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Steve Weed

Steve Weed

Interview Date: July 28, 2014
Interview Location: Kansas City, Missouri
Interviewer: Stewart Schley
Collection: Cable Center Hauser Oral History Project

SCHLEY: Greetings. I’m Stewart Schley for the Cable Center’s Oral History series, and I have the privilege of sitting with Steve Weed, the founder and CEO of Wave Broadband, but not always the founder and CEO of Wave Broadband. Steve has a rich history at cable that we’ll talk about. It’s July 28th of 2014. We’re in Kansas City in association with the Independent Show, presented by the American Cable Association, and Steve, thanks a ton for being with us today.

WEED: My pleasure. Thanks for inviting me.

SCHLEY: You and I have an interesting crossover in that we both worked in and around the cable industries in Los Angeles circa 1981. So let me take you back, because I think your first job was an interesting one. You were a sales rep for a company called TelePrompTer Cable.

WEED: Yes.

SCHLEY: Tell us about that. What did you do, and what was the landscape like back then?

WEED: Well, what’s unusual for somebody who started in the industry that young is that I didn’t have any family members that had anything to do with the cable business. In fact, my dad was in the radio business, and he -- he came -- he didn’t like cable because they were taking advertising revenue from radio back then, but a family friend just said, “Hey, I got this job selling cable, and we’re making a lot of money.” And so, I was like, “Wow, can you get me an interview?” So I was hired, and I think it was the same week I was hired, Ted Turner came out; this was January 4th, 1981. And we personally visited the system in Seattle -- this was Seattle -- to launch his new cable network.


WEED: CNN, yeah. (laughter) So that was my -- that was like my first day, and shortly after that, we -- you know, of course, MTV was launched. We launched Showtime in addition to HBO, and so, it was -- as a sales rep, it was like -- it was easy money. And I was quickly promoted, because I was the one guy that still worked hard, even though it was easy.

SCHLEY: How old were you?

WEED: Eighteen.

SCHLEY: And was it door-to-door, or --

WEED: Yup, yeah.

SCHLEY: So you went door-to-door in telling people about cable television?

WEED: Door-to-door, door-to-door and say, “Hey, you need to get Showtime and HBO.” The job was really selling HBO, and then it was selling Showtime and HBO, and then, you know, along with your cable subscription, which at that time had hardly any content on it. I mean, CNN was on, and then the local broadcast networks.

SCHLEY: We used to call them “truck chasers,” in the day, right, people who had this pent-up demand to subscribe?

WEED: Yeah, truck chasing came a little bit later once we started getting some more content on. But, so it was, you know, it was a lot of fun, and you know, I thought I was just going to do that for a while. And you know, I think six months, I got promoted to sales manager, and relocated three or four times, and by the time I was 21, I was in L. A. working for Marc Nathanson at Falcon Cable.

SCHLEY: Just have a curious question. How did they compensate door-to-door sales reps? Was it pure commission?

WEED: It was pure commission, yeah.

SCHLEY: So you made what, when you made a sale?

WEED: I don’t remember. It was so much per unit, and HBO was a unit, and cable was a unit, so we could make two units. And then when we got Showtime, they left the commission the same, but you could sell three units, and we quickly learned that you could get customers to just buy three instead of two, and so we all started making 50% more money. And so it was pretty good -- it was a pretty good living.

SCHLEY: This was the dawning of the multi-pay category, basically, in cable.

WEED: Yeah, yeah, yeah. It was multi-pay.

SCHLEY: But you thought enough of the industry, and you probably did well enough that you said, OK, maybe this is a place to be for a while?

WEED: Yeah, you know, I don’t even think I thought about it. I was just -- there was a lot going on, and you know, Avon, Group W bought TelePrompTer, and they brought in all these Avon guys to run the marketing department. And I just -- you know, since I came up through the direct sales ranks, I was being tapped to move up and become the marketing sales manager in the Washington state market, I went to three or four different markets. So it was just, things were just going so fast, and I didn’t even have time to think, do I want to do this or not. It was just a lot of fun, and I was having a lot of success, and being called to move to this city, and I went to Wenatchee, and then Richland, and then back to Seattle, and then I went to L. A.

SCHLEY: So -- but I do think opened up opportunities for a lot of people, young and not so young, because it was fertile territory, really, in the day.

WEED: Yeah. Oh, we were hiring people like crazy. I remember doing recruiting. Of course, with Avon, it was all about the number of salespeople you hired, and we would go to the University of -- or Washington State University, and recruit other -- their media group, they had a communications degree program, where the guys went there learning how to be on TV. And we’d recruit from them and say, “Hey, you can come to the cable company, because we’re doing TV.” But you know, we recruit them to do sales, and they’d move in -- you know, move up from there.

SCHLEY: So, Los Angeles then, that was mostly an unbuilt market at the time, right?

WEED: Yeah, when I went down there, in fact, there were several people from Seattle who were recruited to move down to L. A., because Seattle had cable early on. So there was a lot of people in the Seattle market because of the hills that knew cable, where L. A. was flat, and there was no cable there for TV reception. And in the early ‘80s, franchising started to get awarded, as cable networks started to come on, and people had a reason to buy cable, other than just for reception. So when we got there, I got there in the end of ’83, and Falcon had been awarded a lot of franchises, and was starting to build them out, and I went down there as a marketing manager to help sell the service once they activated the plant. And that was the truck chaser time, right, so...

SCHLEY: OK, and Falcon was one of those companies when there used to be a lot of MSOs and independent -- I guess an independent cable company with a lot of quality, quality properties run by Marc Nathanson. I believe there’s an oral history about Marc Nathanson --

WEED: Yeah.

SCHLEY: -- on the Cable Center website. But, that introduced you, that, I guess that experience to that whole, maybe, Southern California cable industry that was beginning to blossom, both on the operations and the programming circuit.

WEED: Yeah, yeah. I mean, Marc was a great -- he was a mentor of mine, right? So he had started Falcon, and he was involved in recruiting me to come down there. And you know, I got to work directly with him, even though I didn’t report directly to him quite enough that, you know, and he (inaudible) marketing background, so that was a neat part about being there. I enjoyed being part of that little company that Marc started at that time. And then you’re right, the Southern California Cable Club flourished, you know, from, I don’t know, the early ’80s until the late ’80s, and I think there was something like 20 or 30 cable -- different cable companies in Los Angeles. And so, you know, we had the Cable Club with, you know, 3 different cable companies in Southern California, as well as all the vendors, and of course, that was where the content -- a lot of the content guys were, so it was a big group that met, you know, on a regular basis.

SCHLEY: And I want to ask your color about this, because it was a crazy market, like you said, reception was challenging, and yet you had these subscription TV channels that were floating around the market --

WEED: Yeah, Z Channel was one that was our big competitor --

SCHLEY: Z Channel?

WEED: -- when we launched, yeah.

SCHLEY: Yeah, what was --

WEED: And the problem with Z Channel is they had exclusive content that the national guys didn’t have, right? So Z Channel was affiliated with the studios -- whether it was affiliated with them, or just had priority contracts, I’m not sure. So Z Channel was a wireless system, which you know -- once again, L. A. was flat, so you could send a pay TV service wirelessly, and they had -- it was encrypted signal, so you had to subscribe to get it. But Z Channel had much more current release movies available than what the studios would give to any national provider, because it was only in L. A., and it was, you know, sort of controlled in their backyard. It was like the studios distributing more current releases to -- in fact, the national contracts, the premium guys sometimes were exclusive with one, HBO, or Showtime, where Z was excluded from that because they weren’t a national carrier, so they always had all the content.

SCHLEY: It was a beloved channel, I mean, people --

WEED: Because of that, yeah. They had the best movies, by far, and everybody knew that, yeah.

SCHLEY: But despite that, and despite other form -- select TV, and I think there’s over-the-air pay TV service. But cable started to make steady inroads in L. A., right, you were part of that, saw that happen?

WEED: Yup, yeah. And, you know, it was -- you know, once we got the networks built out, and you know, what solved L. A. for the cable business was we moved from just being a movie channel, like HBO, Showtime, which is when I started, and that’s what L. A. was with Select and Z, to the content on basic cable became more and more popular. Right, so, we sort of think about that today, as we’re here at our 30th anniversary at the co-op, and that was the era of “I want my MTV.” Back then, you know, people wanted their MTV, and that wasn’t available on those terrestrial-based services.

SCHLEY: Every category began to be represented. You made a move to go work for the Hefner family, right --

WEED: Yeah.

SCHLEY: -- for Playboy, so that was one of the premium offshoots of that whole crowd. What was -- so you were selling into the cable industry at that point.

WEED: Yeah, and you know, the Playboy Channel was originally started by the Rainbow Group, which some people forget, but they just licensed the name to Rainbow, and Que Spaulding I think who ran Rainbow at the time, when Christie took over -- Christie Hefner took over Playboy, she terminated that license agreement, and wanted to bring the channel in-house and actually start their own network. So even though the Playboy Channel had been around for awhile, I was actually one of the first hires by Playboy to work for the Playboy Channel. Que Spaulding came over. Michael Fleming, who ran Game Show for a long time, and then Michael Finer, who I knew because these guys had called on me as a cable operator, recruited me to join. So I was probably -- you know, it was fourth or fifth hire in their programming distribution company that was started once Christie got there.

SCHLEY: Cable used to be famous for legendary parties, you know. Disney Channel threw a big party at Disneyland, and then --

WEED: Yeah, the Western Show parties. I miss those.

SCHLEY: -- there was a famous party, I think probably you were there at the mansion, at the Playboy Mansion, when either that transition happened, or when the channel was launched, but --

WEED: Yeah, I think I missed that party, darn it. (laughter)

SCHLEY: I was there. I was there. I’ll recount that for you.

WEED: I’ll been to some parties there, but the big one, when they launched it was before I started, I think.

SCHLEY: Tell me about Summit Communications, which was, I think your next job. What was -- who were they, and what was the position for you?

WEED: So, Summit Communications was an MSO based on the Seattle area. I’ve been in L. A. five years and was eager to move back home, and one of the great things about my job at Playboy was, my job was to get the network launched on the West Coast, so I got to know all the cable operators on the West Coast. And one of them was Summit, and he was looking for a general manager to run the system he had just bought in Seattle.

SCHLEY: Who was he?

WEED: Jim Hirshfield.

SCHLEY: Jim Hirshfield. OK.

WEED: So Jim Hirshfield was the founder of Summit. So he hired me in 1989, or ’88, late ’88 or early ’89, to run their Seattle-area cable systems, and I got to move back home.

SCHLEY: Were they built out, Steve, at the time, the -- those -- OK.

WEED: Yes, it had just been built, so it was the last franchise awarded in Seattle, and it was awarded to a minority company, which the city wanted to do. And the minority company turnkeyed the construction into a third party, who didn’t know what they were doing, and so the system had been built, but it was in -- it didn’t operate very well, and they eventually needed to sell it, and Jim Hirshfield, who operated cable systems in Oregon and Washington, acquired the systems sort of out of distress. And that’s right when he hired me to run it. The penetration at that system was less then 20% or something like that, in a market where it was, you know, 60% around it. So he wanted somebody with a marketing background that could solve that penetration problem.

SCHLEY: I mean, how did -- A, how did you do it? B, what were the challenges of an early-stage cable system at that point in the industry’s development?

WEED: Yeah, well the funny thing is, he -- you know, he -- the reason I got the job was because of my marketing background, and you know, two weeks into the job, it was clear that the plant didn’t work. And the reason that there weren’t any subscribers is that the service sucked, right? So, this actually became sort of fundamental for -- even through today, when we think about marketing issues, it’s all about service quality and customer satisfaction. And you know, what I quickly learned was how to be a plant manager, and got the resources, and we fixed the technical issues on the system within, you know, six months to a year. And then grew customers like crazy, and Jim Hirshfield thought I was a marketing genius, because I was able to, you know, gain so many customers on the network. I joke, but he knows what really happened.

SCHLEY: Well, but -- because churn probably haunted you in the early days, as people were dissatisfied with their service, or whatever. And that’s exactly what I was asking, because it really was -- how many channels, for instance, did you guys (inaudible)?

WEED: You know, it’s, like, 30 channels of basic plus premiums. Back then, we did event pay-per-view, you know, mostly fights. We hadn’t started movies yet, but we were starting that at Playboy when I was there. So yeah, the churn issues back then were really -- you know, the challenges we had in driving customer satisfaction was reliability of the network -- so before fiber, right, so the networks were tree-and-branch, and they failed more than they do today. And then your customer support was always challenged, because you had unanticipated volume of customers wanting to order or call because of problems, and so you know, some notorious hold times. All right, we ended up getting regulated over hold times. So, the challenges were, you know, the reliability of the network, the hold times, when customers called. But really all that, you know, solved itself if you focused on, you know, solving network issues, maintaining a quality product, and providing good service.

SCHLEY: It’s interesting, Steve, because as I’m following your story, you sort of had this immersion in sales and marketing, in the programming side of the business, and now kind of in operations, and to some extent, technology. So were you aware that you were sort of building this pedigree across the industry or -- because you kind of were.

WEED: Yeah, you know, I just wanted to move back to Seattle, and it was a great job, and Jim Hirshfield was a great guy who worked for us. So, that’s what I was focused on.

SCHLEY: Millennium Digital Media was next. Why don’t you just kind of take us through what that company was about, and how you became involved there?

WEED: Yeah, so Jim Hirshfield was the founder of Summit, and I worked for him for the first three or four years as a general manager. He promoted me to chief operating officer of that company. We sold -- we lost broadband internet early in 1996 on that network, and demonstrated that product, and then Jim put the system up for sale, at the time when a lot of people were. This was in the late ‘90s, so you know, the promise of broadband internet had been demonstrated, and investors like Paul Allen and Millennium Digital Media, and a few others were sort of rushing in to buy cable systems. And so, that was a great time to sell for Jim, and he sold it in 1999, and as the chief operating officer of Summit, I agreed to stay on as president for the Northwest for Millennium. And Millennium was based out of St. Louis; it was former Charter guys that had started it. They left Charter before Paul Allen -- or maybe when Paul Allen invested in it, they left. I’m not sure. They had some Charter roots, but so it’s, you know, four guys out of St. Louis that started Millennium, and I ran the Northwest region, which was basically Summit. So I stayed on and continued to run the same company, but for new owners.

SCHLEY: I don’t want to just step lightly over the whole broadband transformation, basically. So you talked about Summit launching an internet product in ’96, I think? Does that sound right?

WEED: Yeah, yeah.

SCHLEY: So what was that like? I mean, as a guy who’d grown up on the television side of the cable business, probably an exciting kind of progression.

WEED: Yeah, I mean for us, you know, this is another one of those things that just sort of happened to be in Seattle, where there was a lot of knowledge and excitement among guys my age about the internet, and you know, how cool that was. I mean, I was on the Cable Advisory Board with a University of Washington professor in the early ‘90s, who was telling about the internet, and gave me a tour of their internet connection to the universities, and then I had another friend who launched a dial-up ISP to compete with AOL. And so we sort of knew it was cool, and that allowed us -- plus I knew people that knew how to connect to the internet once we got a resident connected. And so we built a system with LANcity modems in the mid-’90s, commercially launched it in ’96. And we had some test customers, one of which was a venture capital guy, who I knew, and after we did the test, I had him come speak to my management team and he says, “This product,” he says, “It’s like a drug. When you get online with a 10 Megabit connection,” at that time, “that’s always on, and then you take it away because of the test, there’s no way you’re taking this out of my house.” He says, “This, it changes your life.” And so I’m like, wow, that’s a pretty interesting testimonial. And so we, you know, at that time, felt like -- you know, we agreed with the hype of the market, that broadband was going to be huge, and that customers were going to really love that product, and it was going to be very sticky. And you know, that was exciting, and that’s what we were focused on, and when I agreed to stay on with Millennium, it was, you know, sort of the idea and excitement about working with them to, you know, continue to build that product out in the Northwest.

SCHLEY: I think we forget about it -- right, because you talked about 10 meg per second, and then always on, you know, which is --

WEED: Yeah.

SCHLEY: -- if -- we either forget about it, or if we’re young, we never experienced that, age of dial-up, age of broadband. One day everything changed.

WEED: And the consumer behavior chain -- at that time, the primary thing that changed consumer behavior was the always-on, more than the speed, because there wasn’t anything -- there wasn’t much to download anyway. Websites didn’t have -- I remember when we were demo-ing it for the city council, we had to find a NASA website so you could download a photo.

SCHLEY: Everybody used that NASA website, I remember.

WEED: (laughter) To demonstrate the speed, because there weren’t any big photos online. But the always-on thing really does change behavior, because instead of looking something up on the yellow pages, or -- you could go look it up online. I mean, so -- you know, if you wanted to, you know, know what the weather was -- people started doing things, that was so much easier if you didn’t have to go dial-up and then go look it up. You could just go to your computer and punch it in. And so that was the early time of the internet which really started changing consumer behavior, which, “Oh, I can go get information this way easier than some way else.”

SCHLEY: Because it took us away from that notion of having to go conduct a “session,” right? Now is the time I’m going to go do the internet, and -- anytime.

WEED: Yeah, to where it was just easy there; it was quick to get to, yeah, and then --

SCHLEY: Did you guys work with @Home, or were you sort of independently --

WEED: That was before @Home. So we launched as our own -- we called it “Cable Speed.” It was our own product. In fact, we had two products, we had “Cable Speed” and “Always On” internet. And so, one was the fast 10 meg product, and one was a lower-cost product, but you know, you’d have to dial up. And so it was LANcity modems with our own system, our own connection to the internet.

SCHLEY: Do you remember the rates you charged for those two products?

WEED: I know we launched; with the 10 meg, we launched with 99 dollars. At the time, it was a super high-end product targeted to people who wanted T1 lines, or you know.

SCHLEY: Because that was 99 a month, you’re saying?

WEED: Ninety-nine a month.


WEED: Yeah, isn’t that funny. So yeah, this is mid-’90s, and you couldn’t get it any other way, and we were pricing it relative to T1 lines, which were 2000 dollars a month, and it was a much better product. So it was really geared towards -- and the LANcity modems were $500 apiece, right, so we didn’t rent those. It was -- they were expensive. And you had to have a mo-- I think you had LANcity-- we might have had a modem on each end; I can’t remember exactly -- I had to pair it, and so it was -- I’m pretty sure you had to pair them. But anyway, it was expensive to deploy any individual customer, so there was some justification to that. And it wasn’t until we got DOCSIS that we lowered the prices, I Think.

SCHLEY: That’s right, that was pre-DOCSIS when you launched. So I want to spend some time, obviously talking about Wave Broadband. And tell me about the kernel, or the inspiration, or the beginnings of the vision for what would ultimately become your company?

WEED: So I stayed on with Millennium, and you know, a year or two later, that wasn’t working out, it didn’t work out for that company, and I could see that it wasn’t working out for them. So when I sort of looked at what I was going to do, knowing, or feeling like it wasn’t going to -- this company wasn’t going to be a successful as I hoped, I looked at what I wanted to do, and the first thing I wanted to do was buy the company back, right? And so I made an offer to Millennium to buy the company back, Summit Communications back from Millennium. And they turned me down. So I said, OK, well if that’s the case, I’m going to go do my own thing. And so I left and went to start a company, Wave Division Networks is what I called it, and it was focused on broadband internet, and I went out to do that without -- trying not to have a preconceived notion about the technology, right? I wanted it to be network-agnostic, or technology-agnostic. And actually, through another investment, launched a wireless broadband company down in Petaluma, California, at about that time, in fact, right at that time, which was used in a Nokia mesh system to deploy wireless. We looked at some broadband over power line stuff back then, which didn’t work. So -- and the Nokia mesh system turned out not to work. So, and then we looked at wireless, and other wireless stuff just didn’t scale at that time. So the early technology of what became Clearwire was -- we looked at that right about that time too, was using [MWS?] licenses to sell wireless. But we just looked at the technology and said, you know what, cable’s the best technology to do broadband, and what do you know, I happen to know that anyway. So I went out to acquire, you know, a cable system, to sort of start Wave.

SCHLEY: How do you do -- I mean, you obviously had confidence in the business and its future. I imagine you attracted, or rounded up financing, so you were in a position to start to buy properties.

WEED: Yeah, I didn’t know how to do it. I called the investment banker that sold Summit for us and asked him, “Hey, could you raise me money if I could find a cable system to buy?” And he said, “Yeah, you’ve been running cable for a long time, so, I think we could attract some investors,” and so, you know, we flew to New York, and Boston, and I went calling on all these private equity guys, and you know, generated some interest. We went through two or three firms before we settled on a deal that I actually had, because we looked at some cable deals that fell through. And then, private equity company, Sandler Capital, that backed what was Wave Broadband; what became Wave.

SCHLEY: What was your first deal, what your first acquisition was?

WEED: Very first one was Pat Davis, who owned a company called Cedar Communications. It was a little system outside of Seattle, about 5,000 customers. And, you know, he was a member of the ACA, and I was -- I think I was chairman at that time, and we were flying back on the plane together, and I knew he had been interested in selling to TCI. And the deal fell through because they sold to AT&T, and that whole thing collapsed. And so I said, “Hey, you know, what were you going to sell it for? Would you still sell it for that?” And he said, “Yeah, if you could get that money, I’d still sell it. I’m still, you know, interested in retiring from the cable industry,” and so that was my first deal, and it was, you know, basically handshake on the plane, and you know we put an agreement together. I then went to -- that was too small for Sandler Capital, so we then went to Northland Communications, who had two systems for sale that were near Pat Davis’s system. One was right next to it in North Seattle, and the other one was out in Port Angeles, Washington, which was, as the crow flies, about 30 miles away, but you have to take a ferry and drive around to get there, so...

SCHLEY: These are bigger systems?

WEED: The total of the two are 15,000 customers, so you know. And you know, this is a time when the industry, this is 2002 that we signed these deals up, and a lot of these guys, if they hadn’t rebuilt their networks, they were losing customers to satellite. And if they didn’t have broadband launched, they were just losing revenue, and not offsetting it with broadband. And Pat Davis had launched broadband, but Northland had not, and so they were losing customers to broadband. And so, these were great markets that, (inaudible) on these cable systems from my perspective, and they were incented to sell by their banks to solve a debt problem they’d gotten into because of that problem someone in the industry had, if you hadn’t rebuilt your networks before, you lost to satellite, you were in financial distress, so...

SCHLEY: And the new owner obviously had to be willing to commit new funds to upgrade the systems.

WEED: Yeah, so the model I built -- so I ended up signing both deals, and not having closed either one, and then built a model that says I’m going to invest the money to fix -- to upgrade the network. Because by now, people have made that mistake where they bought systems and underestimated the cost upgrade. And so we knew what it was going to cost to upgrade, and I had done that before. And so the presentation to Sandler Capital was, we were going to buy these three cable systems, two from Northland; one from Cedar, upgrade them to launch broadband, and then tie them together to create enough scale. And it worked.

SCHLEY: It’s interesting because, as you alluded earlier, with reference to TCI and Charter, there were bigger companies circling, right? There was some consolidation going on in the industry.

WEED: At that time, there was. This was -- it was right after 9/11, so I started Wave Networks in November after 9/11. And then, this was the following year. Cable had lost to satellite; the debt markets were in trouble. So this was a window when, in fact, in multiple cases, in Northland’s case, and in Cedar’s case, they’d try to sell them, and the sales didn’t go through, and you know, there were no buyers. So at that -- you know, there’s that short little window there, where the finance market hadn’t recovered after the recession from post-9/11, and there were some cable industries that had some serious debt problems because of their loss to satellite.

SCHLEY: Was it scary, were there sleepless nights for you, you’re making big investments?

WEED: Yeah, I think -- you know, I’d made a little bit of money when Summit sold, working for Jim, so that gave me a little bit of breathing room, thinking, OK, I could work for a year, so, you know. Live for a year or so without working. But what I didn’t estimate was how much money it was going to cost just to get these deals done, right? So I had a half million dollars in legal bills that had piled up, that I hadn’t paid. You know, fortunately, the local law firms had agreed to, you know, defer payment until we closed, but if we didn’t close, then I was going to be in trouble. So you know, it was definitely an exciting time, and trying to get a deal done with a private equity company for the first time was not easy. You know, they know your -- if they know you need them more than they need you, then the deal gets worse. And so, there were a lot of sleepless nights where I owed a bunch of money, and I wasn’t sure these deals were going to get done, and I had to get a deal done with private equity to get it funded.

SCHLEY: But you got them done, and then you continued to grow from there, right?

WEED: Yeah, so we closed those three systems simultaneously in March of 2003. It shows you, again, the market, because we were late, and the sellers agreed to wait and let me get funding put together, because they didn’t have any other choice. And six months later, we went to Charter, who had the Port Orchard system, which was -- so we had 20,000 customers. Charter had 25,000 customers in Port Orchard, which was next to where we operated. Most of our systems were not in the Seattle DMA. This was the one in the Seattle DMA. Charter tried to sell assets the year before, the whole Northwest, and you know, no buyers. And so we went to them and said, hey, why don’t you sell just this one system, not the whole Northwest, and it has a higher value per customer than the rest of them because of its demographics, and they had launched internet, so they had higher -- everybody’s looking at price per subscriber. And Charter was trying to keep their stock above a dollar so they didn’t get delisted. And, you know, it was a classic win-win, and they were able to announce that sale. It was the first time Charter had sold anything since Paul Allen started buying. At a high price per subscriber, I think it was $3600 back then, which you multiplied that times all their subscribers, you know, the company would be worth a lot more than it was trading. And so that was the benefit to them, they could say, “Hey look, we were able to sell something, and here’s the value of it.” And the value to us was, because their broadband penetration was so high, it was still a good deal. So, that was our next acquisition, and that was the one that gave us scale, which allowed me to hire -- bring in my partner, Steve Friedman, who I’d worked with at Millennium.

SCHLEY: Right. By -- sort of fast-forwarding, but by 2011, you did a 60,000 subscriber acquisition with Broadstripe, correct?

WEED: Yeah, so that’s the old company that I tried to buy back. And you know, long story short, we continued to try to buy them, because we ended up buying the stuff in Seattle that they didn’t own, so we bought the independent cable systems around them, and the ones I just described, and so then they were left as the natural piece of the puzzle for us. The rest of it was all Comcast by now. And so we tried to buy that. Much earlier, I think it was 2006, or 2005, we had a deal to buy it. And private -- Highland Capital, it was a hedge fund, came in and bought all the debt and then refused to close the deal. And so that deal fell through, ended up in litigation with them, and that with some other litigation Millennium got into in trying to buy James Cable and backing out of it. Highland Capital running a cable company, and never run cable before, they got into a litigation over not selling, and they got a litigation over not buying. They ended up going into bankruptcy. They were in bankruptcy for three years, and we ended up buying it out of bankruptcy. We finally closed it in January, I think, of 2012. And we bought all the assets from Millennium out of bankruptcy and spun off the Detroit area to my friends at Wide Open West. Steve Cochran, who’s also a former Millennium guy, we worked there together. And then we kept the rest of it.

SCHLEY: Along this path, and you had also sort of set your sights south in California during the interim, right? Because, yeah, I think you were one of the first operators to get a statewide franchise in California.

WEED: Yeah. Yeah, so you know, we got those deals done in Seattle, and the model proved out. We launched internet; we were growing the business, outperforming, you know, what our projections were, you know, because internet was growing faster than people thought. And we upgraded networks, and so it was going great. And so, OK, now what do we do? Well, a system came up for sale, another one in bankruptcy in Ventura, California. And we bought that from the family that owned it, one of the original pioneers in the industry. I’m drawing a blank on the name now, but it was the -- sort of the north half of Ventura, California, was an independent cable operator. So that was our first entrance outside of the Seattle market, was we went down south and bought that cable system. Those guys had gone -- very unfortunate; the family had owned it since 1950. They were trying to rebuild it to launch internet. They got the rebuild done, but then they defaulted on their payments to the contractor, and the contractor refused to finish it unless they paid him, and they ran out of money. And so we bought that system, finished the rebuild, and had internet launched within months from acquiring it. And similar result, I mean, once you got broadband on, the system was great. And that was southern California, then we bought another system out in Cerritos, California, from -- it was the Verizon System in Cerritos, California. We bought that. Similar thing, we bought it and rebuilt it. So our model was, you know, buy these distressed things, rebuild them, and launch internet, and grow the business. We then -- in San Francisco area, Xcel Energy had built an overbuild system in Walnut Creek in Concord, California. And it was a green-filled overbuild. This was -- you know, RCN was building San Francisco. Xcel Energy built the East Bay, Concord Walnut Creek. This was in the late ’90s, early 2000s, and where RCN stopped and went bankrupt, Xcel energy finished the rebuild, because they were -- you know, they had the money, and they finished it. And as soon as they finished the build, then they put it up on the market for sale, and we bought that in, I think 2004, ’05. Probably 2005. Which was a great deal, because they had -- as a power company, they didn’t know how to operate margins, right? So we got a brand new system that had just been rebuilt. They had a lot of customers on it, but -- and a great reputation. It was a gold-plated system that we operated and tied into our network. And we kept expanding in San Francisco; we bought the RCN system after they went through their bankruptcy, and combined that with the Xcel Energy system, and that’s our San Francisco platform that we have today. And then in L. A., we had been talking to Charter about buying their Sacramento area systems, and we also were looking at an independent cable operator in Sacramento named Starstream. And so we did this deal where we bought Starstream, and we traded our L. A. properties to Charter, who was big in L. A., for their Sacramento systems. And so, that’s the markets primarily we have today. We’ve done some little stuff, but it’s -- San Francisco is the combination of Xcel Energy and RCN, and Sacramento is what was Charter and Astound in the Sacramento DMA. There are suburbs around it.

SCHLEY: Steve, how big is the company today, if you look, kind of a household served, or whatever metric --

WEED: We think of it as RGUs, we think it’s more relevant than video and all that. And we’re 430,000 RGUs. It’s 350 million in revenue, 150 million in cash flow.

SCHLEY: It’s a big company.

WEED: Yeah, it’s certainly --

SCHLEY: By cable standards, it’s a big company.

WEED: A thousand employees, we just had 1,000 employees last week. That’s a big deal for me.

SCHLEY: As I listen to you recount the story of the growth and the acquisitions, you keep talking about internet, and how that was such an economic propellant of what you were able to do, both from a raising funds standpoint, and a revenue standpoint. And you named the company Wave Broadband.

WEED: Yup.

SCHLEY: You didn’t name it Wave Cable.

WEED: Nope.

SCHLEY: So, I just would love you to riff a little bit about the role of broadband, as kind of this, you know, driver of what you’ve been able to do, and how you’ve organized the company around it.

WEED: Yeah, I think we -- from the beginning, you know, I always said to our teams, like it’s about selling broadband internet. The video business at that time was still good, but it wasn’t growing. And all the growth was coming from broadband. And in the markets we were in Seattle, and later in San Francisco, we were just absolutely convinced that every home was going to have broadband connection at some point. So, you know, we wanted to be ahead of where the market was going, and from the beginning it was, we want to have the -- you know, our core business plan from the beginning was we want to have the fastest internet and the lowest-cost internet in every market we operate, so that if someone wants to connect to the internet they’re going to connect from us. And you know, from -- this was early 2000, we led with internet, and we led with choice and control. You can have super fast, or really cheap. I used to call it -- with the team, I called it, “just as shitty as DSL.”

SCHLEY: (laughter)

WEED: And it was just -- we had a product to make sure that if you wanted slow internet, we would have that at a lower price than DSL, but you really would want fast internet. And we launched that way from the beginning, and our marketing was focused on selling internet. And oh, by the way, do you want TV? And a lot of people do that today, but this was, you know over ten years ago. And that really worked, and it especially worked with cable systems who had lost a lot of customers to satellite. And still today, you know, we have, you know, a lot more internet customers than video. When they’d lost customers to satellite, it was hard to get them back. But you could get them to buy our internet. And so, you know. We were featuring internet because that’s what we thought the future was. We wanted to get ahead of the market. We wanted to make sure that anyone who wanted internet connectivity, whether they want it fast or slow, they’d buy it from us. No reason to buy it from anybody else. But what we didn’t think about was that the video business was going to stay bad, right? We thought that those video customers would come back, and that really never happened. To this day we have markets. The Portland market was the last one we acquired. And they still hadn’t launched internet everywhere, when we bought them in 2008. And you know, they had markets where 20% penetration. A lot of the Portland markets were like below 20%. And they’re still sitting there at that penetration even though we’ve got great video product. But once customers have shifted, it’s harder to get them back, where on the internet side, those markets are growing like crazy.

SCHLEY: I think it’s interesting, because you sort of offered this preview, I think, of where the cable industry may be going in a couple of ways. You know, there was an investment analyst report last week that said, we’re about to reach this point where there are more broadband customers than video customers in the cable industry, domestic cable industry at large. So that’s -- but you’re already there.

WEED: Yeah, I’ve crossed that years ago.

SCHLEY: You’ve been there for a while. And then I want to talk about your vision, because I think you expressed this at a panel session a little bit this morning. When you think about the future of bundled video, where are you going? And where is your company going?

WEED: Yeah, I mean -- once again, not only you focus on broadband internet, but you focus on what the customer wants, and what drives satisfaction. And today, when we look at the products we’re offering to our customers, they love our broadband internet, high satisfaction, high perceived value. They like their phone product. If they have a landline phone, that’s a high-quality phone at much better value. They like our WiFi in the home, connecting all the devices. That’s become a much more high-value product today than it was even two years ago, with all the smartphones and laptops. They love our DVR, HD-DVR -- multi-room HD-DVR, where you’re connecting all the TVs to a single recordable device, they can watch all our shows, they can get HD, you know, we’re expanding that.

The one thing that’s the big tailwind, or headwind on our customer satisfaction, and value, which ultimately drives, you know, the growth of the business, is the programming cost, right? So our video subscription rates go up every year, and that makes our customers mad. We’re putting through unjustified rate increases. We’re passing those on to our customers. So despite all this positive value we’ve created around our products, we have one product which a lot of our customers still associate us with as our primary, even though it isn’t, that’s got decreasing customer value every year when the rates go up. You know, the customers perceive that as costing too much, and being forced to buy stuff they don’t want, and the rate increases aren’t justified.

And so, what we want to do, is we want to get out of the business of passing through the programmer’s rate increases, and in the business of just doing all the stuff our customer loves us for. And you know, fortunately today, the technology path is pretty clear. I mean IP Video and over-the-top video, some people thought as a threat. Well, it turns out to be a savior if you’re an independent cable guy, and you want to connect customers to some content, and let them pay the content provider directly.

So, you know, Netflix is the biggest obviously, and most known, and we have a Netflix agreement now; many cable operators do. You know, that’s an agreement where we feature Netflix on our customer premise equipment and enable the customer to easily go get it in a way that’s more convenient for them than if they weren’t a customer of ours. And yet they pay Netflix directly. And so we’re not in the business of passing through whatever they choose to charge. But we are in the business of providing a user interface, a media gateway. In this case, we launched Roku three years ago, we had ARRIS Media Gateway two years ago, we’re now focused on TiVo now that they have a media gateway with the Pace box. Because it’s a great operating system. And that’s sort of the next generation to the HD-DVR. We have a media gateway, it’s got six tuners. It not only connects every TV into the house to a single recording unit, but it connects all those TVs to the internet. It connects all your other devices in the home to the TV signal so you can stream our cable content on handheld devices. You can get onto the internet from your TV.

So we think that’s the platform that, you know, today, these over-the-top providers are primarily providing alternate content. And customers like that because there’s some choice and control, but there’s still a need for livestreaming, you know, basic cable content, live TV. But that technology, the same technology that allows them to go to Netflix, or Amazon, or Hulu, or YouTube, exists for somebody to have a virtual cable operator lineup. And Dish has announced they’re going to do that. We think with this media consolidation, it’s really about getting the lowest cost programming so you can sell over-the-top to all consumers, whether they’re on your network or not. So you know, Dish has announced that I’m convinced that if Dish launches, if you’re Comcast or AT&T, DirecTV, when you launch an over-the-top cable lineup also, if you can get the rights to do so.

So you know, we think that that’s going to happen, and that in addition to this over-the-top content, you’re going to have these virtual cable operators that they’re probably just the big guys who have lower content cost. And they’ll make that, what looks like a cable subscription available to anyone at a lower price than we’re paying for the content, because they have much lower costs than us. So if you see that coming, on one hand it’s like, oh no, these guys are going to put me out of the video business, because their costs are so much lower than mine. But the positive is, hey, here’s an opportunity for me to be the service provider to my customer, the stuff they really love, which is connecting all the devices in the house, providing good service, WiFi, media gateway, and then enabling them to go purchase that content from whoever they want, pay them directly, let them shop and choose, have more choice and control. I solve my customer satisfaction problem by giving the customer his own freedom and choice and control to pick whatever content they want. And what I’m providing is, you know, the broadband connection, and the smart home, and the service, and the operating system, which by the way is where we make our money anyway. You know, we make more money on the HD-DVR and that equipment today with high customer satisfaction than we do on the video subscription business.

SCHLEY: That is crazy.

WEED: If you separate video, then -- (inaudible) supposed to starting to look at this now, a lot of them had the video revenue all lumped together.

SCHLEY: Including the HD-DVR, yeah.

WEED: If you pull out all the equipment, and you look at just the subscription business, minus your cost to product, because the margin’s been shrinking, you know, we’re only making 14% of our gross margin, is -- of our total gross margin, only about 14% is from the video subscription business. So, I can keep all the business that my customers are happy with and buy content from somebody else. And that’s what we’re -- that’s not our business plan. And we’re executing on that, and you know, we -- there’s some things that have got to come together, mainly around the equipment, and operating software, and TiVo’s got to make some improvements. But you know, we’re excited about that.

SCHLEY: What a transition, though. And I think, there’s a lot that’s captivating about what you just described. But one element I don’t want to lose is that it’s not just providing a dumb pipe service. You’re -- to date, OTT video has sort of been a homemade proposition. You have to kind of rig up the stuff yourself. And you’re sort of managing that on behalf of your customers.

WEED: Yeah, the TiVo example is -- the agreement we have with TiVo and Netflix is we’re positioning Netflix with a jump channel. So, there’s two ways you can get over-the-top through TiVo. One is you can go their app store, and then from the app store you can go to get over-the-top stuff, and it’s kind of like Roku, it’s just scattered out there. And of course, TiVo’s better, because it’s going to be on every TV; you can access it. But with Netflix, we’re going to have a jump channel, so it just looks like a channel on your lineup. So as you’re paging down your cable lineup on your Wave box, which is powered by TiVo, Netflix will just be one of those channels. And if you click on it, it automatically sends you to Netflix and authenticates you. So it’s going to be a much easier way to get over-the-top content. It’ll work seamlessly. You know, customers already have high value when you connect all their TVs to a DVR. Now you add, you know, the VOD service, and the over-the-top services, I think we’re excited about that.

SCHLEY: And you’re OK with that customer dealing with the programmer independent of you.

WEED: Yeah, because my business is delivering a quality broadband stream, and providing that service in the house, of which there’s high demand. We’ve seen it -- we now see it with WiFi routers. Customers would rather have us install WiFi, or they could buy it from somebody else. TiVo could have sold their boxes retail, but they’d rather buy it from us. There’s clearly a strong demand -- phone product’s another one. You could buy phone from an internet provider, or you could have us install it and hook it up. Well, you know, we’ve got, you know, 30% phone penetration, or 30% of the market. So there’s clearly a value that the customer sees besides the pipe in the service that we offer in hooking everything up, providing tech support around it, making sure it works, sending -- giving them the updates when the more and more of your house gets connected to the internet, the more you’re going to need a broadband service company to deliver it and make sure all the devices in your house that are connected, which is mostly TVs and iPads today, but it’s going to grow, they’re going to need somebody to provide the service around that, and I think that’s high value. And I don’t want -- I don’t need -- they don’t need to be my customer from a content perspective. They just need to be my customer from the broadband service.

SCHLEY: I also wanted to talk, Steve about -- you know, from the very early stages of your career, and I can’t remember which company you were talking about earlier, but the service has to work, you know, or you’re going to suffer churn, and you’re going to be haunted by defections, and whatnot. You guys with Wave did something that I think is interesting with, the physical arrangement of your customer service team, and where they work, if I understand correctly, and without -- tell me about the decision there.

WEED: Yeah, so the way I’ve described it to our time, and the other fundamentals of Wave when we started it was, it’s got to be-- you know, it was all about delivering a better experience than the competitor, and their -- you know, there are three pieces to that. One is, you’ve got to have a reliable network. So we upgraded the networks with fiber, and make sure they’re reliable; make sure they’re redundant, so it works all the time, as much as possible.

The second is, you had to have all the cool products, right? So customers have a reliable network, they want to have cool products. I mean, you’ve got to make sure that you have cool products at competitive products. Mostly broadband network, that’s, you know, give them choice and control, cool products. You’ve got the products they want. That included video a lot in the past with VoD and HD. We were early on those two, to make sure we had the cool products, we were early on phone.

And then the third piece, which is the hardest one, which is every time a customer interacts with us, it has to be a positive experience, and hopefully a surprisingly positive experience. And so, when we started Wave, we said, OK, we have to do these three things. And if you do all three of those things, you’re going to have high customer satisfaction.

And you know, most cable operators can do the first one, build a good network. Most of them now can go figure out what products customers want and launch those. But the third piece is the hardest, and I think we knew that. And when I started Wave, we went to the nicest building in downtown Kirkland, which is a high-end market. I mean, Google was in our building. Microsoft’s across the street. This is a high-tech, high, expensive job market. And we chose to locate our call center there, which is counterintuitive, and some of my bankers thought I was crazy. You’re going to pay 15 an hour instead of 10? You know, if you go a mile -- an hour away. But, and we not only located in this cool building in a hot job market, we put them on the top floor that had the view of the lake and downtown Seattle, and we had barbecue decks.

And you know, this was 10 years ago, when a lot of call centers were still overseas, or in lower-cost markets, and the idea was that, plus with our field techs, those were -- our customers made contact with us. It’s got to be a positive experience. Well, how do you do that? You’ve got to have -- it’s got to be a fun place to work. You’ve got to have smart kids working for you, that knew what they were talking about, and it needed to be located right where the corporate office was. So we could walk in, and for the first five years, the call center was right out -- my office was -- my door was open; I could hear call center reps talking to customers.

And in fact, I talked to one of the CSRs the other day, and she says, “Do you know how stressful it was sitting right outside your door?” I don’t sit there anymore. They’re happy about that. So, it was designed to try to drive that customer experience, and we’ve done pretty good at that. We compare satisfaction scores to a lot of our peers, and we’re right near the top of Net Promoter score, and that’s been -- in addition to, the call center location is sort of symbolic, but there’s a whole business plan around that, and employee’s bonused on customer satisfaction, has been for years.

SCHLEY: That’s maybe the one element of the cable industry that, you know, throughout your career and others, that hasn’t changed, right? Everything else has changed. Customer satisfaction part.

WEED: Yeah, but, it’s still --

SCHLEY: Instrumental.

WEED: -- it’s still key. Now today, and that’s another thing going forward, the customer, you know, when I started Wave, it was true, had these three pillars of customer satisfaction. Well, there’s a fourth pillar now, and that’s how a customer interacts with you, how they do business with your online, or without actually talking to someone. And that’s -- you know, Amazon had sort of created that, and you know, I know -- Amazon is right across the lake from us, and Nordstrom’s right next to Amazon, and I know -- like Nordstrom, and he’s always looking and Amazon, and Blake’s all about the human interaction. Well Nordstrom’s a very fast-growing tech company now, because they focused on, and picked up early that driving customer satisfaction actually was an online experience as well, and Amazon’s proven that. High satisfaction, and you never talk to Amazon, right? And they figured out how to make it easy to do business with me, without actually talking to me. So, there is a change now, it’s still an issue, and it’s still corridor business, but you know, over the next five years, we’ve got to -- we’ve got to get much better at making it easy to do business with us, without talking to us, and that’s another initiative of ours.

SCHLEY: As such, your personal odyssey and then the Wave Broadband story, they’re both great cable stories, the Cable Center is in the business of storytelling, and Steve, we greatly appreciate you sharing some time with us today. For the Cable Center’s Oral History series, this is Stewart Schley.

WEED: Thanks.

SCHLEY: That was awesome. I love that -- where you’re going with the business plan.

WEED: Thank you.

SCHLEY: And I’m convinced that’s where the cable industry is going.

WEED: Yeah, I think most people are.

SCHLEY: But you’re getting there faster.

WEED: They’re just --

SCHLEY: Really, even the --

WEED: They -- well they -- you know, when I was talking to Shalini [Ramachandran] about it, she goes, “Why isn’t everybody else doing this?” And I say, you know, I said, “They’re afraid of the revenue they’re going to lose.” And when I was on that panel, they’re texting questions, right? And she was getting half of them, but they were all about, “How do you make up the revenue? How do you get a return?” And, I think that’s the issue is people, they’re not going to leave the video business until they’re absolutely sure that it means I’m not going to lose revenue -- or I’m not going to lose cash flow, right?

SCHLEY: Exactly, and I think it’s part -- because I agree. I mean, if you look at the Comcast, you know, breakdown of revenues, that’s still the single biggest contributor, and so if it disappears one quarter, it’s disaster from an investment standpoint. But it’s kind of an education thing. It’s not just about the revenue.

WEED: Well, first you’ve got to go gross margin, because cost-to-product doesn’t exist for internet or phone. And then you’ve got to take out the equipment and say, “OK, can I keep that business?”

SCHLEY: That’s what -- I think they should start focusing on. Because when you said that, that if you take out the -- the margin on the equipment and whatnot, there’s really nothing left. I don’t think a lot of people know that.

WEED: I’m talking to this guy, I mean, there are some big MSO’s in the last six months where I said, “Yeah, we were looking at the equipment too,” I mean, so people are starting to figure it out. But you know, it’s just, you know, there’s such a -- the industry is so heavily financed, that the, “Whatever you do, don’t screw it up,” overrules.

SCHLEY: Prevails.

WEED: So, it clearly is the way to go, I think, and I don’t think people disagree. They’re just not comfortable with the risk.




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Barbara York


Interview Date: June 14, 2017
Interview Location: Denver, CO
Interviewer: Rob Stoddard
Collection: Oral History Collection

Stoddard: It’s June 14, 2017. We are at the TCC tech studios at The Cable Center here in scenic and beautiful Denver, Colorado. And I’m Rob Stoddard from NCTA, the Internet and Television Association. Today we’re going to spend a few minutes with someone who’s been the backbone of our industry’s trade association for more than 35 years. A role model for women of color and people of color. A wonder woman, a power broker, award recipient, a Cable Hall of Famer. The leader and keeper of the flame for our industry’s trade show for 35 of its 65 years. The great Barbara O. York, currently senior vice president for industry affairs at NCTA, the industry trade association. Welcome to our oral and video history. This is The Cable Center Hauser Oral and Video History Project. Barbara, it’s great to have you here.

York: Thank you.

Stoddard: In full disclosure, of course, we’ve been NCTA colleagues for more than 15 years. By my count we’ve been friends and industry colleagues now for more than 30 years. So we think of this as an inside job.

York: This is an inside job.

Stoddard: Absolutely. And of course many of us have known you for many years and I think to a lot of us you’ve been very intriguing over the years. You clearly have a very distinguished heritage and I thought we might start if you could explain to us your personal background. Where are you from, what global influences have affected your life?

York: Thank you, Rob. And thank you very much, the Cable Center. It’s a pleasure to be here. It’s a pleasure to participate in this program. As a member of the board I’ve heard so much about this program and it’s an honor and truly a fulfilling pleasure to be part of it. So thank you. And to all the staff and to Rob, thank you very much for doing this with me. So I was born in Calcutta, India, post-World War II. My parents are Shanghainese. Before the world war four children, my older brother and sisters, were born in Shanghai. Then the war intervened and my father was in business between India, England, and China and he was in India when the war started. It was the jute business. The jute was grown in India, banked in China and then --

Stoddard: Sorry, what is that again?

York: Jute. Which is what made gunnysacking, which was the Saran Wrap, the binding, the crating of the shipping industry in those days. Everything had gunnysack all over it. So that was his business. And he was in India when the war started and so then there’s like an up to 10-year gap between when my mother was in China with the four children and he was in India. After World War II she joined him in Calcutta and the four of us were born. We lived in Calcutta until I was age 13 and then the Indochina war broke out in the Himalayan Mountains and so we all lost our citizenships. We were all declared -- we had no residency and no citizenship anywhere, so we all had to leave as Chinese folk. And there was a whole bunch of Chinese people who left India at that time. Our intent was to go to Hong Kong for a short time, pay our deference to our grandparents, and then go on to England where my father was trying to put the business back together. Unfortunately he passed away when we were in Hong Kong so we stayed in Hong Kong for just a bit. Actually my eldest sister is still there. I was just there for the four years of high school and then came to the US to Trinity College on a full scholarship. So Washington [DC] became my home then and after Trinity I stayed on to just work a little bit and then go back to grad school. And then one thing led to another, led to another, and pretty soon I had nine years under my belt at Grocery Manufacturers of America working. And it really has set my path working in trade associations, working under the phenomenal George Cook who was the CEO of GMA, getting to know Tom Wheeler who was the vice president of public affairs in GMA. And then once Tom left GMA to go to NCTA a couple of years later he called George and said, “I have a job, this is what it sounds like, do you know anybody?” And George came to me and he said, “I don’t want you to leave GMA, but this is a great opportunity, why don’t you go talk to Tom?”

Stoddard: All right, hold that thought. We don’t want to get too far down the line because I want to circle back and ask you -- we’re going to talk a lot today about the history of our industry trade show and the impact that you’ve had on this trade association and this industry over the decades. Before I do that I’d like to hear a little bit more about how your Indochinese upbringing has impacted the way you look at life and even the way you look at the job. Can you describe for us any attributes that you think have arisen in your behavior and performance based on your background?

York: Actually that’s a great question, and it really has. I think understanding people as very diverse people, very diverse religions, and very diverse living cultural habits. Growing up in India I had Muslim friends, Hindu friends. We grew up Catholic, Catholic friends. I was under the British system so I learned all the British ways of behaving. So the overlays of culture, one on top of the other, understanding all that and not letting it throw you off. I think that has helped me and has helped me really in our work world because you can’t get thrown off.

Stoddard: You’re known to possess an internal calm. You seem unflappable in a million ways and that might explain some of that.

York: I think it does, it really does. Understanding people, listening, looking, learning, and accepting. I really think accepting is a big part of it.

Stoddard: That’s great. So this very circuitous path brought you here to school and to the United States and eventually to the Grocery Manufacturers Association prior to your career with cable. Talk a little bit about that nine-year period at GMA and what you learned from that, and how it prepared you for work in the cable universe.

York: George was a remarkable CEO and his philosophy on staff is if you can -- he’d let you try anything you think you could do and expected you to succeed. He gave you the latitude to succeed, but he gave you the responsibility to. So I started as an editorial assistant working on the newsletter and through that learned everything about the grocery industry because I had to interview and write up stories of people in our industry and in our association. I had to learn how to put the newsletter together. I had to learn in due course how to run the printing press. So my job then eventually became learning the whole office and learning how things work and who was who. So I then became the manager, the internal administrative manager. And two things came of that. One, because I always had a keen interest in journalism and writing and in news, I joined the media relations team and worked with Jim May and Tom a little bit before he left.

Stoddard: And Jim May went on to a career at NAB, the broadcasters’ association?

York: And then the Air Transport Association, and he retired from there. And then from there the other thing I also did was move the building. GMA was at 14th and K and we moved to Georgetown and I was responsible for the whole buildout.

Stoddard: All in Washington, DC?

York: All in Washington. So it was a very varied career. Each year of my near nine years I was doing something different and I think that really set me up for NCTA.

Stoddard: So from George Cook at GMA you had your first encounter with, as you mentioned, Tom Wheeler. Now, of course for people that may not recognize that name straight up, all these decades later Tom Wheeler has had a distinguished career and most recently prior to the date of this shooting stepped down as chairman of the Federal Communications Commission after many years in cable, many years in the wireless industry, but you met Tom kind of before Tom was cool, I guess.

York: He was always cool.

Stoddard: He was always cool?

York: Tom was a cool cat. As VP for public affairs and government relations he was high energy. Same high energy, same dynamism, same total focus on what he was doing and total focus on making a difference. And he did that at GMA, he did that at NCTA. I know, since I’ve known him for all these years at CTIA, in all his venture capital efforts and firms that he started, and then as we know, also with the FCC.

Stoddard: So you had such a strong relationship that when Tom moved over to then the National Cable Television Association, NCTA, he invited you to come over. And you were telling me a little earlier, before we began this segment, of an amazing job interview that you had with Tom Wheeler in 1982. What was that like?

York: So I came over for the interview and I had never done conventions before. I had never even attended one and the job was really running NCTA as well as the convention. I said, “I really don’t have convention experience. I have conference experience, having worked at all of GMA’s executive conferences.” And he said, “Don’t worry. I’ve got everything in place. I’ve got three vendors. What I need you to do is be the person working with those three companies and then reporting in to me so that you’re saving me some time.” And the three companies were, one, Williams/Gerard who did general sessions for my 35 years, and Dobson and Associates that was and continued do logistics and all of the underpinnings of the convention work, and then Frank Masters and Trade Associates. And he did the exhibit floor for a couple of years, then Dan Dobson took it over. So just taking one aside here, and this oral history is to really thank Bud Melto at Williams/Gerard, Dan Dobson who’s deceased but Carol Sullivan who is still -- who just shut his shop down, and the Freeman Decorating Company and Joyce [Rasinski?] there, to thank them very, very much for without them the 35 years would have never happened.

Stoddard: So flashing back to ’82, Wheeler essentially told you, “Barbara, don’t worry, piece of cake, all you need to do is come in and run all the pieces.”

York: Piece of cake.

Stoddard: How did that work out?

York: Actually worked out really good. I quickly got to know and love all of the Williams/Gerard, Dobson and Associates and for the short time Trade Associates. They’re all very professional, very good. And coordinating with them was easy. They did not have the substance part of the NCTA agenda so that was really my role in the first few years, ensuring that the focus -- actually it was my role in all 35 shows now that I think about it. Focusing the show on what the industry needed, when it needed, and hopefully just pointing the way to the near future of where it was going. And as I look back over the years, when it started to where it came through to 2016, we really did do that. I think we reflected what the industry was doing, stepped ahead of them just a little bit, not too far to get into trouble, but just far enough that the dispersion in the industry could see what was coming next.

Stoddard: We’re going to take a deep dive into some of those experiences in just a moment, but I have to tell you I’m in a lot of ways touched and moved by the tribute you just paid to three or four individuals and companies and organizations that stayed with you really for 35 years. And I think many of us were in awe of the fact that you kept that team together through thick and through thin in an era when frankly most of us turn vendors and contractors over almost on an annual basis year over year. What was it about those relationships and why was it important to stick with those teammates all the way through? What difference did it make in the way that you led and staged the trade shows?

York: They always delivered. In all honesty, every year I would get calls from competitors and they’d say, “Are you ready? Would you like a bid? We can come and talk to you.” I took the calls, I took the meetings, but in the end my answer to them was always the same. They’ve never failed NCTA. They’ve delivered what we were going for. So to take something away when there was no failure and performance was perfect -- they met all the needs -- would not have been the right thing to do.

Stoddard: Impressive, to say the least. So 35 years, annual basis, every year, and you managed to reinvent that trade show and make it feel new and fresh and different every year. And how did you do it? What did it take to breathe new life into it every year? Because you could easily have just come in and said, “We’re going to do the same thing over again. We’ll spend a few weeks getting ready for it, let’s recruit some speakers and roll.” But I personally saw the time and energy you invested to make that happen. What was the secret sauce there?

York: The industry. This wonderful, wonderful industry we have that’s never stood still itself in the 35 years. I mean when we first started it was just, gosh, 25 channels. That’s right 25 channels in ’82. And C-SPAN had launched, CNN had launched, ESPN had launched, but that was it. HBO had launched. But then the plethora of networks came online, each more exciting, different, fun, energizing. It was great. And then the operators were not far behind, increasing the capacity, the technology, the introduction of the cable modem, the introduction of broadband, wireless, Wi-Fi. I mean the technology, everything got better and better every year and that was our inspiration. So to answer your question, it really is the inspiration came from the industry and that percentage, probably 5-10% of the effort. The second part really came from what we were talking about earlier, listening and hearing and understanding and being part of. And just the convention committees over the years, our friends, like you even before you came to NCTA, over the years listening to you because you were in the field, you were working it. Your input was important and that gave us what we needed to do to make each year meet that year’s needs. And then the rest of it is just plain -- I won’t deny it -- plain old hard work and hours and hours and hours and hours.

Stoddard: Sure. Worst kept secret, you worked many weekends, many nights, and particularly as the show approached you just didn’t stop, it became a 24/7 job.

York: And my team too. It was not just me, it was the team. And the team was very special over the years. I mentioned Carol Sullivan; she’s been strong, but even on the NCTA side in the early years Ann Dorman and then evolving to today with Mark Bell and Lauren Dwyer who just left. I can’t go down too many names because over the 35 years there’s so many but really and truly the team has always been great and they always got inspired. They never stopped being inspired by our individual.

Stoddard: Sure. Well, and a lot of that credit goes to you personally, if I might say. So speaking of names, the show operated under many different monikers over the years. My earlier recollections were Cable ’87, Cable ’88. At some point it became the National Show or maybe it was always the National Show.
York: Always the National Show.

Stoddard: Then it became the Cable Show for a few years and then ultimately INTX, the internet and Television Exposition and we’ll circle back to talk a little bit more about that, but what was important about the way the show was branded? How did you look at it as you went into it on a year-by-year basis?

York: It’s interesting. We would call it Cable ’82, Cable ’83, but the underlying premise was it was always the National Show because in those days we had the Western Show, the Texas Show and the Midwest Show, the Eastern Show, all the shows. And cable was growing so fast it needed that B2B component in the meetings and the exhibits all the time all over the United States. Then as the operators and as the companies grew, the operating companies grew and consolidated and became a more nationwide footprint, then things -- we didn’t need to distinguish so intensely. And then, as you saw, in the late ’80s, early 2000s the demise of the regional shows. And I think the last Western Show was 2002. We were saying 2002, 2003, but
-- and then it became -- at that point we said we’ll just stay with the National Show for the short time. Then NCTA rebranded itself to Cable, and Cable was everything even in the front of our building. So then it became the Cable Show and then the conversation, understanding that cable as cable was changing, so we needed to change the name too. But even this good handle, it’s helped us also to find what the show was, why people needed to come to it.

Stoddard: It seemed for many years as though this industry was kind of a culture of trade shows. You rattled off a few trade show names probably compromising maybe 30 to 50% of the actual number of trade shows that occurred every year. Can you talk a little bit about that culture and why it was important to the way the business operated?

York: Because it was growing so fast and communications and managements and understanding the product, showcasing the product, getting a customer service staff to understand what they were selling, training field people how to do everything from stringing cable to connecting the boxes to troubleshooting to answering questions. Everything was growing so -- every year something changed and I think the need for education, for demonstration, for just communicating and convening and being together as a community -- cable was different. It was not broadcast. Broadcast was all over and it was more commonplace, but this little industry that became this ginormous industry just needed the warmth and fuzziness of bonding with each other a lot more than just one time.

Stoddard: And I would say that in addition to the sheer amount of effort you put into creating great educational content for the show, it seemed in a lot of ways like one big party, (laughter) and I don’t say that in the pejorative, but one big networking event. Is that how it felt as you were staging it, as people came in from all over the country, many people who went to this series of trade shows over and over again.

York: It’s the nature, again, of our industry and the fact that everybody really likes each other. The need for the parties, the need for fun, the need for letting down your hair in the evenings. It is a culture of great music. Our whole industry loves music.

Stoddard: Can you recall some of the great musical acts that were staged in the show?
York: When I first started I think Sammy Davis Jr. was my first big performance at the NCTA show, followed by Paul Anka the next year, and then over the years Willie Nelson, Aretha Franklin, Janet -- was Janet Jackson one year?

Stoddard: Yeah.

York: I mean the names. I’ve promised the Cable Center I would try and collect from people’s memories and from yours, since you attended most of them, the names of the great performances over the years. Because it was just spectacular. I mean our networks hosted the best and they were willing to bring them out.

Stoddard: There was, particularly during the first half of your tenure, a lot of involvement by the big premium networks in staging parties. What do you remember from some of those?

York: The first one in 1982 was CBS cable. We’ll never forget that one. My first year, not understanding really what everything was about, and there’s a ginormous party in the desert.

Stoddard: In Las Vegas?

York: In Las Vegas in the middle of the desert CBS created an oasis and a whole campground, tents, they brought in camels, they had open fire pits grilling meats, they put in water features and they had a whole marketplace, a Mideastern marketplace in the desert. It was about an hour drive by bus out there so we were pretty far out and it ran very, very long. And Rob tells me that some people got left out there when the last buses left.

Stoddard: That’s the lore. That’s what I hear. They may still be there to this day decades later.

York: Waiting for someone to come get them.

Stoddard: That’s right. And that was for an arts and entertainment network essentially that CBS had launched and was trying to gain carriage for. So that was important. So CBS. What other premium networks were really involved in staging parties?

York: HBO.

Stoddard: Because, as I talk to people over the years, as I said, a lot of great content, immense general sessions, but people really are riveted by those party memories.

York: The first years the big party was Jerrold. They did a big event every year even though it was all technical, technological, everybody went. They did a beautiful -- took over huge suites and did a great event.

Stoddard: Do you remember who was running Jerrold at that time? Sorry, I’m springing that on you. I just can’t recall who that might have been.

York: It could be Hal Krisbergh.

Stoddard: Of course, Hal Krisbergh. Yeah, sure.

York: And then going from there HBO was breaking news with parties, CNN was doing parties. And as networks launched they did big parties. Then in the late ’80s, ’90s Viacom’s headline parties. Viacom really put all their effort in. They brought in the best. That was where Aretha Franklin performed. It was always terribly VIP, but everybody just would give anything to get a ticket to go. And those were legend. Those were totally legend.

Stoddard: You know, they were legend and it makes me look back at kind of the track of attendance at the shows over the years. By my count during your 35 years we had as many, say, as 8,000 people attend at one end of the spectrum and more than 30,000 people on the other end of the spectrum. What do you recall of that cycle and what really drove attendance over the years?

York: When I started the attendance was just about 10,000, just under 10. And the year 2000 we hit the apex. Steady growth from the ’80s to 2000. In 2000 we hit the over 300,000 square footage and over 30,000 people and that was the crescendo. It was the crescendo of the networks; it was the launch of broadband. That was the first year -- second. No, it was three or four years into broadband and the whole broadband millennium that came right after that.

Stoddard: And going back to the height of attendance, 2000, a lot of people refer to that as the internet bubble year because of all of the high-tech companies that were looking to fight their way into cable and they saw the show as an opportunity to do that.

York: Yeah. And be there and be part of it.

Stoddard: So when I think of the show in my head you can almost classify the decades into certain movements. I want to talk about those in a minute, but you said something to me in advance of this interview that you felt as though in a way the show and the industry were almost mirrors of each other, right? The show both followed and led the industry as developments were underway. Can you talk a little bit more about that?

York: Yes, very much that. The ’80s when programming was -- new networks were coming on four, five a year. The show reflected that.

Stoddard: It was a bazaar of networks, right, for networks in that era?

York: It was a bazaar of networks.

Stoddard: Do you have any recollection of some of the amazing booths over the years? And there were large booths staffed by scores of people.

York: Scores of people and everything inside. Giveaways galore. Tchotchkes, oh my God. We should do a feature on cable show tchotchkes.

Stoddard: I understand there are a ton of them stored here in the basement of the Cable Center. Did you know that?

York: No, I did not know that.

Stoddard: There’s a cable tchotchke collection right here at the Cable Center.

York: Just wonderful tchotchkes. I mean people would bring empty suitcases just to take stuff home.

Stoddard: I had friends who would go to shows, get tchotchkes, bring them home and use them as Christmas presents, for instance. Why not?

York: I know, I know. But it was wonderful. I mean really the networks were very generous, very open, so much willing to be part of the show, the fabric of the show, the vibe of the show, the buzz. It was wonderful.

Stoddard: I still salivate for HBO cookies.

York: I know. HBO’s famous HBO cookies.

Stoddard: So the ’80s did seem to feel really very much about network and content expansion.

York: Yeah, ’80s and ’90s.

Stoddard: Yet in the ’90s the show, as the industry, started to give way to the broadband era, right? Because it was in the mid-’90s when our companies began to roll out broadband. And maybe it was subtle in those days, but it felt as though there was a subtle move more into technology and into infrastructure. Was that by design or did it just, again, reflect what was going on?

York: No, it reflected the industry. And looking at one apocryphal year was ’96 when we did the high-speed demonstration for Al Gore and stayed up all night trying to demonstrate -- get it all wired.

Stoddard: Al Gore, then vice president of the United States?

York: Vice president of the United States. And I know from there, because I had his itinerary, he was headed to the Buddhist monastery. I never went to the Buddhist monastery, but maybe he derailed and detoured. Since I knew on paper he was headed there it was funny, but he came, he saw it; he was very -- it was fun having him there. It was great.

Stoddard: Over the years I recall some stunning technical demonstrations, particularly during general sessions. And I think a lot of the preparation for those was done totally out of the eyesight probably of 99% of the people who attended, yet I imagine you were sweating bullets backstage getting ready for those. What was it like backstage as you were trying to prepare for those demonstrations?

York: Totally intense. Because they had to be perfect and when someone like Al Gore came back there we only had 15 minutes to show him everything. And many others like that. But actually that was the intensity, the amount of work, the investment, sheer financial investment in getting it done made us start to initiate and at this point evolve to what we started to call the industry exhibits. So in the mid ’90s we did a couple and then starting in the late ’90s through the 2000s to today, every year NCTA has hosted, built, invited companies to participate in an industry exhibit that was the next wave coming down the line.

Stoddard: So when you say industry exhibit you’re talking about an exhibit that would be on a par with other corporate exhibits on the floor?

York: On the exhibit floor.

Stoddard: But which NCTA packaged, put together, funded, and you solicited the participation of many industry companies.

York: Yes.

Stoddard: So it was shoulder to shoulder with all the --

York: And this was really born out of what we were doing backstage and realizing we should never just keep it under pillows.

Stoddard: And so what were some of the themes of those exhibits over the years?

York: In ’94 broadband home. We built a huge house, master bedroom with the spa tub that had an HDTV built into the tub and a little rubber ducky bouncing along. A children’s bedroom tech tiled, a little doghouse where we had AIBO, Sony’s first robotic dog. Cute little puppy. Of course a great room in the living room with all surround sound and wonderful televisions. And then the big point, the piece de resistance, was the back deck and you opened out from the great room into this deck which was the general sessions stage. And the audience was theoretically on the lawn of this beautiful home so we had green carpets and white chairs and all of the general sessions were staged there. The best was of course Billy Tauzin. He was the keynote speaker that year.

Stoddard: Louisiana Congressman.

York: And head of the energy/commerce committee. Camera picked him up as he was coming in through the front door and walking through. And the first thing of course he does is go to the kitchen and ferrets around in the fridge and then he comes out with something that some poor worker left and brings it out on the general session stage. And of course he throws his arms up in typical Cajun fashion and he says, “Welcome to New Orleans.” It was just wonderful.
So in ’94 broadband home, ’99 HD pavilion.

Stoddard: It was probably in many cases many people’s first time seeing high definition displays.

York: Yeah. And Michael Powell actually cut the ribbon, at that time FCC chairman. Cut the ribbon that launched HD for Comcast in Chicago. And then over the years --

Stoddard: So let’s stick with that for a minute. In ’99 Michael Powell who as we speak during the course of this interview is currently the president and CEO of NCTA, the Internet and Television Association, yet there’s an apocryphal story, I believe, to that show as well that involved Michael Powell. Can you tell that story about the acrobatics on stage?

York: Yeah, this is the year before, a few years before HD Pavilion. This was his first year as chairman of the FCC and he was doing a keynote speech. We had warmup acts before each general session in those days. We had these young children in Chicago doing tumbling, somersaulting, gymnastics, the school team. So that warmed up the audience. Then Joe Collins was chairman of the NCTA.

Stoddard: Joe Collins of Time Warner.

York: Yeah, Time Warner Cable then. And he walked on to introduce Michael Powell and I’m standing on the wings there making sure everything is all right and the next thing I startle because I think Michael has fallen down, but he literally from backstage somersaulted onto the stage. And Joe and I, our faces must have been priceless because we didn’t know what to think. We didn’t know he was planning to do that. But he said he was inspired, he had done gymnastics as a child and inspired by the children of Chicago he somersaulted on the stage.

Stoddard: Yet he also tells that story and will say, “Honestly, I didn’t know whether I’d be able to get up off the floor” because he suffered a very serious broken back injury during his military career and I believe this is the first time he had attempted a somersault under those conditions.

York: Yes, never practiced before.

Stoddard: That’s been captured to videotape somewhere, if I’m not mistaken.

York: Yes, it is.

Stoddard: So ’99, the HD pavilion and Michael’s involvement. Many, many industry pavilions in subsequent years. What else comes to mind that you think really struck a chord?

York: Fast forwarding a little bit to Washington, DC, when we did broadband nation in 2009, I think. We created a whole nation. This is to show Congress the spread of broadband through the United States from the waving fields of amber to a cityscape to a school to a doctor’s office. It was huge; it was wonderful. The Secretary of Commerce came and cut the ribbon for that. It really went to the heart that this was completely nationwide and these are the companies that are doing it. And then escalating from there --

Stoddard: And if I’m not mistaken there were hundreds of members of Congress that year that came and actually privately walked through that exhibit and had a hands-on opportunity to see a lot of it.

York: And that’s true. And then four years later when we escalated it to the observatory and showed the whole history of cable --

Stoddard: Under a dome?

York: Yeah. What are those domes called?

Stoddard: Geophysical, astrophysical? Yeah, we’ll figure it out. Geodesic dome, right.

York: Yes. And that was another very, very groundbreaking exhibit for educating public policy officials about the history, the breadth and the future direction of our industry.

Stoddard: What kind of strain did that put on you and the team to produce those?

York: Oh, massive. It was like producing two shows in one. It just became its own animal, started early, very early. Intense technical and technological wiring and equipment like you would never believe and lots of underpinnings. A lot of underpinnings.

Stoddard: Sure. So in addition to all of that, which was great show and tell, your team was staging some immense general sessions that featured some kind of celebrity business leaders over the years. What are some of your recollections about some of the more interesting and famous people that appeared during those sessions and that really had an impact on us?

York: The general sessions were always the headline story. We were lucky enough from very early in to have a lot of networks cover them, some of them live depending on the speaker, a lot of them taped and then re-broadcast.

Stoddard: C-SPAN every year.

York: C-SPAN every year. CNN with clips on the evening news. MSNBC doing footage right from the floor. CNBC, big way on the floor because so many industry leaders were there. Over the years all of the big conglomerate media companies, Barbigha, Rupert Murdoch --

Stoddard: Cisco’s chairman, John Chambers.

York: John Chambers. Paul Otellini from Intel. Even in the new space Jerry Yang came, Larry Page one year.

Stoddard: Paul Allen.

York: Paul Allen several times.

Stoddard: And Steve Ballmer.

York: Bill Gates twice.

Stoddard: Paul Allen once brought a boat to the show. What can you remember about that?

York: He brought his big motor yacht, Octopus.

Stoddard: How many hundreds of feet? It was massive.

York: It was huge. We were in New Orleans, he pulled up in the berth right by the convention center and we had this VIP party aboard.

Stoddard: So Paul Allen, former Microsoft, one of the Microsoft founders and a very active investor at then Charter Communications, right?

York: Fabulous.

Stoddard: And talk a little bit about the vessel and what everybody did on board.

York: It had a helicopter. It had a private submarine. I think it was five stories, four, five stories. We were all on one -- well, we were spread out over several decks, but this one deck had a full swimming pool. You could do laps in it. Wonderful food. He was a very gracious host and in fact, he went into the music room as the party wound down and pulled out his guitar and people who stayed had a private one to one concert with Paul Allen. But actually Paul Allen actually did a concert for all of the show. We did battle of the bands.

Stoddard: Since you brought it up let’s talk about that. There’s so much to talk about during the 35 years of the show. Never enough time. But battle of the bands. Battle of the bands fit into a segment that I think of as a strong commitment to public affairs, particularly over a period of several years post Katrina in New Orleans. But first of all let’s talk about -- so you and Mark Bell worked together to stage battle of the bands.

York: Let me step back into why we even went down this path. The show was scheduled in New Orleans in 2006 --

Stoddard: And Katrina had hit in September of ’05.

York: Yes. And we were actually in the planning meeting with Dave when Katrina hit. Gerry Laybourne and Tom Rutledge were the convention co-chairs and I was sitting there with them and Kyle McSlarrow, then NCTA’s president, and in Gerry’s office she had the TV on and we were watching what was happening in New Orleans and then we all --

Stoddard: And this was Gerry’s office in New York City.

York: The four of us realized we could never -- if the effect was going to be what we were seeing on TV there was no way we were going to do the show there. In three, four weeks we realized we could not do the show there so we quickly moved the 2006 show to Atlanta and committed to New Orleans that we would come back. They could take us in 2008 and when we came back as a show and as an industry -- this is from the highest levels of the board -- the commitment to New Orleans was there because so many of the board members grew up at conventions in New Orleans and it was a city everybody loved being in. They said we should give back. We shouldn’t just do a show there. We shouldn’t just come, have fun ourselves, and learn a lot and walk away. It’s time to give back. So we did a huge Cable Cares program. I’m thinking three playgrounds, two schools?

Stoddard: Many of them in the ward of the -- was it Ward 9 in the city that had been under so much water?

York: Some networks helped us put together semis full of supplies for schoolchildren and school rooms were decked out with computers, high speed, the whole nine yards. And then the big fundraiser was battle of the bands.

Stoddard: So what the concept, the idea behind battle of the bands?

York: Again, this comes back to the underlying love of music in our industry. It is the fiber that I think so far every generation our industry has connected with. And they thought there would be nothing better than to have -- there were so many informal bands already in our member companies. Charter had a band, Arris had a band, C-SPAN staff participated in bands, Jupiter.

Stoddard: Cox had an amazing band from San Diego, if I’m not mistaken.

York: I mean eight, nine bands. And then of course Paul Allen was most famous. Well, actually Jimmy Dolan would probably be the most famous or equally famous.

Stoddard: So Jimmy Dolan of the Dolan family running Cablevision Systems and front man for JD and the Straight Shot right and still to this day making records and performing at coliseums around the country. So all those people performed in a charitable concert?

York: Yeah, in a big fundraiser. A lot of people donated magnificent things for the blind auction -- silent auction. And we raised a little over $100,000, $125,000, which we gave to the city of New Orleans. And then so we continued battle of the -- everybody loved it so much and everybody had so much fun with it. So in ’09 we repeated it in Washington, DC. That was the year in DC. And again raised money for schools in DC. And then in ’10 we did it in Los Angeles in Nokia Theater and Time Warner Cable -- under the auspices of Time Warner Cable and they gave the money to their charity, A Place Called Home, for underprivileged children for a safe place between school and going home. So it was wonderful, but again, the work to put on a battle for the companies and the bands themselves, NCTA of course built the stage, donated the back line and all the personnel and all of the wiring, lights, sound. It was very expensive. It was an expensive concert to stage, but it was a lot of fun.

Stoddard: And of course you know that for all the years that followed when we didn’t do it the bands would always come back and say, “When are we going to do battle of the bands again?”

York: Yes, and several of them, like Time Warner Cable’s Cowbell, performed just in nightclubs somewhere and one of the vendors would host them. More Cowbell.

Stoddard: That’s right. That’s great. And there were some amazing events during the history of the show that I personally recall that I wanted to ask you about, but things that seemed to come out of the blue. You mentioned an appearance by Al Gore as Vice President of the United States, but Al Gore, programming company president, showed up once to --

York: That’s right, with Joel --

Stoddard: Joel Hyatt, right, sure. To launch a --

York: Held a press conference.

Stoddard: To launch a channel, Current TV, I think, is what they were launching. How about the Michael Jackson year? What do you remember about that?

York: We did not anticipate him coming.

Stoddard: That was Chicago, is that right?

York: Chicago. And we did not -- his brother had launched a network --

Stoddard: Jermaine. It was an African-American family network based in Atlanta.

York: Yes, and I can’t remember the name of the network now. It was day two of the show. We did not anticipate anything. They did not tell us Michael was coming. And then we got a security call saying, “We need the security gate and in an hour and a half we’re bringing Mr. Jackson.” Not just an easy task to do because we had to clear out trucks and vans that were parked in the dock, and the buzz, it was amazing buzz just took over the floor when he walked on the floor.

Stoddard: Entourage of 20 or 30 people.

York: Huge, huge entourage. And the media, they flocked out of -- sucked everybody out of every session out of every floor. Just packed watching Michael Jackson. He was only there for 30 minutes, 45 minutes? And then same thing happened when Oprah came to the chairman’s reception. Again, she was scheduled to speak for day three. We didn’t anticipate her coming to the chairman’s reception. Get the phone call, “Ms. Winfrey is coming.”

Stoddard: So that year, if I’m not mistaken, you had in a general session Oprah and the second lady of the United States, Jill Biden, at the same time. That was probably maybe the most extensive backstage operation you’ve had?

York: Huge.

Stoddard: What can you recall about it?

York: We had two separate dressing rooms, two separate security clearance areas. Then I had to have a [inaudible] for all my other speakers so it was just like a village back there of facilities to host -- and they were on the same day sequencing each other. But the fun one was when Oprah came for chairman’s reception because she walked in and, again, I swear the room just tilted because everybody just came to that and there was just like this wave of people following her. It was fun. It was lots of fun.

Stoddard: Sadly, we don’t have much time left in this discussion, but you and I are our colleagues here at The Cable Center have talked about perhaps an opportunity going forward to collect all of this incredible historic data and archive it, and perhaps at some point in time make it available for people to see so that they too can recall what the shows were like. I’d love very much to spend the next few minutes still talking more about the shows because I know how central they were to your work at NCTA, but I think it wouldn’t be fair if we overlooked some of the other work that you did during an amazing career at NCTA. And one of the things, going back several decades, was a project that many of our gen X and millennial counterparts probably know nothing about and that was a project called the Cable ACE Awards. And you worked with Char Beales very closely on that, former head of CTAM, former NCTA executive. Tell us a little bit about the ACEs and how they came together and what your recollections were about those.

York: It did start under Char when she was NCTA’s VP for programming. The Emmys were so skewed to broadcast and the cable programming was very good. HBO was strong then, Showtime had the Garry Shandling Show, seminal --

Stoddard: This is in the mid ’80s.

York: Seminal show to our content. Bill Maher was on cable. We were breaking ground all over, but there was no recognition of the programming. So Char together with Ralph Baruch, who was then the chairman of Viacom, put together the Cable ACE Awards, first just national, then Ted Turner got involved and realized it was a gem and if we were really going to look at recognition then, hell, it should be telecast. So he put his money where his mouth is. Ted always did that and he put it on Turner Broadcasting and gave us $1 million and it went on TBS. [Sofia?] did the national Cable ACE Awards. I managed, I think, the last three, which was fantastic. And then of course spinning from there we had the system ACE Awards or the local Cable ACE Awards for all the wonderful content that was doing at the local level by our cable operators. Simple things like covering high school football games, concerts, but such a part of the community, because local cable was such a huge part of our community and what made people like cable. But the national awards, it really was -- it became very big and it was very received. But at that point the Emmys started to say that should not be a separate show. I mean if we’re going to recognize great content then it should all be in one show. So the deal was made and as you now know cable sweeps the Emmys. So they invited the fox into the henhouse and no more hens left. (laughter)

Stoddard: Which is sweet revenge and irony, isn’t it?

York: I know.

Stoddard: Because I have some recollection that for some time the Cable ACE Awards were to some extent the butt of comedians’ jokes, right?

York: Yes.

Stoddard: But we’re the last to laugh based on what’s going on with the Emmys today. So that was a significant contribution to NCTA. The other thing that you helmed that is still paying dividends at the time of our conversation today was the relocation of NCTA’s headquarters building in Washington, DC. So for many, many years there was a building at 1724 Massachusetts Avenue just off Dupont Circle. It was a great building. NCTA occupied it in and of itself. It had a nice theater that had been, as memory serves, built into it perhaps in the 1980s where you could do previews and screenings. Yet in around 2005 our colleague, Kyle McSlarrow, became president at CEO of NCTA and then there was a sea change that involved a relocation. Take us through that and what impact it had.

York: The sea change was Jack Abernathy and the infamous golf game in Scotland where he took members of Congress on this boondoggle and all of a sudden Congress found Jesus, and no members, under the ethics rules, were allowed to travel.

Stoddard: It’s Jack Abramoff is who you’re thinking of.

York: That’s right, thank you. No, they were not allowed to travel. They couldn’t --

Stoddard: So profound changes to the ethics regulations for Congress.

York: And all along the NCTA show would bring at a minimum 20, 30 and, as you know, some years over 200 members of Congress to the show to show them what we were doing. It was wonderful, it was very -- going way back even Barry Goldwater was a speaker, one of my first shows. First time I saw him speak he was mesmerizing. Then all the way through. We had to make a change. Since we couldn’t take members to the show we had to bring the show to the members. We found this brand new building in Washington, three blocks from the Senate side. And I realized what we could do is take the ground floor and make it a microcosm of the exhibits and we would stage it like --

Stoddard: So this is about a block and a half from Union Station, about a 5-minute walk from the Senate chamber, or 10-minute walk from the Senate chamber of the US Capitol, but essentially relocated the trade association right to Capitol Hill.

York: Yes, and created a special exhibit on the ground floor to showcased the best of cable, and still does today. It’s evolved. I mean the first year it was more like a house, it was more realistic. The playroom, living room, the kitchen, the interactive refrigerator. But today it’s much more technology message driven. And we’ll see this next iteration as we come into broadband and wireless, what we’re going to do with that space. But it’s ours, we live there, we can change it at will to, again, just have something available and something of which we are proud and something that tells the industry story.

Stoddard: And you oversaw the entire move though, right?

York: Yes, I did.

Stoddard: You were designing offices; you were deciding where executives went. It was quite an undertaking.

York: Yeah. It was fun though. It was unfortunately 2006 and Katrina and it was a bad year.

Stoddard: Sure. And of course we would encourage people still from around the industry to come and visit that facility if they haven’t had the chance to do so.

York: And they do. It’s used, as I understand, at least two times a week and the screenings, we have the 107-seat theater, a state of the art theater, and that’s used quite a bit for screenings by our networks.

Stoddard: So another great chapter in the industry, you were involved in an extraordinary effort that was short-lived but that seemed to be seminal at the time, and I’m thinking of the Cable Connection going back to 2009. That involved many, many of our industry societies, professional societies, trade associations, and tried to bring all those groups together kind of in unanimity a couple of times during the course of the year. How did that initiative arise? What actually happened when all those groups came together? Tell us the story of the Cable Connection?

York: Again, go back to the board and the story actually -- that story can’t go out, right? The board making a decision that there were --

Stoddard: There are no secrets here, Barbara. You agreed to speak right up.

York: I know. They asked me to do a calendar of industry events because they realized as managers a lot of their staff were always away on something related to the industry. We were consolidating, massively consolidating, in the mid-2000s. So I did the calendar of industry events and found that after 50 weeks -- of 52 weeks 50 weeks had an industry event.

Stoddard: So virtually every week of the year had some kind of industry event.

York: Except for Christmas and New Year’s. So the directive was to get all associations together and to consolidate the events to -- actually we started out with one week and that could not happen. And now it’s two weeks a year. So Cable Connection ’09, it took us two years to get going and the first one was Cable Connection ’09 and it was here in Denver and we had the WICT Conference, the NAMIC Conference, the hall of fame dinner, the Kaitz dinner.

Stoddard: The only time the Kaitz dinner has not been in New York City, is that right?

York: No, actually it was always in Denver for the longest time. SCTE, every single event got put through this week and the second to last day it snowed in Denver.

Stoddard: This is October. There was a snowstorm here in Denver.

York: Major snowstorm. Airports closed, highways are covered with ice, and the NCTA board came to me and said, “OK, we can change our minds.” (laughter) But we did it in 2010 and it still lives. The consolidation of events still lives, but trying to massively shoehorn everything into one just at that point was --

Stoddard: And I don’t want to understate it. You had to own it, right? This became your project despite the fact that it was really a board directive. But I feel as though maybe it drove some massive collaboration among the groups that wasn’t there before.

York: Yes.

Stoddard: And does that still exist today?

York: Still exists today. We still meet, the partners all meet once or twice a year. We are now looking at it again, trying to think through. We think the events side might be all right, but some of the program side might stand a review. There’s a review committee in place now looking at in this new industry that exists today and the industry that it’s going to become very shortly, very, very shortly, what do the associations need to do and what service can they provide the industry?

Stoddard: What do you think this industry is going to become shortly? You just mentioned that in passing, but what do you envision as you look into -- sitting here in 2017 as you peer into the future of the industry what do you envision?

York: I think it really has always wanted to be the media and entertainment business. No definition on methodology of delivery. I think it becomes that. Everything, the technology blends. How you get what you want doesn’t matter as long as you get what you want where you want it, how you want it, and what device. The lines start just really melting into one. And then what is the new horizon is some of the new big huge companies that sit on the fringe. Are they part of us? Do they become embedded in the fabric of this big industry soup?

Stoddard: So in closing I’d ask you to be reflective yet again. The chapter on the industry trade show is closed. An amazing run for 65 years. You were personally in charge for 35 of those, more than half of these shows over the years. As you reflect back on all that time and as you distill it what do you think it contributed to our industry? What was its major impact on the work of these colossal businesses over that period of time?

York: I would like it to be that there was one point in time, that one shining moment, where we all got together, we are family, we enjoyed each other, we learned a lot, we understood what we were doing more clearly and as a unit we could look going forward as to what we needed to do next. There’s this lovely coalescing communications community feel. I think it really was a hallmark of cable as old industry and maybe it doesn’t -- there’s a new hallmark like that in the new industry. It won’t be the show. It could be something else.

Stoddard: A different way to tell our story as --

York: And to bond. To bond as companies, as people, as friends, as great memoires and great times and a synchronicity of learning and joy.

Stoddard: Well, one shining moment and, Barbara York, you’re the shining executive that made it all happen.

York: Thank you.

Stoddard: Barbara York, senior vice president industry affairs for NCTA, the Internet and Television Association. Thank you for sharing your life and your experiences with us today.

York: Thank you.



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Cathy Wilson

Cathy Wilson 2017

Interviewer: Stewart Schley
Interview Date: December 11, 2017
Collection: Cable Center Oral History Program

Stewart Schley: Hi, there, and welcome to the Cable Center’s oral history series. I'm Stewart Schley. A particular pleasure for me today is to talk to a longtime colleague and cohort and partner in crime on the publishing side of the cable industry, Cathy Wilson. I’ll let the conversation tell her CV and resume for itself, but I think, suffice it to say, she has seen the trade publishing domain of the cable industry from its early gestation to a complete transformation in that direction.

Cathy Wilson, it's great to be with you today. Thanks for joining us. I will note for our audience that December, 2017, you have recently—can I say retired or—

Wilson: Sure.

Schley: OK, so congratulations.

Wilson: Thank you.

Schley: And you've recently transferred one of your seminal publications to a new owner so, big chapter, big turning point. But let's talk about your role in cable over time and let's start at the very beginning. Because I was interested to see—I did not know this about you—on your resume that you had a Master’s degree in education, communications, and yet a couple of years later, you're working in Denver, Colorado, for a guy named—

Wilson: Bob Titsch.

Schley: Who was who?

Wilson: He was the king of the publishing, of trade publishing, in cable. And it was just cable then. Yes, I moved to Denver, which happened to be the cable capital of the world. People didn’t realize all the MSOs were out here. And my husband got into DU Law School. So we came here. And I didn’t know what I wanted to do. So it's a funny story how I got my job. I was working—in those days, we had video dating service and this guy that owned the dating service was like a psychologist up and up, brilliant guy, and he started this dating service, and he hired me. And he did a tradeout with Bob Titsch. He said, “If you can get me five people to join the dating service, I'll buy five ads.” And he did, and the vice-president of sales happened to come from Cablevision magazine, and this is the truth, he said, “If you can sell flesh, you can sell anything. You’ve got to come work for us.” And that’s how I got my job.

Schley: Cablevision was one of many publications that Titsch owned, but it was the one that addressed the cable industry.

Wilson: The cable industry. It was the premiere magazine. It came out every other week. It was read by everyone—operators, engineers, everybody. He did have another publication named CED magazine, and that was more for the technologists, but really it was Cablevision that was—

Schley: Kind of an industry bible at the time.

Wilson: It was. It was. It was incredible.

Schley: What was your job?

Wilson: I started out—what they gave me, of course, I was the first woman they’ve ever hired, and here I was, 22 years old. I didn’t know how to sell, let alone advertising. And Paula Bean hired me, and they give me this pile of accounts, about this tall, and they called them the “doggie accounts.”

Schley: Oh, no.

Wilson: All the worst accounts that wouldn’t buy ads. So I'm looking through them and the first person I call is the Leo Burnett Ad Agency. I called up and I said, “Is Leo there?” And she says to me, “Honey, Leo’s been dead for twenty years.”

Schley: You did not do that.

Wilson: No, no. So the second call I made was to Alpha Technologies, to Fred Kaiser, who’s very famous. He bought my very first ad; a little teeny sixth of a page.

Schley: That was your entry point.

Wilson: That was my first. You got it.

Schley: Your turf—were they tech companies, programmers, was it anything…?

Wilson: Everybody. Showtime was my biggest account finally. And I sold on both sides, but at one point, I had to make the decision. Do I continue with Cablevision, or do I give all my efforts to CED magazine? Did I want to stay with the programming, the exciting part, the glamorous, or did I want to go over to the engineering side, the technical side, which wasn’t as glamorous. But I decided to go with the technical side. And I'm sure glad I did.

Schley: Why so? I'm just curious.

Wilson: Why? I knew it was going to advance. I liked all the people on the technical side, especially the engineers. They were all so down to earth, wonderful, nice. The programmers were great, too, but they were all in New York and they were glitzy. But the technical side was more where you could just make relationships with people.

Schley: Which ended up being the theme of your entire career.

Wilson: That is correct.

Schley: Let me take you back. This was when? Like early, late 70s, early 80s?

Wilson: Actually, I started in 1978, because Bob Titsch made me work in December and not pay me.

Schley: There you go.

Wilson: That’s a Bob Titsch thing to do. And in 1979, I started in January, and I think I worked maybe three years on Cablevision. Then I made the hop to CED. I sold both of them, I think, and then finally decided to concentrate on CED.

Schley: The reason I ask, Cathy, is that was a time when it was a go-go time for the cable industry. You were selling in a very fast-growing—did it feel like you were at the heart of something happening?

Wilson: It was exciting. I probably attended, I'd say, fifteen shows a year. The Western Show, oh, my gosh, what a show, with Dolly Parton and all the programmers putting on the most amazing parties and I felt like I was a movie star. I really did. It was unbelievable. And it kept growing and growing. It was out of control, it was just out of control.

Schley: You mentioned when you made the shift to the technical side, being attracted by the people, and the relationships were important. Talk about that a little bit.

Wilson: Relationships to me, in an industry, no matter what you do, I don’t care what you're selling or what you're doing, is the most important thing. And this is what I learned from Bob Titsch, is that you create a relationship. Because people like to buy from people they like. And so if things are about even, or whatever, they’ll always come to you because they like you. And I really did take a general interest in my clients and to learn from them. You have to really get to know them. I think today a lot of that is lost and it's kind of sad. It really is. I think with social media that has kind of taken over, instead of the direct relationship. You know, writing notes, calling them every few weeks to see how they're doing. How are their kids doing? What’s going on with them? How’s their product, how’s their company? And I developed a great relationship with most of them who still advertise with Broadband Library, the publication I founded. So that’s what I learned.

Schley: I think that if anybody’s looking for a life instruction, you are sort of the queen of the personal note. I mean, what does that do?

Wilson: I know everybody. So what I used to do is even if someone called and they’d say to me, “I need to hire someone. Who do you know?” And I networked, but I networked in a different way that’s networking now. I got on the phone, and I called, and I called other people, and helped them, either find people to work for them, or introduce them to someone they wanted to meet. All personal, all personal. That’s the most important thing. They never forget that. I know so many people, and I still know them today.

Schley: You do. Email is part of your bag of tricks, but when I think of you, I think of these neat little hand-scrawled notes.

Wilson: Of course.

Schley: So in the heyday, in the Cablevision/CED era, the industry’s growing, you're sort of at the epicenter of a lot of this. Then that set of publications I think were sold. Is that what happened?

Wilson: There were other publications that came out. There was Multichannel News—

Schley: I wrote for Multichannel News…

Wilson: You worked for—and then there was, of course, then Cable World came. And then there started out with TVC, which was a direct competitor with CED, TVC.

Schley: A blast from the past.

Wilson: And then what happened was there were more magazines that came out. And then Bob Titsch decided, OK, he was going to sell his magazines. I think he sold them to Thomson first.

Schley: Sounds right.

Wilson: He sold them for a lot of money.

Schley: He sold CED and Cablevision magazines?

Wilson: Yes. And so, everyone was all nervous. “Do you still have your job? I mean, who’s taking over?” It was very uncomfortable because it was like you’ve been there forever and you knew Bob Titsch, you knew where you stood. He was a tough boss, but he really knew what was going on. And here’s Thomson, it was an international company, and they came in. And everyone was very nervous about it.

Schley: You have to prove yourself all over.

Wilson: Absolutely. You have to prove yourself all over again and you don’t know what’s going to happen. But it was fine because of the person they hired to take it over.

Schley: Well, I think one attraction of the asset were the relationships that people like you had.

Wilson: It's interesting. When I went to work for Thomson-- Nowadays if you’re going to handle accounts, you take a region. But they never did that. They based it on relationships. So I would handle people on the East Coast. I'd handle people on the West Coast. They would never break the relationship, ever.

Schley: And that was wise.

Wilson: That was very smart. You know, to come in and just say, “All right. Take this account away and you're going to handle the East and whatever.” That’s really silly. You’ve developed the relationship and they’re going to buy from you. So Thomson came in and they were smart. They didn’t do it. So I continued to handle the same accounts.

Schley: It's so interesting because you mentioned a mutual friend of ours, Paul Levine, who worked for the Titsch group, and there are other names that will crop up in this conversation. But it’s almost like anybody who worked in cable trade publishing can trace their lineage back to Bob Titsch.

Wilson: Always.

Schley: He deserves some credit for that.

Wilson: He deserves the credit. I don’t agree with everything he did. He made me—this was kind of sad—I just had my first child and he said, “You have to come back now. You have no choice.” He gave me a nice bonus. He said, “You have to motivate the other salespeople.” I said, “I have to spend some time—" Nope! It was like three weeks and I was, boom, back on the job.

Schley: He was a hard-charging guy.

Wilson: He didn’t care. It was like, “You have to do this.” And so I did it. But everyone started with him. Paul Fitzpatrick became head of Crown Media.

Schley: That’s right.

Wilson: Crown Media. Hallmark. And oh, my gosh, so many different people that became very famous in the industry that started at Cablevision magazine.

Schley: A rival publisher of Titsch's, Paul Maxwell, who I worked for at Multichannel News, said there was no better way to learn an industry than to work on the publishing side.

Wilson: That’s right.

Schley: And I wanted to get you on record as conveying—I think the model for the publications, regardless, was there were a lot of cable companies in the United States at that time. So to reach the marketplace, today you can make four or five phone calls. Am I right? That there were a lot of readers? The circulation side was—

Wilson: Circulation was crazy, it was all the MSOs and system operators. I mean, I asked about this. There were hundreds. Hundreds. Now today there are just a few. They're all consolidated. So you had to reach all those different people.

Schley: An ad in CED or Cablevision was a very effective…

Wilson: Yes, and the programmers, that was the big thing. They used to advertise like crazy. Not anymore. They don’t have to.

Schley: That’s a really good point. It tells a story. Who became your boss once the Cablevision/CED titles were sold to Thomson?

Wilson: Bill McGorry, who I'll never forget, he was just unbelievable. He was such a caring person, such a smart person, and I kind of took him under my wing. Because he needed to learn. He was new to the industry and I knew he’d do great because he was so nice. He’d talk to anybody. I mean, he was just the nicest man. But he had to learn, and he had to learn the different people and the different stories.

Schley: You sort of took him by the hand.

Wilson: I took him under my wing and I helped him. Today he tells me that if it wasn’t for me, he would never have made it this far. And he’s still working. Actually he's doing the Broadcasting and Cable Hall of Fame.

Schley: That’s a segue, because I wanted to ask you, you referenced earlier the shows you used to go to,

Wilson: Oh, yes.

Schley: In this industry, I think people who weren’t part of it at that time, don’t understand how vital and essential these gatherings were.

Wilson: Oh, yes, because that’s when you saw your clients in person. I didn’t travel. First of all, I couldn’t travel; I had two small children at home. So I had to do everything on the phone, and do everything at these shows. You had to go meet your clients and as you would say, schmooze them. So these shows were very important.

Schley: You could work the room. You could be very efficient.

Wilson: Absolutely. You’ve got to work the room, and you have to say hi to everybody. And there was a gentleman named Jim Dixon who wrote a book on this.

Schley: Oh, is that right?

Wilson: And he said the most important thing was, when he stood at the door, seeing people come in and out, that’s when he would grab people.

Schley: It was trade show management.

Wilson: It was, it was. Trade shows were so important. There was the Texas Show. There was the Eastern Show. There was the Western Show. There was the NCTA Show. The SCTE Show.

Schley: There were the regional and even the state shows.

Wilson: All the state and regional. But it’s really down to, I think, basically the SCTE Show, cable tech guys…

Schley: Did you have a favorite from the day of all that trade shows?

Wilson: I did. I loved the Texas Show. But I loved the Western Show.

Schley: Me, too. Everybody loved the Western Show.

Wilson: I loved the Western Show, yes. It was the same time of year, over my birthday, and it was in Anaheim every single year.

Schley: It was a ritual.

Wilson: It was unbelievable. It was great. Loved it.

Schley: So your career blossomed under Thomson. You continued to sell exclusively for CED.

Wilson: I think at that time, yes. I think it was with CED. I think I helped with Cablevision, too, but mostly CED. And I never wanted to go into management. They always wanted me to be the publisher, but I didn’t want to. First of all, I had the kids at home, and my husband. And I wanted to be home at a certain time. I said, “Can I just be home—” I wanted to be home at three when they got home from school. In those days, moms didn’t work. Moms never worked.

Schley: It was different.

Wilson: Oh, my gosh. There was no after-school. There was nothing. This was the 80s.

Schley: Unless you're going to latchkey your children.

Wilson: No. And I had to hire a nanny to help me. I was so dependent on the nanny. It was hard to travel. Moms didn’t work. They just didn’t. Today I feel a little bit bad that I wasn’t home all the time for them.

Schley: I think you did good.

Wilson: I think I did OK, too.

Schley: Was it challenging to be representing a magazine that was a technical engineering-oriented magazine in a male-dominated category?

Wilson: It was. But this was the interesting part. The technology was pretty easy then. I understood it. Today, no way. I mean, there is no way. And that is partly the reason I retired. It just got so—I couldn’t even camouflage that I didn’t know. But what I knew were the people. So if you know the people in a technology world, you don’t really need to know the technology. I'm not an engineer. But the people helped me, and that’s really what it was all about.

Schley: The complication is part that we stopped just being a video distribution industry and morphed into something that we don’t really have a word for yet.

Wilson: No. I don’t know what it is. It's everything, you know.

Schley: Can you talk about—you made a seminal professional decision and career decision to start your own magazine. And I just would like to invite you to take me back and how did that germ of an idea begin to form?

Wilson: After Thomson, they sold the magazine to Fairchild. And then they sold it to Cap Cities/ABC. Then they sold it to Disney. And the whole time, I still was there, selling. I was their top salesperson. Finally, Disney did not like the idea, even though I had started their CableFile and started a bunch of products for them. I started “Man of the Year” for CED. We had to figure out something to get money in the beginning months, and I started that. I created all of their products. And the only thing I asked was that I could go home at 3:00. I came in at 7:00. And they said, “No.”

Schley: Corporate policy?

Wilson: “You have to be here.” So I talked to my husband, and he said, “It's ridiculous. Just leave and start your own.”

Schley: Really.

Wilson: I go, “I can't. I've been here eighteen years. I've been through all these—” He said, “You can do it. I'll help you.”

Schley: This was around when?

Wilson: This was in 1996.

Schley: For people unfamiliar, can you give us a demo…?

Wilson: This is the first issue. And actually, Stewart—

Schley: ’96.

Wilson: ’96. Fall, ’96. And Stewart helped. You were working at Lundwall…

Schley: Graphic designer…

Wilson: Graphic designer, and you helped create the first magazine. It was called The Literature Library of Broadband Technology.

Schley: I remember that cover.

Wilson: And I think I was the first one to use the word “broadband.” Even before AT&T. And it was supposed to just be a reference guide.

Schley: Meaning what? What was the vision?

Wilson: The vision was just to show all the different products because I knew the products and the companies. So that’s really what it was. Everyone was fighting over the SCTE. Who’d be their official magazine? CED—and then there was this wonderful magazine called Communications Technology started by Paul Levine. And it was awesome. I didn’t want to be official of anything. I just wanted to be able to send out this guide to the SCTE members and so I called up Bill Riker, who was the president of the SCTE, and I said, “I have a magazine I want to distribute as a member benefit. And I'll take care of everything and I'll report on some things you guys are doing, and I'll get it out to all your members.” And he said, “Well, what do you want from us?” I said, “Nothing. I just would like to do this.” And he said, “Absolutely.” So he went to the board of directors and they said, “We’d love it.” And that’s how the magazine started.

Schley: I want to make sure I address this from a publishing standpoint. Circulation is really hard.

Wilson: Very hard.

Schley: What did that relationship help you accomplish?

Wilson: Well, if you didn’t have to do circulation you had it made. The SCTE sent this out for me.

Schley: To their entire membership…

Wilson: They’re the ones—to their entire membership. It was mail, it was print. So I could concentrate more on the selling and the creation and doing the things that make a magazine. The circulation is the worst. That’s the hardest part of a company. So it was beautiful. I didn’t have to do that.

Schley: And the schedule, the cycle of publishing was quarterly?

Wilson: It was quarterly. It started out in fall of 1996, then it started in March, then the summer issue was June, and then winter.

Schley: Do you remember who your first paying advertiser was ever?

Wilson: I think it was Alpha Technologies.

Schley: Ok, starting with an A.

Wilson: You got it. And then Alpha was the first ad I ever sold for Titsch, so you know, what comes around. And the reason is the relationship.

Schley: It carried through.

Wilson: Before I started, I went to five of my largest accounts. I went to Alpha. It was ARRIS, but it wasn’t ARRIS then. I think it was Anixter.

Schley: I think it was, too.

Wilson: And CommScope. I loved CommScope. And I think it was Trilithic, but it wasn’t Trilithic then. And I think those were the first. I said, “I'm going to start this thing.” And they go, “Fine. We’ll do it.” Whatever.

Schley: I always like to ask this of entrepreneurs. Did you have sleepless nights? Was it unnerving?

Wilson: No.

Schley: Really.

Wilson: No. First of all, I had no partners. All the other publications, what they did when they started, they got partners to invest. I didn’t do that. My husband gave me some money, I paid him back the very first year. We made, whatever he invested, I paid him back, well, kind of paid my family back. And just started selling. Everyone went in, everybody. It was amazing. They loved it.

Schley: It's not that you lacked competitors, though. It was still a pretty pitched market.

Wilson: No. CED was not happy that I did this. And they tried to cause some problems. I won't go into that story, but I received a letter from the Cap Cities attorneys apologizing.

Schley: You know you’ve hit the big time when you get the attorney letter.

Wilson: And they apologized and said that they're very, very sorry and that shouldn’t have happened and that was that.

Schley: I think it's interesting the progression of your magazine and the role that editorial content began to play, because like you say, it was a listings book for a while.

Wilson: Right.

Schley: What made that transformation?

Wilson: In 1998 (this was so cool), I did win the Chairman’s Award from SCTE. They loved the magazine. They said it helped them. It told many of their stories—I would have the president of the SCTE, Bill Riker, at that time, write each quarter. I would have the marketing people write. So it was very SCTE-oriented. And that’s why I won the award. I was so excited. So things took off a little bit. But then in 1999, I had an idea to get guest authors. I started out with a couple from SCTE that were not as famous. And then I thought, if I could get John Malone, and John Malone has been and always will be my hero. If it wasn’t for John Malone, I wouldn’t be sitting here today, I do not think. I think he's done that for a lot of people. So I went, and actually Tony Werner was working for John Malone…

Schley: John Malone, for the uninitiated, often thought of as the patriarch of the cable industry, ran what was the biggest company, TCI, for a long time. Google him. But he sort of made this industry happen.

Wilson: And he’s still in it. And he's still making things happen. He's unbelievable. So it was time to get the guest author.

Schley: Well, you aimed high.

Wilson: I aimed very high. And I called Tony Werner and he said, “All right. I'll help you.” So he wasn’t really familiar with the magazine, and Tony called him and sent him a copy and said, “She just wants you to tell your story.” And he said, “Fine. I'll do it.”

Schley: Tony, the CTO then of TCI, now the CTO of Comcast…

Wilson: Yes. But he was in different places as well.

Schley: But he convinced him to—

Wilson: He convinced him. And he helped him write it, of course. So this was the John Malone issue. It says, “Guest Author, John Malone.”

Schley: So no more introduction required.

Wilson: No. I think there was always someone who did a forward. And guess who did the forward?

Schley: Who did the forward?

Wilson: Tony Werner.

Schley: Of course he did.

Wilson: “The Doctor Will See You Now.”

Schley: That’s awesome.

Wilson: So he wrote and after that, it just took off. It was crazy.

Schley: Did people start to come to you to seek to be in the magazine as writers, or were you still kind of pursuing—?

Wilson: This is what happened. When you start with someone—even in advertising, you start with somebody and you say, “When John Malone was the guest author in this and he’s told the story and everyone loved it, do you want to do the same thing?” Then, “Oh, yeah, we’ll do that.” So that’s how it started. I don’t think people understand the creativeness that went into this magazine with the different sections, like the preface was written by the publisher, or the guest author. Everything had to do with the library.

Schley: And literature.

Wilson: Yes,

Schley: And writing.

Wilson: Yes.

Schley: So Malone was a hit.

Wilson: Oh, my God. Malone was a complete hit. Everyone loved it. “How did you get John Malone?!” And what I would say is, “I asked him. That’s it.”

Schley: I have a story about that later, but, OK. Sometimes you’ve got to ask.

Wilson: You’ve got to ask. The worst someone can say is, no.

Schley: One of the features you initiated along this path was always clever and fascinating to me. It was a contribution from the “Phantom.” Now you have an opportunity to tell us. OK, it's not going to happen. But tell us about the Phantom.

Wilson: There were really two Phantoms. There was one Phantom that started with me early on, one of the Pioneers, but then towards the end, he started to get a little negative. I told the Phantom you can write whatever you want. And what the Phantom was, is somebody in the industry that would say anything they wanted to say. I mean, he had to be a little bit politically correct. But really, you could talk about anything you want.

Schley: The identity is obscured.

Wilson: Nobody knows who the Phantom is—nobody. Not even my kids. Nobody knew.

Schley: Wow.

Wilson: So after it was like ten years, I said, “I think it's time.” And this person retired and I hired somebody else. This person still has been there now for eleven years and he will be—and I was a little surprised—but he will be continuing on with the publication.

Schley: Because it's changing hands.

Wilson: It's changing hands; we’re so excited. It won't be going to cable heaven. It will still be here, and the SCTE is so excited, they still have their member benefit, and I'll still be around helping everybody. But I don’t have to do the day-to-day. I sold the magazine.

Schley: And congrats on that.

Wilson: Thank you.

Schley: On the turning of that page, pun fully intended. But what was the inspiration for the Phantom? How did the idea generate?

Wilson: I did see it in another magazine. It was a different industry.

Schley: Some of the best ideas.

Wilson: Yes, and I did. And I thought, “We could do that. It's no big deal; it's a totally different market.” And that’s how it started. And everyone: who’s the Phantom? Who's the Phantom? We never would put his face in. We put kind of a background—in the beginning, we put like a shadow. Everyone thought either it was Jim Chiddix or somebody—

Schley: Oh, I'm sure you had all kinds of guesswork.

Wilson: I would never tell. Nobody would ever tell. And today that’s the one question I get: who's the Phantom?

Schley: One way you distinguished your magazine—a couple of ways—was to maintain pretty high production values. You can talk about the paper and ink and all the quality issues. Also you had a disproportionate amount, I think, of editorial content. Why so? What drove you there?

Wilson: I was lucky since the magazine really…in the beginning, it was a wonderful woman that helped me named Elaine Callahan. She actually was my traffic person at Cablevision and CED, and she came along with me. And that was before you did all the design work. You would do galleys…

Schley: Oh, gosh. Of course.

Wilson: Remember? So there wasn’t any digital. So you really couldn’t change the design of it. It had to kind of be the same thing over and over again. Same with the Wall Street Journal and different publications. You never changed it. She was awesome. She used to type like 135 words a minute. She was a dear, a dear person. So then that was it. It was just really Elaine and I that did the magazine with of course, the authors, who, some of them I paid, some of them I didn’t. I didn’t have a lot of overhead. I had very little overhead. So why not take that money that you're making and put it back into the magazine? Normally, Bob Titsch, when he did his magazines, would have a 70/30 ad to edit ratio. 70% ads, 30% edit. That’s the most you can even do to even mail it out. You can't have more—

Schley: Postal regulations.

Wilson: You’ve got it. Per postal regulations. So when I came, I didn’t want that. I wanted to get the editorial out for the SCTE. I thought, we have to tell everyone what's going on. I became more of a 60/40. And I've kept that. 60% edit, 40% ads.

Schley: Pretty rich ratio in terms of content.

Wilson: People don’t realize. Someone will say, “Why don’t you just put in an extra page in here, or whatever?” You can't do that. You have to do forms when you're printing. So if I had two pages of edit or an extra added page that I had to get in, and I couldn’t take an ad out, I'd go up an extra form.

Schley: Grow the book, as we would say.

Wilson: I would. I would put eight pages extra of editorial. And why? Because I thought it was necessary to do it.

Schley: You did make the transformation to digital publishing.

Wilson: Yes.

Schley: You did a layout at some point, as did everyone.

Wilson: Right, that’s right.

Schley: But you’ve adhered to these principles of consistency and then the theme carries through…

Wilson: Always had a theme through the guest authors. So I brought an issue that talked about ten years, and we did change the name, by the way…

Schley: I wanted to point that out. it had been The Literature Library of Broadband Technology.

Wilson: Broadband Technology, which was a mouthful.

Schley: A mouthful. Big URL…and then you changed it to?

Wilson: Broadband Library. And I think we did it in 2005. I'm almost positive. In fact, Tony Werner still worked for us as The Literature Library of Broadband Technology.

Schley: I've made that mistake a couple of times.

Wilson: Yes, everyone. But that’s OK.

Schley: Why the name change?

Wilson: It was because it wasn’t just a literature library anymore. It had become a real magazine, content. The storytelling, which was the most important thing. And telling people’s stories and using the people in the industry to tell the technology through their own personal stories. And when I asked a guest author to write, I'd say, “Pretend like you're talking to one person instead of all the SCTE engineers. Make it personal. Tell us a little about yourself. I don’t want it to be boring. I want it to be really personal.” So when I started out, after John Malone, we got notables such as Leo Hindery, Jr., Bill Daniels (the late Bill Daniels), Jim Robbins—who was my favorite—and Jerry Kent. Robert Sachs, Ted Rogers, Dick Green, John Sie. They were all guest authors. Bill Bresnan.

Schley: A lot of these people are of course out in the Hall at the Cable Center.

Wilson: Absolutely.

Schley: Hall of Fame.

Wilson: Michael Wilner, Carl Vogel, Wayne Hall, Mike LaJoie.

Schley: One of the symmetries, I think, is that the oral history series does sort of—that’s why it's so nice to have you here.

Wilson: Very similar. That’s why it’s so important.

Schley: I want to sneak this in. You mentioned John Malone. Your life is about people so I can't ask you to make the list exhaustive. But can you think of a couple of other people who you think have been really influential in your career?

Wilson: Well, of course, Bob Titsch. Because if it wasn’t for Bob Titsch, I wouldn’t have learned how to develop the relationships that to me, is the core of my business. So I would say Bob Titsch. And like I said, I didn’t agree with everything he did, but he was an incredible teacher. I would say Bob Titsch was one, and Bill McGorry, of course. Tony Werner helped me every way. And the SCTE.

Schley: You’ve seen a couple of leadership changes at SCTE.

Wilson: Oh, yes.

Schley: What was the progression of people you worked with?

Wilson: Well, first I worked with Bill Riker, who was wonderful, who actually helped build the Cable Center. And I really enjoyed working with him. Then there were a couple others I'm not even going to mention because I do not think they had the same—what they did wasn’t as beneficial as Bill. And now Mark Dzuban, who I think is incredible, who is there now. And has grown the SCTE, and made it a society where now it's respected. It's just not certification and working with the techies. It's become a driving force. And the reason it had to be is because the technology in the industry has become a driving force.

Schley: We talked earlier, Cathy, about, there used to be so many smaller independent cable companies that were part of the base, and now we have surges of consolidation in the industry. But there's still an argument for advertising in a periodical that reaches the broad waterfront of the industry. Is that correct?

Wilson: It is. And lately, you’ve been hearing this everywhere, print’s dead, you shouldn’t have a print publication. But the people that read Broadband Library, at least now, are—of course, there are 28,000 SCTE members—I do not send it to 28,000…

Schley: I don’t think you could make those numbers work.

Wilson: Because mailing and postage have become very expensive. So we do an online version too. But really, everyone wants it in print. We only send to about I would say 7,000 in print, and these are the VIPs. Because there are a lot of vendors that belong to SCTE. SCTE and I formed a list by titles, and those people still receive it in the print, but then everyone else gets it online.

Schley: Free online access.

Wilson: Free online access.

Schley: I think in a day of declining print, you stand out more.

Wilson: Right. It's almost like a luxury. It's like a Mercedes. They don’t get anything anymore so when they get this—but the best combination is having a print and a digital together. That to me is the best. That’s the most successful. But the print, you'll see it in people’s offices, you'll see it when you walk into the operators’ office, and yes, there's not as many operators, that’s true. But you know you go over anywhere like to Charter, to Comcast, it’ll be sitting in the reception areas.

Schley: It shows well.

Wilson: It's beautiful. The paper is—I use really high quality. High quality is really what it is.

Schley: It's so fresh. You’ve just transferred ownership to a very able publisher we've both worked with.

Wilson: Jerry Lundwall, who was involved with Cable World and has been working with me for the last four years with design.

Schley: It's early in this transformation, but what are you going to miss …?

Wilson: I'll miss talking to the clients. I will not miss the day-to-day where you had to call for the copy calls. I mean, Jerry and I did everything basically. You know, my daughter helped me for a little bit last year, but I had to do everything. The billing. The collection calls.

Schley: The grind and minutiae of running a business.

Wilson: The grind. And I'll miss the authors. That’s who I loved to work with. I loved those guys. They were incredible, and picking— and I'll miss the creativity of picking who's the next guest author. What theme are we going to do? That was so much fun.

Schley: I have to thank and applaud you because you talked about, just ask, the worst that could happen is someone says no. And you’ve invited me to write about two seminal—Bob Metcalfe, the inventor of Ethernet, and Peter Schultz, who's largely credited with one day on a Friday in a laboratory in New York, inventing fiber optic transmission for telecommunications. You just asked?

Wilson: Just asked. Actually, what I did was, I’d already exhausted everyone in the cable industry.

Schley: You'd gone through the list.

Wilson: I did. What am I going to do? I've got to get—I'll get a relative, you know, people that are important to SCTE to write, but they're not really guest authors, they're not like headliners. So I looked at this list of inventors and I looked at the ones that are telecommunications—

Schley: Related to the field.

Wilson: Yes, something. And the first one I found was Peter Schultz, who really worked for Corning. I didn’t really know the people at Corning that well, but I called him up and I said, “Hi, I have a magazine.” I brought him up there and I showed him and then I mailed him a copy and he goes, “Yes, I'll do it. I'd love to do it.” So he did it. And then after that, of course, then I went to Bob Metcalfe, who actually is one of my favorites. And I had to hunt him down. I did find him. It was kind of a little difficult. I talked to him, he goes, “You sound so cute! I'll definitely do it.” And he did it, and he loved doing it. Then he tweeted it out to like 500,000 of his followers. It was like crazy.

Schley: Do you feel that people have this sort of built-in desire to tell their story? Is that part of what drives you?

Wilson: Yes, yes. Right. Why not? Tell your story, tell it the way you want to say. Especially with someone like John Malone, the press didn’t treat him well, some of the press. So my thing was, you tell your story in the way you want to tell it, OK? We’re not press. We’re not going to say anything—

Schley: Not “60 Minutes.”

Wilson: No. You tell your story the way you want people to remember you. That’s what I said to Bob Metcalfe. He goes, “I've never really done this before.”

Schley: The industry has changed so much since you began in this field. Is it still a fun place to work? You're involved with the Cable Center, you continue to be a figure in the industry. But is the vibe the same, has it changed? What do you think?

Wilson: It's changed. I liked the earlier years. As the technology evolved and the industry evolved and consolidated, of course changes are going to be. That’s part of business. We kind of all grew up. We were like an infant industry. We had so much fun. Everyone knew everybody. Things were done on handshakes. Relationships were the important thing. But the industry grew up and consolidation happened. And no, it's not the same. I want to remember it more, so the earlier years.

Schley: You're a mom. I see parallels there a little bit. It's great to see your kids grow up and go out into the world. But there were some really special moments.

Wilson: Yes. And again, the same people were around, but then they changed. I mean, they retire. It's just the circle of life, really. That’s why I will always remember the industry and the people because that’s who really made the industry.

Schley: Do you have words of advice if there's a young person who's beginning his or her career in cable, in cable, around cable? There still is a vibrant publishing category around this industry. What would you tell them if you're sitting down and saying, here’s what I kind of learned?

Wilson: They need to learn the stories. They need to learn the story of how the industry started. They need to learn the stories of the people that made it that way. They need to learn the technology, which for me is very difficult—I'll say that again. It's so advanced that I think you need to be an engineer to understand all of it.

Schley: Even if you're not an engineer.

Wilson: Even if you're not an engineer, you have to study. You have to study the products. You have to study what goes on. Otherwise, you can't compete. You just can't. And no one will take you seriously. I've had a lot of help over the years, with the engineers helping me. But now, I mean, it was getting to a point where when I would create an issue, I'd have a tough time even finding a cartoon for an article, because I wasn’t sure if I was right or not.

Schley: You’ve begun cartoons…

Wilson: I love the cartoons, yes.

Schley: Will you stay involved and active in the industry or are we parting ways or how do you see the next few years?

Wilson: I will help SCTE a bit and the Cable Center a bit, but I want to take a little bit of a break and enjoy my husband of forty years, David, who's been—no one realizes that a lot of the creativity came from him, too. It was a combination of both of us working together. The Star Wars issue, the Twilight Zone issue. You know, all the fun issues that we had with themes. But it was David. I would start out with something and then he would kind of capitalize on it and help me. So I want to spend some time with him. I want to spend some time with my grandbabies. I came to conventions, stomach out here—“Go away, we’ll buy anything you want, just don't come into the booth, OK?” So I want to spend some time with them. But the one issue I just wanted to talk about, there was one issue, and that was the Katrina issue. That’s to me the proudest thing I've ever done in the whole industry.

Schley: I want to hear about that.

Wilson: And the reason I know about it is because that’s the next issue. So what happened was, Katrina hit. And my daughter was going to Tulane University. So I call her up on the phone and go, “You’ve got to get out of there! Katrina’s coming. I mean, this huge storm.” “What?” She was probably partying the night before.

Schley: Studying. I think she was studying.

Wilson: Studying, right. So they got up and they left, and then Katrina hit. And I heard things were horrible. So I wanted to tell that story. What did the cable systems do? I went to Jim Robbins and, if I can remember, was it Wayne Davis? And some of the five systems that were plagued by Katrina.

Schley: You mentioned Jim Robbins, former CEO of Cox Communications. And that was, I think, the predominant operator along the Gulf Coast there.

Wilson: He was. And I decided to do an issue, and donate every dollar—even before expenses. I lost a lot of money on the issue. I didn’t care. I gave all—I think we raised $80,000 from advertising. And we went to people like MTV. And to HBO, who wouldn’t be advertising in a technical publication. And they all went in. And they all put special ads in. Each one of these people would tell the story of what happened. All the money went to the employees of the different systems. It was the best thing I ever did. And that year, I won the Vanguard Award from NCTA.

Schley: You did and I was going to cap off with that…

Wilson: And Jim Robbins was in the hospital. He was sick. He was dying. And he called up the NCTA and he said, “This woman has to win this.”

Schley: Oh, my God.

Wilson: And that’s how I won the Vanguard Award.

Schley: How special. I think it's interesting. You're talking about you gave away the revenue, not the profit…

Wilson: No. I gave away the profit. I gave away every dime.

Schley: That’s what I mean.

Wilson: I made nothing, zero on this issue, and it felt good. I had been pretty successful by that time and I felt like they needed the money. It was something I could do.

Schley: And what were the stories like?

Wilson: I wanted them to talk about what happened before Katrina. And how they got ready for Katrina. Then Katrina hit, what happened. And then, how did they fix everything.

Schley: I was just reminded, a friend of yours, John Kurpinski, was talking about Puerto Rico, which has just been devastated. And you know, the essential role that a cable system plays in people’s lives, you’re reminded of that when it goes away.

Wilson: That’s right.

Schley: They did heroic work, obviously, in rebuilding those Katrina markets.

Wilson: And one person told me when I was going to talk a little bit about that in a later issue with Puerto Rico and all of those other storms that keep happening, is the one thing you can learn, though, is to build the system better. If you have the chance to build, all right, let's get in there and build it better. So that’s the one silver lining on the catastrophes. So it has to be rebuilt. Let's build it better, let's build a better—

Schley: Listening to you talking about rebuilds as a cable veteran, you keep saying you don’t understand the technology, I think, secretly you have a pretty good handle on.

Wilson: A little bit. A little bit.

Schley: Any parting thoughts? I mean, had you not met Bob Titsch in 1979 or whenever that was, how would your life be different?

Wilson: Oh, my gosh. Well, I’d probably be a stay-at-home mom. I'd probably wouldn’t have gone out there and worked and worked and worked. But I loved it. So I would work constantly and I felt so good about myself at work. So that’s really why I—I had a passion for it. I loved it. I still have a passion for it, but there's a time when you have to say, OK, you’ve spent forty years in this industry, almost forty. Now it's time to do a little bit of a comeback to the family, which was so important.

Schley: I mean, from the Vanguard recognition you deserved and were accorded, to the multi-year imprint you’ve made on this industry, you have to feel a sense of satisfaction around that. Fair enough?

Wilson: I do. Absolutely. And the one thing is being a woman. I want to say that I was always treated fairly. I always was treated fairly. I never was discriminated against in my industry, ever. And I don’t think a lot of people can say that. But I have never, in all my forty years, I always got treated fairly.

Schley: You know, in the context of kind of a tumultuous time around those issues, that’s a really positive thing to say.

Wilson: I never, so I want to thank the industry for that. I really do.

Schley: Well, this has been tremendous. I was so excited to sit down and talk shop with you, so congratulations again on the culmination of an astounding career in cable publishing. Cathy Wilson. For the Cable Center’s oral history series, I'm Stewart Schley. See you later.



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Louis Williamson

Louis Williamson 2015

Interview Date: August 17, 2015
Interview Location: Denver, CO USA
Interviewer: Leslie Ellis
Collection: Cable Center Oral History Program

Ellis: I’m Leslie Ellis. It is August the 17th in the year 2015. I’m here at The Cable Center in Denver, Colorado to conduct the oral history of the venerable Louis Williamson. Hello, Louis.

Williamson: Hi, Leslie. How are you?

Ellis: I’m well. How are you?

Williamson: Doing great.

Ellis: Let’s -- this is all about you, so let’s start at the beginning, which for you is in Norfolk, Virginia. You were that kid growing up who took things apart, like radios -- I think there was a washing machine.

Williamson: There were several things in my childhood.

Ellis: Tell us about that part, like did your family know from the beginning, that kid’s going to end up building stuff?

Williamson: I don’t know if they would have said that at the time. They probably thought I was more of a destroyer --

Ellis: Because there were parts left over?

Williamson: -- than a rebuilder. I never put most of those things back together but yes, I was a really creative kid. I -- loved to take things apart just to see what was in them and --

Ellis: Wasn’t there a washing machine?

Williamson: Yes, there was a washing machine that my neighbors had that kind of sat out in the back for a while. I thought it was abandoned so I grabbed a handy screwdriver and pliers and you start taking it apart to see what was in it. It was a nice timer in there I thought would be useful for something later on in my life. But yes, I loved taking things apart. I love science. I grew up on a river, and I had a microscope, so I would go out and collect samples, play around with stuff like that. Yes, I was that kind of a kid. It was fun times.

Ellis: So that’s where -- you told me earlier that it was either engineer or oceanographer, so that’s where the oceanographer leanings came from.

Williamson: Yes. I wanted to be Jacques Cousteau, Jr. That was my first career choice. Just growing up around the water and I was just really interested in it up until about the time I got in high school and I was talking to my guidance counselor about what I should do with my life, as you have those conversations. And I told her I wanted to be an oceanographer and she looked in the book and came back, “Well, you need to learn French and study marine biology.” I was thinking, I don’t like any of that stuff. I told her, “Well, I like to take stuff apart, too. Electronics.” She was like, “Oh, you can be an electrical engineer.” I was like, OK, that was close.

Ellis: And were you a math and science person always? Strong in that?

Williamson: Oh yes. I was pretty great in math and science. I was an honor student through high school, and mostly based on math and sciences. My English part of it was, you know, I got by. And I really wasn’t into history at that point, but I loved math and science and those types of things.

Ellis: So then -- where did you go to school? Where did you go to college?

Williamson: I went to Virginia Tech.

Ellis: That’s right.

Williamson: So after high school, I went to Virginia Tech and really studied at that point.

Ellis: Electrical engineering?

Williamson: Electrical engineering. That was my chosen major and I really loved it at that point. I specialized in communications. That was my major.

Ellis: Communications engineering?

Williamson: Communications engineering, that’s correct, yes. You know, radios, just how to do you move information around from here to there. Those were the things that I really found interesting as I was building my curricular through college.

Ellis: And then what year did you get out of college?

Williamson: I graduated in 1980, and moved here.

Ellis: All right, so for most of --

Williamson: Colorado.

Ellis: Most of us people in cable -- in fact, I have yet to meet one person in cable who says that they woke up one day and said, “I know. I want to be in the cable industry.” So, connect the dots from getting out of Virginia Tech and you came out here from Martin Marietta?

Williamson: Yes.

Ellis: And then something -- connect those dots.

Williamson: Well out of school I was recruited out here by Martin Marietta Aerospace, so I worked in aerospace for about three years.

Ellis: You worked on like war stuff, right?

Williamson: I did electronic warfare.

Ellis: What does that mean? Are you not allowed to talk about it?

Williamson: Some of it I’m not allowed to talk about, but it was a long time ago. Electronic warfare and the things I did were like electronic countermeasures, when you’re trying to jam other people with electronic -- a countermeasure is when you’re trying to jam the people who are jamming you. So I did stuff like that. In warfare, people are trying to communicate and I worked on things to try to keep communication going for us and to make it not work for other people.

Ellis: Was that fun?

Williamson: It was fun. I enjoyed my time in aerospace. And I kind of fell into cable -- a little bit by accident. During that time in the defense industry, or maybe it was just Martin Marietta, when you weren’t working on a project charging to some real project, you pretty much got terminated because you were overhead. And I was running out of projects. I was young and needed a paycheck, so it made me start thinking about what’s the next thing, because again, I was young at that point. You never think you’re going to be at one place more than a few years. So I was feeling that edge. A guy I knew at Martin Marietta that actually came over to American Television and Communications --

Ellis: ATC.

Williamson: ATC, yes. He told me about an opportunity there and I applied and was hired.

Ellis: What was it? What was the opportunity?

Williamson: I became a member of the technical staff. That was my first opportunity. At the time, the cable industry -- or at least ATC -- was trying to build an off-premise converter. The industry had started putting converters in the homes and they were losing them, so they had this brilliant idea of putting converters out on the pole and just a little small, cheap control box in the house, and that was going to be the solution to it. So I was recruited to work on that project. And probably more specifically what got me interested in it was I was building the control modem that talked to that device that controlled it. It was a 256k QPSK modem.

Ellis: Which was at the time super-fast.

Williamson: It was super-fast.

Ellis: 256k.

Williamson: As I really started learning about the opportunity, I was like cable? Cable was pretty young at that point, especially in the cities. I had never had cable, so didn’t know a lot about it.

Ellis: This is like eighty-something?

Williamson: It was ’83.

Ellis: So what was the bandwidth?

Williamson: They were just beginning to build around 450 MHz cable systems. And when you go look at it, and I’m a ommunication guy. It’s like, these guys have 450 MHz passing every home and they’re going to put this 256k modem to these houses, and at that point people were --

Ellis: 56k, not 256?

Williamson: 256k.

Ellis: Oh, 256.

Williamson: Yes, 256 kilobit control modem. 256k to the home and 56k return. --

Ellis: So you saw that as huge.

Williamson: Yes, it was a big -- I thought it was going to be really great to do that. I later found out that it was shared among like ten to twenty thousand homes pass, so it wasn’t quite as big as I originally thought. But it did start -- I really was intrigued about the possibilities of cable, even back then. You know, thinking about that kind of capacity and what was possible, and at the time we were pretty much just doing television; we weren’t doing any of the other things. And the cities were getting built. I mean, I lived in Denver at the time and Denver was just starting to get built, so cable was still very fresh to me. So I decided I’d try it out.

Ellis: And you still are.

Williamson: And 32 years later I just finished trying it out.

Ellis: Right. So that kind of leads into the next -- really you have so many big parts of your career, but the really big one was when fiber came in. So at that time, everything was all coax, tree and branch, lots and lots of amplifiers.

Williamson: That’s correct.

Ellis: What prompted the idea of -- I want to start the fiber discussion, what was the state of the state of fiber at the time? It was just a telco thing for long-haul, right?

Williamson: Pretty much fiber at the time was. It wasn’t new, but it was really like you said. It was used for long-haul communications.

Ellis: Small stuff.

Williamson: Almost exclusively digital modulation on it. And as we started looking at expanding our plants, because if you can take a little step back, at the time we were building 450 MHz systems. And at the time everybody wanted to go to 550 MHz or beyond. But the cable system area also expanded. So it was not uncommon for you to have a cascade of 40 amplifiers.

Ellis: Which makes the picture at the end kind of --

Williamson: Just makes it really bad. After 40 amplifiers, the noise gets worse, distortions get worse.

Ellis: The signal gets boosted as does the noise.

Williamson: Right, but there are also lots of other problems with it, too. If you were the last person at the end of the cascade, any one of those amplifiers are failure points, your signal was always out. And as we tried to expand capacity, it was just tougher and tougher to get good signals and maintain them. So, everybody started thinking about how do you break these systems apart. It was just unaffordable. You couldn’t afford to build lots of hubs. There was microwave -- amplitude modulated microwave links, things like that, that people tried to break these cascades apart as we built these systems out, but all of those again, they were unreliable. Microwave --

Ellis: Expensive.

Williamson: When you get a rain storm, you lose signals. So we started looking for other ways. We knew telcos were using fiber. We were trying to figure out how could we use it, but we couldn’t afford to do digital modulation and then have to convert all of it back to analog at each one of these locations. So a couple of guys, Don Gall and Dave Pangrac, who were at Kansas City, started inquiring about fiber. Dave Pangrac had recently moved to corporate and was looking for ways to try to start building our next plants. And the question of the fiber optics came up and whether could we use it and I was the --

Ellis: The lab rat?

Williamson: Well, more importantly, I was the guy who had studied communications at Virginia Tech. I had taken a couple of classes on fiber optics, so as people started talking about it I knew enough buzz words to sound like an expert (laughter), so they gave me the task of going out and looking at what would it take, is it possible to put our signals over fiber, and how could we use it. So that’s what led up to all of the experimentation on fiber and lasers.

Ellis: So you started talking to the laser guys, right? At Ortel? Was it Ortel?

Williamson: That’s right. I’ve talked to a lot of people. Some of the current guys at Catel and Synchronous were building fiber equipment. They were building FM links that we used from hub to hub, but those were pretty expensive and couldn’t affordably do the job. But those guys knew a little bit about lasers. And AT&T, we started talking to the folks at Bell Labs and Ortel, who became one of our big laser vendors, about the possibility, and at first people were pretty skeptical of the idea.

Ellis: Very skeptical. I remember this.

Williamson: They also --

Ellis: Curious.

Williamson: They were curious because, lasers are pretty linear. It’s just, could you take all of those channels we were carrying and put them on a laser.

Ellis: Which was how many at the time? Like 40?

Williamson: At 450 MHz it was like 60 channels, but we were trying to get up to about 80 channels at the time. So it was like, is this possible? Can you get a good enough laser to do it? And if you just go grab generic lasers off the shelf and go do it, yes, most of them don’t work very well. You would get pictures but they were worse than the ones we were carrying, so that didn’t work.

Ellis: Did you have -- I just want to like paint a picture of your bench. You’ve told me before and it’s one of my many favorite Louis stories. How did you do it? You just kept turning it up and turning it up!

Williamson: I did kind of turn up the power. (laughter)

Ellis: But tell -- what was the lay of it? What did it look like?

Williamson: The lay of the land was, we were still trying to figure it out. So I had the luxury of being the guy to try different things to go figure it out. Because when you first start playing with lasers, you say OK, this is really not that good even if you crank the power up. I also started figuring things out like, part of the problem is reflections, which is a microwave phenomenal too. So, if I fused the fiber link with a fusion splicer. After fusing the whole link together, it actually got quieter. So I started experimenting with fusion splicers to keep the reflections down, which led to, hey, if we get optical isolators, that helps too. And as we would get different lasers from different people, we did find some that worked better than others. As I would turn the power up on them, it made me also start playing with the thermoelectric cooler to cool them down. And I found as you turn the temperature of the laser -- at those time the Fabry-Perots -- they actually change frequencies, or wavelengths. Ellis: When they got hot?

Williamson: Hm?

Ellis: When they got hot they changed wavelengths?

Williamson: As you changed temperature on them they actually changed their wavelengths. But as you did that, I would find these sweet spots and some of the lasers, it made them work better. But long story short, all of this led to where I could do 60 channels over a 10 km link, and as we started bringing the laser vendors in and the people who really built lasers, they became intrigued because they started seeing it is possible, how could they take what I was doing and go back to their laboratories and build better lasers and customize them for things that we wanted to do.

Ellis: Was there a moment in time you went, oh, this is it; 60 channels or whatever it was, 13-10, or was it like that?

Williamson: It was 13-10, yes. Thirteen-ten nanometers wavelength lasers. But yes, there was -- I found a few lasers where I was able to go demonstrate 60 channels over 10 km links. About six miles or more.

Ellis: Did you actually blow up lasers?

Williamson: I have a few dead ones in my collection.

Ellis: Do they make a sound? Do they make a smell when you blow them up?

Williamson: They don’t blow up like that. They’re not like capacitors. They --

Ellis: They just stop working.

Williamson: -- just pretty much stop working if you --

Ellis: How many did you blow up before you found the right -- before you found --

Williamson: I didn’t blow up many, by the way. I went through lots of them that weren’t that good, but most of them, I didn’t blow up. They don’t work very well and you just move on. But through that experimentation and proving that we could do it, we got the industry -- the optical industry interested in it. Then you’ve got the smart people like Ortel who just built real high, linear lasers. Folks like that started looking at it and what would it take, and they really started delivering on the products. But even then, people at that point would say they had to hand pick them. They would just test them to see which ones worked. It wasn’t like every laser worked at the time. It was a few years before those things really stabilized and the industry was taking off.

Ellis: I think that’s the time frame right around when I met you. There was the team of people at Time Warner Cable -- it was ATC then.

Williamson: It was ATC.

Ellis: That were working on video over fiber. And Jim Chiddix -- I don’t want to say this in an unkind way, but did people think, oh that was Jim Chiddix, but it was actually Louis that did a lot of the work. So during that period, you two both hit the road and you did all this public speaking about your work, and they found out later it was because you kind of had to do that for patent purposes, right?

Williamson: Yes, we were doing it for a couple of reasons. The primary reason was we were trying to evangelize it, to get more and more people interested in it.

Ellis: So more people would buy it so the cost would come down.

Williamson: That’s right. And as other manufacturers heard about it it got them interested. So that was the primary reason. But also at that time we didn’t do patents. We didn’t have the patent office, no we just didn’t have a patent attorney. There was a patent office. (laughs)

Ellis: I was going to say.

Williamson: But we published, it’s what we were trying to do, because if you put it out in public domain and you still establish that it’s out there.

Ellis: A record of it.

Williamson: So that was our philosophy back at the time; instead of patenting we did a lot of publishing. But the primary reason was to evangelize it and get more and more people interested in it because at that time, by then we actually believed, and we were trying to get more people interested to drive the cost down because initially they were still expensive. We just didn’t start off and start doing HFC, the first way we used it was what we call fiber backbone.

Ellis: Right. We still call it that.

Williamson: Yes. People still call it that. Fiber backbone was the first commercial application we actually put in. I was actually down in Orlando testing one of my lasers that worked pretty well between two hubs that were AM microwaved at the time. But they also had fiber through it for some commercial reasons so it was a good place to go test. So I took the link down and --

Ellis: How long was the link?

Williamson: Actually I don’t remember how long it was.

Ellis: It didn’t matter?

Williamson: Probably 10 miles or so would be my guess, but I don’t remember the exact length. But I took it down and I did tests over a series of days, and at the end I was getting ready to pack it up and bring it home and the guy I was working with, a technician down there named Cary Fouts, he wouldn’t let me take it out because his boss, John Walsh, who was the VP of engineering, told him it was working so much better than the microwave, they were like, you can’t take this out.

Ellis: Leave your gear.

Williamson: You have to leave it here. I was like, well, it’s not my gear. I borrowed it from a vendor. So that was the first commercial deployment.

Ellis: Did you leave it?

Williamson: I had no choice. They wouldn’t let me in the hub to get it out. (laughter) And it stayed there for years. Eventually they changed it because, like I said, it was a lab rig; it wasn’t really packaged r anything else. As a matter of fact, the detector -- a diode receiver, was actually powered by a nine-volt battery just for low noise. That’s was just how it worked.

Ellis: Simpler times.

Williamson: It was kind of a set-up. It wasn’t meant to be left there, but it worked so much better than the microwave, and more importantly, when the rainstorms come every afternoon in Florida, it didn’t fade. So it stayed there and finally they put a good receiver on it and stuff, but that link was the first commercial deployment. And that’s how we use it; we use it for getting rid of AML links, microwave links, and pretty quickly all those links went down because fiber was so much better. You could find enough lasers to do that. Then the long cascades with fiber backbones started falling in place, and as we started looking more and more at how we were going to grow bandwidth. And we were buying more products, so the price started coming down, and then the concept of fiber deeper, went through all these permutations --

Ellis: Somewhere in there you moved from Fabry-Perot to DFB.

Williamson: Yeah, to DFB lasers. Distributed Feedback lasers were a little bit more expensive, but they were a lot more stable and worked better.

Ellis: And my favorite term; the erbium-doped fiber amplifier.

Williamson: Fiber amplifiers came out, erbium-doped, all those things -- 1550 nanometer lasers started coming out. So in the industry, there was a lot of buzz about that.

Ellis: There was. It was a huge chapter.

Williamson: And at the time, we were buying more fiber cable than anybody in the world. I mean, that’s how big we were growing because we were in that big phase of upgrades. Everybody was going from these 330 MHz, 450 MHz plants, to 550 or 750, ultimately by the time the big push came. Everybody was building those types of plants. And you really needed fiber optics and we were buying a lot of cable, we were buying a lot of lasers, and it just kept driving the cost down where you could put them into shorter and shorter cascades, and it evolved over from these fiber backbone kind of applications into what everybody now calls hybrid fiber coax; HFC.

Ellis: Right. So you were -- well, in today’s common language when you’re talking about HFC, there’s the concept of the 500 home node. And you were the one who told me, do you know why it’s a 500 home node? Can you tell that story? With common house spacing, if you look in the middle of a circle it’s -- you can say it better than I’m trying to.

Williamson: Ours became around this mythical 500 home pass, for a variety of reasons. (laughs) But primarily what we were trying to do is, we were trying to find the sweet spot of where you should be to --

Ellis: Far enough but not too far.

Williamson: Yeah. You didn’t want to do fiber to deep. Actually, you wanted to do fiber to the home, but you couldn’t afford to. So we ended up around three or four ampfliers in a cascade, and if you go try to do three or four amplifiers cascade in the kind of densities of urban markets we had, you end up with about a 500 homes pass area, but it really depends on density. Some of them were 300, some of them are 1,000 homes passed. There’s no really magic, it was how do you build a three or four-amp cascade where we thought it was a good place for the optical contribution of the link combined with the amplifier contribution. And more importantly, or sometimes we forget about it, is we were starting to do two-way stuff. With longer cascades, all that noise would funnel back and make upstream communication difficult. When you build these shorter cascades, you actually got two-way performance that was much better. So all these things kind of came together, but it wasn’t a one day, here is the tablet from the mountain about all of the rules about HFC. It was an evolution that got us there and to where we really started building most of our plants.

Ellis: And you ultimately won -- not you alone, but you and your team -- won -- was that the first Emmy?

Williamson: The first Emmy was HFC.

Ellis: Was that your first Emmy, Louis?

Williamson: (laughs)

Ellis: It was a technology Emmy. What year was that? I forget.

Williamson: Ninety-four -- ’93 or ’94.

Ellis: So what was that like?

Williamson: It was a great.

Ellis: Did you have to buy a tux or did you already have one?

Williamson: I had to buy a tux. (laughter)

Ellis: Was it exciting? I mean, we’re going to get to the section about all your awards.

Williamson: It was really exciting, but actually I had to buy a tux because at that time I was in Orlando working on a Full Service Network and I couldn’t rent one for the length of time. I didn’t want to rent one for a week, so I ended up buying one. (laughs) But it was a great accomplishment to be recognized by not only the cable industry, because I had the recognition at that point in the cable industry, but to be recognized by the rest of the television industry, which is what the Emmy was, what they are. It was just tremendous that they thought of us that way.

Ellis: Do you still have it? Did you keep that one?

Williamson: I didn’t get to keep that one, no. They’re all in our New York corporate office. I was only able to get a copy of one. At the time, for some reason, they wouldn’t let you get a copy of an Emmy.

Ellis: We’re going to get to all of your Emmys, but let’s go back to -- so the next chapter for you was the Full Service Network, and you were -- you developed the RFP for that, right?

Williamson: I did.

Ellis: What was the point of that? I want to know about how many RFPs you’ve done in your lifetime, and how you write an RFP for stuff that doesn’t yet exist, and use the FSN as an example, please.

Williamson: Well, these things just don’t happen as quickly as they seem.

Ellis: They do in hindsight, yeah.

Williamson: Yeah, because there were steps. The next step after we built and upgraded all our plants was to find ways to use the capacity we got. –So, my next job was actually convertors. I worked on advanced analog convertors, the first guide convertors where we put program guides in them.

Ellis: Where Mike Hayashi actually would say, that’s when our lives started going to hell because software became a big part of it.

Williamson: Software became a bigger part of it there. So we built these greater capacity cable systems. Now we had to go get new convertors because we had to be able to use the extra capacity.

Ellis: Fill it up.

Williamson: And we had to pay for all of these upgrades we did. So we started deploying enhanced analog convertors. The other thing happening at that point in time was impulse pay-per-view, because two-way was working better. So we did impulse pay-per-view and we started making money that way. And we spent some time in Queens, we built a 1 GHz plant, and we called it Quantum, another one of our code names.

Ellis: I think I still have my little statue of it.

Williamson: Quantum was a 1 Ghz plant and what we did in Queens was near pay-per-view where we just ran the same movie --

Ellis: Every 15 minutes.

Williamson: -- with 10 or 15 minute start times, and we started figuring out people bought more of that stuff. If you made it more convenient, people bought more of it. And the convenience of it made them buy more because they could just buy it using impulse pay-per-view. So those things led us to start thinking, what if people could just get the movie whenever they wanted to? Could we do Video On Demand, which was a concept that we started thinking about. And that’s what started leading us to the thoughts around the Full Service Network, was, hey, if we could really do Video On Demand, maybe we could do some interactive applications and all these other things, how would that work? But at the time, we were still analog, so we had to move to this new technology that was coming around, MPEG and digital video.

Ellis: Compression.

Williamson: And compression, because even with all of the bandwidth we had, you couldn’t give everybody their own movies that way. So Full Service Network was an request for proposal (RFP) that went out and said, we would like to move to digital video. We want to do Video On Demand. We want to do interactive applications. So I wrote a pretty small RFP at the time and --

Ellis: What does that mean, it was only 50 pages?

Williamson: Oh no, it was much shorter than that.

Ellis: Ten pages?

Williamson: Because I wrote it. (laughs)

Ellis: But you wanted to leave it open ended.

Williamson: And as I said earlier, in school I wasn’t good at English. (laughter) It was short. It might have been 20, 25 pages. It was pretty short. But it was written to draw attention to us and get people who were smarter and knew how these things could work, to come and start helping us work on that.

Ellis: And all of a sudden Silicon Valley showed up?

Williamson: And all of a sudden Silicon Valley showed up.

Ellis: Probably for the first time.

Williamson: Because, they had the servers. They knew how to --

Ellis: Was it Silicon Graphics? Was that what --

Williamson: We worked with Silicon Graphics, Scientific Atlanta, but we talked to Microsoft and Sun, everybody at the time. It was overwhelming how many people showed up to the event, because we held a little event --

Ellis: I remember.

Williamson: -- where we invited the companies to come in and we got up and talked about the plant and how it would work and our concepts of the Full Service Network.

Ellis: That was my first press conference where the mainstream media showed up. Where like CNN was there. Remember that? The cameras when you unveiled it? So that whole effort really led to what we now call today VOD ultimately.

Williamson: It led to VOD, that’s right. And it was right at the time before we had done digital because we didn’t have MPEG to --

Ellis: Compression?

Williamson: -- to transport it. We had compression and it was MPEG, but it was actually MPEG stills. That’s how we did the first movie that we did on the VOD. And we only did it for VOD. The video, the linear video, was still through our set-top. It was an enhanced analog set-top on top of this other big box that did all of the software for Video On Demand and the interactive applications and all the things we wanted to try. It was really this test bed to see what it took to deliver those services, and to get the industry and the rest of the world interested in investing and building products for cable.

Ellis: And then after that, was that when Pegasus -- that was your digital set-top effort?

Williamson: That was the next phase after Full Service Network. So after we did the Full Service Network, we took all the things we learned and we wrote another RFP; Pegasus.

Ellis: Right. And what I remember about that one was you came out --

Williamson: That was much thicker. (laughs)

Ellis: That one was much thicker and you came out later to market frankly, than TCI or some of the others.

Williamson: We did, yes.

Ellis: I don’t care about why you were late, but what were you looking for that was different than what was available?

Williamson: Well ...I have my own version of why we were different. First we were better, but that’s OK. We had learned a lot between Quantum and Full Service Network. And, the things that we thought were more important than what was existing at the time which was the Motorola DigiCipher product, was, we were very big believers in two-way and trying to get the Video On Demand and interactivity and these other things, and what the digital products at the time were more for -- in my opinion -- they were more about bandwidth expansion, getting more channels only. They didn’t really have all of the --

Ellis: Features.

Williamson: -- capabilities of the two-way network and the memory in them that we wanted so we could download applications. All those things. Those were the things that we thought were more important. So that’s why we did our own version of Pegasus in our RFP. It really emphasized that we wanted a platform that we could start building off of for the future, not just another set-top to give us more channels.

Ellis: Gotcha. And so that was digital, the baseline?

Williamson: Yes.

Ellis: And then from there, you worked on so many different things that were like milestones along the path of digital, and you worked on -- you have a unique perspective because you worked on them from the architecture perspective, what you needed in the back office, what you needed for care, what the actual products were. You just worked soup to nuts, to use that expression. So let’s go through some of them. Mystro TV and Network DVR. Which was -- was that before or after the San Diego broadband TV trial?

Williamson: That was --

Ellis: Around the same time? See, it all happened so fast.

Williamson: It was actually after San Diego, yes.

Ellis: Let’s talk San Diego first.

Williamson: San Diego was --

Ellis: That was -- now the IP side had happened and cable modems had happened and you were trying to say --

Williamson: That’s correct. Those things had started to occur, because when we were doing Full Service Network, it was right about the time the technology staff at -- and it was Time Warner Cable at the time because we had already been through the Warner merger. We kind of split up and there was a couple of people who went off and started doing what became DOCSIS. Because before we were all part of one team. Myself and others went off and did what became pretty much our digital video side of the house. But after Full Service Network and our digital set-top box, we started looking at how could we deliver our products to another device, the PC, because we had the cable modem there, and it was a screen. If we could get our products there, it was one less box that we had to put in the house. So we, worked with a couple of companies, mostly it was Real Video.

Ellis: Real Networks?

Williamson: Real Networks, yeah. We got some encryption and some IP video and put it over some cable modems and pretty much delivered it to PCs.

Ellis: Was it employee homes or subscriber homes?

Williamson: It was both but it was a small area.

Ellis: What did you find out? Yes. I never really -- I don’t remember if I ever knew what happened, but you did not proceed with that. What happened?

Williamson: Well, what usually happens in some of these things; programmers weren’t too happy with us. (laughs)

Ellis: Oh, there’s that. It always comes back to copyright.

Williamson: We had a lot of discussions with programmers. But we also learned other things. We learned about digital rights management and how to put the traffic over IP. The other thing we figured out is, because we just did the broadcast channels in San Diego. We didn’t do any of our other activity or any of our other pay programs on it. And at the time, we were still with DOCSIS I and II modems, so there was really a single channel modem in the house. So we knew we couldn’t scale it up to be every subscriber at that point. We just didn’t have enough bandwidth.

Ellis: IP bandwidth.

Williamson: IP bandwidth. We needed to get to DOCSIS 3.0 and all these other things, get more and more channels of capacity. So after we ran it for a while and got the learning and tried to understand the traffic and what would happen, it was pretty obvious we couldn’t take it much further. Let’s go solve some of these other problems and then we’ll revisit it later. All these things don’t make it right from architecture to on the shelf.

Ellis: But that’s why you test.

Williamson: Sometimes you have to put it back on the shelf and wait a while for things to get better.

Ellis: So then -- some of the other things -- you did a lot with switched digital video.

Williamson: Yes.

Ellis: And at the time the options were you could build to gigahertz, you could do switched digital video, or you could reclaim your analog spectrum and use it for digital purposes.

Williamson: That’s correct.

Ellis: And you went hard on SDV? Not you personally --

Williamson: That’s the story.

Ellis: Would you do that again today?

Williamson: Yeah, I would still do it again today.

Ellis: Would you?

Williamson: To be clear, what I said at the time to my company -- and this is still true today -- was, here are the options and we’d debated them ad nauseam.

Ellis: I know, because one cost a bunch gets you a lot, SDV costs you not so much, gets you less --

Williamson: That’s right.

Ellis: It’s timing and cost.

Williamson: We’re pretty conservative. We didn’t want to go punch everybody in the face with DTAs on all of their devices --

Ellis: Digital to analog.

Williamson: Digital to analog adapters. Even though I thought that was actually the better option myself, I just didn’t think our company would do it first.

Ellis: It’s heavy on the operations.

Williamson: It’s heavy on the operations --

Ellis: Heavy on the air.

Williamson: -- switched digital is too. But the other thing that I finally was able to convince the company is that you need all of these technologies. It’s just a matter of timing. It’s just the order you deploy them. At the time, even when we did the HD TV math, we would have run out of capacity eventually even with getting rid of all of the analog with the digital terminal adapters. At some point --

Ellis: I remember going to conferences and people saying, we might need to carry 25 channels of HD.

Williamson: We knew better than that. Most of us who looked out further said everything would be HD, and there would be Video On Demand HD and all these things. So you do the math, the digital terminals didn’t get you there; you needed switched. And again, if you’ve looked back to our mythical 500 home paths node, you analyze that and anybody who has a little bit of statistical background recognizes that not all of those channels are being watched. Just deliver the ones you want in those neighborhoods and that works. So yeah, we ended up doing switched first. We eventually did digital terminal adapters. And the other thing I always remind people is, I’ve always felt we were going to do another upgrade. The thing with upgrades is you want to push it off as long as you can before you make that investment.

Ellis: Right.

Williamson: The last one was an upgrade, most of that cable has been out there a long time. We need to revisit it at some point, and at some point we may need more upstream capacity. All of these things are going to happen at some point the upgrade will come. I think everybody wants it to come when we can do fiber to the home and not another HFC type of a step.

Ellis: So without going into the history of Time-Warner Cable and your codenames for projects, what I want to talk about is Longfellow. And that was, if I recall correctly, a plan to get the big minds in the company together to figure out what’s next; how do we build the video platform of the future.

Williamson: Right.

Ellis: That was also the first and last time you ever hired me to help you with something. Just pointing that out. (laughter)

Williamson: Note to self.

Ellis: Whatever happened to that? I mean, did that become where you went?

Williamson: Oh yeah. Longfellow became --

Ellis: And why did you call it the Longfellow? Was it a poetic thing?

Williamson: No, it wasn’t a poetic thing. Let’s go back to that point in time because it was --

Ellis: So 2000?

Williamson: No, that was probably two thousand --

Ellis: Six or seven?

Williamson: At least that, when we first started thinking about it. Maybe even a little later. But the whole Longfellow story is, we always think about what’s next.

Ellis: That’s your job.

Williamson: I’m in the architecture group. If I’m not doing that then I don’t have a job. So I’m always thinking about what’s next. But what Longfellow was trying to answer was, what is the long-term technical road map? What do we really need to do? And we were trying to figure that out and get it started and budgeted and sold to the board and all these other things you have to go do. And there were lots of concepts that we wanted to go work on, but the big concept at the time was what we called four-any; any device, anywhere, anytime, anyplace. Which was just building on the themes we had been doing. We had tried to get our content anytime with Video On Demand and the Mystro project had come up. We wanted the anyplace part of it. We wanted the any device part of it there because there was a proliferation of all these new devices; tablets were coming out, the PC was way out there, mobile phones now had this capability. We knew we had to find ways to get our products on those types of devices. So the long-term plan was, what do we need to go do to make that happen. That was right about the time, when I was assigned it, I was actually made the first Fellow, Senior Fellow was my title.

Ellis: I meant to ask you about that. So a lot of people who are not in the engineering community don’t know what that means. So what does it mean to be -- it’s a prestigious thing. What does it mean?

Williamson: Well what the fellows are in our organization --

Ellis: Oh, it’s all coming together now. OK, go. Fellow, Longfellow.

Williamson: Yes. Well to finish the last part of the, how did Longfellow become a part, it became the long-term plan, I was a Fellow, and one of our program management guys one day wrote down this long-term stuff for the Fellow.

Ellis: I get it.

Williamson: And it got shortened to Longfellow. And that name stuck. Everybody liked it because it was a little poetic, but it was really --

Ellis: It’s literally poetic.

Williamson: Yeah.

Ellis: But what does it mean to be a Fellow? An engineering Fellow, for people who are not in the engineering community?

Williamson: Fellows -- at least my definition of a Fellow -- because I also had to define what it meant for Time-Warner Cable to have Fellows -- are individuals who can step outside of the day to day, get stuff done, run big projectsand really go think about future stuff and do it across the organization. Because at the time, we were still siloed; we had our digital video guys, we had our ad guys, we had our IP guys, they were all separate working on their own things. What we were trying to do under the Longfellow umbrella, getting our content on all of these devices, meant all these groups had to come together. So, Fellows have the luxury of working across all of the company. And not just engineering; it’s marketing, it’s operations, care. Everybody had to be involved because, to make a big transition you just can’t deliver technology --

Ellis: You need everybody.

Williamson: -- you have to have the support in all the other areas. So, Fellows do that. So I came up with three pillars for Time-Warner Cable Fellows; to lead us the future, to advise us, and be a mentor. So those are the kind of pillars I use to define Fellows. And in the role, you do. You go out and you try to lead everybody to where you’re trying to get everybody to, you give the right advice to company or the best advice you have to the organization. And the other one was to really mentor the community.

Ellis: Engineering and non-engineering.

Williamson: Engineering and non-engineering. And not just Time-Warner Cable; vendors, everybody, on where we should be going because that Longfellow evolution really was about taking us from our own devices. Today I can only deliver my content to my own box, and we treated customers, wellit is a household, it wasn’t a customer. And we were trying to break all of these things. So it was a pretty ambitious plan that Longfellow laid down of all the things we needed to change to be this any device, anywhere, anytime, anyplace concept. And we had to go, I had to go sell it along with others to the whole company, the industry, the board.

Ellis: So yes, let’s talk about that for a second, because you have worked for my -- I have like 25 years of verbatim notes of things you’ve said, and everybody else, but for the longest time you’ve been like the smooth hand. You’ve worked with some really big personalities like the Mikes; Hayashi and LaJoie. And you’re always kind of the smoothing influence, the steady hand, the voice -- the quiet voice of truth. So how do you -- can relate an incident in your Fellow life or in your life as a Fellow where something happened and you had to calm the big personalities, let’s say?

Williamson: Not since I was a Fellow. Everything was calm then. I did have other places where I did have to maybe become the voice of reason.

Ellis: People listen to you.

Williamson: Yeah. Probably one of the -- I don’t know if it was a defining moment, but it was one that I know Mike Hayashi always remembers or reminds me of, was -- and it was actually back in the early days of Pegasus, and we were in the boardroom, trying to sell this whole digital video project to -- at the time, Jimmy Doolittle was our president. And, it was still an ambitious project at that time. We put all this bet on two-way capability and what we wanted to do, and to some degree Jimmy just wanted it to be -

Ellis: Do more channels.

Williamson: Yeah, do more channels. Those other business models really weren’t proven out. But probably about the fourth or fifth time we’re in the boardroom going through the whole project and I had these executives architecting the system by -- they were just trying to reduce the costs of the headend because at the time prior to that, you build an analog headend, you build it once and it goes everywhere. All this two-way stuff just grew with subscribers. VOD cost grows with subscribers. They didn’t understand that cost and they just kept trying to take it out. And finally I just blew up one day in the boardroom and told the --

Ellis: You blew up? You got mad?

Williamson: I pretty much got mad and told them that --

Ellis: What does that look like? You don’t have to tell me.

Williamson: It’s not a pretty picture.

Ellis: (laughs)

Williamson: I always regret it after I do it, but it was one of those turning points.

Ellis: You were exasperated.

Williamson: I was. I had these executives who didn’t know -- who weren’t technologists trying to take all of the two-way stuff out, I just lost my cool.

Ellis: Louis lost his cool.

Williamson: I pretty much told them, you have to do this. All of the stuff you’re working on it’s not working that well. You need to do this.

Ellis: Was there like silence afterwards?

Williamson: Yes, it was pretty much silence after that.

Ellis: Nobody said, you’re fired. You can pack your knives and go?

Williamson: And Mr. Doolittle calmly got up from his chair at the head of the table and walked around to me -- because I had all of my extra --

Ellis: Walked around behind you?

Williamson: -- because you know you had your PowerPoint which summarizes everything.

Ellis: Yeah, but that’s a power move when they walk around behind.

Williamson: So he looked at all my notes and said, “I need to get a copy of all of your stuff.” (laughs) Sure boss.

Ellis: OK. But then you ended up doing it?

Williamson: That was a turning point. After that I think everybody realized that you have to make these kinds of investments, and we needed to and we weren’t just doing it for no good reason. I try not to do technology for technology’s sake, even though I’m a technologist. I think when I show up -- and most of us show up -- with these ideas and concepts that are unproven, but we have a lot of belief that they’re going to go somewhere and drive us to the places that we need to be. So you have to -- sometimes you have to be strong and sometimes you have to like, shout at the president and say, “You can’t do that --”

Ellis: It’s time.

Williamson: “-- and all this stuff’s not working. We’ve got to go.”

Ellis: That’s good. I want to talk a little bit about your life and awards, and then a little bit about you and where you think things are going. So, you’ve won Emmys, you won the Vanguard Award for Science and Technology. My personal favorite was when you one the CED Magazine Polaris Award. Do you remember this? In like 2009 or something?

Williamson: Yeah.

Ellis: You win the award but you didn’t know you were going to win the award, and you like jumped out of your chair, like woo! You went running up and jumping up and down.

Williamson: I did know I was going to win.

Ellis: You did know you were going to win?

Williamson: Yes. You know you’re going to win before you get up there. I actually had a speech prepared.

Ellis: It was very great. Nobody ever does that. They walk up to the podium and go, “I’m very excited to receive this award --”

Williamson: Just to add to the story, it was --

Ellis: That was for fiber.

Williamson: It was for fiber. It was also the first year the Broncos won the Super Bowl. So when I cheered, I went up and part of my intro was, that I just won the Polaris award and the Broncos are the Super Bowl champs! So it was part of the whole excitement I was trying to build.

Ellis: All right. Well what -- can you name a favorite? Are the Emmys just -- is that the --

Williamson: By far my favorite is the HFC Emmy. That’s the one that is most meaningful for me. I mean, the Polaris award, again, I really liked the Polaris award there, too. I mean, it’s hard not to be humble when you get recognized for the things I did on HFC, because those are -- I think that’s one of my big career things, is the work I did on optical stuff. And all the Emmys. They’re all in New York except for the Full Service Network one, where --

Ellis: You got a copy.

Williamson: -- we were actually able to get a copy of it. So I have that one at home. And definitely proud of it, not just because I have a copy. I think the Full Service Network was another one of those foundational things that --

Ellis: Definitely.

Williamson: -- really started changing the industry, and again, our work with Silicon Valley companies and all these other companies that traditionally we hadn’t worked with. So any time you’re recognized is humbling, and the Vanguard, what can you say? It’s the industry’s highest award. To be put in that camp is --

Ellis: It’s a big deal.

Williamson: I was surprised at first, and again, it’s humbling.

Ellis: I know. Louis, you have influenced a lot of people in your life. Myself included. Who influenced you?

Williamson: Well it’s a long list of people. (laughs)

Ellis: I know. Don’t forget anyone. No pressure.

Williamson: Oh, I can’t name everybody. I’ll just name a couple of people that I think were a big influence of my life. Probably the first one was Dave Pangrac who, during the HFC days when I was working on fiber optics, he was probably the first one who believed enough in me who kind of forced me out into the public limelight, because before then I was never visible externally. I was a lab guy; I was always doing stuff internally.

Ellis: Blowing things up.

Williamson: But I didn’t do any public speaking or any of these other things, and he just pretty much pushed me out there and said, you have to go do this and go evangelize it and sell it. So he forced me into that mode and it’s just hard to be an architect or the visionary that people call me without being able to get out into the public. So he’s one that I would always say was a big influence. I always give credit to Chiddix and LaJoie, too. Having that kind of support system and people who believe in you, who also know how to go sell it in their own styles back to the rest of the world, has been important because some of these things sound crazy at first. (laughter)

Ellis: Give me money to do this crazy thing.

Williamson: Yeah, to do this crazy thing that --

Ellis: Might work.

Williamson: That may or may not work. So having those two guys over a career has been -- it couldn’t have happened. And finally, Mike Hayashi who is probably the biggest mentor of my career. I don’t know -- I’ve worked for him for the longest time, but he’s always been there. And again, he pushes you and --

Ellis: He pushes you. You have to ask him a question six different ways -- I have to.

Williamson: Yeah, and I think people give Mike a lot of credit for being this technology idealist guy who comes up with all these ideas, but I don’t think a lot of people -- I know you do -- who have seen the time he spends helping people grow.

Ellis: Oh definitely.

Williamson: So, yeah, he’s been a great mentor, I’m his biggest fan, besides you. You’re my press agent.

Ellis: I kind of am.

Williamson: (laughs) But yeah, Hayashi definitely has been the guy, especially as I moved up in management. He’s always been that person that was always there beside me.

Ellis: Yeah, because he doesn’t give you the answer; he makes you find it yourself, and he kind of pushes you in some directions that -- right? I mean, that’s what he does for me.

Williamson: He does those things. And you know, I’ve known him long enough, he doesn’t always know the answer there. He just has this thought that’s simmering in his mind -

Ellis: He’s not going to give it to you.

Williamson: -- and he’s looking for all of us to go out and help solidify that into a real story of what we should go do and how. And again, letting you grow and the latitude to go do the things the right way, the way you want to do them, and also to cover you when you get a little bit far out there where you’ve got to be reeled back in. But yeah, those are the folks who --

Ellis: And Jean.

Williamson: Oh you know.

Ellis: Jean above all.

Williamson: Jean above all.

Ellis: Can I tell the story of Japan?

Williamson: Yes.

Ellis: We were in Japan -- now I’m telling you the story even though I’m telling everyone the story -- and we had been there for like almost a week. It was a long time and our body clocks were off and it was the last day and everybody was kind of down in the dumps, and Mike was making us eat a Japanese breakfast when we wanted scrambled eggs. Do you remember this?

Williamson: I do remember this.

Ellis: And I looked at you and like, “Louis, you look a little glum.” You said, “I miss my Jean.”

Williamson: Yep. That’s definitely true. Above all else, she’s the one that helps me when I’m down, keeps me cheery, always has that smile on her face.

Ellis: You are the dynamic duo.

Williamson: Yes, thank you.

Ellis: So let’s talk about Louis Time. You have this huge following of people who don’t just respect you, but adore you. Absolutely adore you. And we all adore the story about Louis Time, which I’ll let you tell. But we all say it now; I’m sorry, it’s Louis Time.

Williamson: The Louis Time story.

Ellis: You can leave names out of it.

Williamson: I can put names in it. It was actually during the Full Service Network. I would, not just myself. I mean, a team would fly out to Orlando on Monday. We’d worked 10, 12 hour days and Friday afternoon we’d sit in the Red Carpet Club and have that last debrief conference call before you got on that last plane back Friday. I mean, we’d been doing this for a long time.

Ellis: You were spent.

Williamson: The Louis Time story was, I get on the plane one day and when I got on the plane, I was actually trying to relax. I very seldom remember a take-off. Even to this day, I’m usually asleep. But one day it just happened that John Callahan sat right beside me on the plane. We had been through all this long week, and the debrief call. So he sits there on the plane and he opens up his Mac, and he’s like -- wants to start going over next week. And, I pretty calmly said, and at the time I actually did not put in the head phones as the story says. (laughs)

Ellis: I think I embellished that. I’m sorry.

Williamson: I pretty much looked at him and was like, “John, this is pretty important but this is Louis Time.”

Ellis: And went to sleep.

Williamson: And I rolled over and got my nap. (laughter)

Ellis: So now you have retired, or as I prefer to call it, rewired.

Williamson: Yes.

Ellis: Are you still -- tell us about blowing glass. Are you doing that now? Are you getting back into that?

Williamson: I haven’t done it yet, but I plan on doing it this fall. Kind of shuts down during the summertime. You don’t want to be in front of the furnace in the middle of summer.

Ellis: That’s true. Are you still going to focus on making angels -- or fallen angels?

Williamson: I don’t know what I’m going to focus on right now. I mean, I got into glass blowing -- like a lot of things, I kind of fall into these things and sometimes I fall hard. But as -- my wife Jean and I were talking several years ago about, what do you do when you want to rewire?

Ellis: Yeah, right.

Williamson: She had her thing in massage and herbal medicine that she wanted to go do.

Ellis: And real estate.

Williamson: And I really hadn’t decided what I wanted to do, but I did see this class in the Colorado Free University magazine about glass blowing, and was like, I’ve always been interested in this. I had seen it in Jamestown, Virginia, when I was growing up and was always interested. And so, she actually signed me up for the class. So I started -- I took a class and actually I really liked it. It’s a side of me I really didn’t use; the artistic side, but it’s also a lot of science in it too and trying to understand how glass works and flows and things like that. So, I ended up taking more and more classes and kind of got adopted as an apprentice by the lady -- Agnes -- who runs the studio. And for me glass blowing is -- besides the artistic relief– it’s that sense of accomplishment because, with all of the things that you do through your career, some of these things take a long time to get done so you don’t really have that sense of accomplishment.

Ellis: Instant accomplishment.

Williamson: Yeah. It was that. But it was also really a good stress reliever. My expression I’ve used many times about glass is, when you’re standing there in front of the furnace with 2,200-degree glass, you forget about everything else. (laughter)

Ellis: You have to.

Williamson: Yeah, you just forget about the rest of the world, so there’s really a big stress reliever for me there. But yeah, it’s fun.

Ellis: Last question. What impact do you think the cable industry has had on our society worldwide?

Williamson: I think we’ve had such a huge impact on the world. You think about the things we’ve spawned in cable.

Ellis: Twenty-four-hour news.

Williamson: All of the programming and entertainment. We created this bandwidth and through that creation programming exploded. There was never that much programming until we created this bandwidth and everybody started filling it up. So now you have all this niche programming and advertising came and insertion came and then localization. Then you get to things like the internet.

Ellis: Broadband.

Williamson: Broadband. I mean, we were doing dial-up and AOL and CompuServe and things like that, dial-up. And by that time it went to 56k modems, but you were still doing dial-up to get information. And here comes cable along. We place these huge bets on broadband and DOCSIS, we start delivering this always-on, high-speed experience that really just drove -- in my opinion, drove the dot.com era. I mean, all of those people who came out and use the power of the internet.

Ellis: I call them broadband natives because they grew up in this.

Williamson: They all grew up, because of this creation that cable did. So yeah, cable’s impact is huge. If we had waited for that to evolve by other ways it could have been -it would have slowed that down. We accelerated that. And to this day we keep making it faster; now there’s video over cable to all these devices. We’re doing Wi-Fi now and we’re connecting with our customers and getting our products and services there. And not just our products; it’s everybody’s. This is like the broadband highway that everybody is using now.

Ellis: I have one more question, and you can’t play the “I’m retired” card because you’re less than six weeks retired. You can’t do that. If you had to architect -- if you were the architect of the industry’s future right now, what would be the top couple of things -- what were the top couple of things on your mind before you retired?

Williamson: That’s a tough one.

Ellis: I know.

Williamson: It’s a tough one, but I think right now what I would say -- and I think there’s multiple things where I think we aren’t done. We’ve got to keep moving on. The first one is mobility, It’s an area where I still think we’ve got a lot to do there. We started building these vast Wi-Fi networks outside of the home and I think we need to find a way where we can take advantage of our ability to deliver our products and other people’s products when you’re not in your home. We still are tied to homes and I think we need a mobile play.

Ellis: You don’t realize how much you need the cloud until you can’t get to it.

Williamson: Yes. And so I think the Wi-Fi strategy and all that is going to grow, and I think at some point we need to do something a little bit bigger than that or keep growing and getting more capacity in Wi-Fi and use it that way. But yeah, people aren’t going to be tethered forever anymore. That’s just not the way these devices work.

Ellis: What about fiber to the home?

Williamson: I think there’s going to be another upgrade cycle. As I said earlier, the plant is pretty old. It’s still working well, but at some point age catches up with you and you’ve got to go rebuild this stuff.

Ellis: Do you think there’s a way to do it success-based that won’t make Wall Street freak out?

Williamson: Sure. (laughter) That’s easy to say when you don’t have to go figure that part of it out.

Ellis: I actually think there is.

Williamson: No, I -- it is one of these where -- and internally we say this too. We have to rebuild stuff all the time because storms come through --

Ellis: Right, hurricanes.

Williamson: -- or the age of the plant comes through. We build an extension. You know, we need -- now that we have IP -- the ability to deliver all of our products over IP, it’s the right time now to make those same kind of bets and investments and go evangelize that story about fiber and come up with all of the right products that help us do that, and then we’ll start building it organically in small ways as we did with the fiber backbone through HFC and eventually over time you rebuild the whole plant. Sometimes you may be forced to, by a competitor like Google if someone comes in, you’ve got to go do something and at some point you make that bet. I think that’s going to happen there.

Ellis: Any others?

Williamson: The other one where I still think we have a lot of work to do is in our OSS and BSS.

Ellis: Operational support.

Williamson: Operational support systems and business support systems, which people call billing and all of the care stuff. I’m always amazed when I go visit our sites and sit with CSRs and do rides with technician how much they can do with the tools we give them, which right now are lacking. We’ve got to do a lot more, because if we are going to be this broadband highway and support all of these devices and all of these things that we talk about, that whole care/operation side, they need the right tools to go do that in the operational side and on the billing systems and business support systems, we need better ways to monetize all of this stuff. We know how to bill subscriptions pretty well. We need a better cash register in that sense, where I can charge people by time or capacity or speed. All these things. You need those kind of support things in place. I think that’s going to have to happen if we really are going to become the company that ten years from now is still on top and customers are coming to us and spending as much money every month. We’re going to have to find those better ways to take care of them with our OSS tools and better ways to charge them (laughter) with billing. Those would be my big ones.

Ellis: All right. Duly noted. Thank you, Louis.

Williamson: And I don’t have to solve any of them.

Ellis: No you don’t. You can go back to being rewired. Go back to doing more things with glass than fiber.

Williamson: Yes.

Ellis: Thank you, Louis.

Williamson: Thank you.


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Rouzbeh Yassini

Dr. Rouzbeh Yassini

Interview Date: April 22, 2014
Interview Location: Denver, CO
Interviewer: Stewart Schley
Collection: Oral History Collection

Schley: I'm Stewart Schley, here on behalf of the Cable Center for its oral history series. We are in Denver, Colorado, at the headquarters of the Cable Center on April 22, 2014. We have a really great story to tell and the perfect person to tell it.

Dr. Rouzbeh Yassini is many things. He is the chairman and CEO of YAS Capital, a technology advisory and investment firm in New England. He is the executive director of the University of New Hampshire's Broadband Center of Excellence, which is an advocacy think tank and center at the university that is very much intertwined with what is going on in broadband today. Rouzbeh, colloquially, you are known as the father of the cable modem for the seminal work you did in transforming what we used to call the cable television industry into something very different and very high-tech. Really ushered in the broadband era for cable. Thank you for spending some time to recount that story with us today.

I think I'll just start at the start. What brought you into this world of cable and what made you think that there might be a role for cable to play in delivering a different kind of Internet service to businesses and residences? How did it all begin?

Yassini: First I would like to thank the Cable Center for their great effort they have done in the history of the cable industry to allow such a documentary to get created but more importantly, let the industry know of the past, present and future of our industry. So thank them for that. And thank you for helping me to be able to map the story.

Dr. Rouzbeh Yassini with Cable Modem in 2015It all started in early 1980 if you really look. The whole industry, if not the entire corporate American enterprise, was really excited to get the computer all connected within the buildings and make it work. So the area of local area networking shaped itself in early 1980. There were a number of technologies to be able to do so. Then the factories, like General Motors and Ford and Chrysler, who also wanted to be automated, they said, "What about us?" The factories were far bigger than the buildings that you could connect the networks together. They didn't know how to connect all the computers, all the devices together. So they created what they called at that time the IEEE 802.4 as the basis of broadband technology to really connect. Technology was not ready, the art of technology wasn't quite prepared. While the factory automation failed in the early 80s, corporate America enterprise networking took off. So it was the mid-80s, the late-80s for some of us who were around and looked at the industry, local area networking was working, what about facility-wide networking? And what about city-wide networking?

So we took the story and tried to see what was the common denominator...that can help buildings and facilities a distance apart from each other to be connected. The broadband concept, which came from enterprise networking within the buildings, within the corporations, actually shaped and formed the broadband technology. But because broadband was not ready, you had to go and create the elements and DNA of broadband, which was the cable modem, the heart of it.

Schley: Meanwhile, there's this thing called the Internet being created, right, which sort of dovetailed with this progression of broadband and local area network technology.

Yassini: We had a good perfect storm, if you will, in that era. We had the creation of ARPANET/Internet by the government. We had the formation and structure of the cable modem to be designed by entrepreneurs, and then we had universities to work on the World Wide Web. These three came together very nicely to shape and form what we know today as 2.2 billion people around the globe to be connected on broadband. But the essence of that all came together in a window of eight to ten years. That eight to ten years was probably very critical for our industry because the cable industry as we knew it at that time was a one-way system, not really prepared to make the investment nor go the next step to go outside of video. Video was a comfort zone; they wanted to do everything about video. This thing about data and this thing about high-speed and this thing about two-way really needed to be proven to them.

Schley: I want to drill into that, Rouzbeh, but first I want to ask you where were you, what were you doing that gave you a vantage point into this emerging world at this time?

Yassini: Very good. I started at General Electric. We built TVs, VCRs, cameras, from 1981-1986. We used coax to [network] every one of those. Then I became involved with a company before even Cisco existed that did networking, a company called Proteon. Proteon was doing everything about networking, computer networking. They adopted Token Ring, versus Ethernet, but it was a form of open networking. So I hired my general manager from GE who came to be the President and CEO, Fran Scricco. He called me and said, "Rouz, do you know how to build high-volume, low-cost products? The data networking industry needs such a thing." I said, "I know nothing about digital. I'm an analog guy." He said, "Well, we'll teach you digital, you teach us high-quality and high-performance boxes." So we brought the two together and the idea was–based on my experience at GE and [after] my experience at Proteon–I asked, why do we need two separate cables? We really can do all this in one cable.

So that simple question—when I share that with people, people told me I was crazy about thinking that way because we have always done it on two separate cables. That was the spark.

Schley: What made you have faith that this single-cable approach could work? Because you're right. Nobody had ever—this was a television mechanism. Nobody had ever conceived of it as a reliable and potentially very robust medium for transmitting data.

Yassini: The barrier was very high. I was in my late 20s and I had learned everything I wanted to learn on data networking as well as TV. So I needed a challenge. I was willing to get the challenge that two in the same cable would work. The most important thing was, can I carve this story, can I build this technology fast enough that I would be able to get the interest of the cable industry on one side and interest of the data networking on the other side, yet to overcome the technical barrier. Because our biggest issue was how would I be able to put all those transistors, all those basic silicon chips in a bigger silicon that could fit the form factors of what it needed to do. The earliest stage of the highly integrated silicon was just beginning at that time. We were at a 4-micron to 3-micron technology. We were pushing the envelope to build the type of silicon that could work and could be cost-justified and more importantly, would not act as a toaster oven that would be so hot it would burn everyone.

So there was the combination of...enterprise networking and the combination of the technology that we had to overcome because our biggest issue on the cable modem was to be able to go longer distance. The two parameters were the speed of light and the delays that the cable infrastructure has.

Schley: Where was the cable industry at this point? We were starting to wire the big cities in the early to mid-80s. What was going on in the cable industry?

Yassini: The cable industry at the time, they were just about in the early age of the HFC. Fiber was becoming the backbone of the infrastructure. They were moving close to 550 megahertz spectrum to be able to have more channels available. It was the earliest stage of thinking about having 500 channels in that era. But it was all video-centric. Everything there was about video.

Schley: You talk about 550 megahertz and that makes me think data, but back then it was just shoving channels down that...

Yassini: Good old-fashioned 6 megahertz channels, that's where the story was, yes.

Schley: But fiber was an enabling element for you to leverage, wasn't it?

Yassini: No, not as much. What we needed—even though the fiber was instrumental for the cable industry and our HFC platform. Why? Because the fiber was able to eliminate the number of amplifiers, the forty to forty-five that we had. That architecture brought the number of the cascaded amplifiers from that many to less than ten. As a result, the jitter and noise was less. As a result, we were able to make the cable infrastructure two-way much faster and more elegant. Therefore the fiber had the main role to play in the sense of giving us the type of a network infrastructure and the network media that we needed in order to have the characteristics for the high speed transmission of the data.

Schley: So I hear you recount the story and it's easy to see that there was this dovetailing of a lot of different forces. You called it "the perfect storm" earlier that created the possibility. You saw that possibility, though. Not a lot of other people did.

Yassini: So it was likely because I had a lot of good mentors. There were a number of people in my earliest days who helped me...So when I ran into at that time organizations like Jones Intercable, like Continental Cable, like Cablevision, we were able to work at a CTO level, on a level with people like David Fellows, Wilt Hildebrand, with individuals like Chris Bowick, Alex Best – we were able to actually share at a concept level that this type of thing would work. And of course because they were so good, they would always say, "Can you prove it? Can you show us how it works?" And then I had some good leadership in the industry on the CEO side. People like Jim Robbins, Bob Miron, Bill Bresnan—they were able to really see the vision and the passion I had for it. Between the passion and the knowledge that I had, really the only variable was time that we needed to do it. There were the days that we would spend just 70-74 hours just straight without sleep to get to the next level of the barrier, to the next level.

So I will give you the story very quickly. First, the guys didn't expect us to have a modem that worked. When we made it work, they didn't expect us to be able to reduce the size. When we reduced the size, they didn't expect us to have the cost justification. When we justified the cost, they said, "I bet you couldn't make a million." So my story goes when I ran to the venture capitalists in 1988 and told them the vision: that we want to build something like that and this will be a billion dollar market, the industry said, "Rouz, we like your passion, we like your story. It makes sense. But you don't know how big a billion is. Because of that we don't want to invest in you." And we went to do it by what we called "earn to grow." So we built the stuff, made it work. And they were right. By the year 2000, the market wasn't a billion, the market actually ended up to be two billion. So in a way we know the story; we made it happen. But it was really hard to convince everybody that it can make the cable plant two-way, make it cost-justified and make it useful so that people can do something with it.

Schley: In addition to these technical hurdles, I'm trying to imagine what it was like to be Wilt Hildebrand or one of the people you just named. And one day, I guess, the phone rings and here's this guy on the end of the line. He calls himself Rouzbeh Yassini. "But I don't know you." What was it like trying to cultivate relationships really for the first time with this industry?

Yassini: I was an engineer and most of my tasks as an engineer were with my team to work and make the technology work. But the bigger task was to actually prove to the industry that there was a market and this type of thing is a consumer-quality product and more importantly, can work.

So to overcome good technical CTOs that we had in our industry, the only lesson I knew was to let my product also do the talking. So to refer to our cable modem at the time as a "puppy;" we gave the guys a puppy to play with. If they need it, they like it, they keep it. If not, we'd go pick it up in a month. So I financed the industry in 1990-91-92-93 by giving them six-packs of the cable modem and letting them play with it. Then we would go back a month later. We'd say, "What do you think? What does it look like?" "Well, these six work but we're not sure how the others work and so on." But before you knew it, the technology was speaking for itself. So the importance of our cable modem was the technology was written based on fundamentals—the enterprise was working, the local Internet was working. All we did was take the concept of local area networking and made it user-friendly for the cable industry. That's why at my earliest-stage company called LANcity, we took local area networking, put it over the city working with the coax and going first to 35 miles and then to 200 miles distance.

Schley: I think it's a key. You married the concept of local area networking, which was within buildings typically with this cable infrastructure that spanned entire cities in metro areas. LANcity, as you said, was the name of the company. You talked about the "puppy." What did the puppy look like? What were the first generation cable modems that you guys produced?

Yassini: The first generation of the modem was half the size of refrigerators. They consisted of eight boards. Each board was about fifteen inches by fifteen inches, an eight-layer board at the time that would take significant time of manufacturing and alignment and cooperation to really make work. We were lucky because a number of the universities, a number of government military bases, a number of hospitals had a fundamental problem. They really ended up using our technology. Our biggest site ended up to be 5,000 users by the year 1990 and was the Rock Island Arsenal on an island in the middle of the Mississippi. The buildings were built during the Civil War, the buildings' thickness was about—the walls were about one yard thick, and it just happened to have coax that was going between them. The military wanted to connect a number of the users—5,000 of them. There was really no way to drill a hole in the one-yard thick walls and bring in new wires to be able to do that so the question was raised, could you use the coax to connect the computers, mainframe IBM 370s and the terminals and micro computers together. We said we'll give it a try. We learned a lot about that enterprise networking, which was actually the heart of operations for the war in 1990 in the Persian Gulf. And that center, the Rock Island Arsenal, was being utilized to be able to do all the communication, telecommunication, globally.

So Rock Island Arsenal was an island of 5,000 users using broadband and the inventions that they had were to use the existing cable, just like our cable industry.

Schley: Exactly. So it was a small prototype of what was to come in some ways. The prize for the cable industry—you talked about estimating how big this market could be. Even early on you could see millions of people using the Internet over dial-up telephone networks. Even as frustrating and as unsatisfying as that experience was, you could clearly see this demand building for Internet connectivity on a grand scale, right?

Yassini: Early, yes. Because in the 1970s and early 1980s, the corporation walked away from the dial-up modems to connect their computers and offices together. It was not able to really run a business, a corporate network and a corporate infrastructure. If you go earlier back into General Electric, General Electric made their own first X.25 packet-based networking. Packet-based networking was fundamental for them to do global running of the business of General Electric. The reason was all other corporations needed to connect packet-based services. So to do the packet-based services, the dial-up modem in the sense that you wanted to do was not really quite fit to handle that type of element. Because we started with enterprise networking and then we modified to put it over existing cable, we ended up calling it "cable modem" and now, twenty-five years later, we are actually going back to the same fundamental enterprise networking, symmetrical services, 100 megabits with the low latencies that can do twice of the HD transmissions on either side of videoconferencing. So all we have done during this transformation was make the technology work through existing cable and then sped up the speed. But more importantly, work with the transformation of our cable industry in the right way.

Schley: Rouzbeh, two questions about LANcity. Who worked with you? Where did you find your team and who was crazy enough to join this renegade effort? Then I want you to talk about some of your very first retail market, consumer market installations. Who were your partners and what experiences did they have?

Yassini: LANcity Corporation was built based on the remnants of the earlier company, called Applitek. Applitek was a venture based company started in the 1982 timeframe and did a great job with trying to build facility-wide networking. In that mission, they failed for three reasons. One, they built so many products they didn't know how to handle all the products. They built about sixty different products. Two, the management and the venture capitalists couldn't quite work together in harmony. Third, the market was not patient to solve the known problems they had.

When I joined Applitek as a vice-president of engineering, I started peeling the onion, as I'm known to be called for, to see how I could solve some of the technology problems. Frankly sixty products were one too many. Frankly solving all those issues was impossible so a group of my original members of the team of LANcity, which used to work at Applitek, came together and we recognized that really there was the one key product out of the sixty that truly did what we wanted. And that happened to be what I called it at that time, Ethernet Bridge. The reason we called it Ethernet Bridge is because it was bridging the buildings together. So we took the fundamentals of the Ethernet Bridge and overcame the issues that the cable industry had. Make it two-way, make it go over long distance, and make it work. So my original thirteen-member team, which worked very hard at LANcity to build a product, was really the remnants of the Applitek Corporation which once upon a time was 250 employees.

Schley: They were based in Boston.

Yassini: Outside the Boston area. The original Applitek was in Wakefield, Massachusetts. We moved LANcity to Andover, Massachusetts, and by the time we built the technology around the Ethernet Bridge/cable modems, by 1995, we had a $500 million business around our country, which created jobs, which created infrastructure, and created the buzzwords—how big the segment of the market could be in the sense of creation and all the elements that was going into the cable modem.

Schley: Where did some of the first LANcity cable modems end up being installed?

Yassini: Our first original customer base ended up being universities like University of Michigan, Emory University in Atlanta. On the government [side], we had Vanderbilt Air Force base, we had Rock Island Arsenal. In the schools, we had Indianapolis school district, and a school outside San Francisco. And a golf club we had in Oregon, Beaverton. International bases, we had Amsterdam. So almost literally, everyone wanted to connect facility-wide networking from each other. And we were able to provide them with the technology that was working and was doing the task of what we know today as the cable modem functionality.

Schley: And then Rouzbeh, what about in cable? Who were some of the cable companies that used your product to connect some of their very first residential Internet customers?

Yassini: Between 1991 and 1996, I was lucky to be able to have nine out of the ten top MSOs working with me. The application varied depending on where they were, all the way from Continental Cable to Cablevision to Cox to Alabama Cable at that time, which was a really small size cable operator. So we had a variety of those. And worldwide, by 1996, I had 400 of the operators worldwide using our technology. There was only one major MSO that was not interested in our technology and I agreed with them because they wanted to make sure there was a second vendor in the market who could actually build the thing. So there was good cooperation among the engineers; there was good cooperation with operators and us to really make it work.

Schley: I remember that time and it just seemed revolutionary. The demand was there. Remember that quote? "You couldn't pry my cable modem from my cold dead fingers" was one of the great marketing lines, but people loved the technology.

Yassini: It was really suddenly a major issue for us. The telecommuting was becoming a buzzword after the World Wide Web became to be graphic-oriented and people could utilize it in their laptops and computers. The energy of the cable industry was getting to a point that data became an essence for them, and the consumer wanted to have a choice to give a chance to something that could put this thing together. Plus we all knew there was not enough fuel in the globe to really burn the oil and the gas that we have as a fossil fuel and really be able to go to the places called "workplaces." Cities and countries were growing really rapidly. So it was really needed for that.

1990 was a good era to really let the technology do the talking and make telecommuting work. It was amazing.

Schley: Cable companies were charging how much a month typically for Internet service over these broadband modems?

Yassini: At that time, the prices were in the range of $9 to $14 for connectivity. You actually had AOL and Prodigy at that time, more dominant to really carry the relationship. And the cable industry wasn't sure. "Do I need them, or do I need to make myself some relationship with AOL and Prodigy?" At that time some built their own in the sense of making their own network backbone to work. Fellows was probably one of the leading guys to realize at that early stage that a network backbone was essential for Continental and others, so they moved forward. So were Chris Bowick and Alex Best and Wilt Hildebrand to build their own earliest-stage high-speed infrastructure.

Schley: David Fellows.

Yassini: David Fellows, correct.

Schley: I want to take you to your next chapter in a second. But you mentioned something interesting about the spectrum the cable industry had available to use. Talk about the alignment of the Internet flowing over a cable television network and the habit of chopping spectrum into six megahertz chunks, which of course was a throwback to the early days of broadcasting in this country. How did you work within that configuration?

Yassini: We knew in order for our cable modem to be successful, a) we had to be transparent to the cable infrastructure, b) be friendly to the language that the operation team of the cable industry could speak, and c) utilize the tools that were in the toolbox of the cable industry in order to be able to do the installation of our technology.

So six megahertz became our friend. We worked very hard to make sure our technology lived and survived within that six megahertz and did not spill to the adjacent video channels. The nightmare was, what if an HBO channel or what if programming of critical importance were affected by the data. So we went out of our way. We created the SAW filters, we created the silicon, we created the filterations that really guaranteed the survival of the six megahertz. The next question was not only whether we had the six megahertz working on a forward channel— does it work on a reverse channel just the same way? Because we had very limited reverse channels to make that work and through that process, we learned about significant issues on the cable on the return channel that needed to be done. We also had to make sure that automatic gain control was adjusted in a way because the idea of the digital spectrum and the digital density of the signals on the data that was different in the video. So that we had to make sure that the power spectrum will stay very good.

Six megahertz was our friend. As long as it could live and survive within six megahertz and it doesn't bother my native video and no CTO was going to stop me within the cable infrastructure and say, "Take the equipment out." We became to be a friendly, quiet puppy coexisting with the inhabitants of the infrastructure.

Schley: Right. You're coexisting, you're speaking the technical language of cable, you're consolidating all this functionality on silicon. You're reducing the form factor of the cable modem. I can see why you guys didn't sleep a lot in the early days.

Yassini: It was fun. Creation is always fun. Innovation is always fun. I remember at LANcity there were three time between 1989 and 1996; we looked in each other's eyes and we said, we are bankrupt. There was no way because every modem we could build we had to give to the operators for free to help this market to get started. Secondly, we had to pay the payroll to our staff, and thirdly, we had to invest in the technology. One of our strong supporters who came at the time was Ken Olsen of Digital Equipment Corporation. Ken believed in Ethernet...He actually had done enterprise networking. So we were able to position our technology for him. At the time his wife was fighting cancer. And he was devastated that he had to go to four different buildings in downtown Boston with X-rays in his hand in order to cure his wife because they couldn't transfer the pictures digitally from one building to the other building. And Ken also couldn't understand. "Why could you not—I do it in my building." Well, the issue was the distance. So when we shared the problem with Ken that we could solve; to him, it was a home run. Boy, this type of technology has medical applications, educational applications, in factories. So he could see it fast enough and he was one of our strongest supporters, a really strong supporter of all this technology to come to the level that it did.

Schley: You came back then from the brink more than once with LANcity. What became of LANcity then?

Yassini: The good news about LANcity was, because we had significant market share by 1996—in the industry, 400 top operators were utilizing us. The message was clear for us from operators. "You are too small as a startup company to be able to survive." In Andover we were doing 95% of the technology in a box shipment. So we sold the company to Bay Networks at the time, which was enterprise networking. Bay Networks later was sold to Nortel and the rest of it is a story that goes to ARRIS Corporation. But in order for technology to survive, we had to do two things. One was sell our company to a big enterprise. Secondly, I had to fight and overcome Motorola, Intel and HP—three major competitors who wanted to come into the industry but they didn't have the technology that we had. So we turned around and put our technology of what we called "free royalties" in the standardization models. Thanks to CableLabs we were able to do that. And we couldn't have done that without Bill Schleyer. Bill by 1995 at the Western Cable Show had recognized every [operator was] buying cable modems and everybody was from different guys and none of them could really transfer them. So Bill Schleyer at the Western Cable Show led the organization so the standard was good. At that time we were one of the pioneers to help CableLabs and the cable industry to adopt our technology because they had to adopt a working technology that was proven and kind of doing the job. Thanks to the number of good things between the CEOs at the time from Bill Schleyer to Bill Bresnan and to Jim Robbins to the CTOs, like I mentioned, it all came together. And there were one or two other successful members on the public relations side thanks to Roger Brown, who gets a lot of credit. Roger and I spent a long time together to really write the story of what this thing was supposed to do; it has to work. Robert Sachs and I talked a number of times in order to see the passion for what the regulators needed to do. Also, something really important. Pamela Yassini, my younger sister, she was brilliant and behind me 100% to really allow me to work 72 hours, 74 hours straight, where she was singlehandedly taking care of my elderly parents while I was working and traveling. I remember that it was a year that I traveled, just in that year alone, two million miles, going from continent to continent to try to share the story. So the credit goes to Pamela for helping and being behind me to make those things happen.

Schley: Roger Brown, the late and the great Roger Brown, a friend of both of ours, in 1998 had named you—CED magazine, Roger was the editor of CED magazine—he named you Man of the Year for your work in bringing this technology to reality. Was it around that time that you began your work making regular pilgrimages to Colorado to work with the CableLabs organization?

Yassini: I joined CableLabs as a consultant for them in the 1996 timeframe. From 1996 to 2003, every week I traveled. We got up at three AM in Boston rain or shine, snow or ice. We got on six o'clock flights to be at CableLabs by ten o'clock. Then on Friday night, we'd go back again to be able to do that. A number of my colleagues—we built a consortium of 500 engineers from multiple companies. As a result of my leadership and theirs, I was able to help crystallize what I used to call the LANcity cable modem to the essence of DOCSIS. So DOCSIS was born in March, 1999, but from 1996 to 1999 we worked to really make that happen with our team and collaboration of everybody.

Schley: In our audience is a friend of ours, Michael Schwartz, who spent a lot of time at CableLabs and he is going to kill me if I get this wrong. But for our audience, DOCSIS stood for Data over Cable Services Interface Specification.

Yassini: Correct.

Schley: When we say DOCSIS, that's what we're referring to.

Yassini: Well said. In fact, I remember we said in so many meetings and the people had to decide what name they did they want to give it? A number of our certification board members at the time were really positive about it. They said, "Well, we'll let the engineers keep building it. I'm using engineering terminology until the marketers finds a name." No marketer ever came up with a better name.

Schley: We're on DOCSIS 3.1 today in 2014. What did it do? What was the contribution of the family of DOCSIS specifications?

Yassini: So DOCSIS did three good things for our industry. First and most important, it established platforms and the protocols of standardization. You could actually grow a million modem installations to the majority of the cable plant distribution. So that helped crystallize the technology, crystallize the siliconization and make sure the global industry spoke the same common language when it comes to high-speed data over cable infrastructure.

The second thing, it showed collaboration among engineers from a variety of the companies that had to work together tirelessly to really overcome some of the fundamental problems that the cable industry had because of the noise, because of each cable plant being a bit different than the others and the manageability of building large networks. When we were thinking and talking to people that we wanted to have a network of 100 million users, the people would laugh at you. So we had to build up network management.

The third thing, I think, it was a fabulous thing for CableLabs because DOCSIS put CableLabs in the heart of the cable industry where it was seen as an organization that can actually be able to transform some of the technology into what they wanted to do. So the elements I think that will always stand tall for me with DOCSIS and the cable modem is the technology and the people were really the fundamental of giving the cable industry a second life of revenue with market capitalization—if you look at the cable industry in 1980 and 1990 versus today it's a hundredfold difference. That hundredfold market capital is really enabling and empowering by making them become a telecommunications pipe versus a video pipe.

Schley: You know, today you're well aware of this: the majority of U.S. households with Internet service have a DOCSIS-enabled Internet service. It's become the dominant platform for high-speed Internet delivery in the U.S. and very influential elsewhere. I remember, just to wax poetic for a second, hearing Rob Glaser, who was an early streaming media pioneer with RealNetworks of Seattle, got up on stage once and he said he thought DOCSIS was the cable industry's greatest creation, you know, because it enabled so much. Let's talk about what you did after that chapter of your career. You had invented the cable modem, you helped the cable industry create this standard that really affected the world. What did you turn your attention to then?

Yassini: There's one more story on DOCSIS I want to tell.

Schley: Let's do it.

Yassini: One of the biggest values of DOCSIS was that everybody questioned me, and still question me: why did you do it? We provided the technology and the essence of the cable modem royalty-free to the industry. Nobody before the cable modem and DOCSIS had ever given to this industry a free IPR—intellectual property right. Nobody after us has ever come after that and done that. Everybody questioned, why did you do it? Why didn't you guys keep the royalties? If you remember, right now there is 2.2 billion modems deployed out there; times one dollar that would have been significant revenue for an operation to have. But it was more important on the cable modem from my point of view to connect the people and let the technology allow telecommuting to happen. When I was in Tokyo—400 miles outside of Tokyo—in the middle of a rice field a lady came to me and said, "You're Mr. Yassini." I said, "I didn't do anything wrong."

"No, no, no. You are the one who did the cable modem. We have your technology built into our town. I can work from my home through the rice fields to the factory." So that type of influence would have not happened if you had not put that technology free for humankind to use it over the globe. It's because of no royalty, the cost of the modem went from $18,000 once upon a time...to thirty U.S. dollars. That's remarkable.

Schley: So it wasn't a hard decision for you.

Yassini: It was simple enough to make because we know with the openness standard, free royalties, and it worked in technology. The rest is history. And it is. It was really a well-known decision we made and we are proud of making that happen.

Schley: Thank you.

Yassini: Even though I still get questioned for that.

Schley: What was next?

Yassini: The next is a good story and a sad story. The good story is the cable industry was so excited with the revenue stream that high-speed data was bringing that folded over to triple play—voice, data, video, and would not be able to think outside of voice, data, video. They looked at data just as Internet. We were looking at the data as not just Internet, not just data, but the services which run over the data. So the story was, do I make a PowerPoint presentation to tell about hundreds of the services that it goes on? That would not work. Would I be able to go to operators and say, "Let's (build) a research organization that can get all the services that are going on?" That would not work. So what we did at the time, I built my own research center where we actually built a building with a fifty-plus broadband services and applications, known as the Yassini Broadband Knowledge Center and within that, we brought the services and applications all the way from the senators to the governors to the students to the universities to let them touch and feel the type of technology that works. So that's one thing we did.

The second thing that we did for the industry, we took the same standardization that we did on the high-speed modems and tried to bring it to the set top box and the IP version of the set top box is known as RNG/Home Networking.

The third thing we did, we tried to get academia engaged with, "What if a billion people want to be connected?" And that question was—this was huge. "Tell me something simpler to solve." So we brought the CTOs and we brought the professors and we brought the entrepreneurs and we started thinking together about what those issues were. For example, the security of broadband. Are they secure enough to be able to have every house in America, every house on the globe, be connected? Is the user interface good enough to be able to look at the type of video programming you want to look at or data programming. And can we transform the industry fast enough where hundreds of services will be deployed over infrastructure and not the triple play. So that's where from the year 2003-2013 came to be that type of evangelism.

Schley: In that period you found time to publish a book called "Planet Broadband" in 2004, I believe.

Yassini: Correct.

Schley: What was the book about and what was the inspiration behind it?

Yassini: So one aspect of the book was thanks to yourself, thanks to Leslie Ellis and thanks to Roger Brown, to be able to communicate in a publication the vision that I had in my head, that I couldn't implement it on technology in a product fast enough. So the book did that.

The second one was to be able to actually articulate the road ahead. What does it look like by the year 2020 and the year 2030 where we can guide academia and entrepreneurs to solve different problems that we have.

The third one was it was a good point because in my life, I was a young engineer so when I took over the cable modem I opened my eyes almost at 45 years old and all my entire life was the cable modem, day in and day out, day in and day out. I remember going to a physician at the time. My physician said, "You should be dead. Why are you alive?" I said, "How come?" He said, "Your sugar is at 450, your [blood pressure] is 300." I said, "I didn't have a chance to measure those in the last 15-20 years." So we chuckled about that one. The book actually for me was being at a stopping point in my career to see what I had accomplished and where I wanted to go. Thanks to yourself, Leslie and Roger, I think we did a great job to crystallize for me the past and the future.

Schley: One of the concepts you wrote about in the book and that I've heard you talk about over and over is the concept of the analogy between broadband—the toolkit that broadband provides—and the alphabet, which I think is really interesting. Can you talk about that?

Yassini: Sure. In life, there's always a few moments that you will find a poem that you read and say, oh, wow, how beautiful this poem looks like. And then you open the book of poetry and say, oh, my God, look at these poets from 1,000 years, 2,000 years, 3,000 years—especially from my country, Iran, where I come from, where poetry was the fundamental part of our literature and you say, how did that happen? How did these guys elegantly put all these things together? And the answer was they used the alphabet and they said it very elegantly. To me, the cable modem, the DNA of the cable modem, is the same alphabet. Everybody was asking in an interview that I used to do, "What's a killer app? What's a killer app?" Nobody could really tell. I would try to explain to people. Those alphabets are the ones that would allow the future generation to come to define all those services, all those functions and all those elements of the transformation of the Industrial Age to the Information Age to happen. And guess what? It's exactly what is happening now. The alphabet is doing the work; the cable modem being there or not is almost transparent. People are writing services and applications connecting people to people.

Schley: The other concept that you sort of schooled me on is you talked about the woman in the rice field. But the notion of people not just being consumers of data and information but being producers of data and information and value. I invite you to talk a little bit about that.

Yassini: So the Industrial Age was built based on producers and consumers. Producers on one side and consumers on the other side and the distribution channel in which the material and the goods go from one to the other. It was only really the Information Age that for the first time allowed the producers and the consumers to be in the same exact location so they could actually consume material and at the same time they could produce material. The professors, scientists, doctors—they all could do that level of the work. A farmer, a mechanical engineer, a shop that builds models could be the same. So the elements become how would you enable the people with the level of connectivity that they can have the real tools, not the toys, to be able to do that? We have slang that was very popular for the people who knew me in the late 80s, early 90s. I would say, "Let's have a technology, let's have a system that is plug and play, versus not plug and pray. With plug and pray, you can't really go far. So we build it, we designed it, we made it symmetrical, we made it work, but guess what? Industry was not ready at the time to have the producers and consumers in the same place with symmetrical services and the mandate was we need more on the forward channel and less on the upstream channel. So we went through fifteen years of what we called, "follow that" and I'll be back to the same point. DOCSIS 3.1, symmetrical services with as much as the bandwidth as you can and make the consumers and producers have access to the same technology.

Schley: Isn't it interesting, Rouzbeh, that—I guess I should say it seems like it's been a short amount of time, but long after you first began building boxes in your company, we're finally starting to get away from that six megahertz definition of spectral resources.

Yassini: So the digital pipe is here, right? The digital pipe has arrived; thanks again for a tremendous job by the cable industry and service providers have done. Tremendous job the software industry has done. Now there is a digital pipe and it's all about services, it's all about services.

Schley: The themes you're expressing now are also being evangelized and advanced by an organization you're affiliated with now in association with the University of New Hampshire, called the UNH Broadband Center of Excellence. You organized that center in 2012, I think.

Yassini: That's correct.

Schley: What's it doing, what's it for?

Yassini: So within the Yassini Broadband Knowledge Center we accomplished everything we wanted to accomplish. To be able to show fifty services, to be able to show—people do comment, say, wow, I never knew that building automation could be done this way. I never knew building management could be done this way. I never knew critical services and critical mission services could be done this way. So we did a pretty good job. But we were short; we were short in the sense of having a big laboratory, a big environment that we could make this thing work for 30, 40, 50,000 students. So the University of New Hampshire gave me that ecosystem—there are about 30,000+ students and faculty and administrative workers there, it is citywide, they have a hundred megabit connectivity to every dorm, they have ten gigabit connectivity to every building, they have a hundred gigabit capability within the state of New Hampshire. So the challenge was can I really take my Center of Excellence and show how the whole state could be interconnected together and in everyday life of the critical missions where the universities are running hundreds of services and applications, where the students are intending to graduate and they need to get jobs—could you actually bring a physical building, stretch it to a town, stretch it to a county, stretch it to a state and try to speak the language?

So the University of New Hampshire Broadband Center really gives me that element, especially since UNH really was one of the land/air/sea based universities that founding members of our country had created in order for farming and all the others back in the 1800s who actually helped the state to grow the economy. I believe the biggest segment of our growth in job creation is going to be in the Information Age. The biggest segments of innovation in this country to keep our leadership in the world is the information base that we have and the universities are unified and qualified in this country to take major roles. Hopefully the Broadband Center of Excellence will help to empower not just UNH but also all the other universities to see how they can significantly help and push us to the next era of tens of thousands of services, that can bring these types of networks together.

Schley: It was interesting Rouzbeh, because hearing you express what BCOE is about and about, if you will, that stretching of connectivity. It's sort of is a back to the future; that's sort of where you started with this when you began to originally to have this concept of the connected city, the LANcity amalgamation.

Yassini: So I'll give you two examples of that one. Today I see the roles with the networks of sensors and devices. The network of the automated tools that will be able to do functions and the networks of the networks. Well, guess what. Back in Rock Island Arsenal, in 1989, we had the same team. We had the sensor devices, we had boxes and then we had connectivity of facilities to be able to work together. Except at that time, it was the lowest speed and now we're talking about gigabits and hundreds of megabits to be able to do that.

So this connectivity is really an important part of human evolution from my point of view. Broadband belongs to the people of the world just like the air we breathe, just like the water. And service providers actually have a chance to really do something for the 21st century that no other industry has ever done in the last 21 centuries as we know for mankind. Empower every individual to be a producer and consumer and be able to have the right to be able to utilize the technology and let the innovation take over.

We talk about the global economy; we talk about global communication; we talk about global politics, but broadband really enables all those to be done just the right way. But personalized for you differently than is personalized for me, differently from how it's personalized for my grandmother and mother to be able to use because all of us should be able to interface with it and use it.

Schley: I probably couldn't have asked you to script a better closing line for this interview and hopefully in five years we'll get to do it again and see where the vision has taken us. Are there any parting thoughts you want to express or share?

Yassini: One missing element of our broadband story is the number of the engineers, the number of the hard-working marketing guys, the number of the editorial as well as the number of corporations that really became part of this ecosystem since 1990. At one given time, we had 140 startups that were working and building toward these elements of the industry's success. None of those startups really lasted except for one or two at this point. However, they were all instrumental in working on this common vision, common approach to make this happen. That type of collaboration, that type of team-building and that type of spirit is what we need to take us further ahead on hundreds and thousands of services that need to be deployed in order to make doctors more productive to save lives, teachers to be more effective in the languages they want to teach their students, factory workers to be more productive, governments that can work transparently and more importantly, an industry that can create extra jobs. So a lot of credit should go to the excellent members of the technical staff, marketing staff, editorial staff and that cooperation will really help to bring all these things to the service providers of what I call "a perfect system" now.

Schley: It's not only informative to talk to you, but it's often inspiring and it has been today with Dr. Rouzbeh Yassini for the Cable Center, April 22, 2014. I'm Stewart Schley. Thanks for listening.

Yassini: Thank you, Stewart.


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John Walson

John Walson

Interview Date: Tuesday July 21, 1970
Interview Location: PA
Interviewer: Mary Alice Mayer
Collection: Penn State Collection

MAYER: This is an interview with John Walson conducted by Mary Alice Mayer for revision and updating of a manuscript on CATV.

WALSON: This is John Walson of Service Electric Co. which is now Service Electric Cable TV Inc. I started in the CATV business in June of 1948. My past experience with the Pennsylvania Power & Light Co. got me interested in this type of work. Because of my vast experience with the company I have quite a bit of knowledge about poles and electrical appliances.

Some of my work with the power company involved repairs to the electrical appliances and also running power lines to customer's appliances and increasing the size from two‑wire to three‑wire services for people who modernized to electric ranges.

The town of Mahanoy had a population of about 10,000 people and it was mostly a coal mining area. In and around 1945‑1955 the coal mines started depleting and new industries started developing in Mahanoy City. I was an employee of the power company for about 14 years prior to 1955, and had become interested in the appliance business when the Pennsylvania Power & Light Co. decided to get out of the appliance business which was part of my work, repairing their appliances. They were selling different appliances to build up the load for their company. When the power company had decided that it became a conflict of interest to sell appliances in competition with the dealers in the area, I had decided to take on the General Electric franchises as of February 1945. I bought a franchise from Lara Electric Co, of Williamsport and became very active in selling appliances. I became their A‑No. 1 dealer and won many contests and trips throughout the time of being in the appliance business. I started selling TV sets about 1947, and it became very difficult to sell TV sets in a place like Mahanoy City because Mahanoy City is a community that is completely surrounded by mountains.

In 1947 television started from the Philadelphia channels. The only place that television sets could be sold by me in my appliance stores was in the mountainous areas at the top of the mountains. There were several communities built on top of mountains such as Frackville, Pennsylvania; Volcan, Pennsylvania; Hazelton, Pennsylvania; which were complete cities on top of mountains. As a matter of fact Hazelton was the highest city in the state of Pennsylvania. I decided to sell TV sets and it became very difficult to sell those sets without being able to demonstrate.

People used to come in and ask for TV sets. At that time, those TV sets were 14 1/2" screens and they were very heavy. The TV sets that were brought out at the time were just experimental and they were very clumsy to carry. The only way that I could demonstrate those TV sets was to build a tower site on top of a mountain, and put a building up there. I would, from time to time have people come into my store, and they would see the set that they would like to purchase and they would ask to have it demonstrated, and I would drive those people to the top of this mountaintop and demonstrate the TV set and make sure the TV set was working. If the customer was satisfied, they would pay anywhere from $450 to $575 for a TV set which was a 12 1/2" black & white. They didn't want to invest this kind of money unless they could have the set demonstrated.

MAYER: If they didn't link onto the system would they pay the same price for the television set?

WALSON: Yes, the set would be charged the same price regardless of whether they connected it to the system or not.

MAYER: But definitely connecting to the system was free?

WALSON: Yes. One of the things that I did at the time was to demonstrate the set up there and bring the set back, and deliver it to the customer. The customer felt satisfied first because the TV set worked and secondly because they saw a picture on the TV set. In order to increase my business, I was always looking to try to sell more TV sets, but the demand got smaller and smaller because the only place that you could sell them was on the mountaintop.

I wanted to increase the sale of those sets, so I decided one day that instead of demonstrating the TV sets on top of the mountain, I would actually bring a cable down. This cable was an Army surplus, heavy duty twin lead cable that was purchased at Reliance Merchandising which was a surplus house in Philadelphia. It was on Arch Street, the upper part of Arch Street. The reason that I don't have receipts on this was that back in 1952 I had a fire at my warehouse and all of those old records were destroyed all the way up to 1950.

In June of 1948 I went to Philadelphia and bought some twin‑lead cable from Reliance Merchandising, and this twin‑lead cable was run from the top of the mountain from an ordinary antenna and amplified every 500' with a top‑of‑the set booster made by ElectroVoice which is a broadband amplifier. They are the same people that manufacture speakers and microphones today. The boosters were bought and they were just small top‑of‑the‑set boosters with a relay in there so that when you turned the set on, this would automatically pre‑amplify the signal going into the TV set. What I have done with this booster, I have modified it and disconnected the relay completely and cut the booster through, and amplified the signal every 500' with the heavy‑duty twin lead cable. The amplifier only had about 6 Db of gain. It amplified 12 channels at a time, but there were only three channels available. I essentially, in June 1948 had a broadband twin‑lead system just as they have today, 12 channels which are modern. The system was only carrying three channels, not because it wasn't capable of carrying 12 channels but because there were only three channels available. Those three channels were 3, 6, and 10 out of Philadelphia.

I later developed the technique of building a five adjacent channel system and I had a fellow by the name of Luther Holt develop an amplifier which would develop on the low band part of the system, a commercial amplifier. That was about 1949, and that was a five adjacent channel system. The adjacent channel system was thought to not be able to work at the time. Engineers had explained that it wouldn't be possible to work because of the adjacent channels found interfering with the picture. My thought was to put a trap in the adjacent channel sound to lower the sound down by about 10‑15 dB. You load a picture‑carrier, therefore the sound would not interfere with the adjacent channel picture. Therefore they made a successful adjacent channel system work back in 1949. This system was originally a five‑channel system in '49.

Later on I experimented with an expanded low‑band system which included the FM band up to 108 megacycles. I inserted two channels in the FM band. The only people who could receive these extra two channels, equaling seven channels at the time, in 1949, were people who had a Crosley Tuner.

A Crosley Tuner was a continuous tuner which would tune in all channels, even in the FM band. What I did to improve my business was to increase my channels by two by putting two channels in the FM band. The only people who could receive the extra two channels were people who had a Crosley Tuner, so therefore it was very impractical and later on the Crosley people discontinued the continuous tuner and went into a click tuner so it made the systems inadvisable to use because some people could receive it and some people couldn't.

This later started me developing the concept of 12 channels. I later developed the concept of 12 channels and 12 channels were able to be developed, but the coaxial cable for long‑distance runs wasn't practical because it was just an archy type of a cable with shielded cable which was not quite 100% moisture‑proof and the VSWR of this cable wasn't quite good enough to cascade 12 channels for any distance. The temperatures would affect this cable very rapidly and you would have a condition between up and down of signal, that wouldn't be stable. Therefore a 12 channel system with the old type coaxial cable wasn't as efficient as the modern cables that are used today, which are aluminum cables.

When aluminum cables came out, all of my systems were changed to 12 channels and they were successfully changed to a transistorized amplifier. Then systems are presently carrying 12 channels as television TV channels plus 45 FM channels including stereo.

MAYER: When you mentioned about the sheathed cable, was it true that with the twin‑lead, the quality of the picture actually varied with the weather, so that when it rained you didn't have good pictures and it wasn't a reliable system?

WALSON: That was when I first started in 1948. I started with the twin‑lead cable, and what would happen with the twin‑lead cable was that whenever it rained you'd get a different VSWR and you would have a condition where your impedance would change and you would have a condition where you'd get snowy pictures. So it wasn't very practical and the phone would almost ring off the hook. At that time I had 725 to 727 customers connected to this twin‑lead cable. We would have 725 calls at that time. That started me to think about running it into a coaxial cable which I studied about back in 1933.

I was going to electrical school in Chicago. I took up electronics at that time and they had cables at that time. I worked at different kinds of RF equipment at the time. My education was mostly RF and super‑heterodyne radios had first come out and I got the fundamental principles of electronics at the time. I've got a book called Radio Physics and I learned the properties of different cables. I decided to use an RGA cable and an RGA‑59 cable which is a 52 ohm cable which is not the same thing that is presently used. The present cables are 72 ohm cable. The mismatch was so insignificant that I was able to get away with a 52 ohm cable, and this solved the problem of losing pictures on a rainy day.

MAYER: You also mentioned that you did work for the power company.

WALSON: Yes, I also worked with the power company mostly running lines from the poles to the homes. Which gave me a lot of experience on pole lines.

MAYER: Were you working for them when you started to build the system?

WALSON: Yes, I was still working for Pennsylvania Power & Light Co. at the time, and I decided that I would go into my own business later, and that I would give them, six months notice and leave, and develop the CATV business. When I developed the CATV business I discontinued the sale of TV sets because it became a conflict of interest. I spent most of my time developing CATV systems.

Presently I am the largest single‑owner CATV owner, with 85,000 subscribers in systems all owned by myself and my wife. Those communities are such as Allentown, Bethlehem, Wilkes‑Barre, Kingston, Mahanoy City, Frackville, Girardville, Sinclair, Hazelton, Tamaqua, Sunbury, Bloomsburg, Selinsgrove, Sparta, New Jersey; Hamburg, New Jersey; Ogdensburg, New Jersey; Newton, New Jersey. Most systems are in central and eastern Pennsylvania and northwestern New Jersey.

MAYER: Could you tell us about the antenna that you described for the importation of New York signals?

WALSON: Originally, in 1950, in order to fill in the complement of five channels, I decided to bring in New York channels, and those New York channels were very difficult to get because they were 150 air miles away from Mahanoy City and I was only receiving the very snowy picture with one antenna. I decided that to be able to improve this picture I would increase the capture area by stacking antennas, that I could improve the reception and improve the fading ability of the TV signals. By stacking as high as 32 antennas for one channel, I stacked for channel 11 and channel 9 out of New York, I was able to bring in these New York channels with a viewable picture and had eliminated most of the snow. It made the system more successful because I had a competitor in and around that time, 1950, and I had to do something to try to get the subscribers over and above what the competitor was getting.

The competitor was the chief of police, A.P. McGlauglin of Mahanoy City, and I was competing with him for subscribers so in order to get the subscribers ahead of him, I devised this five adjacent channel system. The five adjacent channel system was developed and I had room to put two extra channels on it ‑‑channels 9 and 11 out of New York. Channel 11 was converted to Channel 5 and Channel 9 was converted to Channel 2.

In the early days, until about 1951 or '52, I only had five channels, but that was two channels more than the competitor had. So, I actually got about two thirds of the subscribers in Mahanoy City which was about 2,100 subscribers. My competitor ended up with 825 subscribers. Due to the fact that I was a step ahead of him, I was able to get the subscribers, even though the systems... The chief of police was a well known and well respected man but technology was the thing that got subscribers.

The next thing that happened after that was the development into 12 channel systems. That was later developed, and transistorized amplifiers in place of tube amplifiers made a substantial contribution. Jerrold Electronics which built the system for City Television in 1950, only had a three channel system. They didn't develop their five channel system until 1952 or '53 if I can recollect. They had what they called a K+W system. It wasn't the way that our system worked, it wasn't an adjacent channel in the same manner, and the trouble with this system was that there were beats...03 and 05 would interfere with 3 and 5 which would give a bar on the picture, so therefore I had a superior reception and was able to continue to get more subscribers.

MAYER: Was the reception reliable?

WALSON: The reception was reliable because it was going through coaxial cable and the distance from the tower site to Mahanoy City was only the distance of about one mile.

MAYER: Did the press cover your importation of the New York signal and the story of the crowds?

WALSON: Actually the press did not cover too much about this because the press figured that coaxial cable or cable TV would be competitive to their reading of newspapers. They felt that cable TV would put the newspapers out of business, so they didn't carry many reports.

Later on, in about 1955 or '56 we convinced them to start listening to shows. Originally they didn't even listen to TV shows or anything like that because they felt that this was a new competitor into the field of news media.

One of the things that got me interested in going into cable TV in a large way, was the crowd that gathered in front of my store when I brought the three channels down on an experimental basis in 1948. When I first put those three channels on, the street was completely blocked with viewers, people watching the pictures in the window. The television sets were displayed in the window, and the three channels with speakers outside allowed people to listen to one channel at a time. They were able to listen and they always...the old people stood right in front of the store, and they used to stay there until 12 o'clock, until the stations went off the air. They used to watch these television channels for about five or six years. This was advertising to get new subscribers on the cable and for people to buy TV sets. It became very interesting, and I felt that I would devote all of my time to CATV and discontinue the sale of appliances around 1955 and decided to go in completely with CATV.

MAYER: What was your initial movement with TV receivers once you got this thing going?

WALSON: Originally I sold something like 725 sets in 1948 and it kept increasing. I was the largest dealer for Lara Electric Co. and for Philco Distributors, which is Luckenback and Johnson, and for the Crosby distributors in Hazelton at the time. They were delivering TV sets by the car load. I was the biggest outlet of all of the distributors in cable TV. I became one of their biggest customers.

MAYER: This was in 1948?

WALSON: This was in '48, '49, '50, '51, until the system became saturated. Presently, the systems that I developed in 1948 are 99% saturated. Until today, there's nobody that can receive any TV in Mahanoy City, or Girardville, without the cable. A lot of other cities like Tamaqua cannot receive TV signals without the cable even though they have developed UHF technology and they have developed other means of higher powered stations, they still cannot receive television without cable TV.

MAYER: Would you care to comment on some of the items running to the original management? Could you tell us a little bit more about how the amplifiers were strung, you mentioned that they were in basements, at least to show how systems technology has changed?

WALSON: One of the things that we have done that they don't do today, is that we rented space in people's basements in Mahanoy City. In Mahanoy City, homes are adjacent to each other. They don't have any gardens or anything like they do in a lot of these rural communities. The homes are one right after the other.

MAYER: And there's mountains.

WALSON: It's mountainous. Mahanoy City is built in a basin and it is built at the bottom of this basin. In order to maintain the system, I never believed in having amplifiers on top of poles in order to be able to give people good service. Being a power man, I thought that it was more convenient to have the amplifiers down low on the pole. Originally when we first started we had them in the basements of homes. We used to give people free television just to be able to put the amplifier in the basement of their home or in their garage so it was easily accessible and easy to maintain.

MAYER: So they didn't have to pay the monthly payments?

WALSON: They didn't have to pay the monthly fee or the installation. We gave them that concession in order to rent a space, so they didn't charge us for the space. Later on we asked the power company to allow us to put the amplifiers down about 9' from the ground and they could be reached with a 4' step ladder. Bell Telephone Co. had given us permission to do this and Pennsylvania Power & Light Co. has given us permission to do this.

Until today it is one of the few systems in the country that is able to be maintained off of a 4' step ladder instead of having a high ladder to maintain the CATV system. An amplifier can be changed in a half‑a‑minute's time with this type of a system. With the messenger‑mounted amplifiers the way some CATV systems are built today, it takes anywhere between ten and twenty minutes to replace that amplifier. Also, the amplifier can be replaced during a real downfall of rain. You can replace an amplifier during a rainstorm, but with the messenger‑mounted amplifiers, you cannot replace an amplifier because it gets flooded and the amplifier gets full of water.

With this type of a system, the amplifier's in a shielded case and all you do is slide up the lid and remove the old amplifier and quick take the new amplifier and put it in the box and it doesn't even get wet. Therefore, service can be restored during the middle of a rainstorm. This is another technology that I've developed.

Another technology that I have developed for the CATV industry was putting antennas inside of a building so that the ice and the sleet does not affect the antennas. Even today, where we have high mountaintops where the rain is high, we put the antennas inside of a building so the antennas last indefinitely, therefore they cannot be destroyed by ice or sleet. We have had the problem of ice and sleet breaking the antennas after every storm, so we have decided to put the antennas inside a building which would eliminate that thing.

You use waterproof plywood around the building on the upper part of that building and that way you still receive a good television signal and receive it without any hampering from ice or sleet.

Other things that have been developed, we have developed a system today where you can get anywhere from 21 to 33 channels of television with the same type of transistorized amplifier all in one cable, two‑way communications and anywhere between 23 and 33 channels on this cable. It's a split band system, we amplify from channel 2‑108, from 54‑108 megacycles on one band and from 120 megacycles to 260‑300 megacycles on the other band so therefore there's no beat, no harmonics and you eliminate any problem with interference when using the mid‑band.

Presently we have developed a system using mid‑band without any beats or harmonics and systems with one cable going into the home could bring in as high as 33 channels, by this split‑band method. Another thing about this split‑band method is that if one set of channels goes out for 54‑108 megacycles, it won't interfere with the other channels. It's because they're on two separate strips. They are filtered before they go in and only so many channels can go into one strip and so many channels in the other strip and they're combined at the end. Each channel strip is separately AGC'd and therefore continues the tilt effect on the community antenna system as high as 200 amplifiers, can be cascaded on a cable system. A city the size of New York City could be cascaded or a city like Chicago could be cascaded and have reliable pictures. It means that you have a double protection because you may lose one.

If one transistor goes bad in a cascade, you may lose one set of channels but not the other set of channels. It is very improbable that two transistors and two separate strips would go bad at one time. So this is a new technology that has just developed in the last year, that has been proven.

We also have the technology of two‑way communications, in other words, from five megacycles to 30 megacycles space could be used in the opposite direction and we can originate a program in our studios through the same cable, feed the signal back through the same cable that's bringing the other 12 channels in the opposite direction. Also we could originate at any basketball court or any football court, any court that's close to the cable systems, and in anybody's home, and get two‑way communication through the cable through anybody's home with a band with approximately 30 megacycles usable space presently, and not interfere with the other channels, without any beats.

MAYER: The two‑way communication would go back to the main switching equipment. Could it operate between two of the points that are reached by the switching equipment?

WALSON: It could be originated at anybody's home. Any subscriber in the CATV system, you could go in and originate a program and have two‑way communication between there and the tower site. You could actually originate a program for college or schools.

MAYER: If you envision the CATV system like spokes on a wheel, any one of those points could have communication to the center hub switching equipment and the reverse is true. The switching equipment to the center hub could have communication to any of those outward points. Could those outside points have communication between each other?

WALSON: Yes, that's right. That could be done because of this two‑way capability. In other words, you could talk between each other. I feel that some day, the telephone company will use this technology and maybe these channels for the CATV system and use their long distance phones for this capability because there's more band‑width. More private lines could be used this way and educational programs could be used through the leasing of cables for the CATV systems, which eventually will happen. These colleges will teach their students through these cable facilities as long as there's a camera in the home and a camera in the college, you could have two‑way communication between the two points and ask questions and see each other.

The capability is here today. We have this capability in the city of Allentown presently, and we're using it for our RCA closed‑circuit operation. What we do is we do a tap from our studio into an ordinary tap which would be representing a customer's tap and actually originate a program in our studio, do it live, and monitor it coming back. We monitor it going out and we monitor it coming back. We could actually see the degradation if any on the signal all the way to the tower site and all the way back. It's all done without doing any switching and without a man going up to the tower site. All you do is press a button and automatically you can replace one channel, and replace it with a closed‑circuit channel, and be able to inject in that program or various programs.

MAYER: Getting back to the early history of CATV. Could you tell us something about the people involved and their demand for television? I think this might be an opportunity to correct some of the names or add to the names, and their reaction to it when you showed it.

WALSON: Actually, what we had in the review, Dr. Arlen Lackwitch was one of the first customers connected to cable, but actually Bob Gray was another customer and there was another fellow named George Barlow. Mr. Gray was a manager of Pennsylvania Power & Light. He could verify that I got temporary verbal permission from him in June of 1948 to put this twin‑lead cable on the poles as an experiment to see if I could bring television into the people's homes. Mr. Gray is still living. He is retired from the PP&L and he has also made an oil painting designating when cable TV started in June 1948 at three antenna sites that we have used since we started the cable system and the progress of CATV systems. He could verify that cable TV started in Mahanoy City on a commercial basis, June 1948.

MAYER: This verbal agreement with Gray was prior to the present agreement we have here with Electronic Enterprises, Inc.

WALSON: Electronic Enterprises Inc. was just a corporation that I purchased, but I have an original agreement with PP&L and it was the first one that PP&L ever issued and that was Oct. 2, 1950. It was the first original agreement that was issued, and the next agreement was issued to a system in Lansford, Pennsylvania.

MAYER: Why don't we stay with this one. We'll have to get copies.

WALSON: Actually it was Jan. 1, 1951. This came from PP&L. I'll give you a copy of my original agreement, Oct. 2, 1950. There was no pole rental at the time, it was a temporary agreement with the power company, and there was no pole rental at all, it was free. Getting on the poles was free. Later, there was another agreement that was put out that had a pole attachment agreement which charged $1.50. The original pole attachment agreement did not charge for the use of their poles. I have a copy of it which I am hereby submitting to you.

MAYER: I'll receive it from you then.

WALSON: You'll receive it either today or next week in the mail.

MAYER: Do you have any more comments on leasing?

WALSON: There were a few more corrections on this interview with Mr. L'Heureux. In one paragraph on page 6, you said, John Walson Cable was seen moving across Mahanoy City from his poles from fences and posts and corners of buildings, but it wasn't that way, it was from pole to pole. We had a temporary agreement with the manager of PP&L. It was from pole to pole, we didn't have to go to buildings.

MAYER: Even initially?

WALSON: Even initially in 1948. We did have our cable coming from the top of the mountain down on trees because at that time we didn't install the poles. But later on, within about one month we installed poles and even then we eliminated the trees within a month after June.

MAYER: Initially it came down the mountain on trees and then later, within a month, on poles?

WALSON: That's correct. Originally I installed a 70' Class I pole which was purchased from PP&L who installed it for an antenna up on top of this mountain. Then the broadband antenna was installed which would give the people Channels 3, 6, and 10 out of Philadelphia. In other words you were able to bring the high frequencies down along with the low frequencies even as far back as 1948 because of this electra voice amplifier which was designed for on top of the set, but I modified it and used it for a line amplifier.

Also, there's another point in here that I wanted to comment on. The rate at the time, when we went to coaxial cable in 1949 was $2.00 not $2.50. The installation rate when we started commercially was $100.

MAYER: When you brought in the New York signals, did you get any written consent for importing those signals from the New York station, retransmission consent of any sort?

WALSON: The only retransmission consent that I got was from Channel 5 WNEW and they gave it to me for retransmitting it through VA microwave.

MAYER: Do you have a letter?

WALSON: I have a letter from Channel 5 out of New York, but that was later on when I went into microwave relay business. I had a written statement from WNEW allowing me to use their signals for retransmission.

MAYER: About when would that be dated, do you know?

WALSON: That could have been somewhere around 1957.

MAYER: I'm also trying to put down the first retransmission consent.

WALSON: I was also the first to microwave CATV systems to commercial customers in the eastern United States.

MAYER: What would you need to document that?

WALSON: The FCC permits would verify that I was the first. We have copies of the first FCC permits from the FCC which would document the fact that Service Electric Co. microwaved the first CATV programs over its microwave facilities.

MAYER: So what do we want to get there now?

WALSON: The FCC construction permit. I could supply you with that.

MAYER: For what?

WALSON: For microwave relaying of four channels of television from Blakeslee, Pennsylvania to Mahanoy City Pennsylvania. Blakely, out in the Pocono area of Pennsylvania, to Shenandoah, Pennsylvania. That is located near Mahanoy City.

Also, there's a notation here, later on subscribers were paying $3.00 but they were actually paying $4.00 in Mahanoy City and they were paying $4.50 in Allentown and other areas. The original system was still only $4.00 per month which was one of the lower priced systems for 12 channels plus 45 FM channels.

MAYER: I think there was another question in regards to the present size of the system, especially the McGlaughlin system.

WALSON: The McGlaughlin system was sold within the last few months to me with 825 subscribers, and I presently have absorbed them into the Mahanoy City system. I bought the corporation.

MAYER: Here is a retransmission consent letter. This is one of the things that they try to track down too. No matter who is first, this was a problem at that time. Also, did you have any dealings with the FCC?

WALSON: I had dealings with the FCC all along in the microwave business and I had dealings in the CATV business.

MAYER: How early in regards to CATV? How did this develop?

WALSON: I wrote a letter to the FCC which I am presenting you with the original letter that was written to the FCC and I could give you the date of this. I haven't located the answer from the FCC but I think it could be had if someone could check the records of the FCC. That letter was dated August 28, 1950 and at that time we were already operating a twin‑lead system. We were worried about radiation of signal into people's homes and we started wiring the mountaintops like Frackville which was built on the top of a mountain.

MAYER: Did you have any dealings with the FCC prior to the 1950's?

WALSON: No, I haven't had. Anyway...

MAYER: And they never came to you?

WALSON: No. This letter states:

Gentlemen I am hereby applying for a license or permit to serve Mahanoy City District with television service for running a line from the mountaintop to Mahanoy City. This would involve serving customers off of a television antenna, in order to supply television service. This letter was written Aug. 28, 1950, and I haven't found a reply, but I imagine there was a reply to the letter, that may have been destroyed in the records.

MAYER: Could you tell me something about the founding of the NCTA and its development and growth and your activity in it through these many years.

WALSON: I've been a member of NCTA from its inception.

MAYER: In fact, you are one of the real pioneers.

WALSON: Marty Malarkey of Pottsville, Pennsylvania at the time, organized the NCTA, along with Bob Tarlton and the first meeting was held in the Necho Allen Hotel, and I imagine that there were anywhere between 12 and 15 people there. That's a prominent hotel in Pottsville, Pennsylvania.

Martin Malarkey was the type of person who liked to see the industry get ahead, and he contributed quite a bit to organizing and actually did the organizing of NCTA. At that time, fellows like Joseph Gans and my brother Peter, and Bob Tarlton were at the meeting and Martin Malarkey was at the meeting and George Bright was at the meeting.

MAYER: How about the Barcos. Were they involved?

WALSON: No, I don't think they were in it because they started after that. I just don't recall all the others who were there. I think there were between 12 and 18 people. At that time, there was a threat of UHF, channel 61 from WHUN, Reading starting their TV station and they would supposedly do away with CATV. There was a threat that they were going to do away with CATV by using the ultra high frequencies to distribute signals. They claimed that they could reach a radius of 150 miles with this transmission on top of a high mountain. At that time it was experimental.

At that time we only had three channels of television and at that meeting with Martin Malarkey they were worried about the channels. They were only giving three channels and these UHF stations would pop up and do away with CATV. I got up at the meeting and I said, "They won't do away with CATV because I am going to start a five‑channel system and give them more channels to meet the competition. It was only one day after the meeting, and I went up and installed five channels on my CATV system. I got the incentive to make adjacent channel operation of CATV effective. That was done by cutting the sound down, the adjacent channel picture down 15 dB in order to be able to have adjacent channel operations.

It shows you that even with competition, UHF was a threat in those days and was documented at the meeting. Marty Malarkey was there and all of those other people were there. I got up and made this speech about increasing the channel capacity from three channels to five channels. Everyone thought it was impossible to do, but I did it the next day. That was another first for Service Electric Co.

End Tape 1, Side A

MAYER: Did you have any dealings with the municipalities particularly as it relates to what they call franchises?

WALSON: In Mahanoy City, after operating for a few years, we had to get permission to use the streets and alleyways. The manager of PP&L at that time, felt that we better get permission to string the wires across the streets and alleyways. At that time, he advised me to write a letter to borough council. I wrote this letter Oct. 2, 1950 and it said:

We the Service Electric Co. located at Main and Pine Streets, Mahanoy City would like to secure permission to run television cable which is approximately one half inch in diameter across various streets within the borough. Installation of same will be done in a safe workmanship manner and will have the proper distance from the ground. If such permission is granted, will you kindly notify us? Thanking you for such consideration. Yours truly, Peter Walsonavich, Manager, Service Electric Co.

MAYER: All of this you did yourself, as opposed to being represented by counsel?

WALSON: That's right. Later on, in September 1950, the formal letter was written out. It was written to: Attention Harold Williams, Secretary of Borough Council.

Gentlemen: We the Service Electric Co., located at Main and Pine Streets in Mahanoy City would like to secure permission to run television cable carrying no voltage, which is approximately one half inch coax cable in diameter, across various streets within the borough. The installation of the same will be done in a safe, workable manner and will have the proper distance from the ground. If such permission is granted, will you kindly notify us. Thanking you for your consideration.

We felt at that time that we should have some written agreement from borough council to do this.

MAYER: The municipality never gave you any trouble?

WALSON: No, they never gave me any trouble, but they did issue a permit a very short while after that letter was written. They gave me a legal permit to cross the streets and alleyways in the borough and also, in and around the same time, PP&L gave me a temporary agreement on their behalf to go on the poles.

MAYER: So essentially the municipality gave you no trouble in regard to this. Did they subsequently, I notice there is no provision for payment to the municipality in terms of percentage of your gross.

WALSON: They still don't charge any percentage of the gross in Mahanoy City. They don't charge it in Frackville, or Tamaqua or most of the systems in Central and Eastern Pennsylvania. This percentage of the gross came about when competition tried to come in and compete with CATV systems. They gave the municipalities 2% of the gross and 4 or 5% in order to get a second franchise in the community. Allentown and Bethlehem area gave a second franchise to a competing cable company because the competing cable company offered 2% of the gross. Later on Allentown and Bethlehem made an ordinance to the fact that both cable companies would have to pay 2% of the gross. That was the only way the other cable company could come in.

Originally the cities did not want two cable companies in the community. The only reason that they did it was because they thought that 2% of the gross would be extra income for them, so this way, they allowed the second cable, the CATV system. Today there are two CATV systems in Allentown. My system has approximately 34,000 subscribers off of one antenna site. My competing system, I don't know how many subscribers, but it was estimated that they have between 12,000 and 18,000 subscribers.

MAYER: So in truth some of your systems pay the municipalities a percentage of the gross?

WALSON: Yes, that's right. The majority of my CATV systems do not pay a percentage of the gross.

MAYER: I noticed also that in the original agreement with the Power and Light Co., there was no specification for charges for pole attachment. About when did they start charging for pole attachment?

WALSON: The original agreement which was Oct. 2, 1950, they didn't charge any pole attachment at all. The second agreement came out in about 1951 and they asked for a charge of $1.50 per pole per year. Later on, ten years later, they increased it to $2.50 a pole. Presently, they are trying to increase it to $3.50 a pole.

MAYER: Do you have any other comments?

WALSON: No, except that I think it's a very interesting business and it has a great future and I think that there are a lot of things that can be done through cable TV, such as shopping by cable, and some things that could be done would be putting control data through cable.

MAYER: Do you have any reaction to some of the recent FCC rules or the talks of regulation from Washington.

WALSON: As far as I could see and as far as the FCC is concerned...

MAYER: How would it affect the operator, especially the operator who is a sole owner and not a public operator.

WALSON: Actually the FCC is trying to have an orderly development of CATV. My way of thinking, I think that the FCC has to get into the picture, because, just like any other industry, they have to have an orderly development. If CATV was allowed to expand as rapidly as they would like to, what would actually happen is that so many systems would develop so rapidly that there wouldn't be enough manufacturers to manufacture the cable. There wouldn't be enough money in the United States to finance this, and there wouldn't be enough suppliers of equipment to supply the equipment as rapidly as technology would be there to develop those systems. Therefore, the FCC feels that they would like to develop the CATV in an orderly fashion, and they would lease communities gradually as they saw fit, so it wouldn't be a rush on the industry.

MAYER: As a system owner and manager, what would your feelings be on such things as the possibility of cracking the top 100 markets with one item, the payment of 2% of the gross to the municipality. The limitation on cross‑ownership,

WALSON: The FCC is actually trying to develop CATV so that it has the stature of a broadcaster. They are trying to set up standards and ownership, and different things like you don't have a concentration of media and you don't have too many CATV systems owned by one owner, or that the newspaper cross‑ownership which would be newspaper and CATV‑‑two medias controlling the same audience or broadcasters controlling the same audience as they do on the television transmission.

MAYER: Do you expect, for the technical standards that they are setting up for CATV systems, do you think that this would tend to cause the small system operator to go out of business or might it tend to allow the existence of all reputable systems and merely protect the public interest?

WALSON: I think what's going to happen is that these technical standards are going to be severe enough on the small operator that he can't afford to reinvest enough money to come up to standards of these new rules. Those systems will merge into the larger systems. I think that they would like to have those standards updated. They would like to have better control of signals to give people better quality of signals.

MAYER: Do you think they are small or minimal standards?

WALSON: They are minimal standards presently, but they will become more strict later on. What's happening is that again, there will be an orderly development of CATV and what will happen is that smaller people who can't afford to live up to those standards would have to merge. They would have a piece of the CATV system instead of owning a small system independently just like the telephone companies have worked with the smaller companies and they have merged. I think the same thing is going to happen to CATV. It will be that maybe 50 or 60 prominent companies throughout the country will own CATV, and the amount of stockholders will be controlled by the large public segment. The public will have pieces of the business rather than have one owner in a quite concentrated area. I think this is the way the FCC is looking at it. They would like to have this thing spread between a lot of people rather than to have one big owner, a monopolist to own the whole thing.

MAYER: As an owner and manager and operator, what do you think of the FCC proposed mandatory local programming rules?

WALSON: I think that they are trying to fill in a programming void, they are trying to do the things that the local broadcaster cannot do. The local broadcaster cannot devote a lot of time to locally originated programs, things of local interest, because, he doesn't have enough space. He's interested in getting his station to pay for itself, because he's got to get some of the big advertisers and things like that. He cannot spend a lot of time on local programming for all of the communities that he serves. He serves a great area and he can't concentrate on a little city like Mahanoy City and also Wilkes‑Barre, and also Hazelton and Frackville and Girardville and have a special program for those communities.

I think what the FCC wants is some local origination programs, the news and the weather show. For instance, in Allentown, we have a half‑hour show called Lehigh Valley News. We put a program on giving the local stocks, the local news, things that have happened just locally in Allentown and that area. We have been putting programs on, local basketball games that are not televised by the big broadcasters, and local wrestling matches from Lehigh University, and local bowling teams. We are not in competition with the broadcasters, we are just supplementing things that they can't do on the broadcasting facilities because they don't have the frequency space for it.

MAYER: You don't think that this would be overburdening in any way?

WALSON: It wouldn't overburden the bigger people. It would overburden the smaller people but the rules state 3,500 or more, and anyone with 3,500 subscribers I think eventually could make the thing actually pay for itself. He could make it break even I would say. I don't think that he would make any money, but he would be providing a group public service, which the FCC would like to have and to fill in the voids on the spectrum space. Today, there's not enough frequency space to have enough channels in order to cover these small communities. One station covers a lot of communities, it may cover a 50 mile radius, where with CATV, it may cover a little community here, and a little community there. It gives more specialized attention to the local public, things of local interest, political things that are going on in the community, and he could give free time to people who are running for office that a broadcaster can't afford, because it's immaterial for a person running for council in Mahanoy City to broadcast over a Wilkes‑Barre station.

There would be no interest for the rest of the public to listen to some politician from Mahanoy City looking for a councilman's job. The CATV system could put the councilman on his cable and it would be of local interest where the broadcaster could not do that because he wouldn't have enough time available during election time to put all of those small political events on. I think that CATV will fill in that void and not be competitive with the broadcaster at all. I think they will cooperate with the broadcaster.

MAYER: Do you have any reaction to importation of distant signals since it looks like they might allow it when we pay .7% of the gross. Does this hold opportunity especially for systems in areas of central Pennsylvania and northern New Jersey?

WALSON: My view on this importation of distant signals, I feel that if a signal can be received off the air with an antenna, and anybody else can receive the signals, I think that CATV should be allowed to receive the signals. Contrary to the fact that it's hurting the local UHF stations, it does not hurt them because what's actually happening... people that want to watch the network show, are going to watch the local program because it's a better quality and the station is close. As long as CATV is required to carry that station, the people who watch the network show rather than the distant signals coming in are not competing with the network show.

Most of those distant signals cannot compete with the local show that is of national origin, because the shows are so much better than the independent distant station. Therefore, the only thing that you're really doing is for the small segment of people who want to watch a special program other than this, those people who still watch it regardless, because if they can receive it with their own antenna and you can give them a little better on a cable system, there's no reason in the world that you shouldn't be able to do this without any charge. If your neighbor could do it with his own antenna, receive all of those distant signals, even if they are 50 or 60 miles away, as long as they're receivable, the CATV systems should be allowed to put them on without charge, this is my personal opinion.

MAYER: What about importing from New York to Allentown, can it now be received?

WALSON: It can be received with a normal antenna, so they should be allowed to receive it and they are receiving it. The only thing is that in Washington, they eliminate Baltimore signals from coming into Washington. Baltimore stations are able to be received on antennas in Washington.

MAYER: Almost like Los Angeles to San Diego.

WALSON: Baltimore stations are able to be received from antennas on roof tops, so why should the people on a CATV system that could be built in Washington be deprived of receiving the same thing that their neighbor could receive off their own antenna. I felt that there shouldn't be any compromise for that and there shouldn't be any fees paid for what you could normally receive off the air. I do believe that if you microwave a signal that cannot be received off the air, I think it should be paid for. I think the fees should be charged, the owner of that system should pay a copyright fee, and I think that he could get his compensation by increased rates to the subscriber. I think that this is fair and square in my opinion.

MAYER: Well thank you ever so much.

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John Waller

John Waller

Interview Date: Tuesday December 10, 2002
Interview Location: New York, NY
Interviewer: Tom Southwick
Collection: Hauser Collection

SOUTHWICK: I'm Tom Southwick, and this is part of the Oral History Project at The Cable Center, funded by Gus Hauser. It is December 10th of the year 2002, and we are at 30 Rockefeller Plaza in the offices of Waller Capital Corporation with John Waller, who played a key role in the development of the cable television industry, particularly in the financial arena. John, I thought maybe we could start by having you tell us a little bit about your background, where you grew up, parents, siblings, that kind of thing.

WALLER: Sure. I'm from Virginia, Alexandria, Virginia. My mother's British, and I went to school in Alexandria, grades 1-12, walked to school, and then went to college at UVA, and then got my MBA at UVA, and I've a brother who still lives down there where I'm from, and my dad's still down there. After my MBA I wanted to be in New York, I wanted to be in media. That's about all I knew, and wrote Dick Munro a letter, who was at the time head of Group Video at Time, Inc., and I thought that sounded exciting – movies and video and stuff. This was '78. Dick was nice enough to see me, didn't know me from a hole in the wall, and helped me work around the organization and got into Time, Inc. in 1978 in the financial group.

SOUTHWICK: How did you become interested in the media as a young man?

WALLER: I was always in the plays and theater in high school, and I thought I wanted to be an actor so I went to college, even though it was UVA, started off getting into the plays and taking theater courses, and then I decided the plays were taking away too much of my fraternity so I bagged the plays, but I got an interest in movies in college. So I majored in history but minored in film, and in those days they were creating film departments so I made movies and took a lot of film courses. So I always had this kind of movie thing in my head. I remember we had a case, UVA was case study and we had a case on a cable company. This would have been 1977, '76, '77. It was sort of an old-fashioned cable company, and I remember saying, boy, that's pretty interesting. The numbers kind of look pretty good there.

SOUTHWICK: This was a business school case?

WALLER: A business school case. That kind of was in my head, but really when I was trying to get in Time, Inc., I was more interested in sort of the video, production, movie side of things than anything else. And they did have a Time Life Films at the time, and they actually owned some TV stations, and HBO had started, and they had cable. So it seemed like a fun place to be.

SOUTHWICK: What did your dad do?

WALLER: He's an attorney. He was in private practice, then he ended up working for the government, worked for HUD. He's retired now, but that was his background.

SOUTHWICK: Did you also have an interest in government, politics, that kind of thing, growing up in Washington?

WALLER: No, my dad never liked being an attorney. He always complained about it, and so I never had that desire to do that.

SOUTHWICK: Were there particular teachers or experiences in school, either grade school or college that shaped where you went?

WALLER: Frankly, some of my drama teachers. I was a little more shy and introverted as a kid, and around 12 or 13 my parents started putting me in these acting classes, these little theater classes, and being on the stage, for some reason I clicked with that and I had the confidence and ability to do that, and that gave me more self-confidence otherwise. I think my drama teacher in high school was very helpful. I was also in the high school band, which I guess required you to do some sort of performing and entertaining, and be out in front of people. I was a band leader for my group, so there were leadership things.

SOUTHWICK: What did you tell Dick Munro in your letter?

WALLER: I actually saved it. It was just that I was very interested in Time, Inc., thought it was a great company, and wanted to get involved and do anything I could to get there. Take me, I'll do anything.

SOUTHWICK: And did he interview you?

WALLER: He did!

SOUTHWICK: And what was that like?

WALLER: It was great. I'll never forget it. He was an early guy, I'm sure still is, and they called me back in Charlottesville and said we'll bring you up here, and I said, great, when can you see me? He said how about 7:00? Which to me seemed like the middle of the night!


WALLER: Right, I thought it sounded like the middle of the night! Now I get up early, but 7:00 in the morning? I was nervous enough as it was, but having to kind of wake up and get in there. Time, Inc.'s right across the street. He was very nice and helped out and said, well, there's a financial area, it's like a training ground, and it's actually where Glenn Britt came from. Nick Nicholas came from there, Tony Cox, Jim Heyworth, a lot of these guys that went off and did different things percolated in that group. A guy named Austin Furst, who you may remember from back in your day, were in that group for a year or two, and then percolated out and did different things. So that's kind of where they put their MBAs to hang out and get their feet wet, and then move on and do something else.

SOUTHWICK: And what was going on when you got there?

WALLER: It was actually pretty exciting. They had just bought ATC, which was a cable company...

SOUTHWICK: HBO was up and running, and was on the satellite.

WALLER: HBO was up and running, this was '78, so HBO was up and running.

SOUTHWICK: It was growing like crazy.

WALLER: HBO was really starting to click. It was right before all the networks had started, like MTV and those things. They started around '80 – '79, '80. But that whole world was exploding and Time, Inc. was a mixed company. It still had the old-fashioned culture, the two martini lunch, the ads sales guys, and then it had these new video guys. So there were kind of all these little tensions within the company – good tensions, but still... And then they had a big warmer company, they had Temple Inland, Temple Eastex, now they call it Temple Inland. It's a big lumber company in Texas. So they really were a hodge-podge sort of conglomerate, almost like a late '60s conglomerate.

SOUTHWICK: But your arena was just for the video.

WALLER: No, no, I was in the financial planning area, so I got to see all their lines of business.

SOUTHWICK: For all of Time, Inc.?

WALLER: Yeah, for all of Time, Inc. We would prepare presentations for the board, and the different divisions would submit their numbers to us and we would rework them, audit them, and do financial planning for the whole company. So we would take the cable group and the HBO and the movie group, and then look at all the numbers and just do special projects, and whatever financial planning. So I got to see all the groups, and I'll never forget when I looked at ATC's numbers and they weren't making any money. With depreciation there was no profit there, and then Dave O'Hare, who is still at Time Warner was the ATC controller, or he was the person that dealt with corporate and I was corporate. So Dave came in to see me and he explained to me all the business about cable cash flow, and what cash flow meant, and how that was a good thing. I thought, hmm, I get that, that's a real exciting business there.

SOUTHWICK: A lot of people didn't get it though.

WALLER: Not at the time, no.

SOUTHWICK: Including people at Time, Inc.?

WALLER: No, I think Time, Inc. appreciated it but I think there was still some concern because they were a public company and there was still some concern that here was a division that had all this depreciation so there was no real earnings or profit coming out of it.

SOUTHWICK: Can you kind of explain that?

WALLER: Sure. In other words, with cable there's so much investment in the plant that you write off a certain amount of the plant ever year, which is a non-cash charge, but on an income statement basis, you have your revenues and expenses, and you have an IBITDA, or a cash flow number. In order to reach the real net income you've got to offset that by any cash charges in the case of cable because of the plant that is pretty significant. So you really don't have any taxable net income, which is why Malone loved the business so much because he never paid any taxes.

SOUTHWICK: So there's actual cash to play with, but when you go to report your numbers it looks as if there's no profit.

WALLER: Correct, and there's no taxes associated with it, which is good, but from a shareholder standpoint, you're looking at earnings or PE ratios or something, the cable group was not helping you any. Whereas with HBO there's no physical plant; all the money that goes to the bottom line is pretty much profit. Maybe there's some good will or something, but most of the cash flow is profit, which is not the case with cable. But once you kind of figure that out, you go, wow, I get this. In those days it was still pretty good margins, probably 40% margins even in those days.

SOUTHWICK: Who were some of the other people you worked with when you first got there?

WALLER: I worked with a guy named Winston Folks who's no longer there, Kevin Dolan was the controller. I worked with Hank Luce, he was, and I think still is on the board, but he was on the board and he was more active then. He had a lot of special projects for us and things to do.

SOUTHWICK: This is the heir to the founder of the company?

WALLER: Yes, he was the son of the family, yes. Dick Beers, who's still around. He's at CourtTV now. I'm trying to think, most of the people... well, Jerry Levin, I worked with him. Gus Hauser was at Warner but we did some project with them. I'm trying to think who else at Time, Inc. that's still around, primarily Jerry.

SOUTHWICK: What was your impression of Jerry when you first got to know him?

WALLER: He was great, very smart. He was an attorney, so a little low-key in his demeanor. He wasn't as flamboyant as all the HBO guys because all the HBO guys were more sales guys and Ivy League, and real rah-rah, like frat guys. Jerry was more serious and more focused, but charming in a quieter way. Very smart, and he was always very involved. He never exerted himself in terms of he wasn't running around with a huge ego acting like he was going to run the company some day. He was VP of Video and he had a big job and everything like that, but he was quietly ambitious, I guess, is a way to put it.

SOUTHWICK: And how long did you stay with the financial group?

WALLER: Well, I stayed in the financial group for two years, from '78 to '80, and then in '80 I switched over to HBO which was...

SOUTHWICK: And how did that come about?

WALLER: Well, that was hard because... is anybody interested in all this stuff?

SOUTHWICK: Yeah, I am.

WALLER: Okay. It's hard because I was perceived as... it was the controller's group technically, so I was perceived as a bean counter. I had my glasses and whatever, and I really wanted to get into sales. The people at HBO said, well, aren't you sort of a numbers guy?

SOUTHWICK: Why did you want to be in sales?

WALLER: I liked it better. I think it was more suited to my personality. I really didn't want to crunch numbers the rest of my life. I liked the people interaction and wanted to get out there and do something. But I had a hard time making the transition because people didn't believe that I could do it. Do you remember Tom Oliver and a lot of those guys?

SOUTHWICK: Sure, yeah.

WALLER: Well, all those guys were at HBO at the time. The sexy jobs at HBO were the MSO account reps. They had one rep per MSO, so Tom would have TCI and someone else would have Continental and someone else, Bill Roedy would have one, each guy would have one. They all had their MBAs and that was where I wanted to go, and that was a hotter area within the affiliate group at HBO. I'll never forget the time I went to Tom, and Tom said, well, we think you're all right, but you're probably a bean counter. You've got to go to the small system group. Well, at the time, the small system group had Adelphia, had Century, had Alan Gerry, had all these people who were a lot smaller then. I was going to get Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Ohio, which had about 300 cable companies in it at the time, a lot of little cable companies, and I remember thinking, well, they're little but I'm dealing with the owners, as opposed to the MSO group you're dealing with all these VP of marketing and that stuff. I thought, well, you know what, it's not as sexy but I'm dealing with all these little entrepreneurs in all these towns, and I thought, well, that's going to be more interesting to me anyway because I'm dealing with the real principles as opposed to the corporate type. So I did that, and did that for two years, and traveled around and got to know all these people.

SOUTHWICK: Who'd you work for there?

WALLER: Well, I reported to a woman named Marilyn Russell, who reported to, who was the VP? It was a guy named Dennis Garcher when I left. Ultimately it was Steve Davidson, if you know Steve. A guy named Dick McCaffery, he was there, but my first boss was Marilyn Russell. So I got to know all these little companies, and really got great relationships with them, and got to know when their wives' birthdays were, literally. Then I started seeing them buy each other up, and that's when I got the idea to set up my company.

SOUTHWICK: Who are the ones that kind of stand out in your memory?

WALLER: Well, the Rigas', of course because when you went out there there's no place to stay in Coudersport so I stayed in Tim's bedroom. This was 1980 or something, or '81, and Tim was off at college. I'd stay in Tim's bedroom and eat with John and Doris in the kitchen. She'd cook breakfast, and that's what you'd do when you'd go out there. Alan Gerry stuck in my mind. But I had a lot of the George Barco's and all of those guys. You can probably refresh my memory on a lot of these. A lot of these guys we ended up selling out. People in Sharon, Pennsylvania. John Raskowski. A lot of these Pennsylvania entrepreneurs were still around then. They had a big Pittsburgh cable club, which probably had about 20 entrepreneurs around that table, which was great. You'd go to one meeting and see 20 cable owners. We did a lot of fun stuff with them and created events and did stuff around that organization that helped HBO but ultimately helped me.

SOUTHWICK: Your job mainly was to sell HBO, or to get them to launch it in more systems, or was Cinemax coming around at that time?

WALLER: Yeah, it was both. My job was to get HBO in systems that didn't have it. When I started it was a single pay universe, so there were still cable operators that didn't have HBO. So the real job was to try to get the people that had it to market it. Cable operators have never marketed as you know. They didn't understand marketing, didn't really like the idea of spending money to get customers. They just thought you'd have to put it on and they'll figure out that it's there and they'll buy it. So we would do joint marketing programs with them and figure out ways to co-op advertising. We'd figure out ways to increase the penetration of HBO in the market. So, as an HBO employee I was incented to increase the penetration of HBO in each market. That's how they compensated us.

SOUTHWICK: Were there particular techniques that worked well?

WALLER: Yeah, phone calling was the best. Door-to-door, phone calling, and direct mail, sort of in that order.

SOUTHWICK: Did you have swat teams that kind of came into a city and would do a blanket...

WALLER: Yeah, you'd have swat teams, and a lot of the direct mail effort would be coordinated out of New York. HBO would do that. There were local sales teams. I think Jeff Marcus used to do door-to-door selling. There were companies that did that. I'm sure there still are, but I mean, there were companies that did that and you'd bring them in and send out a mail piece, follow up with a phone call, follow it up with somebody knocking on your door. That was sort of the routine.

SOUTHWICK: You mentioned that these smaller companies that you were dealing with began to want to merge. What prompted that sell out?

WALLER: I think there was a little bit of a tick up in value as multi-pay came on because Cinemax came on around '81, '82. Showtime they figured out, I was there when they figured out that a subscriber would actually take two pays. It seemed ridiculous at the time.

SOUTHWICK: Thibodeaux, Louisiana, the first time that happened.

WALLER: Thibodeaux, you remember that. People would think why the hell is anybody going to take two pays? But they did. A certain portion did. So, I think there was just maybe a slight up-tick in values and maybe it was just a slightly better economic time. Banks started to figure out that cable was okay to lend money to so you could actually get some transactions done. So, some companies like Adelphia were getting a little more aggressive, and then Alan Gerry was getting a little more aggressive, Century a little more aggressive, and then some guys would just be buying out their neighbors. But actually still in the early '80s you still had tax shelter financing. Cable was in the same category as an oil and gas lease or something where you could still get tax benefits by investing in cable. So that's how Jones got his start. He went around and raised all this limited partnership money from individual investors. So that helped fuel it, too.

SOUTHWICK: Was there a timeframe on those tax benefits? In other words, did they run out at some point?

WALLER: Yeah, they ran out after like five years, and then you had to flip the company. So typically the management group would borrow money to buy out the partners at some below market price. That was sort of the scheme. It's still going on a little bit in some companies. Glenn would go in, there was nothing wrong with it, they would just borrow money at a certain point to buy out the limited's and the limited's would get a great return and Glenn would get the assets at a little bit below market, and it worked out good for everybody.

SOUTHWICK: Everybody's happy, which is the best kind of deal, isn't it?

WALLER: Right.

SOUTHWICK: And so you began to see this, and what next?

WALLER: Well, I began to see it, and I began to see... I knew the guy in Allentown that was buying the guy in York, or something like that, and I said, well, jeez, I can get in the middle of that. But actually before I really figured that out I really thought I wanted to buy a cable company. That's what I really started to do. Either do some franchising because there were some franchises still coming up in Virginia and Maryland where my home turf was, or try to buy one. I found a system in Pennsylvania that I was going to try to buy, and then I was going try to do some franchising in northern Virginia because my father had some contacts through his family down there. So I left HBO, more with those two things in mind, the brokerage thing hadn't really clicked yet. I was just thinking, here's a great opportunity, I found a system to buy, I thought I had some money lined up and I was going to throw my hat in the ring on the franchising.

SOUTHWICK: What year was this?

WALLER: '82. Then it turned out that the money I thought I had fell through so I couldn't buy the system, and I was really glum, and I went to a banker friend of mine and I said what am I going to do now. I can't raise the equity to buy it. He said why don't you just broker it? I said what does that mean? He said you just find somebody else to buy it and you can make 5% or 10% or something, you just get somebody else to buy it. I said, well, that's easy because there's a guy up the road I know wants to buy it. So I called him up and...

SOUTHWICK: You'd left HBO?

WALLER: Yeah, I'd left HBO at this point. I call him up and he says, sure, I'll buy it, and then I figure out, well, wait a minute. I know five others for sale because as part of my due diligence before I was going to leave the company I was trying to find stuff to buy, and I knew these people really well, so I said, well, would you ever sell? Sure, we'll sell if we get X. We'll sell. I have four or five different people who were willing to sell. So I had figured out how to draw up an agreement and figure out how to do it, and talked to a lot of banker friends of mine in the city, and said, jeez, this is a pretty good business. It may not be better from a tax standpoint because then if you own something you get capital gains, but at least it was good revenue at the time. My vision was about this long. I didn't have a long vision, and just said, well, I was making x at HBO, I can make about five times x a year brokering. I was going to make 300 grand a year or something brokering, I thought that seems like a lot of money. So I stumbled across it, started doing that, and some of those... it took forever though. I remember thinking it was going to take like three to six months to close a deal, and if I'd known it was going to take that long, I don't know, I might have gone back to work or something. If I'd known it was going to take 13 months, which is what it took, I might have gone back to work.

SOUTHWICK: Why did it take so much longer than you thought?

WALLER: Oh, just approvals, and it was '82. It was a tough year. Money was tight and franchise transfers... a lot of the buyers were entrepreneurs trying to raise money through these tax shelters or whatever, so they had to scramble around and get the money. The people I was dealing with on the buy side in those days weren't necessarily MSOs because I was new. So I was dealing with the more borderline characters that had to go around scrambling to get the money.

SOUTHWICK: And part of your job was to help them?

WALLER: Part of my job was to help them do that, which I fell into that too because I needed to get the deal closed so I could make my commission. Being in New York I knew a lot of people, banking friends of mine from business school and whatever.

SOUTHWICK: Were there particular banks that were more amenable to...?

WALLER: Bank of America in those days was big in it. The Philadelphia banks, P&B, Philadelphia National Bank, and a bank up in Rhode Island...

SOUTHWICK: It wasn't Providence, was it?

WALLER: Well, it must have been Providence. Isn't that the bank?

SOUTHWICK: Yeah, Providence Capital, or something like that.

WALLER: Well, there's a Providence Ventures now, but that's a venture capital fund. But there was a bank up there. Cathy Merrion. I've got some of these old pictures of old deals on the wall that I can show you.

SOUTHWICK: And we can correct that later.

WALLER: Anyway, they were the ones lending the money to these things. The bottom line is it took 13 months to get my first paycheck. If I'd of known it was going to be that long, I might have said screw this. If somebody had said you've got to wait 13 months, because I had a little savings but not that much. But I did it out of my apartment and my rent was cheap.

SOUTHWICK: You were living in New York?

WALLER: I was living in New York. I had credit card debt and stuff, and I just sort of kept it month to month, and it was the kind of thing you thought, well, next month it'll close, next month it'll close, next month it'll close.

SOUTHWICK: What was the first deal?

WALLER: Albany, Texas. It was bought by Magness, actually, and I did the deal with Bob. And that's the other thing I figured out. When you're an HBO rep, sometimes people want to see you, sometimes they don't. Sometimes they want to talk to you, sometimes they don't. They've got your product, quit bugging me, I don't want to hear from you.

SOUTHWICK: You're a sales guy.

WALLER: You're a sales guy! Whereas if you've got a cable system for sale, everybody'll take your call. They want to hear from you. Everybody loves to hear about the cable market, what values are, even if they're not buying that day they want to talk to you. So I found I could get virtually anybody on the phone. I mean, I got Bob Magness on the phone, I didn't know him from a hole in the wall and he didn't know me from a hole in the wall, but he loved buying little systems in Texas. That was his thing.

SOUTHWICK: How big was Albany, Texas?

WALLER: Like 700 subs.

SOUTHWICK: Uh-huh, and who owned that?

WALLER: An independent, I want to say it was Bill Arnold, who ended up being big in the Texas Cable Association.

SOUTHWICK: Right, ran the Texas Cable Association.

WALLER: Yeah, and then I think he went to work for TCI, didn't he?

SOUTHWICK: He may have.

WALLER: Anyway, and I got that on a tip from somebody, and I called up Bill and said, well, I think I can sell it for you, and called up Magness and dealt with Bob and his secretary basically. Bob didn't come to the closing. Of course I did, and got my first check. I mean, it worked out great. That took a while, but it was fortuitous. My second deal was Steve Simmons.

SOUTHWICK: As the buyer?

WALLER: As the buyer. My third deal was with Bob Tudek, Telemedia. I did a couple deals with him. Another early deal was a guy named Tom Keeminey, backed by Butcher and Singer out of Philadelphia, which was the tax shelter thing. So, kind of a hodgepodge. And Simmons, his investments were venture capital, the old T.A. & Associates out of Boston, a guy named David Croll, they were his early investors. But that's kind of the mix. A few MSOs were buying, but a lot of these new entrepreneurs went private equity.

SOUTHWICK: Now Daniels and Associates had been around a long time.

WALLER: They'd been around a long time, CA had been around.

SOUTHWICK: Yep, Rick Michaels had been in the business. How did you manage to find these things to do when they were out there?

WALLER: That's a good question. Between the two of them they had 100% market share. No, I'm sorry, there were a few smaller brokers, a few little... A, being in New York helped a lot, but before I even got to that having these relationships from HBO was the key thing. I covered these people better than brokers could. They were in Denver or Florida or wherever, and I spent a lot of time out there getting to know them. It was also an era where there was a lot more to do. Fortunately we were established and got a reputation and everything else, but it would be harder to get started today with a new firm.

SOUTHWICK: Because there were hundreds and hundreds of independently owned cable systems?

WALLER: Exactly. There were more systems and more deals. There was no way Daniels could cover the whole market, or could CA, but really, I had a great lock on it because of my relationships with Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia crew. That was my base. I got a lot of my deals done through them, which gave me the momentum to go to the next step. The next step was really... don't forget, nobody was doing it out of New York. That wasn't hard to figure out because they weren't, but also their approach, Daniels had hired a lot of sharp guys, but they had Xerox sales training, that was their orientation. So they were more sales oriented, whereas the world was different. When Bill Daniels started, he developed a great network of contacts and relationships and everybody loved him, and rightly so, but it was more like, okay, I'll buy it, the bank will owe me the money, and there wasn't a lot of complicated financing going on. In the early '80s, the financings got complicated. You had high yield come into the game, you had the limited partnership tax shelter money, you had venture capital come in to a large degree for the first time, so a lot of the deals were getting done here in New York. It also required a different set of skills to do the deal. So I figured out, well, we need to hire some people with really strong banking and financial backgrounds, as opposed to sales backgrounds. So I also thought, well, geez, there's no real sort of investment bank boutique doing it. Those guys were great brokers, per se, and they'd been doing that, and that's what was needed, but things were changing.

SOUTHWICK: So who were some of the people you brought on board?

WALLER: Well, my first hire was a guy named Andy Armstrong, who was with me for 15 years. He's subsequently gone into the private equity business, but a great guy. The second guy I hired was a guy named Rick Patterson, same thing, he left with Andy to do private equity.

SOUTHWICK: What were their background when you hired them?

WALLER: Oh, they were both banking. Rick was from Mellon Bank and Andy was from P&B. Rick had an MBA, and Andy had a financing degree undergraduate, so they were real strong financial people, which helped us competitively. Because we were in New York we could figure out who the new buyers were because they were all coming here to raise their money, so we'd be on their list of people they'd come to see. They knew we knew a lot of the pockets of money whether it's a venture capital or how to get these limited partnership things done. So that helped us. When we were going to a seller we could say, look, we're going to show your property not just to MSOs, but we have all these new buyers who are probably going to pay you more. It might be riskier, but we can evaluate whether they're real or not, which is also important because if you're a seller and you're going to be entering into a contract with somebody, they'd better be able to perform, and you don't know them from Adam, a lot of these groups are new so you had to have some way to check them out.

SOUTHWICK: And your timing was pretty good in terms of the growth of the industry because you had the '84 Cable Act come in, right?

WALLER: Right, that was so lucky. There were a lot of lucky things we kind of stumbled into, and the '84 Cable Act helped a lot. That opened things up.

SOUTHWICK: What was the impact of that?

WALLER: Just a lot of deals. The values jumped from 800 or 900 a sub to 1400 a sub. That was an era where... do you remember Bill James? Do you know him at all?


WALLER: He got in in '85-'86 and we helped with his first acquisitions and then he got out a year later two or three times what he paid for it, and that was because of the '84 Act things were just accelerating so much. That accelerated through the late '80s and then of course you had HLT, and that whacked everything.

SOUTHWICK: How many deals would you be working on at a particular time? How many would you close in a year? Give us a sense of the size?

WALLER: We would close like 20-30 deals a year back then, and then deal size of course were smaller because per sub values were lower, but we would have... a good year for us would be 300-400 million dollars worth of deals, 20-30 deals. Back then our average deal size was probably 30 or 40 million whereas now about 100 million. We had a lot of 5, 10, 20 million dollar deals back then. We don't have as many of those now. There aren't many of those left, which are fine. You get paid well on those and you can get them done. There weren't as many mega deals, period, and if there were, the Wall Street firms were getting them or there just weren't that many. Warner merging with Time, Inc. in the late '80s, we can check the facts, but I bet you the value on that was probably a billion to 2 billion or something like that, which today isn't that big a deal.

SOUTHWICK: Were you involved with that one?

WALLER: No, no, no, we were not, but I'm just saying... We didn't really get involved in the bigger deals until the '90s. In the '80s there were enough entrepreneurs like a Bill James around that we could represent them and use that to build our reputation with the big companies. So by the late '80s the MSOs started to hire us, but in the early '80s they weren't. We were dealing with the newer entities.

SOUTHWICK: Was it true that some of the big name companies like American Express and Westinghouse and so forth that got in and out of the business wanted to hire a Solomon Brothers or whatever just too kind of satisfy their shareholders that they'd gotten "the name".

WALLER: Right, and that goes on even today to a degree, although on a lot of transactions, let's say, like the Bresnan deal that we handled, or we sold The San Francisco Chronicle's cable systems. That was a good example of they put Solomon Brothers on that because it was a public company and they were a newspaper company, and whatever, but we led the deal, we co-brokered it with Solomon, but we led it, did all the work. Solomon dealt with some legitimate board issues and some shareholder issues that are not our repertoire, it's not what we do, but in terms of running the merger process, we did that. That's fine, we can work with them, but we didn't really get on those big assignments until, like I say, the late '80s, early '90s.

SOUTHWICK: Was there a breakthrough one, or one or two that stick out in your mind where you went home and said, boy, we're really in a different arena?

WALLER: It was a much smaller deal, but I'll never forget when we got the listing on Chapel Hill, North Carolina, which was a very visible market – small, there were only 20,000 subs, but it was a high-growth, right in the middle of Time Warner territory, in those days ATC territory, and desirable to entrepreneurs because of the size. Jones wanted to buy it, a lot of people wanted to buy it. This was probably '85 when we got that. When we got that assignment it really put us on the map.

SOUTHWICK: Independently owned and operated?

WALLER: Independently owned. We went down and pitched the guy, the guy was a radio guy, a great sales guy. I think we just clicked in our personalities and he gave us a chance.

SOUTHWICK: Who'd you sell it to?

WALLER: We sold it to Prime, and that helped us develop a relationship with Prime. I guess the first big deal that got us on the map was Prime owned Prince Georges County, which we sold, that was 100 million dollar deal, which was a big deal for us at the time, and we developed a relationship with Prime because we sold them Chapel Hill and then a year or so later they hired us to do the Prince Georges County. That and the Bill James deal, because that was about a 200 million dollar deal, and that was around the same time. Those deals started to really put us on the map.

SOUTHWICK: Some champagne corks were popping?

WALLER: Yeah, exactly.

SOUTHWICK: Then we kind of hit the early '90s and a couple of things happened. The highly leveraged transaction rules – maybe you can talk about what those were and the impact on the business?

WALLER: They were so-called HLT, highly leveraged transactions, that was coming out of the Bush 1 administration. It was a backlash against all the debt, primarily, high-yield debt that was raised during the late '80s, and all these so-called leverage buyouts that just piled on debt with a teeny sliver for the management, and they'd flip it to another buyer that had even more debt but the management made a lot of money. Even though it was a teeny sliver because of leverage a lot of the dollars went there. So the government restricted the amount of debt you could put on a transaction so the banks just totally retrenched. For a year there – it started in '90 and went into '91, but the impact to us was felt in '91 because of the lag time. For a year there, there was just no deals getting done, banks weren't lending money. They'd maybe lend three or four times cash flow, whereas historically they might have lent at eight times, seven or eight times. But even if they were willing to lend that... I didn't want to do deals that were going to lend much more than that, so it was sort of a sticking point. So that was a dead, dead year. We started to get out of that and then re-reg one came along. That came along in what? '93? '92?

SOUTHWICK: Yeah, it was the Cable Act of '92 and it began to be implemented in '93.

WALLER: Right, that two or three year period, you'd finally see a little life and then the re-reg hit. We were lucky in that period because amongst the things that I'm happiest about and proud of is we raised the money for the Sci-Fi Channel, and we were looking for other things to do at the time because the brokerage was not doing well. The entrepreneur had the idea for the Sci-Fi Channel, came to us with a videotape.

SOUTHWICK: And who was that?

WALLER: Mitch Rubenstein. He's a great guy, a really smart guy. Anyway, all he had was a videotape with some clips from Star Trek and some other things, and he said, "This is a channel, you can tell it's going to be a channel," and we didn't have much else going on, so we said, "Sure, we'll take you in," and we shopped around the cable industry, got him 5 million customers from the MSOs just based on his story and a videotape.


WALLER: And then we raised him... we got a competitive bidding thing going.

SOUTHWICK: What year was that?

WALLER: Had to have been middle of '92, and we raised him a hundred million dollar from USA, the one that ended up doing it. We had a couple of proposals, but USA ended up doing it. Kay Koplovitz was there at the time. We got him a hundred million dollars to start the channel and really get it going and be USA's partner. We kept a small piece of that, and that did great, and then Mitch stayed in for two or three years and he got out. That evolved to the Golf Channel. Two years later we did the Golf Channel. Same thing, an entrepreneur, Joe Gibbs, who's a great guy, had the idea, came to us first, and said, "I've got this fabulous idea, don't tell anybody," so he had us sign all these things, and I said, "What is it?" He said a golf channel! I'm not a golfer, so oh, really great. I didn't get it. But my team did, they understood that golf had a really core following. So we raised 60 million from that.

SOUTHWICK: All venture capital money?

WALLER: No, six MSOs. Interestingly enough, Tim Rigas was in there. He was one of the six. It was Comcast, Alan Gerry, the Rigas', Continental, Tim Nehr from Continental, Time Warner. Oh, Bob Miron, I think, did it, too. Anyway, at least between the two of those channels I'm proud of the fact that – we didn't have the idea, I can't take credit for that – but we did get them the money and got them up. We got them both subscribers and made it possible to get up.

SOUTHWICK: But you stayed in cable. You didn't get off into radio or broadcast?

WALLER: No, we didn't. We kept toying with that, but I'll tell you what happened is when things started to pick up again it was competitive. We were competing against Wall Street, competing against Daniels, CA, and Daniels and CA spread themselves out horizontally, and we just decided to hone in vertically. We hired a great time, and I'm lucky to have had some wonderful people here, and we just decided to do more for cable. So the programming thing was sort of clicking and that was helping us. We were doing a lot of appraisals, we were just doing some informal consulting. We just decided to burrow done more on cable. So when we were competing, when we would go on a pitch, we'd say, look, we're small but we're only focused on cable. You hire us and you're going to get somebody who all day long talks to cable people. You aren't going to get a team who's half doing broadcasting or half doing radio.

SOUTHWICK: So you focused on domestic market rather than international?

WALLER: We didn't do much international. We got The Washington Post into the U.K. We hooked them up with an entrepreneur and got them into that. We did a couple little things over there, but for the most part, no, we stayed focused on cable, and that helped us out a lot through the late '90s when everybody was getting out. We got some great assignments and big deals, and that really helped us, being focused.

SOUTHWICK: What are some of the ones that stuck out?

WALLER: We handled the Bresnan deal. In '99 we did eight billion dollars. One way we differentiated ourselves is we...

SOUTHWICK: Eight billion, with a b?

WALLER: Yeah. I mean that was not our revenue, but that was the transaction size but our revenue was pretty significant.

SOUTHWICK: Right, right.

WALLER: But the way we positioned ourselves is we mostly worked for the seller. Our competitors a lot of times worked for the buyer or got in the middle and tried to make things happen. 99% of the time we're working for the seller, trying to maximize value to the seller. So we go in and make a pitch and we can show how we've gotten higher prices than our competitors did for our clients, the seller. It was a compelling story. So between that and being focused on cable really helped us. We did 26 billion since '96 worth of deals, so that's a lot. And it was 33 billion since '82, so you can see most of it was in the last... But that has a lot to do with the value escalation. We're having a lot of big deals, but it goes back to my point earlier.

SOUTHWICK: Same number of subs but twice or three times the...

WALLER: If you tracked the deal charts in cable, you can see what looked like a big deal, TCI buying Liberty. Remember Liberty on the West Coast, or even Continental going to Media One. I bet that was like a six billion dollar deal, or something like that.

SOUTHWICK: That sticks in my mind, too.

WALLER: But today that's not that huge, frankly.

SOUTHWICK: Not compared to Comcast, AT&T.

WALLER: No, I mean the Bresnan deal, when he sold it was 3 ½ billion, and Fanch was over 3 billion, and those were little guys compared to Continental.

SOUTHWICK: In your experience dealing with particularly the entrepreneur types, who are the ones that kind of stick out in your mind as particularly interesting in terms of their negotiating style? It used to be said that Magness would actually eat a cigar while he was doing negotiations.

WALLER: (LAUGHTER) I never saw that!

SOUTHWICK: Who was particularly good, and what makes somebody good at a negotiation?

WALLER: So many of these guys are good. It's really hard. We're all lucky to be in cable because so many of these people are smart, great business people, great entrepreneurs. Gerry Lenfest, Glenn Jones, Alan Gerry... I mean, I guess I'm closer to Alan or Leonard Tow than I am to a lot of these people. I'll tell you what works for Alan. He's got a great, warm, non-threatening style. He doesn't come in and act like he's going to try to beat you, or win every point. And at the end of the day, he may not win every point but he wins the deal, and that's important. I think the people who are the most successful at this are the people who have the vision to say, look, try to get something done, and don't get too caught up in some of the little things. Give up on some of the little things in order to get something done. I think Magness was that way, too. Magness definitely was... he had a vision, he clearly wanted to get things done, and he was willing to give on some things just to make it happen. But some of the people that were just too tough or too nitpicky, you could drive the other side away and it doesn't work.

SOUTHWICK: Is it true that those people may have also recognized that the folks they're dealing with today they may have to deal with five years from now or seven years from now? There's sort of a fraternity feel, isn't there?

WALLER: It is, very much so. Although I don't think that effected there... I think a lot of them didn't worry about that too much, but it is very much a fraternity, no question. Even today, it's hard for newer people to break in. I see it, I'm in a lot of meetings with the MSOs, and when the heads of the MSOs get together it's like a golf club or something. They're all hanging out and have camaraderie. Golf helped us, too. My former partner was a member of Pine Valley, so we used to take all the MSOs down to Pine Valley and golf was like a big cable thing.

SOUTHWICK: Did you learn how to play?

WALLER: I never did. I used to go and run around the track. I didn't have the patience for it. I used to go run around and eat dinner with them.

SOUTHWICK: Do you think that kind of fraternity culture made it more difficult for companies such as Westinghouse or American Express and so forth to kind of get in the business and understand how it worked?

WALLER: Yeah, I think so. I just don't think they fit. The same thing happened to AT&T. They came in and spent a bunch of money and threw a bunch of dollars at some parts of their plant, at telephony, certainly, and some other things, but they bulked up and added a bunch of overhead.

SOUTHWICK: And of course those are public companies, which have to report profits and the analysts wanted their profits.

WALLER: Yeah, they'd say you're investing all this money, you're not getting any profits? You just keep putting money into this thing and not getting anything out of it, what are you doing?

SOUTHWICK: Is it true that the companies that really did well and expanded were closely controlled? Even if their stock traded publicly, they had the class B shares, like Comcast and TCI, for example, they didn't have to worry about hostile takeovers.

WALLER: Correct, right. Most of the cable companies were in that category. Certainly all of the current ones are in that category. I'm trying to think – there must have been some other ones that were more widely held, but I can't remember what they were though. Currently they're all in that category, different classes of stock, voting and non-voting. Cablevision's that way, Comcast and MediaComm and Insight.

SOUTHWICK: As a journalist, I'd be remiss not to ask you this. Having known the Rigas' for so long, what happened there, in your view?

WALLER: I don't know. I think, honestly, they don't think they did anything wrong. I've known them for so long, and when we were at HBO, I had to sue John when I was at HBO because he wasn't paying his HBO bills, and I wasn't the first one to do that. This was '81. Apparently he had a stack of bills on his desk and everyday he'd pay one and he'd pay the one that had the most pink slips and noise on it, threaten to shut you down and court orders and the sheriff's stamp. "Okay, we have to pay this one. Pay that one." They just viewed it as credit was just a financing mechanism. HBO used to finance earth stations so it would help get HBO out there, and believe it or not, in those days spending $25,000 on a dish was a lot of money. So HBO would finance that and you could pay it back really out of HBO revenues. The Rigas', I think a dish isn't it – a lot of markets, not relative to them now, but they had a lot of markets, they just viewed that as almost like an investment. They're going to pay it back someday but they didn't have to pay it on time. Back to your question, I just honestly think that they thought they would borrow this money and they were going to pay it back. They don't think they did anything wrong. I just think they think – and apparently they've said that – I just think that they were doing what they've always done and eventually it would get paid back. Don't worry about it, we'll get it back to you. We're not stealing it, we're just borrowing it.

SOUTHWICK: Small town folks who've had a culture for a long time and all of a sudden got into a bigger stage and got the spotlight put on them.

WALLER: Yeah, but it's the same mentality. That was really HBO's money, but they didn't look at it that way. They looked at it like they're financing the business and HBO will get their money some day, so don't worry about it.

SOUTHWICK: What is the business like now for you? You have five or six companies that own 80% of the subscribers? Can we still do it?

WALLER: Yeah, it's an interesting business now. Thank goodness for cable because the entrepreneurs are all getting back in, there's tons of private equity looking to get in.

SOUTHWICK: Bill Bresnan is trying to buy some systems back.

WALLER: Yeah, we're helping him do that. Steve Simmons is buying back in here. Several new management groups that are reforming – the Intermedia team is reforming looking to buy, the old Rifkin team is reforming looking to buy, some ex-Cablevision people are getting together looking to buy – so it's all going through another cycle and a lot of these private equity firms that made a lot of money in the late '90s are all looking to get back in. First of all, they raised a bunch of money, they've got billions of dollars. You look at their telecomm portfolio which is on the tank and they've got to put money to work or they literally have to give it back, and where are you going to put it? You going to put it in broadcasting? Maybe, but that's pretty high right now, and at least cable is stead cash flow and there's some risk but not like the telecomm side, and probably not like the broadcasting side. This year there have been relatively few transactions but there will be a fair amount of transactions because all this money is going to pull product out and teams are going to get back in and build and row again. You've got these young kids...

SOUTHWICK: The cycle starts over again.

WALLER: I need at least one more cycle here, Tom, to keep me busy.

SOUTHWICK: Very good. Okay. Anything else you want to add or comment on?

WALLER: No, I don't think so. Thanks! I think the museum's great. I think the whole concept is wonderful and I appreciate your spending the time. I can't believe... selfishly, I'd love to be able to show my kids one day the museum and hear the tape and all that stuff.

SOUTHWICK: I think you'll be able to do that.

WALLER: All right, good.

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Priscilla Walker


Interview Date: Tuesday June 22, 1999
Collection: WICT 20th Anniversary Collection Project

WALKER: My name is Priscilla Walker. That's P-R-I-S-C-I-L-L-A. Walker. W-A-L-K-E-R. I'm the president of Walker Innovations, Inc., which is a full-service marketing and communications firm.

INTERVIEWER: Could you tell me how you initially became involved in the cable business?

WALKER: Well, actually it was through an employment agency. My husband had gotten a job through the employment agency the year before and for whatever reason, because they specialized in accounting, they got this job from ATC, American Television and Communications, which is now part of Time-Warner Cable. And so they called me up and I went for an interview and they hired me. At the time, there were four people in the corporate marketing department of ATC. They had three or four hundred thousand customers. There was the Vice President of Marketing, Trygve Myhren, and the Director of Marketing, Tom Crowley, and myself and a secretary. So, it was very small. This was 1975. It was actually before Home Box Office went on the air. It was an interesting time to be in the cable business.

INTERVIEWER: What was the most striking aspect of the cable industry that you noticed when your career began?

WALKER: Seems to me, the most interesting thing that I find about cable is how enthusiastic people are towards the product. Not only the people who work in the industry, but customers. I've been in focus groups where the customers will pull out their channel line-up and refer to it as "my cable", and that I think is very rare in a lot of industries that people would be so enthusiastic.

INTERVIEWER: Have you seen the marketing strategies change significantly since you began your career?

WALKER: I think the marketing strategies have changed quite a lot. And there's still a lot of room for fundamental marketing. A lot of my work is implementation because a good idea that's poorly executed is not going to work very well. I think that the level of complexity is so much more with marketing. Originally, it was heavy reliance on direct sales and now we have lots of other ways to reach customers. So I think it's more sophisticated marketing now than it was.

INTERVIEWER: A lot of successful women have said that when they entered the cable industry, it was easier for them because there were no definite rules. Would you agree with this assessment?

WALKER: Well, yes. I think it was easier to get into the industry in a lot of ways. I was probably one of the last non-Harvard MBAs that ATC hired at that time. So I consider myself extremely fortunate to have entered the business when I did because after that, they really did start hiring Harvard MBAs. And I think that in that environment, I would never have been considered for a job. I had a degree in mass communications and I had worked for three or four years with an advertising agency before I came to cable. But the hiring kind of changed. When Home Box Office went on the satellite, then there was sort of this programming explosion. And then there was a franchising explosion. And that brought a lot of people into the industry. But I think when I came, it was, you know, it was kind of unusual.

INTERVIEWER: Do you think that being a woman in the cable industry has been a detriment or an enhancement to your career?

WALKER: That's interesting. When I started at ATC, and really for the first three or four years, there were not very many women in management positions. In fact, when we merged with Time, Inc. in about 1978 or 1979, I remember one of the first meetings with Dick Munro, who was the Group Video Vice President at Time and there were 40 people in the room. They were looking around for women that were in management and they actually brought in a woman who worked for me because at the time, June Travis was the only woman vice-president. I became the only woman director shortly after that. And so, in that room, I'm sure Dick Munro knew the five women in the meeting. But he probably did not know the names of all of the men. So, from that standpoint, I think, you know, that's one point where I think there was an advantage. I think that what it really comes down to is what an individual can do. There are a lot of women who have been very successful and a lot of men who have been very successful. And women who have not. So, I don't know. One of the disappointments to me is that 20 years later, we're still talking about the glass ceiling and that there aren't enough women in the industry at high levels. I think 20 years ago when we started Women in Cable we didn't think we'd still be talking about those issues now. Clearly, there are more women now. I mean, I don't think there are any companies where there's only one woman vice-president and one woman director. But we have not achieved the levels that I think that I would have expected 20 years ago.

INTERVIEWER: What do you think is preventing women from achieving those levels of success? Is it societal? Is it attitudinal?

WALKER: I think part of the barriers for women are, of course, comfort levels. I mean, everybody has to be comfortable with the people that they hire around them. And if you look at companies, typically, the men CEOs hire men and surround themselves with men. And women who are in a management position will hire the people that they are comfortable with and a lot of times that tends to be women. When I was at ATC and I had a department of 17 people, most of them were women. In fact, we sort of had to consciously look for men because, otherwise, we were going to be the "girls in communications" and our work at that time was franchise proposals and would not have been taken as seriously as if we had men in the department.

INTERVIEWER: Did you have any mentors during these early years?

WALKER: I think mentorship is an interesting study. I'm a little familiar with what Ann Carlson has done for NAMIC and it's a wonderful program. I would say I've never had a formal mentorship program. I think I've had a lot of sponsors and I would encourage people to find a lot of sponsors and probably also mentors. The whole concept that there's proactive mentorship where you actually ask someone to be a mentor is truly revolutionary from my thinking. I came into the industry assuming their bosses would mentor them and I think that is not always the case. I don't think anybody gets to be successful without having a lot of sponsors, a lot of people who say good things for them at the right time or help them through situations. So, I suppose mentorship is a very broad term that could apply to a lot of things.

INTERVIEWER: Well, would you have any advice for young women or young men entering the industry today?

WALKER: Sure. My advice for people entering the industry would be to be proactive in their careers, to seek out mentors and to seek environments where they can succeed. I would also encourage them to have realistic expectations. I think it's easy to look at the really successful stories in our business and in America and think that it comes easier than it really does. If you ask people who are successful, they have worked very hard for a long number of years and they've probably made the most of the opportunities that were available to them. I think today I see people come in and they expect they can work for four or five years and be the CEO and those opportunities are very rare. So, I would think that more realistic expectations would be important.

INTERVIEWER: What about your success? I mean, what components do you think of your personality or your work ethic has contributed to your success?

WALKER: Well, let's see. I think that part of my success is from my perseverance or tenacity. I don't give up easily. And maybe some creativity. And I hope a sense of humor.

INTERVIEWER: I know you've had your business now for ten years?

WALKER: Yes. I've been in business for ten years.

INTERVIEWER: What has been the most rewarding aspects of having your business? And what are the more challenging aspects of it?

WALKER: Well, the reward I think is helping my clients succeed. Helping them get more customers, help them get more business. And that's very rewarding. I think one of the reasons that I chose this route was for the flexibility. At the time I started my business, we had a son who was young and aging parents who needed attention that I couldn't give if I had stayed in the corporate world. The stability of a constant paycheck is not one of the things that you find when you own your own business but I found that I didn't need that to succeed. And clearly, I'm much happier than I was in the corporate setting. I can't imagine going back to a corporate company again. I really like what I do. I love my clients. I love the work that I do. So, I'm thrilled that I've been in business ten years, and want to continue.

INTERVIEWER: Do you have a management philosophy?

WALKER: I guess my management philosophy would be to treat people well. Both the people that work for you as well as your clients, bosses. I think empowerment is one of the things that Women in Cable helped--what is the word? I mean, I believe in empowering people, the people around you, because I think there will be better decisions that are made if the people are empowered. So I use empowerment. Although we didn't know that word until Women in Cable came along as a way of getting the work done.

INTERVIEWER: Are you satisfied with the progress that women have made in the cable industry?

WALKER: Oh, I think, as I've said before, the progress that women have made has--in the industry--has not been as much as I would have thought. 20 years ago, I thought that women would be further, that there would be more women in higher places than there are now. So, I guess, really, I'm not. Women in Cable and Telecommunications has a "sunset" clause that 20 years ago we thought probably would have been invoked by now and that there would be no need for the organization because women would have achieved their personal and professional goals and really that's not the case.

INTERVIEWER: Well, do you think there's a glass ceiling that's preventing women from achieving their success?

WALKER: I really don't know how to define a glass ceiling. I think there are clearly forces at work that are keeping women from being as successful in this industry and maybe it's not just this industry. It could be in America in general. If you look at other industries, the fastest growing entrepreneurs are women who are leaving corporate Fortune 500 companies and starting their own businesses or taking advantage of entrepreneurial businesses. I think that's really a loss for America. I think it's certainly for the cable industry, as well.

INTERVIEWER: Do you think female entrepreneurship can serve as sort of an equalizer between men and women in the work world?

WALKER: I think that women entrepreneurs can be as successful as men. I mean, we may be talking about small businesses versus large businesses but still the big companies are dominated by men in the management positions and these smaller entrepreneurial companies are largely women owned. But the entrepreneurial companies still have to do business with the bigger companies. So it may even it out. But still there is--they have to work together.

INTERVIEWER: Could you tell me how you initially became involved in Women in Cable and Telecommunications?

WALKER: Well, I worked for ATC and June Travis actually got me involved in Women in Cable. She was on the original charter, a founding board member. In fact, she was the treasurer, I think, the founding treasurer and had a lot to do with the success of the organization and getting started. A lot of times, I think, she worked behind the scenes to get things done. But certainly, she was involved at the national level. And I know she came to my office one day and asked if I would like to be involved in starting the Rocky Mountain Chapter. So, I was on the steering committee. I also helped her nationally with the logo, the original logo that was designed for Women in Cable. I had my graphic designer do that. And I think I helped write the mission statement. The first one. I remember the phrase "Expanding the Arenas for Women." And so, I was on the steering committee for the Rocky Mountain Chapter of Women in Cable. It was then Women in Cable. I was the program committee chairman and I loved that. That was so fun. One of the things that I remember enjoying was working with committees, getting five or six people together and trying to find out some interesting programs. Because I figured if I was going be involved in the organization, that I would want to be on the program committee to make sure that the programs were interesting. So, I did that for, actually, a couple of years. And that was really fun. I enjoyed that. And then I was the Chapter President of the Rocky Mountain Chapter for two years. And when we started the steering committee, I couldn't imagine that there would be five women in Denver. I mean, I knew one woman in Denver outside of the people that worked at ATC. And I couldn't imagine that there were five people that would join an organization by that name. And I think when I was the Chapter President, we had 300 members. It was the largest chapter for a while. It was very exciting to see the growth.

INTERVIEWER: Do you think Women in Cable and Telecommunications contributed to your growth as a professional?

WALKER: Oh, Women in Cable and Telecommunications definitely contributed to my growth. In fact, I wish it had come along earlier in my career because I had already worked, I don't know, eight or nine years before I got into cable and truly the leadership opportunities and the networking were very instrumental to my success, I think, at ATC and now on my own for the last ten years. There is just an enormous need for the organization and networking. I know at ATC there were times when I would keep track of the things that Women in Cable enabled me to do. The money that we saved because I was able to call someone that I knew in the organization and get things done whereas my bosses would call and they wouldn't know them and so they wouldn't even return the calls. And the leadership opportunities. Being able to, first of all, work with the committee, the program committee, and then be the head of the Rocky Mountain Chapter. I used to say it was like running a business only as a non-profit with volunteers. That it was even more challenging than when you had people that worked for you that you paid and had them to do the same work. And we had a wonderful time. It was a very exciting time in the industry with so many people coming in. One of the highlights I remember, we had Christie Hefner from Playboy come in and it was a huge--I think we had 300 people for dinner one night, which was an amazing turnout. So I was on the National Board of Women in Cable and Telecommunications for four years. Two years as the Regional Representative from Region Six, which at the time, had about a third of the membership. In fact, I remember that I asked that they re-portion so that one group wouldn't be so disproportionately heavy. And I also chaired the management conference in 1985, which led to the cable specific case studies that they've been using ever since and the alliance with the University of Denver and Ron Rizzuto, who has been very instrumental in that. And that, then, led also to the educational program, which was truly wonderful. I enjoyed setting that up. And those are opportunities that would only have been available to me through Women in Cable and Telecommunications.

INTERVIEWER: Do you think the content of the programming at Women in Cable and Telecommunications has changed in the last 20 years?

WALKER: Oh, sure. From the management conference and then the cable education program, it was very education oriented for several years. I think they've gone away from that, which I think is too bad. I really hope that they go back. Because the number one reason in all the surveys that I've ever seen them do say that people join the organization for the educational opportunities. And the way that Women in Cable and Telecommunications present them is unique to the industry. There's a sense of learning that surrounds all of it that is just not available anywhere else in the industry. And I hope that they would go back and actually strengthen that because I think that is a unique thing that helps the organization and the individual.

INTERVIEWER: Can you comment on how you think WICT specifically influences the industry at large?

WALKER: I think it's impossible to underestimate the number of ways that Women in Cable and Telecommunications influences the industry. The studies that it does--initially it was the work force 2000 study--Cable force 2000 study, and subsequent surveys and salary studies and just raising the issue that it's important that there be a diverse work force. That our customers are women as well as men and so the work force should be women as well as men. It's an important thing that can get overlooked in the pace of trying to meet the bottom line every day. I think the opportunities for developing leadership are truly important. One of the things that I think has been most rewarding for me was last year's acolyte winner, Diane Blackwood from Time-Warner in North Carolina. She credited the education program as part of the reason for her being able to move into operations. And as women, it is very hard to get into operations unless you have the track record. And through the case studies, she said that she'd already done the work that she would be assigned in her operations job. And so it was much easier for her and her boss had much more confidence in giving her that opportunity because she had the skills.

INTERVIEWER: How do you see WICT evolving as we move into the next century?

WALKER: You know, 20 years ago, I would have thought that maybe we would have accomplished our mission. Going forward, I think that the organization needs to be stronger. I would like it to return to a more educational focus because I think that gives us credibility in the industry that organizations just find hard to achieve. The leadership opportunities--what I love about Women in Cable and Telecommunications is that anybody can be president. That you don't have to be the head of your company as other organizations require. That anyone can succeed in this organization. I think that is very important. I think working with other organizations in the industry to help achieve industry goals is an important part of Women in Cable and Telecommunications' continued success.

INTERVIEWER: I just want to ask you a final question about The Cable Center. I know that you're managing the web site for them. Is there a particular message that you're hoping to convey through the web site throughout The Cable Center?

WALKER: Well, the web site of The Cable Center is to mirror what's going on in The Center itself. So, it's a wonderfully rich source of information about the industry. We have kind of three perspectives: to celebrate the past, the richness of the industry and its entrepreneurial spirit; the present, which is wonderful opportunity with all of the convergence; and then also to celebrate the future, as well, with the kinds of opportunities that will happen as the industry evolves and the product evolves. It's a wonderful web site that is used by many students as well as people in the industry. We have 2,000 visitors a month. And I think ground breaking is next month for the center. It may be years before we get 2,000 visitors a month to the center to physically go through the building. So, the web site is a worldwide resource. Most recently, I've been getting international inquiries from people who want to conduct research in the center. We've got new things in the library, the equipment collection, the technology collection, as it's called. So there's a lot of wonderful things in the library and the web site mirrors that.

INTERVIEWER: You probably came with some questions in mind. Is there anything that I didn't ask you about that you would like to speak to? Whether it be about WICT or the industry or the progress of women?

WALKER: No. I think you've covered it all.

INTERVIEWER: Going back to that one, about the perception of people coming into the industry. Knowing that you can't become president after something like four years or so, that you really have to work hard. Do you think women have to work harder than men to achieve that?

WALKER: Historically, I think women have always worked harder than men to achieve the same, or near the same results. Yes, I don't think there's any getting around that. Even though it's been 20 years, it seems like women still have to achieve more to get the credibility that their male counterparts have. A lot of times they come into a situation and there's the comfort level or the rapport or something that is immediately there for them. Which is why I think Women in Cable and Telecommunications is such an important organization because it helps fill the gaps. There just aren't the same kind of opportunities that women will get without working harder.

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Ruth Warren

Ruth Warren

Interview Date: Monday June 21, 1999
Collection: WICT 20th Anniversary Collection Project

INTERVIEWER: And company and title.

WARREN: I'm the former Group Vice President of Operations for Jones Intercable.

INTERVIEWER: Okay. Just as a warm-up, could you tell us how you initially became involved in the cable industry?

WARREN: Yes. I can. I had graduated from the University of Michigan and my whole family was living out here in Colorado. So, I came to Colorado and happened to walk into Jones Intercable at a point in time when it was about 60,000 customers. They were looking for a marketing manager to replace the CEO's daughter, Cricket, Cricket Jones. And it was very sort of serendipitous because the woman who is sort of the chief bottle washer for the organization had grown up on a small town next to me in Kansas, a small town by the name of Olbe, Kansas, and we just sort of hit it off. And so she got me in to interview with Glenn Jones and the chief operating officer at that time, Bob Lewis. And I think that I sold them on the fact that I had maybe about seven or eight years of experience in retail, and had graduated with an MBA in marketing, and I was what they needed. So, there was no great thought process about getting into the cable industry. It was rather serendipitous, really.

INTERVIEWER: At the time your career in cable began, what did you find most striking about the industry?

WARREN: I began in 1980; I was starting off in marketing and I didn't have a huge amount of experience in marketing. The product that we had created in cable television with ESPN and CNN and all the new products, was something that people were just craving even though they didn't know that they craved it. As soon as we went out and knocked on doors or put a marketing piece out and started talking about Home Box Office or ESPN or CNN, people just flocked to our doors. It was as if you couldn't do anything wrong, which I think is a unique attribute of the business. It sort of continues that way through Internet access now. But at that point in time, it was interesting because, as a marketer, it was almost as if anything I did worked.

INTERVIEWER: Did your marketing strategies change significantly over the course of the next ten or fifteen years?

WARREN: Oh, huge. You know, in the early years, it was as if, as I said, it was as if anything that you did worked. In the later years, competition came into being and so, we really had to think about who our customers were. And we as an organization were, in fact, the whole industry was beginning to get into predictive data base marketing, which was very sophisticated. And so the movement came because the industry itself had plateaued. And also because there was competition. And so, yes, the marketing strategies changed dramatically.

INTERVIEWER: Okay. Well, some successful women in the industry have said it was easier to enter cable during its formative years because there were no definite rules. Would you agree with this assessment?

WARREN: It's very difficult for me to talk about today because I think that when I look at the industry today, there are some women who are at very high levels, very successful women in the industry. When the industry was beginning, as you would have with any industry which was, as you used the word "formative", or nascent, you have an industry which is just running to keep up with itself. And so as I was suggesting, you know, I walked through the door of Jones Intercable and received a job. Anybody who was walking through the door practically of any corporation with a background, not necessarily of telecommunications, but with a background in business or a background in sales or a background in marketing or engineering and receiving jobs. And I'm not quite sure the industry itself was reaching out into diverse populations and pulling them in. Although there became, probably in the mid-'80s, a stated objective to really continue to build on the diverse population that had been hired and push those people into the upper ranks. As of today, I mean, I don't know. I think the industry continues to reach out towards women and continues to promote women, and give women recognition and visibility and also try to get them into the executive ranks. I think the difference is that you have an industry which has had a tremendous amount of consolidation. So you have fewer corporations, not as widespread, not as diverse in their nature. And so I think it makes it much more difficult to get to the top of AT&T than to get to the top of Jones Intercable. So, I'm not quite sure if it's the nature of the industry going from birth to consolidation that has changed versus the intent of the industry.

INTERVIEWER: Okay. Good. I was wondering, looking over your career, could you pinpoint what is your greatest professional achievement?

WARREN: Women in Cable, of course. I think my greatest achievement was the fact that I was put in as Group Vice President of Operations for a major MSO. When I was promoted into that position, which was eight or nine years ago, it was I think 1990 or 1991, when you looked around the industry, even though there were women in operations positions, there weren't, or there were very few women at the top of running the line operations. And so, when our organization took that step and put me into that position, I think it was a great achievement both for me and also for our organization. The fact that they recognized a woman in line operations and put her in there. And I think it was a wonderful position. It was a position which, you know, you--I mean, it's a powerful position. It's a position in which you can make change and a position where you can get recognition within the industry to make change, too. So, I would say that was my greatest success, or greatest achievement.

INTERVIEWER: Do you see more women entering the systems side of the industry?

WARREN: Yes and no. I'm, you know, I think that one of the things that we struggled with within Jones Intercable, and also Women in Cable, is that it is pretty non-traditional to have women managing cable operations. And so, when women graduated with MBAs from the University of Michigan or from wherever, you know, you naturally think about where am I going to enter and I think a non-traditional route is running cable systems. The industry itself, I think, is recognizing that what they need are talented individuals in trying to develop career paths and success paths to get women into those positions. But I'm not quite sure that there's been tremendous change over the years in getting women into cable operations and managing cable systems.

INTERVIEWER: Do you think there's anything specifically that the industry can do to encourage more women to enter the operations side?

WARREN: I do. I think organizations, especially cable operations – organizations - need to have career paths for women and people of color to take this non-traditional route. And I think it is an organization taking a risk in creating a career path, in creating an education and development to take non-traditional people and put them into a traditional line operation. I think that there needs to be a consciousness about moving all people of diversity into the upper levels of the corporation because I think that has to be the overall objective. And the overall objective really has to be do you want an executive group that is representative of your customer base because it makes good sense and it's profitable to do it that way. And so, organizations, if they approach diversity in a non-traditional function that way and say it's going to be good for business if we do this, then yes, I think the industry and organizations can create it. You see the industry and you see corporations putting a modicum of interest against that. But I think it's such a fast-moving industry that to take time off to do those developmental plans or to spend a lot of time on career pathing, you know, it becomes secondary. It becomes a lesser priority to just keeping up with the rush of products.

INTERVIEWER: What do you think are the key elements of your personal success?

WARREN: What are the key elements of my personal success? I would say I'm very competent. I have a great sense of humor. I'm a very good manager of people. I'm very equitable. I give good feedback to people, honest feedback to people. I think I create an atmosphere in which people are challenged to be creative, to show initiative, to do their best and I think I could hold my own in a corporate environment which was predominantly male and learned very early on, as a female, you know, how to be female and also how to be male. You know, how to be what I needed to be in that environment. So, I think my success is made up of really both managing peers, managing ops and I think I do an exceptional job of managing people.

INTERVIEWER: Could you describe your management style? Has it changed through the course of your career?

WARREN: Well, of course it's changed because in my early years I wasn't managing anybody. So, you know, I had to learn. And, you know, what is my management style? That's a difficult question to answer. It would be easier if there were people here who knew me. But I'm pretty rigorous, very challenging, creative, lots of conversation, lots of dialog with the people who work for me, lots of feedback to the people who work for me, lots of, you know, sort of creating space around them and around myself so that they can be successful. And so that they can step off and, you know, take risks. So, I think my style is sort of made up of some good hard skills, some tough demanding skills and also some softer skills. You asked if my management style had changed. Well, in the last years that I was as Group Vice President for Jones Intercable, it became very important to me to speak from my heart when I was managing people. And I think I had always been afraid of doing but I think what I learned was that when I genuinely spoke from my heart, and maybe got emotional with people who worked for me and the people who worked with me that it really opened up a much more authentic dialog with those people. And also created, in me, the ability to take the risk to get to the final positive solution. Business solution. Not only an emotional solution, but a business solution. So I think that, you know, as I grew and matured, I learned much more how to be myself. I guess that's what I'm saying.

INTERVIEWER: Did you have a philosophy of mentoring?

WARREN: I do have a philosophy of mentoring. I believe that anybody in executive positions or upper-middle management positions should give time back to people who are in the corporation in a mentoring fashion. And I think if you spoke to anybody who has worked with me, they would say I've been very good at that. The one thing that I have noticed, if I was giving advice to somebody, let's say in a lower management position or a middle management position, is that I would say always approach the person that you want to approach from a mentoring standpoint. Because I know a lot of times people would say, I'd like to come in and talk to Ruth about my career, I'd like to go in and talk to her about my development, but she's so busy, I don't think that she'll be able to carve some time out. And I would say that those people who are targeted as mentors always have the time to mentor others. So, my advice to younger people is always make the approach.

INTERVIEWER: Did you have any mentors that influenced your career?

WARREN: I had a lot of bad mentors. And I'm saying that with facetiousness. I think that they were actually good mentors in that I could look at them and the advice that they were giving me or the manner in which they managed. There were things that I could take a look at and access and say this is not what I want to be doing. And I actually think, and I have said this on a lot of panels, but I think taking a look at people who you can get close to who are bosses of yours and make decisions about what you want to pick and choose from them are probably just as important and just as valuable as having somebody who really coaches you well. I had a president, Jim O'Brien, who I wouldn't say was a mentor, but certainly was somebody, and Glenn Jones, who took a risk in putting me into the position of Group Vice President of Operations. So, I had males within our corporation who believed in me deeply and were willing to take the risk to put a woman in a non-traditional role. But I wouldn't say that they mentored me.

INTERVIEWER: Could you tell me about your involvement with WICT?

WARREN: It was 1980 in Denver and the organization, Women in Cable, had just begun. June Travis was out here working for ATC at that point in time and she was one of the women who was really in a leadership position in the formation of this new women's association. And so we had a pretty strong chapter out here. As I was getting into the industry, there were really two things that people told me to join: Women in Cable and the Denver Cable Club, I think was the name of the second one. Well, one was a social club, which was the Denver Cable Club. And the other one was Women in Cable. So I started getting involved in Women in Cable. I think I was the Programming Chair at one point in '82 or '83 and, you know, we were doing the typical programs for that time, which were "Dress for Success" and, you know, sort of putting emphasis on, you know, how you look, versus the content of what it is that you're doing. But what I found was it was an organization in which I could meet people in the industry in Denver, make great friendships, network with people and I really enjoyed the association and really enjoyed the mission of the association. So, then at that point I left. I left Denver and sort of left the association for probably about four or five years. And came back to it in the late '80s.

INTERVIEWER: Okay. Well how do you see WICT as influencing the industry at large?

WARREN: I think that when people take a look at Women in Cable, you know, it's sort of like a stealth plane. Because I think that they sit there and say, you know, why do we need a women's organization? But you look at all the programs that we've put in place: focusing on women's leadership, focusing on life balance or focusing on education of corporations or corporative executives as to how to retain and hold onto women and people of color, and the association in its mission has really worked at creating in an industry in which women are given every chance equally and never discriminated against. And I think that over the 20 years that it has been in existence, it's moved from a "Dress for Success" organization to an organization that really has influence and power in the industry for making change. And is making change. Making definite changes in the industry. Even though sometimes the industry doesn't recognize it.

INTERVIEWER: Did your tenure as president contribute to your professional growth?

WARREN: Oh, most definitely. I mean, in many different ways, I think, just from a leadership standpoint. It was at that point in time in which I had just become Group Vice President of Operations. And so here I was Group Vice-President of Operations and I think both sort of contributed to each. But one of the things that I feel very strongly about is non-profit work. And anybody in any leadership position, any executive position within any corporation, giving back in a non-profit fashion and being president of this wonderful organization taught me the trials and tribulations and also all the positiveness of being in a leadership position in a non-profit, which I could then take that leadership learning and put into the for profit arena basically.

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Ruth Warren

Ruth Warren

YUTKIN: Hello. I'm Gerry Yutkin and we are videotaping this under a grant from The Hauser Foundation Oral History Project a part of The Cable Center in Denver, Colorado. Our guest today is Ruth Warren. Ruth is an old friend of mine, a long time friend of mine, who had been most recently Vice-President of Operations for Jones Intercable, which is now, I guess, no longer in existence.

WARREN: That's right.

YUTKIN: And that took place about a year ago that it was sold to Comcast. I should also say that we're recording this in March of 2000. Welcome and thank you for taking the time to visit with us.

WARREN: Thank you Gerry.

YUTKIN: Let me ask you one question before we get into your history and background.


YUTKIN: I would say that you are probably one of the most accomplished people in the industry. But then I'd like to ask you, would you prefer that I would say that you are probably one of the most accomplished women in the cable industry or...? I know you've been very active in women's roles in the cable industry for a long time. Would you prefer one or the other? One of the most accomplished individuals who happens to be a woman, or one of the most accomplished women?

WARREN: I thought you were going to ask me if I was one of the most accomplished violin players in the industry because I used to play the violin, although I haven't played it for years and accomplishment was never associated with my violin playing.

YUTKIN: Maybe you should continue with that.

WARREN: Yes, perhaps. In the industry I was recognized for my overall leadership and I think that that would be basically what I would like to be thought of as is an accomplished individual versus an accomplished woman because I think there's too much delineation between women and men and women's leadership skills and men's leadership skills and I think leadership is leadership and I would like to be known as an accomplished individual within the cable industry.

YUTKIN: Well, I certainly think that that's true.

WARREN: Well, thank you. Thank you.

YUTKIN: You've been in the industry since about 1980.

WARREN: Yes. Exactly.

YUTKIN: Was that a second career that you started at that point? What had you been doing before?

WARREN: Oh, Gerry, you're making me go back so far.

YUTKIN: Well, just give us a general.

WARREN: I had graduated with a BA in 1971 from the University of Kansas and sort of had no inclination to really work very hard when I got out. I didn't know what it was that I was going to do from a work standpoint, which I think was pretty common in the early '70's.

YUTKIN: It was in those days. It was right after Vietnam and the '60's.

WARREN: Exactly and career for women wasn't a big issue. My parents tried to instill in me a great work ethic but when it came to careers my father would talk to me about either becoming a nurse or a teacher or perhaps going to business school and business school was just an anathema to me. It was all the guys with flat tops and everybody else had long hair during the Vietnam War, so when I got out what I decided that I would do is just sort of experience life, which I did for almost 7 years. I lived in Denver, I lived in Boston, I lived in Aspen, I took a trip around the world and in that trip I became ill with hepatitis so I came back and I was 27 or 28 and decided I needed to start thinking about what I was doing with my life, at which point I scanned all of the different things that I was interested in and one of the things that I was interested in was going to business school and getting my master's in business, which I ended up doing. I ended up going to the University of Michigan and getting an MBA. I graduated in 1980 and because I have family out here in Colorado, I returned to Colorado and started looking for a job.

YUTKIN: And the first job that you got...

WARREN: The first job that I got was with Jones Intercable and it was quite interesting because I had no concept of what cable TV was at that point. I don't know if any of us really did in 1980. We were fighting, which was very interesting, we were fighting a dual new build.

YUTKIN: Overbuild?

WARREN: It wasn't really an overbuild. Jones and United had both been granted licenses to operate in Jefferson County and so when I was hired we were in this battle to really gain the customers in Jefferson County against United. So we would go into trenches and United would go into trenches and we'd both be knocking on the doors. Well, I was hired to do marketing and I'd never done marketing before and I'd never done cable TV – I'd certainly never worked in cable TV – and so it was all very new to me. It was like – what is this product that I'm supposed to be selling and what is this role that I'm supposed to be fulfilling, which was quite interesting and exactly what I actually wanted.

YUTKIN: But in 1980 it was, I think about five years after the satellite went up, maybe two or three years after HBO, CNN had already started on a shaky position but there was more programming at that time.

WARREN: There was more programming at that time, Gerry, but we were building what was a state of the art cable system at that point in time, which was 36 channels and we thought we were just the cat's meow because everybody else, I mean, the other small cable systems that we had had 12 to 18 channels and who would ever want 36 channels of cable programming? Is there even enough programming to fill those 36 channels of cable programming? But it was an interesting time because – especially from a marketing perspective – you could do no wrong. You'd go out and knock on a door, which I did, which I found wasn't my forte – door to door sales.

YUTKIN: Really? You started really from the ground up, literally.

WARREN: Well, I was trying to learn what it was that I was supposed to be doing in marketing this product, so I went out and knocked on doors and people would say, "Sure, I've been waiting for cable television." It wasn't like, let me tell you about cable television, they already knew. There was a lot of beginning hype around cable television and we called them the truck chasers, which probably other people have spoken about, but they just chased the truck down the street and said, "I'd like to sign up for cable TV." So it was an interesting time from a marketing perspective and it was an interesting time from a cable perspective because we were so new and such a hot product with no competition.

YUTKIN: So you really came in at a very good time. Off-air Jefferson County certainly could get the Denver channels but satellite and microwave was offering much more at that time.

WARREN: Right, right.

YUTKIN: So you started in the system and did you start as a sales person or as a marketing manager?

WARREN: I started as a marketing manager.

YUTKIN: With an MBA.

WARREN: Well, exactly, but you know I was earning probably about half of what my fellow MBAs were earning because the industry also wasn't very sophisticated when it came to compensation or even the people that they were hiring. I started as a marketing manager. Glenn Jones, at that point in time, was very involved in the cable system because United Cable, Gene Schneider, had a ton more money than Glenn did and both Glenn and Gene had received these licenses to operate in Arapahoe County, I believe it was, and Glenn had gone into Arapahoe County and Gene had come in and basically bought him out, said, "I'll give you a franchise for Broomfield, I'll give you a franchise for Brighton, and I will buy your equipment but I'm going to either beat you at this game or you're going to be bought out." So Glenn said, "That's okay, I've got a license to operate in Jefferson County and I'll just go next door to Jefferson County as Gene is occupied over here in Arapahoe County." So Glenn went over into Jefferson County...

YUTKIN: And left Arapahoe County.

WARREN: And sold his share, basically turned his license back in to Arapahoe County. So Gene was the single operator in Arapahoe County.

YUTKIN: I didn't know that.

WARREN: Yeah. So Glenn moves over into Jefferson County, I think feeling that it was okay to give up Arapahoe County because then Gene would be occupied there and Glenn would have Jefferson County and the market is big enough for the two of us to have these single franchises. Well, Gene also had a license to operate in Jefferson County and started to come into Jefferson County and use the same tactics. So it truly was – I mean, here I am, I don't know cable television, I have no experience in cable TV, I'm the marketing manager and Glenn would come into the system and it was sort of like the general, who's sort of like General Patton, coming in and marshalling his troops because he was bound and determined that he was not going to have happen to him in Jefferson County what had happened to him in Arapahoe County and that we were going to beat United at this competition. So it was very fascinating. It was a really fascinating time.

YUTKIN: When you first joined the company, how many subscribers, do you remember how many subscribers you had?

WARREN: In the company as a whole?

YUTKIN: In the system that you were in.

WARREN: Well, it was a new build, so...

YUTKIN: So it was fresh.

WARREN: Right, it was fresh.

YUTKIN: And in the company, how many?

WARREN: I think we had 60,000 at that point. It was very tiny.

YUTKIN: And that was primarily in Colorado?

WARREN: You know, we had some cable systems in Illinois and a cable system in...

YUTKIN: Out in Illinois?

WARREN: Yes, and Sedalia, Missouri, but Glenn had...

YUTKIN: Alabama?

WARREN: Yes, I think there were a couple in Alabama, exactly.

YUTKIN: But nothing bigger than...

WARREN: I think our biggest one was out in Illinois. I think we had 12,000 customers and to us, at that point in time, that seemed just huge.

YUTKIN: I'm sure. You said you got your MBA and I got into the business right around that time too, also with an MBA. It seemed to me that in those days, '79, '80, '81, there was all of the sudden a push to bring degrees in, those kinds of degrees. Did you find that to be an attractive thing in terms of your fellow workers or even the other cable operators? What did it mean at that time?

WARREN: That's an interesting question and I feel that for me, really the reason I had gotten my MBA, had gone back to school at 27 or 28, was because I wanted to sort of kick start my career and having bounced around a bunch...

YUTKIN: Eclectic?

WARREN: Yes, it was a very eclectic background, my work experience. So what I did was I really used the MBA as a vehicle to gain me entry to talk to people about a job and so when I came into Jones Intercable I really felt, and I've even said this on panels and in front of people, especially women, that if you don't feel as if you have the credentials to compete for a position then it is really important to get the credentials so that you can be taken credibly in your seeking a career move or in seeking a job. So when I got into Jones I don't think that there were a whole bunch of us that had MBAs. It had gained me the ability to talk to Glenn and to talk to the people who were hiring at that point and then it had gained me the position but there weren't a lot of people in Jones Intercable who had an MBA and the thing that I find fascinating, and actually the thing that I've told a lot of stories about, is that they taught us at business school of these amazing techniques, correlation analysis and statistical analysis and organizational development, and none of that existed! You were in the cable industry and the cable industry was this wild and wooly industry where there were lots of mom & pop operations and a lot of people who'd gotten into it who were just attracted by the movement of the industry. You didn't have either educational credentials or experience credentials.

YUTKIN: When I got into it I think the most analysis we got into was justifying an extension or a new build.

WARREN: That's exactly right – the capital.

YUTKIN: The payback analysis and revenue minus expenses and how long would it take to pay it off the capital investment.

WARREN: Right, right, exactly. I tell this story about one of the systems that we had in Sulphur, Louisiana and we had fired one of the managers down there and I was traveling with our engineer, Mike Gormally. We were going down there and Mike had come back with information saying basically this person needs to be fired and so we were traveling to Sulphur and as we got down there we met our regional manager and the regional manager who was a man by the name of Doyle Graves said, "Mike, I just want to tell you, this manager is so angry at you that he has threatened that if he sees you he's going to kill you." Mike said, "I understand what you're saying and yes it makes me nervous and I don't think I have anything to worry about." In fact, he was an old Vietnam vet and he was a pretty tough guy. I pulled him aside afterwards and said, "Why don't you have anything to worry about?" And he basically explained to me that he thought that he was much tougher than the manager who was threatening to kill him and at that moment in time, I thought, you know, they never taught us this at the University of Michigan at MBA. And the second thing I thought was my mother would be shocked that I was in an industry where people were being threatened, you know. But it was, it was that sort of grassroots, just rough and tumble.

YUTKIN: Down and dirty.

WARREN: Rough and tumble.

YUTKIN: How long did it take you to tell your mother that story?

WARREN: You know, I think I told it to her about 10 years later in 1990 when it became a little more sophisticated and sedate and I had too.

YUTKIN: Yes, yes. How long were you in Jefferson County?

WARREN: I was there about six months and in this exchange of Glenn's license in Arapahoe County he had received the franchise for Broomfield.

YUTKIN: The city of Broomfield?

WARREN: The city of Broomfield and we needed to build the cable system up there because what was happening in Broomfield was there was a cable operator by the name of Art Hanks, who had come in to apply for a second franchise in the city of Broomfield and the city said we had to take it to general election. So what we were trying to do was try to get some plant built and show good faith that we were actually going to build the cable system in Broomfield and so I was sent up to Broomfield to do many things, one of which was really to manage the inception of this cable system and the second thing was to run this campaign in which we were campaigning against Art Hanks receiving a second franchise, which we ended up winning. It was a strange vote, you had to vote yes if you didn't want the second franchise and so it was a convoluted franchising vote but we ended up winning it and being the single cable operator up there.

YUTKIN: You know, that's interesting because the early '80's, I think, were a time of major franchising efforts and both of the experiences that you had have kind of touched on, well not exactly, but competition, overbuilds. Maybe not so much overbuild, but a competitive...

WARREN: A competitive environment, right.

YUTKIN: ...environment and that really did not become much of a reality until, well I remember our first overbuild was in Louisiana.

WARREN: That's right.

YUTKIN: In Hammond, Louisiana, in 1985, '86, but now it's very common.

WARREN: I know, Gerry. I mean, I think those early experiences that I had were very unusual.

YUTKIN: Formidable.

WARREN: Right, exactly. And sort of fascinating for me because I came into the industry feeling as if there was competition, which I gradually understood that there wasn't competition, but the first two situations I worked in there was competition.

YUTKIN: And titles didn't really mean very much because everybody did everything in those days, especially in new builds, but when did you kind of segue officially from marketing into operations.

WARREN: Operations? After Broomfield, after I had spent probably about 8 months in Broomfield the corporation felt as if we didn't need a general manager, that we would run it out of our Jefferson County office and so they brought me into the corporate office as Director of Marketing Services, I believe is what it was. So I went from marketing to operations and back to marketing and I spent probably about a year and a half to two years in marketing at which point...

YUTKIN: Was that more corporate or...?

WARREN: It was corporate marketing. And it was actually a fascinating experience because I was on staff in a field in which marketing was not either highly thought of by our field, probably not highly though of within the cable industry at that point, and it secondarily was a staff position where you always had to be selling your programs in versus to the...

YUTKIN: To the line people.

WARREN: Right, to the line people, which was actually a very good experience to me, but after about a year and a half or two years, I made a decision that I didn't want to be in marketing any longer for a variety of reasons and I approached our chief operating officer, whose name is Tom Engle, was Tom Engle at that point.

YUTKIN: His name is still Tom Engle.

WARREN: His name is still Tom Engle, right. Exactly. (Laughter) And he said, "What is it that you're looking to do?" And I said, "Well, here are the different options but I'm just not going to stay in marketing." And he, at that point, said, "I've been thinking about a position that would be reporting to our regional vice presidents, which would be an assistant operations manager, and that you would be directly reporting to the regional VP and your responsibility wouldn't have direct line responsibility. In other words, people wouldn't be directly reporting to you, but in essence, you would get experience so at the end of this experience we could either put you into a VP position, put you into a large system, or put you into some position managing a group of systems, and it was exactly what I was looking for. Although I thought at that point, from a career standpoint, I would return to marketing because I really loved marketing but I went into it and just fell in love with the line operations. I fell in love with making decisions is what I fell in love with. I liked not having to sell all of my concepts and ideas into the line operations. I liked having bottom line responsibility.

YUTKIN: I understand that and agree with you for me and for you. So that took you, what? Up into the mid-'80s?

WARREN: Probably '8-, no it was pretty fast track. That was probably about '84, or was it '83? It was '83, '84, and then I had been in that position for a year and a half and I was promoted to a regional vice president of a new region, which was in Florida. So it was my only move, my only physical career move.

YUTKIN: So you lived in Florida?

WARREN: Right. With Jones Intercable I was moved down to Florida and it was sort of interesting because we were trying to set up this office and I couldn't get our purchasing agent, Margaret Bryant, to return my calls and what I found out subsequently was that we were going through a reorganization and Glenn Jones had basically said, "I want our regional VPs here in Denver. I want the brain trust here in Denver. I don't want you out there where I don't know what you're doing." So six months after I moved to Florida I was brought back to Denver as a divisional vice president, at that point, over Wisconsin and I stayed in that position for probably two years.

YUTKIN: Back in...?

WARREN: Denver.

YUTKIN: In Denver, with line responsibility, full-fledged?

WARREN: Right.

YUTKIN: So that probably took you to about '86, '87, something like that.

WARREN: Right.

YUTKIN: Before we progress, who were your heroes at that time in terms of providing inspiration or helping you in terms of defining where you wanted to go as you were learning the business? In the industry or not in the industry. Is that a tough...?

WARREN: It is a tough question and one of the reasons is, I'm asked often who my mentors were, people who really, as you said, inspired me, and I would have to say for the most part the people who I worked for were very good bosses for me, but not particularly good bosses. One man I worked for was the type of individual who would just throw me into a situation, say go appear in front of the franchise because...

YUTKIN: Fix it.

WARREN: Yeah, fix it, because we need a five-year extension for bank loans and you go do it. And for my type of personality it was probably the best situation I could have because I was constantly being dropped into these challenging situations that were terribly uncomfortable for me and he would give me advice but he wouldn't really ever coach me on how to do it. It was like, you go figure it out. I mean, I had to fire people that he had hired and I had to step in and run cable systems that were reporting to him. Just not particularly the best coach or mentor but from an inspiring standpoint, inspiring me to always learn, one, and inspiring me always to figure out how to manage this challenge that he had dropped in my lap.

YUTKIN: Sometimes we do things because of some people and sometimes we do things in spite of people.

WARREN: Absolutely. Right.

YUTKIN: So on the one hand you couldn't have had somebody better, but on the other hand maybe the direction wasn't that good.

WARREN: Exactly.

YUTKIN: Mid-'80s?


YUTKIN: How many women were in the industry? How many women did you know roughly that were in the industry, other than secretaries, of any responsibility?

WARREN: I don't have a specific number but the place where I found the most women, women who ultimately because pretty good friends of mine, were women who were in the national counts of the programming service or women who were in the regional offices of the programming services. Within the MSOs there were very few. Sharan Wilson was there with Daniels and Associates at that point and she was probably one of the few that was in a pure line operating positions, who I would consider a peer, but most of the women that I really enjoyed and most of the women who I could find within the industry truly were within the programming services. That's where women were being recruited and it's where women were being promoted.

YUTKIN: Any idea why?

WARREN: Well, we've had probably a lot of discussion about this over the years and I think one of the reasons is that there are some stereotypical roles for women and one of the stereotypical roles for women, or two, is marketing and the second one is sales and in the programming corporations really that was the career path. You entered in sales and marketing and affiliate relations and that was a pretty common career track for women to enter in to. In MSOs you entered in the same – marketing, customer service, but you just didn't find many women in line operations or in any of the technical operations side or in finance or any of the career paths that would take you up to the upper levels or even the mid levels of the MSO.

YUTKIN: You were president of Women in Cable.

WARREN: Right.

YUTKIN: Women in Cable was founded in...?

WARREN: In 1980.

YUTKIN: In 1980?

WARREN: 1979.

YUTKIN: When would you say that it started really taking off in terms of more women in the industry?

WARREN: Well, I think it took off in 1980 when Gail Sermersheim started it.

YUTKIN: How many members did they have in '80?

WARREN: I don't know. Probably very few. She talks about the story about the first meeting nationally and there were 15 women in it, so yes, it was very, very slim, but it has grown as has the presence of women within the cable industry over the years and a lot of it, I think, has been due to the work that Women in Cable and Telecommunications has done, but also the recognition within corporations that women do have something to add to the executive offices and also that there have been women who have been in the pipeline, so that the more women that you have in the pipeline the better the chances there are to have women at the top.

YUTKIN: Ruth, let me ask you about the industry. It's had a lot of very, very important pioneers, rugged individualists who go back into the '50s and '60s, you told us that amusing story about the South where your engineer was worried about getting shot at, it seems, in my perception, it seems that the industry has been unusually receptive to women and minorities, especially for a start up industry. Do you agree with that?

WARREN: I do, Gerry. I think as an industry we could have done better. I wish that we would have done better, but it was such a young industry when I got into it. I entered into the industry when I was 30 years old and the whole group of people that I became friends with were in their late '20s and early '30s and I think that that group of people and I think also the people at the top brought a consciousness to the industry that said, "Here we are. A new medium. New telecommunications, new industry, and let's create a model that is different than the old staid industries and let's have a model that puts emphasis on diversity." So the barriers to entry from a hiring standpoint weren't as you would find, I think, in the steel industry or some of the older industries...

YUTKIN: The more entrenched industries.

WARREN: Right, the more entrenched industries, and then secondarily, those people who are coming into the industry, the women and the African Americans and the Asians and the people of all cultural mix and also a lot of women were bringing with them a sensibility that said, okay, now that we're here, what is it that we can do to even break down further the barriers that keep us from, in women's case, keep us from going into the executive suites. And so within the corporations and also within the associations, Women in Cable and Telecommunications, and NAMIC, the National Association of Minorities in Cable, you had associations that supported corporations really doing tremendous work on the issue of diversity and then you had the corporations themselves that had people pushing them against the issues of diversity. So I believe, I don't know of many industries that have the strong associations like we do in the cable industry, women's associations and cultural diversity associations, and I also think that I don't know of many industries that have had the consciousness against the whole issue of diversity as the cable industry has, too.

YUTKIN: Not long ago I read a book by Alan Dershowitz and he was talking about prejudice in the medical profession and particularly anti-Semitism in the medical profession up really past World War II, even into the '50s and '60s and Jewish quotas and so on and as a result of that there were, what in many of the big cities, what were termed as Jewish hospitals where they were primarily funded by the Jewish community or they primarily had Jewish doctors and that was sorted as kind of a reactive thing because Jewish doctors could not get on staff of certain institutions if they had quotas or if they just excluded them and what he said in the book was, "We don't need any Jewish hospitals anymore because that's a thing of the past because Jewish doctors can get on staff of all these other places." Is the cable industry there yet?

WARREN: Vis-à-vis...?

YUTKIN: In terms of minorities and women. Have we achieved...?


YUTKIN: I know there's always more that can be done.

WARREN: That's right. No.

YUTKIN: Where are we on the pendulum in the year 2000?

WARREN: In the year 2000, no, we haven't achieved parity. I mean, it's very clear. There are still salary inequities, there's a lack of salary parities within the industry. When you take a look at the top positions, the top executive positions, and you look for either African Americans or Asians or women, no there is not a parity there and my fear is, and I think that this is the fear of all women within the industry and perhaps even those within NAMIC, is that as we go through these consolidations we lose the consciousness and we lose the entrepreneurs like Glenn Jones or like Leo Hindery or the people who have been incredibly supportive of the efforts to really break through the glass ceilings and we lose those people to these large corporations that don't have the same consciousness or who don't have those really as goals or objectives of their corporations. And I think that what is happening in the consolidation, from an MSO side, at least, is that you're losing a lot of women from corporate cable America who are going off, either to start their own businesses or to do things that they've wanted to do differently or to go with small start up corporations where they can be at the helm, but they're finding the opportunities in the industry right now not to be as many as there were perhaps ten years ago, five or ten years ago, which is unfortunate.

YUTKIN: That's also probably true for everyone though, now with consolidation, wouldn't you say?

WARREN: Yes, I would say that, but I also think that when you're looking at a population that doesn't have equal representation to begin with, then as that population diminishes because of consolidations than you even have less women who are in the pipeline to make it to the top of AT&T or Comcast or the large cable corporations.

YUTKIN: As the consolidation occurs, we hear an awful lot about cultural clashes. Do you think that this priority in terms of these cultural clashes will not be as high as some of the other things that they're trying to do in terms of integrating two different types of cultures? Do you think that's going to be like a sacrificial lamb?

WARREN: I don't think consciously, but I think whichever corporation is the acquirer, that culture reigns supreme, so if that culture is not real conscious of promoting women or minorities, people of color, then that culture – it doesn't make any difference if a Jones or a TCI or a Media One or whoever are really attuned to doing that, they'll be folded into that culture and lose their entity, lose the culture that they've tried to breed. That's no different than any other industry. That happens in industries all across the U.S., that the consolidator is the one whose culture continues.

YUTKIN: I hope you're overly pessimistic.

WARREN: (Laughter) Well, I don't say that I'm pessimistic because I think there's been a lot of change in the 20 years that I've been in the cable industry. I think there are women in positions of power and you have Gerry Laybourne starting her starting her own programming service.

YUTKIN: Which is?

WARREN: Oxygen.

YUTKIN: With Oprah?

WARREN: With Oprah Winfrey. And you have Katie McEnroe in charge of American Movie Classics and you have Kathy Dorr in charge of a programming service and you've got Mindy Hermann and you've got Jan Peters in Media One. So you've got all of these women who have acceded to the top spots, so I'm not overly pessimistic, I just think that American industry has to be vigilant about putting people of color and women into positions of influence and positions of responsibility and having enough women and people of color in the pipeline so that as they progress and as these corporations age they also have the population that can age into the executive suites. You just have to have a consciousness about it because otherwise all these women and people of color are going to go to these small start ups where they can get good equity and good options and run them, and maybe that's the new opportunity for people, which it obviously is because there are lots of people leaving the cable industry to do that.

YUTKIN: That's certainly true, but we've seen some of the giants of industry fall on their face over the years, so it's not working like it was 20, 30, 40 years ago.

WARREN: Right.

YUTKIN: IBM's changed, AT&T, all of them, so you never know.

WARREN: You don't.

YUTKIN: They may be right in going to start ups right now.

WARREN: And there's a part of me that says that they are right because if you have a woman in charge, as there are women in charge of many of these small Internet companies, if those become the AT&T in 20 or 30 years.

YUTKIN: Sure, the AOLs.

WARREN: Yes, exactly.

YUTKIN: Ruth, why don't we go back the chronology of your career in the industry. In 1987, Glenn Jones tapped you for a new position.

WARREN: He did. That was sort of an interesting story, too. We'd had a group of industrial psychologists in our corporation doing a lot of organizational development work and one of the things I told them was I ultimately, at some point in my career, wanted to be president of a corporation.

YUTKIN: Something.

WARREN: Something – whatever. And sure enough about three months later after they'd been consulting with us, Glenn called me into his office and as he was wont to do he said, "Ruth, I've made you president of Jones Lightwave." (Laughter)

YUTKIN: What's that?

WARREN: And I said, "Well, so what's Jones Lightwave?" Because this was not a corporation that existed before that moment, and he said, "Well, it's a corporation in which we're going to buy up MMDS licenses." I can't even think of what it stands for.

YUTKIN: Multiple-dimensional...?

WARREN: Yeah, something like that. It was through the air cable TV.

YUTKIN: Minisite. Minisite microwave.

WARREM Right, right. And he said, "I want you to run it." And I said, "Okay, well could you tell me how we're going to finance this." And he said, "Well, that's all for you to figure out." And so I left this office and I thought, I wonder if I really have a choice, which you always wondered with Glenn once he was promoting you whether or not you had a choice to say no. It happened several times in my career and I thought, well, this will be an interesting experience and so I said, "Okay, this sounds great." And about 8 months later was back in the cable operations because of several things. The FCC was so tightly controlling of those MMDS licenses that it was just a bureaucratic nightmare to try to get them to approve transfer of license or approval of the licenses and at the same time, some licenses that we'd actually purchased we were being sued over and so we couldn't figure out exactly what we wanted to do. We didn't know how this fit into our corporate strategy. So I got a call from him one day and he said, "We've decided to get out of the MMDS business and what I'd like you to do is take over the cable systems that were in another part of the corporation called Jones Spacelink. Run those cable systems and run a group of cable systems within Jones Intercable."

YUTKIN: And that was a separate company?

WARREN: Yes. Jones Spacelink was a separate company. It had originally been designed to be in the SMATV business, the dish business, and then had evolved into limited partnerships, which Jones Intercable also used, but limited partnerships against very small cable systems, so it was made up of cable systems in places like Grants and Socorro, New Mexico...

YUTKIN: Winnemucca?

WARREN: Winnemucca, Nevada. Places that no one ever wanted to visit.

YUTKIN: Did you ever go to Winnemucca?

WARREN: I did go to Winnemucca. The only place I didn't go to was we had a little cable system outside of Houston, and I can't even think of the name of it.

YUTKIN: Rosen...?

WARREN: Rosenberg, right! Rosenberg, Texas and that was the only one that I never went to. But they were cable systems that our former VP or President of Jones Spacelink had bought sort of betting on... because they were all associated with mining or oil and gas or something. Well, right after we bought them, they all went like this. So, we had cable systems up in Wyoming in which the people were living in the trailers...


WARREN: Lusk, and someplace else, where they were living in trailers and we were actually losing homes passed. So I did that and then they decided that I would move over into the Jones Intercable and so I was running both cable systems in Jones Spacelink and also cable systems in Jones Intercable at that point, late '80s.

YUTKIN: And then you got the big promotion.

WARREN: Right, right.

YUTKIN: In 1990?

WARREN: Yes, right.


WARREN: I was tapped to be Group Vice-President of Operations for Jones Intercable, which was a position in which I had line responsibility for all of our cable systems.

YUTKIN: Back to the line. Well, but these other positions were...

WARREN: Well, they had... exactly.

YUTKIN: The Lightwave probably wasn't...

WARREN: Lightwave was lots of nothing except headaches. (Laughter)

YUTKIN: I'm sure you did the best you could.

WARREN: Yes, exactly.

YUTKIN: I think it may be a tribute to you that they got out of the business...

WARREN: Before they lost a ton of money.

YUTKIN: No, after exhausting your time and efforts, in other words, if you couldn't do it nobody else could.

WARREN: Well, I don't know about that, Gerry, but...

YUTKIN: Well, I would suggest that there's certainly an element of truth, I believe.

WARREN: Well, thank you.

YUTKIN: Then you got really back into a major position in a major MSO. How was that?

WARREN: It was wonderful! I mean, to be at the helm of all of our cable systems of all of the cable operations and to be in a position in which I could really exercise my strategic skills and be creative, because I think part of our culture, and it came from Glenn, was always to put a great deal of emphasis on creativity. So that was fun. It was difficult, and I think this is true probably of men and women, but it was, I think, a little more true of women, but I went from being a peer to actually being the boss of my peers and that was difficult and there were some messes to clean up and I had to clean up the messes and yet over the years, I think what happened was that I could, along with the other key executives, really transition the corporation into being a corporation that had a great deal of emphasis on our associates and on the customers and on the shareholders and also on our bottom line. And of course, I am very prejudiced, but I think the corporation did an exceptional job in all of those arenas. We constantly put the emphasis on moving forward, never stagnating, never remaining the same and so we really pushed ourselves to be doing better than, hopefully, our peers, but measuring ourselves sometimes against ourselves too. How much better can we be doing?

YUTKIN: I think as Glenn, in some ways, was a maverick in the industry in terms of the way he started and progressed and went after the partnerships and the way in which the whole company grew, there was, at least when I was with Jones Intercable, there was never any sense of anything but we'll do our best because our best is, there is no better. We were always looking for improvement but we never really tried to mold into cable as a preconceived idea other than just excellence.

WARREN: You know, we didn't Gerry, and I think part of the reason I loved the corporation so much was because of the quirkiness of Glenn and his emphasis on doing things differently than what everybody else did in the cable industry. Our managers' conferences, as you know, every year we would have a mangers conference where we'd pull in the people from the field and had people from corporate – well, they got to the point where we had an in-house band called Cerebral Hemorrhage, you know, "music you'll love a clot", people would get up and stage dive and Glenn would do stage dives and Jim O'Brien, our President, would do stage dives. I mean, it was...

YUTKIN: Did you ever do a stage dive?

WARREN: I did do a stage dive.

YUTKIN: You did?

WARREN: Yeah, yeah. And it was fun!

YUTKIN: Did they catch you?

WARREN: Yes, they did and it was really quite cute because I was standing up and it was all these young guys that worked in the corporate office and I could hear them mumbling sort of to each other, "Watch out, watch out! It's Ruth, we can't drop Ruth!"

YUTKIN: We've got to catch her!

WARREN: Yeah, we've got to catch her.

YUTKIN: Carefully!

WARREN: Exactly, exactly. You know, so I think it was a corporation that was hard to put your finger on and people outside the corporation, and I heard this quite a bit, either from cable systems that we were purchasing – and I actually had one woman say to me one time when we were purchasing her cable system, "You know, what is it like to work for Glenn because I've heard that he's extraordinarily eccentric and sort of quirky." And I said, "He is, and it makes for a wonderful, wonderful corporation." Because it just had a sense of family but it had a sense of competitiveness and it had a sense of excellence and it had a sense of quality. His motto was "In what we do we have no equal". And you begin to believe that by working there.

YUTKIN: Do you think that there's a downside to spending your entire cable career in one company, in one organization? There's been a lot of movement back and forth with most people in the industry, many people in the industry, at the senior level. By not working with another company, say, do you think that you may have missed something, or if you did, was it important? There are ups and downs to each situation. What are your thoughts on that?

WARREN: I don't have an ounce of regret for spending 20 years at Jones Intercable. I'm the type of individual who needs, as I was referring to the former boss that I had who was inspiring in his bosshood, I need a challenge and the corporation was wonderful to me in that it always gave me new challenges and new things to do and I think, as a woman, there was a point in time in which I felt as if I had probably gone, this was before I was Group VP of Operations, I had probably gone as far as I could. I think at that point, had I not have been promoted into an executive position, I probably would have left the corporation because I had a strong career desire to be somewhere at the helm of a corporation, but the corporation recognized that and also recognized what I would bring to that role and put me in it. So, no. And I haven't searched for a job since I got out of it so I'm not sure whether or not somebody else on the outside would see that as a detriment or not.

YUTKIN: Had you not been there, what do you think you might have gone to look for at that time? In cable?

WARREN: Oh, yes. Because I love – I mean, I don't know how much I would love it now, but for the 18 or 20 years that I've spent in cable TV, I loved it. It was wonderful. I loved the people there, I loved the dynamic vibrancy of the industry, the ...

YUTKIN: It was a good time, too.

WARREN: Yeah, it was a great time. It was a wonderful time and if I were to have looked for another position because I hadn't achieved my career goals at Jones Intercable, I'm sure it would have been within cable.

YUTKIN: Can you think of the toughest decision that you've had to make or an area that were tough decisions and give me an example on how did you deal with it?

WARREN: The toughest decisions have always been the people decisions. When I've had to fire someone and I've had to do it frequently throughout my career because I really believe that I had a responsibility to Jones Intercable to have the best people in the positions that I possibly could have and when somebody wasn't performing, they knew they weren't performing because I gave them a ton of feedback and tried to create an environment and a situation where they could rise to the need of the position. Not my need, but the need of the position. The toughest one was the first boss that I had at Jones Intercable eventually reported to me and I had to fire him.

YUTKIN: It must have been very difficult.

WARREN: Well, it was difficult, it was very difficult and he ended up being terribly, terribly angry at me and I think he probably still is angry at me, which is his problem, not mine, but it was a very difficult situation and yet I was very clear with him and it was very clear to me that he was not performing well. In fact, he was a difficult boss for the people who reported to him, so he needed to be gone. That was probably the toughest situation that I had to handle.

YUTKIN: Terminating people is very difficult because you wonder, did I take every opportunity to try to solve a problem like that?

WARREN: Exactly.

YUTKIN: We just turned into a new millennium, or will in 2001.

WARREN: Right.

YUTKIN: What's your prognosis for the industry, given the fact that, I think, at this point it may be even difficult to define...

WARREN: What the industry is.

YUTKIN: ...what the industry is and what it will be in five or ten years. Give us a couple of thoughts. Do you think convergence is going to succeed and everybody's going to live happily ever after?

WARREN: No, I don't. I think it's difficult, Gerry, right now to sort of blow away the clouds or the smoke that is enveloping us with all of the hype of the Internet and all of the technological advancements that are going on and the consolidation. It just seems to me that telecommunications, cable TV, the medium of cable TV, the medium of the Internet, will be with us for the rest of our lives, certainly. What the infrastructure around that looks like, I don't know. People believe in bundling. AT&T and other corporations have said, "This is the way that we're going to do it." I think it's very difficult to execute against a bundled vision. I think it's a good vision, I mean, I think a one-stop shopping for the consumer is a good vision, I think it's just extraordinarily difficult to do the executional part of that vision. I think also the Internet and video streaming, if the Internet can be delivering what is currently delivered through cable TV, then I think that that is challenging to the industry. I think that the plethora of overbuilders is fascinating to me. I mean, here in Denver we have US West, who is receiving franchises, we have Wide Open West, who is receiving franchises, we have AT&T, who is the incumbent. I mean, where does it end and what does that marketplace look like? Are there going to be two to three telecommunications providers within a single market or is there even a new technology that's going to come along that's going to usurp the hardwire. I think the hardwire will always be there, but is it going to be one hardwire or two hardwires or three hardwire plus...

YUTKIN: Or four or five.

WARREN: Or four or five, plus direct TV, which gets into Internet access. So, it's a very confusing time. I mean, I don't think I have... I don't know, I suppose maybe there might be somebody out there who has some sort of discernment as to what the future looks like, but I can't see it. I have a hard time seeing past all this Internet hype too.

YUTKIN: When I got into the business in 1979, it was four or five years after the satellite went up, HBO was launched in a big way and my first position was in Appleton, Wisconsin. We'd just launched HBO and the theater owners, the cinema owners in town, were getting together to put pressure on the city council to do something about pay TV.


YUTKIN: Particularly pay TV because they thought it was going to drive them out of business.

WARREN: Yes, exactly.

YUTKIN: I didn't, well, I was new to the business and I wasn't sure where to go, but what we found was a sense that the pie expanded whereas the local owners had all of the pie and were worried about giving up that pie. In fact, the pie got bigger and they're probably making more money now than they ever would have. The networks are another example. We keep reading and I remember, certainly you remember...

WARREN: Right.

YUTKIN: ...the days that, oh, isn't it great, we're gaining on the networks and they don't have 95%, they're down to 80% and now they're down to 70% and I don't know what they're at now, 56%, I think, the last time I saw, and yet they're making money.

WARREN: Well, and one of the things that I've been doing since I haven't been working at Jones is that if somebody will come to me with a business plan and people come to me because there are lots of people out there, lots of women out there, which is really fascinating, who are starting their own businesses, so they'll come to me for feedback on the business. This young woman came to me for feedback on this e-commerce independent record business, independent artist business, basically, music artist business. And I mean, it's just a fascinating business and I sit there and think, she's taking on the recording business, which is mainstream, and saying, there are all these independent recording artists and let's just expand it. That says that if I spend x number of dollars a year on CDs she's going to expand that by making accessible all these independent artists. To me, where does it end? It seems so tied into our booming economy right now. If the economy goes like this, then does that pie shrink dramatically and what is it that people truly want? At some point the economy has got to go like this, I would assume. Something is going to happen sometime perhaps within our lifetime to put the stops on this raging economy.

YUTKIN: If not stops, holding back a little bit or leveling off.

WARREN: Exactly. So all of this telecommunications, all the telecommunications providers which are providing either competition in highly competitive environments or are providing discretionary income sorts of products, I think that you've got to have a plan B for some inevitability of people not having the money to spend.

YUTKIN: So you're cautiously optimistic.

WARREN: Well, yeah. I mean, I'm still... I think the telecommunications industry is the best one to be in, bar none. I loved the cable industry when it was the cable industry and I think right now, if I were entering at age 30 I would very definitely be targeting some part of this industry because it's exciting.

YUTKIN: Well, these days, some would say that 30's over the hill.

WARREN: Yeah, that's true.

YUTKIN: Remember when we used to say, don't trust anybody over 30. You've got to be a millionaire by the time you're 30 now.

WARREN: I know. That's right.

YUTKIN: In the last couple of minutes, what have you been doing in the last year and personally I know you're active in all kinds of things. You've had many activities before and now you're able to give more time to your causes. Tell us, what are your favorites these days?

WARREN: Well, I have two local non-profits that I'm on the board of. One of them is called the Five Points Media Center, whose mission is really to provide education, training and advancement opportunities to economically disadvantaged kids, teenagers. The second one is Transformations, which is providing technical education to women who are looking to go, it's sort of a welfare to work group of people. And they're wonderful, wonderful organizations. That doesn't keep me entirely busy, so I've been doing a lot of traveling and sort of just having a good time. I like having the time; I feel like it's quite a blessing to have the time and the finances to be able to take advantage of the time.

YUTKIN: I know you're a pretty disciplined individual, but do you mind having to be in the office at a particular time, or do you enjoy sleeping late a little bit?

WARREN: You know, it's pretty interesting because I don't. I find myself...

YUTKIN: Probably at first.

WARREN: Well, not even then. I find myself getting up at 7:00, which is probably much later than these guys who are filming just got up. But I am fairly disciplined and it doesn't mean that I miss going into the office, but I feel as if I want to get an early start on the day and make sure that it's full and that I feel good at the end of it.

YUTKIN: Thank you very much.

WARREN: You're quite welcome. Thank you.

YUTKIN: I really have enjoyed it. We have been talking to Ruth Warren, who is the recently retired Group Vice-President of Jones Intercable. This is part of the oral history project funded by The Hauser Foundation as a part of The Cable Television Center and Museum in Denver, Colorado, whom we thank for the funding. Ruth, thank you very much for coming in.

WARREN: Thank you, Gerry. I've enjoyed it very much.

YUTKIN: I appreciate it.

WARREN: Thanks.

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Robert Weary


Interview Date: July 11, 2000
Interview Location: Junction City, KS
Interviewer: Liz Burke
Collection: Hauser Collection

BURKE: Good afternoon. Welcome. We are here for the Hauser Oral and Video History Foundation and today we're recording a live interview on July 11th, 2000 in Junction City, Kansas. I am Liz Burke and I'm here interviewing Bob Weary at his law office in Junction City. We're recording his history as a cable pioneer and highlighting some of his contributions. This project is proudly sponsored under the leadership of The Cable Center of Denver, Colorado. It is funded by The Hauser Oral and Video History Project.

We'll start with what Bob Weary is doing today and then we'll look back at his impact on the cable industry, where he's been, and things that he's continuing to influence, what are some of the important turning points in this man's career and in the cable industry that he has been involved with since shortly after World War II. We'll look at the three phases of the cable history. The first phase started in the late '40s. This was the era that began with the concept of basic cable. There was a group of channels assembled over-air broadcast and sold at a fixed monthly price. Then a second era began sometime around 1975, and that was the dawn of the satellite distribution age. This was the time when Home Box Office, and shortly thereafter, WTBS, carried television signals on a geostationary satellite. That particular period is highlighted by the founding of a large number of both basic and pay television cable networks. Many of them are still around today. Then the third era began in about 1992 with the digital and internet age and also the deregulation of cable. Digital television recording, storage, transmission and reception techniques have been developed. Set top subscriber boxes and pure digital networks have also occurred during this timeframe.

We're going to go back first to the early years of cable. Bob, can you tell us when and how you first became interested in cable television?

WEARY: Well, I'd served as a fighter pilot in World War II and started practicing law in Kansas City, and then unfortunately I got recalled into the Air Force during the Korean War and when I got out after that in about 1955 I either was going to go back with my old law firm, which was a large firm in Kansas City, or I'd kind of decided I had an interest in getting into business on the side and I couldn't really do it in a big law firm. My father was a lawyer out here practicing by himself so I decided to gamble and come out here and go into practice with him and see what I could do. One of the first things that we spotted was cable television. There wasn't very much in the way of cable television then; that was in late 1957 and there were no systems in Kansas that I know of unless perhaps in Liberal, Kansas. They had one of the early systems there, but they had a system down in Fayetteville, Arkansas and one in Giman, Oklahoma. We went down to visit – I and Bud Weir, who joined together to look at this – so we flew down to Fayetteville and talked to a gentleman there. I can't remember his name, although he was one of the early presidents of NCTA. He had built this system himself, built his own amplifiers and put a pole up on one of the small mountains there and ran this down to the city. He was providing, I think, five channels of television there and he'd been in the radio business and was still in, so he built his own amplifiers because there was very little in the way of equipment, cable equipment, being manufactured then. We picked his brain and came back and debated whether cable television would work here because we had one signal off the air that was free and they didn't have any down in Fayetteville. After debating that at some length we decided maybe it would work. We had to get signals – there was only one station in Topeka and there were three in Kansas City, and so we were going to have to get these signals in from Kansas City. So we started looking around. The only equipment manufacturer as I remember was Enron back then and they manufactured a little five-channel amplifier. This fellow, Kurt Ferris, who had the system down in Diamond was their sales representative in this area. So we contacted him and had him come up here and the first problem was to figure out how tall a tower it was going to take to get these Kansas City signals because that was 115 miles away. The way we did that was he took some equipment up to measure the signal strength in his airplane. He had an airplane too, so he flew that at various levels to determine where we might get a signal that was strong enough to pick up. So he determined that that was 500 feet. So we then had to dig up some financing, so I put together some projections and we visited with a head of a bank in Kansas City that I was acquainted with because our law firm had represented him there. We took this projection down and nobody then really had heard about cable television in this area and bankers certainly knew nothing about it. So anyway, I presented this projection to him and we explained it to him and he was kind of a kind-hearted banker. He decided he'd lend us $60,000. So then we came back and got a franchise, and in those days getting franchises was pretty simple. You know, you'd just go in and ask the city and they'd give you one because they all thought you were crazy anyway, that this wouldn't work. And so we got the franchise and then ordered some Enron equipment and started building the system and we would hook up customers as soon as we got a section built so we could get a little revenue and I think we were charging $6.50 per month for these signals. But anyway, we finally got the system built and it did pretty well and then we started looking for additional franchises in this area. So we got a number of franchises in Kansas, in Manhattan, and in Salina, and in Hutchison, Kansas. Back then we didn't really figure places like Topeka and Wichita were viable because they had all three networks off the air, and so we basically collected franchises in communities ranging from 5,000 to about 50,000. We kept building the company up until we were by far the largest operator in Kansas and started expanding to other states.

BURKE: What was that timeframe when you were just building?

WEARY: Well, we started in '58 and I would guess by the late '60s we had a number of towns.

BURKE: And how many channels were you providing for your customers?

WEARY: Shortly after we got the system built here and before we built any others, we decided we had to get some signals in by microwave, and so Larry Boggs, one of the early pioneers, while he operated out of Oklahoma he had some systems up in Kansas in our area. So we made a deal with Larry to build this microwave system and so we microwaved in all of the Kansas City stations which greatly increased the quality of our signals, and then we microwaved in the Wichita stations. So when we got through with all that we were furnishing way more television than you could get in Kansas City or Wichita or anyplace else. Then we continued to expand that system on out into western Kansas, so we kind of splattered microwave all over the state. It ran east and west and north and south and the microwave company is still in existence and still supplying these signals.

BURKE: Do you still have your first tower?

WEARY: We still have our first tower.

BURKE: How did you manage having locations all over the state? How did you deal with that? Did you have centralized or have someone in every system?

WEARY: Yeah, we centralized. Most of the towns or cities we were in were big enough to justify a local office of fairly good size, and so we had local offices in all those towns and centralized management here.

BURKE: And how involved were you in all that?

WEARY: Well, I was pretty involved. We hired people to do the day-to-day operations. I guess the major part of my time I spent in putting together the financing for all these things as we expanded them, but I kept a close eye on what was going on.

BURKE: So did you still practice law during that time?


BURKE: So you had a lot of irons in the fire.

WEARY: Right, I was pretty busy in those days.

BURKE: Did you have any special training or skills? You're a practicing lawyer, but what were some of the other things that helped you understand the industry you were getting in to?

WEARY: Well, I don't know that I had a lot of other skills; I just learned as we went along and during this entire period of time the cable television industry was changing very rapidly. To start out with there was absolutely no regulatory or legal framework for the cable business, and of course that gradually started to develop and so I did all the legal work for our corporations and did a lot of lobbying back in Washington. In those days, our big opponent was the broadcasters who didn't seem to like us for some reason, and they were very powerful in Washington, however the industry in those days consisted of a lot of little operators like us scattered all over the country in smaller communities. It really hadn't gotten into the big cities yet. So we were very effective in that all of these small owners scattered around the country all knew their senators and congressmen, and so when we would go back there in large groups we had people that personally knew them all, and so we were able to lobby pretty effectively as against the broadcasters who had consolidated and were large companies by then.

BURKE: Were there some particular things that you worried about or felt that needed to be changed in those early years that were significant barriers?

WEARY: Well, probably the biggest issue we had in the early days was the copyright issue, and the question was can we carry these signals without permission from the owners of the copyright and without paying the owners of the copyright, and that got us involved with the movie industry and they were of course very aggressive in trying to subject us to the copyright laws. I guess that legally the question boiled down to whether we were rebroadcasting or retransmitting or whether we were just providing an antenna service, which we maintained was what we were doing, and so that eventually wound its way into the courts and Strat Smith along with one other lawyer led litigation for us. Strat had gotten involved in cable law in the very early days and so fortunately we were successful in that litigation. As soon as we won that lawsuit, the movie industry was able to get legislation proposed and the question was what sort of form that legislation was going to take, and if we had to negotiate that legislation after having lost that copyright case we would have been in very serious trouble. So NCTA at that time appointed a committee to negotiate the first copyright law and I served on that committee with two or three others and we negotiated a law which we felt worked fairly well for us and would let us proceed as an industry. So that probably was the biggest issue we had.

BURKE: Probably the first of many though.

WEARY: The first of many. Then they began to get into wanting to regulate our rates and developed a regulatory framework for the industry. So being a lawyer this was a very interesting period for me because I could see this legal and regulatory framework develop from nothing to what we have today and it's been through a lot of changes.

BURKE: Did you have a lot of contacts at the FCC, or how did you work through the system?

WEARY: Well, we spent a lot of time working with the FCC and I think initially it seemed like they were reasonably sympathetic to us because we were a little industry trying to grow and the movie industry and the broadcast industry were both well established and very strong and so we were kind of the underdogs and I think we got a fair amount of sympathy from the FCC in those days. So it was a combination of trying to convince the FCC staff of our points of view and then lobbying with the members of Congress to see that they weren't overwhelmed by the movie industry and the broadcasters.

BURKE: So it seems like maybe one of the things you liked about the industry is it was a bunch of little operators that were underdogs and you could effect some interesting changes. Were there some other things that were exciting about the early cable days?

WEARY: Well, of course things kept changing, you know. We started out with these five-channel amplifiers and then we went to twelve-channel amplifiers, so the technology itself was changing very rapidly and what you could do with the technology, and then satellites came along and everything kept changing. In fact, it seemed like the speed of change picked up and I think it's still rolling pretty fast.

BURKE: High speed of change. What would you say some of the keys were to building such a large and successful cable system here in Kansas?

WEARY: I guess one of the key things was that we got there first and were able to put together a pretty good sized company pretty quickly.

BURKE: That probably involved a lot of energy from a lot of people.

WEARY: Right. We had all of the medium sized towns in Kansas in our group. You have to bear in mind that Kansas doesn't have a lot of big cities and we didn't really want to go into anything smaller than towns of about 5,000-8,000 in population, but we had outside of the far western part of Kansas, why I think we had virtually all of the towns in that category between 5,000-8,000 and 50,000.

BURKE: Did you have any responsibilities for hiring and training people to go into this new industry?

WEARY: Well, we had to hire people.

BURKE: It was so new – how did you find people to even work for you?

WEARY: The first technician we had was a fellow that served in the Army out at Fort Riley and he was in the Signal Corps and things were fairly simple then, you know, we just had that five-channel amplifier and we started out with him and he sort of grew with the industry. Then we hired some people from the power industry here in Kansas and technicians were beginning to develop then.

BURKE: So in a way they almost had to train themselves.

WEARY: They had to train themselves, yeah. There just wasn't a lot of experience in this at that time.

BURKE: Was there ongoing need for financing along with all the training and hiring and legislative... As you grew, did you finance from just more subscribers or did you have to go back and borrow more money?

WEARY: No, we had to go back and borrow more money.

BURKE: You had to.

WEARY: So we started out financing our systems in Kansas City. That market was a pretty conservative market so we moved to Chicago and then kind of all over the country – Boston...

BURKE: Of course during that time cable was growing everywhere.

WEARY: Right, but you know, they were locked in to the major money center banks. They developed quite a bit of expertise in financing cable systems by then. It wasn't like when we first started out.

BURKE: Well, apart from serving as a fighter pilot and getting out and coming back here, was there anything else that helped you decide to take such a risk in such a new industry? This is not a job that's for the risk averse.

WEARY: No, it was just kind of a gamble. It looked to me like it might work and it was something new. We certainly didn't envision that the industry was going to grow the way it did, and for a good part of that additional period of course the satellite business didn't exist so it looked like it was going to be pretty limited to these smaller communities that didn't have a lot of television, but once we got the satellites, why, that changed things completely.

BURKE: Is that when you saw the really big growth, with the advent of all the channels that could come across the satellite or were you growing at a big pace just as you developed?

WEARY: We were growing at a pretty good pace. Then Mr. Weir, he decided that he wanted to get out of the business and retire, so we wound up selling our company then to Norman Lear and Bud Yorkin.

BURKE: And when did that happen?

WEARY: That happened in '78.

BURKE: So you were pretty big by then. A lot had happened.

WEARY: Yeah, a lot had happened.

BURKE: Now along the way, you got very involved in a lot of organizations. Tell us why you picked those organizations and what some of your goals were.

WEARY: Well, I guess the first organization that I got involved in was the Mid-America Cable Association and a couple of lawyers down in Oklahoma had started a state association down there and I guess they got tired of doing that. Anyway, they wanted to quit and I'd gotten acquainted with them and they wanted us to take the thing over. So I organized a regional Mid-America Cable Association, which included initially Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma, and later Nebraska, and we hired Rob Marshall as our first executive director and he has been with them every since. It was a very successful organization for years and we took care of doing all the lobbying work in those states and supervising it. Then gradually there became more and more emphasis on regulations in the states and all the states developed associations and then the job became one of supporting and supervising those state associations.

BURKE: Of course the Mid-America Association is still alive and well and having their annual growing membership. Who were some of the players back then when you started and are you in contact with all the people at Mid-America still?

WEARY: Well, pretty much. Of course a lot of them have left the industry now, and I guess of the people that were there when we started there aren't very many of them.

BURKE: Who were some of those original founders?

WEARY: I don't know. We, of course, had the biggest company and I really can't remember, unfortunately.

BURKE: And then at some point, a group of you decided that you needed to do something with programming and that was another organization you got involved in. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

WEARY: Well, yeah, the smaller operators were all trying to grow their organizations and the big disadvantage we operated under was that we couldn't negotiate near as good programming rates as the bigger companies could, and of course we kept our eye on TCI who was the biggest, and Time Warner, and we knew what discounts they were getting which were based on the number of subscribers they had, so we were a little naïve but we had this idea that if can assemble a bunch of small operators and we can represent the same number of subscribers we can get the same discounts.

BURKE: Of course that turned into quite a success story because you were a founder for the National Television Co-op.

WEARY: Right, this was the Co-op and we kind of struggled when we were going, but we kept supporting it and got it so it was going fairly well and started negotiating these programming contracts. We were getting some discounts and initially our approach was, well, we'd like to get the same discounts for the same number of subscribers that these other companies were, and we kind of had our eye on TCI. We kind of liked their discounts. So we started negotiating with all the various programmers and they raised a number of problems. The first argument that they had was, well, we just get one bill from TCI and we're going to get a jillion of them from you guys. So we said, well, fine, we'll take care of that. We'll present you one bill from all of our members so you'll just get one bill. Then they thought about that awhile and they said, well, we know we're going to get paid by TCI but we don't know whether we're going to get paid by you guys. And so we said, well, we'll take care of that, we'll collect in advance a month's fees. So not only will we have the money to pay you, but we'll pay you faster than TCI does. So we just kept working away at it and finally we got the programmers to feel like there was going to be some benefit in this.

BURKE: Of course, I think today there's over 80 programmers involved in that Co-op.

WEARY: Right, right, and I think they represent about 13 million subscribers now.

BURKE: I heard it was over 20 million a month. So from the beginning, probably here in your office, that idea grew to be quite a large project.

WEARY: It's been very successful and far exceeded our expectations. I don't know whether they finally got a contract with HBO or not. Of course there weren't as many programming sources then so HBO was one of the first ones that we tackled, and so we went back and negotiated with Joe Collins and all those guys and kind of thought we'd talked them into a deal, and so we went home and they later contacted us and said, no, that was going to cost them too much money and so they just couldn't do it. So we never did get a contract worked out with HBO unless...

BURKE: I think eventually they did.

WEARY: I think eventually they did – it's just been in the last couple years.

BURKE: It took a long time.

WEARY: Of course now the NCTC is a strong organization.

BURKE: Probably national and international by now. Well, programming was one of the major obstacles but it sounds like you really helped mastermind the solution. Are there some other major obstacles in cable that needed to be overcome or still need to be overcome?

WEARY: Well, I don't know. I've pretty much gotten out of the cable business now. As I see it now, there's going to be lots of competition from all sources and you're going to have wireless, you're going to have cable, you're going to have telephone companies, you've got the internet which is of course growing very rapidly. So everybody's going to be in competing with that business and what used to be a group of monopolies or semi-monopolies are really going to gradually disappear, I think, and it's going to be a very competitive world out there.

BURKE: There's still a lot of change ahead.

WEARY: Still a lot of changes ahead, yes.

BURKE: Have you been involved in other media entities?

WEARY: Yes. After we sold CSI, our original company, why, I wasn't really ready to quit, so I organized another cable company called Cable World and sold it.

BURKE: Cable World is still operating, right?

WEARY: Well, I sold it to Marc Nathanson and I think they're still... I don't know. I know he's still in business unless he's... I don't know whether he's sold out or not.

BURKE: Right, and is that in Kansas?

WEARY: That was basically in Missouri.

BURKE: And in Missouri, too.

WEARY: And then I organized another cable company after I sold that called WK Communications and eventually sold it. We were in the cellular radio business for awhile. We bid on these RSAs on all of them and we got one just northwest of Indianapolis, and we'd figured on just selling the franchise but we couldn't get anybody to buy it so we decided, well, we'll go operate it. So we did and operated that and it proved very successful. It seemed to work pretty well in that rural area.

BURKE: So did you have to go out and reinvent the wheel again to get that to work?

WEARY: No, we just had to go buy the equipment and get it going.

BURKE: So what were the years that you were involved in that?

WEARY: That was in the late '80s or early '90s, and then we sold that to Bell South, and then I guess the other major thing I've been in was radio, and after we sold CSI in '78 the radio business looked pretty good to me and it looked pretty stable after fighting all this regulatory change with the cable industry the radio looked to me like it had a niche market and there weren't many changes, so that looked pretty good to me.

BURKE: So did you have to build anything in connection with that?

WEARY: No, we just bought stations. So I had stations principally in the Sunbelt, in Ft. Lauderdale and Orlando, Dallas and San Antone.

BURKE: So then you got to traveling and come back here again.

WEARY: Yeah, so I had the radio stations until they opened up the markets and said you can have multiple ownership, then the prices tripled and I was about 75 so I decided that was a good time to sell.

BURKE: You've also been involved in a lot of civic activities here, so you're not running your businesses, you're busy in the community. What are some of your favorite organizations you've been involved with?

WEARY: Well, I guess one of the things that we developed here and that I've supported and has been very successful is our local YMCA, and that kind of struggled to start out with and then I hired a director to run it who's still here and been very successful. I've been president of our local chamber of commerce and serve on the investment committee for the Kansas State University Foundation, and serve on several committees at Harvard.

BURKE: Have your Harvard contacts helped you throughout your changing businesses.

WEARY: Well, yeah.

BURKE: They have? It sounds like you have a history of hiring good people and keeping them. Is there a secret there?

WEARY: I think that's one of the secrets.

BURKE: That is the secret.

WEARY: You can't do everything yourself and you can't do anything without good people, so the ability, I think, to pick good people and keep them satisfied is important.

BURKE: So other than hiring good people what were some of the other useful skills that you developed during your years at the beginning of the cable industry? Probably a lot of negotiations.

WEARY: A lot of negotiations, yeah, and I spent a lot of time negotiating with banks and negotiating franchises and it seemed like everything involved negotiations with somebody. In all of these things, they were certainly not risk free and so I guess you had to kind of be a little bit of a gambler to do all these things. I got a lot of fun out of it.

BURKE: Are there any things that you would like to see happen to ensure that some of the organizations that you've worked with will continue? Do you have some ideas for these groups that you've worked with?

WEARY: Well, I don't know. They're all pretty well established now and I'm getting so old I guess they'll have to survive without me.

BURKE: I look around and I see that you certainly enjoy flying and fish. So are those your main hobbies?

WEARY: Well, I have a lot of hobbies. I love to fly and I like to fish. I've made a lot of exotic fishing trips, and I like to sail. We have a lake just outside of Junction City, in fact it's the biggest lake in Kansas, and so I got interested in sailing. And I like to hunt, too. I have too many hobbies.

BURKE: You've got a lot of hobbies. You've been honored many times. Going back to 1972, you were already a Pioneer then. You've also been involved with your family in education. What are some of the highlights of those years in which you were running the business and raising your family? What comes to mind as things that you really remember about that period?

WEARY: Well, I remember that raising children is a hard job, but they have all done very well. In fact, our daughter, who is a professor at Ohio State, just gave one of their distinguished lectures. I think they've only had ten, so we're pretty proud of that young lady. They've all done fairly well.

BURKE: It sounds like they've all been very well educated.

WEARY: Yeah, educated, and they all seem to be happy.

BURKE: Be happy and enjoyed success. And not just with your own family – you've been very involved in education in general. Is there a scholarship that you've set up?

WEARY: We've set up scholarship programs at Kansas University and Kansas State University and at Harvard University and endowed a professorship at Harvard in the humanities.

BURKE: So it's more than fair to say that education's been a top priority for you.

WEARY: Education, yes, it's something that I feel is very important and we have a family foundation that we run now that most of its funding is devoted to granting scholarships to students going to college and particularly we try to emphasize assisting minorities.

BURKE: That's a wonderful legacy.

WEARY: That's been rewarding, and then I've interviewed, ever since I came back here, everybody that applies to go to Harvard from Junction City to the western end of the state, and that's been an interesting experience. You know, you get to talk to these young kids that are very challenging and very ambitious, and I usually keep track of how they do.

BURKE: You went to both undergrad and graduate school at Harvard, so you had a lot of years there. Now you're seeing younger people going there. That must be very rewarding.

WEARY: It keeps me young.

BURKE: How about Junction City Television? Is that still going?

WEARY: Yes, it's still going and now all of our systems, they went first to Lear and Yorkin and then they went to TCI, and then to Multimedia, which was operated out of Wichita and purchased by Gannett and now they've recently been acquired by Cox.

BURKE: So you've seen tremendous consolidation of all the companies you were involved in. Going briefly through your resume, you've been involved with Communication Services, Junction City Television, Fort Riley Cable Television, the Manhattan Cable Television, the Salina Cable Television, Wamego Community Antenna, the Mid-Kansas Incorporate, the Cowlie Cable Television, the Seymour Television of Yoakum, Beeville Cable Television, Green Hills Development. You founded an abstract and title company; I believe that's in this building. You've been very busy. You're a director of the Ark City Cable Television, the First Bank of Junction City – so you've been involved in banking – the Wilson State Bank, the Holyrude State Bank, and of course we're sitting here in your law office. You've packed a lot into your lifetime.

WEARY: I was even in the hog business once.

BURKE: Now those are stubborn animals. Maybe that was good training for cable television.

WEARY: We used to have a facility out here and we used to raise 28,000 pigs a year. So I've been in lots of businesses. It's all been fun. You look at the things and see whether you think they'll work or not.

BURKE: When you sold your cable company it was the 30th largest cable television company in size in 1979. What do you attribute that amount of growth to?

WEARY: Well, just in we got started early. Some of the people got started late and grew quite a bit faster. If we hadn't of sold our company I think we could have grown it to a much larger size. I can remember when Bud Hostetter started his company.

BURKE: At the same time?

WEARY: Well, he started after we did by quite a while.

BURKE: Those were times of tremendous growth and tremendous building.

WEARY: In '78 we had our company postured to really start growing and so I really hated to sell the thing.

BURKE: One of the asides is you were involved in the invisible fence company. There's a wireless technology!

WEARY: Well, that's true.

BURKE: And are you still involved in that?

WEARY: Yes, I still own most of that.

BURKE: Do you have dogs?

WEARY: Yes. I had this Brittany for a hunting dog and the dang thing would never stay in. We had a fence and he'd dig under the fence or go over the fence, and my brother had started this invisible fence company back in Philadelphia, so I got one of those things and it kept that dog in. That's the only thing that ever worked.

BURKE: That's great. I also understand you were recently appointed by the Kansas State Governor on a telecommunications subcommittee. Are you still serving on that?

WEARY: Well, that's terminated now, but I served on that for the period of time that it was in existence.

BURKE: Are there things coming out of that that you feel are significant for the future?

WEARY: It really was kind of the first time they got really involved in this multimedia planning in the state, and so a number of problems were thrashed out and they may have to reform that again. I think there are other issues coming up that are going to need to be dealt with, but we worked about two years trying to develop an overall plan for telecommunications in Kansas.

BURKE: That would be government and private?

WEARY: Yeah.

BURKE: And then you've of course been very involved in the university as well, so hopefully Kansas will be ready for the future and you're part of that.

WEARY: Well, I guess we'll find out.

BURKE: Well, I know there are other things that you might want to share. Are there some specific recollections or specific advice that you'd like to give people about the cable industry that is important to you?

WEARY: Well, I don't know about advice, but I have a lot of very fond recollections, particularly of people that were in the business in the early days. It's been a great industry with really great people. It's grown so large now there are lots of people in it I don't know, but in the early days I think I knew about everybody in the business and I served on the NCTA board for a number of years. So I have a lot of fond memories of a lot of great people.

BURKE: I can't tell you what a pleasure it is to have the opportunity to sit here and interview you and talk about your recollections going back to the very early days of the industry and I'd just like to thank you very much for your time.

WEARY: Well, I've enjoyed the interview. I don't know how enlightening it's been.

BURKE: We can take a break. There might be some other things you'd like to add.

WEARY: I have a lot of things here in the office that are sort of relics of my past history. I have a couple of little sailboat models here that were given to me reflecting my interest in sailing, which I've had for quite a while. Then I've got a collage of pictures here. This is my grandson, he caught a little fish. Here's a picture of Dan Aaron taken at one of the conventions when he was active with Comcast and we were both serving on the board at the same time of NCTA.

BURKE: This looks like an old picture – 1924.

WEARY: That's a picture of my mother and father and some of the family.

BURKE: One of those has to be you.

WEARY: One of those has to be me, yeah. I think this fellow over here. I don't know what I'm doing, but...

BURKE: Mighty pensive.

WEARY: Yeah, I was thinking, I guess.

BURKE: And then down here you're thinking again. 1982. What were you doing then.

WEARY: I don't know what I was doing then.

BURKE: You had a lot of experience under your belt by then. Here's one of WK Communications. That would have been May 1995. You've got a Kansas...

WEARY: That's a Kansas Centennial thing I had back in one of the years. This is an old airplane model. I don't know whether it's supposed to be the Wright Brothers first airplane or not, but somebody had given it to me. This is an old clock that my wife gave me but I haven't kept it operating, an antique. And then I've got an antique gun that someone made for me. Here's an old model of a P-38.

BURKE: Now is that what you flew?

WEARY: That's what I flew, yeah. You could see some more pictures of P-38s over on the other side of the room.

BURKE: Of course in between we've got another 100 million dollar deal on the table. Capital Partners. These all look like pretty high risk occupations.

WEARY: Well, risk is a lot of fun. Here's a picture of me playing golf and that was taken recently. Shifting over here...

BURKE: You've got to get a picture of the two fish.

WEARY: This fish is a Nordic Char that I caught up on the Tree River in northern Alaska. That river empties into the ocean on the north side of Alaska, and this is a lake trout that I caught in Great Bear Lake. Great Bear Lake is the biggest lake up in Canada. It's north of the Artic Circle and it's so big you can't see across it. In fact, if you get out in the middle you can't see shore. Then these are pictures of my children and grandchildren. This is my daughter that's the professor at Ohio State, and she was the youngest tenured professor at Ohio State at the time she was tenured. This is a picture of my other daughter, Dale Ann, and her two children when they were little. This is my granddaughter, she's now going to Kansas University. This is a picture of one of my grandsons in his skiing gear. This is a picture of my wife, you can't really see it too well, before we were married. We were going together then and she was the May Queen at Belmont. So mostly these are just mementos. This is a picture with the dean of the Harvard Law School. Then I've got a number of plaques here. This is the Distinguished Service Award given by our local Rotary Club. This is another picture of my family, and this is a picture of when I was young just before I took off to go to Harvard. Over here I have a lot of different awards and plaques that I've been given. Here's one from NCTA that I received for being on the board of the National Cable Television Association. That was back in '76 and '77.

BURKE: Those were early years.

WEARY: I've really got too much junk here.

BURKE: You have a lot of plaques – the YMCA, the Boy Scouts.

WEARY: A lot of plaques and awards. I used to play a lot of tennis and I have a plaque there for winning our local country club tennis tournament.

BURKE: I see the Civil Air Patrol and the Williams Educational Fund. A lot of things for the Kansas University.

WEARY: This is a presentation I received from Kansas State University where I participate on their investment advisory committee and a trustee for their foundation.

BURKE: I see that's covering up the "boss of the year" plaque from the JCs. You have a great variety here. Here's your Cable Pioneer plaque. That was in 1972. You've got a lot of things to be proud of here.

WEARY: I've got too many plaques to keep here. Over here I've got a profile that was written by one of the cable magazines a long time ago. Let's see if that has a date on it – yeah, 1972.

BURKE: Then you've got a shot of all your diplomas over here. A well-educated man who believes in education.

WEARY: Here's a picture that was taken, I think, down at one of the Mid-America meetings with a couple of people who've been in the cable business for a long time. One's Wendell Woody and I can't remember the name of the other. Getting too old, it's hard to remember all these names. I've got an award here that I received as the businessperson of the year from our local chamber of commerce. I've got some pictures of some old P-38s that I have a lot of fond memories of flying. I've got various and sundry plaques over here. I won't go through all of them.

BURKE: A very impressive collection.

WEARY: I've got just a lot of bric-a-brac here.

BURKE: A large award from the National Cable Television Co-op for your service to them.

WEARY: Yes, I received this award from them. It's an organization that I'm really proud of because we got it started with just a couple of us guys that thought it was something we ought to do and might turn into a great organization and it really has.

BURKE: It's still going strong.

WEARY: Mike Pandzik and Dave Clark and the rest of them have really done a great job with it.

BURKE: Well, thanks again for sharing all if this information. There are a lot of memories you have here.

WEARY: Over here are pictures of P-38s and that photograph of me when I was a little younger was taken on Clarks Fields in the Philippines. The autographed picture with the P-38 came from one of the reunions that we had and at that particular reunion Charles Lindbergh attended it and he's autographed that. They sent Mr. Lindbergh over to fly with our fighter group and to show us how to extend the range of the P-38. It's normal range is about 4 ½ hours and he was able to show us how we could fly the plane and get about an eight hour range out of it, which was important over there in the southwest Pacific. We were flying over lots of water, long distances, and so I have a lot of fond memories of the old fighter group and we've been very active since the war. We have had reunions every two years and now we're having them every year because all of them are beginning to die off. So we're probably one of the most active units that is still carrying on. We put out a history of our fighter group. In fact, we've got a couple of them. It covers what the group did in World War II over in the Pacific.

BURKE: There's your plane right on the cover.

WEARY: That's the old P-38, a great airplane.

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Albert Warren

Albert Warren

Interview Date: Tuesday March 01, 1988
Interview Location: Washington, DC
Interviewer: Max Paglin
Collection: Penn State Collection
Note: Audio Only

PAGLIN: Good morning. Today is March 1, 1988 and I am in the offices of Television Digest with Albert Warren, its editor and publisher. This interview is part of an oral history of the cable television industry being conducted by The National Cable Television Center and Museum located at The Pennsylvania State University with the cooperation of the Golden Jubilee Commission on Telecommunications. Mr. Warren was probably the first journalist to report regularly on the beginnings and development of what, then, was known as the community antenna television industry, later to be known as the cable television industry.

Al, tell us something about your own early personal history, where were you born, the date, your parents, were there any siblings in the family, and generally where you have lived, your education, your adulthood, and so forth.

WARREN: I was born May 18, 1920.

PAGLIN: Where?

WARREN: I was born in Warren, Ohio. I lived there for the first eleven years. My father operated a small hardware store.

PAGLIN: What was your father's first name?

WARREN: David.

PAGLIN: And your mother's maiden name?

WARREN: Clara Fersky.

PAGLIN: Fersky. What was their national origin?

WARREN: My parents came from Poland.

PAGLIN: They came to this country, when?

WARREN: My mother about 1890 and my father about 1906.

PAGLIN: You lived in Warren, Ohio. What was it? A large city, a farm or what?

WARREN: Warren, Ohio had a population of about 50,000. The major industry was steel and various types of manufacturing. Republic Steel and Youngstown Sheet and Tube and a few other large steel companies and other basic industries were located there. When I was eleven, the Depression had hit and wiped us out.

PAGLIN: What was your father doing at the time?

WARREN: He was running the hardware store in Warren. The Depression wiped out the business after that. He went back to his first love, which was farming. He had farmed when he first came to the United States in 1906.

PAGLIN: Where was that?

WARREN: In a place called Middlefield, Ohio. He had farmed from 1906 until 1920. He persuaded his parents to acquire a farm and he persuaded them to migrate to the United States.

PAGLIN: So he came with his parents.

WARREN: He came with his parents and he was about twenty-two at the time. He yearned to become a farmer. He was the eldest of five children and he persuaded the family to come to the United States and to acquire a farm, which they did in Middlefield, Ohio. In 1920, they moved to Warren, where he operated a hardware store until 1932. When the Depression wiped it out, he went back to farming, this time in an area called Gustavus, Ohio. It was a small dairy farm, ninety-five acres. We had from seven to ten cows.

PAGLIN: Near where?

WARREN: It was about twenty miles from Warren. I've often been amazed at my father undertaking this. He was in his late forties, maybe fifty when he went back to the farm. It was quite primitive farming. We had no electricity, running water or plumbing. We farmed pretty much the way they did for the preceding one hundred years. He worked brutally hard, as did my mother, from 4:00 a.m. until he fell into the bed at nine at night. But we did weather the Depression that way.

PAGLIN: Did you have brothers and sisters?

WARREN: I had two older sisters. At that time, my eldest sister, Harriet, was four and a half years older than I was, fifteen and a half. Mildred was two years younger than Harriet, making her about thirteen. We went to school there in Gustavus. It was a very small community. The entire school from kindergarten through grade twelve had about two hundred students. My class, for example, had seventeen kids.

PAGLIN: Like a little, old, red schoolhouse.

WARREN: Well. It wasn't quite that small, but it was small. As I said, seventeen in my class. I graduated in 1937.

PAGLIN: That's from grade school.

WARREN: No. I started in seventh grade there and went through high school graduation there.

PAGLIN: You graduated from high school when?

WARREN: In 1937 from Gustavus High School.

PAGLIN: Where did you go from there?

WARREN: I didn't have enough money to go to college that year. That's one thing we didn't have. We had food, clothing, shelter, but we didn't have much money. I put off trying to save enough money trying to get to school. I worked a few months in Cleveland for an uncle who had a drugstore. Things got tight so he had to lay me off. What I did that year was help my father run the farm, as I did every summer earlier. Come 1938 we still didn't have much money but I said, "I've got to go to college, I just can't wait any longer." I wanted to become a journalist.

PAGLIN: Even then. How old were you then?

WARREN: I was seventeen.

PAGLIN: Seventeen. You were only seventeen. What was it that inspired you to become a journalist?

WARREN: In high school I was particularly interested in English. And enjoyed very much the writing for the English courses. I turned out a little school paper on my own called "The Weekly Whiz." What I did was, I wrote it, I typed up the ditto stencil, and I ran it off by hand on the ditto machine.

PAGLIN: This was in high school.

WARREN: I was fascinated with the idea of conveying things via the written word. I read an awful lot. I read about journalists. It sounded very exciting to me. Furthermore, I was interested in a vast number of things in school. Scholastically, I found it all fascinating. I couldn't make up my mind as to what occupation to go into. Suddenly, it struck me that here I can cover the whole world. I can get into everything as a journalist. Possibility to write about anything. This sounded like the perfect answer to cover all of my various interests. I was fascinated by the sciences, physics, chemistry, English, Latin, all those things.

PAGLIN: Did you have a particular teacher who saw your interest and encouraged you?

WARREN: Yes. Our homeroom teacher. A woman, Lois Kemmis, was particularly encouraging in that respect. I was a good student. Valedictorian of the class. Scarcely a big deal among seventeen kids.

PAGLIN: A big fish in a small pond is a big thing.

WARREN: I never thought of going into any other school except a state school because they were so inexpensive. I was given a scholarship to Ohio University. However, they had no journalism school. Ohio State did have a journalism school. I did not take the scholarship and I went, instead, to Ohio State to the journalism school.

PAGLIN: So you went into college at what age?

WARREN: I was eighteen. It was the Fall of 1938. Again, having no money, I just asked my father to give me enough money to pay the first quarter tuition which was about thirty dollars. Tuition was thirty dollars a quarter. He gave me the thirty dollars and I paid my tuition. The first day I got to Ohio State I got a room for ten dollars a month. I got a job for my meals washing dishes in a fraternity house. That gave me all three of my meals. In addition, I got an NYA job.

PAGLIN: Oh, I remember that.

WARREN: The National Youth Administration. It provided jobs at colleges for kids for a maximum of fifteen dollars a month at a rate of thirty to thirty-five cents an hour. I, fortunately, had a job working in the Journalism Library.

PAGLIN: The NYA job.

WARREN: So I was set. My room only cost me ten dollars a month. I had my meals taken care of and there I was with five dollars left over a month, and I bought books with that.

PAGLIN: I was going to say, where did you get money for books?

WARREN: That's what I did. That took care of all my financial needs. I'd send my clothes home to my mother to wash and iron my shirts.

PAGLIN: How far was Ohio State from Warren?

WARREN: About 150 miles. Well I was living in Gustavus then.

PAGLIN: That's right.

WARREN: About the same distance. I used to hitchhike to and from school. I thought that I was sailing through.

PAGLIN: You didn't need any money for girls?

WARREN: That was impossible. I'd go to a movie about once a month for a dime or a quarter or whatever it was. No, I just felt very fortunate to pay my own way. When I would work for my father I wouldn't expect or ask for any salary, just give me what I needed to get to school. However, the first year I went the fall and winter quarter and, come springtime, my father couldn't handle the farm by himself. It was just too much for one man. So I dropped out in the spring quarter.

PAGLIN: How old was he at the time?

WARREN: He was fifty.

PAGLIN: It was what? Ninety-eight acres, you said.

WARREN: It was ninety-five. There were so many things it would take two people to do. A minimum of two. So I would drop out in the spring and work in the spring and the summer, go to school six months, work six months on the farm. I did that two years and then it occurred to me that at that rate it would take me six years to get through school. I finally informed my dad that I just couldn't do it. I wanted to get through in a reasonable amount of time and what I did was I took on extra courses and went three quarters a year for the last two years and finished up in four years anyway. So I took on the extra credits the last couple years and finished up in ten quarters instead of twelve.

PAGLIN: You finished actually for your degree in 19 what?

WARREN: 1942. Pearl Harbor had hit in December, 1941. I was all eager to enlist and get in there and all fired up. But I was news editor of the school paper by then and my advisor said, "Get a deferment for six months. You're learning more now with the hands-on as an editor of the paper."

PAGLIN: Who was telling you this?

WARREN: My faculty adviser. He said, "You're learning more now than you ever will any other way." He persuaded me. I did get the deferment.

PAGLIN: On what grounds was that?

WARREN: On the grounds that I was close to graduation, namely within six months. It was an important period for me. If they could defer me for six months it would be very helpful. You know I got all the endorsements from the faculty and it worked. They did give me the deferment for six months. I graduated in June of '42 and within a week I was in the Navy.

PAGLIN: In June of '42, with a BA.

WARREN: A BA in Journalism. I was very fortunate in being named the outstanding graduating senior, and getting the Kappa Tau Alpha Award. That was considered the outstanding member of the class which I, of course, was very thrilled about.

PAGLIN: Did you say within a week? Did you enlist or you went through the draft board?

WARREN: No, I enlisted in the Navy. I wanted to go into the Navy. Like many mid-western kids, I was fascinated by the idea of the Navy because I did not know anything about it. I read a lot about it. It sounded more fascinating to me than the Army did.

PAGLIN: You had seen plenty of land by that time.

WARREN: I was fascinated by the idea and I enlisted with the thought that I would like to go up through the ranks. I expected to become an officer and I thought it would be more interesting to do it this way, to learn from an enlisted man going up. I could have gone into public relations and become an officer right off the bat. But public relations did not appeal to me. In those days that was considered a bad word among journalists. It's improved somewhat since then. I went to boot camp at Great Lakes Naval Station near Chicago. Spent five weeks there and then went to radio school in Madison, Wisconsin at the University.

PAGLIN: How did that come about?

WARREN: You had a choice when you were in boot camp to elect what field you would like to get into, if you were qualified and showed any aptitude for it. Of all the specialties I could see there, the one that most appealed to me was a radioman, communications. The only other thing might have been as a yeoman, which was essentially stenographic/clerical type work. To most Navy people, a yeoman was considered a rather an effete sort of specialty. They would contemptuously call them Feather Merchants, the reason for the name being their symbol on the shirt arms was crossed quills. I didn't want any part of that. Rather, I wanted to be a "Sparks," which was the radio insignia. I was sent to radio school in Madison, Wisconsin to study communications.

PAGLIN: Where were you then stationed?

WARREN: I was sent to the Aleutians.

PAGLIN: Oh, that's a great place.

WARREN: I served a year on the island of Atka. It's quite a distance out the chain. Then about a month or two in Dutch Harbor, and then about six months at Kodiak.

PAGLIN: What months of the year?

WARREN: We went out in January of '43. Out to the Aleutians, it was miserable. There were six of us guys placed in a hut on top of a mountain and we operated homing equipment which was used for navigating aircraft. The weather was abominable, the horrible winds and so forth. We lost many, many planes out there because of weather; we didn't lose many to the Japanese. We sat on top of that mountain there for a year.

PAGLIN: For a whole year.

WARREN: Yes. The six of us. We were quite some miles from the main base on the island. So we seldom saw the other people on the island. It was incredibly boring but it's incredible how you can adjust to those things, if you have to. When I got to Dutch Harbor and Kodiak, those are big, bustling bases and there was some activity so it went much faster. Then we came back to the States.

PAGLIN: When was that?

WARREN: It was 1944. Whereupon we went aboard ship. They called that an attack transport--the MENIFEE. An attack transports job is to take troops in for landings.

PAGLIN: Where was that berthed?

WARREN: The ship was built in Bremerton or San Francisco. But we got aboard in Portland, Oregon. It was a brand new ship. Then I spent the rest of the time in the Pacific from then until I was discharged.

PAGLIN: You were shipped out to where?

WARREN: We went all over the Pacific. On our first trip, we took a load of Marines to Kauai, Hawaii. Then we came back and picked up another load and took them to Guadalcanal. We came back and took another group to the Philippines and then went in for the invasion of Okinawa.

PAGLIN: You were involved in the invasion of Okinawa?


PAGLIN: What was the role of your ship, yours in particular?

WARREN: Our job was to deliver troops to the shore. The attack transport carries these landing craft.

PAGLIN: Yes. I've seen them. They drop down.

WARREN: Yes. LCVPs were the ones that carry men and the LCMs carry trucks and tanks. Our job was to get to shore, put the men in the boats, send them ashore and maintain contacts, radio and so forth, and get the guys ashore. We didn't get hit. We were missed a couple times by kamikazes. The miss was as good as a mile.

PAGLIN: It accounts for your still being here. How long were you there?

WARREN: We were there for two-three days, that's all. Then they sent us down to the Philippines. Interestingly we went through a typhoon. Do you want detail?

PAGLIN: Please. So you're going through a typhoon.

WARREN: That happens to be the same typhoon that figured in the Caine Mutiny novel. Herman Wouk was also in that invasion and his ship went through that typhoon and that's why I understand he could write so well about it and put it in his book.

PAGLIN: Now that's a small interesting detail. What other significant things while you were in the service? You were in the Philippines and this was around 1940s?

WARREN: This is 1945.

PAGLIN: So this is pretty close to the end of the war.

WARREN: As you recall, it wasn't long after the invasion of Okinawa that we dropped the bomb. That wrapped up Japan. We went down to the Philippines. One other thing that happened of interest, that is quite important personally to me, was in Guadalcanal. We went ashore when some captain figured it would be a good idea if we got some target practice. In target practice your ears ring and they semi-deafen you. When we got back to the ship my ears were still ringing and I could scarcely hear for several days. So I went to the ship's doctor and he said I'd have to just get over it. Well I never got over it. My ears have been ringing twenty-four hours a day ever since.

PAGLIN: You've had this ringing all these years?

WARREN: Since l945. And my hearing was very substantially impaired. There's never been any hearing aid or any other device that could be used for that type of impairment. When I first got out of the service, my hearing began to diminish rather rapidly. In 1945, I was about resigned to becoming deaf. But it leveled off and it has stayed pretty level for all these forty some years.

PAGLIN: Did you ever claim disability?

WARREN: No, I didn't. The reason I didn't may sound foolishly quixotic. I had felt that I had a job to do, I did it. It was minor in terms of what happened to other guys in terms of their disabilities. I considered it minor.

PAGLIN: Lucky to get away with what you did.

WARREN: I didn't want to take any money. Never put in for any disability. I felt very fortunate that the thing did level off. I have had difficulty in hearing situations ever since. I've found lots of guys who've had the same thing.

PAGLIN: In the service. From noise impairment.

WARREN: From the discharge of an explosive of one kind or another. Whether it was rifles or grenades or whatever. Some peoples' ears are much more sensitive. It sheared off those tiny nerve endings in the semicircular canal. Particularly the small ones which give you the highs. At any rate, I just feel fortunate that I have been able to do as well as I have.

Another thing of significance is that, when I was up in the Aleutians, I applied for OCS and after about six months of waiting it came back and said, "No, sorry." There was no explanation provided, so be it. It was very, very disappointing, of course.

PAGLIN: Were you given a reason?

WARREN: The reason was that they are not taking people in at that time. But I learned later that once you're an enlisted man in the Navy, that's it. You almost never go from the enlisted ranks to officers. Unlike the Army.

PAGLIN: In other words you've got to go for your commission before you get in.

WARREN: That's right. The only guy I ever knew who went from an enlisted man to an officer was a guy who became a pilot. They did want pilots. This kid had the right kind of reactions and so forth, so they sent him on as a pilot.

PAGLIN: So from the Philippines, where did you serve?

WARREN: Back to the U.S.

PAGLIN: This was close to '45?

WARREN: Summer of '45. August of '45.

PAGLIN: Oh, you were down to the end already.

WARREN: Right. And our ship needed some repairs. We put it in dry dock in Long Beach, California. I was on leave visiting a friend, a college classmate, who worked for United Press at the time. He was working nights. We went out that evening.

PAGLIN: Was this in Long Beach?

WARREN: No, in L.A. I had a hotel room. I said to him, "Gene," (this was after we dropped the bomb--any moment they were talking about ending the war) "you call me at any time if you get word about the end of the war. I'll be in my room." Then about 3:00 in the morning, he did.

PAGLIN: He did!

WARREN: I had hopped out of bed, tore down to his office and I saw people going to and from work, janitors or whatever at 3:00 a.m. and I kept yelling to them that the war is over and they looked at me like I was nuts. I guess I was one of the earliest to find out.

PAGLIN: Because it was on the wire.

WARREN: Gene was working there; it came through with the crew on the wire and he let me know right away. Well, that got to be one of the happiest days of my life.

PAGLIN: I'll bet.

WARREN: The next day I was in San Diego. They closed all the bars. They didn't want military people getting all drunk and tearing the town apart. One guy kept his bar open--The Silver Dollar.

PAGLIN: This was August 8th?

WARREN: I don't remember the date. Whenever the war ended. We went in. It was about ten deep and this guy was just pouring drinks for everybody. I picked up a gal there and we celebrated. It was marvelous.

PAGLIN: Wonderful, wonderful.

WARREN: Then we went out again and started bringing troops back. This time we went to the Philippines again. Picked up troops and brought them back. They discharged people on the basis of how much time you put in the service and what campaigns you had been in. As a result I got out quite early because I had been overseas for three and a half years which is more than the average. As a result I got out in December '45.

PAGLIN: So you were discharged in December '45. That was four months after the surrender. So then you came back to where?

WARREN: I came back home to my parents, of course, and then I came to Washington because both of my sisters were working here. I came to visit them. I had not seen them for three or four years. While I was here I got to thinking, "Jeez, I'm going to have to get a job." I previously thought of taking six months off and spending the vast savings I had just having fun. I think I had maybe two hundred bucks.

PAGLIN: I was going to say, a couple hundred dollars.

WARREN: But then I thought, "Jeez, there's ten million other guys coming out after me. I better get a goddamn job before they come back." I was getting worried. So I went to all the newspapers here.

PAGLIN: You actually then started plodding through.

WARREN: I went through every one of them except the Times Herald, which I had no respect for. It was a rabid right-winger type of outfit, as you well know.

PAGLIN: There's a Hearst family member who was there?

WARREN: Sissy McLean.

PAGLIN: Yeah, it was McLean, but it was part of Patterson, that whole group. The Tribune ...

WARREN: But there was no Hearst label on it.

PAGLIN: No. The Tribune, The Daily News. That's interesting, let me ask you about it.

WARREN: I didn't go to them.

PAGLIN: By then, which is December '45, you were how old?

WARREN: Twenty-five.

PAGLIN: Twenty-five years old. How had you developed the antipathy to the right wing, if I may put it that way? What was it about your background, your reading?

WARREN: My father was an ardent Democrat and an ardent supporter of F.D.R. I think I came very naturally by it to start with. Then working in the journalism school at that NYA job in the library, we got newspapers from all over the country and as a result I got very familiar with the Chicago Tribune, the Washington Times Herald, The New York Daily News as well as a hundred others.

PAGLIN: With their editorial policy.

WARREN: I deliberately wanted to take that job so I could get familiar with the newspapers. I admired the Washington Post, particularly. They had no room at the inn at the Washington Daily News. They had no room at the Evening Star. They all said the same thing. "We have many veterans coming back, we have to hold jobs open for them." I had no professional experience because I had gone directly from school to the service. Then I went to the Post and I was talking to Ben Gilbert, the City Editor, in the newsroom where all the reporters were sitting at their desks and he told me the same story. He didn't know where he was going to put his veterans, but he had to give them preference. He had asked me what I did in the service. I told him I was a radioman. There was a reporter who overheard me mention it. He told me there was a guy starting a publication on television. He was looking for a cub reporter and he gave me Marty Codel's name.

PAGLIN: You're kidding. You just happened to be at a certain place at a certain time.

WARREN: Exactly. I went over to see Marty Codel. He started Television Digest on September 1st. Well, Marty had spread the word among the Press Club, among everybody he ran across, which is not difficult when you spread the word, "Hey, if you know any person who looks like they can do such and such a job, let me know. I need a couple of reporters." I went to visit Marty and he promptly offered me a job. I said I didn't plan to come to work that soon. I wanted to take some time off and then he told me how much he would pay me. Well, I had to give that serious thought.

End of Tape 1, Side A

WARREN: Because it was the kind of money I had never heard of before. When I was a journalism student, if you could get a job as a reporter it was about eighteen bucks a week. Marty said he paid by the month, "I'll give you $175 a month." That's like $40 a week.

PAGLIN: That's like $40 a week.

WARREN: Holy shit! I never heard of that much money!!

PAGLIN: I know what you're talking about.

WARREN: I said, "Well, I'll let you know. I have to go home and think about it." I went back to Warren.

PAGLIN: You didn't pick it up right there?

WARREN: No, I was thinking. Do I want to stay in Ohio? Do I want to work for a newspaper? Do I want to get into this kind of thing, the specialized thing? While I'm thinking about it, I get a phone call. Marty called me. Long distance yet!!! I was still awed by long distance.

PAGLIN: Yes. Yes.

WARREN: He wants me to come and he said, "Right away." Shit, if this man wants me that badly, how could I tell him no?

PAGLIN: Right.

WARREN: So I took the job.

PAGLIN: Very good. Very good.

WARREN: And I've been with this outfit ever since.

PAGLIN: Actually you reported to duty when?

WARREN: At the end of December.

PAGLIN: In 1945?

WARREN: 1945.

PAGLIN: Where were they located at the time?

WARREN: 1519 Connecticut. Between DuPont Circle and Q Street. There is now an art gallery there called Gallery 10.

PAGLIN: So your first job was as a cub reporter, really. What did Marty have you cover at the time? What were your first assignments?

WARREN: It was almost anything. It could be rewriting a press release; digesting a long article; calling somebody to cover a development; go over to the FCC and work up things we call supplements, such things as all the FM applications pending.

PAGLIN: I remember that well.

WARREN: I'd go over there and see Kitty Lunders and Fleta Dove.

PAGLIN: I remember them!

WARREN: Do you remember them? Tilly Iehl? And go through each application and digest it. I have copies, of course, of all that stuff--about a thousand FM applications.

PAGLIN: In 1945 was the very first time when they changed the FM allocation, you remember? They expanded the allocation and then opened up the gates for new stations, right?

WARREN: They went from the low band to the 88-108 megahertz.

PAGLIN: So there was a flood of applicants.

WARREN: A flood.

PAGLIN: Nobody believed in them at the time, but still and all.

WARREN: It was a flood. Everybody was applying. It were over 1,000 applications.

PAGLIN: Which was a lot at that time.

WARREN: Damn right. There were only about 700 to 900 AM stations. The reason they wanted to apply was for insurance. They wanted to make sure that if anyone got them, they got them. As you and I know, it took almost forty years before FM finally came into its own and, now AM is hurting. It's taken a long time. I don't know how many hundreds of applications granted that they just sent back. Same thing was true with television.

PAGLIN: You remember I worked with Henry Geller in 1948 to '49 when I switched from common carrier and went to work for Harry Plotkin. He assigned me to Hilda Shea. You remember Hilda Shea?

WARREN: I remember.

PAGLIN: In the FM section with Henry Geller. This was '48, beginning of '49. No, excuse me. That would be '47 to '48.

WARREN: I remember Cy Braum was in charge of it.

PAGLIN: Right. Exactly. He was in charge.

WARREN: ... when I started covering it. And Johnny McCoy was in charge of television.

PAGLIN: That's right. We were next door to each other. Joe Nelson worked with McCoy. Anyway, in those days, as you say, if I may contribute something, FM was something new. It was given away as a bargain. They never charged for FM. The AM station never charged for FM broadcasting.

WARREN: Right, there were no receivers out there.

PAGLIN: Let me just digress a second, I say it to this day. At that time I never thought I'd live to see the day when there would be comparative hearings for an FM channel. Today there are hundreds of them. So, anyway, go ahead. That was the general kind of work.

WARREN: I worked for a man who was brutally, brutally hardworking. Very harsh taskmaster. Marty Codel was a wild man.

PAGLIN: I remember Marty.

WARREN: Well, you probably didn't see much of that side of him. He exhibited to the general public congeniality, pleasant, but he was a son-of-a-bitch. Seven days, seven nights. His idea of getting something done was ... we used to put the Factbook together semi-annually. You do the paste down, putting it together physically, laying it out. The summer issue on the 4th of July, because the phones wouldn't be ringing and we could get some work done. That's the kind of guy he was. I was so stupid that I didn't leave because he kept raising me into heights of money that I never dreamed of. I never thought there was that kind of money around. Essentially, I was fascinated with television. You covered programming, engineering, legal, congressional, White House, whatever. It got such a variety, it was growing like crazy. Television took off like ...

PAGLIN: Before '48. In '48 they imposed the freeze; so before '48.

WARREN: That's right. There were no sets made in '46. The manufacturers had not been able to convert to receiver manufacture. But in '47 they built a hundred and some thousand sets, in '48 maybe close to a million.

PAGLIN: A million sets in '48.

WARREN: We've got all those statistics in the Factbook. '49 maybe two or three million and it just grew like that. Very, very fascinating. I got caught up in the thing. That's how we got started in this business.

PAGLIN: So you stayed on with him right on through. Now we're getting into the ... It's about this time, when the Commission began to hear the little, little rumblings of this thing called Community Antenna Television. Right?

WARREN: It was 1949.

PAGLIN: Is there anything else that you wanted to tell me about your early personal history and how you got into journalism? You're already a communication journalist. Right?

WARREN: Right.

PAGLIN: What about your relationship with Marty Codel?

WARREN: It was my intention, as I mentioned earlier, that I wanted to become a journalist because it seemed to me that the whole world was open to me to cover. I had such broad interests. I was hesitant at going into this television thing. It was called Television Digest with FM Reports. These were two futuristic media. I was hesitant because my intention had been to go into general newspaper work. But I think I kind of chickened out because: (1) I felt that I was going to be up against all these people who had years of experience trying to get a job; (2) I was fascinated with the thought of television, which I had never seen, and FM, of which I had never heard; (3) working in Washington. Putting those all together, it sounded quite exciting to me. I do wish, to this day, that I had worked for a few years on the newspaper. But it's just one of those things. We were a very small organization.

PAGLIN: How many people worked with you and Marty?

WARREN: There were Marty, Earl Abrams and myself. You know Earl, of course.


WARREN: Earl started out with Marty right from the very start.

PAGLIN: Did he precede you?

WARREN: Oh yeah. He had worked at the Signal Corps as a civilian during World War II. Marty got to know him. So Earl went to work for him even before they started the publication, preparing for it. So there were three of us reporters and a secretary. Marty was a very, very hardworking reporter. That's what we were until 1950. I guess it was 1950 before we hired another reporter--Dave Lachenbruch.

PAGLIN: Really? Dave goes back that far?

WARREN: 1950.

PAGLIN: I had no idea.

WARREN: He and I are the only real old timers, in that respect, from the original.

PAGLIN: Dave is in New York?

WARREN: He's in New York.

PAGLIN: Does he head up the New York operation?

WARREN: Yes. He is the world's dean of consumer electronics journalists. Absolutely the tops.

PAGLIN: I remember when he was down here.

WARREN: Very, very talented man. The best in the world.

PAGLIN: That's fascinating. The only thing that I remember about Marty Codel, having met him a couple of times, was this business about you both having a kidney stone in the same week in 1953.

WARREN: I don't know if it's that close together, but it was shortly after he had his that I got mine. And yours was not too much later.

PAGLIN: May of '53, that's how I remember that. I had another one in October of '53. That's how I remember there's kind of a binding when you got yours.

WARREN: Yes. It became quite a cadre. Marty and I had the same birthday; he was born on May 18th also. As was Harry Plotkin. We would call each other up on birthdays. The Pope also has the same birthday.

PAGLIN: He did?

WARREN: The current Pope. In fact, he and I were born on the same day.

PAGLIN: Year and date?

WARREN: Yes. 1920.

PAGLIN: Kate Smith was born on my birthday, too. We'll stop here for today and we'll set up another date satisfactory to you.

End of Tape 1, Side B

PAGLIN: Good morning, Al. This is now March 8, 1988 and we're about to start the second session of this oral history. What I'd like to do today is to pick up on your early involvement with the cable industry in terms of your contact with other cable pioneers and some of the cable industry leaders. Particularly what were the early cable "press relations" like. What were some of the early headlines and most interesting things, and how did things change during the early years. We were just beginning to discuss your assignments under Marty Codel with T.V. Digest.

WARREN: I was given assignments of all kinds. Ranged through everything. I covered every kind of story, compiled every kind of special directory, supplements, we'd call them. I got a taste of a great deal of things. The FCC was one of the focal points of our coverage. We also covered station activity, network activity, things of an engineering nature, legal nature, programming, the whole ...

PAGLIN: The whole gamut.

WARREN: Little by little, I became more and more familiar with those things, but I had started out with no knowledge of any of it.

PAGLIN: Who were some of the first people that you built up some kind of a relation with of the industry, the FCC, and perhaps on the Hill? Let's see, what years are we talking about now?

WARREN: Starting at the end of '45.

PAGLIN: So, the end of '45. There wasn't really that much interest on the Hill. In fact, they probably didn't even know what it was about, did they?

WARREN: Relatively little. Although they developed arguments and fights over different questions of standards, for example, the shift of FM from a lower band to a higher band which had occurred just before World War II. They were putting it into effect just after World War II. People who objected to that switch, figuring that it was slowing down FM growth, complained to everybody who might listen, including their congressman. There was that kind of conflict raised up on the Hill. If the broadcasters were unhappy with the FCC for one reason or another, they'd run to their congressmen, the committees and so forth, and try to lobby those things through.

There may not have been much activity in the industry in terms of actual television station broadcasting and set manufacture, at the time. There was a lot of preliminary fighting and legal and regulatory maneuvering. Since I knew nothing about those things, I was put into it gradually and began to learn something about them. I was very eager and excited about the whole thing and very young. I was 25 but in terms of experience, I was where I would have been three years earlier, except for the war. Essentially, fresh out of school, excited to be in Washington. I was a very naive kid, actually, having spent my youth on a farm. I got a big kick out of meeting the people who made the news. Paul Porter was chairman of the FCC and he was a very witty fellow and it was a great deal of fun to report him in action. The other commissioners, the staff of the FCC, they mostly taught me about this business of which I knew nothing.

PAGLIN: Harry Plotkin was there at the time?

WARREN: Harry. But he would not have much contact with the press. He distrusted the press. Largely because, until we came along, I think, the dominant publication in the field was called Broadcasting Magazine which was violently anti-FCC. Harry, I think, tended to lump us, at first, with them. Later on, he became very friendly, because we were straightforward reporters. Among staff members, I don't think I met you until a few years later. In those days you were a common carrier lawyer, weren't you?

PAGLIN: I started out in '45 with the Common Carrier Bureau, but then I came over to broadcasting in '47. In fact, I was with Harry first in the FM section at the time which you mentioned when the new allocation was first being implemented. Working with Hilda Shea, Gene Mallyck, Al Hall. And the engineer was ...

WARREN: Cy Braum. On television there was John McCoy. He was television.

PAGLIN: Henry Geller worked with John McCoy. Joe Nelson did too.

WARREN: I don't know when Henry came on the scene.

PAGLIN: I think he came on in '49.

WARREN: Joe Nelson was another one. Curt Plummer was in television at that time. He was a great teacher to me of the engineering science. What 525 lines meant, fields and frames, megahertz versus kilohertz--in those days called megacycles and kilocycles. The people were patient with me and I managed to learn.

PAGLIN: Your relationship with the FCC personnel and staff was a fairly good one?

WARREN: It was. I was very, very indebted to them. They took out time to teach. Really, they had to teach me when it came to talking about how the systems work. Allocations of channels, interference, contours, grade A, B, what have you. All of this was new to me and they steered me into documents, answered my questions. I particularly remember how patient Curt Plummer was in explaining these things to me. He later became, as you know, chief engineer. From the engineering side, he did sort of the same thing you did on the legal side.

PAGLIN: Every position there was.

WARREN: The same was true for people such as John McCoy, Gene Mallyck and Cy Braum. I didn't do much on the AM side in those days. What we did was to encourage FM. Codel himself and Earl Abrams did most of AM largely because they had the experience in the field. AM was then the big business.

PAGLIN: So you were growing up with FM and TV, in effect.

WARREN: Right. We've always prided ourselves on what you might call futurism, trying to be on the frontier--technological and so forth--which we have done quite well through the years.

PAGLIN: I'm trying to remember because, as you say, I was around at that time. Did T.V. Digest, at the time, have their technical section and manufacturing as they have now? Now that the sheet is divided up into two parts, so to speak.

WARREN: It didn't start out that way. We mixed all the news on them throughout, but that wasn't for too many years. I don't remember when it was that we found that the manufacturing and distribution of hardware was a rather separate sort of thing and segregated the publication into those two basic parts.

PAGLIN: Particularly since that (manufacturing and distribution of hardware) aspect was really not regulated by the FCC. Except for standards.

WARREN: That's right. Standards. Which, of course, were ...

PAGLIN: Critical.

WARREN: Big, big battles over those.

PAGLIN: Oh yes. In those days particularly.

WARREN: We were really the only people who were terribly enthusiastic among publications about the future of television. As such, we covered the manufacturing and distribution of receivers which just about everybody else ignored. Fortunately, we became expert in it and maintained the leadership position ever since. It was good to get acquainted with all those people. Names that have disappeared and as young people today never have heard of, who were very, very important in those days. Such names as Ross Siragusa.

PAGLIN: Oh, now you're bringing me back.

WARREN: The president of Admiral Corporation. At one point I think he was the largest manufacturer of TV sets. A name such as Allen DuMont who was noted for his belief in large pictures. He considered large pictures the future.

PAGLIN: Large screen.

WARREN: Anything from twelve inches on up. Because the most dominant size was ten inches to start with. The second in numbers was the seven inch. He pooh-poohed all these tiny screens. He built the Rolls Royce of the industry. Quite a guy.

PAGLIN: He was located, at the time, here in Washington.

WARREN: No, in New Jersey.

PAGLIN: Jersey. Did he not have the first experimental station up on Lee Highway? We lived near there, I remember in those years. Edison Street and Lee Highway was the first experimental tower.

WARREN: I don't know where his tower was, but his studios were in the Harrington Hotel.

PAGLIN: Old Channel 5, wasn't it?

WARREN: That's right. Which it still is. Just for the fun of it, let me look and see if we designated the location of the tower at that time.

PAGLIN: You're looking at the old edition of T.V. Digest.

WARREN: I know where that is. I loaned it to Gene Edwards of my staff.

PAGLIN: I remember it. We lived just two blocks away on Lee Highway and Lee Road. It was right up the hill there on Edison Street and Lee Highway. In fact, the towers are still up there on various experimental projects, and I don't know who else has it. Those were the first experimental TV towers up there. Who else was selling?

WARREN: Among the early manufacturers of receivers a man named Frank A.D. Andrea. He named the receiver after his own name, his initials--F.A.D.A. At one time there were between seventy-five and one hundred manufacturers of television sets. Now there's only one U. S. company that makes any sets. Zenith. ONE!! That's owned by an American. Just incredible. RCA is now owned by Thompson of France. Philco, Motorola, Magnavox--all foreign manufactured.


WARREN: GE is still owned by GE but they don't make sets anymore. What they sell, they import. The consolidation, the mergers, the dropouts--incredible. The Pilot set is interesting. The Pilot claimed to be the first portable. And in a sense it was. It was a three-inch picture. They were all tube sets then, of course. There were no transistors. So, as a result, the set was maybe eighteen inches wide, five inches high, and about ten inches deep. It weighed perhaps, ten to fifteen pounds. That was considered portable. My New York City chief, Dave Lachenbruch, has got one of those. It's a rare set. I find the whole business very fascinating.

PAGLIN: Now I want to start bringing you down toward the years moving ahead. You run into 1948 when the Commission imposed the TV freeze. At that time they felt that the initial allocation scheme which had only seven channels was inadequate, right?

WARREN: No, it had thirteen.

PAGLIN: Thirteen channels, excuse me. Thirteen TV channels, right. Simply not enough. So they imposed a freeze from '48 to '52.

WARREN: Right, well, the imposition of the TV freeze to start with, was not primarily because they didn't have enough channels. The reason for it was that the stations were put too close together. They were causing unacceptable interference with each other. The Commission concluded it had made a mistake and that the stations that were on the same channel had to be separated a greater distance. What's it called?

PAGLIN: Co-channel interference.

WARREN: Or on the next channel. Called adjacent-channel interference. They were producing interference so that the result was that the average station, in many situations, was not getting out very far. The people out on the fringes were getting such interference they couldn't watch the picture. I believe that the first and most egregious difficulty that cropped up was between Detroit and Toledo. That's where the real difficulties became apparent. So they stopped everything and said, "Hey, let's not authorize any more stations while we find out what we should do about it." Well, while we're at it, let's provide for the UHF. That is where we'll get more channels, additional channels, where we allow for more stations. Then while they were doing that, they ran into the color television problem. Why? Because, in determining what kind of interference stations gave to each other, the question arose, "Well, what if they are broadcasting in color? Will the interference be different?" The question arose, "Well, depends on what kind of color system you can get." Then the whole thing was diverted into a battle between RCA and CBS, primarily, about whose color system should be adopted.

PAGLIN: What was the thinking? Did they feel that the technical parameters, the characteristics of color would have some different effect like light in terms of contours, service boundaries?

WARREN: Basically, it was this: We were not broadcasting in any color system. We made a big mistake when we put the channels down in black and white because we put some too close together. Now we have to go through this whole thing of determining how do we reshuffle.

PAGLIN: This is the Commission speaking.

WARREN: So they said, "Look, we're not going to make a mistake again. Let's find out. We'll pick a color system and see if actually the interference problems are different than they are with black and white. So we don't make the same mistake again." That's why color intruded into the freeze, because the freeze basically was an allocations issue. Allocations meaning, "Where do you put these channels? Do you put this channel in this city or because of the interference it may create to other cities?

PAGLIN: I had always been under the impression that that would basically be the problem involved. My first training in broadcasting was in terms of allocation, but that's interesting that I had not heard it put that way before. That they were concerned whether color would act the same way as black and white, in effect.

WARREN: They then said, "People are pushing color. We better find out which color system we choose here and what the interference problems are. Let's not duplicate the error we made in black and white."

PAGLIN: This was already what year? Around '48?

WARREN: 1948 is when they clamped down with the freeze. The color battle, of course, had been going on even before World War II.

PAGLIN: It had been?

WARREN: Even then CBS was pushing its system to most of the industry, which was against it. CBS resumed its battles to get its color system approved by the FCC. The rest of the industry, primarily led by RCA, claimed CBS was the wrong system. It's not good enough. Of course, it was "incompatible." Meaning that if you broadcast with the CBS color system, the existing black and white sets would get no picture.

PAGLIN: CBS was the color wheel concept, right?

WARREN: Right.

PAGLIN: A high fidelity picture, right?


PAGLIN: It was not?

WARREN: It was not high fidelity. It was fairly low fidelity. They used the color wheel in the system because it was the only device they had, at that time, that could make a decent color picture. But the system was not inherently mechanical. Mainly, as soon as the color tube was invented and developed, it could be used on the CBS system as well as any other system. So the industry that opposed the CBS system made a big play about how mechanical it was. But that was not inherently necessary for the CBS system. It was the only way they could get a decent picture before the color tube was developed. The real problem was compatibility first. Then there were other questions of quality.

The CBS system had a low field rate, they call it, how many pictures per second. The fewer pictures per second you have, the more likely you are to have what is called "flicker." Say these fluorescent tubes light up here. They are going on and off, essentially, at the rate of sixty times a second, which is the rate of the electricity system in this country. If you reduce that down to fifty or forty, pretty soon you are going to see it flickering. The eye begins to ...

PAGLIN: Detect it.

WARREN: Right. That's why when you go to Europe, particularly Britain, where they have the fifty cycle power system, and the fifty cycle television system, I find the flicker, at first, just horrible. But I get used to it after a while. Also, that limits the brightness of your picture. The brighter you make it, the more prominent is that flicker. Furthermore, inherent in the CBS system was a much lower definition, detail, potential, as compared with a conventional television picture and the final television color system which was finally adopted. I covered that whole thing as closely as anyone has ever covered anything in the FCC.

The Commission had many, many days of hearings and I sat through all of them. That was through four years. A battle. I covered that at times, exclusively--the color television problem--and got to know all of the players very well. Ranging through RCA's Chairman Sarnoff.

PAGLIN: General David Sarnoff?

WARREN: Right. And CBS's Bill Paley, although he left most of the work, not so much to Frank Stanton, the president of CBS, as to Peter Goldmark, the head of the TV technical group. My boss, Marty Codel, made no bones about the fact that he thought that industry side, the RCA-led side, was right. He would write stories that were biased. It could be seen. As a result, the CBS people were quite disgusted with him. Each Monday I used to bring a stack of the Digest to the FCC hearing room and pass them out to all of the parties. Peter Goldmark used to say, "Let's see what you have in Television Indigestion today."

PAGLIN: Wayne Coy was the chairman through these hearings. Harry Plotkin was probably one of the principal actors on the staff.

WARREN: He was the principal Commission counsel. He ran the hearing.

PAGLIN: Who was the engineering guy?

WARREN: Ed Allen was chief engineer.

PAGLIN: Ed Allen was chief engineer at the time.

WARREN: He was the principal there. The FCC lab also.

PAGLIN: George Sterling, was it?

WARREN: No. George was a commissioner then.

PAGLIN: I should know that. I was his legal assistant.

WARREN: Ed somebody else who was the ...

PAGLIN: Turner?

WARREN: No. Of the FCC lab and his assistant, they were pro-CBS. They did ... Ed Chapin. Ed Chapin and Bill Roberts. Chapin was the chief and Roberts the assistant and they were so pro-CBS that they even developed a device which they said would make the CBS system compatible. Well, it wouldn't quite do that. But they were definitely pro-CBS.

PAGLIN: In the interest of future researchers who may not be familiar with the term "compatibility," please explain that problem.

WARREN: That was the heart of it. Black and white sets were being produced at a very rapidly accelerating rate, at that time, starting in 1946.

PAGLIN: Right after the war, the hunger for TV sets.

WARREN: That's right. I'll give you some of the numbers of how those receivers grew in those early years. If you want to hold the tape a moment I'll give you some of these figures which I think are quite pertinent.

Television set production. I'll give you some significant figures. These are not too well known outside of the industry. In 1946 when they started making sets again. I'll step back. Just before the war, the FCC approved the commercialization of television. About five or six thousand television sets were made.

PAGLIN: This was in 1940, 1941.

WARREN: Yes. I think it started about 1940. Until, of course, they stopped all set-making during the war. About five or six thousand were made and sold before World War II. The industry spent the end of 1945 trying to gear up and get ready and they built a few sets in 1946. About, as I recall it, it might have been under 10,000 sets. But 1947 was the first substantial year of set production. They built 178,000 sets in 1947. You'll see how these escalate. In 1948, 975,000 sets; in 1949, 3,000,000.

PAGLIN: Three million in 1949?

WARREN: Three million. In 1950, 7.5 million. In 1951 there was a cutback. Due to the impact of the Korean War, it went back to 5.3 million; in 1952, six million; in 1953, 7.2 million; in 1954, 7.3 million; in 1955, 7.7 million, and so forth.

PAGLIN: Right after the Korean War was over, there was again this tremendous explosion in the production of sets. That was the time when the color television controversy came about.

WARREN: The reason I bring these numbers in is because of the issue of compatibility. With every black and white set sold, that meant there was a home with a television set that would not be able to receive even a black and white picture from the station broadcasting the CBS color. Because the parameters, the standards, were different. It would just give you a bunch of meaningless jumble. The RCA color system was compatible. That is, if you had a black and white set, you'd get a black and white picture out of it, even if the station was broadcasting in color. If you had a color set, you'd get a color picture.

PAGLIN: Even though the station was broadcasting in color.

WARREN: That's correct. Compatible means, all right, you've got a black and white set. At least you continue to get black and white. If you want color you buy a color set. It means that every one of those sets will continue to be useful. Even though color was broadcast. That was the issue that the industry, primarily manufacturers, was pushing. So CBS was very, very concerned because the sets were being made and there would be more and more out there that wouldn't be able to get a picture out of the CBS color system.

PAGLIN: Those stations that adopted their system.

WARREN: Yes. If they did that, then pretty soon it's clear that you will have ten, fifteen, twenty, twenty-five million sets out there. You can't tell the people owning those sets, I'm sorry, CBS color is on, you can't get anything. That, everybody agreed, would be impossible. So CBS had that terrible anxiety to get their system approved quickly before the flood of black and white sets rendered theirs impossible.

PAGLIN: A little footnote. As I recall, the same situation took place in '45 when they expanded the FM band. Again, there were sets out there that could not receive it. The question is, "What should you do?" RCA, again, had a lot of sets out there at the time.

WARREN: There weren't many FM sets built for the low band. I don't know the numbers but they were relatively few. What troubled the advocates of FM was that the Commission said, "We don't have enough room down there in the forty-some megahertz area. We're going to move it up into the 88-108 megahertz." (Megacycles, as they called them then.) It will give you much more room and also they claimed better reception, better quality, etc. It was fought, very, very vigorously by Edward Armstrong, the inventor of FM. He claimed this set FM back because the few FM stations that were broadcasting would have to change their equipment. The few FM sets that were in existence wouldn't be useful. You couldn't receive these on a different frequency.

PAGLIN: Wasn't there also a story that went around of Armstrong's antipathy and anger at General Sarnoff and his suspicion that Sarnoff had a role in this whole thing because it was not his system?

WARREN: This was a thing he asserted and claimed. Sarnoff, as a matter of fact, had his people develop sets to receive FM without using the Armstrong patents. Armstrong called these "fake FM" and started a patent infringement suit. The thing that added a sort of personal aspect to it because Armstrong married Sarnoff's secretary.

PAGLIN: I didn't know that.

WARREN: Yes. I don't remember the year but after years of struggling, Armstrong committed suicide. After that, Sarnoff ordered the suit be settled by giving Armstrong's widow a million dollars.

PAGLIN: How much?

WARREN: One million dollars.

PAGLIN: Getting back to the color controversy expansion of television. The NTSC, National Television System Committee, had a role in there. Give me a little detail, for the record, on how the committee was formed. It was an intra-industry committee. Was it formed by the FCC? Was it encouraged by the FCC?

WARREN: It was encouraged. The people who opposed, primarily the CBS system said, "Let's get together and, essentially, develop the right kind of system." RCA led that group because they were doing most of the work. They named this committee the National Television System Committee. Its purpose was to recommend to the Commission what it thought was the best color standards. Everybody was invited to participate, including CBS. The chairman of that was Walter Ransom George Baker. Baker was from GE.

PAGLIN: Bell Labs or GE?

WARREN: GE. He was a PhD so he was known as Doc Baker. Walter Ransom and George Baker headed this industry group. RCA obviously saw the advantages in having a whole industry work with it, instead of saying, "We're the only one." They had torn feelings because they wanted the same kind of value for all their patents--a very important element of income and profits to RCA. At the same time, they wanted to show the government, primarily the FCC, "Look, this is an all-industry affair; we're not doing this all alone!" As a matter of fact, there were developments offered and produced by other manufacturers and other laboratories that finally appeared in those standards and were finally adopted by the FCC--that RCA had agreed and accepted that they were valuable improvements on the system.

PAGLIN: They took, of course, cross licenses on it, probably?

WARREN: I guess so. Most notably among these were the Hazletine Labs. One particular inventor there at Hazletine was Barney Loughlin, who, if I'm not mistaken, developed what is known as the "mixed highs." Namely, it was a factor that decidedly improved the system. At any rate, there were contributions from others beside RCA. It should be pointed out that the RCA system was really scarcely out of the cocoon when this whole thing broke. It was not well developed at all. It was being pushed in a frantic effort by RCA to try to dominate the field. It suffered from horrible pictures early in the game.

One of the most terrible episodes, from RCA's standpoint, was a hearing demonstration the FCC had. It was in summer, on the top floor of the Washington Hotel in D.C. The temperature was over a hundred in that room and the air conditioning was not working. RCA did not have the color tube developed yet and it did not use a wheel. What they did was use three picture tubes. One tube would provide a green picture; one would provide a blue; and the third was a red. Those three tubes were so set up in a huge cabinet with mirrors--they called them diachronic mirrors--that would let certain colors through and not let others through. All three of those would be precisely in line so all three would come together and give a full color picture. Well it was almost impossible to maintain the registration of those all together. There were some ghastly pictures. I had never seen a bunch of more elated people than the CBS people that day. Or more dejected and frantic than the RCA people.

PAGLIN: When was that? Do you have any idea, approximately?

WARREN: In the middle of things, maybe about '50 to '51. You'll find all of these things written, primarily from the RCA standpoint, in this book by George Brown who led RCA then. He was the one who had to carry this through. In this book, by the way, George, who just died a couple of months ago, borrowed my old issues of the Television Digest.

PAGLIN: Recite for me the title, for the record, of the book.

WARREN: Part of the quotation reads: "... and part of which I was." He autographed a copy for me.

End of Tape 2, Side A

WARREN: He said that title comes from John Dryden's translation of the Second Book of the Aeneid.

PAGLIN: Well that should please some of the scholars. He tells that whole story. This now brings us up to like '52 or so--right?

WARREN: Somewhere in there. I could track it down, if you want.

PAGLIN: No. We're talking in that ballpark, right? We're already beginning to impinge upon that period of time when, independently, cable television began in its infancy. Is that not correct?

WARREN: That is correct.

PAGLIN: Tell us about that. How that began to come in.

WARREN: If you like I'll just give you a very quick conclusionary thing on the color battle.

PAGLIN: Oh yes. Wrap that up.

WARREN: The FCC concluded that the RCA system, the All Industry System wasn't right, ready, yet. It wasn't good enough yet. And that the CBS system was. The FCC approved the CBS system as the standard. RCA and others appealed that decision and it went as far as the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court endorsed the FCC decision. It would not unravel it. CBS had to face the problem of trying to sell the system to the rest of the industry. It wasn't having much luck at it, really. It was really a pyrrhic victory. Then along comes the Korean War and, I think, through some adroit lobbying by the anti-CBS forces, they persuaded the Commerce Department which had control of materials to say, "You can't make any television sets because it takes vital materials needed in the war effort." Everybody breathed a sigh of relief, including CBS.

PAGLIN: I was going to say that, too.

WARREN: Yes. As a matter of fact they bought a set manufacturing company and started making what they call the CBS Columbia sets. Nothing happened. They were delighted to drop the whole thing. Bill Paley, in his biography and all the books that were written about him, never was happy with the results of his entry into the mechanics and manufacturing business. Never worked out for him--for every effort they did in those areas. He is alleged to have said something to the effect of, "If Peter Goldmark keeps winning these cases, then we'll go broke." However, Peter did later invent the long playing record for CBS which was a great success.

Enough of that. The industry came back later and said, "Here's the RCA system under the FCC and look at how good it is now." The single color picture tube was developed by then and it was producing a good picture and the FCC says, "Fine, go ahead." And that was the end.

PAGLIN: That was around the end of '52?

WARREN: '53 or '54.

PAGLIN: Now we are already in '53 to '54 so we're beginning to show some progress in the early days of cable television.

WARREN: You've got to go a step back.

PAGLIN: Right, to about '48 to '49.

WARREN: Start back, essentially to '48. The FCC said, "Hey, we've got to stop construction of television stations here because of our faulty allocation plan." That's 1948. So the stations that had been approved before that hadn't been built yet, certain of them, the FCC let them go ahead and build them. They were in positions where they knew there couldn't be any problem regarding some of the allocation.

PAGLIN: Out in the boondocks or areas where there was no interference.

WARREN: As time went on, people began to clamor for television and many of them couldn't get any. All of their relatives and friends were coming back and they visited them, they'd see it here and ask, "Why can't we get it?" The Commission began to get very embarrassed about this whole thing. Here they had predicted that the freeze analysis, the start in '48, the whole thing would be over in nine months, maximum. Nine months. As you see, it took four years. In that period, people began to ask, "How the hell can we get television with too few stations around?"

Some bright guys developed, essentially, what was cable and also little repeater type stations. Little things that would pick up distant stations and repeat them by rebroadcasting them. Many of these were completely unauthorized, illegal. The cable was much more attractive to people in the industry because you could make money on it. You couldn't make money on them taking a little station and just rebroadcasting this. How do you charge people for it? They can pick it up and say, "The hell with it. I'm not paying for it." Cable is just like a telephone. You've got to have a wire.

So, as far as I know, the first story I ever wrote on cable was in our August 13, 1949 issue. I had never heard of cable before and I had been covering the industry for four years so I'm satisfied this is the first cable system. [I have since learned that Parsons reported that he started the system on Thanksgiving 1948.] It's just one paragraph long and if you like, I'll read it to you to tell you the very first story that I think any trade paper carried also. It reads as follows:

"Soon to apply for uhf experimental, will be E. L. Parsons, owner of KAST, Astoria, Ore., who got lots of publicity in AP dispatch about his pickups of Seattle's KING-TV (formerly WRSC-TV), 125 mi. away, with high gain directional array--feeding via coaxial cable to 25 "subscribing" neighbors. It's really a sort of "satellite" operation, but FCC engineers aren't too sanguine about idea, wonder whether he's charging for service (if he is, must file tariff with Commission); also whether Channel 5 signal is ground wave or tropospheric. Parsons also runs marine radio service for Columbia River fishing boats."

WARREN: That, to the best of my knowledge, is the first story ever written about cable television in the trade press. It satisfied me that this was the first cable system in the United States.

PAGLIN: I've always described it as one of the few cases of simultaneous invention. You had somebody on the West Coast who knew nothing about what was going on, on the East Coast and vice versa. The people in Pottsville and places like that in Pennsylvania wanted to sell television sets and they'd come up with the idea of putting up an antenna and hooking up the houses as they went along. I'll let you tell the story of how you learned about the Pennsylvania operation. That is true, Ed Parsons, is certainly one of the first ones because there is a marker out there near Astoria which speaks in terms of 1948.

WARREN: Well, Parsons doesn't claim it before 1949. He says it was '49. [I've since learned that he reported that he started on Thanksgiving 1948.] Cox had that marker put up when they owned the system. I don't think they still own the system--Cox Broadcasting. The guy who claimed most vociferously that he is the first is John Walson. The company is called Service Electric.

I started putting together directories of cable systems in T.V. Digest in 1952. I wrote and sent questionnaires to everybody who I had heard might be operating a system or planning one, including John. They sent these questionnaires back and among the questions we asked were, "When did you start the system?" Walson's questionnaire said, "1950." Every year, I'd send him questionnaires like I'd sent everybody else and every year it would come back "1950."

From 1953 to 1966 his system, which is in Mahanoy City, Pennsylvania, every year the questionnaire came back indicating the date of beginning as December 1950. In 1967, his questionnaire came back listing "began in 1948." Ever since 1967. I think it speaks for itself.

PAGLIN: For the record.

WARREN: Further deponent sayeth not. I had a fascinating experience, oh maybe, five or seven years ago. Parsons, not too long after he ran his radio station and cable system, moved to Alaska. He, among other things, worked for the state of Alaska and built their entire communications system. Apparently, he was a fantastic sort of guy. He never stayed in the cable industry. He never came to a cable convention. He had nothing to do with cable. Somebody invited him one year to come to the national convention. I had never met him in person. I had spoken to him on the phone. He'd been in his seventies and I was at the exhibit booth of the Jerrold company on the convention floor.

PAGLIN: Do you remember where this was?

WARREN: I don't recall where this was.

PAGLIN: Do you know what year?

WARREN: I don't recall that either. I could look it up but it would take some doing. Oh, it was in Dallas. I think, I'm not sure, but I think we were staying at the Loew's Anatole. At any rate, I was talking to somebody at the Jerrold exhibit and along comes this gentleman and I look at his tag and it said "Ed Parsons." I said, "You're Ed Parsons." I introduced myself and I said, "What a joy to meet you." I started reminiscing with him, what he had been doing, why he was at the convention (somebody had invited him). While he and I were chatting along comes John Walson. I said, "Hey, John, you guys have got to meet each other." I introduced them to each other. John Walson, who had a very brusque mannerism about him said, "You got any cable systems?" Parsons said, "No." I said, "John, Parsons built the first system in Astoria, Oregon." "Huh, oh when you build your system?"

PAGLIN: He had an accent, John Walson.

WARREN: Sort of an accent. Clearly he was brought up by Polish parents.

PAGLIN: His real name was John Walsonavich.

WARREN: He cut it down many years ago. This is the way he spoke, "Oh you, you build a system, huh, when you build it?" Ed said, "I built it in 1949." "Oh, I built mine in 1948, so I was ahead of you." Parsons said, "I don't know when you built your system. All I know is when I built mine." "Well, I built mine first, 1948." A little more palavering broke out. A little later that day or the next day, I'm in front of the Anatole waiting for a cab and here's John out there and a bunch of us waiting for cabs. "Hey, Al, come on I want you to tell these guys here. We met this guy Parsons and he said he built his system in 1948 and he said since I built mine in 1948 I was first." I said, "John, he didn't say anything like that. All he said was he built his in '49, he said he didn't know when you built yours." [Re-reading the foregoing, I recognize there's confusion. As I recall it, Parsons said "1949" in his conversation with Walson. In light of the fact that his oral history for the Center reports 1948 as the date, I remain uncertain--Al Warren.]

PAGLIN: There's still an ongoing fight among the Pennsylvania cable pioneers--among them Bob Tarlton and Marty Malarkey--about John Walson's claim. There's a group, I think, of four who built thereabouts.

WARREN: Malarkey never claimed to be first. Bob Tarlton. I don't think he claimed his to be the first system. He claimed it to be the first of some kind of system.

PAGLIN: He answered the questionnaire, in other words.

WARREN: Now the company still does. I don't know whether he owns it anymore. Let's see. Tarlton was in Panther Valley.

PAGLIN: East Panther Valley.

WARREN: Is that the name of the town?

PAGLIN: I think it was called Panther Valley Cable Systems.

WARREN: That, I think, is true.

PAGLIN: They gave Bob a dinner not so long ago. I remember I got an invitation and it was the Panther Valley Chamber of Commerce. Just like I think Penn State is located in Happy Valley, it's called.

WARREN: The company name is Panther Valley. The name of the town is Lansford. We show the time when they started according to their responses on the questionnaires.

End of Tape 2, Side B

PAGLIN: You were telling me about the materials on Bob Tarlton's early system, where it was located.

WARREN: Yes. That's in Lansford, Pennsylvania. It shows here it began October 1, 1950. So he did not claim first. But he did claim some kind of first, I forgot what it was.

PAGLIN: That's an interesting story about John Walson. That's why whenever the subject is brought up to the Cable Pioneers there are always snickers about John Walson.

WARREN: Let's face it. He has 200,000 subscribers. He personally owns them. The only single ownership, sole ownership. He owns all the stock and whatever in his company.

PAGLIN: You mean 200,000 subscribers.

WARREN: That's right, in his system. That is, undoubtedly, the largest owned by a single individual in a group of subscribers. He pays a very large amount of dues to the NCTA. You are scarcely going to find the NCTA saying, "No, you weren't first. This guy who has never paid a dime of dues, Mr. Parsons, who ain't even in the industry, he's the guy." You aren't going to find a trade association saying that.

PAGLIN: That's right. Now we're into the early days and the early conventions that were held. I remember being told by Marty Malarkey and Archer Taylor, Bill Daniels, and the first cable convention held had something like twelve industry people there. Something in that ballpark. What's your recollection of them since you were covering them at that time?

WARREN: Well, Earl Abrams and I attended the first meeting of the NCTA and we were both the luncheon speakers.

PAGLIN: You're kidding.

WARREN: At that time I was working for Television Digest and Earl was working for Broadcasting Magazine.

PAGLIN: Earl had already moved over?

WARREN: He had left us in 1950.

PAGLIN: I see.

WARREN: January 16, 1952. I'll read you the story I wrote about it. It's a one paragraph thing that might be helpful.

PAGLIN: Where was it held?

WARREN: Pottsville, Pennsylvania.

PAGLIN: Oh, it was in Pottsville.

WARREN: That's correct. At the famous Necho Allen Hotel. Here's how it reads:

"National Community Antenna Assn. was formed Jan. 16 when 19 operators of the systems for feeding distant TV signals to homes via wire met in Pottsville, Pa. Martin F. Malarkey Jr., president of new group and head of local Trans-Video Corp. (Vol. 7:21), reports membership of 28, with 104 inquiries on file." "

NPA being the National Production Authority or Administration. Its job was to allocate materials during the Korean War. They controlled what could be built. I may be wrong on the precise meaning of those three letters.

PAGLIN: I think you are right.

WARREN: "Organization's first jobs are to study NPA-materials situation, arrange technical information exchange, consider possible FCC and state utility commission regulations. Other officers: Claude Reinhard, Palmerton, Pa., v.p.; George Bright, Lansford, Pa., secy.; Elwood Boyer, Tamaqua, Pa., treas. Directors: J. Holland Rannells, Bluefield, W. Va.; Clyde R. Davis, Wilkes-Barre, Pa.; Bruckner Chase, Memphis, Tenn.; Harrold Griffith, Harrisburg, Pa.; Gerard B. Henderson, Carmel, Cal.; Kenneth Chapmann, Honesdale, Pa.; A. J. Malin, Rochester, NH.

End of Story.

That showed you who was there, or that is, who were the officers and directors. Here's another story, two months later on March l, 1952, another quote:

"National Community Television Assn. members, in addition to officers and directors reported (Vol.8:3): Hubert H. Strunk, Ashland Video Co., Ashland, Pa.; Philip D. Hamlin, Holbert's, Seattle; Frank Brophy, Shenandoah Heights TV Association, Shenandoah, Pa.; Anthony Berinas, St. Clair TV Co., St. Clair, Pa.; Oscar Kehler, TV Extension Corp., Shamokin, Pa.; Ralph J. Adams, Tyler TV, Tyler, Tex.; C. O. Fulgham, Video Independent Theatres, Oklahoma City; John M. Price, Pocono TV Relay, Stroudsburg, Pa."

This, I think, covers the first members of the NCTA. They called it the National Cable Television Association.

PAGLIN: Community.

WARREN: National Community Television Association. It was many years later that they changed it to cable. By the way, I was the one who first called the industry, Community Antenna Television. Namely, CATV. I was writing about it and no one seemed to have the right name for it and it seemed to me that it really was a community antenna. So I called it CATV, Community Antenna Television. That's my invention.

PAGLIN: The interesting part about that, of course, is that it gives us, for the first time at least, a reading of where these systems were. For example, I did not know, that in '52 they had systems in California, Texas ... I'm just trying to recall some of the names of the people who were there. Carmel, California.

WARREN: That was one of the most interesting. That was owned by Gerry Henderson. Gerry Henderson was the guy who was Chairman of the Board of Avon Products. A very, very, multi-millionaire. Lived in Carmel and wanted television. Couldn't get any. Somewhere he got somebody to get him television. And that's how he got it.

PAGLIN: His name was what?

WARREN: Gerald Henderson. Let me make sure it's Gerald and not Gerard. I remember we had a convention here once and he brought his yacht from the West Coast down through the Panama Canal all the way around to Washington. I don't remember what year that was.

PAGLIN: I hadn't heard that story.

WARREN: Gerard. Gerard B. Henderson. He was then about seventy or so, so he's long passed away, I'm sure. Here is the first directory of cable systems--four pages. I put it out on May l0, 1952. It listed all the systems I could find.

PAGLIN: First directory - May 10, '52.

WARREN: That's right. It listed all the known operating systems or those that were planned. And there are quite a few communities that you weren't aware of. For example, there were operating systems in California; Carmel, Grass Valley, Hidden Valley, Laguna Beach, Orinda.

PAGLIN: So they were getting from L.A. or San Francisco.

WARREN: Presumably, because that's where all these stations were at the time. Ocala, Florida; Pikesville, Kentucky; Lake Charles, Louisiana; Biddeford, Maine. Sumner Sewell was the guy who had the Maine system. I believe he is the guy who had been a governor before of Maine. Cumberland, Maryland; Mount Clemens, Michigan; Fullerton, Nebraska; Keene, New Hampshire; Laconia, New Hampshire.

PAGLIN: In one of the cases with which I was involved this story was told by one of the witnesses that in the farm country, for example, the farmers wanted this box, even though it was a snowy picture. They would put up a stick and the antenna was maybe 200 feet high. It would cost them a fortune. Why? This drive to get this new thing called television. What you're telling me--how prevalent it was that in these towns where some of these wealthy people resided or retired and said, "The hell with it. I want it and I don't care what it costs."

WARREN: It was primarily promoted by the local appliance dealers who wanted to sell television sets.

PAGLIN: Like a Marty Malarkey, for example.

WARREN: Right. That's when John Walson started, too. Most of these guys, in fact, started that way. In Lansford, George Bright ran a department store--Bright's Department Store. Most of these people had that kind of desire.

PAGLIN: The only way to sell a television set was ...

WARREN: You've got to produce a picture. Pennsylvania, by far, had the most systems by 1952.

PAGLIN: The reason, of course, was because of its geographic ... not demography, but its mountainous terrain.

WARREN: Even more importantly, it was being promoted by a manufacturer of cable equipment, namely Mr. Milton J. Shapp. He sold it. They, in those early years, had perhaps 90 to 95 percent of all equipment sales.

PAGLIN: Really.

WARREN: As a matter of fact, he once had to sign a consent decree, monopolistic consent. These cable people were very, very tight. They brought suit and he signed a consent decree--tie-ins and so forth.

PAGLIN: You'll have to tell that story to me in the next session.

WARREN: I don't remember all the details.

PAGLIN: Just generally.

WARREN: He did sign a consent decree.

PAGLIN: With the federal government?


PAGLIN: That's not known these days.

WARREN: He used to advertise in our Factbook. "We have 85 to 90 percent of all the systems furnished by Jerrold equipment." Apparently, he had really tough contracts with these people.

PAGLIN: You mean tie-in type things?

WARREN: The kind of things that were definitely antitrust type of violations.

PAGLIN: With the systems themselves?


PAGLIN: In terms of furnishing equipment.

WARREN: Yes, selling equipment to them.

PAGLIN: That's interesting. I didn't know that before.

WARREN: Milt was a very remarkable guy. We became close friends. When he came to Washington, he used to stay with us. I can remember one day, particularly. He and I sat up until about five in the morning talking. It was just fascinating. I got up about noon and Peg tells me the next morning that my youngest son then, Dan, who is managing editor of our "Communications Daily" right now ... he was two years old then. He climbed into the bed and he sits on Milt's chest and says, "Hey, Mister, who are you?" Milt, Peg tells me, was all laughs, smiles and so forth with only two hours of sleep. I wouldn't have been friendly to anybody on two hours of sleep.

PAGLIN: Not even a cat.

WARREN: No! Here's Milt, pleasant and agreeable. What a guy!

PAGLIN: Oh, I see. After your staying up all night talking and you had gone to sleep, Dan then comes into his bed.

WARREN: At 7:00!! And wakes him up, sits on his chest and says, "Who are you?" And he took that in good humor. That speaks a lot of him because I wouldn't have the patience to do that. There are a million of these stories.

PAGLIN: Would you tell us again about the fascinating story--but untold, in most instances, by anybody as close to Milt as you were--of how he began his desire for political office. We should get into that story later on.

WARREN: Very ambitious man.

PAGLIN: Because you've got to go, it's now almost a quarter of.

WARREN: I'll throw something in while I think of it--why were Earl Abrams and I were invited to speak at the NCTA convention?

PAGLIN: Oh, yeah. You started to tell us.

WARREN: Malarkey had two questions he wanted each of us to answer as well as we could. (1) When the freeze is over, and new stations start to be built all over, will there be any need for cable systems or will they die out? (2) FCC does not regulate us now. Do you think that they ever will? My answers were as follows: "I think that there will always be pockets of our country that can use cable systems. But, if anyone had asked me did I think there would be cable systems in New York City or Washington, I might have said, "My God, no. What do you need them for?" But, I thought there would always be these pockets.

To answer the second, "Would the FCC ever regulate us?" I said, "I think the FCC is so glad that you guys are bringing some television to people who couldn't get it otherwise during this long freeze of four years in which they are not adding any more television stations. They're grateful that you're doing this and there are so few of you, they are just happy to let the damn thing alone and not do anything about it." I certainly didn't visualize the way the Commission was going to clamp down on them later on. For the present, that is the way the FCC felt about it for a good many years--thank God for anything that brings television to these people.

PAGLIN: That's interesting.

WARREN: That was my answer.

PAGLIN: All right. Well that's good. I think this is a point we can stop, particularly since you have an appointment. Let's stop at this point and in our next session we will, perhaps, explore some of the early situations which you covered in terms of the development of cable and also how the thing changed in the early years. Thank you again. This is going to be fascinating.

One more point, a lot of this early stuff that you told me about this morning, was that included in the stuff you sent up to Penn State?

WARREN: Yes. These stories I read you I've given copies of--plus quite a few others--to Ben Conroy. As we go along, I'll read some excerpts from some of those others and you'll find, for example, in 1951, here's a story entitled "Are Community Antennas a Sleeper?" "The future of community antennas is provoking a lot of hot speculation. Both bullish and bearish. But there's no denying the fact such installations are today bringing TV to communities which would otherwise get little or no service."

PAGLIN: I'll tell you. As we go along, again, for the record, so they know they have copies of these materials. When you read the excerpt, you can say, "I've sent copies of this particular issue up to Penn State." So they know when they go through the tape, they also have hard copy there of the issue that you are referring to. That's great.

WARREN: Here's another one. "Keep Your Eye on Community Antenna." This is March '51. "Don't kiss off the Community Antenna idea as a mere flash in the pan novelty. Not yet, at any rate. This 'antidote to the freeze' is getting plenty of quiet scrutiny lately, in addition to all-out promotion by marketer Philco and manufacturer Jerrold Electronics."

PAGLIN: That is neat.

WARREN: We're talking about thirty-seven years ago.

PAGLIN: That's right. It's always better when you have it down in print so you can refer to it. Thank you.

WARREN: That's swell. Thank you. It's a lot of fun.

PAGLIN: I know this is going to be invaluable.

WARREN: Here is a pure coincidence. Here's my cable bill. Now after writing about cable all these years, it is the first time I have cable in my home.

PAGLIN: In your district?

WARREN: Montgomery County.

PAGLIN: Maryland.

WARREN: Chevy Chase Village.

PAGLIN: So now you know what it's like to be a subscriber.

WARREN: It's a lot of money.

PAGLIN: What do they charge?

WARREN: I got a couple of premium channels and I'm paying $55.80 a month. The average system used to be $5 a month.

PAGLIN: "Tempus fugits."

WARREN: $14.75. I'll try to remember what Milt Shapp said about how they set the price of what to charge per month. How the system operators charged. It was completely arbitrary. The figure was arbitrary.

PAGLIN: We'll have to go into that next time. Very good. Thanks again.

WARREN: Thank you.

End of Tape 3, Side A

PAGLIN: Good morning. We are, again, in the offices of Al Warren, the publisher of T.V. Digest. It is March 31, 1988, and we're about to start session number three of Al Warren's oral history. It is being conducted by myself, Max Paglin, on behalf of the Golden Jubilee Commission on Telecommunications and Penn State and The National Cable Television Center and Museum. Before I forget, last weekend I was up at Penn State at a meeting of the Board of Directors of the Cable Television Center. Ben Conroy and Marlowe Froke from Penn State sent their regards to you.

WARREN: Thank you.

PAGLIN: They took me to see the present quarters of the Museum. They're just beginning and there were all the materials that you had sent them. The Factbooks and everything else and the past issues and they also have all the old equipment that a lot of the Pioneers have sent them. Going back to year one, my goodness. I hadn't seen that stuff since World War II, practically.

Just to refresh your recollection, in session number two--our last session--we dealt with your early involvement with the cable industry. You told us about your coverage as a journalist of the FCC from 1945 on. You related about the 1948 freeze of AM/FM TV after World War II and the color television battle between CBS and RCA. You also gave us some statistics about the growth of television receivers in the home between '45 and '55, as documented by Television Digest. You also gave us some wonderful quotes from the early editions of T.V. Digest and the early pioneers in TV and cable.

Then you showed me the first story on cable in T.V. Digest which was in August 1949. Then you told us about the first CATV convention in January 1952 in Pottsville and what went on there was fascinating. You also showed me the first directory of CATV systems in May of '52. The last point we were talking about was the early systems and how rates were set and the early subscribers. You said you wanted me to remind you of a conversation you had with Milt Shapp on the system that they used for setting rates in the old days as contrasted to what you're paying now as a subscriber in Montgomery County.

Today at session number three I want to go into the items that we have on the outline which we gave you. Particularly, what I would like to develop are your recollections and your experiences as a journalist in the early federal regulatory activities as the cable industry began to develop. Such as the early FCC cable regulatory policy, some of the congressional hearings that started as a result of the opposition of the broadcasters. Perhaps some of the early CATV litigation and the general direction of the early development of the industry. With that as a background if you'd like to start wherever you want. The early days of the FCC and how it began to become aware of this new animal called cable.

WARREN: Just as a background, again, during the freeze on construction of new television stations, the Commission was very happy to see cable systems develop because they brought television to people who otherwise were not getting it because there were no stations around. The Commission was just not authorizing them. They encouraged cable and they didn't see much in the way of problems developing with it, so they kept hands off. When broadcasters began to get concerned about cable as a competitive device--primarily that smaller stations and smaller communities found cable bringing in the signals from large stations in large cities and these provided additional signals of competition to the local station. The station, naturally, didn't want any of its audience to watch anything except it.

There were beginnings and growing complaints to the FCC and to Congress about this new system which was eating into their earnings. The Commission, of course, began to get concerned, eventually, that maybe this is a problem to these small stations and the Commission felt that the stations should have priority because they could provide local coverage of local activities.

PAGLIN: And free service.

WARREN: And free service. There was continually growing concern about that. I don't remember the various proceedings by which the FCC gathered information to determine how they should regulate cable.

PAGLIN: You remember, do you not, the earliest efforts by Ed Craney in Montana?

WARREN: Yes. He was active, as I recall. Very much so. Bill Grove of Cheyenne or Casper, Wyoming, I think it was Cheyenne, who was a very, very vociferous opponent to cable because cable was growing very nicely in his city. He lobbied like mad at the FCC with considerable success in eventually getting stricter technical rules adopted.

PAGLIN: Describe, if you would, the situation in these one station towns. How many networks, for example, could they bring in?

WARREN: You mean through the cable system?

PAGLIN: No. I'm talking about broadcast TV stations in the local town.

WARREN: What it amounted to is to cherry pick the best from each of the networks. There were some that were affiliated with all three of the major networks and I think most were affiliated with at least two. Their practice was to get the best they could from each of the three networks. I don't recall how many stations had programs from three networks, but certainly a lot of them had two.

PAGLIN: Then, of course, the cable systems, even in the early days, had at least three channels.

WARREN: That's correct.

PAGLIN: So they could bring in, say, three networks.

WARREN: That's right.

PAGLIN: That was the basis for the concern of the local stations.

WARREN: Correct. The fact is, of course, that cable could offer those three networks simultaneously whereas the station, even if it had access to three network programs could only offer one at a time. Hence, any competition would detract from viewers.

PAGLIN: It's clear that the station would be concerned about its audience viewership but how did it impact itself in terms of advertisers--national or regional?

WARREN: I think it was pretty much a straightforward matter of numbers. If you show that your programs at 7:00 were attracting an audience, say, in a small town of 12,000 people, the ratings would indicate 12,000 people for that show. If you could show that before cable came in you had the whole audience in town, virtually, let's say it was 18,000 viewers. So their rates and their revenues were direct and very, very closely proportional to the size of the audience. It was pretty much a simple numbers calculation. The larger the audience the more money you could get per commercial per hour, whatever the rates. It's pretty straightforward. That was it.

PAGLIN: When the cable systems came in and it turned out the advertiser found out the broadcaster did not, in fact, have the same circulation because it was being siphoned off by the cable system, his revenue from the particular advertiser would necessarily go down.

WARREN: Absolutely. It was a straightforward sort of thing. It was just that the station was at a big disadvantage. It could have only one program at a time. Here's cable offering at least three. In fact, it was early, early in the business that they went from three to five so it was very, very soon that they had at least five channels. Here a station operator with one signal and you might have the audience watching you or one of the other four signals. You just were losing audience.

PAGLIN: Also, was it not a fact that when there was only a single television station on the market that, as you said, they had to cherry-pick. Some of the popular network television programs had to be shown at times that were not prime. Whereas, when the cable system came in, they could show a direct time and time from the originating station whenever that happened to be. Is that correct?

WARREN: That's correct. What I don't recall is when the videotape became sufficiently effective so that a station could record and have available those programs to put on whenever they could.

PAGLIN: Would that have been kinescopes or tape?

WARREN: I'm talking about tape. The kinescope was not a very effective device for recording. I think smaller stations weren't even equipped to do that themselves. I think they would get them bicycled in, mailed, from the network.

PAGLIN: Bicycling in, I remember that now.

WARREN: Or they'd get it from the network if they couldn't do it very well themselves. The kinescope recording meant that it would take any film right off the face of the picture tube which was very low quality.

PAGLIN: Very poor.

WARREN: But you know, people will watch anything if the subject matter is of interest. The technical quality--it is astonishing how poor technical quality people will watch if they are interested in the action.

PAGLIN: The original opposition by broadcasters in the early days, Bill Grove, Ed Craney and so on arose in the small towns.

WARREN: Yes. Because there wasn't much cable at all in the big towns anyway, at that time. Very few people thought that the big city would ever support cable.

PAGLIN: I can remember that.

WARREN: When they had a plethora of television stations, who would want to watch cable? That was the point.

PAGLIN: At that time, you didn't even have cable in the two-station market.

WARREN: Not much of that. Furthermore, you did not have the satellite distribution which started a whole new era for cable allowing the rapid and huge nationwide distribution, principally of movies.

PAGLIN: We'll get to that as we move along. But the opposition first came from the smaller towns who would have felt the economic impact of cable much greater than any others. Can you remember, Al, whether they were supported in any way by, let's say, NAB--the National Association of Broadcasters? Did they have a hand in supporting the smaller broadcasters?

WARREN: Yes. The NAB, in general, did.

PAGLIN: In the early days?

WARREN: That's right. It did support the broadcasters because very, very few broadcasters were in the cable business.

PAGLIN: In those days.

WARREN: In those days, so it was a very natural thing for the National Association of Broadcasters to support the broadcast position. It was just simply us against them.

PAGLIN: What years were those? That would have been the early '50s?

WARREN: I would say throughout the '50s, at least.

PAGLIN: Then, do you recall the first recognition, when the first congressional hearings were held?

WARREN: I don't recall when the first ones were held. I know there were hearings held when Ed Johnson was Chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, the Senator from Colorado. He was quite active. The broadcasters of Colorado and other western states. [Editor's Note: The hearings took place in 1955.]

PAGLIN: Montana.

WARREN: Yes. I covered him and he felt quite strong about those. Then, when Senator John Pastore became chairman of the same committee he, too, held hearings and he was not quite as strongly opposed to cable as Ed Johnson was, but still the way he spoke generally leaned on the side of the broadcaster, too.

PAGLIN: Can you recall in terms of the congressional hearings? You remember the famous hearings that Ken Cox conducted with Senator Magnusson who was the overall head on the whole development of UHF policy. They were like '54 - '55.

WARREN: I don't remember the years.

PAGLIN: I believe those were the years, because that already was the business of UHF and the problems that UHF was having. Do you recall whether there was any talk about cable at that time?

WARREN: Undoubtedly there was. Certainly it was a broadcaster vs. cable thing. The UHF stations--the new type of station--were having enough problems without cable competition; namely, getting sufficient television receivers to receive UHF. There wasn't high power available for the stations; it was difficult for them to get out substantial distances, very few receivers had UHF in them and those that did, didn't have the sensitivity to pick up distant UHF stations or weak signals in valleys in their normal areas. UHF was a very strong opponent of cable.

PAGLIN: Of course, the All Channel Receiver Act didn't come until '62. Going back to the FCC, having been there at that time, particularly, as a legal assistant to Commissioner Bartley. I remember that the issue began to arise--and I'm doing this to refresh your recollection--with the Commission in terms of a staff conflict, if you would, between broadcast staff and common carrier staff. This was taking place about 1952, if you remember that. I remember there were stories that you wrote at the time where Arthur Gladstone and Strat Smith were then in the Common Carrier Bureau and I forget who was the head of the Broadcast Bureau at the time. The staff was having difficulty advising the Commission with one unified recommendation on what the hell cable was all about; whether the Commission should take jurisdiction; whether they shouldn't; was it common carrier; was it broadcasting. Do you remember that?


PAGLIN: What's your recollection as a journalist reporting that at the time?

WARREN: I think it was a big thing. The common carrier staff members were not very enthusiastic about taking over and regulating cable. It was peanuts, I believe. The broadcast staff leaned more toward regulation. I don't know when Ken Cox became chief of the Broadcast Bureau.

PAGLIN: That was much later. That was '61 or '62--'61. When I became General Counsel and he was appointed Chief of the Broadcast Bureau.

WARREN: At that time, Ken was a very ardent follower. He added a lot to the opposition to cable from the Commission. He continued that when he became a commissioner also. The details of the staff activity there don't stick very much in my mind, because it seems to me, the Commission was not anxious to get into this thing, regulate it. It was small, and it was still bringing pictures to people who otherwise couldn't get them because of the long freeze. I think they dragged themselves, at first, rather reluctantly into it. But that was tougher and tougher as they went along. I don't recall when they first came out with rules, the first rules. They were restrictive and I guess they just kept adding more restrictive rules.

PAGLIN: The First Report and Order I think, was around '64. Is that it? [Editor's Note: The First Report and Order was in Docket No. 12443 (1959) in which the FCC held it had no jurisdiction over community antenna television. The second First Report and Order in which the FCC asserted jurisdiction over microwave-fed community antennas was issued in 1965 in Dockets 14895 and 15233. The Second Report and Order came down in 1966.]

WARREN: No. The big, final cable television decision adopted by the Commission on February 2, 1972.

PAGLIN: That was later on. That was afterwards. But the first one, that was around '62, '64 because the Second Report and Order was in '65. That was the one that really had the restrictive regulations having to do with non-duplication, twenty-four hour, and that whole bit. That was in the Second Report and Order.

WARREN: I just don't recall the specific things and the provision of each of those specific orders. All I do recall of that, they went along while the restrictions grew more and more. They became very, very complex rules. Of course, the cable people were terribly unhappy about it, and I guess they were kind of difficult to enforce, too.

PAGLIN: That's when they started getting the first court challenges. If you remember the first, to refresh your recollection - the Carter Mountain case and the microwave application. The question was, "Did the Commission have authority over an intrastate activity, like cable?" As such, the answer would be no. Then the question came, "What about microwave bringing in a signal, does this now make it an interstate activity?" And the famous case, of course, was the Carter Mountain case where they brought in the signals by microwave and that established the Commission's jurisdiction. That had to be also in the mid '50s, I forget the date.

WARREN: Those specifics just don't stick in my mind.

PAGLIN: That was the first case, the highlight case, that started the whole business of Commission jurisdiction over cable. Carter Mountain is the one. I think Strat Smith was involved in that. He had gone out into the industry by that time.

WARREN: He was already representing the industry, at that time?

PAGLIN: Yes. Of course, a lot of this was reported in your journal.

WARREN: Yes. I reported all of it.

PAGLIN: The early CATV litigation such as Carter Mountain.

WARREN: I followed all of it, but the question of details do not stick with me. There were so many stages there.

PAGLIN: Let's go to a more general thing. In your recollections of the cable industry and broadcast industry and the Commission, you mentioned Ken Cox. Who were some of the principal actors, at that time, that you can recall in the cable industry?

WARREN: A very strong one was Milton Shapp, who was the head of the Jerrold Corporation, which was the primary manufacturer of cable equipment. He was extremely active in that, had a great deal of influence in the industry. Strat Smith was the executive director and general counsel of the NCTA and he was virtually the whole staff there in those early years.


WARREN: Yes. He was very important in all those developments. Then you had individual cable operators of some substantial influence. The one broadcaster who was active pro-cable in those early years was Cox Broadcasting.

PAGLIN: Leonard Reinsch?

WARREN: Leonard Reinsch, the head of Cox Broadcasting, thought cable was going to amount to something and he got the company into it. They had bought and built systems. In fact, he was one of the first to build a system in a big city, namely, Cleveland.

PAGLIN: Really?

WARREN: And it went belly up. It did not make it. It was before the days of the satellite. Leonard Reinsch was very much resented by many other broadcasters. They felt he was a traitor to broadcasting.

PAGLIN: What period of time was this? Can you remember?

WARREN: I'm guessing late '50s, early '60s. I remember Leonard telling me, "I lost quite a few of what I thought were friends in those days because I thought cable was inevitable. I thought it was important and we got into it and a lot of broadcasters began to shun me." He stuck by it and Cox did very well in cable. He was an important figure. Ken Cox was on the regulatory side. [Editor's Note: Ken Cox is in no way related to Cox Broadcasting.]

PAGLIN: On the industry side, Marty Malarkey.

WARREN: Malarkey, of course, was active. He was the founder of the cable association.

PAGLIN: One of the founders, right.

WARREN: He was the moving force in it and he was the president of it for the first five years. Then there came other presidents of the association of various degrees of activity. Bill Daniels was the second one.

PAGLIN: Was George Barco ever?

WARREN: Barco was the third president.

PAGLIN: Bob Tarlton of Pennsylvania.

WARREN: I don't think Bob was ever president. In the early years there was Ned Cogswell, who was the operator of a system in Oil City, Pennsylvania. He was never an owner, he was a manager, and he never became a huge owner so that's why the name doesn't stick with you probably.

PAGLIN: The T.V. Digest Factbook also contains, somewhere in the NCTA section, a list of all the presidents from the very beginning.

WARREN: Fred Stevenson from Arkansas. Tubby Flinn from Tyler, Texas, who just died.

PAGLIN: Two years ago, was it?

WARREN: I think it was last week.

PAGLIN: Last week!!

WARREN: Or a few weeks ago.

PAGLIN: Really?

WARREN: If I'm not mistaken, I think so. Sandy Randolph from West Virginia.

PAGLIN: Sandford Randolph. Incidentally, he also said to say hello to you. He was down at the Penn State meeting.

WARREN: He was an early president. Then, the man who was from Jerrold.

PAGLIN: Beisswenger?

WARREN: Bob Beisswenger who, unfortunately, drowned in a boat accident.

PAGLIN: Yes. That was a crazy thing.

WARREN: He was a very vigorous president. Bruce Merrill, from Arizona.

PAGLIN: Bruce Merrill, of course. He was chairman at the time when I was personal counsel to Fred Ford when he retired as a commissioner and came on as president of the NCTA. Bruce Merrill was then, like you say, chairman and he was followed by Ben Conroy. That was the year '65 around there. The NCTA was formed--I remember the last time you told me at the first convention there were maybe twelve or twenty-one people there--by the early builders of these systems.

WARREN: Well, Marty Malarkey called the convention together. He was the operator of the cable system in Pottsville, Pennsylvania. He was the guiding force, at that time.

PAGLIN: We've taken his oral history and he has some interesting things to say.

WARREN: You have it?

PAGLIN: Oh, yeah. We've done a lot. The first two were Bill Daniels. I did Bill Daniels. Kathy Hom, of our staff, did Marty Malarkey. Was Archer Taylor ever head of the NCTA? No, he was head of the engineering committee.

WARREN: I'm sure he was of that. He was never head of the Association.

PAGLIN: So these are the people who gave it its first start, in other words.

WARREN: Another guy with one of the early general counsel, maybe Strat Smith, was Bob L'Heureux. He came from the Senate Commerce Committee. He'd been an assistant to Senator Tobey of New Hampshire. L'Heureux was a vigorous opponent in those days. An interesting character was Gerry Henderson--we mentioned him earlier in one of these interviews, he was head of the Avon Products company.

PAGLIN: Oh yes.

WARREN: He operated the system in Carmel, California. He was not a president but he was an active board member and with great wealth. He managed to get around pretty well. Paramount Pictures had a Carl Leserman who operated the system in Palm Springs, California.

PAGLIN: Paramount Pictures?

WARREN: I believe it was Paramount or Twentieth Century that owned the system.

PAGLIN: Where was this?

WARREN: Palm Springs, California.

PAGLIN: Could this have been the beginning of the interest of Irving Kahn in cable? Because Irving Kahn came out of Twentieth Century Fox.

WARREN: He came out of Fox, yes, but he did not get involved with Palm Springs. I may be wrong on that but Carl Leserman was head of the activity of one of the major picture companies. His name you won't hear much of and you probably don't remember it at all. Carl was active.

PAGLIN: Palm Springs, of course, was an area which was remote and separated by mountains from L.A.

WARREN: It had great wealth there and showbiz people who wanted to watch television and they got it.

PAGLIN: I guess those systems were carried by microwave, were they?

WARREN: I presume, although there was a good signal reaching from Mount Wilson where the television stations in Los Angeles were.

PAGLIN: How far is Palm Springs?

WARREN: I don't know. I think they were able to get it off the air. The system is Coachella Valley Television. It's still there. Another interesting guy was Hank Diambra.

PAGLIN: Hank Diambra. These names I haven't run across yet.

WARREN: He headed a company called ENTRON. It was a major manufacturer of equipment in the very earliest days. You can see these manufacturers had considerable influence--like Jerrold, Bruce Merrill, and such like that.

PAGLIN: Bruce Merrill's company was AMECO.

WARREN: Yes. Another manufacturer, at the time, was Spencer-Kennedy Laboratories out of a town in Massachusetts. They were the first to offer the twelve channel system. I'm not sure but I think so. [Editor's Note: Mr. Warren is correct. See oral history of Robert Brooks.]

PAGLIN: Was it called Spencer-Kennedy Labs (SKL)?

WARREN: Yes, I think so. They produced a high quality system. They were one of the first to produce a broadband channel system. There were some other biggies in those days--Polly Dunn from Mississippi ... Can you remember?

PAGLIN: The woman? I know who you mean.

WARREN: Very charming lady.

PAGLIN: Charming, handsome lady.

WARREN: She was always on the NCTA Board, quite an effective lobbyist, familiar with congressmen and so forth.

PAGLIN: She's also a system operator.


End of Tape 3, Side B

PAGLIN: Another prominent woman who was effective in the early lobbying efforts was Charlotte Brader of Havre, Montana.

WARREN: I'm taking a look at a Factbook to see if any big names pop out at me. This was before the time, for example, of the satellite, of Jerry Levin. Jerry Levin of Home Box Office was the guiding force there. That was around '75.

PAGLIN: That's after satellite.

WARREN: He was very powerful. Going back to the '50s and '60s, Dan Aaron was quite early in this.

PAGLIN: Al Stern.

WARREN: Al Stern, right. Dan Aaron represented the Comcast Company of Philadelphia. [Editor's Note: Aaron started his career in cable with Milt Shapp at Jerrold.] And Al Stern, represented TV Communications Company. He came from the Sears Roebuck money. He was a chairman of the Association, Alfred Stern.

PAGLIN: He's still kind of active.

WARREN: Yes, the company in New York which, among other things, a few years ago bought the newsletter "Telecommunications Reports," the one on the common carrier field.

PAGLIN: Fred Henck's. Who bought that?

WARREN: Al Stern's outfit. He bought it.

PAGLIN: There was another one. You would remember him. When you mentioned New York State, I'm sure you met him many times. Tony Ceracche. You know who I mean?

WARREN: I know who you mean.

PAGLIN: He had one of those systems in up-state New York.

WARREN: He had a system in Ithaca. Ceracche. I know there's another guy you're thinking of, but I can't remember where he operated. Ceracche had a good size system in Ithaca. There's Warren Fribley from Corning [Painted Post], New York and his wife Dawn, who were very active, too. An intriguing thing about these pioneers was many of them were real entrepreneurs in many ways. They were characters, a lot of them. You take Malarkey. Right after the war, he bought himself a fighter plane.

PAGLIN: Surplus.

WARREN: Yes. A fighter plane. I remember asking him, "How are you doing with your fighter plane?" He said, "I got rid of it before I killed myself." He also had a Jaguar.


PAGLIN: You were talking about some of the exploits of the early pioneers with their general adventuresome character.

WARREN: That's right. Bill Daniels was always doing something in sports. He tried to get a basketball team going. He tried to get involved with boxing.

PAGLIN: Managing a boxer.

WARREN: Yes. Or putting together a boxing association team.

PAGLIN: He was a Golden Glover.

WARREN: That's what I understand. He started out in the insurance business where he first made some money.

PAGLIN: His father was in the oil insurance business. The interesting part to add to this story. How did he come to be in this field? He was passing through. He was working, then, for his father, as I remember. This was right after World War II. He had been in the Navy. He was passing through on his way from wherever. Texas, maybe. Back to Casper, Wyoming. He stopped in Denver overnight; sat in a bar; and he saw a prize fight on television. He had never seen television before. This was like '51, something like that.

WARREN: I think it was earlier than that.

PAGLIN: Well, maybe a little earlier. He said, "What's that? How do you guys get that?" Basically, he went to Casper and asked, "Why can't we have TV in Casper?" He then asked around and found out about a guy called Marty Malarkey in Pottsville, Pennsylvania. He went to see him. Talk about how Marty Malarkey charged him for his advice.

WARREN: Did he?

PAGLIN: Yes. That's how they started a system in Casper. He got money together.

WARREN: I think the fascinating thing about Bill was he was the first to get the phone company to furnish the microwave. All the others had been building their own. But he got the phone company. I remember the phone company charged him an arm and a leg to bring that signal. The result was Bill wanted to charge the highest rate. In Casper, the rate for a subscriber was seven or eight bucks, which was huge, at that time. These guys were entrepreneurs.

WARREN: Fribley in Corning, New York, flew his own plane. Lots of these guys flew their own planes. His cracked up once and he cracked up I don't know how many bones. How he survived it I don't know.

I think I mentioned to you that Gerry Henderson, from Carmel, California, had a huge yacht. One year they had the national convention in Washington. He took his yacht, went down the west coast through the Panama Canal, all the way up here to anchor it in the Potomac and they had a big, big party on it that night. I was there and it was a lot of fun. It had three or four television sets. He always had a new woman too.

PAGLIN: That must have been an early convention in Washington. When was that?

WARREN: Late '50s or early '60s.

PAGLIN: What is your feeling about the situation that developed between the broadcasters and cable? If you look at the history and you read about it, you find that the cable operators were basically entrepreneurs, as you say, but these guys felt that, "We made it. It's ours and we don't want anybody to be nosing in and taking away and restricting us and so on."

WARREN: Naturally.

PAGLIN: Most of them were businessmen that started this business and built it up and said, "This is something I built." Is that right?

WARREN: Oh, sure. They were terrified, not only of getting regulated out of business but, technologically, getting obsolete. They were concerned that the growth of television stations would be such that it would obviate the need for cable systems. This was one hell of a good business. You recall that when they built the systems they usually charged the subscriber the cost of bringing the system to them. Like $150 as an installation fee. So you paid for the system as fast as you built it. It was a sensational business. You'd often give them a monthly fee. Just incredible.

PAGLIN: I know I've had others tell me. The cash flow in this business was absolutely unheard of in other businesses.

WARREN: It was phenomenal. The tax breaks, too. I don't remember how the hell it worked but it was a fabulous business. Still is. When you can sell a system for two or three thousand dollars per subscriber, you're talking a lot of money. I remember people in those early days saying, "Al, why don't you get into the cable business?" I said, "I want to be a publisher, an editor. I don't want to be in the cable business." I said, "I couldn't do it because of the conflict of interest anyway. I don't invest in anything in the businesses we cover. I don't have any stock in those things. None of them." Talk about wealth. You would have to be awfully agile to get out of the way of tons of money coming your way.

There were many, many huge multi-millionaires made out of this business. I mentioned to you the obvious one was John Walson who personally controls several hundred thousand subscribers. You're talking 200,000 subscribers, maybe a half billion dollars, one person! A half billion dollars.

PAGLIN: He's individual. He doesn't have a corporation or stock.

WARREN: I think he has a company and he's the sole stock owner. Or he was as long as I knew him.

PAGLIN: His health, as you know, has gone down considerably. In fact, let me digress just for a second. John Walsonavich is on the list as one of the Pennsylvania pioneers.

WARREN: He should be. I'm sure you knew him quite well when Fred Ford became his counsel after Fred left the association.

PAGLIN: Service Electric Company and all the trouble they got into.

WARREN: That's his company, Service Electric.

PAGLIN: I'm trying to think of a word. The Republicans use it most, not entrepreneurs, not businessmen, it just doesn't come to my mind, where someone builds up the business by himself. Private enterprise. They are perfect examples of private enterprise. They bring this business out of nothing and I can remember people like George Morrell. Do you remember George Morrell?


PAGLIN: Midwest Video.

WARREN: There was another pioneer with enormous political leverage with Lyndon Johnson. He had some big names on his board like Winthrop Rockefeller.

PAGLIN: Firestone was on his board. He had Senator McClellan's son-in-law, too. I was his counsel in the Midwest Video case. I remember that very well. Oren Harris had his headquarters in Little Rock, Arkansas. I represented George from the time I left the Commission as general counsel to the time when Bill Henry asked me to come back as executive director in '66. I then turned him over to Harry Plotkin. That's how Harry got into cable. The same with Art Scheiner. I turned my cable clients over to Art. I wasn't going to leave them with the firm I was with. But George was really something else.

WARREN: Yes, he was. He ran that thing out of his own hat, didn't he? One elderly lady and he did the whole thing. Just he and she.

PAGLIN: The secretary.

WARREN: I forget her name but she was a gem. She'd tell me he was not there. He was a very political guy; he was always bugging me with a position that they're going to take. He was a clever operator.

PAGLIN: Do you remember the situation, one of the first cases I know I handled for him on this whole situation you were describing about the competition with the single station in the community. It was Rapid City, South Dakota. He had the cable system there and Mrs. Duhamel, I forget her first name. She owned the station, which was it--VHF or UHF?

WARREN: I'm pretty sure it was V.

PAGLIN: In Rapid City and, of course, the air base was nearby there. That was the excuse for bringing the cable system in. Oh boy, did he hate Duhamel, man. But she was fighting for the survival of her station. One of the early cases that I had against Strat Smith involved the microwave to Rapid City from Denver. Those were in the days when the people, as you say, were pioneers in the true sense of the word. They had built this business and had no idea, in the beginning, that it was going to turn out to be a gold mine.

WARREN: I know. They didn't know. It's astonishing. I think many of them sold out when they thought, well maybe the bloom is off of it with new stations coming along, and they sold out at $300 a subscriber. Sure, many of them wish they had hung on to them. They may well have taken their money and done a lot of good, prosperous things with it when they got out.

PAGLIN: Of course, a lot of them have since been bought up by the big companies.

WARREN: It's happening more and more. Of course, if you want to talk about pioneers, we haven't even mentioned Bob Magness.

PAGLIN: Oh God, yes.

WARREN: Who built and controls TCI, which is far and away the largest operation.

PAGLIN: He worked, originally, for Bill Daniels. [Editor's Note: Magness never worked for Bill Daniels.]

WARREN: I didn't recall that.

PAGLIN: A lot of these original guys did, I remember Bill telling me. I call him "the Godfather" because so many of these big operators started with him. Bob was one of them.

WARREN: I remember Bob built the systems himself in Oklahoma in tiny towns but I didn't recall that he had ever worked for Daniels. Anyway, he's a deal maker. Like the pioneers, he has his interests. He doesn't do detailed day-to-day work now but he is a rancher, with these Arabian horses. He's personally worth hundreds of millions, hundreds of millions.

PAGLIN: Wasn't there another characteristic of this industry in its early days where, in a lot of instances, the wives worked with them from the very, very beginning? Betsy Magness, who died recently. She was a key figure in that company, was she not?

WARREN: Oh yes, indeed. I remember how I first got to know her. In 1965, Jerrold had a junket for its major customers. They took a plane load of major customers to Europe--to Rome and to Paris. They invited Peg and me along. They did it up right. They put us up in the Cavalieri Hilton in Rome; it was brand new then, and at the George V in Paris. Took us only to the most expensive restaurants and so forth. It was fun. I remember we went to night clubs and whatever and there was dancing. Betsy was a charmer.

PAGLIN: Yes. I remember meeting her.

WARREN: She was just a delightful person. We all went to Les Halles for onion soup in Paris. I remember I was the only one in the group who spoke any French. I had taken one year of college French. So I was elected to help with the ordering the dinner. It was very, very funny. I had one year of college French in 1938 and here it is thirty years later and I'm in a restaurant. There were about ten of us with John Walson. I'm relaying the orders from the menu to the waiter. Finally, he looked over and said, "Monsieur, would you please speak English? Your French is not very good!"

PAGLIN: That's cute!

WARREN: Oh, we had a ball. It was my first trip to Europe. We just got back from Greece and Turkey last week. We've done a lot of traveling since then. It's a good trip by the way, a Grecian/Turkey trip.

PAGLIN: You mentioned Milt Shapp. I don't recall. Did Milt own systems or was it just Jerrold, the manufacturing end, before he sold out?

WARREN: I don't recall them ever owning systems. [Editor's Note: Jerrold owned several systems throughout the country.] As far as I know, he owned the Jerrold Corp. and, at one point, he bought up the Harman Kardon Company. Harman Kardon is a maker of hi-fi equipment. He bought it from Sid Harman and operated that. But he sold it back--or someone sold it back--to Sid Harman. Harman operates in Washington now. He is a very, very able entrepreneur himself. Another guy of substantial importance in those early days was Larry DeGeorge. Does that name sound familiar to you?


WARREN: He established a company called Times Wire.

PAGLIN: Oh yes. Times Wire I know. Is that in Texas?

WARREN: No. It was in New England, I think, Connecticut. Anyway, he furnished most of the cable to Milt Shapp when Milt Shapp was building the systems.

PAGLIN: On a turnkey basis.

WARREN: Yes. He and Milt worked very closely together. Larry built up a very, very substantial company making cable for cable systems and working very closely with Milt. Larry later sold out to International Silver. He rose to become the CEO of International Silver. He became Chairman of International Silver, eventually, and then he bought back Times-Wire from International Silver. There's a very bright guy with an engineering background. Very articulate, unlike most engineers.

PAGLIN: While I have you on this, you mentioned last time two things: (1) You were going to tell me some of the stories about Milt Shapp and the so-called turnkey operations, that is to say, using his equipment position, and (2) You were going to tell me how Milt set rates for some of the systems of his turnkey operations.

WARREN: Well, briefly, he was the dominant manufacturer of equipment. His ads, as a matter of fact, used to trumpet the fact that 85 to 90 percent of all systems were using Jerrold equipment. He drove very hard bargains in his deals with the cable operators buying his equipment. Now precisely the terms of them, I don't know. But I know that they were quite restrictive, quite burdensome. Somebody brought an anti-trust suit against Jerrold and, in fact, Jerrold signed a consent decree regarding the way it contracted to build or furnish the equipment.

PAGLIN: Do you have any idea of what the nature of the restrictions were?

WARREN: I don't know. I think they were probably tie-ins, they probably were contract-repair things, I don't know.

PAGLIN: What period of time was this? It had to be in the late '50s.

WARREN: I would say that or early '60s. Now, as to how they set rates, I once asked Milt, "How were rates set in those old days?"

PAGLIN: That's subscriber rates.

WARREN: Yes. To the individual--you and me to begin cable service. The answer, in a nutshell, was it was arbitrary and capricious that they picked the figure out of the air at what the hell they thought the people would pay.

PAGLIN: Whatever the market would bear.

WARREN: Exactly. The figure came out about five bucks.

PAGLIN: That was the going rate.

WARREN: Milt freely admitted it could have been much lower or much higher. But that they thought was fair, what they could get. Evidently, it worked pretty well.

PAGLIN: As you said, the subscriber paid for the installation, right, paid for the service. So where were the costs? Except for carrying the program.

WARREN: I don't remember the technical term but there was a big to-do about return of capital. That is the payment of the subscriber for the installation. Paying that $150 to the operator was called "contributions-in-aid-of-construction" and, I guess, non-taxable. No income tax on that hundred and fifty bucks. How about a sweet deal! There was money coming in all over the place.

PAGLIN: You had to be a real jerk not to make a fortune.

WARREN: I remember just recently a friend of mine who is an active cable lawyer. He knows so many of his clients, other people in the cable business, who have made so many millions of dollars, and these are very ordinary people. They had no real, extraordinary skills. They got the right thing at the right time and hung in there.

PAGLIN: People out of the hills. Mom and Pop operations.

WARREN: Right. Lots of them. They had the guts to start it, risk it and worked it off the kitchen table--mom and pop.

PAGLIN: They had a product which was really in demand, particularly television. There's something crazy about people's desire for that box, for that picture in the box, right?

WARREN: Which is so often the case. The entrepreneur makes out well because his tastes are so much like his customers'. He does understand what the customer wants. He loves television. Just like you and me. As you mentioned about Bill Daniels. They love what television can do. They know what the public wants. This is Bill Paley, the chairman of CBS. He loves the "Beverly Hillbillies." He had the same taste. He didn't insist on ballet or the symphony. He wanted what the people wanted. Lots of people wanted. That's the essence of so many of these entrepreneurs. They know what the public wants. They have the same tastes. Others learn through research and whatever; they had it from the gut. "Beverly Hillbillies" was one of the great, great shows as far as Bill Paley is concerned. And it was to the audience.


PAGLIN: I never heard that. I never realized where it came from.

WARREN: Such is true with the cable operators. So many of them just love cable. You won't find many of those people saying, "I never watch the damn stuff." You'll find quite a few broadcasters who will say that.

PAGLIN: That's interesting. Well, we've come to the end of that section now. Again, it's been most fascinating. So what I'd like to do is, at your convenience, set up another date.

End of Tape 4, Side A

PAGLIN: Good morning, Al.

WARREN: Good morning.

PAGLIN: We're in the offices of Al Warren the publisher of T.V. Digest, and it is April 14, 1988. We're about to start session number four of Al Warren's oral history of the early days of cable television. These oral histories of the cable television pioneers are part of the oral histories program of The National Cable Television Center and Museum at Penn State and are being done in conjunction with the Golden Jubilee Commission's project. I am Max Paglin, the executive director of Golden Jubilee.

During this session I want to develop your recollections of the early years of the local government regulatory policies and municipalities. Particularly, how they went about developing their criteria for franchising. What were some of the problems with the telephone and the utility companies regarding pole-line attachments and right-of-way? What were some of the experiences in the competition for franchises in the early days? If there was competition. What the Commission's early role was in terms of the relationship with the municipalities and some of the problems in constructing and managing and marketing the early systems.

So we start now with your recollection of what some of the early problems with the local municipalities and the telephone companies and the utility companies in terms of pole attachments. First, with the municipalities.

WARREN: As regards the municipalities. In the early days, you heard almost nothing about problems. They seemed to be virtually nonexistent. It didn't arise much--or at least it didn't filter back to here. Rarely did you ever hear of any problems with the city or community. All I ever heard was that they were glad in these small communities to get television. They fell all over themselves to welcome the entrepreneurs who wanted to come in and build a cable system. That, by and large, was the status most of the time.

In the early days, you seldom heard of a problem. Undoubtedly there were problems; poor service, the whole schmeer. As for competition for franchises, they were unheard of, too. People would walk in there and usually get themselves some local friends if they needed them and let them come in on a little piece of action, get a local lawyer, and bang! They took care of the mayor who frequently had friends in the law business and so forth. That was it.

PAGLIN: These were in the smaller markets, of course.

WARREN: That's right. They were all smaller markets in those days. There just wasn't any big city interest in cable.

PAGLIN: You mean in the early '50s.

WARREN: Late '40s, early '50s.

PAGLIN: In other words, it was wide open.

WARREN: It was just about wide open. The people were just dying to get television and this is one way of getting it. That was the sort of thing that all I heard about from the municipalities. From the telephone company, you did hear complaints from time to time. The phone company didn't want to be bothered by this, they wanted to get as much money as possible out of these cable operators to use their poles. It was a nuisance. Occasionally, they would have to do something to their poles, move wires around, make room for cable. That was a nuisance. It was small potatoes in those small towns, you know. But you didn't hear that this was a massive, huge problem nationwide. It popped up from time to time. The only place where I heard a continual complaint about the phone company was in Manhattan when Irving Kahn was trying to build.

PAGLIN: This is later on.

WARREN: Oh, much later. I don't know when Manhattan first built their system. That was a fairly early system.

PAGLIN: Now that you speak of that, I think you are right because, I wonder if that is when I was with Commissioner Bartley as legal assistant that we first heard of Irving Kahn in Manhattan.

WARREN: Let's take a look at the Factbook and see when Manhattan started. He [Kahn] had many a bitter fight with the phone company.

PAGLIN: Didn't that ultimately lead to his idea about the microwaves up there in Riverdale? Can you remember?

WARREN: I remember A.M.L. A.M. Link, which his colleague Hub Schlafly worked on and it's still going. Let's see here.

PAGLIN: This operated first under Manhattan Cable, right.

WARREN: The northern portion in Manhattan shows a start in June 1, 1966. I didn't realize it was that late. I thought that was maybe late '50s. Well, that is somewhat later than what I had in mind.

PAGLIN: Was there, in your knowledge as a journalist in the field, any thought at the time by the telephone companies about cable being something that perhaps they should get into? Because of it being a drop into the home.

WARREN: Some people, yes. And the phone company did. They figured this is something they ought to be doing. But on the other hand, they also thought it was a nuisance and I guess they would have rather done it in their own time. At their own pace and their own way. Naturally, in some cases they would not be too cooperative with a cable operator. I think Manhattan was a typical case of that, because they had to go into underground ducts which was even more complex, I think, in terms of space. I think the ducts could, at the time, accommodate only so much cable and wires and they constantly were talking about limited space. They couldn't spare it, and blah, blah, blah. So there were constant battles there. But that, as you say, is later. In most of the small communities, I think, it was a diminimus thing to most phone companies. I think they also realized they couldn't be too obstructive because the people wanted television and this was the only way most of them knew how to get it.

PAGLIN: So the things that developed later on, with regard to all the conflicts and disputes about pole attachments, had to do with the mere economic aspect of it, is that correct?

WARREN: I think primarily, yes.

PAGLIN: When they started raising their rates for attaching to the poles.

WARREN: They surely wanted more money, they wanted not only the per pole rate but the cost of preparing the pole. Moving their own wires around to make room for it to accommodate the cable, things like that. I guess it's only natural for businessmen to take those positions.

PAGLIN: As you say, there was no thought, or shall we say, no foresight at the time that the telephone company thought of the fact that this is a connection into the home--that's our bailiwick.

WARREN: Undoubtedly, there was a certain amount of that going on. But it wasn't the big national brouhaha that the phone company was complaining to us. The cable people weren't complaining a whole hell-of-a-lot, in those very early days, about that rigid resistance. It was not that serious a thing. I think that most of the phone companies considered this small potatoes. Small potatoes that they didn't get too worked up about it. They may have very well thought that, when the television freeze was over and more stations started across the country, the cable thing would fade out.

PAGLIN: That it would go away.

WARREN: Cable television would be something to forget. And it would just be a temporary phenomenon as even many cable people thought it might. They thought they'd get all of the money they could while it lasted. Many of them thought that the business wouldn't last.

PAGLIN: Can you recall, in the early days, when this problem began, as you say, surfaced in even only isolated matters? Do you recall whether the Commission, the FCC, had any particular role in the franchising policy, vis-a-vis the criteria for the municipalities? Or was it something, again, that had not yet grown?

WARREN: My recollection is that the Commission didn't and wasn't vitally concerned about that, at that time. Their overall position was, "If people want to build these systems to get some television in these little towns and keep these people off our backs (the public) who complained, "Where's television? We want television. We'd like to watch Milton Berle and Bishop Sheen and wrestling and roller derby."

PAGLIN: You go back a long way.

WARREN: Absolutely. Morey Amsterdam.

PAGLIN: Oh my God.

WARREN: That goes back all right. People wanted to watch it. They started reading about it; their big city friends would tell them about what was on television. They'd go visiting around the country and say, "We want some of this." There wasn't a big problem with franchises in the earliest days. The Commission was just not too concerned about that.

PAGLIN: Of course, later on, it became quite a problem. The criteria that the Commission had to set up to make sure that the cities, at least, handled the matter on a more or less fair basis. To the extent that you want to talk about it on the record, you know things happened later on with regard to the municipal franchises as you say. The entrepreneur, the CATV operator going into a small town and enlisting the assistance of the local counsel or local lawyers and so on. Were there any incidents that you can remember in the early days that--for lack of a more discreet term I'll say--hanky panky was going on? In those days were there any such instances, I'm not talking about Johnstown, that came later.

WARREN: Very, very little of that came to my attention. Occasionally, you'd hear some kind of rumor, but very rarely. It doesn't mean it wasn't going on, but very little of it was brought to my attention. I don't recall anything that became public, in terms of a legal action, until the Johnstown case.

PAGLIN: What is your recollection? Tell the story of Johnstown as you knew it and as you reported it. It took place around the early '60s, wasn't it.

WARREN: I don't recall the timing of it. It sounds right. Simply, my understanding of it was that TelePrompTer, which was run by Irving Kahn, owned a franchise and had been running a system in Johnstown for quite some years. The time for renewal of a franchise came up and charges were brought against TelePrompTer that he bribed members of the city council, including the mayor, to renew the franchise.

PAGLIN: Who made the accusations, do you remember?

WARREN: I don't recall who leveled the accusations, but it came to trial. Kahn was found guilty and spent a year and a half in prison. His argument was that he was, essentially, forced into it. At any rate, the decision was that he was guilty. That was it. And he served his time. (See Irving B. Kahn oral history)

PAGLIN: They bought him out of the TelePrompTer Company. Who took over the company?

WARREN: The company was bought, I don't remember the timing of it, by Jack Kent Cooke. He bought the TelePrompTer company. He was a stockholder, I believe at the time, when Irving was convicted. Cooke later acquired control of the company.

PAGLIN: Who were some of the people that were working with Irving in TelePrompTer? Bob Beisswenger, was he in it?

WARREN: He was not involved with TelePrompTer. He was president of the Jerrold Corporation after Milt Shapp. Milton Shapp brought Bob in--I think, when Milt moved up to chairman--as president. I don't recall any connection that Bob ever had with TelePrompTer.

PAGLIN: I'm trying to remember who it was that was working with Irving Kahn and TelePrompTer, at that time.

WARREN: He had a bunch of top level people. Hank Simons was one of his top people. His P.R. man was Sel Kremer. Before that it was Dan Aaron, one of the early P.R. men for Milt Shapp of Jerrold.

PAGLIN: Was this for Jerrold or Kahn?

WARREN: I'm talking about Jerrold. Excuse me, you were asking about who was with Kahn. I shifted back and forth there. Hank Simons was with Kahn at TelePrompTer. Hub Schlafly (Hubert Schlafly) was with Kahn. In fact, the two of them formed the original TelePrompTer company, built around the teleprompter device, which Schlafly largely developed.

PAGLIN: He developed the TelePrompTer?

WARREN: The device which is still used today, very successfully. Schlafly was Irving Kahn's top-most partner at that time. I remember Gloria Coe back at the FCC. She had been a confidential assistant to Chairman Minow. She later left the Commission and went to work for TelePrompTer. She was a very able woman and she did a grand job.

PAGLIN: She married a ...

WARREN: A fellow named Klein, a labor lawyer. They later divorced. She retained stock, like all of the top people at TelePrompTer, and when the company was sold to Cooke, she got a very, very substantial amount of money. Kahn used to be very proud to tell us that he made about a dozen millionaires like that. They bought their stock at a very, very low price and sold it at a very substantial one. She, unfortunately, died of cancer.

PAGLIN: I remember that. In fact, I also remember an incident, as you say, when the stock was very, very low. Well, I won't interpose my own recollection on it, but when I left the Commission as general counsel and went out in practice, I had known Irv for some time and he wanted to retain me to do some things for him. We met in New York. This is Irving Kahn. There was a restaurant in an old hotel ...

WARREN: The Algonquin?


WARREN: That was a favorite of his. It was right next to his office.

PAGLIN: We went there and the old Italian maitre d' said, "Good Morning, Mr. Kahn." Then he started complaining to Irving, "You telling' me to buy you stock, I buy yours like two and a half, now its three, it's not going anywhere. Why you telling' me to buy you stock?" Irving says, "I didn't tell you to buy the stock." I then told the story to some friends who had a rich dentist brother-in-law in Long Island, I didn't buy the stock while I was free then to do it. This guy bought it and it went to a hundred and sixty. He always used to tell our friend, "Tell your friend I appreciate hearing about that."

WARREN: A lot of people made a lot of money on that.

PAGLIN: Irving Kahn is still in the forefront of technology in this business.

WARREN: I think he made the most remarkable recovery after conviction and serving a prison sentence of anyone I have ever heard of. I remember several years ago Fortune Magazine had an article on people who had served time, businessmen.

PAGLIN: I heard of it, but I never saw it.

WARREN: They devoted quite a long space to Irving and in fact, there was a full page picture of him. He, I would say, made one of the most remarkable recoveries from such a blow of anyone I had ever heard of.

PAGLIN: Our late dear friend, Fred Ford, loved to tell the story about Irving Kahn. It's not apocryphal, it's true. The first industry gathering to which he was invited to make a luncheon speech--you may know this story--after his coming out of prison, started out this way. Irving said, "As I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted." And it brought the house down.

WARREN: He was quite candid about the event and he would frequently speak about, "Well, this happened when I was the guest of the government."

PAGLIN: Yes. I remember when we were all called upon to write letters on his behalf, you know, character letters, at the time. We did. Those of us who had known him for a long time. But it didn't help much.

Do you recall some of the problems the early people had managing and marketing these early systems? For example, subscription television was coming on at about this time, the early '50s.

WARREN: It was being promoted largely by Zenith.

PAGLIN: And later, Pat Weaver?

WARREN: Yes. RKO did some promotions, too. But the connection was fairly minor except, I guess, that Pat Weaver did it by cable in Los Angeles to the extent that he could, against the opposition of the movie industry which pretty well strangled him.

PAGLIN: He couldn't get the programming.

WARREN: That's right. There was also an experiment by a movie theatre owner in Bartlesville, Oklahoma. The results, as I recall it, were not particularly favorable for pay TV. This was via cable also. Other than that, what the pay TV people promoted was largely talking about over the air. Zenith was the principal of that. As matter of fact, Zenith didn't even want to build television sets for several years after the war, and did not build any because the guy who ran it, Commander Gene McDonald, said that advertising will not support television. It has to go through subscription, pay TV. As a result, he lost untold sales to everybody else in the industry who was making sets like mad, and he wasn't even making sets.

When he finally did, he came up with a novelty that was rather amusing. He claimed a much bigger picture for the simple reason of not masking off the round picture tube and leaving the picture fill the total round frame of the set. You've got a bigger picture, yes, but you lost the picture in the corners. The results were that you lost maybe 30 percent of what was transmitted. And yet, you had a bigger picture that filled the whole tube. This was called the Bendix. It looked like the Bendix washer which had this porthole in it, at that time.

PAGLIN: I remember going up with the commissioners to see the first pay TV demonstration. Zenith/UHF operation in Hartford, wasn't it?

WARREN: That was done by RKO.

PAGLIN: But it was a Zenith patent system?

WARREN: He called it Phonevision, at the time. The reason he called it Phonevision is that the original version had to work in connection with your telephone and the station. To get it, you would have to telephone and I think the signal was attached; the descrambler or whatever, so that unless you got this tie-up through the telephone, you couldn't get it. That's why he called it Phonevision. Naturally, his opposition called it "phony vision." The big opposition was between him and David Sarnoff of RCA. They had a bitter, bitter enmity that went on for years.

PAGLIN: Isn't that funny. You're talking about, you know French, déjà vu?

WARREN: Oui!!!

PAGLIN: The early days of David Sarnoff's opposition to Armstrong on FM as you told us about, remember? The general didn't want anybody to get ahead of him.

WARREN: No. He considered this his turf. He fought like mad. He was clever at it, too.

PAGLIN: That's interesting. When the systems started getting into markets where there was more than one television station. Let's say two-market stations. Do you recall whether there was difficulty then in obtaining programming and actually selling the system to subscribers?

WARREN: Are you talking about cable?

PAGLIN: Cable. I'm talking about cable.

WARREN: In those days, before the advent of the satellite, it still was, largely, just the distant signals. Did they have trouble getting the distant signals? Not generally, they just did it until the FCC began to get into the act of controlling the kind of signals that they could carry.

PAGLIN: In two-station markets, in the early days, was there still the same hunger for variety in television that made a cable system in a two-station market of economic viability?

WARREN: Vastly less viable than it was in the no-station market or the one station market. I don't know the proportions or percentages but I would say that if a cable system had a 100 percent chance in a no-station market, it would have a 50 to 75 percent chance in a one-station market or maybe better than that.

PAGLIN: When the cable systems got into two-station market systems contrasted to markets where there was either no station or one station, what were you saying when we had to change tapes?

WARREN: I would guess that the prospects of a cable system, in those days, of becoming successful was something well below 25 percent. Maybe as low as 10 percent or less because two stations gave you a fair amount of television. The cable system would bring in a third network and an independent or two which generally meant bringing in some extra sports and extra old movies. Those alone, I think would drop the prospects down into the level of 25 percent or less. I may be wrong, but that's my guess. As a result, there weren't a lot of cable systems in communities with stations like that.

PAGLIN: Until, of course, as you said before, when the satellites came. That was a different story.

WARREN: That was, indeed. Really, the movies were the big deal that the satellite produced.

PAGLIN: Let me then move over into another subject while we still have more time. I want to put your hat on for a prognosticator. Nostradamus. There was something on television the other day about the old actor who created the big stir about the "War of the Worlds."

WARREN: Orson Welles.

PAGLIN: He was talking the other night about Nostradamus who predicted that on May 8, 1988, there would be a terrible earthquake on the eastern coast and that it would destroy the eastern coast. Anyway, put on your hat as Nostradamus. What I'd like is your overall assessment of the early years of cable television and what their impact was on the opportunities and problems of the industry are today. In other words, what was there in the early years of cable which seemed to direct the development of the industry in the latter years and as it is today? Entrepreneurialism and things of that nature.

WARREN: One thing that is pretty obvious is that people, the public, wanted more and more television programs. There seemed to be almost no limit to the choices people wanted. The first systems started out with three channels. Then they expanded to five. These were technological developments. And then twelve and then twenty. From there on it went into the thirties and forties and fifties and up. I think that most of us in the early days wondered, "Who in the world would want more than, say, twelve channels?" But the fact is that in those early days, before the advent of cable networks which were made possible by satellite distribution--that, as the number of channels increased, it really was much of a duplication. That is, instead of just receiving three network stations it could get up to, in some cases, a dozen stations of three networks each. You could get NBC over three different stations, CBS over three stations.

PAGLIN: Duplication.

WARREN: Much of it was duplicated programming so you really weren't getting that much more programming. What you did get was, during the hours when the networks weren't on, perhaps different movies or different sports.

PAGLIN: Not prime time.

WARREN: Usually not prime time. We used to ask each other, much of this is just duplicating what they've got so why would anybody want more channels of the same thing? Again, we did not foresee the rapid development of the satellite, once it came into being. Once that happened, the whole ballgame changed. As for the basic entrepreneurial business, you've seen as happened in most businesses. The pioneer, the risk-taker, who stepped out there in this new field, largely sold out sometime sooner or later. You'd see more and more concentration and more on the advent of the managerial rather than the entrepreneurial person.

The MBAs come into the picture and the financial men come into the picture. The people who primarily handle paper, whereas you previously had people who handled the hardware and programming. This is what you've seen in business, generally, in the United States. I think it is very unfortunate that business has become one of buying and selling of companies, rather than producing products. That's what I think is one of the biggest things this country has to worry about.

PAGLIN: If I may just ask or suggest, one of the things about cable that was recognized in the early days and even later on, was the contact with your subscribers; that is to say, almost like a day-to-day contact. Because you were furnishing programming, were you not, house by house? You were collecting month-by-month, you were hearing complaints in terms of what the public wanted and what they did not want as contrasted to, as you say, entrepreneurs, big MSOs, where it's just a balance sheet, profit and loss. The concept of the community was gone. Am I correct in that?

WARREN: Well, the emphasis diminished and more and more decisions were made at a headquarters rather than locally, as has happened in so many businesses. It's unfortunate, in my judgment. But, I don't know if there is a great deal that can be done about it.

PAGLIN: What do you see changed the--in addition to what you were saying--complexion of the industry as it was known to the people who had hands-on, early experience?

WARREN: It became big enough to attract big money and big business. I think that is essentially what it amounts to. It was no longer a mom and pop business and hence it attracted big business. I think you could almost compare it with the corner grocery versus the supermarket kind of thing and there was enough money there with the big folks. For those pioneers who grew with it and stayed with it, they brought in managerial types to help them run those because many of the original entrepreneurs who did not have those managerial skills that were needed and the experience to run large organizations.

PAGLIN: As their systems expanded.

WARREN: As their businesses expanded and the wiser of them hired managerial folks of their own.

PAGLIN: That would be the Bill Daniels, Bob Magness', people like that.

WARREN: That's right. I think Magness has done that, he has been one of the most successful. He is by far the largest cable operator in the country. But to this day, very few people know Bob Magness. They know John Malone. John Malone has a PhD in financing and Bob wisely hired him when it came to expanding his empire. He got a guy who was really, Malone, a genius at raising money, moving properties around and now Magness is older and enjoying his Arabian horses.

PAGLIN: So what you're saying, Al, is that there is a very interesting close parallel between the development of other kinds of industries in America in the early days starting out with the local entrepreneur, the small mom and pop, as you say, and growing into a large business and the experience with cable.

WARREN: I would think they are very, very similar, particularly in comparison with the utilities, which cable resembles in so many ways. Telephone, gas, water, electricity, I would say that most of those utilities developed long before our time. I have not studied in any detail the development of those various utilities in industry, but the little I do know about them sounds like they are quite parallel. There was a small telephone operator out there but when it became big business, big business took over and ran them.

PAGLIN: I want to probe your thoughts on this. When you have been dealing with cable, there were two elements, at least, that were different than a business of home construction, building office buildings. That was that there was a direct connection with the people in terms of day to day entertainment, information, and the window on the world that were being provided, as contrasted with telephone companies, which were very necessary, it's true. The people who went in realized they were providing a service, in the early days, which wasn't a necessity, was it? It was what we would call a luxury, almost. It was something, as you indicated, that the public demanded. They wanted this.

WARREN: Well, right. The big difference, of course, of cable from these other businesses we are talking about is it is a medium and as such, it is a totally different animal. The government has to keep its hands off, in many ways, which the government doesn't have to do in many other industries.

End of Tape 4, Side B

WARREN: But the industry is affected with the First Amendment. I would say this: 99 percent of the people who first built cable systems didn't give a good God damn about the First Amendment.

PAGLIN: Or even if they recognized this.

WARREN: They didn't know about it, they didn't care about it. It was a business to them. Most of them were stores that sold to consumers like us. They sold radio sets and they wanted to sell television sets. The thing that was surprising to me was the movie people that stayed out of the business. So many of the theater owners and movie producers stayed out of this. They were stupid. They were stupid in regard to radio, to television, and then to cable. It's incredible how these guys would concentrate, have their noses buried into one medium and they couldn't look around and see something else. All that happened to television broadcasters, too. They had very few who had a lot of vision to look around and say, "Hey, we better find out what this thing is. If this is a competitor, why, join them." As we mentioned earlier, Cox was probably the most successful major broadcaster to foresee that. Leonard Reinsch deserved the credit for doing that for the company.

PAGLIN: Then, as you say, as the systems grew, as the rest of the financial and business world became aware of what was, in business terms, a gold mine, that is, a cash flow in these systems was absolutely tremendous, right? The payback was incredible. As Bill Daniels has once said in the course of his interview that the bankers had never heard of anything like this. What do you mean, a payback in three years? They suddenly began to discover, "Wait a minute, this is something we ought to look into."

WARREN: It was incredible. Like anything else, if the money is there, it is going to attract more people.

PAGLIN: I've always felt that Bill Daniels and, perhaps, Marty Malarkey, were among the first that were able to introduce the big boys of finance into this industry, thus permitting the infusion of a great amount of capital that was not there before.

WARREN: They did a great deal to bring in the big money. Who else may have contributed that way in the early days? Well, I would say that Irving Kahn brought in big, big investment bankers into the business.

PAGLIN: What did that permit? Spell it out.

WARREN: Well, it permitted people to buy up the systems, to build more systems and to grow that much more rapidly. Those businessmen had the vision of this business and were able to expand that more rapidly. Irving Kahn went around the country buying up systems, offering people money so large they couldn't refuse. Daniels was doing the same sort of thing in attracting money into the business. He had great skills at that. I'm sure I'm neglecting others who made similar contributions in bringing in money. I'm thinking in terms of the very earliest people.

PAGLIN: Yes, of course, that's what we're dealing with, the very early years. That foresight on the part of some of the earliest pioneers that we've been talking about had a tremendous impact on the growth of cable, did it not?

WARREN: Indeed, it did. When you could bring in large money like that you would expand that much more rapidly. Some guys expanded fairly well by just building their own, gradually self-financing of minor, modest things. They did reasonably well. For a real explosive development, it took large money to get in that.

PAGLIN: To get into the large markets, in other words.

WARREN: Well, that too. But, even to buy up, as Irving did, a hundred cable systems, in those early days, took quite a bit of money. I think his first one he bought was Silver City, Nevada, or was that New Mexico?

PAGLIN: Somewhere in New Mexico.

WARREN: He told the story--I have forgotten which it was--of how he bought his first system.

PAGLIN: What was that?

WARREN: The details escape me.

PAGLIN: I hope that Marlowe Froke got it because he is doing Irving Kahn's history.

WARREN: Is he? Well, Irving will undoubtedly tell him about that first one because it was quite exciting for him to acquire it.

PAGLIN: I think it was somewhere in New Mexico.

WARREN: I believe it was.

PAGLIN: All right. We're coming to the point where you have to stop. I thank you again.

End of Tape 5, Side A

PAGLIN: Good morning. This is session number five of the oral history of Al Warren, publisher of T.V. Digest, now renamed as of May 10, Warren Publishing, Inc. We are now in a new location. It is May 24, 1988. This is another session in the series of oral histories of the cable television Pioneers by The National Cable Television Center and Museum at Penn State University with the Golden Jubilee Commission. I am Max Paglin, the executive director of the Golden Jubilee Commission.

Today, what we'd like to do is to cover your predictions for the future role of cable in the development of telecommunications. The overall complex and what your views are on the future course of cable technology, the need, if any, for federal or local regulation of the cable industry and some of the problems that are going on now. What you see in the future, e.g., must-carry, copyright, DBS, and some of the problems that are going on now.

WARREN: Very briefly, I think it is quite well known that the cable systems obviously thought of expanding the kind of material that they could offer. One of the more obvious ways was to bring signals from longer distances. At that time, the way of doing it was by microwave. Several operators did build microwave systems and also independent people built microwave systems to serve cable.

PAGLIN: There were independent companies that built as common carriers.

WARREN: I recall that most of these were done by non-telephone company organizations. That's why it sticks out so strongly in my memory. Bill Daniels was the first to get the telephone company to furnish a microwave system to bring signals from Denver to Casper.

PAGLIN: Yes. I think he had a system in Casper.

WARREN: I recall that the price was very expensive. As a result, Bill charged more per subscriber in that system than just about anybody else was charging. As I recall, it was in the seven to eight dollar range.

PAGLIN: That was a lot in those days.

WARREN: Seven or eight dollars compared to the average of five something throughout the industry. Evidently it worked out well for them, as far as I know. This was an obvious way of expanding. You may recall, too, that in the east, Home Box Office utilized the microwave system--I guess it was Eastern Microwave. So it could expand its service of its movies to more and more systems and to do it simultaneously for microwaves.

PAGLIN: Was HBO feeding hotels and motels at the time?

WARREN: I don't recall. So this was the beginning of networking for HBO. It pursued this with the satellite, which changed everything in the distribution to systems. It reminded me, a little, of the expansion of networking for television broadcasting itself in years earlier than that. We used to track every piece of coaxial cable that AT&T put in and every microwave it built to add cities to it so the main broadcast networks could add cities. We used to put out a map.

PAGLIN: T.V. Digest, did?

WARREN: We used to put out a map every once in a while to show the expansion of the AT&T network and then projections by AT&T when they would add city X or Y or Z. It was followed with absolute avid anticipation by broadcasters all over the country who said, "When will we get the network?"

PAGLIN: This was around when, Al?

WARREN: I would say the late '40s, early '50s. It was exciting to watch it march across the country. Then when they finally did get it coast to coast, that was very exciting.

PAGLIN: It's like the building of the railroad.

WARREN: Exactly. I do think that everybody was aware of that parallel and somebody put in a golden switch or something to emulate the golden spike. Those were exciting times. Those are the things I wanted to call primary attention to.

PAGLIN: Networking by microwave really continued for quite a long time in terms of the expansion and development of cable systems and programming.

WARREN: Yes, it did. I can't give you a number of years; it continued until the satellite took over.

PAGLIN: That's my point. Satellites then came in '75.

WARREN: '75, right.

PAGLIN: Who was the first to use it, was it HBO?

WARREN: Right. They demonstrated it with the reception of the "Thrilla from Manila", the boxing match of Mohammed Ali in Manila. I forget who he was fighting. Anyway, it was in Manila and it was transmitted via satellite to two cities. One was Vero Beach, Florida--where there was a cable system--and the other one, I think, was in Jackson, Mississippi.

PAGLIN: Those were the first.

WARREN: Those were the first two. This was an experiment. I went down to Vero Beach to watch this and it was quite exciting. After the fight, I went around the next day quizzing people in the street--man in the street interviews--and about nineteen people out of twenty didn't know what I was talking about. They hadn't read the papers. They didn't see it.

PAGLIN: Did they have sets? Did they have cable?

WARREN: Many of them did and didn't really know what the hell had happened. It was astonishing how oblivious they were.

PAGLIN: Was it because they just saw the fight and didn't realize the technicalities of how it arrived?

WARREN: Right. That didn't sink in with most of the people.

PAGLIN: But they did watch it, and that was great.

WARREN: They did watch it. A few were aware of the satellites and the contributions of that. But it's amazing how oblivious most people were.

PAGLIN: I was thinking about this when you were talking about boxing matches. You may have gone up that day to Hartford when the Zenith station up there in New Haven had the first demonstration, also a prize fight by subscription television.

WARREN: I don't think I attended that.

PAGLIN: That was around 1955 or something.

WARREN: I don't think I went up for that.

PAGLIN: They had the box there so a lot of people knew it had to be something. In your estimation, would you say that the arrival and utilization of satellites was probably the most important development in the development of cable television's diversity of programming?

WARREN: It certainly was very important. One of the most important. With one sweep, they were able to serve an entire country and distribute it to the remotest communities and, with just one snap, they suddenly could serve the entire country with the same program, simultaneously. The entire nation, which was quite a powerful thing.

PAGLIN: Did HBO have its own up-link earth stations or were they using RCA, American, or any one of the other carriers?

WARREN: I don't recall, but I would lean to assume that they didn't operate their own up-link because, as a very first thing, I would think it was logical to let the people who were working with the technology do the whole thing, at least at the start.

PAGLIN: Which, most of all, was the carriers.

WARREN: RCA was an early active.


WARREN: Right. Hughes has always been very big on satellite business.

PAGLIN: Who was the first programmer who established his own uplink?

WARREN: I don't know.

PAGLIN: Then, just generically speaking, after a while as the satellite programming began to develop, the programmers, themselves, sought licenses from the Commission to do transmitting by their own uplinks.

WARREN: Of course, along came entrepreneurs who established services like Bob Wold did to provide the facilities to the programmers. The programmer would rent space or whatever, instead of operating a whole farm of satellite dishes. Why not let somebody operate them and pay them for them?

PAGLIN: The arrangements would be between the programmer like HBO or whoever and the cable system itself. There was a contract between the programmer and the cable system.

WARREN: I assume so. I didn't know those details.

PAGLIN: What else would you say there was in the early days other than the stage of satellite development which was an epoch-marking thing or which represents a great advance in cable television and the delivery of programs to the home? Not only to the home but to hotels, motels, and the like.

WARREN: Your question is what else?

PAGLIN: What else besides the use of satellites?

WARREN: I would say the development of greater and greater capacity of the technical systems. Jumping from original three channels to five channels to twelve channels to twenty channels, thirty, thirty-five and up. Those jumps were quite important.

PAGLIN: For the cable system.

WARREN: That's right. When the cable system, instead of furnishing only the three networks, could jump to add a couple more independent stations, then when you go to as many as a dozen channels, it opened up much more, then the jump to twenty. Those were, I think, very key points in the development of cable. The great distinguishing feature of cable, of course, is its multiple channel capacity.

PAGLIN: The diversity of cable.

WARREN: That's what cable is all about. That's the whole reason for cable. Its ability to furnish multiple channels. As that multiplicity grew, the influence of cable followed.

PAGLIN: At what point, did the so-called super station that Ted Turner had--maybe we better describe the superstation--come in as a market development?

WARREN: There is sort of an amusing background to it. The cable systems, naturally, wanted to pick up whichever stations offered the most attractive programs. Very frequently this was sports; it was baseball, primarily. I believe it was WPIX New York, WOR TV New York, WGN TV Chicago, and KTLA Los Angeles. Those were in great demand out in the hinterlands, and cable operators made strong efforts to get those signals. The amusing thing about it was that broadcasters officially and unofficially hated the cable operators except that those stations who were picked up and distributed that way. They picked up an awful lot of audience, but they didn't want to claim it publicly. They made a great point of saying, "Look, we're not doing this distribution. We haven't asked for it. We're not trying to tell our colleagues who operate stations around those cable systems. We didn't want to take your audience away. We're not doing that."

PAGLIN: This is what the broadcaster would say?

WARREN: Yes, the WGNs in Chicago and so forth. They protested, "Look, we're not doing this." You can bet darn well that their salesmen didn't hesitate to mention it occasionally, "We've got 500,000 extra homes out there watching this." So it was amusing in that sense. To my memory, the first to come out and make a big, positive deal out of how great it was, was Ted Turner. He said, "I am distributing my signal everywhere possible because it's wonderful," and because, of course, he could get people to pay for it. I believe the cable system and the advertiser paid him. I think he is the first to use the expression, "superstation."

PAGLIN: He was, for example, at that time, carrying what?

WARREN: He had a fair amount of Atlanta sports and a lot of movies. I think that's what appealed to the people around the country. He positively tried to expand its availability to cable systems all over and, of course, once you have the satellite it is marvelous to be able to distribute it to anyone who wanted it in the country. To this day, most of the other superstations still do not make a big, positive deal out of all the pickups they get out there. They play it kind of cool.

PAGLIN: Because it would appear to their colleagues in the industry that they were "traitors."

WARREN: Yes, and stealing their audience. If you are a broadcaster in Kalamazoo and there's a cable system or a bunch of them in and around Kalamazoo picking up WGN-TV Chicago with the Sox games.

PAGLIN: Both the air or microwave.

WARREN: Either one. Anybody who is watching those games isn't watching the Kalamazoo station.

PAGLIN: Watching it by cable, you mean.

WARREN: Watching it on cable.

PAGLIN: It might be a better picture, for example.

WARREN: Or it is a program that maybe the Kalamazoo [station] couldn't get. Maybe he couldn't get the team at the price he wanted or maybe he thought he'd make more money by putting on a movie or something else. So the broadcasters--the involuntary superstation people--played it cool about that saying, "We're not doing this."

PAGLIN: That's funny. The old enmity between broadcaster and cable from the very beginning, except now some broadcasters are affiliated.

WARREN: Lots of them.

PAGLIN: This is why you are expressing it. By this time already superstations, a number of broadcasters had already come in as owners of cable systems, is that so?

WARREN: They were beginning to come in.

PAGLIN: I remember you telling us in an earlier session that one of the first broadcasters who saw the importance of cable in terms of the distribution of diversity of programming was Leonard Reinsch of Cox Cable.

WARREN: Right. He was all out for it in the days when that was very unpopular among broadcasters and, as I mentioned, he says he lost what he thought were a lot of friends because of that.

PAGLIN: Who about this time, to your recollection, were some of the big, multiple owners who had already begun to get into cable by the time the Super Stations arose?

WARREN: Well ...

PAGLIN: Westinghouse?

WARREN: Westinghouse, at one point, was a substantial cable operator. CBS was, before the government kicked them out.

PAGLIN: I think that's right, in the early days.

WARREN: It was one of the biggest.

PAGLIN: Before the government said what?

WARREN: Networks could not own cable systems. There was, of course, Cox. I don't believe TCI was very big yet, still small in those very early days. Also, ATC and Time Inc. It was one of the largest.

PAGLIN: That was Times Mirror.

WARREN: No, that was Time Inc., the magazine. I'll pick out a few more major groups.

[For the record, Al is now going to the T.V. Factbook to look for the early broadcasters who began to get into cable as major operators.]

WARREN: ATC was big. United Cable, that was Gene Schneider's outfit, that was a good size.

PAGLIN: They were broadcasters?

WARREN: Oh, you want those who were broadcasters?

PAGLIN: At this stage, it was broadcasters who had begun to get into cable.

WARREN: Let me see here. Broadcasters and cable.

PAGLIN: Now, if the researcher wanted to look at this, go back to a full reference, you are referring to what?

WARREN: Television Factbook, The Cable and Services Volume, this is the 1987 edition, page B - 1,264. It shows who is now a broadcaster and in cable.

PAGLIN: Some of the major ones ...

WARREN: Let's see. DonRey Media, with Don Reynolds in Booth America. The San Francisco Chronicle-- Western Communications. It was substantial and it was early. Knight-Ridder?

PAGLIN: These were, historically, major newspaper chains. They already had radio stations, right?

WARREN: Yes, but some of them may not have had very heavy cable interest. Wometco had cable.

PAGLIN: Wometco was principally a theater chain at the beginning, weren't they?

WARREN: Used to be. It was at the beginning and then it got into ...

PAGLIN: That's the Wolfson family.

WARREN: Wometco stood for Wolfson-Myer Theater.

PAGLIN: I never knew what the other one stood for.

WARREN: The Times Mirror of Los Angeles. These are among those that are current. There may have been some that have dropped out.

PAGLIN: By selling off.

WARREN: There is the Palmer outfit out of Des Moines.

PAGLIN: Palmer?

WARREN: Yes, Palmer Broadcasting.

PAGLIN: I'm not familiar with that.

WARREN: Then there was Lyndon Johnson himself.

PAGLIN: In Austin. Yes! What did they call the system, not L.B.J.? I know, because, when I represented George Morrell who had the cable system in Austin, Texas, that was the time when L.B.J. suggested, "How nice it would be for George to make him a partner." You remember that old story.

WARREN: Oh huh.

PAGLIN: He put his son-in-law in charge.

WARREN: It's now an ex-son-in-law, isn't he?

PAGLIN: Yes. They had owned the Austin television station at the time.

WARREN: Right. I don't recall the name of the company, at that time.

PAGLIN: The Austin's name. It's not important. Summarizing, broadcasters were already well into cable ownership by this time.

WARREN: Put Storer in there too.

PAGLIN: Storer, my goodness. He was one of the first.

WARREN: Scripps Howard was, too.

PAGLIN: That's right. Again, you see except for Storer, a good number of these were the traditional newspaper owners who, when radio came along, correct, they got in. When television came along, they got in, and when cable came along, they got in. In other words, these were the farsighted ones. How about the Richmond Times family? What was that name again? You know who I mean? They're in a big court fight now on a takeover. They own the Norfolk and Richmond Stations.

It's an old newspaper family that had owned newspapers in Virginia--Norfolk and Roanoke, the capital. In any event, it's enough of identification. [Editor's Note: Mr. Paglin was probably referring to Landmark.] I just read something about the takeover business just the other day. While you are looking at it, I saw in your journal just this week--if not last week--that Irving Kahn is going back into cable ownership. The Cherry Hill System, isn't that correct?

WARREN: Well, he had been back into it.

PAGLIN: Oh, he had before then?

WARREN: Oh, yeah.

PAGLIN: I knew he was in fiber optics and microband and all of that, but I wasn't aware that he had actually come back into cable ownership.

WARREN: When he came out of prison, he immediately began building systems in New Jersey and he built those up. About seven years ago, he sold them to The New York Times for around a hundred and some million dollars. He and The New York Times have gotten into a fight since then, so Irving is now overbuilding.

PAGLIN: It's an overbuilder in Cherry Hill, New Jersey.

WARREN: Which he had sold to The New York Times. He is now planning to overbuild them. He got into a battle with them and he is now past his non-compete time and is now seeking to overbuild them.

PAGLIN: Overbuild, in this sense, means no longer a "monopoly" of the only system in town. Now, current policy permits you to seek another franchise in the same town.

WARREN: Depends, I guess, on the city involved. Whether the city will allow you to.

PAGLIN: Whether it is economically worth it.

WARREN: Whether they will grant you a franchise. Most of them will.

PAGLIN: That's what he is doing now. Very interesting. Now if we may get to the concluding section. You've got to put on your Nostradamus hat and this is to be headed, "Albert Warren's Predictions For the Future Role of Cable in the Development of Telecommunications." Let your fancy fly.

WARREN: I think you are beginning to see a bit of a change in the pendulum. That is, cable was sort of the fair-haired boy as far as governments were concerned--federal and local--for a long time. In the courts, they seemed to win everything. They never seemed to lose. They were riding high, growing like mad. I think you're going to see the FCC reimposing the syndicated exclusivity, syndex thing.

PAGLIN: Just last week.

WARREN: Last week. I think you are beginning to see the actual slowing down of that pendulum which had been swinging the cable's way all these years. They are serving over half the homes in the nation. That's a pretty large number of people. I think that you're gradually seeing governments and Congress questioning whether cable may be getting a little bit too strong for the public interest. I would suspect that if the Democrats get in power, you're going to see that attitude increase.

PAGLIN: Pulling in the reins, so to speak.

WARREN: Somewhat restricting to cable people who have had unprecedented freedom of growth.

PAGLIN: Do we have a situation now where cable is in the position of being not only the owner and distributor of a great portion of the nation's television viewing, but are they also now programmers?

WARREN: There is a continuing growth and continuing strength of owning more and more. The whole thing, like the movie people once did.

PAGLIN: That's exactly what I was about to get to. The parallel of vertical integration of the motion picture industry in the twenties and thirties and early forties that got them into such trouble, which made the anti-trust suits and made them break up the producer from the distributor and the exhibitor.

WARREN: That's the attitude developing in government circles today. Maybe they are getting a little too strong. Of course, all of these cable system operators--they see it coming. They are buying up everything they can so that when they are forced to divest, they say, "Okay, we divest. So we only get three times or five times what we paid for it." I recall one very powerful broadcaster, twenty years or so ago, who was buying up everything he could in every front in the entertainment business. His counsel advised him, "Aren't you going a little far here? You're going to have the government on your ass, man." The guy says, "So, what will happen is we'll sell out for several times what we paid for it and cry all the way to the bank." That's what I think is going on now. That's one of the reasons that cable systems are selling for as high as it sells because everybody is ... "Let's grab them before they make us quit."

PAGLIN: They're selling now some of the systems at the rate per subscriber of what?

WARREN: About $2,000, roughly.

PAGLIN: In the early '60s, early '70s, you were talking about what two, three hundred per subscriber?

WARREN: I guess two, three hundred. We'd have to go back into the fifties. In the sixties, they'd gone up to five hundred or more. Some incredible fortunes have been made in this business. I see where Alan Gerry is just buying Wometco. I don't know how many subscribers it is, but it is a 750 million dollar deal. Hundreds of millions, billions going into these things. It's just staggering.

PAGLIN: As the years have gone on, in the last dozen years, there's been greater and greater concentration in multiple system owners.

WARREN: That is correct. It's still concentration nothing comparable to that of the automobile industry, where you have three or four of them running the whole thing. Here, you're getting so the top half dozen cable ...

End of Tape 5, Side B

PAGLIN: Al, you were talking about the concentration now of big owners in cable television.

WARREN: Well, it's growing so that the top half dozen or so operators have a pretty substantial chunk of the business. I would assume it is going to continue growing that way, until and unless, there is action by the government to slow it down or stop it. I guess it is only normal that things will develop that way. Whether or not they are too concentrated now is beyond me to say, but I think Congress is going to get their hands into this. Depending on who wins the election, will determine whether or not the Federal Communications Commission or the Justice Department, Federal Trade Commission or those folks will get into it.

PAGLIN: Do you see cable developing a role in non-entertainment programming?

WARREN: I don't see why not. It seems to me that if they are going to put more and more capacity into the systems and it's inevitable that if permitted to do so by government they will add services for which people were willing to pay. It has happened much more slowly than most people thought. Many, many years ago, even the early '50s, people were talking about the potential for all kinds of services.

PAGLIN: Blue sky they used to call it.

WARREN: That's right. That means the meter reading and the security devices and the home shopping and all that.

PAGLIN: Home shopping is pretty big now, isn't it?

WARREN: Yes, that one suddenly blossomed. I think it overblosssomed, but I don't know what it will settle down to. It's gone overboard and it will settle down to something less than everything.

PAGLIN: I should have used a term other than non-entertainment programming because, in the multiplicity of channels, they have all kinds of stuff. Stock quotations, weather information, medical information, all kinds of stuff which are non-entertainment. I'm asking about things like meter reading and paging, of which, cable is technologically capable, right?

WARREN: Technically, they can do an awful lot of things. Will they be allowed to offer telephone? Will telephone companies be allowed to offer cable television?

PAGLIN: What about it? Is that not a current issue? Telephone companies coming into cable.

WARREN: It is a current issue and it seems to me that the phone companies, as business gets more competitive, will look around for more and more kinds of revenue sources. Also, they are broken up into more groups. You have the seven "Baby Bells." Some of those are more adventurous than others and they're going to try to expand these things. I would expect it.

PAGLIN: In fact, in these small towns, the FCC has permitted telephone companies to operate cable systems. Have they not?

WARREN: There are some and they are very small usually, because the actual cable system operators apparently thought them too small or too scattered or too sparse to a non-concentrated population-wise to justify the building of systems. Whereas the telephone wire has got to be there anyway, why not add television? Of course, the FCC does allow telephone companies to build cable systems in areas where they do not have telephone companies or where they do not serve with telephone. Like, Pacific Bell built a cable system here. To me, it is interesting how they really don't want to get into areas other than their own backyards. Very little.

PAGLIN: Hasn't that really been a philosophy of the telephone company since the beginning of time?

WARREN: I guess so. Apparently, each doesn't want to step out of his own territory from that standpoint. I think that is going to diminish, that reluctance, and, I think, you are going to see more and more telephone companies getting into cable. Particularly, as they begin to furnish more and more fiber optics which has enormous capacity. Again, you are going to see it sitting out there wasted. You have the capacity to do a thousand times more than it's getting now. It's just as if you built a highway with twenty lanes on it and you're only using one of them. We've got all this capacity, let trucks on it.

PAGLIN: There are some systems, if I understand correctly, like the District of Columbia. Is it not true that District Cablevision is having the phone company build a system?

WARREN: They're having the phone company build it.

PAGLIN: That's all, just build it.

WARREN: It will not program it or operate it. I think there have been a few others like this in the country. The phone company can build a nice system. They've got the technology and the know-how, they can do it. Why the cable operator chose to have the phone company do it here, I don't know. Because it is quite rare that they do that; they usually want to build it themselves or hire construction organizations that do build systems. Usually, the telephone company will charge more to build them. They build very, very fine gold-plated stuff. But, I don't know why they've chosen to ask the phone company to do it there.

PAGLIN: In cases like that, Al, is that similar to what they used to have in the old days, at Jerrold particularly, what they call turnkey operation? Where a Jerrold built the system and then just turned it over to the cable operator to own and operate?

WARREN: Yes. That's a turnkey, but the telephone company wanted to build and lease the system to the operator. They called that a "lease back."

PAGLIN: That hasn't spread, has it?

WARREN: It isn't very wide. There aren't many systems built by phone companies for operators. I think it is largely a price matter. I think that the telephone company charges, generally, a good deal more than it costs the cable operators to build it themselves.

PAGLIN: You see that cable, as you've described it, "is here to stay." It's obvious that it will have an ever increasing role as it spreads.

WARREN: I would say that broadcasters are going to get more and more into it, many aspects of cable. I think cable is cutting into their audiences and, again, it is going to be, "Join 'em if you can't lick 'em". I think there are going to be more and more efforts to get the government to permit broadcasters to get further and further into cable. Because the audiences have eroded from networks, for example, about 10 percent in just the last few years, of which a fair chunk of it is caused by cable. Some of it by videocassettes, some of it by independent broadcasters. If you have something with fifty channels on it and you are a broadcaster and all you have is one, no matter how tiny the audience of each of those fifty is, it's going to add up to a fair amount of erosion of your audience of your single channel. So, I think the government will be more and more inclined to listen to a broadcaster say, "Hey, this guy is killing me here. Why can't I get in the business?" It's a technological development. You've let AMs go into FM, broadcast radio go into television, and so forth. They, too, prefer to operate in their own communities. They are now permitted to operate almost anywhere where they do not have a broadcast station. Again, people prefer to work their own backyards.

PAGLIN: This is our last item in the outline which we've been working through, and, that is, your views on the future course of cable technology and, accordingly, in view of the increase in the number of systems, numerically rather than the ownership. The need for additional federal and/or local regulation of the cable industry in the years ahead. What do you see, for example, the existing situation with regard to the conflicts on must-carry, on copyrights, on the future use of DBS (Direct Broadcast Systems) or high-definition television? How do you see that affecting cable? Will cable adopt it or will cable leave it to the broadcasters, in terms of the advance of technology?

WARREN: I think the cable people will grasp whatever they can that sounds promising. High definition television, at the moment, is, in my judgment, a much over-rated thing. We recently did a story about facts and fallacies about high-definition television. It has brought more favorable comment than anything we've written in a long time. When we point out that the public just doesn't care that much about high-definition television. In fact, they can't even see it. You and I have been watching television, technically and professionally, for a long time. If you get a normal viewing distance from two television sets, one has NTSC and one has high-definition television, you are going ask, "Which is which?" Honestly, you have to get close to see it. In very large pictures like, projections on the wall type thing with five, eight feet, you get into something where the high definition helps. For the average size picture, "the emperor has no clothes."

PAGLIN: Can you recall, off-hand, when that TV Digest story was? I'd like to send it along with the transcript. That's the big thing today. As you say, if there was a special story issue on it.

WARREN: That is our May 9, 1988 edition. The article is entitled "Fact, Fancy, and Fallacy about HDTV." The largest people in the industry have written to us and said, "Finally, somebody has told us the truth about this business."

PAGLIN: Will you permit me to make a copy?

WARREN: I'll give you a copy.

PAGLIN: That'll be fine. I'll send it along with the transcript.

WARREN: It was startling to see. You take a guy like Andy Inglis who retired--he once headed up RCA satellite operations. He wrote me a letter just the other day saying, "Boy, I couldn't agree with you more. I'm glad to see it." In fact, he's writing a book and he said he'd like to reprint it in his book. I said, "Go right ahead." For example, we've got seven items in the story: "Number l - Americans Desperately Want Better Pictures and Public Opinion is Forcing Industry to go to Advanced TV Systems."

Here's our response to that: "Recent MIT studies augmented by opinion research of HBO and CBC begins to put the situation in perspective. While Americans may be most demanding about program material, they are notoriously passive in their acceptance of technological picture deficiency. There is no question that Americans, or any viewers, have to be educated to the advantages of good pictures. Large screen TV sets, particularly, will cry out for pictures that could be viewed from closer distances. All available information indicates American demand for HDTV may arise from national pride, threat of competition, or visions of future markets. But not from any spontaneous demand by the viewing public, contentedly watching "Knots Landing" on maladjusted sets with twenty five year old antennas, worn out lead-in wires and horizontal lines of resolution." Things like that.

PAGLIN: Read with emphasis too.

WARREN: Dave Lachenbruch and I talked about this a few weeks ago and I said, "The emperor has no clothes." I look at these pictures there and they show them off at the NAB convention and the NCTA convention. If you look at them side-by-side when you get over seven, eight feet away from them, you're going to say, "Which is which?" It's just that people are accustomed to watching crummy pictures. They don't demand high quality. The average person, I'd say, gets about one-third out of his set, its capacity.

PAGLIN: It's an interesting parallel how it goes back. If you recall, FM radio, it's problem in the beginning is exactly what you're saying, the public has got a tin ear, they don't need hi-fi. Finally, it developed.

WARREN: It came along with rock music.

PAGLIN: That's right. And the availability of many stations, but not because of the high fidelity.

WARREN: But the high fidelity in rock gives you all of that noise, the bang - bang of the drums and the guitar. That sort of stuff. It wasn't really until rock got hot that FM came in.

PAGLIN: You remember what difficulty they had selling it as high fidelity radio? People didn't care.

WARREN: Also, they had freedom from interference and so forth. To tell the truth, when I first came into the business, we had called our journal "Television Digest with FM Reports." We stressed FM because there were thousands of applications. People were hot after it and they were scared of going after television. Too expensive and no audience. We used to carry on about how marvelous FM was ourselves. I used to listen to it and say, to myself, "No interference?" I heard quite a bit of interference. The average set was incapable of providing all that it could provide. I thought it wasn't what I thought it was.

PAGLIN: You remember what they finally discovered. The story was you produced a high fidelity signal in the studio but then the line that they rented from the phone company was a class B line. By the time it got to the transmitter, it was no longer high fidelity. Or when you got it in your set, isn't that right?

WARREN: Right. They were using 8 to 10 kilocycle lines when the system provided 15,000, 15 kc. There's a lot of that. There's no comparison in the switch from black and white to color than there is from NTSC standards to high definition standards. The average person can't see it. And they are not going to pay for it.

PAGLIN: NTSC being what we have today.

WARREN: That's our standard today.

PAGLIN: What do you see in the future, in terms of regulation, if there is going to be any. We know about the must-carry situation that the Commission just came with. Syndex. There's still the ongoing conflict between the broadcasters and the cable people with regard to compulsory license, must-carry (that is to say, the cable systems must carry certain stations), the copyright fight. That is still going on.

WARREN: I think, eventually, the courts--the Congress--are going to be tougher on the cable people, with respect to those items, must-carry and compulsory licenses. I think that they are going to feel that the cable operator has become so important to the viewer that there are certain things they are going to have to get tougher about.

PAGLIN: They won't tolerate viewer blackouts that may result.

WARREN: I don't think there will be much of that. Of course, the public wouldn't tolerate it, nor would the Congress, if the cable people try to play it cute." Look at what the government is doing, taking this away from you. We have a blank screen in." I don't think they'd get away with much of that. "Don't tell me your troubles there, buddy. I want pictures."

PAGLIN: Do you, in the same vein, Al, see any real future for what five, eight years ago was blue sky? Any future vis-a-vis, cable and/or broadcaster of direct broadcast satellite to the home?

WARREN: I cannot get excited about DBS. One, it will never get as many channels as cable can provide.

PAGLIN: That is, its capacity.

WARREN: Capacity. Because it has to come from a radio spectrum which always has more people demanding than there is spectrum available. Whereas with cable, there is, theoretically, no limit.

PAGLIN: Because it goes strictly over a wire.

WARREN: It goes over wire and if the people are willing to pay for more programming, you just put in wire that will handle more or you put in another cable. You can have it there indefinitely. Whereas there is always a limit to the amount which can go over the air. DBS will have a question, how much spectrum will be allocated to that? I think it will be very hard for the DBS to shoehorn in and shove the cable people aside. For example, what can DBS offer that cable won't? Is somebody going to take and buy up all of the favorite programming material--the latest movies, the top sports events and put it on DBS? Anything they can do, why the cable people can afford to pay more for. Who on DBS is going to put in the billions for DBS that cable couldn't do, if it had to? I cannot see much of a future in DBS. I don't know if it has any. Abortive so far.

PAGLIN: With the expansion of the backyard dish for direct reception of cable programming from the satellite, almost, programming, will that have an effect?

WARREN: That, to me, is a minor thing. Backyard dish.

PAGLIN: We're talking about satellite dish.

WARREN: We'll get a million or two million of those. Beyond that, I don't see much demand for it. Are you going to put a dish like that in your backyard? Not when you can get stations out of the air plus all the cable channels you could possibly watch. I'm not going to put a dish in my backyard. That type of satellite reception is different from DBS. What that amounts to is receiving everything that the cable system operator could receive. I don't see that as a big business. It won't be cutting a lot of ice. A million, two, three million homes like that where they are out in the country where you can't get much in the way of cable, maybe no cable.

PAGLIN: Remote areas where there is no cable.

WARREN: It's marvelous for that. And for the few fans who enjoy counting the number of channels they can receive. "I can receive 150 channels out of the air here on my satellite dish." People who enjoy that sort of thing are in the same class with the people who used to tune across the radio dial and pick up Nairobi. Just to show what they could pick it up.

PAGLIN: There is a group of satellite owners who represent these so-called backyard dish owners.

WARREN: That, in the scheme of the whole broadcasting/cable picture, I think, will always be a minor item.

PAGLIN: How about scrambling the program for the satellite? That is only a protective device against the backyard dish?

WARREN: That's right. The backyard dish became popular because people could put it up and receive the same stuff, even more than the cable operator would, for free. The cable operator and the program supplier, like HBO, said "My God, these programs are costing us a lot of money and these people are getting it free. They should be paying us something. So we'll scramble it and we'll charge them to unscramble it." That's what it's all about. Seems to me that's a fair thing to do.

PAGLIN: That's been proceeding pretty successfully, where they want it.

WARREN: I think so. Of course, many dish owners bought it but under the supposition they'd never have to pay anything to watch all the channels offered.

PAGLIN: Well, the representation ...

WARREN: The salesmen told them that. Now, they're unhappy, to find they've got to pay something. It's almost like saying, "I'll sell you a car and you can get the gas free." "Yeah, where?" "There it is, just go over and pump it yourself. There's people pumping it right there and they ain't paying it." "Oh, that's not a bad idea."

PAGLIN: Then they come to find out ...

WARREN: Somebody says, "Hey, we're going to put a lock on that."

PAGLIN: What kind of fees do HBO and the other programmers charge when they scramble? For example, Joe Bosh out in a small town in Iowa, he's put a dish in his backyard because there is no cable there. Like you say, the salesman sold him the dish for two or three thousand dollars and now he finds he has to pay a fee to HBO. I've never seen mention of how much.

WARREN: We have reported those and I don't remember them off hand. They're in numbers that aren't outrageous. I don't know, maybe a couple bucks a month. Of course, if you want to get ten of those different programs, you would have to pay.

PAGLIN: The scrambling fee is by program. Each channel?

WARREN: Maybe there are some joint operations. My understanding is that you pay separately. Maybe I'm wrong. We have reported it and I don't recall. It isn't such that you have to pay a hundred bucks a month.

PAGLIN: It's not a blackmail fee.

WARREN: No. Because Congress has been very, very strongly lobbied by the dish owners. The programmers like HBO, Showtime and so forth, are fully aware that if they try to gouge these people they would have the Congress down on them.

PAGLIN: Down their necks.

WARREN: They are rather gingerly about it. I think it is tolerable price levels.

PAGLIN: I think we've about covered most of what we intended to cover. Are there any other "pearls of wisdom" that Mr. Warren would like to put down for posterity? Your general view about how things are going?

WARREN: I think that the cable people are going gradually to get more and more aware of public service responsibilities. That is, they'll put on some material that really doesn't pay very well but they feel is a social responsibility from a standpoint of news, documentaries, children's programs and maybe a few others, which broadcasters, by and large, have done over the years. Of course, broadcasters have had government breathing down their neck, pushing them on that front, but I think broadcasters, generally, have developed and retained some conscience there. I think you are going to see a development of more of that in the cable industry. There are already people who do that. There should be, and will be, more.

PAGLIN: They become more conscious that they are really a close part of the community.

WARREN: And that they are a medium of expression and not merely a business.

PAGLIN: Since they are now making such a big thing about the First Amendment.

WARREN: That's why I feel the broadcasters are not bad people to get into cable because they bring some more experience in dealing with the community, from a programming standpoint, which the cable people don't have much of. They've been mostly a passive receiver, a relay. I think that is all to the good. It's an incredible kind of money they make. I think you are seeing the Pioneers are selling out gradually and dying off and more and more of the MBAs managing systems on behalf of them. I think a bad trend is developing in the cable industry, as in every business in the United States, is the trend of the raider, the hostile people who buy them up and squeeze them dry.


PAGLIN: As you were intimating early in the game, a lot of broadcasters realized that cable was just an extension of what they were doing.

WARREN: Well, some of them have. Cable has done a lot more than what was expected many years ago. I may have told you that I was a luncheon speaker at the first convention of the NCTA in Pottsville, Pennsylvania. That formation meeting I was invited to speak at lunch. Marty Malarkey was there. He asked me to comment on two questions. One, will the FCC ever take over and regulate cable? Two, will there be a future for cable when the freeze ended and the FCC started authorizing new TV stations?

My answer to the first was the Commission has its hands full with a lot more pressing things right now and it's delighted you're bringing any programs to anybody who couldn't get them before, so they are not anxious to regulate you. That's 1951.

As for when the new stations come on the air, will there be any room for cable? I said I think there will always be towns hidden behind mountains and distant from television stations so that there will be need for cable in small communities. But if someone asked me what do you think of it coming to New York City or to Los Angeles? What do you think of someday serving over 50 percent of the homes of the nation?

PAGLIN: Somebody had asked that question then?

WARREN: No, I said if somebody had asked me that then, I would have said, "Relax, boys. It won't happen." I couldn't dream of such a thing.

PAGLIN: Nobody did.

WARREN: I think all they wanted was some assurance that they could continue the businesses they had in Pottsville, Pennsylvania; Mahanoy City, Pennsylvania; Carmel, California.

PAGLIN: Astoria, Oregon.

WARREN: Right. Corning, New York. Such things as they had. As for expanding as it has, nobody had really dreamed of it then. I can't recall anyone talking about such. There may have been some people who saw it growing as much as 10 percent of the nation. There's probably a lot of people who would smile at that. Some visionaries probably said that.

PAGLIN: So the closing phrase is, "What hath cable wrought?" in this day.

WARREN: I now, for the first time since covering cable which I started with the first system in 1949, have cable in my home--since December--which I think is disgusting. But they don't detract from the other fifty.

PAGLIN: That is really interesting--virtually forty years. You said in 1949 you first began to cover cable and now you are finally a cable viewer, thirty-nine years later.

WARREN: Their customer service is as lousy as ever. It takes them a half dozen times to get out there and install it right. A half dozen calls and complaints over the phone to get them to bill you right. On and on and on. See that envelope there. That is full of all kinds of correspondence and bills and so forth that I am trying to get straightened out.

PAGLIN: It sounds like the early telephone service.

WARREN: That's before my time. We had a telephone on the farm when we first moved out there in 1932 with a party line, I don't know how many people on it. My father had the phone put in. It was a windup phone and he never could get what he wanted out of it. Once he got so angry he ripped it right off the wall.

PAGLIN: We go back the same way in the late '20s, when I lived in New York in the flats. Not cold water flats but the five-story flats with no elevator. It was in the Bronx. There was one pay phone in each building located in the middle--say, the second or third floor--and whoever happened to be on that floor had the duty because the phone was right outside their door. They had the duty of calling whoever was being called on that telephone. They would yell, "Mr. Giovano, you have a telephone call." "Mrs. Shapiro, you have a telephone call." You would come running up to the telephone. That's the way it was, I'm talking about '28, '29, '30s. That's how the phone systems were in New York City in those days. Of course, the corner grocer, the corner candy store or drug store had a telephone. Not much of a difference, although they were miles and miles away from each other.

It looks like we have now concluded our outline, unless there is something else that came to your mind that you would want to put on the tape.

WARREN: As an overall thing, it is a very refreshing thing to have dealt and grown up with an industry that came from nothing. I've been through two of them; television, itself, cable television with the satellites. Radio started before my time. Telephone business started before my time.

PAGLIN: I should hope so.

WARREN: I have grown up with television, FM, cable, satellites, and it has been a great pleasure and excitement to be acquainted with the pioneers and the entrepreneurs who built these things. They are a unique gang of people. They are fascinating, they're risk takers, they're shrewd. They may be crude, at times they are, their personal lives may be erratic, but they are fascinating folks. Particularly, in the cable business because we were covering the cable industry when nobody else was interested. It went like that for years. I forgot who it was who was recently saying that, "I remember when we talked about the press in covering cable, what we're talking about was Al Warren." I was the only person interested in covering it. Nobody else was interested in it. I thought it was a fascinating field.

As I may have started out to tell you how I got fascinated with it, it's because I grew up on a farm where we did not have radio because we didn't have electricity and the battery radio would last about two days before the battery ran dead. I so yearned to hear radio that I sympathized with people who couldn't get television. That gave me my interest in cable television. It was not a big business, but it was a fascinating business. Being a country boy, I felt for the folks who yearned for television. Particularly the kids. That's how I got into it.

PAGLIN: That's fascinating. When you speak like that, the elder statesman, it makes me feel old because I think I started before you did. I started in 1942 when I came to work for the Commission. As you said, I agree a thousand percent and I tell this to kids when I'm lecturing or anything like that is, how wonderful it is to have been able to be on the inside of seeing an entire complex of industries, which I say had this tremendous impact on every man, woman, and child, everyday. You and I have been lucky enough to be there, as the expression goes. Fascinating. I'm sure you would agree to this very day.

WARREN: I got into this business really accidentally. My original intention was to be on newspapers. But this job opened up and it sounded kind of exciting. So here I am.

End of Tape 6, Side A

PAGLIN: And I'm sure you enjoyed it.

WARREN: Most of it.

PAGLIN: There were times when it got rough.

WARREN: I worked for a very harsh boss.

PAGLIN: Marty Codel.

WARREN: Harsh guy.

PAGLIN: I remember him. You learn lessons that way. I think we are at the end of our session. I want to thank you on behalf of the Golden Jubilee Commission and the Cable Television Pioneers and the National Cable Television Center and Museum at Penn State and for your contribution, which I know will be really significant in the collection.

End of Tape 6, Side B

This is a lecture entitled "The Growth of the Cable Phenomenon" by Al Warren sponsored by the School of Communications and The National Cable Television Center and Museum. The lecture was delivered at The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, Pennsylvania, April l7, 1989 in the Hetzel Union Building Auditorium.

Patrick Parsons of the School of Communications gave the introductory remarks.

PARSONS Good afternoon. Thank you for deciding to forego the lovely spring weather and come here to hear about cable instead. We deeply appreciate that. We know what a temptation it is today.

My name is Patrick Parsons, I want to welcome you and thank you for coming to the third annual cable telecommunications lecture which is sponsored jointly by The National Cable Television Center and Museum and the School of Communications. Our thanks to Marlowe Froke, the Director of the Center and Dean Brian Winston of the School for sponsoring this.

It is my pleasure to introduce our speaker today with a couple of opening remarks.

Cable television is about forty years old now. It has grown from a very simple length of copper wire, dropped through a hotel lobby in Oregon, to a multi-million dollar--even a billion dollar--industry bringing a wide variety of news, entertainment and information, to over half of the television viewers in the United States. A lot of people have played a role in the development of cable television, coming in and out of the picture, working on the business, technology, and regulation. There are very few, however, who were working in media at the very beginning of cable television and remain working in media as a full-time observer and participant today. It is our pleasure that we are lucky enough to have one of those with us today.

His name is Albert Warren. He is a publisher and editor of a number of telecommunications industry periodicals, including Television Factbook, Television Digest, Communications Daily, Satellite Weekly, and others.

Al started his career in this business well before there was cable television, and continues in it today. He is here to share with us some of his observations about the growth and development of the cable industry.

Please join me in welcoming Albert Warren to be with us today.


WARREN: Thank you very much. I am very pleased to be invited up here to talk to you. I am pleased for a variety of reasons. The first perhaps is the fact that my eldest daughter is a graduate of Penn State. Second is, two of my very dear and oldest friends in the cable industry, live up here, and are in the audience today, Mr. and Mrs. James Palmer who have made very substantial gifts to the university and I am proud to say that I have known them ever since they were in the cable business.

Another dear friend who is here who has just joined the Cable Center is Stratford Smith who was in communications before I was. I got into it in December of '45. I believe Strat was on the scene working for the Federal Communications Commission as an attorney even before that. Am I right, Strat?

SMITH Right.

WARREN: So Strat has had an enormous amount of experience in the cable industry and it has been my pleasure to work with him and cover his activities ever since cable started.

So I will plunge into my personal talk.

I'm going to give you the bottom line of my talk right now--then tell you how I got there. It's this: cable television is very likely to become the dominant television within the next ten years, perhaps less.

I have had the rare privilege of covering virtually the entire history of several major developments in the media in the United States, working in this area since December 1945. This spans, essentially, the commercial development of TV itself. In December 1945, there were some 6,000 TV receivers in existence in the entire United States, built before the war. There were seven stations operating a few hours per day or even just a few hours per week. In fact, there were so few stations operating, they were so new that we were able to list all of their sponsors for each of them, and I think about two or three of them had a half a dozen sponsors. FM had a handful of experimental stations and a few thousand receivers at the time.

Our Television Digest carried what I believe is the first trade press report on the first cable system in the United States--in our issue of August l3, 1949. This was the system in Astoria, Oregon, built by Ed Parsons, an engineer. Naturally Parson's "first" is disputed, notably by some system operators in Pennsylvania. However, reporting the development of cable since its start has satisfied me that this was the first. I always warn my young reporters to be very skeptical of anyone's claim of a "first" in anything, because such claims are always disputed and seldom accurate. For example, Paul Nipkow, studying in Berlin, in 1884 received a patent for a TV system using whirling discs--but there is no evidence he actually produced a working model. I have never learned who was the first to make the disc system work.

Whatever happened to Ed Parsons? He never built another cable system. He migrated to Alaska and had a major hand in building the state's communication network. He had never attended a cable convention until a few years ago, and, as far as I know, that's the only one he attended. When I wrote this the other day, I was unaware that he has been to several conventions since. I happened to be chatting with people in the exhibit of the Jerrold Corporation, a major manufacturer of cable equipment, during a convention and I spotted this elderly gentleman's name tag--Ed Parsons. I had never met him and I rushed to meet him and to talk about his Astoria system. Remarkably, along came John Walson, who claims to have built the nation's first cable system--in Mahanoy City, Pennsylvania. I introduced the two and John immediately sought to get Parsons to agree that he, Walson, had built the first system in the United States. If you know John, he's a very vigorous and feisty guy. Said Parsons, "I don't know when you built your system. Mine began on Thanksgiving 1949." I don't think Walson persuaded him--and I don't think Parsons much cared. Walson is quite close to a billionaire--made in cable. Many years ago, perhaps twenty, John urged me to get into the cable business. I told him I was interested in journalism and publishing; operating cable systems sounded pretty dull to me. However, a few million dollars tend to brighten things, don't they? Some of my friends think I'm nuts--but our policy prohibits any reporters from any ownership in any of the industries we cover. I consider it a conflict of interest. To some people that's quaint--but I'm not complaining, the publishing business has been good to me and my colleagues.

Actually, the first cable system wasn't in the United States. It was in England. For years, many there got their radio via wire. Outfits such as the one called Rediffusion rented what was known as "gutless wonder" radios to the public and fed programs to them through wires--charging a fee. This was well before World War II. This became popular because the listener didn't have to lay out a substantial sum to buy a radio. Right after the war, they started doing this with television, but it never became a big deal. Maybe they even played around with it even before the war. They're building conventional cable systems in the United Kingdom now.

The next time you visit London, drop in on Bianchi's Restaurant on Frith Street, near Piccadilly Circus, and you'll find a plaque on the second floor stating that John Logie Baird demonstrated television to the Royal Institution there on January 26, 1926. I happened on the plaque by chance in 1970. My wife and I had been told the Italian restaurant was excellent so we went there. There were no tables available on the first floor, so we were seated on the second--right next to the plaque. Curiously, the late George Brown had exactly the same experience, also in 1970. Dr. Brown who had been executive vice president of RCA and headed the development of the color TV system we use today, recounts the episode in his remarkable autobiography titled "... and part of which I was" (a title taken from the Aeneid). He explored the beginnings of many developments in electronics, and it makes very fascinating reading.

On a personal note, you may find it of interest as to why I have had a long-time interest in cable. As you know, cable was really an insignificant novelty in TV for many years. Even now, it's only one of the many facets of the industry we cover. However, I grew up on a farm in northeastern Ohio and, like most kids, was intensely interested in radio. We tried a battery radio, because we didn't have electricity, but the batteries ran down in a few days. We couldn't afford to keep replacing them every few days. Thus, I missed all those wonderful programs--comedy, music, sports, news. When I began covering television, I had a great sympathy with those who couldn't get it, and I appreciated the function of cable in bringing television to them.

Cable television was little more than a novelty for many years. It got started because of what became known as "The Great TV Freeze." This refers to the fact that the Federal Communications Commission, in 1948, discovered that it had authorized the placement of television stations too close together--and they produced intolerable interference with each other. So the Commission stopped authorizing stations and began pondering what to do. It estimated that it would take nine months to find the answer. It took four years. That's about par for the course for government.

Meanwhile, there were only a few dozen stations on the air--therefore vast areas of the country received little or no television. People knew that a receiving antenna on a mountain or tall tower could pick up distant signals--and people with a business sense figured out that these signals could be fed via cable to people who were willing to pay to receive them. Prominent among the entrepreneurs were the owners of appliance stores envious of their big-city colleagues who were selling TV sets as fast as they could get them. And the profits for the television sales were phenomenal. My first TV set, a 10-inch black and white Admiral receiver, cost me $444 in 1946--a black and white 10-inch, $444. That was more than two months pay; at that time. Today you can get a much better black and white set for $60 to $80. What other product has shown such a development? If Cadillac had followed the same trend, you could buy one today for a hundred bucks.

I would be less than candid if I said, "I told you so" when I look at the astonishing growth of cable in these forty years. I was a speaker at the first convention at the National Community Antenna Association in Pottsville, Pennsylvania, June 9, 1952. The president of the Association asked me to try to answer two questions: (l) Will cable TV (it was called CATV then) exist after the FCC starts authorizing new stations again? and (2) Will the FCC ever regulate cable? My responses were: (l) There will always be some need for cable systems, but cable's growth will be quite limited. (2) The FCC is so embarrassed by the long "freeze," halting the spread of TV stations, that it's delighted with anything that brings TV to people who could not otherwise get it--so it has no desire to bother the pipsqueak cable business with regulations. Eventually, I was substantially wrong on both counts. Since I was not alone in these conclusions, I don't feel particularly bad about it. Older and wiser heads than mine had similar views. In fact, few in the industry were even aware of cable. If anyone had asked me then how many homes would ever be served by cable I would have guessed one or two million--max.

The National Community Antenna Association (now the National Cable Television Association) was formed in Pottsville six months earlier, January 16, 1952. It's fascinating to look at the names of the nineteen people who were there at the founding--some of them still active in the industry. Martin Malarkey sparked the formation of the association and was its president for the first several years. He operated the system in Pottsville. I could give you the names of other officers but it may not make too much sense to you. Copies of this will be published and made available. You can look at them up if you wish. I list all of the founders in there. And nowadays it appears that the hotel was like the Mayflower, apparently two or three thousand people feel that they were there.

There are several reasons why Pennsylvania was so heavily represented. Most of those people present were from Pennsylvania. First, of the sixty-five operating systems in the nation, listed in the directory we published May l0, 1952, thirty-eight were in Pennsylvania. The concentration stemmed largely from the fact that the state is so hilly and because the major manufacturer of equipment, the Jerrold Corporation, was headquartered in Philadelphia--and, more importantly, was headed by a very talented engineer, salesman, and politician, namely Milton Jerrold Shapp. I think Pennsylvanians recognize the name.

I got a big kick out of knowing most of the pioneers--because they were adventuresome entrepreneurs in many ways. Malarkey bought a war surplus fighter plane, but soon sold it because as he told me, "I got rid of it before I killed myself." He also owned a flashy Jaguar, which he let me drive at ninety miles and hour. This was rather heady stuff for a kid reporter from an Ohio farm. After Marty moved to Washington, he owned two Rolls Royces, two at the same time, including a convertible. My daughter Ellen, the graduate of Penn State, who was 16 and had just received her driver's license, got the same thrill out of driving the Rolls that I got out of the Jaguar years before. Shapp used to stay with us in Washington when he was in town. His energy was astounding. We stayed up one night talking until 5:00 a.m. At 7:00 a.m., my son Dan, who was about two years old, climbed into bed with him and asked, "Who are you?" Milt played with him good-naturedly. Good-naturedly? Good Lord, if someone woke me up after two hours sleep I would not be good-natured, to say the least. Another unusual pioneer was Bill Daniels, who built his first system in, I believe, Casper, Wyoming, and was first to buy microwave service from the phone company. The microwave brought Denver stations to Casper. Bill had been a Navy fighter pilot during the war. Lots of operators flew and fly their own planes. Gerry Henderson, of Carmel, California who headed the big door-to-door company, Avon Products, built his system because he wanted to watch television, not because he needed the money. He came to an NCTA convention in Washington one year in his typical style, sailing his huge yacht from Carmel through the Panama Canal and up to Washington. I forget how many television sets he had on the boat.

The growth of cable was quite slow for many years. A major reason, I believe, is that potential operators retained their fear that the proliferation of stations across the country would render systems obsolete. We have tracked the growth every year since 1952. Our first directory found only some seventy systems serving about 14,000 homes. In 1953, 30,000 subscribers; 1954, 65,000; 1955, 150,000; 1956, 300,000. The figure didn't hit 1 million until 1964. It exceeded 5 million in 1971. It hit 10 million in 1976. It reached 25 million in 1983.

As of January l of this year, we figured the total at 45 million--served by 9,000 systems. This is half the nation's 90 million television homes.

Probably the biggest thing that happened to cable was technical--the use of the satellite. In 1975, Time In first employed the satellite to deliver "The Thrilla from Manila"-- the Ali-Frazier fight from the Philippines. At one stroke, cable was able to deliver its programs to every cable system in the nation without use of AT&Ts cables or microwave. That meant the saving of billions of dollars and years of time. Credit for developing this goes largely to Gerald Levin of Time Inc. I covered the event in Vero Beach, Florida. After the show, I did a man-in-the-street interview stint, asking people what they thought of this remarkable scientific development. Almost no one knew what I was talking about.

Another factor slowing the development of cable in its early years was the opposition of broadcasters, who found allies in the FCC. Television broadcasting was no bonanza in its early days. Many operators lost money, station operators, lots of it. And those in small markets were terrified of cable. This was understandable. A small-market telecaster, with his single signal, found it tough to compete with a cable system that brought in a half dozen big-city stations. Some called cable operator "parasites." A majority of the FCC commissioners tended to agree, and it bound cable with a series of restrictions that hampered its growth. The Commission prized "localism"--local news, use of talent, discussion of local issues. And early cable systems provided none of this. They still don't do a lot of that, although they're doing more and more. They would get a lot more sympathy on Capitol Hill today if they did.

However, some broadcasters--though not many--saw cable as the writing on the wall and they jumped into the field. One of these was Cox Broadcasting, a major pioneer radio and TV broadcaster. It was headed by Leonard Reinsch. He was a pretty good politician--who, among other things, headed TV and radio campaigns for Democratic presidential candidates for many elections, starting in 1944. Reinsch plowed into the cable field, and reaped cries of "traitor" from some broadcasters. Some years ago, he told me, "I lost the friendship of a lot of people who I thought were my friends." Frank Stanton, the former CBS president, got CBS into cable, and the network became one of the largest cable operators--before the FCC ruled the networks had to get out of cable because that gave them too much power. NBC and ABC never did much in cable. It's worth noting that Reinsch and Stanton today personally hold interests in a West Palm Beach, Florida, cable system, probably worth eight figures. When Stanton retired from CBS a good many years ago, he told me, off the record, "Cable is going to be it. Everything's going to cable." Stanton is now 80 and much more vigorous than most people half his age. I asked him how he does it. He laughed, "I live in a 747"--eighty years old.

In cable, as in virtually all human endeavors, technology has been and is a powerful driving force--sometimes the decisive driving force. The historians among you well appreciate the impact of technology in war--the long bow, the rifle, the machine gun, the tank, the airplane, the atomic bomb. And so it is in industry. The rise of cable can be attributed to one simple physical fact-- multiple channel capacity. A TV station has only one channel. A cable system, for all practical purposes, has an unlimited number of channels. A cable system can add channels as long as the subscribers are willing to pay for them. A station has one crack at the audience--then it's gone. A cable system can keep adding channels until it has something for everyone. You don't like what's going on this channel? Okay, try this one. Doesn't fit? All right, here's some more. You can't watch it now? That's all right, we'll repeat it as long as anyone wants to see it. We've got a plethora of space to do it in.

Cable started out by providing three channels, probably because there were three national networks. Then it moved to five, then to twelve, then twenty, then thirty some, then fifty--and more. Some claimed as many as one hundred channels. It's instructive to look at the figures on channel capacity today. Our data base, as of April Il, shows that systems with fifty-four channels or more serve about 9.5 million subscribers--20 percent of the total subscribers. Systems with thirty to fifty-three channels serve 30 million homes--65 percent of all cable homes and that takes care of the bulk of them. I found seven antique systems with fewer than five channels--and they serve 1,333 homes. It would be intriguing to interview those operators.

And all this is with conventional cable--not fiber optics. When demand is large enough, fiber optics will be used, providing thousands of channels if needed. Systems are now experimenting with and using fiber optics in various portions of their systems. It will give all the channels, I think, anyone could dream of today.

Contrast today's channel capacity with that of twenty years ago. In 1969 only twenty-nine systems (1 percent of the total) had more than twelve channels--I looked it up. Sixty-seven percent had six to twelve; 22 percent had only 5 percent.

For the broadcaster, it's a losing battle. The audience for broadcast networks and stations is eroding. I see nothing to stop this erosion. Cable hits broadcasting two ways. It takes away audience and it has begun to take away advertising. At one time, cable operators got all of their money from subscriber fees, because the size of their audience was too small to attract advertisers and because they originated no programming that could carry advertising. These audiences are growing, becoming attractive to advertisers. Furthermore, advertising is just gravy to cable--they're already profitable without it.

Cable brought in about $1.4 billion in advertising last year. Bob Alter, president of the Cable TV Advertising Bureau, told me the other day he expects it to reach $2 billion this year. And he sees it reaching $10 billion within five to ten years. Last year, some $9 billion was spent on network TV, $7 billion was spent on spot TV advertising.

Here's, I think, a relevant quote from the April l3 Wall Street Journal: "Many advertisers could reach larger audiences by increasing their cable TV ad budgets, according to a study by the ad agency DDB Needham Chicago. For example, of women l8 to 49 years old watching TV in a given daytime period, an advertiser can reach 43 percent with a modest-sized broadcast network campaign. But by moving about a third of the budget to cable and keeping the rest on broadcast TV, the advertiser could reach 46 percent of the women in that group." I think this sort of thing is very significant.

The cable pay-TV networks, such as Home Box Office, still shun advertising, saying that the public would resent the intrusion of commercials in programs for which they paid extra, in addition to their regular fees for basic cable service. But the growth of cable advertising is inevitable. The fact is the public will tolerate commercials. Even video cassettes have begun to include commercials.

And the size of the individual systems is becoming something to reckon with from an advertising standpoint. The largest system in the nation is in San Diego. It has more than 300,000 subscribers. Here are some fresh figures on the size of systems, from our data base. As of April 11, there are 168 systems with 50,000 or more subscribers each. They serve a total of 15,751,321 subscribers--34.6 percent of the nation's total. Systems with 20,000 to 49,999 subscribers total 379 and they serve 11,712,860 subscribers--25.73 percent of the total. Systems with 10,000 to 19,999 each total 494, serving serve 6,946,910--15.26 percent of the total. Surprisingly, of the 9,000 cable systems there are 2,222 that serve fewer than 249 homes each. That's a quarter of them that are very tiny.

Another development that has got to be troubling to broadcasters is the public's perception of the relative quality of cable and TV broadcasting. A recent survey of viewers, released two weeks ago, conducted for the broadcasters own TV information office by the distinguished Roper organization--the 16th such annual survey for TIO--found viewers with a continuing strong regard for telecasting, broadcasting. But, and this is the first time that I've ever seen the following conclusion, viewers believe cable offers better service in the areas of "quality programs," children's shows, education, program variety, entertainment, culture and sports.

Cable does that better than broadcasting according to the viewers. In fact, the only area in which viewers consider broadcast television better than cable is in news, particularly in local news. I find this perception absolutely astonishing, almost incredible. Maybe the reason is quite simple. Cable carries all the networks and all local stations--and gets credited with their quality--while getting brownie points for also carrying purely cable network material and distant stations. The Roper survey also found that viewers say cable has vastly more violence, profanity and sex than telecasting. I find this conclusion neither astonishing nor incredible. Just catch a George Carlin or a Whoopi Goldberg monologue.

What can broadcasters do about this? In addition to fighting in the courts, Commission and Congress, it's the age-old-story--"Join 'em if you can't lick 'em." CBS, showing real vision, was doing very well at this--until the FCC kicked it out of cable. ABC never was much interested in cable. NBC dabbled a bit years ago. Now, however, NBC is headed by a former cable operator--Bob Wright--who once ran the cable systems for the Cox organization. GE bought RCA, which includes NBC, and put Wright in charge. And he has just started CNBC, today. In fact, that's the Consumer News and Business Channel to be distributed via cable. It started today. The networks must find a way to share cable's very substantial wealth. They can buy systems--at perhaps ten times the cost of ten to fifteen years ago--and they can produce programs that cable will buy.

The movie industry is already profiting very nicely out of cable, thank you. For a very small investment in skilled legal and lobbying work, they're getting 75 percent of the $200 million per year that cable pays in copyright royalties. And the total goes up very rapidly every year. It's one of the largest sources of profit to Hollywood today. Of course, that sum would have been small potatoes to a movie producer if the movie producers had gone into the ownership of cable. With the exception of Warner, no producer owns much in cable. And what has cable ownership done for Warner? Aside from handsome yearly operating profits from its 1,500,000 subscribers, Warner has a property worth three to five billion dollars. That makes a very nice dowry to bring to Warner's pending marriage to Time Inc.--giving it 59.3 percent of Time Warner Inc. Incidentally, most movie producers also missed the boat in television station ownership. Those buying TV stations now are paying dearly. MCA just paid recently some $300 million for WOR-TV New York. They could have acquired stations forty years ago by filling out application forms and sending them to the FCC. Other people did.

The wealth of cable is enormous and becoming even more so. With systems selling at $2,000 to $3,000 per subscriber, even small operators are multi-millionaires. And take a man such as Bob Magness, the chairman of TeleCommunications Inc., known as TCI. TCI owns systems with some 6 million subscribers plus minority holdings in some 5 million more. Even with substantial debt outstanding, you're talking many billions of dollars and Bob holds a nice piece of that pie. I first talked to Bob when he was operating a little system in Oklahoma--charming guy with a marvelous skill at wheeling and dealing. Nowadays, he leaves most of the heavy work to president John Malone who has a doctorate in operations research and is no slouch himself at making deals.

I find it interesting and a little amusing that the cable industry is schizophrenic about the concept of allowing telephone companies unlimited entry into cable ownership. Current FCC rules prohibit such companies from owning cable systems in the same markets they operate phone companies. And most phone companies have shown little interest in operating outside their current markets. By the way, there is the same restriction on broadcasters; they can't own cable systems and TV stations in the same area. Some cable operators fear that the phone companies--which are a lot bigger than cable--would build competing systems and drive them out of business. Other operators look upon phone companies as potential system buyers with very deep pockets indeed--who might start buying systems up for $4,000 to $5,000 per subscriber, if allowed to do so.

To me, one of the disturbing developments in recent years is the entry into cable ownership--and station ownership--of people who have absolutely no interest in the business except to buy and sell systems at a profit. They don't build systems. They don't experiment with programs. They only buy and sell paper. Some cable operators and station owners aren't angels--but most of them have some concept of serving the public. Not so for some of the recent entrants. An old friend of mine, who has made several fortunes in cable and other electronics fields, lamented the other day, "These guys pay these big prices for systems, then they jack up the rates to the subscribers and squeeze the hell out of them. I think it's backfiring." Actually, it is backfiring here and there, as the city fathers complain about rates and service. More and more municipalities are talking about building their own systems--overbuilding the existing systems.

Unless Congress does something about it, the hostile raiders are bound to increase their preying on the media, including cable. Look what it has done to the broadcast networks. ABC rushed into the arms of Capital Cities Broadcasting, fearful of the pirates. That was a friendly merger. Ted Turner shook up CBS, made a pretty good run at taking it over with junk bonds, he didn't succeed. Even the huge RCA parent of NBC, was taken over by a "white knight," the even more huge General Electric. Most folks at RCA appear reasonably comfortable about the takeover by GE. At NBC, particularly, they feel rather safe after having risen in the network ratings rat race from number three to number one.

CBS put out almost a billion dollars buying up enough of its own stock to make a hostile takeover more difficult. This weakened the company so that it began a sharp cost-cutting program--dismissing or retiring people, many of them in news. News is the crowning achievement of the networks--and recognized as such.

End of Lecture Tape l, Side A

WARREN: Hostile takeovers or attempted takeovers infect the television and radio organisms with a great debt, and if you're worried about surviving you're not going to spend much money on innovative risks.

So what's the future of cable? History is repeating itself. The once puny weakling, bitterly attacking the media fat cats besieged by the somewhat skinnier old fat cats--and by some new kittens. After years of winning every significant court and congressional battle, cable is now under attack as a "rapacious monopolist." Broadcasters complain that systems often refuse to carry their stations; that they relegate stations to hard-to-find channels, and so forth. Some stations report that they even have to pay cable systems to carry them. Movie producers charge that some cable operators employ clever and illegal gimmicks to reduce their copyright royalty payments. The Motion Picture Association of America, attacking such operators in court, has been quite successful--picking up millions in back royalties. "Wireless cable" operators charge that cable operators who also own cable networks refuse to sell them such programs--or quote impossible rates. "Wireless cable" is the strangely contradictory new name for the service. These are really small television stations that beam their signals to special antennas on homes and charge a monthly fee. Their president is someone intimately familiar with cable--Bob Schmidt, one-time president of the National Cable TV Association--as investor himself in wireless cable.

Is there new competition on the horizon? Nothing substantial. Actually, aside from broadcasting, cable has only one major competitor, in my judgment, but it doesn't hurt much. It's the videocassette recorder, the VCR. The VCR has the advantage of allowing the viewer to watch what he wants when he wants it. But I think the day isn't far off when any cable subscriber will be able to dial up any tape he could rent from a store--and more cheaply. Again, there's technology dictating economics and sociology.

The direct broadcast satellite, DBS, will become only a minor competitor to cable, I believe. First, it can offer only a few channels, because it uses the radio spectrum, which is always in scarce supply. Second, every viewer must have a special receiving antenna which is a bit of a nuisance. Third, and perhaps most important--because of PBS's limited channel capacity--it may never have the program-buying and production clout of cable.

The telephone companies? They could overbuild existing systems, duplicate them, but that's really wasteful. The telephone companies went through that exercise generations ago, when there were competing phone systems going down the same streets. It makes more sense for them to buy systems--so telephone companies are more likely to become suitors rather than competitors.

The big problems looming for cable are legislative and regulatory. I believe that the pendulum is swinging back. Cable, which in recent years has won every legislative and legal battle in sight, I think, is likely to start losing some. The big operators have been expanding, buying, merging, buying. But some restrictions may not be so terribly painful. Someone asked: "Aren't you concerned about anti-trust problems in cable?" The answer by the cable operator, "The concentration in cable is nowhere near what it is in other industries, but if we have to divest something, we'll sell for several times what we paid and cry all the way to the bank."

I thank you.

End of Lecture Tape 1, Side B

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Thomas Wheeler


Interview Date: Wednesday July 26, 2000
Interview Location: Washington, DC
Interviewer: Tom Southwick
Collection: Hauser Collection

SOUTHWICK: I'm Tom Southwick and this is a project of the Cable Television Center and Museum in Denver, Colorado. We're with Tom Wheeler here in Washington, DC in his offices of the National Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association.


SOUTHWICK: CTIA. We're going to talk to Tom a little bit about his career. It is July 26, 2000. I'd like to start off, if I can, just asking a little bit about your childhood, where you grew up, what you parents did, siblings, and that kind of thing. If you'd tell me a little bit about that, I'd appreciate it.

WHEELER: I had a great childhood. I grew up in Columbus, Ohio. My father was an insurance agent, and my mother was a housewife. I became obviously a rabid Ohio State fan, went to Ohio State University, and then came over to Washington after graduating and doing a short stint in graduate school, doing a little work in some political campaigns, and then came to Washington.

SOUTHWICK: When exactly were you born?

WHEELER: April 5, 1946 in Redlands, California. My dad was in the Army so I was schlepped around the early years like so many baby boomers were from Army post to Army post.

SOUTHWICK: When did you move to Ohio?

WHEELER: I was probably about 2 when we moved back. Then he was called up again for the Korean War so we moved around again for that. I was in Michigan, Virginia, and then moved back to Columbus again where we settled and lived until I was 22.

SOUTHWICK: Other than football, what kind of interests did you have as a boy growing up?

WHEELER: I guess I was a young entrepreneur. I always had a whole series of little businesses that I was running, whether it was painting numbers on the curb or a coin dealer for awhile – buying and selling coins. That actually did a lot to help me earn money for college with doing that. I had a little advertising business that I ran when I was in college.

SOUTHWICK: What did you study in college?

WHEELER: Business administration.

SOUTHWICK: Were you interested in politics and government as a kid or did that come later?

WHEELER: I've always been interested in politics for as long as I can remember. I came over here to Washington in 1967 in the summer between my junior and senior year in college and was an intern. One of the things I did when I was at Ohio State was that I ran what was called the Distinguished Speaker Series. One of the speakers that we had out was the then Minority Leader of the House, Jerry Ford. I went to the airport to pick him up, and I decided between the airport and the speech I was going to hit him up for a job. I also had the good sense to invite to go with me to the airport the newly elected, but not yet sworn in member of Congress from that district, Chalmers Wiley. Being the brash young college student, I put the arm on the Minority Leader of the United States House of Representatives in the car. Being the good politician that he is, he turned to Chalmers Wiley and says, "Hey, why don't you hire this guy? Why don't you give him an internship this summer?" Since Chalmers Wiley was no fool, he had yet to be sworn in, and his leader was now saying, "Do something!" it happened right there in the car.

SOUTHWICK: Cool. Fantastic. Was your love of politics something you felt on your own or was that inspired somebody else, inherited from family maybe?

WHEELER: I think we always talked about it at the dinner table, but I was just naturally attracted to it and had Potomac fever long before I left Columbus.

SOUTHWICK: Were you interested in the issues or in the process or both?

WHEELER: Both. I've always been fascinated with the concept of leadership. So the coming together of the political process on the retail level, campaigns and this sort of thing, the issues, "wonking the issues" as we say today at least, and the process of how you build coalitions and get things done has always been something that interested me.

SOUTHWICK: Was there a politician or a campaign that particularly captured your interest or imagination as you were growing up?

WHEELER: Yes. That's a really good question. Let me go back to my story about Jerry Ford. I came over and I was an intern in the Republican Intern Program.

SOUTHWICK: This was in what year now?

WHEELER: 1967. Internships have tended to decline in some of the things you can accomplish. But we didn't know any better. Congressman Wiley didn't know any better at that point in time. I really got some great experiences. One of those experiences was that it made me a Democrat. I was working for a Republican member of Congress. It was during the time of the Vietnam War, and I was not a supporter of the war at a time when most Republicans were. It was during some of the Great Society programs, and I found myself working issues or writing issue papers or whatever on things that I felt made sense and my boss was opposing. So when I went back to Columbus to finish my senior year, I then began to get involved in other political activities, Democratic political activities. I then went to Graduate School immediately after graduation and was Assistant Alumni Director during that period of time and also was volunteering for Jack Gilligan's Senate campaign. Jack was one of the co-authors of the Minority Peace Plank of the Democratic Convention. It was a time that was formative.

So I would guess, to answer your question whether people were key movers and shakers, yes. My experience as an intern helped me frame some of my political beliefs that then Jack Gilligan and his campaign and the people in his campaign gave me a chance to act upon and grow and get some experience. It was a fascinating campaign. The manager of the campaign was Mark Shields who had just left ... This was shortly after Robert Kennedy was assassinated and Mark Shields had run the Kennedy Presidential Primary in Oregon. Then he went to California and was assassinated. So Mark came in and took over the Gilligan campaign.

The director of field operations who was my boss was this young guy who had come from Lew Harris pollsters because he wanted some field experience in really what it was like and what he was polling. His name was Peter Hart. So two major names in particularly Democratic politics, Peter now being one of the country's great pollsters and Mark being a columnist and TV commentator, were my bosses in that '68 campaign.

SOUTHWICK: How did you do?

WHEELER: We lost.

SOUTHWICK: And what was your next step after that?

WHEELER: I had been fortunate enough to be mentored in the process by a guy in Columbus by the name of Jack Davis. He was the one who had opened the doors to the Gilligan camp, the Gilligan campaign for me. He had been a great mentor. So after the campaign was over, because I was certain that I would be coming back to Washington as a staffer for the newly elected United States Senator from Ohio, it was clear that wasn't going to be happening. It was also very clear that I was going to Graduate School. I was not distinguishing myself. I was not enjoying myself. And there was no reason to hang around.

SOUTHWICK: Academics was not it for you.

WHEELER: This was not my long suit. And so Jack Davis called George Koch (pronounced "Cook"). George was, at that point in time, the President of the Grocers Manufacturers of America. Jack had known him for years, and Jack Gilligan knew him. He said, "Hey, George, here's a guy who was working for Jack Gilligan. You ought to take a look at him." George Koch ended up hiring me so I came over to Washington. I remember ...

SOUTHWICK: This was the trade organization?

WHEELER: This was the trade organization for the manufacturers of brand name grocery store products – everybody from Pepsi to General Mills to DuraFlame logs – anything that was sold in the grocery store. I remember holding out in my negotiations with George Koch for $10,000.


WHEELER: A year! He finally met my inflated number, and I came to Washington and was incredibly fortunate because George Koch is an amazing individual. George Koch was running one of the best trade association shops in town at that point in time. We were representing about 14% of the GNP. George Koch was, and is to this day, an extremely principled, straight arrow, demanding, and excellence-is-the-only-place-to-be kind of guy. For a kid from Ohio, wet behind the ears, that was my graduate school. I kind of moved through the ranks there. I was at GMA for seven years. I moved through the ranks and ended up running the Congressional relations and public relations activities of the organization.

Then one day, Mike DiSalle who had been the former Democratic Governor of Ohio, who I had also been very blessed with having as a mentor, calls me and says, "I just got a call from a friend of mine." It was another guy who he had been mentoring over the years, Bob Schmidt. "Bob has just been hired as the President of the National Cable Television Association, and he needs a number two who knows Congress and specifically knows the Commerce Committees of both Houses. I told him that he ought to talk to you." That was how I got into cable television business.

SOUTHWICK: Before we get away from groceries, you said it was one of the best trade organizations in Washington. Why? What qualities did it have that made it the best and how do you define the best?

WHEELER: This is a funny thing coming from a guy who now has run two trade associations, but I think the danger of trade associations is that they – most of them – are the greatest fraud ever perpetrated on management. A trade association can be, most normally is, a secretariat where the board is composed of people who are not the leaders of their company or the industry, and the job of the staff is to implement the whims of the board, if you will. As a result, you get policies that go like this, that are constantly changing. That situation existed at NCTA, before Bob Schmidt.

I remember there was one point in time before Bob Schmidt took over where NCTA switched its position on a copyright bill while it was on the floor of the United States Senate, and burned every bridge in town. It took us years to recover from that bad faith activity. They did it because the membership leadership wasn't there or there wasn't equivalent leadership at the association to stand up and say, "Excuse me. This is where we are going."

So what George Koch taught me was that it is possible to be in a trade association role and be a leader, to view that operation much like a corporate executive would view one of his division heads. The job is to get the train from A to B. Your job as the executive is to get to B. I'm not going to meddle in how you get there. If you don't get to B, I'll find somebody who can get me to B. Most trade associations don't work that way. Most trade associations have a very meddling micromanagement and don't empower their executive leadership to deliver on what their job is. That was not the case at NCTA, post Bob Schmidt and that was clearly not the case at GMA.

The other thing that I would say about what set George Koch on a high pedestal is that – think back to that time. This is the time when there are all kinds of young people like me coming to Washington. Some of them were named John Dean, Jonathan Rose, Jeb Magruder. They had as a mentor people like John Mitchell who said, "Aw, come on. The rules are here for bending or skirting" or whatever the case may be. When you're wet behind the ears, you say, "Well, okay. This is the way this must go. This is the way life is. This is the way the big boss says it is." And Koch was never that way. Koch was, "Understand – There's right and there's wrong. There's nothing in between." That was a great lesson for me at that kind of formative stage.

SOUTHWICK: So Mike DiSalle called and introduced you to Bob Schmidt. What was your reaction as you began to look at the cable industry and the NCTA?

WHEELER: Everybody told me not to do it.

SOUTHWICK: Really. Why?

WHEELER: I'll never forget – one guy whose opinion I valued greatly, said, "Why do you want to go with those dognappers for?" I thought I was being cool and politically sophisticated, so I went to see the Chairman of the House Telecommunications Subcommittee, Lionel vanDeerlin, who I knew because I had been working with him on other issues in the Commerce committee. I said to him, "Van, I've been offered this job to go be Executive Vice President of the National Cable Television Association. What do you think about it?" He said, "Tom, you're working for an absolutely great organization with a terrific reputation right now. Why in the world would you ever want to leave to go to work for them?"


WHEELER: I said, "Because I've been impressed with this guy Schmidt. I think this guy is going to change the way things are done." And indeed he did.

SOUTHWICK: What impressed you about Schmidt? Why was he impressive?

WHEELER: I think there are two things that have always impressed me about Bob Schmidt. He is a stand-up, decisive guy. He is deliberative and decisive and knows what he believes and is not afraid to stand for that. The other thing is – one of the things that I really learned from Bob Schmidt is that Bob Schmidt was a master at putting the bread on the water and watching it come back 10-fold. Bob Schmidt used "doing the right thing" for causes, for issues. In the process, he built relationships that were different from the normal lobbyist relationship with individuals.

It seems to me that one of the things that everybody struggles to do in this town is to differentiate yourself from the hoards of other petitioners that are up there saying, "Give me this favor", "give me that favor", whatever the case may be. One of the things that Bob did was that he would say to members of Congress, "Here's something that we ought to believe in. It's totally unrelated to any of the issues that you have responsibility for, that I have responsibility for. But here's something we ought to believe in, and let's work together to go after that."

In the process, he started the little Lombardi Golf and Tennis Tournament, which became an institution here. Speaker O'Neill and Dan Rostenkowski and so many of the leaders of the House and the Senate were regular supporters of this effort to build the Lombardi Cancer Research Center at Georgetown University. I watched a whole different relationship develop which Bob was an absolute master at. He was the class example of how, in Washington, they will rule about 'you can do good and do well at the same time'. It works.

SOUTHWICK: Did you know much about the cable industry before you ...

WHEELER: I couldn't spell cable! I didn't know whether it was "cabel" or "cable" before I came.

SOUTHWICK: You hadn't had it in Ohio?

WHEELER: That's a really interesting question. When I was Assistant Alumni Director at Ohio State, I used to have to travel the state and do various alumni clubs. I remember going to a little town outside of Cambridge, Ohio. The BIG news was that they had just gotten their community antenna. That was the sum total of my exposure to cable television.

SOUTHWICK: Let me ask you one other question. Did you have any desire to run for office yourself or did you kind of like being in Washington? Did it ever occur to you to go back to Ohio and run for Congress?

WHEELER: I think everybody who comes to Washington and plays in this milieu thinks about that. I think my reality is twofold. Nobody really appreciates how much these men and women have to sacrifice to do that. I think it became, then, a real question of was I ready to make that kind of sacrifice about family and personal life and this sort of thing. The second was my politics weren't fitted very well with the district.

SOUTHWICK: You had become more of a Democrat and it was a Republican district?


SOUTHWICK: When you went to the NCTA, your job was Executive Vice President. What were the issues? First of all, what were the responsibilities you had? How did it divide up between you and Bob?

WHEELER: Schmidt was the Chief Executive Officer, and I kind of had everybody else reporting to me. At the same time, I was the Director of Government Relations. Make no mistake about it, this was Bob Schmidt's party, and Bob Schmidt was leading the team. He was calling the signals. He was an old quarterback at USC. He was calling the signals. I was just happy when he'd pass the ball off to me and say, "Go left."

SOUTHWICK: What were some of the first things you did? What were the issues that were on the table when you walked in?

WHEELER: The first issues that we dealt with were probably three. One was the ever-present copyright law, (the basic under-pinning of the government's efforts, successful efforts, to restrict what cable operators could offer by limiting the distant signals they could bring in, by limiting the programs they could show on those signals) that we didn't pay copyright, we were "pirates", we were stealing the signals – despite the fact that there had been two Supreme Court decisions saying that the Copyright Act did not apply to cable retransmission. The Hollywood interests and the broadcast interests formed an incredible alliance and a very powerful alliance that worked these issues real well; as the reason why, in lieu of the absence of this liability – since they are stealing the signal – you can't let them be full-fledged citizens.

Bob and some of the key leaders of the industry recognized that if we were ever to get anywhere, that boil had to be lanced.

SOUTHWICK: What year did you actually come to NCTA?

WHEELER: 1976. But that meant holy war because there was a very loquacious, vociferous group of some of the pioneers in the industry who were "over my dead body will I pay copyright". Then there were some of the other more corporate types looking to build these assets and expand the services. They were recognizing that they had this challenge that they had to deal with. It became a holy war.

SOUTHWICK: Between the two factions.

WHEELER: Between the two factions. Eventually one faction split off entirely and formed CATA, Community Antenna Television Association. They opposed copyright. NCTA moved forward and ended up brokering a deal amongst the broadcasters and the Motion Picture Association representing Hollywood that ended up in the passage of a copyright act with a specified royalty contribution schedule and a copyright royalty tribunal to divvy out those fees. That was the seminal policy event in the development of the cable industry because from there, all the intellectual rationale for the restrictions that had been put on, lost their footing. This is not to mean they all went away immediately because there was still plenty of political clout behind it. But there just wasn't the intellectual substance to sustain that political clout., so then it became an issue of wearing it down.

SOUTHWICK: Who were some of the industry people that you met at that time? Board members, I assume and others who were involved in these discussions and helping set the policy.

WHEELER: Russell Karp at TelePrompTer was probably the strongest individual on this issue and the strongest leader on this issue; Amos Hostetter, then 'Bud', at Continental; there was a guy running a company called Telecorp, an old Navy captain, by the name of Rex Bradley who was the Chairman of NCTA at that point in time; Ralph Baruch at Viacom (Vee-a-com not Vie-a-com). Those are the ones – the players who come to mind.

SOUTHWICK: Tell me a little bit about the reputation that the cable industry had in Washington, particularly on the Hill and at the FCC...

WHEELER: Not good.

SOUTHWICK: ... at the time you went to NCTA.

WHEELER: Not good.


WHEELER: As I mentioned before, they had had that problem with what Senator Pastore, the chairman of the committee in the Senate, termed double-crossing on ...

SOUTHWICK: Senator Pastore

WHEELER: ... Senator Pastore on the floor of the Senate. They also had a reputation of not being very substantive. That was on the Hill.

I think they had a better reputation at the FCC because NCTA had some really able lawyers, in-house, at that time – John Kenny, Chuck Walsh, Stewart Feldstein – who were quite able. The difficulty was that what you do at the FCC doesn't translate to what you do at the Hill. They may be the same issues, but the manner in which they're presented, sold in, isn't.

I remember, for instance, one of the first things I did when I got there was ... I knew nothing about the issues so I would insist on reading every pleading that we filed. I would go through and make them take out all the lawyerly phrases like "in the instant case" and ask them to rewrite things in terms of the impact on the consumer rather than the impact on the industry...

SOUTHWICK: That's an important point.

WHEELER: ... because we had to take those same arguments to this other body, who frankly was less concerned about the impact on the industry and more concerned about the impact on the constituents. So how can you take the issues that you want and talk about them in the consumer point of view? I think having come from a consumer products background at the grocery manufacturers, that was quite a natural thing for me. But folks who had been living in telecommunications law, it was a different kind of mind-set.

SOUTHWICK: As you went around to visit with members of Congress and fulfill your role as congressional relations person, what kind of things did you see that needed to be done in terms of restoring the cable industry's relationships?

WHEELER: We had a great, grassroots operation that we didn't use. We were operating in almost everybody's district. We were talking to their constituents daily and send them a bill once a month. How could we harness that power to communicate (again) what consumers want, not what the industry wants but what consumers want? That's what the politicians care about. So we began to spend a lot of time building grassroots.

SOUTHWICK: What does that mean as a practical matter? How does one build grassroots?

WHEELER: You go out into the community. You start with the obvious choices of who are the people that are in your business who have an ability to communicate with the elected official.

SOUTHWICK: You're looking for somebody in a cable system who might be able to talk to a congressman or a mayor?

WHEELER: Exactly, exactly. And then, who they know or do business with – who do they buy their trucks from? Does that truck person have a relationship? Then you organize them all together, and you have a meeting and ask the congressman to come out and meet with his constituents and talk about this issue.

In order to avoid making a fool of himself at that meeting, the congressman has to learn the issues and he's got to particularly learn the issue from their point of view. Or else he has to be able to rebut their point of view with some pretty good arguments. So in that way, you're able to break through the clutter of the 25,000 other pieces of legislation this poor person has to be worrying about and be saying, "I've got a concern back home."

I think that the reason why we were ultimately able to, on a rather regular basis beat the much more glittery, much more powerful Hollywood interests in Washington led by the immortal and the one-and-only Jack Valenti, the platinum standard if there ever was one. The only reason we were able to beat him is because we had grassroots and they didn't. They represented, in essence, one congressional district – Hollywood. We had 435 congressional districts that we could get to speak. That's what the business is all about. So it was a question of how you organize, how to you explain, how do you tell your story, and then build from there.

SOUTHWICK: There was a visit that you and Bob Schmidt paid Wirth at work that had some impact on you as well. Can you tell me about that?

WHEELER: There was a new freshman member of Congress named Tim Wirth, a very sharp guy. He had been a White House Fellow, a very prestigious selection. He had been Robert Finch's White House Fellow at the Department of HEW so he worked in the Secretary's office. He was a Ph.D., very sharp guy. He went back and ran for Congress and was elected from Colorado, from Denver. My goodness, there sits the headquarters of the cable industry – in Denver. This guy gets elected, he gets sent to the Congress, and he gets put on the Telecommunications Subcommittee.

Bob and I went to see him one day. I'll never forget. Tim turned to us and in essence said, "You know, I'd like to be helpful to you all. After all, you're a major constituency of mine. But you guys couldn't lobby your way out of a paper bag. You guys are so awful. Your reputation up here is so terrible."

We just kind of sat there dumb-founded, and said, "Well, Congressman, we're going to change that." Tim left the room and Bob and I sat there and took a little vow. The next thing you know, I was flying to Denver, and we just talked about how you organize grassroots. I was organizing grassroots on Tim Wirth. We were going to let Tim Wirth know that we knew how to organize his constituency. And if we knew how to organize his constituency, we knew how to organize anybody's constituency, and we were going to make a watch. We were going to say to him, "Okay, now, we can do this elsewhere as well. Let's play ball together."

It was the beginning of a wonderful relationship, personally as well as professionally. It doesn't mean that Wirth always agreed with us, but it was a relationship that grew into a relationship, I think on both sides, of respect. I remember one point in time Wirth's first campaign. Your toughest election is always your second election. You're going for re-election.

SOUTHWICK: In a close district.

WHEELER: In a close district because when you have the highest mortality when you're able to knock off the incumbent before he really has established his base. So we decided that we were going to make ourselves very visible in that race. It was touch and go. It was really touch and go. I remember one night showing up at a senior center where Congressman Wirth was meeting with the seniors. In the back of the room, prepared to discuss why seniors could care about cable television was this guy Wheeler. It kind of blew him away. After the evening was over .... I'll never forget it – he and I both joke about it to this day – we went out to some Mexican restaurant, and we closed down the restaurant. And that was part of the message that "You're a player, we're a player. Let's go do something together".

SOUTHWICK: How did the Copyright Act come about? Did this come about as a compromise between the industries which went through Congress or was it a head-to-head battle?

WHEELER: It was a compromise. John McClelland was the chairman of the Judiciary Committee in the Senate. So any copyright legislation had to pass through him. He had some strong interests in his state that were in the cable business. He wasn't of a mind to let something happen that was going to be bad to the cable industry. But at the same point in time, he had all kinds of political pressure building up.

SOUTHWICK: From other members of Congress who did want something done?

WHEELER: Exactly. So the word went out that it was time that you guys sit down, let's understand what' going on. You're just arguing over the booty. So come on, you pirates, sit down and figure out how you're going to divvy it up.

Congress would much rather enact something like that, which is only dividing up the booty. It's not a question of universal health care or minimum wage or something that is a cosmic kind of issue that raises itself to a matter of national preeminence.

SOUTHWICK: Or ideology state.

WHEELER: Right. This is just an issue of a bunch of for-profit guys gaming the system.

SOUTHWICK: Who gets how much.

WHEELER: Exactly. So it was a shot-gun wedding. Sit down and work it out you guys. Or else suffer the penalties because we are going to work this out, and somebody's not going to be happy – probably all of you aren't going to be happy.

SOUTHWICK: So was it your job, then, to come back to the cable industry and say, "Look, we have to sit down with the Motion Picture Association of America and figure this out"? Did you have to deliver that message then to the cable industry?


SOUTHWICK: Some were responsive, and some were ...

WHEELER: Yes. Let's be careful about the pronouns here. It was NCTA's job. It was Bob Schmidt's job. Bob Schmidt distinguished himself as a leader in this whole exercise because there were people who didn't want to hear this at all. There were people who required a sales job to get him convinced that Bob was reading the tea leaves correctly. There were people you had to take in to see various key folks so they could determine, themselves, that Schmidt was giving them the straight scoop. That was one of Bob's great leadership moments.

SOUTHWICK: So the job then really is not only to educate Congress about the industry, but to educate the industry about Congress as well.

WHEELER: A person in that role, a trade association role or a Washington representative role but more trade association role, trade association executives spend 80% of their time building a coalition so they will have something to advocate the other 20% of the time. You spend the vast, vast majority of your time figuring out, inside the industry, what makes sense before you ever take it out. It's frankly a much harder job.

SOUTHWICK: Bob was willing to suffer the loss of the people who went to CATA and say, "Well, that's their view. We'll live with it"


SOUTHWICK: And the Copyright Act passed. The other key issues were pole attachments ...

WHEELER: Pole attachments was one and pay cable was probably the other. Pole attachments ...

SOUTHWICK: That was kind of dividing up the money, too, wasn't it?

WHEELER: No. It was a much bigger issue than that. Pole attachment was the question of the ability of cable operators to string their cable on utility poles owned by somebody else.

SOUTHWICK: Right – phone companies, ...

WHEELER: Phone companies, electric companies, whatever. There were a couple of problems here. Number one is the city wouldn't give you the franchise and then allow you to go build more poles. There's already a picket fence running along side the highway. They didn't want another one. So you go to the telephone company who was the principal owner of the poles. You say to them, "We'd like to put, on your pole, a cable that today it's only offering this wonderful thing called television, but it has this broadband capacity so that tomorrow it could deliver voice and data at some time down in the future." The phone companies would go ...

SOUTHWICK: ... "Give us access so we can compete with you some day."

WHEELER: That's right. The phone companies dealt with it in two ways. They would say, "That's terrific. Here's the bill." It was something that was a monumental cost, that there was no way in hell that you could afford, but you had no choice but to pay. It was extortion. Or they would say, "That's fine. That's terrific. Here's our contract." The contract was what the lawyers call a contract of adhesion, which is basically 'take my terms or hit the road.' Those terms were, in essence, 'we will determine what you put over this cable and the minute we don't like what you're putting over, you're in violation and you're out of there.'

We couldn't grow as an industry in that kind of a situation with those kind of contracts. Second to labor, the biggest expense in a cable operation was the pole attachment fees. Something had to be done to bring those expenses under control. So we started moving a pole attachment bill. Now bear in mind that Congress, at that point in time, had never passed any piece of legislation that had the words 'cable television' in it – never.

That bill started moving. But there was a real problem that the rural telephone companies had a real stranglehold on some key people in particularly the House Telecommunications Subcommittee. One of those was a young, I believe freshman, Congressman by the name of Albert Gore, Jr. Al Gore, knowing that he was a freshman, he was vulnerable, he was from a rural area where phone and electricity was only delivered because of these coops that existed with government subsidies, etc., etc., was not too anxious to cross them.

SOUTHWICK: Upset them.

WHEELER: Then the Lord smiled on us because a rural coop somewhere – I think it may have been Tennessee, but I'm not sure – but a rural coop somewhere ripped the cable down off the poles. If that weren't enough, they chopped it up in one-foot lengths.


WHEELER: And we got a bunch of those. And we started delivering those one-foot lengths around Congress and saying, "This is what we're talking about here. Do you believe in competition? Do you believe in people's right to have this new information that's coming over the cable?" We were also going to Nashville for some of those grassroots meetings that we were talking about – with Congressman Gore. Long story short – the bill got passed, the President signed it. It was a great moment. We had made up, for all the principal sponsors of the bill, a piece of telephone pole. We got a telephone pole. Bob Johnson, who was working with us at that point in time, had a buddy at C&P Telephone Company, and he got us an old, beat up telephone pole. I had a buddy who was a woodworker. He took the phone pole and he sliced it into these round pieces about yea thick. Then we mounted little brass plaques on them that said, "The first piece of cable television legislation ever enacted by the Congress – Pole Attachment Law ___ (whatever it was) and the date." If you go down the hall in my office, you'll find it sitting on the bookshelf.

SOUTHWICK: You sent one to each member of Congress?

WHEELER: Sent one to each member of Congress that was involved, that played a principle role, including Al Gore. At the beginning of the Clinton Administration – Vice President Gore... he was doing something someplace, he turns around and he says, "You know what this guy sent me a bunch of years ago? I still have it. It's a piece of a telephone pole!!" So it's kind of become a running joke over the years – a piece of telephone pole. But the pole attachment law was an important statement for the industry that we could organize, and we could something done. It was an important, again example, of leadership of key people like Amos Hostetter and Bob Schmidt. It was the 'coming out' of the cable industry in Washington.

SOUTHWICK: And you beat a big, powerful lobby.

WHEELER: We beat the telephone companies and the power companies.

SOUTHWICK: And the third issue you confronted was the pay cable. And that really grew because of HBO and HBO going on satellite which made it a threat, I suppose.

WHEELER: It made it a threat to the broadcasters. So the broadcasters went and did the same thing that they had been so successful with before. They went to the FCC and said, "We need pay cable rules. We've got to have this regulated because it will be the end of free TV." Don't forget that the first pay cable system was started by Pat Weaver, the guy who founded the Today Show I believe. He was put out of business in California in a referendum that was financed by the broadcasters and the movie theaters. "This will be the end of free TV. You'll never be able to see these wonderful things. The next thing you know, the World Series – you'll have to pay to see the World Series!" End of mankind as we know it! The FCC stepped up, and they couldn't say, "You can't do it." So in this incredibly arcane ...

The mind of the regulators, particularly at that point in time, they came up with what they called the 2-10 Rule which said that you could show any program on pay cable so long as it was less than 2 years old or more than 10 years old. Now more than 10 years old ... "Excuse me, Mr. Southwick. Would you like to send me $10 a month so you could watch some really old movies?" I don't think so. Right. So they dilute the product up there. And then at the other end, the less than two years old, the movie studios wouldn't sell it to HBO and the pay cable operators because they're still selling in the theaters, particularly in the rural communities where cable was strong. So you were left with nothing. Anything between two years old and ten years old, you couldn't show.

SOUTHWICK: And this was an FCC ruling.

WHEELER: It was an FCC rule.

SOUTHWICK: How did you guys ....?

WHEELER: Finally HBO took it to court and in the HBO decision of the Supreme Court, won and had that overturned. Some great leadership that Jerry Levin, in particular, was showing at that point in time, as he has throughout his career. But at HBO, when you stop and think about ... I mean, Jerry was taking on,...There were others. Ralph Baruch at Viacom was the Chairman of the Pay Cable Committee at NCTA. Ralph was the evangelist for pay cable. If you would prick Ralph, he would bleed blood that said 'pay cable'. He was really a believer. HBO was the largest pay cable operator at that point in time and tended to be the place where all the attention got focused.

Jerry Levin, at the very time when he was trying to get on the satellite – because you had to go to the FCC and get permission to use a satellite and to broadcast up to a satellite – something you don't have to do anymore, do it with a post card registration anymore. At the very same time that he was going in saying, "Will you please let me do this because it's probably the future of my business." He was suing them. It was really a gutsy move, and he prevailed on both counts. Interestingly enough, fascinating thing is that he prevailed in the Supreme Court. In so far as his application for permission to provide pay cable service on the satellite for some bizarre, strange reason, Hollywood and the broadcasters missed it.

SOUTHWICK: Yes. He told me that. He said ...

WHEELER: They never filed against him so the commission had no choice but to rubber stamp it and pass it through. They were so myopic in terms of their vision for where this business was going. Satellites! Give me a break!

SOUTHWICK: Isn't it incredible!

WHEELER: So that was how the pay cable went. But the Vice President of Pay Cable at NCTA was somebody who Bob Schmidt had identified and recruited off the Hill was Bob Johnson who shortly thereafter left, and formed a small, sterling outfit called Black Entertainment Television.

SOUTHWICK: Absolutely.

WHEELER: And now owns the world.

SOUTHWICK: Got a check from John Malone.

WHEELER: That's right.

SOUTHWICK: When did you become President at NCTA? How did that occur?

WHEELER: 1979. Bob told me that he was going to be resigning - it was at the convention in Las Vegas in 1979. It was the first time we had professionally produced a convention, and this was my responsibility to do this, to pull it off. We brought in President Carter by satellite. We had professional staging and lights and video and all kinds of fancy stuff. Bob had told me before the convention that at the Board meeting following the convention he would be tendering his resignation. It was a fascinating thing because I knew that everybody knew that this break-out in the show was on my shoulders. So the show was my audition for the job that I knew was going to become available immediately after the show. If it didn't work, I was toast.

To produce this, we hired this young, upstart group of guys by the name of Williams Gerard Productions, who had literally just spun off from another company and were three guys in a garage. But they had heart. They had vision. They were good guys. The day before the show is to start, Bud Melto, who was one of the principals and still does the NCTA show today and the CTIA show today, came to me with a terribly long face and said, "Tom, we've lost all modules." Their office was in Chicago. They loaded them on cases, took them to TWA, loaded them on a TWA plane, and TWA lost them.

SOUTHWICK: Oh, my gosh.

WHEELER: "The show starts TOMORROW!" We chartered a jet and went ... I didn't physically, but Bud did. I said, "Get out there. Charter a jet and go to every single TWA warehouse between here and Chicago."

SOUTHWICK: Find them.

WHEELER: They did. They found them, and they made it in under the wire the next day, and nobody was any the wiser for it.

SOUTHWICK: And the show was great.

WHEELER: Schmidt said to me the next day ... I was of the school that you never bring a problem without a solution. So I didn't tell Schmidt about this, and I didn't tell him about chartering a jet, pledging the full faith and credit of NCTA. "How did you pay for this, Tom? You just chartered a jet. How did you pay for this?" I said, "Bob, I took everybody's expense advance, went to the floor, put it on 17 black, and it came up." He turned this ashy white and said, "You really didn't do that, did you?" I said, "No, Bob, I bounced a check."

SOUTHWICK: Great stuff.

WHEELER: It was terrific. There's a whole other part of that where we ended up getting the hotel to cash the check after all after we reminded them that we had bought out the whole institution and they ought to give us a break.

But the other interesting thing that comes out of that is that Bob had told me that he was going to be resigning. I think Bob Hughes was the Chairman at that point in time. He had told Bob Hughes. So the day after the meeting, the Board meets. I wanted the job really badly. But the day before, Phil Lind from Rogers Communications, comes to me and says, "Tom, we'd like to hire you to run our US operations."


WHEELER: I'm looking here. I can hopefully run NCTA or I can run Rogers Cable. The NCTA Board, bless their hearts, offered me the job so I had this choice to make. I chose that I wanted to stay with what Bob and I had been building at NCTA and not go out and do this. A couple of years ago I was up in Toronto, and Phil Lind and I were having breakfast. I said, "Phil, remember that story? Remember when that happened?" He said, "Sure do." I said, "Well, I think of that often and how everything played out." He said, "Well, Tom, I guess there's one thing that we could agree on – that is that if you'd taken our job, you'd be a lot richer today."

SOUTHWICK: Absolutely. You also made use of the media itself and your Ohio connections, as I recall, to kind of ...

WHEELER: My goodness, there are no secrets that escape you, Mr. Southwick!

SOUTHWICK: Tell us about that.

WHEELER: I think I told you at the outset that I'm a rabid Buckeye and a serious Ohio State fan. At that point in time, Gus Hauser had built Qube in Columbus. There was a whole constituency of the Ohio delegation in Congress who were also crazy about Ohio State football and couldn't see the games. So, bless his heart, every Saturday after a football game, Gus would have the Qube folks in Columbus Federal Express me the video tape of the football game. I'd get it on Sunday. On Monday night we would have a function. We rented a hall in Georgetown and we would have a party where the Ohio delegation would come and watch the Ohio State football game, brought to you on cable because "cable expands your choice." This is the kind of things are possible in Columbus, Ohio because of cable. If you give cable a break, these are the same kinds of things that could be happening elsewhere.

SOUTHWICK: From a larger point of view, as cable got into the cities and began to offer channels such as C-SPAN and BET and CNN, how did that change the dynamic in Washington? All of a sudden ...

WHEELER: Drastically.

SOUTHWICK: ...instead of being a rural retransmission facility, it's becoming a fairly important and powerful medium. What did that mean in terms of what you were doing at the NCTA? Were Congressmen more responsive? More interested in what was going on?

WHEELER: It meant two things. It meant that we were no longer the also-rans in telecommunications, that we were players with a seat at the table. It may have, at that point in time, still have been a junior seat at the table, but it was a seat at the table. It also meant that we were running in to city governments and a franchising frenzy. These major city governments weren't hesitant in terms of what they could possibly extort in return for the franchise. It became very clear that we had to have a federal set of rules as to issues like programming content, what would a franchise fee be, etc. So that was what eventually became the Cable Act of 1984.

SOUTHWICK: As well as the rate issues.

WHEELER: As well as, 'let us regulate your rates'.

SOUTHWICK: What was the genesis of that movement? Did it start with Congress? Did it start with California Association? Did it start with you? Did it start with the industry? How did it happen that it was decided that there ought to be some kind of effort to pass an act?

WHEELER: I think we can probably trace it back, again, to Ralph Baruch who was the Chairman of our Public Policy Committee, or whatever we called it. I believe it was in a meeting at the Breakers, in about 1980 – 1981. The decision was made to go for it. Literally it was, "Why not? Let's go for it." That was the beginning of the exercise that then became the Cable Act of 1984 – a long, arduous process. Then hearkening back to the discussion we had a little while ago about copyright, we would move the ball along, and the cities would come in and shut you down, because they would have the right Senator or the right Congressman, and just shut you down.

SOUTHWICK: In terms of getting a law passed?

WHEELER: Exactly – keeping the bill moving. So it was really John Dingel, the chairman of the House Commerce Committee, who did what John McClelland had done on the copyright bill. He said, "You guys have to sit down. You parties have to work this out." We were willing to do that. The cities were a little less willing to do that. John Dingel, at one point in time, went to the National League of Cities Convention, figuratively shook his finger at them, and said, "You're either going to work something out with these folks or I'll work it out for you," as only John Dingel could do.

So we had long, protracted negotiations with the cities. They put up a negotiating team, and we had a negotiating team that was Jim Mooney, Chuck Walsh, and myself. Chuck was the legal expert with the law firm Fleishman and Walsh in Washington. He just did a terrific job getting into the heart of all these issues. Jim Mooney was the great politician as well as somebody who loves to get into details of issues. I was along for comic relief. We had negotiating sessions all over the country. We would negotiate, try to come up with something, then take it back to our constituencies, and it would begin to fall apart. Then we'd come back together, then we'd go back and it would fall apart. It was during one of those sessions that Dingel did his exercise with the League of Cities at their convention.

But back to my earlier point – also that you spend 80% of your time in a job like this, building your own coalition. We had a deal with the cities. This thing had been going on for 18 months. In your research, I'm sure you have the dates, but it seemed interminable. It lasted forever. We were debating each other on the McNeill Lehrer Show on television. It was in all the newspapers. It had just become overwhelming.

SOUTHWICK: And there were hearings on the bill.

WHEELER: Oh, yes.

SOUTHWICK: Members taking stands.

WHEELER: It was totally consuming. We finally cut a deal. We decided that what we needed to do was to have three regional meetings for the MSOs to be able to come together and get briefed on what was going on, not just the NCTA Board, but get others involved. We went to the first meeting in New York, and Ralph Baruch chaired it. Again, I can remember sitting in that room and there were some grunts and groans, but we made it over that hurdle. We went to the second meeting, which was in L.A. and it was ugly. We got beaten up – Jim Mooney and I. We got beaten up.

SOUTHWICK: Because you had given too much ...?

WHEELER: Because we had given away too much. They didn't like the deal. I remember Jim and I going out that night afterwards. We had been busting our tails for months and months and months and months. We went out to some fancy French restaurant in Beverly Hills that Jim likes – I forget what it's called. We sat there and proceeded to get ourselves totally schnockered. How would we ever be able to put Humpty Dumpty together again? But, as is the story of life, you wake up the next morning and have a couple of aspirin, and you figure out how to put it back together again. Indeed, it was several months later, but we finally did get something that most of the industry – not all of the industry – supported.

SOUTHWICK: Before we get much farther, I wanted to ask you a little bit about how you changed and shaped the industry, both when you were Executive Vice President and later as President of the association. It's my impression that a lot of new people were brought in, lot of new functions that prior to Bob Schmidt certainly had been almost a very small operation with very limited objectives. How did that change?

WHEELER: We tried to professionalize the staff. When I was in graduate school, Assistant Alumni Director, one of my jobs was taking care of Woody Hayes, the legendary football coach, when he would travel to alumni club meetings and things like this. Woody used to say, "You win with people." It's a real simple philosophy. What we tried to do was to get first-rate people. Brenda Fox, who was our General Counsel, ... I saw Brenda Fox one night on the McNeill Lehrer News program on PBS. She was, at that point in time, the Assistant General Counsel of the broadcasters, the National Association of Broadcasters. She did an outstanding job. I had never met her. I called a friend of mine who I knew knew her and asked him to introduce her because I want to hire her. I want her to be General Counsel over here. We were able to convince her to come over and become General Counsel, and she did a superb job.

Jim Mooney, who was .... Again, we go back to Tim Wirth. I said to Tim, "We need a really good legislative person." He said, "The guy who's running the Whip's office right now in the House is a fellow named Jim Mooney. He's first-rate." So Jim joined us.

Ed Merlis, who I had worked with for years on the Commerce Committee, had run the Commerce Committee in the Senate for Senator Magnuson. Then he had gone over and done Appropriations for Magnuson when he was Chairman there. Then he'd gone over and been with you briefly in the Judiciary Committee with Kennedy. He was a very, very capable guy. Ed agreed to join us.

Barbara York – we convinced Barbara York. Golly what a great, what a great .... I remember Barbara York also was an alumna of the Grocery Manufacturers of America. One day I was at Wolf Trap, a performing arts center out here in Virginia. At intermission, I ran into George Koch, the man who had run the Grocery Manufacturers and my great mentor there. I said, "George, I need a really top-flight person who can be in charge of all administrative activities. Do you have any ideas?" He said, "I've already got the best one in the world – Barbara York. She is just absolutely fabulous." I said, "Boy, I know." Then I did the dastardly deed of hiring her away from him. Barbara York has changed the face of that organization in so many ways over the years.

Ed Burkowski who's in charge of liaisoning with the operators and with their state associations had been at the Future Business Leaders of America or some group like that. I had heard about this guy with a great ability to move around in different groups and get folks organized, and convinced Ed he out to come. We had a terrific team. What I'm most proud of, in terms of what we accomplished at NCTA, is the people who were there because they're the ones who accomplished it. I'm most proud of the way in which we were able to raise the level of professionalism. These people came because they saw the promise. They saw ... my goodness. Anybody in their right mind, if you would sit down and describe to them, "Here's what cable television really means, here is the future that you can have a hand in shaping, you can be here at this seminal moment."

SOUTHWICK: As opposed to working for something that's much more established.

WHEELER: As opposed to working for the brick and block manufacturer's association. So we were able to attract the crème de la crème, really first-rate people.

SOUTHWICK: Did the budget go up astronomically?

WHEELER: Yes. But also we had other things that came along with it that helped us grow. We began to get into programming. At that point in time, independent programming, whether it be USA network, obviously HBO or Showtime, or C-SPAN or BET or whatever the case would be, all were beginning to blossom. So we started a programming conference. We realized that consumers bought programs. They didn't buy that silly wire that came through the wall. They bought the programs that were delivered by the wire. So how could we build alliances between operators and programmers? Obviously they became very, very strong alliances.

We began to focus more and more on programming. Char Beales came in at that point. Oh, my goodness. I've forgotten a whole bunch of people I shouldn't have. Char Beales, who actually came in and replaced Kathryn Creech. Kathryn and Bob Ross – when I first became President I set up two Senior Vice Presidencies. Bob Ross had all the public policy stuff reporting to him. Kathryn Creech had all the non-public policy things reporting to her. Kathryn had been at NCTA as the Research Vice President. She was just incredibly accomplished, great manager, bright, articulate individual. So I moved her up to be Senior Vice President.

Then Bob Ross, who we got from Southern Pacific Communications, had been at the White House Office of Telecommunications Policy, had been on the forefront of battling the telephone company. We saw the coming battle with the telephone company and needed somebody who had that kind of expertise. He also happens to be one of the most incredibly brilliant people, particularly on the ins and outs of the legal issues associated with policy.

Kathryn brought in Char Beales at that point in time. She was just going on to distinguish herself incredibly at CTAM in the job that she's been doing running CTAM after she left. Char's job was to build programming. Char was Ms. Programming. There had been nothing at that point in time. We took the Ace Awards and tried to build them up, put them on television, tried to build them up into something that would be the equivalent of the Emmy's, so we could toot our own horn, showcase our own stuff.

Terribly exciting times. At the same time, we're fighting this incredibly humongous battle with the cities and getting ready for another knock-down-drag-out with the telephone companies. Very exciting times.

SOUTHWICK: One of the things you did was to put together an effort to improve cable's public image. How did that come about?

WHEELER: As we got into the big cities and as we grew, there comes a time in every industry where you move from that interesting little niche to a real player. I said before that we were at the table but we were sitting at a junior chair at the table. When we got into the "adult captain's chair" at the table, a thing happens. That is that people begin to say, "How can I tell them how to do their job? How can I second guess the decisions they make? I don't like this decision. They are so visible." Before it was, "Forgive them this mistake or that mistake." But now they're a major force. In that kind of environment, you've got to paint your own picture before somebody else paints it for you.

So we conceived of the idea of what was called the Council on Cable Information, the CCI. Dan Ritchie, CEO of Westinghouse Broadcasting and Cable, agreed to be the Chairman of this industry operation. Kathryn Creech left NCTA and went to become the head of the Council on Cable Information headquartered in New York. Our goal was to have advertising programs that would explain to the world who we are, why they wanted us - on our terms rather than on the terms of the others who would eventually be coming to paint our picture. Unfortunately, the Council on Cable Information lasted only a couple of years and then died because of the fact that it fell into a squabble inside the corporations as to whether they should be spending money on image advertising or whether they should be spending money on acquiring subscribers. The acquiring subscriber's school won.

SOUTHWICK: And that was TCI?

WHEELER: TCI was a major mover in it, but it wasn't just TCI. So the CCI cratered. I've always thought it was at that point in time that the Cable Act of 1992 really began, because we gave up on painting our own pictures, and we began to let other folks define us. Things went downhill from there.

SOUTHWICK: Talk a little bit about TCI, if you will. You talked about Jerry Levin's involvement, Bud Hostetter. Let me just throw something out. It seemed to me that TCI, in those days, was short-sighted in terms of relations of caution. Is that a fair assessment? John Malone allowed an image of himself as Darth Vader.

WHEELER: That was actually after I left.

: Okay.

WHEELER: We went through an interesting ... The TCI relationship, when I first got to NCTA, TCI was another little company. Then this guy goes from Jerrold over to TCI to run it. John Malone starts getting on everybody's screen. You then begin to recognize the brilliance that is John Malone. I used to sit in executive committee meetings, and I would watch these debates going back and forth. I would say to myself, "How am I ever going to make sense out of this?" Then John Malone would open his mouth and everything would fall in place.


WHEELER: This wasn't occasionally. This was time and time again. During my tenure, the world really appreciated the great job that John did. One of the last things I did was to give John a President's Award, (which was a series of awards that I had inaugurated which was how you can stand up and say to the rest of the industry, "Here's somebody who's really making a difference for you) because of this great ability that he had and because he was also looking to the next hill. It was really after I left that some of the other stuff happened. I only watched that as an observer.

SOUTHWICK: Talk a little bit about the end of your tenure as President of NCTA. A bunch of things happened. There was an agreement between the cities and the cable industry on legislation. You brought it your Board which approved it. At the same meeting, I think, you also now said that you would be leaving. At the same meeting, the same convention, Leonard Tow got a hold of that.

WHEELER: And sued us.

SOUTHWICK: Can you talk about that at all?

WHEELER: Very interesting times. The deal had come together and we had agreed ...

SOUTHWICK: Between the cities

WHEELER: Between the cities. There were two directors who came to me and said that there was an opportunity here that might make some sense for you. John Saeman and Doug Dittrick were both on the board of company called NABU which was delivering high speed data over cable television lines, 1.5 meg T1 over cable lines. We were looking to the data future. It had to be out there. They were asking if I wanted to be CEO of this operation. So I went to the Board and said that this was an awkward time to be doing this, but I announced that it would be a significant period before I would actually leave. I was putting them on notice that here was what was going to be going. I had negotiated with NABU that we could have this extended period.

SOUTHWICK: What made you want to take that job? Phil Lind had offered you a job in the industry. What made you decide that it was time to move out of what you had been doing, which was Washington stuff?

WHEELER: Because it was time. I had been at NCTA for seven years. I had made no bones about the fact that I didn't want to retire there. They had been absolutely wonderful to me. It had been an absolutely terrific experience. But it was time to move on and grow. I needed business experience. I needed to break out of the Washington mold. This terrific offer came along. The future ... I kept saying, "We're going to go build the HBO of data". That was my line. I thought that we would be able to have this whole thing wrapped up by that point in time. Unfortunately, we didn't. You mentioned the lawsuit Leonard Tow and some others sued us for violating the First Amendment rights as well as a RICO charge for raqueteering. That's always an interesting experience to be sued for racketeering. Things began to bog down in the Congress. I believe that when I finally left, ... I should know this. I think we had ... I know the bill was out of committee. I think it maybe even passed the House and we were over in the Senate.

SOUTHWICK: Tell me a little bit, if you will, about the experience at NABU. This was the first time you had run a private, for-profit (hopefully) enterprise. John Saeman was the major backer, Chairman of Daniels Associates.

WHEELER: John Saeman, Doug Dittrick and Bob Schmidt were on the Board. The major backer was Robert Campeau who was a big Canadian real estate developer, publicly listed corporation. He was the guy who subsequently bought Federated Department Stores, Macy's – major player – and then went bust. Some folks led by John Kelly, a Canadian, and Arthur Esh, had developed a technology using offset QPSK which I can still bandy around as though I know what it means. What it did was to use an unused channel on the (A-1 actually is the cable channel) that had to be kept free for aircraft interference and would blow down that channel, T-1 rate, high speed data. They had installed the system in Canada and were putting one in Alexandria here in Washington and delivering the first high speed data on cable.

SOUTHWICK: What would this do at the other end?

WHEELER: It would hook into a NABU computer, and it would do everything. It would do word processing, you could play games, you could balance your checkbook, you could keep data bases. It was all ...

SOUTHWICK: This was all pre-Internet.

WHEELER: Way pre-Internet. 1985. The word broadband wasn't in the vocabulary. We were doing pretty well. We had about 5% penetration in the Alexandria system. We had some great people. Barbara Ruger had come over to be head of marketing, Chickie Goodier had come over to be affiliate sales. We were doing pretty well. The technology was working, which is two-thirds of the battle. And the marketplace was accepting.

One day the phone rang and Campeau said that he no longer would be providing us the working capital. He said that he had become convinced that his stock on the Toronto exchange was being punished because instead of being a pure play real estate activity, he had dabbled in some of these high tech activities. Therefore he was going to be shutting things down. I had literally just gone there. We were just getting up and operating. So I tried to ... I called John Malone. I called everybody in the industry and said, "Okay, guys, here's your chance. I went to Japan. I tried it to sell it to the Japanese. I got a call in the middle of the night in Japan from Jim Mooney while the bill was on the Senate floor saying, "I got this problem with this particular person. Can you get on the phone from over there and talk to him?" But it didn't work, so I was unemployed.

SOUTHWICK: Tell me a little, before we get past it, tell me, as a consumer, what did I pay for NABU, did I buy the equipment, did I rent it?

WHEELER: It was just like an HBO relationship that you would pay the cable operator and we would share the revenues with the cable operator.

SOUTHWICK: What did it cost?

WHEELER: You had to have ... You know, that's a fascinating question. I forget what it was. I bet it was about $10 a month because we were shamelessly ripping off the HBO idea. It was a fascinating experience to learn about .... You think about 1985, home computers didn't exist. We had to build our own computer. We all were talking about the fact that we got to be designing a modem that would work to interface with this new IBM computer that was coming out. This was days of Commodore 64s and TI home computers, real primitive operations. What our sales people found, for instance, was the key to making a sale was to put the keyboard in the person's lap, get them to touch it, because they were afraid to touch this computer. If you could get them to touch it and start playing with it, you were over the hurdle. It was funny. One of the things I had done when I had been in college to earn money was a Fuller Brush man. I had worked it out so that if I could get in the door and I could open my box full of brushes, the odds were pretty good I was going to get a sale. If I could get that box open. The same thing held true with NABU. If we could get them to touch the computer, the odds were awfully good we were going to make a sale. But that's another story.

So all of that came to naught. We couldn't sell it. We couldn't refinance it. The whole thing cratered. So I was on the beach. Arthur Esh and I went out and started a company called NuMedia and we were going to consult. The concept was using my Rolodex and his technical expertise, we would rule the world. One of our first consulting operations that we took on was for British Telecom, the developer of videotext. Thinking how far back things are – videotext. The idea of information on your screen. They had developed a fifth generation of videotext called photo videotext. We did a consulting job with them on that. We decided this was pretty neat stuff, and we wanted to license it. So we licensed it and brought it over here and created a company that productized that. It was called the Cable Ad Channel System which was the ability for cable operators to run video classifieds. That was doing quite well. We ended up selling control in that company to a group of eleven MSOs. This was back in the days when the MSOs were getting together to buy new activities. We ended up selling it to eleven MSOs going on and operating it. It ended up cratering as well because of the fact that we hit the highly leveraged transaction period in the early 90's and money just dried up something fierce.

Then along the way there were several other things. I had been involved with Jeffrey Reese in the starting up of Request Television. Those were some fun times. I was involved in the first competitive trans-Atlantic satellite. A company called Columbia Communications had leased the C-band capacity on the NASA TDTRS (Telemetry Data Tracking and Relay Satellite) which they used for the shuttles to communicate with each other. We would sell that in Europe. The problem was that we had to get landing rights. We had to fight Intelset, so it was like fighting the broadcasters again. Those were interesting challenges.

Also along the way, I had been part of a group that had been lucky enough to win a cellular license in the lottery for rural cellular licenses. So when this job came open at CTIA, here's somebody who knows Washington, that has now had about 8 years of business experience, entrepreneuring, some of which worked, a lot of which didn't. Let's see if we can get him to come back and build CTIA. So that's what I've been doing.

SOUTHWICK: That was in what year?

WHEELER: That was 1992. So I've been at CTIA now about the same length of time, a little longer but not much, than I was at NCTA.

SOUTHWICK: You just told me that the number of cellular telephones has now just passed the 100 million mark?

WHEELER: Today. We're taping this on July 26, 2000. Today, somewhere in the United States, the 100,000,000th subscriber signed up.

SOUTHWICK: Wow. So that moves you from the kiddies chair back up once again.

WHEELER: We got the chairs with the arms again.

SOUTHWICK: As a final thought, tell me what it is that the ingredients that make a good trade organization, that make it work properly. You talked about some of the ingredients at the Grocer's Association.

WHEELER: Run it like a business. Hire good people. Pay them the right kind of salary. Demand they deliver. Stay out of their way.

SOUTHWICK: That's advice to the industry to leaders.

WHEELER: Make sure that the Board of Directors is composed of people who make decisions – CEOs. That is something we held to religiously at NCTA, and we do religiously here. You have to have chiefs making decisions. Indians don't do a good job making decisions when they're guessing what the chief's going to do, looking over their shoulder at the chief.

SOUTHWICK: So too many of the Boards in Washington are composed of people who maybe the Vice President of Government Relations of the company or their Washington representative?

WHEELER: Exactly. That's the wrong kind. You need people who can lead.

SOUTHWICK: And make the decisions. Thank you very much.

WHEELER: It's been fun. Thank you, Tom. It's been great to see you again and an honor to do this.

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Michael Willner

Michael Willner

Interview Date: Monday June 16, 2008
Interview Location: New York, NY USA
Interviewer: Paul Maxwell
Collection: Hauser Collection

MAXWELL: I'm Paul Maxwell. I'm here with Michael Willner of Insight to tape his oral history for The Cable Center. So, Michael, why'd you get in the cable business?

WILLNER: It seemed like the right thing to do in 1974.

MAXWELL: That's when you graduated from Boston University?

WILLNER: College of Communications. I had a professor who heard I was interested in cable and she tried to convince me that I should go into "real" TV, that cable wasn't real TV, which was probably true in 1974.

MAXWELL: Well, pretty much. There weren't a whole lot of things around. Let's see, HBO was '72, I believe?

WILLNER: Oh, no, that came later than that. Oh, you're talking about the microwave launch to the polka contest in Pennsylvania. That's right.

MAXWELL: That was '72.

WILLNER: We actually had HBO before satellites in one of our cable systems in New Jersey.

MAXWELL: By microwave?

WILLNER: By microwave. We turned it on and it was all snow the night that we launched.

MAXWELL: You studied communications at Boston University, but how did cable even get on your radar screen?

WILLNER: I guess I was always interested in television as a little kid. I used to ride my bicycle over to the NBC affiliate that was located near my house in Miami, Florida and I don't know how but they allowed me in the studio whenever I showed up and I got to watch them taping the kids puppet show called Charlie Baxter and Willie the Moose at 4:30, and Charlie Baxter was the man and Willie the Moose was the moose. I guess you could have figured that out on your own. Every day at 5:00 Charlie would get a pie in his face from the moose and then they would clean that set up and push it aside, bring out the new set and at 6:00 they were live doing the 6:00 news.

MAXWELL: So they only had the one sound stage?

WILLNER: Basically. Today it's an all news station, still in the same building, my niece works there selling advertising for the Fox affiliate now, channel 7 turned to Fox, and I went in there about a year ago for the first time since I was about 11 years old. It's an all news studio now, basically, and it's the same exact place, the door's in the exact same place, but you walk in and it's the 21st century.

MAXWELL: It would have changed dramatically from that. That was back when there were real local kids' shows, too. So that was in the early '60s?

WILLNER: Oh, that hurt, that hurt me.

MAXWELL: No, you graduated in '74, you said. So you back up a little bit.

WILLNER: Yes, it was in the early '60s before the turbulence.

MAXWELL: You missed the turbulence. You missed Vietnam?

WILLNER: No, I actually was in the draft. I had a high number so I didn't go. I went to college in the first four years of the '70s. Those were the transitional years and the first two years were very turbulent, protests up and down Bay State Road in Boston about getting ROTC off campus and protesting the war in Vietnam, and then the following two years kind of just flipped and it became the forerunner to the disco years, which is exactly what happened. We were very involved politically in those first two years. I had long hair.

MAXWELL: You did?

WILLNER: Longer than yours is now!

MAXWELL: Well, mine used to be a lot longer.

WILLNER: I remember that well. But mine wasn't that long and gray at the same time.

MAXWELL: Oh, you make a good point. I mean, I got out of college ten years ahead of you which puts me way back there.

WILLNER: Well, you look good for your age.

MAXWELL: Ditto. At the College of Communications though, you really wanted to be in television when you got to college, I take it, and studied it on purpose?

WILLNER: No, I didn't actually major in broadcasting, which was a major there. I was more in... there was a generalist program called public communications and it gave me writing courses, journalistic writing, public relations, broadcasting, both from a journalism point of view and also from a programming point of view. So I was always very interested in all walks of communications and I think the thing that I took away the most from it was writing skills more than anything else. And by the way, I only did this in my last two years. I was in general education for the first two. I take great pride in people's ability to write well. You write very well.

MAXWELL: Thank you.

WILLNER: And you do it for a living, and I appreciate good writing. As people here know – Sandy, sitting over there, probably knows painfully well – every time something gets thrown in front of me there's always that edit pen that comes out. But I love to write, I do, and I got that...

MAXWELL: And you're blogging now.

WILLNER: I'm blogging now and I'm enjoying it, but it's time consuming, it's an hour a day probably. I do write my own thing almost all the time.

MAXWELL: It's nice to be able to say that. How did cable even get on your radar screen though? In school? When you decided to go into when you got out of school?

WILLNER: They were building a little cable system in the suburban New York community that I went to high school in after we had moved up to the New York area while I was in high school, and it just seemed to me at the time that I could go into broadcast television and I'd probably be lugging equipment around and doing a lot of the heavy duty stuff at first. So I figured, well, let's go into this new thing because cable's going to be the television of the future. I had all the right answers for all the wrong reasons. It was clearly going to revolutionize television because of local programming. Ft. Lee, New Jersey was going to have its own programs instead of having to be overshadowed by New York City. That really worked out to be exactly what happened. Luckily, I turned out being right, for all the wrong reasons, but the fact was that in order to avoid having to lug all that equipment around and work my way up into this big industry, I started out lugging all that equipment around and taping city council meetings until the wee hours of the mornings for playback on the local origination channel. I remember one night that some guy got up there at about 1:00 in the morning after a very tumultuous meeting – we were sitting there and just waiting to get out of there – and he broke into an opera aria for the city council.

MAXWELL: On camera? No kidding!

WILLNER: Somewhere in the archive that tape still exists, I'm sure.

MAXWELL: I'm sure it does. So you were at Vision Cable – where were you doing this taping?

WILLNER: That was in New Jersey, in Ft. Lee, right over the George Washington Bridge. I had a TV show called the West Bank. Of course that was the Hudson River we were referring to. One of my most memorable episodes was I had the local librarian on and she brought a piece of equipment to demonstrate and I looked at it and I said, "What is that contraption over there?" and she said, "That, Michael, is a record player."

MAXWELL: Really?

WILLNER: I was speechless as I am right now.

MAXWELL: That's interesting.

WILLNER: No it isn't.

MAXWELL: A record player.

WILLNER: That's what it was.

MAXWELL: And you hadn't seen one?

WILLNER: Well, it was closed in a box. I thought she was bringing something really interesting.

MAXWELL: So who runs the system there now, that Vision Cable that was in Ft. Lee?

WILLNER: It's Time Warner now.

MAXWELL: It's Time Warner now? And it's where NBC Universal has all that...

WILLNER: They're in Englewood Cliffs, that's right.

MAXWELL: Yeah, Englewood Cliffs, that really big facility they've got, and the CNBC facility there is something else.

WILLNER: That's right, it's a beautiful facility.

MAXWELL: You were there, you were working on the scut level and you had your own television show and you thought you were important. Did anybody ever see you on it?

WILLNER: My grandmother. Every time I was on she'd run out through her apartment building and say, "Turn on your TV, Michael's on, Michael's on," but nobody had cable so...

MAXWELL: It wasn't wired?

WILLNER: No, it was wired, it was that nobody bought it. Those were tough years.

MAXWELL: Those were the early years of building in the suburban areas where we all avoided at first.

WILLNER: Well, look, the best thing we had were the home Knicks and Ranger games and we had a couple of channels from Philadelphia and that was it.

MAXWELL: Otherwise it was over-the-air.

WILLNER: It was a 20-channel service and most of it was over-the-air broadcasting.

MAXWELL: And all that local origination that we tried back then never went anywhere, really. It actually did in a couple of small markets but...

WILLNER: Actually, I'd say it evolved today into New York One, News 12 New Jersey, that kind of thing where cable operators who own a market or dominate a market can afford to do a quality all news channel like they do in New York and a lot of other big cities.

MAXWELL: That was a long time coming because of the fractured nature of the way the business grew up. We had all those franchises with individual headends with individual things. That's a thing of the past. You've gotten to watch that development. So after they took you off the air, where did you go?

WILLNER: I was cancelled.

MAXWELL: You were cancelled?

WILLNER: I actually figured out early on that this was an interesting business other than just the on-air work. One other major experience where we actually started a news program and got accused of reading the news out of the newspaper, which of course we vehemently denied but we were lying, but we did have an event happen in Ft. Lee where the mayor, in 1975, was bribed by some people to build a huge complex, a residential and commercial complex in the center of town, and he went to the FBI and actually there was a sting and it was a big story. It broke one Friday afternoon and we grabbed the cameras that we had only used for city council meetings and we ran down to city hall and we were allowed in with the press pool for the first time. We were elbowing people like Mary S. Alice Williams, who you might remember her from NBC, to get in front of the mayor, and the mayor knew us because we were the local cable company and we actually started a five day a week news show after that experience, so that was fun. I also knew that there was more to this business than doing a little television show here and there. That this was not broadcasting in the sense that cable really does have a much more direct relationship with the viewers in the fact that we have subscribers or customers that pay every month. There was another whole aspect of the business that seemed very interesting to understand and that's managing a local cable system. So it wasn't hard in the 1975-76 era to move immediately into management no matter how old or young you were because there was nobody else doing it anyway. So it was kind of filling a vacuum.

MAXWELL: Who controlled Vision in those days? I don't remember.

WILLNER: Well, the chairman of the company was a fellow by the name of Sid Knafel, who's in the office right next door right now, who is the chairman of Insight, and he had partnered George Lindemann, who was the chairman and CEO of the company.

MAXWELL: I remember George.

WILLNER: Everybody remembers George. He's a character, a very funny guy. It was an independent company, both private and public at various times, from the time that I had joined it in '74 until it was sold to the Newhouse Group in 1981, and I stayed on to run it for the Newhouses until 1985.

MAXWELL: And you were running the place by then, right? The whole thing?


MAXWELL: How many different franchises were involved?

WILLNER: I don't remember how many franchises. We operated in New Jersey, in North Carolina, South Carolina, Louisiana and Florida. That was basically the makeup. Just like today, it's a conglomeration of various deals that came along, there wasn't any great strategic vision about geography or anything like that.

MAXWELL: No, none of us had that vision back then.

WILLNER: No pun intended.


WILLNER: We sold about 170,000 customers to Newhouse. At the time it was a huge deal in the cable business, and then after we sold it, in the following three years we had gotten some franchises in very competitive fights, but we built those out and 170,000 because about 350,000. It was one of the top 20 cable operators in a much larger field than there is today. I left and started Insight in 1985.

MAXWELL: And that was backed by whom?

WILLNER: Well, I got back together with Sid. Sid had left the company when we sold it to Newhouse, and he gathered a few of his buddies, and then Amos Hostetter heard about it. We had done something previously with Amos on Staten Island, doing some franchising there with Continental. When Amos heard that we were going back in the cable business together he said let me put up some of the money and let me own enough of it that I can get you some discounts in programming costs. We said, "Gee, that sounds like a pretty good idea." It didn't take a rocket scientist to figure that one out, having Amos as a partner, and he became a significant shareholder, Continental became a significant shareholder in Insight.

MAXWELL: That's a good partner.

WILLNER: A very good partner.

MAXWELL: A good guy.

WILLNER: And Amos is now back with us, he reinvested when we went private two or three years ago, and he's on our board.

MAXWELL: Is it Pilot House, that he calls it?

WILLNER: I think that it's an individual investment for him.

MAXWELL: Good, he's a good partner, and a very smart man. So what was the first system that Insight got?

WILLNER: We bought 4,000 customers in Franklin, Virginia.

MAXWELL: Where's Franklin?

WILLNER: I have no idea! No, I've actually been there. Home of Cannon Mills.


WILLNER: Yeah, it's outside of Norfolk in the southeast corner of the state. It kind of was a stand-alone system. We never really were successful in buying other systems near it so ultimately when we sold some systems and started to rationalize some of our operations that one went.

MAXWELL: You grew up in the era of the fractured franchises that were scattered every place that all resulted mostly from serendipity, it seemed to me, and luck and things falling into your lap.

WILLNER: That is an understatement.

MAXWELL: So you were in some early franchising fights. You mentioned Staten Island and some others, so tell us a little bit about that.

WILLNER: I think the franchising era, the competitive franchising era, was probably the most fun time in the cable business. It was intense, it was a rollercoaster, the highs were as high as you could be in business, the lows were as low as you could get, and we competed in very specific areas where we either had operations or had motivation. Operations – New Jersey, North Carolina – we had acquired some and then we were looking to expand our footprint in those areas as well as go into new areas within the same state. Or, something as simple as gee, I heard the Clearwater, Florida franchise was being bid out and oh, gee, I'm from Florida, what a good reason to go back home every now and then. So we went after it.

MAXWELL: I remember when UA Columbia had Aspen.

WILLNER: Right, right. But the battles were intense, we were looked at as the little company in Clearwater, Florida and being accused by the big, mighty Storer Broadcasting of not being big enough to do this job, and we knew we had a public relations or public image problem. So we showed up on the day of the franchise hearing and we brought this huge truck with our logo on it with a satellite dish mounted on top of it. We set up 25 television sets in the parking lot right outside city hall, and we had 50 guys running around in orange jump suits and white hardhats with the Vision Cable logo on it, and it just made us look big and strong and all of the arguments that were made against our ability to build this franchise – which would have been the biggest franchise we owned in the whole country, which was true, that we had no money to build it, which by the way, was also true – but it just melted it down. And then there was just this fundamental lack of leadership on the city council and the mayor asked for a motion and a guy leaned forward and he made the motion for us and everybody was just astounded that the motion was even made for us and not for Storer. Some other guy leans forward and says, "Well, I second that, not because I support it but because I second everything just so we can have the discussion." And the mayor says, "Well, is there any discussion?" And we had just gone through this whole big presentation and all the companies – there were five companies – all the companies had presented, the mayor says, "Well, is there any further discussion?" and nobody said anything. So he said, "Well, I'll take a roll call," so he goes to the first guy who made the motion and he voted for us. There was another woman sitting next to him and she said, "Well, I'll vote in favor of that," and then the third one – this is a five man council – so the third guy says, "Yes."

MAXWELL: And that was it!

WILLNER: And then the fourth one said, "Yes." And then the mayor said, "Well, I was inclined to go a different way but in the interest of making this unanimous, since it's already done, I'm going to vote yes," which of course changes the dynamics of your ability to reopen the question at the next hearing under certain laws of either Florida or Clearwater or whatever it was. So the fact that it was unanimous stopped it and basically that was the end of it. The reality was that there were an awful lot of these around the country that in the matter of a five minute city council vote real, real net worth was built into companies' futures and real value was built into companies' futures and their shareholders'. They were life changing for a lot of people.

MAXWELL: So you built Clearwater.

WILLNER: We did, and then we got Pinellas County in an equally competitive catfight against very, very formidable opponents. Storer had one, Dunedin, which was the town just north of Clearwater so there was a real battle for the unincorporated areas which were even larger than the cities themselves.

MAXWELL: The cities were smaller jurisdictions back then.

WILLNER: Right, right, and that today is owned by Newhouse to this day as part of their whole central Florida complex.

MAXWELL: I think they have quite a bit of Florida. How was working for Bobby?

WILLNER: It was challenging. Bob is one of my two mentors, Bob Miron, and Sid Knafel is the other one, both very different people. Bob has to this day an attention span that is far greater than anything I've ever seen, an ability to focus on issues and details that I frankly don't have the same ability, and also see the big picture at the same time, which is an unusual quality. So I try, I've gotten a little better over the years as I look at running the business on a day-to-day basis, but probably rely more heavily on other people on day-to-day things than Bob ever has.

MAXWELL: I think that's fairly said. His detail is astonishing, I've learned.

WILLNER: He's a terrific guy and he raised terrific kids.

MAXWELL: Oh, very much so, a really great family, they really are. They're among my favorite people, too.

WILLNER: It must have been all Diane's good doings, I'm sure it was.

MAXWELL: I'm sure it was. So when you were at Vision, then, you're down there doing some of the franchising fights, I assume that was something you were leading by then.

WILLNER: Sid and I did it ourselves. We didn't hire franchising executives who ran around the country doing all the franchising for the company. Sid and I would show up at these city hall meetings on a Monday night, we were fighting for Dunedin, Florida, and I'd get up there and I'd say what a pleasure it was to be here in Dunedin and the next night I was in Moonachie, New Jersey doing the same slide presentation with a few slides slipped in saying how great it was to be here in.... duh... Moonachie, New Jersey.

MAXWELL: The franchising wars then were a fascinating world and they bounced around the country like I couldn't believe.

WILLNER: One time we were sitting on an airplane and the guys right behind us didn't know who we were and they were talking about their strategy in one of the franchise battles that we were in.

MAXWELL: That's bad homework.

WILLNER: That's stupid, is what that is.

MAXWELL: It's very stupid. It's like talking about deals in elevators. You just don't do that.

WILLNER: Oh! I didn't know that!

MAXWELL: Sure you didn't. So how fast was your trajectory into the high end of running these things?

WILLNER: '74 I started taping city council meetings, and then I guess around 1977, right after HBO launched on the satellite, I became the resident expert of launching HBO.

MAXWELL: Were you at Vero Beach?

WILLNER: No, that wasn't us.

MAXWELL: No, I know it wasn't. That was UA Columbia's deal.

WILLNER: But we had HBO over microwave in New Jersey so I was the one guy in the company that knew how to launch HBO, at least I thought I did, or at least Sid and George thought I did and that was more important as to whether or not I thought I did. So when we decided that we were going to invest this huge sum of money and basically bet the ranch on these 10-meter dishes we started out in Alexandria, Louisiana and I got put on an airplane and sent down there to teach the local management team what it was like...

MAXWELL: They don't speak English there.

WILLNER: They speak a different language, and I'll tell you, when we launched that was the day of the 30 day free preview of HBO and we flipped the switch on and the first movie on was Big, Bad Mama with Angie Dickinson showing it all, and that weekend our manager got a call from the Assistant District Attorney's office saying, "Kim, if you don't turn that off, we're sending you to jail," and Kim calls me up all frantic and he says, "What should I do? What should I do?" And I said, "I'll send you a cake."

MAXWELL: With a file...

WILLNER: But what we actually did do was very quickly determine that what we should do is just turn the switch off during R-rated movie product for Alexandria, Louisiana and show the preview all the rest of the time, which is what we wound up doing.

MAXWELL: It was five bucks a month back then, wasn't it? Wasn't that what you launched it for?

WILLNER: No, actually we launched at nine dollars a month. Basic was seven and HBO was nine, which is why I thought HBO was a really dumb idea at first.

MAXWELL: Too expensive.

WILLNER: Yeah, one channel for nine, and giving you 25 channels for seven – I don't get the math.

MAXWELL: Yeah, the math didn't turn out to be what counted.

WILLNER: No, it wasn't the math at all.

MAXWELL: It was something different.

WILLNER: It was cable not being very much in a community unless it was a rural community, and then one night sitting at dinner with my chief engineer – at that time I was the general manager of the cable system in New Jersey – and there was a table of six people sitting right next to us and they were laughing and howling and having this great time and they were talking about HBO and how great it was, "they show movies and there's no commercials, and yeah, they even show the R-rated stuff, you have to get it, you have to get it." And the two of us are just sitting there thinking, wow, we've really made it! People are talking about us now, which was really unusual in those days, and I just turned around as we were leaving and I flipped the guy my card and I said, "Thanks for making my dinner tonight!"

MAXWELL: You didn't pick up their tab?

WILLNER: No, we didn't have enough money for that. We were worried about cashing our paychecks in those days.

MAXWELL: Did you try any of the other early pay experiments besides HBO or was that the only one you tried? There was Channel 100, a whole bunch of other guys running around.

WILLNER: No, we were one of the early two pay launches in our markets where we added Showtime and then of course we had to have the discussion about what you do with Cinemax and who needs three pay channels, but it all kind of worked out.

MAXWELL: It has kind of worked out. Now there's a ton of them. Of course then HBO wasn't 24 hours when it launched, was it? It was 18.

WILLNER: Yeah, I think you're right.

MAXWELL: It was dark for six at night, I think.

WILLNER: Well, there were color bars up.

MAXWELL: That's true, there were color bars up. That's true. But then over-the-air broadcast went off at midnight up until the mid-70s about?

WILLNER: Yep, with the national anthem.

MAXWELL: Right, and the flag waving. It's a different world.

WILLNER: Well, now they go off the air but instead of switching to color bars they switch to paid programming.

MAXWELL: They do infomercials, right. That has been the substitute, but that stuff actually makes money.

WILLNER: Yes, more than color bars do. So now we've got the economics of television all worked out.

MAXWELL: We do. Just run infomercials. That's what Home Shopping is, so... That was one of those brilliant bids.

WILLNER: Well, that's another story!


WILLNER: That's right, Clearwater, Florida, that's where they were based, if you remember.

MAXWELL: That is right, that's where Paxson was. What was the other guy's name?

WILLNER: Spear. One day I'm sitting in my office and we were building Clearwater, Florida and it was 108 channel system. It was two 54 channel plants being overlashed. You didn't know what to do with 54 channels on one plant in those days, let alone two. So we were sitting there trying to figure out what to do with all this capacity that we were in theory committed to build, and one day in come these two guys and they looked like Abbot and Costello and they look across my desk and they say, "We want to lease a channel from you." "Oh, what a novel idea," I said, "What are you going to do with it?" They said, "We have this radio show right now in Clearwater and we sell stuff all the time." I'm thinking to myself, okay, I've heard this before. They said, "We want to take it to television and we think the best way to do that is to lease a channel from you and pay you a monthly fee and use one of your channels." I said, "Well, how much are you willing to pay me?" And they looked at each other and I think Bud said, "Well, how about $4,000 a month," which I almost fell out of the chair, like somebody just dropped $4,000 a month in my lap. It was more by a factor of ten that I have ever heard anybody willing to pay to lease a channel in the cable business. I said, "Okay, I think we could do that," and then Spear says to me, "Well, you know, as an alternative to us paying you $4,000 a month what if we gave you some stock in the company?" I'm thinking to myself $4,000 a month or stock in this ridiculous idea – I'll take the $4,000.

MAXWELL: I'm surprised they didn't offer you a revenue share of some percentage.

WILLNER: It got to that later on.

MAXWELL: That's the most variable approach. So you should have taken stock.

WILLNER: I definitely should have taken the stock and Bob Miron to this day won't let me live that down.

MAXWELL: Really?

WILLNER: That's right, to this day.

MAXWELL: I like that. So they launched with you?

WILLNER: They launched with us.

MAXWELL: And it was still Vision then?

WILLNER: It was still Vision. Well, Vision never really changed names even under Newhouse until that Time Warner deal happened with Newhouse. That was after my time.

MAXWELL: That's right. That was quite a while later, that's right. I'd forgotten the timing of that. Vision was around for awhile. So you left that on the table. Is there anything else you left on the table in all these years?

WILLNER: Did you have to ask?


WILLNER: Yeah, I've left a lot of things on the table.

MAXWELL: Not like that stock though.

WILLNER: Not quite that bad because that stock would have been worth a gazillion dollars at one point. It was up and down.

MAXWELL: I know. When it crashed it crashed.

WILLNER: I had a good friend who worked for MTV before they launched, part of the launch team. That was... Warner Amex owned that at first. He was begging me to launch MTV in New Jersey on the day of the launch and I said, "Mark, it's a lousy idea. Who's going to sit around and watch music videos, promotional videos, all day and all night long? I mean, come on, they're just promotional videos." I said no even though he was a friend, and then three days before the launch I get a frantic phone call from him. "Michael, we lost the only system we have in the New York metropolitan area," which was in Rockland County, New York, which is up north, and he said, "I desperately need a launch in New York because I've got to have a launch party. I've got 150 people working on this for the last two years and we're finally launching and we have nowhere to go." So I said, "Mark, I don't even like the idea. Why would I do this?" He said, "Look, I'll buy all the equipment, I'll install it in your headend, I'll give you free service for five years, I'll do whatever it takes. You need to launch this service on your system." These were times when we were really looking for stuff to put on the dial because there just wasn't enough out there. Mark and I were good drinking buddies so of course I had to say yes to him; I couldn't leave him in a lurch, and the night of the launch – I'll never forget, in the basement of some bar in Fairview, New Jersey, which is teamster town USA – you saw the biggest collision of universes you've ever seen between these old truck drivers at a bar at 2:00 in the morning with people with spiked hair and piercings coming out of every part of their body all sitting around having a grand old time thinking about how great this whole new thing was, and they were all getting along with each other.

MAXWELL: It was the same era as when Willie went to Austin and got the hippies into country music.

WILLNER: It was kind of like that.

MAXWELL: Do you remember what the first video they ran was?


MAXWELL: You've never heard of this group since, by the way, but it was The Buggles and Video Killed the Radio Star.

WILLNER: That's pretty good.

MAXWELL: But you know the guy that did the first movie clips, I mean they had the clips of Elvis on Ed Sullivan and all that stuff, but a guy named Michael Nesmith started doing what he called pop clips as interstitial programming on Warner Amex's movie channel and that's where it all came from. He was one of The Monkees.

WILLNER: Right, I knew I knew the name.

MAXWELL: And a good songwriter by the way. So that was in the Vision era, and next came Insight. So how did that come about?

WILLNER: Actually I was being wooed by somebody who joined them to help them run their company, another mid-sized operator, and I went to George and asked him his opinion, who I still had a friendship with, and then I went to Sid and asked him his opinion about doing this. Sid basically looked at me and said, "Well, if you're thinking of going back into the cable business," as he put it, even though as far as I was concerned I was still in it, "if I knew that I'd say, well, let me put up some money. I wouldn't try to woo you away from the Newhouses because I sold the company to them, but if I knew you were thinking of doing this anyway I might consider putting some money up and raising a few bucks from some friends of mine." And that's what we did. It made the decision easier because I knew Sid very well and knew we got along. To this day we get along very well.

MAXWELL: So what was the first Insight system?

WILLNER: Franklin, Virginia. 4,000 customers

MAXWELL: So you had that but you were never able to grow there. So where did you go to grow?

WILLNER: Look, this was 1986-87 and we started just looking for deals. What was going on in the business then was that all cable systems were basically valued around the same – on a multiple of cashflow basis or price per subscriber basis. It didn't matter where they were located, what they were doing. Every property was thought of as a similar growth trajectory looking forward and therefore they were valued very similarly. Well, we didn't exactly agree with that depiction of what systems should be worth. We though that if we could find systems that had high housing growth within their demographics that over the years those would become less expensive to have bought because they'll grow faster. As a result of that we started looking around and finding properties in the suburbs of major metropolitan areas. We acquired some systems outside of Indianapolis, outside of Louisville, outside of Atlanta, Phoenix, Los Angeles, we were all over the place. But they were all suburban corridors. One may not think of Indianapolis as a growth market, in the overall market it's not a big growth market, but if you own the growth corridor in any market then you're going to own growth, and we owned the northern suburbs in Hamilton County, Indiana just north of Indianapolis; in Jeffersonville, Indiana, which was the suburbs of Louisville, and we had a lot of housing growth. Internally, without acquisitions factored in, we were one of the fastest growing cable companies in the industry without even trying because we were just kind of building...

MAXWELL: Because you followed developers, right?

WILLNER: That's exactly right.

MAXWELL: And they all grew out the interstates.

WILLNER: That's right. And that strategy worked. It was a good strategy for five years, from '87 to '92-'92 period. The '92 Act was very painful to the industry. We were very leveraged because we had made some major acquisitions so it made it even more painful for us. One could say we were on the verge at times but we worked our way out of it. We got involved in the United Kingdom and actually bought an operating system in Glasgow, Scotland and started getting involved in the licensing process over there which was all done through the national government as opposed to local franchises, which was a lot different and actually became the forerunner of what became NTL and is now Virgin Media. It was there that we knew that the business was going to change dramatically because we were talking about telephone there, or telephony as they coined the term. The internet was kind of out there but nobody quite knew what that was all about yet except that we knew that we had a capability of doing something with it that was beyond the dial-up experience. We began to sense that the business was going to change fairly dramatically as we went forward into the rest of the '90s. We looked at our assets and we realized that we didn't have a strategy that was particularly efficient for the next phase of growth in the cable business where you could launch new services in a market, do it efficiently using the marketing tools that are available to you in that market, and we were burdened by having Intermedia Partners being the dominant operator in the Louisville market and we were a small suburban operator in Jeffersonville, Indiana and Oldham County, Kentucky. We couldn't use Louisville television, we couldn't use the Courier Journal to advertise in because it was just too inefficient for us. So, Leo Hindery had started making some noise about the summer of love at that point and talking about lots of swaps and buying and selling and dealing. We had decided we wanted to grow the company and change the company and take advantage of the future of the business, but we knew we had to change the company. So we became one of the partners with TCI, gave them some really, really good markets in the Salt Lake City market in return for all of their properties around Indianapolis, which made us the dominant operator in the state and did the same thing... we swapped Gilbert, Arizona with Cox for Lafayette, Indiana. Gilbert, Arizona for the last ten years has been the fastest growing community in America. But we had relative valuation issues... John Dyer, who I love dearly, we both worked off the same formula and we both knew that you plug in certain growth factors and you can see what the relative values are of these systems. We did it – the same number of customers, Gilbert, Arizona came out looking as if it was 30 million dollars more valuable than Lafayette, Indiana, and all logic would point to the fact that that's probably a good guess, and even though it said 30 million dollars I thought that was a big ask. So I said, "John, you know what? It says 30, yours says 30, we'll do it for 20 because it passes the giggle test." He said, "That's funny. I didn't think that there was a 20 million dollar difference between the two. I thought you owe us 5." "I owe you 5 million dollars and I'm getting Lafayette, Indiana and you're getting Gilbert, Arizona? How do you come up with that?" To which I never got the answer. But we solved it somewhere in between and both companies were happier for it.

MAXWELL: Once scale got there in a DMA or in a market, what changed?

WILLNER: The whole business changes. You're now in control of your destiny. Do you want to launch – in today's terms – a 10.0 service, a 10 MG service for internet versus a 6 MG service? When do you want to launch it? Do you want to advertise it in the newspapers, on television, on radio? And you have scale. So people always thought that we would be the seller in the Louisville market because we owned the little suburbs; we wound up buying the city from Intermedia and it just changed the whole dynamics of the business. And really we went through a whole series of acquisitions and sales and swaps to take a company that was originally spread from sea to shining sea and consolidated it into four contiguous states into what was essentially one very big cable system, pretty much interconnected throughout the entire footprint. Although we have since split with Comcast that's still the case. The half that we own is one 700,000 subscriber cable system.

MAXWELL: And you think of it that way.

WILLNER: Yes, we do.

MAXWELL: How many headends?

WILLNER: Well, it depends on your definition of a headend.

MAXWELL: That's a good point. That has changed.

WILLNER: There are local insertion buildings where we put the local signals in and we do certain things locally, but it all kind of ties back to Louisville where we have our knock and our network operations center and a lot of other facilities that are centered in these very 21st century looking buildings in Louisville.

MAXWELL: And that does change the entire nature of how the business works. So along this way when did you get involved in the NCTA and start up that process?

WILLNER: When I woke up in the morning after the passage of the 1992 Act, I realized that things were going to be pretty dark for awhile. I was never involved with NCTA, never had anything to do with them. NCTA wasn't particularly, at the time, warm and fuzzy towards smaller cable operators. You just kind of accepted it and you let the big guys take care of all this stuff, but when the '92 Act occurred and we had a real potential meltdown in the business I picked up the phone and called the newly appointed president of the NCTA, a fellow who I'd never met before named Decker Anstrom, and I said, "Decker, I don't know what happened here but this is really bad and I'll blame myself as one of a number of people who are at fault. My fault because I wasn't there to help, and I don't know if I can help, I don't know if you want my help, but I'm there for you." Well, Decker being the type of fellow that he is knew a sucker when he saw one, and Bob Miron probably had some input on that as well. He was very active and I had told him that I thought I could be helpful and should be helpful. That's how I did it.

MAXWELL: And you got involved.

WILLNER: I got involved.

MAXWELL: And started up the track of being very involved.

WILLNER: I think when people are willing to give some of their time to that organization, I think that organization is perfectly willing to accept it, and they should be.

MAXWELL: Well, you had a big impact on how the industry reports itself to the world. So tell us how you managed to pull that off given the cast of characters.

WILLNER: I don't know if I can say that.

MAXWELL: Address it as gingerly as you prefer.

WILLNER: You mean the fact that they took out baseball bats and smacked me on the head with them every time I brought the subject up?


WILLNER: I was the chairman at the time. I had gone through a relatively quiet first term, and usually they were one term but the industry was consolidating so rapidly...

MAXWELL: You were like a safe harbor to stay, right?

WILLNER: Well, that and I think I went to the bathroom during the board meeting at the wrong time and came back and found out that I was re-elected. It was a relatively quiet first term. Robert Sachs was the president and we were working very well together. Robert and I went back to the Continental days with franchising, that's what he was involved with, so we knew each other pretty well. And then I had an apartment in Miami and I was sitting by the pool one Thursday afternoon around one of the holidays that we were away for and Ari Berkhoff, who was an analyst on Wall Street and a very well-respected analyst, appears in front of me in his t-shirt and bathing shorts. He was frantic and I said, "Ari, first of all, what are you doing here?" This is totally out of context. His in-laws had an apartment in the same building. And then he said, "Did you hear about Adelphia?" And I said, "No, what happened?" And it was the day of the meltdown where the analyst was raising the questions, and I said, "Do you think that's really going to change anything on Wall Street for the rest of the industry?" He looked at me like I was a moron. "You don't get this!" This is the Enron era. You just don't realize it when it's happening. It was kind of like 9/11, you just have no idea of what's really going on until it sinks in. It was a little bit like that. He said, "You guys are going to have to do something to get the Street comfortable again, that Adelphia's the exception not the rule in the industry." And then I heard from Rich Belotti and a few other people... because I was the chairman so they figured they should come to me and then I would carry the message back to my colleagues on the executive committee of the NCTA and that's when the baseball bats came out – "No, no, we'll never do that." But the stocks kept sinking that summer from March until about June or July and finally one by one people were picking up the phone and saying maybe we need to do something. So we convened a group kind of led by us and Cox and Time Warner and came up with some standards that we could all agree to. It wasn't easy. There were a lot of other issues here like companies have to listen to their certified public accountant firms to make determinations about accounting practices. So we couldn't get to accounting practices but we could get to operating reports. So, what is a subscriber, how many do you have, what is a revenue generating unit, and by the way, what are the capital expenditures that everybody is so concerned about in terms of directly related to growth versus infrastructure versus maintenance, you know, what does it cost to change the light bulbs? And we came up with a series of categories for all these things that were compliant with accounting rules which gave us some limitations as to what we could do collectively, but also helped to explain our business a little bit more transparently to the Street, and I think it actually worked.

MAXWELL: Oh, I think it has. If I may editorialize, it was one hell of a significant achievement.

WILLNER: We had no idea when we were doing it that it would actually be that significant but I think it was.

MAXWELL: Oh, it was, no question about that. In hindsight it was another validation very basic to the business.

WILLNER: That's right. And we were reporting things differently.

MAXWELL: Well, you had different terms.

WILLNER: That's right, and it was never intentional. Companies grew up for many, many years reporting certain ways, we didn't really talk to each other about how we were reporting, and the analysts were charged with the responsibility of trying to turn a tangerine into an apple so they could compare it to another apple. That process just took some of the work out of it for the analysts, and we didn't get paid for it and they still do.

MAXWELL: That's true, you don't get paid for it but it rationalized the way the Street looks at the business and that has got to be significant in any kind of an assessment.

WILLNER: Well, happily, things did settle down and there was still another golden era to come.

MAXWELL: So how was riding that?

WILLNER: It's always fun when it's going up, but look, these are tough times now. I think the Street over-worries about our ability to compete in a competitive world. I think we have proven over and over again as an industry that we are as good as we can be when it comes to being competitive in the business that we're in.

MAXWELL: Satellite took away a lot of basic subs and hurt the industry in one sense, but there was a whole lot of growth that kind of masked a lot of that as it was happening. With the telephone companies they keep thinking it's going to be the same but it hasn't been. There's been spurts and recapture and growth again.

WILLNER: I kind of get a kick out of the way the street has viewed this because there's a big disconnect in my head. Our basic business is being challenged by the fact that it was a monopoly and it's not anymore, and hasn't been by the way since satellites launched. So this isn't about phone companies, but even though that's the case, in the case of today's new competitor, the phone companies, whether it's FiOS or U-verse or whatever it is, the phone companies are spending an awful lot of money building plant, and in particular the Verizon strategy of fiber to the curb, I mean, they're going to spend the gross national product of 95% of the countries on this planet combined – I'm exaggerating, but you know – in order to go into the video business, basically. They're already in the phone business, they're already...

MAXWELL: But it's really defensive isn't it?

WILLNER: But the point is they're spending all this money, and they're going after the part of our business that I commonly like to refer to as the worst piece of crap in our repertoire because the programmers have taken so much of the value out of the video business already.

MAXWELL: From the operator, right.

WILLNER: And at the ratio of eight customers that we're taking from them in the phone business to one that they're taking from us in the video business...

MAXWELL: You like it.

WILLNER: And I like the phone business a lot better than I like the video business right now in terms of just the economics of it. I think you need them all and I think they're all great products but the economics would tell me that I'll take the 8 to 1 good business against the 1 to 8 bad business any day of the week and yet cable stocks have been beaten up because of the challenges of competition while phone companies are given a pass because I think the Street thinks that they're losing their wire line customers to themselves in wireless but that's not really the whole story.

MAXWELL: They also think the market cap there makes them the winner in the long run because just of simple size, but if I were them I think I'd be more inclined to buy. Of course AT&T blew that.

WILLNER: There's been a lot of businesses in the history of our capitalist system where sheer size didn't result in the winner. There weren't many Western Unions around and railroads are being subsidized by the government just to keep running today because they didn't strategically play their hand right whether it was to invest or not to invest, or whatever the right answer was. So just because they have the market cap doesn't mean they always will.

MAXWELL: No. I couldn't agree more. In the cable situation, you're not involved in the programming side as much as other cable operators are. Was that a strategic decision or just one that never came up?

WILLNER: We dabbled in a few things. We were actually one of the first round investors in a service that was called Movie Time at the time and became E!, but I think just our size didn't put us in the position of having deep enough pockets to invest heavily in programming and we were always partnered up until this year with a major MSO where we were able to get the significant volume discounts but we weren't part of the party putting the programming together.

MAXWELL: That's beginning to fray. Time Warner in one sense is divorcing its operations from its programming. Do you think that'll happen with some of these others?

WILLNER: Well, there are very few left that are vertically integrated. If you think about it... I think I've heard numbers like... not too many years ago 70% of the programming assets were controlled by cable operators or distributors and now it's about 20%. So all of this programming, and a lot of it because of retransmission consent, by the way, has shifted to the big media companies.

MAXWELL: That was an interesting redirection of value.

WILLNER: Yes, and that was government mandated. I don't know if it's for the better. I'd contend maybe not. You've got four or five companies controlling an awful lot of programming that gets put out in this country, and it's very, very difficult for an upstart now to start a conventional linear television channel.

MAXWELL: True. Is the broadband network going to change that?

WILLNER: Oh, absolutely. We're in a revolution that's no different than the industrial revolution itself was 150 years ago. It's a communications revolution, and we're already seeing dramatic shifts and changes in people's use of their spare time, of their work time, and I think the cable industry has been perfectly positioned to exploit those opportunities whether we're a dumb pipe or a smart pipe, I think we're still going to be a rich pipe.

MAXWELL: Anything else you'd like to leave with The Cable Center because that's one hell of a great epitaph there.

WILLNER: I think what we're doing at The Cable Center is a terrific smattering of programs, all very different, all very contributory to the industry's efforts. I'd like to see more customer service effort; we need a lot of work in that area as an industry and I'm glad that The Cable Center is focusing on helping cable operators.

MAXWELL: It's off to a good start with that.

WILLNER: It is. And Amos's program, the distance learning program, is a terrific program and people should watch that.

MAXWELL: They should. My daughter took it three times at DU. She's a big fan.

WILLNER: I'd love to see more of them. I think it's cost-effectively challenging.

MAXWELL: It's challenging, yeah, but that might come.

WILLNER: Yes, especially in today's world.

MAXWELL: So Michael, in the industry today do you have any comments about how it ought to go forward?

WILLNER: I think we have some terrific opportunities. We're positioned right in the sweet spot of this communications revolution that the world is undergoing right now. I also think we have some very serious challenges as an industry. I'm not one of those guys who kind of looks for the silver lining around every dark cloud, although I did win the Little Orphan Annie Optimist Award in our company this year because Dinny, who's our COO thinks part of his job description is to manage my optimism, but I worry a lot about the industry's history and perceived experience in customer service. I think that customers have a lot to be concerned about. We've all seen the surveys and the research and cable is ranked pretty low among industries in terms of what customers think of the level of service that we provide. That's not to say that our competitors are much better because they're not, our direct competitors, but I also take a little bit of satisfaction, but very little, over the fact that we at Insight have started focusing on improving our customer service – we're a little company in a big industry – and that the customers are noticing. Our customers, in our research, they actually do like us, and that in itself is a feat for a cable company.

MAXWELL: Well, you did one thing that was really interesting in that when you had a blowup on the broadband side you admitted wrong, got out in front of it and took charge of fixing it. So those kinds of things other cable operators have hesitated to do.

WILLNER: In fact, internally we had huge battles about that, whether or not we should get in front of it.

MAXWELL: That's a Tylenol story – getting in front of it makes more sense than not.

WILLNER: That's right, and we used that example, one of a few in history that you can look at, and I think it was probably a turning point in the whole company's attitude towards how to deal with the customer. Blogging – that's really getting out there and talking openly and freely about subjects that a lot of cable operators really haven't wanted to talk about, network management. But when it comes to customer service, we don't want to be just the best in the cable industry and that's good enough because the cable industry... to us it's like grading us on a curve. It ain't good enough. How does Federal Express manage to move as many packages as they move every single day of the week, every single week of the month, every single month of the year and have so few people complain about them? Have so few people say they have lousy service? That's the goal. It should be to make yourself better than your colleagues or even your competitors who may or may not be very good. It's to be the very best in all industries, in all countries, in all places. We have a long way to go. All of us have a long way to go before we get there.

MAXWELL: We do have one advantage you talked about early when you talked about getting into cable instead of broadcasting. You have the communication with the customer every month.

WILLNER: Right, which is often a bill though and that's not always a good communication.

MAXWELL: Well, no, people don't mind paying for things when they don't feel bad. Do you feel bad about paying the Fed Ex bill?

WILLNER: I never pay that bill, but... No, no I don't. We're getting a service and we're paying for it.

MAXWELL: Right, and there's nothing wrong with that and never should be, but to make the customers feel good about you is an opportunity.

WILLNER: And that's part of what the blog is about. That's a lot of what our customer communications efforts are about these days.

MAXWELL: This was Michael Willner for The Cable Center. Thank you.

David WillisSave to PDF

David Willis

David Willis

Interview Date: Wednesday December 04, 2002
Interview Location: Denver, CO
Interviewer: Rex Porter
Collection: Hauser Collection

PORTER: I'm Rex Porter. I'm here to interview industry veteran and cable pioneer Mr. Dave Willis for The Barco Library at The Cable Center. Dave, how are you?

WILLIS: I'm very good, Rex, and I'm flattered to be here doing this interview.

PORTER: Well, we consider it nice to have you for the interview. When we think back to the early days of cable engineering, it's kind of easy to think of Dave Willis, all of your involvement with TCI. Could you talk about your early days, where you grew up, and how you got to where cable became something that you recognized?

WILLIS: Well, I was born and raised in Sidney, Nebraska, a little town in western Nebraska where my family has longtime roots. I had just gotten out of the service; I had been in the Air Force for 4 years, got discharged late in 1954 and went back to my hometown in Sidney. They were just starting to get a few pictures off-air, very long distance from Denver and skip from other areas, but there was no solid television at all. About that time, an outfit, an electrical company from Colorado, Collier Electric Company, decided to build a cable system in Sidney. They were hiring people there, I went down and interviewed with their chief engineer, a fellow named Bob Lewis – not the Bob Lewis we all know and love – and he hired me and turned the construction over to me and went back to Denver. They had already built a 750 foot tower south of town and I spent the first 30 days for them putting antennas on top of that tower. And then we started construction in about August and we pretty much had it finished by the first of the year. We had 1,500 customers and we charged $129 for a contract and the rate was, I think, about 4.50 a month at that time and we basically had the channels from Denver which was 4, 7, 9, and 2, and we operated off the air like that for quite a number of years.

PORTER: Whose equipment?

WILLIS: The line equipment with the trunk amplifiers were Amplivision, all low-band, and for bridging amplifiers we used a modified Blonder-Tongue. It was basically an MLA with the high-band tubes removed and it was tapped onto the trunk line using capacity with resistive taps.

PORTER: Pressure taps?

WILLIS: Not pressure taps, a soldered in resister or capacitor located in an aluminum box that we actually had milled in Denver, and it had a lid on it with a rubber gasket and a little thumb screw that you tighten it up with.

PORTER: This was Collier that owned the...?

WILLIS: Collier Electric Company, yeah. Collier built Laramie, Wyoming, Sterling, Colorado, Sidney, Kimball, and Gehring, Nebraska, and then Collier Electric sold to Community TV, which was the company that was owned by Bob Magness and that occurred in 1962, and when we went with Magness I believe that brought his subscriber account up to about 18,000 subscribers.

PORTER: And Scheel was the engineer then? Jerry Scheel?

WILLIS: Jerry Scheel was Bob's chief engineer. Jerry had been with Bob in Bozeman, Montana at the start of their operation up there. An excellent guy, I always liked Jerry very much and he and Larry Romrell were the technical guys. Romrell was the microwave guy. At that time, by the time Magness bought Collier, we had built a common carrier microwave system from Fort Morgan, Colorado up to Sidney and in fact beyond. We went up to Alliance, Nebraska with it to Kimball and over to Scotts Bluff-Gehring with that common carrier microwave, which was one of the reasons that Magness was very much interested in the system, and we had excellent pictures up there by that time.

PORTER: Now was this Bob Magness's first venture out of Texas?

WILLIS: No, Bob was operating out of Montana at that time. Jerry, in fact, was hired by Bob in Montana. What happened was after Bob built his first system in Texas he went to Bozeman and started the cable system in Bozeman, and had in fact done a number of franchise efforts in Montana. This was his first acquisition that I'm aware of.

PORTER: And so tell us how you got involved as far as the company that ultimately led to TCI.

WILLIS: Well, Magness bought out Collier in 1962, and then a year or two later for tax purposes, Bob actually moved to Nebraska, lived in Scotts Bluff, and then a few years after that they decided they would move the company to a more central place and there was a big conflict of whether to move to Salt Lake City or to Denver, and ultimately Bob won out and moved the company headquarters to Denver. So Jerry Scheel, Larry Romrell, all those guys moved into the office in Denver. In fact, it was on the second floor of a post office down near Cherry Creek. In 1968 Jerry Scheel asked me if I would come into Denver to be his assistant. We did, we moved to Denver in '68, I became Jerry's assistant. A couple of years later, Jerry had a problem with one of his children and decided he needed to quit and go to Canada to locate the boy and see what he could do for him, and so Jerry quit. At that time I had left the engineering department and was managing a group of systems called the district at large, and it was very large. It included systems pretty well spread across the country. Well, I was having a good time because these hadn't been real well run and I was seeing tremendous progress in them, and pretty much enjoying myself. Well, after Jerry left J.C. Sparkman came to me and he said, "Dave, we need a new director of engineering. Would you like the job?" I said, "No, I'm enjoying myself so much right now I'd just like to stay right where I am." A week or so later, J.C. came to me again and said, "Dave, we really need to fill that director of engineering job. Would you like the job?" And again, I said, "No, I think I'll just stay right where I'm at," and about a week later, sure enough, here comes J.C. again and he said, "Dave, we need to fill that director of engineering job and this time I'm not asking you." So that's when I became the director of engineering.

PORTER: Were you in Denver when J.C. first came onboard with TCI?

WILLIS: I was. I was in Denver then and our executive vice-president was Bill Brazeal, and Bill was a wonderful guy, very difficult to make decisions and we lacked in those days the ability to respond quickly to changing events because Bill was a little reluctant to make decisions. Well, when J.C. came onboard that was certainly altered because J.C. made a decision right now, and I've got to say he made more right ones than wrong ones by a good deal, but he was quick. When you needed a decision, boy, you got it! And that was exactly what we needed at that period in time. Bill ultimately got into some serious physical problems and had to leave the company, and I'm sad to say a few years later passed away.

PORTER: Well, he went on and owned his own cable system in...

WILLIS: The company was always very generous with guys like Bill and we got him a franchise in Steamboat Springs, Colorado and helped him finance it, build it, the whole works, and Bill went up there for a number of years and ran that system.

PORTER: When you took the job as chief engineer for TCI, about how many cable systems did TCI own then?

WILLIS: I'm not sure I can tell you that. I can tell that when we moved to the Denver Tech Center, which was 1971, which was not too many years later, as I recall we had about, I think we had about 300,000 subscribers and we had pretty much decided that that was about as many as one management organization could handle, and as we expanded from there we started to break up into divisions, and of course the names changed from districts to divisions to who knows what over the years. But for a long time we tried to maintain about that number of subscribers in an individual management systems.

PORTER: You told me a story one time about being in an office that was below a beauty parlor?

WILLIS: Well, no. When we were in Cherry Creek, and we were expanding a little bit and we were in the second floor of the post office building, and we had the microwave division in the same place, and we got very crowded. So I went to the boss one day and said, "Look, I've located some office space across the street, down half a block. Could I move the engineering department over there?" And he said, "Yeah, go ahead." So we moved the engineering department to the second floor of a building in the next block. We were over top a bar and there was a beauty parlor and a travel agency and so forth that shared the floor with us. A tremendous place to have an office full of men because they had our coffee made in the morning and were always very gracious to us. It was quite an experience. I was trying to think of the name of the bar – it's still down there. It doesn't come to me.

PORTER: This was before you moved down to the location in Denver Tech Center?

WILLIS: This was before the Tech Center, yes.

PORTER: And then the first location that you moved to in the Denver Tech Center I think now is a school.

WILLIS: It's a church.

PORTER: Oh, it's a church.

WILLIS: We moved into a single-story pretty spread out building down there. At the time that we moved to the Tech Center there was a controlling rule in the Tech Center that you couldn't be over two stories high, and that was because the Kodak Building, they were the people that owned the thing, the people that owned that building, and they didn't want any buildings higher than theirs, and it remained that way for a good long time. Then the Tech Center was purchased by some other interests and right away there was high-rises going up all over the place.

PORTER: Back in your early engineering days, let's go back, as far as Collier and the early TCI days, most of the cable systems that you would have worked in and been in charge of would either have been a low-band system or, well, probably at Collier we didn't have anything except low-band systems.

WILLIS: Well, Collier built a 12-channel system in Laramie, Wyoming, a 12-channel system in Sterling, Colorado, prior to building the low-band system in Sidney. Bob Lewis was their engineer and Bob was an adventuresome thinker. He was a retired Lieutenant Commander for the Navy, and he had nothing if not imagination. He even visualized one time that we might go above a city and suspend a balloon with reflective covering and bounce signals off of that balloon to all over. Well, he came up in Gehring, Nebraska with an idea that we could serve the entire town with one amplifier, and what he decided to use was a translator transmitter. We had four of them and we stacked the output of all four of those translators and we did feed the entire city.

PORTER: You had one amplifier?

WILLIS: One amplifier was all, the one at the headend. It was a difficult system to keep operating and the system was built using spiral fill cable, which is an air dielectric with a spiral...

PORTER: That's the old Phelps Dodge?

WILLIS: Yeah, exactly, and we had so much change because of moisture content and the amount of signal that we were pumping through it that we ultimately had to put nitrogen through the system all the time. So we had to work out a process of putting little beads to hold the center conductor in place and drilling little holes in that to let the nitrogen through. It was a bloody mess.

PORTER: Tell us about something that technicians and engineers today, and probably operators today, wouldn't have any comprehension of, and that's tube type amplifiers, burning in the tubes. We don't burn in transistors. Maybe you can touch on that a little bit?

WILLIS: Well, yeah, we used to have pretty good sized racks set up where we would plug in the tubes and let them have a burn in period because the reality was that tubes tended to die, literally die, very early in their life or they'd last a long time and would gradually deteriorate over age. So you did have, you had a burn in rack. And then what you did was you would have racks of tubes and you'd periodically go and change your tubes. I really didn't ever want to do that but we had to do it because our chief engineer Bob Lewis told us to do it. I finally convinced him that we were causing more problems taking those tubes in and out so many times than if we would simply check the performance. You did check the performance by checking for the amount of hum in the picture and things like that. It was funny, in Sidney I found out this one particular television set, and it was handled by – oh, God, the memory fails, a weird name – anyway, I found out that that was very susceptible to hum. You started getting rippley pictures right away. So I bought one, and I lived on the last amplifier in the town, the furthest from the headend.

PORTER: It sounded like a Harmon-Kardan.

WILLIS: It wasn't a Harmon-Kardan.

PORTER: I remember a guy that left some of the IF stages out because that's the TV you're talking about. You could buy them relatively cheap.

WILLIS: Well, this was not an expensive set and it wasn't a very good set in any direction, but it was really susceptible to hum. So I knew before anybody else in town when we were starting to get hum, and when I first detected hum in my system we went out right away and got on the trunk line because we knew it was coming, and sure enough we'd always find some problems.

PORTER: Well, your original amplifiers when I started in engineering cable systems, everything was tube. Tell us, was there a shock factor when you finally had to operate a cable system and build a cable system purely transistorized?

WILLIS: Well, my first transistor system was in fact Sidney, and my first experience with transistors really soured my outlook. Bob Magness called me one day and said, "Dave, we've got a whole system in the warehouse in Montana," a little town in eastern Montana, I don't remember the name, he said, "I want you to drive up there and get all that stuff down to Sidney and install that stuff in Sidney." I said, "Okay." So I drove up there and there was an entire system of Ameco amplifiers. The entire electronics for the system fit very nicely in the back of my station wagon, it didn't take up much room. I hauled it back to Sidney and the first thing I did was we had about a 7-mile trunk run and I installed those amplifiers on that trunk run. We had a power supply in the headend and another one close to town. The first night after we got everything working – and it really looked pretty good, the pictures – we had an electrical storm. I couldn't even find the power supplies on those amplifiers. It actually vaporized the printed circuitry in the power supplies. They were just gone! So they lasted almost a full day and then we had to replace the entire line. Well, ultimately we did wind up installing those Ameco amplifiers in Sidney, Nebraska. That occasion made us spend a good deal of time with Mr. Bruce Merrill down in Phoenix at the Ameco plant trying to figure out how the hell those things were supposed to work.

PORTER: Well, now was this... there was a period of time when he had DC powered amplifiers. Were they already AC?

WILLIS: These were AC, yeah, these were AC. This was the ATM series.


WILLIS: Yeah, and before the pacesetters, we ultimately wound up with pacesetters in Sidney, but the ATM series was really pretty bad, and that was at the same time that Jerrold came out with their first TML series.

PORTER: TML line. Well, I can remember one of the funny things, the first time I ever worked on a transistorized system, we'd never seen beats before, we didn't know what beats were. So in cold weather we'd start getting beats so we ran out and turned the amplifier up thinking that was the problem...

WILLIS: Making it much worse.

PORTER: Yeah, and that was a problem you never had with tube type amplifiers. Did you ever run into a similar situation?

WILLIS: Yeah, we had... our run to town was tremendously stable because it was buried, but the minute you got to town of course you had problems, and everybody had an AGC system in those days, by and large it was totally inadequate, and yeah, you'd get some of the damndest beats you ever saw. The temptation was always to turn it up.

PORTER: We didn't know what they were.

WILLIS: It didn't take long to figure out that, yeah, we were going the wrong way. So we would have our certain points, the specific amplifiers that we'd know, uh-oh, better go out and turn it down. I think most of us wound up installing... because by that time you had a box out there and the amplifiers were mounted in the box, this was before they were pole mount. So we would typically have two or three amplifiers spots where you would have switchable attenuators at the input of the amplifier.

PORTER: How did you find your technical help back in the early days? Of course we have organizations like the SCTE today, and we have NCTI courses, but other than RCA that had their courses, or the Cleveland Electronics Institute, unless you got a guy out of the service...

WILLIS: And that was the primary source. In fact, I went to electronics school in the Air Force and then worked on airborne radar, enjoyed flying for a couple of years on that beautiful airplane, the B-36 which should never have ever gotten off the ground. But when I got out of the service then I immediately contacted RCA institutes, started taking correspondence courses, took a whole bunch of them. Most of the guys that we had in those days that did have some electronics were from the service, from the military some way or the other. To be honest, I don't remember if... Jerry Scheel went to a school in South Dakota, in southeastern South Dakota. He was one of the few guys I knew that actually had a college degree in electronics in the very early years.

PORTER: Well, of course all the manufacturers, all the big manufacturers, they would hold schools.

WILLIS: Yes, you had a lot of manufacturer schools. I guess I don't recall any of the majors that didn't have schools. Pretty much the operators sent their people to the schools. They had to. Let's face it, we were kind of flying blind in those days.

PORTER: That's where I got my first training in transistors was Ameco was getting into the transistorized equipment line. Did you ever go to the Ameco school?

WILLIS: Absolutely, in fact I think I went to Ameco schools twice. Ameco used to run a little van around the countryside and they would stop by our office, and it was very handy for us. Specific parts we needed or a specific amplifier, whatever, we would buy them right off the van. One time I went to school in Phoenix, at Ameco, and I'm struggling for the guy's name...

PORTER: Varryl Anderson?

WILLIS: No. He was the guy that came up with the idea of buying those motor homes.

PORTER: Oh, okay. The Ameco vans, they called them, the Roadrunners.

WILLIS: Yeah, and they were very proud of them and took me out to show me one and show me through it and everything, and I said, "These damn things ain't going to work." They said, "Gee, why not?" I said, "Well, you go down the road in Wyoming in the wintertime in this thing? It ain't going to work." Eventually that proved to be prophetic because they were a bust. The little vans worked pretty good. The big vans didn't work at all. Krist, Krist...

PORTER: Oh, Dwayne Krist!

WILLIS: Dwayne Krist.

PORTER: Ended up with Anaconda after he worked for Ameco. One of the things that I think you had as much to do with good change for the industry, all of the purchasing across the United States had been done pretty much on a piecemeal basis, just system by system, and one of the things that you did was you really put a professional purchasing department into TCI and it fell under your control, and that's pretty much been followed throughout the industry. Engineering has set the standards for purchasing; you set up something that we all hated – I was a vendor for years, and we always were worried because we were worried about whether we could get onto the approved vendors list, and I think that's something that probably Dave Willis will go done in history of being the father of the approved vendors list. Could you talk to us a little bit about that?

WILLIS: Yeah, in the early years after I took over the director's job I was in charge of purchasing and training, and I used to say in charge of everything except the windows and the janitor, but in fact I was in charge of the janitors! But we early on decided that we couldn't have the guys in the field placing orders with just anybody that came along. In fact, we didn't want them placing orders at all. So in order to let them know what products we were using and to be able to count on what products we were buying, we went to the approved vendors list and this enabled us to test all of the vendors' materials and say, okay, these are acceptable and these are not acceptable. When you did have an approved vendors list, then you could go to those vendors and say, okay, we want to negotiate pricing with you and you will be our second supplier, or maybe our first supplier, or you will be one of three, or maybe you'll be the only one, depending on the specific product. But it enabled a lot more focus and we set it up that way and we continued that after I, after long pleading, finally got to hire an actual purchasing agent. I was very nervous for a lot of years because I was the guy that decided the products, I actually signed the orders, I signed the authorization for payment, and negotiated the price, and I could never understand how the auditors could let me do all those things. It took me a good many years before I convince Gary Bracken and Donne Fischer that I really shouldn't be handling all those things, and ultimately they got me out of that position and I was very thankful for it. I thought I was quite vulnerable.

PORTER: But even today that purchasing department falls under the control of the engineering department.

WILLIS: You have to either be, not necessarily be under the control, but you certainly have to take and use the input of engineering because a purchasing department has no concept of what really fills the bill in the field, and so you have to have the engineering department doing the evaluations, knowing the equipment, knowing what is appropriate for specific applications, and yeah, I think that you almost have to have it that way.

PORTER: One of the people that always impressed me that was with your company, and I don't know how involved you were. He was a cable operator but his background was always engineering, and that was Charlie Clements. Tell us a little bit about Charlie.

WILLIS: Charlie was a jewel. Charlie had been a pro-basketball player. I don't know if you knew that.

PORTER: No, I didn't know that.

WILLIS: And Charlie was also a pilot and a very classy guy. He at one time, before he came with us, he was with several other companies, mostly as an owner, and I believe Nationwide Cable was one of the ones that he owned, and he and his partners ultimately sold it to CBS. He used to tell of the time when they were negotiating the price of those and they were stuck. They were asking 32 million and CBS was offering 31, and they were having their negotiations near a golf course in California, and so they would negotiate awhile and then they'd go play a round of golf, and then they'd negotiate awhile. Charlie told us that at one point in time he said, "Look guys, we're not getting any place. Let's just play a round of golf today and whoever wins that's who gets the million dollars," and CBS didn't even seriously consider it, but Charlie was the only guy I know that ever offered to play a round of golf for a million bucks.

PORTER: What was his involvement?

WILLIS: Charlie was primarily, for us, involved in franchising and in acquisitions.

PORTER: But he was an engineer, or was he?

WILLIS: Kind of. Charlie could talk an engineering talk with anybody extremely convincing. As a person to testify before a city council or something, he was excellent, could convince you that he knew everything about it, but it wasn't necessarily true. But he was a hell of a nice individual and I always had a great deal of respect for old Charlie. Haven't seen him in a number of years. Last time I saw him was at a Pioneer event.

PORTER: Yeah, at a Pioneer's Dinner I saw him, probably the same dinner.

WILLIS: I think it was Atlanta, I believe.

PORTER: About 19... you'll have to hit the year because I can't remember, but at one time the SCTE after it had finally gotten out of the throes of almost being bankrupt and so forth, one of the common complaints was it's a good ol' boys' organization and you have the same directors on that thing year after years, and we're never going to get anywhere. So I was sort of drafted by wire, but you're now an at large member. They didn't even vote on it, they just said you got voted in. And your job, they made it very plain, your job is to go locate some people out in the industry that can help us change the image that we have, and you were one of the guys that I came and said, "Dave, I know you're awful busy with TCI but we need some new blood and we need some thinkers," and I know I got you to come on the board and Bob Luff to come on the board, and he was worried that the NCTA wouldn't allow him to do that because it might be a conflict of interest. He ends up being the president of the SCTE later. But you were quite helpful, and there was a gentleman from Missouri that came on the same time. There were four people that became very integral to changing that whole image where the SCTE really took on a professional complexion. Can you talk about...?

WILLIS: When I first started actually paying attention to the SCTE and became a member and became active in it, I saw that it could be very valuable to us and so when... my early involvement was there was a woman that was the head of it...

PORTER: Judy Baer.

WILLIS: Judy Baer, and Judy and I did not see eye to eye at all, and I had a lot of problems with her. Ultimately Judy left; I'm not sure what the circumstances were and don't really care, but she left. And at that point in time I said, well, I think we can turn this thing around now. I was, as I say, in charge of training at that time, and it was pretty hard to scare up a lot of training. You had a lot of vendors, we were pressuring them to come into our various districts and areas and give classes, and they did.

PORTER: This was about 1984, as I remember.

WILLIS: '84, or maybe even a little earlier. But the vendors were pretty good about it. The connector vendors, the amplifier vendors would come into like a district office and we'd bring in as many technicians as we could, but the SCTE offered a far more organized and more formal type of ongoing training with the courses and so forth that were developed. As you say, I did become a board member for a few years and became very involved with the SCTE, and finally went to Sparkman and told him I thought every one of our technicians should be a member of SCTE and he agreed. And I said, "I think because it really is an advantage to the company, the company ought to pay their dues." Then we came to a little bit of a disagreement. Ultimately he agreed. So at that point in time, TCI paid dues for all of their technical employees that would enroll in the SCTE, and we basically said, you'll enroll or else. As a matter of fact, one of the conditions of employment was that they complete the initial SCTE training programs.


WILLIS: To wind up an employee. I have no idea whether those programs are in place anymore or not, but they were as long as I was there.

PORTER: They are, and they're doing quite well.

WILLIS: Are they? Good.

PORTER: How about the NCTI? That's a local industry or company here in Denver. Tell us, were you involved with Roland?

WILLIS: I'll tell you how it happened. Charlie Clements somewhere along the line, and you know Charlie, how he got us involved in NCTI I'll never know, but we wound up, TCI owned part of it. We quite honestly hadn't paid too much attention to it. NCTI, for whatever reason, TCI decided to relinquish their ownership for a fee, and NCTI wound up owing us some money. We agreed that we would take that money out in training for various courses. I'm trying to think of the name of the NCTI guy, but it's not coming to me. Anyway, we did that, and as we got involved in it a little more it became obvious that it was a pretty good training program.

PORTER: It must have been Byron Leach or Roland.

WILLIS: It was Roland Hieb. Byron came along a little later, but the initial guy was Roland Hieb. I remember in about, and I'm probably wrong, but I'm going to say in about '87 or '88, somewhere along in there, Roland came over and gave J.C. and I a little presentation, a plaque to TCI, our ten-thousandth student had gone through NCTI. So when we did get involved in it we got involved very heavily, and it was an excellent training facility for us.

PORTER: Sitting back in Collier, you must have had no idea, there must have been plenty of times where you thought this industry's not going anywhere, they're going to have enough television stations that one of these days I'll have to go back to farming potatoes or gathering hay. To just watch TCI develop over the years and add cable systems and add cable systems, that had to be a strange – it might have been a wonderful feeling, but tell us about...

WILLIS: I thoroughly enjoyed the pace that took us from those first 18,000 subscribers to when I retired we had 13 million. The pace was unbelievable. But the reality is that no, Rex, I never sat back and looked at the industry and said is it going anyplace or is it going to die? I quite honestly was too busy keeping my nose to the grindstone and didn't really look up and look at those kind of things. I was employed by people I liked and I was doing things that I really liked. I have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed all the time I spent in the cable industry. I thought we had a really tremendous quality of people in it. The guys that I worked with were all very conscientious guys, good workers, basically company at heart, and the vendors, I still today maintain a lot of friendships with vendors that I met during those years. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I was always amazed at how we were growing, and mostly we grew by acquisition. We were known as the Boy Scouts in the franchising area, and for good reason. I adamantly refused to commit to things that I knew damn well wasn't going to happen and so we would go into a franchise hearing and this company opposing us would be promising 100 channels downstream and all various kinds of two-way and things that were not on the horizon really. They were ideas and they were ultimately to come about, but not at that time. So we didn't do that. Well, it got us a damn few franchises. In fact, we lost some franchises where it was patently obviously that we were away the best proposal. The one that comes to mind is in Alaska, Anchorage, Alaska. We were away the best and finally it went to a native corporation. But we learned very thoroughly that we were right in not promising all those things because as the years went on and we acquired other companies and acquisition was our primary mode of expansion, invariably we would acquire a company and then we'd have to go fight