Interview Date: November 10, 2015
Interview Location: Denver, CO USA
Interviewer: Ron Hranac
Collection: Cable Center Oral History Program
Ron Hranac: I’m Ron Hranac at the Cable Center on Tuesday, November 10, 2015. I’m here today to interview Austin “Shorty” Coryell for the Cable Center’s Oral History Program.
Shorty, welcome to the Cable Center and the oral history recording today. It’s great to see you again.
Austin Coryell: I think it’s great to be here.
Hranac: It is. And you and I have known each other since the 80’s and I think we met when you were with the ATC Training Center back then. But I know your career goes back well before your days at the training center in the 1980’s. Could you give us a little bit of background about you and how you got into the cable industry, perhaps starting with your career in the military since today is the 240th birthday of the United States Marine Corps.
Coryell: I was discharged in July of 1952 and instead of going back home where I was born in Michigan, I went to Williamsport, Pennsylvania, to visit a buddy I had in the service. At that time, Michigan was a land of the unemployed so I was reading the papers and there was an ad in the paper for pole climber. And that was for Henkel McCoy, who was a contractor back there building plant for Jerrold Cable at that time.
Hranac: Was that one of Jerrold’s turnkey systems?
Hranac: How long did you work in Williamsport, in the pole line construction?
Coryell: I was working at Henkel McCoy’s on night shift and I was working the day shift at Henkel McCoy’s, so later on I saw an ad in the paper for a cable person for Lycoming Television. I stayed with them until about 1957 and then I went to work for West Branch Cable and stayed with them till they were bought out by General Cable. At that time, they had bought Jerrold Cable.
Hranac: Was that all in Williamsport?
Coryell: All Williamsport. At that time we had three cable systems all competing on the same poles.
Hranac: So a good example of early overbuild.
Coryell: Yes. The thing is, Jerrold Cable was easy to tell because they used RG59 RG6 cables for feeders, whereas Lycoming and West Branch, they used RG11 for coax cables back then. So many times we had a hard time determining which cable was which when we had to hook them up.
Hranac: Were those three-channel systems or five-channel systems…?
Coryell: It started out with three channels, the three networks. Then later on a UHF channel came on the air, and later on, we also put the weather channel on. We had the stand cameras up there where we could put mounts and so forth so we filled up five channels at that time.
When I went to work for West Branch Cable, they were in the process of upgrading to a twelve-channel system. I was responsible for all the conversions from five channels to twelve channels.
Hranac: Did that conversion include replacing some of the RG11 cables to a hardline or was it still RG11?
Coryell: No, basically we just designed the plant the way it was and re-designed it for twelve channels and we re-located amplifiers and of course, back then West Branch Cable had K14 cable for the trunk. They didn’t have aluminum cable back then.
Hranac: Were the amplifiers the old Jerrold vacuum tube strip amplifiers in the big metal boxes?
Coryell: No. There was Amplivision, a Canadian company. They had 6AL5 tubes and twelve tubes.
Hranac: What positions did you hold in the different companies in your years in Williamsport?
Coryell: I started out as a pole climber and of course once we got the cable up on the poles, I was doing installs. Then of course after we got a few customers, we had to do customer service so I became a service tech and later on, a senior technician.
Hranac: There is a story or two about some of the things that you did in the 50’s while in Williamsport and one that I have recollection of hearing about was something to do with a splice or a cable going across a river. Do you care to elaborate on that?
Coryell: Yes. Len Ecker, the engineer—most people know of him from past history—but he was a great teacher. He upgraded the cable system there. He bought the Starflex cable from Phelps-Dodge from Germany. That’s when the first aluminum cables came over that they used. And then he wanted to run a short, going into Montoursville, we would have to go across the Broad Street bridge and then backtrack all the way back to Montoursville, so he decided to take a shortcut across the Allegheny River. So he installed a 90-foot pole on each side of the river and ran a steel cable across. Then we ran the Starflex cable across the river. Of course, back in those days, there were only 1000-foot lengths of cable and where does the splice fall? Out in the middle of the river. The thing is, back in those days, if you had a problem with cold weather, the center conductor would shrink back and pull out and we’d have to go re-splice and you had to climb a 90-foot pole, pull up the cable buggy, stick on the strand and then crawl over on the cable buggy and ride the cable buggy out in the middle of the river to fix the splice.
Hranac: What happened the one time you were out there working on that splice? I’ve heard stories of maybe some swimming or ice.
Coryell: This was a couple of years later. In the spring, of course you have a lot of ice and trees and stuff floating down the Allegheny River, and a tree caught the cable and snapped the cable, pulled the pole right over.
Hranac: So it pulled the cable over at the shore?
Coryell: It snapped the cable. And of course we had to go put a new cable back up and we worked all day long trying to get across that river because of the ice coming down and trees and everything else. Finally we got the cable…and we were pulling it and a tree then came down…the cable started pulling it and a big truck was holding the cable, it started to pull the truck into the river, so they cut the cable and I wasn’t aware that that happened. I saw the cable busting loose and I grabbed a hold of the cable—this was in February—and I’m trying to hold the cable and it pulled me in the river.
Coryell: The closest homes were about six or seven miles away and my clothes were frozen solid from the rain.
Hranac: That gives a new meaning to having fun splicing and installing cable.
While you were in Williamsport, as the channel capacity increase was implemented, did that involve installing new antennas to receive more distant TV stations to add to the systems of channel lineup?
Coryell: At that time we tried to get distant channels and Altoona was one of them that we could pick up, but everything was distant there. We also got some microwave in. There was—I can’t remember the name of the company, but they had some programming on that.
Hranac: Did you do anything with any of the big parabolic antennas or corner reflector type antennas that were in use?
Coryell: Not in Williamsport because they didn’t have parabolics at all. When I worked for TelePrompTer—
Hranac: That came later.
Coryell: Yes, that was later. I put a 150-foot parabolic band antenna up, tropospheric antenna, to pick up the New York stations—Kips Hill, Massachusetts.
Hranac: Was that in Elmira?
Hranac: That was another system. We’ll come back to that one. While you were in Williamsport, it’s my understanding that you went back to school to further your education in the electronics field.
Coryell: Yes, when I was with West Branch, we were bought out by Williamsport Cable. Otto Straley was the manager of West Branch. He had made arrangements for me to work nights and weekends at Williamsport Cable while I went back to school. I went to school for two years, Williamsport Technical Institute.
Hranac: Once things were wrapped up in Williamsport and you had worked there for a number of years in a variety of outside plant positions and then continued your education at the technical institute, what came next in your career?
Coryell: Ray Schneider was the manager of Williamsport Cable who later went to work for TelePrompTer, and he hired me as chief engineer for Elmira, New York. They were in process of upgrading that system to twelve channels.
Hranac: How long were you in Elmira?
Coryell: I was there in Elmira for 7½ years, but I worked for Elmira Video for about three years and then I went to work for TelePrompTer. They had fourteen cable TV systems at that time.
Hranac: Where did you work for TelePrompTer? I ask because I’m a TelePrompTer alum, too.
Coryell: I was in Elmira, New York.
Hranac: So that was a TelePrompTer system.
Coryell: Yes. Then I took a position as a regional engineer for TelePrompTer and I went to all the systems—Little Falls, Minnesota, and—
Hranac: What timeframe was that?
Coryell: That was about 1966-1970.
Hranac: So you were with TelePrompTer then through what, about 1970 or so?
Hranac: What came next after TelePrompTer?
Coryell: I was traveling all the time and of course, having seven kids and my wife at home by herself all the time, I just told them I couldn’t travel all the time and everything. So Gordon Fuqua said, “Well, how would you like to go to Florida?” They had bought a cable system in…
Hranac: Was it in Florida?
Coryell: Yes. Winter Haven, Florida.
Hranac: Did you move to Florida?
Coryell: Yes, I moved to Florida. I was going there to take over as chief engineer for the cable system but also set up a research lab for developing pay television converters.
Hranac: That had to be some of the early pay television technology.
Coryell: That was way back. We built Gridtronics; it was a one channel pay-per-view box, and also, we had gotten a patent—in fact the original Veractitude [?] converters I was involved in the patenting for. The cable TV box.
Hranac: That’s great news. Did you get your name on the patent for that?
Coryell: My name was on the patent.
Hranac: That’s great news. I think that speaks highly of some of your contributions to the industry.
I want to go back just a moment and chat about the big antennas that you put up. You said it was a big parabolic antenna that you put up. Now there’s another story I’ve heard out there about a clever way of removing ice from the antenna in the wintertime.
Coryell: We tried. But the thing is, Williamsport was a triangular tower and it’s only about a foot on each side. It has an H-frame tower and of course, it was noted for having ice storms and of course when you get ice on the antennas, the signals go away. The thing is you couldn’t climb the tower because it was like one big icicle up there. So I figured, what the heck. Why don’t I just take a shotgun and shoot the ice off the antennas.
Hranac: Did that work?
Coryell: A little bit, but the ice was caked so heavy.
Hranac: That’s certainly a different way to at least attempt removing ice from an antenna.
Now the time after Elmira, you mentioned that you had gone to Florida. But somewhere in there I think there was a stint with Television Communications, wasn’t there?
Hranac: Was that the company in Florida or did that come before Florida or a little bit after Florida?
Coryell: That was before Florida. That was from when I left from Elmira Video; I went to work for TVC, Television Communications.
Hranac: OK. What did you do for TVC?
Coryell: That’s when I was traveling all over the country.
Hranac: Ah, and that was the inspiration to give up the travel and settle down in Florida. Who did you have a chance to work with at TVC?
Coryell: I worked for Jim Cavanaugh. He was the treasurer. Gordon Fuqua. Al Stern.
Hranac: When you were doing the work for TVC and TelePrompTer in Williamsport, did you get involved at all in the franchising process at that point in your career?
Coryell: I didn’t get too involved with franchising with TVC. Occasionally I would go to a meeting or something. It was later on that I was heavily involved in franchising with ATC.
Hranac: After Florida, the ATC name, I think, came into your career. And that’s a good segue into that. When did you start with ATC? Was that why you were still in Florida or did you come back to Denver to join ATC?
Coryell: ATC bought TVC.
Hranac: OK. While you were still with TVC then, it became ATC.
Coryell: ATC bought—basically I went to work in Orlando, Florida, building the Orlando system and I was heavily involved in franchising in Florida and plus traveling around to the different systems, places in—
Hranac: When did your time with ATC bring you to Denver? That’s when I first met you was at the ATC Training Center…
Coryell: I came to Denver November 1979.
Hranac: So that was the move from Florida then. To Florida with ATC and then after building the Orlando systems and some other systems in the region.
Coryell: Larry Janes hired me to be a regional engineer to take care of some systems and also do test and evaluation of new products. I was heavily involved in testing new products.
Hranac: Was the lab testing of new products done in the Denver area?
Coryell: In Denver, yes.
Hranac: Was that at the, I don’t know if it was the national division at that time or if it was considered a corporate office?
Coryell: It was a corporate—I was responsible for all tests and evaluation of new products.
Hranac: How did the lab work that you were doing tie in with some of the work that you did for ATC’s National Training Center?
Coryell: I ran the first pilot program for ATC for their trainings for installers. In fact, when I was in Kissimmee, Florida, down in Orlando—Kissimmee, Florida—and I designed an installation course, because at that time we had a hard time getting people being productive in a cable system because they were doing very poor in training their people. So I set up an installation training program and then after they completed the training, we did a study on the individuals, the productivity versus the employees who hadn’t been to school to compare if sending them to a training school had advantages over trying to train them at the system level. So then they decided to set up the ATC Training Center in Denver.
Hranac: That was based on some of the work that you had done in Kissimmee?
Coryell: Because I had started the first program, yes.
Hranac: In addition to improving the productivity with the training programs, did that help to reduce turnover because I know that the industry, particularly in its early years, had some turnover challenges with installers and…
Coryell: I don’t recall doing any study basically on retention but I do know that the systems we sent our people, they were well-pleased with the productivity.
Hranac: So the big gain then really was in the area of productivity?
Hranac: How long did you work with the National Training Center in Denver, do you recall?
Coryell: I didn’t work with the National Training Center.
Hranac: Oh, you didn’t.
Coryell: I set up the program, I designed it and set it up and basically when then later on they decided to do a service class, and a maintenance class, I was involved in the agenda for it.
Hranac: So you were developing training material for the Training Center.
Coryell: Bob Haugland, he was in charge of the Training Center.
Hranac: I think when I first started to do some work indirectly with the Training Center was when we put together the SCTE Rocky Mountain chapter and worked with Al Dawkins and some of the other folks down there who were at the Training Center at that time. Did you get a chance to work with Al or did he come to the Training Center later?
Coryell: I was involved in some of the activities going there, but I was so busy at the corporate office there and my duties at the lab plus getting involved in franchising, and then also ACCL decided to decentralize and form regions. I got heavily involved in hiring of all the engineering people for all of these, the vice-presidents of engineering, for all the divisions.
Hranac: Was that when the company was still known as ATC or was that about the time that—
Coryell: It was ATC, yes.
Hranac: Because it was later that it became Time Warner.
Hranac: OK. The cable industry at that time kind of called Denver home and it was headquarters to a lot of cable companies. Jones Intercable was headquartered in the Denver area and TCI was there. ATC had its headquarters before it ended up moving some of the corporate operations out to the East Coast. I think it was a real fun time for the industry and an opportunity for the cable industry to really leave its mark in Colorado. And I know that you left your mark in Colorado in the cable industry over the years and as I switch gears just a little bit to SCTE, I know you had been involved with SCTE pretty much from the get-go. Because you’re one of the charter members of the Society. Did you attend that first meeting in San Francisco at the NCTA convention?
Coryell: No, I didn’t.
Hranac: So you joined SCTE right after that as a charter member.
Hranac: What kind of activities did you pursue in SCTE as a charter member and were you able to tie some of that in with what you were doing with ATC at the time?
Coryell: I think I was heavily involved in developing engineering guidelines for the SCTE testing. I got heavily involved in that.
Hranac: I know the Society recognized you for your contributions by inducting you into the SCTE Hall of Fame in what as it, 1999? Or was it earlier than that? I’m trying to remember when you were inducted into…
Coryell: I can’t remember.
Hranac: SCTE’s Hall of Fame. My notes say 1999 so that’s probably pretty close. [1999 is correct] Now as a charter member, of course, that also got you in later years into the group called “The Circle of Eagles.” Which still has a dinner at CableTec Expo each year. Have you had a chance to get together with some of your colleagues at CableTec Expo over the years?
Coryell: A couple years ago, when they had the convention out here in Denver, I got to meet several of the people I had worked with. But since then I have done very little on the cable television.
Hranac: Let’s go back into the cable television side before retirement because I want to talk also a little bit later on about what you’re doing post-retirement from the industry. With all of the work you did for ATC I know you were kept pretty busy and somewhere in there you also had a stint with Mile-Hi Cable. Can you discuss that?
Coryell: Oh, yes. The engineer for Mile-Hi Cablevision was leaving the company so I asked to go there and take over for that period of time. I was with them for about a year, year and a half.
Hranac: With Mile-Hi Cable?
Coryell: Mile-Hi Cablevision.
Hranac: Of course, that’s merged with all the other cable systems that were in the Denver area now and that’s all one big cable company.
You had some involvement with the Full Service Network too. That left I think a pretty important mark on the cable industry as far a test bed for new technologies and what not. Can you discuss a little bit about the work that you did with the Full Service Network in Orlando?
Coryell: One of the reasons I went to Orlando was because they were going to build a two-way bidirectional cable television system there and I was heavily involved in various activities on the Full Service Network. We had tele-medicine, we set up locations for nurses which was tied in two-way with the hospitals so the patients could come in, the nurse would review the individual and basically you had two-way communications at the hospitals for taking care of the patients. We had traffic control at TV cameras at intersections where you could basically talk to people at the intersection and so forth. We were basically experimenting with all types of things you could possibly do with a cable system for two-way.
Hranac: That’s a pretty exciting thing because the concept of two-way cable, I know, has been around the industry for a long time, but it really struggled to get a foothold in real production networks. People would try it here and try it there, but it sounds like a lot of what you were doing in Orlando really, I think, laid the foundation for serious use of two-way cable networks.
Coryell: We had on several occasions people from over in Europe and Japan and so forth come and visit us and observe what we were doing back then.
Hranac: When you were finished with the work in Orlando, then I take it that meant a trip back to Colorado. Was that the move back for work with Mile-Hi Cable or in the corporate office…?
Coryell: No, that was the corporate office. When I moved from Orlando, moved to Denver, was when I was to do testing and evaluation of new products and basically just starting to get involved in franchising.
Hranac: What was your favorite piece of test equipment in the day, do you remember?
Coryell: My favorite? I think it would be the spectrum analyzer.
Hranac: Any particular make and model that you really liked using?
Hranac: Because I cut my teeth on HP analyzers and the one before the 8858-B was a big mainframe, the type you had to plug in. I want to say 141-T or something, I can’t remember the model number on the thing. That was a fun one. Did you get a chance to play with the, or use the old Jerrold 704 field strength meter?
Coryell: I used that all the time when back in the 50’s.
Hranac: I’ve got two of those that I got through the auctions at—
Coryell: I’ve got a scar on my head from a 704.
Hranac: From a 704? All right now, how did you get a scar on your head from a 704?
Coryell: It’s quite a story. It was back in the early days, the amplifiers were on crossarms on the pole and you’d climb up on a ladder up to the pole to do measurements. And this one day, Jim Evans was climbing up the ladder to the top of the pole and he pulled the field strength meter and I was standing by the truck with a notepad because I was going to take readings, write the readings down. He dropped the 704 field strength meter and it hit on the side of my head, down on my shoulder. It didn’t knock me out.
Hranac: I’m surprised because the 704 was a good-sized—
Coryell: I took my hand up like that and of course, I had a hand full of blood. Jim stepped down the ladder real quick and I said, “I think you’re going to have to take me to the hospital.” He said, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah!” So he jumped in the truck and I said, “Jim, aren’t you going to put the ladder away? The kids are coming out of the school about 3:00 in the afternoon.” I said, “The kids are going to climb the ladder.” “Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah!” He was all excited. He put the ladder on the truck. Then he jumped in the truck, started to drive down the street and we get up to an intersection, he made a left-hand turn. I said, “Jim! The hospital is that way!” He was all shook up. So it was about four blocks down the street to the hospital. I went in and they shaved my head and sewed me up.
Hranac: So you got a permanent reminder of the old Jerrold 704 meter!
Coryell: Yes, the 704 meter. That thing is heavy; it’s 30-some pounds.
Hranac: It is. When I was with TelePrompTer in the 70’s, I had a chance to repair the successor to the 704, the 727 that somebody had dropped off a pole. And I remember that it didn’t hit anybody but it did a fair amount of damage, and I put about forty hours of labor into repairing that meter. You had to straighten the frame and the case and repair pieces and parts that had broken inside and I was able to scrounge the parts and some of the ceramic coils and what not from another broken meter, and got that one restored. Of course, it’s not as heavy as the old 704 but that was a chore working on that one.
Coryell: One of the jobs I had when I went to West Branch Cable was that I was responsible for balancing the system out and everything. Of course with the 6805 vacuum tubes, basically they don’t last too long. I’d go out and change the tubes, vacuum tubes and of course with the ampli-vision amplifiers, the thing is that they have—depending on the amplifier—three, four or six tubes all hooked in parallel. So you could go out and replace the tubes without taking the people off the air because you could pull out a vacuum tube and stick another one in and then just throw it down through. I used to go through and change all the vacuum tubes out on the amplifiers and then take them back. And we took out a volt-o-meter—I mean, a vacuum tube checker and check the tubes, throw the bad ones away and then take the good ones to continue to go on. And I was constantly…
Hranac: Do you remember your first system that used solid-state amplifiers, where that was? Because the systems that you worked in—
Coryell: That was in Elmira, New York.
Hranac: That was in Elmira. So that was solid-state.
Coryell: They were SKL amplifiers, the distributed amplifiers—
Hranac: Let’s see, that was what? SKL was what? Spencer-Kennedy Laboratories?
Coryell: Yes. And they went to AMECO.
Hranac: So those were your first solid-state amplifiers.
Coryell: PNP transistors.
Hranac: A little bit more reliable than the old vacuum tube amps?
Hranac: I had a chance to work in a TelePrompTer system in the 70’s that had a subtrunk that had eight amps in cascade that had the old Jerrold (I’m trying to remember what they called them.) It was a TML…
Hranac: TML. Transistorized Mainline that replaced—it was a bolt-in replacement in the big metal box on the crossarms for the old Jerrold vacuum tube amplifiers. I had a chance to work on some of those back in the 70’s. Lot of fond memories. No 704’s on the docket, though.
Coryell: I remember basically when I was with Lycoming Television and the thing is the amplifiers had a big power vacuum tube for the rectifier tube. There was a 5Y3 tube. They’re only about this tall. They came out with a 5U4 and it was about that tall. The foreman there, he gave me a box of these brand-new vacuum tubes, rectifier tubes, he wanted me to go out and replace, pull all the 5Y3’s out and put the 5U4’s in. Of course there was some 30-some amp cascades so I went through, I changed all the tubes out except one. And when I came back, the foreman said, “What are you doing back here? You’re supposed to change them.” I said, “I’ve done them all except one.” He said, “Well, why didn’t you change the one?” He called me a lazy—I said, “The amplifier box for the amplifier wasn’t as deep as all the others. I couldn’t put the vacuum tube in and close the lid.” He called me a liar. He told me, “OK. You get back out there and change the 5U4, 5Y3 to 5U4. And I want the lid closed.” I said, “Yes, sir.” I jumped in my truck and I went down there and it was the last amplifier at the bottom of the mountain. I opened the lid, pulled the 5Y3 out, put the 5U4 in, I closed the lid—CRASH! There was a pop. Drove back down to the office. He came running out. He said, “We don’t have any television.” I said, “Yes, sir. I know you don’t have any television.” He said, “What do you mean?” I said, “I did exactly what you said. I pulled the 5Y3 out and I put the 5U4 in and when I closed the lid, your TV went off.” He fired me on the spot. Of course, I went down to south Williamsport and there was a restaurant where they usually ate lunch and Len Ecker was chief engineer there. He came down and asked me what happened. He said, “Come on back to work.”
Hranac: Did the foreman keep his job there for very long?
Coryell: Yes, he kept his job.
Hranac: Did the old tube get put back in that last amplifier?
Coryell: No, the 5Y3 stayed in there.
Hranac: It did stay in there.
Hranac: So the 5U4, the remains of it were removed and replaced with a 5Y3? That’s a good story. You were doing as you said what you were told.
Coryell: I did exactly what he said. I was a kind of wise smarty even back then, too.
Hranac: You mentioned Len Ecker. I met him in mid-70’s, I think, when I was with TelePrompTer. He was teaching for Jerrold at that time and he was doing his technical training seminars and TelePrompTer brought him in just to do training for TelePrompTer. And he brought in a bunch of people from the systems in the region and Len did his magic in the training class there. What an amazing guy. He knew his stuff.
Coryell: When we were at Lycoming, he worked with Entron developing an amplifier with a tilt control. Because in those days, everything was flat gain. And of course temperature changes and you had problems with slope changing all the time with the AGC [automatic gain control]. It had 20-some vacuum tubes in it.
Hranac: For the slope control?
Coryell: It was an amplifier, big power supply and everything. And it had a servo motor that ran a slug up and down, and it would change the slope.
Hranac: So a motor would turn and it would move the slug up and down and then it would change the slope of the amplifier.
Coryell: Yes. And the thing is, sometimes the motor would go overextend and jam. Then I had to go out and pull the motor off and we’d pull the slug back up.
Hranac: Did that technology see much deployment or use or was that—
Coryell: …it worked. The amplifier worked on slope control, yes.
Hranac: It sounds like a very complicated way to do it.
Coryell: Yes. It was.
Hranac: What people influenced you the most?
Coryell: I’d say my first engineer I worked with was Len Ecker. Basically he was a great mentor and had a lot of patience, never got excited or anything. Then, of course, I had Ray Schneider. He was a great versatile person to work for.
Hranac: Are there some other folks that come to mind as being a good inspiration or mentor?
Coryell: Larry Janes, when he was vice-president there in Denver.
Hranac: As you think back on your career, what legacy do you want to be remembered for?
Coryell: I have never thought about it, my legacy. The thing is, I had a career that I enjoyed, I loved what I was doing, had challenges every day. Every day was a challenge; that’s basically what I liked so much about the cable industry, watching it grow from three channels on up to 400-500 channels and all. And knowing I had a part in developing a lot of the things that are happening now.
Hranac: I know you’re being a little bit modest, but as I look back at your career, you started in the early 1950’s and worked for, gosh, nearly fifty years in the business. As I say, you had a chance to work with the early three-channel systems and as you wrapped up your career, you got a chance to work with some of the just absolute state-of-the-art technology that the industry was adopting. How do you want to be remembered? What should people think of when they think of Shorty Coryell and his contributions to the industry?
Coryell: Well, I think basically I was open to helping anybody that had a problem that needed work with. I worked with many engineers throughout the country when they were in trouble to help them out. I think basically that I would just like to be remembered as somebody that basically was willing to spend time giving them advice and so forth.
Hranac: As you look back on your career at the amazing changes that have happened in the cable industry during the time that you worked in the business, what do you think the future holds for cable?
Coryell: I don’t think too much about the future of cable, seeing what’s happening. I remember back in the 80’s Larry Janes asked all these engineering people basically to predict what cable television is going to be about in the future. And I basically indicated that by the year 2015—that’s this year—that the majority of programming is going to be off the satellite. Entertainment and so forth. And basically the cable systems were going to be nothing but for data transmission and two-way communications and things like that.
Hranac: That was a pretty accurate prediction. The cable industry, of course, has seen video subscriber counts drop and the cable networks—
Coryell: And new ones are forming.
Hranac: The cable networks have become what Glenn Jones used to call “electronic pipelines.” When you think of it from that perspective, it probably doesn’t matter a whole lot what’s inside that pipe. But there’s a lot of data in there. Certainly the digital video, but high-speed data and other services. So it sounds like your prediction wasn’t too far off.
Going back to the SCTE for a moment, the SCTE has been around since 1969 and has done a lot for the industry, too, particularly in the areas of training and standards and so forth. And you have involvement with SCTE, particularly in the early days as a charter member and then being recognized by being inducted into the Hall of Fame in the late 1990’s. What do you see as a kind of an ongoing role for an organization like SCTE as the industry changes and the technology changes? How does SCTE play a role in that?
Coryell: That’s a hard question. I’d have to think about it. The thing is I think the SCTE should be heavily involved on the technologies of the changes that are taking place and getting that information out to the systems and management and so forth to continue developing new services and so forth.
Hranac: Step back for a moment and think about the big picture of the cable industry. What impact do you think the cable industry has had on society in general? Has it been a good impact, a so-so impact?
Coryell: I think the cable industry has had a big impact on society because it has put a lot of information and programming and so forth to millions of people that if without the cable system, they wouldn’t have gotten that in the first place. And now with all the programming—I’ve watched kids at schools. They’ve got little cell phones and they’re practically living on the cell phones, communicating. I don’t think they even know how to talk to each other anymore. They’re on a keypad sitting next to each other.
Hranac: Doing this?
Coryell: Playing and talking to each other instead of actually being able to talk. I think it’s hurting, basically going to have a big impact on the communications amongst people.
Hranac: Speaking of the kids, if a youngster—and I’ll say youngster, relatively speaking, but somebody say fresh out of school—came to you and asked for some advice on perhaps entering the cable business. What advice would you give today to a newcomer entering the cable business?
Coryell: Basically, I would encourage them because I think that there are challenges that are going to be coming up over the next few years. It’s going to be interesting and the thing is, I’d encourage them to get schooling, basically to get an electronic background and computer background so that they could be a big asset for the cable systems.
Hranac: Any other advice in addition to the training and education you would give to a new hire in the cable business?
Coryell: I don’t know if I’d have any advice for them.
Hranac: When you retired in 1999—of course, it got handed to you by your wife, the list that I think most people get handed when retire. That’s the infamous “honey-do” list. Did you make your way through the honey-do list when retirement came, or has that become kind of a perpetual list?
Coryell: I had my honey-do list done by fall. Of course my wife keeps adding on all the time so that’s a never-ending thing.
Hranac: You’ve been retired now for nearly sixteen years.
Coryell: Sixteen years.
Hranac: What have you been doing since you retired?
Coryell: I did some consulting work for awhile. I made two or three trips, but I’ve been volunteering for an elementary school for fifteen years now. I’ll give you an example of what my agenda was. On Monday, Wednesday and Friday, I was in Lewis Ames School. On Tuesday, I was at Centennial Elementary School. On Thursday, I was at St. Thomas More School. Basically I was doing tutoring for kids at Isaac Newton from 3:00-4:00 everyday.
Hranac: So you’ve continued to have a role even outside the cable industry in training and helping people further their education.
Hranac: Of course the cable industry has become so complex compared to what it was in the late 1940’s, early 1950’s, even through the late 1950’s. I think from some perspectives it might not even be recognizable to—at least in comparison to what it was in the early days. But it’s a fun business, I know from my own perspective. But as you think back on your experience in the industry, is there a particular experience that really stands out as something that maybe brings a chuckle or makes you feel particularly proud? I know you’ve talked about the people who influenced you and were your mentors and you’ve talked about the novel way of attempting to remove ice from an antenna and the unintended swim in the Allegheny River. But as you think back, is there an experience or something that you did that really makes you proud as far as just something that you are really happy that you were able to or even something that you may look back on and have a little bit of a laugh about?
Coryell: I don’t know.
Hranac: OK. As we get close to wrapping up the interview, is there anything that you’d like to add that we haven’t covered or maybe some part of your career that we missed and that you’d like to make sure that it gets documented in the Oral History Program?
Coryell: I think one of the things that I observed over the years is that many employees that worked for a cable system don’t like their jobs. The only reason they do the work is they make more money than they can doing other things. I’ll give you an example. Chuck Gentry was a service manager for me. He was mad at it all the time, grumpy and complaining and I asked him, “What’s eating you? What’s the matter? Something bothering you?” He said, “I hate my job.” I said to him, “What do you like to do? What would you like to do?” He said, “I would like to do photography.” I said to him, “Well, why don’t you go to school and learn how to be a photographer and become a photographer?” He said, “I’ve got a family to raise and I can’t—I make more money here than I can there.” I said, “You mean to tell me you’re going to work your whole life doing something you don’t like doing rather than doing something you really want to do.” And I think there are so many employees out there that have that attitude, that they basically are more interested in making that dollar than basically learning something, doing something they enjoy doing. Because you have to enjoy what you’re doing on work. I enjoyed every day I had in forty-seven years because every day was a challenge and I enjoyed working with people, developing people.
Hranac: I think it’s certainly reflected in your accomplishments in the industry and all the things you did in that nearly half a century in the cable industry. That’s pretty impressive, to work in one career for that long of a period of time and to enjoy it and like going to work.
Shorty, I want to say a big thank you for taking some time to sit down today and discuss your background in cable and share a little bit of history from your perspective as a very, very highly respected individual in the cable industry and certainly one who is considered by your peers to be a pioneer and an engineer’s engineer. So thanks for stopping by today and sitting for the oral history interview.
END OF INTERVIEW