad models, ship models, and so forth. I had maintained that interest, but I had done nothing on it for years, because as you can gather I was pretty busy elsewhere for many years, but when it came time for retirement I decided that's what I should do, go back to my original love, my original hobby of scale model building, and I've been doing that ever since I retired.

CALDWELL: And I understand that you're also an author of at least two books of cable systems.

EASTON: Yes, I wrote a book in 1968, which was entitled Thirty Years in Cable Television – Reminiscences of a Pioneer, and I wrote it mainly because I thought it was time that we had some record of the history of cable television and the people in it, and so I wrote it. It was partly autobiographical, as the title suggests, but it was basically a history of the early days of cable television. It was not a book which, in my opinion, had a wide market because in those days, this was in... when did I read that... 1980. In 1980 there were only about 25% of people in North America who were connected to cable and knew what it was, so there wasn't a big market interest. So it was difficult to get a publisher, so I published it myself, had it printed and bound, and so forth, and successfully sold about 1,500 copies, mainly in the industry, the cable industry, broadcasting, and so forth. And then, 20 years later, after I retired, in fact about three or four years ago, I decided that so much had happened since 1980 in the industry, with the advent of satellites, pay TV, digital, etc., etc., that it was necessary to bring it up to date, bring up the history to date. So I wrote another book, which was called Building an Industry, A History of Cable Television in Canada, in which I repeated much of the information I gave in the first book, but I converted it to history rather than autobiographical reminiscences, and then went on to give a history of everything that had happened in the following 20 years, bringing it up to date. So it is really an up to date history of cable television from the early days, including the early experiments with radio relay in England and so forth, right up to the present day.

CALDWELL: And is that book generally available?

EASTON: Yes, yes, it's published, as a matter of fact, by a Nova Scotia publisher, and available on the market.

CALDWELL: Do you care to speculate on where the future is going to take cable? It's made many changes over the years.

EASTON: Well, there's no question in my mind that the future is convergence, and I mean convergence in the technical sense of the word, as well as the ownership sense of the word. Cable is converging now, as you know, with the introduction of digital transmission, and fiber optics, cable, and data, and audio, and every other form of communications just follows the same lines, uses the same plant, and indeed, is indistinguishable. By the time you've digitized a picture, it's indistinguishable from a digitized text or a digitized speech, or a digitized anything. It's all the same – to cable it's digits. And that is convergence in the technical sense of the word. Well, that's here now, as you know. You know, only too well, here at Eastlink.

CALDWELL: That's right. We've begun to put Internet and telephone services together, with our cable and our digital cable, so the convergence world is happening.

EASTON: Sure, and that is the way in which it's going too. As you mentioned, you have added telephone facilities. There's no question that in the next 8 to 10 years, shall we say, that distribution of television, distribution of data has originated, for example, the Internet, distribution of voice as exemplified by telephone will all be one, all be the same thing technically, and I believe, almost inevitably will be converged as far as ownership, management, et cetera is concerned. And you can see it coming now. The telephone companies are getting into distribution of video, the cable companies are getting into distribution of audio, and they're both doing the distribution of data from the Internet. It's just converging into one thing and it will be indistinguishable both in terms of ownership and in terms of the technology. And it's happening now.

CALDWELL: Ken, have we missed anything in your career that we should touch on?

EASTON: Probably, but I don't think so. We seem to have covered a pretty wide field.

CALDWELL: Well, we certainly have.

EASTON: Some of which has taxed my memory, but I think I've covered it to the best of my ability.

CALDWELL: Ken, your role in the development of the cable industry has been very significant, and I'd like to thank you on behalf of The Cable Center for the time you spent with us today. This has been an oral history of Ken Easton, and was recorded as part of The Oral and Video History Program of The Cable Center. Your interviewer was David Caldwell. Thanks very much, Ken.

EASTON: Thank you.