Interview Date: August 06, 2001
Interview Location: Gettysburg, PA
Interviewer: Brian Lockman
Panel: George Gardner, Bob Tudek, Bob Tarlton, Irene Gans, Joe Gans, Len Ecker, Stratford Smith, Jim Duratz
Collection: Hauser Collection
LOCKMAN: Let’s get started now. What I’d like to do is go around the horn and have everybody introduce themselves and give two or three sentences about where you’re from and what your early involvement was with cable. George Gardner, can you start?
GARDNER: Yes, I’m George Gardner. I connected my first customer for cable television December of 1951. That’s a long time ago but I did leave the industry in 1999. Comcast operates the bulk of our systems that we were operating then and I’m very happy to let them do that and frankly I think they’re doing a good job. I live in Carlisle, Pennsylvania most of the year. I’m a Ft. Lauderdale, Florida resident whenever it gets too cold in Pennsylvania.
TUDEK: I’m Bob Tudek. I’m from State College, Pennsylvania. I got started in the industry in March of 1965 with Center Video, a spin-off of C-COR and my partner and I, Everett Mundy, formed our own company, TeleMedia Corporation in 1970. I spend about 8 months of the year in Florida.
TARLTON: I’m Bob Tarlton. I had the pleasure of installing about 35 or 40 cable systems dating back to about 1950 throughout the United States. I live in Lansford, Pennsylvania. I operated originally the Panther Valley television system, a cable system that serviced a number of communities. I started that system. We merged with Blue Ridge Cable and I’m supposed to be retired, however I’m on the go all the time, mostly in cable and other historical business.
I. GANS: Hi, I’m Irene Gans. My husband and I ventured into cable television in 1954. We built our first cable system in Weatherly, Pennsylvania. We originated in Hazleton, Pennsylvania. We’re still operating in cable. This is my husband, Joe.
J. GANS: Hi, I’m Joe Gans. I re-mention that we did our joint cable system in 1954, but in 1950, December of ’50, we delivered our first picture on the Mountain City cable system which was in Hazleton. At the time I was the chief engineer and we started out with three channels and after a couple of hard knocks we got into multi-channel service. But as I say, we had our first picture, the first customer in December of 1950.
ECKER: I’m Len Ecker. I started my first job in 1950, around March or April of that year for an outfit called Lycoming Television Corporation. I was their chief engineer and we built a system in South Williamsport, included Montoursville, which is one of the communities close by, and I would like to tell this group here – and I’ve said this many times – if I knew then what I know today I would never have got started.
SMITH: I’m Strat Smith. My first introduction to this industry, which in those days was known as the community antenna industry, was in 1948 when I was a staff attorney at the Federal Communications Commission. As time went on, I left the Commission; I went into the practice of law, a private practice. I became the first general counsel and executive secretary of the National Community Television Association. From then on I had a career for 25 years practicing law where most of my clients were cable people. After that I was honored to be invited to take The Cable Center endowed chair at Penn State University, endowed chair in cable television studies, and I retired from that position in April of this year.
DURATZ: I’m Jim Duratz and I was part of the Meadville cable system and I’m the other half of the Barco-Duratz family and I supposed I could say I got started in cable because I married Helene. But it was a nice venture and I’m very happy I did it. I’m now involved with the Pennsylvania Cable Network and I’m enjoying that very much.
RIGAS: Hi, I’m John Rigas and it’s really an honor and a pleasure to be here with so many of my friends in the industry and we grew up together. I’m Chairman and CEO of Adelphia Communications. We’re located in Coudersport where our first system was built. In 1952 we started and hooked up our first customer in ’53 and I just would like to say that my parents were Greek immigrants, my brother and I were partners for many years and now I have three sons in the business, and so we chose the word Adelphia which is the word for brothers and it’s served us well these many years.
LOCKMAN: What I’d like to do now is just toss out a question and have anyone who wants to field it take it, and you ought to address your comments to each other and as well as you can ignore the fact that the cameras are here. If one of you says something that the other one of you wants to comment on, just feel free to jump in and get the conversation going. What I’d like to ask you to think about is that this tape that we’re doing here will go in The Cable Center and it could be that 20 years or 50 years or 100 years from now, someone will get out this tape, or some form of it, and put it in a machine and watch it, and for that person who has no idea that there was a time that there wasn’t cable, what would you want them to know about how it got started? George, do you want to start?
GARDNER: The cable industry got started because the television transmitters that the Federal Communications Commission had licensed to operate would put a signal in about 90% of the homes in the metropolitan area but then as soon as you got out into the open areas, I think their standards dropped down to 50% of the homes would be able to receive television service and when you got beyond the urban area they didn’t predict any coverage. Possibly Strat would like to help me a little bit with the FCC’s rules back then, but the engineering rules I think were that it was a 90% and then a 50%, or something like that. When you got beyond the coverage area that was predicted for the television stations, the people wanted television but there were only certain areas where it was able to deliver a signal. One of those areas was the top of ridges, and that’s why Bob, I believe, got started because he was in the television receiver sales business, and if I recall he could sell television sets on the ridge but he couldn’t sell them behind the ridge. So his obvious problem was how do I sell there, and he devised a method to sell them.
J. GANS: Well, in my case, we built our first TV store up on 9th Street in Hazleton which is on top of the mountain. Another thing, George, I guess you remember – Pennsylvania is a mountainous area and what happened in Hazleton is the people on top of the hill were getting good pictures and we could sell TV sets to certain places but those in the shadows and all couldn’t get any pictures. Then when my instructor – I graduated from GI school – told me about a guy named Bob Tarlton who had some kind of amplifiers and was bringing pictures in Lansford, and they asked me would I join with him because I graduated from school and started building this cable company. Well, what’s a cable company? I didn’t know anything about it, and just by luck I went to Pottsville where Marty Malarkey was a distributor for the local TV sets, and sure enough, I go in there and the first thing he said was “This darn cable! It’s broke down all the time.” But they were just installing the cable and I took a look and said – you know Pottsville, that’s way down in a hole – “How in the world are you getting pictures here in Pottsville?” And sure enough – at that time it was RCA equipment which didn’t work too good, but then I understand the Jerrold was pretty far along the way and so immediately I joined up with the Hazleton company and we put in the Jerrold system, we started and we had problems but we got it working, and quite frankly, we got $125 for an installation and $3.75 a month which gave us some of the money to help build it some more. Hook-ups at that time… we had a waiting list. You couldn’t hook them up fast enough. The people wanted it.
DURATZ: I think it’s important for people to know 50 years ago why you had to have cable. One of the most important things is that the television signal that was transmitted went in a straight line; it didn’t bend like a radio signal and didn’t get down into the hole, so you had to…
ECKER: I think you’re forgetting the reason why cable really became necessary. The reason that cable became necessary, and I’ll defer to Strat here, the FCC put a freeze on transmitting stations in 1948 for about ten years and therefore the organizations that built cable systems in those days didn’t have to worry about competition from off-the-air signals, so that was a big boost as far as the cable industry. I believe it was 1948 when that freeze was put on. Am I right about that, Strat?
SMITH: Yes, that’s correct. The FCC imposed the freeze in 1948 because it was experiencing a great deal of co-channel interference and it realized that the television allocations plan just wasn’t going to work and so they imposed this freeze “for six months”, and it was 1954 – not ten years, four years – it was 1954 when they finally lifted the freeze. In the meantime, both CATV and commercial television got off and running at the same time. There was at least one and probably several other systems that were operating as early as 1948, very small ones and very tiny ones, which was the year that they imposed the freeze. So they had four years of a period when the metropolitan areas had a few stations and out in the hinterlands there were no stations. So there was a four year period when CATV was able to get a good solid start and then when the freeze was lifted and they began to build stations again it took a number of years to get them spread out throughout the entire country. So the need for community antenna reception persisted for several years afterward, and that was the climate that enabled the industry to get off to a good running start.
ECKER: I’d like to just jump in there and add to that, Strat. The freeze was lifted but the solution was defective. The freeze was lifted and UHF assignments were made. Harrisburg received four UHF assignments and the UHF was so poor that it did not get beyond the local area. So the cable television systems were able to provide the signals from more distant stations, but the freeze being lifted really gave everyone the idea that the problem had been solved when actually just another problem had been created.
J. GANS: Well, up in Hazleton now, when they lifted the freeze and we got UHF stations – you remember channel 28 and 16? – and they did not come into Hazleton any better than the Philadelphia stations because UHF, as you mentioned, as bad as it is for the V, which is strictly line of sight, it’s even tougher on the UHF because that doesn’t fit into the whole. So when they came on the air they didn’t bother us hardly at all.
ECKER: But you also must remember that television sets in those days were unable to receive UHF so in order to have UHF you had to have a top of the set box.
J. GANS: Convertor.
ECKER: So in 1962, the FCC gave Jerrold a contract to do a survey in New York City with regards to the feasibility of UHF versus VHF and fortunately I got to be the project engineer on that job. I spent a year in New York City, we built a station in the Empire State Building on channel 31, which by the way is still there and is used by the City of New York as WNYC. We also put a station on top of the George Washington Bridge, channel 77 which never worked worth a darn, so we didn’t bother with that. But we did 5,000 locations – 2,500 in Manhattan and 2,500 within 25 miles of the Empire State Building – and in those 5,000 homes we would do a test as to how good the UHF channels were and we’d compare them to channel 4 which I believe is NBC out of New York and channel 7 which is ABC out of New York, and we did reasonably well. In fact, I had 100 black and white television sets and 10 colored sets made by RCA which we used as the purpose of that test, and based on the work which we did in New York City in 1962, I believe it was 1965 – and by the way, the mentor for that particular system was Robert E. Lee who was a commissioner of the FCC, and by the way, his name doesn’t come from Robert E. Lee the general, but rather from Robert Emmett Lee who was an Irishman – but anyway, based on the survey which we did, in 1965, I believe that’s the year, the FCC mandated that all television sets would have to be all-channel receivers. So that took away the top of the set box.
TARLTON: I’m compelled to address the question – Brian mentioned a question. In so far as the early days, everybody – I say everybody, but anybody affiliated with the possibilities of television – wanted to get television down in these primarily isolated areas. I’m now addressing myself – in some comments my name was mentioned – and not only me but other television desirable persons, both reception and dealers of television sets, would install antennas, you’d put up an antenna and they’d reach up the mountain to try to get television reception, and I can attest to it, I also installed antennas up the side of the mountain to try to sell these television sets. A number of television dealers and servicemen were doing the same thing. We were using the only thing we knew at the time was twin-lead, the old antenna twin-lead which was an open-wire. Also, out in the western part of the country they were using open-wire, really open-wire, to extend the television from an area that could be received down into an area that desired it, and we also were doing the same thing. Forgive me for entering and saying I give my father credit – my father was also a radio and television serviceman. I’ve been in the radio business since 1925; I built my first crystal set then and stayed in the electronic business all the time. Trying to improve reception I said to my dad, “We can sell sets down in here. We’ll do the same thing; run this twin-lead around the place.” “No, no, Bob,” he said, “That won’t work.” He had vision enough to see that that was a hedge and they would have television but they couldn’t guarantee it, and I knew that to be so because the few that I did use, and another serviceman did, they were either being cut by someone or by an animal or chewed at or when it would rain they didn’t have reception, and as a result there was very distressed customers. My father would say, “We can’t afford to give people money back. This is no way to sell television. You see what you can off of antennas off the roofs. Don’t try to extend it.” Well, I didn’t listen to him, I started experimenting with this antenna, but the point I wanted to make was I do some public speaking primarily to children and their question goes way back – “Well, did you have any radio in those days, in ’25?” I said, “No, I had my first radio which I built.” So I wanted to address 50 years from now people who say, “Wasn’t this always here?” No, it wasn’t always here. I’ll sum it up by saying what got me started was experimenting with coaxial cable which was impervious to destruction, impervious to interference, supposedly, and that was the beginning of cable.
RIGAS: Let me reflect from my perspective. In the early days – one thing that I find very interesting, when I was first introduced to the prospect of bringing TV signals to Coudersport, I had this big fear that yeah, there was a freeze going on that we talked about and that UHF stations were going to proliferate and VHF stations were going to come closer to rural America. What I find interesting is here we are 50 years later and if you live in Coudersport, Pennsylvania and you live in 80% of our community that you still can’t receive a VHF signal or a UHF signal. All these fears and thoughts that stations were going to happen, in certain parts of rural America it still hasn’t happened.
LOCKMAN: Irene, is there a story that you would like to know that someone 50 years ago would hear and get an idea of what you went through?
I. GANS: I have a lot of stories. They’ll probably say, “Wasn’t TV always here?” Well, no, it wasn’t. But something that you wouldn’t read… I don’t know how to put it… something you wouldn’t think about, to look at a glass thing and all of a sudden see pictures of movie stars right in your own room. My father’s favorite, Jack Benny was his favorite, so one night I found out that Jack Benny was going to be on TV and I called my dad and my mom and I said, “Come on up to the house, I have a surprise for you.” Well, my father expected a present; he didn’t know what it was going to be. When I turned on that TV and he saw Jack Benny in person, right on television, he was amazed. Amazed! Thoroughly amazed. I love “I Love Lucy”. That’s one of my favorites. Television brings everything good into people’s lives, happiness and education. We’ve gone beyond that – we have games on TV now and it’s going forward faster than you can imagine.
J. GANS: You know, one of the problems we had in those early days is I’d say in 1950-51, especially ’50 when we started, was getting people that believed that the cable could work. Fortunately enough we had the Coryell family, which was wealthy in the coal business up there, and one night – like I say, I lived on top of the hill and I was able to get the New York and Philadelphia stations, and there was a fight that night. Incidentally, before that, he tried, the local radio station owner, Vic Dean, to get financing. The Tito family which was big in television tried to get financing. They had no faith in it – “It’ll never go anywhere.” So anyhow, I invited the Coryells up to my house and we had the TV set there and there was a fight that night. He said, “Oh, how you doing?” I said well, I’ve got a – at that time I guess about a 35-40 foot tower on top of the house and I was able to get the pictures. That’s when Chris Lucian talked to me, “Why don’t we do like Lansford is doing? They’re running a coaxial wire down the mountain,” and he mentioned Jerrold amplifiers at the time, “and they have pictures in Lansford and that’s really down behind the mountains. ‘Til today there’s no signals down there.” Sure enough they invested the money and believe it or not we got our first picture in Hazleton. They put up the financing first. We made them believers that there is cable and so forth, then as we got the picture into town all you had to do was put the TV sets in the window and people were signing up as fast as we could put them in.
LOCKMAN: Bob Tudek, can you start a conversation of what kind of obstacles you had to overcome? If you think about it, technical, regulatory, fights with telephone companies or broadcasters – what springs to mind as the kind of hurdles you had to get over?
TUDEK: Well, first off, I’m the real rookie here. I started in ’65, my partner started in ’56, but these guys got started in ’48, ’50, ’51. They’ve been talking about electronically deprived areas, but you see, when I got in the business in ’65 that was true even then and there was no cable in the metropolitan areas of the country. There was nothing in Washington D.C., Baltimore, Miami, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, St. Louis, Phoenix, Houston, Dallas – all of those were built far later and I think they were just starting something in TelePrompTer Manhattan in ’65 to ’66, and they were doing something in San Francisco and perhaps San Jose, and maybe somewhere else, I don’t know. But I convinced our board of directors three weeks after I started to let me try and get a franchise in Glassboro, Pennsylvania which was in the metropolitan market of Pittsburgh. I competed against KDKA and Westinghouse who were already in the business. People don’t know that but they had 35,000 subscribers in 1965 in Georgia. They were in Valdosta, Georgia. I not only beat them 18 contests in a row but got 33 in a row against just about everybody including Time Life who were in the business. I beat them in Penn Hills, and I got 69 franchises out of 75 contests. My contribution is not the rural and electronically deprived areas, but bringing cable to the metropolitan areas. I think to this day, there is a higher penetration of cable TV subscribers in Pittsburgh area then there are in any of the top 25 markets in the country. As a matter of fact, there’s one system today, there will be when it’s finished, AT&T has a system with approximately 400,000 subscribers on one master antenna, and the thing that I’m proud of is when I was getting these franchises I gave them all the “blue sky”, all the things that are happening today, but I told them it was blue sky and I predicted that one day there would be one system and they would be doing the things they’re doing today. But I told them that was a long way off, and it’s come to pass.
RIGAS: In response to the question that you asked, I’m sure everybody around this table will remember that in the very beginning the telephone company wouldn’t permit you on their poles at all. If you were going to use a pole system it had to be a power system because Bell was no way going to let you on their telephone poles, but in addition to that, you mentioned the fact that there was a fight with the broadcasters because the broadcasters viewed the cable industry as an outfit that was stealing their signals and paying them. And that’s where the word community cable television came from because we really didn’t supply television pictures; what we did was remote the individual’s antenna and that’s how cable got its original name was basically on that premise. So, yes, there were a lot of legal fights in the very beginning – fights with telephone and fights with the broadcasters as well.
TUDEK: 1966, AT&T informed all of their subsidiaries not to grant any further pole attachment agreements to us. Maybe people will remember this because they were going to re-do their agreement. So there was a period of one or two years where you could not get an agreement from any of the Bell companies, and at that time some of the independent companies refused to deal and people were putting up their own poles, putting cable on trees and fences. I remember one guy coming to me in a little town called Howard. He couldn’t get the pole attachment agreement from the independent telephone company and I had the presence of mind to tell him, “Go check to see your franchise. These franchises that the phone companies have are usually for 50 years or so.” It so happens that the franchise was about to expire, or had expired, for the phone and they hadn’t known it. When he called it to their attention he had no problem getting on the poles. Really, that was the biggest job from 1965 to about 1968 or ’69, getting on the poles, especially in the metropolitan and urban areas where the power companies, if you recall, in Pennsylvania were fighting with the phone companies about who should handle the space on the poles. The power companies actually owned most of the poles but the phone companies believed that they had the right to rent the communications space. So then there was again a fight between the two of them and there was a hold up because of that.
TARLTON: On that subject, you might find interesting, I just related just this very day a story about AT&T. I wanted to get on AT&T – I didn’t know it was an AT&T pole. I was operating in an area that was a private telephone company, operated really by the coal company in the area but some of the executives had built this carbon telephone company. It serviced the Panther Valley – Lansford, Summit Hill, Coaldale, Nesquehoning, the whole area – and I must give credit to some of those people. It was easy to get cooperation with, as an example (this is one of the examples) with the telephone company because I told them my idea. “What I want to do is build a system, cable.” “Jeez, that’d be great! What can we do to help you?” They weren’t fighting me because they wanted television. That’s how my attorney got so interested. He lived in Summit Hill, I had sold him a television set. He was building a home in Lansford and said, “Bob, what am I going to do about my television?” I said, “I’m getting this idea.” “Hey, I’ll give you all the help I can.” “I need lots of help.” Going back on this one, I wanted to get on a few poles and I thought it was… we always called them the telephone poles but it happened to be an AT&T long line that came in from somewhere and down into Lansford. So what happened was the local boys, none of them present, said, “For you to get permission on those we’ve got to contact AT&T.” I said, “Why them?” I didn’t know. “Because they have jurisdiction over those poles.” So as a result they set up a meeting and I already had made the attachments because my early days with the power company I had cooperation with the vice-president of pole attachments who happened to have been a friend of Marty Malarkey’s and when he heard about what I was doing he came over to see it and he ran back and told Marty Malarkey, “Hey, that’s what you can do in Lansford.” And he told me, “Make attachments to the poles. Give me the pole numbers and I’ll get on.” So he was cooperative. They were anxious at that time – it was 1950 – to get loading, power loading, and they used to sell television things like that. So at the same time I had cooperation from the power company, made these attachments and later on made the pole agreements, but with the phone company they said, “You go ahead on the poles but you’re going to have to go below us. You can’t go above.” Everything was below. That was the early days where some of the system that I had built there was below. Well, that created more problems to get clearance spaces but that’s what they said. And they said, “We’ve been in touch with AT&T to ask if there’s any foreign attachment specs that you might have,” and they said, “We don’t know what they’re doing but we’d better come up and look and see.” And they did. I entertained the vice-president of pole attachment, as I always called him, for AT&T. He came up from the Wall Street office and brought along three or four other engineers, spent a day up there looking to see what I was doing. He said, “Well, there’s one thing I think you’re doing all right. I see you’re doing good pole construction.” I also employed coal pole line people who knew what they were doing; they worked for the coal company and they did it in their off time, so we didn’t do a sloppy operation, and incidentally, the phone company helped me to the extent… I said, “I’m going to have to suspend this on messenger,” and he said, “We’re using a cable lasher. Let’s try it.” And it wouldn’t work and they went to the trouble of their spinner revamping the bit to use a coax cable and use the lash at the wire I was using. So I gave them a lot of credit. I had a lot of help, professional, good quality help. Whenever AT&T came up they said the construction’s good, we see the fellow means business. I got talking to him when he was about ready to leave – he said, “We’re going to draw up specs for foreign attachments other than telephone,” but he said, “One thing – you’ll have to keep above all telephone as far as we’re concerned.” I said, casually, “I’m amazed – why at AT&T you’ve got all your facilities, all your engineering and all of your development, why they wouldn’t think of something like this.” He said, “Oh, this is nothing. This is only a hedge. In a couple of years you won’t need this. You’ll be tearing it down off the poles.” I never copied down his name, I never recorded it – I wish I had it today.
J. GANS: You were talking about problems in the early days – one thing was getting on the poles was a problem, but antennas and stuff were usually up on a mountain somewhere and there’s no power there. So in my case, what we did is attach the power and we put our own power line going up. We had it attached to trees and you could see there were problems we had there, and then come the bad weather and stuff like that the wires were knocked down. Those were some of the headaches. I guess it took us, what? Four or five years to have the power companies run the poles. But there were some of the headaches, as well as the right of ways. Bob, you were saying they made you go below the telephone line, or did they change the spec to go above it?
TARLTON: No, the local telephone company said you can’t get above us or the power company, you must be below us. So we put our installations in, quite a few potential subscribers just below until finally AT&T came in – we were waiting for them to come in – to set specs, and they set the specs for the local telephone company. The local telephone company always looked to Bell or AT&T for their specs and they followed them, and it was them that designed above. They had the specs. That’s when we had a formal agreement then also. The local telephone company gave us a formal agreement. As a matter of fact, Bob LaRue asked for one once and I sent Bob LaRue – that was one of the NCTA attorneys, he’s gone from us now – but Bob LaRue sent back a flowing letter, “Bob, this is the best contract I’ve ever seen!” But it was one that I helped develop for the phone company.
LOCKMAN: Did the rest of you have good relations with the phone company or the power company like Bob did or were there problems?
TUDEK: Well, I think they’re forgetting – not only did AT&T refuse to give out an agreement but they decided to give them the business, and this is when they started leasebacks throughout the whole country and I guess Mr. Barco and the Pennsylvania Association defeated their attempts here in Pennsylvania and then they also lost in various other states. Am I right, Strat?
TUDEK: They lost leaseback capabilities in Ohio and Michigan and what have you and they abandoned their plans of leasebacks throughout the country. So that’s what held things up in a great many areas. There were leasebacks built in Pennsylvania, not too many but there were some. But there were quite a few built in the state of Ohio.
LOCKMAN: Can you explain a leaseback?
SMITH: If I may, I was going to respond to your question because Bob’s story is very interesting and in my experience, and not as an operator but as an attorney who worked with these people and listened to their complaints and so on, Bob’s cooperative experience with AT&T and the telephone companies was by far the exception in the industry. By and large AT&T around the country was simply resisting in every possible way allowing CATV to get on the poles. Finally they simply had to do it as a result of public pressure in the individual communities, but even then they dragged their feet with excessive make-ready costs. You men around this table know far better than I do how difficult that problem was and I’ve often been asked the question, well, why didn’t AT&T get in and provide this service themselves? And there were really two answers to it. The first was that this was the end of World War II and they had a telephone backlog that took them ten years to catch up with, and they simply could not address or assign their resources to that. The other reason was, like an awful lot of people, maybe including some of us around this table, they didn’t think the industry was going to last and they didn’t want to invest their resources in it. But again, I will repeat, Bob’s experience to the best of my knowledge is an exception and he was very fortunate.
TARLTON: May I just punctuate that by saying this was back in early ’50 and by 1951, late ’51 and ’52 the telephone companies immediately became antagonists. Not the power companies, the power companies were cooperative because they were glad for the load, additional load, but the telephone companies were… Whenever I went to a Jerrold that was half of our problems, particularly up in New England they just refused. But what I was speaking of was the very early few days or few months and that was my experiences.
TUDEK: Strat, wasn’t it true that AT&T could not get into the business directly because of the anti-trust case that they lost?
SMITH: Well, that was a number of years later. I’m just addressing the immediate early history of the industry. Yes, a time came when AT&T agreed not to get into any business for which they didn’t have public utility tariffs on file with appropriate regulatory commissions, but that was later on.
TUDEK: But they did try to get leasebacks and a leaseback, you asked the question, they would build and own the cable system and lease them to an operator.
SMITH: That is true but they got out of the leaseback business also after they agreed not to provide any service that wasn’t a public utility communications service.
GARDNER: Let’s talk about that leaseback business just a little bit more from a cable operator’s standpoint because I was involved in a leaseback. I was attempting to get a franchise in Newburgh, New York and I was sitting in the New York Telephone zone manager’s office and he was on the telephone – in the middle of our agreement, we worked through the agreement that they had, the attachment agreement, and then he got an urgent phone call and when he came back the agreement was not on the table anymore. So I presume that was in 1965 exactly when Bob’s talking about, but since we couldn’t get a pole attachment agreement we did accept a leaseback and that leaseback was outrageous. It was so expensive it was unbelievable and they had to make all the connections into the home and they did all the maintenance on it. If you had a service call and you went to the home and the obvious problem was with the telephone company’s system, if it was before 8:00 in the evening they would respond on double overtime or whatever their rate was – I’ve forgotten what they called it, but it was outrageous – and if it was after 8:00 in the evening they would come out the next morning. So it was obviously very antagonistic to the customer. The cable operator had a terrible problem explaining to the customer, yeah, we’ll be back tomorrow and that type of thing. But aside from the leaseback, I’d like to just go back to something else that Bob Tudek touched on there when he was building in the Pittsburgh area. John Rigas and I built a system in Uniontown and we had a unique situation there, possibly you can help me with this a little bit, John, if I forget some of the details. I also want to mention one of the details about the equipment, so when I get through with this I’ll mention that. We had very good cooperation from the television stations in Pittsburgh, believe it or not, because they found that they had to operate translators. Pittsburgh is a very difficult town to get any sort of television off-the-air in, or it was at that time, because it’s just a bunch of valleys. So the television stations had built the translator system which ringed Pittsburgh and they found that it didn’t work much better than the off-the-air signal that they provided and gave them all kinds of problems and extra costs. So they encouraged us to build that system in Uniontown because then they could take their translator off the air, but they wouldn’t take the translator off the air until we were able to provide the service. Do you remember that, John?
RIGAS: I sure do.
GARDNER: And I think they were encouraging the other operators to get rid of the translators in the same way, so that probably helped you and Jim Palmer out there in some of the franchises around Pittsburgh. In addition to that, one of the unique things about the Uniontown system was it was built with a Starline One that Jerrold had come out with – and Len is smiling down there because he remembers. I think Starline One… we put the amplifiers on the bench and did somewhere around 6 or 8 modifications to the amplifier before we’d even put it out in the housing, and I can recall John and I had a terrible problem with the SLE, the line extender. We put them up in the summertime and as soon as it started to get cold in the winter, why, the line extenders all stopped working. They had a big capacitor that didn’t work right, and so most of the time we built it out where the extenders were and it was a little bit of a frantic situation to try to figure out how to put a capacitor on to those line extenders because nothing would fit in the case. So we put spaghetti tubing on the leads that went into the amplifier and stuck it outside, and I imagine we radiated a little bit of signal. That was before the FCC started to even look at radiation but we did a little bit of non-ionic radiation there. But talking about the business of the television stations or the networks not cooperating with the cable systems, CBS was the main group – that CBS network – that really didn’t like cable operators. If you would request permission to carry a CBS signal, the television station that carried the CBS network was required by CBS, I suppose, to write and say “We are not authorized to allow you to use our signals.” But strangely enough, in Scranton the CBS outlet, WDAU, was very interested in getting on all the cable systems and we did a lot of work with them putting up equipment at the various cable systems so that we could translate their signal and actually get it so it would run on the cable system. So it was not all of the networks were against cable, and certainly not all the television stations were against cable. Most of them were very appreciative, especially in the UHF regions of Pennsylvania to get the extra coverage that the cable system provided.
TARLTON: May I say that also the reference to WDAU reminds me that WDAU wanted to get on our system and I kept saying there’s the problem we had, it has limited channel capacity and I said you’ve got to make it attractive enough for us to make some changes because we had one or two New York channels on there. As a result they said, well, what do we do? I said, well, I suggest you go on later at night. They had a daytime and up until about 11:00 or 12:00 at night they’d go off. Make it attractive enough. I’m not going to take credit for it but I suggested to them to do this, run all night if necessary, and they did, and that was their success. They called me and said, “Bob, that was a good idea. We’re now getting better cooperation because people late at night want to see television. The other stations go off the air, we’re on all night, and WDAU was progressive in that respect.
GARDNER: Most of the stations signed off around 1:30. They would have late night news around 11:00, then go into a Today Show and when the Today Show went off the air, why, they signed off.
ECKER: Well, unlike most of the people around this table I’m not an operator and have never been an operator. I’m basically an engineer and one of the problems that I remember in the early days – the early days for me were all construction – was the fact that in most of the communities many of the power companies and telephone companies went down through easements and they had a franchise which permitted them to put cable down the easement. But the people who lived in those homes didn’t think the cable operator had a right to go down those easements, and I recall in the early days being held up in construction because somebody said you can’t cross my property line. I learned later on that the reason why we couldn’t pass his property line was because he wanted television but he didn’t want to pay for it.
I. GANS: We had a lot of those. They all tried it.
TUDEK: In addition to the problem on the poles, about the time I got in the business was when the FCC took over the jurisdiction of cable TV. You might want to talk about that. Remember when the FCC decided to take us over they had a big battle? I think the head of the committee in the Senate was Orin Harris?
SMITH: Well, it was a big battle and it lasted for several years. The FCC at least twice before they decided to undertake jurisdiction had ruled that they didn’t have any. The thing that finally brought the industry under their control was the availability of microwave for CATV. When we got the first microwave grants to permit carrying signals to CATV systems we thought that this was one of the big events and today it still is. It still, historically, was one of the big developments in the industry, but at the same time, it was a development that allowed the industry to begin to encroach into broadcast areas that formerly had a monopoly and the broadcasters had the political strength first to interest Congress and the Senate Inter-state and Foreign Commerce Committee to conduct hearings on the impact of cable and illegal boosters on the orderly development of broadcasting. The FCC finally succumbed to the pressure of the Congress and decided they would impose regulation on any CATV system that used microwave because they figured “We can tell the CATV system you must give non-duplication protection for a period 30 days before until 30 days after the local broadcaster would broadcast. We either won’t grant the license or we’ll take it away from you if you’ve already got one.” And they started out with that and then gradually over the years got to the point where they just said we’re going to apply these rules to all cable systems whether or not they use microwave. That took a period of seven or eight years to get from the first one to the last one, but finally they just reached out and grabbed without a scintilla of authority in the communications act to regulate the industry, they just took jurisdiction and said “The reason we’re doing this is because CATV systems don’t pay copyright fees and therefore they’re in unfair competition with local broadcast stations and we’ve got to protect the local broadcast stations.” and you all know that went on for years.
GARDNER: Strat, I’d like to just touch on something. While you were talking about that it reminded me that almost every fight that the cable industry had on Capitol Hill back in those days had to have a large group of people writing to their congressman, and I seem to recall that I was told one time that most of those letters were going from retirees from the telephone industry and the telephone industry had some way of manipulating their letter writing, and in fact assisted them in writing letters to a lot of key congressmen so that the telephone industry got their way a lot of times. Can you address that? Do you recall anything about that?
SMITH: Well, I can address it. I don’t want to get too far away from the subject, but the fact of the matter is by the 1920s, the late 1920s, AT&T owned the major telephone company in every single state in the Union and they owned 80% of the telephones and controlled almost 100% of them through their control over long distance service and so on. As a result of this, they were able to completely dominate the industry.
TUDEK: In addition to that problem, excuse me, we had the problem of the copyright suit where we couldn’t get bonds and we couldn’t get insurance because we were facing multi-million dollar… Who was the lawyer? Nader? Who was the lawyer that they had that represented all the copyright owners?
SMITH: Louis Nizer.
TUDEK: Louis Nizer. I knew it started with an “N”. When we went to get bonds we couldn’t get bonds unless you went to Lloyd’s of London because we were facing all these claims, and you played a role there in that lawsuit where we won that suit before the Supreme Court and that enabled us to get rid of the potential liabilities of the copyrights.
SMITH: Well, I was involved in that litigation and I didn’t complete my answer to George’s question. I had a senior moment while I was coughing and forgot what it was I was trying to say, but their ability to dominate through mailings resulted from the fact that in every community around the country, the local telephone manager attended every meeting of the local chamber of commerce and every meeting of the local municipalities and kept track of everything that was going on. They also were required to be acquainted with the local Congressman, the local representative and the local state officials. This was a system requirement within the entire Bell organization. So the result was that whenever AT&T in New York says “write”, they wrote, and they knew who to write to. They wrote to the people who passed the legislation.
LOCKMAN: Can I change gears a little bit here and ask each of you to take a turn and looking back to the day you flipped the switch on your first cable system and the first pictures went to people’s houses what the atmosphere was like in town, what you heard from people in town, how the newspaper reported it, what the customers said. John, can you start?
RIGAS: It’s hard to find the words. When you brought that signal down to that first home and you saw that picture light up, the excitement that the customer had – this was a miracle. They were sitting in their living room and receiving a picture in this little rural community of Coudersport. My reflection is that along with that was the excitement and the satisfaction that it gave me to be part of that, to bring that picture to somebody’s home and to provide a service that would in future years bring so much enjoyment and satisfaction. It was a great feeling of excitement. It was covered in the local newspaper, it was front-page news, the photographer was there interviewing everybody, and there was a sense of really something important happening in this little community. But on the other hand, I think also that sometimes… before I let everybody talk, we’ve been focusing a lot on all of our problems and there were a lot of problems, but I just wanted to comment that all of us had to improvise and all of us had to come up with different ways to keep the system going and alive, and I’ve repeated this story, and then I want to hear a story from Joe and George about this, and then I want to hear a story from Jim because I think that it was a fun time too. Yeah, we lost a lot of sleep, and yeah, we had a lot of concerns and anxieties, but let me tell you – I wouldn’t change it for anything. I was so fortunate to be there and be part of all this. I’m thinking about when we built our second cable system in my hometown in 1954 and my brother and I had the Jerrold engineers and we went up and we were offering five channels and that was state-of-the-art, and the picture looked good, and at the bottom of the hill my parents lived and we check it out. The picture looked great and we were ready to go and we were going to give it to the customers. That night I got a call from my brother and I said, “What’s the matter?” He said, “The picture’s going all to snow. I don’t know what the matter is.” Every night Gus would call me up and say the picture’s bad. In the daytime it looked good. We called up the Jerrold engineers – Frank Martin, I don’t know if Lenny was part of it – and we all check it out, we did everything possible. After about 15 days I got a call from my brother and my brother said, “Well, John, I’ve got it all figured out.” I said, “Well, you do? The picture’s good?” He said, “Great!” I said, “What happened?” He said, “Well, mom used to turn on the front porch light at 7:00 every night and it shorted out everything.” It was simple as that. That’s how bright we were. Now I’d like to hear a story about Joe, if I can, and the shotgun.
J. GANS: Talk about problems! Hazleton was a Yankee town and we put up a stack of antennas, actually 64 antennas, and sure enough in the springtime ballgames were just starting, they were into practice and this and that, and the people are watching the games, everybody’s happy, and this time we’re at a different antenna site than the original and the pictures were pretty good. So come springtime, we get a good rainstorm and sure enough the darn thing’s all iced up, the tower iced up, the wires and everything, and me and Charlie Hickey are sitting up there, “How in the world are we going to get these pictures back?” So we got the brainstorm – nobody wanted to climb it, they were up about 50-60 feet – so we thought, well, maybe with a shotgun we can clean the ice off. Some of you have heard this already, but it’s the truth. So we get a #6 shot, shoot at it a couple times, nothing. The ice just stayed there. I said, well, let’s try a #4 shot, maybe that’ll do it. He shot a #4 and still the ice didn’t come down. So maybe a #2 will definitely do it. So we’re shooting half a box of shells and the thing never did ice up. When you ice up you retain the picture but you lose the sound, you change the characteristic and you lose the sound. So then we got the bright idea, let’s try some buckshot. If that don’t do it, nothing will. So the first round me and Charlie both shot together – pow! We blew the antennas away. So not only did they have no sound but they lost the picture too.
TARLTON: May I address that? As a matter of fact, the question did arise. I had the first public display was in town in a store room, and they set up a television set and they made an announcement if you wanted to see television go downtown. I just located some photographs, as a matter of fact. I’m doing research for the history of Carbon County. They call on me because of my age. “Bob Tarlton will know all about this,” so they go back to Bob Tarlton. I got involved a year and a half ago with the historical group from Carbon County. They have had four additions starting ten years ago of the county, and they gradually moved up and now they’re in our section. They’re doing some work and they saw me about a year and a half ago and said, “We have something in there about you.” As we were discussing it they started to discuss some other things about the department store in town and the photograph of me – this was recently, he said, “There are two Tarltons in there.” I didn’t mean to inject this, but it’s interesting. They said, “Are you any relation?” I said, “If it’s a photograph I knew it’s Bright’s Department Store and I’m on there.” “You are? No, it’s a 1928.” I said, “I was in high school and worked there, and my father’s on the bottom there. He was the radio repairman and I helped him. I used to put antennas up in 1928 for Bright’s stores.” So that’s how I got involved trying to find some photos. For the last seven years I’ve had a warehouse, actually it’s an old apartment I’m paying rent on, with all this old history that I promised everybody I would get together one day. I haven’t got to it; I’m starting to dig through, and I found this one photograph, there’s a couple there, of a photograph taken inside the store room of the crowd outside watching television. So I have that, plus the fact that it generated national and international interest in late 1950, and in early 1951, some radio fellows here might remember Radio News, the Radio News magazine? They came through Philco and there’s a lot of misinformation there because they said Philco developed this – it was Jerrold. But it was a Philco public relations fellow, 15 pages! He came down and took photographs through the whole thing. That generated information, that did, because Radio News went around the world. It was a monthly magazine – whose magazine? I forget who published it. Do you remember Radio News, George?
GARDNER: Are you talking about this article, Bob?
TARLTON: Oh, yes!! This is it!
GARDNER: What a coincidence.
TARLTON: Anyway, there’s actually photographs in, and then the Cable Society published the whole thing back some years ago and I can’t find any copies of that magazine, but it’s in the Cable Society. I’ve got to call Denver sometime; they must have it. Well, they have it in Exeter, I’m sure, to duplicate that. But that magazine generated tremendous interest because it showed how I built the amplifiers, how I fabricated the cases. It’s a complete description on “how to build a cable system”. So that all generated tremendous interest. That was in early 1950. This wasn’t Newsweek, but this is one. It was Radio News, a magazine that you’d pick up at a newsstand but the radio men at the time all got the Radio News. You possibly remember this, Joe? Yeah. A big, thick volume and that generated that interest all over the country, and I got lots of telephone calls, letters, and everything else, “Send me this information, that information…” But that answers that.
GARDNER: Well, Al Warren was writing a good bit about you in the TV Digest, too.
TARLTON: Yeah, in the early days.
GARDNER: In late 1950, because I was reading about it, and he kept on writing because you were news. He kept on writing through 1951 and then stopped writing about you and started writing about the industry. Yeah, I’ve talked with Al about this, but you were a real newsmaker and sold a lot of copy for him there.
LOCKMAN: I’d like Jim to tell about cable coming to Meadville?
DURATZ: I’d like to start back with what John says. We ought to talk a little bit about how it was to really get things started because everybody experiences the same problem. You were talking about shooting the ice? I did the same thing with channel 2. We had to go… do any of you remember Jack Beavers? He built all of the antennas from Jerrold? Well anyway, he designed a channel 2 antenna for us, we had problem with co-channel, and I’d like to also explain what co-channel is a little bit. It’s two channels hitting an antenna at the same time and we were trying to bring in channel 2 Pittsburgh which was 90 miles but channel 2 Buffalo was 90 miles away. So we had to build that antenna with a big screen on it. It was just a di-pole, a single di-pole, but we stacked two of them. Anyway, we built chicken screen in the back to shield it and that screen got full of ice, just coated with ice. I didn’t know what kind of shot, but I wanted a small shot because I didn’t want to blow the antenna away and that’s what happened. I just went up with a shotgun and started shooting the ice off of the back of the antennas on the screen and all of the sudden the picture came in good and that worked. That’s why I say that we all had pretty much the same kind of a problem and we would think nothing of picking the phone up and I’d call Joe or I’d call John. I’d have this problem and they’d say, “Oh, sure, we did that.” And it worked out. That’s what I think was very unique about the cable industry and the people in it was that we were all friends. We all knew each other personally and didn’t hesitate to ever call and none of them would not take the call, except John sometimes when he’d think it was a bill collector.
J. GANS: Well, John had to serve up the hotdogs in between the calls.
RIGAS: Not only that but I think I had the reputation of not paying my bills in a timely fashion.
GARDNER: Oh now, John. You wouldn’t do something like that.
I. GANS: We all had problems paying our bills.
RIGAS: I’d like to hear Jim’s story you told last year at Christmas because I think it’s reflective of how hard we worked to try to keep the systems going, provide service…
DURATZ: About the coffee?
RIGAS: Yeah, give’em that story.
DURATZ: I’d like to go back and start and say how we went 3 channel, 5 channel, 12 channel, but anyway, we were building the, I guess 20-channel system then, and it was all aluminum cable and the fittings – here again, experimenting – but one Christmas Eve the fitting pulled apart and we lost a lot of pictures. Christmas Day we had to go out and work; we had all the crews out working trying to get this stuff put back together. Trying to find a cup of coffee on Christmas Day in Meadville was pretty tough, and I didn’t have time to go and make it but I thought I’ll get them a sandwich and keep them going, but instead of coffee – I had gotten into making some wine at one time and my wine looked like black coffee – so I filled the thermos bottle with wine and I took it out and started pouring wine in paper cups. Everybody would grab the cup and think it was a hot cup of coffee and as soon as they figured out it was wine, they downed it. We got the problems corrected and it was pretty funny. Those weren’t unusual things. We did a lot of things like that.
J. GANS: You know, you talk about the first picture, we first put the system in Hazleton and right down off the Heights, actually put in a second amplifier. We turned it on, the pictures looked good and everybody’s happy and this and that. All of the sudden, the mayor of the town calls us up in council. He says, “What are you people doing to the television on the Heights?” I said, “I don’t know, what’s wrong?” He gave us numbers and said we ruined all the reception on the antenna services. Sure enough, I go up to the Heights there and they weren’t getting really good reception but they were getting some reception and here the cable was leaking. The line between the amplifier and the ADO box was leaking. So Jerrold sends up an engineer. He’s there all week, he’s riding, I figured, oh boy, this guy knows his stuff, he’s going to fix this. It comes Friday, he says, “Yep, you’ve got radiation,” gets in his car and drives away.
ECKER: Talking about that problem, Joe, that was one of the reasons the FCC got hot under the collar. One of the perfect examples of that occurred in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania when a U.S. Air – well, it wasn’t U.S. Air in those days, it was Alleghany Airlines – a flight coming into Harrisburg Airport lost total communication with the ground and when they finally solved this particular problem it was because the AGC channel on the Jerrold amplifiers in Harrisburg leaked and blocked out the ability of the airplane to receive signals from the tower and I spent a full week in Harrisburg that year repairing every amplifier by moving the AGC frequency to a frequency which would not interfere with the Harrisburg Airport.
J. GANS: The way we fixed it though is Tony Katona came up and what we did, we started disconnecting cables, we had a guy in the house still looking at the pictures. Actually we put a big black bar, oh about ¾ across the picture, the cable was leaking and here we found a cable, like I mentioned, between the ADO box and the amplifier, and what Tony did, he took a piece of telephone line, the led line, we pulled the copper wires out and we put the RG59 there and put the connectors on and it stopped it. This is the cooperation we had with Jerrold and different operators and so forth.
DURATZ: I have a radiation story – I just thought of it right now. Remember the galvanized boxes, you had to put the amplifiers in the boxes, put the boxes on the pole? We were building a system in the lower part of Meadsville and as usual when you start putting cable up in boxes on the pole people think you’re interfering with their signal, their antennas. So we had the boxes up and the cable in and we got a report that the FCC was coming down to do a radiation check from Buffalo. They brought these big trucks down with millions of dollars of equipment and they started doing the radiation checks around this area and they came back with 0 radiation. What they didn’t know is – they didn’t go up and look in the boxes – they were empty.
DURATZ: And we got a very excellent report on radiation.
GARDNER: There were a bunch of engineers that couldn’t understand that.
DURATZ: They never went up the pole to open the box to look in it.
GARDNER: They knew there was radiation there, they just couldn’t find it.
DURATZ: There were a lot of interesting problems, and there were times when the people from Jerrold had come and would end up going to the antenna site to work out a problem and next think you know it was breakfast time. You just worked all night, you never stopped until the problem was corrected. I think that was kind of unique with the people in our industry back then. I think it was just… the love that John talks about that you wanted to see the results of trying to make that picture come down that line. I remember the first time I saw a picture off of the satellite – what a thrill that was! Those are the kinds of things that never make you want to quit. You’re afraid you’re going to miss something if you quit. It’s a lot more sophisticated now. I think when we first started almost everything that we did was experimental. You got equipment from the manufacturer, you knew what it was supposed to do but rarely did it do it. I think today pretty much you know whatever you get is going to work. I think those experimental things were very good to us.
LOCKMAN: What kind of a work week did you work?
J. GANS: Oh, around the clock. If the TV is off you don’t go home because that telephone will drive you nuts whether it’s Saturday, Sunday, midnight, Christmas, Easter or whatever.
I. GANS: Those pictures were life and death. They’d murder you… If there were no pictures you were in big trouble and you just kept working until you got pictures or that phone would drive you completely out of your mind. It never stopped ringing. Customers would get irate – they’re missing their news, they’re missing their favorite program, “my kid wants to watch Hatchy Milatchy”, why is it off?” or “my afternoon program…”
RIGAS: Well, Irene, Joe would come in the door and say I’ve fixed these and you’d hand him another batch, is that the way it worked?
I. GANS: (Laughs) Yeah, Hatchy Milatchy.
LOCKMAN: Did customers get like that right away where as soon as they had cable they immediately got hooked on it and they’d get mad if it wasn’t working?
I. GANS: Oh, yes.
I. GANS: They loved cable. They still do! I don’t know what you do without cable.
ECKER: Again, as an engineer rather than an operator, I didn’t have to worry about PR. So in my particular community, the first system I built everybody called me Mr. Television. I would go from my office to the top of the mountain for some reason I’d get stopped half the way up and somebody would jump out and say, “Hey, the cable went off last night at 8:00 and I waited until 2:00 in the morning and it still didn’t come back on again. What are you going to do about it?” I suggested to them that maybe they ought to write a letter to the FCC and if they didn’t want to do that, why don’t you go get your television from somebody else.
TUDEK: You’re rough!
ECKER: I’m not the system operator, I’m the engineer.
GARDNER: There’s no difference between cable television today and the first day that Bob turned it on. There’s just more channels, there’s fewer interruptions, and there’s better picture quality. It’s just an evolutionary problem.
LOCKMAN: How many channels did you have when you first turned it on?
I. GANS: Three.
J. GANS: We had three.
GARDNER: I didn’t have that luxury.
LOCKMAN: Where was your system?
GARDNER: Do you want me to do my spiel on it now? Bounce to this end?
LOCKMAN: Sure. One channel?
GARDNER: Actually, I’ve got to go back a little bit beyond that because I cheated a little bit on the industry. I actually was a ham radio operator, amateur radio operator to most people, and operated WTDBR. I lived up in the Finger Lakes region in New York State and worked for an outfit called Sylvania Electric Products Corporation and we built picture tubes there for the television sets. As a sideline, I built mini CATV systems. I didn’t know that’s what they were at the time but the dealers in town, in Geneva and Waterloo, Seneca Falls, the whole area, they were about 35-40 miles away from Syracuse which was our main television area. You got some signals from Rochester but they weren’t very good. When they would sell a television set, the deal was if I get pictures I’ll buy the set. If I don’t get pictures, take it back. So whenever they put their regular antennas up and didn’t get pictures, I cut a deal with them, I’ll provide the pictures. So we took what we called the tough nuts. I started that in early 1949. But I don’t claim to be the first in cable television because it wasn’t that. But it was a mini cable television system geared to that one set. We either used high antennas or antennas that were not located on the property and of course being a ham operator I was very used to the balanced transmission line. That’s what they called railroad tracks when the cable system uses it and in fact you don’t use railroad tracks anymore, but West Virginia was paved with railroad tracks for a lot of years because that’s the only way they could get signal around to the various homes. But we used railroad tracks, we did everything…
DURATZ: George, you’d better explain what that means. They might think of real railroad tracks.
GARDNER: Well, it was open wire transmission line, a balanced transmission line as compared with coaxial cable, which is unbalanced transmission line.
DURATZ: With little spaces that made it look like railroad.
TUDEK: Is this what they called the G line?
GARDNER: No, no, this is even different than G line. That’s a surface wave which we haven’t touched on here but I sold a good bit of that too. But the problems we had back then were if you had a water tank or if you had anything that a house was behind and they couldn’t get signal direct from the station you had to devise some way to do it. That’s what the cable system does today. But going from that where we took those tough problems that were in the area where the television signal actually was located and then moving it out further where there was no television signal and you had to go out on a mountain or something to find it… I finally got interested in what Al Warren was writing about Bob Tarlton and in early 1951 started to build my first system. We turned it on in December of 1951 and we had one channel. That’s the only one I could find in the area. It was difficult to get people interested in one channel, especially with the fact that I had a signal at the antenna terminals of 100 microvolts, which as any one that’s been in the business for awhile knows was probably not enough to make a good picture. But you could see people moving, shall we say, on the television set and you could hear it. It was a quality signal so that people would really become, like some of these gentleman have said, and really knock your door down to want to buy it. I had to do a little bit of educating to people and it took me about six months before I could get the dealers in town to actually stock television sets and I did that by stocking them myself and saying if you won’t sell the television sets than I will.
LOCKMAN: What did you charge for one channel?
GARDNER: It was $145 installation fee. I just checked that in my reference material here, and we charged $3.50 a month. You ask why $3.50, why $145 – well, I think that’s what Bob was charging and I just copied him.
I. GANS: We charged the same price for three channels. They got a better deal from us.
GARDNER: You’re exactly right. I would have charged more if I could because it was a little difficult to sell. But asked Bob one time, why did you charge $3.50? Or was it $3.00?
TARLTON: I started with $3.00. Everybody else that came in would say, “I’m going to charge $3.50.” They finally moved up to $4.00 and $5.00, and I was stuck with $3.00. I was afraid to raise it any more because of the customers and finally my board says, “Bob, you’re starting to get tight in here, you’d better get your rates raised.” So that’s what prompted me.
GARDNER: But I asked you one time why you started with $3.00 and you said that’s what the telephone company charged. I think that’s what the telephone company charged.
TARLTON: Did I say that?
GARDNER: That’s what you told me. The telephone company charged…
TARLTON: It was kind of an arbitrary… As a matter of fact, I must confess, I think I checked in Philadelphia what the apartment houses were charging. They were charging a rental also and it was somewhere about 1 ½ or two or three dollars a month for this, and the $3.00 was what I arbitrarily… it was an arbitrary figure and the installation was $100 but nobody else went with $100, they were “Oh, we’re going to get more.” And they all did get more. But I charged $100 until a couple of years later we went and disband that rate. We went to a higher rate and only charged a minimal installation fee.
LOCKMAN: How many channels did they get for $3?
TARLTON: In the beginning it was only 2 channels. Soon channel 10 in Philadelphia came on, 3 channels. And then about a year later when I changed the antenna site, a better site on the other side of Summit Hill and didn’t go through Summit Hill, still battling with them – as a matter of fact, I built the complete line and we then had five channels out of New York.
LOCKMAN: Joe, you charged how much for three channels?
J. GANS: $3.75.
LOCKMAN: And the hookup charge was how much?
J. GANS: $125.
LOCKMAN: How long did you leave it at $3.75?
J. GANS: Oh, for a good many years.
I. GANS: Quite a few years until we started building up with other channels and then you start putting more plant in and then you needed more revenue – you had to raise your rates.
LOCKMAN: Len, what did they charge in Williamsport in the beginning?
ECKER: We charged $150 to get on the system, we charged $4.95 a month, but I think that, unless I’m badly mistaken, that system was the first five channel system. I was a consulting engineer with an outfit that had started up in Washington D.C. supplying equipment to apartment houses called Entron and it was with Entron’s five channel amplifier that we put five channels into Williamsport. Everybody else at that time, to the best of my knowledge, I could be wrong, everybody else had three channels running on three different amplifiers whereas the Entron group ran five channels on a single amplifier, a broadband amplifier, and I believe that was the first, if I recall correctly.
TARLTON: I should explain, whenever I was building for the Capital Group in Williamsport, Len was across the river building on… was it West Williamsport?
ECKER: South Williamsport.
TARLTON: South Williamsport building a system there. So we were in competition, but I was so interested… I didn’t even know what he was doing. I was so busy trying to get this thing in order but later on I knew Ecker because then he came with Jerrold.
GARDNER: I think Williamsport… Nebby still has the highest pole plant in the country because everyone that wanted to build another system just replaced all the poles and they kept going higher and higher. I seem to recall there were four cable systems operating at one time in Williamsport.
ECKER: One of the things that nobody had mentioned with regards… we talked about getting on the poles, there was something called National Safety Code which determines what you can do on a pole, and the positions on a pole are specifically spelled out with regards to the voltage being carried by the power company and the telephone companies as well. We would always have to get between the telephone company and power, and you had to be at least 40 inches away from power if it was not primary power, and a foot above the telephone company, and frequently we had to pay the power company – because the telephone company would never let us on their poles – we would have to pay the power company to change the pole to make room enough for us to get on in many areas.
LOCKMAN: I want to find out from Jim and John what they charged and how many channels they had in the beginning.
DURATZ: $125, $3.50 a month for three channels.
RIGAS: We charged $150 to connect and $2.95 for two snowy channels. When I reflect on… one of the reasons that I remember – Milt Shapp came up and suggested that we charge $150 because there was that question that we weren’t going to be around too long.
J. GANS: That’s right.
RIGAS: And we had to get our money up front. As I look at how we went from $150 and really not getting the customers on so we dropped it down to $135 and when we started our second system we started at $125 and that didn’t do it, we went to $75 and we went to $37.50 eventually, and some years later in the mid-60s we were still searching for customers and competing with the antennas and trying to get people to come on. It wasn’t as if they were all chasing us to get on; we were trying to get customers on. We eventually went to hooking them up for free and on Thanksgiving I’d give a turkey away. Whatever it took. But I think back and the best promotion we ever had was when we decided to pay the potential customers, to give him $37.50 for their antenna and once we got that antenna off that roof we were in good shape. That was a great promotion.
DURATZ: I’d like to add something to that, too because I notice now, John, that they’re buying dishes back.
RIGAS: That’s correct, and I had a big discussion…
DURATZ: We did the same thing. We had tons of antennas.
RIGAS: I’d just like to comment a little bit, because times have changed but we forget… I was talking to our marketing people not too long ago and our competitor is, you know, the dish people, the direct to satellite people, and I said, “Well, what are we doing to get back some of those customers we’ve lost?” The usual thing, the mailers and service and all that sort of thing. Well, I said, “Did you ever think about buying the dishes back?” “Oh, we can’t afford that! We wouldn’t do that!” I said, “My God! We couldn’t afford $37.50,” and now we are offering $100, in some cases $200, to get them back and it’s working.”
GARDNER: What do you do with all those dishes that you buy back, John? That’s what I’d like to know.
RIGAS: What, the dishes or the antennas?
GARDNER: No, no, the dishes. You can’t resell them because then you’ll lose the customer.
I. GANS: Save them for the cable museum.
RIGAS: I remember the antennas we bought back ended up in Florida being sold as antennas again. They moved them down there.
GARDNER: We had to reinvent the wheel to buy back dishes apparently but it’s a great sales gimmick.
DURATZ: I’d like to make one more comment about the beginning. When we started with three channels in Meadville, everything that was ever done since never created as much as excitement as we did with the three channels. We added five and it was exciting, but after that, television became old hat. But when they had nothing and we brought three channels in that was big excitement and all the other stuff that happened after that seemed to just be accepted. It went back to what you said, Irene, about when you add channels you have to increase the prices – all of the sudden we get into a… every time you pick up an article now in the newspaper that cable overcharges but we were charging more than $1.00 a channel when we first started and now it’s less money than that. But you’re buying channels now, it’s a whole new picture now. People didn’t complain about that $3.50 a month.