Interview Date: September 15, 1993
Interview Location: Silver Spring, MD USA
Interviewer: Archer Taylor
Collection: Archer Taylor Technical Collection
Note: Audio Only
TAYLOR: We are interviewing Hank Diambra in his home in Silver Spring, Maryland. I know Hank has been interviewed for the oral history program by Strat Smith – I think that’s correct – and so I will not go into all your personal background, except that I would like to get on the record your technical education and why you become an engineer.
DIAMBRA: That’s the question?
TAYLOR: That’s the question, yes.
DIAMBRA: Technical background was obtained sporadically. As you know the war interceded and intervened so it wasn’t one continuous learning experience. It was actually a long learning experience, but not formal. I started out by getting very, very interested in radio and electronics when I was a kid, growing up in the middle thirties. And that led to amateur radio work and that led to reading whatever I could about it. And then, subsequent to high school, which was 1940 or ’41, went to RCA Institutes of New York. And that didn’t last too long, because the job that I got, to support myself ended up in Bridgeport, Connecticut. The commuting, which was from Mount Vernon, New York, to Bridgeport, Connecticut, to New York City, downtown, and back to Mount Vernon was killing me. And so I switched to Bridgeport engineering. About that time, the war was on full bore and I was doing, believe it or not, I was working as a set up person in a [???? ] grinding department, in Bridgeport, Connecticut, in a factory, which put us on 13 hour nights, seven nights a week, which didn’t permit any college intercession. So that was kind of a hiatus was drawn at that time. And then I entered the air force, in the cadet program so I did continue with some engineering knowledge. At that point we did we went through the equivalent through two years of college in the early phases of that program … graduated as a navigator … flew the South Pacific in navigation … came back and reentered RCA. Then got married and moved here and that became impossible so I continued and finished at Capital Radio. And carried that through to a usable end, I guess. But it has been a continuing educational process from, I don’t know, from about 1933 to now.
TAYLOR: I was going to say, when were you married?
DIAMBRA: 1948 … no, I’m sorry, 1946. My first and only son was born in 1948.
TAYLOR: When did you get into CATV and why and how?
DIAMBRA: That was preceded long before there was CATV. That’s really where this all starts, Arch. Let me stop at this moment, OK?
TAYLOR: We are on again.
DIAMBRA: The question was when did I get into CATV and why. I think I want to preface everything I’m going to say and that obtains … and that applies to everything … it’s been evolutionary … there would have been a revolution in either my education or my doing things. I’ve been accused of being way ahead of my time, many, many times. You know the old definition of a guy that is ahead of his troops and get shot in the back? I’ve had that happen on a couple of occasions, too. I’ve always been interested in futures. I’ve got to set the stage for all of this. In 1940, I wrote a senior paper in my high school, as a senior in high school, which was labeled “The Peacetime Uses of Nuclear Energy.” This was 1940. At that moment … and the reason I was interested, was that I had just gotten through reading an article on fission and the potential fission that was being done in Germany and those were the days that Harold Urey was at Columbia and Enrico Fermi had just come to this country, etcetera. That so startled the English department in my high school that they handed it over to the Physics department, because they couldn’t understand what I was talking about. You know, a lump of coal having all the energy to drive a boat across the ocean and back, and all that sort of stuff.
TAYLOR: Where was that high school?
DIAMBRA: Mount Vernon, New York. AB Davis High. AB Davis High participated in those days; this was in the late thirties … very early forties, and certainly before the war, with a metropolitan New York school systems in offering college courses to high school students who scored higher than 90% in their regional exams. Now New York State was the only state, other than California with a regency system state wide. And of course, we just took it for granted that everybody did, but it turned out to be the case that that wasn’t the case. So I was a reasonably good student and particularly interested in the sciences and therefore, my scores were quite good and enough to qualify. So I took a lot of college courses while I was still in high school, then in NYU downtown, at Queen’s College and at RCA. I got more and more involved in electronics, which was being taught primarily at RCA. The rest of them were, if you were aiming to be a physicist, fine, I was more interested in the practical application of electronics. Vacuum tubes were fascinating. Manufacture of them fascinated me more. Anyway, we got to the point in this conversation, where I had served in the air force, gotten back, started a life, newly married, and supporting a wife, and shortly thereafter a son, by acting as a service manager for an electrical appliance company, which had an interesting history in that it was owned by an optical company and the optical company was owned by a guy who got the first commercial radio license in the District of Columbia – MA Leese – which is now WMAL. So Martin A. Leese owned Leese Optical. His children owned – he’s gone and dead – but his children owned… Lauren Leese Good, was the gal who was very much involved and Martin Leese, Jr. and they set up Leese Electric. Leese Electric was up on Connecticut Avenue and we did an awful lot of stuff. One of our biggest customers happened to be the estate of the Ambassador to Russia – Davies … Tregeron, that big estate in Washington … and I did all the electronic work for Davies and a lot of custom work and installation work of short wave antennas in the dacha of his and so forth and so on. And it was there that my entry into CATV really began, because we were doing a variety of things. And one of the things we were doing, since television crept up on us at that time and we were selling at least … Electrical was selling television, we couldn’t demonstrate it too well, because we were in an apartment canyon up there in Woodley, Woodley Road and so we were looking for a better way to get antennas to feed these sets. There was nothing then available that I could put my finger on to do multiple distribution of television signals from a distant antenna. And I think in my reading, after I had addressed the problem for a month or so, found an outfit up in Philadelphia … south Philadelphia, that was building equipment to do just exactly that. The outfit was Jerrold Electronics and so I called them.
TAYLOR: And this is what date?
DIAMBRA: What date? … ’50, ’49 actually. And so in ’49 I found out that what Milt Shapp was doing, was building a thing called the “Antenna Booster” … which was a little box, with a 6AG5 in it, a pair of rabbit ears and a signal tuned circuit. You put this on a television set and you twiddled everything and you got the customer so confused that he could never use it and after an half hour, there was a sketchy black and white picture. The next apartment across the hall, the thing worked perfectly. It was very difficult to explain to the average laymen … why this was so … that they would have to twiddle antenna heights, aimed in the direction totally different from where the station was … maybe tune it off frequency a little bit, to keep it from overloading his receiver … etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. But Milt sold a hell of a lot of those little 6AG5 boxes and we had finally a large supply of them … that were being scrapped as the next stage took place. It was at that stage that I got to know Shapp and Jerrold … and more specifically, a guy by the name of George Edlen, who was then a rep for Shapp. George Edlen served as a … had to do a little flash back here … in a number of capacities. He was actually a physicist … was at MIT’s Radiation Lab during the war … had come down here, to do a variety of things … not the least of which was sheet metal for MacIntosh, when Mac was making amps down here, before he moved to Binghamton so George repped a lot of sheet metal outfits and obviously got into the electronics end and so forth and so on and so he ended up knowing Shapp. Shapp at that moment was a rep … Jerrold hadn’t been …
TAYLOR: For Meissner , is what I’m told.
DIAMBRA: Meissner, , Browning … … reps card is still downstairs in my library.
DIAMBRA: Oh yes. I’ll show you a bunch of stuff. See what is fascinating to Strat is that all the antitrust proceedings are down here too. Anyhow, I met George. The reason I met George was that I called Philly … got nothing but a vague answer and it said on the card, “Hey, you want to sell something? Why don’t you let me know?” So three weeks later, in walks Edlen, says I would like to find the person who called Jerrold Electronics to find out what we are doing. I said, “What are you talking about?” He said, “Oh, we were surprised that you knew so much about what we were doing, without ever having used any of this stuff.” So we got to talking and that talk lasted from something like one in the afternoon, until about midnight. And he wanted to know was I interested in staying where I was. I was the service manager of that organization and doing what I was doing. And I said, “What else do you have in mind?” He said, “Jerrold would like to expand its coverage … and it’s still making little antenna boosters. But the thing you are interested in and we just started making … which is essentially a distributed bridging amplifier that allows signals to go through it and taps off signals and feeds them to television sets on the demonstration floor. And I said, “That’s exactly why I called you. That’s the blurb I had read and I’d like to know whether they are for sale and how much and what’s involved here … and I have to get permission to put an antenna on this eight story building and it leads down, and you know, feeds this.” Well he went through all of that. They didn’t have anything like preamplification … all they had were these bridgers. Well, obviously that’s all you needed. We were 2.5 blocks from Channel 4’s tower and in fact, our biggest selling job was in those days, was to fix television sets. By bypassing the RF out of the first stage of the audio where we’re detecting Channel 4 … that’s all they could hear – they could watch anything they wanted, but they could only watch Channel 4 and they couldn’t control Channel 4! So we would have to fix peoples television sets because the problem was obviously one of no shielding and this radiated field. So, I explained all this to George and George and I got to like each other and he was kind of an interesting character … he had problems, but he said, “Look, if you are interested, why don’t you spend some time with me after you get through work, as kind of a part time thing? And what we would like to do is to investigate putting these equipments as soon as we develop a proper amplifier into apartment buildings and do master antenna work.” Because this was the problem … had that building had a master antenna system we would simply have tapped it and feed the exposition floor and we would have been happy to sell sets. Nobody had anything. Down the street … about a block south of us on Connecticut Avenue, was a big apartment building which is still there, called the Kennedy-Warren. Kennedy-Warren overlooks Rock Creek Park. It essentially grows like a mushroom out of Rock Creek Park at Woodley Road, right next to the zoo. The Kennedy-Warren, built in about 1930 has within it, huge bedspring arrays for AM radio of the first master AM radio distribution system … had a short wave that went down to every apartment in a small special little receptacle for AM radio … Long since abandoned because it was not needed anymore. They put loop antennas, you know and radios became much more sensitive and so forth and so on … super eights were invented and so you didn’t need all this. But, the physical conduit that ran all these wires … ran down into the various and sundry apartments, was all still there. And all the AM radio wires acted as beautiful pull wires … they would be able to get something in and out. So it was a logical, practical experiment, that maybe if anybody wanted to do something with coax and television, this was the place to do it. I’m talking about 1950 now.
TAYLOR: Were you aware at that time of the RCA Antennaplex, that they were using in apartments? And the one that Martin Malarkey and some others used to get started in cable television, you were aware of them?
DIAMBRA: Yes, became aware of all this, because as I said my focus was on other things and then it became directed more and more towards getting signals to receivers. As we were trying to sell more and more television in an area totally bounded by apartment canyons where outside antennas were not permitted and customers who were thoroughly “teed off” about the lousy pictures we were selling them. Rabbit ears were no answer at all. I mean, rabbit ears were the most unreliable, but more than that, difficult to explain that here, this orientation for this channel was totally different and you could get an entirely different picture by moving it three feet … nobody could quite understand that, because AM radio didn’t work that way! So, this led to George suggesting that I put in a few hours a day or a week, with him, to explore the feasibility of his selling more and more stuff in this area. So George was responsible for putting the first such composite master antenna system into service … in this metropolitan area … Mid-Atlantic at the Campbell Music Company in 1950, downtown, where Milt’s saw to it, that the chassis for this preamp was chrome … solid chrome plated … major display you see, with all these vacuum tubes sticking out … one for each channel, adjustable, collected and fed out through the single coax that distributed out by the bridges down on the lower floor. This was Campbell Music Company that basically sold pianos … they also started selling television sets, in the early days. And so, that’s where George installed the first Jerrold.
TAYLOR: Do you have an approximate date for that?
DIAMBRA: 1950 is all I can tell you. I can’t remember precisely when because I was still working elsewhere and serving him as a tech, primarily, and helping him solve problems. He was a physicist, not a electronics man. He made it play. I went down there and twiddled some knobs for him … we got it playing fine and George decided that he would like to be related to Jerrold, but be independent from Jerrold and he wanted know if I wanted to work with him in setting up a company to install and service and elaborate on master antennas in Washington, DC. I said, “Sure.” So on September 1, 1951, I left the Leese Electrical Company and went to work for an outfit that just formed called the Bellmore Company. A very interesting play on words, because Bellmore had nothing to do with what we were doing. The guy’s name, who was going to supply some of the financing was Bellmore, and he was an electrical contractor in town. And we were looking for a place to do business and Bellmore knew a guy by the name of Segal who was at that moment, making some pretty good bucks after having been through eight or ten bankruptcies … he finally hit it … he hit the liquor business. But he also got into real estate and this was the booming of the Washington real estate and he ended up owning an apartment house at Rock Creek Drive and P Street … where P goes right over Rock Creek Drive, which had been built years before, in the twenties probably, and certainly looked it, where the lower level … this remember is on quite a slope … and the lower level was accessible from the P Street side, was a gallery of shops … semi-circular gallery, with a lot of store fronts, none of which was active, the whole thing was totally vacant. And so, Segal offered, through Bellmore … our beginning was in two of these little stores, down off this lower gallery on P Street. And we ran the Bellmore Company for quite a while … put in master antenna systems, starting with 20, 30, 40 units and got up to several thousands and we acquired a guy that did a job for Milt Shapp. The job he did was an illegal job. And very few people, if any, know this story and although it’s not technical, it bears on the technicality … biggest problem then, for Milt, even a master antenna, was getting coaxial cable. Because in 1950, there was a thing called the Korean War and the Korean War snapped it all up and put a military lid on it and said, “I’m sorry, but you can’t have it.” And so Milt came to Washington, and ran into an attorney by the name of Henry M. Kannee and Henry Kannee had been for 30 years, personal secretary to President Roosevelt, even before President Roosevelt became President Roosevelt. Henry Kannee was an incredible shorthand expert. Henry Kannee took down everything he ever heard, with whatever was at hand. And I’ve had luncheons with Henry where whole napkins and tablecloths were in Pitman, not Gregg. Pitman Because Henry was, long before that in his youth, a top rated reporter for the New York State Supreme Court, southern New York. Henry had moved here with Roosevelt … stayed after it was low tide … set up shop as a lawyer and Milt saw him. How the two got together, I don’t know. But Henry, through his influences … Democratic Party etcetera … got a little legislation passed, where CATV was in the public interest because of the dissemination of information, especially war information …
TAYLOR: This was a Congressional act or a local … ?
DIAMBRA: Never a local … no, through the RFC … Reconstruction Finance Corporation.
TAYLOR: Regulation by the RFC?
DIAMBRA: Yes, so that cable became available for this purpose and suddenly Milt got cable and he paid all of $500 for this, get it?
TAYLOR: That’s interesting.
DIAMBRA: That’s the start of cable television.
TAYLOR: I would like to back up to … who was the one that had the sheet metal work for Milt?
DIAMBRA: George Edlen was repping … I don’t know remember … this was of really no interest to me at that moment so it’s not stuck in my mind, but George Edlen was repping a sheet metal vending outfit … remember we were the southern tier of the no-man’s-land of industrial development here … Washington wasn’t known in the ’50s as a place where you could start a business … especially a machine shop or a sheet metal business. So MacIntosh was down here … you know, Mac? … and he needed sheet metal so George vended it to him. And I think one of the reasons Mac moved north was to get back to where industry really congregates and moved to Binghamton, New York … that’s where they are.
TAYLOR: This is Edlen?
TAYLOR: Edlen. Now George G. Edlen … Milt did a lot of sheet metal Dalck Feith and I’m wondering if there is any connection in …
DIAMBRA: George knew Dalck Feith very well.
TAYLOR: Was Feith the sheet metal man that George was representing then?
DIAMBRA: He represented Feith and I don’t know whether Feith was the guy that did it for MacIntosh or not … George was representing … he represented sheet metal, he represented Jerrold, he then ended up working for Jerrold. George was a physicist, not a real huckster and George learned …
TAYLOR: I was going to say that those two things don’t usually go together.
DIAMBRA: Right. And George learned, that number one, he didn’t practice physics when you were selling sheet metal and you sure as hell didn’t try and sell sheet metal while you were practicing physics so this was, as I said … George had some problems in getting organized in his life. Unfortunately, George committed suicide tragically, years later, but that is all part of this story that goes on because there is a very intricate part of the story … one he left me and we had already formed Entron and he went to Phelps Dodge. There is a whole story here. Anyway, Edlen and I worked … did everything … swept floors you know, installed the stuff … fixed the stuff that wouldn’t work from Jerrold, da-da-da and went into master antenna systems business. Bernie Bellmore and Henry Kannee came in … Bernie and Henry were old friends. Henry did this for Jerrold so the Bellmore Company started not only installing CATV systems, but owning them, operating them and charging for them. So we were essentially in the cable system vertically, before there ever was a cable television system anywhere. This is about the time that Panther Valley and Bob Tarlton were messing around for the same reason that I was here, except that their problems were the opposite ends of the spectrum. They had no signals. We had an incredible variety that we couldn’t do anything with. I’ll tell you, that was more truth than fiction, because one of the jobs I did was then, and may still be, the biggest apartment house under one roof … in fact it was so big under one roof that they literally sawed the building in half to get FHA financing for both halves and it’s called the Woodner down on 16th Street and the park. Lots … there were something like 1310 units in that building. That building is much more than appears on the street. Most of that building is in the park … it has seven wings to it. We were given the job. Jerrold had the contract … it was written as the engineering spec by the architect who put a system in. Jonathan Woodner, from New York, came down and built this thing. Well, as the building finally got built, George says, “Well, we’ve got to stick it in and make it play. This is a job that I inherited from Shapp. Nothing that Shapp sent down would even remotely work. Who needs a preamp when I can spit at the rivets at every tower in town? My problem is what do I do with 2.50 volts across-a dipole on an elevator, right? What do I do with every set connected to anything at the top floor? Like who needs an antenna. What I need is filters. So I design a totally passive distribution network for this with appropriate filters to knock levels down to a reasonable level because channel 9, then known as OIC … WOIC … you know, is just melting glass. Everything was coming in like crazy. Our problem was not “how do you get pictures?” … our problem was how in the hell do you get decent pictures under those circumstances. Remember sets … no screening. You could whistle through most sets. Certainly if the picture tube faced the window, forget it. Anyway, so that was the problem. Well, Milt was absolutely furious. There wasn’t a damn that was Jerrold, except the taps and the building. And so we were called … summoned is the word … to Philly, to explaining what the hell we were doing … because this was a Jerrold system and there wasn’t anything Jerrold in it, except taps, which were invisible to anybody, and the rest of it was stuff that I was designing and building here. And I said, “Well Milt, I would assume that your contract said that you had to put in a playing, operating system, for you to get paid. I could put your stuff in it, and I’ll guarantee you that it won’t play or operate and you’ll be down there servicing it 40 times a day. God only knows how long your contract is going to run, but you are also going to a very pissed off Jonathan Woodner Company whose going to be very unhappy about their tenants being not taken care of.” He said, “Well I can’t understand this. It plays everywhere.” I said, “Well Milt, you never asked. Nobody ever looked at the conditions. You designed the specs when it was on paper in New York. You had no idea where it was going to sit in Washington, but I can look at all towers from the top of the elevator penthouse and count rivets.” And I said, “You are talking about 100KW to 316KW running down your throat. What do you want to do with it?” Don Kirk at the time, was at NRL. I don’t know whether Don ever told you this, but Edlen and Kirk knew each other, from the Jerrold thing. I met Don Kirk, an old friend of Don’s and Alice and I don’t know, I think it was 11 kids … whatever number of kids they had … it was a troop full. They lived out in Clinton, Maryland and he was working at NRL. Well Don got his doctorate on the $100 colored television set in 1950. Whether he ever told you that, I don’t know, but that’s what George told me and I was duly impressed with meeting Don Kirk you know in Clinton, and we worked some problems … mostly having to do with reflectometers and measuring phase delays and stuff like that. Anyway, Milt asked Kirk to solve the problem. Kirk took one look and said, “What do you need a system for?” And I said, “Yes, I could do it with a wet rope, Don. And Milt wants to know why I don’t stick preamps in.” He said, “Preamps?!! You say you need prefilters and preattenuators?” I said, “Yes, that’s right.” The only problem is that anything that we do with the system is useless because between the wall and the set you have a piece of cable which acts generally unterminated on the set end … unterminated at the tap end, because the tap is just a capacitative tap and you’ve got yourself another antenna and if you happen to be a quarter wave long, you are going to burn the rivets out of everything.” Which was the case. And I said, “We don’t control that. People move in and they call a technician … and a service tech, or whoever sells them the set just expects to plug it in a wall” … and in those days there wasn’t too much general knowledge on the public sport of about coax and fittings, etcetera, which were horrendously bad, made by Workshop Associates … there was no such thing as the F fitting … hadn’t been invented. So the problem was, how do you get a bad situation, turned around to be reasonably good and I said, “I did the best I could Don … it was all passive.” And he said, “Well, I wouldn’t have done anything differently.” And so he apparently told Milt, and we got paid. Well, not long thereafter, Bellmore got a contract … we bid the contract and won it to do the Quantico Marine Schools, which was a bit far down … it was 40 miles out of town … and we learned all about the problems of CATV. We went from vertical distribution, to horizontal distribution … ran through all the attics … building after building … tying buildings together … drunks and so forth, and so on … and learned that very little that Milt was doing was going to work.
TAYLOR: Now what year was that … the Quantico?
DIAMBRA: Quantico was in ’52 … or overlapped ’53 perhaps. And to be very candid perhaps, I may have been one of the few people in this country whoever found out all about coaxial cable, the hard way. The name that rang a bell in my mind, when we bought coax, was the good company like Amphenol … nothing wrong with Amphenol … top grade company, right? And so we bought a whole bunch of RG11 to use … remember the Milt taps didn’t work on the RG11 … only worked on 59 …
TAYLOR: That’s right.
DIAMBRA: And we couldn’t run 59, because you got nowhere … cause Milt didn’t have the output.
TAYLOR: They called them the “C Series” …”C” connectors.
DIAMBRA: Right. And Milt didn’t have the output on his equipment to run forever … he only had a tenth of a volt coming out of 75 ohms … so we couldn’t get very far. And so we needed more power or lower losses. I couldn’t get more power … I wasn’t designing equipment. Milt only had that. He said, “But you’ll get the new line, as soon as we release it.” It’s like three months down the pike … he said, “Well, there are higher powered strips and so forth and so on.” Remember all these strips were synchronously tuned … 6AK5’s … not the way to go where you have overlaps and stuff coming in from Richmond, you know. So, we did our best. Again, here is a system being bid Jerrold and it’s virtually nothing that resembles Jerrold, except some of the taps. Well, we had 59 subdistribution. The major taps were the trunks in the attic had to be stuff that I was building … literally building, for RG11. And I remember cranking up signals that eventful weekend. We had one guy, who was just a story and an interview of its own … but we won’t get into that … his name was Bob Duggan and later ended up in Hollywood, in many, many films for television made there. Bob was quite a guy. Bob was the only guy that ever fell through a ceiling installing RG11 … right into a Colonel’s bedroom, right in the middle of the bed! That’s right! Surprised that Colonel’s wife to no end. Really, that was quite a story. Anyway, we bumped signals through and everything came out fine at the other end, except Channel 7 … and Channel 7 just seemed to disappear. And so we trudge back to the antenna site … and there was a helluva good picture off 7 … there was a helluva good picture coming out of the preamps … and there was a helluva good picture going into the RG11 and we troop to the ass end of the system and there was nothing out on Channel 7 … but everything else came out fine. We are talking 1950 some odd, right? Now, nothing in coaxial cable does this, right? Nothing like this can happen. You got to … as Edlen was telling me, with lots of physical explanations, coax is a hugely broadband carrier … I mean you can’t … Rudolph Soria, Dr. Rudolph Soria, was then Director of Engineering for Amphenol.
TAYLOR: How do you spell Soria?
DIAMBRA: He was Director of Engineering and Research for Amphenol. So I called Dr. Soria, very respectfully on the phone and told him that his cable was able to pass many things, but not Channel 7. And I hear this distinct sudden quiet at the other end of Chicago. And he wants to know what the hell is going on at the east coast … was trying to … was this a joke? … having fun? … What the hell is going on? Well, he became apprised that this was no joke after about 20 minutes. And he said, “Well Mr. Diambra, there’s only one thing you are going to have to do … I have no explanation for this … I don’t know if you are really telling me the truth. I don’t know if it’s really happening, but my thought was to get an Amphenol man from Chicago to Washington or to Quantico and physically look to see what we were doing wrong. He said, “Take the cable and send it back.” I said, “Dr. Soria, this cable is in no position to be taken and sent back. It’s installed all over the damn place … you know, through attics. He said, “Well, do you have any left?” I said, “We may have several hundred feet left, on a reel of the same cable lot.” He said, “Please send that back.” I think a month went by. I get very nervous because we are still not delivering 7. I’m ready to recommend that we yank new cable, which is a hell of an expense … which wasn’t going to be reimbursed … which would have caused us to take a major loss, at a time when all we were looking for is a little cash to get ahead. And so the decision making required that I call Soria, which I did. They said, “Oh yes, that’s right. Have we gotten in touch with you?” And I said, “About what, Dr. Soria?” He said, “Well, about your last call to me about this cable.” I said, “No, we have not heard word. And we are very anxious to hear.” He said, “Well, you have a point.” Oh. So I made a trip to Chicago. I went to visit their sales department and got a marvelous reception and it turned out that I was totally correct. The cable was acting as a very large filter, with a huge hole right in the middle of Channel 7 and it sucked it down about 64 dBs. But everything else seemed to go zipping right on by with virtually no attenuation except the normal, you know, linear. And so, they had done a lot of thinking and talking about it. They had assigned one engineer to it and he had discovered that a lopping capstan, when it is extruded, will put an iterative tiny bump, in the order of 1,000 … enough to cause the iteration, when multiplied over a long lime, to be very responsive frequency wise.
TAYLOR: Very high Q!
DIAMBRA: In fact, quite high Q … surprising to them, considering the loss characteristics of the cable, it was a very high Q. And Charlie … whose last name I can’t remember, was the engineer assigned who later became the president, years later, of Amphenol. So Charlie and I have been friends for many, many years. He thought I was a little nutty as a fruit cake to begin with, but after his investigation … there is a lot of respect for Hank Diambra up there. This has a great bearing on my attitude towards cable television … I’ll tell you why in just a moment. And essentially why I got that plaque from the NCTA up there … I listened very carefully. I was shown the extrudes. I spent a weekend in Chicago. The cable was made available to us gratis … they changed the lopping rate. I said, “All you are doing is changing the frequency.” He said, “Yes.” I said, “Well, the reason they wanted to talk to me was …” “Where do you want us to put the hole?” I said, “Well, put it between four and five. I couldn’t care less what comes through there. But don’t put it somewhere else, because it may work at Quantico but kill me in another town!” So that’s how cable holes by Amphenol got between four and five, because I told Charlie … what is … I can’t remember now … Camillo … Charlie Camillo, was the guy who was assigned to research that program and after that, they had real second thoughts about the manufacture of flexible coaxial cable. Because then they discovered that the braiding, also had serious effects because it was essentially repetitive and redundant and iterative and in combination with the iteration of the foaming … it wasn’t bad on solid on dialectic … it got to be intolerable on foam. Well the years kept going by. We made Quantico work. They replaced the cable … they wouldn’t pay us for rehauling it, but they gave us free cable … made it play. And by God, they did put it between four and five. And so that was a lesson that I just never forgot because it cost us all of the profit and about 4,000 more of pure loss out of this Quantico job, on which we were depending to stay alive … so things got a little rough. Edlen, in fact, because he wasn’t doing the technical work that I was doing, had to leave the company, because we couldn’t pay him. And so the beginnings were pretty rough. Anyway, we learned about high level operation and we learned about cable with holes in it … right here in the Washington area. About that time, Milt was thoroughly exploring real horizontal distribution … CATV, as we call it today. He was interested in more Panther Valleys … more situations of that kind … because Milt was very anxious to sell equipment as well as what he was making and taps, which was very nice. And Milt figured that he would have … you know, the business owed everything to Milt. We started playing around … didn’t know quite how to approach that. And Edlen … I can’t remember the intricate and intimate details of this, met a fellow from Pottsville, Pennsylvania by the name of Robert J. McGeehan. How or why that meeting took place, I don’t remember. I think it was in response to a telephone call that was placed to us as to whether we were making equipment or not. I guess somebody was scouring the field and our name came up that we were doing master antenna in Washington. So George took the call and went up north and I don’t know whether he went to Pottsville or Bob met him half way down, but they talked for awhile. And George came back down, all excited saying, “Hey we got a potential new customer. But we’ve got to make equipment for it.” I said, “George, we are not a design house. We are not a manufacturing company. We do installation and design for systems.” So, running a bunch of rental operations down here, we have the Quebec House … we have the Kennedy-Warren then … we had a number of others where we were charging rent all for the use of master antenna systems. He said, “Well, there is a potential big bunch of money to be made if we can design equipment for … that’s coming up with these cable systems.” So we went to Front Royal, Virginia … which is where Milt was installing something and looked to see what happened in Front Royal. Well, the picture … I had to reorganize my entire thinking about the business. We were talking about huge amounts of signal in the metropolitan Washington area … means to cut them down … all these passive systems … whereas Front Royal was out in the hills … you know, looking for signals is a different story and so we had to reorganize to start thinking about high gain equipment … selective equipment, distribution equipment, etceteras … all of this good stuff. In the meantime, Milt had been modifying … upgrading as I think the computer age knows it … upgrading little bridgers and distribution amplifiers … that sort of stuff, with an eye toward cable.
TAYLOR: When was the move to Front Royal, do you think?
DIAMBRA: ’53 – ’54 … something like that. Anyway, George and I visited … came back with the idea that “OK, let’s try an experiment, without too thoroughly affecting Bellmore and its operations.” Let me design a piece of equipment that would serve McGeehan’s purpose and a fellow by the name of Heimbach, with whom Bob McGeehan was associated in Pottsville. Remember, Marty had just put together this system in Pottsville.
TAYLOR: That’s the end of the tape. Let me turn it over…
END OF TAPE 1, SIDE A
START TAPE 1, SIDE B
TAYLOR: … we are on the air now.
DIAMBRA: And so … let me just me repeat … Marty had built the Pottsville system. McGeehan was up there. His prior experience had been as a salesman selling stoves for the Seigler (spelling?) Corporation and he had run into an old friend by the name of Heimbach who was also a resident of Pottsville but whose specialty was black market kind of money … you know, a few slots here, a few slots there … etcetera, etcetera. Anyway, Francis Heimbach wanted to sell stuff like this and he couldn’t fund McGeehan, who also wanted to sell stuff and he figured there were a lot of towns in Pennsylvania that could use something like Pottsville, but he didn’t have a source of equipment. Milt was obviously not setting up distributors. Milt was selling direct to Pennsylvania.
TAYLOR: At that time also, Milt had that terrible service contract. We got caught on it. We weren’t able to buy Jerrold equipment because he wouldn’t sell it to us and our stock holders wouldn’t … you know, they’d put money in, because we knew what we were doing … we didn’t, but …
DIAMBRA: There were a lot of misapprehensions and wrongfully determined ideas in those days, but anyway, it was great exploration and we are learning a hell of a lot and I’ll tell you my experiences with the Bell in a while. Anyway … we said, “Well, what is it that you guys want us to make?” They had no idea. They wanted, obviously, for us to make, something that would sell in volume, not one at a time. And so it occurs to me, after the talk with Edlen, I went up there … talked to him again. And, cursory analysis indicated, from a selling point of view what you want is dollar volume crossover of distribution equipment for taps. You get enough of the taps, you don’t need distribution equipment … you sell taps. There is only one problem … Milt’s taps in those days, were strictly RG-59 …leaked like sieves…. cubed taps, made for internal master antenna. I took one look at the stuff and said, “You are putting that on the street?” “What else … what else is there?” Well, Workshop Associates had a tap too, but that was incredible. Nobody ever tried to put that together on top of a ladder, let alone … on a table was OK, but Workshop Associates … they were building stuff for antenna … you know, gadgetry like baluns… they were making connectors … they were making stuff for splitting an antenna three ways … OK?
TAYLOR: Were they anybody who eventually came into the business?
DIAMBRA: No, they died … or they are still around, but whatever they are doing, they’re doing.
TAYLOR: It’s different.
DIAMBRA: Yes, but Workshop Associates were making connectors. They were making three way splitters and two way splitters … things that go on antennas … baluns … things that go between twinax and coaxial …
TAYLOR: Coaxial, yes.
DIAMBRA: No electronic equipment that is amplified … nothing is … in fact, that is how I used the first connectors when I first met Edlen. I didn’t know that Jerrold was making C-connectors etcetera, etcetera … and so we used the Workshop Associates connectors, which were dogs … part of which had to be soldered. And so, we said, “Hey, you know, if we are going design anything as an experiment to sell, into the CATV field, it’s going to be the volume end first.” Let’s not kid ourselves. We are in no position to design a total system … we don’t have the money. We don’t have the expertise at the moment. We have not given any thought to it … all of our problems are oriented at a different end of the spectrum … here, we are going to talk about a lot of things. More importantly, we are going to have to talk about outside plant, which we don’t know a damn thing about. So, I designed a low band, distributed amplifier.
TAYLOR: By distributed now, you mean the transmission line on the grid and plate?
DIAMBRA: Grid and plate. Transmission line. Balance the stuff. Out of patents or work that had been done during the Rad Lab years, when George brought to my attention proceedings from the Rad Lab.
TAYLOR: Do you know were those patents of Fitz Kennedy?
DIAMBRA: They weren’t Kennedy’s … they came out of the Rad Lab long before Kennedy used them.
TAYLOR: There was also a guy in England who had a patent on distributed amplifiers … I can’t say the name at the moment, but I’ve got it on one my tapes.
DIAMBRA: It will come to me in a moment. Yes, there was. Not Butterfield …or Butterworth … that’s filters … anyway, they had done work … the Cascade circuit had come out of the Rad Lab and they had done work on distributed amplification to get bigger band widths and higher gain. So, he had given me sketchy information about this and I designed a low band through Channel 6 and some of the FM band … distributed amplifier … we bought a Kennedy amplifier to find out what they were doing … we came to the conclusion that this was not the approach to take. And there was a guy by the name of Smith, working for Fitz at the time … top rate engineer by the way … I’m sure Socks Bridgett mentioned his name … Charles C. Smith, who wrote a paper on this, to counter what we were doing … much later when we became Entron etcetera, etcetera … we had analyzed that it takes a hell of lot vacuum tubes the way that SKL is doing it … to make a low band system work and who the hell needs anything above Channel 6, if you are not going to distribute anything above Channel 6? This is an incredible waste of power, vacuum tubes, band width and everything! So I designed a low frequency amplifier, to be sold by McGeehan and Heimbach … where it went from the low end … and I am purposely vague about this right now … to about Channel 6.5 let’s say … up to some of the FM band. Remember, this was done down here in Washington, cognizant of Washington’s problems, not the fields problems and done on a fairly substantial chassis … AC power with VR’s, you know, the gas tube regulators, etcetera, etcetera. And Bob McGeehan, in the meantime, we had said we would design and build ten of them so that we could price out what the hell they would cost, built by hand. Now one thing George Edlen, who was then still involved with us, liked to do, was that he didn’t like sloppy things leaving the shop and he wanted to make everything … he was a production oriented guy … so as long as I was designing, you know, he was already designing for production. That is, whether they worked or not, was almost irrelevant. He wanted to build it. “But the only way you are going to make money Hank is not building by hand. We’ve got to make these things on line. Why don’t we try to make one or two play first?” “Well, I’m sure you can do that Hank. You have been successful so far.” I said, “Alright.” That’s misplaced faith. Anyhow, George … I made the calculations on all the coils, which were essentially little inductors, wound on a form, to be soldered together – we didn’t have any massive long line – we just had inductors, right? … running from grid to grid to grid and plate to plate to plate. George figured he would get a coil wire to wire the and he got Stanwyck … you’ve heard of Stanwyck – which was fine. And then Stanwyck asked a question, which I never heard, until it was too late. Stanwyck says, “Do you want those things dipped or not?” George says, “Sure, they look pretty.” Well, we got 11,000 coils dipped and every one of them didn’t work, because dipping them changed the Q and I took one look at what the hell came out of that amplifier and I said, “I must have been totally drunk or these numbers are totally wet” … because I never quite, at that moment, suspected that this coating … we were really in trouble … we were five days from a delivery deadline, which was occurring around the end of the year at Christmas. I’ve got a ton of these sitting there, all built, soldered beautifully, by three techs … no girls, just three techs … beautifully designed … none of which worked with a damn … frequency response was nowhere to be calculated and so George says, “Maybe you need some help Hank.” I said, “Well, I don’t know what I need right now, but none of the numbers I’ve used look like anything.” I’m not coming up with anything right and so we had mutual friends in this area … remember there is a Bureau of Standards still down on Tilden, right? Did you ever hear of Jack Rabinow?
DIAMBRA: If you haven’t, you should. And there were a bunch of other guys there … Max Leibman, Jack Rabinow, Milt Sanders, etcetera, etcetera. And so, these are guys we use to have lunch with and so George brings in Milt Sanders one night and Milt, George and I are talking and Milt is looking at the amplifier and he said, “Well Hank, did you consider the Q of these circuits with all this junk on them?” Suddenly, I said, “George” … I went to my locker and I said, “Here are the samples I gave you to have made. These are nice.” I said, “I’m going to do one. I’m going to have one of the guys build up an amplifier section – one bank, tonight. We’ll check it tomorrow. Worked like a ton of bricks… almost exactly the way it was planned. And I said, “The problem is what Milt’s … with what Sanders has looked at.” He said, “With an outside eye, we were so close to the problem we never figured a little paint, you know … ” “Well” he said, “take all the garbage … take all those little jelly beans out, and you are back in business.” Three of us … three of us … hand wound coils, over Christmas, in 1953 and rebuilt ten amplifiers, which worked. In the meantime, McGeehan was selling these ten, even before he found out whether they worked or not, he sold them. And he sold them to an outfit that was desperate … which outfit had a stockholder by the name of Heimbach, as I found out … and who was going to give Milt Shapp, who was rolling ahead, in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, a hard time. This was in South Williamsport, across the river. They had had their antenna site on Eagle’s Mirror and they couldn’t get into town. You’ve heard of Leonard Ecker?
TAYLOR: Oh yes.
DIAMBRA: Well, Leonard Ecker and I went nuts because Leonard Ecker was the guy that was working for them … not getting paid … and was he delighted to see somebody that would talk some intelligence about what the hell was going to happen. The salesman, he says, “Thank God. Let’s get out of here Hank – I just want to talk to you separately.” “What have you got? You were sold these things … McGeehan sold them to you. Why apparently now does it become known that Heimbach is a stockholder of yours … he wants this damn thing to work.” So Leonard and I took his signals …
TAYLOR: This was Jerrold at this time? Leonard is working for Jerrold?
DIAMBRA: No, he hasn’t worked for Jerrold at all. Leonard is a graduate of engineering from Georgia Tech, who was up in … his wife and he are from Milton, Pennsylvania and he was working for this company in South Williamsport … Lycoming Television …
TAYLOR: Oh, I see.
DIAMBRA: … and getting nowhere fast. None of this stuff he was supposed to use, was working.
TAYLOR: He bought from Jerrold?
DIAMBRA: No, he couldn’t buy from Jerrold. Jerrold was across the river with a system at Williamsport, and they had just sucked in JH Whitney. They had sucked him in with three concepts: 1. Who the hell needs more than three channels? There are only three networks, right? 2. The only way these people are ever going to keep this stuff maintained is selling them service agreements. And I can’t remember what the other one was which was even more notorious than the other two … oh yea, we won’t sell to anybody … no competition, right? … including people inside with apartment house systems, etcetera. OK, so there was a potential restraint of trade there coming from a lot of directions. Anyway, who cared then? Nobody cared. “Will the stuff you made work, Hank?” I said, “Well, you know, Leonard … Lenny, let’s get to the bottom of the hill … let’s see what the hell you’ve got at the bottom of the hill.” You can’t get between the bottom and the top. You can only get to the top, or to the bottom. The middle is impossible. They had some crazy bastards hanging cables down on power poles … which we’ll talk about in a moment … going down this side of the mountain … near vertically, and they ended up on a highway … and they were going to show this stuff in a garage. They got to the garage. There were pictures. They left the garage and they were trying to buy some stuff from a guy by the name of Walsonavich. Did you ever hear of Johnny Walson?
TAYLOR: Oh yes.
DIAMBRA: He was then Walsonavich,– Mahanoy City, right?
TAYLOR: Yes indeed.
DIAMBRA: They wanted to take Walsonavich’s stuff and use it to put pictures from this garage into town … 3.5 – 4 miles … never got there … never got under a thousand feet. They said, “Hank, that’s the problem.” I said, “It’s a good thing we got ten amplifiers. I don’t know if they will get you there or not, but see what they’ll do.” And so, out of that came a working demonstration … or what attempted to be a working demonstration and it had to be done over a weekend, so the next Monday they were ready to show … you know, in those days, we never allowed for freaking contingencies … we didn’t know what the hell contingencies were … the whole business was a contingency. Anyway, I can remember this as long as I live – very, very accurately. Leonard and I went, I think for 24 straight hours, day and night. We ended up on a Saturday … I mean a Sunday morning, at 6:00 a.m., sitting on the curb, in front of an all night diner, in South Williamsport … trying to figure out why pictures went in at this end of my equipment and the stuff at the town came out nothing but black screens with great big circular white polka dots running loose all over the picture on every channel. What could Hank possibly have done with an RF amplifier that would cause that phenomenon? Believe me, I don’t know what I did … I don’t know how to describe it! I said, “I don’t know what the hell is going on inside that set. Why don’t we just change sets!” So we changed three or four sets … they were all the same thing … screens were black and there were white balloons running around loose and fragments of pictures inside these balloons … uncontrollable! You couldn’t sick em’ … they were just running around loose. We had a ladder … the reason we were there is that there was an amplifier station on that pole. And we had a ladder up against the pole and we had cars … we didn’t have a truck, we had two cars … his and mine. I had a station wagon, which I had borrowed from George, to run up there with the equipment and it’s now very quiet on this Sunday morning … very, very quiet. Leonard said, “What did you say?” I said, “Leonard, I didn’t say a damn thing. Why?” He said, “I heard voices.” I said, “Let me tell you boy, if there are two or three more days of this, we’ll both hear voices.” He said, “Listen, Listen.” And right from the top of the pole, I’m listening to voices and so he looked at me and I looked at him and I said, “Are you going to climb or am I’m going to climb?” He said, “I climbed the last one – you climb this one.” So I went up there. Opened this tomb, you know, this great big sheet metal box – propped it open and I hear this squeaking. From the ground, it may have sounded like a voice. From my end, it’s nothing … but obviously, it’s coming from the equipment … like something is trying to resonate. Len said, “I’ve got a wild idea.” And then the thing stopped! It’s totally dead quiet. And then, I’m about ready to come off the pole. And just as I’m turning to come down, it’s starts again. I listen carefully. It is a voice. It’s the police department! And I’m saying, “Uh oh.” I got down on the ground. I said, “Leonard, what kind of test equipment do you have up here?” “Well, zero.” All of it in those days was single channel gear. Did you ever hear of Kay Electric? Did you ever hear of Mega Sweep?
TAYLOR: Oh yes.
DIAMBRA: Well, I had one of the first of their sweeps – Frank Marble ran Kay Electric in those days … and I had bought the first one that was made out of two beating klystrons. That’s how they made it you know. The Mega Sweep was the first of the Mega Sweeps … no markers, no nothing. Came out of Rad Labs – they took two klystrons, they beat 10 gigahertz’s klystrons to get the beat down here … and you fixed one and one was swept, and you get the sweep frequency through a bunch of filters … well, the damn thing weighed about the … was the size of a Sherman tank, weighed about as much, right? It was hardly what you’d call portable field gear. It was the only damn sweep that could sweep what I was trying to sweep, but I had it to design the amplifiers. We paid a bundle of money for that. And Leonard said, “I have an idea.” And I looked at him, and I said, “I have the same idea. And I ain’t going to prove it up here Leonard. That amplifier isn’t cutting off anywhere near channel 2 … it may go down to DC.” And I said, “I think what the hell we are getting is everything in the book from channel 2 on down. And had we not ever heard that, it would still be there.” And so he said, “What are you going to do?” I said, “Well, while I am still awake and can drive, I am driving down to Washington. I am going to dive in and grab the Kay-Electric and whatever else I can get into this wagon and come back up here and sweep the system!” Nobody would … you know … Jerrold says, “You don’t sweep systems. You have a field strength meter for that, right?” So we pioneered sweeping systems, right there. And we swept it from, I don’t know … 125 kc on up. Everything was in there! And he said, “What are you going to do?” I said, “Lenny, I am going to take them back …What in the hell am I going to tell these guys tomorrow? This is not a week later … this is the next Monday. We’ve already told them we had troubles and couldn’t do anything the first Monday … so a week went by … I had come up there, we had examined this, found the troubles and I said, “Len, I am taking them back. I am going to design a high pass filter. It’s going to cut these damn things off, but I have got to watch what I’m doing.” Well, out of that design, which was reasonably straight forward. I had decided to change it a little bit. I put a slope in there, so that essentially, what started out as a reasonably flat amplifier – wasn’t. It was essentially pre-equalized. And you could twiddle two screws and you could then equalize the slope. And so we had made a filter that made the equalizer part of the amplifier and that’s how it got its trademark. That is how we sold … some of them were running 25 years – that way. They would tilt it – sweep the system until the length of cable and the amplifier were one segment, were flat, and we had taken the approach that we had wanted to conserve gain-bandwidth – let it work unlike SKL which was on the low end of … that’s why SKL was useless in Pennsylvania … nobody was distributing high stuff … it cost a fortune to distribute over channel 6. There weren’t any over Channel 6 anyway, they were all converted down … which led to the next thing … that we, Leonard and I take great pride in having done for this country. Leonard and I are the only people in the United States that made five adjacent channels play … in South Williamsport – that was the landmark paper that was written on that subject, right there. We did it. We made three play, which was standard – 2, 4, 6. Leonard said, “Hey, this looks so Goddamn good!” I mean, literally, I brought up the ten [amplifiers, and] with the K sweep- it was like lemon pie, I mean we [were all] in the office. I mean, plus or minus a dB and a half was as flat as a table top to us. For 2, 4, 6 who cared? Our pictures looked twice as good as Shapp’s across the river. Which gave those guys, you know who were running the demonstrations, some wild thoughts about chasing off … I said, “Fellows, you’ve got those amplifiers. I don’t have any more. These are not in production. These are handmade. What the hell do you want from us?” “Well, I mean you’ve got to gear up to make …” I said, “I have to gear up a company, first, fellows. I mean we are not in the manufacturing business. These were supposed to be a demo. You got your demo and they work, right? We’d like to (a) be paid. You know, we ought to take stock in Lycoming. Oh yes, they had no money. So there were three things that I think I did for the industry. I pioneered self-equalized broadband amplifiers – distributed amplifiers … these are distributed. Second thing we did, essentially at that moment, pioneered the necessity for absolutely sweeping a system as you went along – segment by segment … amplifier and its associated cabling. Third thing was the development of the ability to put five adjacent channels on – right there in South Williamsport, for which Leonard, … I offered to Leonard the impetus for having forced the issue. I said, “Len, Len, you know, let’s stay away from it! We are going to get into trouble. I mean, look, I haven’t gotten paid and they’re working fine.” He said, “You need something to show Milt where to head in.” So he said, “Can you design me a couple of preamps?” I said, “They are going to have to be very, very tightly designed because they are sitting in the middle. And we are going to have to do something.” And we did. We shaped all these preamps … shaped the sound and made channels 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 play in South Williamsport … which caused chaos on the north side of the river … chaos. It caused Milt to immediately develop some more equipment. First, to deny that it should ever happen. Secondly, to start immediately building equipment to “drop in” which never worked. Three, to create chaos with Pennsylvania Power and Light, because they said, “Hey, you guys are wearing grooves in these poles! You are going to have to pay us for replacing the poles, because we didn’t expect you to go up and down it twenty times a day!” That was serious, because we were also renting from PP&L, and now they are wondering if we are in the same boat. And the other thing was the recommendation that we stop using RG11 for this trunk distribution.
TAYLOR: And who made that recommendation?
DIAMBRA: Me. Flat out. I’ll tell you why. I said, “Leonard, all the thoughts I’ve heard here … all the expressions of “Let’s go! This thing works! We’ve got Milt running.” People started coming to us in droves even from across Williamsport . “You’ve got five. How come we can’t get five over there?” It caused Milt heartaches with J.H. Whitney. He had a service agreement that says, “Should there ever be more than three channels, we’ll give them to you free. FREE!” And so the South Williamsport people said, “OK, start producing! I’m watching them from across the river. Produce.” He couldn’t drop them in. They went through hell … they also created a business. How do you think Hank Abajian got into the business at Westbury? He built the first five adjacent channel strip distribution system.
TAYLOR: At Westbury?
DIAMBRA: At Westbury, yes. That’s how Hank Abajian got into the business … and how I met Hank. I will show you what he gave me at an IEEE meeting in New York later on. Anyway, the recommendation made, which is why NCTA ended up giving me that plaque, was that I said, “No more flexible cables.” Remembering Charlie Camillo, Dr. Soria and the troubles I had and we were not talking about the two or three thousand feet as being a hell of a lot of cable … two or three thousand miles would be more like it … who the hell is going to supply this damn stuff with the kind of tolerances we are going to need? Leonard and I learned that we were going to have to twiddle with the Kay the best we could … remember this was a distributed amp that didn’t allow much twiddling except a front equalizer and the rear end to match it and that was it! The rest of it had to be smoothed by design. So as we upgraded, we went from those little individual coils to one continuous round threaded form, where everything was precisely controlled by machining so the distributed capacitances were reproducible and we could trim all these things up.
TAYLOR: No coatings!
DIAMBRA: In fact it was their tinned wire … it was tinned wire on a threaded polystyrene rod. And we picked it, and drilled the hole through the middle of it to get the right kind of Q and everything … anyhow, the last thing I said, “Leonard, everything of this system of yours is going to depend on the quality getting into the center of town … it’s our main hub.” We talked about things like changing frequencies and all that, but he said, “We are in no position to think like that. It’s a one shot deal. Let’s think with what we’ve got. Let’s make these amplifiers work and the only thing is to get better cable. So what do you think you are going to do?” I said, “Well, I know where the better cable is … it’s going to cost a lot of money. The better cable is Felten and Guillaume,- it’s called styroflex. It goes on broadcast transmitting towers between the final and the antenna and it costs a lot of money. But I found out that Felten and Guillaume is making … they make 2-1/8 … 3-1/2 … they’re going to make 0.75 inch stuff … solid aluminum pipe … stryroflex … mostly air … virtually no loss between here and there …. we can go 4,000 feet with one of our amps!
TAYLOR: Was that a foam or was it the one that had a spiral?
DIAMBRA: It had no spiral … no nothing. It was cross oriented tapes of polystyrene that were round … it’s like taking a role of tape and pulling it through the middle … you’ll end up with a spiral of laminated tape.
TAYLOR: OK, yes.
DIAMBRA: Leonard asks, “And how much is this going to cost?” And I said, “I don’t know Leonard, but I know it will work. It will give us an incredible advantage. What we are going to recommend is that we put it from the antenna down the side of the mountain, right into town. “I will let you,” says he, “talk to the board.” “I’ll support you, but you better sell it.” He said, “I have never seen it. Will it work?” I said, “Well, highly responsive and responsible organization making … they guarantee it.” He said, “Yes, but the labor. What about the labor?” I said, “I’ve never seen it … I’ve never hung it.” Anyway, to make a long story short, I call up the guys who distribute Felten and Guillaume in the United States.
TAYLOR: What was the name of the company? I thought it was Phelps Dodge but is there another name?
DIAMBRA: The cable was made in Germany. Felten and Guillaume – Felten and Guillaume were a German outfit and they made styroflex in Germany. They are the only people who know how to swedge aluminum pipe down over a piece of tape. It’s no mean trick, let me tell you. Big stuff easy … small stuff tough. And Felten and Guillaume were distributed in the United States by Phelps Dodge Corporation in Yonkers, New York, which is where I met Jack Lemly. I called up Jack. Jack was more than intrigued. A whole new market was evolving … he never heard of it. So he comes zooming in and we tell him where the hell it is and he meets us in Williamsport … an old side kick of his comes down and we talk and talk and talk and Jesus, I don’t know if we can get pieces like this … the whole thing comes in 300 foot lengths … but I talk to the factory. The factory is going to make us 1,000 foot pieces … on 6 foot reels … you could barely bend it. Leonard looks at me and says, “You sold them. The Board says install it, but who will raise the money? Who the hell is going to put the stuff in?” I said, “Well power people are the only people that will hang this damn stuff for us.” And so, sure enough, they took that … the crew of guys that were use to hanging primary … power transmission cables to handle this stuff … it was a chore. But it went in … the connectors were … I don’t know, $25 or $30 a piece and the whole thing …
TAYLOR: This was 3/4?
DIAMBRA: This is 3/4 inch styroflex. They want it from the antenna site, down the side of that mountain, to the highway, into the middle of South Williamsport. I think that all we needed was four amps to get from the top to the bottom to town. We learned another thing … you better damn well have pressurization if you are going to run an air dielectric cable … something we had never even considered. We learned that from the telephone company … who happened to be talking to us because they were interested in what the hell we were hanging on their poles for … and they didn’t figure we would hang a water pipe! And so this was a big surprise to them and they were interested in many things and Lemly says, “Well this technique he showed us: things like expansion loops and expansion rectangular expansion loops and these special tools for this … and we had to instruct people on how to splice into these connectors’ … these were not, you know, not every day of the week! This was the first time in the country, ok? And it went into service that was so absolutely marvelous … the results were anyway … that I said, “As far as I’m concerned, what we are selling is systems.” And we had lots of internal discussion … I’d say other people would call it “strong, hard argument” … including being called an SOB by Milt Shapp because “Hank, you are in the equipment business … God dammit, you are supposed to be selling equipment! What the hell are you doing selling cable? If cable knocks off ….. This stuff you’re selling will knock off half the equipment sales!” I said, “Milt, I am in the business of selling systems. I don’t know what you are promising your customers. When I sell, what we call a system …
TAYLOR: This is Milt?…
TAYLOR: Oh. Shapp.
DIAMBRA: Remember, we used to work with Shapp. We used to sell to Shapp down here. George Edlen and I were selling to Shapp. Milt and I were very close to each other… and he kept saying…The more he became closely megalomaniacal about his position, the CATV business, like you know, he had it all, he resented this because the pictures in South Williamsport…, first of all we were delivering five adjacent channels, he couldn’t get it to play in Williamsport itself, and so we started delivering superb pictures into the center of town with virtually no amplification which was killing him. As you well know, when you [cascade] your narrowband single channel, what are you going to get at the end of 20 or 30. A very narrowband nothing. Laugh. Don’t seem to have that effect when you’re doing distributed amplifiers, you have a much less effect. Something we learn the hard way, theory proved. After we applied, we then went back to the theory, it worked. Especially when you can equalize it so nicely with 2 or 3 screws, things get very handy dandy. You don’t have to put attenuators and filters like SKL, you just connect it, twiddle knobs, sweep it, go on to the next one with the truck and your finished. Which brought up several other things we started to learn and as a side kick to this, remember we’re still three guys in Washington, three people building, designing, selling and installing this. It’s got to stop. So I put in an ad for a paid-for guy who could come in and do some design engineering. It relieved me of some of the loads, so I can go back to running the company. Remember, we had contracts, master antennas to install, buildings to maintain, business to grow, and a guy by the name of Heinz Egon Blum.
DIAMBRA: Blum walks in the door. He had been in the U.S. 5 days. Four of them on a train from Portland, Oregon to Washington. He had just come in, via a long circuitous route from Germany, through Greece, Australia, all the way up, where he ran a business, all the way to Portland, OR, and he had friends here in Washington, and he and Eva were coming to town. He had just landed, and seen this ad. Heinz didn’t work for anyone else but me for 26 years from that day. He became eventually, director of engineering for Entron. That’s what Bellmore ended up becoming with Entron and Heinz took over some of the chores and wound coils like the rest of them, did some design work, clean things up, you know. And we had come to a conclusion that we had also better damn well move, because our landlord was starting to object to our running a manufacturing company in an apartment building. As long as we were running an antenna service company, this was fine. He happened to be one of our customers and he was very delighted that we were always at hand to make sure the Carlisle, which was what it was known as, The Carlisle system was running. Well we had mixed emotions about our leaving, because where are you going to rent manufacturing space in Washington? We didn’t. We landed in a bean field in Bladensburg, MD. About the only place you could put it. We ran into a guy, who was running a junkyard, Savage Engineering, who was also in the real estate business and had built this warehouse. So we took it over. That became the birth of Entron. And Heinz, Bob McGeehan, who had then decided to join forces with us and was going to be part of our team, although he lived in Pennsylvania, says hell, I’m gonna sell in Pennsylvania, and might as well live here. But he says, I’ll sell your stuff. He was very impressed with the way it worked, I guess very impressed with the thinking. He joined us. So Edlen, Bob and I, Heinz, we were Entron and we picked up people as we went along, put in an assembly line, and so forth and so on, and George’s very great contribution to all of this, remember I told you, it had to be pretty, functionally pretty, but good. George, saw immediately, and it could be a great help if we could develop something we could sell a lot of to support the expensive R and D I was doing, because it became very clear then, that if you sell a distribution amp, so what? It’s nice and you got a good one, but someone is going to copy it. It you don’t have a whole system, no one wants to talk to you because nobody knows how to make a whole system play. There were no var (?) integrators in those days, either you did it, including getting them a franchise holding their hands, financing them, and telling them how to take pictures of the happy customers, or you got nothing. Because Milt was seeing to that as you well know.
TAYLOR: Yes, certainly.
DIAMBRA: So we intended by non-legal action to bust the service agreements wide open. George developed the buster. George and I worked, I would say George put in about 80% of the effort, I put in 20%, to develop the first honest to God tap, that was both weather proof, idiot proof, field proof and no parts. Just screw it on a piece of RG-11 and away you go, it was called a FasTee. And that kept us alive for 11 years. We were selling them by the bushel and we were…Milt had a system. See one of the other things the FasTee did, which people don’t realize, is to change drastically the character of the distribution plant. Two things: My insistence that the main trunks be styroflex which degenerated over time to other things because nobody could afford it…I’m not anxious to make any large quantities to ship across the ocean, and Phelps Dodge wasn’t tooled to make it. They were going to make transmission lines, 3 1/2 and 6 1/8, where the money was all right, like a $150 a foot, etc, etc. Insisting on aluminum air dielectric trunks, and then going to RG-11 distribution for which Milt had no taps at all, set Milt back on his ear hard, very hard. From old friends, we became old enemies. Because Milt says, you’re selling cable instead of equipment, and now we had something that he could not counter, because it required that not only you could just change the tap to a FasTee, you had to start from scratch by installing RG-11 distribution which meant ripping out all the 59 on the street and rewiring or over-wiring. Well Milt didn’t know what the hell to do at that point. And I think Whitney forced him. He started over-wiring systems. And the systems directly that he was over-wiring were borrowing taps from us because we wouldn’t sell to Shapp. And so we changed the character of the business completely to broadband, five adjacent channels, air dielectric, and RG-11 distribution with absolutely guaranteed to work, weather-proof, field-proof, idiot-proof taps. And they worked. Sold thousands and thousands all over the country and abroad. And of course they suffered. The demise came, when the entire business changed, and three things happened. (1) Milt recognized early on that he better damn well have an answer to the self piercing, non drilling, FasTee. He had tried to develop a counter to it. And I think he saw that it wasn’t our equipment, and wasn’t our ideas, it was the tap that was going to kill him. It was a high volume. It was going to destroy every service agreement he’s got. He’s going to have to provide the rewiring, upgrading. OK. The five adjacent channels is already killing him because he’s going to have to provide that free according to the service agreements. And here come the tap now which is guaranteed to demise. So he counters, and of course Entron by this time has distributors all over the country, he counters on the West Coast by starting to gin up, or his distributors do, under Philadelphia orders, scientific demonstrations at most of the conclaves that his tap is much better than our tap.
TAYLOR: I think we are close enough to the end here, so we’ll stop at this point.
END OF TAPE 1 SIDE B
START TAPE 2, SIDE A
DIAMBRA: So Milt’s obvious conclusion was, I mean it was a pretty obvious conclusion, he had to do something about countering the taps, and so he built a tap, which was fundamentally the same. You couldn’t physically do it much differently; a gripping block and the insert that carries the attenuator mechanism. But he, to avoid our patent, had the cable drilled, the shield, jacket, and dielectric had to be drilled down to the center-conductor of the coax. Our attorneys, Bill Hall, Max Lemon, Ed Howell, decided this was potentially a serious violation of our patent. And as a consequence, we decided to take him up on patent infringement. We had a great big patent litigation. Our attorneys warned us that there was going to be some very interesting use of the English language here. Bill Hall, in particular. He was quite a character in his own right. He was an electronics radio engineer who became a practicing patent lawyer, because he defended his own patents and won. Then he took on the U.S. Government and won against the Franklin patents for which he got about 16 million, something like that, which covered all the shielded ignition harnesses for aircraft during all the war, which the government was in complete violation of. And so he defended and won the Franklin patent. So Hall knew his way around town a little bit. Max Liebman, who was the senior, in fact, head of the Bureau
of Standards Patent Section, — was the guy in the U.S. who wrote the first disclosure on the Eniacs so that he could figure out what the hell it was doing, and represented Barkley and Eckert for 27 years thereafter — was our senior patent attorney. And these two guys warned us that you got a wonderful gadget that makes lots of dough, but protecting what it does from a legal point of view is going to turn on English. So we elected to take this to the courts, and file patent infringement. We decided to look carefully at the venue. The Third Circuit had a batting average totally against defending, so we picked the right venue, which was out in Baltimore. And the day we picked it, they picked a new judge.
DIAMBRA: Unbelievable! I said, well you got that mastered, you couldn’t have picked a perfect solution. They said well we have no choice, we have to go forward. And the incredible part of this is that the guy who became the replacement judge, to sit in on this patent litigation, was a guy who had gotten his degrees in English and English literature at Oxford. And let me tell you, we went through quite a bit of learning about the English language. What we tried to explain to a non-technical judge, who was very well versed in English, how something that could be in contact was insulated, and how something that couldn’t be in contact was not insulated and literally, that lost us the patent litigation. We tried to explain to the judge that electricity flows through vacuum, that you can be in contact at the wrong wavelength and be fully insulated. No currents flowing. But then you can have a gadget with a dielectric which is by definition at low frequency an insulator in the patent, and at our frequencies be a short circuit. Don’t try it with a guy with a doctorate in English. Leave that for engineers, and we had a bunch of the guys coming up as professional engineers trying to explain this to a judge who could not understand insulated from a non-insulated contact from non-contact. And we kept trying to explain it and well anyway, we lost the case. Milt was absolutely in rapture because he had just won the FasTee case. All of which got resolved when Milt lost his antitrust action and one of the elements for losing that was misuse of patents in the FasTee case. So Entron ended up settling that one very amicably for, I don’t know, half a dozen patents, and a lot of money.
DIAMBRA: Years later. The antitrust case that Milt lost had nothing to do with equipment, it had to do with contracts, practices, restriction of trade practices, etc, etc, etc., so we sued on that after the fact. Henry Kannee sued on that and won that one, because we sued on the evidence. He was a guy who used all these tactics in antitrust, one of which
happens to be a really questionable use of the patent litigation. He was saying, “You can’t use FasTees; the patent means nothing; use ours.” Well, unfortunately, what came back in that court action was the fact that he had done some very peculiar things during the time he was trying to get a foothold on the FasTee business. By ginning up these experiments with reels of cables on which taps had been put, so it says, but taping the whole mess up “for portability” so that he could make the ease in demonstrations at these regional trade shows and show as you swept this, that his taps didn’t affect anything, but our taps which were not put at random, but at quarter wavelength intervals repetitively acted like great big sinks, you would destroy everything. Even to technicians you can’t explain randomness by iterated effects. Very few people understood this and in those days, virtually nobody. But we had pictures of this, we had it all on tape, we had all kinds of things which were finally presented in Philadelphia and Milt had to admit they weren’t quite as honest as they should have been.
DIAMBRA: Anyway, those three things changed the character of cable television. Adjacent channel operation is now taken for granted. It forced television receiver manufactures – I was then nowhere near associated with Westinghouse – but in the first, not the second attempt…After South Williamsport became publicized and by God it worked, and Entron was delivering some top rated pictures. We got a call from a guy who had been using everything…some Jerrold, some RCA, some of everything he could find…by the name of Holland Rannells in Cumberland. You remember Holland?
TAYLOR: Oh yes. Indeed I do.
DIAMBRA: And you remember Buford Seville, his son in law.
DIAMBRA: Who is still around I’m sure, long since gone from the scene I guess. But, Holland Rannells called us and said come on up see what you can do for us, we got problems. Oh, man they had problems. They had a mixture of everything. And we said well, one step a time. We’ll clean up a section, see if you like it. Use our equipment, start operating adjacent channels and we did. Use some taps and actually, the first thing he bought from us was a bushel full of taps, and we replaced a bunch of his and he took our advice and I said “Look, let’s just start by rewiring this section, put RG-11 up, put these taps in and that in itself would improve radically a lot of your pictures” — which it did. So he trusted us. Then we started switching gear and we started putting in the Entron EquaLine, equalizing distributed amplifier and so forth and so on, still running his old antenna site, which was fine by us because, you don’t make much money on a one shot antenna site deal. You sell a hell of a lot of repeaters and you sell a hell of a lot of bridgers and taps, because by then we had developed amplifying bridgers, and all kinds of things to go with the distribution line because we were going to make that our effort. We made antenna sites if they were required. We thought that it was a hell of a business which was keeping us alive selling taps and distribution equipment, especially with the concept that if we had to take the system responsibility, we take it with air dielectric. Well, first of all we became distributors, some distributors for Phelps Dodge. When Phelps Dodge saw what we were doing, they in turn worked with Feltren and Guillaume, and came up with the first spirafil, which is now in lieu of very expensive, cross-oriented and cross-linked styrene tape, which was damn near inflexible, came up with a much more flexible polyethylene filament, which became the singular wrap where we can now get down to 1/2 inch or 3/8 inch cables, all kinds of good stuff. He even made it down to a 1/4 inch, they made some experimental quarters for us, downstairs. And so, Phelps Dodge says, well thanks to you Hank, we got a business. So we sold it as part of our whole dealing. We had a couple of vendors — one in particular in Massachusetts making us flexible cables, RG-11, and selling spirafil– we were able to package a whole system together to the extent that we started making stuff for RCA.
TAYLOR: Let me ask you “What dates, if you can think of it, of the FasTee patent case?
DIAMBRA: The patent case I’ll get for you downstairs, I’ll let you know what it is. But the FasTee Patent itself was filed on September 29, 1953, and the first patent was issued on November 9, 1954. That was then upgraded and modified in ’56, and we also developed…George did this personally himself…the first thing was called the ShoVee. Actually George called it the “shove it”. We told him it was a little impolite, but ShoVee would be better and that was the first of the RG-11 solderless connectors. One of the problems that, you know, on the field is what the hell you’re going to do with RG-11 when its 10 below and you got to climb a pole and nothing heats, except your temper, and every joint is a bad joint. So George came away with the idea, and a very good one, that what we need is a truly solderless thing with a set of tools for this. You put on connectors which led to his leaving Entron, by the way, because we said “George, how many million ShoVees do you think we’re going to have to sell to make living? How many…if it’s such a good connector you put it on once and forget it, you know pretty soon, it’s not like postage stamps, you’re going to run out of customer and you’ll have to sell this to everyone everywhere to make a living.” Well he was…his idea was taps and connectors is the way to go. Our other idea is that systems was the way to go. So George left, and believe it or not got backing from Phelps Dodge to make connectors of a variety of kinds…all these patents were assigned in mesne to Entron. We had a rule in our company, unspoken, the patent office never heard about it. The patent office says that whoever does the inventing is the inventor, and his name is on the patent. We had a little bit of a democratic institution, everybody worked like hell at Entron, so George’s name and mine appear on these patents and who’s first depends on who contributed most or when finally our attorney says you can’t do that. George took the ShoVee patent and I took the EquaLine patent, although we were co-inventors in both cases, ok, to satisfy the law. But essentially, the patents were all assigned in mesne to Entron. It was only a question of being recognized as the inventor that counted from the paper point of view. The patents all belonged to Entron. Well, Entron said ok, George you want to leave, you want to split up and buy back your stock and we will issue you a letter awarding you and assigning you these patents as part of the quid pro quo so he could take them and show them in good faith to Phelps Dodge which he did and they proceeded to screw him royally. After he left and after he had sold out, they suddenly found that it wasn’t in their interest to make these connectors, and he had moved his family up to Yonkers and so forth and so on, and he committed suicide.
TAYLOR: Oh! My!
DIAMBRA: Yeah, it’s one of those things that happen when you really aren’t too street wise about what people could do to you. He found that out. George was a very lofty character, and a great guy. He had a great family, but felt that was the ultimate indignity. Here he had invented the damn thing and it was top grade and everybody told them that, and they had promised him everything and the moon and green cheese and less than 6 months later, the whole bottom fell out. I tried to warn him. I said George, Phelps Dodge is not the most aggressive electronics outfit in the world. They are a cable manufacturer, they’re an old line copper refinery out in Arizona. They make great power cables. You’re taking these guys to new and uncharted lands, and when their marketing people take a look at how many millions of these things you’re going to have to make to break even, and they haven’t got electronic distribution, you going to be deader than hell. He wouldn’t believe that. I mean, an outfit like Phelps Dodge, recognized around the world, had to do things differently. They killed him, unfortunately. In the meantime…
TAYLOR: Do you know the date?
DIAMBRA: No, I don’t from memory.
TAYLOR: I’m just trying to get all this in sequence and…
DIAMBRA: I’ll put that down as one of the things I’ve got to do for you, to fill this in. Obviously, someone who will have the tape will edit this and fill in dates, but Edlen’s death is important. Anyway….
TAYLOR: Another question I wanted to ask you going back, Shapp owned the system in the Northern part of Williamsport, main part of Williamsport?
DIAMBRA: Jerrold Electronics owned the system, he was system owner to the best of my knowledge…
DIAMBRA: With financing they had just obtained from J.H. Whitney and to obtain the financing he had promised three things: three channels was all that’s necessary, three networks was all that exists, who needs more television. It would be a very interesting phenomenon to explore today when we talk about 500 channels. My question is of what? (Laugh)
TAYLOR: The number has always moved ahead and nobody needs any more than that. (Laugh)
DIAMBRA: Yeah. Somebody said to me 500? Is that all? The second was service agreements, which was seriously his own undoing, and the fact that he promised because of these conditions. Should the system ever need upgrading, after all he was at the cutting edge, upgrade free. It would kill him. It really killed him. Anyway, they…that was their own undoing. After that, there was no question in the Jerrold organization minds, and some of those guys were still very good friends of mine, Frank Ragone, Kirk, Hank Arbeiter, way back, I’m talking personal friends of mine, all said he’s got to go broadband. Its life guys. Let’s just drop the strips. Well they had to do it…they did it their way. And frankly, their way probably was better than our way as they upgraded because one of the things I had a Heinz Blum do, which was one of the….see all the… as I said: to me all of this is evolutionary, step by step. You think about how to make the next step better. There is nothing much revolutionary…everybody says, “Where did you get the idea of air dielectrics? I said “I read about it.” Why were broadcasters sticking up air dielectric pipes up to the antennas? For the same reason we have, we’re just bigger. Well, our problem was vacuum tubes. Serious problem. To get the greatest gain-bandwidth wasn’t all that she wrote. It was nice to make a high gain amplifier, but as Smith at SKL was fond at pointing out, theory will prove that when the gain is equal to the natural log, at about 2.78, that’s where you ought to stop. It’s all downhill from there, except that his theory didn’t bother telling you the rest of the story, that is assuming that you’ve got the widest gain-bandwidth that you’re trying to satisfy. It ain’t true when you want to only use a small portion of it in the low band. That was true when you have the full bandwidth to worry about, nor is it etc., etc., etc. You couldn’t help but agree with him. I said there’s only one problem, to do what you want to do technically, Mr. Smith, cost your company a fortune, and cost the customer a fortune. These are only transmitting low band. What the hell is he doing with 7 through 13, sitting their burning power, contributing nothing but noise and you can’t cut it off. Why do you think Spencer Kennedy never got out of New England. That’s where the high band stuff was, not in central Pennsylvania, because if you couldn’t cut off the high end, you were death on wheels. How do you think I ended up getting in as a KS number for the bell of Canada? They hadn’t listened to all the technical arguments. Bell’s very impressed with academic arguments, very impressed by SKL’s arguments, and put SKL equipment all over the eastern portion of Canada. OK. Then I got called in later saying “Hank can you design equipment to substitute our stuff where we’ve got thousands of bushels of 6AK5 tubes by the bushel full, we changed tubes and there was nothing wrong with the tubes we were taking out. Why? Because SKL has pushed them to the limit and all you had to do was come down 5% and you’re through. You got no gain left and no reserve to anything”. So I said “Yes, you’re absolutely right Mr. Smith. Technically that’s correct. There’s only one problem, you’ve got no reserves. The system desperately needs reserves and you’ve got no way to change the gain on your amplifiers automatically either, which brings up the next point. Broadband needed some means of gain compensation as a function of temperature problems, which by the way we didn’t fully appreciate because I was the guy who was selling air dielectric with no temperature problems. Those styroflex cables had damn near no temperature problems, because the temperature problems, which arise in the copper aluminum thing is differential expansion, but the losses come from changes in the temperature of the dielectrics. We had no dielectrics, we had air – right? — it was doing fine, and so minor changes would occur. We felt mostly by cables yanking themselves out of connectors, and had made real converts about expansion loops. But the other problem was brought to my attention very strongly and severely when I attended a little meeting on the West Coast. And people out there…I met Louis Reidenaur, who was then chief director of engineering. He was at one time chief scientist for the US Air Force, and Dr. Reidenaur became Director of Engineering for Paramount Pictures. They were rather anxious to learn all about cable TV as to how to distribute motion pictures etcetera etcetera etcetera. So I was doing a hell of a lot of traveling and less and less engineering, because it became very obvious that….to make contacts with who wants to buy this stuff – and I’ve got guys like Blum and Irv Kuzminsky and etcetera by this time …. Pretty good engineering department. When I got out there, they had a hell of a problem. They were using…, to minimize losses…they had heard about the air dielectric, but couldn’t quite see it. They had a good in on buying K-17. Ever hear of that?
TAYLOR: Yeah, a K-14 is the one I heard of.
DIAMBRA: Yeah, a K-14. Right. It was about an 1 1/4 in diameter with solid dielectric polyethylene. The stuff weighed 3 tons per foot and you know…
TAYLOR: As thick as an iron pipe.
DIAMBRA: As you guys are talking about aluminum? You can bend that, you can’t even lift this. But anyway, here they got it in the air, out in the desert. They got a hell of a problem. During which time, Entron has gotten involved in Reno, NV, which is the granddaddy of all system problems. Anyway, as a function of having to go out to west coast for a long time, because we were now investors, and sellers and a few other things to Reno and creditors. I’d be on the West Coast and as the old saying goes, so it wasn’t a total loss, I’d make side trips to see if we couldn’t sell more gear to other places. Well I was taken down to this place which was in the desert. It wasn’t Palm Springs…Desert something or other. Anyway…
TAYLOR: There is a Palm Desert. Maybe.
DIAMBRA: Could be a Palm Desert. Anyway, they were on a K-14 and everything seemed to go backwards. The colder it got at night, the worse the pictures got. The hotter during the day, the more the system overloaded. I just shook my head. I couldn’t understand what the hell was going on. I said I don’t know what your problem is, but I got to think about it. It suddenly dawned on me on the way back. The problem was the cable. K-14 had such a thermal mass with the gray jacket. It would sit there in the sun and it would take all day with desert sun to get the damn thing hot. It wouldn’t get fully hot till the sun went down, then of course it didn’t cool instantly, it would just stay hot all night. So it was 180 degrees out of phase with nature. When every other cable was warm enough and its attenuation was rising during the day, their cable was actually radiating and cooling off. And so the amplifiers were overloading during the day and falling it the noise at night. I said fellas, there ain’t nothing we’re going to do except invert your AGC, put carrier on, unless you want to get rid of the K-14, when you get rid of the K-14, I don’t know, you’ll have conventional human problems. Sun goes up, and your gain goes down and when night comes down, you will be spared no problems on the overload, you know. But that’s what your problem is. And sure enough, that was it. That was about the last place that I ever heard K-14 being used. For that among other reasons, impossible. How it ever got on the scene, I can’t understand. I mean, K-14 was not super cheap. It was surplus cable.
TAYLOR: Yeah, I have heard of several places that used it. They use it up on the Hudson River…?
TAYLOR: That’s it. I believe it was Kingston.
DIAMBRA: It couldn’t have been Kingston. We built Kingston. Kingston was Wally Hotz, that was McGeehan and Entron. We built Kingston. It was all air dielectric. Kingston was all spirafoam.
DIAMBRA: There was another system farther north that may have been the case, on the river. But anyway, the point being that was again one of those experiments that you learn about the hard way in the business that came and want, that nobody in his right mind today would think of K-14. But, those three things I think Entron has had a significant impact on the cable business, was the adjacent channel business, because we, I was talking earlier of Holland Rannells calling us and buying stuff. Holland had a hell of a problem too. I even remember being personally called by Holland…He says “Hey, Hank, you’re close enough by, I want you to come up. He said, “Every…(How did he say this?) We have a serious problems with certain of our customers, and we think it’s your gear”. “Either you have it with all of your customers or none of your customers, because we affect every customer you got.” Well, that wasn’t quite true. I found out…you know when you get there, and you over-simplify, that’s what happens. Anyway, I’d listened very carefully, was taken out. The common denominator was not Entron gear and system, every customer we were looking at had a Westinghouse television receiver.
DIAMBRA: That was the common denominator and the problem was, they didn’t have suitable bandwidth limitations on their FM audio section of a television sound. You get in trouble when you try to run adjacent channels that way. And they had serious problems, and here we were, little old Entron, telling Westinghouse Electric how the hell to make a television set — who didn’t believe much in cable television anyway.
DIAMBRA: Right. And we finally proved it to them. I said well, I’ll tell you what, my proof will be very scientific. I will put an RCA Victor next to a Westinghouse television set, connected to the same antenna system, with a very simple splitter, which you guys can supply if you like and then you can tell me why this one plays and yours doesn’t. That was the end of that discussion. And Westinghouse, they sure didn’t. When they were still making television in New Jersey, to clean it up. No, long before they got around to cleaning it up, they stopped making televisions. They got the hell out of the business.
TAYLOR: Yeah. I was going to say that…
DIAMBRA: But, Westinghouse should have never been in the business. They were very bright people, who I’d come to appreciate much later when I joined the company. …….didn’t have a feel for consumer goods.
TAYLOR: They weren’t.
DIAMBRA: Really, Westinghouse was power, had always been power, top grade power and electric meters. When it came to washing machines and refrigerators…Do you know that the demise of Westinghouse Electric and the refrigerator business was that for 27 years they refused to give up a reciprocating compressor? Honest to God. That was from the inside. I learned that when I got to be Westinghouse. I said you guys must be kidding…hermetically sealed rotary compressor has been around for quarter of century.
DIAMBRA: They still had a belt driven, reciprocating external compressor in the refrigerators. Well, that was about the equivalent of their televisions sets too. Anyhow, we won that one. That was easy. I proved that to Holland Rannells. I literally did that first as an experiment for Holland.
TAYLOR: Do have any idea on the date of that?
DIAMBRA: Yes. It occurred about the time we did the thing called the EquaTroll. I’ll tell you all about that in a minute, because of the fact it was done for Holland. Here it is, ’59-’60. We filed a patent in ’55 and got the patent awarded in 1960 when Ed Huggin was working for me at the time. Holland had a little problem so he says, “Hank, I want to take this from Cumberland to Frostburg.” I say, “Why don’t you build a system in Frostburg?” He says, “Because we can’t get any pictures”. I said “Damn good idea Holland that you start with pictures”. Right? He says “But we got pictures in Cumberland. And you know we’re going to take those pictures……” I said “Holland, Frostburg is 27 miles by road up the damn highway, from the ass end of your system in Cumberland. How the hell are you going to get there?” He says “Don’t ask me, you’re the engineer!” (Laughter)
DIAMBRA: First of all, are you serious? He says “You’re damn right I’m serious. There’s money in Frostburg. It’s growing like crazy. They’ve got a normal school they converted to junior college up there. It’s going to have a lot of people there. And those kids want television.” OK, fine. “I don’t know of any way, Holland, to get you there unless you want to put 2 inch styroflex all the way to Frostburg, and by time you get there, you’re going to be broke anyway, so it doesn’t make any difference whether you get there or not.” No, no, no. There has got to be a better way. I said “It’s obvious that you’re coming to me because someone else is giving you a better way. What do you have in mind? “Well make me something”. I came back with a plan…those were the days when I would visit a customer, design equipment on the back of an envelope, give it to Heinz and say build it by two week from today. But this didn’t work quite that way. So we have a little more formal approaches and Heinz said “Well,….” I came back in and explained what I was up to. “Well” he said, “we’ve got a pretty full plate with everything else that’s on it, what that hell you propose we do? Twenty-seven miles of what?” I said, “Well it’s our recommendation”. He said, “Did you tell him about 2 1/8 inch styroflex?” I said, “Yeah, and damn near got thrown out of the office”. He said, “Well Hank, how far do you think we can go out with this stuff?” I said, “Well were going to need several things. First of all it has got to be styroflex or its equivalent. It has got to be big stuff. So we ended up with 7/8 spirofil, which is an unusual size, expensive as hell, but the attenuation bandwidth characteristics were excellent. And so were the thermo-mechanical characteristics too which had to be watched, if you’re going to put this stuff on poles in Frostburg up in the mountains. Second thing was, how the hell were you going to equalize this with these temperature changes. We had a great guy working for us part-time who, during this project, came on full-time. His name was Forrest Huggin. Ed Huggin. F.E. Huggin, had quite a background. He had a doctorate in Physics, I think. He was working for NRL, and he was the guy, he wouldn’t tell us much about how, what or when. He was involved in the greenhouse experiment. Remember Eniwetok. His job was to record the pulse that vaporized Eniwetok. Before…what he was recording it on got vaporized. He did it. That’s as far as we knew and Huggin, he deserved the security clearance, because that was as far as he told you anything. Even thought he was working full time for us, he wouldn’t disclose a damn thing. So we gave him the job of building the only one of its kind, a sample of which is still in a case at the CATV museum in State College delivered to him by Buford Seville, a thing called the Equatroll, for which we got a patent. It was a self-equalizing broadband amplifier, gain adjusting, self equalizing. And the thing sat there and hummed all to itself and we got into Frostburg and made him a fortune. And that’s all we sold of it, I think 2 dozen to Holland Rannells, and that was the end of the run. It was a dog to make. During the time it was being invented, we learned of a thing that would have helped us much later build more, which was essentially a current fed variable inductor, where you would take an inductor to saturation, thereby reducing its inductance, which was a little square box which did nothing because you just had to feed DC into it, and it had a set of L terminals and you just varied with a pot and you can get any inductance you wanted. It would have made life easy. Though we used polarized relays and Barber Coleman motors, it screws those inductors back and forth, like a player piano, six of them.
TAYLOR: Was this two pilot controlled?
DIAMBRA: Two pilot. Yes. It worked too. The problem was that, (1) remember, were still talking vacuum tubes. We’re talking vacuum tubes, motors, polarized relays which are hardly insensitive to vibrations. Nobody really understands how much a telephone pole vibrates until you get up there, about 40 ft. off the ground and sit there for a while. It swings like crazy. And in the winter time when those damn trucks ramble down those hills and those poles are not too secure, things happen where they actually wave around in the air. Well you can imagine waving that equipment around which weighed a ton. I mean it was big. I think it drew something like 4-1/2 amps off the line just for the power transformer. It was a big thing and we needed lots of power so we have 12AB7’s push-pull. I mean we had a real piece of equipment. I would venture to say that with 2 VLSIs today you could do the same thing. You know, but things are different. Anyhow, we built prototypes, showed them, put them in Frostburg, they worked. We built spares for them, sold them, and they worked for I don’t know how many years, but as I said Buford Seville donated one to the museum, which is still there, called the EquaTroll. And I…I think it was Strat, someone said, “Do you know what that is?” I said “Hell yes, it’s an EquaTroll.” He said, “How the hell did you know that?” (Laughter)
DIAMBRA: I said, “Because I’m the guy who thought it up”. Laughing. He said, “Really?” “Yes, yes. We sold that and made it play. We proved….” And I’ll tell you to whom the proof was directed, …Flashback, another loop, on one of my other jaunts, I was down making a multi-millionaire, this is later on, of a guy in Sulphur Springs, TX. His name is Robert M. Rogers, the biggest single operator today in the country, his stock is doing nicely, and Bob Rogers, who runs TCA, Texas Community Antennas, got his start trying to rebuild an old wreck in Sulphur Spring. I went down there to sell him some gear, and while I’m down there, I got a call from one of Entron’s directors saying “What the hell are you doing in Texas, Hank?” “Well, what I’m always doing when I’m out here, trying to sell a buck or two’s worth.” “Well, we need you in Canada.” I said, “You know, Canada’s a long way from Sulphur Springs, TX. When do you think you need me in Canada? How about the day after tomorrow? You’re also mad!” I said, “What do you have up there?” “Well, some systems we can build.” “Oh, really.” Then all kinds of questions flooded in like, “Where the hell are you? What are you talking about?” So finally, he says “Look, I’m going to be pretty tough. Meet me here the day after tomorrow in Toronto at the Royal York. And since board members do control money, it’s usually a wise thing…so I cut off the Sulphur Springs thing, flew all night, stayed overnight in Chicago, because we missed the damned connection, got into Toronto, got down to the Royal York, and meet a guy – incredible – long history — make a story into itself, — who as a resistance fighter for the Dutch during the war, Loly Schmidt, lived in The Hague…excellent Canadian connections and my director, who was an ex-CIA type, also foreign – Romanian — also in the war as OSS. He and Loly knew each other. And they decided that since Loly is doing things in Canada, and there’s lots of need for assistance in Canada, we should put him in. Well, Canada is different country. Canada had different rules, laws and regulations, etc. including television that’s thoroughly controlled, and so forth and so on. And I…listening to all of this, I said “Where the hell are you going.” Well we get into Loly’s car and we’re driving and I end up in Midland, Ontario. It doesn’t take too long to figure out that if you want to get on the poles here, you had better talk to somebody called the Bell of Canada. We retraced our steps, along with a Canadian… a wonderful guy I was introduced to… back to Toronto and Toronto Western Area. And I make…you know I’m naive, I just tell him I just want to rent poles from the Bell, and the guy looks at me in a very astonished way…We don’t rent poles to anybody. I mean we don’t rent poles in Canada. We would like to build cable TV system. What’s that…and we went on, and on, and on. The guy they had there with from Midland, to whom I was introduced, the guy who happens to be the equivalent of a Canadian OPA director during the war, knew his way around very thoroughly. Whose father happened to give Ernest Hemingway a shot at writing for the Toronto Daily Star, was his father. His name was Bill Cranston. Bill Cranston owned the news paper in Midland, along with 6 others, was on the board of everything and how Loly got involved in all of this was the fact that Loly Schmidt was like personally responsible for seeing that Ernst Leitz from Germany got out just before the Russians, and move the entire Leica/Ernst Leitz factory and all of its people, brick by brick to Midland, Ontario. And Loly was seeing to it that Leitz was bidding on the Browning/Fairchild aerial surveillance camera for the U.S. Government, which they didn’t get a contract for because they were foreign. But here they were, this group of super German engineers, all in Midland Ontario. Then I’m introduced to a guy by the name of…what was his name?…Well, the guys that own Pillsbury, U.S., is owned in Midland, Ontario. And they do have bucks, and they want Midland to work and by God there isn’t a television set within 50 miles of Midland, and they don’t make televisions in Midland, so here I get a chance to really expound on how you do the whole thing, and they said well lets go in and get these rights from Bell Telephone, which we didn’t do.
TAYLOR: What time is this now, the year, period? 1956-1957?
DIAMBRA: Yes. And Bill Cranston and I visit Western area. We were told that if you want any further discussions, you go directly to Beaver Hall Hill, Montreal, and talk to Bell of Canada, Beaver Hall Hill. They tell us what the hell to do — we don’t tell them. So Cranston says, let’s go. We gotta get rights. Well Beaver Hall Hill, which was onto itself a whole other story, and take up lots of tape. I meet with Gordon Buck, who is director of engineering for Bell of Canada, all area, who is very much engaged right now with putting in the first transatlantic cable, New England, and he hasn’t got too much time to spare for all of this, but has me address 27 of his engineers in his office. We all got there at one time with plenty of elbow room, so if you image a kind of corner office…..and we did that. Anyway if you’re running out of tape, let’s just stop and go get something to eat.
TAYLOR: All right let’s do that. It’s just about out.
DIAMBRA: Yeah, but…we did build a system in Midland. How, very simply. We had the Bell install cable. They admitted they knew nothing about the electronics so Entron supplied the electronics. We had them import directly from Felten and Guillaume, since they had a different tariff structure with the Germans, styroflex. And in Midland, Ontario, we had styroflex trunks, RG-11 distribution, taps, all kinds, everything was done…there only one small problem. The Canadians absolutely did not want American television in Canada. And so I think…for the other tape you’re going to have, Archer, we will talk about what channel 3 Barre did on purpose and what sometimes happens in CATV technically.
TAYLOR: OK. We’ll terminate this tape for now and resume after lunch.
END OF TAPE 2, SIDE A
START TAPE 2, SIDE B
TAYLOR: We’re recording now.
DIAMBRA: OK. As a side bar, before I get into that Canadian venture, I will leave you these numbers and dates, in fact, I’ll tell you what, I just make photocopies of the lead page, unless you want copies of the entire patent. Lead page good enough for the purposes?
DIAMBRA: I think I’ll do that, and if we can’t do it today, just leave me your address and I will mail you all the stuff. What I’m also going to suggest is that since we can’t copy the tapes in a timely fashion without tying you up, leave me the last one that is not dubbed, and I will promptly mail it all tomorrow, because I can dub it within an hour. We’re dubbing at twice speed downstairs so that….Yeah I’ll do that for you.
TAYLOR: Very good.
DIAMBRA: OK. Barre and …..It became very quickly obvious in Canada that (a) we weren’t going to be allow to rent poles, and we were going to try like hell to keep from being aced out, which led to a meeting with Gordon Buck and his staff at Beaver Hall Hill, in Montreal, where I met a very fine guy by the name of Dave Stevenson. Dave is now retiring as the Director of Research, for the LaShiene?(spelling) Labs of Bell of Canada. He was then just one of the staff engineers. A very interesting history. Anyway, I met all these people in Gordon Bucks office, explained what we were trying to do, explained that this was the beginning of a very substantial investment that people would make as well as ourselves in Canada, and that we ought to have the staff’s cooperation. What we’d like to do is rent pole space like people everywhere else.
TAYLOR: Are we in about the 1957 period or later?
DIAMBRA: Yeah, I think were in about 1956.
TAYLOR: Let me just make sure that we are recording this. OK.
DIAMBRA: Bell however made it very clear that the reason wasn’t philosophic. They said look, we have pretty bad pole plant. We have very short poles. For you to meet criteria about pole clearances would require that you ask us to change every pole in every town. Well we elected long before you got here Mr. Diambra not to do that and we have other systems which we’ll be glad to talk to you about. We’re not built in Western area, Toronto etc., but out here in Eastern area, northeast of Montreal, including Shawinigan Falls…. And they had done so by essentially building the system and leasing the entire system back to the operator in Shawinigan Falls and they had selected SKL equipment because it made the best technical academic argument and although there was no need for the high band, they could have converted it through the 2 high band signals they were getting to low band and deliver adjacent channels, they had been told that adjacent channels don’t work, and that you’d have to have all the clearance necessary and you better leave the things on frequency because that’s where the customers are used to seeing them. Well, I don’t necessary think they’re specious arguments, but I said, “Well gentlemen let me put it this way, without my debating the point, I can point you to dozens of systems where the opposite of all those points is in affect working. Adjacent channels do work, customers don’t really care, once they have tuned to a channel and they don’t have any allegiance, (side bar, most broadcasters don’t like it, because they advertise themselves by channel number, never call letters and so if you’re channel 8 in town, that’s where you’d like to be found). Once the people tune in to channel 3 that’s it. That’s the end of it.” So I said, “Those arguments maybe OK up here but they are only academic and we’ve done other things elsewhere. What we were proposing in Midland, Ontario was a 5 adjacent channel low band, because there is no need for anything more, plus the fact that I said “You guys are spending much too much money for equipment which serves no earthly purpose here. You have high band transmission when all you need is low, your amplifier spacings are too tight, your tightening them up even more just to get reserves, you then block out the reserves because you don’t have gain control, you have to put in attenuators.” I said, “You know, you are spending money for resistors and these are the most expensive resistors in the world. What you need is variable gain systems to take advantage of the gain-bandwidth.” Well, by the way, as sidebar to this.. for me to say that, we go back to Heinz Blum and his appearance here in this country. Well Heinz is a German and unfortunately, obviously for Heinz, had the sad experience of being in Buchenwald during the war. So he fully…you know that was a touchy subject, especially since I had the most cosmopolitan engineering department in the country. Remember, I was located in Washington, and in fact, the last plant for Entron is 1 1/2 miles up the road on Colesville Road, Industrial Blvd., which is the last thing I did for the company before I left, was put them in a brand new building. Heinz stayed with me a long time, a quarter of century and had the occasional need to go back and visit his mother who was still in Berlin and so every year he and Eva would take a trip back there. I said, “Well I tell you what, Blum old buddy, this year I’m going to pay for your vacation. We’re practically broke. He says how the hell are you going to do that. I said well, I tell you what. You’re going to do some work for me. You’re going to stay over there longer than you expect, but you’re going to do some work. You’re going to visit every tube manufacturer in the area, Siemens, Philips, etc., all of them and get for me tubes that you know we need to see what the hell the Germans, the Dutch and British are doing and tubes that we could use high gain-bandwidth but also that could put out power. And he came back with 3. He came back with the predecessor, the ECC88, which was the predecessor to the very, very low noise cascade, then later saw American numbers when they were first released. The first of the gold grid tubes, the first of the 20,000 hour tubes, which is another thing that Milt hated me for. Promoting the idea of what to sell an amplifier, you shouldn’t have to retube the thing every 3 or 4 months, it should be allowed to run like the Bell for years and years and years. We pioneered all of those things with the trip that it turns out that Heinz had an uncle who worked for the Philips vacuum tube Division and went to Holland to see him who in turn was tremendously helpful…we got stuff from Amperex. You remember Amperex?
TAYLOR: Oh. yeah.
DIAMBRA: Amperex line, U.S. distribution. Amperex that we had never even seen. We got experimental tubes they were making with Philips, the Amperex and got those tubes to try because the need was, for not only high gain with high power, high gain-bandwith, but high-power or reserve. They use a lot of power, which led to the other thing I think we were the first to do. There were many attempts to run power on a coaxial primary. Being as close to Bell as I was getting, I decided to make use of the engineering staff, and asked them for all their paper work and the linkage to the Bell Labs so I could in turn determine, at what is the optimum power transmission voltages, where do the dangers lie, etc. on transmission through primary trunk. Because you were looking…He said, “You’re talking about milliwatts.” I said “No we’re talking big wattage, we’re still talking vacuum tubes with a hell of a lot of power.” So we settled that we would be able to operate at 60 volts or below, with no physical warning because there were not enough joules in that system to knock a guy off a ladder and kill him. Anything above that would have to be current de-rated. which would kill us, because Bell was telling me that they were running a couple of kilovolts on transmission line without any danger. I said, “What the hell are you running, micro-amps?” He said, “No in some cases nano-amperes. I said, well forget it, we’re running kilo-amperes and nano-volts, OK.” He said “All right”. Laughing. But it turns out that 60 was the critical number and we built the first such system to do two things, number one to beat Texas Utilities out of charging the hell out of us for every anchoring and attachment and monitoring and recording point…we only had two meters in the whole damn town and the town was Nacogdoches, TX, which we built for Bob Rogers and he built for us in fact, which is exactly how Rogers got to be in the cable TV business as the big operator he is today. He was forced by me to build that system to stay a distributor and he didn’t have the bucks to find, and he helped him do that. Anyway, that’s another long story. He was the experimental guinea pig for a fully automated system whereby design of the feed transformers we made self regulating. In other words, we would put out a constant 60 volts at the power station, but every one of the amplifiers had a Sola constant voltage regulator that would essentially adapt itself to whatever the input feed was. It didn’t have to be 60 volts. It ran all the way down to 38, 38-66. It never did get to 66, except on rare occasions on top of the same pole, when you go farther and farther away, you never had to twiddle and diddle for the current IR losses, the system took care of itself, within the limits of the amplifier RF spacing. It was all designed so that the limitations was RF spacing, when you spaced it properly to RF, you never worried about getting a feed. Well it has obviously become de rigueur, right? That is now standard operation. Well the first one of those took place in Nacogdoches, TX. Directly a function of the work we were doing and I was doing personally with the Bell Lab guys.
TAYLOR: Can you give me a date for that cable powering in Nacogdoches?
DIAMBRA: Between ’56 and “60 because I left in ’60 and therefore, let me see, I left Entron
in ’62 to set up the other thing. It had to be ’58 or ’59, thereabout.
DIAMBRA: But anyway, I can call Bob and find that out. I mean it is something of significance because it was the antecedent. Of course life became easier when everything was transistorized, when you could drop the currents down, you could do a lot of things…
TAYLOR: Among other things I can check the date in the Fact Book for the beginning of the…
TAYLOR: The Nacogdoches system, that will give us a clue. [Sept. 1, 1960]
DIAMBRA: Yes, it’s right here in the library.
DIAMBRA: Anyway, I’m trying to do this all from memory without spending a lot of your time going back and forth. But raise the questions if you want Arch, and we’ll simply put them down.
TAYLOR: Anyway, I’d suggest that when you’re going over this, editing it, that you might fill in any dates that you can do easily.
DIAMBRA: Sure, in fact what I would do is in editing this, obviously change the English syntax so it will make some sense, because these things never do when there transcribed literally.
TAYLOR: That’s right.
DIAMBRA: And put down the things that are pertinent to what you are looking for with how and why we elected to have a patent this way and why it was done this way and what it meant to the industry. But the salient points, I think, where Entron contributed some really primary effects, rehashing them quickly, the adjacent channel operation, the air dielectric cables, the self piercing tap for RG-11 distribution which caused RG-11 to become universal at that moment for distribution, of course it isn’t now. This whole business of primary powered or trunk powered equipment, which in our estimation, knowing that we were going to look forward to transistorized stuff and counting Hank Abajian as a very good friend and being up there at St. Ann when he first showed that first transistor line amp. Remember that show in Canada? Told me that this was going to die, but not the principle. If anything that was going to be de rigueur, transistorized line amps are going to be all powered by… and Jim Palmer who had done the same thing, or was thinking seriously of doing it, and so forth and so on. So that contribution, I think caused a lot of eyes to open. It opened a tremendous amount of eyes at Bell Labs.
TAYLOR: The cable powering?
DIAMBRA: Yes, because in the first place it tended to offset a lot of the comments they had in Canada, but these huge numbers of SKL amplifiers…I may sound like I’m down on Fitz Kennedy. I’m not. I think the world of Fitz and those guys up there, a tremendous bunch of top grade engineers who just simply got married to and stayed with the wrong wife. They had no alternative, that neck of the woods and the major cities like Boston, and New York, etc. broadcasting seven channels highband, they had no choice. They had to go high band. There was no way of cramming seven channels into five low-band, and so they had to do it. Unfortunately the rest of the industry had absolutely no need. The only other part that needed was Los Angeles and West Coast, and they were a long time coming.
DIAMBRA: New York City.
TAYLOR: Yeah, Fitz was damn near dead by the time that happened. So you know…The idea was sound, it was the wrong time and the market was too small. We captured, I guess for no other reason than the timeliness of the market, we satisfied the need for adjacent channels. Five adjacent channels served a hell of a lot of people a long, long, long time and some of these rural areas were….
TAYLOR: Still there.
DIAMBRA: Yeah, right. They got all the television they need. The thing that changed that picture radically, of course, was the satellite reception, and then of course distribution changed radically because of transistorization, for the same reason that bought satellite operations. But, anyway, going back to Canada, we were talking about ok, were not going to build the system the way you fellas are going to try to build. We don’t want you to build it a la SKL because the charges you are going to have to reflect in your tariffs are going to kill us. They said, that sounds reasonable, we’ll give you a whack at building it your way, you tell us exactly how to build it and then we’ll tariff it up. It had to be lower. We had 1/3 of the equipment, etc., etc, etc., I said, one thing we will build that we don’t want you to touch is the antenna site and we did that, fed them jack point interface right off the farm and said you pick it up from here and take it in to town, gymnasium first where we had this great big public armory where we had the big show and then so forth. Cranston did a marvelous job at getting us sponsored, he had all kinds of Canadian Television manufactures there, people from overseas there, who were interested in opening a market. And the important thing was that the Bell recognized that perhaps we did have a better idea and two years later that led to a KS number for Entron and we ended up making all the passive distribution stuff that they used throughout Canada. It got a lot Canadians very mad that the Bell of Canada would buy US under a KS number and they couldn’t even walk in the front door, because the minute they signed…they came down to inspect our facilities a la KS. I had the plant so you could eat off the floor that day. I don’t think we worked for a week waiting for those guys to show up. But when they did, that plant was spotless. They took one look around, we all went to lunch, and they said, ok, tell us where to send the papers. And we… splitters and taps and all kinds of passive devices…and then…
TAYLOR: Where were you located at that time?
DIAMBRA: Well, I opened the plant in Bladensburg, my last act was to physically build the plant on Industrial Blvd. here and then I retired from them as President, became Chairman and that allowed me to go down and set up the operation that I wanted to set up for myself distinctly different from Entron, although the intent was that I was creating another market for Entron because all the equipment that ended up building seven system in Florida was all Entron. Most of it designed by me, specifically for what I needed…I mean we were the first people to start talking about forced air ventilation, under pressure, and these amplifier enclosures where we were not just directing air inside the enclosure, we actually had manifolds over the vacuum tubes, and solid machined aluminum blocks sat down over the amplifier and ducted to an outside ball bearing 50,000 hour fan. We heard about that from some neighbors who’d say “Hey, you know, is that thing going to blow 24 hours a day all the time?” I said “Well, that’s how life is.” They got used to it. Got monotonous. They enabled those tubes — those high powered tubes — some of the tubes were in operation 12 years before they even thought of being changed in Dublin, those 50,000 hour tubes from Philips. They run white hot. Without it, they couldn’t last a week, but it required this forced ventilation and we approached it as a purely mechanical problem…heat transfer…had a couple of very good heat transfer guys, made a tight fitting aluminum block that in itself transferred heat, but then had a manifold grilled., then from the manifold air came down, pressurized the entire amplifier and everything blow out the vents. It ran and ran and ran…that plus regulation. The key I learned, I must have supported dozens of internal experiments. We worked carefully with Arinc the aircraft people, on filamentary voltage control which was the key to the longevity of tubes. Number one: when it says 6.3 volts, never run it there. Arinc determined that 6.05 was the answer and run them at 6.05 and the only way to guarantee that is have a 6.05 winding off the transformer and the transformer has got to be a Sola regulator. Right.
DIAMBRA: That’s the only way. I said “You know, there’s nothing magical about this. I mean, everybody can do it, we were just doing it first simply because we understand what your telling us. You don’t want to climb those damn poles in the middle of winter, replacing them in the middle of the night. You want it to run all the time and you’ll change them when you’re ready to change them not when they ask you to be changed.” They said, “Yeah, but you’re the first guy that’s ever heard us.” I said, “Well, that’s why we keep trying to sell you equipment. We’re listening and we hope you buy.” Well, the Bell did that. The Bell listened very carefully, until…I don’t know how many lectures I delivered to those guys, and in the process met some of the very brightest guys I’ve ever met. But Bell Telephone, you know like, ……that’s their culture. you know, we could do no wrong. Wel1 in order to get the Bell to buy our gear, they knew nothing about it. They said,…Dave Stevenson turned out be a very personal friend, he took me aside and said “Hank, that doesn’t say something about how we work.”
TAYLOR: This is Bell Canada you’re speaking to?
DIAMBRA: Bell of Canada. We can’t do this in a week or two or over the weekend, you know, no matter you would like to press this. I’m just a lowly engineer. I can just write them and put them on somebody’s desk and after that we have to have things like BSP’s, (You know fully what I’m referring to: Bell Standard Practices) We just don’t buy equipment without a BSP in somebody’s book and nobody knows what the hell to do with it. And I’m not going out there and hang them on poles.” I said, “Dave, you asked me to meet your wife Joyce, how about this weekend.” He said, “What do you mean.” Dave didn’t have any kids then. I said, “Well you know Dave if you and I put our heads together, I can take what I have in my briefcase and we can translate it into a BSP form, and before I leave here Monday afternoon – and I have another meeting with your supervisor – long story. The short version: Joyce Stevenson made us smoked meat sandwiches for the weekend, I spent the weekend with the Stevensons and from Friday night to Monday afternoon, out came the set of BSPs. They were written in Dave’s living room, actually on his dining room table, OK. He handed them in and sure as hell within two weeks, with the other contacts I had made, they were ready to talk seriously about building, if we supplied everything, the knowhow, the engineering and the wherewithal for them to buy the stuff, they were ready to build Midland. We were the only system at Midland to operate 7 1/2 years and without a contract. Purely experimental. No charges.
TAYLOR: A contract with Bell of Canada?
DIAMBRA: Yeah, that’s right. Bill Cranston arranged that. He said, I’m not going to sign a contract with those guys. This is all experimental stuff. It’s liable to fail at any time. I said thanks Bill, thanks. I’m a stock holder. (Laughing) Anyway, we won the point. A year and a half later, thereabouts, yes, 1-1/2 years later which was 1958, which …… We were up in Magog, Quebec, overnight at a motel, not a motel, actually a home, with rooms…bed and breakfast and we were having breakfast and the reason for our being there was that we were picking up guys on their way east to go Shawinigan and then to Quebec City because they want to build Quebec City, but Shawinigan, they wanted us…… “OK Hank, we believe you now. We understand what you said. Now would you mind telling us how the hell you….What are you going to substitute for all the stuff we got on Shawinigan Falls that we got to take out. They had baskets, like Milt Shapp’s systems down here …had baskets of taps, water logged rusted taps. They had bushel baskets of 6AK5s. You know at $4 a piece, even than they were expensive damn tubes and there was really nothing wrong with them, they’d run for ever if you put them in stuff within their ratings. I said “Well, there’s only literally one thing we can do. We can’t convert this to a five channel system, you’ve got more than 5 channels on it now because you’ve used the bandwidth for various and sundry purposes, and what can do is design an amplifier that has a bit more gain-bandwidth and some higher power and remove half of what you’ve got and put in a high band cascaded amplifier, rather than a distributed amplifier, which would give us more efficiency. We would do it out of 5 or 6 tubes and put it in every other amplifier and have you get rid of 2/3 of your vacuum tubes, and 2/3 of your power consumption and end up with some gain controllable reserve by alternating amplifiers.” Which we did. We sold him…that run was designed, as I said on the back of an envelope, gave it to Heinz when I came back and said, “Hey, have a prototype in a month.” He said, “Are you out of your mind?” I said “No, because we sold a lot of those.”… He said “To whom?” And I said “To one customer, Bell of Canada.” He said “Good enough! Their money is all right”. And so we did that. We designed an amplifier…we had no hopes of selling to anybody but Bell of Canada and its only purpose was to replace every amplifier on an SKL system. And there was nothing magical about that. We just simply listened carefully to what the problem was and addressed the problem. We weren’t trying to sell a philosophy or an idea. We were just trying to solve that problem and any problem is a subject with lots of solutions. Anyway getting back to when we started running the system, in Midland, Ontario, we suddenly discovered that we were having very, very unusual problems with trying to receive Buffalo. Very much desired up there because there were 2 very low frequency signals in Buffalo, channels 2 and 4. And they were… my calculations read that we should be able to receive them very nicely in Midland, albeit, a little bit of fade, we were on the absolute fringe at 110 miles. But, what the hell, you got no other choice and no other solution except both of them had intolerable interference. Would you believe … and these are documented facts, they’re not heresy because we spent months on this subject. Canada had allocated channels all over the country but had not built anything. Buffalo sits here, Midland is approximately due north by 110 miles, Barrie is halfway in between. Barrie was going to get a channel. What do you think they stuck in Barrie: channel 3.
TAYLOR: Yeah, I know. I knew about Barrie.
DIAMBRA: How do think they operated in Barrie. They operated Barrie with no splatter filters and operated Barrie with about 40% splatter, on purpose, and we proved this to them by doing spectrum analysis off a van 10 miles from Barrie, in every direction. We did a complete circle analysis and they had beamed the crap due north. Nobody up there but Midland, nothing in between, and proved to them that they were totally out of keeping with their own technical standards. The DOT said “No way! You can’t run a broadcast channel like this with junk all over the place”. Sure the chief engineer might go down and talk to McDonalds. To best of my knowledge, they’re still running that way today. Had no inclination to stop and no inclination to listen nor an inclination to admit it. They just denied that we knew what the hell we were doing. We didn’t know how to do the spectrum analysis and record it. So we said, “Well, politically, I guess, there is a problem here.” We put on a distributor who was one of our very dearest friends up in Magog, Quebec. His name was Omar Gerard?(spelling). Omar eventually became the president of the CCTA Systems, like our NCTA down here. He became president of that, and was a distributor of mine for many years, and he was eastern provinces. He was selling east of Quebec, and that’s why we’re in Magog, in that little place, all of us spending the night. Omar lived in Magog. He has three systems he’s going to have built and he finds the money and these Frenchmen, and by the way Omar kept asking me to write the technical releases and articles all in French. I said, Omar I will do my best, but I think you could very easily better translate my English than me sitting there for days pounding out French that is 20 years old in my head. So, anyway, these systems suddenly saw the appearance of trying to receive Vermont, Burlington, etc… There’s channel 8, right in the middle. Exactly the same thing as channel 3 in Barrie. Well we decided this time, OK boys, you want to play games, were not going off the air and it benefited the system in Midland. I came back and on the back of an envelope, I said to Irv Kuzminski, my director of engineering…
DIAMBRA: You remember Irv?
TAYLOR: Yeah, very well.
DIAMBRA: Irv died.
TAYLOR: I heard that. Yes.
DIAMBRA: He died of lung cancer. He was…had a pipe perennially in his mouth and he and Julie were delightful people. I hired Irv right out of the University of Maryland. He was delighted to stay with me but he took a respite and went to the west coast for 2 years and worked for Lockheed, in Sunnyvale doing things that were wonderful. I couldn’t pay him to get that experience but he bought it back when I went out there and convinced him and Julie to come back where her parents were. And they came back. Anyway, I said, “Irv, here’s the kind of filter I want. He looked at me and said, “Ah come on Hank! You’re not going to it get from me.” I said “Yes I am”. He said “Do you know what it takes to make a filter like that? You’re talking 110-120 dB down. First of all the stuff has to be stable. How long do you want to hold that frequency?” I said, “Like forever”. He said, “What’s the temperature range?” And I told him and he said, “You’re mad!” Anyway, about a month later, I said “Irv, on that project, here is a sample of the capacitor you might use.” I gave him a gold-plated Johansen, air coaxial, with 120 threads per inch that you could micrometer tune. It had a quartz cylinder, invar cylindrical tank, right?
TAYLOR: Oh my gosh.
DIAMBRA: Yeah. $35 apiece. He says “But Hank, how much do these thing cost?” I said “I don’t care what they cost. You’re going to build one filter at a time and you’re only going to have one filter installed at a time and its going to take this damned offensive stuff of the air one at a time. I don’t care if we sell it for $10,000. It’s the cheapest thing they’ll ever buy”. He said, “Oh. Oh, one of them. You mean an instrument!”. “Yeah.”
DIAMBRA: Yeah, that’s exactly what I mean, Irving. I said “Build me something that absolutely doesn’t move that I can throw against the wall and it still works.” Well we built it, you know. Machined, stainless steel blocks, the inductors were built in, the Johansen things were screwed in and then silver soldered. I mean, you know, it took a day of Irv’s time to tune it at 64 positions. We called it the player piano and it …(at this point, machine goes dead and comes back on.) …forever, like that. 19″ rack, 6″ chassis, weighed about 40lbs, it was a solid stainless…it must of cost, I don’t know… $2,000 to machine, but when he got through tuning, he had to devise a detector for the scope system so that he could tune down 110 dBs to see it. He says, “You know, when it looks perfect, it’s nothing. That’s only 70 dB down. You tell you want another 50. I can’t even see the bottom trace. I’m going to have to amplify that into the microvolt region to look at it”. I say, “Irving, what you got to do, you got to do”. (Laugh)
TAYLOR: You got to do (they say this at the same time).
DIAMBRA: So, Irving did it. I will never forget the look on his face when he said, “Look at this animal. Do you know how much we have to sell this for?” I said, Irv, I’m going to give it away. And the look on his face, like Ma! Would you do that? I said “Yeah, I’m going to give the God damn thing away. I’m going to show these people at Canadian Broadcast Corporation that there are not the only guys that can mess around with a spectrum. We know what the hell we’re doing too. I’m going to send that up air freight, there was no such thing as Fed Ex in those days, air freight to Omar. Omar’s going to take the thing in and he’s not going to touch anything, he’s going to put a connector into this end and a connector at that end and all the interference is going to disappear”. That’s exactly what happened. Omar (spelling) comes back and says, “You didn’t send a bill with that. How much is that thing in the box”. I said, “Omar?(spelling) you haven’t got enough money to buy that. It’s FREE”. He says, “Hank, do you know how many of those we can sell?” I said, “At what …$16,000 a piece?” And I can hear, distinct like, he dropped his glasses. He said, “You mean $16,000 dollars?” I said “Yeah, what the hell you think I’m talking about, nickels? $16,000. That’s a handmade thing. It’s got Kuzminski’s name all over it. We might as well engrave that the Kuzminski Piano Player. There’s only one guy in the factory that can build that, and one guy that can tune it. So don’t ever screw up and don’t take the covers off, just connect it”. He says, “That what I told them. We connect it, it worked”. I said, “How much is he going to make off the filter, Omar?” He says “We are going to have some very happy customers, 2 or 3 thousand”. I said, “Do you think if we gave one to every system, we will sell every system we talk to –everything; because the only way that they can get that filter for free is to buy everything else from us? He says, “Oh you dirty…You dirty Italian…I knew you had something like that in mind”. I said, “Well, that’s not collusion. I’m not charging you. I’m not restricting trade. I’m just not selling an item. It’s not even in the press, not in the catalog, it’s nothing. I just give it away, as help”. We got systems…up till five years ago I was getting cards from, Newfoundland and Labrador, from Isador Beaudouin whose system we built with one of those, it worked. Just gave it to him. I said “Here, stick that in your antenna site.” .He then said, “Well if that works so well, what else have you got in the box?” It was all Omar had to hear. Out comes the catalog, you know, and we’re selling stuff like crazy. But there was no patent or anything, just straight theory. That was the days before active filters. It was a multinode, seven poles, six zeroes, Butterworth…tough and that was not a computer design either. That was Irving playing with lots of slide rule and paper. I think he filled up 3 of these with numbers and to back it up with the acutely sensitive trimming that it required. He had a variable for everything. He says, “As long as I’m building an instrument, I don’t care. It’s not being mass produced”. I said, “That’s right. Make a variable of everything and you tune it, lock it up and we’ll ship it. And if it ever needs tuning, it’s going to be shipped back here, and you’ll have to tune it”. He says “OK”. But it worked. And that also proved to me that you know, if we put our minds to it, there are a lot of other problems we can solve. We never got the chance to, but that was one of them. The after effects I can only recite to you, it came to me by word of mouth, I wasn’t there to observe. A couple of the guys from Barrie’s broadcast station had heard from people who-people in Midland, that they had no problems with channels 2 and 4, that they were looking at channels 2 and 4 very beautifully. They just couldn’t understand this because there was two broadcasting….like it was hitting the tube and they couldn’t understand how…And they went up to Barre of course. The farmer on who’s land the antenna site was couldn’t get in; it was totally locked, he couldn’t get in to show them anything. But he had good pictures, the town had good pictures. Everybody was looking at 2 and 4 clean. There was no problem with channel 3 splatter and to this day, they couldn’t understand how the hell we did it, nobody explained it to them. Everybody up there honestly said, I don’t really know! Mr. Diambra just visited us, they put two boxes in, screwed the thing in and locked the antenna site and we’ve got good pictures. That’s all.
TAYLOR: Sometime back in the ’70, I don’t know exactly when…Martin Flom, you know…?
DIAMBRA: Flom? Sure, an old friend. Harry Gray’s buddy?
TAYLOR: Yes, well I don’t know him, but Martin Flom was instrumental, whether he did it himself, but he was instrumental in getting one these big parabolic antennas in Barrie to reject the adjacent channel problem with channel 3.
DIAMBRA: Which was still being done on purpose.
TAYLOR: Yeah, but apparently this was in addition to the filter that you guys did…
DIAMBRA: Well, this was long after because the Barre system didn’t get built until long after Midland, I don’t know….
TAYLOR: Oh, I see. What they were receiving was just regular television on an antenna, not CATV.
DIAMBRA: Yeah, but what…in other words what he was doing without our knowledge, he didn’t know what we were doing and we didn’t know him from beans at that moment. If you remember Harry Gray used to sell stuff in this country from Canadian manufacturers. Last time I heard from Harry, he sold me some stuff in the Coral Springs Lab, he was in Jacksonville, Fl. I don’t know where the hell he’s gone…Obviously, he’s retired since then. Anyway, the important thing was how politics enters into technology. Remember I told you that everything has some force that drives it and the only the force for ever spending that kind of money, and there were a lot of people in my own company that felt very unhappy about, “How could you possibly tie up Kuzminski for a month and a half Hank, and then give his services free?” I said, “That’s almost irrelevant. What it does for the bottom line is much more important to me in the next year or two as to whether I tie up Kuzminski, Blum, or myself, it doesn’t make any difference. That’s what the hell we’re here for”. “But we could sell it”. I said, “No you can’t sell it. The minute you put a $16,000 price tag on it, they’re going to expect miracles to begin with and nobody will ever be satisfied because they don’t thing its worth $16,000. If you give it to them and it immediately improves their system, I think you’ll get hundreds more customers. First thing they got to buy is tap and splitters and everything. So what is the difference”. Anyway, that technical experience up there told me that –. I would never suspect broadcasters before. I never did. I blindly and innocently assume that broadcasters broadcast what they were supposed to, but they weren’t and up there, obviously with DOT permission. We reported that in writing. Cranston sent a very nasty letter to the DOT and said “We will prove it, we’ve got all the documentation to prove it, etc.”. To us I simply said, “Look, I learned a long time ago that when you’re in a foreign country, they’ve got rules of their own. Don’t try to write yours on top of theirs because they are going to get you. If they want to get you, they will get you period”. In that case, as you well know, how many attempts were there to raise towers? They passed their own laws then, no towers higher than x number of feet, 300 ft….You couldn’t be within so many miles of the border…the Winnipeg System, they were going to try to put a station in South Dakota, for God’s sake, only for Winnipeg. There wasn’t any…there were rocks around there. A full maximum power UHF station, a megawatt, in South Dakota for Winnipeg.
TAYLOR: That was Sruki Switzer; he told me the story about that.
TAYLOR: He saw when it was done. He arranged to have it done.
DIAMBRA: Oh except that…it’s like everything else, the minute the satellite came along…, yeah, Powee. In other words when things are not done for technically sound reasons, and done for political reasons, they really haven’t got a leg to stand on and you can always chop them down. I have blathered a long time. The other thing that we talked about — taps. One of the things were doing was thinking about interactive customers in 1954. Sorry that’s not the one. Where is it? Here it is, in 1956. — [Long pause; shuffling papers] — Problem. How could you take an installed 5 channel one-way system and without rewiring anything convert that into a bi-directional system giving you at least one or two channels in the reverse direction, full bandwidth for information transfer. Date on that was nearly 30 years ago; 40 years, sorry. We can take it by using another thing we were then selling called the AcraSplit which was a broadband directional splitter and making high and low pass bands that would serve high/low passbands. We’d make a bridge network out of it. 2 and 3 would come back, 4,5 and 6 couldn’t go out and we’d have 3 channels of adjacent television outbound and 2 channels of adjacent television inbound and it worked like a charm and of course there was nobody at the moment to sell it to. So we obviously didn’t make more than a ten mile system which was installed on the roof of the new building. But we could do some very interesting things obviously. We could switch it. We were thinking of electrically switching those networks so that you could make it a five-channel one way or bi-directional by converting it out of the bridge. What you had to do is essentially switch the bridge in and out of the amplifier. Right?
TAYLOR: Yeah, I see what that is.
DIAMBRA: Tricky. Right. So that’s exactly what happened, sir, and so what I’m saying that we’ve been thinking about what’s going on now a long, long time, because I was there with my southern distributor, I’m sure you remember Jim Davidson?
TAYLOR: Oh yes.
DIAMBRA: Jimmy Davidson came knocking on our door because he was trying desperately to sell something and talked to George Edlen first, I wasn’t even in town. And George said, “You’d better fly down to see Jim because he might just have something that would open up a new territory for us”. Which we did. And Jim was directly responsible for our selling Rockefeller, who owned all of Morrilton, AR on the top of that mountain. We put in an Entron system for him, after his company in which he was a stockholder, rejected Entron because we weren’t big enough. I’m sure you remember George Morrell.
TAYLOR: Oh, oh, oh. Very, very well.
DIAMBRA: Laugh. You say that oh, oh…rest his soul. When did George die?
TAYLOR: Oh gosh, it’s been several years, 4 or 5 years. I worked for him for a while.
DIAMBRA: Well, you remember George Morrell.
TAYLOR: Strange person.
DIAMBRA: More than strange. Something…
TAYLOR: Here we are at the end.
END OF TAPE 2, SIDE B
START TAPE 3, SIDE A
TAYLOR: OK, we are back on the air again.
DIAMBRA: Well, Morrell and Midwest Video were very interested in building systems and mostly Midwest Systems was interested in me, Morrell was in the way as far as I was concerned. But, Morrell had some very interesting stockholders in Midwest Video. Hamilton Moses, Rockefeller,… and they had a very interesting lab that worked for them. Remember, I can’t remember the formal name right now, but they had a lab that supposedly evaluated all the gear and so I was asked to send down whatever we thought we might want to sell to Midwest Video to this lab in Little Rock which was…let me think about it…Midwestern Associates, Midwestern Electronics…something like that, that was going to evaluate all the gear and I sent them everything that we knew of that we thought we would sell and waited a couple of months and was told evaluations were under way and most of them were finished and “Yeah, Hank, it looked pretty good”. So we were asked to meet with the board at Midwest Video and I did that and spent the night and I had been told many things about: you know, Hey, when you show up, make sure Morrell’s there. He’s telling you to be there, make sure he’s there. Well, it had already happened to me, to make a flight to Little Rocks, and Morrell’s somewhere else. I think on purpose. But be that as it may, we got to that meeting and they cogitated and I sat and fidgeted outside and they read everything I had given them, which was mostly financials. The conclusion was, “We understand you equipment is pretty good and we think you know what doing Mr. Diambra, but you know something, the size of the system we’re going to build is bigger than your net worth, so we couldn’t possibly give you the job anyway. Because our liability, after all, if anything happens to you, is going to be horrendous, that is company wise”. I said to myself, “I got to come to Little Rock to hear this? They could have told me this by mail. Who asked who to come down here, and who asked who to send all that equipment to be evaluated if that was going to be the criteria?” …Whether it worked or not was irrelevant. One look at the financials, which they could have gotten from DNB was all…I just felt a little ticked off, so I kind of — muttering to myself — get my coat on and Rockefeller came out and says, “Mr. Davidson’s been talking to me.” I said, “What about?” “Well” he said, “I mean, what we’ve just told you affects the company, doesn’t affect me”. He said, “Would you be interested in supplying us? I said, “I just got through telling…” He said, “No, no, no”. Rockefeller had Merrilton. We have a system we want to put on top of the mountain”, so that’s how we ended up with…Entron lost the Midwest Video bid because we weren’t big enough but Rockefeller’s Estate was OK. We took care of that lock, stock and barrel. Jim flew up the equipment himself, I mean literally flew there, because they had an airport on the grounds, and flew in the cable and equipment and everything and Morrilton, AR ended up as totally Entron’s. You know sometimes that’s how life is.
TAYLOR: Which Rockefeller is that?
DIAMBRA: Winston, the Arkansas type. Winston Rockefeller. To the best of my knowledge, I don’t if…it’s obviously been long since replaced, I hope it has.
TAYLOR: When did you sell? When did you get out of Entron?
DIAMBRA: I retired from Entron in 1964; 1962 and became Chairman of the Board and stayed Chairman through 1964 by the time I started getting very, very involved in the franchising, I couldn’t devote any more time to Entron. And so I…the period from ’62 to ’64, I stayed on as Chairman and head of philosophy and that kind of thing and tried to get long range customers. But I wasn’t day to day active any longer. I was starting to think of how I was going to put this southern network together, and by ’64 I obtained most of the franchises and it was a case of detailed engineering, layouts, and commitments and bonds and stuff like that. I just gave up, the whole Entron thing. I couldn’t because I felt I was going to be very closely associated. They were going to be my supplier at every system, which they did. They supplied — and it served a useful purpose for them too because when I was telling you about those high powered air manifolds, etc., all were developed for the systems in Georgia. They were not selling that. I designed that with Blum and he hammered those things out and we installed them and so forth and so on, and which served as a good laboratory for them, many, many things. We then slowly converted. Unfortunately, Entron started making some serious mistakes at that point, mostly on getting ahead and I kept telling them, “Hey, you guys are slipping farther and farther behind, transistorization is now upon us and your competitors are starting to rap on my door and I can’t tell my stockholder and I can’t tell Westinghouse Electric that we won’t buy from somebody like Palmer, or elsewhere, C-Cor. You haven’t got that much gold man, you got an antiquated vacuum tube system which is killing us from a standpoint of power.” I said “Heinz, but you’ve heard that from a lot of other guys besides me.” I had, — as the last thing I did — hire Jim Lahy. You know Jim.
DIAMBRA: Jim Lahy, whom I met in the old days through Dage.
TAYLOR: Yes, that’s how I met him.
DIAMBRA: Way back.
TAYLOR: That was back in the broadcasting days when I was involved in broadcasting.
DIAMBRA: Right. It was back in ’53 or ’54 I met Jim. Anyway, Jim was looking for a thing to do. He had gotten out of Dage, and I flew up to Michigan City, we had quite a chat. He came down to do the physical work of being president of Entron while I was its Chairman. I can’t remember how long Jim stayed, but I kept talking to Heinz personally as a friend and since I was talking a lot of engineering design, I spent more time with Heinz and Irv than I was with Lahy, but most of it served them in good stead and I told them “Hey guys, if you can’t develop transistorized gear that works, you’re in serious trouble. Because (a) we are going to need it for our expansions, we’re going to need it for our conversions. If I could cut the power bill down on some of these systems, you’re going to make a lot of money”.
TAYLOR: You’re talking about mid ’60’s now?
DIAMBRA: Yes, mid ’60s. 1967 or 1968. And they ended up getting sold. So it wasn’t the same old Entron crew anymore. It was…the guy’s name of Ross, somewhere in New York, because all I know is….big, tall farm boy…Orville…
TAYLOR: Page… O.D. Page.
DIAMBRA: Orville Page.
TAYLOR: Yes. He’s consulting now over in Bethesda.
DIAMBRA: Because one of the things I had to do for Westinghouse technically was supervise all the technical specification for the Bronx. You know they had the franchise and still, well had, I don’t what they got now, and build the Riverside section of the Bronx. Well, that was a wholly different animal. I mean, putting a system there, as opposed to putting it in the boon docks in Georgia is two entirely different things. We started tightening down on screening, shielding, sets and all the good stuff and O.D. Page was then running Entron. Lahy had long since….Lahy was still there, Page was director of engineering. No, sorry, Page was running Entron, Heinz was still there.
TAYLOR: Ed. Whitney came in for a time.
DIAMBRA: That was some time ago. He came in when McGeehan had left. He did sales.
TAYLOR: McGeehan left after you left?
DIAMBRA: McGeehan left before I left.
TAYLOR: Before you left?
TAYLOR: Whitney was there while you were there?
DIAMBRA: No, Whitney came after I was there. Jim brought in a succession of people. McGeehan went up with Wally Hotz. Remember Hotz?
TAYLOR: Yes. In Kingston.
DIAMBRA: Wally lived in Stanford, CT. Wally Hotz was instrumental in building Kingston, in fact, I built it for him. In fact, I traveled to the west coast to upset an apple cart out there, because he had the franchise in Salinas, CA and I held that whole franchise fight, but was aced out by the local broadcaster, who you know put up a violent, nasty fight out there because Wally said, if you can save the franchise….
TAYLOR: Down in Salinas.
DIAMBRA: You can build it.
TAYLOR: Oh. Johnny Cohan.
DIAMBRA: Johnny Cohan, sure, very well. I tangled with him at length. He was out there. It was the same Wally Hotz and he had the Kingston franchise, and Entron contracted the Kingston system for Wally. Anyway, Wally and Bob McGeehan became working partners.
TAYLOR: In Kingston?
DIAMBRA: No. He worked for Wally out of Stanford. CT doing whatever they were going to do because Wally then ended up in Alabama with systems down there and took some people who worked for me both in Entron and in Georgia, good people that he attracted…
TAYLOR: Yeah, and they built taps and splitters…
DIAMBRA: Decatur, AL.
TAYLOR: They called it Dolphin series, or something like that.
DIAMBRA: Yeah. That’s … Sabiem Fluresco (sp ?)___. Left me in Dublin. And Sabiem was the most incredibly surprised guy when I said, “No, good luck, and I wish you very well and I hope that you have a hell of a time with Hotz, whom I knew better than Sabiem would ever know him. Wally was a wild character. Anyway, Sabiem lived…I’ve had an incredible technical group. Sabiem committed suicide in Decatur, AL; stuck his pistol in his mouth and blew his head off.
TAYLOR: Oh dear. Well you talk about Walter Hotz and Johnny Cohan; I’m going to turn this off and start over again. OK. You were saying that the cable industry was the first real entrepreneurial activity in….
DIAMBRA: Yeah, for a number of reasons, it welded the need to develop things technically because the need was there. We didn’t have to go out and develop it and then find a market for it, you know, it was like a ready solution to a non-existent problem. The industry’s proved this all along that it can rise to meet problems; they’re doing it right now. Join forces that you wouldn’t believe possible. Right now the entertainment forces, the cable forces, the database forces, the telephone companies. You know, the whole thing is seeing what people think is a revolution. I don’t think so. I think it’s purely evolutionary. As I said, I showed you a patent about bi-directional that goes back nearly what, forty years. So, we’ve been thinking about it a long time, which brings back to mind that in attempting to sell things, which is after all what my job was, it was almost secondary that I had to invent a few things to sell. But, when I picked up a Blum and a Kuzminsky and that bunch who was very competent, and Huggins, I could free myself up to going out and doing what I did best which was put things, people, technically, financially, etc. to weld communities into a system whole. When I proved that I could do that all over the country, I decided to do it for myself in Georgia. But in the mean time, one of the people that presented us a serious problem was the system in Reno.
TAYLOR: You mentioned that.
DIAMBRA: The Reno system was an exercise almost in futility. It was funny, tragic, anything you want to… a lot of things all combined together. I flew to Reno to find out what was going on and here was a group of essentially total amateurs that had tried their living best to build a system in Reno in a place where there were virtually no poles existed in downtown and they were cutting the streets with diamond saws and burying cables in the middle of highways and backfilling them with sand. Their antenna sites was about 30 miles away at the top of Slide Mountain from which they were trying to receive San Francisco direct and they were using the Bell Telephone, who were the only authorized 6 GHz microwave carriers, in fact, they were using 4 GHz to shoot it down from the top of the mountain to the telephone building in town and they were giving it to these guys and charging an incredible amount of money for that service. Back in the very early days of cable, anyway, I get up there and I’ve been told I should take a look at it; there’s a potential customer here. So I called back to McGeehan and I say, “Hey Bob, potential customer for what, total bankruptcy? What do you want us to do?” The system is unbelievable. Technically its useless. I wouldn’t know how to build a system this bad if I tried, and secondly, I’m not so sure I would have tried because these are violations of things people with any sense should know about”. You don’t go down drilling…I mean these were $800 diamond saws that lasted one block. I said, “You know how many $800 diamond saws you can use up grinding up the streets of Reno, and then being sued by the Los Angeles [Vegas?] Transportation Department because they’re not even backfilled to grade?” What’s going on here? They’ve got stuff nailed to private buildings. I mean like the old days in Pottsville when it used to be mail box to mail box. I said, “The antenna site is a shambles. It’s an absolute shambles. There is aluminum all over the mountain. The antennas blow apart in less than 30 days — in 30 days, you don’t have any antennas. They had vertical rods sticking up. The place is an absolute grave yard of aluminum.” I said, “There isn’t anything designed here that can represent the system”. He said, “I got other news for you. I talked to a guy by the name of Sutherland. He owns a gold mine.” I said, “What is that supposed to mean?” He said, “He owns a gold mine, literally. He owns a gold mine in Grass Valley, CA. He happens to have a big chunk of the system. He’s been granddaddying the system and so if you get Jack to understand what it needs, which is like maybe a whole new system, maybe you got a sale.” So I said, “Well what the hell, it’s a long way back via Constellation prop, in those days. I’m out here, so OK. That was Jack Sutherland. A delightful guy. For a guy in that business, he was about as naive as they could come. Certainly naive about what we were doing. He was being aced by a bunch of his internal people. He had a law firm in town…I’m going to cut a lot of this fat out. He had a law firm in town who eventually was stealing the franchise from him. His own law firm, making every conceivable thing he did look bad. Now, the people, remember this is Reno, where every other place is a place you can gamble. If you can sell the fights from San Francisco, you can make a mint just on Friday night, you don’t need the rest of the town the rest of the year, just Friday night. But, God damn! Deliver pictures!
TAYLOR: That’s right.
DIAMBRA: You shut that damn thing off in the middle of the 6th round, you’ve got troubles. I mean, man they come gunning for you in this town. Well, Jack understood that we had to clean up a lot of things. I said, “Jack you got to start simultaneously everywhere, which is physically impossible. I don’t have the crew to do that. I can’t live out here to supervise this. I’m running a manufacturing company and a design lab. We are going to have to have a group come in to work hand in glove with you, and take orders, word of mouth from me and from whomever else you’re going to assign to the job.” I don’t know who would do that. They’d have to be close friends all the way across the board. I said, “What you really need is money, Jack. He said, well I got a problem. I got a gold mine.” He told me this story very quietly and then he said, “You know, you’re not supposed to export gold.” Gold was still $35 an ounce and locked up tight. The only people you could sell gold to was Uncle Sam.
TAYLOR: That’s right.
DIAMBRA: But a lot of that gold wasn’t going to Uncle Sam, it was going to China. Because one of the guys, the President of the company, the guy that was running the system in town ostensibly, was essentially a missionary to China who was doing a fair amount of smuggling on the side. I won’t talk about names. That was the story. But there are problems here, there are problems. I said, “Jack, you need a lot of dough, and if you tell me you haven’t got it, there is no point in my sticking around because I tell you I’m not working for nothing and another thing, I can’t tell how much I can accomplish with nothing. It’s going to take a group of investors to come in here working with you, give you a piece of the action that you got so far, use a local contact, you got the franchise, etc….but you’re going to need money and you’re going to need money from knowledgeable cable operators and people who will then respect us too because we’re going to make some very nasty strong recommendations about what you can do with this equipment.” So believe it or not, we put together a group in Pottsville, PA, including the District Attorney, Harry Lightstone. Names well known to a lot of people in that area, certainly well known to Marty. Everybody knew Marty. And we said, “Would you guys want a piece of the action?” And like half the police force wanted in on it, and they went to Reno and met with Jack and said, “Sure.” Harry Lightstone spent 10 days out there. And guess who the chief engineer of that job was appointed to be? Leonard D. Ecker.
TAYLOR: I’ll be darned.
TAYLOR: Did you have something to do with that?
DIAMBRA: Yes, of course. The only other thing was, that unfortunately when I went out there about a week later, I couldn’t find anybody until noon. Nobody ever came out of the God damn casinos. They’d stay up all night. And I said, “Sure as hell, I should have recognized it — the minute you take them off the bars in Pennsylvania where they can’t do anything, and you put them in a town like Reno, what do you think they’re going to do, go to church? All day and all night?” I said “Guys, where is the technical reporting? Where is this? Where is that? Where’s the other thing?” Well it turns out, they couldn’t raise the kind of money that I described they would need. They said, you didn’t tell us that. I said, “You guys weren’t listening. You were so anxious to get a piece of the big action in Reno, NV, somewhere you could gamble like crazy legally, make a fortune every Friday night, but you weren’t listening very carefully. I told you, you got problems. You got the Bell problem, you got the antenna site problems, you got a rebuild the town problem, you got about 8 or 10 million you got to pour into this thing to get started. Then you could make a killing. Then you got the biggest slot machine in the world. You’re going to have 112 miles of slot machine, but you ain’t going to get it for free. And I sure as hell am not paying it. If you want me to do anymore work, you will have to sign a contract that I’m doing the engineering, get paid for it, and the equipment sales are going to be Entron and we’re going to supervise everything you’re doing, otherwise forget it.” Well, three weeks later, the whole crew left for Pottsville. Everybody was damn near broke, they had played themselves out and decided they couldn’t take much more of that. I told them that in advance, “If you are going to come all the way west and can’t come out of the hotels, how in the hell are you going to send a crew to live here? Day and night, they are going to have to be inured to this kind of stuff.” Well, in the meantime, they put up bucks for surveys, etc. Do you remember a guy by the name of Bruno Zacconi?
TAYLOR: Oh…, that name is very familiar, but I don’t…
DIAMBRA: Sure, antennas? San Francisco.
TAYLOR: OK, sure.
DIAMBRA: Bruno, right. Scala….Bruno Zacconi and I are very old friends. We ate clams until he couldn’t eat any more at Fisherman’s Wharf, and I said Bruno, you’ve been designing antennas for a long time, you got a bunch of antennas for United Pacific that seem to stand up. Suppose you come back east with me to Reno with me and we’ll put you up and spend a couple of days, and we’ll take you to the top of Slide Mountain and you figure out what the hell you’re going to put up on the top of Slide Mountain that’s going to stay there. If you can’t, don’t feel bad, nobody else has. So he came and we stayed at the hotel down by the river, the Riverside and we ate clams again and took him to the top of Slide Mountain and he says, well I see the problem. Well I said, I do too. 95 sustained miles an hour with 130 mile an hour gusts is enough to take most anything off.
TAYLOR: It’s what you call a hurricane.
DIAMBRA: (Laugh) I tell you I have some thoughts but I want to hear yours. He says, I betcha 10 to 1 we’re going to come up with the same God damn thing. Build a building and put our antennas inside. I said, that’s right and we’re going to build a sloped front so that the wind pressure goes right over the top of this goddam thing and back to the other side. And so we did. The building was anchored with four 3/4 inch steel cables in the rock. Ain’t nothing going to lift that thing off. And we needed somebody to stay up there to do a couple of things like switch channels, etc. etc. and the antennas were perfectly good Scala antennas, when inside this Plexiglas sheet which was 3/4 of an inch thick on the west side. The microwave dishes, that was a long story onto itself. You see, they hadn’t paid the Bell in a year and the Bell simply said, well, we’re just going to shut you off. So I went down to San Francisco and talk to Pacific Bell, in those day, not US West, Pacific Bell and I said “Gentlemen, I tell you what You see this.” And I laid open a whole piece of paper the size of the New York times and said “You see this size paper. This is a sketch. Right? And it blames you for depriving the citizens of Reno of television and it puts you in total responsibility for shutting them off and since there’s no way around you, we’re going to start talking monopoly against the small people very loud, and if you want that to happen you tell me you’re not going to turn the microwave on from here while I’m sitting in this room and that will appear in tomorrow’s paper in Reno and it will be printed everyday for 30 days.” When I got back to Reno on the plane that night, microwave was working like a goddam ton of bricks, and I’m not joking. It stayed working and they weren’t paid for another 18 months, but everything they would do, they got paid. What I had to do was ultimately package that whole thing up and peddle it to Lloyd Halimore at Segler Electronics who ended up owning the Reno system. I sold some equipment, but we did….it was an incredible useful experience. We got a couple of ski bums to live in the antenna site and we’d send them stuff up the ski slide…everything, you know and it would run through the summer too. They’d call for all kinds of ammunition to shoot all the animal wild life from the thing. They had plenty of girls to keep them occupied….they lived a hell of a life, ski all day and would maintain the equipment and do the switching and all that stuff that was required and let us know when we had to do things to the equipment. But the building was the answer, it saved everything. The Bell of course, we told them what we were going to do at no expense to them, was put their equipment inside a Plexiglas window looking southeast to town and they had no problem. Northeast to town. They would have no problem on Slide Mountain and could be protected and their gear would run forever. We told them it would even be at no cost to them, supervised by warm bodied people who would keep an eye on people, make changes, etc. etc. under their instructions. They liked that, and it ran for 18 more months, delivered pictures from San Francisco like a ton of bricks into Reno and slowly but surely financing came up and the minute the financing started to show and we started to make technical improvements, the law firm in town started to pull stunts you wouldn’t believe which I won’t even bother repeating, all of them against Sutherland. I can remember, so long as I live, one Saturday starting at 2 o’clock in the afternoon and ending at midnight. I got a call from Jack Sutherland and he’s in San Francisco and he says, I’m going to commit suicide. My hand is on a .38 caliber, on the 17th floor of the Mark Hopkins Hotel, etc. and I talked that guy out of suicide from 2 o’clock in the afternoon until midnight, and his wife wrote me a hell of a letter when I got through doing that. I kept explaining to him that “Jack, nobody’s got it against you and personally you’re a savior to a lot of people, etc. etc. and kept going on. I was so worn out I couldn’t get out of bed for 3 days after that.
TAYLOR: I was going to say that’s an emotional drain.
DIAMBRA: Let me tell you, I’ve done tough things in my life, but the toughest thing I have ever done was listened to Jack Sutherland. I knew him personally, not quite like a father, he wasn’t that old, but I had my son out there for a weeks vacation with me… no I’m sorry…I was going to take him with me and I couldn’t for I don’t know what reason now, but Jack said I thought you were bringing your son? I said, well Jack things happen and I can’t do it right now. He says, take this back, and here was a great big 3 oz gold nugget which I brought back to Paul, and said here is a real Grass Valley, CA sheriff’s badge, which my son was 8 years old. He says take these back to him. Paul still has them down in Florida. He’s practicing medicine with a sheriff’s badge from Grass Valley and a gold nugget… What we had to do is devise systems to improve antennas, with the appropriate filters and all kinds of real high gain stuff with lots of reserve because the fades on those things were incredible. But mostly it was outside plant design and that’s where it paid off to have that experience with the Bell, because — let me tell you — the Bell knows outside plant, inside out, a hell of a lot better than we would ever know outside plant. And it was a pleasure dealing with those guys in Homeville, because that’s where we submitted when we had this KS number for The Bell of Canada and they wanted to see all the stuff in the U.S. too. They said, yeah, it’s pretty well designed…can we make some suggestions and let me tell you, we listened very hard to the suggestions. They were good, very good. So I’m saying, and been saying this for years, well one of the things we did technically, not necessarily equipment design but it was technical system design for the Bell that we didn’t publicize at all because the few people that knew about it didn’t like us very much. About the time I had done this deal, this dastardly deal in Canada with the Bell of Canada, the Canadians didn’t appreciate us because the Canadians weren’t selling anything. The KS numbers, we bid the sole number, the only one that was issued, …..they bought everything else from us. The electronics they were already buying from us and from SKL so that blocked out the Canadians. So I had meeting with John Bartow and Alex and the people at Murray Hill at the West Street Labs and they had come and gone to Frostburg and found out the stuff did work and the Bell, this is 1959, was making a decision …..the presidents of the Bell Systems were to meet in Yuma, AZ. Prior to this we had a representative in Denver, whose father worked for the Bell System supplying Colorado…what was the name?
TAYLOR: Mountain States.
DIAMBRA: Yes, Mountain States. His name was Jones and Evan Jones was this guy’s father and Evan worked for the telephone company and this guy was supposed to be getting us Mountain States business, which we were very deficient. We had the south region well covered, Canada covered, the northeast and the far west, but we didn’t have a damn thing to do in the mountain states and there was no place to go traipsing around thousands of miles of open country, you need a guy who lives there. So, I think his father called and said, I’ve got a son who looking to do something. Do you guys need a rep? I said, yeah, we sure do. Well that in turn got me closer to the mountain states Bell and the Bell was then suddenly very interested in wiring big cities, like Denver.
TAYLOR: 1959 you’re talking about.
DIAMBRA: ’58, late ’57, ’58 and 1959. We worked with St. Louis, Denver, Albuquerque. There were six systems we designed on paper and all the drawings were over hundreds of square feet…all those maps, priced them out, priced them per mile construction operation, etc., did what you guys did with due diligence and give these guys essentially operating bids where we were going to be essentially almost favored nation for having done this. We didn’t publicize this too much. In fact, my own people were not very happy. They said, if this gets out Hank, we’re not going to sell to anybody. I mean, if you are going to try to make Bell your best customer, you better think twice because there isn’t anybody that loves Bell in this country at all, and the Bell could swamp you. And I heard the old story over and over again, you know, Warwick television what happens when you sell to Sears, they’re going to own you…if they don’t like it, bad business. I said, well look in my estimation this is where things are going. The Bell is making serious noises here, this is not talking, and if they are making serious noises, I want to be on the serious side, not on the outside. I want to be on the inside. So I’ve said, we’ve done if anything else, or if nothing else, a public service. Then they had the presidents meeting in Yuma and decided at that moment to not go into the cable television business in the major metropolitan areas or for that matter anywhere. That was a Bell presidents decision in 1959 and the guy I was working with, the general Manager over at Southwestern Bell at St. Louis, ended up the President of AT&T. He called me and explained and he said, “I’m sorry. I said, “Don’t be sorry, you know, it’s been a great experience for all of us, believe me we’ve learned things that are going to benefit us in conduit, transit, and all this other stuff we had to understand; we’ve gone through a lot of holes with you guys, and if there is ever a day, you know where we are. Well, that was ’59-’60 at the very latest, early ’60, spring of ’60, and here we are coming up on ’94, this is 34 years later and they’re just starting to think of going with Viacom/Paramount. It’ll happen again, they’ll build. Only this time it’s obviously going to be fiber optic, it’s going to be all….
TAYLOR: Digital, a lot of different things.
DIAMBRA: Oh, enormous. But the point is this that we never had to live that down because I said to my people, let’s just bury it, put it in the vaults, forget it every happened, we know where the answers are, we know what the numbers are and I said, if we are every called upon to compete with Bell, we got all the best numbers they got because they came from us. So we’re not going to be sucked into a situation where we don’t know what the hell is going on, we’ve got the numbers. But out of it came a lot – one helluva lot of stuff, that was later applied to Georgia, by me, of things the Bell wanted to see. About that time, if you recall, the Bell started making noises through Western Electric, saying, if you want to sell to us, here is how the equipment has got to look. Remember that one?
DIAMBRA: Well, this was O.D. Page, he was there.
TAYLOR: O.D. Page at your company?
DIAMBRA: Yes. There was Page, and other guys were in place elsewhere and you know everybody in the country, including Jerrold at that point, had to swallow real hard and say OK, and strand mounted equipment had to look like this, the case had to look like this,…Where the hell do you think that all came from? We’ve been talking to the Bell for years and they finally integrated everything they heard from us and everything they had picked up everywhere else in the industry and said, “Hey, if we’re going to do this we are going to do it as right as we know how. If the industry wants to sell to us, they can make it look like this, or they will have been told, if you don’t want to make it look like this, sorry, we will make it ourselves. But the minute they said that, they completely revolutionized, till this day, cable television.
TAYLOR: That’s right.
DIAMBRA: Right. All the connectors, everything became different based on Bell…it turned out to be again the biggest fake going because they never did buy one piece of gear after that, they didn’t use it…what they were going to use that for was what I was working on out there quietly in the West. That’s where the hell they were going to put it. They never did anything. I don’t even know if they even got the record…
TAYLOR: Where did the idea of the cast housings originate. Were you doing that at the time?
DIAMBRA: Bell. Oh, we talked at length about it.
TAYLOR: But you hadn’t been doing it.
DIAMBRA: No, nobody was doing it. In the first place because the cost of a cast housing starting from scratch, just with sand castings is very high, let alone machine casting, you’re spending $35-40 thousand in 1960 for a die…Who the hell are you going to sell them to? These are transistorized housings, right? Most of your customers that are out there need replacement for tubes, you got to make transistors and tubes. So we knew full, well when I left Entron then, it became very obvious to me, I had no choice but tubes, to me transistors at that time were totally unreliable. The Bell was trying to make them reliable. Heat sinks, massive heat sinks in these housings. All the things that were wrong were trying to be corrected that way. You noticed that that was an enormous influence by outside plant. Those are the electronic guys talking. They didn’t know what to talk about. The outside plant guy says, if you want us to maintain these boxes on poles, and in holes, this is the way the boxes are going to look, the hell with what’s inside. The boxes have to be boxes. Well those guys were used to tubes. You know that. There was more damn money in pot metal and cast stuff than there was inside; right? But they knew what they were talking about. They changed the face of the business, because then you put electronics in those boxes and it did the jobs that you’re doing today. You are cooling the equipment, which is what they needed, longevity is great, so for and so on. And so, every one of these steps, Arch, has been evolutionary…
TAYLOR: Absolutely, there is no question.
DIAMBRA: Forced by politics and sales. The cases weren’t done because people in the industry said they needed their boxes…They were forced upon them by an organization that hasn’t bought one of them yet. Incredible. Right?
DIAMBRA: I don’t know how the satellites ever ended up…I don’t know how many people ever wanted satellite dishes. I don’t know how that really evolved. I’m really not that intimately familiar as I was with this subject how the satellites came to be and so widely accepted.
TAYLOR: My view of it, and its maybe a provincial view, but I saw Pay-TV developing with standalone and bicycling tapes and all that sort of thing which is utterly impractical and it was just so unsatisfactory. I’m told that Sid Topol had a lot to do with triggering interest in satellite and…
DIAMBRA: Well, he offered the first viable usable dish.
TAYLOR: Yes, but he was also pushing the whole idea of satellite and they got HBO to do the famous first one…the fight from Manila. Once that happened…
DIAMBRA: I also think that Ted Turner had a helluva lot to do with it, with WTBS. I think putting that station on and offering it as he did, then of course later on with CNN which became de rigueur I think it grew, but I don’t know what the hell the key trigger was…
TAYLOR: Well, I’m not sure either and I get the impression from people I talk to that Sid Topol may have the answers, to how that really triggered. I think that Hub got involved in it, but not really at the trigger point…
DIAMBRA: Well, Hub was over there and did the first one to show the guys downtown on a trailer…remember that?
TAYLOR: Oh yeah.
DIAMBRA: The first linkage of the FCC to the Anaheim Convention…
TAYLOR: That’s right. I remember that.
DIAMBRA: Well, that was the fact that it did work, satellites did work. But that’s a long shot from did work to where you could stuff it in a backyard and put them on cable system, because these guys were not ready for multiple channels. A lot of these five channels systems had a hell of a problem expanding.
TAYLOR: Even after HBO put on the show in Jackson, MS and Orlando, people were using 10-meter dishes that were costing them $150,000, receivers that were costing them $50,000, and so it was an expensive undertaking. Everyone had the feeling that you had to probe your site pretty carefully to make sure you weren’t getting interference. You had to go for a license to the FCC which was time consuming, so it was slow getting going, but Ted Turner and certainly HBO and Irving Kahn, of course triggered by Hub Schlafly, saw the potential for new programming.. I don’t know whether Viacom began to get into that at the same time….they were a spinoff from CBS…
DIAMBRA: That’s right.
TAYLOR: They began to see the possibility of distributing pay-TV. Now Turner, I can’t remember whether he was…
DIAMBRA: Well he jumped on the bandwagon because the only thing he had going for him at that time was a single UHF station, WTBS in Atlanta, which he wanted to be seen everywhere and it couldn’t be unless satellites were there for him, so he must have piggybacked on a satellite channel and started offering that free.
TAYLOR: You may well be because of the Atlanta connection that Topol was deeply involved and Turner was there and had division…
DIAMBRA: Cause he couldn’t have formed the CNN unless he had been locked in with the satellite situation…first of all was the making of TBS and putting that out…
TAYLOR: TBS, the superstation was the first thing. It was a big step from that to the CNN…CNN is incredible.
DIAMBRA: And now, and people didn’t believe that was possible either, but he proved and a lot’s due Ted Turner. Quote the “Atlanta Wild Man” he has done remarkable things…
TAYLOR: Ted’s one of those people that you tell him it can’t be done, and by God he will do it.
DIAMBRA: Well, he’ll go out of his way at that point.
TAYLOR: To do it.
DIAMBRA: Yes, that’s right.
TAYLOR: Yeah, don’t tell him it can’t be done, because that’ll just be….
DIAMBRA: Well technically that…See at this point, my thinking is that the technical leadership has moved away from the cable industry. The cable industry had absolutely nothing to do with the development of satellite technology, except for the antenna…
TAYLOR: Well, that’s true. They saw the technology that’s been developing for 10 years before.
DIAMBRA: Yes, and Topol wasn’t really involved in the cable business. He had acquired Scientific Atlanta, which was making microwave receiving dishes; that was their business. Tom Smith started selling him the idea that “Hey, you know we got a business in the cable thing only via the quad antennas I’ve designed. Let’s make them and sell them”. Fine, that’s more marketing. Topol wasn’t even in it at that time.
TAYLOR: No. That’s right. But…
DIAMBRA: Topol was out at Raytheon.
TAYLOR: Is that we’re he came from. I wasn’t sure.
TAYLOR: Up in New England, Boston area.
DIAMBRA: Massachusetts, out in Norwood, MA. The guy I had, you probably don’t even remember, Ernie Tunman.
TAYLOR: Oh, yeah. I know Ernie.
DIAMBRA: Well, if you know Ernie, he came directly to me from the Bell of Canada. How do you think he got here?
TAYLOR: I didn’t know that.
DIAMBRA: Ernie was the guy who designed the radio link telephone for rural Canada, while he was working for the Bell of Canada. Ernie came to me in Toronto and wanted to know if he could come to the states. He had to be sponsored. I sponsored him into the United States. He came to work for me and I said “Sure, I need you.” I got a problem. Ernie was a brown shirt Nazi. Heinz Blum had been in Buchenwald. I had 10 other guys that had been in various detention camps in Germany and I said “Ernie, you have to understand this before you come here what kind of an organization you’re walking into. It’s not going to be love and kisses. The minute you open your mouth…..”. Plus Ernie is a pretty, you know, standup “let ’em know” boy himself. Right? Well, Ernie lasted….he contributed a lot. Ernie however had a typical Junker Prussian mentality….
(Tape cuts off)
END OF TAPE 3, SIDE A
START TAPE 3, SIDE B
TAYLOR: OK. We ran out of tape. We will go on from here.
DIAMBRA: Let me just repeat. As I said, I was very impressed with Ernie up there. He’s quite an engineer, a very well trained one. Worked with the Bell, fully understandable with what we’re trying to do, was involved in developing the radio telephone link from rural Canada into metropolitan Toronto, where essentially you could just pick up short wave transmitter at any time and get in to the metro net. And so that showed initiative and he done that himself, and I sponsored him in. Told him the kind of circumstances he was going to get into here from a personnel point of view. I decided the best place for Ernie was not at the engineering lab, it was out as field engineering running jobs all by his little lonesome where none of the stuff in the labs would be a point of friction. Plus, Ernie had the personality to run things. So I gave him the first one he ever had, was Massena, NY. I said, you are in a perfect position to negotiate with the telephone people, who will give you a hell of a rough time. New York Tel. We had an attorney there, who was a partner with a local theater guy, Bob LaPlante and Myron Herwitz, those two, Myron represented a New York entertainment outfit from once had come, Cohn, you know McCarthy’s sidekick.
TAYLOR: Irving Kahn?
DIAMBRA: No. Cohn. It wasn’t Cohen, it was Cohn … Anyway, we me with them, we got the contract and its going to be aluminum. Massena is right on the St. Lawrence. We went to St. Lawrence and it gets hot, and it gets cold, and I was very clear and explicit in telling Ernie how he was going to install this stuff. He believed that was a very ugly thing to do on poles so he didn’t put bother putting any expansion loops on the aluminum. Three days after Thanksgiving, I’m sitting in Chicago, and they can still hear me without a telephone. I say, “Tunman, it’s very simple. If you want to get paid, you are going to, at your expense, put expansion loops in every joint that’s missing expansion loops because that’s what you were told to do.” Then there was a very deep silence. Ernie did it, then I went up there and it worked. He then said, “Hank, that was a very, very expensive lesson, and I…” I said “Well, I tried to save you that problem and that expense of learning. But now you know.” Well a very tragic thing happened that caused him to think I was more than just a supercilious, nasty bastard as a boss. He was engineering a job in Alexandria, LA for me. I got a call from his wife Margaret that their daughter had just suffocated in a crib, two hours before. Why or how the kid had gotten this sick, I was on the phone for about 5 or 6 hours tracking Ernie down, arranging with the Air Force, because there was no air transport there, to see if they couldn’t fly him out on my credentials as ex-Air Force to get him on a plane, get him to an airport and get him up here that night, which is exactly what happened. Ernie got here in time, but the youngster was still dead of course, died in fact before Margaret called me, but it was a pretty…you know. We went to bat for him. Doctor’s comments…have another baby as fast as you can. Now that youngster was about 2 1/2. I didn’t see Ernie then. He had left the company and went to work for Raytheon for Topol, went to Brazil selling microwave for Raytheon, came back to Boston, went to Framingham and set up his own cable company systems for engineering and I was then working with my partner Vince Bergnancy. We were attending a STC, I’m a senior member for the Society for Technical Communications, so we were having a conference, a yearly convention in Boston. I said, “You know Nance, as long as I’m up here, I sure want to see two people. One is Socks Bridgett and the other is Jake Shekel and as long as we are this close, I want to get over to Framingham, which is 40 miles away and see Ernie.
TAYLOR: Yeah, that’s not far away.
DIAMBRA: And we did. Took Jake out to lunch and Jake was then involved with a company that was totally competitive with the Westinghouse I was serving…
TAYLOR: Oh, really?
DIAMBRA: Sure, he was doing communication control for power lines and I walked up and shook his hands and got ready to take him to lunch and he says to his boss, and this is going down the elevator, “This son-of-a-bitch is from Westinghouse and should I tell him anything?” His boss almost turned white and he didn’t realize that I wouldn’t ask Jake and wouldn’t compromise the…but Jake freely told me everything they were doing. Why, that’s true, probably because what difference would it make. You tell Westinghouse anything they are going to turn out…He told me what he was doing. I knew of his customers and I knew what he was doing in Georgia and in North Carolina where he had the guys in Charlotte….So that was a very nice seance with Jake, that lasted about 3 hours. Didn’t realize that Jake, while he was down here teaching engineering at the University of Maryland, had never moved. He was commuting.
TAYLOR: That’s right. He commuted.
DIAMBRA: I said, well that’s a hell of a commute for 6 years. He said, well, my wife just won’t leave Boston. Anyway, he found this job up there he worked with….I can’t remember the name of the company now…I’ll come back…
TAYLOR: It was American…something like that…
DIAMBRA: Right, well, anyway, that was Jake…
TAYLOR: American Engineering, I think it was…
DIAMBRA: Yes, it could be. That was Jake. Then I talked to Socks. He remembered instantly. We reminisced and all that stuff. I think the last time I saw Fitz Kennedy alive was… he and I were sitting next to each other for 10 minutes before he recognized who the hell I was. I said, hello Fitz. We were getting our shoes shined at the Hilton downtown. He had just gotten back from Paris.
TAYLOR: Downtown Boston?
DIAMBRA: Washington. Yeah, he had just gotten back from Paris…must have been ’81. We were sitting right next to each other.
TAYLOR: It’s been about 5 years since he died.
DIAMBRA: He was going full bore….looked like he was in pretty good health. But Don Spencer had already died. He was pretty sick for a long time. And Brooks had left…anyway, we drove. Two days later I called Ernie and the only time he could be free was a Saturday and we had a long, lunch drive for lunch with Margaret, whose two kids are now grown up and both in college, so a long time had gone since the other situation. He even freely talked about that. He was grateful for what we tried to do and I said, “What else are you going to do? If you can help, you help. But Ernie had a typical Prussian idea and I don’t know how his customers stomached some of that. But they did. Anyway, so what did you want to ask me?
TAYLOR: Well, I was going to say it was getting pretty late, but a couple of things I wanted to ask. Where did the name Entron come from?
DIAMBRA: Engineering Electronics.
TAYLOR: Second thing I wanted was that you mentioned that you do have an address for Hank Abajian.
DIAMBRA: I will have to look it up. That’s a very short story and I will tell you because it’s very interesting. I told you I sailed with a guy in New England at least one or twice a year and he has a place in Maine and I was up on my way to Maine and I always stop in Anorak near Hartford, CT because it’s too much for 600 mile in one shot, so I stop in Hartford. I happen to stop there earlier than I normally do, so I’m looking around about 7pm and wondering what in hell am I going to do here, it’s too early to sleep so I flop on the television set. Who you think I’m staring at? HANK Abajian. I said, Hank Abajian. What the hell is he doing on TV? I’m listening and suddenly I get very interested. What it is, is Nova, talking about radar, and they’ve got a series where it’s all oral interviews. Guys who were at Rad Lab during the war, which I didn’t know, and literally, the first image that comes on just as the television gets turned on is Abajian. Well of course ten seconds later Abajian is gone. And I say “Whew, I gotta mark this down…So, I listened to the rest of the show. I pick it up maybe about four minutes into it and I listened to the rest of the half hour, or an hour, and Abajian appears again 3 more time and he’s at the close where with tears in his eyes he’s saying, “Reluctantly they disbanded all this…and 3,000 some odd people and it’s a very emotional discontinuance of an incredible adventure. Well Abajian had been sent apparently, with front line radar to the Pacific with experimental radar – 10 cm stuff…And during the night, as he was recalling on this oral interview, he hears some voices around his tent and after about 3 or 4 minutes, he realizes all these voices are Japanese, they are not English. He says, “I disappeared into the ground. There was not a sound from me. I tried to die.” The next morning, all had gone and they hadn’t discovered what he was there for and he quietly packed his gear and went back. He says, “I came pretty close. The gear and everything….” Well, anyway, that was one of the anecdotal elements. And so…I just forget about it, then suddenly….during the next intervening year, I decided……….. I discussed this with Nance. Before most of these guys died, he was one of the things that triggered this story…I want to write a technical history of this business, the first quarter of a century of the business…that’s what we’re doing. Abajian was there because he essentially started the second quarter century. Abajian was the transition between vacuum tubes and solid state. He was the first guy to come up with. “Hey, this stuff works.” It worked too well ….that time, but it worked thereafter. He was the first guy. I knew Hank very well, because as I told you earlier, the fiasco in Williamsport forced Abajian, not only in Williamsport, remember he had a brother, John Abajian in Burlington, VT, whom I just talked too. He had a stroke. He used to teach Biophysics at Burlington. He’s a doctor at the University of Vermont. They had a system there and they were violent, opposed enemies to Shapp, because Shapp was trying to ram it down his throat and apparently he didn’t know that John’s brother was Dr. Abajian who knew a few things about electronics and so Abajian formed Westbury Electronics to put 5 channels into Burlington and Williamsport. Strips, and made a play, but it was touchy playing, you know…
TAYLOR: That wasn’t the solid state?
DIAMBRA: No, no. This was vacuum tubes and that led to Westbury Electronics selling some stuff, but obviously if you have that narrow a focus for your business, that you could only sell it to Milt Shapp’s mistakes, you know….You have to wait for Milt Shapp to make mistakes before you get a bargain. Right? And half the people didn’t know who Westbury was, he was approaching it like he was…At that time he was working for Airborne Instrument Labs…remember. So, you don’t have the government as a customer, you got guys like in Western Pennsylvania, like Walsonavich…There’s a different culture there and so, they’re not selling many. Anyway, the time comes…this is about 1954-55, the spring, and the IEEE was holding its conferences, its national conventions in mid-town New York, but not in their West Coast Coliseum…it was in the Ice Palace.
TAYLOR: They were in the Commodore Hotel.
DIAMBRA: No, the Ice Palace was a building in the middle of town, around 46th Street, I think the Ice…something…was the scene of IEEE. Anyway, that spring was also the Academy Awards and John and Hank Abajian come by and I’m standing there at one of the booths, we are not demonstrating, we were just learning … and we talk and chat and he introduces me to John and suddenly the conversation turns to Shapp, because very obviously the Abajians don’t enjoy talking about Shapp, and if they do its only because they hate him so much. They say, “Hey, are you with us or against us?” I said, “Well, against what? I’ve known Shapp and his whole family at that time because we were selling for them, before Entron.” So he says, “I’ve got something for you and he sticks it in my lapel, and I still have it up stairs if you want to see it. It’s a little pin, an Oscar. The backside that hooks to your lapel, is a gold plated screw, and it says, “screw Shapp”. Laughing. It’s no joke, it’s a fact. He was giving these things out at the IEEE.
TAYLOR: Oh, for God’s sake.
DIAMBRA: Yeah, so I said, “Well Hank.” Anyway, here’s Abajian on this thing, this is 1988-89 and I can’t locate Abajian anywhere. He used to be in Long Island, and I finally tracked it through by calling and get this name, her name is Queenie Coin, who was program director for Nova in Boston, WBGH, and Queenie says, oh, I’ll find him, and she calls me back within the hour and tells me where he is….what show it was, the time he appeared, what time it was….he was in Sarasota.
TAYLOR: You got that address?
DIAMBRA: I believe I’ve got the phone number, and maybe the address, but anyway, I then call…I got this at the cable museum which was where I was looking for data, then I called John’s address in Burlington, which the museum gave me and I got his wife…I actually got a neighbor who said Mrs. Abajian will be back within the hour, so about an hour later I called back and got her. She had just come back from the hospital where John had suffered a stroke, but he’s recovering. She says, you know if what you tell me is what you’re going to do, you better call John because you will make his day. If he’s going to talk about that, he will really recover in a hurry. I said, well that wasn’t the intent, but if I do get up to where I can, I will certainly look forward to it.. But I’m trying to locate Hank, and that was just before I got the call from Queenie who knew where he was and she said “He’s in Florida” and gave me a phone number. Within one hour, I got a call from Queenie telling me the whole thing as to where his last contact was. But you got to get Hank’s story.
TAYLOR: One little story Hank told me years ago about the solid state amplifier that he built. I think he said it was for his brother’s system in Vermont somewhere.
DIAMBRA: Could very well be.
TAYLOR: And they ran down the mountain side with about 10 of these amplifiers in cascade and they worked fine, but the only trouble was that when it got cold…
DIAMBRA: Incredibly heat sensitive.
TAYLOR: Yeah, that’s right. He had to put a heater in his little chassis to keep the things warm in the winter time. I think that’s an interesting apocryphal story, because the problem later on was…
TAYLOR: Well, that’s another one…
DIAMBRA: Well, he had this thing in his hand, round tube at St. Margaret, if you remember, north of Montreal…for the CCTA. It think everybody that usually attends them was there. We were all sitting around the round table at the bar when Hank pops this out and says, “This is the future. This is what we’re going to be selling.” We say, “Does it work? How does it work?” “Well, we got a lot of testing to do, etc., etc. but it works.” And he had just gotten through that first string and hadn’t learned yet that you’ve got to warm them up.
TAYLOR: What was the thing that he was showing you?
DIAMBRA: Repeater, that transistorized repeater. That was at St. Margaret and I can’t remember the year to save my soul right now, but it was the year coincident with the CCTA Convention, cause it was being held at St. Margaret. I asked Omar Sharar, my rep, where are we, where are we going. He says, a ski resort just north of Montreal about 40 miles up the river. It’s a pleasant place. I flew to Montreal and he drove me up, but anyway, that’s how it happened.
TAYLOR: As far as I can tell, that was probably the first example of a transistorized amplifier used in the cable industry…
DIAMBRA: C-COR to the best of my knowledge, about that time, and I cannot be held to specific dates…I think Jim Palmer had experimented with a pre-amp, a solid state antenna…This think that Hank was showing was a line repeater,…… which was subject to all the problems on the street. At least a preamp could be put in to warm building, you know, you wouldn’t have to worry too much about it. Amps that were going to be fed by (a) power down the street, and the question of course was that AC or DC, you know, DC created all kinds of problems, I mean serious problems.
TAYLOR: SKL knows all about that.
DIAMBRA: We know about in Montreal. We started selling off light standards next to trolley lines with 550 DC loops. They didn’t like that one bit either. (Laugh) Anyway, they were intended distribution line amps.
TAYLOR: I like to hear a little of your comments on the future of the telco cable relationship, what’s going to happen to broadcasting and wireless telephony, commenting on PCS…
DIAMBRA: You mean essentially what we were mumbling about at lunch.
TAYLOR: Yeah, just about a general view of what you see.
DIAMBRA: Well, on the way out you can read what they wrote about me in 1970. Look at the last paragraph specifically, because it answers that question directly. That was 23 years ago. I meant it then and I think I might mean it know. For the reasons we discussed at lunch which have nothing to do with technology, we can make come to pass anything they can dream up can be made to work. There are two problems. There is the offer culture and the user culture. I’m on an end that knows the user culture pretty intimately right now. I’ve been working with lay people in computers for some time. They seem to feel that computers should be made like toasters and irons, you plug them in and they work. You’re not supposed to know much about them and I’m talking about intelligent people who know better. Nobody reads manuals, even if the manual is a 5 pager, nobody’s even bother’s to read that, let alone anything more profound that tells you what really is going to happen. I’m talking about sophisticated accounting programs and I keep wondering how their mentation as such they are supposed to absorb without being told anything. The intricacies of very tough stuff people go to school for 2 and 3 years to get degrees in. I say, how the hell do you do that? If you know how to do that, would you mind teaching me because I have to read all this to understand this, to do something about it and answer all of your questions honestly. There is a culture there that says, ok, when you offer all this to the average guy who doesn’t read anything, it’s going to work totally automatic, right, that means it’s going to be pretty sophisticated because I learned one thing about computing, the simpler the interface with the user, the more complex behind the scenes the programming gets. Very tough stuff to make work because programming, the more sophisticated it gets, the more holes you can find in it that you don’t even know are there. As the expert AI people have known for years, well that bothers me a little bit. The average guy hasn’t got the remotest idea of how to program a damn VCR, if you give him the instructions on a sheet of people.
DIAMBRA: They had to invent the machine, which is now selling for $200, to program VCRs. You see, what kind of nonsense is this? Either the people who made the VCRs don’t know a damn thing about human interfaces and made it impossible for anybody to learn, or the thing is fairly complex and it needs a little instruction and you make it play. Well, add to that cellular phones, all kinds of interactive coming and going, buying and selling on the wire, with no physical demonstration…Oh, I didn’t mean to buy that! So, the technology may be there, Arch, but I have a serious question as to whether the interfaces are such that the human culture is going to come out with only one box and expect this to work, and I’ve seen this happen before. Toro did it with a universal power thing. You take this head and you put it on a snow blower, and it becomes a snow blower in the winter and then supposed to be a lawn mower in the spring time, and a tiller in the middle of the fall. I’m saying the thing damn thing never worked because nobody could ever transfer it correctly, so they’d buy a snow blower for the winter, a damn lawn mower for the spring, and a tiller for the fall. They’ve got three of them and they are perfectly happy with those three, and Toro damn near went broke with their transferable power head. We are talking about the same thing electronically. My concern is what does this do for the reliability of things we really need that people have taken for granted, like telephone systems. I don’t really believe, I honestly don’t, and I’m not trying to demean or denigrate an industry, but I don’t think the cable people know a goddam thing about reliability of telephone plant. I really believe that.
TAYLOR: Yes. I have pushed several times…
DIAMBRA: Yes, well I have been pushing that ever since I’ve been close to the Bell System, that I’ve been a great absorber of the Bell culture, not because I particularly like it, but it’s been very successful. You know their outside plant lasts and lasts and they don’t kill people regularly, and so forth and so on, and I keep saying to myself, well, the cable industry somehow or other, and this is where I fault it, has been around forty years….
TAYLOR: Oh, boy.
DIAMBRA: And it hasn’t absorbed some rudiments, where the paths were totally paved for them before they ever got the word cable. They didn’t have to invent coax, they didn’t have to invent poles, they didn’t have to invent suspension techniques, they were all done by people like the telephone companies. We don’t bother either appreciating them or emulating them and we do that with a grudge, like grounding. You remember that. I remember a standards committee I served on one day. The three principals were Hank Diambra, Milt Shapp and Fitz Kennedy. We met at the Hotel New Yorker. The first thing Milt did was take off his shoes. Fitz and I had a drink and he ordered milk and we talked about setting standards for the cable industry and the end of the conversation was about 4:30 and we all walked away and that was the end of the standards committee. Well, you can’t treat the public that cavalierly anymore. If you’re going to offer them telephone which a reliable necessity of life, you can do without the damn VCR, you can do without the interactive TV, but you had better not screw up the telephone and tell them you’re out of business for 3 days. How the hell are you going to get pass that one Arch? No, literally, how the hell are you going to get pass that one?
TAYLOR: They are going to have to put reliability in. It’s that simple.
DIAMBRA: Do you have the slightest idea what the hell the money is going to cost? Or how many plants have to be totally rewired? They made a fiasco of Montgomery County. I ought to know because my attorney, Bob Linnow, for God’s sake, was down there as one of the guys that was going to….he asks me, “Hank, am I right or wrong?” I say, “Bob, you are a very big boy, you can stand on your own two feet, but if you want to know it from a total inborn cynic, you remember I was the biggest promoter of cable, that’s how I met you. This thing is a joke. You don’t need cable in Montgomery County. For me to look at…I got 16 channels on the television set off the air, are you out of your mind? What am I going to watch? CNN, yeah, I could use CNN, but not at the privilege of price…they wired all this, they tore it out and rewire Montgomery County. How many more times can they do this? There might be a day when the public commission dictates exactly what the hell they are going to charge, if they are in the telephone business, and then they are in trouble. That day is happening now. What happened downtown? Congress passes…first they deregulated. I’m there in ’68 when Bob Coll, sitting, listening to the Chairman of the Commission read, as he says, as Bob Coll says to me “I don’t what kind of a business you’re in Hank, but right now it’s the Godzilla business, because of the regulation act.” I said, “Bob, I’ll tell you very candidly how I feel. I’m slowly going to get the hell out of here, out of this business, because I think there is going to be a fiasco coming, and there was. The nonduplication, I mean those goddam switchers sitting there irritating everybody, and on and on and on”….It says at the end of that, I’ll keep you from having to read it…My opinion in 1970, that there will be two entirely separate industries. They may come in on the same wire but they may not, but one of them is going to be security, education, telephony, etc. etc….Those public services, the other one is going to be pure honest to God entertainment and you’re going to pay for whatever the hell you want in entertainment, you get all the movies you want, so forth and so on, and you know, the reliability is going to be like the boys in the mafia, you knock off that fight before the end of the fight, somebody’s going to be dead and buried. That’s the only guarantee you’re going to get in the entertainment business, something you utility regulatory bodies don’t understand, but something the entertainment people understands very, very well. They haven’t gotten that far technically, Arch, they can’t really say their plants are immune to the kind disasters that can happen to outside plant and my thinking is do they even have the electronics down pact. I don’t really know. I wonder how much…how are they going to do this coming in here. What is it going to be, fiber optic digital to your ear? You know, I….
TAYLOR: You’re right.
DIAMBRA: I just sitting here reading. I’m still a member of SCTE, ok, I’m a senior member and get the publications every month and I read all the stuff that comes in….there is enough piled up there to keep me very busy and I skim and scam what I think I want to know about and very interested these days. I don’t frankly feel that I want to go back in to the churning mess with the my oar paddling up stream on these white water rapids, but by the same token I’d like to know what maybe I want to invest in. Well, I haven’t read anything that makes me very sexually anxious to put money into any of this stuff. I don’t know how the hell anybody is going to make an honest to God dime out of this.
TAYLOR: What do you think about the broadcasters and HDTV?
DIAMBRA: Well, first of all the broadcasters will be here for a long time, number one. Because the public in this country thinks it is a God-given right to be able to put up an antenna or a wet finger and get a signal. If the government ever tries to take that away, watch out man, there ain’t going to be any government. I’ll clue you, because these people and I’m one of them, says “Hey, you know, we’re building the freedom of information and I don’t have to pay for the right of entry into my premises, that’s part of the law and let’s leave it the law. Well, there are also parts of this country…the questions now is whether there is going to be broadcast as we know it, VHF, UHF, etc. or a satellite broadcast, DBS,… I don’t quite know yet. I don’t know how that thing shakes out technically. I don’t know whether they got satellite channel space for this. They are running very short of that too.
TAYLOR: That’s right. Even orbital space is becoming…
DIAMBRA: Yeah, where are they going to park these damn things. They are getting in each other’s hair up there.
TAYLOR: And then the garbage that’s floating around up there….
DIAMBRA: You name it. So they got the same problems and we go through this cyclically. We go first all wire transcends to wireless, which then gets cluttered as hell in the spectrum and automatically goes back to wire. Then all of a sudden we make a breakthrough on channel allocation or we squeeze four channels into one mobile radio and it goes back to wireless and then it goes to wire, to wireless, to wire, to wireless and we we’ve been doing that and as soon as fiber optic came, everybody said, no, we don’t need any more wireless and they go right back to satellites. You know, into the 6th oscillation, I’m tired of being sea sick. We will have wired and we will have wireless, both, and they both serve their purpose. Now whether the broadcasters as we know the broadcasters today, I don’t think we are going to have networks anymore. I think they’re going to rapidly fall apart because the network is as monolithic as GM is and GM is going to fall apart, and so is IBM. When you have distributed programming in a niche thing, just like printing, the magazine people, television was going to knock the printed page of their seat. We have more magazines today than we’ll ever have. Trouble is who can read them. Well they’ve got themselves segmented to diverse markets and when you have broadcasters like that on satellites, you’ll have narrow little markets for a guy who want to be a stamp collector. Fine, that’s all I want to do is trade stamps. You’ll have CompuServe’s, wired and wireless. You’ll have that kind of database selection. We need databases. It’s getting to the point where it’s impossible these days to store it on paper. Look at this place; I’m running out of physical space to store anything and so the only answer is that I get 1.3 gigabytes on the computer in there and its rapidly going into the storage, or I’m making use of Dialog and CompuServe and everybody else’s storage. Question is this, is it ever going to stop? The answer is no. We are on an explosion kick, the likes of which Guttenberg had never envisioned, I mean literally.
TAYLOR: Isn’t that so.
DIAMBRA: Electronically. Well anyway, so that’s my thinking. Yes, we’ll see broadcasters around, some of them will be on satellite, some on VHF, there will be a few general…I won’t even call them that word…I’ll say regional news broadcasters. There will always be a CNN. I think CNN may fragment into a WorldNet, global net, or social net for this country and then a business net.
TAYLOR: There is going to be competitors to CNN also.
DIAMBRA: Everything. The only question of course is, it will happen only when CNN gets so stultified that they can’t cover the news properly, and it will open up a hole for somebody else. Its takes a lot of money to make a CNN.
TAYLOR: I think in radio, back in Montana when I opened my office in 1948, radio was the bulk of my business. Later I had one or two television clients, but most of it was radio. Then came the freeze in 1948, and nobody was interested in radio because television was going to kill it when television comes back on. Television wasn’t active because it was frozen, so there I was, I was sitting there with a business and I couldn’t get any clients.
DIAMBRA: Nobody wanted, while everyone is waiting.
TAYLOR: But the common wisdom was that radio was dead, there wasn’t going to be any radio, it was just going to disappear. At that time, well I guess before 1941, when the war froze things, I guess there was about 3 thousand AM radio stations and maybe a handful of FM. No, the FM didn’t come till later actually. But right now, I think there are between 6 and 7 thousand AM stations and at least as many FM stations.
DIAMBRA: At least.
TAYLOR: But listen on your band on your radio, either FM or AM and what do you find?
DIAMBRA: Garbage, worse than garbage. Well the fact is…
TAYLOR: And then it’s selling advertising.
DIAMBRA: I’m a firm believer that in a free society that we call relatively free such as ours, it ultimately gets what it wants. It is obvious that’s what people listen too because if they didn’t listen to it, they couldn’t make any money and if they didn’t make any money they wouldn’t stay on the air. So it’s very obvious that somebody’s listening and there’s advertising money to be made. You can support those things as a public do-good for awhile, then if they don’t turn the corner, they fail. Even public television, and there isn’t much in the way of….I mean you got two outlets in the area as NPR and that’s it. You got American University and WETA. You got the thing attached to the church oriented station in Columbia and the one in Baltimore, BJC, that’s all we’re getting here is 4 NPRs. That is the bulk of everything and not one of those cater to an audience that have a very narrow spectral…
TAYLOR: That right.
DIAMBRA: OK. Which tells you something, it tells you a lot of things. It tells you that those who govern the spectrum aren’t really in touch with those who listen to the spectrum. Who knows how it should be? You’re raising question about who should govern. You’re talking questions about the BBC, talking about questions of the CBC and whether they should pay for the privilege of listening to this stuff. You know, we’re not talking about….we are to the point where maybe public television should be supported by a $10 a year license fee or a $20 a year license fee, whatever it is. It’s a trivial sum, even to the poor, that they get continuous decent television. And decent in whose definition.
TAYLOR: That’s the real problem. I had hoped that cable television would provide the means for this limited audience that interested in say, PBS, would be able to receive the kind of programs that they want even though the common majority is something else. To some extent its true, but when you see C-SPAN beginning to be knocked off because of the new rules, and PBS almost becoming commercial…
DIAMBRA: Well, none of them have…I’m a firm believer, and very crass about it, the only thing that’s driving this world, and it isn’t do-gooding, my friend, it’s money. You don’t have the resources to stay alive and pay your electric bills and pay for all the things that go into it, and especially the restrictive rules today where employment costs are going up, and they’re going to have to face the health thing like everybody else. That’s more cost, more begging for money 3-5 times a year. There has to come a time when somebody is going to have to sit back and take a very good look at the system that’s evolved and figure out that that isn’t the best system that we have or can put together, that it isn’t really working.
TAYLOR: Well, it’s a little bit like Winston Churchill said, that democracy is the worst governing system ever developed, except all the others.
DIAMBRA: And it only works when you got the money to support it. Ask many of these third world countries why they don’t have democracy. It very simple because democracy the most inefficient form of government there is, and if you haven’t got any money, you’re not looking for inefficiencies, you’re looking for mastermind dictators and that’s what you got is a dictator and not a democracy. So I’m a firm believer that the business of free markets technically, managerially or anything else, are very difficult to achieve when wealth starts disappearing and I’m afraid we are on that cycle, Arch. We certainly are not going up.
TAYLOR: Well, before we get too pessimistic, Hank, I think we have gotten to the point where we ought to quit and I want to thank you ever so much for fascinating oral report. It was tremendous. Thank you again.
DIAMBRA: No, on the contrary I ought to thank you for the privilege of even talking with you. It’s been a long time. Let me recite for you, on the record the things that I got to do. First of all I’m going to send you the lead pages of these patents, with dates, activities that should tell you what we had in mind, and a quick summarization. You want the Nacogdoches date when the system went to live, although it can be researched very easily, George Edlen’s death, and any other pertinent dating that we may have looked at, especially things that changed the industry, which was the anti-trust act and anything technically derivative from that.