Interview Date: Saturday November 07, 1987
Interview Location: Bridgeport, WV
Interviewer: Marlowe Froke
Collection: Penn State Collection
Note: Audio Only
FROKE: You've been a West Virginian and worked in West Virginia for almost your entire life.
RANDOLPH: I was born in Salem, West Virginia, immediately adjacent to Salem College. I was born there on April 5, 1913. We were a family of Randolph's of which West Virginia has a lot. I had a very, very happy childhood. Being a college town, it was a nice place to live. There were about 2,500 people.
FROKE: Living immediately across from Salem College must have influenced your perspectives on education.
RANDOLPH: I think it is an advantage for everyone who lives in a college town. Salem College was a small, and at that time, denominational college, Seventh Day Baptist. This was back, you remember when there were a number of colleges scattered around to take care of local people who couldn't go any distance. They could stay home and go to college, and that's what I did.
FROKE: Many of them had religious affiliation at that time.
RANDOLPH: Those colleges? Yes. We had Elkins College in Elkins, which was a Presbyterian school. We had Wesleyan College.
FROKE: What was the affiliation at Salem College?
RANDOLPH: Seventh Day Baptist. Seventh-Day Baptist is an interesting group. They've been in this country about 200 years and there are only 5,000 Seventh Day Baptists in the whole United States now.
FROKE: Is that some kind of religious cross between Seventh Day Adventist and Baptist?
RANDOLPH: Oh my goodness, not at all. They are funny people. Seventh Day Baptists are the same as First Day Baptists in every respect except the day of worship. The Seventh Day Baptists observe the Jewish Sabbath, sundown on Friday night to sundown on Saturday night. I suppose when I was a youngster about 25 percent of the people there were Seventh Day Baptist, so Sunday the clothes hung on the clothesline. That was wash day.
FROKE: Probably this closeness to Salem College played a part in your decision to go there.
RANDOLPH: Oh, yes. You couldn't afford anyplace else. Of course, I worked my way through the four years there.
FROKE: You lived at home?
RANDOLPH: At home, yes.
FROKE: Where did you work?
RANDOLPH: I was a student manager of the football team for a couple of years to pay for my tuition. You've got to remember, Marlowe, tuition at that time for sixteen hours of college work was $35.
FROKE: Per semester.
RANDOLPH: Per semester. You had some fees, maybe another four dollars or something. When I was not in football, I worked as a janitor. I had done that earlier. Back when I was in junior high or high school, my grandfather was custodian of the college. Then it consisted of only two buildings, Huffman Hall and the Administration Building. I lived with my grandparents. When my grandfather died in 1927, I took over his job as custodian. That was the first check I ever drew. Of course it went to my grandmother. I was replaced within the month.
FROKE: How many students were at Salem College at the time?
RANDOLPH: I suppose about 175 at the time I was a student.
FROKE: The faculty was about fifteen or twenty teachers?
RANDOLPH: It might have been about that. These people were dedicated. They weren't like our teachers today. These people championed the cause. I don't think it was as much what you learned in actual facts as your association with these people, that was a big part of your education.
FROKE: It was a socialization process and the teaching of respect for other people and how to work with them.
RANDOLPH: That's it. Right. I think those of us who had that opportunity have a great deal to be thankful for. We had President Bond there for thirty-two years before his retirement. Then came K. Duane Hurley, who graduated maybe three or four years after I did and was president for about twenty‑two years. Since then it has been one person after another. There isn't the dedication that we once knew.
FROKE: During the late teens up to the 1970s there were only two presidents at Salem College?
RANDOLPH: That's right. President Bond was a fund raiser, which I think today is the chief job of the president of any university. Some people think it doesn't take a lot to bring the money in. With private institutions, the money thing is a big problem. We have a particular problem in speaking of these other schools since they have a church constituency. Salem College is no longer a church‑related school because the federal government required the forfeiting of many rights for separation of church and state. There never was a strong tie to the church. But we had chapel services three times a week. After World War II, I did some work as a service officer down at the American Legion. There were two young fellows always hanging around the Legion and they were going to school at Salem. They came to me once and said, "Can something be done about this chapel thing? Chapel on Monday brings in a country preacher who is preparing the sermon or either we're getting what he said the week before. And very definitely on Friday he's getting ready for Sunday." They don't have it anymore.
FROKE: You earned an A.B. degree and then a B.S. degree from Salem College.
RANDOLPH: Both at the same time.
FROKE: You had what would be called a classical education at Salem College? Latin and all?
RANDOLPH: Oh, yes. (Speaks in Latin) Miss Elsie taught Latin. She would sit there when you were translating and look out the window. When you stumbled on a word, she would correct it. One of my favorite stories is about the fellow that came to the... how do you say horse in Latin?
FROKE: I'm afraid I don't know the language.
RANDOLPH: He stumbled over it and didn't know how to translate it. In Latin there is a pony which is a translation that you're not supposed to be looking at. She said, "If you hadn't ridden the pony so much, you would have known what a horse is." That was Latin. It was a small school and they did a good job.
FROKE: With a Bachelor of Science degree it would indicate that there was some profession or occupation that you were also prepared for.
RANDOLPH: Not really. I just went to school and what I learned, I learned through association with the students and with the faculty. That is perhaps the best part of any educational system: not that you learn all the particular things, but that you learn to live with people. That's the advantage and I have been very fortunate in that respect. My training was good.
FROKE: You were born in 1913, which would mean that you graduated in 1933 or 1934.
RANDOLPH: In 1934. High school in 1930.
FROKE: In the middle of the Great Depression?
RANDOLPH: Oh, yes.
FROKE: You decided that you would not find work in West Virginia?
RANDOLPH: I worked for C.C. Keys in Clarksburg and sold refrigerators the summer of '34. It was a commission job. I sold three refrigerators in three months and the commission was $8 and another one that was $10. By golly, I remember selling Mrs. Young one that had a light in it. I made $12 on that deal. This is when refrigerators were coming in and replacing the icebox. Crosley had a chest‑type refrigerator that consisted of two metal round tanks mounted with a tie in between them, like saddle bags. The interesting thing was that this sat over the edge of the refrigerator chest. There was a small flame under the one on the outside and by some way or another that drove the fluid to operate the refrigerator and so forth. When that thing ran out, you turned those tanks around and ran the refrigerant the other way. As we went along in those early days, we saw an awful lot of change. A lot of ingenuity.
FROKE: You went into Washington, D.C., to try a career there for a while.
RANDOLPH: Weirton Steel Company had a tin plate plant in Clarksburg. Weirton, West Virginia, up above Wheeling. Somebody high up in Weirton felt kindly toward the Clarksburg community and shipped the metal in here, where it was tinned. Then it was shipped back. When things got a little tough, somebody else who didn't feel so kindly toward the Clarksburg community said, "Look, this is a waste of time. We can tin it up here just as well." So the Clarksburg plant of Weirton Steel closed. I had helped a man move his domicile, and he gave me $12. I had decided to go to Washington to see if I could get a job. I had $11 when I arrived in Washington.
FROKE: Going back very quickly, I think I may have missed something. Immediately following college you were selling refrigerators. When did you go to work for Weirton Steel?
RANDOLPH: I never worked for Weirton. No. I left when the town collapsed, when Weirton Steel closed the tin plant.
FROKE: So you did not really see an opportunity for yourself in Clarksburg?
RANDOLPH: There weren't any jobs in Clarksburg.
FROKE: So with $12 from helping somebody move from one home to another, you took off for Washington.
RANDOLPH: The Shannons lived in Salem where they had roomers. They had about five youngsters in my age range. When Katherine and I were juniors in high school, they moved to Washington, D.C., and had a boarding house. I was never in it because on our senior class trip to Washington, they invited some of the kids over but they didn't invite me. They were at 1234 Massachusetts Avenue in Washington. I was a little hurt that I hadn't been invited. So when I went to Washington, I was very, very definitely going to have nothing to do with them.
The fellow who had sold refrigerators with me, had been telling me how tough the cities were. I thought a lot about it and the closer I got to Washington, the more I thought, "Maybe I ought to be with somebody who knows me." So I hitchhiked into Washington and got out in front of the White House and I thought that would be a good place to start. I didn't know that they would ever want me back there in an official capacity.
FROKE: Franklin Roosevelt was president at the time?
RANDOLPH: That's right. I started walking up Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House. The Shannons then had a boarding house out at 2819 Connecticut. That's right at Connecticut and Cathedral, half a block from the zoo, in a very, very nice area. They had about eight houses with rooms for sleeping, and they had one central dining room that was built especially for that, adjacent to and part of the old Russian Embassy. They had 175 guests there. It was a long walk so I finally decided to invest seven cents in a street car and went out. They greeted me with open arms. They said, "Don't you worry about any money until you get a job." It was six weeks before I got a job and, of course, another two weeks before I got any pay. Then when I got my money, I paid the dollar a day I was charged for room and board.
These boarding houses in Washington were interesting. There were three or four nice big ones like the Shannons. They had linens on the table. There were individual tables for seating four or six. There was always a good choice for breakfast and dinner. You always had a choice of three entrees for dinner and you always had soup. For a dollar a day you were living pretty high on the hog.
FROKE: You mentioned a couple of names. One was Katherine.
RANDOLPH: Katherine Shannon. Mrs. Shannon was a hard‑working person, and Mr. Shannon sort of took things easy. Mrs. Hildegard Gilmore had a maid who also worked for Mrs. Shannon. She was always telling Mrs. Gilmore how the Shannons were getting along. Finally, Hildegard said, "Well, what does Mr. Shannon do?" "Oh, he just sits in the kitchen and shucks corn."
FROKE: Were the Shannons involved in the steel industry or the coal industry before they moved?
RANDOLPH: No, no. They came from West Union, which is about 15 miles west of Salem, here in central West Virginia.
FROKE: Their migration was also job‑related?
RANDOLPH: I'm sure it was.
FROKE: How were they able to pick up so much property in such a short period of time?
RANDOLPH: I imagine it was all rental property. Out of Salem we also had Goff Newlon. He never did a miracle but he was 55 years old and he married a young girl maybe 25 or 26. Nobody wants to marry an old girl or for that matter an old man. One time Mr. Shannon answered the door and it was Goff who said, "Mr. Shannon I would like to talk to you." Mr. Shannon said, "Come on in." Goff said, "I've got a good wife. She's a nice person and we get along and everything is very happy." He said, "Mr. Shannon, I don't have a car and I think it's nice that Bud Leonard comes out and takes my wife for a car ride maybe once a week." Mr. Shannon said, "That's nice." Goff said, "Some other nights Creed Randolph comes out and takes my wife for a car ride and I am real happy to see her get out. But Mr. Shannon, she is neglecting her housework." He lived out in Buckeye, west of Salem. He had a little swimming hole. It might have been about 15 feet by 15 feet. As a kid I swam there.
FROKE: What was your first job in Washington?
RANDOLPH: I worked for Agriculture. In those days, you took with you to Washington a letter from your Democratic Committeeman. That became a part of your portfolio and that qualified you. The administration passed out a lot of patronage jobs.
There was a great deal of influx from Virginia and North and South Carolina. They met in the Washington area.
I got a job as a clerk working for the Agriculture Adjustment Administration, in the old Post Office Building there. Of course, at the end of a sixty‑day appointment, I was through. They hoped to pass jobs around as much as they could, hoping you would get discouraged and go back home. If you didn't go back, they would give you another. When that first appointment was up, I went down to Woodward and Lothrop and got a job for the holidays, selling toys. That was sort of interesting.
So then I got back in and got the same job for sixty days. Jim Farley was the head guy, the Postmaster General. He was the guy who was ultimately responsible for passing out the patronages. That was the primary job of the Postmaster General in those days. I never did meet him. While I was out of a job I went up to the RFC where a fellow named Percy Bird worked. He was our West Virginia State chairman. I went up to him and told him what was happening. He said, "Sandford, I don't know what we can do today because Jim is out of town." I had to realize that I was appointed by the assistant to the president of the United States.
FROKE: You used the initials RFC. Rural Finance?
RANDOLPH: No, not Rural, Reconstruction. Reconstruction Finance Corporation.
FROKE: Okay. Then the Agriculture Adjustment Administration used these ways to attempt to create jobs so that the economy could come back again.
RANDOLPH: Create jobs. Of course, I had worked for WPA putting rock on roads before coming to Washington. I got two days a month, two dollars and forty cents a day. They cut it to one day a month and a dollar and eighty cents a day. That's about when I decided to come to Washington.
FROKE: I understand, from an earlier conversation, that you established a strong friendship with your wife‑to‑be while you were in Salem College. Her last name was?
FROKE: Thompson. She also was a native of Salem, West Virginia?
RANDOLPH: No, she was a native of Clarksburg. In fact, she was born at Wolf Summit, which is halfway between Clarksburg and Salem. The family moved to Clarksburg when she was six months old.
FROKE: She joined you in Washington?
RANDOLPH: Let's go back to Wolf Summit for a minute. In going out Route 50, we always went through Wolf Summit and we'd say to the kids, our two daughters, "Bow low. This is where your mother was born." Karen, our younger daughter, when she was grown, married and had children, said something about some location and she called it "Bowlow." Well, we couldn't imagine where it was. She finally identified it as the place, "Bowlow, here is where your mother was born."
FROKE: Did Virginia graduate about the same time you did from Salem?
RANDOLPH: Virginia came to Salem, and I met her in Nelson's Drug Store in 1931, I think, the spring her family moved to Salem. Her father was assistant superintendent for the local utility gas company. I met her before they moved, and she entered school that fall. Then they moved again, before she graduated, to Lumberport, where he was assistant superintendent of that district.
In 1933, I was chairman of the lecture course program at the college, and a friend, Charlie, and I went to the World's Fair in Chicago. We hitchhiked out. We had gone to Pittsburgh. I had a gladstone suitcase and I sent it by mail to the William Penn Hotel and picked up my suitcase and as we walked across these marble floors with a beautiful hotel all around us, the damn thing fell open and all my clothes fell out on the floor.
Well, we went down to the YMCA and they were kind enough to give us a room for the night. The clerk took a shine to Charlie. He came up to the room about 11 p.m. and wanted Charlie to come out in the hall with him. Charlie didn't want to. Needless to say, when we asked for a second night we didn't get it. I was not street‑wise.
The next night we went to the Florence Hotel where they had rooms for a dollar. We laid down our dollar and the guy said, "That's two dollars. The sign says a dollar each." So we picked up our dollar and started to leave and he said, "It's all right." So we gave him our dollar and we stayed there that night. We moved on the next day and got to Freemont, Ohio. Charlie said he was going to turn around and go back. So, we divided up what was left of our money and I think I had six dollars and he had maybe two dollars and I went on to Chicago and the World's Fair. I spent three days there. I stayed at the YMCA and was treated better there; no one took a fancy to me. It was a weird experience, the 1933 World's Fair.
FROKE: What prompted you to take off on that adventure? Did someone in Salem College motivate you to go to Chicago and gain different perspectives?
RANDOLPH: The World's Fair was pretty well known, of course. I had some correspondence with a fellow by the name of Culbertson, who was an agent for entertainers. I looked him up and, by golly, he gave me five dollars which helped with my expenses. For breakfast you got a cup of coffee and two Mayflower donuts and that was fifteen cents.
FROKE: What prompted Virginia to come to Washington?
RANDOLPH: Love! Love! Love!
FROKE: She knew you were there?
RANDOLPH: We went together...
FROKE: This would have been 1935, somewhere in there?
RANDOLPH: I went to Washington in September of 1934. Then she came down in June after she graduated in 1935. We got her a job with Agriculture also. She was a secretary and made $140 a month and I made $120. We got married the following Christmas. Two years ago we celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary.
FROKE: Was it shortly after you marriage that you decided to come back to the Clarksburg, West Virginia, area?
RANDOLPH: No, we lived in Washington, D.C. for five years. I came back over here with a newly organized health insurance group. We sold hospital insurance. I had a drawing account of $25 a week. It was a commission job. We had a policy which was five dollars a day for hospital care for 35 days, ten dollars for anesthetics, and ten dollars for the operating room, and five dollars for x‑ray. That was full coverage in the hospital business. I have just come back from Cleveland where I had an eight‑day stay and that cost $10,000. There is a difference in medical care nowadays in this country.
FROKE: Had you been offered a job in Clarksburg before you left Washington?
RANDOLPH: Oh, yes. Congressman Edmiston, John Gilmore, and George Jackson talked me into coming back. John Gilmore only stayed here about a year, if that long, and then I took the thing over from there. That's how my introduction into the insurance business took place.
FROKE: So it was about 1939 when you came back to Clarksburg?
RANDOLPH: That's right, 1939.
FROKE: You continued to manage the insurance company until 1956?
RANDOLPH: I guess about 1956. While I was in the service we maintained it. The gal who supervised the office ran it while I was in the service. After I went down to the cable company, we held on to it. Later we disposed of it. It wasn't worth much anyway.
FROKE: Going back to the chronology in picking up the military service. In 1939, obviously, things were stirred up in Europe. You had military service with the U.S. Navy?
RANDOLPH: Yes, Virginia and I had a little fellow who we lost when he was twenty-eight months old. That put me in 1‑A.
FROKE: Was it a flu?
RANDOLPH: Strep throat and doctor's neglect. It turned out that the pediatrician was on dope. I raised hell with some of my medical friends, but the medical profession doesn't police its own very well. That's the unfortunate thing and I suppose it still exists. We called him Sandy, Sandford F. the second. He was a real joy. So that made me a 1‑A. So rather than be drafted, I went down to Charleston and applied for a commission. I got a commission of Lieutenant, junior grade in the Navy.
FROKE: Where did you do your military service?
RANDOLPH: All over. The interesting thing is that there was a lot of criticism about having so many officers at the time. But you have to realize that you do not know in a war when you were going to get people wiped out. You had to have a large backlog of people. The Navy claimed that they worked it so that one‑third of the people were on active duty or duty that was productive, war business. One‑third were in training and a third were chasing ships. You got your orders in New York to pick up your ship in San Francisco, knowing damn well that when you got there, your ship would be gone. Then they would send you someplace else.
FROKE: The casualty toll of junior officers in the military is even higher than the enlisted rate.
RANDOLPH: I was 32 years old at the time. I had indoctrination at Princeton University for two months. There were a lot of very interesting people up there doing the same thing.
FROKE: You spent some time in Washington and some time in Memphis?
RANDOLPH: After my indoctrination, everybody my age went into the armed guard duty. I went to Camp Shelton, Virginia. I spent two months down there. The armed guard had the guns on the merchant ships. I understand that we shot down more of our own planes than the enemy planes.
Then I went to New York, to the Armed Guard Center for the Atlantic. That was an interesting thing. You just spent your time watching movies and doing whatever. The commanding officer, Cokely held court every morning, and that was something that took up time. One morning they brought in this guy that had a Mohawk haircut. Someone had been cutting his hair and then came chow time and they never finished. Cokely said, "I'll tell you what I'm going to do. I'm going to give you ten days on bread and water. You had better get some hair restorer because when you come back after ten days, if your hair isn't grown out I'll give you ten more days of bread and water." He was a Brooklynite. I'll never forget, one time a guy came in late from leave and Cokely said, "What time were you due back here?" The guy said, "I was due back here at 0800, Monday morning." "What time did you have to leave there to get back here?" "Well I had to leave at six Sunday evening." "What time did you leave?" "Well I left here at three in the morning." "Then you should have caught an 'oilier' train." I went from Brooklyn to Miami and I was down there two months.
End of Tape 1 Side A
FROKE: You were in Miami for two months, then to...?
RANDOLPH: I came back to mine‑sweeper duty. Sweeping the approaches to the Delaware Bay, Cape May, New Jersey. I lived there at the Admiral Hotel, which the Navy had taken over. They had beautiful table service there and everything was pretty nice. The first day I went over and all they could talk about was having a summary court for the "Indian." The boat had just come back from Anzio Beach in Italy, and this kid they called the "Indian" had given them all kinds of trouble and they couldn't do much with him aboard the ship. They waited until they got back and had a summary court. They were going to land on him just about right.
Second day I came aboard the captain said, "Randolph, I have a job for you." I said, "What's that?" He said, "Defending the Indian." I said, "Well, you're going to be sorry." He said, "Why?" I said, "I'll get the kid off." He said, "No, no, we are really going to pin it on him this time." We went out to sweep and I spent the day preparing my case. When we got back in, early, we convened the summary court of three naval officers on the beach at maybe, 3:30 or 4 p.m. On the way over I stopped the legal officer and I said, "I'm not familiar with Naval courts and boards. Is there such a thing as a directed verdict for the defendant?" He said, "No there is not. Why do you ask?" I said, "I'm defending the Indian." He said, "Boy we're going to hang him. We're going to fix him."
We went in and the first thing I did was suggest the segregation of witnesses so they wouldn't all parrot what the other had said. Of course these three officers didn't know what I was talking about. I said, "I don't know anything about Naval courts and boards, but I know that in civil court you do this." So they said, "Fine." We got all the witnesses out. This kid had three charges against him. He had forged a pass to get by the Marines to get out on liberty. He had come in drunk and had neglected to stand his watch. I had prepared the case pretty well. The junior officer on the prosecution hadn't done anything. After two or three times that I had raised a question, an objection, and the court had ruled, I said to the girl who was the court reporter, "Are you recording my objections?" She said, "No." I knew I had the thing whipped then. They broke and went out for a smoke and they said, "Randolph where do you practice?" I said, "Practice what?" "Law." I said, "I'm not a lawyer." They said, "We thought you were." I knew I was going to get along pretty well then.
I never did put my boy on the stand because I knew he would goof it up. Well, we got through and we said "that's it, is it, aren't we going to argue?" The judges said, "What do you mean argue?" I said, "I don't know anything about the Naval courts and boards but ordinarily the prosecutor makes a statement and then the defense lawyer makes his statement and then the prosecutor has the opportunity to rebut. So they said, "All right." He, of course, didn't have anything to say and of course I made it plain what the testimony had shown. By golly, they came back in with specification one, not guilty; specification two, not guilty; specification three, not guilty. Well, the kid just went wild. He said to me, "Lieutenant, I'm never going to plead guilty again!"
The next day I went by the legal office where this gal and the ensign who was the prosecutor were. They were writing up the thing because the Summary Court is a court of record and the report goes in your file in Washington. I said, "Will you make me a copy of that?" They said, "Sure." So they furnished me with a copy. When they took the one over for the legal officer on the base to sign it to go to Washington, he tore it up. So I have in my possession the complete proceedings and this is the only record of it. That was a very, very interesting experience.
While in Washington, (1934‑39) I worked mostly at night, either 4 p.m. until midnight or midnight until 7 a.m. A lot of the people I worked with went to night school, law school at the American University. I always wished that I had done that but I goofed. I always wanted to be a lawyer; it beats working for a living.
FROKE: You did see military service in the Pacific?
RANDOLPH: Oh, yes. After Cape May, two months, I was then assigned to the Armed Guard Center on Treasure Island in San Francisco. I went down from there after about a week to San Pedro and picked up a brand new ship, the "Short Splice". These were 225‑foot ships, about the size of an LST, but they did have a keel and they rode pretty well. They had three holds forward for cargo, and a Refer hold aft.
Then we came into Seattle and pulled into the wharfs there, lumber yards. I wrote Virginia that night and said it was good to see us pull in beside this dock of lumber. Throughout the war, Virginia thought I had a shipload of lumber. All they had done there was line the holds. And then we went on out to an ammunition dump. We were the third ship to load out of there. We were loaded for an invasion, supposedly up above Okinawa. The war moving so fast, they skipped it. We laid out there with the ammunition until the war was over. We had everything on there from shotgun shells to torpedo warheads so you could open up the hold and just reach in like you would in a grocery store. We had filled up in Bangor, Washington, at the munitions depot.
Virginia and I stopped there one time in later years, 1960. We wanted to go in but the base was closed. It was a sentimental thing. They said, "All right. We'll let you in but don't go down to the water." Well, when we got around, that was the first place we headed. There was the first nuclear submarine the "Nautilus". The one that went under the polar cap. It was lying there. That was why they didn't want us down there. It was an ugly thing.
FROKE: So the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki put an end to your military career.
RANDOLPH: That's right. We laid at Eniwetok for thirty‑seven days and then got orders to move up to Guam. Before we got to Guam, at four in the morning, we got signals asking, "Who are you?" We answered, "ANTK." They said, "Stand by for further orders." So about eight in the morning they said, "Proceed on to the nets, but steam up and down outside the nets then proceed on to Saipan to await recall." We got to Saipan the next morning and when we were steaming in these B‑29s started coming back. That was the last bombing other than the atomic bomb.
There were two B‑29 strips on Tinian and one on Saipan and two down in Guam. That's where all the B‑29s were. We saw about 60 percent of them coming back in. Any time you would look up from the ship you could count at least twenty‑five of them. One right after the other.
I wrote Virginia and said, "After what I have seen this morning, it will all be over in thirty days." Well, ten days later they called us down to Guam to discharge our cargo, and while we were there the war was declared over. We had a big celebration on the ship and had grain alcohol, of course. We used brown sugar and melted it down with grain alcohol and we had pretty good drinks.
That was the false alarm. The next night when it was actually over, I slept through the whole thing. The ship next to us spilled oil and had a fire and I didn't know anything about it. I always regretted that we dropped the atomic bomb, because I think if we had dropped a sack of flour, it would have been more humane, and we would have gotten the same results. The Japanese were just waiting for some opportunity to throw in the towel.
FROKE: When were you discharged from the Navy? You were discharged at the grade of Lieutenant?
RANDOLPH: I made full Lieutenant. I left a signalman on the ship. All the men came back through the great northern route into San Francisco. Very rough sea. That was just before Christmas in 1945. My orders were to go to Washington to the insurance school. I went into Washington and then went to the separation center in Boston as an insurance officer. It was so damn cold up there, I asked to be transferred and that was when they sent me down to Memphis. Then I asked for separation and they sent me back to Washington and I was separated there.
FROKE: You were back in Clarksburg, West Virginia, picking up your insurance business in 1946.
RANDOLPH: That's right.
FROKE: During this time, you were stateside from time to time and Virginia was following you, and your family was developing. Your first daughter was born.
RANDOLPH: Ginny Ann was born while I was out on the Pacific. I had told Virginia to let the Red Cross know. One night I'm lying on the bunk and I see the blinker flashing ANTK, ANTK. We hung on the hook all the time because we had ammunition. So I got the signalman and he read it and that was how I found out that Ginny Ann was a week old. What had happened was, the port director and the Red Cross guy were going to chow on the beach and the port director said, "Did Randolph's wife have the baby yet?" He said, "Yes." He said, "Does he know it?" He said, "I just put a note in the mail, he'll know tomorrow." The port director said, "For gosh sakes, let him know now." So they sent a message out that Ginny Ann was born. Then Karen was three years later.
FROKE: I want to mention, just as an aside, that Karen also went into a family that was involved in the cable television business. Joseph Aman is your son‑in‑law and has then worked in cable as well. At this particular time, he's working for TCI and is responsible for the TCI properties in Pennsylvania.
RANDOLPH: That's right. Joe is a mighty fine young man. He worked for us in Clarksburg. Worked his way through Fairmont State College. Then we took him down to the National Convention in Washington and introduced him to all of our "old friends." That would be about twenty years ago. Of course, all the people in the cable business then were old friends because there weren't too many of us. Jim Palmer grabbed him and made him a manager of a system near Pittsburgh. Then in a year they moved into State College. When TCI took over Centre Video, they started spreading Joe around.
FROKE: So in 1946, you came back to Clarksburg with Virginia and Ginny Ann.
RANDOLPH: They were here. They continued to live here when I was out in the Pacific.
FROKE: So you picked up your insurance business and became involved in community life and became a trustee of Salem College. How did that come about? That was in 1946?
RANDOLPH: In 1946, that's right. I had been part of the college all those years.
FROKE: They must have had a lot of respect for you even though you were very young then.
RANDOLPH: Board members were hard to find. It was a struggling college and people don't join up too much. Salem College was doing real good during the educational boom. A lot of colleges sprung then and there was a lot of federal funding. Of course, we had at one time about 1,100 students. We talked earlier about 175 to 300 students. Then we got up to 1,100 or 1,200 and now the college is down to about 500. It's gotten tougher educationwise and it's a private college.
FROKE: The mid 1940s and the end of the war brought an opportunity then for the broadcast television industry to get started again. The research and development had been held up with the start of World War II. There was such a great clamor to get television that the FCC realized that they were going to have to find more ways to get more TV stations on the air. Some people came down to Clarksburg, West Virginia, with some financiers and they decided to try to introduce cable television in this area. That was in 1956.
RANDOLPH: No, in 1953. I came back to the insurance agency and then I did some work as an American Legion service officer. I helped people with their claims and so forth. I told the people down at the Legion that we were not going to get any of these World War II boys who had been around the world and had seen nice things. The bar that the Legion had on the second floor of the old house was not going to be any attraction to them because they had seen better. They said, "Well what do we do?" I suggested moving same to the basement. They said, "We can't, there is only six feet of headroom." I said, "Well let's make more headroom." They said, "See what you can do."
I got in touch with Clyde Shrum, a contractor, and we went in there and we cut under the 24‑inch stone wall that made up the foundation. We took out four feet of dirt under there and went down and extended the walls down into the ground enough so that we had a good nine feet of headroom. We put in a nice, beautiful, up-to-date bar and a poker room and so forth. It was a nice operation. That was my first association with Clyde Shrum.
He called me one day and said, "I've got a franchise for a pre‑fabricated house, National Homes, Lafayette, Indiana." He said, "they are having a meeting of dealers. I wonder if you would go out west with me to evaluate this?" I said, "Fine." Jack Fleming was out at Southern Pine Lumber Co., a building and lumber place. So the three of us went out to Lafayette, Indiana, and saw the first Thrift Home that National had built. They had started on Monday with digging the trench for the footer and had poured the concrete slab. We were there on Friday and the house was complete. National built eleven houses a day in the summer and five in the winter. They went from that to forty a day in their plant at Lafayette, Indiana. Then they went to Horseheads, New York, and built a plant. We thought it was very impressive.
Before the end of the year I went to Clyde and said, "I'm wasting a lot of time. I want to work a half day with you in construction." He said, "Well, what can you do?" I said, "Well, I can expedite materials. I can do some running for you." He said, "How much money would you want?" I said, "Well I ought to have at least three dollars an hour." He said, "I couldn't pay that." A couple of days before January first he called me and said, "Come on down, we'll talk." I went with him then.
I've always been interested in the construction business and this was a good opportunity. A full page ad came out in the paper for National Homes which Clyde didn't even know was coming out. We started getting calls and he sent me out on the first call. These houses, the Thrift Homes were in the $5,000 category. I sold one of our deluxe houses for $11,000. It was the first one that I sold. These people just took my word; I hold that very, very valuable. I sold $40,000 worth of houses without anyone ever seeing one. I told them it was a good buy and it was proven to be, so people bought them on my say so. In the two and a half years we sold about one hundred or more houses. I did all the selling and the financing on them and the expediting. It was an interesting experience.
Then people came down from New York, and there was a lot of talk, and they were going to build a TV cable system. It had no interest to me. At the 1933 World's Fair, I had seen a television exhibition and demonstration and at the 1939 World's Fair in New York, I had seen it again.
FROKE: Did Clarksburg have any TV then?
RANDOLPH: Oh, no, no. There was only one station in Pittsburgh and that was Channel 3, the old Dumont station, KDKA then WDTV. That was the only station that had a chance of getting in here but it wasn't a watchable thing. I had no interest at all.
Mr. Highland, who owned the local paper and controlled the Empire Bank, ran horrible stories in the paper about how these people had applied for a franchise. He showed pictures of amplifiers on poles and the amplifiers would be shown as two or three‑ton things, 4 or 5 feet in a cube and they were a danger that could fall down and kill people. That was the kind of war that he waged.
I got a call from George McQuain, and one from Luther Berry. Berry was head guy at the Union Bank, and George was their lawyer. Interesting thing, they were looking for a manager. They had interviewed everybody in Clarksburg who was unemployed and looking for a job. Their next step was to ask Luther and George to line up some people who were successfully employed and who might like to venture out into a different field. Luther called me and it happened that Charlie Brown was in and so I went over. I thought maybe I could learn something but I wasn't interested because I had the insurance company in the red that I needed to work on. Much of the meeting was spent with Brown making inquiries about pre‑fabricated housing.
Charlie Brown said, "Why don't you write me one page on why you think you might want this job?" I took it back to the bank, over to Luther. I came home that night and Virginia said, "Luther called and said he wants to have breakfast with you in the morning." I met him and before we went to the dining room he offered me the job for $6,500 a year and I grabbed it.
That was the beginning of the thing. "Jock" Whitney, rich and famous, had the venture capital concern which was J.H. Whitney and Company. George Wells, who was the sole heir to the American Optical fortune, had a venture capital concern which was Fox‑Wells. These two people got together and put in a little bit of money. In fact, they gave me $150,000. That's all the money that was ever put in the Clarksburg system. Just when I got down to the last $5,000 with arrangements made at the bank to borrow whatever else we needed, we got into making taps and into service.
In those days we charged $125 dollars for the hookup and then there was a federal excise tax, I think it was 6 percent, and then you had state consumers tax. So it was $137.50 that people paid.
The government was interested in utilities and, of course we must always remember that the cable company is not a utility. Utilities were given the opportunity to build out into the rural areas. This was not a really profitable thing. They set up a category of the money that they got for going out there. The money that we got for connecting to the cable was $125. It was treated as a "contribution in aid of construction." They paid no taxes on that until you had your whole system paid for. That was the basis on how so many people were able to get into a very profitable business without any capital.
FROKE: The Whitney and Fox‑Wells financiers were the ones who put the money into the Williamsport, Pennsylvania system about that same time.
RANDOLPH: That's right. Ray Schnieder was the manager up there.
FROKE: You had a variety of work experience and you had, obviously immersed yourself in the community. Apparently they were looking for somebody who had a strong feeling of the community in which they were living.
RANDOLPH: Right after I became associated with them, the newspaper had no critical comments about the cable company. We got along fine with Mr. Highland.
FROKE: What would prompt the publisher of the newspaper to depict cable television this way?
RANDOLPH: He was afraid of losing readership. That would be the whole thing. Time magazine carried a story about him. It was a very unkind thing and if my people at Whitney had anything to do with Time carrying it, I was very ashamed of them. The man owned the newspaper and he could do what he wanted to do with it. Time magazine carried a story later on his death and the article referred back to that thing.
FROKE: So the financing arrangement was something like: Okay, you be the manager. You would have $150,000 to get the Clarksburg system operational and start bringing in some money. You had a certain time period in which to do it. You had a salary of $6,500 dollars a year. You then started to learn about the cable business and went up to Williamsport to gather information.
RANDOLPH: I had heard about coaxial cable that the telephone company was using experimentally in Virginia. It was a hollow core with spacer and a center conductor. I couldn't figure out how you could hook that thing up to a television set. I went up to Williamsport to see Ray. Kip Fletcher was a Jerrold engineer and was there. He was one of the finest people I have ever known. He taught me what little technical stuff he could. At that time, Randy Tucker who now lives down in the Charlotte area, and his brother‑in‑law Doug Talbott, had been the distributor for Jerrold out of Pittsburgh. It wasn't going too good so they split company and Randy went with Jerrold down in Philadelphia. Doug came here as our field engineer. At the same time they were building both Fairmont and Clarksburg.
FROKE: You had responsibilities for both of them?
RANDOLPH: No, I had responsibilities only for Clarksburg at that time. Ned Pence, whose father was the president of Fairmont State College, was managing the Fairmont system. Ned never did think it would get off the ground. He was very pessimistic about this and indeed he never thought that the people would pay $3.50 a month for any kind of service like this even though there wasn't any other service available. He had to be replaced. In the interim, while we were looking for a manager there, I took care of Fairmont. Then we hired Bertram "Boots" Cousins, Jr., who only recently retired down there.
FROKE: In addition to the visit that you made to the Williamsport system, how did you prepare yourself to handle the planning, development, layout, construction, financing, and administration of the Clarksburg cable system?
RANDOLPH: If you have ever been a member of an Elks Club, you know that the motto is, "Do the job that lies nearest thee." You learn and you had an engineer to do the engineering. We started putting on customers in June of 1953. We had a big opening and a big show down at the Carmichael Auditorium. The interest was so great by that time that the fire marshall had to close the doors to the place and not let anybody else in that night. We had it for about three nights. People were amazed.
FROKE: Did you have to go through the process of a franchise?
RANDOLPH: Oh, yes. That was where Mr. Highland was fighting the issue, on the franchise. Of course, there was no television station here. He was a blessing to us because he fought the television station and we had 4,000 customers before the television station came on the air.
FROKE: The 1953 date came after some of the preliminary arguments related to pole rights from the telephone people or the power people.
RANDOLPH: We didn't have any major problems with them. We paid $1.50 a year per pole. So things went along very well.
FROKE: During those years, you got immersed in regional and national developments. You served as a member of the board of directors of the NCTA.
RANDOLPH: I attended my first convention of the NCTA in 1954, in New York. I've got a picture here some place that shows all the people who attended the banquet. You can count 125 people in the picture and you can pretty well say that that was the total number of people there. There might have been another twenty‑five so the national convention in 1954 had about 150 people. Nationwide. I then became active in the association and served on the board of directors for eight years.
Then we came along with the Fortnightly case. Bill Adler and I got a call from Strat Smith. I was in Pittsburgh at the time. I suppose we were the only two people ever asked to resign from the NCTA board. That was because we were the only two people on the board who were in this jurisdiction to be served papers by the federal government on the lawsuit.
FROKE: Just to summarize, the Fortnightly case came about as a result of a suit brought by United Artists against your cable systems in Fairmont and Clarksburg. It concerned the copyright for some films that were being shown on a television broadcast station. The stations were picked up and were being distributed by the cable systems. United Artists was maintaining that this was a violation of the copyrights on these films. Initially, at the Circuit Court of Appeals you lost. Then it went to the U.S. Supreme Court and the Supreme Court came up with a reversal and a definition of cable television that probably was the foundation for the legal development of the industry.
RANDOLPH: Once it went out on the air, it was public property and the film companies had no further rights. That was an interesting thing.
FROKE: I don't understand why you were asked to resign from the board of directors, however. Did they feel that this would somehow compromise the NCTA?
RANDOLPH: Yes, because Adler and I were the only two in this jurisdiction on which they might serve the papers in the suit.
FROKE: Okay, and they didn't want the NCTA to be involved in the follow‑up.
RANDOLPH: That's right.
FROKE: But you decided to stay on the board anyway.
RANDOLPH: Oh, no, no. We resigned, both of us resigned. In fact, I don't know what we were doing in Pittsburgh. It must have been a convention. Adler was down in Covington. We called him and didn't tell him what the purpose of the call was, but just told him to get to Pittsburgh as quickly as he could. He drove all night and got there about four in the morning. Strat just wanted the two of us to resign.
FROKE: Strat Smith is E. Stratford Smith, who at that time was a prominent attorney in Washington, D.C., who did much of the legal business for the cable television industry on the national level.
RANDOLPH: That's right. Up until we got into this Fortnightly case, he handled most of them. Then Cleary Gottlieb and Hamilton was employed to handle the Fortnightly case. Strat Smith was associated as "of counsel."
FROKE: Bill Adler was one of your colleagues down here in West Virginia.
RANDOLPH: Yes, he had a system in Weston.
FROKE: You went back on the board, and later became president of the NCTA.
RANDOLPH: I don't think I ever went back on the board. I was elected President in 1960. As of that January 1961, we hired our first real executive, and gave him the title of president. I became national chairman for the last six months. Since then they have elected people for the national chairman. The highly‑paid executive was called the president.
FROKE: Which again is an expression of the growth in this industry. The leader of the trade association was pretty much a volunteer in those days.
RANDOLPH: We paid the president $50,000 dollars a year and the first of these didn't work out real good.
FROKE: You are speaking of Donald Taverner?
RANDOLPH: No, no. Taverner came later from WQED in Pittsburgh, the educational station. George Barco was responsible for getting Don into the thing. Bill Dalton was the first president. Frederick Ford, a later president, had been the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission. He was the Republican on the FCC.
End of Tape 1 Side B
FROKE: So you represented the transition period with the National Cable Television Association. Moving it from volunteer leadership, people who had full‑time responsibilities to jobs elsewhere, into a full‑time paid position.
RANDOLPH: Right. Ed Whitney had been an executive secretary prior to that, but he did not belong to this "union" of trade executives which is a pretty forceful thing. When in Washington in 1960 and 1961, I would help fold the bulletins that we put out every Friday. There was Ed Whitney and a couple of girls in the office, and that was the staff. We saw that the industry was well represented in Congress and in the states and we made progress. Perhaps, more real progress than has been made since then.
FROKE: In your mind what is responsible for the very strong political influence of the cable industry at the federal level, even at the state level, for that matter? With all the established industries against you, the telephone companies, utility companies, broadcasters, etc., can you explain how the cable industry has won practically every important economic and legal decision in the past forty years of the industry?
RANDOLPH: The man on the street wanted it. I think that is about it.
FROKE: So you had lots of friends in the consumers.
RANDOLPH: Oh, yes. The consumers were our friends. I think that has been the secret of it.
FROKE: How did the cable industry marshall the consumers in getting their expressions known to the legislators and administrative officers?
RANDOLPH: Jerrold came out with a full‑page ad which we all used. Jerrold was the predominant developer of the equipment that was used and the leader in the industry. They were about four or five steps ahead of any other manufacturer in those days. They came out with a full‑page ad that showed a bar across your TV set with a great big lock on it. Of course, nobody wanted his TV set locked up. People responded to Congress and made a good impression.
FROKE: Some of the other transitions that were taking place at this time included then the NCTA as an organization. They were beginning to be a representative for manufacturers and programmers and related businesses and industries, not necessarily just of the cable operators themselves.
RANDOLPH: In those days, it was principally the operators. You didn't have any program services in those days. You did have manufacturers and they participated in the NCTA and were associate members. The board of directors for the NCTA speaks for the industry and today is made up of multiple owners, rather than small independent owners.
FROKE: This is another example of a transition in the industry. They used to be referred to as "Ma and Pa" operations and during the transition they've consolidated and have become known as Multiple System Owners. You were beginning to be involved with that in Clarksburg and in Fairmont with TelePrompTer? Was it TelePrompTer that first bought out?
RANDOLPH: No, no. Clarksburg Television Cable Inc., was originally owned by Whitney and Fox‑Wells interests. Jim Rogers was really the spokesman for Fox‑Wells. He had been an advertising man with Benton & Bowles. The Whitney boy was Wrede W. Petersmyer, who is now president of Corinthian Broadcasters, and Charlie Brown. When Fox‑Wells interest bought out Whitney, they actually split the company. They parted company and all the work seemed to be done by Wrede and Charlie, yet the split on the money was a 50/50 thing. Then Olympic Radio was owned by Fox‑Wells.
The head engineer for American Optical, Bowling Barnes, had a little shop in New York with Olympic Radio. Then they moved it up to Connecticut, and became Olympic Development. Jack Kent Cooke's American Cablevision eventually merged with H&B American and then with TelePrompTer.
FROKE: In the early 1970s, I think in 1971, the president of TelePrompTer, Irving Kahn, who had been one of the spark plugs on new approaches to the cable television industry, became involved in a criminal suit that was brought against him on a charge of ultimately, perjury. He was relieved then or resigned as president of TelePrompTer and new management came in. Mr. Kahn went to prison and TelePrompTer, as a result of the turmoil, began to have serious economic problems. Westinghouse bought out the TelePrompTer people and then Westinghouse began to sell off the pieces of the corporation and TelePrompTer, as a name, no longer exists. It was in 1976 that you ended your relationship with them.
RANDOLPH: They retired me in 1976.
FROKE: Was that after Westinghouse had sold the Clarksburg system?
RANDOLPH: Westinghouse owned it at the time of my retirement. Group W, Westinghouse.
FROKE: From time to time you have said, "If Irving Kahn had not had the difficulties that he did, the industry would have been much further along than it is."
RANDOLPH: Yes, I feel that is very definitely true.
FROKE: You were a great fan of Irving Kahn's ?
RANDOLPH: Well, he's a great guy. Of course, he has come back with the new cable fiber optics. He's making big strides. He's a fellow you can't hold down and he's got a great mind. I maintain that had he not fallen in with that bad luck, the industry ten years ago would have been where it is today.
FROKE: That was one of the economic tragedies of the industry?
RANDOLPH: Yes, I think so.
FROKE: You retired then from active involvement in the operations and management of cable television systems and went into some new activities.
Mr. RANDOLPH: went on to play a significant role in the Cable Television Pioneers. This organization is intended to honor those who played a significant role in the development of the cable television industry. He also played a major role in the development of The National Museum of Cable Television, being one of two persons to suggest the idea; the other being Benjamin J. Conroy, Jr., of Texas.
Let's go back now to the beginning of your involvement with the Clarksburg system.
Tape is blank from this point on. Conversation resumes on Tape 3.
FROKE: Let's get going and talk some more.
RANDOLPH: The Clarksburg system came about with "Jock" Whitney's venture capital concern, J.H. Whitney and Co. and Fox‑Wells & Company...Mr. George Wells being the heir to the American Optical fortune. These two venture capital companies saw the opportunity of this new service and went into a joint relationship and first built Williamsport, Pennsylvania. Their second venture, then, was coming down to Clarksburg and Fairmont, two systems built at the same time. Wrede Petersmyer and Charlie Brown were the two people in immediate contact for J.H. Whitney, and the Fox Wells people were represented by Jim Rogers. Those were my contacts. They came into Clarksburg quite some time before I had any interest. They ran into a lot of problems with a local newspaper man, Mr. Cecil B. Highland, who as a lot of newspapers across the country, thought that it might cause them some problems.
FROKE: It would lose readership to television.
RANDOLPH: That's right. Of course there was no television station in Clarksburg. The newspaper, the fussing that was done at that time, Mr. Highland bought the application for a TV station, the same as they did the application for a franchise for a cable company. The fact of the matter is that we were in service and had 4000 customers on line before there was a television station in the area. That added a great deal to the success of the Clarksburg operation. Nobody knew what an antenna was in our area. There was no need for them. As it went along, because of the service that we provided, there are still no antennas in that area. Our principals had had...the law firm of Steptoe and Johnson represent their interests and the Union National Bank their banking facility.
FROKE: What was the name of the law firm again?
RANDOLPH: Steptoe and Johnson. So they had interviewed apparently, a number of people over a period of perhaps three months. Luther Berry, of Union Bank called me and said, "Sandford, these people...I knew that they were fighting over this franchise thing, but I had no interest in it...the people putting in the cable are looking for a manager, and they'd like to talk to you." I said, "I have a little insurance company here that's struggling, so I don't think so, but I'd be glad to sit down and talk with them. I might learn something. I found that they had interviewed about 25 people who were not working and had found none that they thought they wanted to utilize, so they asked them to line up half a dozen people who were working and successfully employed. They thought they had something that might be of interest.
FROKE: You were selling National Homes at the time and doing very well.
RANDOLPH: I was selling National Homes, that's right, and also had an insurance agency. I met with Charlie Brown at George McQuain's office. We spent about an hour, most of which, he was picking my brain about National Homes. Pre‑fabricated housing was another thing that was coming into being, manufactured housing. Charlie was interested in finding out about that. That evening when I got home from some meeting at about 9:30 or 10:00 and Virginia said, "Luther Berry called or George called and they want to have breakfast with you in the morning." We met in the Stonewall Jackson lobby. Before we went down in the dining room to eat, they had offered me the job and $6,500 a year. I was tickled to death to get that.
FROKE: That was about 1951 or '52?
RANDOLPH: That would have been in '53, March of '53.
FROKE: That sounds pretty good for that time.
RANDOLPH: That wasn't too bad. There weren't many other jobs in Clarksburg in that price range, I suppose. That was it, but they said, we don't want to do the hiring, we want you to go to New York and to be up there Monday morning. I said, certainly. "We want Wrede Petersmyer to do the hiring." They had Charlie Robinson along with him. He was sort of an assistant to the fellows. He didn't turn out too well. I went up to New York and Wrede did the hiring. Wrede was president then of Corinthian, they are television stations.
The two parties involved, I would want to say right here, the amount of money that was placed at my disposal to build that system was $150,000. That's all the money that was ever put into the Clarksburg system. It sold many, many times for much, much more. I think that's an interesting fact that people today would not believe. Of course, at that time we had the IRS. The government was trying to get the utilities, the telephone and the electric people to extend their services out into more rural areas. They gave them a tax break which was a contribution "in aid of construction." Under that theory, the early cable TV systems were built. Actually, the people who have done real well, many, many of them would have had no opportunity to get into this business had it not been for that theory of taxation, which said that of the $125 that we charged for the installation of the cable service, was not counted as income until the operation had reclaimed all of the expenses. Then of course, it all became cash flow, and that was the time to sell and do some trading, and that was the early history of it. The "in aid of construction" was the success story of a lot of cable...
FROKE: What explains the fact that the cable systems never really did go out into the rural areas comparable to the rural electrification?
RANDOLPH: Rural electrification came along, in addition, they did go out a great distance farther than they had. When it got to be...
FROKE: Sparse population?
RANDOLPH: Yes, absolutely impractical, then the government set up their own utility thing. The cable business, we used to talk about needing at least 100 houses to the mile of cable that we built, to make it financially. That was the secret of it, there wasn't anybody dropping any money into it, it was just purely a business proposition.
FROKE: In the Clarksburg system, your name comes up quite frequently in relationship to other roles that you played in the cable industry. One of those roles being to teach a number of other people about cable television. It appears from visiting with other cable personnel and reading a bit, that you were one of three or four figures around the United States that new people entering the business gravitated to, to learn the business. They have been referring to you as a mentor and so on. Was that an exceptionally time consuming role? Can you speak a little bit about it and some of the people that came in?
RANDOLPH: I don't recall many names. I know that we had a flood of them. Because it was one of the early ones and people were starting to think about it and look about it.
FROKE: What was there about the Clarksburg system that would pull them to Clarksburg?
RANDOLPH: It was new. There just weren't many. I went up to visit the system with Ray Schneider at Williamsport and I spent a week up there. My only interest, my chief interest in going up there, I had heard about coaxial cable that the telephone company was using down in Virginia. At that time, that was our first piece of coax and of course, it was a piece of aluminum tubing. It had some separators to keep a center line away from the outside. It was under pressure, a gas of some sort. I couldn't imagine. My first interest in going up to Williamsport was to see how you could hook a piece of aluminum pipe onto a television set when it was full of gas and under pressure and so forth. I didn't know that the polyethylene had taken the gas's place.
The manufacturers, of course, Jerrold was a prime manufacturer at that time. People came to them and of course, we were one of Milt's systems there that he referred people. Of course, Ben Conroy came through. Our West Virginia people, I could name a number of them ‑ The Sheplers and the Adlers came. The interesting thing about cable people is that they share, and there's really no competition among them. It's an interesting thing, I think when you spoke of National Homes, I was with the general contractor and selling National prefabricated houses. This was a new thing then. It was a pioneering effort, the same as it had been with the cable. When you went to a meeting of the National Home Builders, the time was spent in a corner, finding out where you could buy stuff the cheapest, and so forth. Everybody shared in that, the same as I have seen them share in the cable business. It was an innovative thing in both cases and everybody's willing to be helpful to the other. That's a beautiful part of being in it. It's not a cutthroat thing. That must be horrible to be associated in a cutthroat operation.
FROKE: So, the system was new. Obviously you were personable and very, very responsive to all of the inquiries that came in. Was there anything else that would bring them to Clarksburg, any unique aspect of the system?
RANDOLPH: I think not, it was a typical system. It was a hundred and five mile system.
FROKE: What was the total number of subscribers at that time? You got up to 4,500 very quickly.
RANDOLPH: It's interesting, they talk about what the saturation is and Clarksburg has carried the 14,000 subscribers from day one, I suppose.
FROKE: So you have almost 100 percent saturation.
RANDOLPH: Well that has always been. Up in Oil City, Ned Cogswell...when one of Mrs. Ascoli's family bought the Oil City thing, they were asking what the saturation was, and Ned said 100 percent. They said, "It can't be. It's impossible." They sent some people in to do a study, and it ended up they said, "by golly, you're right." That was the situation in those days. There wasn't any choice but to use the service.
FROKE: Was the Fairmont system also a Whitney‑Fox Wells.
RANDOLPH: Yes, they were both the same ownership.
FROKE: And it moved ahead a short time after Clarksburg got started?
RANDOLPH: I think the Fairmont system might have started a little bit earlier than Clarksburg.
FROKE: Bill Adler was down there?
RANDOLPH: No, Bill was at the system in Weston. His partner Martin Sweeny got in the business at about the same time as we did. Of course Martin is around 94 years old and lives in a retirement home in Morgantown. Martin has a great story that ought to be put in these archives about his first experience. He had a furniture store. He got a television set and went up on top of the hill and took with him a fellow who had been the town drunk, but who might have straightened up, to cut some filth for him so he could get to where he wanted to go. They got a picture. It apparently was a cartoon and the first thing they saw was a cow jumping over the moon. The drunk said, "they'll swear that so and so is drinking again." The first thing that Sweeney ever saw on the TV was the cow jumping over the moon. He's lived long enough to see people walk on the moon, so that's been a real revelation. He's a great guy.
He and Adler built the system in Weston and went down and built the Summersville system and maybe some other little ones around. Then Adler worked in association with some company to build a system in Charleston, West Virginia, which was unique in the fact that they built parallel systems over a good piece of the town. The system was financed by this advertising concern, which used it in sampling their commercials. Every other house on a street was on one system, while the neighbor was on the second system. The one system carried the straight programming. The second system substituted commercials for what was on the network, and then went into people's houses and went to their kitchen and opened the doors to see if they were buying the cereal that was on the national network or whether the commercial had done any good, which is an interesting aspect of that.
FROKE: The name of the firm was, the one that did the testing?
RANDOLPH: I don't recall it.
FROKE: It was not Arbitron or Nielsen or any of those?
RANDOLPH: I don't think. These were people who produced commercials.
FROKE: So at least a portion of Charleston was wired?
RANDOLPH: It was wired for that testing. It was two parallel cables, one with the network advertising, the other with substitute advertising. We did some of that at one time in Clarksburg. They sent us tapes and they let us know at what time generally it was going to be. Procter & Gamble had a spot in one of the network shows and on the day that we were to substitute, of course it had to be done up at the tower, and we had a tape machine there. Finally at 4:00 in the afternoon they had pinned it down so that it was going to be 9:04:30. We set our clocks with the national thing out of Denver and when that started they'd tell us what the lead in was. As they started to fade out we'd put in the commercial off the tape, and they would have a team of people the next day who would call these people and ask whether they had watched the so and so show and ask about the commercials.
FROKE: They refer to that today as inserts. So even in the early 1950s you were doing commercial inserts.
RANDOLPH: Yes, but not any of our own, not as they're doing it today.
FROKE: It was not automated at that time.
RANDOLPH: There were some cable systems at that time, I'm thinking one particular one close to the New York area that got us into a lot of trouble where they were substituting their own for the national ones. Of course that caused a lot of problems. The Fairmont system was interesting.
FROKE: Was it Bertram "Boots" Cousins who was the manager there?
RANDOLPH: Boots Cousins was not the first manager; he was the manager who only recently retired. The young fellow that they hired as a manager, his father was president of Fairmont State College. He never thought this thing would go. He had no faith in it. He said, people wouldn't pay three dollars and a half. So actually the company had to say, "Well look, let's go. " So I hired Boots.
FROKE: The Fairmont system was under your supervision?
RANDOLPH: For a short period of time, when we found Boots, and Boots has done a fine job.
FROKE: What was Boots's background?
RANDOLPH: Boots's background was like Harry Truman, he was a haberdasher. His family owned Hartley's Department Store. When we contacted Boots, he was selling neckties. He came on in, and they had been there a long time. I think he must have been hired in '54.
FROKE: You looked for personal characteristics and made the judgment that he could do the job, in much the same way that Whitney‑Fox Wells representatives made their judgment with you.
RANDOLPH: I suppose that's the way most people are hired.
FROKE: I think so. Certainly in a new business industry that no one had ever heard about at that time. Whitney‑Fox Wells ownership shifted in Clarksburg, Fairmont.
RANDOLPH: Actually, let me mention here. At that time, they had been in two together there and it appeared that, as I mentioned Wrede Petersmyer and Charlie had a great deal of interest and spent a lot of time at it. Any profit that they might have had would have been a 50/50 thing. They thought that was sort of unfair, so they decided to divide the cookies and they had some other franchises and Fox Wells went down to build Muscle Shoals, Alabama, and from then on, they operated separately. And J.H. Whitney went out west and built three operations in the state of Washington--Walla Walla, Wenatchee and Richland.
FROKE: Whitney had sole ownership of the Clarksburg system for a while?
RANDOLPH: Not full ownership.
FROKE: A partnership, I'm sorry.
RANDOLPH: It was still a partnership, but from then on, they went their separate ways.
FROKE: What happened to it later? If you could follow the trail and all of the sales of that system.
RANDOLPH: Going back to the history of how things changed in the Clarksburg system, we said, the original owners were Fox Wells & Company and J.H. Whitney & Co., the two venture capital concerns. As things went along, it happened that Jim Rogers was serving on a board, not Scientific America, but it was a scientific magazine. During a coffee break he was visiting with Nathan W. Levin who was handling the finances for Marian Ascoli, wife of Max Ascoli. Max was the publisher of the Reporter magazine. It seems that Mr. Levin was asking Jim if he knew any property that might be available that would throw, I think the figure was $100,000 a year perhaps. Jim, being the smart businessman that he was, representing Fox Wells interest, did not know at the time, but the next day, remembered and said to Nathan, "we've got a little company down in West Virginia that you might be interested in. It's a TV cable company, and that's sort of an interesting new thing." So that is what happened, the Ascolis, the Rosenwald interests got into the Clarksburg system. Marian Ascoli was the daughter of Julius Rosenwald, founder of Sears Roebuck.
In the meantime, going back a minute, the Bowling Barnes, was the infrared expert in the country and he was with the optical company, George Wells' interest. When he left American Optical, they set him up a laboratory in New York where they were building Olympic radios, and it was called the Olympic Radio and Television Manufacturing Company. Stockholders began to yell a little that they were spending too much money. So they spun it off into Olympic Development Company, and that at one time was the ownership of Clarksburg. We said it went over to Fortnightly Corporation which was the corporation of the Ascoli and the Rosenwald people. Marian Ascoli was a delightful person, and Max was an interesting party too and an editor of the Reporter magazine, and of course they used some of the profits or all of the profits when Clarksburg fell into that category. They got along pretty well with it until the Internal Revenue Service came in. They came down for an interview and I said, " how did you get along with the lawyer and they said, "Fine the IRS came." I was in New York. Ten days later, they got a deficiency, for back taxes which was a million dollars that they owed, saying that Reporter magazine was a rich man's folly and not a business venture. That was one of the interesting things that happened along in the business world.
FROKE: How did that play out?
RANDOLPH: They paid the million dollars.
FROKE: They did have to pay the million?
RANDOLPH: Oh yes.
FROKE: So some of the Clarksburg Cable Television system profits were supporting Reporter magazine?
RANDOLPH: Yes. It was losing money. It was losing money all the time. It was a rich man's folly.
FROKE: I used to read the magazine when I was going to school.
RANDOLPH: Did you understand any of it? I read one story that I understood and I forget now, what it was, but it was a high‑class thing. The problem was that we didn't let too many people back in the hills realize who owned the cable system. It was a little pinkish.
FROKE: Sandford, I never would have thought that Clarksburg, West Virginia, would be supporting a magazine like that.
RANDOLPH: We supported a lot of projects, some questionable, and some pretty solid. The cable business has thrown a lot of cash, and that's what people are interested in.
FROKE: I'd like to follow through on the ownership. The Fortnightly ownership passed to TelePrompTer?
FROKE: This came after Irving Kahn had really left TelePrompTer, am I right? It was John J. Cooke...
RANDOLPH: Jack Kent Cooke, who owns the Redskins now, owns the Chrysler building in New York and is one of the finest gentlemen that I have ever known. I am very fond of his ability and what he has done. He wanted, as I understand it, he came here from Canada, in order to own a television station, you had to be a citizen. Senator Magnesson of Washington was responsible for a special act of Congress which made him a citizen. Then he got interested in the cable business.
At one time, there were eight systems in his properties, known as American CableVision. Then he wanted to be the biggest of something. It's pretty much what motivated this whole thing. American CableVision then merged with H&B Corporation to become H&B American Corporation. That was the second largest multiple ownership. There was one more hurdle to go. I might say that Bill Bresnan managed one of the original eight systems that Cooke owned, and then we went into H&B American and that was when the efforts were made for Jack to become the biggest. He gets together with Irving Kahn and they agree to a merger, I guess, back in H&B American. Jack owned all of American CableVision and then he owned about 40% of H&B American. Then of TelePrompTer he owned about 20% perhaps, and that deal was made with the understanding that while Mr. Cooke would serve on the board of directors that Irving would actually vote his stock.
FROKE: This was after the Johnstown matter?
RANDOLPH: No. It might have something to do with it if you read between the lines.
FROKE: But the merger took place before the indictment was made?
RANDOLPH: The merger took place and at the first stockholder's meeting, Irving Kahn, in voting Jack Kent Cooke's stock, voted Jack Kent Cooke off of the board. Whether that annoyed anybody or not, I don't know. Anyway, the unfortunate Johnstown situation occurred and that is a different history.
FROKE: That's when Jack Kent Cooke came back in?
RANDOLPH: Then Jack stepped in and ran the operation.
FROKE: What prompted him to begin disposing of the TelePrompTer properties? They eventually then were sold to Westinghouse. Was it strictly financial? Westinghouse bought TelePrompTer and then Westinghouse went on and pretty much broke it up. There's really very little left of the thing now, with the exception of the name that you hear occasionally.
RANDOLPH: There's no more TelePrompTer. Hub Schlafly and Irving Kahn were a great pair, and of course, that came about after Hub had invented the teleprompter device. Irving and he left Fox Movies and Irving did the promoting of the thing. It was very, very successful. What was your question, Marlowe?
FROKE: Did Cooke dispose of the TelePrompTer properties, the cable properties to Westinghouse primarily as a financial matter?
RANDOLPH: I can't answer that.
FROKE: Westinghouse eventually bought them.
RANDOLPH: Westinghouse eventually bought them. Westinghouse had to divest itself of cable companies close to where they had television stations. That's the reason that Clarksburg and Fairmont had to be sold. Actually then, they divested themselves of all of their other cable properties.
FROKE: And that was the end of the whole TelePrompTer business. TelePrompTer was THE television system for a while.
RANDOLPH: Yes. It was a leader in the whole thing.
FROKE: Were you close to Irving Kahn?
RANDOLPH: Yes, one of the greatest minds ever. I've been fortunate to be associated with a lot of nice people. They have all been very, very good to me. I've had no fuss over not being a rich owner as a lot of my friends have done. Everybody's been good to me and Virginia and I have enjoyed the association a great deal.
FROKE: Did Kahn ever come down to Clarksburg when TelePrompTer owned the system?
RANDOLPH: I don't remember whether Irving visited us down there or not. We had manager's meetings every year. We had a good association there. They treated people real well.
FROKE: They would hold annual meetings, bringing in the managers from all over.
RANDOLPH: The managers and their wives. In Idaho, out at a resort there, we had about four meetings.
FROKE: Who owns the Clarksburg systems now?
RANDOLPH: Wometco bought it and now supposedly it's in transition.
FROKE: Wometco is a firm of television stations and other communications media based in Miami, if I remember correctly.
RANDOLPH: It is being transferred to Alan Gerry of Cablevision Industries Inc.
Let's go back a minute to the early days when the Whitney Boys had just come out of Harvard and they wanted to make sure that all of the "I's" were dotted right and the T's crossed. We were getting ready to send a little card for some informational purposes out to our subscribers and they asked Jim Rogers to write the card. After he had written it they said, "Jim do you mind if we change this "a" to an "and." Jim said, "Be my guest. I made $75,000 a year with Benton & Bowles writing this stuff. You can change anything that you want." It's interesting that his background...if you're old enough to remember Lucky Strike Green...he's the guy that invented the line "Lucky Strike Green has gone to war." That was Jim Rogers' claim to fame. Gerry now is in the process of procuring the Clarksburg system.
FROKE: How much do you think it will be sold for? I've heard that $2,000 a subscriber is the going rate these days.
RANDOLPH: I think that's about right. That's a reasonable figure today.
FROKE: And you've got about 14,000 subscribers, so it's somewhere around $3 million. That's pretty good for $150,000 investment.
RANDOLPH: That's been adding up pretty good. You've got to remember how much has been milked off of it.
FROKE: The second thing that I'd like you talk with you about in a little more detail, is the law case that was central to the cable television industry in those days, and it's future success. Undoubtedly, had it not been for the Supreme Court deciding in a particular way on this case, the cable television industry would have been substantially different today from what it is. You then, with Clarksburg and Fairmont were central to it. This then, being the very, very famous Fortnightly case. What are some of your recollections of that? Did you know that you were making history at the time? You sensed that something was going on.
RANDOLPH: You knew what was right. One thing about the cable industry, by far and large, it's always been trying to do the right thing. I don't think that the industry has ever asked for any consideration that was not in the best interest of our public. I think that's the best thing that can be said about it. The movie people of course were United Artists. The suit was filed in their name. Of course all the movie people had a great interest in it, as did all of the cable people. Fortnightly was chosen as the biggest, I suppose. Because they could serve, they chose Clarksburg and Fairmont to get into the area of open field on the thing, and we became the defendants.
FROKE: I'm not sure what you mean by "they were chosen to get out of the open field."
RANDOLPH: What I was actually thinking about, they served the urban areas.
FROKE: That is a good question and thank you for giving it to me, but why did they choose Clarksburg and why did they choose Fairmont. Maybe they didn't like the Reporter magazine. I suppose one reason would be that West Virginia and Pennsylvania were the hotbed of cable at that time.
End of Tape 3 Side A
FROKE: West Virginia was moving fairly rapidly at that time, getting television into the communities through cable. That was the only way that you could get it.
RANDOLPH: As I indicated, the suit was filed in the Southern District of New York which was where the movie people wanted it. The people in New York, the juries, the courts, would know nothing about cable television, or the wonderful service that it was performing for a lot of people. They would know about the rights of the actors and movie people from the law's standpoint.
FROKE: Clarksburg and Fairmont, then fell within that jurisdiction.
RANDOLPH: I don't know whether we might have been the only TelePrompTer system that would be in that jurisdiction that might be a piece of it. I do know that while we were at a meeting in Pittsburgh, and Bill Adler of Weston was down in where we had an operation, he and I and some others, Covington‑Clifton Forge, Virginia. Strat Smith who represented the NCTA as general counsel, thought it best that Adler and I resign from the NCTA board upon which we served at that time, because we were the only two members of that NCTA board on whom the papers could be served. We were the only two in that district. Bill and I resigned from the board for that purpose. That's one of the only things that I have ever been asked to resign from.
FROKE: That was intended to separate NCTA from the court case.
RANDOLPH: You're right. They were afraid that they might be a part of the thing.
FROKE: And that it could take on a broader significance. So that would rule out the possibility that the cable people and the film people got together and said, let's bring a friendly case and get this settled. Cable was not asking for that to happen at all?
RANDOLPH: No, no.
FROKE: The NCTA seems like it was scared to death when that thing came up.
RANDOLPH: It had been a running fight ever since the thing was started. It became quite a suit.
FROKE: Did Strat Smith, representing NCTA serve as the lawyer of record in the case?
RANDOLPH: The NCTA board employed Cleary Gottlieb Steen and Hamilton to handle the case. I insisted that Strat, having had years of knowledge of the cable industry, could be helpful. They took Strat in as "of counsel" as an informational thing. Bob Barnard was the chief attorney. He was from the Washington office. The firm in New York was Cleary Gottlieb Steen and Ball. Later George Ball served as Under Secretary of State.
FROKE: The issues that were drawn were the right of the artists who put the film together, to draw additional royalties and additional monies because of the audiences that would be watching the program connected to the cable television systems. The opposing side was that the cable system was really nothing more than a continuation of the distribution which began back at the broadcast station transmitter.
RANDOLPH: Our antennas did not reach out. They talked about us reaching out and grabbing their signals, but our antennas were passive devices and of course it was there. They finally ruled that when it left the station, that it became public domain. All that we were doing was serving our several people.
FROKE: In the circuit court, you lost the case. Did you testify in the circuit court hearing or did you get involved only at the U.S. Supreme Court? Do you recall?
RANDOLPH: I was in depositions. I think the bulk of this thing was done by depositions.
FROKE: In circuit court. When it was appealed by Fortnightly, you did have to appear in a court hearing?
RANDOLPH: No. I never did. Everything was done by deposition, and my depositions covered 16 days.
FROKE: Strat Smith interrogated you and Barnard interrogated you?
RANDOLPH: No, Bob did most of it.
FROKE: Louis Nizer was the attorney for United Artists, right?
FROKE: I ran across his name years and years ago. I was fascinated when I was doing a little side reading to prepare for this thing.
RANDOLPH: Of course before the Supreme Court he had his thirty minutes or something like that. Bob Barnard had about thirty minutes. After they left the court room and they were going down some steps I said, "Mr. Nizer I'm the bad fellow in Clarksburg that you talked about, but I'm really not as bad as you painted me." He was a little bow‑legged fellow and he did a pitiful, pitiful job, everyone agreed as far as his appearance. We won that thing and that set the stage for what goes on today.
FROKE: The Supreme Court voted 5‑4. It was a one vote margin.
RANDOLPH: It's seldom that... We lost in the circuit court, and then went to which court next?
FROKE: Appeals court.
RANDOLPH: We lost in it. It's very unique that the Supreme Court will ever hear a case that has lost in both lower courts. That's the interesting thing about this. The interest that the court felt this case was to the public, caused them, in the interest of the public to hear it and to make the decision that they did. That's an interesting aspect of it, that they should accept the case after two lower courts had agreed and we had lost. This is an interesting thing I think. When they were doing these depositions, and they were having a West Virginia cable meeting at the Greenbrier and I was there, all my friends were worried about me. Strat had said to me at one point, "Sandford, you must be careful of what you say. You can't win this case, but you can lose it."
FROKE: That would scare anybody to death.
RANDOLPH: Bill Adler went to Strat...
FROKE: Did Adler have depositions taken too?
RANDOLPH: No, no.
FROKE: This would have gone back to Cousins.
RANDOLPH: Yes. Boots and I took depositions. They were all concerned. I was not myself at the Greenbrier. Bill goes to Strat and says, "What did they do to Sandford in Washington? Something's wrong." They work pretty hard. They never did tell you what to say, and so forth, but you measured your words pretty carefully.
FROKE: So you were under a lot of nervous tension.
RANDOLPH: Yes, that's what did it. It killed my old spirit for a while.
FROKE: Another thing that was going on at the same time then, was the concern that this particular ownership, Ascolis had of the two cable systems. It was my understanding that they wanted to sell. They wanted to get out of this controversy and they did not want to be put in a position of liability. I think they were trying to sell the cable system.
RANDOLPH: Nobody wanted it.
FROKE: Because of the complications and the controversy. Before the case was settled, TelePrompTer bought it. They assumed the liabilities if the decision had gone the other way. Mrs. Stern...
RANDOLPH: Mrs. Ascoli. Julius Rosenwald's daughter, Marian, was first married to Dr. Stern and then later was married to Max Ascoli. Max Ascoli is an Italian political science guy who made speeches against Mussolini and who got out of the country with only the clothes he had on his back. He came and charmed this young lady and they were married. Marian and Max Ascoli are both charming, charming people.
FROKE: She inherited the cable system, so to speak, from her husband?
RANDOLPH: No, no.
FROKE: But there were other cable properties that the Sterns held.
RANDOLPH: Yes, but I don't know what her interest in them might have been.
FROKE: The son, Al, really inherited some of the cable systems.
RANDOLPH: He bought some. She had another brother down in New Orleans who might have had some cable properties too.
FROKE: The Fortnightly case is one of those fascinating things that students at Penn State and at other colleges and universities are going to be reading about for a long, long while.
RANDOLPH: There's a lot to read about.
FROKE: It's a good one. Sandford, I think what I'll do at this point is simply thank you again for spending time on your oral history. I'll go back and read and edit, and we'll have another session at a later time, if you'll endure it.
RANDOLPH: I can endure it.
FROKE: Very good. So this then, will bring to a close this taping session with Sandford Randolph, made on October 5 at University Park, Pennsylvania. This is Tape 3, Side B.
This is an interview done on April 13, 1989, for the Oral History Project of the National Cable Television Center and Museum. Interviewed is Sandford Randolph. The interviewer is Marlowe Froke.
FROKE: This is the third recording session with Sandford F. Randolph of West Virginia, who has been with us on two previous occasions for taping sessions ‑ the first out at his home in West Virginia, the second here in the Cable Television Center and Museum. This, our third one is also being tape recorded in the Oral History Room of the Cable Television Center and Museum. Sandford, when you wrote me the last time you said this would be the last and final taping session.
RANDOLPH: All right so let's close her up.
FROKE: So we might just as well move ahead.
RANDOLPH: I could go on and on and on and on with story after story, I'm sure, but I think we've covered things pretty well.
FROKE: Thank you very much for going back over the transcript of the second taping session and coming up with the correct spelling of names and the changes that are necessary in any kind of and activity such as this.
RANDOLPH: Certainly. Certainly.
FROKE: Our third taping session was to be on the organization of the West Virginia Cable Television Association, and you were one of the founders.
RANDOLPH: Well, there actually were thirteen cable operators who met at Richwood, West Virginia, for a weekend meeting for this organization. It was 1956.
FROKE: Do you recall the names of the other people, Sandford?
RANDOLPH: A copy of a letter that I wrote recently, listed the 13 people. William B. Adler, Weston; Berry Small, Fairmont co‑op; Lyle W. Coffey, War; James V. Coste, Hinton; Bertram (Boots) Cousins, Jr., Fairmont; F. Gordon Fuqua, Bluefield; Carl Gainer, Richwood; Louis Mahone, War; Sandford F. Randolph, Clarksburg; Sam Shaw, Moundsville; Ralph Shepler, Elkins; Martin Sweeney, Weston; and Melvin Truax, Wheeling. Possibly two others were from environs of Charleston.
FROKE: Most of those names are still around in one way or another with the cable business.
RANDOLPH: Oh yes, yes. Some of them have done real, real well, and now are...
RANDOLPH: I guess so. Two of them just flew around the world in the new Concord and one of the others has done about the same this year. These boys have done real well.
FROKE: What prompted you to get together this group of thirteen?
RANDOLPH: We had had an exchange of information ever since the thing got started. Of course we started in Clarksburg in '53. We met, the group itself, before we organized, got together about once a month to discuss things and to share experiences and add information. So then we decided, I don't know at who's suggestion, but to make a more formal organization.
FROKE: At that time there were no special political pressures coming from the federal government or the state governments or the local municipalities so you probably were just sharing information about technical matters and business matters.
RANDOLPH: Well I don't know if there was ever a time that there weren't problems because I think this industry has been put upon, perhaps more than any other by jealous hearted politicians who wanted to make it tough for the cable business. The cable business has had a tough come along and of course with organization, the national association was suggesting state groups, I'm sure. Of course, Strat Smith who was the executive secretary and perhaps at that time certainly was the association counsel. He came over and joined us at this weekend at the time that we did organize. As I have said before, I think it was at the little Maple Leaf Motel, I believe.
Of course Richwood's where State Senator Carl Gainer's operation is and he arranged for it. There were thirteen of us and there were about six beds so I don't know who slept three to the bed. We had a dinner, a real fancy thing, and Jim Comstock made one of his first speeches to our group. We thought we should have a report. While we were half way into the cocktail party, someone suggested we ought to have a speaker, and so they ran downtown and got Jim and so then the following spring...
FROKE: Comstock is the senator?
RANDOLPH: No, Comstock is the editor and publisher of The Hillbilly, not a magazine, a newspaper that came out weekly. Jim has a different sense of humor.
FROKE: He's a good after dinner speaker obviously.
RANDOLPH: He did pretty well. We took him to Philadelphia the next spring to the national convention and he spoke at the national convention on, perhaps public relations, or something like that. Jim, at this time... we're talking now of course in April. In April, in the mountains of West Virginia, there's a wild onion that grows back in a shadowed place and it's called a ramp. Are you familiar with ramps?
FROKE: Not when I can avoid it.
RANDOLPH: Well, that's right. These things, they cook them and they eat them and they're pretty good. I've eaten them.
FROKE: They have a tendency to stay on...
RANDOLPH: Oh, they stay on your breath for three or four days. They even come out through the pores of your skin. Jim, in printing the newspaper, ground up and took the juice out of some ramps and put it in his printer's ink and all over the United States they knew that it was ramp season in West Virginia. He had a pretty good circulation of that.
FROKE: Is Richwood the town that celebrates ramp every year? There is a town down there that has some kind of festival.
RANDOLPH: It might be Richwood. They have a Cherry River Navy there that's unique, and a lot of things like that. Back in the hills we make our own entertainment. Entertainment doesn't come in from the outside.
FROKE: So there were cable political issues in those days, also, 1953, '54?
RANDOLPH: Well, I think at about that same time one of our operators in the southern part of West Virginia enjoyed fooling around with the cable system. It was a plaything for him and every morning he'd have the cable off, doing something‑‑this, that, or the other without any concern for who he might be disturbing. So, a lady called in one morning and said, "Do we have to put up with this disruption in service every morning without any consideration for us?" He was very frank and earnest and said, "If you don't like the service, just don't pay your bill and we'll cut it off." Well, that was not the way you ordinarily would do it, I think.
It so happened, this lady's husband was in the West Virginia state legislature. So that was the first bill to put us under the Public Service Commission that ever came before the legislature. And I suppose every session of the legislature since has had such a bill. So it's a continuous fight as it was this past session that just ended last Saturday night.
There was a bill sponsored by Senator Chafin of Mingo County. It did not pass. I understand the Public Service Commission had no interest in it. Others say yes they do. It's been that, and then of course we got into the federal legislative thing. West Virginia at that time was one of very, very few state organizations that went into Washington for legislative purposes. The industry has been very appreciative of what we did in the early days. I don't think as much is done anymore, but we were a leader in the industry in that respect.
FROKE: So you were politically astute as to what was happening, not only at the state level but at the national level?
RANDOLPH: Perhaps the first time that we almost got caught in the FCC regulation was Senate Bill 2653. Now that again would have been back in '57 or '58, perhaps. It would have been a tie vote. And the president of the Senate would have voted and we would have been under the Public Service Commission in that instance had Senator Jennings Randolph not made a live pair with a senator from Indiana. Jennings called me down from up in the balcony, and we sat down in the president of the Senate's office and he said, "Now this is what's going on. We promised to vote this thing by four o'clock this afternoon." He said "It's not going to be, too much talking." So he said, "I've done this. I've arranged a live pair. I'll explain to you what a live pair is."
He said that when one vote comes to Senator (we'll call him Jones) he will stand up and say "I've arranged a live pair with Senator Randolph from West Virginia. If I were voting, I would vote for the bill. Since Senator Randolph would vote no, then that kills that vote." If Jennings had not done that, it would have been a tie vote.
That's how close the thing was, and we no doubt would have been under the FCC law earlier than was the case.
FROKE: Are motivations for the federal legislation and the state legislation tied to reception problems or dissatisfaction on the part of someone with their signal service?
RANDOLPH: No, we used to go down and look at the complaints that the Public Service Commission had. They opened the files to us and they were 20 to 1 based on the fact that they could not get cable service. These were people out beyond where it was reasonable to build a system, and as I am saying, it was 20 of those to one of anything about service. So that has never been a problem.
FROKE: At that time it was accessibility?
RANDOLPH: Access. I think that's still pretty much what they get out of it.
FROKE: In the West Virginia Association story, how many other cable television associations at the state level were there at that time? The national organization was just beginning to organize in '52, '53.
RANDOLPH: Yes. In 1960, there were few state associations. I was president of the national association, at the time and when in Washington on Friday afternoons, Ed Whitney, Stephanie, his secretary, and I would fold the bulletins and get them in the mail, a weekly bulletin. Well, they don't do that anymore. I don't know how the members get their information, but we used to send out a bulletin every week. Strat Smith was the greatest to whip up interest because Strat had everybody scared to death all of the time and when people are scared they will get out and do what they can to help the situation.
FROKE: So Strat and you were suggesting the state association idea was a good one, that we should have grass roots organizations as well as national organizations.
RANDOLPH: We started in, I suppose, about '60, with a pretty good effort for state associations. And we had regional groups. Our West Virginia group, had Virginia people and Maryland people join with us. We had a three‑state thing until they had enough interest and were on their own feet. That used to be the same situation with the Oklahoma, Texas, and Kansas group. I think pretty much now, they are broken down into individual states. But that's what made us what we are. We were able to round up people to do such things as letter writing, and going into Washington. Everybody was very, very helpful in doing what needed to be done.
FROKE: At that time, most of the cable systems were owned by individuals?
RANDOLPH: Yes, that's right.
FROKE: Looking at the cable ownership pattern today, 1989, you have what you call multiple system owners. You have the big operators so to speak. Relating that then to the state associations today, there seems to be less of a role for them. I draw that conclusion from the decision by the Oklahoma group you mentioned just a moment ago to discontinue their association.
RANDOLPH: I hadn't known that.
FROKE: They voted to disband about six months ago.
RANDOLPH: It's a whole different ball game of course, and these were Ma and Pa organizations starting out then. Of course they've now gone into multiple ownership by sales and so forth. A whole different thing. Apparently they still have the same problems, however, state‑wise for their own state systems.
FROKE: The Oklahoma situation might not be related to this at all. I was asking a question, setting up the hypothesis.
RANDOLPH: Any idea why they decided?
FROKE: No, I...
RANDOLPH: Just interest? See, if you're not scared it's awful easy to drop out of things.
FROKE: That's true, too. What do you think were some of the major achievements of the West Virginia Association?
RANDOLPH: Well, I think we sparked the lobbying efforts not only for our West Virginia problems, but for the national problems. Because we had, at that time, good representation on the NCTA board. In addition to my tenure as president and then national chairman in '60 and '61, Adler, Bill Adler of Weston, came in as chairman about two years after that. At that time West Virginia was a real factor in the national association organization.
FROKE: So you identify the principal role then of state associations as one related to lobbying and...?
RANDOLPH: ...legislative matters. Yes.
FROKE: This is the primary motivation for them.
FROKE: At the same time they do carry on a professional development role with meetings where you exchange information on a wide variety of other topics?
RANDOLPH: That's always been the case. Surely.
FROKE: Was it your role in developing the West Virginia Association that propelled you into national leadership, or were there other factors? In other words, what caught the fancy of people in other states that moved you into the leadership role at the national level at that time period.
RANDOLPH: Well, I was active of course, not only in the state association but in the national association. Of course, as things developed, they moved people along into more responsible situations I guess.
FROKE: So it was a combination of both a sense of what was going on at the state level as well as active participation at the national level?
RANDOLPH: Yes. I had been on the board of the national association for eight years. I always give Ralph Shepler credit for having moved me into the presidency of the thing. He was on the board as well. He's an Elkins operator and has since developed some Florida properties and now in retirement. Ralph, Mary Frances, and Virginia and I used to have a great time traveling around. I'll never forget, we went down to New Orleans for a board meeting. We drove down. We drove two days. We were there two days, and drove back two days. We ran into a snow storm in Birmingham. The fact of the matter was that they had snow in New Orleans. The first snow in New Orleans since 1926 and the biggest one that they had had since '89. Very, very short meeting.
George Barco was president of the Association at the time and we ended up our meeting at about three o'clock in the afternoon. They were about to adjourn and I said, "Is this going to be the end of it?" He said, "Well, is there anything else?" I said, "Well, ordinarily we spend some time on the second day exchanging information and so forth, and discussions and things." They said, "Well, how many would like to have a session in the morning?" Well, 95 percent. So George then told Ed Whitney, "Let's work it out that we eat dinner together." So we ate. We were at the Roosevelt Hotel. Jan Garber was playing in the Rainbow Room. So we went in there and of course everybody had a couple of drinks, but George, not being a drinker, didn't.
Do you realize that's the first time that the National Association ever picked up any expense for any members or officers. George was aghast at a bill of $600 for that dinner. I don't know whether he's ever gotten over that or not. He couldn't imagine...some people apparently had three drinks. But that was a lot of fun, a lot of fellowship. See, we used to go out after these board meetings and spend the evening...
FROKE: Talking, visiting...
RANDOLPH: ...talking, visiting. I understand now, when the meeting's over, it's boom, good‑bye until the next session. Strat was always going to take us over to Baltimore Street in Baltimore and he never did get around to it. Some of us went one night. It was quite a trip. We took a taxi over and it waited to bring us back. We had some good times.
FROKE: What was the year in which the Association picked up the first dinner tab? Would that be about '57, '58?
RANDOLPH: That was about '58, I imagine.
FROKE: Up to that time every individual took care of all personal expenses.
RANDOLPH: All personal expenses. I don't know what they do now. Anyway, they had not ever done so. George thought since we were staying over, maybe they ought to do that. So that's what we did. Everybody had a good time.
FROKE: The West Virginia Association matured over a period of time to the point where you now have an executive director, a staff person, running the operation. It had been volunteer up to what year?
RANDOLPH: I think the last five, but it might have been longer. They've got a gal now that has such a service. She represents others as a lobbyist, and apparently she does our lobbying also. Now we used to have a lobbyist hired in addition to the executive secretary. Now, as I understand it, the executive secretary does the lobbying.
FROKE: This is a full‑time, paid position?
RANDOLPH: No. No. No. No! I don't know how much they pay her, or how much time she spends at it. But she gets out a newsletter and keeps you up on what's what.
FROKE: So you do not have a large staff with the association, it is still heavily oriented toward volunteer contributions from the individual members?
RANDOLPH: What's done, yeah. They call them in and volunteer lobbying during legislative sessions. Of course we have, the West Virginia Association has two meetings per year, one in the spring and one in the fall. The fall one is always held at the Greenbrier which at $300 a day for a couple‑‑that's without any lunch‑‑cuts down on the attendance. There's no question about that. Of course the membership is made up of golf players. That's the damnable part of...we've gone from lobbying to golfing, and that's perhaps what happened out in Oklahoma.
FROKE: What are some of the issues that West Virginia is facing right now, from a political point of view, or a legal point of view? You mentioned one earlier in the conversation.
RANDOLPH: Well, this last session is when Senator Chafin put in a bill to...
FROKE: ...put you under their West Virginia Public Utilities Commission.
RANDOLPH: Yeah. What regulation they can impose is still a question to me. But, anyway he got some play on it and got some publicity and had enough of his own problems. He didn't need to get us into anything.
FROKE: And the legislature itself, voted it down?
RANDOLPH: Well, it didn't come out of committee, you see?
FROKE: Ok. Ok.
RANDOLPH: The last two weeks...the Rules Committee controls what gets out on the floor. They always refer these bills to two separate committees, one on finance and one is Rules. So it didn't get out of committee. He tagged it on on the last day onto another bill by endorsement. But it still didn't come through, thank goodness.
FROKE: In addition to your organizational roles in the West Virginia Association and with the national association, (National Cable Television Association), you also have taken a leadership role with another group called the Cable Television Pioneers. What was the background to the development of that organization?
RANDOLPH: Stan Searle in the early days was the publisher of TV and Communications, now called Cable Television Business. It was THE industry publication.
FROKE: Published by Cardiff Publications?
RANDOLPH: Well it is now Cardiff Publications. I'm not too familiar with it other than at one of the national conventions, at the convention in 1966, they honored 21 people who had rendered some service to the industry or the National Cable Television Association. Fortunately I was so honored, and the naming at that time was merely the naming from a committee, an undisclosed committee. I don't think anybody knows now who chose those people. But they were 21 early leaders in the cable business. Those 21, then, decided that they might be of some service further to the industry if they collaborated. So a dinner was set up at the next national convention, which might have been in Boston, I'm not exactly sure.
Since then, each year, each existing member has an opportunity to nominate one person who they feel has contributed to either the industry or the association. Then those nominations are acted upon by the membership. The membership has been added to in that manner. Some years none were added. Some years five were added. One year as many as 70 were added, and that was in 1977. The feeling has been in the last couple or three years that there are a lot of people who have contributed who deserve that extra consideration. I would say very modestly in my relationship with the thing that membership is held in high esteem. People are delighted to be a part of it. This last year we took in 27 people. This year again we are asking that the members filter through their thoughts as to who...we don't want anybody to slip through the floorboards and not have an opportunity to be a part of it.
With the advent of the National Cable Television Center and Museum, the Pioneers have become a worthwhile thing. So this year following another plea to find who ought to be members, we are taking in a class of 50. Now each of these people has contributed something to the state or national association and has been in the cable industry for as long as 20 years. Originally of course when we started, ten years was a long time. Now to get the old timers in, we use that figure of 20 years and that's how many will be inducted at the dinner in Dallas this year. That'll bring our membership up to about 325.
FROKE: When Stan Searle mentioned an organization such as this, was it in the context of that first dinner? "Let's have a dinner to honor 21 pioneers."
RANDOLPH: No, that was just some extra added attraction for that convention. Searle, from the magazine standpoint, thought it would be well to honor these people. Then of course, these 21 decided, that it was a good fellowship thing so it carried on and developed as it has. Then of course came the idea, the sponsorship of the Center and Museum. And now it's a very, very worthwhile thing. You can point to not only the once‑a‑year dinner and association, you can point to what's being done to put in concrete what the industry has done.
FROKE: Was the name Cable TV Pioneers also identified by Stan Searle?
RANDOLPH: No, I don't believe. I don't know that it evolved...
FROKE: ...some other way probably.
RANDOLPH: Perhaps so. I think Pioneers has pretty much been the name along with it.
FROKE: Each year you get together and hold a black tie dinner in association with the NCTA National Show. In addition to the cost of the dinner that each member is expected to pay, what is the annual membership fee?
RANDOLPH: Forty dollars dues.
FROKE: That then takes care of the communication that goes on throughout the year.
RANDOLPH: The communication, the membership pins, and the membership certificates, and so forth.
FROKE: You are the executive secretary.
RANDOLPH: For the past ten years, I have acted in that capacity, yes.
FROKE: You handle all of the correspondence and all of the other activities that go on with the Cable TV Pioneers.
RANDOLPH: That's right. That's right. Now coming up this year there were some that felt that with our new relationship with Penn State University, we should have a more formal organization. Yolanda Barco, Ben Conroy, and Strat Smith have spent hours on the telephone and I have the proof of the by‑laws which will be acted upon at the dinner. There'll be no real difference in the operation of things, but we have some things in black and white that we've been assuming and understanding over these years.
FROKE: So you will have a formal constitution and by‑laws?
RANDOLPH: Not a constitution, I don't know what the difference is. The title of it is Articles of Association and By‑laws.
FROKE: Articles of Association.
RANDOLPH: That's the word. Each person, each member will get a copy of that in the mail 30 days prior to the dinner. We don't expect any opposition. There's never been anything really argumentative among the Pioneers until we did take in, in Chicago, George Spelvin. That thing was put together by Bill Adler and Ben Conroy. I think it would shape up to one of the best hoaxes ever perpetrated upon any group. Those of you who find a copy in the Museum of considerable correspondence which relates what people's feelings were about George Spelvin who, by the way, will end up at the end of the story as fictitious character.
It just so happens that George Spelvin is a name that is used in the theater when one person plays two parts. The second part is listed in the program as being played by George Spelvin. So that's where the name came from. I think one of the most interesting things, George Spelvin was supposed to have had a system around‑‑not too far from Marietta, Ohio. Shepler, Thorniley and Harkins had the system in Marietta. They had the stationery printed up with George Spelvin Enterprises on it and his correspondence enters into this thing. They picked up mail to George at a post office box and they sent it out with his stationery. The big thing at that time, they were talking about local origination. And the boys said Spelvin put a camera in the window of his cable office and focused it on the front of the liquor store, right across the street. Of course that fed into all of the people on the system. Liquor sales fell off about 50% and of course George said all he was doing was what the FCC wanted the cable companies to do‑‑things of local interest. That's just one of the little things that developed in the George Spelvin Papers.
FROKE: As you mentioned, we do have the Spelvin Papers in the Center and Museum. It is a set of voluminous correspondence as you said.
RANDOLPH: Very, very enlightening.
FROKE: If someone is looking for several chuckles, they would enjoy reading the Spelvin Papers.
RANDOLPH: The Boston dinner is when, as I started out to say, the first time that there had been any controversy. The only controversy was whether or not George Spelvin should be kicked out of the Pioneers or not. He was left.
FROKE: As you probably know, Sandford, George Spelvin also contributed to the Center and Museum.
RANDOLPH: That's what I understand. Was it a large contribution?
FROKE: It was a modest contribution.
RANDOLPH: A modest contribution.
FROKE: But we are very, very thankful for it.
RANDOLPH: That's the only contribution he has made to the industry.
FROKE: You mentioned that the Cable TV Pioneers was the organization that established the National Cable Television Center and Museum. Do you recall some of the early thinking about that? How that came about? I would imagine the idea bounced around for a while in different people's minds and probably came up in cocktail conversations or dinner conversations. But it was not until, say, 1985 that the initiatives came to Penn State.
RANDOLPH: George Barco took the thing, bull by the horns and...
FROKE: ...inquired of Penn State?
RANDOLPH: And inquired of Penn State. With his relationship on the state‑wide PENNARAMA, Penn State just wholeheartedly grabbed hold of the idea and furnished all of the enthusiasm and the know‑how. It's been a great tribute on the part of Penn State and the enthusiasm of President Jordan and you, and the others who have been...I don't know how you all can get so excited over a thing that you didn't know anything about.
FROKE: You don't remember any table conversation prior to say the 1984‑85 time period related to the Cable Center and Museum?
RANDOLPH: No. At these pioneer dinners, I don't think anybody remembers any of the conversation.
FROKE: Thank you very much. The Cable TV Pioneers had enthusiastic support from some of the other groups in the industry as well.
RANDOLPH: Well, CATA has been an association with some divergent views other than what NCTA might have had on things. That has been helpful. So CATA, as it is referred to, is one of the sponsoring entities of the Center and Museum as well as the National Cable Television Association.
End of Tape 4, Side A
RANDOLPH: And of course the pioneer group is disassociated there with any of these organizations, there's no tie. And originally we carried on our certificates something about sponsorship by NCTA, but now you don't see that. We're a wholly different group.
FROKE: West Virginia was the first state association to make a contribution to the Center and Museum.
RANDOLPH: Yes, and not nearly in an amount that I think it should have been. I'm in the process now of trying to increase such giving. Since West Virginia has been a big part of the cable industry in the early days and in the national association, NCTA, I think we've fallen a little short in this effort. Now in the last five months since I started this thing, we've come up with individual contributions to the Museum which are quite worthwhile. I am hopeful that the Association itself will come forth and be representative of other state associations and what they've done. Of course the Pioneer group itself, has given monies that have been in excess of what it has cost to operate the Pioneer office. Dinners are self‑supporting. Sometimes there's a little overflow that goes into it. And that money other than what is required for postage and doing that sort of thing has gone to the Museum. I think now, I'm out of what, 30?
FROKE: No, I think you're more than that. The initial gift was $20,000. And then a year ago I believe you gave ten.
RANDOLPH: So it would be $40,000 then?
FROKE: So you're now $40,000 in.
RANDOLPH: So everybody who's a member of the Pioneers, some dollars of their dues has gone to this project. I think it's interesting that 95 percent of the money that's come to the Museum, the $2,000,000 that we have raised, plus another $150,000‑‑95 percent of that has come directly from members of the Pioneer group or the companies to which they are a part of.
FROKE: You also organized a significant contribution to the Center and Museum from the widow of a West Virginia cable pioneer. The Levenson gift of $15,000 made it possible to establish a lectureship in cable engineering. The first of the lecturers will be presenting a paper in 1989. Wendell Bailey has agreed to be the first lecturer under the Levenson Award. So we want to thank you and West Virginia for that as well.
RANDOLPH: Well, Levenson was an interesting cable operator. Unfortunately, he died at a rather young age. Of course our dues were based on the number of subscribers that we had. He always refused to let that number be known. I don't know on what basis he paid his dues. His good wife, his widow, has served beautifully in being helpful in that respect.
FROKE: We've corresponded with her on a regular basis. She is hoping that she might come up and visit the Center and Museum and perhaps be present for the first lecture by Wendell Bailey.
FROKE: I have one other question on the Cable TV Pioneers and that is the logo that you use. Whose idea was it to use the old Yagi antenna as the logo?
RANDOLPH: Well, that's my design.
FROKE: That's your design. You coupled it with the satellite as well?
RANDOLPH: The old and the new is what it shows up. I think very, very well. I never quite figured out what the Washington Monument has to do with the cable industry and the museum logo. That's another story.
FROKE: I've been told by graphic artists that it's a very clear cut design.
RANDOLPH: It sure as hell is a clear cut design. That's right. It's either a sword or a Washington Monument, or the artist's conception of something he'd like to draw.
FROKE: The intent is to show cable reaching from here to infinity. Now isn't that impressive?
RANDOLPH: That's impressive. That's the first time I've heard what it stands for.
FROKE: Sandford, thank you.
RANDOLPH: Marlowe, you're an amazing young man. You certainly have taken this thing by the horns and made a real project out of it. All of us in the cable industry are appreciative of your efforts and what you've accomplished.
FROKE: As you have mentioned there have been many, many people involved in it, and I have been pleased to be a part of it.