Interview Date: Friday May 30, 1986
Interview Location: Irving, Texas USA
Interviewer: Robert Dudley
Collection: Penn State Collection
Note: Audio Only
DUDLEY: Let’s start with some family background.
CAMPBELL: I was born in Grace City, North Dakota, on December 28, 1926. My father, Alexander Campbell, was one of the early pioneers who came into North Dakota at the turn of the century. My mother was his third wife. He had outlived two wives. One of them froze to death in North Dakota when she and my dad were caught in a blizzard, and the other died of natural causes. I was of the third family, the second of three boys born in North Dakota. Dad and his earlier families were in the road construction business. The boys worked at the Company business all through their early life.
When I was six years old, the summer after first grade, Dad decided to give up North Dakota, give up the blizzards and go to Texas. We moved to Texas in 1933, outside the little town of Granbury, on the Brazos River, ninety miles west of the Dallas area.
DUDLEY: Your dad came to North Dakota from where?
CAMPBELL: From Quebec, Canada. My mother was born in Duluth, Minnesota. I think she was 35 years old when I was born, and Dad was 60. Like I said, it was his third family. My older half-brothers were grown when I was born. My whole family, Dad and my half brothers Arch, Vern, and Cole, were in the dirt-moving and road construction business. My two full brothers followed that line of work when they grew up. I’m the only one who wandered from the fold. One brother still lives in Granbury, my younger brother. My older brother died about twelve years ago from Hodgkin’s disease. He also lived in Granbury at that time.
DUDLEY: What are their names?
CAMPBELL: My older brother was Chester. Dave is my younger brother. They both lived in Granbury. At one time they both went back to North Dakota to learn the business, the road construction business. They were in business in Granbury until Chester died. My younger brother Dave still lives in Granbury and is still in the dirt business, blacktopping and that type of thing. My mother and father have both passed away. My father passed away on Father’s day, 1951, the day I moved to Mineral Wells, Texas. My mother died about ten years later while I was in Austin.
DUDLEY: So, at 66 years of age, approximately, your father decided to start another career in Texas.
CAMPBELL: Yes, 66 years old. My mother and father were Christian Scientists and they read a story in the Christian Science Monitor in 1932 (I was five years old at the time) about a colony that was being formed in Christiansted, Texas, which is in the DeCordova Bend, of the Brazos River, just south of Granbury, now called the Pecan Plantation. The story painted a picture of a Utopia in which this man, Christianson, had bought some 20,000 or 30,000 acres, surrounded by the river. It was isolated pretty well from the world except for the one entrance. Later on they built a low-water bridge. In those days the roads weren’t too good, so we were really isolated.
Dad called it a communistic community. It was really a socialistic idea, whereby people would come in, buy a plot of land, and build a house.
Then they would work for Christianson in the industry that he was trying to establish on a kind of share-and-share a like basis. They even developed their own money. He tried to establish a charcoal factory, a chair factory, a cheese factory. But all these things crumbled in the Depression. We moved in and Dad had some money, I suppose. He bought the land and built a little house. We moved into it when it wasn’t quite complete. We lived there for five or six years. Then the whole idea went bankrupt during the Depression. Dad bought the land from the first developer (Christianson). He (Christianson) misled everyone about it and didn’t have a good title, so Dad lost the home place. We moved from there to the little town of Tolar, and then to Granbury.
I spent five years in Granbury where I went to high school. That was the latter part of the Depression years. I think we moved to Granbury in 1939, where Dad bought a house for $700. I graduated from Granbury High School in 1944.
DUDLEY: Did you have any involvement in radio or that sort of thing when you were in high school?
CAMPBELL: Yes, I did. I started working in the local theater at the popcorn machine when I was, I think, a freshman in high school. During my sophomore year, I started running the projectors. Then, all through my junior and senior years, I ran the machines every night. It was a small town and we usually had two showings each evening. We closed on Sunday night, so I had that night off. This way I helped with our living expenses, as Dad was getting on in years. I graduated in 1944 and he died in 1951 at age 84. Fred Wilkerson was the projectionist at the theater at the time. He was quite a radio and electronic buff. I got my first indoctrination into electronics from him.
In my senior year in high school, 1944, I joined the Army Air Corps Reserve training program, and I took my physical when I was sixteen. I was sworn in when I was seventeen but wouldn’t go on active duty until I was eighteen. The Army Air Corps had a program much like pre-preflight. Enlistees would go to college until they were eighteen and then went on active duty. That way they had a leg up on the high school graduates. Anyway, I went right out of high school. In the summer of 1944, I went to the University of Arkansas into the Army specialized reserve training program. I stayed there for six months for a crash program in which we got a year’s schooling crammed into six months. We received credits for a full year of college.
I came home to wait to be transferred to active duty. By that time Germany had surrendered and the Army Air Corps began cutting back. They gave me the opportunity to either transfer to the unassigned (I had signed up for pilot training) or take a discharge. I took a discharge and joined the Navy in 1945 to avoid being drafted. I spent one year in the Navy.
DUDLEY: So you actually were discharged from the Army and enlisted in the Navy?
CAMPBELL: Yes, I was given credit for eighteen months service in the Army Air Corps. We weren’t paid, not even a private’s pay, but we had all of our expenses paid. It was kind of a trial period and some 300 of us went to the University of Arkansas. We were all within two or three months of being the same age, seventeen year olds. Anyway, I got the discharge, joined the Navy and went to San Diego.
While I was in boot camp, the Japanese surrendered. The Navy started winding down, but I got credit for the Air Corps at mustering out time, so I spent exactly, to the day, one year in the electronics branch in the Navy. I ran theater projectors and did electronics repair, sound systems, wire recorders, and other things for training schools.
DUDLEY: Did you study electronics in the Army or was that regular college courses?
CAMPBELL: I was in an electronics group because I had the experience as a theater projectionist. They had a school that taught one how to run projection machines, etc., but I didn’t go through that. I just took the required tests and was qualified.
DUDLEY: The duties were?
CAMPBELL: In this group we were doing electronic maintenance. I started home study courses while I was in the Navy and continued these courses after I got out. I completed two or three different correspondence courses. My motive was to get into the theater business when I was released from the Navy, to find some little town and own a small theater. That was my ambition at the time.
I got a job in Clifton, Texas, as a projectionist, for $50 a week, or something like that. Big pay! But it wasn’t too bad for just four hours a night. With Veteran benefits I went to Clifton Junior College, where I graduated in 1949.
I had seen things come and go and one of them was the drive-in theater business. I saw it grow up, and saw that I missed out on it in the small communities where drive-ins were successful. I was sort of biding my time there, deciding what to do. Then in 1950, 1951, when the idea of cable television came along, I decided that cable television really had a future.
DUDLEY: When did you buy the radio shop?
CAMPBELL: When I was working in the theater, going to college, I also had a radio shop. I continued with it when I finished college. I would work there in the daytime and run the theater at night, trying to make a living. I had two children by then.
My first two boys were born in Clifton, the first one while I was in college and the other just about the time I graduated.
DUDLEY: Did you get married while you were in the service?
CAMPBELL: I got married, yes, while I was in the service, to a girl from Granbury, my high school sweetheart.
DUDLEY: And had two children, two boys?
CAMPBELL: We had four children. The two older boys, Ben and Johnny, were both born in Clifton. Then Becki, the girl, and Tom, the younger son, were both born in Mineral Wells. I was still working in the theater, still running the radio shop. I arranged with some dealers there in Clifton to install antennas, selling TV sets for dealers around because it was a deep fringe area, with very little television. You could find spots that would give pretty good reception, mostly on the hilltops and some of the prairies; you can get some pretty good television. I was doing that after I finished Junior College and that is when I saw the article in Radio and TV News (at the time that was the name of the magazine) on the (Bob) Tarlton’s Lansford, Pennsylvania system.
I just knew this was going to be my future, so I started looking around. I thought a little bit about Clifton, but it was not big enough. So I looked at other areas around the state. Mineral Wells seemed to be the most ideal town for a city of its size for cable because there were the high hills, with people living behind them. Behind the mountain would be a 100 foot tower, somebody trying to get a television picture. And you could go up on the mountain and get a good picture.
I got a copy of a franchise, from Bob Tarlton or someone else, and took it to an attorney in Mineral Wells and had him write it to conform to Texas law. I applied for the franchise to the city, and, within a month or six weeks, I was granted the franchise. And I moved to Mineral Wells.
DUDLEY: Were there any thoughts in that community before about cable television or community antenna television?
CAMPBELL: No, nobody knew. Well, as an example, I had proposed to put the tower on one of the mountains. Within two or three blocks of the site that I had proposed, where I could get a lease on the land, there was a police two-way radio system and, I think, the power company used it as their main base station. The only opposition to the franchise came from a technician who maintained the two-way radio equipment. He complained that radio transmitters would probably interfere with the television and he would get blamed for it because of the close proximity of the transmitters. He was opposed to the franchise.
I’ll never forget the one commissioner. The City Council was made up of a mayor and two commissioners at the time. One of them said, “Let’s just go ahead and give it to him. I don’t think it’s going to work anyway. What difference does it make?” So they voted and gave me the franchise.
In those early years there was no problem in getting the franchise if you went in and made a decent presentation, because nobody knew what it was or what it was going to be. Other franchises were granted around the state in the next two or three years. Anybody could walk in, just make a presentation, and get a franchise.
Very few of those were built, however, because there were technical problems in a lot of the franchised areas. They couldn’t get a useable signal into the area, so maybe it wasn’t feasible.
It was feasible in Mineral Wells at that time. The three stations that came on the air in Fort Worth and Dallas were operating at low power on short towers. Channels 4 & 8 here in Dallas operated in downtown Dallas off of a 400-foot tower at 25,000 watts, or something like that. Channel 5 was over at Fort Worth.
DUDLEY: We were talking about the Dallas stations, the number of stations that were low powered, things of that nature.
CAMPBELL: The NBC affiliate in Fort Worth, Channel 5, operated at, as I recall, 25 kW or maybe even less. Channels 4 and 8 both operated from downtown Dallas on short sticks because they didn’t have the microwave facilities to remote. Basically, they had to transmit from their studios. Mineral Wells, being 90 miles from Dallas and 75 miles from Fort Worth, was deep-fringe, especially behind the hill. So it was hard to get a good signal on a home antenna.
DUDLEY: How big was Mineral Wells?
CAMPBELL: Mineral Wells’ population was about 10,000 to 12,000 at the time. The economy there was kind of up and down because the air base had just closed. But other things took up the slack. I concentrated on the part of town behind the hills and which was the more affluent part of town.
DUDLEY: Now, when did you visit Bob Tarlton?
CAMPBELL: I called up there and talked to someone, but I don’t know whether or not I talked to Bob. I don’t remember. He told me, or someone up there told me, there was someone in Graham, Texas, doing some cable television work. I was still living in Clifton at the time. I think it was about the time that I got the franchise that I learned of him. I called him and went to Graham.
His name was Brown Walker. He was in the jukebox business. Brown Walker. Everyone got to know Brown Walker, if you had been in cable very long, because Brown was/is a real character. Brown had gotten the franchise from the city, but he had a little different situation. He had about the same size town as Mineral Wells, maybe a little better economics. But he was so far out that he couldn’t get signals. He had put up some big antennas on an existing tower, maybe 200 feet high. He couldn’t get a signal consistent enough for a viable cable system. He was approximately 125 miles from Dallas/Fort Worth.
Mineral Wells was a different situation. I put up a 100-foot tower with stacked yagis on each channel and I received a good, reasonable signal from Dallas/Fort Worth.
DUDLEY: But you were using an antenna cut for each?
CAMPBELL: Yes, cut yagis. We used four stacks on channel 4 and channel 8 and, I believe, a dual stack on channel 5. Fort Worth was a little closer. I put the first tower on a city lot that I ended up buying for $100, or something like that. I built a little small shack at the base of the tower. The first equipment I bought was some strip amplifiers built by Taco-Plex.
DUDLEY: Can you spell that?
CAMPBELL: T-A-C-O. Taco was the name of the company. Taco-Plex. And they also built antennas. They were later, I think, acquired by Jerrold for their antenna division. I’m not sure about that. They built an apartment house system which was similar to Jerrold. So, you had a strip for channel 8, a strip for channel 4, and a strip for channel 5, but no AGC. It served the purpose of amplifying the signal, combining them to get it into the single cable that would run down the mountain where we made a connection to the first house.
DUDLEY: Now, these amps were at the tower site?
CAMPBELL: Yes, at the tower site. It was just an amplifier for each channel. Actually, I started carrying just two channels, 4 and 5. Later on I was able to buy a converter to convert 8 to 2. So I had three channels, channel 2, 4, and 5.
The headend amplifier fed the first houses or cluster of houses. We hooked up about eight homes within two blocks of the headend. And then the next thing was to install a repeater amplifier to expand down the street. We were able to repeat it the first time fairly easy, and the second time reasonably without much problem. But then, all the problems of temperature variations affecting the cable and picture quality.
I took a partner in, a fellow by the name of Don Mitchell. He owned Mitchell Industries in Mineral Wells. Mitchell Industries built two-way radios for airplanes, so he was pretty well established. He provided some of the financing on the initial one hundred connections that we made. I later bought him out.
DUDLEY: Well, who is Bill Crawford?
CAMPBELL: Bill Crawford was a manger of a Firestone Appliance store. A young fellow about my age at the time, a salesman and what not, a real go-getter, and he thought it was the neatest idea that had come along. He was about the only one who thought so. He came in with me as a partner because I couldn’t find anybody else who was interested. The banks weren’t interested. He was able, and did, provide a little bit of financing.
Then we bogged down. That’s when Don Mitchell came into the picture. He bought Bill Crawford out and provided, I think, about another $15,000 in financing, which didn’t go very far. That was a lot of money in those days and it got us through the first 200 connections.
DUDLEY: You started this system without ever having seen another cable system constructed or in operation?
CAMPBELL: Yes. Well, there weren’t any around, and I never did go back east.
DUDLEY: But not even Tarlton’s.
CAMPBELL: Well, they were in operation, but Pennsylvania is a long way off.
DUDLEY: He was around and operating, but you never even saw that system?
DUDLEY: What kind of cable were you using? Coax or twinlead?
CAMPBELL: Well, the cable, you see, I’ve always been a pretty fast study on something new. I find out everything I can. I study. The information that I was able to put together was that the types of cable that were available were RG 11U and RG 59U. From what I could gather, the trunk systems were being built from the RG 11U cables that were developed during the war, mostly for radar. RG 8U was communication cable, the same physical size except it was 50 ohms, about 1/2″ in diameter with a braided jacket. However, there was very little RG 11U available because very little was made or being used. You could buy the RG 8U cable because it was being used on two-way radios and this type thing. RG 11U was pretty scarce, at least from my sources, which was radio parts houses, etc.
I did, however, locate about 10,000 or 12,000 feet of surplus cable. I was told it was used on aircraft carriers. They would lay it out on the decks and run over it with airplanes. It was a regular RG 11U, same specifications except that on top of it they’d had another braided jacket, a steel jacket. It was priced very reasonably. It was a lot of money at the time, but I bought 12,000 feet from Crabtrees Wholesalers, a supplier here in Dallas. That became the main trunk run for the first couple hundred homes, the first two miles of cable.
DUDLEY: And the amplifiers were still these apartment house type?
CAMPBELL: Yes. I did buy one or two of the Jerrold apartment house amplifiers. It was their apartment house version, not the version they had built for cable television. They redesigned and repackaged for cable television, but I bought the apartment house systems from radio supply houses. The Taco equipment was built for apartment systems also. During this first year, the chief engineer from Taco came down to see what we were doing. We were running at that time through about four or five amplifiers.
I don’t think I’d have ever made it if it hadn’t been for one piece of equipment: a Philco sweep generator that was designed for television repair work; 7008 was the model number. It was a sweep generator with a little 3-inch scope built into it with a marker. You could only look at one channel at a time because the sweep width was only about eight megahertz. When used with a delay line, we could measure standing wave ratio and line impedance. I’d just lay out rolls of cable and when I couldn’t make it work, couldn’t get signals through it, well, I’d take the amplifiers into the shop and sweep them with the 7008. I could see what was wrong and why I couldn’t get the signals through. When I had ghosts, I determined the reason why by measuring the equipment impedance against the cable. I learned most of this just by trial and error.
At the time there was quite a bit of apartment house equipment available. Blonder-Tongue was building an apartment house system which was all-band. They amplified the low bands and the high bands in basically the same amplifier, which had a lot of gimmicks and gadgets to do the tuning, for just two bands. These were used in some of the early systems, and I bought some of them. However, we had to realign them to make them work in a cable system.
And from those experiences I learned that instead of buying these strip amplifiers, I could build my own. We could get signals through the cable at lower levels than you would with the strip amplifiers which you then could re-amplify at 1,200 feet instead of 2,000 feet and do it in a broadband fashion, just the low band. So I combined all the ideas and came up with a little amplifier with only four tubes that would amplify the low band. This was during the second year of operation at Mineral Wells.
DUDLEY: The Mineral Wells system was called a community aerial system, instead of a community antenna system. Is there any reason for picking aerial instead of antenna?
CAMPBELL: When I was working on the franchise I had to pick a name. The information from the Tarlton system, and what little other information I had, indicated they were calling it aerial. If you look back in that article, you will note they talked about a community aerial, not a community antenna as it later became.
At the time aerial seemed more appropriate. I rationalized the fact that aerial means overhead wires. An antenna, you know, is also called an aerial. And that, to me, suited the situation more than calling it community antenna. Well, actually, I didn’t really think much about it. I just picked a name and went with it, and that name was Community Aerial System. And still today the Mineral Wells system is called the Community Aerial System.
DUDLEY: Was that a partnership then?
CAMPBELL: We incorporated after Don Mitchell came into the picture. After the first year of operation, we weren’t doing too well, and Mr. Mitchell didn’t want to put any more money into it. So, I told him one day, “I’ll tell you what I’ll do. You’ve got $16,000 invested. (I think it was $16,000.) I’ll just take it over and give you a note and I’ll pay you out in two or three years and give you ten percent interest.” He said, “I’ll take it.” I remember when my attorney, Tom Creighton, looked at it, he said, “John, you’ll never make it.” But I knew we were growing, and we were working, and we were getting customers. I never missed a payment, and I paid him off in two years.
DUDLEY: Before we go on to equipment, let’s talk a bit about financing. Installation charges, what were they?
CAMPBELL: We charged $95 installation. Some people charged $125. $95 seemed to be a good number. I could do it a little cheaper in Mineral Wells because my initial cost of the tower and antenna was much less. I just put up an antenna and I was in business. I had customers signed up quickly. Well, it was months later that Brown Walker finally built a 440-foot tower; spending $12,000 to $14,000. I thought it was unrealistic to put that kind of money into something like that at the time. Everything associated with Graham, to get any kind of picture that was saleable, was expensive, but a snowy picture was better than no picture at all.
End of Tape 1, Side A
DUDLEY: We were talking about financing, about the installation costs of $95. I understand many of the early systems actually used that as their base of financing. Was that the case with Mineral Wells?
CAMPBELL: Yes. Well, it was the only means of financing we had. The costs were much, much less per mile, especially the way we built. We just built it piecemeal, extending it one street at a time, hooking up people as we went. We’d wire up one block, hook up five people, get the $95 each, and go buy some more cable. It’s the only way I had.
Well, at 23 I was pretty naive about business and banking. I talked to several bankers and they said, “It sounds like a good idea, but you know it’s a capital loan.” It was something that a bank just wouldn’t take a risk on. Most of the early systems were built from investor financing. There were very few bank loans. Systems just weren’t financed originally, I’d say the first thirty or forty in the state. They were built by private investors, partnerships, or just people who had made investments in them.
DUDLEY: What was the monthly charge, do you recall?
CAMPBELL: We got $3. I guess that was low. Later on, as we had hooked up a number of people who had paid the $95, we started a pay-out plan. They would pay a small installation of, say, $15-$20 and then pay $7 and something a month in order to pay off the installation. In a lot of cases, we had an appliance dealer who would finance the installation and the TV set and pay us the installation.
We actually got into the television business and sold televisions. I don’t remember exactly what year, 1955, 1956, or maybe 1957, we sold more television sets than all other dealers combined in Palo Pinto County, which is the Mineral Wells County, for about three years running. We sold them mostly to new television buyers who were hooking up on the cable. As we got further into it we got finance companies to handle the financing; they would allow us to put some of the installation charges into the TV set contract.
DUDLEY: It was the Community Aerial System that was selling the TV sets?
CAMPBELL: Yes. Actually, that came about because we had about three or four TV dealers in Mineral Wells. With about 2,000 potential home sales, to get 500 subscribers would have been a real trick at that time. I went to the dealers and told them that we would put in a trial installation where people didn’t have television sets. They were buying the television set and going on the cable at the same time. Few had an antenna, very few. In that whole area, there were maybe 25 television sets at the beginning in 1951.
So I started working with the dealers. We put installations into the dealers’ showrooms so they could demonstrate the television sets. For a while it worked pretty good.
I found out that some of the dealers would just sell an antenna because they could make money off an antenna; they weren’t making anything on the cable installation. I had about two or three incidents of that happening. Our deal with them was to sell cable when it was available.
But some of them wanted to make it on both ends because you are talking about installations of $150-$200 for an antenna. I told this one dealer, “I can sell television at cost and make money.”
Finally we just went into it. Ken Durant was working with me and we got the RCA line, the Magnavox line, and the Admiral line. And, like I said, in a three-year period we sold more television sets than all the dealers combined. Without that profit, I never would have made it.
DUDLEY: Did you have a sales force?
DUDLEY: People just bought, you didn’t have to sell?
CAMPBELL: When we were stringing the cable, while the guys were working on the poles, I’d go knock on the doors to talk to the people. I’d say we were stringing, wiring the area and when it was ready we would like to hook them up for cable. You know, we are talking the first 200 or 300 connections. The profits from the television made the whole thing work. The cable itself, without bank financing, wouldn’t have made it.
Now, as new franchises were granted, a lot of operators had some opposition from dealers and a part of the franchise agreement specified that the operator wouldn’t be in the television sales or service business. We had no such restriction. Later on, with my other cable systems, I never even thought about getting in the television business, but at the time it was the lifeblood.
DUDLEY: Do you recall how many years that initial franchise was for?
CAMPBELL: It seems like it was 20 years.
DUDLEY: Twenty years?
CAMPBELL: Fifteen to 20 years. I know I was there 12 years. Twenty years, they renewed it sometime after that.
DUDLEY: Okay. Now you had been modifying equipment in order to make it work. Then you decided to go ahead and start manufacturing your own.
CAMPBELL: I got into manufacturing through Mitchell Industries. Mitchell had a plant and was building radio gear, two-way radios, aircraft radios. So I saw the techniques used to build the electronics. At the time I just got parts from him and built a few. When I bought him out of Community Aerial, I just continued.
I learned a lot from him by visits to his plant. Actually, I hired a couple of girls who had worked for him and knew how to do the assembly.
Then I started getting sheet metal shops to stamp out a number of chassis to build metal cabinets, etc. From the experience with him as a partner, I learned something about assembly of electronics.
DUDLEY: Who did your design work?
CAMPBELL: I did.
DUDLEY: So you were designer, plant supervisor and salesman.
CAMPBELL: Oh, about everything, yes. A fellow named Kenneth Durant came in with me and worked with me a number of years. He ended up with a small interest in the business. He was very active in the construction and installation.
Later on I spent most of my time building equipment. Once I built a little amplifier that worked out so well that Brown Walker came down, saw what I was doing, and took one back. He said, “Man, this is the greatest thing that I’ve had. It works.” And he said, “Let’s build 100 of them. I’ll put up some money.” So we built 100 of them. I used half of them and he used half of them.
The amplifier’s success was in getting us over that hurdle of cascading the signal through ten or twelve amplifiers. I printed up a little brochure and mailed it to everybody in the cable industry and offered to send them one on a free-trial basis. Pretty soon I was selling them to a lot of people. We ended up having approximately $100 thousand gross sales of amplifier equipment in the second year.
DUDLEY: You had a lot of competition them, didn’t you, from national companies, RCA, Blonder-Tongue, Jerrold, and Entron?
CAMPBELL: No. I sold a little amplifier for $85. I could build it for about $15 or $16. The parts were maybe $12. There was no jobber or anything, it was direct mail. No one had an amplifier like it.
You see, there were different design concepts. First, Jerrold, which was the big one – and established, had strip amplifiers for channels 2, 4, and 6. They liked to do 6 instead of 5, although they had the guard band between 4 and 5, and they converted hi bands to low bands. All of their initial systems were with three channels and they developed an AGC for each strip Amp that went on the line that helped them maintain signal levels. All of their systems (I can’t recall the exact years, but through 1955,) were, I think, the 3 strip design.
I went to my first cable convention in New York in 1953 and Entron, which was out of Maryland, was coming into the picture with a tube amplifier that would amplify just the low band. It had twelve tubes, what they called a distributed amplifier, where you feed the grids and take off the plates using delay lines and strings of tubes. And it took twelve tubes to amplify at 22-24dB gain, low band (Channels 2-6).
They made a big inroad into the business in the mid 1950s. I kind of took their lead, but instead of using twelve tubes, I used four. Mine was basically like a strip amplifier except we stagger tuned it and broadened it out to cover the full low band. It went up to a sharp cut off at 90 megahertz, (it was called megacycles at that time). There was just room enough in there to drop a couple of FM channels in just short of 90 megahertz. We built some equipment to convert, FM signals to 88-90 MHz. Nobody amplified the full FM band at that time.
Jerrold’s approach to getting five channels was quite different while we were going to adjacent low band channels. Well, everyone (especially Jerrold) said you couldn’t run adjacent channels. But some people, including Entron, said you could. Most of the TV sets didn’t have an adjacent channel trap or, if it did, it wasn’t even tuned. So the adjacent sound always affected the upper adjacent channel. To get by with that, we moved channel 2 down 1 megahertz, moved channel 6 up 1 megahertz, moved 4 up the same and got better separation between the channels. So instead of having the normal separation, it would be increased. We got by with that especially by moving 6 up and 5 down, getting into the guard band, 4 up, or maybe leave 5 where it was. You get five channels with very little adjacent channel interference and amplify the whole low band.
Jerrold came out with their K system. The first time I saw it was in Brady, Texas. At the headend, they would set up the individual channels 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 in strips. Before they mixed them, they’d take the 3 and the 5 and convert it to a sub-band. They’d call it sub-3, sub-5. Then out in the trunk system they would amplify the 2, 4, 6, like they normally did in the three-channel system. They’d also amplify the sub-channels, sub-3, and sub-5, with strips and then at distribution points, in big tin boxes, they would convert the sub-3 and sub-5 back up to regular 3 and 5 and run it to the homes. So at every distribution point they had to do this conversion. It was a very expensive process.
John Threadgill at Brady had this K system installed. He was just having all kinds of problems. We started replacing them with the little four-tube amplifiers, at $85 a lick. Those Jerrold installations were over $500 per station, and now it would cost at least $2,000 for that type of an amplifier. We took all the K systems out and just laid these little amplifiers in that big box. And had better pictures. He eventually changed out the whole system.
DUDLEY: Did you set out to design a full line of distribution equipment?
CAMPBELL: No. I just wanted to build an amplifier that would integrate with other equipment. We used four tubes with trunk input and trunk output and we used a splitter that gave us four lower level outputs that fed to the homes. It wasn’t until 1958, 1959 that I really got serious about manufacturing. When I sold the system in 1962, I went into full-time manufacturing. I guess it was 1958 or 1959 when we started doing the transistor amplifiers.
DUDLEY: But you did manufacture pretty much a full line of tube type equipment starting back in 1955, didn’t you?
CAMPBELL: We did some strip amplifiers that we used for FM, but I didn’t pretend to have a headend system. It was basically that amplifier until we started doing some transistor work and then we built, not a full line, but filled in niches where people had needs.
In 1962, I sold the cable system. The company, under the name of CAS Manufacturing, stayed in the same building. It was a building that I owned and I kept the manufacturing right there in Mineral Wells. I started working on other lines of equipment then with the thought of being in the manufacturing business. It was mostly all mail order. We’d design little brochures and mail them. We’d call on people in this area, but that was all. Then in 1963 I got the franchise in Austin.
DUDLEY: Let’s stay with 1958 for a minute because that is about the time that you introduced transistorized equipment.
CAMPBELL: 1958 is when we started working on it. The tube amplifier was successful to a point and I tried to replace the tubes with transistors. I tried to do the exact same thing with transistors. Texas Instruments had the first transistors that were really successful or usable. That was in 1958, 1959. They were germanium type transistors. Very sensitive to temperature, very low-power devices.
I was continually looking for new transistor devices. We specialized mostly in small cable systems, 12 cascade at the most, and I never did pretend that we could do anything beyond that with the tube amplifiers. We line powered the 24V DC and started experimenting with the amplifier. It was very simple because you didn’t even have to have a power supply in the amplifier. We started out at the headend and put a big power supply there, 24-28 volts, and ran about four or five amplifiers deep. We found out pretty soon we had to do some filtering because of the field induced AC.
DUDLEY: The what?
CAMPBELL: The AC field from the nearby power lines was induced into the cable and you’d end up with a AC ripple. So we had to filter it, just a little bit of filtering at every amplifier.
But the real reason that the DC didn’t work was electrolysis. With DC, any moisture in the cable or connectors caused the DC to feed across. I wasn’t that knowledgeable or experienced, but after we put it in place we found out that any place with a little bit of moisture or any place that there was an air gap, the DC would start flowing across, building up a carbon path and short circuit, or it would start arcing and create interference in the picture. So we gave that up after the first try and went to AC, 30 volts, and put power supplies in each amplifier.
DUDLEY: Then it is transistorized equipment that we are talking about?
DUDLEY: You started out with DC, feeding it out over the same line that the cable signal was riding on and that didn’t work. So you went to AC, but you were still sending that out over the same cable.
CAMPBELL: Yes. You could just go so far down the cable using 30 volts AC while actually using about 20 volts on the transistors. They were very low-current devices, so we were feeding about four amplifiers/cascade and then a power supply feeding four back. So you had eight amplifiers between power supply points and that was with a very low current. The transistors that came later that pulled more current, you couldn’t get as far, so you just went two amplifiers and fed two back. A lot of that was trial and error. I remember some of the first transistor amplifiers came from Canada, Benco. Remember the name Benco?
CAMPBELL: They had a small amplifier that was using a single transistor, separated by approximately 500 feet. Theirs was all DC and I know they ran into the same problems. Well, you’ve got a closed coax cable system, supposedly closed from moisture, but with just the slightest amount of moisture you start getting the electrolysis problem. With the DC traveling one direction, one polarity; with AC it was pretty well immune to electrolysis.
DUDLEY: Did you then develop a full line of transistorized equipment?
CAMPBELL: In Mineral Wells, we built about three different amplifiers. One we called the trunk amplifier.
Well, the way the industry evolved, Jerrold was always the leader. They always seemed to be good at coming in and taking the market because they had the marketing, the manufacturing, and the expertise.
However, in the early 1950s they gave up the K system pretty quickly and took up the Entron idea of shorter spacing and they came out with what they called the Cascader. It was a tube amplifier similar to what I was building. They would space it much shorter than the strip amplifiers, and they’d run five channels just like everyone did. I tried a transistorized version of this concept. We never met the specifications with the first transistors that you could do with tubes. By ’62, ’63, we were able to do it.
DUDLEY: Industry specifications?
CAMPBELL: Yes, or whatever the specs, they were pretty loose at that time. Up until 1963 or 1964, my experience had all been in just the low band. When I went to Austin, we knew we had to go at least twelve channels. And twelve channels was a big deal. In Austin, I bought the AMECO system which was the first all-band transistor amplifier – twelve channels. By then Jerrold had gone to twelve channels, but they were doing it with a distributive type amplifier which took, I think, sixteen tubes to get 20-22dB of spacing with tubes. Theirs was copied after the Spencer-Kennedy design which was a distributive amplifier that, I think, at one time was patented by Spencer-Kennedy.
DUDLEY: Tap offs. You designed and sold a line of tap offs, right?
CAMPBELL: We never did really market it. I designed or built a little tap real early in the business before I did the tube amplifier. But I never did market it. I tried it a little bit, but it was too expensive to build because I didn’t go into molds and so forth. I had a block machined that would clamp on the cable and made a tap that penetrated the cable. I made a patent search but didn’t pursue it further.
Entron got a patent on a device like that and, later on, Jerrold started making it. A patent suit against Jerrold by Entron went on for quite some time, but they finally ended up losing it because Jerrold did their tap slightly different. Then everybody made that tap.
DUDLEY: I recall pictures of one that you made that had a number of different fittings.
CAMPBELL: That came later. It was an aftermarket device that would go on any pressure tap. It would screw into the block and provide up to four outlets. This was 1965, 1966. I think we introduced it in 1966. Then the next generation of directional couplers took the place of things like that.
DUDLEY: My notes say that Mineral Wells and Middletown, New York, were locations for CAS Manufacturing. Did you have a plant in Middletown?
CAMPBELL: No. This is getting ahead of ourselves. In 1969, I sold the company, CAS Manufacturing, to AVNET, the Channel Master division of AVNET which is the Channel Master that you see at the trade shows now, that are into earth stations and so forth. They were big in antennas, home antennas, MATV. They had some plants in Taiwan. Anyway, I sold the company in 1969 and bought it back in 1971.
DUDLEY: I do want to get into that whole story later on about the companies. Did you ever manufacture or market cable?
CAMPBELL: Yes. You know, when you’re selling a cable system, you might just as well sell all of it. So we were jobbers for a lot of things; headends, taps, a number of things. If we didn’t have it in the line we would buy and put it into our own line. This happened from 1962 on while we were in Mineral Wells, before we moved to Irving. I had our name put on some of the cable. People manufactured cables that we bought and resold. Some of it was drop shipped from the plants in the east to wherever it was used.
DUDLEY: Back there in the 1950s (1955, 1957, 1958), were you developing and selling turnkey operations?
CAMPBELL: Not at that time. The amplifiers that we had were basically used along with existing equipment for end of the line things, to feed additional houses and things like that. Some small systems used them completely.
DUDLEY: In the 1950s, did Community Aerial Systems have any other systems than Mineral Wells?
CAMPBELL: No. I made several attempts to get involved with other systems. Austin was the first one I got directly involved in. That and Abilene, along about the same time in 1963, 1964.
A gentleman in Brownwood, Texas, which is over a hundred miles from the Dallas/Ft. Worth signals. No television at all, it was real deep fringe. If someone put up a tall antenna, they’d get maybe a useful picture at night or during the right weather conditions.
His name was Lindsey Dublin and he got the franchise in 1952 for Brownwood. He put up an antenna that was getting better pictures than a person could get on his own home antenna, but not much better. He wired a big portion of the main part of Brownwood. He bought RCA equipment and he used regular RG 11U cables. We went to the 1953 NCTA meeting together. I went down several times to try to help him technically to get his system working. It was kind of a turnkey deal and I don’t recall who did it for him, but he bought RCA equipment, strip amplifiers, high-level amplifiers using the RG 11U cables, single shields.
Two problems: if we turned the signal down too low, we couldn’t get it from amplifier to amplifier. If we turned up to the levels necessary to operate, we interfered with everybody else’s pictures who was trying to get their own. He never got the system to work technically. This was in 1953, latter part of 1953 and he just gave it up, pulled the system out.
I’d have tried to work with it, but he just one day on his own decided, called me and said, “I’ve turned it off and I’m tearing down the cable. Do you want some of it?” We went down and bought some of the cable they had rolled up, and reused it. It was three, four years later that Johnny Andrews got the franchise and built the system in Brownwood when the technology became better, and served it with a microwave feed.
The same thing happened in Kerrville, Texas. Probably a lot of people don’t even know it, but Philco built some cable television equipment. Did you know that?
DUDLEY: Did they actually build it or did they market Shapp’s, Jerrold’s?
CAMPBELL: No, they built their own equipment. Milt Shapp started using Philco distributors to sell master antenna equipment. Then when Shapp recognized where the cable industry was going, he started marketing direct to Cable Systems.
Philco designed a line of equipment and installed its first installation in Kerrville, Texas. The cable operator was a Ford dealer. I can see his name, but I can’t remember it. He owned the Ford dealership, had a lot of money. Philco and their engineers came down and installed the system for him in Kerrville, ran five or six miles of plant down into the main part of town, from a tower on a nearby hill.
Their concept was similar to Jerrold’s except they said, “We don’t want all this high level of signal with the radiation problems.” So they built a low-gain strip amplifier, with the three strips on the same chassis; channel 2, channel 4, channel 6, instead of having separate individual strips. Each low-level strip amplified one channel. And the cable spacing was approximately 1,200 feet. They never made the system work and pulled it out.
I went down to Kerrville after hearing about it and talked to the guy, but he had already given it up, pulled it out. I don’t think he ever paid Philco for it. He may have paid something down on it, but they came and took the whole system out. Their concept was, “We are going to let the headend and TV set do the AGCing, AGC the headend and let the TV set AGC handle the signal levels, and we won’t have this problem with cross modulation.” Well, they didn’t realize that the cross modulation from the high levels of signal was taking place in the amplifiers and not at the TV set, so the concept just didn’t work.
I think that a lot of the things that I have tried were foolish after you look at it from today’s point of view, but you didn’t know then and they didn’t know either. A lot of people didn’t know until they tried it.
DUDLEY: We are up now to about 1958. Up to that time what did you consider yourself? A designer? A cable operator? A businessman? A salesman?
CAMPBELL: I was trying to make a living.
DUDLEY: Primarily, what were you doing? The design work?
CAMPBELL: Well, I did all of it. I spent a lot of time on designing the amplifiers. I hired some engineers in Mineral Wells who had engineering degrees. But they didn’t have the experience that I had or the number of hours that I had put into it or the knowledge that I had acquired, so I didn’t get much help from them.
DUDLEY: And much of that was really developed with Mitchell Industries, right?
CAMPBELL: Some of it with him. A lot of it was cut and try and research. Like I said, I do a lot of self-study on any subject that I get into. I spent a lot of time researching the problem.
DUDLEY: Business, too? Business management?
CAMPBELL: No, not as much. Mostly in the electronics area, where it had something to do with technical problems.
End of Tape 1, Side B
DUDLEY: I think it would be good to tape a description of the components of a cable system from the antenna, the headend, to the back of the customer’s set. I know there are diagrams.
CAMPBELL: At what stage of the development?
DUDLEY: Let’s take it from the Mineral Wells point of view.
CAMPBELL: The Mineral Wells system was improvised piece-by-piece just to make it work.
DUDLEY: Was there a typical system structure with the old tube gear or with the transistorized gear?
CAMPBELL: Yes, there was. As I understand it, Jerrold had a basic layout the way that they designed the system, but I didn’t have their equipment. RCA had a similar design; a typical one was Brownwood that was abandoned.
One thing I didn’t mention. After the first go around with the TACO headend, I did buy a RCA headend, a three-channel system from RCA, and installed it as the headend. It was their modified apartment house system.
They used two strips for each channel and an AGC for each channel and then combined the outputs. I used various preamps or anything that was available. TACO had one, Jerrold had one, the apartment house versions. That made up the headend that we operated for four or five years. Because the RCA headend had AGC and was a strip, we took Channel 8 and converted it to Channel 2. Later when we went to five channels, we added Channel 3 out of Wichita Falls on 3, and then when Channel 11, the independent fourth came on the air, we put it on Channel 6. So we ran Channels 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. Two of them had to be converted. It was a five-channel system until I sold it in ’62.
DUDLEY: At the headend, we have the receiving antennas and amplifiers for the channels that we are receiving.
CAMPBELL: Preamplifiers that were usually mounted on the antenna.
DUDLEY: That’s just to get it down to the shack at the bottom and then run down the mountain?
CAMPBELL: Yes. Then a strip amplifier for each channel.
DUDLEY: Okay. So on a pole you would have an amplifier in what would look like a big mailbox, right?
CAMPBELL: The amplifiers that we bought, the TACO, were put in a box 2 ½ feet by 2 ½ feet square setting on the cross arms of a pole. We’d bring the cable in and match them down to RG 59U because they were RG 11U coming in. That was the connectors. Actually, we were using the C connectors in the early years until the F connectors came into use. Later all the equipment that I had or bought had the F connectors.
DUDLEY: At each one of those amplifier boxes you had to pay the power company to install power and had to pay for power using some formula?
CAMPBELL: At every amplifier location, yes. And they did it on an average per box because they were continuously on. Some of them were metered, some not.
DUDLEY: Were you paying pole rights from the very beginning?
DUDLEY: To Telco as well as to power companies?
CAMPBELL: I approached the telephone company and the power company. The telephone company, early on, came out and did a survey on the first four or five streets that we wanted to wire. This was before I had strung any wires – about mid-1951 – just after I got the franchise. They gave us a bid of $20,000 to clear about three miles of poles, which was completely out of the question. We didn’t have that kind of money.
In the area where we were planning to wire, the power company was usually on separate poles. So I elected to only go on the power company poles first. They had very little make-ready charges and a very small bond. It wasn’t until later, after they had been “burned” four or five years later, that they increased the bonds and the liability insurance.
I had the first contract with Texas Power and Light. I worked with some people in Dallas and got that worked out early on. It was in the summer of 1951. A Mr. Reeding from the power company came out from Dallas and did the field survey for Texas Power and Light. He said to me, “I’m sorry we have to charge you anything for the poles.” But he said, “You know what I think this will evolve into? I think in time, you will have created enough business for us using the electricity for television, by all this, that we will give you free poles.”
I’ve looked back at that statement several times. The power company never was as hard to work with as the telephone company. But I sometimes think of his statement since it evolved in an increase, from the original $1.00 per pole.
DUDLEY: Ray Schneider tells that in Williamsport, because of the good relations with the power company, that they frequently (the cable company) would set the poles because they were working with a non-union two- or three-man crew, whereas the power company had union crews.
CAMPBELL: Yes, we had that type of thing. A power company estimator would look at a pole and say, “You know, we ought to change that pole anyway.”
And they would change it. I paid nothing for years with the power company, and we didn’t have a contract for four years with the telephone company.
One day they just came by and said, “Look you are on so many poles. We want a contract.” I said, “Bring it to me and I’ll sign it.” I was in that position, I guess – it was five years later. We tried to stay on power poles, but occasionally we hit one of their poles. Sometimes no one knew who owned the pole. We were on a hundred telephone poles, or something like that, when we signed a contract.
DUDLEY: We’ve used the letters AGC. Would you define that?
CAMPBELL: That’s automatic gain control, which would keep a constant RF signal on the output, regardless, with a varying input. If it dropped too low, you’d end up with a fade and you’d lose the picture into snow, but it would keep a constant output per channel, or fairly constant.
DUDLEY: The AGC controls in the early systems were not really that automatic were they?
CAMPBELL: On the headend they were pretty good because the technology came from other equipment; all kinds of AGCs, TV sets, what not. It would lock on to the carrier and would give a fairly constant output within 2 or 3dB, and at that time that was good. Later on, when you started going into adjacent channels, you couldn’t tolerate that.
DUDLEY: We also talked about cascading. Could you give us a definition of cascading?
CAMPBELL: That ought to be easy. It has always been hard for me to explain to a novice. In repeating the signal when you amplify it once and you go through a length of cable, say 2,000 feet or 1,500 feet, then you amplify it again. I don’t know where that term came from. But that is a cascade: a repeated succession of amplifiers.
DUDLEY: So it’s the amplification of a signal that previously has been amplified basically on the same …
CAMPBELL: On the same basis and then reamplified on the same basis. To offset the cable loss was the only purpose of it.
DUDLEY: That’s the loss over the trunk line, but also the loss of each one of the taps into the home.
CAMPBELL: Yes, but on those you don’t repeat. I mean the feeder lines, you don’t repeat those. The cascade is on the trunk line, on the main trunk line.
DUDLEY: In addition to attaching the wires to the customer’s house, did you put the installation in the house so that they could put it right up to the set?
CAMPBELL: Yes, we went directly to the TV set.
DUDLEY: Next I ‘d like to take a look at the chronology of the company, starting in 1951 with Community Aerial System, which is still in existence.
CAMPBELL: Yes, the system is still there. I sold it to Bob Magness and one of his partners in 1962. They continued with the name because it was an established name, Community Aerial System. But, you know, it’s under TCI.
DUDLEY: Then in 1955, as an off-shoot of Community Aerial Systems is CAS, CAS Manufacturing.
CAMPBELL: It was the same company. I just used that abbreviation of the Community Aerial System. We were working out of the same books, the same people, and even the same building. I built equipment before this, but really didn’t market it or sell it to any extent until about 1954, 1955. As for the amplifiers, I sold some of them, just amplifiers, back in 1953, but we billed them out as Community Aerial System.
DUDLEY: I want to skip over Austin now because I want to spend some major time on that. How did CAS then evolve into TOCOM?
CAMPBELL: When I sold Austin, I was living in Austin with my family. We lived there exactly one year. We decided not to move back to Mineral Wells, but that was where the plant was. I decided to move to the Dallas area. I came to this area and spent some time finding a spot, then moved my family to Irving in 1964 for the school term in September. I started locating here, continuing with the manufacturing in Mineral Wells. I’d go over a couple of days a week. We built a building on the edge of Irving, down by Texas Stadium; however, this was before Texas Stadium was built. We moved CAS Manufacturing to Irving in the spring of 1965.
When I first moved to Irving, I located a five acre site that I contracted to buy. However, I wasn’t able to get the utility companies to give me service on a reasonable time frame, so I relocated approximately one quarter mile away in an Industrial Park. I bought the five acre tract anyway because it was such a bargain. That site is now the playing field of Texas Stadium.
DUDLEY: Am I correct, before it became TOCOM, it went through a sale and then you bought it back?
DUDLEY: Would you explain that?
CAMPBELL: Shortly after I moved to Irving, I incorporated the company during its first year of operation. In 1969, I was approached by Channel Master, a division of AVNET. We merged the company into AVNET, or sold it in a stock swap.
DUDLEY: That’s A-V-N-E-T?
CAMPBELL: Right. They’re on the New York Stock Exchange listed now as Hamilton-AVNET. They are a large electronics distributor. They still own Channel Master, which is a division of AVNET. They simply wanted to get into cable television.
I had seen by 1968, 1969 that the industry was beginning to grow. There were a lot of big companies beginning to move into it, looking to the future because everyone was talking about the “wired nation.” I had decided that it was better for a smaller company to expand by becoming a part of a bigger company for the capital necessary to expand.
We closed the deal sometime in 1969 and started operating as a division of AVNET. They were really interested in expanding their Channel Master division. I was working with a fellow by the name of Syl Hurlehey. He still heads that division. I saw him two years ago at the (NCTA) convention.
They were willing to develop a line of equipment. They established a R&D lab in Middletown, New York. I spent a week up there, maybe once a month, until we got it established. They brought in engineers who worked for them in Taiwan and some Japanese engineers because they had a lab and a facility in Tokyo, and started developing full lines of equipment.
They were putting quite a bit of money into the company and one day they woke up and saw what was happening to the economy. They didn’t want to be another failure such as LTV. Simon Shibe, who was then president of AVNET, made a decision that any division that wasn’t making money then, had no future with them and would be sold or shut down. We were in that category. No more funding and so forth.
As part of the sale to AVNET, we had an incentive plan whereby if we reached certain goals, we got additional stock. With this shut-down in funding, that was not obtainable. We had done a number of things: they had spent money; we had doubled our building size; we bought a lot of equipment; we had built about six cable systems, Athens, Texas, four systems down in Louisiana, one up in Oklahoma.
I made a deal with AVNET to give them their stock back and some cash, and I bought the company back. I borrowed on the cable systems to pay them off. So it was 1971, after a year and half to two years, we were back as an independent company.
DUDLEY: Now was it then Total Communications, TOCOM?
CAMPBELL: No. We were a stronger company with a better product line and a number of things and we decided to go public. So on June 30, 1972, we made our first public offering, and the name change took place as that was being prepared. The brokerage people said, “You know, you would be better off with a different name.” We had already developed the TOCOM or the Total Communications concept, so we named the company TOCOM, Inc., mainly for the public image and the public offering.
DUDLEY: You were president and CEO?
DUDLEY: And that continued for how long? Until the sale to General Instruments?
DUDLEY: When was that?
CAMPBELL: In June of 1984.
DUDLEY: Could we go back now and talk about Austin?
CAMPBELL: Yes. Okay.
DUDLEY: What got you interested in Austin, Texas?
CAMPBELL: I sold the Community Aerial System in Mineral Wells in 1962 to Bob Magness, and he had a partner who came in and ran it. Then later it became a part of TCI. I owned the building that we occupied so we stayed in the building and leased the cable company part of the building. That’s where manufacturing was, in a large commercial building in Mineral Wells. I had wanted to get into some more cable systems with a partner of mine, Tom Creighton, who lives in Mineral Wells. He’s an attorney and he later became a state senator. He was a county attorney at the time. He became interested in cable and helped me with deals. We merged with several opposing groups down in Abilene and took a minority interest in a franchise application in Abilene in 1962, 1963.
Austin was one of the largest cities in the country suitable for cable, but did not have a cable franchise granted until that time. I’m not sure about my dates but, as I recall, it was 1957 when there was an initial effort to establish a cable franchise in Austin. A number of big companies, such as Charlie Sammons, made a try at it. I can’t remember all those companies, but Midwest Video out of Little Rock that owned Bryan, College Station, and a number of good cable towns was an applicant. To protect the market, L.B.J. Company, which owned the TV station there, also applied for a franchise. Midwest Video and L.B.J. Company signed an agreement to merge their efforts. Midwest Video, as Capital Cable (the merged company), would continue to proceed in obtaining the franchise with the L.B.J. Company having an option to buy half interest at such time that the system came into existence.
Then the franchise activity was killed. The City didn’t grant a franchise. I’m sure that was politically motivated because the Johnson family owned the only VHF station in Austin. For five years it sat in that dormant state while cable franchises were being granted in much less desirable towns across the country.
At that time, relying strictly on off-air signals and maybe a microwave relay station to bring in signals, it was one of the most desirable franchises in the country, or THE most desirable, because there were 52,000 people, one station, and it was at least 85 miles to the next two closest stations. The L.B.J. station, Channel 7, was a “cherry picker.” You had to put up a 75-80 foot tower to get anything out of San Antonio, then it was just barely a useful picture.
So, as I said, in 1957 the franchise was laid to rest and it didn’t come up again until the early part of 1963. The owners of the local newspaper applied for the franchise in, probably, the latter part of 1962, and then everyone came in, a lot of people.
Capital Cable renewed its interest in the franchise. This is strictly my opinion, but Mr. Johnson had become vice-president and he no longer had the power that he did as Senator. New management in the family owned newspaper decided to take on L.B.J. It was the first time he had been bucked in that area in a long time, even with radio stations. It opened up for a lot of other applicants, and I just monitored the action.
Tom Creighton, whom I mentioned earlier, was in the State Senate at that time and I’d go down and visit him. Through one of the law firms there, we monitored the situation very closely. It’s unbelievable the way the thing worked out, just unbelievable. This is the latter part of 1963. The franchise fight had gone on all summer long.
Under all kinds of pressure and objections, the council granted Capital Cable the franchise. Then you might say, the shit hit the fan. The newspaper jumped all over them. First it was the local paper, then it was picked up all over the country. Mr. Johnson was still vice-president. The city council was under such pressure that they said, “Yes, if somebody else wants a franchise, we’ll grant one and you can compete.”
Supposedly Capital Cable had a contract with the telephone company. It wasn’t signed, but they said they had a contract. So the newspaper owners said, “We won’t take a franchise because if they’ve got the contract with the telephone company, we can’t compete.”
So, I saw the window and through the contacts I had with the law firm, which was very close to the city attorney at the time, we submitted a one-page letter applying for a franchise. Went to the council meeting and nobody knew me except the city attorney. When they opened the meeting, the first person to talk was this gentlemen, Mr. Brown, representing the telephone company. He was recognized first. He said, “We have re-thought our position and we will sign a contract with anybody the city will.” (The city owned the power company poles so it was a City Power Company and the Bell Telephone Company.) The city said, “We’ll give anybody space on the poles just to satisfy the opposition.” Mr. Brown said, “We have reconsidered and we will do just the same as the city; we will grant anybody a contract that has a franchise.
I got up and submitted the letter. I didn’t even read the letter; the city attorney read it, and the city council voted me a franchise. They didn’t even know who I was. The letter gave my background in that I had CAS Manufacturing and had been in the business ten to twelve years and so forth. They voted to give me the franchise and had a special meeting two days later and officially awarded the franchise. I signed a contract with the telephone company in two days and then it was off to the races.
DUDLEY: So the motivation here was not to take on a biggie such as Capital Cable. The motivation was because Austin was such a lucrative market in which to develop cable?
CAMPBELL: I thought they’re going to move slowly and I could move fast. I came up with the idea to use the intracity microwave. I was involved in the microwave system, the West Texas Microwave, which came through Mineral Wells. So I was pretty well versed in microwave. I was familiar with Collins equipment and its capability. I had talked to them about available equipment. South Austin, where we could put the first tower, was a city in itself of 15,000 to 20,000 located on the back side of a hill.
In relation to San Antonio, if Capital Cable was going to wire Austin, they’d come across from another direction. They wouldn’t go to South Austin. So I reasoned, “I can start with a cable system in South Austin.”
I was pretty young at that time, 35 years old, and I could move fast. I had the cable on the ground in a week, and I was on the poles as soon as they let me. Within two weeks we were stringing wire. I signed an agreement with Collins to deliver the five channels of microwave. We picked up three signals at San Marcos, relayed them into South Austin, inserted the educational and the local channel there, and microwaved out to four hubs.
DUDLEY: That was the intracity link?
DUDLEY: It seems to me another unique feature of that system was the intracity microwave where you actually developed five separate cable modules.
CAMPBELL: Yes. The first site was the hub in the center of South Austin. We fed that part out of that headend. Then we relayed to a place in Northwest Austin and Northeast Austin. We had four sites, but we just developed three.
DUDLEY: Where did that concept come from? Was it from necessity, in order to save cost?
CAMPBELL: It was just a means of getting signals point-to-point without having to run cables which involved more time and problems of cascading long trunk lines. That was quite a distance from South Austin to North Austin, about ten miles. Basically, each one was a city. We used the same concept to take signals from the Aledo pick-up site, to Mineral Wells, to Breckenridge. There’s no real difference. When we split the signal coming out, we had to divide power. We’re looking at six-, eight-mile hops, and Collins had no problem designing the system that I wanted. It was all tube equipment and it worked. It took continual maintenance, but it worked fairly well.
DUDLEY: So within a year you had 300 miles of cable and a little over 3,000 subscribers.
CAMPBELL: Yes, 300 miles and a little over 3,000 subscribers.
DUDLEY: That’s kind of phenomenal for that time in the history of cable, isn’t it?
CAMPBELL: Well, maybe putting up that much cable. We used self-support on the feeder lines. If I were going to do it again on a long haul, I wouldn’t have used that. We had to get cable in place and people hooked up. We used a new Phelps Dodge trunk cable system. It was a cable that they had developed with an aluminum sheath. We had a lot of problems with it. This is where I used the AMECO trunk amplifiers, and built a line extender that we used. We built that in Mineral Wells, but the trunk amplifiers I bought from AMECO. The headend systems were all at the microwave sites.
DUDLEY: What size company did you have at that time?
CAMPBELL: When I sold it, we had spent upwards to $2 million.
DUDLEY: And you had an engineering force, a sales force, and an installation force?
CAMPBELL: Oh, yes, we had a big staff. We were running 18-20 trucks just on construction and installation because we did all our own construction and installation.
DUDLEY: The official name of that company was TV Cable of Austin?
CAMPBELL: Yes. Incorporated.
DUDLEY: And you still owned CAS at this time?
CAMPBELL: Yes, as a separate company.
DUDLEY: I want to get back to financing in a minute, but in competition with Capital Cable, they had an advantage because of the FCC blackout rule, theoretically. Would you want to elaborate on that a bit now?
CAMPBELL: At that time the FCC had no control over what signals you imported as long as you had a way of getting it there. So they would grant a microwave license if you’d agree to non-duplication of some sort. Then we had to protect the local station, Channel 7, our competition. And that is where all the heat came from later on. You had to agree, when you got the microwave license, that you would do non-duplication, that you would not repeat the local channel if they asked you to protect them. They had to give you a schedule of when they’d air a certain program, and if that programming was on an import channel, we would have to black it out. They were cherry picking, which made it more difficult.
DUDLEY: Cherry picking means?
CAMPBELL: Cherry picking means that they were taking from all three networks. I think they’d use basically CBS, I don’t remember now, but they’d use some NBC, some ABC. Their prime time ran to 11 p.m., so their 10 o’clock news came at 11 p.m. That way they could tape, and repeat another hour of prime time from ABC or NBC. But to get the license we agreed to non-duplications and still it bogged down. I couldn’t get anywhere. Jack Cole was the firm of …
DUDLEY: Jack Cole?
CAMPBELL: Jack Cole now has his own firm, but he was in another firm at the time and he represented me on the microwave application. He was really gutsy. He represented me regardless of what the political situation was. Normally at that time, you could apply for a microwave permit and, if everything was in order, you’d get it in very short order. We got through all the technical problems very quickly, but the FCC just wouldn’t grant a permit. We came up on a very key date required by the franchise. I went into the city council to make a status report. They’d asked us to make periodic reports and I told them that for some reason the FCC wouldn’t grant the franchise and I felt it was undue political pressure. Jimmy Banks who was with the Dallas Morning News was there. He talked to me later about it and he wrote an article that appeared in the Dallas Morning News and was picked up all over the country. In just a few days, we had the permit.
DUDLEY: So all during that first year, then, when you were building and signing up subscribers, you had to delete some programming.
CAMPBELL: Yes, we set up a clock system. When the restricted program was on, we’d put a slide in that said the program had to be blacked out. See it on Channel 7. We had all the programming because they (Channel 7) were showing it, but it was a nuisance to the subscriber. And sometimes we had problems with the switching equipment and the timing didn’t take place just right and that was an inconvenience to the subscriber. If he was sitting there on Channel 4 watching a program, and he was going to watch the next one, and all of a sudden, wham, it said, “you can’t watch this program until an hour later on Channel 7” – that was an inconvenience to the subscriber.
DUDLEY: In addition to the programming on the cable system, you had to watch the entire program schedule of Channel 7.
CAMPBELL: Yes, we set the timer on a daily basis. Our Plant Supervisor, who lived nearby, went every morning to the headend and programmed the whole day. And that’s the way it ran that day.
End of Tape 2, Side A
DUDLEY: With the Austin cable situation, it would seem that the L.B.J. Company had just about everything going for it. They had financing, they didn’t have the blackout rule. But you moved in, built the cable system, and offered the service. Essentially during that year, they didn’t do much in the way of cable development, did they?
CAMPBELL: No. No, I got a feeling that maybe they weren’t going to do anything. I was operating. When I first started working with the city and went in to get maps from the city, pole line maps, I met a young fellow by the name of Herb Jackson. He was the head draftsman and design engineer for the city of Austin and we became friends. I hired him part-time to help lay out the plant. Well, he had drawn every map that the city had. He knew the city. He didn’t even have to go out on the site because he knew every pole, every location, everything. So, we were very quick to do the design.
I also had an “in” later on. Capital Cable came in, got maps of certain areas, and sent them up to Jerrold. Jerrold designed the system for them, sent them back, and Capital Cable applied them to the poles. That took months. Well, I knew which areas they were interested in, I had the inside track, and I would apply for those poles. I had the poles all tied up and Capital Cable couldn’t get on them. I knew that there wasn’t room for two cable systems on most of the poles, probably wouldn’t be enough room for one without extensive work. This was one reason why I thought I had the battle on pole rights won. I knew that all the time. It’s not whether you have the contract, but if you occupy the space. In some cases we put up strand and miles of cable to capture the pole space. It was ruled locally that if you occupied that space first, it was your space. Even though neither one had completed permits.
DUDLEY: Now, that’s part of the franchising agreement?
CAMPBELL: Not really, but that’s the way the local people were ruling. Whoever had possession of the pole had the rights to that pole and the other one had to take the next position down or up, which usually wasn’t available. It was barely available for one cable system.
I thought for a while that they were not going to build. But all of a sudden they started building and later on I found out the circumstances about that. They forced the city council to call a special meeting, kind of a hearing, stating that if one cable company was on the poles, they could build a bracket horizontal to put the second cable horizontal to the first. And that is what got them into the market. You see, I knew they were coming from a certain point, down the hill, off the tower, and across the river. They had to come up to get into this area. I had all those poles, but they forced the bracket solution.
DUDLEY: Capital Cable?
CAMPBELL: Yes. Very few of the brackets were used. That was their way to get access to the poles.
DUDLEY: Did you take the initiative to go out and try and buy that company?
CAMPBELL: No. When I got the franchise, a very good friend, Bob Gibbins, who was in the legislature, was working for Capital Cable. George Morrell was President of Capital Cable. George sent Bob to talk to me immediately and arranged a meeting with him. The very night I got the franchise, I sat down in a meeting with George Morrell. He offered me a lot of different things that we could do together. I guess I wasn’t as smart as I should have been, maybe at that time I should have made some kind of deal, but I didn’t. I was personally bitter towards the local situation.
Later on, as it heated up, I had contacts from the L.B.J. side through people who knew me, and who knew them, to sit down and talk. I guess that would have been smart, but we never explored it. As this thing heated up, through the first part of the spring of 1964, I had a number of overtures from their company to talk. Do you want to talk about some of the financing?
CAMPBELL: This is involved. We had applied for a $300,000 loan from an SBIC in Galveston.
CAMPBELL: SBIC, Small Business Investment Corporation. We had been told it had been approved and closing was just a formality. Now, this was prior to the assassination (of John F. Kennedy). Then the SBIC board met formally and turned down the request. The guy who was handling it was dumbfounded, but he told us that there was pressure from somewhere. They just wouldn’t get involved. The SBIC would allow, say, $100,000-$150,000 per venture, so the Houston SBIC had gone to a group in New Orleans to participate with them. It had already been approved in New Orleans.
DUDLEY: This is Royal Street Investment?
CAMPBELL: Royal Street Investment. When it was turned down in Galveston, Royal Street Investment understood why it was turned down. They said, “We are not going to be intimidated by the vice-president.” They put together another SBIC group and made us the loan. This all happened before the assassination.
They advanced the $300,000 to build out the system. You could build a lot of cable system then compared to what you could do for that kind of money today. They advanced the funds on the basis that it was a good investment. I think they had a 25 percent equity option or a warrant to buy 25 percent of the stock in TV Cable of Austin, Inc. We went on about our business of wiring the best we could.
I had financed a number of things. I had financed the microwave system with Collins; I had financed a lot of the wire with different people; I had financed the amplifiers with AMECO on a lease arrangement.
So, with all the credit plus the new investment, we were able to build a lot of the cable system. Then we began to bog down; you know, run out of funds again. At this point we are getting into the first of 1964. He (Lyndon Johnson) has been president now for several months. They are looking toward the election in November 1964. They made some point-blank offers to us, or at least to me, to try to resolve or to merge to stop the competitive situation.
Tom Creighton, Robert Humphreys, with Royal Street Investment, and I went to Little Rock to meet with George Morrell and his principals. Mr. Hamilton Moses was a real gentleman. He was former head of Arkansas Power and Light. He was the law partner of a senator from Arkansas at that time, his name escapes me. We went there for a meeting. When we first sat down, Mr. Moses, a very congenial gentleman, told us he was ready to retire, but he told us how he’d put together Arkansas Power and Light. It had been through mergers such as this. This was a situation of two companies, either a power company or a telephone company, or cable and it just wasn’t good business to compete in the same market place.
He said, “We’ve got to put a stop to the competitive situation and work together.” This was Mr. Hamilton’s position. And I said, “If that’s your position, there shouldn’t be two cable systems built in the same town, why did you do a competitive overbuild after I already had our system basically built in a large part of Austin?”
He said, “Well,” and pointed to one of L.B.J.’s attorneys, “they told me if we would put pressure and go ahead and build a system, they could cut off your financing anywhere you went, and they didn’t hold up their end of the bargain. You got your financing and you built the cable system, and now we’ve got to resolve it.”
We sat down that night with his board of directors that came in for a meeting of the Midwest Video group. We met all of the principals involved. Mr. Moses assured us, on the side, that we had a deal. We had agreed on a dollar figure of what they would pay for our system. Our banker from New Orleans had told us, “We want to make a deal. We want out.”
DUDLEY: This is Royal Street?
CAMPBELL: Royal Street. So that night we came to terms with Mr. Moses. He said, “I’ll talk to my board this evening and in the morning we’ll have a deal.” We met him for breakfast and when everybody was seated, Mr. Moses said, “Here’s what the deal is.” And it was exactly half of what he had said it would be. I looked at Creighton and Humphreys and someone said, “Let’s go talk.”
We had already checked out of the hotel, had our bags at the checkout desk. We didn’t have much to say. This was the worst, rawest deal we’ve ever seen. He just set us up that night and then came back and offered us half. We picked up our bags, called a cab, and went to the airport. Didn’t even go back to the meeting.
About three or four days later, George Morrell called Tom Creighton. He said, “Tom, where did you go?” Tom said, “You embarrassed us. It was just ridiculous.” He said, “Come back and meet again.” I was asked not to go to the next meeting. Tom called me several times from the meeting. Finally there’s a deal. Royal Street said, “We are going to make the deal.” It was a good deal. But I thought the real values on the cable systems were not established at that time, but we signed, or Tom signed for me. Both parties signed a letter of intent that day and with the stipulation that we would not make any news releases until after the election in November.
Everybody (the media) was crawling all over Austin following the JFK assassination. Time magazine people were in there. The Wall Street Journal people were in there practically on a weekly basis. And I had met with Mark Mollenhoff with The Wall Street Journal the day they were negotiating and I told him we had been to Little Rock. But I said, “I can’t release a story.” About fifteen minutes after Tom Creighton’s call telling me of the deal, The Wall Street Journal fellow was back. So I said, “Look, what I told you has to be in confidence.” And he said, “Don’t worry about that.”
The next morning on the front page of The Wall Street Journal was, “L.B.J.’s Company Buys; Washington Sources Tell Us This.” I didn’t tell him the details of it, but just that we had made a deal and that no information would be released until November.
At the same time, Frank Dennis, an attorney for the L.B.J. group, went to the City Council meeting that morning and gave a progress report on Capital Cable, what they were doing, where they were building, and so forth. And he didn’t know anything about the Journal article. When he got back to his office, they tell me, he heard this, so he ran back down to the city council and tried to explain, telling them, “Yes, we made a deal, but you know …,” on and on. And all that was in stories. But I wouldn’t take interviews because I was told not to. That was part of the deal.
DUDLEY: So what really forced the sale was Royal Street saying they wanted out, they wanted to sell.
CAMPBELL: They wanted out and they wouldn’t participate any further in lending, in making any more loans. They wanted to take their profit and get out. The SBIC group is regulated through the Small Business Administration. They had pressure. They told us as much. They told me even the days when their attorneys went to Washington, who they saw and a number of things. I learned that through some people who were in the attorneys’ office. A secretary there told some friends of mine what really took place.
DUDLEY: So the door on financing was essentially closed after Royal Street decided they wanted out.
CAMPBELL: Royal Street was only looking at it from a business standpoint. A merger was in order. I thought at one time Capital Cable never build. And then at that first meeting, Mr. Moses told me why they went ahead. They came in right after us and built the competing cable system and shared the customers.
DUDLEY: Now the press at that time said that you really didn’t want to sell. You really wanted to stay in the cable business. Was that because you could see the future developments?
CAMPBELL: Yes. The City has doubled in size. Right now they have a cable system of 60,000 to 70,000 subscribers. Then with 52,000 homes, if we got 50 percent penetration, we could have had 30,000 subscribers back in 1964 – 1965.
DUDLEY: Was it financially a success for you?
DUDLEY: I’ve got the name of Charles Herring of Austin.
CAMPBELL: Charles Herring was in the state Senate. His law firm represented TV Cable of Austin me while I was there. They took a minority interest as their fee. We never paid them any money.
DUDLEY: I want to take a brief aside here because a couple of times so far in the interview you have said that you’re not a good businessman.
CAMPBELL: I don’t think I said that exactly. I never did try to be a businessman.
DUDLEY: This 1981 article about TOCOM says, “He’s a brilliant electronics mind and a shrewd businessman.” Another article earlier back in 1976 said, “He’s one of the most imaginative guys in the business.”
CAMPBELL: That last statement was by Bill Daniels.
DUDLEY: There must have been a great, a good business sense behind just about everything you did to get in on the ground floor and within a year put together not only a technical system but the whole business operation to put Austin on the air.
CAMPBELL: Well, I think I have a good feel of what is going, of what’s coming, and what’s future. I hired management to do the organization and so forth. I’ve always done that. I’ve always had a manager in TOCOM. Mike Corboy, who is still with the company, has been there ten years. I think I’ve had the ideas that were good and timely.
The same in Abilene. I just knew what was going to be a good venture. We got into it, Tom Creighton and I. I think we were 12 1/2 percent interest holder together in the Abilene system, and we ended up selling our interest with very little investment and a good profit. Any of the cable starts of any size was a good investment for years and years until we got down to the big city and the urban areas.
DUDLEY: So you look at yourself as an engineer who also could see where the cable business was going and you hired the kind of business people to carry it forward.
CAMPBELL: I’ve always made the business decisions. I’ve never thought of myself particularly as an engineer because I don’t have a formal education, engineering background, but I’ve understood the industry that I worked in. I understood the problems and could find the solutions. As the technology advanced, I would see the basic concepts of what the “black box” would do and the engineering staff usually made it work. As time went along, the technology in transistors and chips left me behind, but I’ve understood the concept of what the “black box” should do. I’ve always felt I’ve had a knack for knowing how to make something economically. I have some sort of insight. Anybody in the cable business knew that Austin would be a good franchise if it could be developed, and every franchise I got into was good. You just had to have the ability to get a franchise and develop it. That didn’t carry over into the big city franchises.
DUDLEY: Did you get into other franchises after Austin?
CAMPBELL: We developed a number of franchises when I was involved with AVNET. Those down in Louisiana and in Athens, Texas, and in Henryetta, Oklahoma. I also had an interest in one in Jacksboro and Bowie, Texas with Tom Creighton. My son Ben grew up in the business and started building some cable systems; then he started doing the franchising. He and I did a number of franchises up around Wichita Falls, Texas: Burkburnett, Vernon, Seymour, Electra.
DUDLEY: This was family involvement.
CAMPBELL: This was family. This came about in the mid to late 1970’s.
DUDLEY: Were you using your own equipment or buying whatever you had to?
CAMPBELL: No, we used the TOCOM equipment mostly. They were mostly TOCOM systems.
DUDLEY: But you don’t own any of those anymore?
CAMPBELL: No, we’ve sold all our interest.
DUDLEY: When did you get out of ownership, owner, operator?
CAMPBELL: We sold the systems about two or three years ago. They were all finally closed out about two years ago.
DUDLEY: Let’s get into another area. I’m not putting TOCOM aside except that I can see that it’s going to be a bigger piece than what I’ve got room for here on this tape. Let’s talk a bit about positions and awards and associations. 1960 co-founder of the Texas Cable TV Association, right?
CAMPBELL: Let me give you a little background on that. Other than 1953, when I went to New York to the second NCTA meeting, the first CATV meeting that I attended was in Dallas. Following that first NCTA meeting that I went to, Wholesale Electronics, a wholesale house in Dallas, got interested in cable and knew of the four or five franchises in Texas that were granted and were being built. They asked us to come in for a little meeting so that everyone could get together. I knew all the people involved. Wholesale Electronics and its principals invited us to a luncheon in Dallas.
Attending was Brown Walker from Graham, Ray Barnes from Palestine, Lindsey Dublin from Brownwood, and Merle Fraiser from Tyler. Merle started the system in Tyler and later sold it to Glenn Flinn. That group owned it for years. Wholesale Electronics could see cable as a future possibility because they were TACO distributors, they had lines of wire. They were trying to develop some business. We had a session, maybe a couple hours, lunch, and then a couple hours afterward. Nothing ever developed from it as far as an organization, but it was the first cable group to meet in Texas that I know of. One of the Wholesale Electronics principals (John Ludam) today still runs the Company and is on the State Senate.
Let me give you the flavor of Brown Walker. I told you he was a character. Brown started wiring Graham in the latter part of 1951 or 1952. He didn’t get it started earlier, like I did, because I put up a small tower and just started wiring. He had a problem getting the signal, so he was delayed months and months before he started building a cable system.
Anyway, he told us he had the same problem with the telephone company. They wanted a $20,000 bond and all these poles cleaned up. So he set his own poles in the alleys. He set little small 20-foot poles, Class C-7 I think, which weren’t over three inches in diameter at the top, five inches at the bottom. When he made a drop to a house, it would pull the pole over a little bit, you know the long drop across the alley to the house. He said, “I don’t let that bother me. I just go across the street, make a deal, pull it back up, and I’ve got me another customer on the other side of the street.” He was talking about how well these poles were standing up. So that’s Brown Walker, and that’s the way he did business. I’ll never forget a lot of his expressions.
DUDLEY: Anyway, the Mineral Wells deal, when was that meeting? 1960, Mineral Wells.
CAMPBELL: 1960. We had met, I guess, the year before. The people involved in that were Ben Conroy, who had started the system at Uvalde; Jack Crosby; and Jack Threadgill from Brady. I don’t think Brown Walker came to that meeting. Johnny Mankin, who was the manager of Tyler.
We met in Dallas with the thought of organizing a Texas cable association. I offered to host the first meeting in Mineral Wells at the old Baker Hotel, which was a resort/hotel. I think probably a hundred operators or so attended, some from Oklahoma or people who had franchises. Maybe seventy-five to one hundred people who were either getting into the business or were in the business.
DUDLEY: What was the focus of the Texas Cable Television Association?
CAMPBELL: Initially, probably the biggest thing was telephone pole problems with the telephone company. That was the major concern, I think, other than getting together and swapping stories. Bill Dalton, then head of NCTA, was there.
DUDLEY: Political? Technical? Business? Financing?
CAMPBELL: At that time the FCC hadn’t really intervened in any way. Things were cropping up, but the major thing was pole line agreements. And then, naturally, the suppliers showed up at those meetings. They didn’t have a display show at the first one. The next year we went to Amarillo and then to Laredo. Then we started to have the meetings in Dallas at the Marriott on Stemmons and for about eight, ten years running, we had them at that same hotel every year. Most of the time I handled and arranged the convention, exhibits and so forth, with Johnny Mankin.
DUDLEY: You were a director and an officer for eight years of the association?
DUDLEY: You also served on the NCTA board, is that right?
CAMPBELL: I served as the associates’ director. They were allowed one seat on the board and it was by informal meetings that someone would be elected each year.
DUDLEY: Can you explain who the associates are?
CAMPBELL: The associates were the manufacturers, the group of suppliers to the industry. I served two years.
DUDLEY: You have had some comments about the involvement of the NCTA in the development of equipment.
CAMPBELL: I think I did later on. While I was on the board, I pushed to get a staff engineer. A lot of us felt the industry should help in the development and some type of standardization, at least not leaving everything to the manufacturers. The NCTA did hire a staff engineer. I was disappointed through the years that all the development was left up to the manufacturers. There was no standardization. By more support from the NCTA, there could have been standardization. Jerrold was the dominant manufacturer then and they were not really in favor of standardization because they wanted to set the standards themselves. I can understand that. So, you had to follow their lead or your equipment wouldn’t work along with theirs. They never were strong leaders as far as development. They were successful “followers” is what I think you call them.
But I always thought that some help should have come from the cable operators, especially the larger cable operators. But it was left up to the manufacturers to develop and sell. The cable operators’ position had always been getting the best deal for the best price and never really contributing. The fact is, the cable operators themselves never really contributed to the technical development of the industry.
DUDLEY: When were you on the NCTA board? Late 1960s?
CAMPBELL: 1960s, yes.
DUDLEY: In 1976, you were given the John Mankin award by the Texas CATV Association. What was the significance of that?
CAMPBELL: Johnny Mankin was the executive secretary of the association. He helped form the association. He was the manager at Tyler. He was the only person who stayed on the board for any period of time. It was a volunteer job for a number of years and later on it was a paid position through the early 1980s. The Texas board created an award each year to recognize someone in the Texas cable industry for their contribution to the industry. That’s called the Johnny Mankin Award.
DUDLEY: And that was voted by the membership?
CAMPBELL: For a number of years, the prior recipients would pick the next one. Later it was done mostly by the board. I was involved for a number of years. Each year I could recommend someone. Then it is a matter of getting support for them. But the final say, I guess, was left with the board.
DUDLEY: Stepping back a few years, in 1972, you were inducted into the CATV Pioneers.
DUDLEY: What is the significance of that?
CAMPBELL: Oh, I don’t know. Just the fact that I’ve been around so long, I guess. The Pioneer Club was organized by Stan Searle, who was the publisher of TVC, the magazine. He got the idea, put together the first meeting and organized the Cable TV Pioneers. I don’t know who picked the first ones. It was basically people who had been on the board, in the inner circle of the NCTA, the group elected themselves to be the first Pioneers. They are the ones who happened to be there and known to be active, I think, more in NCTA than anything. I was told several years after it was organized that my name came up every time, but somebody else was a little more popular, or something like that. A lot of the early Pioneers came into the business in the late 1950’s. But it is immaterial to me. I think it’s a good organization. It gives us time to get together once a year, have a ball, and get drunk together.
DUDLEY: But there is some significance now with the Museum.
CAMPBELL: Very much so. The Pioneers are supporting the Museum and that’s really good for the industry. Other than that, it was more of a social meeting. Each year a few new members have been brought in.
End of Tape 2, Side B
DUDLEY: Let’s pick up with the development of CAS and TOCOM. We’ve gone through the sale to AVNET and then your repurchase of it. Tell us a bit about the basic concept behind TOCOM.
CAMPBELL: Okay. While we were a division of AVNET, Syl Hurlehy said, “We’ve got to figure a way to be big in cable television. We want to be prominent. We want to be a big company in the business. Why don’t you sit down with your people and come up with a concept stating where you think the industry is going and what’s the future, and we will put the money into it to make it happen. I’ll take it to the AVNET board and we’ll get the approval.” This was in 1970, several months before the national convention. This is just before the interactive, the first two-way stuff started to surface. The big push in franchising then, for some of the major markets were going to develop two-way services and other good things to get the franchises. That was the first big go-around in franchising.
So we came up with a concept allowing that the television set is twelve channels besides the UHF. The industry was running out of channels, so we looked at midband and the use of converters.
Our concept at TOCOM was: whatever happened in the home is going to happen at the TV set. We envisioned that the first thing that would be viable in the home, other than available channels, was pay television. I had observed the experiment in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, and the experiment in Palm Springs early in the early 1950s on Pay TV and the conclusion of practically everyone was that it would have to be on a pay-as-you-go basis. They were coming up with all kinds of coin boxes where you drop coins in or you bought tickets and put them in. All of these were just interim steps. First, take the converter, it would be a box that would control the pay-per-view and that could reasonably be handled on a two-way basis which was the trend, the way of thinking. The two-way concept would upstream on everything below channel 2 and downstream to the home on everything else.
DUDLEY: You better explain what upstream means. Upstream coming up from?
CAMPBELL: Upstream, downstream, all the channels, all the information from the headend site to the home would go on 50 megahertz and up. In the two-way service, anything coming from the home back to the headend site would be on the lower frequency from five or six megahertz to 40 megahertz given a guard band between channel 2 and the data channels coming back.
I hired a computer consultant to help us develop the concept of a system with computer interface. First, we would develop what we call the transmitter/receiver device to receive the signal coming down, telling the box what to do, then send a signal back on the low frequency, to respond. Once that communication was established for pay-per-view television, it could be used for other things that you would piggyback. Pay-per-view would be utilized just a few seconds a day. The next viable thing would be, perhaps, home security and the various other services from the home rating services, polling to watch what the viewers are watching. All the different services we proposed at that time would be piggybacked once the pay-per-view communication was established.
So that concept was put on paper. It was submitted to AVNET. Syl was saying, “You should go ahead, get something together for the show about how you are planning to do it, the concept and so forth.” We were getting that ready when AVNET decided they weren’t going to spend any more money. We had already put together a display. We called it the Total Communication System or the TOCOM System. This was in 1970. We called it the TOCOM System, but the company was still CAS Manufacturing, a Division of AVNET.
What we had at the NCTA convention in 1970 was just a mock-up of how the system was going to work. After the turn down by AVNET, we knew we weren’t going to have any funds. The thing went on hold for a while. When we put it together, we applied for some patents. But we really didn’t do anything until I bought the company back. Part of our hype, or promotion, in TOCOM going public was that some of the funds from the public were going to be used to develop the system. All of the major cable operators, TelePrompTer out in San Francisco and the big cities, to get a franchise, were hyping these things. They were telling the cities that they would put in a pilot system, would prove it, and then would expand it. I liked it. It didn’t matter how quickly that was going to come, but I thought it would be big business for us if we could get two, three or four locations in a test area. Just as a test site, 10-mile plants. When we went public, part of the proceeds went to develop the system.
We did put in a small system here in Irving with our first public offering funds. We had some lines run with interactive service to several homes. We were going to do just about a three-mile plant as an experimental deal, but it never did develop. The C. H. Leavell Company out of El Paso which came in and bought that subsidiary from us. They were going to do it as a experiment because they wanted to get into cable. And they helped run that experiment for about a year, actually funded it, then the downturn – no franchises, no money.
DUDLEY: This was a general downturn in the economy?
CAMPBELL: In the economy. Most of the franchises that were granted in the big cities at that time weren’t built because they really didn’t have anything to sell until the bird went up and Home Box Office started. There were a lot of stand-alone systems. There were video tapes. There were a number of places where they were doing pay television by channel. But the next big surge didn’t happen until the late 1970s.
DUDLEY: I’ve got a note here about TOCOM baseband. Was that important in the development of your system?
CAMPBELL: Not the original system. We didn’t have a single customer in the CATV industry for a system we had developed. It was a crude system, but it worked. It had interactive service installed for security. And they worked. We weren’t using the pay-per-view aspect. We used that only for security. Our customers came from the planned communities developed under a HUD-sponsored grant.
DUDLEY: This is under the New Cities Act of 1970?
CAMPBELL: This was Title 7 or whatever title. There were thirteen planned communities approved by HUD and funding took place in various degrees. We had practically every one of them signed up for a TOCOM system. Las Colinas, here in Irving, which we installed later, was an interactive system. Under the HUD project, we installed the one in Houston and one in Little Rock, Arkansas. Oh, we installed a number of computers in different systems. That was our bread and butter for a number of years with the TOCOM System.
DUDLEY: Would you explain specifically what this security system is? What its components are? What it’s designed to do?
CAMPBELL: The first converter boxes had interactive components. They were capable of doing pay-per-view, but it was also capable of doing security where it was interfaced back through the cable to report alarm systems from a panel in the home. We used those boxes in the first couple of systems. From that evolved a home security box, a panel placed somewhere in the closet that reported security alarms over the cable. Then later we put a phone dialer in it so that they could use telephone lines or cable.
In the franchising activities in the late 1970s, practically every one of the applicants had the TOCOM System specified. We sold some 60, 70 odd computers to be installed in those systems, but very few were activated because once they got the franchise and started building, the emphasis was getting subscribers. So many of them didn’t fulfill their franchising obligation on the security system.
DUDLEY: The computer then at the headend of that new town cable system was there to get the feedback coming from the home, from a burglar alarm or smoke detector or other such security devices and automatically trigger some device at the headend to say, “We have a problem”.
CAMPBELL: Usually on a printout. You’d get an alarm, and it was monitored and they’d get a printout. The demographics were in the computer. It would print out the name, address and what type of alarm it was. In The Woodlands System in Houston, we also set up a system to monitor the television channels being watched. We did that for a number of years and I think they are still doing it. We could tell when they changed the channel, what channel they tuned to and for what period of time. Then they got a readout of a given night. A rating service.
But you asked earlier about baseband. That came later. It was announced in 1980 with the 55 Plus System, which was a TOCOM System that everyone wanted. People say these things haven’t worked out, we don’t see any two-way interactive systems. I have always had reservations on how fast interactive services were going to develop, but our customers wanted equipment that did all these good things and we tried to oblige.
When Warner put their system in Columbus with all the publicity of the Qube System and then when they got the franchise in Pittsburgh on the basis of the Qube system, they were going to run eighty channels, they were going to have all these things available on two-way services.
The people at Sammons were preparing to bid on the Dallas franchise and they came to us and said, “How do we out-Qube Qube in a franchise war?”
I remember having a dinner meeting about it. I said, “Years ago we spent a lot of money trying to develop a two-way system and never had a customer in the business. We said we would do it if we had some up-front money and it wouldn’t be exclusive. But any information we developed would be proprietary. So everybody came to us.”
A number of Big Operators were going to bid Dallas. Four of them separately agreed to put up $200,000 each, and we raised $800,000. We developed the 55 Plus System and this is where the baseband evolved.
We had been working with the Wall Street Journal and had developed a terminal for them to put in their experimental systems. They went into a number of cable systems where they would use interactive service for people with home computers. These were completely separate from the television set. It was a terminal they’d put in the home tied to a home computer. They could call up from our terminal to talk to the headend and then go into their phone network and get the information and bring it back over the cable to the receiver, usually a dedicated television set.
That experience led us to the concept of the 55 PLUS System. It was a baseband receiver which converted TV channels down to baseband and then back to channels 3 or 4. While it was at baseband, you could substitute any other type of video information.
In the 55 Plus, we built a character generator that would generate characters so then you could even superimpose it on the picture or replace the screen. It required baseband to do something like that. The baseband provided a better means of scrambling, while you were at baseband and also unscrambling at baseband and then modulated to channel 3 or 4.
It opened up a lot of possibilities that could be done with the terminal in the home. Depending on how much smarts the little box had, you could put anything you want on the screen, giving the possibility of using the vertical interval of every channel for a text channel. So it was feasible on every channel to have a text channel. At least a thousand pages of information could be brought up on command. The Plus addition to 55 channels.
That’s what everybody started bidding. Cox integrated it with their system. They were developing their own system but they used our prototypes to demonstrate the system. A number of franchises were awarded with the 55 Plus System.
CAMPBELL: Fort Worth. The Cox one is in Kansas City, I think. But it was bid into a number of other systems. Some of them were offering the security system, but there were very few franchise applications at that time that did not refer to TOCOM as the security system.
DUDLEY: But very few were actually installed.
CAMPBELL: That’s right. None of the real 55 PLUS were every utilized once they got the franchise.
In Fort Worth, for instance, Sammons got the franchise and elected not to ever use the text. We built two boxes, one with the capability and one without. All of the follow on boxes we developed did not have the text capability.
CAMPBELL: Security was a big business and we sold a lot of equipment. But now the big part of the business is a version of the 55 Plus, called the 5503, which is a scaled-down version of a baseband converter that does pay-per-view and other things. It doesn’t have the two-way capability.
DUDLEY: So, you went to great heights with a big interactive system that could do many things which was sold …
CAMPBELL: … to the cities …
DUDLEY: … by the people who wanted the franchise in the cities and some of those companies that got the franchises then bought the equipment, but few of them really went through with what they had agreed to in the franchise?
CAMPBELL: That’s right. I’d say we sold and delivered seventy some odd computers to various franchises. Basically, it was just the security computer that was never used. And we delivered several of the big do-it-all computers that weren’t really utilized.
DUDLEY: Those things just went off somewhere in a warehouse?
CAMPBELL: They were used for other things.
DUDLEY: You mentioned applying for patents. You were awarded a number of patents. Could you tell us about your patent activities, what you have patents on, and then a bit about Warner.
CAMPBELL: The interactive patents, the two-way patents, we got in 1976. They were applied for back in 1970, 1971. That was basically an interactive patent as applied to cable television using the upstream, and the digital communications. Actually, one of the engineers from Warner came down when we installed The Woodlands system, probably in 1973.
DUDLEY: This is The Woodlands, Texas?
CAMPBELL: The Woodlands, Texas. This system was the largest one using interactive services and it’s where we’ve been doing the rating service for a number of years. Like everyone else, this engineer was shown the complete system. We thought he was a potential customer. We showed him how we did everything, how it all worked. That system was actually operating at the time.
The next thing we heard from Warner was that Pioneer was building them the Qube system. We waited, bided our time, and when they got the franchises in Houston, then here in Farmers Branch, and Mesquite, and were proposing an interactive two-way system for Dallas, we filed suit on the patent infringement. And we spent many dollars fighting that. After the franchising died down, we could see nothing but more money spent. We just couldn’t afford it. That was basically the main reason. We just couldn’t afford the litigation, so we settled.
DUDLEY: But within the industry, there was also some feeling that Warner was saying that they had developed a system which basically was using the technology that you had patented. Is that correct?
CAMPBELL: From the time we filed the patent and received the patent, the technology had advanced tremendously. We were not using the technology that was patented. This patent business is a tough row to hoe if you’ve got something. We licensed one company from Oregon in the security business, and for a while they paid us some royalties. And then we settled with Warner and the Oregon company quit paying us because we had settled with Warner for no consideration.
But more than the patent, Warner came in and basically copied the system’s every feature: security, pay-per-view, everything the system supported. The Qube system was identical except for a remote box. It provided the same identical functions. There’s no question that they utilized the information from us to develop their system.
DUDLEY: Back in the late 1970s, early 1980s, it seems that TOCOM went to great lengths to try to make the interactive systems work. Was the Dayton, Ohio, system an example?
DUDLEY: Instead of selling a system you actually went in and contracted to run the system?
CAMPBELL: In Dayton, VIACOM was required in the franchise to do some form of interactive services. So we tried to sell them a system first. We ended up with an arrangement whereby we would install a system and they would provide a space for a two-way that we would operate. So we just evolved in the business.
That system is still operating. Actually, I guess, it’s making a little money now, just as a security system. They’ve got some 2,500 or so subscribers. About 80 percent of them are on two-way cable and some are on dialers; those that are not in the cable areas. But that was purely security, nothing but security. We got into it just to help prove out the two-way services. We finally got a lot of mileage. Our interest was to at least break even, which I think we eventually did.
DUDLEY: TOCOM had a rather elaborate scheme of sales, service, benchmarks that a company should reach in so many weeks.
DUDLEY: Can you explain a bit more about that, the business?
CAMPBELL: We made that work ourselves. When Sammons got Highland Park, a city within Dallas of about 15,000-20,000 people, they bid the TOCOM system. With them we formed a separate company. We were partners with them, but we ran it. When they installed the cable system, they provided the two-way services. We worked out of their office and did the security.
That company was not in the red one single month. It was in the black from the very beginning. The security was so presold by all the franchising activity that all you had to do was go knock on a door and make a sale. We called it Park Cities Security System.
The theory behind this is if you get into a big market and you get 20 or 30 percent penetration, you don’t have any expense on the cable lines, so you don’t have any installation expense. If, for example, you sold an installation for $500 or $800 to the homeowner, you’d make a little money off that. Then you immediately had $15 a month for monitoring service. So the main capital outlay was at the headend site for the computer and that was very small.
Installation crews made the installation, salespeople made their commission, we got referrals from the cable salesmen, they were paid a small referral fee. Next, the security sales people would go in after the cable system had been put in, and they had no problem getting into the homes. If done properly and separately, that’s why this sales system package that we had was so successful.
The problem was that it was a separate entity. It was always the stepchild for the cable, their main interest was to get the people on the cable.
Jim Smith was with us for a long time. When he left the company, he started a company just doing security systems. His company followed up on a lot of the franchises and got contracts on several, such as Irving. They contracted to fulfill that part of the franchise. They never did put it on the cable system in Irving. It was all on telephone lines there. Although from Day One the Irving system was supposed to be a two-way interactive system, to my knowledge they never fired up the return path of the cable.
DUDLEY: With most of the cable systems that are now installed and with the amount of rebuild that is going on in recent years, are most of the basic systems in the homes now capable of interactive cable?
CAMPBELL: All cable operations are building that equipment into their specifications: the splitters, the taps, everything allowed for communications down to four or five megahertz. So the capability is there. There just never has been the incentive to fire them up. All the amplifier equipment was designed with a place for the return modules. Everything had to meet those specs. The cable operators have just not seen that it was a viable business venture, when their big emphasis was to get the downstream basic service subscribers.
DUDLEY: How important do you think the liability question has been?
CAMPBELL: On security?
CAMPBELL: It’s been a very moot point. In Dayton, I think we had maybe one lawsuit and it was settled. You get them to sign a release. Gross negligence is where you can really get stuck. Everybody thinks it’s a problem, but it really hasn’t been. In Highland Park, I don’t think there was ever a lawsuit instituted for false alarms or for alarms not working. The people in the security business are faced with that every day. When you’re using the telephone, if something happens and it doesn’t sound the alarm are they liable?
DUDLEY: The reason for the question now is that the whole litigation concept of liability has been carried far beyond what it ever was in the past. I just wondered if that has been or is a deterrent.
CAMPBELL: I think everybody looked at it, but it eventually became a secondary problem.
DUDLEY: So TOCOM was sold to General Instrument or became a subsidiary?
CAMPBELL: It was sold. It merged.
DUDLEY: And that was when?
CAMPBELL: June 1984.
DUDLEY: At what point did you cease active management of TOCOM?
CAMPBELL: I have a five-year consulting contract. I maintain an office there. What work I do is mostly in patents. We’ve applied for a number of patents that haven’t been issued yet. That was part of the sale arrangement.
DUDLEY: But as far as active management, presidency, chairman of the board?
DUDLEY: Which direction is TOCOM currently going?
CAMPBELL: From everything I hear, they’ve had some big months, some $8-$10 million months which we were never able to achieve before and it’s been basically on the subscriber/converter equipment, although the plant in Matamoros, Mexico is producing other things for Jerrold now. They are starting to build some of the headend equipment in Irving. They’re consolidating some of the repair departments from the central part of the country and some of the plants from Canada are moving into the Irving plant.
DUDLEY: So the TOCOM and Jerrold facilities are now being integrated into General Instrument?
CAMPBELL: Some of them are, yes.
DUDLEY: I would like to try to wrap up TOCOM. Anything more that is important about the company that we haven’t touched on? When you say $8-$10 million dollar months, this is in manufacturing and sale of the converter unit that sits on top of the TV set?
CAMPBELL: Yes. They got the Dallas order to replace the Qube system and they’re still supplying Fort Worth and a number of new customers in big systems. This has come about by the financial ability and the backing General Instrument has given TOCOM. It gives TOCOM credibility with the customer. Once an MSO is committed to a TOCOM system, it can’t change as the system is not compatible with others. It was learned early in the business that a company had to know that you were going to be around to service your products. This is the problem that Oaks is having now.
DUDLEY: TOCOM’s customers are really cable system operators? MSOs?
DUDLEY: And that could be a choice of a Scientific Atlanta or a TOCOM converter or any other brand that might be able to do the same thing?
CAMPBELL: Yes. Or Jerrold.
DUDLEY: Accessed by any kind of a computer?
CAMPBELL: No. They’d have to use the TOCOM program and the headend because baseband is uniquely different from the RF systems. We are putting the information in the vertical interval so every converter in the system must be a TOCOM vintage.
DUDLEY: So it is a total system concept.
DUDLEY: The large amount of income is from selling those individual converters.
CAMPBELL: The biggest volume is in the individual converters.
End of Tape 3, Side A
DUDLEY: It’s always interesting to know about the friends and acquaintances that you’ve made throughout your thirty plus years in the business. Could you tell us about some of them?
CAMPBELL: I mentioned earlier that the first man I met in the business was Brown Walker at Graham. And I told you some background about him. He sold Graham, I think, in about 1960 and went to Roswell, New Mexico where he built a cable system. When he sold that he retired to Mexico. I haven’t seen him for three or four years but he’s down at Keno Bay, Mexico. Brown is probably ten years older than I am. I was 23 when I started in the business, so I was a little younger than most people involved in cable at that time.
The other gentleman whom I met early in the business was Ray Barnes from Palestine. Ray, like Brown Walker, was in the jukebox business. He got the franchise in Palestine. I met him early on when we had the first Texas meeting and, I think, he came to Mineral Wells. I also sold him a lot of our first tube amplifier equipment. He sold Palestine. He was actually middle aged then, and, to the best of my knowledge, is retired.
One early operator was Merle Fraiser who started the Tyler system, got the franchise, and then brought in Glenn Flinn and his partner before he really got the system started. The last time I heard from Merle, he was building a system in Cloudcroft, New Mexico.
John Mankin managed a variety store in Tyler, I think it was a Ben Franklin chain, when he started with the cable company as the manager. He was manager there for some ten, fifteen or twenty years. He died two or three years ago.
Larry Boggs. I knew Larry when he started Vumore in Ardmore, Oklahoma. He came to Mineral Wells when I started and I visited him once in Ardmore. He was working for a theater chain. A number of the theater chains looked at television cable real early. A few of them got into it and Larry was one of them. He died in the mid-1950s. He was really a pioneer in the cable industry, and the NCTA Larry Boggs Award was created honoring him.
DUDLEY: They were looking at it as a way to not lose audience from the theater?
CAMPBELL: Yes. They looked at Cable TV as a real threat in the smaller towns where they had theaters. They were involved in the Pay TV experiment in Bartlesville since they owned the theaters there.
Other people who come to mind include Tom Creighton who was the attorney I first hired in Mineral Wells to represent me. We’re still friends. He has interests in cable systems in Jacksboro, Bowie, and Possum Kingdom, Texas now.
Ben Conroy. I first met Ben about the time, or slightly before, we formed the Texas association. He and Jack Crosby. Jack owned the Del Rio system originally. Ben Conroy built the one at Uvalde. They later teamed up in various ventures. Jack was also one of the minority partners in Abilene and ended up buying everybody out; or his group did.
DUDLEY: Did you sell them equipment?
CAMPBELL: Sold them (Abilene) a line extender that we built in 1963, 1964. I didn’t have a full line. They used a distributed tube amplifier and our transistor amplifier for line extenders.
Herb Jackson, who I touched on earlier. Herb was working for the city of Austin when I met him. He worked for me part-time for a while, moonlighting. Then when we got started, he went full-time as construction supervisor and supervised building the system and the installation. When I sold out in Austin, he came with me and when we started here in Dallas, we did turn-keys and he ran the turn-key group. After several years, I sold him our equipment and he has continued to this day in the construction business. He lives in Austin.
Ken Durant didn’t follow the cable industry when we sold out in Mineral Wells, but he was instrumental in helping me in the early years. He didn’t have a technical background. He was out of the electric power company business, but he was a good construction man. Like I say, he had a minority interest in the Mineral Wells company when we sold it.
I guess everybody gets back to Bill Daniels if they’ve been in the business. I first saw Bill at my first meeting in New York City in 1953. Bill and the Schneiders had put together the microwave system using AT&T facilities to microwave the signals into Casper, Wyoming. They did that in 1952, 1953. It was maybe sometime in 1951 when they started. I just remember this very vividly: Listening to Bill at this early meeting. In one seminar he was talking about pole lines, the microwave and so forth. I’ve often said, “You know, I was there when Bill Daniels stood up and said, _I’d like to join the association._” He prides himself as having been in the business a long time. I guess Bill has done more in the industry and promoted the industry more than anyone else. He has been out of it a time or two, but he always came back. He’s been a good friend. He brokered into the Mineral Wells system when I sold it.
I guess one of my favorite people in the industry is Mike Corboy, who I brought in. He is now president of TOCOM. He came with me about twelve years ago, when I brought him in as president. He didn’t know anything about cable but he was intrigued with it. He was instrumental in raising the funds through the years through public offerings and so forth. He has never been as visible in the association as he has been in the financial end of the cable industry. We still play a few rounds of golf.
Frank Thompson. I guess everybody knows Frank. I met him when we were together on the board. So glib and so smart. One time he just piped off, got himself in a lot of trouble in a board meeting, and I said, “Frank, I wish I had your abilities. I would use them a lot better.” Frank would just talk himself into trouble when he was younger. But, I think a lot of Frank.
Stan Searle and his brother Bob. I first met Stan when he went to work for Bob Cooper who organized and founded a magazine called TV Horizons. I still have some of the magazines. There was another called DX Horizons, for people who watched television as a hobby. If they had a television set and a big antenna, they would log different channels all around the country that they had picked up on skip weather conditions. Just like amateur radio operators. They’d take Polaroid pictures of the screen to show they’d picked up somebody in Montana. They’d pick up Houston in certain conditions, certain times. These magazines were founded by Bob Cooper in about 1961, 1962, somewhere in that time frame. I don’t think I had ever met Stan, but I had talked to him on the phone. Anyway, they were putting out TV Horizons and it covered cable TV and translators. The publishers didn’t realize that these were two very competitive industries that didn’t like each other at all. It’s a fact that people in the cable industry didn’t want to have anything to do with anybody in the translator business. For that reason, the magazine wasn’t being very successful. Anyway, as I understand it, a fire destroyed the TV Horizons and Bob Cooper bowed out of it. Stan Searle was trying to put things together to publish a new first issue of the magazine. I think he called it TV Communications. He called and asked me to place an ad and would I mind paying for it in advance. I did, and paid for it in advance. He got a number of suppliers to do the same thing and he came out with that publication. Pat Pogue, I guess, helped him finance some of it. He and Stan still own some cable systems.
I know a lot of people but these are the ones who come to mind as having some impact on my life in Cable TV.
DUDLEY: I’d like to go on to some other topics, then. We’ve talked about how cable has matured from one kind of service to another. Now, with the many different tiers of service available, with home dishes, VCRs, and scrambling of signals, where do you think the cable industry is going?
CAMPBELL: I haven’t given it too much thought since our merger (with General Instrument) because I haven’t been that active. But I think the big markets are going to turn around. I have some doubt that cable will ever be used on an interactive two-way basis. But it could be. Everyone says they had a lot of problems with noise in the upstream, but we successfully operated several systems that were constructed properly. The system in Dayton operated for a number of years. The problems weren’t in the two-way interactive service. If there was a problem, it was in selling the services. I don’t know, after being burned twice.
CAMPBELL: Twice in the interactive two-way business. In 1972, not being successful, and then again the early 1980s, when it wasn’t acceptable. I doubt that it will ever be used as a communications device. Maybe when we run out of space for everything else. Telephone may be able to produce interactive programs because of different techniques being developed to better utilize the small spectrum of the telephone line. Nobody ever spent much money on two-way. The Dual Cable system here in Irving has the capability of 110 channels. What a waste!
DUDLEY: It currently has that capability.
CAMPBELL: Yes. Two fifty-five channel systems. They are using probably thirty channels, but they are still maintaining two cables. Our involvement was promoting a single cable system. That’s why I didn’t get the franchise here. I was convinced it could be done on one cable and the expense of that second cable would have to be passed on some time to the subscriber. I have not given it much thought in the last two years.
The biggest neglect in the major market right now is in the multiple housing units. All the technology, the converters and so forth, is based on individual homes. There is no good way to service the apartment complexes. The cable operator doesn’t want to put a $100-$125 converter in each apartment and then find that the person moves every two or three months. Too many converters are lost that way. We filed for a patent that was issued several years ago, about 1976, that had to do with an off-premises multi-converter system similar to the Times Fiber system. We have a patent on that at TOCOM, but we never built it. I think that the type of system in which converters are grouped off-premises is going to be the answer to multi-family units. The very simplest of gadgets in the house will tune the TV.
DUDLEY: Maybe a key pad of some kind?
CAMPBELL: A key pad or something. Tenants could take them or throw them away. Like a $5 computer. It’s essential to have absolute control on program accessibility in these apartment complexes. If you have to go to the complex, turn on the system, put in a box, and then the tenants leave in three months, it’s not cost-effective. If you market and get pretty good penetration, but in six months you’ve lost it, you have to remarket. But if tenants can’t get television at all, and they have to call a number, and its turned on by computer, then you keep them as customers. If they know the ground rules.
The other problem is the cable-ready TV sets. Everything built now will tune thirty-six or more channels. The picture quality on existing cable ready sets isn’t as good as with a converter, but it’s acceptable. If we take a converter to a cable operator and he tests it, he observes that it will meet specs. But if we took the tuner out of the TV set and packaged it as a converter, it would never meet the specs at this point in time. That’s why we’ve never been able to use a tuner that is used in a TV set in a converter. Because it won’t meet the specs. But the homeowner will accept it, if it is in his TV set with even a poor picture.
A lot of people buy remote tuners, and that’s a big problem. When a cable system is installed, they are no longer useful. A lot of the cable operators are being criticized for making people buy the remotes. It’s not fair when these people don’t understand the technology. It would be nice if a TV set were developed that would tune only channel 3. But that is a problem of putting a converter in the home that will let people still use the TV remote device. At TOCOM, they’re doing some things in that area. But we haven’t been able to find a completely satisfactory solution.
DUDLEY: Will modular TV sets, such as those now made by Sony and RCA, improve the situation.
CAMPBELL: The ideal situation would be modular TV where you have an output that’s baseband and an input to the TV set that goes directly to the channel. You could build a device that would do the descrambling the cheapest. But there are few sets built and used that way. While most sets are cable-ready, most don’t have video outputs. They’re not modular. Having to face up to the cable-ready TV sets is the biggest problem facing the designers right now. That and the multi-family dwelling units.
DUDLEY: There is some feeling among the people we’ve talked with in the cable industry that service to customers is a primary concern. It seems to have been overlooked in the past.
CAMPBELL: I think it’s been overlooked in the big markets where people took on more subscribers than they could handle. They just don’t have the personnel to handle it. I don’t think that was true with the smaller cable systems where maybe a technician services a thousand subscribers. Now, I think, a technician has to service 10,000 subscribers. I don’t know if that’s the exact ratio, but there just aren’t enough trained people.
When the building started here in the Dallas area, people who had never built a cable system were getting contracts to build systems. The guy who installed my set didn’t know anything about it. He just knew where to run the wires and so forth. He has no idea about the service or anything to do with it.
I blame the cable operators, the MSOs. They really haven’t supported schools such as Penn State. Texas A&M had a CATV installer class for a number of years, but it just existed. Didn’t have enough students or enough support for years and years. I got involved several years back with the Texas Association before the Texas A&M thing. One of the training schools here wanted to open up a CATV branch and train cable technicians and tried to get some support for it. They just couldn’t get much interest. It seems that’s just too far in the future, maybe a year from now, but the Cable Operator wanted somebody now.
That’s like the same thing you asked about earlier. From the MSO point of view, I don’t think that the operator had adequately supported the industry in technical training or in design. And I think it’s coming back to haunt them.
DUDLEY: So that’s not going to be solved in days or weeks. What kind of recommendation would you make to students about getting a useful education in this technological society?
CAMPBELL: There are some good home study courses available. Stan Searle’s group published some, I don’t know if they’re still available.
DUDLEY: I’m not sure.
CAMPBELL: The thing about the home study courses, and I’ve done a number of them, is that the information is there just like it might be prepared for a classroom, but the individual has to have the desire, the drive, and the incentive to do it himself. It can be done. But very few people have the ability to do that. They get bogged down and then they lose interest. If they are going to school, they may miss some things, but they get something if they keep going. But in a home study course, a guy has to apply himself on his own time and he has to be disciplined enough to do it.
DUDLEY: Some of these courses now use video and audio cassettes for the instruction, which uses a medium of your profession to instruct you.
Maybe that’s going to be more successful for pacing people.
DUDLEY: I think you’re right about the industry. With the channel capacity, it could be used to train technical people within a community. The industry probably hasn’t, as you’ve said, really explored the possibilities for training people to work in the industry.
CAMPBELL: I think we are all too shortsighted in looking at what is going to happen tomorrow, not next year. And that guides a lot of our thinking.
DUDLEY: From a radio store owner/operator, you’ve been through many different phases of telecommunications. Would you suggest to students in high school and college that they look for more liberal arts type education and pick up the technical training in other ways, such as home study? Or would you suggest they look for good technical training?
CAMPBELL: I think as soon as possible you should decide what you want to do in a given area. Then there’s no substitute for a fundamental education. You need that for even home study. It’s an amazing thing in the cable industry; I’ve seen successful people who were not technically oriented at all when they started. It has developed a lot now. I’m not talking about repairing these computer control boxes. But early in the industry, it’s amazing what people learned by experience. It’s amazing how a little bit of self study helped. Again, like Brown Walker, he learned the business by doing, what worked and what didn’t work.
I saw John Threadgill, who was a watchmaker at a jewelry store, get into the cable business. He was well versed in the technical problems of the industry, just by doing. And he was middle aged when he started. His son is still in the business; got an engineering degree and it helped him tremendously.
Kyle Moore is one person I didn’t mention before. Kyle and my son Ben helped found the CATA group, the Community Antenna Television Association. Kyle was in the jewelry business in a little town in Oklahoma when he discovered cable television. He started putting in cable systems in his home community. He learned all of it by doing. There is no substitute for on-the-job training. Theory is fine, but if you don’t put it to use, you’ll forget it. I’m sure that you saw that in your experience with the business.
DUDLEY: You’ve said you’ve not really paid that much attention to programming for cable.
CAMPBELL: In the last few years, I haven’t.
DUDLEY: That seems to be the name of the game now in cable: programming, variety of programming.
CAMPBELL: From what I can see, the whole business of the cable industry is paid movies. If it weren’t for that, we wouldn’t have cable in a number of cities. It’s Showtime and it’s Home Box Office, the two basic programs that we’ve got. I just don’t think the industry is solving the programming problem. I don’t know the problems. I’m not directly involved with programming. I don’t know how many people are on Home Box Office now, but it’s multi-millions.
But when you look at a week’s programming, and then look at the video store, the people are going to the video store. If they buy videos and don’t use Home Box Office, something is wrong. I don’t know what the solution is. I think that cable television is going to be the ultimate survivor. I have never rented a video to bring home to watch, but certainly a lot of people do. I’ve got more programming now than I can watch. I did take one pay-per-view fight one night. I called the cable company and said to turn on my fight channel for one night.
To me, video tapes take time, like operating a music system. If you have to change the cassettes every morning, or go get them, eventually you’ll not do it. I think that is what is wrong with renting video tapes. It’s the problem of getting them and bringing them home. It’s nice to view them when you want to. That’s a real plus. I just think that cable, once in place with no additional cost, is the best delivery system over the long haul. It’s the best delivery system available. There’s no question about that, in my mind.
DUDLEY: Now with the addressable units in the house and channel capacity …
CAMPBELL: You have the capacity and you will have the addressability, the pay-per-view type aspect. We go through these cycles in any business. I think the future of cable television is good. There is no question in my mind that it is going to be the surviving delivery system.
I had some reservations back in the mid-1950s, thinking maybe UHF would be the thing. Every city would have a UHF station, but it never happened. As the cable industry has grown, I’ve had confidence that it’s going to be the ultimate delivery system. And I was wrong in some respects. I didn’t think people would buy and rent the tapes as much as they have. So, Showtime and Home Box Office needs to develop better programming.
DUDLEY: You don’t think the home earth stations are going to amount to much in the future?
CAMPBELL: With the scrambling, it’s so expensive. Maybe the next version, where they will be using high-power, smaller dishes and all this new stuff. But cable is so established, it has such a large percentage of the homes. It would be hard for some other delivery system to come in and take the market.
DUDLEY: So home dishes are mainly going to be a rural type delivery system where people can buy a dish and a descrambling unit?
CAMPBELL: Yes, I think so, because it is more expensive per home. It’s cheaper to do by cable in a big community than it is by each individual dish unless the costs come down greatly. I’ve always thought cable had so much more capabilities with the possibility of two-way and other features. There is no way at this point it can be done on satellite.
End of Tape 3, Side B
DUDLEY: If you could do it over again, what would you do differently?
CAMPBELL: I would have dwelled more on the operator end, the ownership, of cable systems. I’ve always recognized that as being the more profitable part of the business. But my desire, my likes, and my interests in the equipment and the designing was overpowering at the time.
When I sold out at Austin and moved the plant here, I had the financial ability to bring the company up and be a bigger factor in the business. At that time I didn’t have a lot of competition. There was Jerrold, Spencer-Kennedy and Entron. Those were the major companies. Since then there has been the Hughes and the Kaiser (which became Texscan), RCA (who has been in and out of it), and Scientific-Atlanta. The whole thing has changed.
Financially, I would have been a lot better off in operations. It was a much easier business. I just didn’t like it. I lived with the cable system for twelve years in Mineral Wells on a daily basis, dealing with the customers. It’s an area I just didn’t like. It was much more interesting to get out, make something work, so that’s where I channeled my energy.
DUDLEY: Is that part of the reason why you wished you’d been able to keep Austin?
CAMPBELL: Well, the strictly financial gain was a reason because it was such a tremendous cable town. There are a couple of UHF stations there now, but that was not a factor at the time.
DUDLEY: So, if you had it to do over, you probably would have changed your career and stayed in the operator type business?
CAMPBELL: I would have. Financially I would have been better off, but I don’t know if I would have had the satisfaction from it.
DUDLEY: Did we miss anything?
CAMPBELL: Not that I know of. Well, actually there is a lot you missed. It’s taken thirty-five years, but I think we hit all the high spots.
In 1966, when we did the four output tap, we called it the milk cow because when used with a block and a pressure tap, it gave four outlets. About the same time, we introduced our product called the directional coupler. With a pressure tap, all you can do is parallel the cable which makes a mismatch every time you tap. You just add something across, it’s 75 ohms impedance, and then it’s something different as you place these taps which gave you problems when you’ve got a number of taps on the line, mismatches and then some degradation of the standing wave ratio. So the directional coupler with its 75 ohms, each one introduces losses as you go down the line. They are much better technically than the taps.
We had devised that multi-tap. With that we compared the single tap with a multi four conductor tap for insertion losses. It had to do with the way we back matched the thing. When you build a single tap, you have to back match it because you want it to be matched at each end of the drop cable, which creates considerable loss. So you have to take a bigger bite from the cable, more signal from the cable, to offset that loss. We matched the splitter to the tap and saved the insertion loss per tap.
The biggest customer we had was one of Milt Shapp’s systems up in Pennsylvania. He bought a large system around 1967, 1968. They converted, I believe, a competitive system to a single cable system or something. We furnished the taps for that. They were using the existing tap blocks. If we had introduced it three or four years earlier, I think it could have been one of our biggest volume products. It just came too late in the development of taps, as directional couplers came into their own.
DUDLEY: So it was a piece of technology whose time had passed?
DUDLEY: Has the cable business been rewarding to you?
CAMPBELL: Yes. I guess I have quite a different outlook now. I’m a lot lazier than I used to be. I used to work 15, 16 hours a day and enjoyed it. I had a real drive in the lab to get things built. It was very rewarding to build a piece of equipment and to see it work in the field, more satisfaction that I got from operating a cable system. Although monetarily, my same energies would have been much better spent in the operational end.
DUDLEY: From some things you’ve said, you kept track of what others were manufacturing in the industry and found ways to improve upon them. How did you keep in touch with what Jerrold was doing and what Spencer-Kennedy was doing?
CAMPBELL: You’d see it in the magazines and you’d see it introduced as new products at the cable shows. And then it’s available from friends to take a look at it. I probably tried to be on the leading edge too much. But those are the exciting things, something that is new.
The early transistor amplifiers we built were ahead of their time. But the first transistors were the only devices available, so we used them. They went out in the field and they worked fine. Originally we weren’t able to get them to meet the specifications of tube equipment. We had to drop back and space them differently and so forth, but they always worked. We did a line of regular Amplifier equipment for years that was sold mostly to small systems. They were always very simple, reliable. There are a lot of systems still out there operating. They were in the twelve-channel category; you could go midband. Then we went to 240 megahertz.
DUDLEY: Did you ever feel that some of the other manufacturers may have borrowed your ideas …
CAMPBELL: Oh, there is no questions about that.
DUDLEY: … and not given you the right kind of credit or financial reward?
CAMPBELL: Well, the financial rewards. You know, we built the first transistorized headend and introduced it in 1966. The concept evolved with modules which everybody has built into their headends now. You use a tuner convert down to 45 megahertz, which is the standard TV/IF, and then you AGC it and convert it back to whatever channel you want it on. We built these all up on modules, and then the concept evolved to develop a video modulator at 45 megahertz, convert to whatever desired channel, so the last half of the head-end unit became a video modulator.
That was a patentable idea when I started with it and I didn’t patent it. I didn’t realize that it was patentable, or that unique, or that it would be copied like it was. But everybody started doing it that way with modulators. Originally, all monitors at the headend would develop the carrier on channel. But the idea of doing it at 45 megahertz and converting it to a desired channel was unique. The technology was there and it became the easy way to do it. It was, however, probably patentable at the time.
We never shared in a big part of the market with our headend system. We built it to compete with the Jerrold tube unit, and it did that successfully, but then everybody else with the next generation improved on that. We never did redesign. Well, we did partially, but never completely, redesign it to meet the specifications. We sold a lot of headends, but not nearly what we should have.
You remember the company of AMECO? The first tube amplifier they built was a direct copy of my tube amplifier. They made some changes, but the tube lineup, the tuning techniques, was exactly, not exactly but very close, to the first amplifier that I built. A lot of people copied it. It was so simple. I drove around the country after we started producing them, and at four or five places that I went into, guys were building them. Somebody would hammer out a chassis and it was so simple.
DUDLEY: What have been your other interests, and what are your current interests?
CAMPBELL: In 1968, I was invited by a neighbor into a group that was organizing a local Irving bank. I became part of the group, and when the State Charter was issued, I owned 11% of the American Bank.
We opened in a converted Church, just three blocks from my home here. In 1971, the bank was sold by the controlling majority, but I stayed on in a minority position. In 1972, the bank got in trouble with new owners. I took over control and recapitalized the bank with a new Irving group. We built an eleven story tower on Airport Freeway and moved the bank into it in 1975. The bank doubled in size by 1978, when I sold my interest, and then we sold the building in 1980. I never was a full-time banker.
CAMPBELL: The last couple of years I’ve spent my time in antique cars. We have traded them and have several at this time. My wife and I are sponsoring the 1986 Old Car Lap of Texas. This is the only official car event sanctioned by the Texas Sesquicentennial State Committee. I’m chairman of that and we are trying to put that together for September. And I spend some time at TOCOM with the engineers.
DUDLEY: So, you’re still really using your engineering talents in a consulting way?
DUDLEY: Keeping your fingers in the business.
CAMPBELL: From that standpoint.
End of Tape 4, Side A
Newspaper and Magazine Stories
1. Mineral Wells Index – 10/8/51
Ft. Worth Star Telegram – 10/14/51
2. TVC Communications – Austin Story – 6/64
3. Dallas Morning News – Austin Sale – 8/29/64
4. Magazine Profile – 8/28/67
5. CATV Weekly – Profile – 7/5/76
6. Dallas/Ft. Worth Business – Story – 2/4/80
7. Cablevision – TOCOM Story – 2/9/81
Video’s Available from Library
1. Copy of 16 minute silent film produced by WBAP (Channel 5 – Ft. Worth) in October 1951 for their Texas News.
2. 1980 – NCTA Convention in Dallas (TOCOM and Mineral Wells Story).