Interview Date: May 30, 2000
Interviewer: Gerry Yutkin
* Mr. Anderson passed away Dec. 18, 2018.
Donald Anderson discusses his first job with NCTA, and the association’s interest in recruiting African-Americans. He describes BET, the lack of minority presence in broadcasting and production, and his move to HBO. He talks about HBO’s history, innovations, and the switch to satellite transmission. He explores his move to Time, Inc., the industry’s challenges at the time, and his lobbying activities for NCTA. He remembers working with Walter Kaitz, and the creation of the Kaitz Foundation. Anderson reflects on the continuing need for minority representation in senior management. He extensively describes marketing and expansion of HBO, explains his role in HBO’s investment in BET, and the need for BET to operate in urban markets. He remarks on Ted Turner’s important ventures. He mentions QUBE, the idea of video on demand, his retirement, and subsequent involvement in Diva and the excitement of new digital applications. He discusses his childhood, early jobs, and concludes with comments about Jerry Levin.
GERRY YUTKIN: Hi. I’m Gerry Yutkin. This oral and video history is made possible by the Hauser Foundation Oral and Video History Project of the National Cable Television Center and Museum based in Denver, Colorado. We’re here with Don Anderson in New York. We’re taping this at the end of May in the year of 2000. Don is one of the pioneers in the industry, so thank you for being with us. You have a long story to tell. Tell us about how you have gotten into the business. You were with Time Warner for 23 years. You’re now with Diva and you started in the business…?
DON ANDERSON: 1972.
YUTKIN: … when it was before the satellite. You are from California.
ANDERSON: Native from Los Angeles, California.
YUTKIN: Now you’re a New Yorker.
ANDERSON: Yes. I love New York.
YUTKIN: You do?
YUTKIN: You’ve been here how long?
ANDERSON: This time 16 years. I came here in the early days, the beginning of HBO. I moved up from Washington D.C.
YUTKIN: How did you get into the first job that you had with NCTA?
ANDERSON: I had a small business in California called the Audio Video Communications – recording studios and tape manufacturing companies. You remember the days of the 8-track. I still have one of the first 8-tracks ever made. I had a small office in Washington, DC and I staffed it with an individual by the name of Ted Ledbetter. I used to sneak into town every now and then and, instead of Ted marketing audio/video, he was laying out strand maps for cable. Ted was an African-American who had an early interest in the industry, and I found myself looking over his shoulders and becoming interested myself.
YUTKIN: Well, you didn’t start strand-mapping did you?
ANDERSON: No, not at all. Ted’s significance to me, in addition to working with me, was that he was a member of an organization called Black’s For Soul in Television – BEST. BEST was headed by a gentleman by the name of Bill Wright and also had working with him a gentleman by the name of Charles Tate. BEST was the organization that persuaded John Pastore, a senator who had oversight responsibility of the FCC, to name the first black commissioner to the FCC. That was Ben Hooks. That set a domino in motion in that the NCTA and the cable industry were lobbying aggressively to get some onerous rules and conditions removed. They wanted to show that they were in step with the changing times and actively sought to recruit an African-American to come on the staff. I was one of 200 applicants, and I got the job.
YUTKIN: As far as experience was concerned, you just had the …
ANDERSON: … tenacity, you know, and aggressiveness. I, through Ted and in association with him over a couple of years, began to see the future of cable as more than what cable was at the time. It had 3-4 million subscribers then, 99% of which were in rural areas. The top 20 markets were frozen. There was a very small presence in the more affluent areas of Los Angeles, New York, south Philadelphia. I think those were the only three major markets that had cable in 1972. But when one looks through the eyes of BEST and others, they could see that cable someday would move into the urban markets. That was very appealing to me.
YUTKIN: But that was such a long time in the future. If I look forward five years from now, that seems like a long time, but 28 years ago seems like yesterday. How did you know?
ANDERSON: I had a strong feeling. You know cable has the best technology and what it had the potential of offering would not be limited to a few channels and a reception service. I certainly knew when cable broke out of those shackles … Knowing that cable is a bottoms-up industry in that you have to go door-to-door and knowing that you have to really have your presence felt by every citizen of the community to be successful, many of the issues that I was dealing with even in those days, lack of minority presence on television, lack of minority presence in front of or behind the camera, I knew that the natural process would begin to open some doors. So I was attracted to that.
YUTKIN: Wasn’t it about that time, I think in ’72, that the White House office of telecommunications was really kind of carrying the ball? I think, right around then, they started making some inroads into re-evaluating satellite as a possible source of distribution.
ANDERSON: We used to call Clay Whitehead “Captain Video”.
YUTKIN: Oh really?
ANDERSON: He was a futurist certainly. I certainly didn’t hear of satellite as a potential for cable until many years later, probably not until I joined HBO.
YUTKIN: And when was that?
ANDERSON: I joined HBO in 1974.
YUTKIN: And that was when it was bicycling tapes …
ANDERSON: No. What distinguished HBO from all the other operations that were up in those days, and there were others…. HBO did not invent, or Chuck Dolan did not invent the idea of subscription television or movies over TV. That came from the brains of many other individual people – like Dory Sherry, former chairman of MGM. You had Channel 100 bicycling tapes. What distinguished HBO in its beginning is that it was the first real time delivery of programming from a studio to a cable headend. It was also differentiated in that it was more than movies. It was the first subscription offering. HBO’s concept of original programming began when it first began to deliver programming.
YUTKIN: I didn’t realize that. When did it actually start?
ANDERSON: HBO started its first broadcast in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania in 1972 and delivered from its studio in New York the terrestrial microwave to the headend in Wilksbury.
YUTKIN: Was Chuck Dolan involved at that time?
ANDERSON: No. By that time, Jerry Levin …. The history of Chuck’s involvement was going back to the days when he had the franchise in Manhattan.
YUTKIN: Sterling, Manhattan.
ANDERSON: Manhattan Cable. HBO’s original name was the Sterling Manhattan Network. Now when Gerry Levin, who was working with Chuck in those days and through a complicated swap of franchises between Time Inc., which owned the Suffolk franchise and Chuck owned Manhattan, they traded Suffolk for Manhattan and Sterling Manhattan Network came along with that transfer. Gerry Levin renamed Sterling Manhattan Network to Home Box Office in 1972.
YUTKIN: That was when the first one went to Wilkes-Barre. I didn’t realize that. Now, the concept certainly was good and new, but would you say that the satellite method of distribution really kind of made it more of the institution it’s become now?
ANDERSON: Oh, no question. Our business model in those days was to feed the programming over terrestrial microwave to as many cable headends as we could in the northeast corridor. And that’s exactly what we did. I was dispatched, early on, to California because they had a microwave network there, to see if you could implement the same strategy in that location – in other words, have an origination facility, put the content on microwave, and get it to the headends there. The economics of doing that were prohibitive. The opportunity, by that time, had certainly grown significantly. Remember, by now we’re starting to franchise again. There were more franchises being awarded around the country. Urban markets were beginning to be unleashed. So it was Gerry Levin who conceived the idea, several years later – 1974, that Gerry saw the potential and need for satellite. In late ’74, he convinced the powers to be at Time Inc., Dick Munro in particular, to give the company the necessary funding to take it on to satellite. And that happened in 1975.
YUTKIN: And I gather that that was quite a sell that he had to do.
ANDERSON: It really was. HBO was a struggling entity. If you go back to what cable was in 1972, cable was distant signals. A big system had 13 channels. A handful of those were locally transmitted channels. The rest were distant signals imported. There was really no other real offering on cable that made it attractive outside of an area that could not get signals without cable. The critical decision to move cable or HBO into satellite became significant in that it opened the door for not only an economic delivery of television programming to every headend in the country, but it also became the pace setter that led to other program offerings coming up on satellite as well.
YUTKIN: Did they ever bicycle tapes?
YUTKIN: Then I was misinformed. That’s good. We’re clearing one misconception in the industry. So ’75 was the first time that it went up, and you were already in Los Angeles at that time?
ANDERSON: Well, in 1972 I was on the staff at NCTA. A gentleman by the name of Barry Zorthein was Time Inc.’s representative on the NCTA board.
YUTKIN: Why were they even represented at that time if they …
ANDERSON: They owned Manhattan Cable. And they had a minority interest in Monty Rifkin’s company, American Television and Communications.
YUTKIN: ATC, my old alum. So they had somebody on.
ANDERSON: Yes. Barry and I became friends through our association at the NCTA. He was actually chairman of the Legislative Committee and I was one of the staff people involved in that effort. He, after about 1 ½ years, came to me and said, “Would you be interested in coming to a company like Time Inc.?” I said, “Yes, maybe.”
YUTKIN: Very conservatively.
ANDERSON: I had my eye on HBO but certainly didn’t think that that would be a company I’d come to. It was very small. Gerry hadn’t staffed up yet.
YUTKIN: Time was a pretty conservative company at that time.
ANDERSON: Yes. But I did a little homework on Time. It was very conservative, no doubt about it. And of the opportunities I had to go to work for companies in the cable industry from the NCTA – which was my intention because I didn’t want to be a full-time lobbyist – it was an entry point. It was an opportunity to meet the top of the industry, get familiar with the issues affecting the industry, and sit back and wait until the right opportunity came along. And it did. I’m not as entrepreneurial as some of the people in the cable industry, but I consider myself an intrepreneur and saw that a company like Time Inc., with a development project like HBO, has a culture of rewarding success, was committed we think, to the development of this industry, and that appealed to me. So a couple of months later, I came aboard.
YUTKIN: Let me just get an idea of what the NCTA was doing at that time. Do you remember, in general as a staff individual, what were you doing? And how big was the staff?
ANDERSON: Probably ten executives, of which I was one, and a support staff of maybe another ten – and that may be a high number. It may have been 10-15 total. The industry was wrestling with copyright issues. There were sports blackout issues. There was access to content issues, a major stranglehold on cable’s growth. Then there was the freeze on the top 20 television markets. The broadcasters were extremely powerful in those days and certainly out-lobbied the cable industry;. One of my jobs on the NCTA staff was to take over the Political Action Committee. I came to Washington with a political sensitivity, if you will. It was almost a dormant activity. It never raised any real money. I remember the first NCTA I went to in Chicago, I hired some Playboy models, draped them in banners, and paraded them throughout the convention floor – very attractive women – asking for solicitations to the Political Action Committee. I think half of the donors didn’t know what they were giving to. They may have had other expectations.
YUTKIN: But they gave anyway.
ANDERSON: And we raised significant monies in those days. And we would make small contributions to key members of Congress, Senate, with those funds. We’d raise awareness that way. Plus we discovered while on the staff there, that we had another resource. Cable, in those days, had local origination channels. I was part of the team that was instrumental in lobbying to get the first recording studios in the House established. Sony made contributions of equipment. So members of Congress would come into the House studio, record a message for their constituents, and we would play them free on our cable systems around the country.
YUTKIN: So that was the beginning …
ANDERSON: We had something quite significant, something the broadcasters could never do.
YUTKIN: So that really kind of led to the idea of C-SPAN.
ANDERSON: C-SPAN was an outgrowth of that, absolutely. Brian Lamb is an old friend and was watching that development very carefully.
YUTKIN: An interview was done with him as part of the Hauser project that we’re doing today.
ANDERSON: In fact, Wally Briscoe was the key person involved in spearheading the development of the facilities in the House. He managed the state and regional associations for the NCTA. I give him a lot of credit for that. There was another gentleman there on the staff also named Don Andersson. Don’s last name was spelled with two “S’s”, and I was “s-o-n”. I became his “half-s brother”.
ANDERSON: Don was very well-known throughout the industry. It was quite interesting to see how the synergy that spread because of the association of his name. Whenever we’d travel together, I’d get his phone calls, he’d get my mail. I’d go to state association meetings and they’d expect the other “Don Andersson”. He’s blond, blue-eyed, and I’m African-American. So my fame traveled so much so that I became a running joke in the industry.
YUTKIN: So you did go out to the states too?
ANDERSON: All over the country. I traveled in the NCTA. I got to know the heads of most of the associations.
YUTKIN: But in those days the associations weren’t nearly what they are now. They were very, very small.
ANDERSON: Absolutely. But much to cable’s credit, since it was locally regulated as well, … Remember there were three tiers of regulation affecting cable: federal, state, and local. If anything the state associations, to some degree, were stronger than the national association early on. The strongest association was the California Cable TV Association headed by Walter Kaitz. He was a legend in this industry. I think, to this day, that association has never lost a battle, as it relates to cable, in that state.
YUTKIN: Before we go back to Time Inc., tell us about Walter Kaitz.
ANDERSON: Walter was significant. Remember my coming into the industry was a big deal at that time. There were no African-Americans here. Ben Hooks was on the FCC, cable was still rural. There were no minorities being elected to city government at that time, and a very minor presence in Washington. Ed Brooke, an African-American, was the Senator from Massachusetts. Yvonne Burke, then Yvonne Bratheway, joined a handful of Blacks in the House. [Note: The first black woman elected to the House was Shirley Chisholm, elected in 1968.]
YUTKIN: In spite of the civil rights movement in the 60’s.
ANDERSON: Yes. But you know, those were seeds that take a long time to germinate. That’s really the case. But I remember being on the staff, with some apprehension. It was a big deal to have a Black there. I knew that my colleagues on the staff were nervous about what role I would play, how militant I really was. They really didn’t know how militant I was.
YUTKIN: Those were the days when you didn’t know.
ANDERSON: During that time, I remember one afternoon getting a call from Walter. Simply put, “I’m Walter Kaitz.” He had a deep, gravelly voice. He was an Irish Catholic from Boston and certainly understood discrimination and racism in his own right, which he told me about many other times. He reached out and said, “I’m glad you’re there. If there’s ever anything I can do, let me know.” It was just simple and straightforward.
YUTKIN: And you worked with him?
ANDERSON: Worked with him. We put together legislative conferences. We used to bring cable operators from the state of California in, and from other states all over the country. We’d bring them in for legislative conferences. We’d brief them. We’d train them. We’d walk them into their member’s offices on the Hill. It was an interesting time. There were a lot of shy cable operators, if you can believe that.
YUTKIN: Sure. Now you’re on the foundation for them.
ANDERSON: Well, unfortunately, Walter passed and his children …
ANDERSON: Spencer. I knew the family well, the entire family. One afternoon Spencer approached me with the concept that he wanted to create a foundation in the name of his father. Because of his father’s beliefs, he felt that a foundation that championed diversity in the industry would be appropriate. So he called a group of us together. I happened to be one of them. John Goddard, who was then president of Viacom Cable, Ray Joslin who is now with Hearst Entertainment, Paul Maxwell – we were the catalysts that began the organization.
YUTKIN: And when was that?
ANDERSON: 18 years ago.
YUTKIN: Early ’80s.
ANDERSON: Early ’80s – yes. I, by then, had offices in San Francisco. They would use my offices, my conference room as the plotting place to create the concept of the foundation, the first programs. I sort of patterned some of my thinking around the White House Fellowship Program. I had a cousin who was a White House Fellow. I was very close to his goings on in that organization, and I thought it was a very fine example of something we could do. From my perspective, some of the programs that we initiated and strategies came out of my understanding of the White House Fellowship Program.
YUTKIN: And now the Kaitz Foundation is almost an institution in the industry.
ANDERSON: It is an institution.
YUTKIN: Probably one of the biggest fund raisers every year.
ANDERSON: Its significance is that its Board of Trustees – and I had the pleasure of being chairman one year – is made up of the leadership of the cable industry. That group, very informally in the beginning, began to initiate programs that would say they would be proactive in their outreach to minorities and women and begin to bring them into the industry. We recruited very strong people. We recruited lawyers, MBAs, individuals who had significant careers under their belt, who wanted to make a transition into cable. Now leaping ahead, certainly cable is being moved into the urban markets and minorities are now sitting on city councils and you have an organization like BET in its early development. Minorities could begin to identify with the industry in ways that they never could before.
YUTKIN: You said, and I agree with you, that the leaders of the industry have been strong supporters of the Kaitz Foundation and the Kaitz Fellowships and bringing people into their various companies and then they’ve gone on. At this point we’re seeing a major consolidation in the industry. Fewer and fewer – and the entrepreneurs are getting older, retiring, finding different interests, finding other things to do, and they’re being taken over by larger companies. Do you think that that is going to continue in terms of the support for Kaitz Foundation type programs?
ANDERSON: I don’t want to be controversial in what I’m going to say. All things are relevant. When I say that the industry supported bringing minorities and women in, that’s a true statement. But changing cultures is a long-term process. Yes, there is consolidation. But if you look at the industry as I do, subdivided, 85% of the cable subscribers are now under the control of 5 companies. Of those 5, most are still family-owned companies that are run by the originating founders. You take Time Warner and AT&T out of the picture, you have Cablevision, Cox, Adelphia, Comcast. Those are all family owned and run businesses. Yes, there’s been a lot of hiring and inclusion of minorities at the bottom level. But if you walk through those corporate offices, there’s still great opportunity. There are no minorities, very few women on boards in the cable industry. Noted there are a few exceptions. The senior management ranks are predominately white male. So there’s still some way to go. I’m a person that sees the glass half full. I keep score. I know when there was none of that going on in the industry. My positive attitude is reinforced every day because I see the numbers growing. You go to an NCTA or a California Western Show and you see diversity in action at every corner of that convention floor. If I would identify a target today, it’s at the board and senior management level. And the foundation is trying to address that while its still knitting to the needs of bringing the minorities into the middle ranks and entry levels as well.
YUTKIN: Don, let’s go back to your beginnings with HBO – 1974 – just before the satellite. You knew Gerry Levin.
ANDERSON: Gerry actually recruited me. I was at an NCTA board meeting in La Costa. By now, Barry Zorthein had sort of planted the seed with Gerry that I’d be interested. Gerry approached me at that board meeting and asked me if I’d consider coming aboard. I did a month later.
YUTKIN: What was his position at that time.
ANDERSON: Gerry was president of this little company called Home Box Office. He had a staff of 27 people. He was just beginning to pull the team together that would be responsible for launching HBO.
YUTKIN: Any other minorities?
YUTKIN: You were the first?
ANDERSON: I was the first.
YUTKIN: And Time Inc. at that time, probably did not have too many minorities.
ANDERSON: I later found out when I became a vice president at HBO that I was the first African-American to become a vice president at Time Inc.
YUTKIN: That company has really evolved.
ANDERSON: Yes, yes. But again, it was a very favorable environment. It may have had a conservative past, and there were pockets of conservatism still in the company. I never once felt any real resistance to my presence there. In fact, they were quite aggressive in recruiting me and bringing me in. It was a big deal there as well.
YUTKIN: Did you know any of the people outside of the HBO organization, Highschool or …?
ANDERSON: No. But I got to know them because of the uniqueness of my presence. I took advantage of that opportunity just like I did at the NCTA. I got to know every board member extremely well and the leadership of the cable industry all over the country. When I came aboard I met Dick Munro. I made a point to get to know Andrew Highschool, Jim Shepley who was president of Time Inc. at the time, and just about all the senior management. I didn’t know until later, that those relationships wouldn’t be significant for the things I wanted to advocate inside HBO. But yes, I did get to know them.
YUTKIN: Was Henry Luce already gone?
ANDERSON: Yes, he had left.
YUTKIN: So you came on board. What were the first things that you were doing for HBO? You went to Wilkes-Barre, right?
ANDERSON: Yes. I got a Factbook in one hand and a map of Pennsylvania and southern Jersey in the other hand. I began to plot the location of cable system headends with a line of sight to a microwave.
YUTKIN: Existing cable system headends.
ANDERSON: Absolutely. In other words, if we had a 99% probability that our signal could be seen from some tower at cable’s headend tower, then we would dispatch one of our engineers to do some field tests to measure signal strength. Then I’d go knocking on the operator’s door saying, “Look, we can get a signal here. Would you be interested?”
YUTKIN: You had to go get the towers though first?
ANDERSON: Well, the towers existed, fortunately. And the microwave signal was there. We just had to negotiate with Eastern Microwave, the biggest carrier in those days, access to one of their channels that would allow us to send the signal down there.
YUTKIN: So you really had a …
ANDERSON: It was one system at a time, one system at a time.
YUTKIN: How many did you have, say within your first year or so? Any idea?
ANDERSON: It’s hard to answer that. But if you look at cable in those days, they weren’t marketing anything but just the signals. There weren’t any marketing executives inside cable companies in those days. Selling was done by door-to-door salesmen who were on contract. They would come into towns, blitz the town, promise the moon, and then leave. Now HBO comes along as the first real consumer product available on cable as an optional service that you had to pay $5 – $8 a month extra for and has no sales force and no marketing people inside the cable universe to position that product. So often HBO would be introduced on a system following a free preview of a few days. We’d maybe get a 10% response from the cable subscribers who would want to take it. All the contact with those subscribers was done by these contract sales people. So often, we would have penetration of 10% – 15% of cable. Within the first month, over-promised as it was, they would drop. They would discontinue the service.
YUTKIN: That’s when we developed “churn,” right?
ANDERSON: The churn began. It was caused by over-promising. It was caused by, for the first time ever, unedited movies into the home, no commercial breaks. There was a resistance to this.
YUTKIN: And there was a resistance from the theater owners too.
ANDERSON: We were lobbied at every corner. I used to go before the Catholic Archdiocese often to explain the fact that we had decided to show these unedited movies at 8:00 PM or later.
YUTKIN: Any specific stories on that or should we just …?
ANDERSON: Well, you can imagine it was tough. We used to have major launch events. The cable system would do major promotions about HBO coming, “movies in the home, unedited, no commercials.” We’d try to stage it so that a major feature was on at the time the “launch event” took place. And we had these count-downs. By now we’re on the satellite and that’s a big deal as well. So you have new technology coming into the home bringing in this new form of television viewing. Often, unfortunately, our programmers based in New York had different ideas of what would be relevant programming in such a delicate environment. I can recall standing at the podium with the mayor, a councilmen, religious leaders, and the switch gets thrown. And all of a sudden this movie comes up with this racy, sexy scene. You talk about doing some tap-dancing – often radio interviews the next day had many subscribers calling. In 1974, we had a milestone at Time Inc. which HBO had to meet. We had to have 30,000 on the network by year-end.
YUTKIN: By a certain date?
ANDERSON: By December 31, 1974. If we did not reach that 30,000, then Time Inc. wasn’t going to continue to fund it. HBO, at that time, was not a wholly owned subsidiary of Time Inc. It was still sort of a little experimental development project. So we did achieve our 30,000 subscribers, barely.
YUTKIN: By how many? Do you remember?
ANDERSON: Well, remember, what we didn’t say was that half of them were going to leave in the first 30 days. We made that date. It was after that that Gerry was able to convince the management to go to the next step, satellite.
YUTKIN: And put it up on satellite.
ANDERSON: But it was a very hectic time. On one hand you have a parent who’s nervous about this. You have community groups up in arms about unrated or unedited movies in the home, and unedited language.
YUTKIN: By the time I got in the industry in 1978 – I was recruited out of school by ATC – they had a pretty good format for launching HBO and terrific cooperation with the programmer and the cable operator. What would happen is – we would have a week of free HBO that was available, set up a bank, a large bank, of telephone operators. We’d call them and say, “It’s on now. It’s free.” The response was terrific. It was a great deal to set up. You had to train people for really just a weeks worth of work. I was involved with several of them, one of which I went down to Charlotte, North Carolina and we were sitting there training the temporary salespeople.
ANDERSON: You remind me of a great story.
YUTKIN: I’m almost done. All of a sudden one of these temporary phones ring next to me. I picked it up and it was Nielsen – it was one of the rating services, and I think it was Nielsen. They said, “What are you watching?” I said, “Well, I’m watching HBO right now!” It was right before it launched, but I was watching HBO. You never know whatever happened to that. Tell us your story. I’m sure it’s better.
ANDERSON: No. That’s a fascinating story. I could go off on that. It wasn’t until many years later that Nielsen ever paid attention to what HBO was doing or anything on cable, but that’s history. North Carolina will always stand out in my mind. First of all, we’re now on satellite. We now can pursue customers in any part of the country because we now have the basis of delivering a signal.
YUTKIN: And the cable operators saw that as an opportunity for them, too, so you really didn’t have to go do the kind of selling that you had done a year before.
ANDERSON: Well, at least it was a proven concept, and there was enough attention paid to the value of satellite delivery. But of course, earth stations, in those days, cost over $100,000. Then you had to get a frequency clearance. Then you had to deal with local environmental issues, in some cases paint the earth station. It was a hard sell. It wasn’t until much later that the smaller, 3-meter dish came out. That made it economical. But my exposure to operators all over the country, from my NCTA days, made it very hard to combine me to a territory. I knew operators all over the country. One such operator that operated the system in North Carolina – that system was owned by the Gray family, Gordon Gray, a famous family in Wake Forest, with Duke connections. I told my colleagues in New York that I was going to go down and talk to this family and see if I could convince them to take HBO. They said, “You’ve got to be crazy. That’s the south. How do you feel about going down there and selling this stuff?” I said, “Well, we’ll see.” So I went down, got the sale. One of the senior members of the Gray family decided to take me over to R. J. Reynolds, which they owned, and let me see the operation. In those days I had an Afro, out to here. Many people used to call me Charlie Pride. Wherever I went in the south and Midwest, they would stop and mistake me for Charlie Pride. They just knew I was Charlie Pride, operating in some sort of disguise. I’m now with the chairman of R. J. Reynolds being toured through the plant. If you’ve ever been in a manufacturing plant where they’re making 20 million cigarettes a second, there’s a hum. All these machines, everywhere you go, just humming at a certain pitch and frequency. All of a sudden as we were walking around, I could hear it begin to get quiet. People stopped talking, the machine pitch began to wane a little bit, to the point where things began to move at a snail’s pace. Turns out everybody there thought that I was Charlie. The foreman of the plant came up to me and said, “Mr. Pride,” of course nervous with their chairman standing there, “please forgive us, but are you Mr. Pride?” I said, “Nope.” Within seconds, everything was back to where it was.
YUTKIN: Well, maybe you should have said, “Yes,” and then they would have …
ANDERSON: Well, eventually I did. It got so bad wherever I went, it became a big joke inside HBO. I was at a Super Bowl in Miami. HBO had a group of operators that it took there. Flash bulbs were going off in my face. People would tap me on the shoulder and turn me around and take a picture. “Please, Mr. Pride, can I have your autograph?” So one day I just started signing “C. Pride” and sort of walked away from it.
YUTKIN: Was that the Raleigh area, the Raleigh franchise?
YUTKIN: That was an ATC franchise, later on anyway.
ANDERSON: Greensboro. It was Greensboro. That’s North Carolina.
ANDERSON: I can’t remember the exact system name, unfortunately, but it was certainly in North Carolina.
YUTKIN: I know ATC had a lot of …
ANDERSON: ATC was quite active in that area. In fact, ATC’s beginnings came from what were called telephone lease-backs. The telephone company in that area had the franchise and leased them back to ATC.
YUTKIN: So by now, the satellite’s up.
ANDERSON: The satellite’s up.
YUTKIN: And we’re to the late 70’s. It took awhile for it to be launched in systems in other parts of the country.
ANDERSON: We started something. It was a good strategy on HBO’s part, and Gerry Levin saw it before I was hired, early on, we talked about regionalization. The parochial nature of the industry was such that there was a lot of distrust of this ivory tower, New York corporation Time Inc. So I had convinced HBO’s management to open up regional offices. Having done that, I was sent out to San Francisco.
YUTKIN: Weren’t you in Los Angeles?
ANDERSON: I was in San Francisco first. It was the regional headquarters. Then I opened up Los Angeles three years later. Then I opened up an office in Denver and ran those three offices from Los Angeles.
YUTKIN: So you traveled around a lot.
YUTKIN: A lot of traveling.
ANDERSON: Alaska – we had HBO in Alaska.
YUTKIN: When was that?
ANDERSON: 1980. It was an interesting thing. Alascom and Americom were the satellite common carriers in Alaska. But the two didn’t get along in Alaska. There was an operator named Victor Nacarado who characterized the entrepreneurial spirit of the cable operator in that state. They owned systems in Cordova and Valdez, Alaska. A 10-meter dish was being delivered to Alascom. It fell off a truck and was damaged. Victor saw it, picked it up on a fire sale price, installed it, and started bringing in HBO on his dish at a time when there still wasn’t regulatory clearance to bring that signal into that market. He forced his way through.
YUTKIN: And did he get in trouble?
ANDERSON: No. He just made it happen. He made it happen. “Don’t tell me I can’t do it,” he would say. I used to travel to Hawaii as well… guilt-ridden.
YUTKIN: Why is that?
ANDERSON: Such a lovely place.
YUTKIN: Oh, somebody had to do it, right?
ANDERSON: Somebody had to do it.
YUTKIN: How long did this period go when you were doing all this traveling before you came back to New York?
ANDERSON: Until 1984 when I returned to New York. In late ’83, Bob Johnson, founder of BET, began to talk to us about needing some help in getting BET established. At that time, BET had about 4 million subscribers. They were on the air about 4 hours a day. They had John Malone at TCI involved, Taft Broadcasting was involved as a partner. In 1980, Frank Biondi, Tony Cox and Michael Fuchs were the three presidents running HBO. We had a troika set up there. Michael was president of the programming, Frank Biondi was president of network operations, and Tony Cox was president of the affiliate operations and marketing side of the company. I reported into Tony’s organization. I had convinced Tony and Frank that this was something worth doing. I really wanted to be the one to do it. By now, I had sort of earned my reputation inside the company. I was a vice president. I had gotten to know senior management at Time Inc. The BET investment became something that I championed.
YUTKIN: Got involved, went along with it.
ANDERSON: That’s when I came back to New York.
YUTKIN: But you were still with Time Inc. but just looking after the Time Inc. interests?
ANDERSON: Yes. It became a model for some other investments we made in minority businesses. It was the first on-balance sheet investment Time Inc. had made in a minority owned business. Let me back up and say that Time Inc. had a history of supporting minority ventures. They were instrumental in helping Essence Magazine launch. They were supportive in a black radio network. Until BET, most was pro bono. They loaned office space. They loaned materials and other resources to these ventures. BET became the first on-balance sheet investment and had to be approved by the board. I managed the investment, plus I took over all of the marketing and network distribution for BET. At that time, BET was on the air 4 hours a day. It was mostly a news and information service. I had to convince Bob Johnson to air music videos. We gave BET transponder space on a satellite transponder that we owned at HBO. We needed to fill that time with good programming. HBO loaned me to BET. My being there was a guarantee, or a hedge, against failure.
YUTKIN: And Frank Biondi and Tony Cox – were they also on loan or was it kind of a board kind of a …
ANDERSON: No. I became a senior vice president of HBO, reported in to the organization as any other executive. The BET was a project investment of HBO.
ANDERSON: I had a small staff. Over a four-year period we took them from 4 million subscribers to 24 million subscribers and break-even.
YUTKIN: Was it difficult to get the operators to carry BET at the beginning?
ANDERSON: Sure. Very.
YUTKIN: In those days, the urban areas were not franchised. They were just beginning to get developed.
ANDERSON: They were just beginning. But see, BET, in part, was there because in the urban market, for the first time, you had blacks as mayors, blacks on city councils, and cable operators were trying to convince them to award them a franchise. The question was finally being raised, “what programming do you have for the special interest that we represent in the minority communities?” In Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and all the other key markets, you have significant minority population.
YUTKIN: You’re right. That was the franchising days of the late 70’s, early 80’s. So you were in the right place at the right time too.
ANDERSON: I considered BET a must-carry in the urban markets. Even though you had to pitch and sell hard.
YUTKIN: Not legally must-carry?
ANDERSON: Not legally must-carry, but if you’re going to be a viable operator in an urban market, you had to have ethnic programming.
ANDERSON: I focused my attention on other markets – Knoxville, Tennessee, Nashville, Memphis – smaller markets but with large minority populations. Black populations from 30% – 50%, know that African Americans watch 50% more television than non-blacks.
YUTKIN: During those franchising days, cable really presented an opportunity to promise everyone everything.
ANDERSON: Yes. Oversell.
YUTKIN: Oversell – what do you mean? On the programming end, would you condemn the operators for that?
ANDERSON: No, no, no. It was all of us in the business. All of us in the business oversold.
YUTKIN: Over-promise, oversold.
ANDERSON: Over-promise. Remember what the film industry was. In a good year, there were probably 150 – 200 new releases each year versus 500-600 today.
YUTKIN: It seems like 150 a weekend.
ANDERSON: There weren’t enough new movies. We offered “original programming” from the beginning. HBO also had sports offerings early on, something to take the attention and focus off the few movies. Movies were clearly the major appeal, then and today, for any pay television service or subscription service. But it was oversold in those days. Cable operators who weren’t sophisticated in selling ancillary products oversold.
YUTKIN: And especially during the franchising process.
ANDERSON: Oh very much so, very much so. Fortunately, five years later, Ted Turner came up on the satellite. A short time later other satellite-delivered program service began to become available, and that’s when the promise of cable happened.
YUTKIN: You know Ted Turner.
ANDERSON: I got to know Ted Turner through a colleague on the NCTA staff. I didn’t know him well at that time. I certainly knew of him. He would come into the office a lot.
YUTKIN: Not when you were at NCTA?
ANDERSON: When I was at the NCTA in 1972. We had a person on staff also named Don Andersson. Note the two s’s in his name.
YUTKIN: The double “s”.
ANDERSON: Don was a statistical genius. Don had committed to memory the microwave path of every microwave common carrier in the country. He knew where they were in every market. It was all up here.
YUTKIN: That’s amazing.
ANDERSON: He, in collaboration with Ted, began to convince Ted to put his WTBS signal on microwave in the southeast and create a regional network. It was Don Andersson, who eventually left the NCTA to work for Ted.
YUTKIN: Where is he now?
ANDERSON: You know, I don’t know. I know he worked for Ted for years.
YUTKIN: Maybe he’ll see this and give you a call.
ANDERSON: Maybe one of his family members will. I hope so. But he was the guy. He was the guy I credit for having helped Ted the most.
YUTKIN: And that was up in the late 70’s.
ANDERSON: That was the mid-70’s …
YUTKIN: … that it went up …
ANDERSON: … that was the early 70’s. TBS went up on the satellite in 1975. I’m talking about before satellite – a terrestrially-fed regional network. It was Don Andersson who did it.
YUTKIN: But Superstation became the phrase …
ANDERSON: … when he got on the satellite.
YUTKIN: At that time, WGN was also …
ANDERSON: WGN came a little bit later and never gained the prominence that WTBS did.
YUTKIN: Well, WTBS had Ted Turner, who was a real personality. This is not to say WGN didn’t have good people, but Ted’s …
ANDERSON: Certainly. It’s a fine company.
YUTKIN: … charismatic personality who did a lot for the industry and himself.
ANDERSON: Well, Ted’s in a league of his own when it comes to his genius. Let’s give credit where credit’s due. There was no one in this industry quite like Ted in the time frame we’re talking about.
YUTKIN: The right person, the right place, the right time with the right insights.
ANDERSON: And tenacity. Fearless. Creative. The Chicken Noodle Network – remember that? Who wants 24-hour news? You’ve got to be nuts! Nobody wants to watch news 24 hours. But if you’re a cable system which needs to differentiate its offering, which needs to give franchise authorities and consumers the feeling of choice and opportunity to see a variety of things, what a brilliant idea.
YUTKIN: …and with the spectrum. So even though, when we were selling it to franchising authorities, “Oh well some day you’ll have just an all-opera channel” for those few people who want opera.
ANDERSON: I remember your old boss, Monty Rifkin, tried to hire me to come work for ATC and get involved in the franchising. One of the things that bothered me about that was being the one out there over-promising.
YUTKIN: Let’s continue that. You turned Monty down. Why did you do that? You didn’t want to over-promise? Was it a negative reason or a positive reason or both?
ANDERSON: I think both. Monty’s offer came to me early on in my career with cable. I was at the NCTA for two years and completing one term of Congress was my goal. Monty took a liking to me and vice versa. I liked Monty a lot. I said, “First of all, it’s too early to do this.” The second reason, I wasn’t sure why. I later discovered it was a feeling of being exploited to some degree. That began to bother me. Certainly there was an attraction to me again because blacks were on city councils and becoming mayors of cities. I didn’t want to be the ‘token black’ to be sent in and convince the city councilmen that they should do this. Having said that, I was very influential with many of these people. I had good relationships with blacks on these city councils. Tom Bradley got elected as the first black mayor of Los Angeles. Two days later I took him to the Western Cable Show in Anaheim as my guest (at the time he was the hottest person in the country), to a private meeting with the heads of most of the MSOs to spend 30 minutes with them about his vision of how Los Angeles would be franchised. I did those things off the record. I didn’t ever want to be the person in front of the group or be identified as that person. The last reason was that there was a lot of over-promising going on there. My Judeo-Christian background kind of gave me problems with that.
YUTKIN: We used to like the phrase, “When it’s economically and technologically feasible.”
YUTKIN: But that was the cable operators’ stand-point.
ANDERSON: Yes. That’s when you were finally saying, “We can’t do it now.” In those franchises, the game was ‘promise the world, get the franchise, and then go in for franchise renegotiations. Then six months to a year after you got the franchise say “When it’s technologically feasible, we will do what we promised.”
YUTKIN: And economically. Now ’78 was the Cube experiment in Columbus. That was a great idea but it didn’t …
ANDERSON: It turned out to be a very effective franchising tool. I know some of the people who worked on Qube. We at HBO were selling some of the programming to them on a pay-per-view basis to see how it worked.
YUTKIN: Gus Hauser, who is the benefactor of the Oral and Video History Project under which we’re taping now.
ANDERSON: Those are the people who, when they knew from a technological point of view, that Qube was not ever going to be viable in the short-term… It, however, became a very effective vehicle to use in the franchising discussion.
YUTKIN: Because someday it would be.
ANDERSON: It would be. Absolutely. It wouldn’t be called Qube. It would be called Video-On-Demand, and it would be offered by companies like DIVA and C-Change. It would be part of a digital platform. A lot of things have happened. It would be on a 750 MHz plant.
YUTKIN: At one point, I remember someone at ATC saying that 330 is all you’re ever going to need.
YUTKIN: 330 MHz.
YUTKIN: And the people, I think in those days, were still doing surveys that people were only watching 6-7 channels even though they had 35.
ANDERSON: They’re building 850 MHz now.
YUTKIN: Do you think that’s necessary?
ANDERSON: Absolutely! On that digital platform, eventually … I believe those, like John Sie, who say, “Analog’s going to be passé. It’s going to be all digital.” How long it takes may be 5 – 10 years. But companies now are on that expanded bandwidth, adding a variety of services. VOD (Video-On-Demand) happens to be one application on the digital platform. Then you add telephony. Then you add high-speed modems. All of those applications eat up spectrum. So in an 850 MHz system, you’re just about 100% used up, particularly now that you have not 100 channels, but you have 200-channel systems. So, yes, and it’s going to go beyond 850.
YUTKIN: You think so?
ANDERSON: Oh, I know so.
YUTKIN: We were bidding dual plant even in the early 80’s.
ANDERSON: Well, Qube was operating in a lot of places on a dual plant with a return path.
YUTKIN: And that’s going to be fulfilled. Do you think that the direction is telephony or Internet. Of the two, which one do you think is …
ANDERSON: I think it’s just interactive television, and I think it’s convergence. I think it’s the bringing together of all of the applications, because for the first time, you’ll have that entertainment center where true convergence takes place. But you’ll program the bedroom, the family room, the kids room with other offerings as well. Digital and the digital spectrum is what makes that possible.
YUTKIN: Now you were with Time and then Time Warner until about mid-90’s. In ’96 you left, retired?
ANDERSON: Yes. I had always had this thing in my mind that 20 years and 55 would be a wonderful time to do something else.
YUTKIN: That’s wonderful.
ANDERSON: I had a wonderful experience after the merger. I worked for Marty Payson who was Vice-Chairman of Time Warner during that time Steve Ross was still alive. When Steve left, that activity was disbanded. Marty left the company, and I finished off my career once again working for Gerry as his senior advisor. During that time, I began to set my sights toward some international activity. There was an opportunity, when Nelson Mandela was released from prison, to be a part of a blue ribbon group of African Americans invited to South Africa and sit across the table with him. So I did that. That trip, and many trips later, led to Time Warner’s co-ownership of the first commercial broadcast license to be granted in South Africa.
YUTKIN: Oh, I didn’t know that.
ANDERSON: So I capped my career by going over there with Ron Brown, the late Commerce Secretary, on a trade mission. But that’s what made Time Warner and Time Inc. so special. I did a lot of fun things there. BET was fun. Being a part of the team that launched HBO was fun. Convincing and being a part of the involvement by Time Inc. in launching Emerge Magazine was great. Emerge was the first news monthly targeting African-Americans. That group asked me to publish it. So again, without leaving Time Warner, I was able to be publisher and president of that company. That magazine has lasted over 10 years.
YUTKIN: Did you have any failures, anything that was less successful that you worked on? Did you ever work on the Guide?
YUTKIN: You didn’t work on the Guide?
ANDERSON: No. In fact, those of us at HBO who thought we knew the cable industry a lot better than the publishers did, were always amazed at why the selling of that guide was not given to HBO. No, I guess my only failure is that I always wanted to be president of a network.
YUTKIN: You and Ted Turner, right?
ANDERSON: Well, you know, just…. There’s big Ted and there’s little Ted. I’ve always been a little Ted.
YUTKIN: Okay, so then you retired. You’re not one to sit around.
ANDERSON: Well, I retired. I have a home in the Hamptons, something I always wanted to do. I was building that home and spending a lot of time out there, thought I’d pursue other interests. I had stopped attending Kaitz dinners.
YUTKIN: Really? Why?
ANDERSON: Just because I thought it was time to move on. I happened to come back in to New York for a Kaitz dinner and while there I ran into a gentleman that I knew in the early days. He was at Showtime, and of course I was at HBO. His name is Dave Hanson. Dave said, “Don, what are you doing?” I said, “I’m retiring.” He said, “Oh no you’re not. We’ve got this thing called Diva. We need you.” Three months later, I was with DIVA.
YUTKIN: Tell us about DIVA.
ANDERSON: DIVA is the brainchild of a gentleman by the name of Paul Cook. Paul is an MIT graduate scientist, a chemist, who was chairman of SRI, the old Stanford Research Institute. He was also chairman of the Sarnoff Laboratories in Princeton. Inside the Sarnoff Laboratories, they were developing a video server. It was a monstrosity of a thing now in retrospect, but it was designed to do video streaming. Paul had a knack for looking at businesses. He had already started two Fortune 300 companies, Raychem and CellNet. He was a gentleman, at the time, in his mid-70s, lot of energy, brain still functioned very well. He could run circles around people many times younger than him. He spun it out. He got the rights to the technology and put a team together and launched DIVA. Now DIVA’s deployed on the digital platform in eight markets throughout the country and is poised as the leader in the United States.
YUTKIN: Poised for dynamic growth, we used to say in the franchising.
ANDERSON: One would hope so. Unfortunately, the NASDAQ crashed also. It hasn’t affected DIVA, but we’ll see.
YUTKIN: They say, we’re talking in May, 2000 and this is for more historical purposes. So we’ll see what….
ANDERSON: DIVA has a good future ahead of it. It has now done strategic alliances with many major players in the industry.
YUTKIN: Such as? Can you talk about that?
ANDERSON: I’m cautious. We’re in our quiet period now. But there’s doing distributions deals with cable operators – Charter Communications headed by Paul Allen, one of the Microsoft co-founders – has now completed the largest agreement with a VOD company in the history of this country. It’s starting to get its footprint out there, just like the early days of HBO. You struggle at first. HBO would go months in between new system deals. Then I remember we would turn on 100 a month. Can you imagine going from one or two in three months to over 100 a month. Well, VOD deployment on the digital platform in this country is going to get accelerated at that same pace, and DIVA is in a position to be right at the head of that.
YUTKIN: So you think it has the growth opportunity that cable had, or the equivalent that cable had 25 years ago?
ANDERSON: Digital applications, the new paradigm going forward is convergence. You’re bringing in new players. You have technologists from the Silicon Valley now integrating into the cable industry. You have many individuals implementing strategic relationships with cable – Microsoft, Cisco, you name it. They’re now developing strategic relationships with the cable industry. It’s broadband. It’s a new technology. It’s a new business with new products and services. The beauty of these oral histories is before the industry evolves beyond anything that you and I might recognize, that we can record and preserve some of the history of what it was. What it was is one thing. What it’s going to be is quite exciting. It was very exciting in the past for me personally. It’s taken me beyond my wildest expectations.
YUTKIN: And you didn’t start out with a lot of the advantages. You told me that from Los Angeles, you … Well, tell me as much as you want to about that.
ANDERSON: I was born in Los Angeles. My grandfather was a Baptist minister from Texas who was an evangelistic minister, moved from city to city, preached in storefront churches.
YUTKIN: And in those days, segregation was …
ANDERSON: He opened a little church, the first African American church in Orange County. My family moved from Los Angeles during the Second World War. My father went off to the war. My mother took four kids, of which I’m the youngest, to be close to the grandparents in Orange County. They happened to be the second or third black family in Orange County at that time. Again, growing up in Orange County turned out to be a plus for me. I believed in integration, got very much involved in people outside my own culture. You had no choice. But it was a good experience for me. My mother ended up raising four children alone. She was a maid, a housekeeper. I remember her making $30 a week. So I learned to do things on my own from the time I was 10 years old. I didn’t discover until I was in college that I had dyslexia. I graduated from high school a year early because I took certain courses. I am dyslexic; I couldn’t keep the pace, and eventually dropped out of college.
YUTKIN: And that was when nobody knew anything about it or was quiet. To be black and to be poor or relatively poor, that must be a shock. What did you do?
ANDERSON: The college thing was one experience. The only thing I’d say about college in the ’50s if you’re dyslexic is that no one understood it, and they didn’t have special programs for dyslexics as they do now. It wasn’t a matter of not being smart. It was a matter of running the race as fast as everybody in the class.
YUTKIN: But that was confused between not being smart, in those days, wasn’t it?
ANDERSON: I guess over time, I looked at the positive side.
YUTKIN: How so?
ANDERSON: I never quite remember anybody thinking I was stupid. And I really don’t. I learned to maneuver around before I knew what it was. You can overcome it in many ways by focus, tenacity, determination. All of those things do that. My father was not a presence in our home, but my father was a presence in terms of what he was trying to do. He was a civil rights activist going back to the 40’s. He was part of that A. Phillip Randolf’s team that organized the Dining Car Waiters of America, Pullman Workers of America. He was active in unions in California, and he moved in to towns that had real segregation and racism. Las Vegas, in those days, was like that. He became the first Equal Right Commissioner for the state of Nevada. He was the one that opened up employment on the Strip and got laws passed that allowed blacks to gamble on the Strip or go see other black performers. They couldn’t do it in those days. My stepmother became the first black principal in the state of Nevada, and still to this day is a principal of a school in Las Vegas. So that was his legacy. But that legacy …
YUTKIN: That’s quite a legacy.
ANDERSON: …translated back to me. I remember seeing photographs of him with Harry Truman or Pat Brown, the governor of California.
YUTKIN: Your father?
ANDERSON: Yes. But those become bridges. Those become motivational connections outside of my immediate surroundings. And that’s what he represented to me. So I consider myself lucky and blessed that, while this immediate environment may have been difficult, I looked past that.
YUTKIN: Would you say that you experienced discrimination but you were somehow able to…
ANDERSON: Yes. I dealt with it in Orange County.
YUTKIN: … or you didn’t realize it maybe?
ANDERSON: No, no. I was never naïve. Remember with a father like mine, you know that discrimination is there. I was down in Selma. I did a lot of things. I marched for open housing in Los Angeles. By then I was working inside TRW and Hughes and Northrop.
YUTKIN: But that was unusual.
YUTKIN: That was really unusual in those days.
ANDERSON: My mother, bless her heart, was the housekeeper for the vice president of Northrup. When I was leaving school, I had enough technical skill under my belt and desire to be a draftsman. She talked to Stan Worth, vice president of Northrup, about me and “could he arrange an interview and help him get a job?” I got my first job as a draftsman.
YUTKIN: How old were you?
ANDERSON: 18. I graduated early from high school so I was 18, 19 and got my first job. I eventually became head of the group. I was an Engineering Designer – tenacity and focus.
YUTKIN: Without the degree.
ANDERSON: Without the degree.
YUTKIN: Was that a problem?
ANDERSON: I think it was a big problem for me because I was always intimidated by people, not intimidated by smart people, but people particularly in the black community. Having a college degree was a big deal! It was the ticket out. So I sort of had a minor inferiority complex about not being as well equipped as some of my friends. But that never stopped me. Nor did I ever hide the fact that I didn’t have a degree. I never talked about it, but I never lied on a resume either.
YUTKIN: I don’t think that’s unique to black experience…
ANDERSON: Oh, I’m sure it’s not.
YUTKIN: … in the cable industry.
ANDERSON: Cable – you’re absolutely right. Take it beyond that – most of the early operators in cable …
YUTKIN: … were manager techs who did not have a degree.
ANDERSON: They owned appliance stores, things like that.
YUTKIN: My sense, at least from my standpoint, was that it was more of a problem for them than for the people they were hiring.
ANDERSON: It didn’t stop Gerry Levin from hiring me. It didn’t stop me from doing a lot of things.
YUTKIN: Smart guy.
ANDERSON: He saw something in me.
YUTKIN: So you were a hard worker.
ANDERSON: I didn’t invent this, but one key to success is to choose a field that you’re good at, stay focused and take reasonable risks. That’s really what I’ve done. I’ve reinvented myself many times. When I see a stone wall, I don’t crash myself against it. I figure out a way around it. Sometimes the way around it is to reinvent yourself and do something different.
YUTKIN: That’s tough. So you’ve really benefited from the times that are changing. No matter what you would have done, say 50 years ago, it wouldn’t have been …
ANDERSON: It turns out I was born 50 years ago.
YUTKIN: I mean 50 years before that, so 100 years from now. So things are getting better.
ANDERSON: Yes, they are. I’m old enough. I’m sixty. I’m old enough to keep score. I know what it was like when I was born. I’ve been on the front of some of the change.
YUTKIN: What do you tell the younger ones? What do you tell the kids that are so angry?
ANDERSON: There are two messages. I tell the kids who came out of Harvard something different than what I’d tell the kids who come out of Harlem. Kids who come out of Harvard without understanding that they’re a link in a chain and the battle isn’t over, that they’re standing on others’ shoulders and they’re the link to the next so they have to always be aware of the responsibility and the need and the opportunity to take gains to the next level. The kids in Harlem or “Harlem, USA” if you will, need to be motivated and see positive examples from those that they can identify with. It’s part of the reason I’ve been such a champion and advocate of media change, whether it’s television or magazines. I remember when there was only one magazine that showed positive images of blacks in this country and that was Ebony. I remember when there were very few, if any, blacks ever on television and when Nat King Cole couldn’t stay on because he couldn’t get a sponsor. I know that the best way to motivate kids, because of my own experience, is be connected to positive experiences. Today we have athletes and businessmen. We have blacks who are on boards, and CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. The good news is that most of those blacks have a sensibility and a consciousness about the need to give something back. So they’re going to schools. They’re reaching out to these kids. They’re providing motivation. And today you can turn on the television or watch a movie, go to the theater or see a magazine on the newsstand and you see positive imagery.
YUTKIN: How do you react to the really sad situation of Gerry Levin’s son who was trying to do that kind of thing? Did you know him?
ANDERSON: I had met all of Gerry’s kids and only a couple did I get to know well. I did not know Jonathan well. Jonathan was from Gerry’s first marriage, and I was closer to the kids from the second marriage.
YUTKIN: But he was doing exactly that.
ANDERSON: The reaction was strictly a personal feeling I had toward Gerry. He was devastated by that. I remember I was flying to San Francisco, got off the plane, and heard that that happened. The first thing I did when I got there was call his assistant who was with him from the first day we worked together. I said I have to get my condolences into Gerry ASAP. She took the message in. But it was a personal reaction.
YUTKIN: He had been teaching in an inner city school and I guess one of his students….
ANDERSON: I didn’t feel guilty. I didn’t feel any sense of guilt or responsibility as an African-American to the issues that are affecting African-Americans around the country. I’m not responsible for all of it – any more than every white should feel guilty or feel bad about Columbine or all the other things that go on.
YUTKIN: Sure, sure.
ANDERSON: The fact that this kid was willing to go into an inner city and work is really part of his dad’s legacy. His dad was colorblind. Gerry is a person who sees the world – and that’s the environment and the culture that his kids understand and relate to. It’s going to take a lot of Jonathan Levins who are willing to go into communities, to begin to really turn the situation around. If we talk about the kid in Harlem who moves out because he’s motivated, or the kid who graduates from Harvard or any other leading university or any university, what’s left are kids that have deeper problems. Some of those problems, whether it’s drugs or growing up in an environment where all they see is crime and lack of respect for gender or age or authority, that’s the core of the issue – and that’s going to take some doing and special talents from people like Jonathan Levin who are willing to reach out and catch them at that age. That’s very important.
YUTKIN: And let me add people like Don Anderson who’s been blessed and determined and successful. I think you’ve got a long career ahead of you, especially if you keep remaking yourself. It looks like it’s been a very interesting few years with the cable industry.
ANDERSON: Yes, it has, beyond my wildest dreams and expectations. The next reinvention is yet ahead.
YUTKIN: That’s true. We’re very happy that you have been part of the industry and very happy that you took the time to meet with us to talk about the past from a very, very unique standpoint. Thank you very much for being with us.
ANDERSON: Well, thanks for the opportunity to do that.
YUTKIN: We appreciate it. And we appreciate the Hauser Foundation for funding the Oral History Project.
ANDERSON: I was so pleased to see Gus’s name connected with this.
YUTKIN: Thank you.
ANDERSON: Thank you.