Interview Date: March 1, 2004
Interviewer: Les Read
Interview location: New York, NY
Collection: Hauser Collection
Note: Linda Brodsky passed away July 26, 2016.
READ: Hi everybody. I’m Les Read with The Cable Center and it’s my pleasure to spend some time with you as we learn more about Linda Gail Brodsky-Cooper. It’s a name that if you’re not familiar with it you sure will be by the time we’re finished today. And today, of course, we’re sitting here on March the 1st, the year is 2004, and we’re talking about a woman who had an incredible career in cable. One of the first, but as the old saying goes, she ain’t over yet because she continues to be most active in the field and as I’ve said once you get to know her you’ll understand why everybody really loves Linda Brodsky. If I could, before we go too far, I’d like you to know that Linda’s been responsible and we hope to get all of the intricacies of the things that she’s been involved in because you’ve heard the stories and most times she’s been behind them. So stay with us and I’d like you to meet Linda Brodsky. Hello there, my dear.
BRODSKY: Hello, Les.
READ: It is so nice for us to be able to get to spend some time here in the studio and to have the people get to know more about you because you’re really one of the behind the scenes kind of people. I say that lovingly and I say it as the importance of what a PR person does, a publicist. You’re like the makeup lady in disguise.
BRODSKY: Exactly. That’s a really important point. Except for stepping out into the limelight a couple of times with the Cable Follies and Women in Cable late in my career, except for that I’m a firm believer that PR people don’t get their names in the paper. You get your client’s name, your boss’s name in the paper.
READ: You say that now. Linda, let me go back to setting the foundation of where Linda Gail came from. You were a Pennsylvania girl.
BRODSKY: Philadelphia born and raised.
READ: And the schooling started there in Philly.
BRODSKY: Started in Philly. I am a graduate of Overbrook High School where Wilt Chamberlain was a student, not in the same year but I did see him play. I was in junior high school and I saw him play. And then I went to the University of Pennsylvania and received a bachelor’s degree in journalism and then did graduate work at Temple University in Philly.
READ: Did you want to go into journalism? When you got out of high school you said, “I’m ready to write?”
BRODSKY: Oh, always. I was a speechwriter when I was in junior high school. I have old letters from friends sent to me at camp thanking me for the speech. I don’t remember what speech it was, but at the end of the letter after they told me all their activities with the boys that summer while I was off at camp, there would be a P.S. “Thanks for the speech.” I think when they ran for school office I was writing speeches for them, and I wrote plays in school and I was always the family writer. So, writing was in the cards.
READ: So you graduated from Penn and went into graduate work?
BRODSKY: At Temple University, but I did that at night. I went right to work.
READ: Okay, so work started. In Philly?
BRODSKY: In Philly.
READ: In the field of?
BRODSKY: I had a brief time as what we called a House Organ Editor at Penn Mutual Life Insurance Company, whose slogan was Back of Your Independence Stands the Penn Mutual. It was directly behind Independence Hall. I knew nothing about House Organ editing, which is company publications, so I went to the library before the interview, got a book. I was interviewed by the Personnel Director who apparently went to the library and got the same book, because he knew nothing about House Organ editing. They were all in the insurance business; I was one of three people in this skyscraper who was not in the insurance business. It was I and the two art directors in the company who did all the art work for Penn Mutual. I spent a year-and-a-half there and then I spent a short time on staff for the Democratic City Committee of Philadelphia.
READ: Ah, politics got into it.
BRODKSY: Don’t let Bill Bresnan hear that. We don’t mention that. It was there that I met Milton Shapp, and it was a name that I knew because when I was at Penn I did my senior thesis on a new concept called pay television – not pay cable, pay television – and I had to do original research because it was so new there was almost nothing written. You had to go into archives of Newsweek and Time and go to the library and dig up some clippings. There were three experiments that had been carried out. One was in a suburb of Toronto called Otobicoke – spelled Otobicoke, pronounced Otobico – one was in Hartford, and one was in a town called Bartlesville, Oklahoma, and of the three Bartlesville was the one that was wired. It was a cabled pay television experiment. That was a system that had been wired by a company called Jerrold Electronics and to my good fortune they were based in Philadelphia. I’d never heard of them and I’d never heard of Milton Shapp whose middle name happens to be Jerrold. I wrote to the company and got material that I used in my thesis, and then that was that. I didn’t think much about it.
READ: This was the same time when you had met him in your political…?
BRODSKY: I had not yet met him. This was when I was in college. This was my senior thesis at Penn. I had to do an honors thesis and you had to choose something and I chose pay television, so there must have been something in the back of my brain that pointed me in this direction. You could have chosen anything. I chose that. It was when I got into politics that I met Milton Shapp because he was running various campaigns. I started in a mayoral campaign in Philadelphia and the next season I was in the Johnson Bandwagon campaign, which was the Philadelphia branch of the Lyndon Johnson Campaign – and now everyone knows how old I am, so there you go. Milton Shapp was chairing the Pennsylvania branch of the Johnson campaign and I worked in a Philadelphia office for him there, which is also where I met my husband, Frank Cooper. I was in charge of the Johnson Bandwagon Campaign buses and when I answered the phone I used to say “Hello. Linda – Johnson Bandwagon” and people frequently thought I had said “Hello, Lynda Johnson” and they would sputter. They got nervous; they thought they’d reached her. I was there until the campaign was over, successfully, and then I went from there to Jerrold Electronics, which was Milton’s company.
READ: Before we jump into the electronics and the rocket ride that you’ve been involved in, was he thinking a political career himself at that time? For the folks who don’t know, Milton J. Shapp of course was the founder of the electronics firm and later became the governor of the grand state of Pennsylvania. But at that time when he was working for the campaign, was he thinking politics?
BRODSKY: Very much so. Our offices were in the Suburban Station building in Philadelphia, which is a big building – the suburban trains all come in from the Main Line, that’s where they all come as opposed to 30th Street Station, which is Amtrak. Milton had a suite of offices there the sole purpose of which was to run his political life there. He was very interested in the Pennsylvania Railroad and in doing some changing of the Pennsylvania Railroad and the way it was structured. He was on a big campaign about that. He was also very involved in all kinds of political things, which is how my husband first knew him. My husband was in politics. By the way, he was not my husband at the time or for a long time afterwards, as Les knows, but he is now. Milton had this office separate from Jerrold Electronics. Jerrold was in North Philadelphia; this was in Center City Philadelphia. He was very much planning his whole political life and he had a team of political people, some of whom ended up working in the cable industry. I don’t know if Norval Reece, who ultimately went to TelePrompTer, was with Milton at that time, but somewhere along the way he was involved in Pennsylvania politics and perhaps with Milton, and there were a few others. Jerry Lawrence, the son of the then-governor of Pennsylvania, was involved – Jerry Lawrence was the son; David Lawrence was the governor. So Milton had a whole team; he had a master plan.
READ: Let’s move over to the electronic side. Milton started the company in the ’60s, late ’50s, was it?
BRODSKY: Late ’40s.
READ: Late ’40s! Well, we weren’t born then!
BRODSKY: I hear that it was the late ’40s.
READ: We read books about that.
BRODSKY: That’s right. Milton had a company called Jerrold Electronics and he was manufacturing parts for master antenna systems and radio-type things. He had customers who were in the master antenna business, the early days of television. There were dealers out in the boondocks trying to sell television sets and they couldn’t get signal. They had very little signal, so in order to even display the set they needed some kind of a signal and they would put a master antenna on the roof of their own store, their appliance store. Milton supplied that kind of equipment. They had names like J-Jacks and there were little amplifiers and boosters and lots of old-fashioned things. RG-59U is something I remember, a certain kind of cable they had. It was through that that actually, no matter what anybody tells you, the cable industry was founded. We know that there was out in Oregon another test of that; there’s a quibble who started it first, but Milton had a customer, Bob Tarlton, in Lansford, Pennsylvania who was an appliance dealer and knew Milton very well and together they got the idea that perhaps… I mean selling the sets was one thing, but the people being able to see television in their homes was a whole other thing and you weren’t going to sell a lot if the word of mouth wasn’t real good. “I bought a set, I can’t see anything, don’t bother,” that kind of thing. So they got the idea that perhaps you could take the concept of master antenna which put a strong antenna on the roof of the building and came down and branched off into the various TV sets. They said why not think bigger? Put it on the hilltop, put it on the mountaintop, come down and branch out and go down the streets and attach it to the back of the sets. It really was the exact same concept just a little grander with a little more complicated electronics.
READ: That’s how it all started.
BRODSKY: And that’s how it all started, and the day that they turned on the cable system in Lansford, Pennsylvania it was such a monumental occasion that they declared a school holiday in town. You can look it up; that’s really true. The New York Times covered it.
READ: You were involved in the politics side. You were a journalist. How did you work your way into the Jerrold organization having known Milton, and where did you start with him?
BRODSKY: I believe I was Manager of Public Relations, maybe Director, I don’t recall, but I think I was Manager of Public Relations. I was hired to do the newsletters originally. There were two newsletters that were very well known. One was internal for all of the employees at Jerrold in Philadelphia and out in the field, and the other was an external copy. Both of them were called Signals. The internal was Signals, the external was CATV Signals. They were sort of legendary in their time. They covered everything that happened in the industry and some of what they covered when we look back on it now is very fascinating. I’ll give you an example, okay? I don’t know if you can see this, but this is what Signals looked like (internal Signals), and there is an article here saying the newest Jerrold CATV system makes its gala debut in Lafayette, Indiana. [Editor’s note – this newsletter is available from The Cable Center’s Barco Library] I was there. I had just joined Jerrold and a gentleman named Joel Smith, who became a good friend of mine, was an executive in the operations department. I should backtrack for one minute to point out that Jerrold was unique in that they not only were equipment manufacturers, but when I joined them they also were system operators, which is sort of a forgotten fact, but they were. Lafayette, Indiana was one of the towns that they operated in and as another aside on that, that was a tricky thing to be the equipment manufacturer and a franchise acquirer because when you went out to get a franchise in those days you’d show up at the franchise meeting and all of your customers were sitting there. The people to whom you were selling equipment, other operators, they were sitting there trying to get the same franchise, so you were playing both sides of the fence. It was tricky and I’m sure that things were worked out nicely and somehow everything was peaceful.
READ: Well, eventually they sold out the systems and just became a manufacturer.
BRODSKY: Yes, eventually they did, but the Lafayette, Indiana system was the first system that I saw. I had been at Jerrold maybe a month and Joel Smith said to me, “Why don’t you go out to this Grand Opening?” In those days, an entire system was built before it was opened. It wasn’t opened piece-meal like we do now. We didn’t build a street and then activate. You never heard the word activate. You built the whole system and then you had a Grand Opening and the mayor came and there were balloons and you’d count how many pennies were in a TV tube – that kind of thing was very popular. You gave out combs with all kinds of slogans like ‘Antennas are for the birds’; that was one of our most popular slogans. I’m sure you recall that.
READ: Book covers for the kids.
BRODSKY: Book covers for the kids, right. When I went to Lafayette I flew out with Bob Beisswenger, the President of Jerrold, his wife Margareta, and a gentleman named Lon Canter who I believe was my boss at Jerrold. I think I was the Editor, Lon was the Manager, and Sel Kremer was the Director of Public Relations. That was the order, I believe. I don’t think there was a Vice-President of PR then. We flew out in a blizzard, landed in Chicago and couldn’t take the plane that went into Lafayette. So Bob Beisswenger got on the phone and he rented a private plane, one of the few there. It was so small that you stepped onto the wing to get in. My father’s car was actually bigger than this plane; it was. We flew down to Lafayette in a blizzard, very low like Mary Poppins. I’d never been in a small plane, a private plane before. We landed on the airfield of Purdue University in West Lafayette. We were brought in by students. It was students out in this blizzard waving the plane in, and we were met by Xenny Mitchell, a name that you know…
READ: My dear friend Xenny.
BRODKSY: Your dear friend, Xenny Mitchell, who was very much involved with the company that was our partner in Lafayette because in those days in almost every system that Jerrold had they were partnered with somebody. I think I recently read that Jerrold’s ownership was about 48%; I think it broke down to that in all their ventures. But Xenny was there and his wife, Poppy Mitchell, who had just run for political office, was there with her Poppy Mobile, which was like a golf cart all decorated with political symbols. We went to a banquet and they roasted a sacrificial lamb because they were Greek. That was my introduction to the cable industry and I thought, oh, I don’t know how long this is going to last; lo these many years later!
READ: That’s amazing. But those openings, big turn-ons as we used to say, they started at that time and they started clicking and communities started hearing the news about what cable could do in terms of bringing these people out of the shadows and it was an amazing, amazing time. In your particular situation, you’re one of the early women in the organization. There weren’t an awful lot of women around.
BRODSKY: No, there weren’t.
READ: I think that throughout today we want to come back to the fact that in most of the jobs and positions that you’ve held you’ve done an outstanding job, but you’ve also done a lot yourself to make that happen.
BRODSKY: Thank you.
READ: No one really gives you anything. If you want something in a lifetime you’d better go out after it, don’t you think?
BRODSKY: Yes, I think you have to start by liking to work with men if you’re starting when I started. I grew up with two brothers. Men don’t scare me, you know? So that was the easy part, but I was a rare woman. There were women in the industry – they were the “mom” in the mom-and-pop. There were a lot of mom-and-pop systems out there, and those were the women. But in corporate life there were very few women, and if you look at old pictures – I have many of them – from the banquets at the NCTA where some guy would stand on a ladder and take an overview, you don’t see very many women in that audience. You see me; I stood out because I was young. You see many older women with their husbands who had started these mom-and-pops and kept it going for a few years at that point.
READ: Well, one of the other interesting things I can always remember when I got involved with a couple of corporations that got into the business later on was the fact they kept saying, “Well, why do they have all of their meetings on weekends? This is unheard of!” Well, the fact was that the moms and pops ran the cable systems and on the weekend they could get away to do this, but it’s like you said, most of the moms were very busy running that front office and you were probably a very unique situation. You were the hussy coming in from out of town. “Who is this coming into our town?” So you’ve experienced it first-hand. Once you got through the growth of Jerrold, and there are many projects that you were involved in there, and I don’t want to get too far away from the fact that you were also growing in the ability to do a lot of Milton’s speechwriting, right?
BRODSKY: Yes, I wrote for Milton and I wrote for Bob Beisswenger, who became president. Milton eventually distanced himself a lot from Jerrold. He had the office, but as he was getting closer and closer to making a run for politics we saw less and less of him; Bob Beisswenger became the president and I did write for him, Les. That’s really when I started writing cable speeches.
READ: I guess for those that are watching, maybe if you could just kind of recreate the scene of Jerrold Night at NCTA when Selman would lead the pack in their tuxedos and tails and top hats. You kind of tell what the event was.
BRODSKY: Jerrold Night was a very special night. Every year at the NCTA show, the National Cable Television Association show, there would be the official banquet, which I believe you paid to go to, and then there was Jerrold Night, which was hosted completely by Jerrold, paid for by Jerrold, and I don’t recall, actually, whether they invited all their clients, all of the companies they sold to or whether it was an open kind of thing. It probably was an invitation only, if I have to guess.
READ: As I remember, it was pretty much if you went to the convention you went to Jerrold Night. It was open and I never missed one.
BRODSKY: Yeah, never missed one, and they were very unique. I have a copy of Signals here that I was looking at – the headline on this is “Jerrold Hit of the Show at NCTA Convention – 1 Million a Day for 5 Days in CATV Sales.” In this lead article, it talks about how they attribute this success to several factors including record-breaking show attendance, which by the way, was 2,500 people. That was record-breaking show attendance. This is 1965. They attributed it to that, to the large number of new systems being built, to the rapid changeover by older 3-and 5-channel CATV systems to 12-channel operation, and to acceptance of their new, highly reliable solid-state equipment. When I first joined Jerrold there were signs all over the place saying solid-state, solid-state is coming. The transistor is here. That was the big push – the push to 12 channels and then not too much longer after that to 20. But that and solid-state, big stuff.
READ: I was a cable operator in those days and I was in upstate New York in Elmira, and we had had another brand – there weren’t too many companies, manufacturers in the field – and the scheme was that Jerrold truly came on as a family corporation, and Beisswenger had a team of salesmen who were the best field reps I can ever, ever remember and that was just an amazing thing the way that grew and developed as far as the way they served the industry.
BRODSKY: Right. Jerrold was sort of to the cable industry what IBM has been to the computer industry. Everybody at one point or another started there and spread out. It’s not true anymore because we’re into new generations, but there was a point where you could barely go to any company where somebody hadn’t passed through Jerrold, had some experience at Jerrold. Many of them went off and became entrepreneurs themselves and formed their own companies, branched out. But it was a family feeling; it was a very unique company. It was a wonderful place to start for me because there was no place else that I can think of where you could start in the cable industry and learn all the aspects of it. You either could start in an operating company with a mom-and-pop – there weren’t many MSOs in those days – or you could start at another equipment company, but I started at a company that did everything. That excludes programming because we didn’t have programming then. This was pre-programming, but we manufactured equipment so I had to learn technology, I had to write about technology. I had to learn about systems because we operated systems. I had to learn about advertising, as rudimentary as it was in those days. I had to learn everything that anybody had to know about what we then called the community antenna television industry. I had to learn and it was all there in front of me. I worked in offices that were above the actual manufacturing floor, so I could walk down and see the manufacturing process, and I did. I went to interview people for the newsletter. I spent a lot of time down with the manufacturing team, so I really got to see it all, and how lucky was that to start that way?
READ: That’s true. In your Jerrold days, was there another area that you thought of maybe expanding or getting into or did you just want to stay in that PR area while you were there?
BRODSKY: Do you mean expanding within Jerrold or expanding and leaving Jerrold and doing something else?
READ: No, before we leave Jerrold did you see any growth opportunities or something that would have interested you?
BRODSKY: No. I think perhaps I wanted Sel Kremer’s job, maybe that.
READ: Did you have a shot at it?
BRODSKY: I don’t think I actually coveted it because I had so much opportunity there working with Sel. Jerrold was, I believe, an over-the-counter company. Yes, it must have been an over-the-counter company because I did an annual report. So I had the opportunity to learn how to do annual reports. I’d never done anything like that. We also, in those days, had splinter groups from the financial analysts groups in New York and Philadelphia. We had CATV analysts and I had to write material for the analyst groups, so I had to deal with the financial end of things. I had to prepare quarterly reports. I had to learn that whole end of the business, which was also a wonderful training ground.
READ: That also took a lot of work with the legal people to make sure you stayed within the boundaries?
BRODSKY: It did, but it also did another thing. It sent me to New York because Jerrold employed Ruder and Finn, which was one of the premiere public relations agencies in the country, based in New York; a wonderful guy named Norm Weissman, who died just about two years ago, was the account executive. I was a journalism major at Penn; I’d never met a New York PR account executive. This was a great thrill for me, and I started to work very closely with Norman and his team. I used to go up to New York, and Norman came down. When we went out to Lafayette for the Grand Opening Norman was there. The next big opening that I went to was in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania where we had the Trudy Heller Dancers from the Village and Ruder and Finn – those were go-go days – and Ruder and Finn set that up. That grand opening was held in the Farm Show Building in Harrisburg, which is really an agricultural kind of farm-show site. It went on for days – I think it was 2-3 days at this grand opening. Those were fun days!
READ: Was it those trips to New York that kind of opened the horizons a little bit for you, and you started to look around a little bit?
BRODSKY: They did, and then a very interesting thing happened. Jerrold was bought. Jerrold was bought by a consortium headed by a company called General Instrument, a New York Stock Exchange Company. General Instrument, I believe, didn’t have any cable operations. They had no cable operations at the time. They owned American Totalizator – I think I’m pronouncing it right – that was the company that made all the equipment for betting on racetracks, and they owned some other high-tech companies. They had a Chairman and President named Monte Shapiro who was a very sharp guy. That was when I learned as a Philadelphian to stop saying Sha-py-ro, which is how we pronounced it in Philadelphia, and to say Sha-peer-o because he had my head every time I called him Monte Sha-py-ro. So I had to learn that. Monte was very, very smart. He was a labor lawyer, a very brilliant guy, a New Yorker, and he personally did the annual report for General Instrument and its many divisions. What he would do was have each of the companies that General Instrument owned send him a report that could be incorporated into the annual report, so they all had to do mini-annual reports. Then he would sit and write the annual report. When Bob Beisswenger heard that he said, “You’re crazy! You don’t have to do that. I’ll send Linda Brodsky to New York.” I said, “Oh my God, this is a New York Stock Exchange company! I’m going to go to New York?” I was scared to death, and that’s what he did. Monte said, “Okay, we’ll try it.” And they sent me to New York. What I didn’t know then was that I could have booked myself into any hotel; the money didn’t matter, but I didn’t know that. I was from Philadelphia. So, I booked myself into the Americana on 7th Avenue. I could have been in The Pierre. I was there for weeks and weeks and weeks. I rented a typewriter and a typewriter table and I went to the office and I met Monte who I was scared to death of. I met him sitting in his little private dining room. He had a chef on the premises who cooked him a hamburger every day for lunch, so the day I met him I sat and had a hamburger with him, and he turned over all these documents to me and I took them back to my hotel room, which was my office. I had two beds, one bed for the papers, one bed to sleep in, and the typewriter, and I started going through this stuff. I’d never heard of any of this stuff. It was about clean rooms and all kinds of technical equipment and things I never had any background in, knew nothing about. So I decided this is sort of either like an algebra problem or it’s like learning Greek: if I can make this make sense to me it’ll make sense to the readers. If I can take this stuff and read it over and over until I understand it well enough to put it into English I’ll have mastered it, and that’s what I started to do. I worked partly in the hotel room and partly on the premises there while I was doing this. When I worked on the premises at General Instrument, which was on Madison Avenue, I’d be sitting alone in the office and every once in awhile I would hear these footsteps coming down a hallway and a man hollering, “Hey, junior!” I didn’t know that was Linda. I thought, “Who is this guy, who is he calling?” Then I found out that’s me. He’d come in and slap some more material down on the desk for me to work on. I was terrified. I wanted out, I wanted to go home. Let me out of here. But I did it, and I turned it in. I turned in the first section and he called me in and I stood in front of his desk and he said what became immortal words to me. He said, “You know what I think?” I said, “What?” He said, “I think you’re going to save me a lot of time.” So that was his stamp of approval and I did it, and I have it here. That was the first General Instrument annual report covering cable; they had many after that.
READ: But that led into your moving to New York?
BRODSKY: No, that showed me how much fun New York could be on the days I wasn’t writing for Monte Shapiro. I didn’t move to New York immediately. I moved to New York about a year later. I don’t think that’s what did it. I don’t think anything like that does it. I think you’re born to live in New York. You either are or you’re not, and I was the friend in high school who used to plan the hooky days. “We’ll take off on Wednesday, we’ll get theater tickets, we’ll take ladies day on the train, we’ll all go…” so it was always there.
READ: Was there an event that pushed you up there?
BRODSKY: Yes. There was a company called TeleVision Communications Corporation – TVC. My husband was already up there, my not-then husband was already up there, and my friend Joel Smith was already up there.
READ: Working for TVC?
BRODSKY: Working for TVC, and they knew that the public relations agency representing TVC, which was called Irving L. Strauss Associates, needed somebody to take over that account. The woman who had been handling the account had just been let go and they had nobody to handle it. Alfred Stern was the Founder and President and Chairman of TeleVision Communications Corporation – TVC. Irving Straus, who headed this public relations company, was a close New York friend of Alfred’s. I don’t know if they were personal friends, but they traveled in the same social circles. So Irving was very interested in finding somebody to represent this account because it was very important to him to do it right for Alfred. Frank and Joel told me about this opening, so I applied.
READ: This was about what year?
BRODSKY: This was 1970, maybe January of ’70.
READ: In the ’70s, okay. At that particular time, TVC had a lot of systems or was just starting out?
BRODSKY: TVC had just about 20 systems… had 23 systems. They had 23 systems.
READ: 23 systems, okay, so they were really, truly one of the early MSOs.
BRODSKY: Yes, they were an over-the-counter company.
READ: Over-the-counter. Did they have systems scattered across the country? Were they a regional territory? What were you looking at in terms of the area that you had to service?
BRODSKY: They were mostly east coast with a few exceptions. There were a couple of exceptions. I think there was one in Oregon. I wish I’d read the list, I don’t remember, but mostly east coast.
READ: Okay, and TVC got you to move to New York?
BRODSKY: I moved to New York, yes, but to work for Irving Straus Associates. I did not work for TVC. I worked for Irving Straus as the Account Executive handling that account primarily, but several other accounts as well. After a year of that, Alfred hired me directly; I stayed on the premises at Irving Straus for about another six months but I was employed and paid by Alfred. He didn’t have room for me, and that was an interesting story. They didn’t have space. They had offices in Rockefeller Center and they were full, but one of the companies that TVC owned… they owned more than one operation, they weren’t just in the cable business. They also owned a recording studio called The Record Plant, which was a very prominent recording studio in New York. John Lennon, Yoko Ono recorded there. Don McLean recorded “Bye-Bye Miss American Pie”, which I heard about 150,000 times because that’s where they put me. They put me there, and that’s when I learned that when you make a record you don’t sing the whole line, or if you do the engineers don’t play the whole line. They play “Bye-Bye Miss American Pie” over and over and over again, and when you have not heard the song and you don’t know what in the world is this you’re ready to kill yourself while you’re trying to write your cable stuff. So that’s where they put me for about nine months and then they moved me directly into the company.
READ: What was your job description at that point? Putting out the stories on systems and new territories and equipment?
BRODSKY: I came in as Director of Public Relations and then I was made Vice-President of Public Relations, and I did everything that anybody in the industry doing PR at that time had to do. If you were working for an operating company you worked with your system managers out in the field, and you worked with your corporate problems back home, and you tried to deal with the relationship. I was a firm believer in the filtering-down concept: that what you do in New York filters down. I believed in the filtering up thing, that it’s not separate. The systems and corporate life are not in any way separate; they affect each other.
READ: Now, in the cable world were you dealing out in the field at the systems?
BRODSKY: No, I didn’t have to travel very much. I dealt with the managers by phone. We didn’t have fax then.
BRODSKY: Whoops! No fax, no. We dealt by phone and then we brought the managers into New York and every once in a while I think I did go on field trips periodically. I did go out to the systems. I felt very strongly about something, speaking of going out to the systems. I felt very strongly about the fact that so many of the people that worked in the corporate office had never seen a system. We used to have in the systems – you’ll remember this – something called the “tub”, the “tub system”. Or perhaps you don’t remember that by the look on your face, but at Jerrold and TVC we had “the tub”. The tub was the file with all the accounts in it, customer accounts, and it apparently rolled and it was really like a tub, and so they called it the tub system.
READ: That’s where we used to keep our beer, I think, wasn’t it?
BRODKSY: In your system that you managed that was where you kept the beer, right.
READ: We were friendly.
BRODSKY: But at TVC we didn’t do anything like that. So we had secretaries working in the company who had been there a long time, who spoke on the phone daily with the secretaries or Office Managers out in the field. They would be talking about issues having to do with stuff in the tub and they had no idea what they were talking about. TVC had a small plane…
READ: I remember that.
BRODSKY: I decided that it would be a wonderful idea if we could take the secretaries out to the systems. The plane was very small so I got permission from Alfred to do it – no easy feat – and even his own secretary, who was an executive secretary, an executive assistant, she had been with him for years and she had never seen a system. It’s like a blind person trying to figure out what does a human face look like. If you’ve never seen a system you have no idea. Not that there’s anything to see, it’s just a storefront and an antenna and some cables, but to get the feel of a system you’ve got to go out there.
READ: It’s the heart, and of course that’s one of the things I think as we talk about these stories that for the folks who are watching this or doing their research or trying to figure out what their career is going to be, there was a certain heartbeat to cable that again, at family levels, the system operated that way. I can always remember the companies coming together as the corporations grew and in terms with the fact that you had more than just a coming to the office to do your job, it was a real family involvement.
BRODSKY: Yeah, and you were hot stuff in town when you were in the cable business.
READ: Who, me?
BRODSKY: Not you. Oh, well, you were a System Manager, so you too were hot stuff in town, but the System Manager was the big deal at the country club. That was show biz to the other people in town. That was television.
READ: I don’t mean to steal your story, but when I first got involved with cable I used to sit there and say, “Why is that guy from the phone company sitting up there at the head table and not me, the cable manager?” That was one of the goals I had, and you’re right. When you were in the community you were involved with things going on. This is kind of the excitement of going to New York, the corporate jet, and things of that nature that are going on, and now the names that you grew up with continue to have an awful lot of sparkle to them. What I’d like to do is to continue and expand on this whole idea of the sparkling names that started to get into the cable industry because, again, from the Jerrold days it was really “mom-and-pops” out in the hills of Indiana or the Illinois area, and suddenly we find activity growing in the New York market, but New York didn’t have the slightest idea of what cable TV was. They already had 11 channels off-air. Cable would never work there, but these individuals that you just mentioned, one who I remember quite well – Al Stern. He was quite a guy.
BRODSKY: Alfred was quite a guy. Alfred was the grandson, is the grandson – he’s still very much alive – of Julius Rosenwald who was Sears Roebuck. I can tell you didn’t know that!
READ: I didn’t know that.
BRODSKY: Yes, there was a Mr. Sears and there was a Mr. Roebuck, but only very early on. You could really say that Julius Rosenwald was the founder of Sears Roebuck as we know it today. This was a Chicago family, a very well-known Chicago family, and Alfred was the grandson there. So he was to-the-manor-born unquestionably, but he’s a guy who did not just sit back and count his money. He took very seriously the obligation of making his own career. He went to NBC and he was an executive at NBC. I think he was in charge of International for NBC, and then he founded his own cable company – TeleVision Communications Corp., TVC. He was very well-connected within certain aspects of the New York community. He had on his Board some real heavy movers and shakers, one of whom went on to become the head of the American Stock Exchange – a lot of interesting people. Charlie Wolstetter, I believe, from Continental Telephone. These were an interesting group of guys and they ran a very interesting company. It was a good company and it was very exciting when I switched over from Irving Straus Associates and became a full-time TeleVision Communications Corp. person. It was very exciting to work on this team because I was now working with heavy hitter New Yorkers. I was now in the big league. I had to learn how to go to lunch with these guys. Alfred would say, “We’re going to have lunch at Brussels,” one of the great New York restaurants at the time. “If you get there first just ask to be seated.” I had to learn to draw myself up and walk into the room. I was not a country bumpkin, but this was a little above me, and I learned how to do it. It was all very interesting, very educational and a lot of fun. The main thing I learned was “no big deal”.
READ: There were some magnificent restaurants back in that time. I can remember The Forum.
BRODSKY: There were great restaurants and I ate at all of them with Alfred and subsequent employers.
READ: As it was, the Alfred Sterns of the world started talking to other people and he got their attention.
BRODSKY: Yeah, I’ll tell you a little bit about that.
READ: They asked questions and this was when I think the eruption – just as you said – we went from 6 channels to 12 channels. Now we’re starting to move from 21 to 36 channels. The industry is just taking off like a rocket.
BRODSKY: Yeah. This is an article that I have in front of me, a reprint from The New York Times, August 13, 1972. It talks about Alfred, grandson of the late Julius Rosenwald, the Sears Roebuck financier. “A cable TV pioneer, Alfred swam into the Warner net last December when his TeleVision Communications Corp., with 6 million dollars in revenues, was bought for 32 million in a characteristic exchange of stock.” It talks about how cable companies were considered hot at the time. There are some statements by Alfred where it says “As he recollects Mr. Ross’s persuasive wooing technique,” – that would be Steve Ross, who was the Chairman of a company called Kinney National, – “as he recollects this wooing technique at arriving at a sale price, Mr. Stern said, ‘He (Steve Ross) told me how Wall Street looks at the deal is very important for you as the company is acquired. It’s as important for you as it is for us. If it looks like we, Warner, made a great deal than it will be reflected in the increase of the stock price and it will turn out well for you and all of your stockholders.’ I realized it was part of salesmanship, Alfred said, ‘he’s used it before.” Alfred was very skeptical about this deal, but the reason that the deal came about is the following. TVC had undertaken a very interesting venture in Akron, Ohio, something that nobody had ever attempted before. They were building a dual-cable system in Akron, Ohio – a great folly it proved to be, although it laid the groundwork for other things.
READ: It still holds a very sacred position, but…
BRODSKY: But it was so significant at the time that I have a copy of a double page spread in Life Magazine where they took a bunch of television sets and put them up on the hill and turned them on to show all the channels that this was going to be bringing to Akron, Ohio. It was hot stuff. We had everybody covering this. It was also sinking the company, I believe. That’s not the official position, but that was the scuttlebutt. I don’t know whether it was Alfred or his Board of Directors – I hope Alfred never sees any of this – but I believe that the way it went is that they were really looking to be acquired and there was a man named Felix Rohatan, who was perhaps the foremost dealmaker in New York City at the time and is still very much out there – he was the big guy. Felix was very connected with Steve Ross. Steve Ross was the big guy at a company called Kinney National. Kinney was a name that we all knew for parking lots, but it was much more than that. Kinney National was a corporation that owned not only the Kinney parking lots, but also Warner Brothers Studio, Warner Records, Atlantic Records, and a whole chain of funeral parlors in New York, and in fact, Steve Ross married the daughter of one of the executives of Kinney and this was before they had any greater aspirations than to be in the funeral parlor business. But Steve Ross was a smart guy and he said, “You know, you’ve got all these limos for the funerals and every night you have to park them somewhere and you’re paying to park. Why don’t we buy a parking lot?” And that was really the short version of how they got into the Kinney parking business from the funeral parlors.
READ: Throughout New York there were hundreds of these drive-up ramps.
BRODSKY: Oh, hundreds! Kinney was the name. They also owned banks in Jersey; they had a lot of ventures. So now they were this very strange company. They had banks, they had parking lots, they had funeral parlors, they had movie studios and recording companies. Which is more exciting, I ask you? So Steve Ross decided it might be more exciting to beef up the entertainment side of the business and perhaps spin off the others. That’s why they sent Felix out to look for something interesting and he found TVC, or TVC found him and said “we’re a good candidate”. I don’t know, I wasn’t privy to any of that, but a merger was done. At the time that this all happened, TVC itself had been planning on an expansion. TVC was about to acquire two companies. We were about to acquire all of the cable holdings of Continental Telephone because they were required by law to divest themselves of their cable operations. Oh, and that was Frank Drendel who was running that. We were also about to acquire the cable company called Cypress Communications in California. That was Burt Harris. We were so about to acquire it that the annual report announcing it was at the printers, so I actually have lived through a stop-the-press moment. We really had to stop the press when this deal was starting to actually happen, and what actually happened instead was we made the deal with Kinney, Kinney acquired TVC, and then they did a reverse merger: they were the ones who acquired Cypress and Continental’s cable operations. But TVC became the surviving management. So I had the very awkward moment when I was sent out by Alfred to California to Marc Nathanson’s offices. Marc Nathanson was handling public relations for Cypress Communications and has subsequently gone on to become one of the great leaders of the cable industry, and little Linda was sent out to sort of clean out his files and bring them back to New York. I don’t think that sat well with Marc at the time; it wasn’t my idea, he should know. That was the coming together. We were the surviving management, so from my personal point of view I went to bed one night Vice-President of Public Relations for 23 cable systems and woke up the next day Vice-President of Public Relations for 130 cable systems. That was perhaps the most challenging moment in my life.
READ: That’s fascinating. When the merger occurred, the company became what?
BRODSKY: Well, now we had this hodgepodge. It was Cypress of this and Continental of that and TVC of this, so we had to change our name. We also were going to be moving into a new building because we were growing so much more staff was being put on. These two things were very closely related. We ultimately moved into what had been the Esso Building in Rockefeller Center – 75 Rock – which up until a month ago was the Warner Building and to me was still the new Warner Building, but now that the new Time Warner Building has opened on Columbus Circle, not so anymore.
READ: For a brief period it was the AOL Time Warner Building.
BRODSKY: The AOL Time Warner Building, right. I watched it go from just Warner on the top to then Warner AMEX, Warner AMEX Satellite, Warner AMEX this, Warner AMEX that – I was not with them at that time anymore – but then Time Warner, then AOL Time Warner. But back in my day it was just Warner. We now had to come up with a name and a logo and that was an interesting process because all of the sudden, now that we were part of Warner, an interesting thing happened in my life. I got to sit in meetings with people from Warner Brothers. This was above and beyond anything I had ever thought would ever happen to me. I sat in a meeting with Ted Ashley, who was the head of Warner Brothers Studios, and I was driven home in a limo by Ted Ashley and some other people and I was dropped off. The quality of apartment buildings got lower and lower as we got closer and closer to where I lived. They were dropping them off on Park Avenue, Fifth Avenue, then we got to me on East 49th Street, but because I was the last I had this wonderful opportunity to talk to Ted Ashley, this movie executive, and that was the night that he discussed with me the making of a movie called The Exorcist, and he said to me, “We have found this wonderful little girl to play the part.” It hadn’t been made, none of us had seen it yet, none of us had ever heard the name Linda Blair. So I had that unique experience of having that happen, and that was incredible.
READ: How much longer did your career go at, I guess it was Warner AMEX in those days?
BRODSKY: No, it was just Warner. It was never Warner AMEX in my time. I stayed at Warner; I was Vice-President of Public Relations there. I traveled a lot for Warner, I traveled extensively for Warner. I worked with a lot of terrific people at Warner, and then there was a management change. Steve Ross, as has happened many times in my career – I’ve seen it happen, we all have – you get involved in an old team/new team kind of a thing. Steve had acquired the TVC people when he acquired the company, and now he was going to put together his own management team and Gus Hauser was brought in. This was a whole other gestalt in the company, and so I stayed on, I was still Vice-President of PR, but I was starting to look around because…
READ: The handwriting was on the wall.
BRODSKY: The handwriting was on the wall and I wasn’t comfortable there anymore. It wasn’t the team I wanted to work with anymore, and I didn’t quite know what I was going to do, where I was going to go, and I had no hurry. There was no crunch on me. Frank Cooper, my now-husband, said to me, “You know, Irving Kahn is about to get out of prison.” This was late 1974. Irving Kahn had been the founder and chairman of TelePrompTer Corporation. He had gone to prison, he’d been sentenced for five years, served 22 months in prison – federal crime – for a crime that he called bribery and which the officials said was extortion, involving a franchise in Johnstown, Pennsylvania and involving the company TelePrompTer. I had no involvement with Irving during that time. You, however, did. You were working for Irving at the time, so you know this story very well. Irving had been the Number One guy in the cable industry before he went to prison. I had very strong feelings about that because Irving’s public relations Vice-President, John Barrington, was my cohort. I was the Vice-President for the Number Two guy in the cable industry, Alfred Stern. This was a very competitive thing. I never won because Irving knew how to take the press to the Four Seasons and Alfred wouldn’t stoop to that, as he would say; Irving would put them in a limo and drive them around.
READ: About what year are we talking here?
BRODSKY: The year that I went to Irving? That I contacted Irving? Irving got out of prison in November of ’74. He had just come out and we had all seen his first interview in the press saying “Hi, I’m out.” He had been asked “Are you going to just go out on your boat?” Because Irving was a big fisherman, had a big boat, which by the way was 64 feet, 11 inches because if it was 65 feet the insurance amount changed, so it was 64 feet, 11 inches.
READ: And it was called?
BRODSKY: It was called the CATV, but the maritime people didn’t get it and they always called it…
READ: They didn’t understand CATV.
BRODSKY: They called it the CAT-Five, which is a hurricane term that they did understand, so it was the CAT-Five.
READ: He did love his fishing.
BRODSKY: He loved his boat, but he said in the interview, “No, I’m not going to just sit on my boat, pappy,” which is what he called all the men, pappy, “I’m going to do something interesting.”
READ: Except me, it was junior.
BRODSKY: You were junior, right. I was junior, too, actually. “Hey, junior” – both Monte Shapiro and Irving. So, Frank said to me, “Why don’t you contact Irving Kahn?” And I said, “That ex-con?! That convicted felon! Are you kidding?” He said, “Oh, just contact him.” I thought, oh, I’ll write him a letter. It was right before New Year’s and I wrote a letter. I knew that Irving knew my name because I had some visibility in the industry. I didn’t know him well, I’d met him, but I was pretty sure he’d recognize the name. I wrote a letter saying, “Hi, I’m at Warner. I’ve been here for awhile. So happy to see that you’re out of prison,” or something delicate like that. “So happy to see that you’re going to be joining us back in the industry,” I’m sure is what I said, “and I’d be interested in talking to you if you’d be interested in talking to me.” And I mailed it, right before New Year’s. My game plan was I was then going to talk to some of the TelePrompTer people I knew who had since come to work at Warner’s. Sandy Freeman, Jack Williams, there was a whole group of guys…
READ: Hank Symons.
BRODSKY: Hank Symons – a whole group of guys who knew Irving so well. I was going to sort of get the skinny on what to do if Irving does agree to meet with me. They were going to tell me what to do, but to my astonishment I came back from the New Year’s holiday and I had a phone call that morning. The letter had just been received and I had a phone call that morning saying “Got your letter, meet me for lunch.” “Okay,” I said, and then I called Jack and I called Hank and I called everybody I could think of from TelePrompTer, “What do I do? What do I do? I have to see him today!” I wasn’t prepared. They all told me pretty much the same thing. They said, “Here’s what’s going to happen. You’re going to go, he’s going to take you to Nippon,” a great Japanese restaurant. “You’re going to sit at the counter, not at a table. He’s going to get food on his tie, he’s going to dip his napkin in the water, he’s going to wash his tie, you’re going to go in prepared to tell him no secrets out of school and by the time you’ve left you will have spilled your guts.” I said, “Forewarned is forearmed. Don’t worry, I won’t do that.” And I went and we sat at the counter and he washed his tie and I spilled my guts. He had this way of asking questions so that you didn’t even know they’d been asked and pretty soon you’d told him everything you knew which was very valuable to him because he’d been, as he put it, a guest of the government for 22 months. He needed gossip. He wanted to know a lot. I hope I didn’t tell too many tales out of school, but you didn’t even know it was happening to you when he did it to you.
READ: Just a quick note on the side. When I first went to work for TelePrompTer we were in the prompting business and my job was to see that the equipment got sent to the studios and we did different shows. I was working Who Do You Trust? with Johnny Carson and Ed McMahon and suddenly Irving’s office calls over and says, “Where’s the driver? We need to get Mr. Kahn to a funeral.” I said, “Well, I don’t know. The driver will be back by noon.” The driver never came back. I think the driver was out tossing a few down or something, but his secretary kept calling. I said, “If it’s any big deal, I’ll drive him.” “I’ll get back to you.” Well, in two minutes the phone rings – “Get the chauffeur’s cap,” and bring his chariot. He had a beautiful Jag, it was a beautiful car. “Clean the windows,” and I said, “No, no, no, I’m just driving him up there, and forget the hat.” But it’s true, he had you… “Who’s your mother, who’s your father, do they sleep together, do you have any brothers and sisters, what’s going on?”
BRODSKY: He’d ask a question inside out. He really would ask wife-beating type questions that you’d lose.
READ: He was absolutely brilliant and he never forgot a lot of that. He never forgot a lot of it, because my fifteen years with him and my ongoing relationship because once I left I still loved him for another ten years, but he was quite a guy.
BRODSKY: I want to come back to Irving, but I want to go backwards for a minute because we left Alfred Stern without me making a very important point, okay?
BRODSKY: Alfred made a very major contribution to this industry which isn’t really… it’s not that it’s not acknowledged, I think that it’s just forgotten, and that was Gridtronics. Alfred believed very strongly in the idea that we couldn’t go along as an industry the way we were going along. We were a five-dollar-a-month, sixty-dollar-a-year industry. Maybe by the time I got to Alfred it was a little higher, but not much, and we had no other sources of income other than the monthly fee. Alfred was a visionary and saw that that had to change, and he was responsible for creating the pay cable industry. He is really the father of the pay cable industry. He created this concept, Gridtronics, and I don’t speak of it because ultimately my husband was the President of it. I speak of it because of the significance of it. A box was created – it was only a four-channel service that he was going to provide, but it was going to be something that addressed niche programming. We had never used such terminology in the industry. We didn’t know from niche programming. Hopefully it was going to involve film, an absolutely off-the-wall idea at the time. So this box was going to be a four-channel box that subscribers could have in their homes. One channel would give them access to medical information; one channel would be for sports or something; I forget the other one; and one would be films. Alfred’s main contribution in all of this was that in order to have films, not documentaries in the can from some warehouse but real, current movies, you were going to have to make a deal with movie studios, and nobody had ever done that. Nobody had ever asked movie executives to give their product to anyone else. Nobody had ever achieved the sitting-down of a series of movie executives all at one table nor asked them to do that, and that’s what Alfred did. It was almost like this, it was almost like you had to get the guys lined up – this is not actual, this is what it was like – like children. You’d have to have them all lined up and say, “When I say “three”, you can all say “yes”, so no one of you will be blamed for being the first one to say yes if this fails.”
READ: Who was the first company that he got serious with, Warner?
BRODSKY: No, it was what I just said. They agreed simultaneously.
READ: Really? There wasn’t one leader?
BRODSKY: No, there wasn’t one leader. There was a series of companies, Warner was in there, United was in there, I think Paramount was in there, he got the big studios to agree to this concept of giving product, and Gridtronics actually pre-dated HBO in going on cable in Reston, Virginia. They started first. That part’s not significant because we all know what HBO did with that and as is true with any other technology, it’s not who starts it, it’s what you run and do with it, but what is really worth noting is that this was a major contribution of Alfred’s and it had not been done. So everybody in the pay cable industry, actually everyone in the cable industry, owes him a debt of thanks for that.
READ: Dore Shary was also promoting. Do you remember those stories at all?
BRODSKY: He wasn’t promoting a pay operation, I believe.
READ: Yeah, he had a pay box that you would put a card in and it was like a ticket and there were four to six dots on it and it would eat it and you could watch a movie.
BRODSKY: Right, and Greg Liptak… Was Liptak with Dore Shary or was his a separate thing?
READ: I can’t remember all those pieces, but this was all kind of coming at that same period of time.
BRODSKY: Yeah, but Gridtronics was first.
READ: Content was suddenly… because at the early stages of Jerrold to the early days of TVC, it was snow-free reception and channels, and the only thing we carried was what we could get off the air and to expand by getting some microwave signal, and then the microwave signal continued to grow and expand and you were getting multi-channels, but suddenly content became king.
BRODSKY: The only content that we had other than off-the-air channels was our time-and-weather channel in the dark ages, which was a series of dials – a dial, a dial, a dial – and a camera that went like this (makes a panning motion) all day long, and sometimes at the end of the dials there was a set-up with 3 x 5 cards where they would type in a community announcement – the church is having a bingo party or whatever – and the camera would zoom in on that. All day long, back and forth. And it counted – that was hot stuff.
READ: I want you to know that’s where I made my television debut, in that little window where we slid that sign up and I put my head in there and said, “You can give money to the Jerry Lewis campaign.” That was Great Falls, Montana.
BRODSKY: That was Great Falls? Wow! Haven’t we come a long way?
READ: Those were the fascinating days of the services that started to come in – the time and weather, the music channels – they started to grow a little bit where you had the taped music.
BRODSKY: That’s right, FM stations. I had backtracked in going back to Alfred for a minute. Now we were moving on to Irving.
READ: You were into Irving, which after his vacation at the government house he had looked at a number of things.
BRODSKY: Well, here’s how I joined Irving. When I contacted him and had this lunch with him, he didn’t know what he was going to use me for or whether he was going to use me, we were just making contact. And the same with me, I didn’t know, and I didn’t stop looking around elsewhere. But it was very fascinating. It was a mixed bag because he was an ex-con and he was full of bluster and the ego was extraordinary, but he also was the most interesting person in the cable television industry hands-down. Before or since I don’t think there’s ever been anybody as interesting. He was a dark man, but he was also a brilliant man and he had a kind side as well – complex. But I didn’t know what was going to happen so I met with him that day and then I met with him a couple of other times at the office just sort of chatting kinds of things. This all happened within a week or two, these little meetings, and then he said to me, in mid-January, “I’ve been invited to give a speech at the Texas Cable Television Association convention. Would you write it?” I thought, “Oh my God, this is a speechwriter’s dream. Irving Kahn’s first speech after prison! This is a dream!” I said, “Yeah!” But I was working at Warner’s, so I had to moonlight it. I couldn’t tell anybody I was going to write this. I wrote it, it was a fascinating speech to write, really a fun speech to write. I started to get – I was going to say email but we didn’t get email then – I started to get telephone calls, I suppose, from friends like – one that stands out is Nate Levine, who was I think at the time President of Sammons Communications. I knew him from Jerrold, and Nate said, “Did you hear what my Texas Association has done?” He lived in Dallas. “They have invited that ex-con, Irving Kahn. I’m dropping out.” I said to him – I couldn’t tell him I was writing the speech – I said, “Oh, go. It’ll probably be good. Don’t drop out. Give the man a chance. He gives good speeches. Go, it’ll be okay.” He said, “I’m not going.” I said, “Oh, go.” So I didn’t know whether he was going to go or not. Irving went, he gave the speech, I got an envelope in the mail right after the speech, a big envelope, and it was from Nate Levine. It had a note in it that said, “I went, the speech was sensational, I’ve enclosed a copy for you.” So I wrote back – I still couldn’t tell him – I said, “Just read the speech. It is sensational. Thanks for sending it along.” That was all I could say. Paul Kagan took the speech and he stapled it to the back of every issue of his newsletter and sent it all over the country, and I couldn’t tell anybody. But John Barrington, Irving’s former public relations person who was the only person in the world who knew that I’d written it – I’d told John – he was the one who was getting the congratulatory phone calls and he was saying, “I didn’t write it.” Nobody believed him because he wouldn’t say who did, he just said, “I didn’t write it.” It wasn’t until I joined Irving full-time a few months later – I joined him in September of ’75 – it wasn’t until then that I could say anything.
READ: And the great speech was? How did it start, Linda?
BRODSKY: The thing that made the speech so interesting to everybody – that was 1975, we’re talking ’75, ’85, ’95, almost 30 years ago and I’m still hearing about it…
READ: And the room is packed.
BRODSKY: The room is packed and everybody is…
READ: I mean everybody showed up to hear what Irving was going to say.
BRODSKY: They showed up to hear Irving, and I don’t know who was more uncomfortable, the people in the audience or Irving. Irving was nervous and Irving didn’t get nervous. We should probably say that Irving is dead now. He’s not alive anymore. Irving was nervous in spite of the brave face he put on. He was very nervous about this. Everybody was very uncomfortable. You don’t know how to treat somebody who’s just come out of prison. We don’t have a lot of experience, thankfully, with that situation, so Irving stepped up and the opening line that I had written for him was “As I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted…” and I wasn’t present, but the feedback that I got was that it brought the house down.
READ: The house came down.
BRODSKY: And it broke the ice and he was over the hurdle and that line bought me a career for 15 years with Irving Kahn.
READ: That was absolutely one of the most incredible scenes. Everybody in the room was so greatly relieved that he was one of them again, and that the whole thing was forgotten as far as that little checkmark after his name. It was an incredible scene, it really was. And of course while he was in the slammer he learned a couple of things which he started two or three different careers with, and you were involved with all those between the Bell System boys who had the laser…
READ: Fiber cable, and then he had to light up the fiber… That was General Optronics?
READ: And he just couldn’t stay away from cable systems.
BRODSKY: But he did some other things when he was in the slammer. He didn’t let being in the slammer change his personality in any way. He found a way to get from Allenwood in Pennsylvania – the federal prison there – down to the facilities at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida where it’s much nicer in the winter. He found out that you have the right as a federal prisoner under certain rules to be transported. He was transported in handcuffs and I believe foot chains from place to place to place going down the east coast, and ended up there. He claimed that he helped to run the marina down there, and I do know that he did some work on what had been a TVC cable system in Winter Haven, Florida because he let it be known that hey, you’ve got this cable guy right here in the prison next door and I can fix this problem you’re having. So he did that. He was every bit the same Irving Kahn while in prison, but prison is prison nevertheless and even though he still had friends flying down on Fridays to bring him lox and bagels from Zabar’s and flying up from Miami to bring him other delicacies from Wolfie’s in Miami…
READ: Or Joe’s Crab Shack.
BRODSKY: Yes, and he had his secretaries flying down to take notes and they were taking notes for all the other white-collar criminals whom he had befriended in prison – doctors, lawyers – one of them became his doctor and was his doctor for the rest of his life; met him in prison. He had a very interesting prison career, but he never really recovered from it and I saw it firsthand. He may have pretended that he did and put on a brave face, but he was never the same person, and if he was guilty, rightly so. If he was not, what a shame. I don’t know which is the case.
READ: But he remained very active and continued to push the industry beyond even the smallest dreams of just premium television.
BRODSKY: Yeah, he didn’t just sit there and eat lox and bagels. He was busy figuring out how to get back into the cable business. So, he somehow found a loophole because as a convicted felon he was not going to be able to get a franchise anywhere, but he found out that you could operate a cable system on a military facility without a franchise. I don’t know if he had met Tommy Troehler before or if somebody put him in touch with him while he was in prison, but Tom Troehler was a local South Jersey guy and Irving, through this local man, started to acquire the Fort Dix base and the McGuire Air Force base in South Jersey, very close to Philadelphia. That was the beginning of Irving’s comeback. When he came out of prison the system was already under construction. He then went and he maneuvered somehow – I don’t know if it was a pardon or some kind of a dispensation, but he ultimately was given permission to seek franchises again. He had some kind of a relaxing of the rule, and starting with Fort Dix and McGuire, from that point on, he developed a very unique thing. He was so smart. This was the late ’70s and this was when all of the cable industry was taking a very serious look at urban cable because up until that time we hadn’t really gone into the major markets, and we knew that we had to break into the major markets. We had a lot of problems with being able to import distant signals and that was a whole big to-do in the industry, but getting into the major markets was going to be the savior of the industry because everything else was wired already and content had not yet really come into its own. The satellite had gone up in the mid-70s, HBO was on, but…
READ: ’75 that was, yeah.
BRODSKY: Major markets were the big thing. In those days, it cost a lot of money to undertake the venture of the major market. I remember working closely in other activities with friends who worked at Warner Cable. I remember the kinds of teams that they put together at Warner and similar companies, big MSOs, to go after these major franchises. Tons of people, and millions and millions of dollars, and months, maybe years of work going after the Dallases and the Pittsburghs and the big cities. Irving took a look at South Jersey where he already now had two systems up and running and what he saw was a very unique situation. He saw that there was a vast series of contiguous towns there, the biggest of which was Cherry Hill, which is right outside of Philadelphia, and he figured out that if you could get those franchises you could create critical mass that would be the equivalent of a major market system, and so he did. One of my jobs was to keep it out of the news. This is what PR people also do. Sometimes you protect your company from being in the news. We didn’t tell anybody what we were doing, but very quietly town after town after town Irving got the franchises down there until we subsequently had 55 contiguous franchises, no small feat to do. If there was a gap in the middle and we needed that extra town, we went and got it. We found a way to get it. We found out who locally went to school with the mayor’s sister. Who was going to help us? Which unfortunately is the way lots of franchises were achieved in not only South Jersey but many other places, but that’s on the up and up, that’s politics, that’s how things are done. So now, once we had it all put together, then my job was to break this extraordinary news; it was big news in the cable industry when we put it out because he’d done it on peanuts and we had a major market system on peanuts. It just didn’t have one big name. That was the difference. It wasn’t Dallas; it wasn’t Philadelphia.
READ: It sure was a magnificent complex, and of course if you’d missed one of those communities it would put a gaping hole in the whole thing and kind of ruin it, but it was amazing that group of systems. Now that group of systems went where?
BRODSKY: That group of systems was ultimately sold to The New York Times, which was the first cable venture The New York Times ever made, and they said that they were going to do all kinds of wonderful things with it. They were going to really take on this technology and do all kinds of cross-technology things between the paper and the cable system. Videotext was the big buzz word with them, and none of that happened. But when the deal was done it was a very lucrative deal and Irving had the second highest… I think he was the second highest-paid person in The New York Times family. I believe that’s the way it worked. But that didn’t count for very much because shortly after the deal was done everybody was suing everybody. When the first-year figures came in, The Times said that they, as operators, hadn’t been able to make the mark, the figures, that Irving had convinced them they would be able to make. It was a six-year payout, this deal, and they didn’t make the figures. Irving’s deal with them was not only that he got a big package of money upfront, but he was also retained as a consultant and when they said this he said, “This is because you didn’t let me in there to do my thing, and if you had used me you would have made the figures.” So they were like this. The number that sticks in my mind is 57 million. I believe they sued us for 57 million, maybe we sued them back for 57 million, but for the next many years, the sole business, or one of the key businesses of Irving’s company was the lawsuit. That’s what occupied us, the lawsuit. We had other businesses as well, though. When we were building this complex, before we sold it to The New York Times, Irving was always on the lookout for technology because he was the industry’s technology guru. He was really a great visionary and I think it’s fair to say he was always right about everything and always wrong about the timetables.
READ: Now the period we’re talking about is Broadband Communications, located over on Park Avenue…
BRODSKY: The Seagram Building.
READ: We’re at the top of the Seagram Building, which I used to go over and visit and say hello and get my butt kicked in by the Aga Khan, and as we were talking the excitement of course was cable that had been built, but there were other things going on. One of the interesting things, because again, Irving was always ahead of the curve… When I was involved back in the ’60s, we’re trying to get cable franchises, he’s out buying Muzak. We’re saying, “Come on, what the heck are you doing?” And he said, “Don’t you guys realize, we’re going to have music on every system in the country.” It didn’t register, but at the same time we’re talking now, here he is out buying content and this is where you really got involved. He acquired a film package, a very unique package as I remember.
BRODSKY: It’s the first thing I did for Irving when I joined him. The first thing I did for Irving was the Texas speech, but when I joined him officially, when I left Warner and went to Broadband Communications, the first thing I did was work on a film package he had acquired from Eli Landau. This was an interesting project and an interesting thing that had happened. The year before Eli Landau, a producer, had put together a series of great plays on film. It was a joint venture with American Express and the idea was you would come to see these films – if you were an American Express cardholder you would get tickets for this. I think there were 13 great plays on film; it was broken down into two seasons that they were going to offer it – 6 and 7, 6 films and 7 films or vice-versa. It bombed. It bombed because of a technical problem they had with the ticket ordering system. I think that was what happened, and it never got off the ground again once they had screwed this up because it was the first time anyone had tried to have the movie-going public order tickets in advance in such a way. So now Eli Landau was sitting with this package of really interesting films, of 13 great plays on film, and they were great plays.
READ: Top talent, as I remember.
BRODSKY: Top talent! The top English performers and really great stuff, very worthwhile, interesting stuff, and Irving was presented with this package by Eli Landau. I almost said Irving bought the package, but Irving’s too smart to buy anything with his own money. So what Irving said, “I’ll buy this package”; my memory is I don’t think Irving ever put any money out. He took the package immediately to HBO who had never had a film package. We’re talking 1975, the fall of ’75, maybe early ’76 by this time, but I think it was fall of ’75.
READ: Yeah, it was around ’75 and it was also at the time when HBO had gotten off a part-time schedule and was going onto 24 hours a day, and product became very concerning to them.
BRODSKY: Very important! So he came and now he’s got these 13 movies, great plays on film, and they bought it. So they paid Eli Landau. I don’t think any money from Irving ever went out, and he pocketed a lot of money. He made a lot of millions on this package, and my job was to create something we now know as affiliate materials, affiliate-relations materials, but at that time there was no such thing. We didn’t have that concept in our heads of affiliate relations and materials for the affiliates. It was fly-by-the-seat-of-the-pants kind of stuff.
READ: As I remember, because Hollywood would do the promotion on the film or the package and then the newspapers would pick it up, well, the newspapers wouldn’t carry any of this because this was all on pay TV, and all of the sudden we’re faced with how do we make this great package of films exciting out at the local level. It was a real challenge.
BRODSKY: And the most you had were the big posters that you would get for the movie, so big tubes were always being mailed out with the movie posters, the kind you see in a movie theater. But actual targeted materials? Nobody had them then. Irving decided that we should do it and so I put together for each of the films – I had material supplied to me by Eli Landau and his company – I put together a backgrounder on the film, the cast. We put out fill-in-the-blank type press releases for the affiliate systems to use telling what this was all about. As I go through here I’m seeing names I haven’t seen in a long time. We put together letters to the system managers telling them how they can best utilize this material. We put together – this was a lot of fun to do – this was a Teacher’s Guide to the great plays on film, and I just made it up. I had no idea how you do a Teacher’s Guide.
READ: Do you have a couple of the titles there?
BRODSKY: Yes, and they really were so wonderful. We had Butley starring Alan Bates by Harold Pinter – starring Alan Bates and Jessica Tandy. No, it wasn’t by Harold Pinter, it was a play by Simon Gray directed by Harold Pinter. A Delicate Balance starring Katharine Hepburn and Paul Scofield, Lee Remnick; that’s an Albee play. Galileo, starring Topol, John Gielgud, George Brown. The Homecoming; The Ice Man Cometh; In Celebration, Alan Bates again; Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris; Lost in the Stars; Luther; The Maids with Glenda Jackson and Susannah York; The Man in the Glass Booth with Maximilian Schell, which was nominated for an Academy Award.
READ: So you get to see the quality of the product. This content was in the package.
BRODSKY: Yeah, heavy-duty stuff, and I put together for the teacher a couple of paragraphs about the playwright, the thematic structure, a synopsis of the play, and then a series of questions for suggested classroom discussion for the teachers, and this was just me playing teacher but it went over well. It was a big success and they ran it more than once. HBO ran it and then they ran it again and again. So that was Irving’s actual first real venture because the cable systems at Fort Dix and McGuire were still the only cable operation he had at the time and this was going on while he was starting to advance the concept of building the complex of 55 systems. So we did American Film Theater. We then were approached by – I can’t tell you how many providers of content… people came to us with packages, spaghetti westerns and operas. I was running out doing research on all this stuff, and Irving was entertaining every idea and rejecting every idea. I could have told the people that he’s not going to take it. He’s back in the cable business. This was sort of a little interlude after prison, but he wants to be in the cable business.
READ: But isn’t it interesting that all of those people who were coming out of the woodwork, that here we are 25 years later, 30 years later, and now we suddenly have a spaghetti western channel cropping up, we have the dog channel, I mean we’re into so many niche-type programs that it’s amazing, but that was all being thought about and discovered 30 years ago.
BRODSKY: Yes, very much so.
READ: It took a little time. At the same time, Linda, you were developing the technology side of things. He was always fascinated with things of the future and how he was going to get there. While he was in the slammer he did some reading, my understanding was, and he learned about the laser and fiber optics.
BRODSKY: Well, here’s how it worked. One day Irving called me in – he was reading a newsletter, I forget which one, an industry newsletter – and there was an article in there about two men, Frank Dabbey – maybe Dabney, I think Dabbey – and Ron Chessler. These were two former Bell Lab scientists who had broken off on their own. It was another one of these “two guys in a garage with $500” kind of stories, you know, which is how everybody in the cable business apparently started, so they say, and these two guys had some funding. Actually they had Rockefeller Foundation funding to do some research on fiber optics. Irving read about them. The reason he read about them in an industry newsletter is because TelePrompTer, maybe Manhattan Cable, but I think TelePrompTer in Manhattan had done some venture with them where they had strung some fiber on a rooftop and they were doing some venture. I think because of Bill Bresnan I remember that it was TelePrompTer, not Manhattan Cable, but anyway, he saw this and he called me in and he said, “Find these guys for me.” I said, “Okay,” so I called the newsletter and said, “Who are these guys and how do I get in touch with them,” and they told me that day. That afternoon, Irving tracked them down and called them. They’d never heard of Irving Kahn; they were from Bell Labs. They were not cable guys; they were high-tech guys. He said, “I have an idea. I’m going to put you together with the leading cable manufacturer in our industry, Times Wire and Cable”; he had not talked to Times Wire and Cable, they didn’t know that they were about to be wed to somebody, and these guys sort of yawned and “Yeah, right. Who is this guy?” And Irving said to them, “I’m going to have a meeting in my office next week and you be here at 10:00,” it was something like that. “In the meantime, you check me out. I’m sure you’ll show up.” And they did. After he spoke to them he spoke to Larry DeGeorge at Times Wire and Cable and he said to Larry, “You’re missing the boat! You’re the biggest cable manufacturer and fiber is knocking at your door. Do you want some other company to manufacture fiber? It should be your company and I just happen to have these two guys who want to work for me,” and so he did one of those kind of blind-date things; he got them together and it worked. He made it happen and he created Times Fiber. Times Wire and Cable actually changed its name to Times Fiber. Dabbey and Chessler went to work for that company, and we now had a piece of this. Irving was involved in it and so anything Irving was involved in I was involved in because we were a very small office. It was just Irving, two secretaries and myself, and at one point we had a financial-analyst type of guy there, but most of the time it was just four people in this little suite in the Seagram Building. Everybody else was down in South Jersey building the cable systems. So we now were in the fiber business. We had been told, we had been led to believe by Dabbey and Chessler that there were suitable light sources for fiber and that this venture would operate with those light sources manufactured by RCA, because fiber on its own means nothing. You have to have lasers or LEDs, preferably lasers if you really want to do anything, that will send the signal optically through the fiber. And it turned out that once we got into the business we found out that the light sources that were available did not suit us, did not meet the specs that either Irving or his engineers had. I don’t know, I doubt that it was Irving who knew this, but his engineers probably said that, and in very typical Irving Kahn fashion he said, “If they don’t exist I will make them.” And he then went on a hunt to find the leading laser guy that he could fine, and he found that there was a guy formerly from Bell Labs who was now out on the west coast working for Hewlett-Packard – very happy, had moved his family out there, had a big job at Hewlett-Packard, Dr. C.J. Wang. Irving called him and the guy practically hung up on him, like “Are you nuts? I just moved out here! Who are you?” And he did the same thing – “Check me out, be in my office.” He made him an offer he couldn’t refuse. He said to C.J., “I’ll let you build a building from the ground up. You’ll decide where the light switches go. Every last decision will be yours, and you will manufacture for us lasers that are suitable light sources.” And C.J. packed everybody up, brought his family east and did that. We formed a company called General Optronics; that was Irving’s name, GO, General Optronics, and C.J. Wang headed it up and we manufactured gallium aluminum arsenide lasers.
READ: You’re so smart!
BRODSKY: Gallium aluminum arsenide lasers. So now, all of the sudden, I, the liberal arts journalism major from the University of Pennsylvania, was writing about gallium aluminum arsenide lasers, which were so small that to pick them up and move them from one place to another you did it through a magnifying glass with a vacuum device. There are no tweezers that could possibly lift it. So this microscopic vacuum is how they worked on it and lifted it. They were so small that there was a little glass box sitting on a table in the building, in the plant at GO, which was in North Jersey, and in that box was our entire inventory, and the box was this big. That inventory represented thousands and thousands and thousands of lasers which we were supplying primarily at first to the telephone industry for their fiber ventures, which pre-dated the cable industry’s fiber ventures. So we were in the laser business. We were in the fiber business, the laser business, we had been in the content business, we were in the system-operation business, and then Irving sold his systems to The New York Times, then we were in the sue-The- New-York- Times-business. Then Irving decided he’s going to do one more thing. When his non-compete clause ended, he decided he was going to go back into South Jersey and overbuild the very systems that he had built. His premise for doing this, his reason and rationale was going to be, “Well, you people in South Jersey, when I built the system I told you you were going to get this, this and this, and if I was still there you would have it, but The New York Times came and what have they given you? They haven’t upgraded, they haven’t done this… When they took over, technology changed, but did they give you any of the new stuff that came along? No. If I had been there I would have. So I’m coming back and I’m going to give you choice.” And we named the company Choice Cable, and it was a piece of cake to go into those towns and get another franchise. The towns didn’t care. They gave us a franchise everywhere. That’s where we were. We were doing this and taking on The New York Times, but not a single inch of plant was ever built because The Times went and sold itself to Comcast and some other partners. Comcast did a venture with some Philadelphia companies and they took over the systems in South Jersey and it was Irving’s perfect out because I think he didn’t really want to be doing it anyway. So our public posture then was “Oh, thank goodness! A good company has come along now, and they’ll give you everything I wanted you to have, so you don’t need us anymore. Good luck with Comcast.”
READ: Amazing. At this particular point he was starting to wind down. You were much too young to sit as a bump on a log and there are a couple other things I definitely want to cover because all the time you’re doing a job you were very, very active in giving back to the industry in a couple of organizations. There was a CTAM organization, you developed a marketing group, the original…
BRODSKY: No, no, not CTAM.
READ: No, not CTAM, but it was a marketing group of Maxwell and yourself, and who was the third? I’m trying to remember a name. Can we just discuss some of those organizations to give people an idea that an industry is more than just a desk, a job, there are other things involved.
BRODSKY: Right. In the ’70s, the NCTA was a smaller organization. It was a very accessible organization and all of us worked very closely with it. I was involved with it because Alfred, my boss at TVC and Warner, was chairman of the NCTA for a long time and he was very involved in the satellite issue. Alfred championed the satellite cause for the NCTA for years and years, and so I was in Washington a lot with him on that issue. I became active in the NCTA itself and at one point in the early ’70s I was chairman of the PR committee. I think I may have been co-chair with Marc Nathanson, I’m not sure. I’ll have to look that up, but I was involved with that committee, and then in the very late ’70s I became involved with an organization we had been trying to form for awhile, a women’s organization which ultimately was named Women in Cable and now is Women in Cable and Telecommunications – I think that’s its full name now. But in the late ’70s, a few of us had a meeting in a hotel room. It was that new, the whole idea. We didn’t know how many women were out there, but we were noticing that there were more of us. It wasn’t just Linda Brodsky anymore, by any means. There were many more women, and we wanted to sort of see where we were, who were we, and what could we do for each other, and so that was the beginning of National Women in Cable, and I was one of the founding board members of National Women in Cable. Lucille Larkin was our executive director; Gail Sermersheim, June Travis, a lot of women were very deeply involved in it – Barbara Ruger, who was one of the key press people in the industry at the time – and then I volunteered to form the New York chapter because New York was jumping with women at that time. This was December of 1979 when we had our first meeting of the New York chapter.
READ: And of course New York was more actively involved because of the content issues. There were a lot more programming services starting up and women were very, very actively involved in the development of these networks as well as the program content that was going on.
BRODSKY: Yeah, and also the MSOs were there. Warner was a big company with a tremendous amount of women working in affiliate sales and affiliate relations, which seemed to be areas that women gravitated to. They hired women in those areas. Viacom was a very big company with a lot of people there. TelePrompTer was a very big company employing a lot people, a lot of women. So we had a lot of women, but we didn’t know how many women we had. We didn’t know how to get this started, but I said, “Okay, I’ll start a New York chapter. We’ll see what we have.” I made fliers. I Xeroxed fliers and gave them out to the few women that I did know in New York and said, “Post this somewhere in your company, in the ladies room or whatever.” We booked a room at the Doral Inn and when they asked me how big a room I said, “I don’t know. I don’t know who’s coming. Give me a medium size room.” We set it up for one night in December, 1979. We reported in and we just waited. Over 70 women, I believe, showed up that night, which was a revelation to us. I was elected president that night. I served for two terms. I was president for two terms, and we ultimately reached a total count in the New York chapter of 700 women. We had 700 women and we averaged 200 at every meeting, and it wasn’t just women. Men were coming. You were one of the men that would show up at the meetings we had…
READ: Well, I knew a good place to be.
BRODSKY: You knew a good place. Bill Bresnan was one of our great supporters. Jack Gault would show up. A lot of men who saw the promise of this organization…
READ: Tell me the story, though, because you made it so exciting – The Follies.
BRODSKY: Well, we were looking for a fundraiser in 1982, so we had now been operating for a couple of years. We were looking for some kind of a fundraiser. We were going to perhaps have a dinner and hire a speaker. I remember Bess Meyerson before she became too controversial was one of the women we were considering, but her price to come make a speech at a dinner was off the wall, so we said we’re not going to do that. A good friend of mine who was active in the industry, Judie Carroll, had been writing little songs, little ditties, which was something that I had always done. I’d always written parodies, but I had never written any for cable. I had written them for camp, for my family, I was just a parody writer and a lyric writer.
READ: That journalism instinct coming out again.
BRODSKY: Right, and always with poetry, fun poetry and stuff. So Judie Carroll had been writing these about industry issues and they were very funny. One day we were all sitting around and Judie and I both said, “You know, maybe there’s something there. Maybe we could do something with that as a fundraiser.” I never in my wildest dreams thought it would end up to be what it ended up being. We owe a lot of that to Ellen Cooper, who was at the time with Showtime. She started at HBO, then was with Showtime, and is now an executive with Court TV, an executive VP of Public Affairs at Court TV and a good friend of mine, and very talented herself. It was Ellen who said we need a real director. If we’re going to do this, if we’re going to do some kind of a parody show, a musical, we have to do it right. And it took off from there. We ended up hiring a young man named Dana Coen. He was a would-be playwright living in New York, riding around on a bicycle with just carfare in his pocket. He showed up and took some of the ideas that we now were starting to write. I started to write a lot of material; Judie was writing; Jill Marks, who worked in the trade press, she was writing. I think Terry Eisman, who worked in the industry wrote a few things. We were all starting to write material. Ellen was writing. And Dana took the material, looked it over, and said, “I think we can put together a show from this.” It started to snowball. We hired a choreographer and a musical director. I sort of thought we were going to get up and sing and dance. I had no idea. Then we held auditions, we held formal auditions, and you had to be in the cable industry to be involved in this, and what we quickly learned was in New York City scratch anybody and underneath is a performer. They don’t end up in New York for nothing, and they started to come out of the woodwork. They showed up from every cable company in New York. They could sing and they could dance and they could act. There was such talent there, it was thrilling. The auditions themselves were thrilling.
READ: It was the American Idol show before its time, huh?
BRODSKY: It was! It was so much fun.
READ: You stop and think, there’s a lot of talent that came out.
BRODSKY: Oh, there was such talent. So we auditioned, we chose our cast, we now had the cast and we had a place to rehearse – St. Barnabas on West 58th Street, I think it was – we rehearsed all summer long. It was hot. We were in the basement of this church; it was hot. We bought Dana his dinner because he was so poor. I tell you this because Dana, after our final Follies, which was in 1984, gave up on New York, moved to California and has for years now been a writer and executive producer of JAG. So, he got his start with us at The Cable Follies, but not exactly, he was really talented. We were so lucky to have somebody that talented. He took our stuff and he staged it in such a way that when we had opening night, which was also closing night – we only did the Follies one night – but in 1982 the first Follies was held at the Plaza Hotel, the stage of the Plaza. We blew everybody away, including me. I was in tears I was so overwhelmed with this thing that we did, that we accomplished.
READ: It stunned a lot of people, it really did.
BRODSKY: It stunned people. People had never seen anything like this in our business. It was a true industrial show of which there are many in this country; industries do industrial shows, but they hire and pay people. The only people paid in this show were Dana, who got what we would say in my religion was bupkus, we paid him so little, and the choreographer got a little bit and the musical director got a little bit. I mean very little.
READ: How many Follies followed that?
BRODSKY: Well, ’82 was a full Follies; ’83 was a full Follies. After ’83 we were invited by the CAB to do a mini-Follies at their luncheon in New York so we took the material from our ’83 Follies and we reworked it and did a mini-Follies, and then we were invited by the Western Show to come out and be the entertainment at a major luncheon out there. So we went on the road and we did another mini-Follies and we reworked some of the material. You had to really restructure it. It was like doing a whole new Follies because it was different, and then in ’84 we did a full Follies at the Waldorf. So we did three biggies and two minis.
READ: But that also got a huge amount of attention across the country throughout the industry that just made the organization grow and develop because today it’s one of the most active and largest organizations that’s going. That’s one of the things that’s happened in the cable industry – you have groups within the industry that get together and compare notes and just make it a better place to be.
BRODSKY: But it did something else, too. Because we held it in September, around September 19th was always pretty much the date, and everybody was coming to this thing, this Follies, the word was out, and we had companies that provided sponsorship. We raised a lot of money, that was the other thing. This was a big costly production to put on and we did it by having an ad book, and having ad sales. It was the first time I’d ever sold ads and called in every favor I’d ever done for anybody, and that was a whole interesting thing. Companies really came out for us, they were terrific. We had tent cards and this company sponsored this, and this company sponsored that… it was an open bar, there was a big dessert thing afterwards, and it was a fabulous event, with a full sit-down dinner. Two years at the Plaza, one at the Waldorf, and then the two minis at various luncheons. But we would hold it in September and the whole industry would fly out. So Paul Kagan, smart man that he is, booked his seminar to be that same week in September. So now it was a worthwhile flight for people because they came to the Follies and then they went to the Kagan seminar. So when the Kaitz dinner was established, they booked that the same week and that’s how “Hell Week” began, what is known as “Hell Week”. It’s that week in September because one piggybacked onto the other.
READ: That was quite a ride.
BRODSKY: Yeah, it was quite a ride.
READ: Linda, with the things that you’ve gotten into over the years, this led you into kind of current times now. You know an incredible amount of people still in the industry. We keep saying, “Gee, we’ve been around a long time,” but fortunately we’ve got a lot of friends in a lot of places, and I know you’ve been very active with I guess it’s the born-again Bresnan organization. Bill Bresnan, who had gotten out of the business, sold out his systems, has now gotten back in again, and you’re working for him?
BRODSKY: Yes, I started working for Bill in 1992. I approached him at the Pioneers dinner. It was the year that I was inducted into the Cable Pioneers, and I approached him. I left Irving in 1990 because Irving closed down. After he pulled the plug on his overbuild that was really his last venture and he was closing down the office, and I established myself as an independent consultant, primarily specializing in writing because that was the part of public relations that I preferred as opposed to placement and events. I wanted to speech-write and write in general. So I approached Bill and said, “You don’t have anybody doing any public relations in your little company up in White Plains in Westchester County, do you?” And he said, “Gee, no. Give me a call Monday.” So I did and I went in and I saw him and we made a deal. I became a consultant, went on retainer in 1992; the company was small and started to grow. He started to grow the systems that he then had, which was a package that he was in partnership with TCI in that he had acquired after he had left TelePrompTer. Bill had been one of the presidents of TelePrompTer and when he left he went into business for himself, as did many people, and bought a little package, as did many people, and partnered with TCI, as did many entrepreneurs.
READ: John Malone.
BRODSKY: So I was consulting for that company and I was very deeply involved because they had no in-house public relations person. As the company grew, Bill asked me to come in-house and I had moved out of the city at that point and was living in Pennsylvania and just part-time in New York, so I couldn’t even consider doing that. He hired a very talented person, Suzanne Thompson, who came in and became the Vice-President of Public Affairs, and I remained as a consultant. So we used to say, “She’s in-house, I’m out-house in public affairs for that company,” and we worked very closely together as the company grew, as Bresnan went into international waters. He took on Poland, he took on Chile, he did very interesting things and did a lot of tremendous upgrades. He’s a very high-tech guy himself, and a wonderful operator, and a wonderful guy, terrific guy.
READ: Well, you have to say that because he’s still alive.
BRODSKY: I have to say that, and he may see this. Right, yes, he’s still alive. And four years ago, he sold his company to Charter, to Paul Allen’s Charter, and that was the end of what we now call “old Bresnan”. He kept a skeleton staff for three years. He sat there with a skeleton staff in White Plains while he looked for other deals, and examined various packages. During that time I continued to be associated with Bill through The Cable Center. I was under contract with The Cable Center to write anything that Bill had to do as Chairman of The Cable Center, and I wrote materials for him for that and then any other speeches he was giving – anything that he did extracurricular, he would call upon me. So I was not certainly working on a full-time basis because he wasn’t doing anything full-time. But the relationship was there, I still went to the little Christmas parties that he had for his skeleton staff, and we were very much connected. When “new Bresnan” was formed, when he bought his new package exactly a year ago – this month is the one-year anniversary of the new company – I went back to work for them on retainer and that’s where I am now. He’s operating in the Rocky Mountain states and building another wonderful complex.
READ: What does he have? Another dozen systems now that you’re working with?
BRODSKY: Probably a dozen headends, something like that. It’s a lot of towns, a lot of towns.
READ: Linda, as we look back over these years, as a woman getting into this business nothing was ever really handed to you, and yet you… I’m trying to say you were one of the guys. You grabbed onto something and yeah, we can do that. Was that something you think that might be unique to the cable industry, or do you think this was just Linda saying I beat my brothers up way back when…
BRODSKY: No, actually they beat me up.
READ: For those folks that are looking now saying maybe this might be an industry to get into, I have had a heck of a career, and I know that you’ve been brilliant at what you’ve done in yours, but is it special, the industry?
BRODSKY: The industry is special in every way. The industry as I knew it. The industry is very different today. I still do know a lot of cable people like you just said, but there are a lot of cable people I don’t know, and that’s fine because it would be terrible if I still knew everybody in the cable industry. It would mean that we hadn’t grown, that we weren’t attracting new people. I’m not in corporate life, I’m not out there meeting the same number of people, so the number of new people I know is limited. Perhaps if you play this on some local channels everybody will know me. But it is a special industry. When I got into it, it was, I think, a “guy” business. It was really about guys, it wasn’t about women. It was about climbing antenna towers, it was about going up to the headend site, which was at the top of the hill and there were rattle snakes up there. I actually did that with Nate Levine and we ran down the hill like hell to get away from the snakes. It was that kind of an industry. There were system openings in Middlesburg, Kentucky, in Daniel Boone county, Middlesburg, Kentucky where the people… I doubt they had bathtubs in the house, but they had cable, they wanted cable. In fact, the reason that analogy came to mind is because I believe it was Reader’s Digest that once did a study that said there were more cable connections than bathtubs in the United States at one point. That’s for real.
READ: You read everything, don’t you?
BRODSKY: I used to. I used to read everything about cable like that. It is a “guy” business. Isn’t every business? I was once quoted in The New York Times and criticized by some women in the industry for my statement at the time – this was in the early ’80s – I was quoted as saying, “As far as women have come, I still in my heart believe that there are a lot of men out there who are still saying ‘Get that broad off my back’ in the corporations.” I said it, I’ll say it again now these 20 years later because it’s such a sad thing. There still is a glass ceiling and there are women who can crash through the glass ceiling and say the hell with the glass ceiling. So you make it what you want it to be and the guys who think you’re on their back, too bad for them, you just carry on and you do your thing.
READ: When you were growing up, when you were a little girl, did you like TV? Did it start then in your life?
BRODSKY: Yeah, I did like television. I was also an innate multi-tasker. I could do my homework with the television on, which drove my parents crazy. I really was in training for the new world of CNN with its crawl where you have to split your brain in two. I never didn’t have the television on. It makes my husband crazy now, it made my parents crazy then.
READ: Over the years is there any favorite series of show, an event, a documentary, news events?
BRODSKY: I have very plebian taste. I would be embarrassed to tell you some of the things I do watch, but I watch everything. I like the high-tone stuff and I like some of the low-tone stuff.
READ: Are you into reality TV?
BRODSKY: Only if they’re singing.
READ: Oh, only if they’re singing, that’s interesting.
BRODSKY: Only if they’re singing. I’m not watching guys eating bugs, none of that stuff.
READ: I know what you mean. If you had to do it all over again, was there ever an industry that was kind of pulling at you a little bit to say, boy, I’d like to make a move in that direction?
BRODSKY: No, I don’t think so because in college I did my senior thesis, like I told you, on pay. I was a journalism major, I sort of minored in mass communications. The University of Pennsylvania had a big department in something called mass communications and at the time that wasn’t a phrase you heard bandied about a lot, the whole concept of mass communications, which is different from journalism, it’s different from PR. It’s a more sociological approach to the field of communications and I was very attracted to that. That was very interesting to me, so I think this was a really lucky break for me to have been somehow dumped into Milton Shapp’s lap and to have ended up at Jerrold and to have had that lead me into the cable business as we know it now.
READ: It’s an amazing career and I’ve known you for a number of years, and the stories as we sit and chat they continue to just lead us to remember about this one and that one and the names, as you’ve said. Where do you go from here, now that you’ve finally learned how to do something.
BRODSKY: Yes, thank you so much!
BRODSKY: Junior, right. I continue doing what I’m doing. I’m amazed that… I have friends whose husbands are the same age I am, whatever age that happens to be, and I never hear anybody say to those guys, “You’re still working?” I never hear that, but boy do I get told that a lot, including by you just now, right? I go where I’m going from here. I keep writing. I’m a writer; I’m primarily a writer. I’m very happy working for Bill. I write for other people as well. He’s not my only client, and I love writing and I love other things as well. I love travel. I’ve been doing a little more of that.
READ: Well, I sure do want to say thank you because this has been a terrific opportunity to put a lot of the pieces and the stories and the development as it goes, and I know on behalf of The Cable Center we want to say thank you very much for giving your time this afternoon, for spending it here and reminiscing and talking about an industry which means an awful lot to the world today. It’s not just local Indiana talk. It’s global, and it has done so many things to affect people’s lives and somehow we’ve done some of that. So I guess in closing we’d probably say if you’d like you can call an 800 number to get tapes of the Follies or something like that? Sell that on the side?
BRODSKY: Would that were possible!
READ: No rights, huh?
BRODSKY: No rights.
READ: Those rights are a tough problem. So we thank you, and we thank you very much for staying with us and watching. Have a wonderful afternoon.