Interview Date: October 12, 2005
Interview Location: Denver, CO USA
Interviewer: Kristin Van Ormer
Collection: Hauser Collection
Note: Audio only
DASH: My name is Gerald M. Dash, and at the present time I’m Vice-President of New Business Development and Training for RCH Cable Outsourcing Services in Morristown, New Jersey. So I’ve been with Bob Haggis about three years.
VAN ORMER: And how and why did you get started in the cable industry?
DASH: It’s very, very interesting. I was going for my MBA at night school at the University of Bridgeport. In fact, I was telling Lisa that my MBA, I’m going to try to get a copy of my thesis, is in municipal owned cable television, and that’s what sort of spiked my interest in the business. So as part of the municipal ownership of cable, I interviewed a guy named Dave Strassler, who was the chairman of the board of UA Columbia Cable out of Westport, Connecticut, but he happened to be a first selectman, like a mayor, of Westport, Connecticut, and I interviewed him for my thesis. About six months later I was about halfway through my MBA and he called me, I was a media planner at Ogilvy and Mather Advertising in New York, and he called me and asked me to go to UA Columbia in Oakland, New Jersey to work for Bill and Kay Koplovitz. I saw them today. That was my first real position in franchising. We went through about fifty or sixty public hearings, and there was a company in West Nyack, New York called Cable Information Systems that Don was with, and I was hired by the president of the company to be the director of sales and marketing. That was good because that was the first cable system in the United States to introduce HBO as a brand new cable system, not going back to a mature system. So we built that for about a year and a half, and then I saw TelePrompTer Cable TV signed a contract for HBO, and they were looking for a director of pay TV. I sent a resume to Bill Bresnan and Russell Karp, who was the chairman, and Bill and Russell hired me. I was at TelePrompTer for about a year and half, and I did about ninety launches across the United States for them. So we sold about 250,000 HBO customers out of a million mature customers. So that was good. And then I saw that… I lived in Darien, Connecticut and I saw that they were building a system in Bridgeport, Connecticut, which had perfect off-air television reception, and it was the Oristano family, Victor Oristano, who’s been in cable a long time, and Matthew Oristano, his son, and so we built Bridgeport area, Fairfield, Connecticut, in that area, and then we built Matchinson and Highland Park, New Jersey, and Chester, Pennsylvania, and so we eventually sold that to different cable companies, and then we sold that to TKR and other companies. I consulted for awhile, and I guess it was about 1985, Victor Oristano asked me to go to the UK and we built cable systems in England, in Creighton, just below London. Chuck Dolan was our partner, so his son Matthew started, with me; we started Bravo as a classic movie channel, which is on the satellite now. I was over there for about three years. Eventually it was moving a little bit slow for cable, so they sold to United Cable. Came back from that and Multivision Cable TV in Greenwich, Connecticut, I was director of sales there for the whole country for about three or four years at Multivision Cable TV, and they sold the company. So then the Oristanos came back to me again and the Oristanos had just bought People’s Choice TV, a wireless cable company, sort of a competitor. So I was there for about six years in Tucson, Arizona, and then they sold that to Sprint Broadband, and I’m still very friendly with them today. RCN after that, the fiber optic overbuilding. It was just about that time where RCN was not getting a lot of their financing after two or three years that I had known Bob Halkis for many, many years and he and I chatted and so in 2000, 2001 I went in with Bob, so I’ve been working with Bob for about three years and enjoy it tremendously because I’m really helping the cable television industry now because we have almost 150 projects across the United States, audits, collections, and sales, and we have a thousand people hit the field every day, and we work for most of the top ten cable companies. This is a very enjoyable thing that we’re doing. So actually in one way I’m really helping them.
VAN ORMER: Now you got involved in the cable industry during the ’70s?
DASH: Right in the early ’70s. In fact, when I was at UA Columbia with Kay Koplovitz, they were actually sending me down to Pennsylvania to watch the launch of Channel 100, which was a forerunner to HBO. So we were actually watching that, yes.
VAN ORMER: So do you have any memorable stories or experiences because those were some crazy days and not very stable?
DASH: Hundreds! In fact, my wife has told me that I should really sit down and write a book about it and call it From the Trenches. A lot of my career I’ve worked in the field with the salespeople, but I would say that the experiences at Goodview Cable TV selling packaging for the first time was a very memorable experience because no one knew really what packaging was about and how to do it. I mean, I was selling basic HBO, Madison Square Garden, and about 12 or 15 television stations, the whole box, for about $12.95 a month for everything, which was a good price. So that was a good experience. TelePrompTer was very, very interesting because I had eighty or ninety launches around the country and some of it was very good, and some of it was very subtle. If you were successful, you got about 30% of the existing cable people, a little one-channel box converter. It was interesting. A manager once got so nervous he got drunk, so I had to have him taken home for the launch. I remember I launched Jamestown, New York and I pleaded with TelePrompTer corporate not to launch that Friday night because HBO’s colors were red, and people were calling and saying you’re the devil because the movie that night was Lenny, with all very bad words and everything. And they cost us the launch, they didn’t listen to me and they launched it. So we only hit for about 14%. That was very, very interesting. Working with the Oristanos in Bridgeport, Connecticut was good because that was the beginning, again, of packaging and things like that. That was tough because it was perfect off-air reception, so you just again had HBO, Madison Square Garden, that kind of thing. I think the experience in England was the most creative and the toughest project I ever had to do because about 40% of the people were senior citizens, 30% did not like television, so I was left with only about 25-30%. We worked pretty hard at it. We had a lot of different experiences. I’ve seen a lot of people grow within the industry, which was very important to me. Mike Snyder, who is now senior vice-president of sales and marketing for Comcast in the whole northeast region, was with me in two or three different companies over the years, so it was good.
VAN ORMER: Well, now, you mentioned your experience in England with Bravo, but I know you also hold a patent on sales technique, a door-to-door sales technique.
DASH: Over the years, when I sold myself, over the years I found that selling by appointment was much better, and if they weren’t interested change the no into an appointment and go back and sell it. It was very successful. People asked me to write it up as a 16 page document, and then I guess it was about four or five years ago we decided to apply for copyright and that’s what we received on. So when I came to RCH, I filed for copyright as RCH and myself, so I really turned it over, and we use it for sales in the field, but it was adopted – the system, “appointment, presentation, sale” – was adopted by almost every cable system in Britain because we used it very heavily in the UK, and we were the best penetrated. It wasn’t a lot, but it was the best, about 21-22%. So I refined it. In fact, we just applied for a secondary copyright where I made it a little more simple for people, but whole companies have run on that. RCN ran on it. The Oristanos loved it as a system. The Oristanos would raise capital off the board to show that we had control of the salespeople. It was very simple, teaching people how to get in the door, and teaching them to close and not to be jumping around on the doorstep trying to sell it on the doorstep kind of thing.
VAN ORMER: Well, we’ve all seen a lot of changes in the last ten year or so with convergence and consolidation. What do you think cable’s biggest strength right now is that’s going to see it through over its competitors?
DASH: When I’m teaching people now, I spend a lot of time on DBS and I try to make the salespeople understand that the satellite can not do video-on-demand, it cannot do high-speed data because they tried it, you know, direct space way, it didn’t work, and they cannot do VOIP because of the latency problem. So I see that for now as something that will help them very strongly. I think the customer service has to come up. I don’t like to see the J.D. Power studies come out and show DBS number one, number two, actually RCN was number three, and then a cable company. I think they have products… one of the things we’re working on now is we have Dish win-backed programs where we work for the cable companies and try to get the people to come back from satellite to cable, very difficult, and they pay a lot for it but they’ve got to pay more because it’s a very, very tough sale because a lot of these people are wedded to what they do. One of our things is we do face-to-face, and that’s what’s important. We don’t use the phone at all. To me, the new products that are coming on the market are more exciting. That’s why I was very glad to work for RCN, even though they’re having financial problems now, but the point was for two years I was selling cable, long-distance, local telephone, and high-speed data, so I was selling a quad package. Three or four years ago, a lot of people were not. That was almost four years ago. So that gave me a background, but I think now the products are more exciting. HBO On-Demand to me, is more exciting right now, that kind of a thing.
VAN ORMER: Great. What would you say cable’s legacy is?
DASH: In terms of?
VAN ORMER: In terms of how it’s impacted our world that we live in today?
DASH: I think it’s really impacted it. I think it’s changed a lot of lives. What I’m glad about; it’s given people jobs within the industry and created a lot of jobs. We pay our people weekly, which is very unusual, and I’m very pleased that we can pay people to work in the field to get it done. A lot of the people who are here tonight work very, very hard, and I think that’s part of what its legacy is, but it’s got to move to the next level. It’s got to really trumpet the things that they have that the other people don’t have. For a period of time – I didn’t mention it – but for a period of time of two years, I worked for Bell Atlantic Video, so I even worked on the phone side and at the end we were a reseller for Direct TV and I could see how difficult in a way that was. So I don’t put a lot of stock in these marriages that the telephone companies are doing. I think it’s going to be very important for the young people who are coming up within the business, and I think there’s got to be a lot more mentoring within the business kind of a thing. So to me that’s part of its legacy. And to be very honest, I tell people when I train them, I’ve never had a dull day in 31 years in the business because something always is different and going on, and it does get in your blood.
VAN ORMER: What about relationships in the industry? You’ve mentioned a few people, but you really see it in events like tonight, the relationships that go back.
DASH: Oh, yes, very definitely. And you don’t know how those relationships come around. Just the other day, I was trying to produce a project for the company at Cox up in Phoenix, and a gentleman said, “Hey, Gerry, I remember when you used to come up and train people for the People’s Choice TV, the wireless, and I’m now in charge of door-to-door contract sales for Cox in Phoenix,” so a lot of it is built on relationships. We do collections in the state of Minnesota for Charter because of my relationship with the man who runs Minnesota. So relationships are very important, and people work on that, I think, a lot. It’s a great pleasure to see people over the years come back and help other people. So we do that.
VAN ORMER: Great. Well, Gerry, is there anything else you’d like to touch on?
VAN ORMER: Oh, well, thank you so much for coming in and sharing your perspectives with us.
DASH: I appreciate it.