Interview Date: Tuesday October 2, 2001
Interviewer: Joel Fleming
Ted Baum discusses his role in the industry both as a systems operator and a manufacturer of coaxial cable, amplifiers and splitters. He describes the process of obtaining franchises, financing, and setting up a 30-meter dish to receive satellite transmission. He talks about his companies, Vikoa, and Cable Information Systems. Baum names other major entrepreneurs and operators. He recalls the September 11th attacks, the beginnings of HBO, and reflects on his career in the business. He concludes with thoughts about competition from DBS, and the evolution of cable.
Note: Former Chairman, CEO and principal stockholder
Helicon Cable Communications acquired by Charter Communications in 1999.
JOEL FLEMING: The date is October 2nd, the year is 2001. I’m speaking to you from Englewood, New Jersey in the home of Theodore B. Baum. Ted is one of the true pioneers in cable. He first started out in 1957, and yes, there was cable in 1957. He’s been in the cable business and been in all phases of it from the technical end to the administrative end to the cable operations end. It’s been an interesting journey for Ted, but rather than my talking about Ted, I’d rather him talk about him. Ted, let me ask the first question; where were you born?
TED BAUM: I was born in Manhattan, New York in 1935.
FLEMING: Where did you go to school?
BAUM: Well, I went to school in New York City until I was about seven, and then I went to school… my parent’s moved to Regal Park, which is out in Queens and I went to school there until I was about 15, 14, I guess, and then I moved to Teaneck, New Jersey and I finished my senior year in high school there.
FLEMING: What happened after the senior year? What did you do?
BAUM: Oh, well, then I went to college; I went to Lehigh University for four years. Four years, but I took a five year course, but I went on to active duty at the end of the fourth year. I was a double major.
FLEMING: What did you major in, out of curiosity?
BAUM: Industrial engineering and business administration.
FLEMING: How old were you when you graduated from college?
BAUM: I was 20 – I graduated at the end of four years.
FLEMING: And then you went in the service?
BAUM: Then I went in the service and I served in Upstate New York at a place called Seneca Ordinance Depot, a little small… it was an ammunition storage depot, which was really sort of an obsolete place and it was at the end of Korea, the Korean War had just ended about three or four months before I got there, so for the year and a half that I was stationed there the only thing that we had going on was they would send officers through that had two months to go, three months to go, they would hang around there and then they would discharge them from the service. And of course I met my wife there; she was at Syracuse University.
FLEMING: Oh, where was her home?
BAUM: She’s from Great Neck, New York. I met her there when she was a freshman at Syracuse and it was a really quick romance. I mean, I met her in April, we were pinned in June, engaged in September, and married in December. So we were pretty young when we were married.
FLEMING: Having just met her, it looks like you married her when she was perhaps a freshman in high school.
BAUM: Thank you!
FLEMING: A very attractive woman. Now, did you have brothers and sisters growing up, yourself?
BAUM: I have one brother. He’s four years younger than me.
FLEMING: And that’s Bob, as I recall?
BAUM: Bob, yeah.
FLEMING: He was quoted one time as saying, “Ted is our engineering, manufacturing, and financial genius.” Was Bob well? A terribly nice quote.
BAUM: It was a very nice quote, yes. How long ago was that?
FLEMING: I think it was in an article I read from 1968.
BAUM: Oh, okay. He was young then.
FLEMING: Now when you got out of that cushy job you had up at Seneca, what did you do then?
BAUM: Well, you know, I came down and went to work for my father, and he had a manufacturing business. He had a wire and cable plant in 1957 and we primarily extruded plastic over wire and cable, mostly copper wire, and shortly afterwards there was the hula hoop craze, so we converted all the manufacturing facilities to making hula hoops, and it was a pretty wild scene. It only lasted for about six weeks, but it was wild.
FLEMING: It was THE business.
BAUM: It was THE business. I remember we would make hula hoops that would cost about a dollar; we’d sell them for about 12 dollars.
FLEMING: It sounds like the cable business.
BAUM: It was a great business. Right!
FLEMING: What was your first job? Or, let me ask this before – how long had your father been in that business?
BAUM: Well, I guess my father had been in that business since the early ’50s, or maybe the late ’40s, I’m really not sure.
FLEMING: And what did you do when you first checked in for work?
BAUM: Oh, I had a… there was a young man there who was, I guess, about six or seven years older than I was. His name was Kenny Summers, and he was plant superintendent, and then my father had a manufacturing superintendent; his name was Bill Bodenstein. He was a little bit younger than my father. I worked for those people for several years. I was an apprentice; I was an engineer, but I was now taking my engineering schooling and trying to adapt it to the real life of manufacturing in a plant that ran around the clock, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
FLEMING: Did you ever have to get on the line and do physical work, or were you back in the office?
BAUM: No, no, no, I was on the line. I used to run the extruders and I used to work different shifts, fill in as a supervisor after time. At the end I did mostly a lot of the scheduling because we must have had about 12 or 14 pieces of equipment, so scheduling and when we started to make coaxial cable, which I guess was maybe five or six years later in the early ’60s, 59U started to build up as a large component of our business and we took quite a bit of time to schedule all the different equipment that we had because we had equipment beyond extrusion equipment. We did injection molding, we did grading of copper, and it was a real manufacturing business.
FLEMING: Keep in mind that this is being done for The Cable Center in Denver, Colorado, and there will be people watching this who are going for their Master’s in Communication. What would be your advice for someone who got in the cable business – should they start at the top or do like you did, starting on the line?
BAUM: I think starting at the top is fun! Starting at the line is a little bit more necessary.
FLEMING: But it’s a great way to learn a business, and very few of us get the opportunity to do anything but start on the line. The progression of jobs working for your father, how did that go?
BAUM: It evolved ultimately in 1968 I became president of the company, and we were, I think in 1962 or ’63, we went public; we were on the American Stock Exchange. The original name of the company was Rego Insulated Wire – R-E-G-O – and I think the name was changed to Vicoa somewhere in the ’60s, and then after I became president I became chairman, and then I left the company.
FLEMING: One thing that you’ve shown me, the one lesson, is to adopt someone who was owning the company, namely a father, and then you go from there to whatever.
BAUM: It’s a great idea if you can do it. I forgot, actually we were also in cable operations in the ’60s. In 1962, when we started to make 59 U, shortly afterwards…
FLEMING: That’s what we call “drop cable”.
BAUM: Drop cable, and then shortly afterwards, I guess it was maybe in ’64 we made tubed amplifiers, line amplifiers, we were making passive equipment, which was at that time the splitters and the – I even forget what you call them – that you used to put on the cable to connect the drop, and then we started to make transistorized amplifiers, and after we got through with all that, which was about ’65 or ’66, we started to go after franchises.
FLEMING: But for the benefit of history, prior to the transistorized, you had tubes in those amplifiers?
BAUM: Yeah, we had tubes. We actually made amplifiers similar to what Spencer Kennedy Labs did and Entron did, at first, and then we started to make stuff similar to Ameco except ours worked, and I don’t remember who else was making them then, but there were a lot of people in and out of that business.
FLEMING: Now what was the year you got involved in cable itself, that is operations?
BAUM: In the operations of a cable system?
BAUM: I would imagine it would be somewhere about ’66 because we got franchises. ’65 maybe.
FLEMING: You went out and got franchises?
BAUM: We went out and we franchised. I had someone working for me and I would go to some of the town meetings, you know, and appear as an owner of the business, and we got franchises primarily in Ohio and in Pennsylvania. Then around that time I got a lot of franchises on my own, also. We had a factory in Freehold, New Jersey, where I got a franchise, and then we bought some in Long Beach Island, New Jersey. And then we had them up in – I used to vacation up in Cape Cod – and so over the summer I would go up there and get franchises and I had them in Hyannis Port and Truro and Easton.
FLEMING: Just for educational purposes, the way it went – see if I get this correct – is that you would go to the town board, or the borough board, or whatever, and you’d say, “Here we are. The company is owned by so and so. Here’s what we would do, we’d come in and build a cable system.”
FLEMING: Was there competition?
BAUM: There was never any competition. In those small towns there was really not very much competition, if any at all.
FLEMING: They wanted to know how and when they could get cable.
BAUM: Right, and they wanted it very badly, and they would grant a franchise. Now the other side of the coin was to go out and get the money to build it – that was not easy.
FLEMING: Right. And you had to get a lawyer who lived in town to help your case. Out of curiosity, in those days, what percentage did you have to pay in interest to the money man, the local bank, or whatever? Do you remember?
BAUM: I know we paid 5% franchise fees to the granting franchise authority, but I don’t really remember what…
FLEMING: At one time I know you could earn 12 or 14% on money, so there must have been a high interest rate that you were paying.
BAUM: Well, I think in the early ’70s it was close to the 20 some-odd percent, but I don’t really remember what the rates were in the ’60s.
FLEMING: Is that right? I think it’s less now.
BAUM: I would think so. It’s quite a bit less. In fact, it will be even less tomorrow.
FLEMING: It’s hard to imagine the routine of going before this board and then if there was competition it was almost impossible to imagine what went on. You were competing against the likes of Time Warner – their cable division at the time – or this company and that company, and you might have as many as four, five, or six applicants.
BAUM: Well, I think you would find that more in the bigger cities. I would say the biggest place that I really ever applied for franchise was in the Englewood-Tenafly-Teaneck area, but I was from Englewood and I did apply against Vision Cable at that time – I think Kay Koplovitz and her husband, I forget her husband’s name…
BAUM: Joe, Joe Koplovitz, were the people that applied for Vision Cable, and actually Vision was up in Ft. Lee, so I think it was just the two of us that were applying around here. Maybe it wasn’t Vision… actually, it wasn’t. It was Bob Rosencrans.
FLEMING: UA Columbia.
BAUM: It was UA Columbia at that time, right. It was difficult because if you had a company that had a large operating system and they had several… they had 30, 40, 50 thousand subscribers and had a balance sheet and had cash flow, it was far more impressive than someone who’s just applying for franchises and doesn’t have an operating business. It was very difficult. So when you had competition, I would say I was not a viable competitor against a company that had a strong balance sheet.
FLEMING: In a profile I read of you that was dated 1986, it said, “Over the next 10 or 15 years, a vast percentage of the U.S. will be wired and a vast spectrum of services will become a reality.” That’s what you said way back then, and a very futuristic looking quote. You were right.
BAUM: I think that was 1968.
FLEMING: The bankers wouldn’t believe you.
BAUM: Cable was a very… no one understood it. We, of course, as an industry were trying to sell a concept of cash flow, which no one could understand. I remember once I bought a cable system in Oakridge, Tennessee. It was owned by Home Life, it had been in default. I bought it for almost nothing. I kept it and I was a public company then, so between the depreciation and the operations it showed a loss. So my board of directors made me divest that system. Of course, you know what Oakridge, Tennessee is today as a cable system, but it was that thinking that permeated the lending industry, Wall Street investing industry, so it became really very hard. You needed people with a lot of prescience. People who could look at something and get an overview of it and say, “Yeah, I really understand where it’s going.” We were actually one of the first companies – not as Vicoa, but in my later life I was with a company called Cable Information Systems – we were one of the first companies to have HBO when they went up to the satellite. I’ll never forget that – we had this huge, we built this huge dish, I mean it was a… I don’t remember how big it was, but we had to have concrete piers to hold this dish, and that was really quite an installation when you think of the Direct TV dishes that you have today, which will even be smaller soon. But this thing was humongous.
FLEMING: They’re now the size of a serving plate on top of a roof.
BAUM: I think they called it a 30-meter dish, but I’m most likely using the wrong number because I think it was bigger than that. It was huge.
FLEMING: Those dishes were gigantic, much like those for NORAD. And today, they’re as you said, tiny things on the top of a roof. You mentioned the other systems that you purchased or franchised. How many systems did you ultimately have?
BAUM: I think we had, at Vicoa, at the end of my tenure there, we had I think nine systems with 50,000 customers. I truly don’t remember how many homes we passed, but it was… I don’t think the saturation was more than 40% then.
FLEMING: But you grew through acquisition or whatever, and ultimately sold the cable operations to Charter Communications?
BAUM: Oh, that was later, much later. Vicoa was my first iteration, which I left that company in 1971, and then I went in 1973 I started as vice-president of operations for Cable Information Systems. That was another company that had pretty much the same size operation as the one that I had left at Vicoa, and when we left that company, I left there in 1980, shortly before it was sold – it was sold to TCI – and it had about 80-90 thousand subscribers when I left it. It had about 50,000 when I started. And then I went into my own business in 1980.
FLEMING: Let me interrupt – you said about selling – in those days, how much was a customer worth?
BAUM: About seven times cash flow.
FLEMING: Which was?
BAUM: I think in 1979-1980, it might have been a thousand dollars.
FLEMING: And today?
BAUM: Well, I got about 3,400 dollars when I sold my system to Charter, and if it’s in a major area they could push 5,000 dollars, I’m sure, today.
FLEMING: And that’s why some people were able to become comfortable, by building and then selling a cable system.
FLEMING: It was, and still is, a good business.
BAUM: It still is a good business, but of course there aren’t very many places that haven’t been wired, but you do have people like Rocco Commisso, who started this business, Media Com. He was Alan Gerry’s CFO, and he started it, I guess, in the early ’90s from scratch. It’s a public company; he’s done very well.
FLEMING: But in the beginning, I’m talking about in the ’50s, there were guys in very small towns in valleys that just put up an antenna on top of the mountain, ran wires down, and served customers. Some of them had only a couple hundred customers, but people wanted cable.
BAUM: That’s right. It was not very hard to get a customer then.
FLEMING: Who were some of the pioneers of those little bitty systems that you recall?
BAUM: Well, TelePrompTer owned an awful lot of those little systems. I guess Bill Bresnan.
FLEMING: John Walsonovich?
BAUM: Oh, John Walsonovich, oh, yes! John was a major customer of ours in the manufacturing business. He was wonderful. John Rigas…
FLEMING: John Walson owned Mahanoy City, PA.
BAUM: Yeah, John Walson, I forgot about him. John Rigas, of course, was in those small towns.
FLEMING: Right, who’s now Adelphia.
FLEMING: Some of the fellows hung on for a long time. Others kept their small systems until they got sick and tired of it and their sons didn’t want to go in the business and they sold it.
BAUM: A lot of people were in and out. In the ’80s you have Jack Crosby, Fred Leiberman was Tele…
BAUM: TeleCable. The ’80s was when I think it really started to do a lot of wheeling and dealing in the ’80s. In the early ’70s – I should say that – because CPI, Crosby’s property, ultimately a lot of those got merged into TCI.
FLEMING: The business has changed so much and become so big and today youngsters who might be watching this could think cable’s a big business, but it wasn’t. It started small, and fortunately for all of us it grew. Now how far are we from New York City, in Englewood?
BAUM: 12 miles.
FLEMING: And that brings me to this – three weeks ago today one of the worst disasters ever to hit the United States since the Civil War took place where terrorists bombed those Twin Towers. Do you have any thoughts about that?
BAUM: Well, first of all, I was on the New Jersey turnpike when the towers were hit, and we had the radio on just listening to the news as we normally do, because I was on my way to the airport to go to Florida, Newark Airport, and when the first plane hit they announced it and you could see – from the turnpike – you could see the flames and certainly the smoke, and people started to pull over, and certainly when the second one hit everyone knew it was a terrorist attack, and then you could just about get through the turnpike, but I guess a lot of people continued on and went to the airport because no one really had any… I mean there was no confirmation that it was a terrorist attack. Of course, it was so obvious when you think about it. The stewardess that was in the line said, “No planes are going to fly right now, so anyone who wants to re-book their flights, go over to the desk and you can re-book your flights.” And everyone was looking at each other saying – the television sets were on because we were up in the President’s Lounge – and everyone was saying “What are we going to re-book for? Where are we going to go? What are we going to do?” It was an impact that began to develop I would say maybe within an hour of the occurrence, and my daughter had been leaving that morning at 8:30 for Boston, Continental to Boston, so she was on the tarmac at the time that this occurred and the tower turned the plane back, and the pilot actually announced that there’d been a terrorist attack, so they went back. They closed the airport about 10:00, and then we went downstairs – we thought my daughter was still there – we went down and tried to find her and there must have been thousands of people milling around because they cut off the airport from vehicles and people didn’t know how to get out of there. There was just a big line waiting to get out by taxi, and people who had cars there were giving other people lifts, and it took us five hours. So we were looking for my daughter and we must have been down there for about an hour and a half in front of the Continental terminal, and you couldn’t use a cell phone because the cell phones were just totally jammed, I mean all the airwaves were jammed and so you get all these not working… couldn’t use a cell phone calling New York, so finally we called New Jersey, we called my daughter’s home up in Boston, we called her office, and then we called my daughter in New Jersey, who my oldest daughter had gotten a hold of, and she was there. Some woman – they were talking outside of the terminal after they had been let out of the plane, and some woman said to her, “I’m going out to my youngest who lives in Ridgewood. I’m going in that direction, can I drop you?” So she had been out of there for a good couple of hours, but it was quite an amazing scene and you realized everyone was being very helpful, cars were stopping to pick people up. We finally got out of there, went to our car after we found out that my daughter was okay, and it took us, to get from Newark Airport back to Englewood, close to five hours because all the access to the city was closed off, there were police all over the place, the turnpike was jammed. Actually you couldn’t even get on the turnpike because they were using the turnpike lanes for all the ambulances, all the fire trucks, everything that was coming in from New Jersey was going on both lanes of the turnpike down to the Holland Tunnel to go in across the tunnel. They took over the tunnel also; they closed the Holland Tunnel for passenger access.
FLEMING: As people watch this years from now they will not realize the devastating effect it had, not only on lives, but on the people, in New Jersey, particularly, where everyone knew someone who was affected, or knew someone who knew someone. This states was particularly hard hit, and it’s hard to imagine what we saw with the plane coming into the building, with the building collapsing. It was surreal.
BAUM: Totally surreal. It was like Spielberg, DreamWorks, had done this thing to make a movie. When you watched it on television – the collapse, you’d see the crash and then the collapse – you just couldn’t conceive of it being a real event.
FLEMING: And I don’t think any one of us could conceive being President Bush at this point.
FLEMING: The burden of decision must be just horrible.
BAUM: It’s called baptism under fire, I guess, truly. But he came out wonderfully so far.
FLEMING: Well, I hate to flip back into cable because this will forever be on our minds, but your immediate family was your brother, your father – who was also a pioneer in cable – a most memorable person in the world of cable TV. Who were some of the interesting people that you’ve met in your sojourn in cable?
BAUM: In the cable business? Well, certainly I spent time and I enjoyed being with Bob Rosencrans. I thought he was a great operator, and also the company that he worked for, Flugg and Strasler – David Strasler. As far as beyond that, there were other operators – Bud Hostetter I met and I enjoyed being with him, and of course there was Bill Daniels, Alan Harmon, primarily most of the people that I knew in the cable business at the old cable conventions. We had some great conventions, particularly the ones around either New Orleans or Las Vegas. They were great conventions.
FLEMING: It was great not only because the industry was growing, you were learning a lot, and at the same time on occasion you’d go out to dinner and have a drink.
BAUM: You’d go out and have a drink or you’d play a little cards, but it was small. It was a small enough industry where you knew people by name. I guess somewhere in the mid to late ’80s it began to get – it was most likely in the early ’80s, actually, where you would go to cable conventions and it was all corporate. It had become institutionalized and had become corporate, and IBM had a pavilion there and the programmers had big pavilions and before you knew it, it was just a totally different industry. You didn’t know the faces that were walking around. It had matured. It had come into its own in the ’80s.
FLEMING: Yes, it did. I think HBO and ShowTime were part of that growth.
FLEMING: People wanted to see uncut movies without commercials and with a little bit of sex thrown in.
BAUM: We had a cable system when I was with Cable Information Systems in Rockland County. We built that system in Orangeburg and all around there, and that was in ’75 we built it, and then we did a deal with Jerry Levin for the first Madison Square Garden broadcasting. It was off the United Artists tower – UA Columbia tower – that was somewhere along the Palisades parkway, in Alpine, I think it is, maybe it’s a little bit further north. First they broadcast movies around the Madison Square Garden. We were sort of like a pirate area and we had lots of meetings discussing the fact that you’ve got to be one or the other because people don’t want to… if they’re going to watch movies, they would like to watch the movies, but you don’t have movies in prime time because they had sporting events in prime time. So ultimately, they split it up and they got the movies in there. There was a lot of experimental work. When we took HBO’s first feed, it also had a lot of sports in it, and I remember we originally had it in our system in Hobbs, New Mexico, which is where we built that very, very big dish that I mentioned to you, and initially we must have had 50-60% of the people signed on for HBO, and then when they got the same problem of the repeating movies, and the sports mixed in, you could just watch it every week or two weeks, someone else was dropping off the service and ultimately it got down to the normal, very early penetration levels. But it was fascinating because everyone wanted it, you knew everyone wanted it. We had tried to do a deal as a company with someone – I forget the name of the company, but they were going to do a stand alone pay-per-view – and everyone wanted those movies. Of course when they did start coming in both on HBO and pay-per-view, it really opened up the entire company to cable.
FLEMING: Jerry Levin, currently he’s the chairman of AOL Time Warner, but he told me this story – the very first HBO program came out of the system that we mentioned before with John Walson. He and Chuck Dolan, who conceptualized HBO, were driving over the George Washington Bridge to go to this fabulous program that they were going to air out of Mahanoy City, and the traffic was all tied up and they never got to see Polka Holiday from Mahanoy City, Pennsylvania. (LAUGHTER) But those were primitive days. Are you glad you got in the cable business?
BAUM: Oh, yeah. I loved it.
FLEMING: Any regrets at all?
BAUM: No, not really. It was a lot of fun. It was a very good business, it was very good to the people that were in it, and I’ll never find another one like it.
FLEMING: Yes, yes, I can appreciate that. I must say that I guess it worked out pretty well for you. As I look over my shoulder and see a Picasso, and over there is a Degas, and over there – and I can go on and on – are two Chinese horses, from the what century?
BAUM: They’re from the 7th century – Tang.
FLEMING: Tang Dynasty. We’re surrounded by 18th century furniture, it’s one of the most magnificent homes I’ve ever been in. It’s lovely.
BAUM: Thank you very much. I appreciate that. I appreciate someone who appreciates it also.
FLEMING: Well, I do. Is there anything you would have done that you didn’t do?
BAUM: We did a lot of things. My wife and I had a wonderful time when we were running the cable systems for CIS, and then for myself. We traveled. It was a pretty benign business, you know, you have a good staff and you didn’t ever have to worry about a customer owing you a lot of money because it never happened, which is a uniquely… it’s like the telephone company. That model just works wonderfully. So nothing that I really regret that I didn’t do.
FLEMING: Today this would be hard to imagine, or years from now to somebody watching the program, but in those days you were able to have a what they call a 50% cash flow – for every dollar you took in, you’d keep 50 cents for yourself, and there are very few businesses – legal businesses – that operate that way today. It was just amazing.
BAUM: Well, you know, it was close to 60% in the beginning of the ’80s before the FCC got involved.
FLEMING: Do you see anything different in the future for cable?
BAUM: Well, I think cable is just a generic business today. I mean it’s like the telephone business, or anything else, at some point in time – it’s not yet – but at some point in time it’s going to get price competitive. There are going to be more people, more ways of offering THE programming to people. Plasma screens are developing, you’re going to have Internet connections into a plasma screen, and it’s going to become like – I hate to say it – but it’s going to be like the long distance business. I don’t think it’s going to stay like the local telephone business, but it most likely will keep itself sheltered for maybe another 10 or 15 years. But someday someone will figure out how to go into it with the Internet.
FLEMING: There will be competition from dishes.
BAUM: Well, there is competition from dishes now, but amazingly so, I think it doesn’t really impact terribly because I believe cable has – through the development of digital programming – has been able to compete fairly well with Direct TV and Echo Star, although Echo Star tried to be the cheapest guy on the block, I guess they’ve all figured out they have a product that people aren’t going to walk away from, so that they’re really not becoming highly competitive with cable at this point in time. Everybody’s still building market share.
FLEMING: As you said, it’s an evolving business. Lord knows what else… we’ll be reading our gas meters and getting telephone bills and everything else through cable. I think the telephone company has wised up a bit and, as you predicted way back when, there will be two-way communications. Another thing that I read about you, you said it would be that way. So, again, Ted, you’re a genius!
BAUM: Well, I wouldn’t say that I’m a genius, but thanks anyway for the compliment.
FLEMING: I’m not sure what different ways we’ll be doing things in the future. I think that a lot of people, like yourself, who have made a good living out of it, who had fun, it was a great thing. I’m not sure whether they have fun today.
BAUM: If they do, it certainly isn’t at the level that we were able to do it then. There’s much more regulation, there is the competition, and I know when I sold our business to Charter in 1999, it started because at the end of ’98, when I sat down and started to look at my financial statements for the year, there were some operating systems that I had that had turned in a lower profit than 1997 for the same system. That was the first time in my life, and I’d been running these for a long time, that I actually had something like that happen, and I realized that it was really getting competitive because the price cap that the FCC had put on on top of the price cap that you put on yourself because of Direct TV and Echo Star, and the cost of becoming more competitive from a customer service point of view – it was like you were stuck in a pincer, and that was when I felt it was time to move on, and I was fortunate. I found a great buyer and I moved on.
FLEMING: Today, for those companies as we’ve seen, there’s consolidation and buyouts and everything else, in order to service the debt you have to pay tremendous attention to that bottom line. I don’t care whether it’s a medium sized multiple system operator or it’s Time Warner.
BAUM: Well, you know Joel, the big difference now is when you have debt today you really have to think about paying principle. When I was in the business, and the business was growing up, the acquisition route was always available, so you could continuously refinance by making an acquisition just before the principle was due, so you really were using what we would call “evergreen money”. It just never had to be paid off. Then when just about everything had been bought up that was small, and you were starting to look around and see that you had really big competitors that were of your size or bigger, you realized that the game was getting pretty close to being up because you would really have to service the debt, and of course that’s become a bit of a problem today because there are some companies that had a lot of it around and are being forced to refinance under more stringent conditions that they were before.
FLEMING: It’s a changing business.
BAUM: A changing business.
FLEMING: And you have seen a lot of the change through your association. This is Joel Fleming, I’ve been interviewing Ted Baum, one of the pioneers of the cable business. He got in it way back when, 1957 to be exact. We’re doing this for The Cable Center in Denver, Colorado, and today’s date is October 2, 2001. I can’t help but mention this, and I’m sure Ted joins with me in mentioning that our prayers go out not only to those who have been killed in the horrific September 11th tragedy in New York City, but most especially to their survivors.
BAUM: To their survivors.
FLEMING: God bless.
BAUM: God bless.