Joseph Gans - Oral History
Interview Date: Saturday October 14, 1989
Interview Location: University Park, PA USA
Interviewer: Stratford Smith
Collection: Penn State Collection
Note: Audio Only
SMITH: It is October 14, 1989. We're commencing the oral history of Joseph S. Gans, Sr. of Hazleton, Pennsylvania, a pioneer cable television operator. The interview is taking place in the Oral History Room of the National Cable Television Center and Museum at The Pennsylvania State University. Joe, let's commence the interview by asking you to tell us where and when you were born.
GANS: Strat, I was born in Hazleton, Pennsylvania, August 13, 1926.
SMITH: Were your parents native Americans or were they immigrants?
GANS: Both my parents were immigrants. My father came over here; I believe he was about two years old, in 1902 or 1903. If I remember correctly, my mother was about eight or nine years old and she came in about 1909 or 1910.
SMITH: What was your father's name?
GANS: I'm junior. My father's name was also Joseph.
SMITH: What was your mother's name?
SMITH: What did your father do for a living?
GANS: They came over as farmers. At an early age, at that time I don't think he graduated from high school, we had an electric trolley that used to run between Hazleton and Wilkes-Barre and he was responsible for the maintenance of the power plant where they generated their own electricity to run these electric cars between the two cities.
SMITH: Do you have any siblings?
GANS: I have two brothers and a sister.
SMITH: Would you give us their names please?
GANS: My brother is Ed. Incidentally, he's a manager at Wilkes-Barre Service Electric Cable. I have a brother Ted. He worked in cable for a short time. I have a sister Lorraine who did computer programming and now she does office clerical work.
SMITH: You have one sister?
SMITH: Is she married?
SMITH: What is her married name?
GANS: Lorraine Hofgale.
SMITH: You're married to Irene?
SMITH: What was Irene's maiden name?
SMITH: What is Irene's ethnic background?
GANS: Her father was Russian and her mother was Ukrainian.
SMITH: Were they immigrants?
GANS: Her father was an immigrant. He came over as a young boy. His family was quite wealthy in Russia. They were victims of the Communist takeover and her parents sent her father and brother over here to live with friends or relatives, I'm not quite sure. I think it was with relatives. They came over as very young children and were part of the Communist persecution of the early 1900s. Irene's mother was born in Pennsylvania.
SMITH: Then she would have met her husband in Pennsylvania too?
SMITH: Tell us how you and Irene met.
GANS: Actually we were high school sweethearts. We met in tenth or eleventh grade. That was about 1942 or '44. I went into the service and I came home from the service in '46 and in '47 we were married. Quite frankly we were married at a young age.
SMITH: At 21?
SMITH: You were childhood sweethearts, where did the two of you go to school?
GANS: At Hazleton High School.
SMITH: Did the two of you go to college?
GANS: No, we both came from pretty poor families and Irene naturally started working in dress mills. When I got out of the service, my mind was pretty well fixed on getting into electronics. I always loved radios and electronics. In the service I was in the Signal Corps. When I left the service, if you remember they had the GI schools for electric training. Two of my friends told me about it. In the mean time I was playing with a band, teaching music, and I decided to go to this electronics school because this was the kind of future I was looking for. This is in 1948; we were married in 1947. College was one route to go, but it seemed to me that this was more of a technical specialized type of training that I was looking for and it fit more into what I wanted to do.
SMITH: I'm going to take you back a step or two to a comment you made. You said you were teaching music and you played in a band. What instrument did you play?
GANS: I played the accordion.
SMITH: And you taught the accordion?
GANS: And I taught it, yes.
SMITH: In an earlier conversation that is not on this record, Irene mentioned that you once entered a Major Bowe's Amateur Contest. Would you tell us something about that?
GANS: That goes back to when we were teenagers. We were about 13 or 14 years old, maybe 12 or 13. Anyway, Major Bowes was a popular radio show at the time. Richie Danko, who was a good friend of mine, played the violin, and I played the accordion. We used to sing certain songs and one thing lead to another at they got us on the Major Bowes Show. The interesting part was that we went down there in a motorcycle the two of us, the accordion, and the violin, and we sat in the sidecar while a cop drove us down there to New York, to be on this particular program.
SMITH: You and your friend sat in the sidecar of a police motorcycle; the policeman took you to New York to be on the radio program?
SMITH: Did you win any prizes?
GANS: No, we didn't win, but at least we performed on it. From that we played for the police conventions, we played in Philadelphia, different programs that were there.
SMITH: You were better than just ordinary, you were reasonably well talented?
SMITH: Did you ever do any recording?
GANS: Yes. We had records. Later on we had a couple bands. In fact, we have the records somewhere. I don't know what shape they'd be in now. If you remember the earlier records they made, they were soft, a vinyl with an aluminum center on them. They used to crack pretty easily. We did do recordings.
SMITH: Those were the old 78 rpm?
GANS: Yes, 78's.
SMITH: Did you play professionally at any time during your early years?
GANS: Yes. When Irene and I were married, when I was going to the GI school, we had a band. Up until 1952, that was our main source of income‑‑playing with the bands and teaching music.
SMITH: Were you the leader of the band?
GANS: Yes, I was.
SMITH: In addition to the accordion and the violin, how many other pieces were there?
GANS: For the teenagers, it was the violin and the accordion. Later on we had a drum, a saxophone, and an accordion. It was a three‑piece band. Then we worked into a much bigger band. We worked into roughly a nine, maybe ten‑piece band. This was just prior to going into the service. I was in high school, playing with the bands‑‑it was Joe Maholick. [???]
In the mean time, I was working in the machine shop and I had the late shift from eleven o'clock until six in the morning. In high school they started up the vocational training schools. In Hazleton they had a machine shop, woodworking, and so forth. I chose the machine shop. I learned to operate milling machines, lathes, and so forth. Everybody was helping out the war effort at that time. We were making, actually launching equipment for the PT boats. It was a pretty full schedule‑‑school, music, and during engineering class we'd make these aluminum parts.
SMITH: That's a pretty full twenty‑four hours.
GANS: There were many times, six o'clock in the morning that Bill Thomas would walk in and I was half asleep at the machine. It was pretty rough. We came from poor families and it was hard to do these things. You had to work pretty hard to get to where you are.
SMITH: How many years did you play with the band?
GANS: Three of us started out at about the age of twelve or thirteen. Then when I came home from the service we started with the bigger bands, and we played from about 1952 or '53. I finished school in 1950. We started out first with a TV store and shortly after that we started with the cable television systems. I got to be so busy with cable that I actually stopped playing with the band.
SMITH: Before we get into cable, let's go back to your military service. What year did you go in and at what rank did you leave?
GANS: I went in in November 1944. I was put into the Signal Corps. Actually with an infantry signal battalion. I got as high as corporal, and the war ended in '45. We were in Germany in 1945, January or so. Then the war ended in May. Our signal group was to be put in the Japanese war. We were ready to leave Bremerhaven to go to Japan. Bombs were dropped and the war ended in Japan. Then I was shipped home in 1946.
SMITH: Were you in an invasion force?
GANS: We were with the Patton Fourth Armored. If you remember, just before the war ended, Patton was headed right into Russia. We were moving through and in fact got in as far as Pilson. Then we went a little farther into Czechoslovakia into Susczi. I guess there were rumors that came back that Patton felt now is the time to stop Communism. If you remember, he spearheaded right into Czechoslovakia. We had a whole group to go forward. Then it stopped and we were pulled back to England where we more or less waited. Then I went down to the southern part of France, (?) which I'd still like to go back to some day. Then from there I was shipped to Berlin. From Berlin we were getting ready to embark on Japan, but the war ended there.
SMITH: You said that you got the rate of corporal?
GANS: Yes. A few interesting things happened there.
SMITH: Please tell us.
GANS: When we were a Patton group we had to take our trucks and advance during the night into what was sometimes, German territory. We'd park the truck up at the top of the hill in order to get good communications. As soon as you turned your radio on, toward the end of the war especially, the Germans had pretty good homing devices. The first thing you know, the 88s would be coming in and blow the darn trucks apart. Of course we got a little bit smarter, we put the antenna on top of the mountain and put the truck and the transmitter down over the side a little bit, so that when they shot at it, maybe they blew up the antenna, but they didn't get any of us. These were the tricks we learned. We used up a lot of antennas, but at least we saved the transmitters.
SMITH: Salvation is the mother of a lot of invention. (Laughter) Did you have any personal contact or experience with General Patton?
GANS: He inspected our truck one time. He was a guy just as they said, it was true. He'd come with a pair of white gloves and go underneath the fender to make sure the truck was clean. We were given plenty of notice that he was inspecting, and the equipment had to be scrubbed down. It had to be perfect.
Another interesting thing too, is that when we moved forward with the communications, this was almost code and telegraphy, the type of communications that we had. In order to keep the enemy from knowing who was going forward, usually they'd pick out a team of people, and when they sent code, you could almost identify it. It's just like a voice, certain guys have certain habits for the certain letters, they may be slower or faster. It's actually identifiable.
Jim Cullen and I, from Philadelphia, his coding or his transmission technique was almost identical to mine. What would happen, we were moving into a forward position, if I were on the radio, and he'd be ahead of me about 40 or 50 miles, just as soon as I would end, he would start. On the codes, this way it would give them a harder time trying to identify who was moving forward, and what signal company was moving with what division.
SMITH: Was this telegraphy type communication?
GANS: Yes, it was all coded. We would just get the code. We wouldn't have any idea of what the messages were or anything. There were groups of five. As I said, we were teamed up. You almost couldn't distinguish between the two of us.
SMITH: Was this radio telegraphy or wire telegraphy?
GANS: All radio telegraphy. Some of the other scary parts were, when you turned the radios on you had a big generator on the truck and you would sneak into a forward position and everything would be nice and quiet. Then on comes this big motor making the noise, and you really didn't know just what was going to happen there. As they say, we hide the truck either inside a building or behind the building and put the antenna on top of the building. Maybe that's where we started some of the cable TV ideas. We had the transmission antenna separate from the transmitter.
SMITH: Were you involved in actual shooting action?
GANS: Not too much. We were with the headquarters group and it was all transmission and so forth. We could see the shooting, but we were never all that close.
SMITH: A few minutes ago you mentioned the 88s coming over. Was that an 88 millimeter shell?
GANS: It was German 88s. They could put that in your back pocket, they were that accurate with it.
SMITH: Well, we're glad they didn't put one in your back pocket.
GANS: That's for sure.
SMITH: You probably gave us the date, but, you were discharged from the service when?
GANS: August 10, 1946. That's a date I should never forget. At that time, everybody just wanted to get home. If you remember, Europe was just blown to bits. There was nothing there. The only nice place, one trip I had was to Switzerland. The rest of the country was a real shambles.
SMITH: You and Irene were married about a year after you got back, as I recall. Before we get into your entry into the cable business, I have left out a little of your family background that I want to get in. You have two children...?
GANS: Joseph the IV and Janice.
SMITH: Is Joseph in the company with you?
GANS: Oh yes, right from day one.
SMITH: How old is Joseph now?
SMITH: Is Joseph the father of your grandchildren or are they your daughter's?
GANS: He has one child and my daughter has two.
SMITH: What's Joseph's child's name?
GANS: He's Joseph V.
SMITH: And your other two grandchildren?
GANS: Jeffrey and Jennifer.
SMITH: When you were a boy, Joe, did you have any particular hobbies that you enjoyed, any special activities?
GANS: Radio. I had wires hanging all over the house. What I used to do is, there was a radio store in town. I used to go down there. The radios that were either traded in or there were problems with them, I used to buy them for a dollar, two dollars apiece, or maybe three. I'd put them on a bicycle, take them down to the basement, fix them and sell them for maybe four or five dollars. I did that pretty regularly until I got into the service. I didn't know all that much about how to fix them. It was all trial and error. There were a lot of good electrical shocks that I got and so forth, but I learned that usually the filter condensers, the electrolytics used to go bad. It was hit and miss. I changed certain parts until I got them working, and then I'd sell them.
SMITH: I suppose you developed sort of a frequency code as to what was wrong most often, and started from there.
SMITH: Joe, did you ever become a radio ham, an amateur operator?
GANS: Yes. W3FZW.
SMITH: Do you still hold that license?
GANS: No, I think I let that go a couple years ago. I'm sorry I did. Cable took so much of my time that I more or less let it go. The way we get into the cable part of this was when we first started installing microwave communication radios. Frequencies weren't too available at the time. What we did was pick up a set of ham radios and operate in the ham band in order to be able to tune up the dishes and so forth. That's one of the reasons that I got the license, but then too, when I came out of the service I was pretty much interested in the radio and that's when I got my FCC license.
SMITH: The ham radios were your walkie-talkie system.
GANS: Right, at that time.
SMITH: You mentioned buying the broken radios and repairing them. Did you open a business or did you just do it out of the garage or your basement?
GANS: I did it out of the basement. The word of mouth was such that I kept pretty busy. I used to sell maybe four or five radios a week. People just told each other. This was the time of the Depression and things weren't all that available. What I would do was to pick up about four radios and out of the four make two good ones by switching parts back and forth. It was the word of mouth. People would find out that I was selling them. On a bicycle I used to deliver them.
SMITH: That was good training for what you had to deal with in the cable industry later on.
SMITH: How did you first learn about cable?
GANS: I went to Hazleton Electronics School, I don't know the full name that they had for it at that time, but it was a GI school. One of the things that I was really interested in was the propagation of radio waves. Up in certain frequencies it hit the ionosphere and bounced back down. As you got into higher frequencies it was strictly line of sight transmission.
In 1950, I finished school in June, Chris Lucian who was my instructor as well as Paul Wentzkel, talked to me about the possibility of starting up a cable television system in Hazleton. At that time, Lansford was started and Mahanoy City was started. I told him, "I'm doing so well with the television store that I don't know whether I'd have time to look at something like this." I let it go until August of 1950. I went to Pottsville. It was a Philco distributor there. Pottsville is strictly a cable town. It's down in a hole and there are mountains all around it. The only pictures that we could receive at that time were coming in from Philadelphia. I went in there and all of a sudden I saw a television picture. The distributors said, "Where in the world are you getting this picture from?" He said, "It's from the cable, but the cable's off half of the time. It's no good." Right then and there I made my mind up. Here's a way to get pictures off of the mountains down into the homes. I couldn't get home fast enough. I called Chris Lucian. I said, "Chris, I am definitely interested in looking into this cable. Let's see what we can do with it."
Another thing too, where I lived and where I had my TV store was on one of the higher points. What we did there is I had a tower up about twenty or thirty feet, and we'd get pictures out of Philadelphia and they were halfway decent. Two blocks away from me, behind the hill, in a shadow, there were no pictures. Combining this with what I saw in Pottsville, where they ran the wire down off an antenna on the mountain, I knew right then and there that this was the industry to get into.
SMITH: Was the Pottsville system the one operated by Martin Malarkey?
GANS: That's the one, it was an RCA system. It was crude, very crude. Dilsher was a distributor for Jerrold at that time. We went to see Schneider who was a Philco distributor and that's where I saw the pictures the first time.
SMITH: Did you talk to Malarkey when you were there?
GANS: I met him just a little later than that. If you remember that's when NCTA started. We had meetings at the Necho Allen Hotel. I remember him sitting at the desk. Channel 61 out of Reading was going on the air with a super high-powered UHF station. The talk was that it's going to put cable out of business. This I think was in '52 or '53, somewhere in there. I went down with some of the people from Hazleton, out of curiosity, to see what this was going to be all about, and what we might be able to do. This was Channel 61, Hum Greig out of Reading. Was he going to put us out of business, or just what was going to happen?
This was 1952 when Channel 61 Reading was supposed to go on. In fact, at the end of '52, he put up a tower that was over 1,000 on top of a mountain outside of Reading. We went down there to watch him build it and so forth. As I say, cable was just starting. The power company was telling us that people would be off the pole in a couple of years. The telephone company told us the same thing, that this business would never last and that UHF and VHF transmission was just going to put you out of business.
SMITH: What was the actual impact on your business of Channel 61 when it went on the air? What was its impact?
GANS: We couldn't even pick up a picture. We were told that it was reaching Canada. Those who did not understand the propagation of radio waves were naturally worried. I went down more or less out of curiosity. I knew probably we'd get it on top of the mountain, but no way was it going to go into the valleys and so forth where we were building the cables.
SMITH: I want to take you back to the Necho Allen Hotel. There are enough people who claim to have been at that meeting at Necho Allen, where the community television council was formed, to sink the Queen Mary. Were you one of the original charter members there?
GANS: Who actually was at the first meeting, I could not say, but when we were there, the Mountain City Group, that was the Hazleton Group‑‑Marty Malarkey. It was just a small office that we met in. Whether they had another meeting later on, I don't know. Charley Gigging and I, I think Vince Santapoli, John Walson and Pete were there. That is definite. Marty Malarkey, and there was just a handful of us. I believe the people from Chenadoor, Frank Brophy I think was there. That's about all. Later on I do remember meeting Chenadoor. There was a larger group, a much larger group. That was the first time that I ever had filet mignon. It sticks with me. There was a large group of people at the VFW. This was about the time that the NCTA was starting. Frank Brophy, Vince Santapoli, Charley Gigging and the two Walsons. They are the ones that stick with me. Those are the ones that I can remember.
SMITH: The Cable Center actually has Claude Reinhardt's minutes of that meeting in which he listed some members. So many people say they were there, that there obviously couldn't have been enough room in the hotel for them. I just thought I'd see what you might have to say about it. You mentioned a few minutes ago that you knew that you could get the signal of Channel 61 on top of the mountain. At that time was your headend down in town on the building?
GANS: We started up on top of the mountain. We started on top of the Jamesville Mountain. We were carrying Channels 3, 6, and 10 out of Philadelphia. It was a three‑channel system and for us to put any other signals on at that time, we just couldn't do it. Later on when we started putting on five channels, there were times that we tested 61 and so forth, but we really didn't carry them at the time.
First there wasn't the room on the cable system, secondly, the programming from Philadelphia was far superior to what they were doing there in Reading. If I remember, I don't think he was even a network station at the time. Some of the things that happened... they were looking for carriage at that time by cable systems and they actually offered to buy the equipment, give us the converters and everything in order to get on the air. He didn't even do a good job of covering the city of Reading. The angles he was trying to reach were out too far. The wave pattern of the antenna was such that even Reading didn't get a good picture.
SMITH: When did you first turn the system on and get your first subscribers?
GANS: The first subscriber we had was December 1950 or January of 1951. We started the system in the fall of 1950. By the time we got the cables up and got the splices in and so forth, it was either December of '50 or January of '51. It was somewhere in there. I think I'll be able to confirm those numbers for you.
SMITH: You started right from the outset as cable as distinguished from lattice wire.
GANS: That's right. Well there were systems in our area down in Fern Glen where some of the TV dealers put antennas up on top of the mountain and would run the twin lead or open wire just for maybe one or two TV sets. They weren't really what you'd call a cable system, whereas the thing we'd put in had the amplifiers and so forth. When you connect a home with a subscriber, and he pays you for the service, that I feel, is when the cable industry really started.
SMITH: You mentioned your television store, was that the first business that you got into when you were discharged from the service?
GANS: Right. I played with the bands. I was teaching music and I was going to school. As soon as I finished school, this is now 1950, I was in school in '48 and '49. We built our own television sets. Again, I guess it was good luck or blessings that the school where we had it was also on top of a hill in Hazleton. We put an antenna on top of the roof there and we were able to watch the Milton Berle shows back in '48 and '49.
As I say, we built our own TV sets. I started selling the TV sets in July of 1950. This was about the time when I went to see Marty Malarkey's system in Pottsville, even though there were two other systems operating in our area. When I saw that picture, I was convinced that cable TV is the way to go.
SMITH: You say you built your own television sets. Were these kits or did you build them from scratch?
GANS: These were kits. Then we made improvements as we went along. Signals were weak so we had to put little boosters on them to get the channels a little better. We built our own antennas and so forth. I was trying to think of the name of the kit. It was a popular thing at the time.
SMITH: [Heathkit,???] maybe?
GANS: That could be.
SMITH: Heath was a popular one early.
GANS: Yes. I think it was.
SMITH: Did you open the television store with the purpose of repairing television sets?
GANS: That was interesting too. We lived down on Garfield St., down in town a little bit. In fact I think I was still in school and the local department store was looking for someone to service the sets as well as to install the antennas. They asked me to do it. The TV sets were delivered to my home and we had...in the attic... even though they were brand new, we had to get them working. We had to get a picture. It was quality control I guess, and at that time there wasn't any. I'd take them home, get them working and in the meantime, the department store was down in the center of town, and they couldn't demonstrate them. There weren't any pictures there. What we would do was to sell to people who lived in higher elevations, where we could get their sets working.
Some of the real funny things... I was playing with the band one night and my wife Irene was home with a girlfriend of hers, and they were listening to this fantastic story on the television, because I had an antenna in the garden, but really didn't get much of a picture. I came home and she asked me what's wrong with the TV set. The sound was perfect but there was no picture. I found out that she was tuned into the local FM station and there wasn't a picture on it.
Another interesting thing too was that signals were so weak and we were looking for a picture to come through. There used to be some ham operators working in that area. We had some nasty phone calls between each other. He would turn on his transmitter and blank out whatever picture we were getting there. Spurious frequencies at that time weren't as tight as they are today. It was a limit of how much television you could actually watch. When we started building antenna sites, doing away with the local interference, these are some of the problems that we went through in the early years. In fact, in Hazleton, at the local FM station, we had our first antenna site on the south side of town, and they'd practically blank out Channel 6 on us. The FM was that strong and Channel 6 is just below the FM band. It took about two years to correct. There were all kinds of traps and so forth, that really didn't work. So, we moved the antenna site to the other end of town, which eliminated that problem.
SMITH: Now, back to the television store. It was not owned by you, is that correct?
GANS: First I did the service work for the Leeder store which is a department store. Then from there we went to New York, New Rochelle, to pick up some TV sets. To get a franchise from RCA or Philco, was not easy because they were pretty well tied up with the bigger stores. It was a set similar to Dumont that we picked up. We had to assemble them, put the tubes in and so forth, and make them work. Then we built a home up on top of a mountain, where the pictures were even better. From that we developed into the television sales.
End of Tape 1, Side A
SMITH: This is Side B of Tape 1 of the oral history interview with Joseph Gans. Joe, I think when the tape ran out we were talking about the television store that you operated. Would you like to continue with that?
GANS: As I said, it started in the attic of the home that I lived in which was in the lower part of town. Then we built a new building actually. It was an apartment up on a higher section of town where television reception was a little bit better and it was easier to demonstrate the pictures and so forth. I kept saying that these were the harder times, the way we built the building. The one side of the store was where we demonstrated the TV sets and the other side we actually lived in, because we didn't have enough money to finish the upstairs, which we finally later did finish. We did move up there. As much as today, that's our main office now. We've moved into a newer home, but everything started up there on Ninth Street.
As I mentioned earlier, the signals out of Philadelphia were a little bit better up on the hill there. This is where, during the same time, I went down to see the demonstration of a TV set in Pottsville and where it was actually hooked up to Marty Malarkey's cable. Some of the interesting things which also happened at this time... you asked me earlier when we had our first picture in town. In the 1950s, Chris Lucian, who was my instructor, taught me the propagation of radio waves, especially the VHF. He and Paul Wentzel, when they went to start up the cable, went to the local broadcasters and a man by the name of Vic Deem, who some of you people may know. He was quite a well known broadcaster. I think he was president of the Mutual Broadcasting System for many years. He did not believe that cable would ever work. They went to some of the local TV dealers, which were the [Teals???] in Hazleton. They also worked for Vic Deem and they were broadcasters. Nobody really had any faith that cable was going to do anything. There was another family in Hazleton that was successful in the coal business. This is anthracite country where Hazleton was involved.
There was a man named Frank Corriele who was ill at the time. I don't remember what he died from. The family was wealthy. Chris Lucian somehow met with them and interested them in building the cable system. One of the big reasons being that they liked sports. This man was actually bedfast. This is one way that we were to bring television into his home. In fact, his was the first home that was connected in Hazleton on the cable.
I think what helped them to become interested in it.... There was a fight in 1950 in New York. Up on the top of the hill, we were able to get a reception. I guess it was Palmer Corriele and I can't remember right now who the other people were. They came up to the store and they were able to see the fight that was being held that night. I think Palmer Corriele and then Frank Lusion got together and they gave him enough money to get the thing started. Frank Corriele's home was the first one that was connected to the cable. I didn't even see the picture because I was making the splices and balancing the amplifiers at the time.
We were pretty deep with amplifiers, maybe twelve or thirteen amplifiers into Hazleton. It was close to ten thirty or eleven o'clock at night when I made the last splice. One of the fellows that was up in Mr. Corriele's home came running down and he said, "We've got a picture over there in Hazleton." It was, like I said, December of 1950 or January of '51. I'll get accurate dates for you.
SMITH: You were building the system right up until the time that the fight started.
GANS: Yes. It was crude. We had to solder splices. We used acetylene torches to do the splicing. We didn't have power generators or standby equipment. The antennas were what you would buy at the local TV dealer. The stacking of antennas, we had to figure out how to do it ourselves. The amateur radio handbook was one of the most popular things that we had because you would look in it for VHF circuits. Converters weren't available. Putting all the information that you could find from whatever book you can get hold of. This is the way that we started up there.
SMITH: You are using the term, we. Who were your co‑workers at the time?
GANS: Jimmy Boyle, Charlie Giking, and Eddie [???] They were more or less my lead people. But I had to do it myself. It's not that you go tell someone what to do, because if something went wrong, I was the guy responsible.
SMITH: I was going to ask you the question, did they have any technical background, or were they just really helpers for you?
GANS: Mc[???] had some technical background. Charlie Giking was a construction worker. We were learning as we were going, how to make this work.
SMITH: You've referred on several occasions to it being hard times. Of course, this was the great depression era, how did you finance your first construction?
GANS: This is why I mentioned the Corriele family. They more or less put it in to get pictures to the one brother who was ill. I don't remember how many of them there were to put their monies together. They put enough together that we got the picture into town. Then once we got the picture into Mr. Corriele's home, the public wanted to subscribe to the cable.
At that time, if you remember, we were getting $125 per installation. It was a three‑channel system. Hazleton being a community in which half is on top of a mountain and the other half is down in the valley. The people down in the valley just couldn't get a picture unless they went on cable. By processing the signals on top of the mountain, we even made the picture better to the people who had towers on top of the hill. Another problem that we have is during the winter‑‑ice storms and so forth, antennas. I don't know if you remember, years ago, if you had a tower on top of your house and the wind would start blowing, that thing would be humming all night long and making all sorts of noises. In some cases it was dangerous where towers would fall down. These are the things that started to make cable look better. Somewhere along the way... We're going to jump back and forth.
SMITH: That's perfectly all right.
GANS: As cable got more popular, I don't know if you remember or not, the TAME, Television Antenna Manufacturers, started putting on a campaign that cable was going to put the antenna people out of business. Channel Master, I believe, was one of the main people behind this thing. Today, they are manufacturing equipment for cable. I had to go through franchising presentations and all of the TV dealers would be in there just tearing us to pieces saying we were going to put them all out of business by building the cable.
SMITH: Joe, let's get into that right now. I'm glad you mentioned TAME because I have not thought of that name in years and years, yet for a while they were the bane of the operator's existence. Tell us a little bit more about it, and the experience that you had with them. That's TAME‑‑Television Antenna Manufacturers.
GANS: The "E", I have to remember what that stood for, I'm not sure.
SMITH: They were anything but tame.
GANS: They were against us all the way.
SMITH: Please go into it to the best of your memory.
GANS: Just about every time we'd go for a franchise, if you remember, Strat, they were up into the 1960s. If I remember correctly, it was about '62 or so, we were going for a franchise in Reading and they actually had an auditorium there. I was put on stage, me, and Teddy [Laputka???], Frank Dilscher. All of these TV dealers and these antenna people were out there. They called us everything under the sun‑‑ that we're going to make big profits and sell the business. Anything that would disgrace us or tear us down, they were there. After the fiasco on the stage with all of the people there, in the mean time, no doubt, they had all of their relatives and everyone else there when they were shooting at us. Then they put me on a talk show. They had the radio stations there, and I had to answer all of the complaints coming back and forth.
SMITH: You mean they stacked the audience?
GANS: Oh, yes. But, somehow we were fortunate and we were able to convince the council and I think, even the TV dealers, at that time. Little by little, they started to realize that there was a limit to what kind of line of sight and what kind of television you were going to get in the valley. I stuck with my theory which I think made me what I am in cable television, that the propagation of certain radio waves just does not follow the valleys and so forth. It's line of sight transmission. Surprisingly enough, even some of the TV dealers didn't realize that. If you wanted better and more consistent television, you had to have line of sight or be on top of a mountain‑‑be it microwave, VHF signals, and UHF signals, they do not go into the valleys.
SMITH: Do you remember the names of any people in the TAME organization?
GANS: This, as I mentioned, just came to me driving up here. I'm going to try to dig some of that out.
SMITH: It would be interesting if you could check your files and we could go into that a little bit. It's not in any of the other oral histories that I know of. I recall there was a good bit of national publicity on TAME. It wasn't just a local organization, they were in many locations around the country.
GANS: I believe that the antenna manufacturers got together on this thing. The only one that may not have been in there may have been Blonder Tongue. I'm not sure. I remember definitely, the Alliance. They made the antenna rotors, if you remember. Then, Channel Master made antennas. I'm going to look back through it. I'm pretty sure that I have some of the folders and fliers, but we'll dig that out.
SMITH: With that we can develop it a little bit further. I remember one of the earlier pioneers that you knew too, Fred Stevenson. He used to compare TAME to the buggy whip manufacturers trying to prevent the development of the automobile.
GANS: That's right. He made a speech or gave a talk on that.
SMITH: It was a pretty good analogy wasn't it?
I started to get into your early financing because so many of the operators had unusual and unique experience putting money together. You indicated that your first infusion of capital, if infusion is the word, was from the Corriele family because of their personal interest in getting service to a brother. Was that in the form of a loan, or did they just help you build enough facility to serve them?
GANS: I believe they formed a corporation, Mountain City Television. I attended maybe one or two meetings. I was originally hired as a chief technician for them. I was not part of that corporation. How they put it together. I don't know if you remember Frank Dilscher?
SMITH: I remember the name.
GANS: Whether he was a friend of the Corrieles I think he was. He brought Milt Shapp up to talk to them. At that time, Milt Shapp came in with a proposal. Say, we got $125 which was our installation rate, where he charged them $25. It had to go back to Jerrold for a service charge. It was to help design or something. I think it was later found to be illegal. You couldn't do some of these things. What would be a Jerrold or what would be a Mountain City Television, you had to do whatever you could in order to get the financing in order to build these things. Corrieles I believe did invest the money cold cash. Whether they borrowed it or not, I didn't know, but they invested the money to make this work.
SMITH: That particular plant, the Corrieles owned it?
SMITH: You didn't? Did you buy that from them, or did you build a separate system?
GANS: Here are some of the nice things that happened to me. We built the Hazleton area, what we call "the south side." The "north side" was not built because that was coming up a mountain and there were some pictures there. I was so enthused about cable television. All I ever did was talk cable, cable. That's the only way you can get good pictures down here. They were moving too slow for me. [Cole???] was doing exceptionally well.
There was a little town east of Hazleton, which is also in the valley. I figured that these people are not moving fast enough for me. In fact, during that particular time, we went up to Binghamton and we got the franchise for Binghamton and also we got the franchise for Scranton. We'd go up to Binghamton, and we found out that the mayor, in order to keep us off the main street, wanted to charge us $50 per year for crossing the street. I told Freddy Corriele, don't worry about it. I said, "We'll cross maybe one or two places and we'll run the lines down the back alleys and so forth, off the main street."
The mayor had a good reason not to want cable all over the center of town. He said, "No it's going to cost us $50 per drop and it's going to be too expensive." Quite frankly, they just didn't know the business. They were investors. I got home and I was a little disappointed. I wanted to build in Binghamton. I wanted to build the Scranton area.
We looked at the town of Weatherly, and I figured I'm going to go out on my own. In the mean time, I'm under a payroll. I have to say the kind of people they were.
Anytime Jerrold or Raytheon or anybody had any kind of a school, they paid my way and I was free to go there. I started out getting $68 a week or maybe $72 a week or they would give me a raise. I never would ask for a raise. I loved this cable so much that I would start out at six or seven in the morning and we'd work until dark when we couldn't see any more. As I mentioned, you had to do your own splicing, balancing the systems was extremely crude.
When I looked in the Weatherly possibility of a franchise, that's the beginning of one of the TAME things. That was 1954, I believe. Sure enough, the TV dealers were saying that I'm going to put them out of business. Quite frankly, they weren't even giving the town any kind of picture. If you put an antenna down into those valleys, you'd have reception and you'd have skip, so maybe two or three days a week you'd get a picture, otherwise, you wouldn't get a picture.
As we started getting permission to build a system in Weatherly, the antenna site that I wanted to use, for some reason we just couldn't get the properties up there. I was at a meeting with the Corrieles. I don't know just what the occasion was. He asked me, "How are you doing in Weatherly?" I told him," I think we can get it started, but I'm having trouble with getting the antenna site." Again, I keep emphasizing that I'm working for him. I'm starting my own business. He said, "Would you like for me to help you out and see if I can find out who has the property. There were extremely influential people up there. Sure enough, we got the right people and we got a lease on the land which we have until today. They helped me to build that first system.
SMITH: Was Weatherly your first system?
SMITH: How large was the community?
GANS: The population was about 3,000 people and we had 1,000 subscribers. The first year I guess we had 45‑50 subscribers. When we hooked the pictures up, one councilman came up to me and said, "Is that the best picture that you're going to give us?" I said, "Well, the picture is clear." "That's no good." It was a little discouraging, but we got it working.
Here is the next big stage in my life, and cable television. It was 1954. Hazleton had maybe 2,000 subscribers, although Hazleton today has about 28‑30,000. We were then experimenting with getting more than three channels. What I did, was I took a channel 6 strip and detuned it and made it so that it could carry channels 5 and 6. So we had channels 2,3, and if you remember there's a skip between 4 and 5. There's a guard band there. Five and 6 were two channels.
I put four channels on the system by broadening out the Jerrold strip to carry channels 4 and 5. We even did a little bit more later on. I detuned Channel 3 to where it could carry 2, 3, and 4. Now we start swinging it into a five channel system. There were actually two amplifiers doing it. Of course, I had problems there again, because Frank Dilscher was selling the Jerrold equipment and they were starting to do different things, and Jerrold would say that this thing wouldn't work and that thing wouldn't work. I'd say we had friction, but still, the Corrieles let me do whatever I wanted, whatever I wanted to try.
In Hazleton, it's predominantly Yankee area. We have families up there... It's Yankee baseball area. Channel 11 WPIX was carrying the baseball games out of New York. I put up an antenna.
There was a mountain on the south side of town, where Philadelphia was pretty good. The New York signals were marginal. I put up a 150' tower. We put some antennas on it. We were getting the ball games, but we were getting it a little bit more on a skip. We would get it three or four days a week and some days we didn't receive it. I put Channel 11 on Channel 5. As I mentioned, you only get it a couple of days a week. In fact, they call it the century club. At the end of the night, we'd go down there to see how the television looked. I went down.
Trish Lusion, more or less bawled me out. He said, "That picture's coming in and out. It's snowy." Philadelphia channels were fairly consistent, but this was coming in and out. He said, "I don't think we should carry that picture." Half of the guys at our place were ready to throw him out because, the Yankee ball game's on and you're going to take that picture off, even though I must admit you'd see the batter for a few minutes and then he'd disappear. You'd wonder what happened later.
This was now the beginning of showing the appetite that the American public has for a variety of programs. We started making tests on the north end of town where the antenna is located today, and sure enough, New York, WPIX, was a little more consistent up there. It took a little bit of doing, but I talked the TV owners into buying property on top of the mountain, and building a new antenna site, where we had better pictures out of New York.
SMITH: You're talking about Hazleton now?
GANS: Yes, this is Hazleton. This is about the same time that we're starting the Weatherly system. We moved the antenna site over to the north side of town, and the Yankee ball game was a little bit more consistent. In fact, we started picking up Channel 2 out of New York. WCBS is their home base station. We had Channel 7 out of New York, the home ABC, Channel 4 out of New York. WCBS had the late night movies. Philadelphia, Channel 10 did not. We switched over and we started carrying WCBS, a better program.
Also, the word's starting to get out that we're carrying New York pictures and we also have the Yankee ball game. Our antenna site at this new place now, was an old bus. We drove the bus up there and put the electronics in it, and that 's where we were getting the Channel 11 picture.
SMITH: You mean your headend shack was an old bus?
GANS: Yes, an old bus. It was small with a little electric heater. The other place was a real shack. It was nothing but a wooden 6'X 8' structure. That's the original site. I could tell you a lot of stories about that. We put up antennas and an ice storm would come through and knock them down. As fast as they'd knock them down we put another antenna, just to try to keep pictures on. As we re‑do this, I'll try to remember all of these things.
Another time, the antenna froze up on us. It was [???] We figured that you could climb it but it would be dangerous to get up there. Icing, if you remember, when the ice would form on the antennas, it would increase the diameter of your elements, which meant that the tuning of it would go to a lower frequency and you would lose the sound. You'd have a picture but you would have no sound. We figured one night, late at night when the telephone was jumping off the hook, let's take a chance and maybe we could shoot the ice off.
SMITH: Shoot it off?
GANS: We started out with number 8 buckshot. We got some of the ice off. A little bit of sound came back, but not enough. This was the middle of the night and we were doing anything possible to get this going. Sure enough, Wally Masada, said, "Instead of a number 9 shot, let's try a number 6." So he did. We got more ice off. I said, "Wally that's enough. At least we can get back tonight. He said, "I'll bet if I gave it two more hits, it would clean it off. Sure enough. we took buckshots and away goes the antenna and he shot the whole thing down. (Laughter)
Getting back to carrying the New York channels... We were up at the antenna site up on the north side, and we're carrying the ball games, and in come two guys with a Cadillac. They introduce themselves. They wanted to know,..." I understand that you have Channel 11 up here and Hazleton now is carrying the ball games. I don't think that the people in Lansford or the people in Mahanoy City had it at the time. Johnny and Pete Walson come up Walsonavich was their original family name. They wanted to know how we're getting these pictures in.
SMITH: They're the two that came up in a Cadillac?
GANS: They came up in a Cadillac and I'm sitting in this old broken down bus. This I guess is a milestone in my life in cable television. Johnny was another guy like the Corrieles except the Corrieles, as far as expanding and getting bigger, were satisfied where they were. They still wanted as good a system as possible. When Johnny and Pete came up, they saw we were starting to build our own equipment and to solve our own problems. Meters that we were using weren't all the best and I started building AGC equipment and so forth.
SMITH: Was that AGC equipment Automatic Game Control.
GANS: Yes. They wanted to know what we did to get the baseball games. I showed them the antennas we had. We were stacking antennas. The 1953 and '54, a lot of things were happening. Johnny was testing the 5‑channel system. Dr. Brown came from State College, C‑COR. He was helping me to develop... It was 1953 because Trish Lusion passed away in '53 and that's when Dr. Brown came up. We were again working for Community Engineering West, which is today's C‑COR. He was testing out a new amplifier. We called it a chain circuit at the time. John and Pete came up, it was in 1954. That's when I was starting the Weatherly system. As I say, they were trying to figure out how we were getting the ball games. I showed Johnny how we did it. If you remember, Channel 11, you had to convert to bring it back down to Channel 5. What we did was we took the oscillator circuit out of the regular TV set, and built a bread board, a little black box. We converted Channel 11 down to Channel 5.
SMITH: You built your own converter.
GANS: Yes, we built our own converter. And we started carrying it. This was about the time when John and Pete Walson were putting together the five‑channel system in Mahanoy City. We have to get these timings all corrected. They have no AGC circuits, which meant that as you got into the system, 10 or 12 amplifiers deep, the temperature changed the resistance in the cable. During the day, you had a lot of resistance and at night, you had less. So, during the day, the picture gets snowy, at night it starts swinging all over the place and we had no control over the [???]. We had no control over it.
As I mentioned to you earlier, one of the things that John Walson did, was to put a regular refrigerator control, the Bellows, take and tune and twist the gain control on the amplifier according to the temperature. Naturally, during the day, the sun would go behind the clouds, or you'd get a cold day, and the temperature thing wasn't all that accurate.
SMITH: That kept you running didn't it?
GANS: Oh, it did. He was able to go from a mountain, at the time, to the end of Mahanoy City and he had pictures. He came up to the Hazleton site, and I was starting to get pictures down into Weatherly. He had an amplifier that Luther Holtz was making for him. The amplifier was something similar to the Jerrold ADO box.
SMITH: Do you know what the ADO stood for?
GANS: Amplifier Distribution Output, or something like that. What that would do... You had your strip amplifiers with three channels, then you put them into this distribution amplifier which would take Channels 2, 4, and 6. It also would pass Channels 3 and 5. He took the circuit out of there and put more tubes in there and he had the earliest five channel amplifier.
SMITH: Is this John Walson?
GANS: Yes. This is at least one of the first ones that I knew about it. Some of the interesting things about it was that he was showing a five‑channel system in Mahanoy City, and Jerrold at the same time was having a seminar proving that it was impossible to get five channels on the cable system because of adjacent channel interference. I don't know how many people know this. Even I argued with John, I said, "If your audio, or your video carrier is at a twenty dB level and the sound carrier is only six dB below Channel 3, it interferes with Channel 2 with 3, 3 with 4, and 5 with 6. It just couldn't work. Jerrold had... Caywood Cooley was the speaker. It's impossible that this thing would work.
John Walson had a demonstration at his store with the five channels on. That's when I got to know John. I said, "How in the world are you getting the five channels on?" He said, "Easy. You just go up to the antenna site and tune up the pre‑amps." We were taught by Jerrold and the state of the art was that the curve had to be flat. The way it was broadcast, the picture had to be tuned to the picture carrier and then other circuits were tuned to the audio carrier. The system was actually a flat system.
What John did, he'd take the pre‑amp and tune everything to the picture, which quite frankly gave you a much lower signal/noise ratio. What he didn't know and it took a little time to figure out, by tuning to the picture, he suppressed the sound carrier down 15 to 20 dB which permitted adjacent channel signal carriage. This was the reason that he was able to show the five‑channel sets. Jerrold was going with the standard accepted technique‑‑60 below the sound carrier didn't work. The thing is, the television set doesn't really care, because the sound carrier is FM and even though the level is lower, the FM is clean, there's no noise in it. All you had to do was turn up your volume on your television set and you didn't have any interference.
SMITH: In other words, you were just stealing part of the audio band, the FM band to squeeze in the extra television channels.
GANS: More than that. It's suppressing. The audio carrier is up... At that time we carried 36 dB on the video carrier and 20 dB on the sound carrier. The broadcasting, and maybe FCC required, specifications were, if it's 36 dB for the video carrier, the audio would be at 30 dB, only 6 dB lower. Being at six below the picture, it interfered with the adjacent sound. When he dropped it, when he tuned everything up to the picture, and dropped the audio carrier down to 20 dB below the picture carrier, the thing worked. It wasn't intentional. He did it by hit and miss. I was there when he tuned it up. I said, "John you're not going to have sound, you're tuning the sound out. You're tuning the picture." He argued, "No, let's go down, we'll see."
Sure enough, that was the first five‑channel system that I saw and I'd say one of the first broadband amplifiers that I saw. [The curve???] was terrible and there was a lot to be desired. Channel 3 was [???] Valley, Channel 4... It wasn't really a good balanced system. Then the AGC amplifiers as I mentioned, had no automatic gains, so when you'd get to the end of the system, you'd lose the picture. This is where he came in with the temperature controls out of a refrigerator, which mechanically turned the signal up and down.
One of the other stories, too, we have to get the timing of this right... I don't know if you knew it or not, but John Walson worked for PP&L.
SMITH: I was aware of that, yes.
GANS: Pete was the one who originally ran the system, until it got so big that John then left and started right in with the cable. One of these stories that was happening, Pete used to go and take his Cadillac every morning and tune up the system manually and in the evening, as the sun set he would drive back through and turn it down. This is a daily routine for him.
Many people don't know, maybe they do, is that on John's system, until today, the amplifiers are down on the ground where you can walk up to them, whereas, most others are up on top of the pole. One of the reasons being, rather than taking a ladder and climbing up on all of the poles twice a day, he had them down and he would drive his Cadillac up to the amplifier and tune it down. During the evening and then in the morning when it got warm, he'd turn the control up.
Then we got to know each other. He used to come up to my house every Sunday and we'd talk television and cable. So, he brought this broadband amplifier up there. Actually, I made a copy of it and Holt was building equipment and Jerrold had signal channel AGC strips. What I did was I took the AGC circuit out of the strip amplifier and inserted it into the broadband amplifier that Johnny had. From there, rather than using the picture we put a pilot tone in there. There's where we more or less started one of the first broadband, five‑channel automatic gain amplifiers.
SMITH: We'll have to hold a minute Joe, because we're running out of tape again. That'll give you a chance to rest your voice while I get the new one.
End of Tape 1, Side B
Start of Tape 2, Side A
SMITH: This is October 14, 1989. This is Tape 2 Side A of the oral history interview with Joseph Gans. Joe, when the other tape ran out, you were talking about how you and John Walsonavich working together really devised one of the first if not the first broadband amplifier. Was there something more that you wanted to say about that?
GANS: Yes, I think I should, just a little bit. This goes into John Walsonavich as to... I guess I can relate some of the problems that he actually went through. We got to know John extremely well at that time. He and Pete and I used to mention where Pete would drive the Cadillac back and forth. John, from the things he told us about and so forth, started out with a television store in Mahanoy City. In order to be able to demonstrate the pictures, he had the same problem we had in Hazleton, except it was worse than Hazleton. Mahanoy City is so deep into a hole, the only way that they could show pictures was to take the people up on top of a mountain where he had a 60' telephone pole, a big power pole sitting up there. He had an antenna on top of the pole and he put a wire down in order to show the demonstration of the picture. In that area there was a town called Frackville.
I believe there was Frackville and maybe one other area where the town was high enough, more or less on the top of a mountain and the antenna reception did exist. It wasn't good, but they were able to receive pictures, whereas Mahanoy City, down in the hole, didn't get anything. The way Johnny more or less explained it to us, the people told him that if he would get a picture similar to what he had on the pole then, they'd buy the television set from him. What John did was put what was in the beginning a twin lead wire from his antenna site, run it down, partially through the woods and so forth, down into his store. I believe rather than going on the power poles, I believe originally he hooked it to some of the houses actually to get it to his store. I believe this also happened up in Franklin, Pennsylvania where they did something similar to that. The funny parts of this was that the guy on top of the hill, the man of the house, decided it's time for everybody to go to bed. The boosters, incidentally were put in the homes. In fact, I was with Johnny and we had the amplifiers underneath the porch of the house. When the "man of the house" decided that he was going to bed, he would go downstairs and pull all the plugs out and everything else. If he went to bed a little early and pulled the plugs out, all of the people at the rest of the town who were looking at these pictures...that was it for the night, the television went off.
In the beginning he had twin‑lead, if you remember, it would ice up and get wet and the picture would stop. One of the common happenings was to hit the twin lead, knock the rain off and so forth in order to keep the television there.
Some of the other things that John did, too was he got one of the early permits from the power company where he'd start running army surplus coax in order to get the pictures down there. As I said, the boosters were [astatic???]. They were the manufacturers of it. I think we have some around somewhere. The interesting part was, and this I remember well from John, if you bought the television set from him, you got free service for a year. Or else, in the beginning it may have been that you got free service, but if you didn't buy it from him, you had to pay two dollars a month. This was for many years.
SMITH: This was in Frackville?
GANS: Mahanoy City. One of the things being, when he did run the line down to his store to demonstrate the pictures, people started saying, "Connect me to your wire and I'll buy the television set from you." This was a business plan that he had that if you bought it from him, you didn't have to pay, I think it was for a year or maybe longer, but if you bought the set somewhere else, then you had to pay the two dollars a month.
Then at that time, if you remember, a guy named, [???] McLaughlin started another cable system in the town. He was the chief of police. There was some politics involved in that. It took many years for Johnny to buy him out. There were actually competing systems. I don't know exactly when McLaughlin started , but maybe the '50s, '49 or somewhere in there. There were two systems in Mahanoy City.
SMITH: I remember, now that you mentioned it, John telling the story about competing with the chief of police.
GANS: When I got to know John, which was in 1954, at that time we had problems with ghosts. I did mention a little bit, we started to design AGC amplifiers and the broadbands, but he did have the amplifiers underneath the homes in the community. It was a common thing.
By this time, now, he put his own power in. The problem that he had, before I knew him was the people who pulled the plugs out and killed the system on him. I believe he started putting his own meter on. The problems were being resolved. Some of the funny parts too, you would go in the garage of someone's home where the amplifier was, and actually the dog would start barking. Another thing, we had a little light bulb over the amplifier box, and people used to take the light bulbs and so forth. You'd go to balance an amplifier and you'd carry a light bulb with you. Those are, as I said, some of the crude things that made this industry happen.
SMITH: These amplifiers in the houses were plugged onto the power outlets of the people who owned the homes, is that right?
SMITH: Was anything paid for, or did you get free service?
GANS: We gave them free service.
SMITH: The least they could have done would have been to have left it on all night. Joe, let me interrupt you just a second to ask a question that occurred to me while you were talking, and get your comment on it. You obviously knew John very, very well.
GANS: Yes, I did.
SMITH: There's been so much controversy, a good part of it generated by John, over whether or not he was the first cable system. Of course, in those days we called them community antennas. Whether he was the first one in the country or not, John has been adamant in all the time that I've known him, that he was the first.
You mentioned that he used surplus army coaxial cable. One time, John told me that he thought that he could date the first time that he went into operation, because of having bought surplus army coaxial cable. I asked him to check all of his files and see if he could find any kind of shipping invoice, and he was unable to find one. With all of that prefaced by me, can you comment about when you think John first got into operation? We all want to give him as much credit as we can.
GANS: Here are my feelings about it. As I mentioned, I didn't meet him until 1954. I did see the articles, and from what he told me as to the way he did it, the thing I talked about before with the two dollars a month of free service for a year if you bought the TV from him or else you pay two dollars a month for service if you bought the system somewhere else.
My feeling is that by making the subscriber pay for receiving service, be it the twin‑lead or the army surplus cable, that is the beginning of the cable industry, whereas somebody who just had a piece of wire coming off a mountain, giving antenna service, I guess you would say, isn't quite a business or a community antenna system such as John had. In him explaining the twin‑lead concept, plus the army surplus concept, I'd say it had to be in '48 or '49 because that's the technology that more or less existed at the time. The reason I tend to lean towards Walsonavich is because he charged the people, in the years of '48 and '49. I think that's the beginning of cable television.
SMITH: I've noticed in the interview that John gave to Mary Alice Phillips Mayer who wrote the book about 15 years ago on the history of cable television, John dates his first operation June of 1948. Then Ed Parsons, who generally has the best documentation of when he got started, says that he turned it on on Thanksgiving Day of 1948.
I'm not being interviewed, but would comment that it really doesn't make any difference who was first. All of those people, you and John, and the whole bunch of you were inventing your own equipment, designing it and putting it together, all at the same time. What difference it makes who turned the first one on, I wouldn't know...
GANS: I'm trying to talk about the kind of people that we were at that time, too. I believe that the Schneider people had one of the early microwave systems out in Casper, WY or somewhere.
SMITH: That was Bill Daniels and Gene Schneider.
GANS: O.K. I guess it was about 1956 or '57, I had purchased the Berwick system which I'll get into just a little later. In that time, I talked a little bit more about Channel 11 New York. The Corrieles sent me to an IEEE convention in New York City and I saw a demonstration of microwave, and I came home from New York. Let's say I got in maybe four or five o'clock that evening and John Walson came up and I told him about this microwave.
Would you believe at 6:30 or 7:00 we're on our way up to Massachusetts to see what the heck this microwave is all about? I told him it's a better way of getting pictures. I told him that we could take a shot and get about 30 miles closer to New York City where naturally the pictures would be better. John said immediately, "Let's get in the car, I want to see this thing." I told it to the Corrieles and they told me to go ahead and buy it and to get the thing. Any improvement that we could...be it design or buy or so forth, there was no hesitation. In fact, just before the microwave, if you remember, there was the technology, with the big dishes, the SD Kennedy dishes where they had a [dew???] line up over the northern perimeters of Canada to watch for airplanes and so forth.
These so‑called sixty foot dishes were a high gain type of antenna. We figured if the radar system is that good and the transmission reception is that good, maybe we should try this for the cable thing. This again is the way that John Walson, especially jumped into something real fast.
I was at a wedding. Irene's brother got married on a Saturday afternoon. I talked to Johnny and Pete the day before on the telephone. Maybe we should take a look at this antenna to see if it would improve our pictures out of New York City. Still I think that New York is over ninety miles, and we did have a lot of fading, co‑channel. It wasn't a reliable picture. He came up to the wedding and he said, "Are you ready to go?" I said, "Go where?" He said, "Up to Massachusetts and get this antenna." I said, "John, I'm at a wedding." He said, "You're here long enough." Sure enough, we got in the car and Pete and I, Johnny and Charlie Giking.. drove twelve hours non‑stop. He was a good one for that. If you knew John, he just talked continuously, never stopped.
We got up to [Spencer Kennedy], we see this antenna. They were building it for the military. We wanted to know whether we could buy one. The guy told him. This was a hit and miss. The guy said, "We can put one together for you, but it's going to cost at least $60,000. Sixty thousand dollars for an antenna was pretty expensive.
We got in the car, turned around, and came right back home, which then later, the microwave, we knew it worked. The antenna we weren't sure whether or not it's going to work. It was the same thing again. John gets me in the car and at five or six o'clock we go up to Massachusetts and look at the Raytheon Equipment. They couldn't sell us any. I guess there was a heavy demand for it, but they said there was some up at the [???machine] in New York that was being used for building the St. Lawrence Seaway. They had cameras down somewhere where the guys were doing the digging and so forth and they were watching the progress in the main office and they were using this microwave, communication through this thing.
Ray Kessel and I go up, he's one of my employees, pick up this microwave equipment, we bring it back home. Now what do you do with it. We didn't know how to tune it, we didn't know how to set up the dishes or anything. John, with his big sixty foot telephone poles, had his men build a platform on top of the one pole. We had another pole in Danville. We had a platform on it. No communications, which is where I talked earlier a little bit about getting the ham radio in order to be able to communicate. John's sitting on one pole. Pete and I are sitting on the other pole trying to tune these dishes up. We come up with the idea, maybe we'll flash lights and do different things, that naturally didn't work. We couldn't get that shot going until later on when we got ham radios and we got some of the Raytheon people to come in and we got some of the profile shots and so forth. Finally we got the pictures out of New York.
One of the things that you might be interested in, is getting retransmission rights. Now, where cable carried the pictures off air, I don't think it was being known as retransmission in cable, but when you go to microwave, you had to get a license, and the FCC told us that you have to go and get permission from whoever the broadcaster is before we give you the license on this thing. I'd have to update myself a little bit on the story of how this got to be, but if I remember correctly, the original Channel 5 was a Dumonts‑‑WNEW. The original was a Dumont Station, Channel 5 out of New York City. I think they gave John the only retransmission rights that I knew of in the country.
SMITH: I was John's attorney at the time, but if he got the retransmission rights, he went out and did it on his own, because I would have told him not to.
GANS: I think he and Pete went up and they got them. In fact, I know NCTA talked about it. That's the only one that I know of in the country that got it. We didn't get it from Channel 11 which was PIX, because for some reason, I think the Yankee ball team had certain reservations as far as giving retransmission rights to someone else. How we got the rights to carry it, I just don't remember right now. Something was done there, I guess for us to be able to put in 5,9, and 11‑three channels. Some of the complications I believe I remember right, John could get the picture and retransmit to someone else, but he could not use it on his own system.
SMITH: That part of the story, I don't know. Just for the record, because you brought the subject up, the Astoria, Oregon system, Ed Parsons got retransmission rights from the television station in Seattle that he received. You were right about the New York Yankees, they did have reservations, and at one time sent two of their lawyers from New York to my office to talk to me about it. By then I was the general counsel for the Community Antenna Association. You were correct, the issues were being raised, but I didn't know that John had gone out and gotten retransmission permission.
GANS: The first channel that we put on was WNEW, Channel 5. Later, I don't remember how we got the rights to do it, whether we needed them or not, the FCC did give us a license without getting the retransmission rights.
SMITH: They realized that they really could not enforce that because the retransmission right provision of the Communications Act applied to another broadcast station. It didn't apply to a community antenna, so they dropped that.
GANS: Hazleton put in a microwave link, we put in three channels.
SMITH: When you say we put in, which system?
GANS: Hazleton‑‑Mountain City System. I was still working with them at the time, and then I was doing consulting work for John Walson. He paid me thirty bucks a day and that was the same with Hazleton. At that time, too, we started building our own equipment. I started building broadband equipment. It was five channel. As fast as we could make it, both John, we were selling to Pete, Johnny's brother who built the Danville‑Milton system, as fast as we could sell it...as well as the Hazleton system, which we built between the microwave and the broadband equipment...we had the five channels going. This takes us up into the 1960s.
SMITH: Let me interrupt you there. I didn't know that you built and sold equipment. How extensive did that operation develop, your manufacturing and selling?
GANS: We could have gotten a lot bigger than we were, but I had enough to do. Remember that I was building my own systems and I was building equipment for the Walsonavichs, the Mahanoy Citys, and their areas as for Pete and for Hazleton. We were up to our ears. We just couldn't do too much more. Then again, the monies that I was earning selling the equipment to the Hazletons and the Service Electrics, gave us the money to build the Berwicks and the Weatherlys.
Incidentally, in between this time, 1955, a man from the power company in Berwick came up to me and asked me if I'd be interested in buying the Berwick system. Some other people from Hazleton had it and evidently, I won't say they weren't taking care of it properly, but they weren't doing too well. Another thing happened in about '54 or '55, the UHF stations went on the air in Wilkes-Barre. When they went on the air, everybody again said, "Cable's going to die. It's not going to make it."
When we purchased the system we had 400 subscribers, who were supposed to be on the books. When we went there, Irene was there and she only had 68 subscribers‑‑sixty‑eight total. She'd be on the phone all day long, talking to people trying to get them to get back on the cable. In the mean time, I paid $30,000 for the system at that time. It was for Berwick.
SMITH: How did you finance it? Where did you get the money?
GANS: I borrowed $5,000 from the bank. We put our house up for that. The $25,000 balance, we had a five year period to pay for it. The people who we bought it from, I paid them so much money. I think it was about $5,000 each year for five years. We paid it off a lot sooner. You've got to remember that Wilkes‑Barre stations come on and Berwick is right in that valley there. The pictures were good. It was pretty rough going there.
Weatherly was pretty good. That was down in the valley, Nuremberg started about the same time.
SMITH: How big was that town?
GANS: That may be another thousand subscribers. An interesting thing, how we built that too. I guess it was in 1953 or 1954 when we were going to buy a house. Somehow we put together $5,000 or $10,000. So I went to a real estate agent. He wanted $32,000 for the house and Irene wanted to pay him $30,000. He made the remark that, "Oh you don't have the money. You can't get something like that." We already had the financing put together. I said, "Tell him to go fly. We'll go build another cable system." We did. We built the Nuremberg system. That was a good decision, though.
As I mentioned, I bought Berwick for $30,000. We had five years to pay off the $25,000. That was a three‑channel system. This was 1955. I was already working with the Walsons and the Hazleton group. We had five channels. We figured if I could get five channels into Berwick, we might be able to save that system. We were down to, as she mentioned, 68 subscribers. I put up big, high antennas. I made tests that Channel 11 would be available in Berwick. The problem is, again, Berwick is farther away from New York than Hazleton was. It was one of those situations where we had the baseball game two or three days a week and we'd lose it and we'd get it.
We managed to hold the people on the cable up until '56. In '57 we put the microwave in. We had to come through Berwick in order to feed the Danville system. When we got through Berwick and we got Channels 9 and 11, call it distant signals, then, the subscribers started coming back on. That system is up to $20,000 subscribers today.
SMITH: What is the population of the community? Really, what is the penetration?
GANS: It's seventy‑two percent, which is better than ideal. Johnny was doing well with his systems. Pete built the Danville complex, we had the microwave. This is about the time that we started expanding. I applied for systems in the Reading area. We applied for systems in Delaware, Georgetown, Laurel, Seaford, Rehoboth Beach, and that whole group of areas down there.
SMITH: Down into Delaware?
GANS: Yes. I'll tell you what happened. Marty Malarkey, if you remember built Salisbury.
SMITH: Yes I do remember.
GANS: Then there was a guy by the name of Sam Edwards who was selling us cable. He mentioned these towns just above Salisbury which were Laurel and Seaford, just north of there. Then there was Georgetown and Lewis, and so forth. I asked him if he thought it was worthwhile to build down there. He said he thought it was because Malarkey was doing really well. There was only one channel, Channel 16 in Salsbury.
We went to Long Island and bought some surplus towers that the government took down and drove them ourselves. We put them on a truck. What we did wrong was, we overloaded the truck in the back so that the wheels were partly up in the air and we couldn't steer the truck. We were coming through the Lincoln Tunnel with these things. We were going real slow. The cops came running over there. They saw what had happened, and they just waved us on and said get out of here.
GANS: We took the towers down to Delaware and we had them built. We had that system up until about 1965. This was one of the sad things... Pete developed cancer and he passed away, and no will was made. At that time, in comes Uncle Sam and they wanted 80% on what was out there and we had to sell the Delaware system in order for the Walsonavich sisters to maintain the ownership in the Danville system. We sold the Delaware systems at that time.
Some of the things we did down there were quite interesting. We had what was called a strip‑braid cable. The strip‑braid, instead of the strands, had little flat pieces of copper. That being a salt area, the copper would corrode and what we would do, the signals would die out. We'd go down once a week or so, and with a stick, we'd hit the cable and make contact to get the pictures at the other end.
SMITH: Very sophisticated.
GANS: We talked about TAME earlier, and they were really strong at that time. We applied for the Reading franchise and as I mentioned earlier, the TAME group was there to stop us. Jerrold came in, for a while they were strictly manufacturing but they started to build systems all over. We had to compete with them a little bit. Another thing we did, in '56 or '57 when we started looking at other areas to build, we bought our first airplane. It was a little tri‑pacer in which we used to go down to Delaware with. Maybe that was 1960. We'd go down to Delaware. Irene would go down. One night we left, and took off, overloaded. There were four of us in the plane, like I said, it was a tri‑pacer. Irene had a sewing machine in the back end, so when you go to lift the airplane up the tail was almost skidding on the ground.
Another thing that happened to us down there... if you remember in the '60s cable was really starting to blossom. It was all over the place. Power companies wouldn't let us on the poles so we talked to the state's highway department for right‑of‑ways. We decided now that we were going to bury the cable rather than go on the poles, just start burying it.
The procedure was that we had a talk with the water companies, the gas companies about where some of the telephone lines were. They'd mark off where they were and we designed a big tractor. It was what they called a sub‑soiler. It's a blade that goes down and eventually cuts up the farmers field so that the water would sink down a little deeper than the normal plowing. We put this in there and actually the gas lines were not where they were supposed to be, nor were the water lines going through.
It was common for a guy to drive down the street plowing cable and hit a gas line or hit a water line and water would shoot all over the place. With these kind of things happening, the worst was, the highway department said that the cable had to be eighteen inches off the edge of the road. We buried the cable eighteen inches off the edge of the road. What we didn't know was that the specification for putting up the stop signs and the other signs for the highway department was also eighteen inches. Whenever we would get a failure on the cable, we just drove down on the street. Somebody would put up a new sign, dig it up and sure enough the cable was split in half.
This being the early sixties, the cable wasn't designed for being buried in the ground, so naturally we had corrosion problems, we had foliage problems. We overcame them somehow. Another problem that we had with Delaware was that we were up in the air two hundred feet, but we were carrying the Washington stations. We were 90 miles out of Washington. Would that be right?
SMITH: That would be approximately right.
GANS: Pictures were borderline, so we had problems with the councils as to the quality of signal and so forth. Sam Edwards was our cable supplier at the time. In Ocean City, Maryland, I'll never forget. He said, "Do you want to buy that system?" We were 90 miles away and the pictures were no good. Can you imagine Ocean City, Maryland trying to carry Washington. It was no good at all. That was for sale, I think for $12,000. We had enough problems of our own in Delaware, so we never did buy it. Today, it's worth a small fortune.
SMITH: Yes it is.
GANS: We started Delaware and we started systems in upper New York and New Jersey, Sparta, Franklin. Reading was a little more than we could handle financially. Then the Corrieles built the Reading system. You asked about the manufacturing. Between supplying Reading and supplying Delaware and New Jersey, we were pretty well peaked out and couldn't do too much more.
SMITH: How many employees did you have in your manufacturing business?
GANS: We had about 25 in the Hazleton group.
SMITH: Did you build yourself a small factory?
GANS: It was just a crude shop. One trick I got from John Walson. We used to wind our coils with some pretty crude stuff. He took a washing machine, the old wringer/dryers, and he put the wire in there and turned on the washing machine wringer. That's how we used to wrap the coils.
SMITH: I can't believe it.
GANS: At that time, I couldn't supply John enough equipment. He was building equipment before we started selling to him. Then he more or less slowed down on building his own equipment. Then when we couldn't supply enough to him, he started building his own equipment again. He has a small plant where he builds for himself. I think he still does that today.
Now we're into the sixties. As I mentioned, Pete passed away in '66. John started building his own plants. At this particular time, the Corrieles, who had Reading sold that to Milt Shapp.
SMITH: Did you build Reading for the Corrieles?
GANS: Yes, not the entire plant, but we built maybe, if you know Reading, the real shady part of the mountain which blanked it out of Philadelphia. We built most of that. That was in '66 or '67. Then they sold that to Milt Shapp who later sold to ATC. Then comes 1968 where again, the Corrieles, Pat Bangor invited me and we built the northeast systems which is one of our larger ones.
SMITH: When you say "one of ours", did you do that jointly with the Corrieles? And you had ownership interest in it too?
GANS: Right. I had a percentage in it. Later on, I guess it was 1977, they would buy a plant and keep it five or six years and then sell it. Come 1975 or 1976, they were going to sell it. I then, made a proposal that if I could put the money together, then I would purchase the system. If they were to get a decent offer for it, I'd go along with the sale. I was flexible, it didn't make too much difference to me. The banks were beginning to be a little bit interested in cable, but not too much. Some of the nightmares that I had...I spent maybe a year of negotiations with one of the big banks out of New York. It wound up that they would finance the thing for me provided I gave them 20 percent of the company.
Another bank was ready to go along with us, a Pittsburgh bank. At the last minute they said that I had to personally guarantee everything that I had. The property of my house isn't worth that much money, it's the cable company that's worth the money, not my own personal property. So that fell through. Believe or not I had to go with Firstmark. The original price I had to pay was six percent over prime.
GANS: That's commercial.
SMITH: For the record, where are they located?
GANS: Indianapolis. They were a big loaner for venture capital. They put together the money for me to buy the northeast plant. The Sparta, New Jersey plant that we had, we sold that. John Walson bought it. That's about a 50,000 subscriber system. We paid $320,000 for it. Like I said, it's 50,000 subscribers today. We took the money that we got there, brought it back home, kept the Berwick plant and tried to keep it out of debt, and gave me the money to invest in with the Corrieles to build the northeast plant.
As I mentioned, in 1977, we put together the monies from Firstmark, and we bought the northeast. Some of the problems that we ran into there, interest rates went wild during Carter's administration, if you remember. I was paying 24% interest. It hurt us. It really took us down.
I guess we can clean this up later, but one of the guys who bailed me out was John Malone. Come 1980, I guess we were about $900,000 behind on bills.
SMITH: Nine hundred thousand did you say?
GANS: Nine hundred thousand. Northeast was still being built, and I was paying Firstmark twenty‑four percent. Firstmark took it first and then the Continental bank out of Chicago took it at a better rate. Prime was twenty‑two or twenty‑three percent. We were paying two over prime. We dug ourselves into pretty much of a hole.
I first talked to John Malone about the possibility of selling the entire plant. He came up and like I said, I have all the respect in the world for him. He came up with the plan and said, "Joe why do you want to sell the whole thing, why don't you sell us a percentage of it. We'll give you a percentage of the money to pay some of your debts off." He did. We sold. Little by little Cable TV Co., which is always a clean company‑‑our Berwick plant, from there, the monies that I was earning, I was supporting the building of all these other systems. That Berwick was, I don't think, quite that deep in debt, but it was in debt.
When TCI or John Malone loaned us the money, rather than buy us out totally, he said I'll just give you enough money for the percentage of the company and this way you can continue operation. We took him in and paid off our bills. Interest rates came down, subscribers increased. A few years later we had a buy/sell agreement. They exercised the buy/sell agreement and they made it attractive enough that I bought my plant back. That's the northeast plant.
SMITH: I was going to ask you, but of course you answered it, whether Malone had gone to TCI by that time.
GANS: I don't know if many people noticed, but he did that for a lot of people, not just me. As big as his company is, and as strong as it is, there are a lot of good things that they have done. I think in general, the cable industry helped each other financially, when they were in trouble, and by not really grabbing the company, but actually helping out. Bill Bresnan, I don't know if you know it or not, is one of those types of people.
SMITH: Yes, I know that Bill has that relationship with him. While there were a lot of others, I think Bob Tudek also had that kind of relationship with him.