Interview Date: May 3, 1989
Interview Location: Silver Spring, MD USA
Interviewer: E. Stratford Smith and Robert Dudley
Collection: Penn State Collection
Note: Audio Only
DUDLEY This is an oral history interview of the National Cable Television Center and Museum, recorded on May 3, 1989 in the oral history room of the Cable Center. We’re talking with Mr. Hank Diambra. Interviewing him will be E. Stratford Smith, visiting professor at the School of Communications at Penn State and Robert Dudley of the National Cable Television Center and Museum.
SMITH …TV systems, like Franklin, Pennsylvania up here and Marty Malarkey’s place I went to in Pottsville.
DIAMBRA Were you around when that rather historic meeting took place at the Necho Allen Hotel?
SMITH No. Somebody has to not have been there.
DIAMBRA I wasn’t there. I was not at that meeting.
SMITH If you were to get together everybody who said they were at that meeting, it would fill the Eisenhower Auditorium that has 2600 seats.
DUDLEY This is May 3, 1989. This is side A of tape 1. We’re in the oral history room of the National Cable Television Center and Museum on the University Park Campus of Penn State. We are interviewing Mr. Henry “Hank” Diambra, a cable television pioneer in the true sense of the word. Mr. Diambra was the founder and president of one of the earliest manufacturers and suppliers of cable television equipment. With us today is E. Stratford Smith, the new director of the oral histories program of the National Cable Television Center and Museum. I am Robert Dudley also of the Cable Center. Hank, can I refer to you as Hank?
DIAMBRA Oh, please do. No one else has called me anything for so many years that when they do; I look around to see who they are talking about.
DUDLEY What we’d like to do is start with some biographical information. Tell us about your parents, any siblings. Then we would like to know about your educational background, military service, things of that sort.
DIAMBRA I don’t mind cooperating in that regard. I don’t know that you want to be bored by it, but where do you want me to begin?
DIAMBRA Contrary to most opinions I was born, not hatched in 1924 in a suburb of New York City.
DUDLEY And the date in 1924?
DIAMBRA December 27th. It was Suburbia, as it was known then, which was essentially a distinctly separate city from New York City; it was the bedroom of New York City. For many years it was just exactly that. I don’t think there was one industrial organization of any consequence in Mount Vernon, New York. For many years I attended school there, graduated from high school and left. Of course, after the Second World War, things changed radically and it’s a wholly different place now.
This is southern West Chester County, the county seat, which was White Plains, New York. I remember very well, cycling up and down those paths, all the way up and down those highways and on weekends. I was part of that community until I left in 1940. I graduated from high school then.
One of the things that comes to mind is rather circular. It’s a huge wheel, you put a dot on it and it eventually comes back to that point. Well past my television cable experiences and things I’ve been doing more recently involved nuclear power plants and nuclear training. Back in those very early days of the forties and very late thirties, there was great activity brewing in the nuclear field. There was a lot of theory being propounded about potential fission and so forth.
At that time, as I best remember it, New York State and California were the only two states that had a regents system of education. What the school did and I realized much later how progressive that particular high school was and how progressive that system was in New York. They offered anyone who maintained a 90% or better average in regents examinations, an opportunity to take college credit courses in high school. They were not audit courses; you’d actually get credit for them. I happened to be lucky enough to fall into that category and volunteered for as many as I could get in radio, which were then held in the old RCA Institutes downtown on Barick Street, and some in communications at N.Y.U. where I happened to also hear Enrico Fermi expound on his theories.
He had just come to this country literally. Harold (?) he was at Columbia with heavy water and all that good stuff. I was so intrigued by all of this that I wrote my senior year term paper on peace time uses of nuclear energy in 1940. It stood much later through a whole series of circumstances and it was on display for many, many years as being somewhat ahead of its time. Something I had been accused of for a long, long time. I’ve never forgotten that because it has to do with cable, and it has to do with the outlook that we’ve maintained about cable for many years.
By the way, that’s almost the beginning of the end. I left there. The family wasn’t wealthy enough. My Dad was a building contractor and in the very early days of the Depression lost about 15 or 16 homes under construction. So that put a big dent in everything. From that point on it was scrounge for most anything that we could get. I had two brothers. One is still alive. One died six years ago. The ability to go to school immediately from high school was foreclosed financially. So I picked it up by essentially working.
I went to Bridgeport, Connecticut which was then a very industrial town. A family acquaintance suggested that they were looking for people to do various and sundry things. It was about a sixty mile commute by train, everyday one way. From Bridgeport I’d have to travel back down through Grand Central to lower New York to go to school, to my college at night. Then go back on the subways to Mount Vernon; get about three or four hours sleep and grab the 5:45 in the morning, five days a week. It was a very interesting exercise. But it got to the point where the demands of the job, because of the encroachment of the war and things that we were doing at that time for the British, made matters a little bit touchy from the standpoint of trying to dedicate any time to going to school. They requested that we work 12 hours a day, 7 days a week. That kind of foreclosed that.
I transferred to Bridgeport Engineering Institute in Bridgeport, Connecticut and that was foreclosed also from the standpoint of being able to dedicate time to it. So it got to where we were putting in large numbers of hours about the time that Pearl Harbor came along. I stayed with that for about ten months after that and volunteered to go into the Air Force. I figured that anything has to be easier than that. And it was.
DUDLEY Going back to parents. Both were born in this country?
DIAMBRA No. Both of my parents were foreign born. Both Italians. My Dad came to this country at the turn of the century, stayed here for a decade or so and then went back and married my mother and she came to this country. They both died in this country.
DUDLEY And their names?
DIAMBRA My dad’s name was Walter. Gualdiro in Italian and my mother’s name was Mary Diambra of course. Their origins were eastern Italy, northeastern Italy north of Rome, latitudinally and south of Venice, about halfway but on the west coast of the Adriatic, essentially the east coast of Italy, looking at Yugoslavia across the sea. As my mother did remind me on many occasions, it is kind of a tourist spot of the country because of the long smooth sugar-like beaches. The nearest reasonably large town was a city called Ancuna. About twenty kilometers away. But the city in which she and dad grew up was an ancient city. Its name actually spells out its historical origins. The name of the city is Senigallia. It is still a walled city and the Senigallia comes from the Scenes of the Gauls and you know how long ago that was.
The Etruscans were in that part of the world. Their history goes back, God only knows. I guess to protect from the marauding invaders and thieves that came up the Adriatic into such a wonderful set of ports, they walled the city.
You needed a visa to enter the town and a passport to go from town to town. That’s some interesting background. My mother loved music simply because that town also happened to be a tryout capital for La Scala. Every summer every touring opera company came by and her house happened to overlook the stage by three blocks. She could hear all the music from her bedroom window. She knew, I think, about every role of every opera ever created. She used to sing them regularly, sometimes much to my annoyance when I was a kid. Anyway, she was a very capable gal. She taught school over there, came to this country and kind of insisted that we learn Italian which was not a bad idea, but I couldn’t speak English until I was five, not that I speak any better now. But I think that was a good background. I’m sorry that we don’t insist on that more regularly for Americans. We should learn a foreign language very early.
DUDLEY Now when your father got back over here the second time after marrying, did he go right into the construction business?
DIAMBRA He was in the construction business even before he went back to get married. His brother and my uncle were here and they were involved together in the construction business. He then started out after he got married, branching out into doing some of it by himself as a contractor. He was actually financing homes, constructing homes, selling homes. In those days, I guess the fellow who did a lot of the original work ended up doing it all, also finding customers. That all ended, obviously not to my immediate recollection, but I can remember those days very well. There was a lot of sadness around. It was everything we had gotten and worked for all your life gone in less than three weeks, it leaves a dent.
DUDLEY What were your interests in school? Sports, extracurricular activities, curriculum?
DIAMBRA Sciences. All the sciences. I had a great deal of difficulty determining what I really enjoyed most. I had a few prizes because of my interests. I belonged to every science club in the school biology, radio. It ended up that the electronics aspects dominated over the years, physics and chemistry for many years. Biology not so much as the electronics components of physics. I guess I was reasonably competent at it, or so I’ve been told. I enjoyed it very much and I still do. I tend to follow the technology.
Again, I was fortunate in having a reasonably retentive mind, so school didn’t pose any problems. I kind of sailed through with about a 97 regents average. That led to, for two and a half years, taking those weekend courses, where they demanded that you work. It wasn’t a case of just driving down and listening; they wanted homework done. You had to prepare it, do it and deliver it the next week. It was a number of courses. We had our choice of what we wanted to do. There wasn’t any curriculum. We could take courses of interest and they were very interesting. All were college level. Some of the cutting edges were shown and demonstrated to us. There weren’t too many schools teaching radio at the university or college levels. So RCA filled a huge void with a college level set of courses at the RCA Institutes in New York on Barick Street. They did a very good job.
DUDLEY What’s the name of the street?
DIAMBRA Barick. Just off Canal Way downtown New York. Whether it’s still there or not, I really don’t know. I don’t think so. It was the antecedent to something that became also nationally known which was the school in Washington, D.C. the Capitol.
SMITH The Capitol Radio Institute. Was that the name of it, Hank?
DIAMBRA I’m trying to recall whether that was the formal name. I think it was, Strat, Capitol Radio Institute which was on 16th and Park Streets, which I attended by the way, after the war to catch up on what was going on. I ended up at the University of Wisconsin at Oshkosh and decided that I wanted to get close to the actual practice of the field. So I moved to Washington, D.C. I attended that. It was at 16th and Park. It’s since been sold and resold and it’s now owned by a very large company. It’s over on Wisconsin Avenue on the Georgetown section of town. But it’s still very active and is still churning out a tremendous amount of classes by mail.
DUDLEY So after high school, it was right to work, with college when you could work it in?
DIAMBRA And then of course the intercession of the Second World War and the Air Force. It was then the Army Air Corps. There was no Air Force. I qualified. I didn’t really want to be a pilot to begin with; I was much more interested in navigation, so I qualified and was selected to go to cadet school. I went to cadet school and left the air corps cadet system as a navigational instructor, and in fact was teaching advanced stuff like radar navigation and the cutting edges of that as it came along.
For a while then, I was sent to the South Pacific to do my tour out there but was also responsible for taking Loran navigation when it was just being tested in the South Pacific. Thank God we didn’t trust it too much. Some of those charts were horrendously out of keeping with the facts.
DUDLEY You joined the Army Air Corps in…?
DIAMBRA 1942. I stayed with them through 1945.
SMITH Did you have a rank or a rate, Hank?
DIAMBRA Yes, I was a first lieutenant when I left the service in ’45. I was up for captain when I left. In fact, they suggested strongly that I stay in. I would have then had to report for duty at West Point. Hubert Field was the closest facility to Mt. Vernon which was then my parents’ home, to which I returned for a couple of months after the war. The first thing I got from West Point was a bill for officer’s club dues and I hadn’t set foot within 100 miles of the place. I said, “The hell with that noise.” If that’s my career I’m going to quit right now, which I did.
While I was overseas I was in the Philippines at the time Hiroshima was bombed. In fact I was flying a sleek navigator for a squadron and a group in the Philippines. I had flown the route in between what was then Formosa, now Taiwan, and the Chinese mainland. I had to do my surveillance of bomb routes into Formosa to knock that stronghold out. I got back to my base on Samar and learned the next day that Hiroshima had been bombed. I never saw such a flurry of physics textbooks suddenly appear out of nowhere. These guys in the officer’s club were just interested in gin rummy and bridge, things of that kind. All of a sudden this promoted an avalanche. Every footlocker must have contained one physics textbook. Why or how, who knows. I happened to have one around which was concentrated on electronics and communication, but it provoked an incredible amount of conversation in the officer’s club, which was really an officer’s tent in a shack.
How could they have done this with what the bomb consisted of? Pure speculation, I had no idea what it was. We had an idea from the magnitude of the blast and the information that was drifting down through the intelligence sections, but that’s about all. What was really fascinating was to see that suddenly guys who had no more interest in anything except playing cards, that night picked up textbooks and started talking about atomic energy. It just amazed me.
DUDLEY This kind of took you back, because you had already been exploring that back in the early 1940s, right?
DIAMBRA I say the name of the paper that I wrote for a senior thesis in high school was totally unpremeditated. I just fell into that. I wrote it on one long weekend and handed it in. I got a great grade. The guy who ran the English department said, “I really can’t understand any of this so I’m moving. Dr. McGregor in Physics. If he says it’s O. K. I’ll give you a good grade.” He did. I got a 100 on the paper. I remember that very well. It saved my butt that year.
Yes, I was interested. This brought back memories of what I had heard several years before in ’39, ’40, and ’41 and this was only ’44 when it took place. There weren’t too many years intervening. It was pretty obvious that someone had done an enormous amount of work, the extent of which I had no idea. We were all speculating. It was fascinating to me. What was then more fascinating was when the hell this war was finally going to end and we were going to go back.
It wasn’t too very long thereafter that they started moving troops and our squadrons into the Philippines in the north Philippines into Manila, after the liberation of Manila. We spent some six or seven months there. Actually I was detailed to fly and navigate for some of the commanding officers of the 13th Air Force to which I was assigned in Sydney, Australia detached duty there for a while. It was a nice tour of duty. It was much better than Manila. I left Manila and picked up flight training, which I had already had in the states, but the Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) was navigator.
The navigator and I picked up more flight training and qualified as a pilot, during those six months and ended up amassing a crew of guys who wanted to fly back in their own plane. They had fixed an airplane literally, with five others or six others changed engines, things of that sort, which would scare the hell out of me now. I’m still flying and I know what the rules still are. It’s amazing that we got back. We stripped an old B 24 down to practically nothing and stuffed a lot of people and baggage in it. We got back into the States and flew over San Francisco on Christmas morning of 1945.
DUDLEY You guys were still all in the Air Force, right? You had not been discharged yet?
DIAMBRA Air Corps, the Army Air Corps, there was no Air Force. It was then being formed. I remember very well a very long flight from Hawaii, from Hickman Field to San Francisco. When we got there nobody would answer the calls. We were getting a little tired of this and were running out of fuel and we instructed our radio operator to send out a “mayday” right over town. We got calls from everywhere, Mexico City, coming back, saying, “Where the hell are you?” The last guy to call us was the guy under us in Hamilton, Fairfield Simpson actually. Somebody got clearance to land.
The air corps had a rule that those farthest from their reentry into the States would be sent home first, put on the first trains out. So I certainly qualified for that. You can’t get much farther east than New York City from San Francisco. So they said, “Hang around and try to get some sleep if you wish but we’re going to try to put eight or ten or twelve of you on a train tonight at midnight out of Fairfield. But don’t miss it because it’s tough to get space on these trains.” We listened to that very carefully because there wasn’t anyone who was going to forfeit that trip. So that started four days, three and a half days back to New York.
DUDLEY Family? Married? Children?
DIAMBRA Yes I am. I am married and I have one son. I am booting a youngster, my grandson into getting ready for college next fall.
DUDLEY When were you married? During your service years?
DIAMBRA No, I got married after I got back, and that was 1946.
DUDLEY Wife’s name?
DUDLEY Charlotte. And your son is now doing what?
DIAMBRA He’s practicing medicine in Tallahassee. It’s an interesting story unto itself. He’s practicing medicine in a federal penitentiary, which is a world all to itself. Not as an inmate, as a professional, but for the Department of Justice and the Bureau of Prisons which is a very interesting new world that I’ve discovered by listening to him tell me about it. It’s a world that very few people know about on the outside, that exists today. It’s a whole shadow.
DUDLEY Your grandson is getting ready to go to college?
DIAMBRA Yes, next September we hope.
DUDLEY Are there any particular interests that might come from his granddad?
DIAMBRA His interests are playing golf, he’s the captain of the golf team, a hell of a lot of fishing, and having a reasonably quiet good time. I guess my son’s major interest is to keep him and his daughter off drugs. He has succeeded very well in doing that. Having had the professional experiences that he has, he is fully aware of what all those problems are and were.
Interestingly enough, he volunteered for the Air Force after college and was tested for aptitudes. He wanted to become an air traffic controller. He had always been very interested in flying, but the quality of his eyesight wouldn’t permit that. So in that case he said he would very much like to be involved in air traffic control. He was tested for that, scored some very, very high scores over 97. The fellow who had administered the test said, “You’re a shoe in. You’re a natural.” He enlisted. He got his basic training at Lackland and was told that he was going to serve his time as a medic which was to say the least, a major disappointment. It caused him to come back through Washington, Silver Spring, Maryland, and visit me and his mother. He kind of suggested that he might be going to Canada rather permanently. He was not interested in that kind of treatment. I listened carefully. We talked for about a week. I said, “Well, if that’s your ultimate conclusion and decision, don’t bother coming back through here.” He was rather startled by that approach I guess. I said. “I think you are able to survive this and make out. You can always switch careers later. This might be an opportunity that you haven’t recognized. Why don’t you do the best that you can with it?”
He left and went to Wichita Falls, Texas, which is not the greatest place in the world to go. He went through a hospital training career for two years and ended up with some of the highest grades I think they had had in 20 years in operational training. As a reward they gave him a choice of whatever assignment he wanted and wherever he wanted to take it. They guaranteed he’d be there for the entire duration of four years. Naturally, he picked Homestead, Florida.
You know all about that, Strat. His fiancée was in Jacksonville, so he just loved the idea of being in Florida. He stayed there for four full years practicing medicine essentially. I think within the first three months he was assigned to provide care for Air Force dependents, mostly children who were drug addicts. He said, “I never saw so many burned out twelve and fourteen year olds who were total vegetables.” It so impressed him, he was part of the ’60s generation; I don’t think he smoked or drank for five years after that.
During his entire tenure in the Air Force he never spoke about it again, but it really impressed him. There’s no question about it. He was clean and was going to stay clean because he saw the first hand results of what it could really do to you. There’s no hope for these kids. The kids were just totally gone, vegetables in a corner for the rest of their lives at our expense.
SMITH Did he get a medical degree, Hank?
DIAMBRA No, he ended up leaving the Air Force when he finished his tour which was in 1969, perhaps ’70. No, Jason, my grandson was born in ’71, so it was 1972 when he left the Air Force. Jason was a year old. He went back with his wife to Jacksonville and was preparing to enter the University of Jacksonville to continue his medical studies. He was picking up some very much needed cash to sustain his family by working, of all places, in a casket distribution company. (Laughter)
He was there alone on a weekend. I remember this weekend very vividly. He was there alone waiting for a semi to come in that was late, to deliver a load of caskets to this distribution company. Batesville Casket Co. happened to be the company and the entrance to their freight dock was a rather tricky thing to navigate. He wanted to make sure that the semi, which was very narrow and the turning radius was small so that everybody had troubles with it. When he finally heard the semi roaring and grunting out back, he decided that it had arrived. He stuck his head out from the loading dock. The truck had stopped about a foot from the edge of the dock. It had come to a full stop and had left space for him to look out and see if that was it or whether the fellow had left. He stuck his head out and just as he stuck his head out, the truck lurched backwards and crushed his head between the steel posts at the edge of that door and the end of the truck.
We nearly lost him right then and there. He had enough presence I guess, with blood draining from all of his orifices, to crawl back to his desk, dial 911 and just drop the phone. The next thing he knew he was in the hospital in Jacksonville and had been helicoptered over. He was still alive but he had a very serious eye problem. His eyes crossed immediately with the damage to his optic nerve. A great ophthalmologist in Jacksonville said, “You know what we’re going to do?” I’m abridging much of the story. He said, “We’re going to do nothing. I think the more we do to you, the worse it’s going to be. Mother Nature should take care of it.”
He was in fact teaching at the University of Jacksonville. It was his wife’s very old family friend. He listened and it did correct. For the better part of two and a half years he was precluded from reading and the doctor told him that it would be the best thing to happen to his son because he was going to live with his son continuously and do nothing but walk, ride bicycles with a patch over each eye to kind of get those muscles strengthened. For the better part of three years they got to know each other very well father and son. That’s a bond that has existed for a long time, but it completely precluded his matriculation in medical school. It knocked him out completely. There was no hope at that. The resuscitation of that program was intense and the finances, although we were helping as much as we could, were pretty strained.
When he did become eligible to go back and determined where he could end up doing something productive he entered the University of Florida’s Medical School and came out with a degree as a physician’s assistant which allows him to do what he’s doing now. It is essentially practicing medicine. In fact he is acting as medical chief at the penitentiary because they don’t have a medical doctor.
DUDLEY Let’s go back to 1945 and 1946 and leaving the Air Force. What did you do then? I thought that it would be best if I went back to electronics. The Air Force had helped in that regard because I was familiar with navigational techniques, Loran and so forth, and radar. My wife, who was not then my wife but my fiancée, lived in Bridgeport, Conn. I had met her there before the war. We became very fond of each other and she ended up as one of Igor Sikorski’s personal secretaries. I was making helicopters over on the beach in Bridgeport. When Sikorski moved down to Washington, essentially to conduct the sale of more helicopters to the Navy, she followed him down. She was one of the three people that went down with him. The war ended when she was in Washington. Well there were a lot of people discharged rather quickly in those days.
She took a good look around and there was a family friend in Washington, with whom she was living, in the advertising business. They suggested that it wouldn’t be too bad to live in that area. So when I got back from the service, I had been corresponding with her, I called her from the West Coast. She said well I’m in town in Washington and why don’t you visit me here. I’m going to stay here because I have a job, and so forth. I drifted to Washington. We got married in Washington. She said, “Well what are you going to do?” I said, “Well that’s a very interesting question, but I think I’ll get into electronics.”
I needed a lot of brush up, that’s where Capitol Radio and I got together. I spent a year or so getting caught up, taking a few courses that I certainly needed and learning more about the whole business of civilian electronics at that point and where they were going.
One of the things that intrigued me before the war was the fact that I was playing around with an RCA TRT 90. I still remember that vividly. It was one of the first official experimental television sets that RCA was putting out for the 1939 World’s Fair. You watched television by raising the lid at a 45 degree angle, on which was mounted a mirror. The picture tube was six inches in diameter pointing straight up from the bowels of this huge cabinet into a mirror. You sat back like this (Diambra demonstrates) and watched television in that mirror, all six inches of it. It was green too, man. There was no black and white, it was green. It was fascinating and of course it fascinated the hell out of the world. It was 1939 and here was television. Those were the same days that Armstrong was experimenting with an experimental FM transmitter on the Palisades the Hudson River. Edwin Armstrong had FM.
Before the war, Strat knows this much better than I, frequency changes occurred; bands were assigned for commercial FM broadcasting. We listened to some of the early FM stuff. I was a radio ham in those days. I got to some degree, involved after the war, but didn’t stay with it for very long I just didn’t have time for it. I was trying to raise a family and so forth. It was obvious that things were brewing, things were going to happen. I responded to an ad. I can’t really remember how I got word of the ad. It was for a company in Washington, that I didn’t recognize. It was the M.A. Leese Co.
DUDLEY L E A…
DIAMBRA Leese. L E E S E. It was on Connecticut Avenue; it sold appliances. They were asking for and looking for a service manager. I said, “I think I can handle your needs.” They said, “You’ll not only have to manage, but you’ll have to do all the work because you will be the only one in this whole place.” I said, “Well, it’s not what I had in mind, but let’s get on with it,” and I stayed with them. M. A. Leese was probably one of the first licensees of the commission then called the Federal Radio Commission (FRC) before there was an FCC…
SMITH Federal Regulation.
DIAMBRA FRC. … of an AM radio station which is now well known throughout the city. It’s called WMAL. That’s where the M.A.L. came from, which was Martin A. Leese who was in the optical business down on 9th Street, 9th and F, as the old M.A. Leese Optical Co. He branched out into appliances. I met with members of that family who owned M.A. Leese and the appliance business. We were affiliated obviously; it was the same company. I heard much of the early history of radio in Washington through that association. I stayed with them for a while. As part of what we did because of where we were located, we had some very interesting clients, one of whom was fascinating to me. He was the ex ambassador to Russia. If you remember Davies and Tregaron, his huge estate in central Washington. The huge fenced enclosure, probably the largest contiguous piece of land that belonged to one owner in central Washington. It was literally a wooded estate, a portion of which was right under Connecticut Avenue next to the Kennedy Warren Apartments.
SMITH Hank, the recorder doesn’t always get some of the names clear, would you spell the name of the Davies Estate that you were talking about.
DIAMBRA Yes, Davies is D A V I E S. I can’t recall his first name; it will come back to me.
SMITH It will come to me too.
DIAMBRA The name of the estate, which was a very famous one because Davies married Marjorie Post of the cereal fame Post Toasties, etc. There was a lot of money on both sides of that. Davies was quite a lawyer in his own right, before the war and before he went to Russia. In fact, I think he got the biggest single fee from the Ford Company for a job he did for Ford.
Anyway, Tregaron was spelled T R E G A R O N which was the name of their estate. Leese Electrical Company was literally about six blocks away on the southern tip of that estate on Connecticut Ave. on McComb Street. They’d bring in whoever was managing the estate, I can’t remember her name. She was a very tough old bird. They would send up for us or have someone bring in, things for us to look at, fix, and do. I think I made the suggestion at one time that maybe we ought to just see what their needs were and service them as a kind of a long standing customer relationship.
I went up there one day and I met with the ambassador, then ex ambassador. He had brought back a dacha from Russia, summer home, in pieces, numbered. He had it reconstructed on the grounds of Tregaron. This place was big enough and wealthy enough to have its own two engine fire department on the grounds, giving you some idea of the property size. He had built this Dacha as a working office for himself. It was essentially one-story, underground of which were located six secretarial offices. He went up a half a story to his first level, and it was a three-story empty structure. You looked up three stories to the ceiling vault. There must have been $10 million worth of art in this place. Every wall except one, was lined with art two stories high, each of which was illuminated separately and was controlled by a massive control panel so that you could display and illuminate any kind of pictures that you wanted to illuminate from behind his desk. The place was a series of conversation places like this, with furniture, objets d’art, everywhere. I remember one wall facing east, which faced the old Stimpson Estate the Secretary of War which became a school, after the estate passed away from the Stimpson’s. Henry Stimson’s estate was next door and this huge, at least 60 feet of wall, all glass, to the top, had a single motor driven drape. It was like a huge stage that had to be closed by electric motors. You couldn’t conceivably pull it by hand. He sat at a desk that was about half the size of this room and I’m not quite exaggerating it either, at one end. And after I met him and introduced myself, and suggested that we should work together and that I should do something for him.
End of Tape 1, Side A
(A little conversation took place before the tape recording on this side.)
DIAMBRA He said, “I like baseball, son.” I said, “Well, I happen to like it too, but I don’t get much time for it.” He said, “Well I need that television set.” This is now 1949 or early ’50. I said, “What did you have in mind, we’re selling a few?” He said, “Well no, I want a television set that I can see from here.” I said,” Where would you want to put it?” He said, “Down at that wall.” It was about three quarters of a block away. I said, “Well Mr. Davies, you can’t really see television from here.” He said, “Well I want a screen that I can see a ball game on.” I said, “How big?” He said, “What’s the biggest thing you can find?” I said. “The only other systems that have screens are for theater projection.” He said, “That’s it.” I said, “What?” He said, “I want a television set that’s going to show me a baseball game from where I’m sitting.”
We put in a 20′ x 30′ screen and a theater projection system for Davies in black and white. The power supply was the size of a garbage can. It was with a five inch tube that was incredibly bright. It looked like a search light. It fed into a mirror system, a Schmidt Optical System. We used to service that once a week, just to keep the fuses in. That was only the beginning. After that I was taken on a tour by the female version of a major domo. Anyway, she ran the joint. She ran all of the operation. She paid all the bills, incurred all the obligations for them. She took care of the personals. They had cousins and nieces and nephews from all over the country, from Arizona, from Scottsdale. They used to visit them. This crew would descend on them. I think they had seven major homes. This was only the local one in Washington which was open during the fall and was maintained as an open showplace, through about February, maybe early March.
In West Palm Beach, which had 310 bedrooms, which just got sold to Donald Trump for $105 million or something like that. It’s a monstrous place. They used to open wings of that. The first tour I got, I said, “What do you have?” She assigned me a person and he took me around to every room of this monstrous place. I remember some of them so vividly and that was almost 30 years ago. There was a solarium. Every piece of furniture in it was Lucite. When the sun shone in, it happened to be about 10 o’clock in the morning when I was visiting, the whole room looked as if it were melting gold. The sun came streaming in through a window and hit the edges of all these Lucite chairs and tabletops and it was totally illuminated by the sunshine. It was an incredible thing. We designed all kind of things for him. He wanted a remote stereo system that he could run from the armchair. I said, “Well that sounds nice.” He said, “So make it.” He sent and got a furniture guide to cut out chairs. Remember Kapart?
DUDLEY Uh huh
DIAMBRA Homer Kapart? Do you remember a thing called the Lincoln Record Player? There were very few made. This was a monster, the size of that bookcase (Diambra gestures) wide.
DUDLEY That’s three feet wide.
DIAMBRA At least. It played the records vertically and stored 50 records at a clip. It was the equivalent of a home jukebox. All the records were put into slots and it would pick the record out and play it with a head on both sides. It would move play this side, move out play that side. Then it would flip the record back, travel down and pick up the next selection which you had programmed, all electromechanically. It was a Lincoln Record Change. I don’t know how many were sold, maybe 100? I don’t know if anyone could afford one or put it anywhere. He had a Lincoln. We adapted it for armchair control. We put the whole Kapart in his furniture. We had stuff underneath the floor. Whatever Davies wanted, there was no question about being paid. The question was, “Can we do it?” These were just the very earliest days of playing around with tubes. This stuff got hot and you had to be very careful with what you did with it.
SMITH That was a wire remote control of course.
DIAMBRA Oh, of course. Sure. If we had to make it wireless it would have been a monster transmitter and a monster receiver. (Laughter) It was all wired and interconnected. It was 50 watts per channel which in those days was pretty damned potent audio with big bottles that glowed blue when it got excited. It sounded terrific by the way, considering the state of the art then, it sounded terrific. What impressed me was that this was a sitting, conversation/living room off the main walk in hall. The main hall was four stories high. There was a winding staircase that went up four stories and it was a self supporting winding staircase. You don’t see those anymore. This was an incredible work of art. It was spiral, right up the middle; around a chandelier which I think was seventeen or eighteen feet in diameter. There were over 11,000 parts in it, each of which was dismounted, numbered, washed, put away and reconstructed twice a year. Every piece in it was crystal, and every bulb in it was special, and we used to supply cases of bulbs for that thing. Tiny little bulbs about an inch high, thousands of them.
DUDLEY Now at this time, you were still with M.A. Leese.
DIAMBRA Yes, we had the contract to do that and by that time I had about four technicians working for me. We designed this stuff and we built it and installed it and played around with virtually everything. One of the things that we got to do was get close to some real estate agents and realtors and contractors, one of whom ends up now owning the Capital hockey team, (?) A place called the Crestwood; he built that back in 1951 or ’52 which was right next to Rock Creek Park on 16th St. It was a nice apartment building. The television was miserable and every tenant, of course, wanted to stick his antenna up on the roof. He wasn’t going to let anybody on that roof period. So we worked with A. Pollin and we designed for him a master antenna system.
DUDLEY Would you spell his name for us, his last name?
DIAMBRA P O L L I N
SMITH I think it’s “I N,” but we’ll double check it for you. What year was that Hank, can you recall?
DIAMBRA It was in ’53. I was busy without knowledge of anything about Jerrold or anybody else, there wasn’t any, designing and building things to make those things work. About that time I read in a publication some place that there was a Jerrold Electronics. I called them up in Philadelphia, South Philly. I heard nothing. I asked to be put on a mailing list or to be sent something. Well, about three weeks later, a guy walked in and said, “Are you the fellow that called.” I said, “Yes, who are you?” He said, “My name is my name is George Edlen and I represent the company. What would you like us to do?” “I said well I’m very interested because I design antenna systems.” He said, “You actually design and build antenna systems.” I said, “Well I try to. We don’t know too much about what we’re doing, but we’re trying to do it.”
This whole field had a whole antecedent history that goes back to the middle ’30s. As I told you earlier, not more than a block away was a very large apartment building overlooking Rock Creek Park, called the Kennedy Warren, which had in it an AM short wave radio, master system, dating from the middle thirties. There were bedspring antennas on the roof of this very big apartment complex that fed multiplicities of risers coming down to feed the apartments AM and short wave radio, all AM, but short and long wave radio. So this business of antenna distribution systems didn’t start with Milt Shapp and Jerrold, it started many years before where every multi dialed radio, long before super (?) with TRF, required a hell of a long, extensive antenna system, no sensitivity.
DIAMBRA Tune Radio Frequency. Before the invention of the super interdine where you tuned literally every stage, multiplicity. I remember the one we had had four dials across and you tuned all four of these damned things and you married the rheostats and the (?) came up and down and you had C eliminators and storage batteries and a case of hardware that would drive you crazy. My mother said, “That’s a radio?” (Laughter)
SMITH She was used to a crystal set.
DIAMBRA I remember very well, I was a FADA by the way F.A. Diambra. I was a FADA. Anyway, the antecedent to television distribution systems was radio distribution antenna systems. All those sets needed a hell of a long wire antenna. There was no such thing as a shielded circuit. I didn’t know anything about interference. You just ran wires (?) Sometimes there were walls that you could never get to or repair. That was the Kennedy Warren. The Kennedy Warren made noise to us about, “Hey, you know, we’re getting interest about television and people are putting up television sets and all they can have…” This is where I ran into Milt Shapp, “…is amplified rabbit ears.” Are you familiar with it?
DIAMBRA It tied into a big light box, two tubers, rabbit ears on top, a little dial to tune and resonate the particular rabbit ears for that signal. You move the box around and twisted the knobs, and somehow, magically, you got a better signal, but most of the times, you got a far worse signal, than you had hanging out the window. Only because the industry learned a lot of things, reflections.
Kennedy Warren had a steel super structure and that reflected signals like crazy from inside. So there’s no rhyme or reason as to how you put this into position or tune it. You just fool around. the average customer had no idea of what the hell they were doing. They had no idea of what knobs to turn or how to twist an antenna and it was driving every serviceman, I think, in the area crazy because these little old ladies that lived in the Kennedy Warren wanted to see television but had no idea what they were doing to get it.
If you remember, there was a hotel called the Wardman Park in those days, down the street. The Wardman Park was the scene of that very famous Purple Banana Show. You remember that one. When CBS and NBC or RCA were running off which system the country would have. They pulled that famous “Purple Banana Trick.” Well that was three blocks down the road, with a hell of a transmitter sitting on top of the Wardman Park. Well three blocks from the transmitter, you were in the induction field of the transmitter. I’ll tell you it was to the extent where you blank out everything.
We were getting stereo sets and people would complain about the television audio coming from a stereo set that was not even turned on. We said, “That’s impossible.” It’s literally impossible. They said, “Well come over here and listen to it and you tell me if it’s impossible.” I went in there and found that it was possible. The signal strengths were so strong from WRC that it would (?), get in the leads and it would actually cause currents that vibrated capacitors. You heard the sound coming from a dead set. I said, “This is incredible, really incredible.” So they said, “How do we get it out?” I said, “Well, I’ve got to think about that one.” Well obviously shielding.
We started getting into the copper business. I made a lot of copper boxes to put around these very sensitive tube circuits now. We’re talking about very high impedance circuits. That’s all you needed was a wire hanging out there three or four inches and it was the equivalent of an antenna. At 100 kilowatts down the road at low frequencies (Diambra makes demonstrative sound). That was it. Almost like the days of WLW in Cincinnati lighting up the countryside with unofficial moonlight.
SMITH You could walk around with a fluorescent tube and it would light up.
DIAMBRA It would light up things on porches, ring bells. I’m sure you know Bill Dempsey? And Koplovitz?
SMITH For the record, it was a Washington law firm.
DIAMBRA They were our law firm at Entron. I got to know them very well. Both of them came in with a first wave of new deal. Koplovitz came in from St. Louis. Anyway, they were very familiar because Dempsey got WLW that license. So I’m listening to all these pieces and getting to play around with what’s happening and getting very close to the fact that reception’s going to be a real problem here.
SMITH Hank, can I interrupt you just a second to get something on the record?
SMITH AT WLW, was that a 500,000 watt station?
DIAMBRA Half a megawatt.
SMITH Yes, half a megawatt.
DIAMBRA Low frequency. How the hell they ever permitted that, God only knows because, as you said you’d light fluorescent lights ten miles from the transmitter. They had a scheme actually proposed and in writing and in Popular Mechanics where they were going to hook that up to conductors along the highway giving you artificial moonlight to drive by. It’s a fact. And they were going to use it as a long wire distribution system. I remember reading that. That was Crowsley.
SMITH Crowsley, yes, I was going to say that was owned by Crowsley.
DIAMBRA Crowsley, yes at WLW. We’ve tried, I guess, a lot of things in this business, of course, it dominated. When it was on, with those frequencies, that was it. A half a megawatt is a lot of low frequency energy. It’s really a clear channel isn’t it? I guess they lost that. You would know much better than I, when they lost that.
SMITH Twenty years ago.
DIAMBRA Oh, more than that. A half megawatt was changed when they went to the clear channel 50 kilowatts.
SMITH They let them keep it quite a while.
DIAMBRA As a half a megawatt, really?
SMITH I’m almost certain. I’ll verify it since I’m half contradicting you. But I believe they allowed that one station to stay on quite a while after the 50,000 watts.
DIAMBRA It became obvious that 50,000, and thank goodness for the Rocky Mountains because you wouldn’t get too much propagation beyond that.
SMITH I’ll make a note to check that.
DIAMBRA Don’t worry about contradicting me. These come back to mind and go flitting through. Those were the days anyway. Certainly that experience right there on Connecticut Avenue with WRC brought that to mind. I said, “My God, that’s only 100 kilowatts of channel 4. Imagine what 500 kilowatts with something like 900 KC would look like. Who could live with that? So we got calls from A. Pollin to do something about his building. Then we got calls from the guy who put the big monster together, the largest apartment building under one roof then in the country called the (?)On the other side of Rock Creek Park…I’m ahead of my story.
By this time, the fellow that I had mentioned earlier, from Jerrold had come by. He very seriously doubted what I was telling him, that we were designing antenna systems, until he came back into our shop and lab and looked on. He said, “Yes, I guess you guys are.” He wanted to leave the role as a travelling rep and he wanted to settle down. He suggested that perhaps we work together. I said, “Well I’ve got this job and I’m not doing too badly at it.” He said, “Well, antenna systems, from what I know about the rest of the country, and you’re only familiar with the Washington area, there’s going to be a tremendous need for commercial television distribution systems.”
He installed for Jerrold the first commercial antenna system in the United States Campbell Music Co. on 14th and G Streets. Milt Shapp’s, Jerrold’s chrome plated chassis, man. It was the only one in existence. Each was a channel. First of the script systems. Truly a TRF. There was not stagger tuned. They were just by tubes, big power supply, gas tube regulators Campbell Music Co.
SMITH Fourteenth and G Streets, was that it, Hank?
DIAMBRA 1401 G St., Campbell Music Co. So George told me about that one. I went down and looked at it and I said, “Well, what do you have in mind?” He said, “Well maybe we should get together. You know a little about what you’re doing and I know a little bit about what I’m doing and instead of just representing Jerrold and making equipment why should you be making equipment when you can buy it in a store and get all the contracts.” So I said, “Well, how much money do you have?” He said, “Well very little.” I said, “Well what do you think is going to make all this happen?” He said, “Well you’ve got a lot of contacts, and I’ve got other contacts, we ought to take a job or two and just bootstrap it.”
Somehow or other, he talked me into joining him, which was Sept 1, 1950. I joined George Edlen. We hummed around doing a variety of things, Jerrold of course was selling. He stayed on with Jerrold for a while because there was a need for money with both of us. We did a few jobs using Jerrold equipment, which turned out not to work too well. It was giving us fits. One of the jobs we picked up was the Quantico Marine School at Quantico, Virginia. The big one. This was the first multi building. They wanted all of the residences tied together. So this was essentially the first cable television system to the best of our knowledge although it was not called that. It wasn’t citywide it was area compound wide. And all of the houses had to be wired together to one central antenna. We wrote essentially a proposal, in response to their needs and got away with the job.
SMITH This was 1950, Hank?
DIAMBRA No, no. The Quantico Marine School was 1952 and ’53. Of course, we’re struggling to get jobs, and had a number of them running. The Kennedy Warren was coming up; rather the Woodmire was coming up. It was under construction and we were working with the architects and electrical contractors. There were union problems about who could pull cables and all that good stuff. Jerrold had proposed to the architect engineers for the Woodmire that it be Jerrold equipment. They weren’t going to install it; they were just going to provide equipment to electricians who knew absolutely nothing about what they were doing. Zero, less than zero. They were handling coax cable like… Did you ever pull out your condoms without lubricant? It doesn’t look like much when you get through with it, you know? It changes diameter by a hell of a ratio. And it’s no longer anything. People would try to hook up this damned stuff, and nothing came out.
We got the job at the Quantico Marine School, independent of Milt, but we were going to use Jerrold equipment. We played with the stuff for six months and failed to get anything. It was impossible. The amplifiers would oscillate, just getting these enormous technical problems, and the government was getting a little edgy about our completing that job. So George Edlen and I zoomed up to Philadelphia to find out what the hell was going on. You have a guy’s picture out there in the case.
The fellow’s name was Hank Arbeiter. Arbeiter was the chief engineer for Jerrold. Hank and I started talking. After the problems that I recited, he said, “Well, we resolved all those.” I said, “Since when, since I walked in this morning? They were there last night.” He said, “Did anybody talk to you guys?” I said, “About what?” He said, “About the new equipment.” I said, “New equipment?” I thought we had the latest. He said, “Well, no. That stuff’s out by six months.” If I had a pistol, that would have been one dead chief engineer.
This is going to cost us a lot of money. This was a contract we were going to default on and this guy’s telling me that all of the problems that I’ve been trying to design around, have been solved. We asked for a good “look-see,” which was not quite ready for the market. His six months was more than optimistic. I would think those were the first of the vapor wear terms. These were now stagger tube amplifiers. They were strip, but stagger tube. They had better and sharp selectivity and all kinds of things, but they were still essentially the same. We felt very, very encouraged. We prevailed upon Milt to let us have three amplifiers full of this stuff, that we could finish Quantico with. I said, “Or otherwise, we’re going to tell them that Jerrold won’t work.” Well Jerrold didn’t work. Believe it or not, I got to know Fitz Kennedy very well at that time.
SMITH I like the way it’s coming together. Keep going.
DIAMBRA This was a long time ago fellows, if I miss a day or two or a week, cut me. I’m just getting recollections from the things I’m sitting here looking at. Anyway, I met Fitz Kennedy because we needed something to do what Milt’s system couldn’t do. Well, Kennedy’s couldn’t do it either. He had a broadband amplifier, very broad, the first of the broadband 13 channel amplifiers. It was very low gain and very low power, lots of tubes. We came to the conclusion that had to satisfy those conditions, so we ended up with a combination of Jerrold equipment, and antenna set, some Kennedy amplifiers, a design of a split air that they were using that came from the Firestone research as a distribution.
SMITH Who was “they” Hank?
DIAMBRA Spencer Kennedy. They had adopted a resident cable technique that Harvey Firestone, worked for Motorola, had written about and patented. It was a resident cable power divider, except that they just sold you three and a half feet of cable. I looked at this thing and I said, “Impossible. Where the hell are you going to hang open cable?” So we played with it, modified it and ended up with a patent on that, putting it all in a can.
The successor company which was Entron which was formed as of bad experiences we’ve had playing with anybody’s equipment Jerrold, SKL. We had heard about Blonder-Tongue. We talked to Ike Blonder from Yonkers, New York running out of a backyard garage. His theory was that we don’t sell to anybody. We sell only to electronic parts stores. If you want it, go down to a parts store and buy it.
We did, problems there too. We really laboriously tried to put together a system that had no antecedents. It was a cable television system but we didn’t recognize it as such. We called it a community antenna because in those days, there weren’t any. We didn’t know about Panther Valley yet, which was having its own problems about the same way we were having ours. So I designed with George.
George happened to be a physicist, by the way, by profession, and he was up at the RAD Lab during the war, at MIT, designing radar. So there was a background there, a good empathy. George and I worked well together and we struggled to keep this thing going. We were young guys with families, etc., working day and night. We made Quantico play. We got paid. And it was a hell of a thing. When we got to the Woodmire, things weren’t playing so hot. In years of building, it’s standing way up in the air, and we’re looking at the rivets of Channel 4 and trying to get stations like Channel 9. Remember OIC, long before it became CBS. It was the local WOIC. It was three miles away, Channel 4 was swamping us. What are we going to do with the Woodmire? Well, we made the Woodmire a totally passive distribution system. We had enough signal strength from everywhere to filters into everything and no amplification of any kind. We had so damned much signal running around loose we could light bulbs in the basement. This was an 11 story building. This was the only building that the (?????) They sawed the roof in half. There was an one inch strip separating the two buildings, literally, so you could crawl through two separate buildings but if you walked down the hallway you were in one huge apartment building. We had lots of great people in there. Two of the Supreme Court Justices lived there. You serviced their needs. It’s a great town, by the way.
The Woodmire was quite an experience for us because we suddenly learned about active filters and passive filters and when you should use amplifiers and when you should not use amplifiers. We started to learn a hell of a lot about the business.
DUDLEY Now, at this time, you two guys were out on your own, but you had not formed Entron?
DIAMBRA No. We had actually formed a company with a third leg that we needed which was an electrician who was licensed and a union shop to pull cables. Because we couldn’t go in there, into a huge outfit like Woodmire, and say, we’re going to pull cables. They’d look at you and say, “The hell you are. You’re not going to pull cables as long as I have an electrical union on this shop.” So all cable pulling was a tutorial that George and I used to do, get all the electricians together and tell them how to pull coax without damaging the coax. But the electricians would pull the cable and leave you loose in boxes that you could never find, because the plasterers would come over and plaster it loose and not put covers on the boxes.
So it was a lot of fun in those days. You walked around with tape in your hand, and a magnetic detector to find the damned place where they just put plaster at so you can yank the cable back through, so you can put a cover on it. It’s called plating, in the business. We had technicians to go around plating the jobs, putting taps in and painting them. Well we used Jerrold’s T tap, which was a block of aluminum with two connectors running this way (Diambra demonstrates), a conductor, a capacitor, and another little F connector, but they weren’t known as F connectors in those days. That protruded through a plate. You screwed the plate to the wall, and somebody connected a television set, which you hoped, then worked. Right? Seldom.
First of all, if the electricians hadn’t screwed it up to begin with; remember there were no known portable fuel strength meters in those days. Maybe it was as weak as or stronger than the rabbit ears, but you couldn’t tell whether it was coming out of the wall or induced in the television set by radiation it was so closely transmitted. You had no idea where the hell the signal was coming from. You couldn’t shield it well enough to measure any component, so you were just sitting there guessing most of the time. Well the name Vic Nicholson, now arises. Remember Vic?
SMITH Yes, I do.
DIAMBRA Well Vic and I carried one of the first all band tuning Dumonts, which was modified to become field strength leader. It was portable if you were two big guys with a hell of a set of brass handles around. Right?
SMITH I never saw one, but we had one out here in the Museum.
DIAMBRA That was an RCA.
SMITH I was going to say, not at Dumont.
DIAMBRA That was a switchable tuner. What made the Dumont so valuable was that the Dumont tune from way the hell down below television to through the FM bands all the way above it as one continuous multi crank. You just crank and crank and crank and crank and this inductor starts to sliding (?????????) About that long. About a foot and a half long, through the whole chassis. It was so thoroughly shielded that if you didn’t put something into the jack, you got nothing out. We then read the bias line of the tubes. The detective kept cranking away, and this dial would slowly turn and it would be expanded. It had a wonderful design. Dumont had a marvelous television set. But like anything else, the public wasn’t ready for continuous tuning. They had no idea of how to tune a television signal because you’re really tuning two television signals, the audio and video. They had no idea because this didn’t give you any help.
Finally Dumont ended up, and we put some of our own, cat’s eye detectors on to tell when you actually tuned the null on the audio. That was the walkie-talkie, handy dandy, field strength meter. Those were interesting days because at least we could now tell what was coming from the cable and what wasn’t coming from the cable. We were rather surprised on many occasions find nothing coming from the cable, but a hell of a set of pictures on the television set connected to the wall. Of course the lead from the set to the wall was the antenna and the rest of it was just totally shorted out by some attrition somewhere else, in the basement, near the elevators, on the roof, it didn’t make any difference. We used to end up charging for debugging these cables. And identifying where the (?) was.
Which brings up another guy. His name was Donald Kirk. Did you ever hear of him?
SMITH Yes, I know Don Kirk. I haven’t seen him for years.
DIAMBRA I haven’t either. Don was from Axis, Alabama. If I remember very well. When I first met Don he was working for the Naval Research Laboratory. He lived in Clinton, Maryland. He was a consultant to Jerrold. And Hank Arbeiter and Ken Simons. He didn’t have to (?) Hank Arbeiter, Hank was an employee of Jerrold’s, Ken was then a consultant and Don Kirk was. Don was a pretty bright Ph.D. He got his doctorate, believe it or not, talking about the $100 television receiver. Believe it or not.
He was a very bright guy, and still is to the best of my knowledge, a very bright guy. He developed the reflectometer, tuned so that you could tell when passing a signal through a T whether the cable would act as a resonate tank where, based on the velocity of propagations, where a discontinuity would exist. This was made up of just reels of cable which you can hang around. We used to carry this with a field strength meter so it looked as if you had a garage sale going on every time you went to do a job. You had wheels of cable and loops coming out of your belt, and things hanging of you, and two guys monstrously carrying this thing around. The sole purpose was which, “Hey, is that cable good, and if so if it isn’t good, where’s the break.” Because the electricians weren’t interested in all this esoterica about signals. “I don’t see any break. The wire looks good to me. The wire’s not broken. What do you mean nothing comes out of it.” “Well there’s a short.” “How do you know there’s a short? It doesn’t look shorted to me.” They’d have to take it if the fellow was on the third story riser, 40′ up from the ground, that kind of nonsense.
Those deficiency reports used to accumulate about six or eight inches thick on a job that they ran until the contractors and the unions finally agreed that somebody competent, since they could not supply anyone, either was trained by us or would allow us to pull wire. That’s what ended up. We were very successful. The guy who joined us to be the third leg, who could pull it for us, who’s people we trained, was the guy by the name of Bellmore.
DUDLEY Bellmore? B E L M O R E?
DIAMBRA B E L L M O R E. I’ll think of his first name in a moment. He died of lung cancer. Anyway, Bellmore was an electrical contractor in the Washington area. And we formed a thing called the Bellmore Co. to pursue the business of wire television distribution systems in and around the Washington metropolitan area. We did a lot of jobs under that name.
SMITH Could I just interrupt here? Could you further identify Bellmore Co? This would have been you and Edlen and Bellmore?
DIAMBRA Right. We were the principals of a little company called the Bellmore Co. which was different than his electrical contracting co., just so he could provide us with a cable pulling facility which was union recognized. We needed a place to work so back to Rock Creek Park to a place called the Carlin Apartments. It was on 22nd and P Streets, overlooking the park. A guy by the name of Seagull owned those. He had had about 15 business failures in his life, but succeeded in coming back, back, back and finally ended up being a very successful liquor distributor and buying the Carlin Apartments. The Carlin had an unusual set of facilities. The basement floor had originally started out and was intended to be a shopping mall within the apartment building, store fronts, glass down the hallway, so forth and so on. But they were totally empty and they had never really been put into effect. Nobody was really interested in doing that. So the reason we got involved was that we were given a job to wire the Carlin for television.
We were still looking for a home, operating out of our own places. George talked to Seagull one day and said, “What do you guys want for rent, these are empty stores?” He said, “Anything you want to give us is O.K. Move right in.” So we moved into two or three of these stores, tied them together and the Bellmore Co. lived in the Carlin Apartments in Washington, 2500 P Street for a long time.
SMITH What was the year, Hank, just so it’s on the tape?
DIAMBRA It was ’53 ’54. About that time it became pretty obvious to us that we had better do some of our own work because we were not being satisfied by anyone. Jerrold wasn’t performing. SKL had its own problems. We didn’t have the source of stuff that we needed for this metropolitan area. Of course, our concerns were local but later we recognized that they were urban concerns everywhere. But Washington had its unique problems, so we concentrated on doing what we were doing. In 1953 or the very beginning of ’54, I can’t really remember which, we decided to form a separate manufacturing company to serve our needs. It was then called Entron.
SMITH Did Entron have significance in terms of the letters? Was it an acronym?
DIAMBRA Yes, Engineering Electronics. George Edlen picked it. And said O.K. We ended up as chief manufacturer, installer, designer. There were only four of us so we were doing everything. I said, well, we’d better do some of the things we need to so it will work, and reduce the number of service calls we were getting, which were killing us. We developed, by taking a departure from that Spencer Kennedy Power Divider; we made a thing called an accurasplit. An accurate power splitter. We put that in a can and sealed that and made it waterproof and used it with great success in all of these buildings that had nearby broadcast because we had enough power that we could simply divide it passively. And we made a whole series of symmetric and asymmetric splitters out of that family which survived a long time. They finally ended up in the cable television business on top of many poles.
SMITH Was that one of the first inventions of Entron?
DIAMBRA That was one of the first things that we did and I’d say that it was a design, not so much a theoretical invention. We didn’t replicate Firestone’s work, but we did adapt it to the needs. It became a mechanical device now, into which you could screw a connector, as opposed to soldering leads in mid air. In other words we reduced it to practice.
SMITH It’s not something you patented?
DIAMBRA Oh yes, a rare design patent, but that wasn’t the first. It also became pretty obvious to us at the same time with these passive systems, remember we were dealing with buildings internally. RG59 coaxial cable was reasonably abundant it wasn’t in super supply, but reasonably abundant. It served the purpose in the walls of construction buildings because it was small enough to be pulled through a half inch conduit. Anything larger than that would propose serious problems and would require conduit size changes which would greatly change the cost of providing television. The electricians weren’t interested in anything greater than half inch conduits. We spent years talking them into three quarter inch conduits so we could pull multiple risers.
At about that stage, this is all taking place at about the same time. We ran into the Quantico Marine School’s Project. We had to go between buildings, through houses, into the ceilings, rather the roofs and attic of houses, from building to building to building to building to building. We had internal and external problems. We soon found out that RG59 was not the cable of choice. It’s attenuation. It’s losses were too high and it was contributing to the problems. We bought a reel of RG11. The old original RG11, solid conductor, solid dialectic, striated conductor, and all that good stuff, not having too much hardware to play with that. They didn’t have in 75 ohm collectors for it. Everything was a solder on SCU 8 which was a 50 ohm connector, which obviously induced distortions, but what can you do, that’s the only thing.
It became very obvious that we better do something about designing an appropriate connector or set of connectors, some way to tap the RG11 cable. Here’s the RG11 which was about a half inch in diameter. Here are Milt Shapp’s T tap which accommodated an RG59. There were no adapters between RG11 and RG59, that you could screw into these little boxes without going from one connector which was a mismatch, to another cable which was a mismatch to another connector to a little tap through another piece 59 to another connector which was mismatched back to the RG11…absolute abortions, real technical abortions. As we found out later, every city in the country had millions of these abortions. They had about as many thousands as there were customers.
End of Tape 1, Side B
DIAMBRA In those days, Milt and the people that he was working with to develop the cable industry were wiring everything on the street with RG59. That’s all they knew about. They were trying RG11 for trunks but they were tapping RG59 with the same non waterproof little T taps. George, I think it was George, who recognized a need first by putting his finger on it. He visited one of the first cable systems, and I can’t remember at this moment which one it was. He said, “Hank, do you realize what the hell they’re doing on poles? We’re having a hell of a problem just putting it in the walls. they’re actually trying to do the stuff on poles.” I said, “Well George, you know the stuff we ran into in Quantico. It just magnified.” He said, “We’ve got to solve that problem. There’s got to be a real living in that thing, because this thing can’t work.” So we set about and he and I spent about a year and a half and came up with an invention called the fast T, which was totally revolutionary in the business. It now permitted RG11 distribution not RG59 distribution and allowed entirely different forms of primary trunk systems to exist where we were tapping RG11 to the RG59s. It was much lower losses. The fast T was totally waterproof and required no fooling around out in the street. It took literally seconds to install. That took about two and a half to three years. That was the first (?) It was a very solid (?) it kept us alive for years and also lead into an anti trust action with Milt and lead into a lot of things but that kept this company and the industry alive. Now let me go back in time, however, to about that time when it became recognized that something other than RG59 was necessary. This was the Korean War days. When was the Korean War, Strat, 1950 ’53 ’54?
SMITH I think so Hank. 1952.
DIAMBRA I remember the Korean War and that’s all I remember. Anyway, because of the advent of the Korean War, the supply of coaxial cable dried up instantly, very fast. So Milt Shapp came to town Washington and hired a lawyer to do an old job for him. I think maybe this is the keystone of the cable television business. The guy’s name was Henry Kannee. K A N N E E Henry M. Kannee was the lawyer’s name. And Henry was a personal close friend and bridge player of Bernard Bellmore. He called Bellmore and said, “What the hell is this guy Shapp talking about?” Bellmore said, “Well I can’t really tell you. Why don’t you talk to Hank Diambra and George Edlen, they’ll tell you.” We knew of Milt. Milt needed something to free up cable. So Henry Kannee who had been President Roosevelt’s personal secretary for a dozen years and knew his way around Washington rather well, suggested there might be a little thing here that we write up as “public need for communication and news dissemination” and stuff like that. And the “public need and convenience not as a utility but not as a private entertainment thing.” We ought to free up cable for this news media. We could have paid $500 and got a release from the RFC. Milt went on his way with lots more cable than he came to town with. Literally in my estimation, that was the birth of the national cable business.
SMITH I did not know that Kannee first started with Milt because you came back with him didn’t you?
DIAMBRA Well that was the instance by which Kannee suddenly became aware of a world that he had no knowledge of. He didn’t know a coaxial cable from a baseball bat. Kannee was one of the best stenographers I had ever seen. Kannee used to take Pittman, not Gregg, he was a Pittman shorthand type. And he served his apprenticeship in the state courts of New York as a court stenographer. Let me tell you, very little got by Henry Kannee. I don’t think that there was a business meeting whether he was prepared or not, that wasn’t literal. We got a complete transcript of everything that happened. Every business meeting or every lunch that I ate with Kannee was on the back of envelopes, on table cloths, napkins. The whole Pittman. As I said, Henry was a friend of Bernie Bellmore’s. Bernie recommended that we talk. We talked. We needed a bit of influence and some more money. Henry Kannee joined Entron. Bellmore then became Entron Inc. Henry Kannee became the treasury secretary for Entron.
SMITH Can you identify the date from your memory?
DIAMBRA Not the exact date, but I will get it for you, because I think it’s essential. I will rummage through my records because I think that was a key turning point in the industry that virtually no one really knows anything about. It has to be close to the end of ’53, ’54 sometime. The Korean War was the advent of that situation. I will research that. That’s a very good point for when it happened. Anyway, we formed Entron. Henry Kannee joined us as secretary/treasurer and counsel, brought in some money. Bernie was part of it. George and I ran it. It became obvious that there was a business out there other than master antenna. By the way, there’s a sidebar to this. Bernie Bellmore as I said was an active, practicing, electrical contractor. he was servicing a hell of a lot of business in those days. There was a tremendous growth of apartment buildings, one of which was the Quebec House on Connecticut and Porter Streets. There you are, multi story and multi building. We got the idea that maybe we should be charging not for the system, but for the service. So Henry Kannee started to promote. He had a lot of contacts in town, and got together with (?) and others. We ended up as being essentially a cable television organization without ever being called that. He was to charge by the apartment, the Bank House, the Dorchester House, the place Frieda Hennock lived once she decided to reserve a slot for public television.
SMITH For the record, will you say who Frieda Hennock was?
DIAMBRA Commissioner of the FCC back in the very late ’40s, ’48,’49. Wasn’t she?
DIAMBRA Literally, was one of the leading lights in saving spectrum space for public television, at the low end of the spectrum, also, for FM Radio for that purpose.
SMITH She was the principal proponent of it.
DIAMBRA Anyway, I never did meet her, but we serviced her building and she was one of our customers. Literally. I don’t know when she moved out of that place. We must have had about 70 apartment buildings and we were collecting money from the tenants, not the owners for providing a service.
DUDLEY You also charged a construction fee for putting in the system, right?
DIAMBRA Those were. Later on, we decided to do it on a spec basis. We went in to the Dorchester for instance, with the contractual rights to charge tenants for a decade, which we did. And then the building owners would end up with the system for a buck or whatever the negotiated price in those days was. We were essentially doing several things, we were wiring and designing systems, physically, installing systems on a spec basis collecting rent for them and servicing other systems that weren’t working too well. We were doing very nice business. As I said, George recognized that there was another world out there and we should be doing something about cable television in cities. Well we turned our eyes toward designing equipment. We then ran into a guy. George ran into him somewhere. I can’t recall where he was. The guy’s name was McGeehan, Robert J.
SMITH I remember Bobby. He died just recently didn’t he?
DIAMBRA I don’t know.
SMITH He died in the last year. Vince Pepper told me.
DIAMBRA He and Vince were very good friends. Is that right? I didn’t realize that. I better call his wife. I have no idea.
DUDLEY How would you spell McGeehan?
DIAMBRA Mc G E E H A N. Robert J. McGeehan. McGeehan was an ex stove salesman in Pottsville, Pennsylvania. He was running into the fact that stoves weren’t as good a business as selling other things. One of the other things was possibly cable equipment or cable services or doing something in this new field. Remember Marty was just poking around building Pottsville?
SMITH Marty is Marty Malarkey?
DIAMBRA And Marty Malarkey and Bob McGeehan were drinking buddies. Marty was part owner of a music store in Pottsville. The fog will lift on the exact relationship where we heard off this. Bob McGeehan had gotten wind of the fact that we were making equipment. We had not advertised anywhere. We were just debugging the stuff in our own little backyard. He had somehow gotten wind from somewhere that we were making equipment and that some of the equipment was not too bad. (Flashback Quantico) We bought a reel of RG11 which was the granddaddy progenitor of the fast T. Anyway we bought the RG11. There’s a thousand feet of cable on one reel. We unwound it. Before we decided to install it and cut it up, we decided we had better test it. We put in signals. I remember this distinctly. We put in all the signals at one end and everything came out the other end except channel 7. No matter how we jiggled and juggled everything, we could not get channel 7 to come out the other end. The cable was made by Anfenol in Chicago. So I picked up the phone, I have never been too bashful about that, and I got a guy by the name of Rudy Soria. Dr. Soria happened to be design chief for Anfenol. He was chief engineer.
SMITH S O R I A?
DIAMBRA S O R I A. Rudolph M. Soria. He and I talked on the phone and I could here the disbelief in his voice, wondering what kind of nut he had on the other end of the line when I told him that the signals went into the cable and nothing came out the other end. I could hear this disbelief almost become physical. I said, “With whom am I talking?” He said, ” The name is Rudy Soria.” I said, “Well I really mean this, sir, and I would be glad, since this is rather important to us, that you exchange this cable with other cable which you tell me works very well.” He said, “Well with whom am I speaking?” I told him my name and what we were doing. He said, “You do something for me Mr. Diambra, we’ll pick up all the charges. I want that reel of cable here in Chicago.” I said, “I’ll do something that I hadn’t thought about doing, but I’m going to take it to Chicago for you. And I want to meet with you. And I want to see you make channel 7 come out of this cable.” I took a plane to Chicago and took that reel of cable as baggage and got it off and took it down to Anfenol. He couldn’t make channel 7 come out of it either. Soria and I got to be old buddies. And we discovered many things about cable construction. That was the beginning of cable testing. What had happened, and we learned the hard way, intervening are many, many test run by everybody…. I got to know Charlie Camillo very well. Charlie ended up as president of Anfenol. Charlie retired as Anfenol’s president. Charlie was the design engineer assigned to me to figure out what the hell was going on in those days. Soria said, “Hank, this is Charlie Camillo. I have a dozen other things to do but Charlie will run the tests with you and we’ll get a report and I’ll hear from you what is going on.”
I stayed up there two days. He showed me how the cable was manufactured. If you’ve never seen coaxial cable manufactured, it’s an interesting process especially when they braid the outer shield. You have a whole array of spinning reels of very fine wire that make all of these (??????) in a continuous web of this stuff. Poking itself through that continuous process is an extruded core of polyethylene that’s been previously extruded wound on reels and put through the braiding machine. Then after that it’s jacketed. Well it became very obvious that something in the primary process was to blame. So Charlie went through a lot of calculations and he and I thought about it and it looked as if there were a continuous repetitive phenomenon. The first thing he did was to cut the reel in half and some channel 7 came through. When we spliced it back together (?) was measurable at the other end. We cut the halves in half, and more came through. Each of the halves. But when we connected all of them together, nothing came through. It was an interesting phenomenon. So it became obvious to both of us pretty rapidly that whatever the hell was happening was iterative. It was adding to itself because it you took a quarter of it, and a half of a quarter and you’ve got an eighth of it. The more you cut it up the better it acted. Apparently we were one of the very few people that ever tried to poke a signal through the whole thousand feet of it at one time. Most of what they were doing was chopping it into ten foot lengths and it worked like a charm. The differentials and the attenuation was so small between the various channels that you’d never detect the difference a manufacturing tolerance. When they were additive through a thousand feet BINGO. So we looked at it and he made measurements and went up to the caps of the extruding machine and determined that we had an eccentric lope in the capstans rotation that would put a dimensional variation in the coaxial cable at precisely the same interval all the time. Charlie and I discovered iterative eccentricities of coaxial cable manufacturing that day. He said, “I don’t know if we want to give you another reel of this stuff, Hank. It’s going to act just as bad as the one that just came off the same machine.” Sure in hell, the same place. That was relegated precisely to show channel 7. He went back into the manufacturing department and had them change the gearing on the capstan and sure in hell, the next thousand feet, channel 9 disappeared. This was more than casual. This was serious as hell.
Anyway he made us 2000 feet which took care of Quantico and we dumped the eccentricities into the FM band. Everything came through but the FM. We didn’t give a hell about the FM though. What’s FM?
SMITH You couldn’t sell it today.
DIAMBRA I could tell you more of that story because there huge stories on that. Well, we solved Quantico, it worked. We learned an enormous amount. I got more than friendly with Rudy Soria who realized that we were not nuts. Camillo realized that hey, there’s whole world here that’s got to change. They tightened up procedures on the capstan spinning, on the gearing, on the tolerances. This is now the ’54, ’55 region. We were getting involved in selling equipment to fledgling cable television operations as you know them today other than apartment buildings. We decided that there should be a market out there, millions of field wire. There should be a lot of connectors around. So George and I worked on the design and took out a patent on a connector that was totally solderless for RG11 that actually was a 75 ohm connector. It was put on with no soldering and no special tools.
DUDLEY Used an Allen wrench didn’t it?
DIAMBRA The first ones. What we did was essentially insert that under the shield and over the polyethylene. A conductor ran through the crib duct. George said, “What the hell are we going to call this?” I said, “I don’t know George. You’re better at that. Call it whatever the hell you want. Let’s make some.” So George said, “Well you put it on. Let’s call it the shove it.” I said, “George, I hate to tell you, but that’s not going to read very well when we advertise. Our connector’s known as the ‘shove it.'” He said, “Well how about the shovee?” I said, “If it makes you feel better, George, fine, but let’s kind of get off the shove it business. I’m supposed to write those ads in the specs, and it’s not going to read very well.” So after that it became officially called the shovee. It’s patents were sold to Canon connectors. It’s used worldwide now. Canon was a part of Phelps Dodge which is another story. So we invented that and God only knows how many thousands of those were sold everywhere. It was the only way that you could put them on, especially in the winter time unless you had hands of steel and a force to beat hell and a torch in your hand to soften the cable up. This stuff slid under the shield and crypt and it was 75 ohms. That was the big thing. But it was for RG11. We had to match both the plug and the sockets. We ended up selling a large number of them to people other than the cable business. We sold them as “O.E.M. parts” to people who built other gear. We had a business going to sell connectors which lead to George’s going in one direction and a bunch of others of us going in a different direction. Anyway, George liked the whole business of making electromechanical parts. he thought it was a great business and I said, “I encourage you George. Let’s make the stuff and we can use it.” He said, “Well we ought to sell it to other than the cable business.” I said, “Fine, but there’s just so much we can do a day. there’s just so much our bucks will allow us to do that if you would like to do that, why the hell don’t you pursue it. if you can find somebody to buy 10,000 of them, I’d love that or 100,000 or one million. We have enough problems making “fast Ts” and paying the bills on the “fast Ts” and the accuraplits and the connectors is a different world.
DUDLEY Are you still working out of the Carlon at this point?
DIAMBRA Still working out of the Carlon. Which brings up a very interesting point because we were starting to get into each other’s way. Running a manufacturing shop in the butt of an apartment building, a very, very deluxe apartment building. We need freight docks. An apartment building doesn’t provide freight dock so we’re crowding the hell out of their freight docks. Our trucks which were running all over town, suddenly are usurping a lot of very expensive garage space. That garage space became the (tourist?) That’s where the guy who tipped off about Watergate, met to spill the beans. In the garage of the Carlon. What was his name?
SMITH Deep Throat?
DIAMBRA Deep Throat. It was in the garage of the Carlon. (laughter) Deep Throat let Carl Bernstein know about it in the garage of the Carlon and not very far where I remember our trucks used to park against that wall, right against the elevator shaft. It became very obvious that coaxial cable, more specifically solid dialectic, woven, braided cables, had inherent deficiencies and no one has ever solved the problem of making it without that discontinuity. The only question then, was where the hell do you put it? Soria wrote quite an article on that and all the cable people picked it up. They had to adjust their extruding equipment and their braying equipment so that these iterative discontinuities would occur at a point where they wouldn’t hurt the cable business. Everybody agreed that right now, the place to dump was in the FM band. That occurred and lasted for a decade or more. It must have been millions of feet of cable. you couldn’t push any FM signals through. the theory was pretty good. You didn’t need as much power to drive an FM receiver. So whatever did come through was reasonably satisfactory, but it was hardly flat it had a hole in it that you could drive a truck through. For television, low band/hi band, not bad. It then had a great effect later on all of the discussions about UHF propagation on cable because the harmonic of that would be right above the high band where you didn’t want on all of the special channels. I’m really hopping, because I then served as chairman of the Spectrum Allocation Committee. Do you remember that task force for the Commission? I headed cable and boy, did we have computer runs on that as to where you were going to bury this (?) Anyway so it became obvious that we couldn’t use the braided coaxial cables. I started looking around. Well, that leads to another story. I was down, on the day this occurred, in Sulfur Springs, Texas, very early in the game. They had a system that was a hodgepodge of everything you could find. Milt of course was then very active selling as far and wide as he could. We were tagging along as equipment manufacturers not necessarily competitive in designing whole systems. We didn’t have a whole headend gear and all that sort of stuff. So I was in Sulfur Springs trying to sell some equipment down there. I had also invented the first self equalizing broadband amplifier for the low band, not on a channel basis. These two or three stories are totally interrelated. I was down trying to sell some of these to Sulfur Spring, Texas on the theory that you could put channels 2, 4, and 6 through with ease and they were not tuned so they were easier to install, that much more reliable. I got a call from one of our directors and he suggested that I should be in Toronto, Canada the next morning. I was more than startled by all this, and I said, “What the hell for? I’m down here trying to sell equipment and we need the bucks pretty badly, George. Why do you want me up in Toronto?” The guy’s name was George Bookbinder. He said, “Well I think I got some business that we ought to do.” I said, “Well there’s a hell of a lot in the United States, why’d you pick Canada?” He said, “Can you get up here tomorrow?” I said, “Is it critical?” He said yes. So I dropped what I was doing and left the fellow who would later become a very close friend of mine. Do you know Bob Rogers, Texas Cable Antenna?
SMITH Yes I do.
DIAMBRA Ask Bob who made his first million for him because I forced him to build an Entron system. Literally. he was a distributor of mine. Anyway, I let Bob know that I had to leave, and that I was not doing it because I was being abrupt or rude, but because I had some corporate business that couldn’t stop and I really didn’t know what the hell it was. I flew half the night, missed the plane connection in Chicago, got up, went downtown, slept two hours, went back to the field, took a six o’clock flight and ended up at the Royal York at ten o’clock in the morning. What day it was, I can’t remember. I’m standing there all by my lonesome. The guy I’m supposed to meet, I have never known, and my director who was supposed to be there, can’t make a connection out of New York. So I’m standing around kind of switching my fingers. This very distinguished gentleman comes up and wants to known if my name is Hank Diambra. “And who might you be?” He said “My name is Lolle Schmidt.”
SMITH Is who?
DIAMBRA Lolle. L O L L E. Schmidt. S C H M I D T. I said, “Oh, I’m pleased to meet you. How did you know my name?” He said, “Mr. Bookbinder suggested that I talk with you and we’re to meet this morning.” I said, “Where is George Bookbinder?” He said, “Well, he’s called me and said he’s going to be delayed but we should have coffee or breakfast. Have you had breakfast?” This distinguished gentleman had a few little things in his lapel slot up here, a ribbon or two. We get to talking and about two hours later Bookbinder shows up. He said, “Ah, I see you guys have met. Let’s go.” I said, “Where are we going George?” He said, “Well I’ve got a car, we’ll drive.” “But where the hell are we going George?” He said, “North of here.” I figure that he’s got me going from Texas to Toronto and I don’t know why and he won’t tell me, so I just hopped in the car and let him drive. He said, “No, you drive so you get acquainted with the road.”
SMITH Now, are you the three of you?
DIAMBRA Yes, Schmidt, Bookbinder, and I are in the Royal York Hotel in Toronto with a rented car, heading north. We just keep driving right up to the end of the damned road into Midland, Ontario. He said, “Don’t you think, Hank, that this would make a hell of a cable town?” I said George, “I’m up here with no research, and you ask me a stupid question like that.” He said, “Well I figured you’d know.” I said, “Know what? I’m in a foreign country, I’ve never been to Midland, Ontario and I have to tell you whether it’s a good cable town. For whom?” He said, “For us.” I’m flabbergasted. I said, “George, I may have made us thirty or forty grand down in Sulfur Spring, Texas if I had stayed. What are we going to do up here?” He said, “Well, this is far enough from Toronto that they should have cable television.” I said, “Well George why don’t we just sit down and have dinner and you explain a lot of things to me, like who the hell is Mr. Schmidt and why the hell am I here? What do you know about this deal? And why all of a sudden do we have this fantastic interest in Canada? There’s a lot in the United States and beside which we don’t make everything to make a system.” It was a very long involved story which I won’t bore you with. Lolle Schmidt happened to have been the managing director general of Fiat in Europe, and then Opal for GM and then finally for Phillips in Bucharest during the war. This is the O.B.E. and he’s got a few other things in his lapel that he hasn’t stuck in there yet. He’s a great gentleman, incredible stories. Bookbinder happened to be a CIA agent.
SMITH At the time?
DIAMBRA No, during the war. Before there was a CIA, he was OSS. And Lolle had hit George underneath his desk in Bucharest when George was there to blow up the Phillips works. George was a director of mine, lots of guys. My whole board was OSS. So Lolle had come to this country to renew his American contacts after the war and he was looking for things to do. He was a great entrepreneur although he was in his 70s. He was instrumental, I found out from the people he introduced us to in Midland Ontario, that he was going to rep a company which is known internationally a little bit of American procurement. They wanted a K18 aerial camera made. As I remember it, the K18 was the camera that was going to be procured by Uncle Sam as an aerial reconnaissance camera. It was big thing.
SMITH K 1 8
DIAMBRA Yes, as I remember it. Certainly I will research that for you. Anyway, that’s what sticks in my mind because that didn’t impress me too much at the moment. I said, “What’s that got to do with Midland, and me.” He said, “Well you know the company that’s going to make that is right here.” I said, “In Midland? For an American.” He said, “Well, this happens to be the Leica camera company.” He said, “You’ve heard of Leica.” “Yes, I’ve heard of Leica, but Leica’s in Germany.” He said, “Leica’s right here.” I said, “Oh? Is this another story?” This goes on until about four o’clock in the morning. Essentially, Schmidt was one of the guys that helped steal lights for the western (?) eastern Germany. They took the whole factory, brick by brick, the employees, the tools and everything out to Canada. Schmidt masterminded that.
I ended up meeting Ernst Likes the next day at lunch. I got a hell of a tour of the Leica facilities in Midland, Ontario which were unbelievable. The optic shop was one of the best in the world. They are trying to bid this government contract which they are perfectly capable of making. So in Schmidt’s visits back and forth to Midland Ontario, someone discovered there’s no television. How can this be? How the hell can you have people that are disgruntled, and no television? He also thought I’d meet Bill Pinchen who happens to own Pillsbury of Canada, who also lives in Midland. And Bill Cranston whose father gave Ernest Hemingway a shot at writing for the Toronto Daily Star. I’m getting to meet a few people who are very fascinating and I’m forgetting about cable television. George brings us back and says, “Shouldn’t we get together with this group of fine people and build a system in Midland?” I said, “Yeah George. There’s only one small problem, where the hell are we going to get the signals. He said, “What?” I said, “The signals, George, television signals. It what we’re going to distribute, right? We can’t make them.” I said, “Do you have any idea where the hell we are and the Canadian broadcast situation? And Buffalo is one hell of a long way from here.” “Is this a problem?” I said, “Well yes, this is a problem, George. And it’s going to need some work, and I can’t make decisions and I most assuredly will not represent anything to these people while I’m here on what I thought was just a lark that suddenly turned deadly serious. I know nothing about hanging cable in Canada on poles. Whose? Where? What the laws are. I have no idea of anything. He said, “Well, we ought to find out.” I said, “That’s good George. When are you going to start finding out?” He said, “No, you are going to find out.” I said, “Well, maybe so.” The fellow who was going to spearhead the efforts, his name was Cranston. Bill Cranston. His father was managing editor for the Toronto Daily Star. Bill owned two newspapers in Midland among many other things. He was also the equivalent of the Canadian version of an American (Opeasar?) during the war. That proved very interesting and valuable later. Anyway, I had a long meeting with Bill Cranston. He was great big 6’5″ or 6’6″ guy who was just large, incredibly personable. He was a real human being, very warm, very intelligent, and very bright and very busy. I mean he’s got more things going than Carter’s got little pills. He manages to give us an hour. He said, “I’d certainly be part of it. I think it’s a very necessary thing.” He’s head of the hospital drive in Midland. He’s got all kinds of things going that he is a part of. When you’re in the newspaper business, you tend to do that. But he is very busy. He said, “Do you know what you need?” I said, “Sir, I have not the slightest thing. I need some history of Midland. I want to know how many people you’ve got here. What it looks like. What do you do for television now?” He said, “Nothing.” “Nothing?” “Nothing. This is dead Sahara of signals.” I said, “Even Canadian?” He said, “Toronto is 97 miles, that way.” I said, “Yes sir. I drove up here yesterday.” He said, “Well what are you going to do?” I said, “The first thing I’m going to do is to collect from you anything about Midland, Canada, anything I should know. Tell me about the telephone company. Tell me about a lot of things. Or steer me in the direction. He said, “I’ll have it all for you. I’ll put somebody on it today, and tomorrow you’ll get a boxful of stuff.” Three days later we left. We made lots of contacts, wonderful people. I headed back to Sulfur Springs to close that deal. I was going to by God sell him something. I’d almost forgotten about why the hell I was in Canada. It was too much, really too much. On the airplane, I’m reading. I’m scanning all this stuff and it gets intriguing to say the least. Suddenly I realize that there’s a hell of a world here. I’d better start finding out about it. So I call Cranston, ten days to two weeks later and tell him that we are indeed interested, and that we think we can do something, but we’ll need a lot more information, which I’m busy collecting. About a month later, I revisit him, this time at a different pace, by myself. I drive up and I’m his house guest for two days and we talk about things. He is quite willing to spearhead a drive and put a system together in Midland Ontario. I said, “Bill, there’s only one crux. The real key to this is whether we can get reliable signals or not. If we can’t get reliable signals, all the rest of it is a sheer, total waste of time.”
He said, “How do we go about that?” I said, “We have a survey vehicle that we use in Washington which we’ve used for many years. It’s got a mobile tower where we can erect a 70 foot tower. It’s truck mounted and we’ve got alternators and everything on it. Everything we need for running field surveys is in that vehicle. One of the things that I would like to do is dispatch that vehicle to engineers up here who will take a damned good look and tell me if there’s any value in pursuing this. He said, “I think that’s a hell of a good idea.” So that’s exactly what we did.
Of course I haven’t paid the slightest attention, since this was all English speaking and close to home, that this is Canada. I dispatch a nice quiet Georgian by the name of Sam Rules and two assistants to Midland, Ontario driving this truck. They go zipping up without benefit of any paperwork to Buffalo and Niagara Falls and they enter Canada. They get hauled off to the side of the road. They said, “Where are you going? Where are your customs papers? You just can’t take this stuff into the country. You’re going to try to come back out aren’t you? You can’t get in here without declarations.” This is a Saturday afternoon and I get called at home. “Hank, you forgot something.” “What did we forget?” “The paperwork.” “What paperwork?” Suddenly there’s a whole new world. Oh yeah, the declarations and the value of the equipment and Canadian customs rules and all that sort of stuff. Sam said, “What do you want me to do?” I said, “You ask the customs agent at the port of entry, if you can turn that thing around and just leave where you are and go in and get yourself and the rest of the guys a motel room, and stay there. I am going to make a call or two.” He said, “Well that’s pretty good idea, we’ve been driving for a long time.” I called up Bill Cranston. I said, “Cranston, we’re going to do a survey for you.” He said, “Good! Where’s the stuff?” “On the way, but we’ve got a slight problem at Niagara Falls.” “Oh? What’s the problem?” I said, “Entry. Customs. We forgot the paperwork.” He said, “Oh shit. I’ll call you right back. Where can I reach you?” I said, “Well you can reach me in Silver Springs. Please tell me what you want to do. I’ve got this crew sitting in a motel just outside of the entry.”
He called back about an hour later and he said, “It’s all taken care of. Tell them to go back and from that gate call me in Midland. I will transfer them to the customs inspector general and we will declare Midland the port of entry and you guys (?) the bond to Midland.” I said, “Just like that?” He said, “just like that only this weekend.” By God, it worked. Sunday afternoon they were in Midland and they get the customs to open up an office on Sunday. This guy does it by himself, the guy who’s in charge of the customs office in Midland. And they have made it a bonded shipment from port of entry into Midland and it’s received there under bond. Cranston posted the bond. We get in and the guy’s filling out our forms for us, believe it or not, in French and in English. I learn this much later. Where the hell does the French come from? Well there’s a lot of history here. That’s the beginning of a very long, involved, pleasant history with the Canadians. Because I’m the guy that had the right to build standard practices for the Bell of Canada. I’m building systems that came out of that little séance.
Anyway, we run the survey, just outside of town, and we discover that there are signals but they are not the kind of reliability that produces top grade revenue. Then Cranston, I keep reporting this to him and my people are telling him this every night since he wouldn’t let them alone. He’s up there four times a day wondering how we’re doing. The message is, “Well we got signals, Hank, but should I tell these people anything.” I said, “It would be far better if we write a written report so that you don’t put yourselves in a position where you’re getting everybody confused. There’s a lot of money hanging on this, and business reputations and stuff.” He said, “But what do I do with Cranston? he’s up here four times a day wanting to see what in the hell we’re doing in the truck.” I said, “Well show him. And whatever conclusions he reaches, don’t let them be yours.” Well Cranston’s calling me back and forth and we finally come to a conclusion. I revisit them about three weeks later and tell him that the pictures are there but it’s going to take some very fancy footwork.
In the mean time I’ve been reading a few things and he said, “Yes, and so have I, maybe we ought to talk at length.” The Canadians are not very interested in American broadcast signals in Canada, not at all interested in seeing this thing expand. They weren’t at all encouraging. In fact to the extent that they were, or this was deemed to be a technical coincidence, we discovered much latter that it wasn’t they were trying to discourage the transmission of signals across the border in more than a casual way. Buffalo was channels 2, 4, and 5. Toronto had a channel 3 allocated but not built. We ended up, abridging a long involved story; we did put the system together for Canadians. We became small stockholders and constructing agents and engineers and we were stockholders in Midland for long time. One of the several problems that we had to solve was A) the Canadian governments reticence to allow signals across the border. B) The fact that we couldn’t hang cable on anybody’s poles, the Bells were going to do that. The Bell of Canada made it very clear that nobody got attachment rights, period. They were going to hang the cable.
Cranston and I appeared at Western Area Ontario Stan Murchison was the guy’s name. Stan was general manager, western area for the Bell. We told him what we wanted to do and he just took one horrified look and said, “Hold on. You guys are going to talk to (?)
End Tape 2, Side A
DIAMBRA You have no authority to do that down here. I’ll tell you however, I can give you a word of advice. It will be a very tough row to hoe. I don’t know what it is two, three, four weeks later whatever it was. Convenient to both Bill and Cranston and I, we went up to Beaver Hall Hill. The intent is of course to impress the Bell with: A) The fact that we understand the problem. B) That we sympathize and empathize with them. They were telling us that the poles are much too short to accommodate and that they don’t intend to change poles, etc. We decided that they were busy, very busy at this moment, trying to build a transatlantic cable which they were laying out of Bell of Canada.
So I’m asked to attend a meeting with a guy who is headquarters chief of cable development, who was Gordon Buck. He had a raid in this huge office of his, about thirty people who represent an engineering staff, plant construction, standards, and everything else you can think of, to listen to the pitch. I made a pitch about the fact that they should be thoroughly involved in cable as a coming transmission medium, etc. Couldn’t we somehow work out either attachment rights, or we would help the Bell build a facility which they could then lease to the operating system in Midland. He said, “Well, I think we’d enjoy talking about the latter, but we must tell you Mr. Diambra, we don’t have any of that equipment and facilities here to do it with. It is not part of the Bell system.” I said, “I understand that, but we’re willing to help you, either acquire the facilities or whatever it is, we’d be glad to work with you.” He delegated three or four people, one of whom was fascinating to me. He was one of the chess grandmasters of Canada. Bright is hardly the proper appellation. This guy shown in the dark. He was a Frenchman. I had heard all about liquid lunches from Gaston Gaudet. I may have pronounced it wrong. G A U D E T. It was Gaston Gaudet. He lived in the eastern part of Montreal and he spoke French of course, fluently, very competent, fluent English. He was also a very bright guy. He was essentially so senior, that he was left to theorize for Bell, solve its problems. Gaston used to leave Beaver Hall Hill at about 12:30 or 1:00 every day and never show up again.
They introduced to me the reason for that when I said to Gaston, “It’s time we had lunch. He said, “That’s a very good idea. Let’s walk down to the Queen E which was above the CNR news station in Montreal. At the very top was the airline lounge. Gaston introduced me to Gaston Gaudet Gimlets, his way. And after three of those, you didn’t need a late lunch, you didn’t need a philosophy, you just went home. He was impressed by what things I had to tell him apparently. He said, “You make a lot of sense and I think it’s right for this company. We should get involved. There are a lot of problems Mr. Diambra. We don’t want anybody to attach to our system. We’re very proud. We’re not quite like the United States; we’re a little bit behind them. He said, “Although we get a lot of stuff from the (Velez), and we contribute to the (Velez) certain things in our country prohibit our being as advanced as some of the States systems are. Mostly our pull plant has a great number of deficiencies now. At the same time I’m doing all of this, good old Fitz Kennedy is trying to sell Sherbrook to Quebec up where the paper’s made, a town you can smell a hundred miles before you get there.
SMITH For the record, Fitz Kennedy is Spencer Kennedy Laboratories.
DIAMBRA Right. Fitzroy E. Kennedy of the Spencer Kennedy Laboratories. The reason for it is that the Bell has decided that it wants to do something. I don’t know that this is going on of course because they won’t tell me. There’s many things they don’t tell me. They are going to be building a system in Sherbrook promoted locals, several lawyers, business people, etc. They conclude that they don’t want to use Spencer Kennedy equipment. That’s O.K. by me. I don’t know about this until much later. I’m promoting the construction of an entire system not just the selling of amplifiers. We have concluded that the only way to do this right is to not use the cables that had been here before he was in the business.
I was going back to the Thesauri days, that’s where the genesis of this was. And that we better find an entirely different kind of trunk cable; give us the least requirement for electronics between the antenna sight and town. This takes several wheels to explain, they’re all intertwined. While we’re doing this in Canada the business is still going on. There are other things that Entron is doing in the States, and it becomes clear that we think we have something to talk about in this amplified, equalizable, broadband amplifier called Equaline.
Bob McGeehan our guy whom we have now since acquired from Pottsville is our sales vice president. Bob is not anxious to talk about Canada or Texas; he’s got lots of Pennsylvania close to home to worry about. One of the things that isn’t working too well, and the system’s ready to go broke, is South Williamsport, Pennsylvania. Milt’s across the river in Williamsport. Milt too wasn’t exactly flush with money in those days.
SMITH Milt Shapp?
DIAMBRA Right. Milt Shapp of Jerrold Electronics. Milt had just convinced the Whitneys to put money into the field, specifically Milt’s organization called Jerrold. To do so, he had to convince the Whitneys and in writing, that by God, three channels of networks is all that any system could ever use, after all, who needs more than three channels and three networks is all that we got, so the system, with channels 2, 4, and 6 in Williamsport, should last forever. He would be glad to replace the equipment should any discovery come along that obsoleted that.
SMITH This is Milt speaking?
DIAMBRA That’s Milt and (?) to (?). He had never heard of us crawling out of the woodwork. Right south of town. Then enters the picture, fellow who has long since been a very, very close friend, Leonard Ecker. Leonard was a Georgia Tech graduate working for the cable company in South Williamsport. The equipment isn’t getting anywhere fast. They couldn’t even get off the mountain to get into town. This is at Eagle’s Mare. So Bob McGeehan says, Hank, “I think you ought to visit them. I think we have an opportunity to sell them something. I think we can get into town. At least hold a showing so we can intrigue people with the idea that they could get television to South Williamsport before Milt jumps the river, expands his Williamsport system, and runs these guys out of business. So I visit Leonard and tell him what we’re doing, and we have some of the very first Equaline equipment built by this time, and being debugged. We think they’ll work, but we’ve never put them into the field and we’ve certainly never strung more than three or four of these things together. So I visit with Leonard and he is very intrigued about what we’re talking about. He said, “This mountain is a very tough mountain hike. It’s a hell of a place to string cable. Standing around and they’re a couple of pole lines but they’re all electric high tension lines and you don’t lean against those poles on a good wet day.” So I said, “What are we going to do about it?” He said, “The problem is that we’re going to have to put amplifiers in and if we put in requirements for a lot of amplifiers, we’re going to have to make connections to these damned poles, and they are impossible to maintain. It would be a hell of a costly operation. For us to put in our own pole plant, forget it.” So I said, “We need a cable other than RG11.” Flash back to the west coast. flash back to Palm Springs.
SMITH Palm Desert?
DIAMBRA Palm Desert. Well they have the same problems, different, but the same. They elect to buy some military surplus stuff called K14 which is about that big around (Diambra gestures). But it’s still solid dialectic, woven braided cable, except that it’s of such size literally that its losses are lower. They have an incredibly interesting problem, as I discover later. The system’s always out of sync with the real world, like 180 degrees. Anyway, Len said, “How about T14?” I said, “Do you know what that stuff weighs.” Do you know what kind of equipment it’s going to take to manhandle that down the side of a mountain? How much it’s going to take to lash that stuff up there. Do you have any idea of what the connectors are, look like, and cost?” He said, “Well it was just passing thought. What do you have in mind?” I said, “Well we need something better then. Look around, check the catalogs, check the specs, check the publications, and find if there’s an outfit… In fact, I talked to an old broadcast engineering friend of mine who said, “Why the hell don’t you use Styroflex?” I said, “What the hell is that?” He said, “We got it for our tower. It’s what we’re using to transmit the signals up the tower to send it through the antenna.” I said “Good, how big is it.” He said, “Well it’s 3 1/8 inches.” I said, “What? I said 3 1/8 inches, that’s like running a sewer pipe around it. On poles?” He said, “Well how much do you have?” I said, “We have miles.” He said, “It was just an idea. But I think they make it in other sizes.” I said, “I sure as hell hope so. Three and an eighth is just totally impractical.” He said, “Yeah, I think we have to run it in 300′ lengths and it’s shipped to us in a 12′ reel on a huge flatbed. You need special equipment to lay it out.” I said, “Really?” he said, “Yeah, it’s a monstrous thing.” I said, “Who makes this?” He said, “An outfit in Germany called Felden and Guillaume makes this stuff. I think if you to talk to Phelps Dodge, I think they’re the U.S. reps for F&G.” So I called Phelps Dodge in New York. “Did you guys ever hear of styroflex?” “Hell yes. Do you want to buy some?” I said, “Well, I’m inquiring. Do you have anything other than 3 1/8 inches?” He said, “Well what kind of broadcast transmitter do you have?” I said, “Well this is not for broadcast.” “It isn’t. What the hell is it for?” “Did you ever hear of cable television?” “No.” “Can we get together?” “Oh, yeah, send a man right now.” Frederick W. Lemle, an ex Navy Commander, running that division of Phelps Dodge, shows up.
DIAMBRA Lemle. L E M L E. Frederick W. Lemle. There’s a guy who will show you all about liquid lunches, all day, everyday. Anyway, he was selling this new product that Phelps Dodge was going to market, wherever their U.S. reps were. He showed me everything that was in the catalog, some of which had to be translated from German and they had it down to 3/4″ in diameter. I said, “You are getting very, very interesting now. This is now our cup of tea. Can you tell us about: What does it cost, is it available, where is it available? Do you guys make it for them? He said, “No, no, no, we just sell it for them.” We haven’t the slightest idea of how to make it. The cable’s name is still the same. It’s styroflex. It’s made by a company in Europe, Standard Cable sells it and we handle it here in the country.” I said, “How do you tie it together?” He said, “Well there’s special connectors for this.” I said, “Frank, can you tell us more?” “How much do you need?” I said, “Well, we’re talking about ten miles.” He said, “Ten miles? This stuff comes in 600′ lengths.” I said, “Ten miles, Fred, that’s what I’m talking about.” This guy took one last liquid lunch and shot back to New York like he was on a pre jet. He said, “I could hear the rumblings from all over Phelps Dodge, ‘You guys are talking in miles not feet.” He called me back I think two or three weeks later and said, “I have information for you. They only have 2200′ of it in Germany. We don’t have any here. We can get it in thousand foot lengths and they’ll make it for us. It will be shipped on very large seven foot reels. They want the reels back. They’re charging you $300 deposit for the reel and the connectors are $30 apiece. But here are the characteristics, Hank. They guarantee this flat without holes in it.” I said, “Are you serious?” “This is good for 900 megahertz, Hank.” I said, “Are you serious? I’m only interested in just this little chunk at the bottom. Can you slice off any bugs?” He said, “Man, we don’t know anything about what you’re talkin’ about but this is good cable.” I said, “It must be. If there isn’t a misprint and they’re talking about 900 megahertz and beyond and they’ve pulse tested to the (?) region, this is fantastic stuff.” He said, “Well the connectors are a little touchy to put on.” I said, “That doesn’t deter me. We can put on lots of things. We invent connectors. When can we get some of this stuff to try? And what are you going to charge us for it?” He said, “Are you really serious or are you just pulling my leg about the ten miles?” I said, “Man, I’m as deadly serious as I can get. We need about ten miles. It’s got to come from the antenna site down the mountain the whole way, down along the river to South Williamsport. They’re going to have a showing at the bottom of that mountain, and if it’s good, two more miles into town and the rest of it’s history.” We had all kinds of business to do. The price came back at about $1.25 a foot, to the best of my recollection. A buck and a quarter foot, in ten mile quantities and we would take the entire plant output for a year. We would be the only customers for 3/4″ styroflex in the world.
I said, “There’s a problem here. When we get the next job, how long are we going to wait for the next job? Aren’t you guys going to think about machinery?” He said. “The machinery for making this stuff is unbelievable. Only the Germans would do it that way. Frankly we’re getting all the antenna business from these new broadcast transmitters because this is the only stuff that really works, all the way up to 6 1/8″ and the 6 1/8″ is not even on a reel. I think they’re 105′ long and they have flanges on them and they should be as big pieces of pipe. That’s the way the cables for broadcast are. They haven’t sold more than 200′ of 3/4″ and they chopped that up into 10′ pieces.” Oh, here we go again. “Really? Can you get us, how much?” He said, “I have everything they’ve got coming to us.” “We just want an order for whatever we’ve got and we’ll talk about the ten miles later, and the price will still hold because we’re very anxious to see if it works.” I think we got half a mile. All of it came on these pieces which were less than 1000′ long and they were kind of added together on this big 7′ reel, monstrous reel. It was 3′ across, 7′ high, flat bed trailer. We just looked at this. We didn’t give any thought to the cable, just the mechanical difficulty of taking that up the side of a mountain. What the hell are we going to do with this thing? “Let’s worry about the electrical things, and I’ll find somebody to rig that cable. We can get the flat bed up. We have a winding road that will take it up to Eagles Mere. We’ll have start from the top and lash it coming down. We’ll never go back the other way. It’ll have to come down the mountain. We’re going to have to lash it to the power poles where we’ve already got cable, but we’ve got strand up anyway so that wouldn’t be too much of a problem. We’ll just overlash the stuff. The hell with the old cable. It doesn’t work anyway.” We poked around. We got as high as the president of Phelps Dodge and we were really talking about things they had never heard of, and they could hear bells ringing. “There’s a whole new industry out here that we may get involved in. If it works, hey we’ve got it. We’ve got the most unique cable in the world.” I said, “Well the losses are incredible. We should be able to go about a mile before we need amplification on channel 13, which is a hell of a change from what we’ve been doing so far.” He said,” Yeah, but we’ve got to tell you, Hank, don’t hold your breath, because these guys are not anxious in Germany to go zipping around making stuff that they can’t sell or that you won’t pay for or that you won’t use. Let’s just make the test.” We made the test, and it was like a whole new day. Since there was no cable there everything came out exactly as the currents predicted. You could measure it down to the gnat’s eyebrow. This was remember, 90% air. It was 96% air precisely. The insulation, the dialectic is a series of tapes. You take a roll of tape, poke your finger in the middle and pull it out and you’ll get a big spiral. What they did was to take essentially a big roll of tape, a foot and a half or two wide and slit it so that they ended up with the tape, and displace the tape in a helix around the core. The tape was polystyrene and it was cross oriented polystyrene, and it was rigid material. It had the core in precise alignment, but over 96% of the cable itself was air, which made for very low losses. There was a big center conductor which was solid copper. It worked like such charm, Lemle was so enthusiastic. It got the stockholders of the cable company happy, that was damned near defunct. They allowed us to order enough to get down. Everybody got convinced. Phelps Dodge worked like hell, pressing the Germans. We ended up with on run of styroflex at the end of a year, into South Williamsport, in pictures they had never seen before. Leonard and I were the first to do something else for which the industry is noted. The first adjacent operation in the history of cable occurred right there.
DUDLEY What year would that have been?
DIAMBRA That would have occurred about the same time as Midland because Midland was a favored nation to the Germans and we got it into the Bell of Canada faster than we got it into the U.S. from Phelps Dodge. Bell of Canada broke important ground for us and lashed it to their poles for us and Midland, which is how the two tie together at the same time. That would have to be late ’54, perhaps early ’55. There’s one picture that I’m going to bring you.
So all the guys, including the Bell of Canada contingent at the NCTA Cable Convention in New York that year, which we had one of those panoramic shots. There’s a whole table of everybody over here that’s all Bell of Canada that I induced to come down to that show.
DIAMBRA ’54. The videos will mark the date just before that. Anyway, the Bell of Canada followed along. They laid that cable up. We supplied it to them. And they lashed out. We did the interconnections. We were allowed to handle our own gear and amplifiers, just so long as we did it under their supervision. I think that system in Midland was the first Canadian system that the Bell had installed and provided on lease back. Without the benefit of a contract, it ran for five years that way.
Cranston and I were fighting the Bell Ontarions for five long years, but they allowed us to operate. So all the money was coming from subscribers. They were nice and all that good stuff. That was the styroflex days. Those were the days that essentially changed the whole picture. Milt tore me a new one. I remember that excruciatingly well. He had me in the corner at some trade show and he said, “Hank, you’re supposed to be selling equipment. You sell more of that goddamned cable and no one’s going to sell any equipment.” I said, “Milt, that’s the only way this equipment is going to work. I’m selling systems, I don’t know what you’re selling, but these are systems and the cable’s an inherent part of the system and you may want to sell equipment but I am going to sell cable equipment connectors and the systems.” He was not very happy to hear that. From there on out it was 180 degrees.
SMITH May I interrupt you a minute and take you back to something that you diverted yourself from? I think you were going to say something more. You said this was the first adjacent channel operation in the country.
DIAMBRA That’s a story that I will never forget in excruciating detail. Leonard and I did it. Actually, it really wasn’t because Johnny Walsonavich, now Johnny Walson tried it in Mahanoy City. The problem was that he was trying it but it wasn’t working, and there were real reasons for it which we discovered the hard way.
Anyway, after the styroflex was installed, we simultaneously had been working on other designs. We now had an antenna site, a rack of antenna site equipment powering some of our own design premises. We were going to go along classical routes of non adjacent channel operation. This is what all the theory said, right? It shouldn’t work otherwise. Well, when the pictures non adjacent in Williamsport proved to work, not the first day. The first day it turned out that when we got to the bottom of the mountain and we turned on the television set. All we could see was a wonderfully black screen full of white polka dots of various sizes running loose around the thing out of synchronization. Every channel had the same polka dots. Everything was white and black polka dots. Leonard said to me, “And what the hell is that?” I said, “Len, I have no idea. Let’s back it up and see what the hell is that.” It’s taken for granted these days, the sweep equipment, right? We owned the sweep generator. It was made by the Kay Electric Company, Marlboro, New Jersey, and it was two radar transmitters beating against each other. That’s how you got sweeps.
DUDLEY Kay. K A Y?
DIAMBRA K A Y. The thing was about the size of that coffee table wide and a foot high and about a foot and a half deep. It took two husky guys to move it from the table to the floor. It wasn’t intended to leave the lab. It used two ten gigahertz klystrons to beat against each other through a wave garden mixture to come out with the beat frequency which was swept. One klystron would remain static. The other one would be modulated, saw tooth and you would end up with a beat frequency that swept the band. You’d just take these vernier micrometers and the wave guides and the calibration chart, and there’s where the frequencies were maybe. It depends on how badly you shot the gear before you did all that. There was no thought of ever taking that into the field. So we had swept our equipment in a cursory manner, after all, what could be wrong with it? I’ve heard that before. And shipped it to Williamsport, ergo the polka dots. We had eight or ten amplifiers in cascade, to get that far. Leonard said, well I think we ought to go back to the antenna site to see if anything’s sticking in there. We go up there and see some of the best pictures that we have seen in a long time. These are not the days of handy talkie radios either, so we drive back down to the bottom of the mountain and look at those goddamned polka dots again.
As Leonard, I don’t see the slightest sign. There’s no vestige here of television signals. They’re either out of sync, they’re random, they’re running around loose. What the hell are we looking at? He said, “There’s a lot of it. It could be in 60 cycles.” I said, “60 cycles would be in sync. We’re running up to a 60 cycle power supply.” He said, “I don’t really know. Let’s go back half way up the mountain. Let’s go up to the mountain, come half way down, take a television set with us and two small boys as porters and carriers. Let’s take the amplifier out, put feed it into the set and see what the hell we get. I said, “That sounds reasonable.” Remember, everything’s hinging on this. South Williamsport’s hinging on this. The company’s hinging on this. Entron’s hinging on this. And maybe his job and my job are hinging on this. So we said anything’s reasonable. So we go up and repeat the show. We got the third amplifier away from the antenna site. We got this portable little gizmo out, which it wasn’t much portable. It was like an old television set, with two porters carrying it and a long extension cord to plug the damned thing where the amplifier was, and the picture’s there. We proceeded step by step, backing off the snakes and everything else that was in the way, coming down Eagles Mere. And the farther we got the more evident it wasn’t television and we had polka dots. We didn’t see any major transition when we went from television to polka dots. So we get to the bottom of the mountain and that’s all we’re looking at is a black television screen and white polka dots of all sizes running around loose. He said, “You know, we ought to just retire and think about this for a while. Let’s see if we can’t add up the theory. What the hell could it be?” The last amplifier fed two television sets in a garage that we had rented, somebody’s garage at the foot of the mountain, off the highway. I think it was Route 15 that goes into South Williamsport, and that’s where the big showing was going to be. What a showing. Anyway, so we think about it. It is now about 10 o’clock at night. We go to an all-night diner in South Williamsport and we spend literally all night in that place. We’re talking and making notes and jotting things down and guessing. I remember sitting next to those sets at six o’clock in the morning. We’re sitting on curbstone outside of the diner before we go back to the sets. We’re just absolutely punch drunk. We start laughing. You know, you’re just so punch drunk that you start laughing and you can’t stop the giggling anymore. Leonard said, “I think it’s your amplifiers.” I said, “What the hell makes you say that, Leonard? Are you sure it’s not anything else?” “Well, the cable’s super, right? We saw the pictures half way down the mountain.” I said, “Yes, but those were also my amplifiers, right? It’s the same damned amplifiers at the bottom of the mountain as were at the middle of the mountain.” He said, “That’s what I’m getting at, I think it’s adding up.” I said, what the hell is adding up, Leonard? Where are these polka dots coming from?” He said, “Well, let’s turn on the television set. Let’s take one more look. I’ve got an idea.” Just as he turns on the damned television set, before it’s completely warmed up to where the polka dots swim around, there’s a goddamned police voice coming through the television set. I said, “Did you hear that?” He said, “That’s the local damned cops.” I said, “That’s coming through the television, Leonard.” He said, “Are you sure you heard it.” I said, “We’re in a garage, man. There are two television sets, and I just turned one of them on and I hear the cops, and I don’t hear them anymore. He said, “Let’s wait until they get another call.” I said, “Let’s call them and see if they’ll transmit again. Sitting around, we’ve been up punch drunk for two days. Why don’t you just call up the station and get them to call? They go through the transmitter, through the television set, and the polka dots change.” Oh, isn’t that interesting. I said, “Leonard, I have to admit, maybe our amplifier’s bad.” He said, “Is it possible that you don’t chop them off and channel 2 is not where they begin, but they’re actually picking up stuff way the hell below channel?” I said, “I’ll tell you what Len, we’re not going to find out by standing here. I’ll take one or more of these amps back to the lab.” He said, “Why don’t you bring your sweep generator up here?” I said, “Are you going to carry it down the mountain?” He said, “No. Why don’t we put it at the antenna site and then start looking at it down the mountain?” I said, “O.K.” I went back to the lab. We had two other amplifiers down there, long before I ever did that I stuck a sweep generator on there. This is literally the third day without sleep. I got down there, told my guy what to do, and I said, “Heinz, sweep that amplifier and take it way the hell below television. Take it into the AM region. Take it down to zero if you can get it to zero.” He was sweeping and I went home and didn’t show up the rest of that day. The next day he called me, which I think was on a Saturday, and he said, “I’m at the lab, I’m sweeping your amplifier, but nothing’s coming out, no television.” I said, “What are you getting?” He said, “Nothing.” I said, “Heinz, I’m punch drunk, I admit, but explain yourself.” He said, “I’m telling you I feed the same signals. When I move it up to the television band, I get a normal amplifier. I move it down and the next thing I know, the amplifier completely locks up and nothing’s coming out.” I said, “Are you saturating the amp?” He said, “Well I don’t know why we’re way down past television.” I said, “Heinz, put some meters on that thing and see what you’re actually feeding it.”
SMITH Did you say Heinz?
DIAMBRA Heinz. H E I N Z. His last name is Blum. B L U M.
SMITH I interrupted you because I thought you were going to say Blum.
DIAMBRA It was Blum. I’m the first guy he ever worked for in the United States right out of Austria. Anyway, Heinz was the chief engineer at Entron. I said, “Heinz, let’s sweep that thing. Let’s concentrate on below channel 2. I’m beginning to think that Leonard’s absolutely right; the problems are in that amplifier. What you just told me has got me very thoroughly convinced that something’s with the amplifier that we’ve either overlooked or have never tested for in design.” So he sweeps it down below channel 2. He said, “We’ve got an amplifier like you wouldn’t believe. The gain in the AM region is like 50 times what it is in the television region. What you’re doing if you put noise in this thing, it’ll saturate cold and knock off the amplifier. But you can’t see the noise. What you’re doing is now causing the amplifier to go on and off and it’s now burst modulating the noise and what you’re little polka dots are is noise, tons of noise. They take a non synchronized aspect with television. They have nothing to do with television, they’re just random noise interpreted by the interrelation of the television, they come out round polka dot balls.” I said, “And?” He said, “We’ll have to do some design work. This thing has to cut off at channel 2. We don’t want any of that crap in there. We’ve passed AM radio, shortwave, everything comes in here.” I said, “Well the police were doing the best favor in the world for us.” I designed with Heinz a filter that weekend, put it in, matched it, cut it off, played like a ton of bricks. I said, “Heinz, Leonard doesn’t want to believe this so you’re going to have to take this sweep up with us. Tuesday we’re going to drive back up to Williamsport, take up the sweep generator, take these two amplifiers that have been modified and then take enough materials for these filters to modify the others on location. These guys are now desperate for that showing. They’re a week behind. We did. The rest of it’s history. The pictures were so good at the bottom of that hill when we got through modifying the amps and equalizing them, a little something we discovered that we’d better now, as a matter of practice, do, that we were going to sweep every piece of equipment in the field after it was in installed and equalize it in the field. This was a practice that had never been done. That’s how sweep equalization systems started, because it wouldn’t work otherwise and we came out with a flat system. We equalized the amplifiers for each preceding length of cable and make it come out, and the pictures were just gorgeous. Leonard and the stockholders were beside themselves. So Leonard takes me aside two days later before I’m getting ready to go home and he said, “Hank, why the hell don’t we add two more channels?” I said, “To what Leonard? 2, 4, 6, that’s it, kid.” He said, “What about 3 and 5?” I said, “Come on Leonard. We just barely got this thing running. We have the rest of the system to build.” He said, “Hank, I’ve got a feeling if we play… I’ve got a little theory. You and I are explorers. Let’s go up to the antenna site and just try it. Let’s move down.” I said, “I can’t move it. I don’t have any converters.” He said, “Can we put the sweep generator, while it’s still here, on that system through a filter and make it look like a television signal and put it in the middle of 3.” “Yeah. What’s that going to prove?” He said, “I think we’ll go down there think it’ll prove that we can get a channel 3 and maybe a 5. Five ought to be easy.” Which one was the easy one? Five was the easy one because it had a big gap between 4 and 5 at 75 megahertz, so 5 was the easy one. It had a nice guard band. Three was going to be the touchy one because it sat right in the middle of 2 and 4, and nothing. So we did that. By God, it came out the other end and it didn’t mess up 2 and 4 too badly. He said, “Hank, we ought to work on that. How fast can you get us equipment to do 3 and 5?” I said, “Well, there’s Heinz. He’s standing right there. We would have to have him hand make you strips for these. We’ll make you antennas so it would work on 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6.” We did. Channel 5, Washington, TTG, remember? Up to Williamsport, off the air in Baltimore in that system. That was the first successful one. After that it was all, because Milt went nuts. They went really crazy. All of a sudden, this little nothing, across the river got five adjacent channels. Milt got through telling Whitney, if anything comes along, we’re going to replace everything that we’ve got. He was in no position to replace anything. We weren’t in any position to make him look sick; we just wanted to get customers. Boy, things happened very fast after that. It was a landslide. Leonard said, “I told you it would work.” We wrote papers on this for the conventions, trimmed down the audio, which produced another problem for us, which we never anticipated, which is how I got to know Buford Seville very well. Do you know Buford?
SMITH Buford? Jay Hall Reynolds’ son-in-law in Cumberland, Maryland?
DIAMBRA Sure. A piece of equipment that that fostered the design of is sitting back there. (Diambra gestures toward the museum.) What did we call that thing? That was the one with the special motor drives and all that stuff that we’ve got sitting out here. It’s a special amplifier. We then discovered a lot of things. We understood they why, for instance, Palm Desert wouldn’t work. Why it went crazy.
SMITH Who owned Palm Desert at that time, do you remember, Hank?
DIAMBRA I haven’t got the slightest idea, but I remember one guy very well.
SMITH Frank Thompson?
DIAMBRA His name was Louis Ridenour. Does the name ring a bell? Louis Ridenour was chief scientist to the United States Air Force. Dr. Ridenour was employed by International Telemeter, Paramount Pictures. They were the owners.
DUDLEY Len Eckerd was at that time, he was the manager at Williamsport?
DIAMBRA No, he was the chief engineer. I don’t know who managed it. Leonard was worried about the technical. He and I did a lot of things. The first styroflex underwater crossing was made at Montoursville without the benefit of the Coast Guard telling us how to do it. I said, “The Coast Guard? Len, this is an amp.” He said, “You’ve got to go to the Coast Guard.” I said, “You go to the Coast Guard, but I’ll watch you with a rowboat.” So we got a rowboat with a little power thing in the back, and that’s how the cable was lead across to Montoursville under the Susquehanna River. The first underground, because we had no way of supporting an amp really for that distance. We needed an amplifier right in the middle of the damned river and we couldn’t do it. So by putting it down and taking the shortest path we did it with one piece of cable – amplifier on this side and an amplifier on that side. One piece. Anyway, Leonard to this day, he says, “You know, we started some real thing and nobody’s ever really understood that.” I said, “Well, who cares. We did it.” The next order of business of course was to randize that concept. Could it work in the high band? Well, before that happened we were going to sell this to Buford Seville and Holland Randolph who was still very much alive in those days.
SMITH To the extent that he was ever alive.
DIAMBRA He was having a hell of a problem running Cumberland.
SMITH I’m being facetious; Holland was a great old guy. He liked those liquid lunches too.
DIAMBRA Holland was a laid back, hump pilot and an auto dealer. When you put those two in combination, you’ve got a laid back guy. He was interested in just hearing how things were going but he was not dull, by any means. Holland was pretty sharp.
SMITH We know that.
DIAMBRA McGeehan ran into Holland at one of the conventions and they got to talking and Holland had a hell of a problem with Cumberland. It had been built by RCA. They used RCA equipment. RCA wasn’t really too knowledgeable about what they were doing. The stuff wasn’t working at all well. McGeehan said, right after Williamsport, “We can help you. We think we got answers for you.”
End of Tape 2, Side B
DIAMBRA That led to McGeehan spending a lot of time, and my visiting Williamsport to try to ascertain their needs. I said, “Well, what’s the problem?” “Forget about Cumberland now, Hank. Our problem is that we want to build Frostburg, 27 miles up the road.” I said, “So, what’s wrong with that? Is the antenna safe?” He said, “It’s an extension of Cumberland.” I said, “Twenty seven miles? Are you out of your mind? What the hell for?” He said, “Well, you can’t get any signals in Frostburg. It’s either this way or nothing and there’s a town up there that needs cable.” I said, “With or without styroflex, this is going to be a dinger.” So we designed amplifiers for that. The only placed they were ever used, and worked successfully was in that run between Cumberland and Frostburg. They were the first pilot carrier operated, self equalizing, self-adjusting amplifiers ever made in this country. They were so damned complicated that we could never make them in production to put out in the field. These were tube equipment remember, this was before the transistor revolution. A piece of it sits right out here, right Bob? I can’t recall the trade name we applied to it. Equaline? That doesn’t sound quite right. But, it’s right there. The fellow invented that. A fellow who is still a very close friend of mine, although I haven’t seen him for years. He’s in San Diego. He was involved, remember, with Operation Greencastle. Eniwetock, where they blew up the atom, Ed Huggin, Forest E. Huggin recorded the pulse from that one. He used to work for NRL, cable research. He came to work for me part time, as consultant to us. He ended up as a full time senior scientist with us. And, was one of the inventors. Ed’s name and my name were on the patents for that amplifier, where the amplification was dependent upon the carriers that we put artificially on the cable as two signal posts. They would not only adjust the gain on the amplifiers to take care of temperature changes, but also the equalization, simultaneously and automatically. We had to do that with motor driven Barber Coleman motors and inductors and special relays. Oh, God. It had so many silver loops in it that I think it used to take us four days to adjust one in the lab as a production test. All the production tests were run in the lab. There was no way to put that on a line. I don’t think we every really sold them. We just put them up there to see if they worked or not. Yes, we did sell them, because they ended up making Frostburg a viable entity until they were replaced with solid state transistorized equipment, where all of these problems changed radically. You do that with saturable inductors and all kinds of things, but this was a Barber Coleman motor, polarized relays. Oh God. We had tubes coming out of our ears. You saw that thing? That was on a pole.
SMITH Was that a Heinz Blum invention?
DIAMBRA No, Ed Huggin and I designed the bulk of that. Ed Huggin did most of the work. Heinz was then very busy, running as chief engineer most of the rest of the plant. He had all kinds of responsibilities. I was still involving myself in original equipment, trying to market us into newer things. There became the potential for a very new thing. That was 25 miles a run.
SMITH Had you become president?
DIAMBRA I was long president. I was president from the word go.
SMITH I wanted the record to show it.
DIAMBRA I was president from the day that we conceived of Entron. But, I was also president, fact totem, dishwasher, on Saturdays, janitor, chief engineer, and salesman, as is most everyone that occupies that slot in any young, growing company. We all worked very closely together, George, Heinz, Bob McGeehan. We’d kind of cross over jobs. There’s always a need to get the chief executive of a company, out to meet the customers. Bob would drag me away from what I was doing and say, “Hey we’ve got to talk to this guy in Iowa or wherever it was.” It led to many very pleasant days, but it also lead to a dilution of efforts. Finally I ended up with a technical team that could stay in town and for God’s sakes, get this stuff out. This interrupted the hiatus we’d take every other week on a major project. It was killing us. So we added staff. We had a few more bucks. We developed things.
The thing that kept us alive for a hell of a long time was the fast T. We sold tons of those things. They became the standard means of connection, which led to the embroil with Milton which I want to treat separately. Those started to hurt Milton a lot. In the first instance, they completely eliminated the use of the RG59 taps. Pennsylvania was saturated. Every system you went to, you’d find bushels of the T taps, old rusted T taps lying around the back yard. You had to replace them regularly. When they got hold of the fast T’s, they just went out and wholesale, replaced everything in the system. First of all with RG59 then with RG11 and ripped out the old 59 some of which was waterlogged from the water entering all these connectors at both ends, making it worse and worse and worse.
Pottsville was robbed. Many others. McGeehan used to sell the hell out of taps in Pennsylvania for that reason. As a replacement item, they were the hottest thing around. As you know from just putting them in, there weren’t any skills involved. In the middle of the winter that led to one of the very specific slogans we had. “The skill is built in” appeared on all of the equipment, and it simply said that you didn’t need any mechanical skills, you just followed the instructions and about two minutes later, you’d have the tap made. It seemed to work all the time. Until the advent of high band signals, for which that tap was not designed, by the way, proved that there had to be other ways of doing it, that tap was almost the working standard. Everybody used the tap. It was the only tap that would actually work underwater, and it did. Anyway, that kept us alive. On a passive year, it kept us alive. We started taking off on the idea that systems should not require the maintenance that they were getting or needing. Self equalization, there were all kinds of contributory inventions by others, very good friends of ours that turned out to be. I had a Canadian distributor, who was associated with a national defense agency in Canada, Maurice Olfman. Maury was a distributor of mine up there. He was a very bright engineer and he’d go around finding all of these new applications.
DIAMBRA O L F M A N. God only knows where Maury is today. His brother, to the best of my knowledge, is either still in Ottawa or back in Montreal. They were Montrealers. Actually they were from the west. A very large wheel turns to a very small focal point. Sruki Switzer. That name certainly rings a bell with you.
DIAMBRA The Olfmans had a guy who is now running an outfit on the New York Stock Exchange, called Pal Filters, which is a micronic filter company which makes all kinds of filters for hydraulics, chemicals, etc., all came out of Saskatchewan and all came out of Campsack.
DUDLEY That’s the name of the community, Campsack?
DIAMBRA Yeah, Campsack. I said, “How could I possibly get involved. Campsack is hardly a very large place. It’s out there, way out in Rural America, Rural Canada. These very bright people, Sruki heard of when he was messing around in Alberta, Medicine Hat. He was developing his things about sweeping cables. He came to the same conclusions out there. I had never heard of Sruki Switzer. We hit it off real fine when it became obvious that we were heading along in the same directions. We were not fighting each other. There was a lot to be learned. It became evident that there was a hell of a lot to be learned about this business. We were empirical. Nobody was really getting the money to spend a lot of time designing newer things for it. There was always a question, well, it’s going to fade. “One of these days, there’ll be all kinds of television. Who the hell needs cable?” That overhung everything, Strat, for years.
SMITH I know it did.
DIAMBRA Of course it did. Who the hell was going to put money in to long range R&D? I am very familiar with that because I sold out to Westinghouse Electric. I put them into the business. I spent eleven years at the R&D Center for Westinghouse after that. I tell you, it prevailed. It really prevailed. They did some very interesting things, which is a whole different story. That philosophy, when you have a stable business that’s proved to be growing a very necessary, and certainly not built on a slippery banana peel one foot on the banana peel and the other on thin air, it was never going to get the attention that this business needed. I went from one crisis to the next, from one political action to the next, from one technical fiasco to the next, and it’s unfortunate as hell.
You’ve got a book in there by Jim Davidson. Jimmy Davidson was my Delta South distributor. I ran into him when he really didn’t have two nickels to rub together and desperately needed a line to do things with. Well, we built Delta South. Out of that came a contact with Morrilton, Arkansas. Who lives in Morrilton? The Rockefellers. He owns the top of the mountain. Jimmy put that Entron system up there for him. All of these things kind of tied together and he came up with needs that were evident in the south that we didn’t see up north and we designed something around that. It was always “Let’s take care of tomorrow; we’ll make more sales if we have more equipment.” But there wasn’t an underlying theoretical basis. This is where we’re going and this is what we’ve got to do. I think the first instance of that was when they really started talking seriously about fiber optics. It was such a revolutionary concept compared to what we were doing. One had better think very seriously of all the interrelationships and the potential for paying them back. Then of course, there was always the question of the phone companies. Where were they going to be? What were they going to do? Milt hated my guts for making one of the best customers that Entron ever had, the Bell of Canada. We literally, Dave Stevenson, who is now a director of research for the Machine Electric Works, a division of the Bell of Canada, and I wrote BSP’s in his living room when his wife, Joyce, was making us smoked meat sandwiches on the weekend.
DIAMBRA Bell Standard Practices. And every other page had an Entron part number in it.
DUDLEY Did that go down in the Midland job?
DIAMBRA Absolutely. We ended up replacing all of the Spencer Kennedy equipment in Sherbrook. We didn’t know it. They were just buying it from us. One day I found out. I said, “Where the hell did you guys put this? Where are the new systems?” “Oh, we were replacing Sherbrook?” “Oh, is that right?” “With what?” “With yours.” “Oh really, I’d better drive up there and see how it’s going on.” What else could you need? The fast T was going up. All kinds of things. Anyway we got a KS# from the Bell, which is essentially a manufacturing spec. It says make it to their specifications. I don’t know how many thousands of things we shipped to them over the years. I was taking the great task for aiding and abetting the enemy.
SMITH Well, Milt didn’t end the contract.
DIAMBRA Put it your way. I don’t think he would have called it the enemy had he had the contract. It was deeper than that, Strat. The question was “Should the Bell be assisted?” Were they going to come back and haunt us and really do us in? My theory was the Bell is there. They had to see me and they’re going to be here long after I’m dead. They got the power to destroy us and if they want to do it, they’ll do it. They’ll just step on us. They don’t have to do it very blatantly. They can make life very difficult. No matter how we fight, I think we’d better recognize them as very viable.
Talk to any engineer in the business, he has great respect for Bell Labs. There’s nothing wrong with the Bell. Most of the ideas have come from the Bell. They’ve been incredible ideas. We just adapted and adopted some of them and adapted them to cable. Equalizable cable isn’t new and I didn’t invent the concept it’s under the transatlantic cable’s equalization. It occurs at every amplifier location. You just adapt it for your needs. The Bell has an incredible potency in design, so I have a great respect for them. I kept saying to myself, “Why not join them? Why fight them?” You were there at Hagerstown at the Washington County stuff. Those are the experimental days, Bob. I ended up getting invited after the Bell of Canada experience. I was invited by the Long Lines Group of Bell Labs at Murray Hill, New Jersey, to attend a session where I would address them about long lines and what we thought about it and how we made ours play. I remember that, Johnny Barstow headed up that division. Alex whatever his name was who was very much involved in the Hagerstown experiment in Washington County. All these guys sat around in a room with blackboards on all four walls and we filled it with scrawls and formulae and theories and philosophies all day. I had a great time for two days with that crew. They thanked me and they said it would never work. I said, “Well, I guess so, but why don’t you guys drive up to Cumberland and watch it work. Cumberland to Frostburg is 27 miles.” They said, “Honestly?” I said “Yes. It’s up there. It’s working. Perhaps not to your standards, but it sure as hell is not, not working. It is working. People are watching it and paying for it.” The entire crew took off and went to Cumberland, talked to Buford and went out and looked at the pictures at Frostburg. They came back amazed that the stuff actually worked and that they should be doing something about it. It was like any organization. They get so potent and so self wrapped that it knows everything, and sometimes it doesn’t. We picked up a distributor in those years which was about ’56 or ’57, in Denver. The guy’s name was Jones. Evan was his first name. His father was district engineer for Mountain States Telephone. Evan said, “Hank, my Dad tells me that they’re going to get very, very interested.” Do you remember the President’s Conference in Yuma, Arizona for the presidents of the Bell system? The historical point was made of that in ’57 ’58 where they all decided that they were going to definitely look into the cable business as a viable thing. The presidents of the Bell companies met in Yuma. It was ’57 or ’58. Anyway Evan said, “Hank, I’ve got it from reliable information that we should be getting close to the Bell.” I said, “Oh? How do you want to do that?” He said, “Well, they would like to know things they don’t know. If we can sell them bits and pieces or if we could get some KS#s in this country like we did in Canada we would be way up out of the game.”
So, again to abridge many of the points of that story, I worked with Evan. I worked with his Dad and got to do what we did for them, free. We laid out a third of St. Louis, Missouri, Southwestern Bell. We laid out a good chunk of Denver. One other system in Wyoming which I can’t recall right now. These were towns in which they wanted some comparative cost analysis of what it was going to take to equal the aerial underground manholes and all that good stuff and with what kind of equipment. We did all this work. Massive studies, from which they did cost analyses of major urban areas and they had us earmarked for about half of the equipment. They were also precluded from going in at about that point and the whole thing just suspended animation. I figured that it was better to know them than to fight them. We were looking at some monstrous corporate systems which never did materialize of course because they just didn’t use them. They had us look at it very carefully. I spent a lot of time in St. Louis myself with a guy who by the way ended up as the president of AT&T, Lenholm, after he left there and moved up to 19S. I worked closely with him in the whole concept and they thought it was a very viable thing. I got to learn a few things you know the crumbs drop about whether we’re going into fiber optics and the work they were doing at the Labs.
SMITH Were they talking fiber optics that early?
DIAMBRA They were talking fiber optics as a thing on the horizon. The Labs was very much involved in it. It was totally experimental. There was no such thing as laying it out on the streets. That didn’t occur until the ’60s. It was the middle ’60s or so just outside of Atlanta. It was some of the first experimental stuff in fiber optics by which time I had sold the network of systems that I had built in Georgia to Westinghouse Electric and was operating that network for them, close to the Bell.
SMITH You said you’d sold that network of systems? I don’t want to divert you; I just want to remember to get back to it.
DIAMBRA (Do you realize that it’s a quarter of two?)
SMITH I figured that you were going to have to run down, if just for breath and your voice, anytime. I looked at my watch and it was one o’clock, and I wondered, does the man want to eat? But you kept running.
DIAMBRA I wasn’t about to stop here.
(break in recording)
SMITH I get tired of putting these things together. As you know, I was closer to Jerrold than to you back in those early days. I have heard the Jerrold stories, but I’ve never heard yours. You’re just running right through my outline, and it’s fascinating. I’m impressed at how lucid you are and how easily you tie these things together. Of course you lived them.
DIAMBRA Yes, I lived them. See there’s another adjunct to this. I was delighted to hear that you were going to be doing what you’re doing. I want to jump way over the cable business. I sold out to Westinghouse Electric in ’64 or ’63. I ran that network common carrier, multi state systems, etc., down south, until my contract ran out as executive vice president what I was then priorly president to. I ended up being asked by Westinghouse, “Please don’t leave, we’d like to have you somewhere else.” I spent the decade at the Westinghouse Research Center outside of Pittsburgh in Churchill although I never left Silver Spring. We did some very interesting things which had never seen the light of day. It was called compressed television. Jimmy Carter gave me my first hundred thousand like you’re sitting in that chair and I asked him for it, when he was the Governor of Georgia. It was three weeks after he became governor. We did many incredible things like that, always at the cutting edge. My job with Westinghouse was to put them into telecommunications. They had virtually incredible inventive foresight but couldn’t sell themselves on what they were saying. Do you know that Westinghouse invented the first video disc that was played with a stylist and cut with a goddamned groove, and made pictures. They fired George Sikli for doing it because they thought that was a total waste of his time. It’s a fact, 1966.
DUDLEY How do you spell it?
DIAMBRA If you hadn’t asked me, I wouldn’t have told you, but I’ll come back to it. Anyway, George Sikli did that. A guy who helped invent radar with Watson in England was George Newell. He was the guy that did the compressed television board for me, five years at Westinghouse. He came over from the BBC. He couldn’t believe, he said, that we had incredibly miserable standards about television. He said, “You guys have got shit for pictures.” He’s back in England now as general postal inspector, telecommunications. He retired as a senior consultant. He used to invent things like you wouldn’t believe for Westinghouse. My job was to try to adapt some of these things to a commercial enterprise. This has bearing, a direct bearing, on what’s happening now. I was startled to read about it in one of the publications. In 1969, remember.
SMITH He was with NCTA?
DIAMBRA He was NCTA vice-president of engineering, before he died accidentally and fast. He died while he was still there.
SMITH That’s right, he’s dead.
DIAMBRA Bingo, a coronary. He had already had one coronary; he just had another one that was in him. Selmer’s antecedent background was Atlantic Research; he was the vice-president of research at Atlantic Research in Alexandria. And he joined the NCTA after his first coronary, kind of a reduced job with higher pressure than Atlantic research with all of the politics. Anyway, (?) and I got close because he sat in on the thing that I was then heading up also which was the Communications Spectrum Allocations Subcommittee. What was it the CRTC or NCTC task force? Do you remember that? Well my job was to head up channel 5, spectrum allocation for cable. In fact, if you want the transfile case of the entire proceedings of that committee, including computer printouts that’ll prove the theories, I’ll be glad to give you the original everything. The whole transfile. Paglin was there, Max was there, and Sid Lyons was chief engineer at that moment.
SMITH I didn’t know Sid.
DIAMBRA He asked me to do a special report and he said, “Take the other side of the fence, Hank, and tell me what you could do if you were to put up multiple cables instead of one cable system. So I gave him a fifteen or twenty page report on what my theories were and how it would work, and would it be viable. I said, “Yes, it’s very viable.” It turns out essentially though that they’re all welded together in one fiber optic cable today. This was the beginning of it. Anyway, it was 1969 and I had about decided that I had served my time with Westinghouse and I had sold out. I had served my time running it and building the network and operating it and setting standards for it, and I was ready to leave. The Westinghouse company bought a very large land development company in Florida. That was the rage of companies to diversify and conglomerate. They bought a company that had built literally from the ground up the city of North Fort Lauderdale all of it. That company owned, and Westinghouse ended up owning, ten of the hotels on the Gold Coast and Fort Lauderdale, the Hilton among others, the Diplomat, etc., and twenty seven square miles of Florida. That isn’t a bad chunk of land in one piece. West of Ft. Lauderdale was a place called Coral Springs. It was a piece of nothing and Westinghouse was going to develop it into a planned community. The company they acquired was a favorite, massive customer of General Electric. They were like 25,000 refrigerators a year, escalators, elevators, etc. Westinghouse said, “Jesus, as long as we’re in the land business, we’ve got to convert these guys to buying Westinghouse products.”
Donald Burnham was chairman of the board of Westinghouse Electric in those days. This was about ’65 ’70. And he said, “The only way to really get these guys, you can’t force them to buy Westinghouse, they’re independent and they’ve got their own reasons. We’re going to have to induce them. We’re going to have to show them that we’re good, etc. We are going to have to cause them to understand Westinghouse Electric and we’re going to have to understand them. We’re into a small organization and we’re a very large organization. So Burnham passed along a suggestion which I doubt (???) becomes quite an order, to form an urban development coordinating committee, within Westinghouse Electric, which would meet regularly and would have inputs from every function within Westinghouse Electric, on the committee with the guys who were doing the real estate development and the construction of the city, and for mutual benefits, interchange technologies and ideas. I ended up as chair of the telecommunications subcommittee of that committee. We met every five or six weeks, quite regularly in Coral Springs. They had acquired that operation about eight months after they acquired my systems. So I’m now looking at a potential for half a million people in Coral Springs. That’s not exactly a small, stupid little cable operation which is going to start from scratch. I’m getting the opportunity to influence people from the very beginning. The city doesn’t exist. I promote and I deal internally. My job was intracorporate entrepreneurialism for Westinghouse Telecommunications. I promoted a little thing called the urban laboratory in Coral Springs. We had 272 homes, two ten story apartment buildings, a school, all networked at two 300 megahertz systems, one going in one direction and one going in the other direction, to and from every single outlet. We had an outlet in every room of every house. Four taps in every apartment and every one of those buildings.
SMITH And the upstring and downstring in both directions?
DIAMBRA Three hundred megahertz in both directions. They were two independent systems. There were people building this experimental gear. Everything that was new from the Westinghouse point of view, from the cable systems point of view, was tried there. The year was 1969 and ’70 through ’74. It was December of ’74 precisely. We had every power distribution, every one of the ten stories wired, automated power distribution. We had Florida Power & Light go out and get a bid for 3800 miles of cable so they could string signal cables for cable from Jacksonville to Miami. That’s no joke. When they said 3800 Coleman Cable, everybody said, you got your numbers wrong. They said, “Oh yes we do. Multiple cables then we’re going to lease channels on the entire coast of Florida, the entire territory.
We were running experiments on automated distribution for them, which is another story unto itself. We were running experiments from store front medical clinics, interface microwave to the University of Jacksonville Memorial Hospital at the University of Miami. We had every experimental thing that ever came out of the labs tried down there. You wouldn’t believe. We used to design a new home a year committee. That was the first time that I had ever seen a committee, other than like horses and camels. We did a complete analysis of traffic in a modern American home, how many footsteps it takes to do this, that and the other thing and where they should be. We wrote a book on it about that thick, (Diambra gestures) on designing the proper home for minimizing traffic for the Yuppie Generation where there’s very little time to play games at home because nobody’s got any time. It’s almost self-cleaning. The first induction stove was shown there. Ten years later, it now becomes a viable thing. Are you familiar with what I’m talking about, an induction stove?
SMITH I know about convection ovens, but I don’t know about induction.
DIAMBRA It just looks like a table. That particular year, they were going to focus on these appliances and kitchen design. So they designed a kitchen that looked exactly like a submarine galley, literally. The floor was hollow like a computer floor, so you could put all kinds of stuff under it, all kinds of ducting and everything. One of the experimental induction stoves, which is a tabletop on a counter, a countertop, generated electromagnetic currents at low frequencies in the heating element, which was ice cold. You could put your hand on it and it was absolutely nothing but EMF coming up. You’d need a special set of pots and pans, which was tri clad. They were thorough magnetic bottoms, but they were clad with aluminum and stainless steel. You put them on and they induce currents in the pan which immediately (Diambra makes demonstrative noises). You go from boil to sauté, that fast. Faster than gas. It’s no joke. Tell me. I got one, and they’re now telling them. It takes the tri clad material to work, but they do not generate radio frequency energy. There’s no heat loss. All the heat’s in the pot. We used to cook eggs to demonstrate these things. We put a sheet of newspaper down between a pan on the stove, cook eggs, pull the paper out, and read the paper, ice cold. That was great, fantastic. We used to drive in a driveway, fantastic, and a wall would push away so you could put all of the groceries on this side of the wall. The wall would hinge and all of the groceries would be in the cabinet on the inside of the kitchen when you got through rotating the wall. I had a ball for eleven years. It was an incredible time, and they paid me for doing this.
DUDLEY You sold Entron, the company, to Westinghouse?
DIAMBRA No, no. Let’s stop.
SMITH I’ve got a note to go back on that.
DIAMBRA Let’s go back to cable then. These things are post facto. Shall we eat? Or would you rather just sit here and talk?
DUDLEY One of the things that I have to do is get some water.
(small break in tape)
DIAMBRA I don’t mean this disrespectfully. I have a great deal of respect for Milt, because long before I got directly involved with cable, George Edlen and I were working for Milt, #1. We were selling his stuff in the Washington area and we were robbing Milt. Milt took off and did a great job with a brand new idea, and ran with it. Then unfortunately he got the idea that he owned all the ideas. As anyone knows when you give birth to new technology, friend, and it’s out of your mouth and your head, and other people own it as well, forget about it. You don’t own anything. All you can do is go along with an ever increasing tide, period. Milt didn’t own the business, but he sure as hell tried to indicate nationally that he did, and even internationally. He did some things that offended some people. He played very hardball on occasion. He didn’t really look at the long range future. That comment I made about, “Hey Hank, what the hell are you doing selling cable, you should be selling equipment. It’s gonna kill both you and me.” I said, “No Milt, I’m selling systems, I don’t know what you’re selling.” That pervaded much of Milt’s philosophy of doing business. He was an equipment house. He wanted to sell equipment. Whether it was in the best interest of the cable business or not were really not his prime motivations. Kennedy was a different story, which is exactly why Kennedy wasn’t the kind of success that Milt was. Kennedy would try to make something work as a system. Sure he liked to sell equipment too, but he had horizons beyond that. I talked to Kennedy. I ran into him believe it or not, getting a shoeshine in the john at the Hilton, the Statler rather, in downtown Washington. I was just back from a trip to the west coast and I said, “Kennedy?” He said, “Yeah.” I said, “What the hell are you doing here, Fitz?” We had a drink together. That was ten years ago. I said, “What are you doing?” Well he was long since out of the cable business, doing consulting of all kinds. And he wanted to know how business was, and I said, “Well I haven’t really been active myself. I’m in other fields. From what I read, and I’m still a member of the SATE and others and I get the publications all the time, the business is changing. Maybe some of the things that you and I talked about and worked toward, like bigger horizons, may come to pass. Of course, after ’75, the satellites came and the whole business has changed radically from the earliest days, and is now really going to be a telecommunications business. I haven’t seen Milt in a long, long time.
SMITH Is the tape on?
DUDLEY Yes. Turn it off?
(There is a break in the discussion here)
SMITH We’d love to have them because we’d use them. We’d use them. We know what to do with them.
DIAMBRA The question is, “How are you going to use them?” I don’t mean to be misunderstood. They are going to be used hopefully for the benefit of research. For research, and somebody getting the full picture of what this industry look like.
SMITH Exactly. I didn’t mean to imply that we were going to go out with a campaign of any kind. It’s just for scholarly research.
SMITH We intend to make this the focal point for information and study and research, not future research. We’re kind of out of that right now, but for research on the past and so on. This is to be the center, that’s what we’re planning.
DIAMBRA That’s exactly why I’m here. To be very candid, again, I’m not malicious; I’m just reciting what was obvious to me. The history of the pioneers is a schizophrenic thing too. The pioneers started out as a drinking club of basically system operators back in the ’60s. I considered myself one of the pioneers but wasn’t invited to join so I never really thought about it. It was only when Leonard Ecker called me, and said, “Hank, would you have any objection to me nominating you as a pioneer?” I said, “No.” He said, “Well, they elected me last year.” I said, “Well, they must be opening things up.” He said, “Well they’re trying to get a lot of other guys in before we all die, that could contribute something besides system operations. There’s a dearth of technical knowledge in that organization, way at the very beginning. I think they’re trying to get it.” I said, “Well, I’m delighted. Sure.” I think Jim Stilwell, whose name should ring a bell, co sponsored my application and Leonard sponsored it and petitioned for me and I got to talk to Sandford about that. I was mentioning to you and you must have told Sandford immediately after I called you about it. I said, “Jesus, we ought to get Kirk in here as pioneer.” Unfortunately Sandford came right back and said you must have. I was out of town and it was a post facto thing. When I got back, the date for his prior nominating had long since passed. I said, “Well that’s pretty rapid, boy, like I can’t turn on a dime.” First of all, I’ve got to find the guy. I have no idea of where Kirk is these days. The last time I met Kirk was in Orlando, Florida. That was fifteen years ago. He’s been around somewhere. He’s relatively young, he’s not that old.
SMITH I knew Don. One of my exposures to Don was back in the days when Skytron and Telemeter and Zenith were going to do the pay T.V. in the old days, and Don Kirk was the first one that I ever heard say, “Hey look, there isn’t a code that can’t be broken.”
SMITH Milt threw out a challenge to the industry if you remember. Show me your code, and I’ll break it for you.
DIAMBRA Which everybody should have agreed in advance, is damned near doable. Computerized codes didn’t exist in those days. It was all a hodge podge of electromechanical this. Louis Ridenour, we were talking about Louis, was chief scientist for the Air Force and ended up working for the National Telemeter. That’s how the problem came up with Palm Desert and that cable that was always out of sync. What would happen was that as this infernal heat bet down on the cable during the day, it was so damned big and had such a thermal lag that the goddamned stuff wouldn’t heat the core until twelve hours later at which time, the outside weather was ice cold, and hear the signals that would disappear and everybody said that they should be appearing. The next morning when the sun was bright and high, the signals would overload every amplifier because the inside of the cable was ice cold from the previous night. They were always twelve hours out of sync.
SMITH Frank Thompson used to manage that system when it was owned, I think, by the Palmer family. I remember how that drove him crazy, exactly the problem that you’re describing. I had forgotten it.
DIAMBRA That allowed us to make a decision not to use K14 for exactly that reason. We did not want a high thermal lag cable. It would absorb enormous amounts of energy and would form easy. That led directly to the choice that (?????) That was drinking with Louis Right at a convention in New York. At a hotel that Gleason made famous. Where Gleason stayed. You remember those days. What the hell was the name of that place?
DIAMBRA No, no.
SMITH Dural was in Florida.
DIAMBRA He lived in a place in New York where I attended the third cable convention in the country.
SMITH That was the Park Sheraton.
DIAMBRA It wasn’t then called the Park Sheraton.
SMITH It was the Sheraton Park, then.
DIAMBRA The Sheraton Park? Yeah, that’s it.
SMITH I mixed it up with the Washington one Sheraton Park.
SMITH I was at that convention. Oh sure, you were?
DIAMBRA Why did it take so long to do these things?
SMITH That’s a story, Hank, that I’d be happy to converse with you about.
DIAMBRA I’d love to just chat with you. I could spend hours of your time fiddling away your time, but I can’t do that.
SMITH No, hey look, that’s my business now. There’s been a big change in the Pioneers. A big change. It took some time to get them off their duffs, because what they really wanted to do was exactly what you said, and that was to be a closed social organization. They didn’t want to do anything but have their annual banquets and they weren’t interested in business or anything. Bob’s undoubtedly told you that they’ve raised $2 million for this and they’re still going to work on it.
DIAMBRA I’d say first of all, it’s obvious that it comes to most people that there should be some succession. Also, it’s nice as a closed club, and it’s wonderful to do that except, what are you going to do when everybody dies off. There’s an incredible body of knowledge that should be passed off. Finally now that the people are recognizing this, I am delighted. Frankly, I was delighted to be invited to join. I haven’t attended a convention, because I’ve had unfortunately other business to do. This year was a real toss up for me as for whether I was going to Dallas or not. I said, “No, I can’t afford it. I’ve got too many other things.” In fact I was just out helping Westinghouse sell a new reactor. That’s a far cry, right.
SMITH A far cry. But you know your desire to do the oral histories on the first twenty-five years of cable television…
SMITH No, I understand, and I meant to say technical oral histories, I think is extremely important. While we can’t load these tapes up with that, I think that’s something that’s got to be pursued. Even though I’m supposed to be giving guidance and direction to this oral history program, we don’t have people who are qualified in my opinion, to get out of the Hank Diambras and the Fitzroy Kennedys and who is Bruce Merrill’s man who did so much?
DIAMBRA If you hadn’t mentioned the name I wouldn’t have remembered. It’s blocked and it’s unblocked. Dwayne. He was doing very well when I knew him, if he’s still alive.
SMITH And there are many more of you.
DIAMBRA Oh, there are a whole bunch of guys.
SMITH Herbert Cooley. Oh just a whole bunch of you.
End of Tape 3, Side A
(Conversation began before recording)
DIAMBRA …Well, they think they just invented cable, especially the entertainment crowd.
SMITH Hank, the names that you’ve been mentioning… You guys can put this technical story together in an order, a sequence.
DIAMBRA An evolutionary order.
SMITH That’s the word exactly, an evolutionary order, that will make it useful for students.
DIAMBRA That’s the whole point. I’m not interested in spending my life writing a history that just I’ll benefit by.
SMITH I’ll speak for me, and I probably could for Bob and (?) I don’t think either one or the two of us are qualified to organize that series of oral histories and put them together the way they ought to be done. We’ve got to find a way of doing it.
DIAMBRA What I’d like to do and this goes right back to whether we do it all today, which is physically out of the question, and you’ll end up with bleeding ears. That’s a subject close to my heart. It’s not transient and relative to this visit. I’ve been thinking about it since 1980. There’s a reason for the first twenty-five years. Number 1, I was directly, physically involved, so these names are not just passing in the night. I know these guys personally.
SMITH I know you do, because I know them. I know most of them.
DIAMBRA Secondly, I know what they’re trying to do technically. We’ve had long technical discussion about these things, and I would like to get involved with you people in such a way. Because, I’m approaching the time when I’m going to start knocking off current business to devote more of my time to what I’d like to do. I’m not wealthy but I don’t necessarily have to beat my brains out five days a week to do it. I’ve got time to start thinking seriously about that subject. To do that I’ve got to get guys like Fitz Kennedy and the guys that did a massive computer job for me as part of CRTC or what ever it was called in those days CTAC. Cable Television’s Advisory Council, who have since left the business. These guys were in Colmar, Pennsylvania. I don’t even know if that company’s still doing anything cable anymore. Herb Faye used to be a salesman. Do you remember Herb? All of these guys did a tremendous amount. These were bright people. They did a tremendous amount of work, all of which is going right down the tubes. It’s clearly going down the tubes. It should be all coordinated and put together. All of the CTAC work was all theoretical. Why and how do you allocate spectrum? Stuff that everybody’s playing with these days came out of that media, you know. The work that was done ad hoc by contributions. Nobody paid anybody. I got a box full of it. I think you guys ought to have it. I’ve got a bunch of stuff on the antitrust actions that we fought directly, Milt. That kind of stuff. If you recall, there was a hiatus of some several years, three or four on grants of microwave.
SMITH Oh yeah, I was in part of that.
DIAMBRA I’m the only guy that got the grants for Georgia. I’ll tell you how it ended up happening too, which a few bits of politics that I had to play with Georgia senators down there. And Bernie what’s his name, was then chief of the Common Carrier Bureau.
DIAMBRA Right. Heinz Blum and Bernie Strasburg were asshole buddies.
SMITH I didn’t know about that relationship. Bernie and his wife Anita visited me in Key West this past winter.
DIAMBRA I had a long, long lunch with Bernie and he said, “Hank, let’s put it this way. If you want this bureau to respond it’ll have to be a senatorial inquiry. We were required to do it in 48 hours. Then somebody comes along and says, “Why can’t we have television in South Georgia.” “You ask them to ask us.”
SMITH We’ve got to get the whole south Georgia story from you. I’m sure Bob’s got it in his mind. I put it in the notes. You’d left Entron then and you did the south Georgia yourself. And you did some in Florida too, because I ran across you in Vero Beach. Do you remember Vero Beach?
DIAMBRA Do I remember it? And that was an antecedent. Did you ever hear of International Cable Corporation?
SMITH Yes, I did.
DIAMBRA We even put that together. That was me. That was the first such company to go public. It ended up making a life enemy out of Larry Boggs. Do you remember Larry?
SMITH Of course. I won the Boggs Award one year. During the course of the interview, I’ll bring you back to Vero Beach because I wrote Vero Beach a new franchise. The past three years it has taken to do it.
DIAMBRA I was in Vero Beach in 1958.
SMITH They had been operating on the one that you got from them.
DIAMBRA It was from Sherman Smith who happened to be the city attorney for the city of Vero Beach.
SMITH I knew it. I could tell. You never saw such a franchise in your life. It was all cable and nothing for the city. It’s like I told John Little who’s a city manager down there. I said, that’s a typical franchise of the area. I said, “Hank Diambra was on the scene at the beginning of the industry.” It was then that I learned that you had gotten the original franchise and you sold it to Columbia, Bob Rosencrans, I think. Or was there somebody in between?
DIAMBRA I got the franchise with a local resident of Vero Beach, by the name of Travis K. Pollack. Pollack introduced me to Sherman Smith who was city attorney also practicing attorney, who later became Judge Smith, residence of the circuit at Tampa. We operated that system and got Canadian investors in there. Olfman came down. We also built Ft. Pierce right down the road. I had franchises all the way up to Jacksonville.
SMITH See, I want to get that story out of you as a whole. Let’s not just isolate it on Vero Beach and Ft. Pierce.
DIAMBRA That’s a story unto itself which lead to International Cable Television Corporation which lead to other things and that ended up getting sold to Columbia.
SMITH Which is now United Artists.
DIAMBRA My old friend Kenny Gunter…Ken I remember very well. He was the one who was wondering why the hell he was going to Rice University at the time that I met him in San Angelo. We had laid that out with his father, had the franchise, couldn’t make it play and we were going to rebuild the entire San Angelo system. At about that time things fall apart with International Cablevision, thoroughly fell apart.
I decided that I had had my belly full of ups and downs and I just decided to form a separate thing where I could control it and not be the whim of everybody in the country. So I went down into South Georgia and built a network which I then sold to Westinghouse Electric, including all of the common carrier, six (?) permits that I had to negotiate and interface with AT&T. Complete coordination was done for the entire out. Atlanta to Jacksonville to Tallahassee to Panama City.
SMITH You feel like putting that on the record, now? The Georgia story, or would you like to stop? I know how you feel.
DIAMBRA I think I’d better go for a cup of coffee or something.
SMITH Look, I went through three days of this when they took my oral history, and you can get tired.
DIAMBRA Well I’m not that particularly tired, but I didn’t want to have you guys bleed.
(Break in conversation)
DIAMBRA …Many people don’t understand it. Westinghouse came that close to going bankrupt. They had a hell of a problem with things called (yellow cake?) back in your neck of the woods in Utah. They were ganged up on by the Canadians which formed a hell of a consortium to restrict the sale of the uranium ore. John Simpson, who was then president of the power systems, had made deals and contracts with utilities over the country. This was my heyday with nuclear plants, that they were going to supply nuclear fuel item for item. It turns out that it was at a price that they couldn’t even buy it for. It was the first instance where Westinghouse actually claimed that they were going to sell the news provision of the uniform business code and say that this is an undoable and unenforceable contract and actually told every utility in the United States that. They were not going to deliver in respect to what the contract said. It was unenforceable, undeliverable, beyond their control and they alleged that a worldwide cartel was keeping them from doing it. It turns out that they were proved correct, believe it or not, Gulf Oil had a part in that in Canada Gulf Canada. It was right in your own home town. The boys don’t like the boys playing the social club. Westinghouse was in very desperate states at the end of ’74.
I was then working with Bob McCrory who had then had the Product Transition Laboratories at Westinghouse, a guy that lives in Toftrees. Bob said, “Hank, I want to give you plenty of notice. If you want to do something else in the company, fine.” I said, “Bob, I’m a big boy. I’ve come and gone and I can do other things. What are you telling me?” He said, “A few experiments, we’re going to have to shut down, unless you can tell me that we can go to market pretty fast with this, there’s no way that we’re going to pursue it without any marketable potential.” I said, “Well, forget it. It’s going to take years to change the rule, the Commission that’s involved, all kinds of things.” He said, “Then figure on Dec 31 of ‘74 we’re going to shut down the labs, we’re going to shut down the (?) laboratory in Coral Springs, etc.” Late that summer I visited (?) It was still alive and I had (?) I said, “(?), I’m going to make you a proposition. I’m going to make you an offer you can’t refuse for the whole damned country. I am going to offer you something that has been discussed, and that I’ve been talking about for fifteen years. I’ve got an urban cable laboratory that I would like to offer on a channel lease basis for the industry. So that anything that the people want to do, run by a company that has no edge. We don’t have to worry about what equipment we’re selling or what we want to make work or don’t want to make work. We’ll operate under the auspices of Westinghouse Electric and the Coral Ridge Corp. which are the owners of the city of Coral Springs. And urban laboratory, with honest to God people in it, hospitals connected to it, apartment buildings, Florida Power & Light as a joint venture, anything that you guys want to do, we’ve got megahertz in any direction. He said, “Hank, that’s an unbelievable damned offer.” I said, “I’ll write you the report and we can charge per megahertz of bandwidth supplied with the (?) We’ll have an auditorium and an incredible thing. Four and a half weeks later, that was the end. I couldn’t produce anything. I couldn’t go back and start all over again. The SCTA didn’t even have a successor. He just keeled over and that was the end of it. So now I read fourteen years later that a guy’s got one in Colorado.
SMITH King Labs?
DIAMBRA Yeah, right. I held that franchise personally in Coral Springs, because Westinghouse wasn’t qualified to get it. Westinghouse gave that lab away for a buck to the Times Mirror.
DUDLEY King Labs is not going to do what you were doing.
DIAMBRA I don’t know what they’re doing. We were doing everything that we thought that cable as an urban telecommunications medium should be doing to prove or disprove the point, all of it. Telecommunications back and forth, ordering by wire, storing satellite loops and links. Westinghouse also invented the thing. Actually they didn’t invent it, they stole it. A guy at DARPA… Do you know what DARPA is? Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency invented a system to put a 12,000 foot antenna over Vietnam. Aerostat 12,000 feet and the antennas were up there, linked to the guy with microwave. He was invading all of Vietnam with radar from one place. Bingo. Westinghouse hired him and got the patent rights. The first test you’ve heard of the oft repeated idea to put a cable system in Nassau? A friend of mine, Sid Stedacou ran that for the Baltimore air arm at Westinghouse with doing the developmental testing with that aerostat in the Bahamas.
SMITH We have one in the Keys that RCA operates for the Air Force at 10,000 feet.
DIAMBRA Exactly. That long followed after and it’s surveillance for Cuba really.
SMITH That’s radar.
DIAMBRA This was going to be for the translation of telecommunications to good old piddling. Telecommunications, CATV, all kinds of television, everything, throughout the Bahamas. We were doing surveillance of those signals in Coral Springs. I’d give Sid reports. I’d pick up the phone and say, “I didn’t get anything today, man. What the hell’d you do with the antenna?” It was an incredible thing. It almost started the third world war. I’ll tell you about that in the next session. Literally.
The first contract that we had when I had left Westinghouse and formed DGA was a contract to administer the construction of the public broadcast system in Korea. The A of DGA died in Seoul, Harvey (?). Harvey was the last of the southern gentlemen and a super engineer. He was director of engineering for the state of Georgia. He built the entire public broadcasting system, damned near single handedly. He ended up working for me as a consultant at Westinghouse. He was our on the scene consultant and did our compressed television experiments with the state board of education. Harvey went to Korea, died there and in fact, his death certificate is signed by Henry Kissinger as doing work for AID. He’s the only guy that was able to get from the Koreans, exactly what they had in mind. When they were (?) Harvey was there two and a half weeks when they opened up the vault. He said, “They’ve got drawings, Hank, that you wouldn’t believe. But they wouldn’t show them to anybody.” The whole country was going to be run by UHF television. Public broadcast, for education, from the east and Aerostats. Aerostats were designed for Vietnam, where it’s nice and warm. They were never designed to carry an eighth of an inch of ice in Korea and 110 knot winds. One broke loose because was making it for Korea experimentally, decided to change from a steel strand to a polypropylene rope, and it snapped. The steel grounding line was still attached. It started off cross country right from North Korea, taking power lines, fuses and everything with it as it went. They scrambled the Air Force (???), ten miles this side of (Pan…)
SMITH Can you believe?
(break in conversation)
DIAMBRA … which was one of the reasons for my suggesting that delaying this a couple or three weeks wouldn’t hurt for me to bring a bid.
DIAMBRA I remember that we instituted action against Milt and Jerrold Electronics because of activities that Milt was engaged in primarily out west. We didn’t see any of this too much in the east. A great deal of it was evident in the far west. Entron had distributors darn near everywhere. There were a number of the former NCTA conclaves and there were the informal technical sessions. There are the state associations. And then the vendors hold their own meetings. These are on going all of the time and of course our distributors were very anxious to attend as many as they could, all of them do, that’s where the leads come from. We got word, I can’t remember the year precisely, but we got word that the fast T was starting to make serious inroads into Milt’s business of taps. That’s the Gillette end of the business. When you start encroaching on that, people start hollering about it. Well, there was little that Milt could do, prima fascia, to destroy the fast T as a device. It was a very good device. We had applied for patents but they had not been granted at the time, and it was doing its job, which was selling. Wherever it turned up, it would be sold. We were always short of production. Milt saw that as any opportunity to obviously step in when the stepping was good as long as we were running short of money.
All of us in those days carried one thing as armament, a Dunn and Bradstreet. Milt and I used to sell more D&B reports than anybody in the country. It came around to defend or to antagonize, one or the other. Everybody did it. All of the vendors did it. Everybody was rubbing nickels together. This is not a digression, but it leads right to the point. I got my greatest lesson in that respect when Entron was chosen to send equipment. Do you remember a guy by the name of George Morrell?
SMITH Do I remember George Morrell?
DIAMBRA Your comment comes with about the same intonation. I would say the same thing. George Morrell was guy that I finally decided that I didn’t want to spend any more time trying to see. He was an impossible guy to get along with. I’m not being malicious. I’m just telling you what I think of the facts. There were a number of other people that shared my opinions. He was, I guess the word that I developed best to describe him was arrogant. It was impossible to meet him on a human plane. I’ll tell you to what extent it went on. He had me flying to Little Rock from Washington to meet with him and to give him time and place which was a sign in advance. I got to Little Rock, showed up bright and early, never intending to be late for that meeting, and I wasn’t, I was fifteen minutes early, to be told that George Morrell couldn’t possibly see me, he couldn’t have a meeting with me. He was in New York for the whole damned rest of the week. A flat report from his secretary. I left obviously. I wasn’t going to sit around for the rest of the week. I get back to Silver Spring and back to the plant and I’m told later that George Morrell was in Little Rock all week. I decided that there were better things in my life to do than to chase George Morrell and try to sell equipment to whatever the name of his company was, something or other video.
SMITH Midwest Video. We used to call it Midwest Wideo because George could never get his V’s and W’s straight.
DIAMBRA Midwest Video was backed by some very interesting people, Hamilton Moses, the famous (?) Rockefeller, and a few others, which leads into telling you exactly how Jim Davidson wired Morrilton, Arkansas for Winthrop Rockefeller. We were invited as Entron, to submit equipment to his evaluative team. His evaluation team which consisted of AR&T in Little Rock, American Radio and Television Laboratories. We did so. Here I’m talking to technical people. I’m not talking politics, I’m talking pure technical equipment whatever they wanted. We were told that at the end of about three months, we had passed with flying colors, and they would strongly recommend the use of our equipment, Entron’s equipment in a system they were going to build. I felt encouraged by that, very encouraged. Maybe I wouldn’t have to deal necessarily with George Morrell when I was totally wrong. I was asked to sit in on a meeting, to sit, waiting for a meeting to end some six or several weeks later in Little Rock where the board was going to decide how they wanted to (?) that contract. I was told later that the reason that Entron would not do it either as a regular or as a contractor, was that our assets were smaller than the total system we were prepared to build and therefore how could these people expect to get relief from us if anything happened to us. How could we possibly meet the criteria of delivery and guarantees and warranties, etc? If anything happened to us, the job was bigger than we were. That drove home, very early, exactly how much (?) he was worth in dealing in that league. The Rockefellers, two brothers, Winthrop and his brother, Lawrence, I think it was, wanted reassurances that only they, remember that they were also big stake holders in RCA. They in turn, got RCA to do it only because of that warranty. So when I say everybody used to carry around D&B sheets, I mean let me tell you, that’s all we were selling.
So it was within that framework that Milt realized that the fast T business was going to hurt him unless he decided to compete or develop a competitive piece of equipment. There was just technically no answer. It was obviously a hell of a lot better device than fifty-nine taps. Since it was, there wasn’t much point in arguing about it. Everybody said that there wasn’t really a logical argument that you could make against it. What can you say? Milt decided to take the only way out that he knew which was to disprove it technically. That proved to be a very interesting salvo in the war.
We got word first from one of our western reps in Portland, Oregon, that there was a local, either a state or a west coast meeting for cable operators. I can’t remember the guy’s name off hand. You know him as well as I do. He was a great pioneer and he did all kinds of technical things.
SMITH Phil Hamlin.
DIAMBRA Phil Hamlin for Jerrold, right?
SMITH He was a Jerrold distributor at the time.
DIAMBRA In Seattle?
SMITH Yes, that’s correct.
DIAMBRA We had a rep in Portland and we had one in Spokane. It was Chris Arbis in Spokane in fact. And we had one in Idaho. Chris let us know that there was a very peculiar demo that Jerrold was giving, which involved proving that their tap, their version of the fast T, was far better than Entron’s version of the fast T. I said, “Well that’s very interesting. How the hell are they doing that, and what is it that they’re demonstrating?” He said, “Well, that’s very interesting. They have reels of cable which are supposedly attached to these taps, but everything is now totally shielded and grounded and wrapped in tape so you can’t tell anything about where the taps are or how far apart they are or how they’re put. But they’re showing you that the incredible standing waves that are due to Entron versus virtually none that exist in Jerrold.” I said, “Come on. I’m not talking to a non technical (?) “He said, “So help me, Hank, that’s the demo.” I said, “Well you realize that anybody can rig such a demo. We can do it in our lab tomorrow morning. It’s easy to do. All you have to do is essentially make the taps non random, iterative and you can demonstrate any damned thing that you want. Put all the wrong sized values in the wrong place in the cable and if you don’t follow instructions, it’ll look like living hell. If people are gullible enough to believe that, then what can I do?” Chris said, “I’ll tell you, Hank, you’d better get worried about it because people are believing it. They’re seeing it on a scope and they think that this is it. They don’t ask you. They don’t know what you know. A lot of these technicians never heard of standing waves and things of that kind so you’ve got problems.” I said, “O.K. I didn’t write that off, but I put it aside.” Chris was a fellow of Greek ancestry who had a pension, occasionally for getting excited, especially since his seals were involved. I said, “Well, O.K.” I moved (?) and (?) and I got another call from a very good friend that you’ve got out there. His name is Bill Lasky. He used to be my distributor in Los Angeles. In fact, we ended up with Hoffman Electronics distributing for us because of Lasky. Lasky said the same thing. He said, “We’ve got a demo going on in Southern Cal. that I thought you’d be interested in. It makes the fast T look sick and Jerrold’s incredible.” I said, “Come on, Billy. Is this serious?” He said, “Very serious.” I said, “Well, it’s very interesting that this should come on the heels of a meeting of the west and Seattle or thereabouts. Chris Arbis attended it and said the same thing.” “Oh, so it’s not just me.” “No, there’s two of you so far. (Diambra makes demonstrative sounds) I’ll see you.” I visited him in Los Angeles. I said, “Can you get me enough to talk about, that’s worth the trip.” He said, “I don’t know. They are very secretive. You’re not supposed to open anything. You’re not supposed to ask any questions, and you most assuredly can’t take the cable apart which is all wrapped up in this great big reel with tape and everything, so that it can’t be dislodged and that’s the test.” I said, “You’ve got incredible talent down there in Southern California, somebody must come up and question this.” He said, “The few that do, aren’t heard from. They’re kind of shoved off into a corner and are kept very occupied while the rest of the demo’s going on.” I said, “Well, you guys are starting to get me concerned because if this is true and the general technical public is starting to believe that this is correct, we’ve got to counteract this. I can’t really see, how our making a demonstration that’s diverse from his and diametrically opposed, will solve the problem because then it’s going to be their credibility versus our credibility. So what the hell, it’s gunfight at the O.K. Corral. We can’t have it at opposite sides at opposite tables. The real crux of this is that there are people believing what they are hearing.” He said, “Not only are they believing what they are hearing but they’re believing what they see.” I said, “Well you know as well is I do, Bill. That we can make them see anything we want to create and have them see. Is it worth doing that?” He said, “Hank, I think if we lowered ourselves to that, it would be a total loss of credibility. You’d be better off writing a paper on this.” I said, “I would be delighted to do this, with your help. I’ve got to know what the hell it is that that test synthesizes. What’s the simulation? What’s a bake up? If I get something in a black box that’s wrapped with tape, and I don’t know what the hell’s in it, how am I going to describe it?” He said, “Well, that’s going to be a tough, tough, tough problem.” We got a system technician (????) to go in for us and to get very close to the Jerrold people and have him describe for us technically what the hell was in that thing. We paid him to do it, and there was no question of his honesty. He gave us dimensions to the inch and all that good stuff and he wrote us back and said, “This is what is it that Jerrold is doing” and then he added to you, in the letter. I looked at that and I said, “This is just plain technical fraud. This is must be for rural farmers who have never heard of wave propagation and coaxial cables. Any competent engineer could tell this stuff. This guy is crazy.” Apparently this business and the people in it believed and believe it. So we started to create waves inside our own company. Bob McGeehan said, “We’re going to have a hell of a problem convincing people. This is a demonstration that tells everybody that they’re a hell of a lot better than we are, but we’re no good.” I said, “Bob, there must be 100,000 people that we sell taps to out there that say we are very good. This is going to counteract.” He said, “Only if they’re amassed in one place and (???) these are technical shows. They tend to talk to each other. The word’s spreading.”
Bob, Henry, and I had lunch one day, and Henry, who looked at it somewhat differently, said, “You know, this is more than a marketing toy, this is a legal problem.” I said, “What do you mean?” He said, “This may very well be technical fraud. They are perpetrating things that they cannot be allowed to do. There are all kinds of questions here what rules and laws they are violating. I think we ought to look at it a lot more carefully with respect to litigation, than we’re looking at it as a marketing thing.” I said, “Well Henry, we’re going to have to take your advice on that. You’re counsel for the company. I’m not going to comment on whether or not I think it’s worth it. I’ll make a business judgment after you tell me what kind of efforts are involved and how much money is involved and who’s going to dilute his efforts. We’re still running a manufacturing company. This is not a law firm.” We had a fascinating patent attorney, since the first day we went into business. He is a case (?) assisting to himself. His name was Max Libman. He is, for all I know, still alive. I haven’t seen Max in years. Max Libman was his name. His wife was also a patent attorney. Incredibly enough her aunt was Helena Rubenstein of the cosmetics thing. Max Libman was a graduate electrical engineer, a lawyer, a mechanical engineer of many things. Both from MIT, and law from Harvard Law. He was the guy who wrote the original (In EAC?) disclosure for the Bureau of Standards when he was chief of that patent section. He wrote a 2000 page treatise on the electronic numerical computing, so that he could understand what patents to file for Ineac (?) Bureau of Standards. He had a very interesting cadre of friends, one of those whose name, I think reaches far and wide, whom you may know Jack Rabinow. Does that name ring a bell?
SMITH Not to me.
DIAMBRA Rabinow was one of the division’s heads of the Bureau of Standards, who did an incredible number of things. God only knows; think Jack’s got over 400 patents issued to him. All kinds of things. First, electromagnetic disc (?) for the postal system, the air bearings. You name it, Jack’s got it.
DUDLEY How do you spell his name?
DIAMBRA R A B I N O W. Jacob Rabinow. You’ve seen a Harman Kardon turntable with an arm that travels linearly across it? It’s called the Rabico. That’s what it means Rabino Co. Jack Rabino invented that. You go to a GM car and you adjust the time. As you do so, you automatically adjust the rate, so as you adjust it twice, it’s on the right time rate. Rabino sold that to Eaton Manufacturing Co. (?) , 45 years with those.
We knew Jack as friends; in fact, his wife, Gladys and I are charter members of the “down with Rabino club.” He’s also a guy who will solve any problem that you have, and those you haven’t got, he’ll give you at lunch. We used to use him for that. He’s brilliant. There are very few guys like Rabino around this world. We used to get free advice technically for the price of a lunch; most of them were on tablecloths. We used to take Henry Kenney along to (?) so we would never lose (?) I’m not kidding. It’s a fact.
SMITH I believe you.
DIAMBRA One of the guys in that group was a guy by the name of Milt Sanders who ended up at the University of Chicago in atomic physics doing all kinds of things. He left the bureau. Max Libman was Rabinow’s private patent attorney. That’s how we got to know Max.
DIAMBRA That’s the way we got to know Max from Jack. He became ours because he was intrigued by what we were doing and wouldn’t charge us an arm and a leg and so forth. Max was involved in taking down all of the patents that I had been issued, I think it was eleven, and they came through Libman his disclosure and his insistence, and his knowledge. He’d poke and probe, and say, “That’s a lot of bullshit, Diambra. Why don’t you just write it the way that it should be?” Max was a terrific patent attorney, but not a trial attorney. You very well know the type who would love to sit there and write erudite documents, but aren’t worth a damned running a trial.
We solicited Max’s advice. We told him exactly what was happening, what we thought was happening with the proof that we got from this letter and documentation. By this time, we had patents granted on the fast T. Milt was at that same time, getting notorious for misuse of one other patent in the field, which he threatened everybody with, which I think you remember. He paid $800 for it. It was supposed to be the keystone patent on cable television. It turned out that nobody paid any attention to it.
SMITH You couldn’t be in the business without violating that patent.
DIAMBRA This was happening at the same time. Max said, “It’s entirely possible, that if he keeps this up, he could be hit with misuse of patents as violation of the Clayton Act. There are restrictions on free trade, and all kinds of things that you guys had better investigate carefully, but if you’re going to bring up action on a patent, and essentially he is infringing your patent, which may be the case, you ought to bring up a guy that’s going to take it to trial and get him involved immediately.” We found him. He’s another one of those incredible histories of people. People are wonderful things. His name is Bill Hall. He runs quite a shop in Washington the Ring Building.
DUDLEY H U L L?
DIAMBRA H A L L. William E. Hall. Bill was an engineer who was never really a patent attorney. He had to essentially sue to protect his own patent from being violated. He qualified as being able to practice law, whatever that provision is within the patent court. You don’t have to be a graduate attorney to practice. You have to just get from the A certificate that says you’re qualified to practice, by whatever standards they have for that.
SMITH Is he a big tall fellow? Is he a big husky man?
DIAMBRA No. He’s very thin in fact. You figure this idiot can’t even order lunch. He was right out of West Virginia. He was long and lanky, and the voice was as long and as lanky as Bill Hall. I loved him, great guy, who used to, in his own pragmatic way; get to the heart of a subject in about fifteen seconds flat. That was one of the incredible talents that he had. He could take the most complex (?) and just listen for a while and say, “Let’s talk about the facts. Let’s talk about what we really should be talking about. The hell with all of the window dressing.” Bill decided to take the case. He elected to take it, and it was on a contingent basis, which is rare for a patent attorney. We just elected to pay. He said, “If you just cover the expenses on this thing, you won’t have to worry about us.” Hall had also fought for and won an incredible patent case Franklin Patents. They were the first patents for shield and ignition systems, which Uncle Sam grabbed during the war and Uncle Sam violated left and right because they put it in every aircraft that ever flew, and never paid a dime. Bill Hall took that one on a contingency, and I think he’s $12 million richer. What he got out of Uncle Sam, and the interest and royalties, the commercial implications and all of the implications of shielded systems, was very large. You figure, this might be one of those. We tried to tell him that all our gross was not equal to his past fee, but I don’t think he was looking for his next meal that day. He took it on. That’s what I was trying to tell you earlier. He and Henry and Max Libman waged councils of war on what circuit they should go into and what track record the presiding judge was. Bill said, “I think we ought to go up to Baltimore on the third circuit. There’s a guy that’s for the plaintiff, in this case you. What’s much more is that he’s defended patents and he’s held them viable and valid.”
We go to Baltimore, get there, and the old judge simply takes up and leaves. He’s had it all of his life, and he’s finished practicing. We get this guy who is an Oxford English graduate. He knew all about the semantics of insulation, and it hangs on that. Milt’s tap was the salient point. Our tap required absolutely no drilling. You ought to remember that technically. We went up to the cable, saw the semi conductor, and was insulated by a very (?) film of aluminum oxide which was anodized. It made a contact with a (?) To obviously get around that very patentable technique, which was much of the heart of the patent, Milt said, “In our taps, we’re going to have to drill a hole. If we’re going to drill a hole and clear the metallic conductor and all of that stuff away, we will then put a bare wire through it and contact the semiconductor. This will make it not only better, but it will get away from the patents.” Here lies the tale of insulation. If that’s a bare conductor, how the hell can it be insulated, against what? We are talking about wave propagation, and sometimes you don’t have to be in contact with it to be conductive or not conductive, or at least be interceptive. This is not for a judge. You know that as well as I do. It was certainly not first in the state of the art; even though all of these consultants are telling him that’s the way it works. There’s a wave propagating on this wire, and the wave is really not in the wire, it’s on the surface of the wire, and the wave is really going to be added by the insulation of the wire, not in the wire. The more it was discussed; the judge just looked out of the window. You could see robins in the spring time. I remember that because for lunch, me and Bill Hall went out and had shad roe and eggs which was a tremendous Baltimore treat as you know.
End of Tape 3, Side B
DIAMBRA …This guy does not quite appreciate what’s being told to him. I said, “Well Bill, we’re trying our best. Do you have any better ideas?” He said, “Well, we’ve got five major, top grade, independent arms length consultants that are willing to testify for you, and they have. I don’t think they’ll make any attempt because they’re so damned erudite and technical that they’d just confuse the judge.” The final decision handed was that there is no violation of that one point. There were several others that we won but they were trivial and minor compared to the one. Milt was essentially not violating our patent by what he was doing. We went to appeal but we lost there too. I said, “Henry, we won’t have a lot of fun with this. It’s cost us God only knows how much time effort and money and dilution away from the business because all the days that I’ve spent with this was time that I wasn’t doing something else. It was the same with McGeehan.” We just let it drop. Not long thereafter, perhaps in the same year, because that was early spring I remember, Jerrold was being sued by a community, some municipality. I can’t really remember all of these details. I am very fuzzy on it. There was an open opportunity since there was an indication that he was in violation of antitrust. We could ride coattails and claim the same thing and the misuse of patents to show that there was a long practice of this kind of activity. It wasn’t isolated to one community. We could really show the entire trend of affairs. We won that case. it was settled by a nice chunk of money. We didn’t win the case, we just rode coat tails and were awarded some bucks and were awarded nine or ten patents that we could use of Jerrold’s free of charge and free of royalty thereafter, as Entron. I left shortly thereafter as president of the company. I sold my interest in Entron but I maintained a long liaison with them even when I was building the Georgia system using Entron equipment among other things. We ended up partially vindicated by that action. I’ll give you the patent cases as far as I’m concerned. I’ll give you the third circuits, communications, and Howie got paid off on the final one. It’s all part of that. Whatever I can dig up for you, I’ll be glad to. It’s serving no useful purpose for me. I think if it can be of useful purpose here because there aren’t many such actions of that kind to the best of my knowledge. That was the action.
SMITH And it was part of the early history of the industry. The competition, the competitive actions between the parties, I think is very relevant to what’s going on.
DIAMBRA To the best of your knowledge has there ever been any other action on patents.
SMITH I can’t tell you there haven’t been. You’re saying to the best of my knowledge? That suit was the only one that I knew about.
DUDLEY What was the other suit that you were talking about before, that you both didn’t know about? You said that nobody else could get into the cable industry.
SMITH That wasn’t a suit, that was a patent. I remember Garfield and Milt talking about, saying, “Oh boy, with this nobody else can get into the business.”
SMITH By that time, frankly I was beginning to shrug my shoulders a bit. On a couple of Milt’s practices his yellow dog contract as they called it… I think he threatened some people once or twice with it but he really never carried it very far.
DIAMBRA In the first place, the patents had been determined by others who were interested to have been banded around. You could have it for $500. Most attorneys who would read it would say, “Well that really isn’t going to prohibit anybody from doing what you’re doing.” Milt felt very strongly that this was not the keystone patent, that you didn’t subscribe to this patent, you just weren’t in the business because you violated every premise. He was the only one that seemed to think that, everybody else that had a crack at buying it, turned it down as being useless. It finally ended up for $800 on the market. To the best of my knowledge, he never sued anybody as being in violation, because I think he would have been the laughing stock. Everybody had had it, or at least a crack at it.
DUDLEY What was the patent?
DIAMBRA Distribution systems. It was so vaguely worded that any distribution system including Pepsi Cola, would fall into that thing. As I said, I wasn’t interested in the balances of the law at that point. My attorney said, “Hank, forget it. It isn’t worth it. I’d just shut the door. I’m not interested in pursuing the legalities of that.” I was told that the patent wasn’t worth (?) Certainly Milt had no statue of (?) that meant anything. I just shut the door and said, “O.K. I have a good legal opinion.” If he uses this now, as a threat, and he did that several times, covertly, I knew about it because my (? ???) was one of them. And that’s just Mississippi. You can’t do that system, you haven’t got my patent and this prohibits you from doing it. They laughed him out of the damned town. I ended up building matches. That’s a matter of fact. It was done, but nothing serious in the way of litigation, proceeded from it. It was just one of those things that happened. It became obvious that Milt was not going to give in readily to it, seeing to the fact or realizing and understanding and believing that the business now belonged to a lot more people than just Milt Shapp and that he could not totally command every single sale, technical development, the whole thing. It was getting pretty big by that time. There were a hell of a lot of people involved. Milt was making enemies unfortunately.
I knew Milt back when Milt would give you the shirt off his back. I knew Milt before there was a Jerrold. There were no problems. Milt changed a great deal. It went to his head. He was the biggest thing in the world as far as he was concerned and he had created it (cable) and it was going to stay his creation and he was going to own it totally.
DUDLEY That was his downfall too, the antitrust suit. I think.
DIAMBRA Let me tell you what my actions were, as assigned to do by the patent attorneys. It came to me one day in my office. *(?) came to me one day in my office in Bladensburg and said, “Hank, what kind of record do you guys maintain about competitive practices?” I said, “What do you mean?” He said, “Well, I’m sure you collect competitive data sheets, and advertising.” I said, “Oh yeah. The marketing department has all kinds of things. Do you want me to point you to it?” He said, “I’d like to have you guys get together for me, every single piece of literature that you’ve got about Jerrold equipment.” We took him back to the very beginning, long before cable, back to antenna systems. The purpose was to define a pattern of wiring about specifications. I said, “If that’s what you’re looking for, here are tons of papers that you can read where equipment never met the specs. This was published specs in the equipment, but it was just the laughing stock. We never (?) You can go out and get the positions from Jerrold people who will tell you that it’s a matter of fact and that it is so.” That was one of the big downfalls. There was a long established pattern of not quite telling the truth in published literature and advertising sheets. People stopped believing what they read. Remember there were waves in this business, Strat, of people that came and went. The expertise would build up. For some people there would be an exodus, a change. For another reason there would be another wave of interest. I remember the articles written in two publications written in 1971 about the new face of cable. Then of course, what happened in ’68 when the Commission stepped in and claimed jurisdiction. There was a lot of negativity. “Oh. Cable will die. You guys will be regulated. There’s no opportunity left. Your days are limited.” Then there was another escalation. Fiber optics brings another escalation. Everybody learning that the wheel never stops turning and you’ve got to go back. Why reinvent the wheel, right? During every one of those escalations of interest and expertise, the building of another learning curve, cable would attempt to forget some of the original literature, right? Jerrold adopted many of the different faces of the industry. They’d tend to leave that stuff behind and no one knows about the earliest experimental days. We’d write them down. Everybody’s dying to remember those.
This brings me to a little story, a personal story that you guys will get a charge out of. You do remember Hank.
SMITH Yes. It seems like I mentioned him last night. I’ve got his name on this list. I used to like him. I’m sorry that he didn’t stay in the business longer.
DIAMBRA He was very bright and very competent. He was surrounded by very bright people, one of whom was Henry Jasik whom you’ve probably never heard of.
SMITH No, I haven’t.
DIAMBRA Dr. Jasik was the guy who edited. He was a very competent guy. They both worked for Airborne Electronic Instruments in Airborne Instrumentation Laboratory. They worked there for quite a while. Henry Jasik in fact, headed the standard handbook on antennas and antenna design. That was Jasik’s work. (?) had a brother, John. Do you remember him?
DIAMBRA He taught medicine at the University of Vermont.
SMITH He used to come to the meetings.
DIAMBRA Sure. Before there was the IEEE, there was a thing called the IRE, the Institute of Radio Engineers. They had meetings in New York. Their national meetings were at the Grand Palace or whatever the hell it was. I almost want to say Grand Central Station, but it wasn’t. It was the something or other, Grand Central Palace. At the 1953 meeting of the IRE, when we were just getting our feet wet in this business, learning things. Hank Abajian and John Abajian, more specifically ran head on into Milt in Vermont, up state, where John taught school at the University of Vermont. What is the name of that town up there? Birmington?
SMITH Burlington, yeah.
DIAMBRA They had really tangled butts. And I mean, they had really tangled butts. I had been identified in the industry. Hank Abajian said, “I’ve got something for you.” He gave me a little tiny jewel box. I opened it up. There was a statuette like an Oscar. Attached to it was a wood screw. It was the “Screw Shapp Society” of which I am one of the charter members. I’ll be glad to show it to you because I still own that. It was an Oscar, and on the back of it, which you put behind your lapel, was gold plated of course, that held it in place. It was called the “Screw Shapp Society.” It was Hank Abajian and John Abajian. There were about eight or nine of us at the IRE. I said, “What the hell are you handing out, John?” He said, “Well, how do you feel about Milt?” I just gave him a look, and he said, “You’re my boy. Wait a minute; I’ve got something for you.” I said to myself later, “That’s a hell of a way for a guy to come down to the place where people are going to the trouble of having those made. That was just not an adaptation of something they picked up, they actually went out and had 200 of these things made and gave them to charter members of the “Screw Shapp Society” in 1953. That goes back, what, thirty-six years, right? It’s too bad. It’s really too bad that Milt ended up doing that when he could have owned the world. This guy could have run the world. How could you lose, playing the tricks that we were doing with those taps? I guess every industry goes through some of that in the beginning when there’s no holds barred because you need the money. So, you do everything there is to do and you can’t be as lenient as you would like to be when you were better fixed. I thought by that time that Milt had pretty much established himself. He didn’t have to do that.
SMITH Let me ask you a question at this point. I’ve got two in mind, so remind me to get back to the other one. One of them is about the Department of Justice antitrust suit. It was instituted as a result in part by a telegram from Norm Penwell.
DIAMBRA Out west?
SMITH Yes, out west. But while we’re on the subject of Hank Abajian, there’s a point I’d like you to comment on. In my own memory, and or years I have been of the opinion that the first man in the industry to come up with a transistorized amplifier was Hank Abajian.
DIAMBRA I could tell you where he first unveiled it.
SMITH I think I was there.
DIAMBRA No, it was in Canada. There was a meeting of the Canadian Association, not far north of Montreal in a place, Saint Margaret, where everybody skis. It’s near Saint Ann de Beaupre.
SMITH I was at that meeting.
DIAMBRA O.K. Then he pulled it out of his pocket and he said at the bar, “Let’s try it out for size, guys.” It was a little round tube, about that long.
SMITH Johnny Cass. No, it was Johnny Campbell of Cass has told Bob and probably others that he was the first one to use a transistorized amplifier.
DIAMBRA It’s entirely probable that he thinks so.
SMITH Johnny’s no liar.
DIAMBRA It’s not a question of lying. If you don’t read anything that is being written, and if the guy like Abajian, doesn’t write about it, eight or ten months later… I am the first guy in the United States, literally, to have cable powered equipment, tubes, not transistors. I’ll tell you how that happened. It happened actually in (?) in Canada. I was working with the Canada Bell which had very short poles, and therefore they weren’t letting the power people on the same poles. The poles were across the street. Making a connection to an amplifier wasn’t just something that you just did casually. There was a hell of a lot of money involved. Tubes drew a lot of current also, right. It became pretty obvious because of another thing that I was working at the same time, on filtering, that it shouldn’t be too hard. What was wrong with separating power from signals? There was such a wide guard band. I mean, my God, megahertz of space. Why couldn’t (?) power. Well, one of the first things that ran through my mind was that we were talking about a lot of current here and we have a lot of problems. Beside which, what happens if somebody opens up a connector and there’s power in the damned thing. What do you do? You fall right off the pole and fry? So, I spent a lot of time with Bell Laboratories in Bell of Canada machine, with a guy by the name of Stevenson, looking to see if the Bell was doing that regularly. Bell’s carrier systems all over the country were all cable powered. What were the limitations and standards? There was no current limitation below 60 volts. Below 60 volts, if you had 59.99999… volts, you did not have to limit the current flow through the system. Above 60 volts you had to limit it in a very specific formula, because of the number for joules of energy that you could essentially expose the human body to.
SMITH Is that J O U L E S?
DIAMBRA Yes. For the record, J O U L E S.
SMITH I just didn’t want it to come out J E W E L S
DIAMBRA There were so many joules of energy that the body could take. Some of the voltages at the Bell were in the thousands, in the kilovolt region but the currents are in the microampere region. You’ll get a tingle but you won’t get knocked off a pole and you will certainly not get fried. Empirically, the boys at Bell Labs had worked out a very elaborate set a charge for this kind of work. I also mentioned Bob Rogers to you, right? Bob was the guy at Sulfur Springs. Once we got acquainted, he became a distributor of ours because he saw a great need that we were not satisfying that part of the country. He started running systems and said, “Can I distribute your equipment?” I said, “Sure.” He had an opportunity. There was news brought to his attention, and he later brought it to mine, very shortly thereafter. Nacogdoches, Texas was up to be built. Milt had about signed that contract. He said, “Hank, I think if you get down here tomorrow we can talk these guys out of it because they’ve never even heard of Entron. I said, “Well, that’s an interesting invitation. Tomorrow?” He said, “Yes, you had better get your butt down here tomorrow.” I said, “How about later today.” He said, “Can you make it?” I said, “Well I’ve got an airplane. I’ll jump in it and fly down, and I’ll be there at about six o’clock tonight.” He said, “O.K. I’ll pick you up at the airport. Radio in at least an hour out, and I’ll meet you.” He did. We sat down a couple of the principles in Nacogdoches in the Oil Man’s Club in … I forget the name of that town. It wasn’t Tyler. The town was Lufkin, Texas. And, I stayed overnight in the hotel, but I never did use the bed because we stayed up all night in the Oil Man’s Club talking to them. They wanted to know more about Entron and about this and that. I said, “Yes, we’ve built systems lots of places. One of the weirdest ones was Reno, Nevada which is a story unto itself. We can handle this.” They said, “How are you prepared to finance it?” I said, “Well I didn’t come here prepared to finance it. I came here to tell you that we could build it. I thought you guys were in the business of building a system.” He said, “Well, what are your financial offerings?” I said, “Well I can’t, off the top of my head offer you any of those thoughts, but you’ll get them tomorrow.” So one of my engineers and I and Bob Rogers left the scene and retreated at about six o’clock in the morning to have breakfast and to talk that over. I said, “Roger you’re going to build this goddamned system.” He said, “I am? With whose money?” I said, “Not mine. With some you’re going to borrow.” He said, “Hank, I think the night’s gotten to you. You weren’t drinking any more than I was.” I said, “No. I’m stone cold sober and if you want to continue and if you want to make a dent down here, we’re going to do this job.” We did it. Bob ended up owning it because he bought the other guys out. For that job we offered them the first crack at, the first public offering of line powered equipment. There were only three power connections in the entire system and all of it was line powered and under 60 volts. It was a 60 volt system. There were no calculations to make because all of the amplifiers were self adjusting. I don’t care where the hell you put them. They would take either the maximum or minimum voltage. It ran from 32 60 and everything was (solar?) regulated. They just put an amplifier wherever they needed it. We never even thought about running all those ohms calculations or anything else. It just worked. It’s working to this day. Of course, it’s long been changed to transistors but these were tubed equipment working at 60 volts regulated. Three connections to Texas Power and they were fit to be tied because they were metering what appeared to be one drop and we were feeding the whole town.
DUDLEY What year would that have been?
DIAMBRA Why the hell did you ask that question?
DUDLEY It was a milestone and we want to continually update when you’re giving us another first.
DIAMBRA I can get that from my own records. I would not want to go on record at this moment. It had to be before ’61. It had to be after ’59. It’s in that region. The source is readily available. All I have to do is call Bob Rogers and he’ll tell me or I’ll go through my records and dig out my diaries and find it out. We actually developed a full line of equipment that was actually cable powered for tubes at 60 volts, keeping in mind what we learned from the Bell Labs. That puts us back to what I was saying earlier we all profited from the Labs. There’s no point in fighting them. We learned more than we’d ever hope to. Anyway, that worked like a ton of bricks. You could self power anywhere. Texas Utilities, who had the power contract of the town (?) The franchise was fit to be tied because they only charged us for three single meter drops which by the way was one of the very serious selling points of the whole concept, although in Canada it was for a different reason entirely that the cost of making the drop was astronomic. You had to run it across the street for maybe half a block or more to get from the tap point to where you are on the other side of the street on Bell poles. Ontario Hydro was charging an arm and a leg for that. So we just elected to solve it our way. If we can’t get it by regulatory actions we’ll haul it by technical actions.
So, to the best of my knowledge that equipment is no longer working. I wouldn’t assume it’s working. I would have converted it all to solid state and he’s since embellished it for many other channels, I’m sure. There was a kingpin system. It was absolutely one of the best systems in the country. It was violin string tight. It was intended to be a crystalline showcase of new technology, and we used it very, very frequently to fly guys in from all over the country to look at that construction.
SMITH Would you be able to remember the date of that meeting in Canada where Hank Abajian…
DIAMBRA I’ll look it up, but I’ll also call my old friend up there in Canada. He’ll know, he was there. He was leading the parade at the bar. Ken Easton.
SMITH I still have the friendship with the young lady that I met up there who was one of the hostesses up at that lodge that registered us in. I could call her, but that’s been long years.
DIAMBRA I had and still have, a very good friend who was also my eastern Canadian distributor. He was a fellow named Homer Gerard who ended up being president of the NCEATC.
SMITH I’ve met him. I’m not going to say that I know him, but I’ve met him.
DIAMBRA Homer I know very well. I’ve eaten a lot of good French-Canadian food in his house and he served me well. That’s where we developed some very interesting equipment and also got head on to know that the Canadians were not playing games when they did not want American signals. That was government policy. Let me tell you how it was implemented. This might interest you. Remember I told you about Midland trying to receive signals from Buffalo.
The Canadian stations in those days were very few, and very far between. The only thing of interest was augmenting the Canadian CBC with American signals. Buffalo had the three networks. They weren’t high enough powered to get out. Those were the grand and glorious days when NBC decided to back UHF. Remember Buffalo when UHF couldn’t get out of their own back yard?
DIAMBRA Well NBC got stuck with not getting out of the back yard and CBS and ABC were tearing them apart with VHF stations, 2 and 11. There was NBC backing UHF and can’t even get out to the lake. Obviously this caused a great furor in Canada when they switched from VHF to UHF because all of the Canadians were watching NBC zero. I mean zero. First of all there weren’t any UHF receivers up there. Secondly, this was to promote the sale of UHF receivers, you remember, as well as tuners and everything else. B: the signals couldn’t get there even if they were. Here they were, shooting themselves in both feet every morning. They couldn’t get out of town. There was nobody there to watch them. They finally gave up the damned thing. I don’t know how many years later they went to VHF, but that was a grand and glorious total flop experience. By God, they were going to definitely show them that UHF was the thing of the future. Not the Canadians, they didn’t believe a word of it. Of course, the CBC sitting around doesn’t give a damned because there’s no interference now. Up we come with a cable system, way the hell north of there. The nearest big town between us and Toronto was Barry. Does that ring a bell, Barry, Ontario and Orillia, sister cities south Midland, north of Toronto? We get reasonable Buffalo signals, enough to cause the CBC I guess, to think about it. So what the hell do you think they do within a year and a half of our going on the air with a system in Midland where we were carrying Buffalo and all of the CBC we could get? They install a broadcast transmitter in Barry. Of all the goddamned frequencies they could allocate, where the hell do you think they put it? There’s 2 and 4 out of Buffalo and the UHF which we don’t get. They stick it right on channel 3. “A” and “B” promptly spill over both ends of the spectrum 2 and 4.
SMITH Of course, that’s exactly what they intended.
DIAMBRA Well they didn’t move it. Cranston and I went to Parliament. Cranston and I went to Parliament in Ottawa and complained to the DOT and they said, “That’s one of those transit things. It’s a new station they’ll be bugs in it. You have to forgive us.” Ten months of tape recordings, oscillographic studies of the spectrum of analysis of this crap coming out of channel 3. How come you can take half of 2 and half of 4? It’s just not idle curiosity. There’s no technician that does not know (?) In fact, I think you guys could (?) to get it farther and farther out. After that there was a very interesting technical change in channel 3. They realized that things were wrong here. They were so arrogant and they said, “This is Canada. I really don’t give a shit about how you run your stations in the U.S.” For a year and a half they did nothing. All they did was complain. Two and 4 became virtually useless up there. Crap would spill out. Every time somebody opened his mouth, you’d see sound all over everything. We proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that it was channel 3 that was doing it in Barry put there on purpose. If that weren’t enough, Gerard, who I just mentioned was way the hell east of that in a place called (?) Quebec, next to the lake. He assigned us in eastern Quebec, selling us to all kinds of asbestos mines and (?) way the hell out to the Gaspe if not Labrador. For ten years I got Christmas cards from Isador (?) Beloeil, Baie-Comeau, stuck a system, two channels. Right next to Magog, they were pulling in eight from New Hampshire. One year later with the (?) eight miles from the antenna sight, 316 kilowatts of channel 7, spilling shit everywhere. Good coordination, good national politics.
Everybody tells me how the game is played. That’s how the game is played. You can do it any one of ten million ways. Finally, a public uproar caused them to clean up the broadcast, because it was spilling into the United States now, and there, they had to coordinate and clean it up. As far as it going into Canada, they could care less. They’d clobber every cable system in the country. Finally, those French canucks got up and said, “Enough is enough of this shit. We want to watch what’s coming from Burlington, which is 5 and 8.” That’s the end of it. I guess they listened. It wasn’t too long after that, slowly but surely. They didn’t say a word. They never made a technical announcement. Things got cleaner and cleaner and cleaner, and one day finally. there is no interference and they’re still on the air. I don’t know if they were facing other countries. I can imagine cable in Germany and France where they want sovereign rights. It must be fantastic. Anyway, we were talking about Nacogdoches, because that was occurring at about the same time as Nacogdoches. That meeting was in the ’50s definitely. I’ll look it up. I would be confident in saying that it was Hank Abajian that did it first. Hank Abajian had to apologize to that technical group, because he made certain statements that night that turned out to be true. First of all, they had never, never expected transistors to thoroughly run away. Unless you put certain thermal stabilization in it, transistors ran away. The hotter they got, the worse they got. So transistors, in those days, were the most elemental circuitry. Without thermal stabilization and other feedback, weren’t suited, they were unstable. They would run all over the damned map and there was no way to control them. It took time for people in the industry to realize what was going on. There were different transistors that were designed. Those were Germanian, then they went to silicones. From silicon, they put all these things in it, thermal stabilization. They had to run a microbar effect on power supplies, etc. so the whole thing became a much more viable system. In those days he had an antenna pre amp, forged to (?) An old friend of mine here, Jim Palmer whom I’m sure you know, succeeded to accompany a tragic death. What was Brown’s first name? He was a predecessor for Jim Palmer’s running C-COR was a guy that went out swimming in the lake and never came back on a Sunday afternoon. He used to teach at Penn State. I think it was Brown. They were trying to do cable power, but those were the tube days. Then he went to solid state and we used a hell of a lot of C-COR stuff. Down in Georgia I used tons of it. Jim Palmer’s known very very well, he and Barbara. Is he still around? Is he still living here?
SMITH Oh my yes.
DIAMBRA He went to Switzerland for quite a while.
SMITH He endowed a million dollar chair in telecommunications, in the School of Communications here.
DIAMBRA But is he still living here?
SMITH I saw him a week or ten days ago.
DUDLEY He lives here part of the year and he travels down to Grand Canyon on a regular basis.
DIAMBRA He also had a daughter at the time in Switzerland that he said he was going to visit and live in Switzerland.
SMITH He and Barbara are very active.
DIAMBRA He’s not that old anyway.
DUDLEY The Palmer Museum of Art is named for Jim and Barbara. They have contributed heavily to that. Yes, They are benefactors of the professional theater.
DIAMBRA Well they are very, very active and are residents of State College. If you ever see Jim long before me, would you please offer my best. I’d love to say hello to him.
DUDLEY We’ll try to get you together the next time you come. We’ll plan to break for lunch.
SMITH We definitely will because I could see Jim maybe helping to fund.
DIAMBRA After what you said, it just occurred to you that you could tap him for a couple of K.
DUDLEY No. I don’t know if this is the direction that Strat’s going in. The oral histories that have to do specifically with technical things…
SMITH That’s exactly what I was going to say. Jim Palmer might be able to fund that, provide the money that is needed to make it possible to do it.
DIAMBRA That wouldn’t be a bad idea for which I’d be delighted to contribute a lot of time. Why don’t we get together for lunch and promote the idea.
SMITH We will. Just as soon as you said that you wanted to do that, I started thinking, who in the hell can we get to fund that? We don’t have enough money yet to take it on in addition to the one that we are doing. It’s got to be done. Maybe we can get Jim to contribute the money to the Center to use for that specific purpose. I was waiting to see how you and Jim got along. I’m delighted to see that you are friends, and there wouldn’t be any conflicts that would make it illogical to suggest.
DIAMBRA Let’s put it this way. To the best knowledge, I don’t find Milt a personal enemy. I think some of his conduct could have been different. But I say, “Hi Milt.” I welcome him, and have a drink with Milt. Be that as it may. There is a different relationship that exists with Jim. I consider him a personal friend we see eye to eye technically. To the best of my knowledge I would consider Jim a friend. I think he does also.
SMITH Let us know soon enough, when you can come back and we’ll set it up.
DIAMBRA I’ll tell you what. I’m going to be in Tallahassee the 13 18. They have a world bass tournament down there. My son’s a hell of a fisherman. I told him that I had to talk to him personally about things. While I’m talking to him personally in the stern of the boat, we’re going to be mapping Lake Jackson with a sonar. When it starts on Saturday and Sunday, he will be well versed in every damned (?) I’m going to leave for my drive back north and say, “You go ahead and fish because we want to have you catch something.” I’ll be down there through the 18th. The end of the month would be appropriate then. You pick a date suited for yourselves and I’ll make a point of being here.
SMITH Sometime after the 25th. We’ll be coming back from the NCTA.
DIAMBRA That’s the 12th.
DUDLEY It’s later than that. It’s the 20th through the 24th.
DIAMBRA I thought it was the 12th. O.K. So any time after the 25th is an appropriate time? If you get an opportunity you might sound Jim out in advance of that and see if he’s even amenable to thinking about that.
SMITH We’ll discuss the strategy on how to do it, because it just occurs to me that Jim has some money and if he wants to do it, as he has proven. He endowed his own university. He’s been a big benefactor to Penn State.
DIAMBRA His university is Iowa, not here.
SMITH He gave them a million dollars.
DIAMBRA He must have sold out for a hell of a bundle.
DUDLEY Three and a half million dollars was his total.
DIAMBRA Really. They sure as hell aren’t starving to death.
SMITH They’re great art collectors. As Bob said, they contributed heavily to the art museum here. It’s named after him.
DIAMBRA Let me ask you this. Has he done anything in respect to this museum?
DUDLEY He’s been very supportive of us. He’s sat in on some of the board meetings. His major contribution was to the School of Communications for the chair.
DIAMBRA That was an endowed chair, but this is a separate entity. Of course, it’s peripheral to Penn State. It’s part of telecommunications. I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if this doesn’t make an immediate, solid link to the School of Communications.
SMITH My appointment is in the School, it’s not at the Center.
DIAMBRA Your appointment’s with Penn State? That’s your instructional Services with Marlowe or the School of Communications?
SMITH The School of Communications. But I’m assigned duties at both places. I think Jim’s a logical possibility for that.
DIAMBRA Well, there are a lot of stories that should be brought out and clarified, all kinds of things that happened, some of which were good ideas, some of which died, some of which are now coming back. Jim Davidson and I were selling rubber tires over closed circuit television in the early ’50s in Arkansas. It was his idea. He said, “One of these days, this is going to be a hell of a sales channel.”
SMITH Hank, let me take you back to a question you asked just a minute ago. Has Jim been doing anything with the Center? One of the reasons that Jim wanted to endow the chair in the school, rather than through the Pioneers, is because he wanted to make as certain as he could, that there would be an emphasis on the technical side of cable in the teaching in the School of Communications. Our group of people tried to persuade him to contribute through the Pioneers, the same amount of money and establish a chair there. He finally decided that he wanted to do it directly, because of his concern about the technical side.
DIAMBRA That was a smart idea. He also wanted this not to end up as a drinking society.
SMITH I don’t know whether he has looked at it that way.
DIAMBRA For a long time, it was. The Pioneers for twenty years were about that.
SMITH He’s always been one of the drinkers, too. (Laughter) I can see him responding affirmatively to the idea of providing the cash that would be necessary to pay the travel and the incidental expenses so that it could be done right now.
DIAMBRA I could make an offering at this point that says this “I certainly want no reimbursement directly. I want no cash. I will not, however spend my money for expenses.” This is much different than in ’81 when I talked to Al Warren. There wasn’t a Center. There wasn’t anything like this. I envisioned having to do this out of my own offices in Silver Springs and I said, “How in the hell am I going to get some of those guys on the west coast to visit me?” I wouldn’t. I would have to make laborious trips out there, which would involve a lot of planning so if you hit one big loop maybe several months at a time. That, I couldn’t afford to do because this was seven or eight years ago, running a company and unsettling myself for those periods of time. I was very concerned about guys dying. Everybody’s getting older. We’re all getting older and it’s going to get lost. I’m really sorry to hear about Milt’s infirmities.
SMITH That’s tragic.
DIAMBRA Let me put it this way. I had another guy like this. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of him Don McGammon.
SMITH I knew him by reputation.
DIAMBRA Don McGammon was one hell of a guy. He was president of Westinghouse Broadcasting. He had more Peabody Awards than you’ve got hair on your head. He was very dedicated to what he was doing. To hear that McGammon died when he was 56 of Alzheimer’s Disease, I was absolutely stunned. I heard that from the guy that administers the Peabody Awards down at the University of Georgia, Worth, Georgia. I visited Worth. I wanted to talk to him; he runs instructional services like Marlowe does.
You probably don’t know Johnny Stevenson. He and I were very close because they had helped to promote the idea of this compressed television bit that we were going to be talking about in the state of Georgia. Of course the university is an integral part of the state of Georgia. We asked them to provide us the simulation for what we had in mind. So that could demonstrate simulation. I gave a presentation one full day to their instructional services and the state of Georgia’s instructional services, Jack Nix who was state superintendent of schools, and so forth and so on. We got close. Harvey Aderhold had been in the broadcast fraternity in Georgia from the very first day there was one. He designed it and worked with very close friends. He went back to pay a visit to us and talk about Harvey’s last days. He’s the one that told me about McGammon. I said, “That’s not something I expected. He’s brilliant, out going.” He always intended to be what the guy from Yale now is, Commissioner of Baseball. He was a top grade lawyer, a broadcaster. Thirteen kids, that guy had and you’d never believe that they ever slowed him or Mary down.
End of Tape 4, Side A
Conversation began before the tape
SMITH We can compare it to Johnny Campbell’s date. This is not for the purpose of saying so and so was first, but historically we may as well have it.
DIAMBRA This is what I’d be doing in a technical history. These are the things that I would have to unearth and track down. When you say first, there can’t be unless it was on the same day, two identical firsts. It’s entirely possible that they occurred at the same time, poles apart. Johnny Campbell was not very much involved with Canadian activities. Abajian was, because his brother lived in Burlington. There was a tremendous amount of activity north of the border. I don’t think I ever saw Johnny Campbell in Canada.
SMITH I’m not suggesting that. What I was thinking, Bob said that Johnny built them for his own system. He wasn’t at the time selling them when he first started. He was making them for his own system.
DUDLEY Then he formed Cass Manufacturing.
DIAMBRA This was back around ’70, the middle ’70s or late ’60s.
DIAMBRA I remember that very well. This however out dates that by a decade and a half, two decades perhaps. This goes way the hell back. I don’t ever remember Campbell being involved. He had probably never even heard of Hank Abajian.
SMITH It would be my guess.
DIAMBRA You know what Hank did? He tried to sell. Do you remember I told you that we developed an adjacent channel operation in South Williamsport? Penn Power & Light, PP&L will attest to this. They raised hell with the Jerrold system there because they were forever trying to figure out how to get two other channels into the strip system. Abajian realized what was happening and that there was such a potential market for it, developed a five adjacent channel strip system.
SMITH That sounds like it may be easier than broadband.
DIAMBRA No, it’s much more difficult because the filtering and the combining of those strips was a dinger, boy, I’ll tell you. It was designed so that you drop two of those strips in, in the middle of what Milt had. You had 2, 4, 6. Hank was going to drop in 3 and 5 and make it all play with Milt’s gear. He became quickly disabused. None of the gear that was on the street looked like any other gear and you’d have to tailor every damned thing for every job you did. He said, this is impossible. So he put together a chassis base and everything with five strips in it, for people who wanted strip systems, he was going to give you five adjacent channels of strip operation. It proved to be very difficult to do. There are a lot of technical reasons, the cross over, the filters, the impedance variations. A hell of a lot of problems. He actually did play that. He demonstrated that. It did work. It was touchy as hell.
SMITH When did Hank decide to say good bye to the cable business?
DIAMBRA I don’t know that it was a precipitated good bye. As I remember, Hank just sort of slowly faded except from my memory. I remember Hank very well. I don’t even know if I’d recognize Hank today. I don’t even know what the hell he’s doing. I don’t even know where he is. I had a meeting with Hank in Long Island. Henry Jasik was there and we were talking about very specialized antennas because those were the first days when we were going to offer a very, very sophisticated pre amplifier. It was with a brand new tube. Transistors were not available for those frequencies. This was a brand new tube. It was a trial. There was a subminiature gizmo. It costs $60 apiece for the tubes. We sold a hell of a lot of them. They were superb amplifiers. Jasik got involved in advising us. A bunch subcontracted the designs, for us in New York and made the first prototypes for us. They were superb. It became evident that that is what the industry needed, superb equipment, no matter what the hell the cost. If you could stick it up on the tower, it better be good. That was a motto that we followed. That was one of the last meetings I had with Abajian and Jasik. That was in ’60 or ’61. That was a long time ago, so I don’t know what the hell Hank is doing, but he ought to be tracked down. I’m sure he’s still alive, or maybe I shouldn’t be sure. Things do happen. I don’t even know if John’s still alive and practicing medicine or teaching medicine at the University of Vermont.
SMITH We ought to be able to track John down.
DIAMBRA We could just pick up the phone and call the university and see if there is an Abajian on the staff. That should be done. As I said, I can remember that very vividly. I walked in late to the bar. I was late getting there. Here is an assemblage of eight or ten guys, sitting around gassing, most of whom I knew. Ken Easton was there, Hank Abajian was there. They were talking about this thing at a table. I just kind of crowd up to the bar, and Abajian says, “Hey, there’s Diambra.” I said, “Hello Hank. What the hell are you guys trying to sell these days?” Easton said, “Well he’s got you all beat hollow. He’s got the answer to all of the cable problems right here.” I got very interested about that and drifted over from the bar with a glass in my hand, into a very dark corner. I said, “What the hell kind of bullshit are you selling now, Abajian? Are we going to start another society?” He knew what I meant, but nobody else in the room did. He said, “No, but I thought you might be interested.” And they talked about this. I knew nothing about transistors then. I was fascinated by the approach and thought, “Hey, if this is possible and Abajian’s interesting himself in building one, I better damned get smart enough to look at it.” I remember that vividly that night. I don’t think it worked. It worked only for a short period of time and did those things that I just discussed with you. It couldn’t be left out there by itself, absolutely not. There was quite a hiatus between then and the first practical transistorized equipment.
SMITH Who, in your opinion, did market the first practical transistorized equipment?
DIAMBRA I thought you might raise that question. I really don’t know at this moment. I’d have to think about it at length because it came with a flood, not because of the cable industry. It was because of what other people in the solid state world were doing. Anybody that wanted to develop transistorized equipment, certainly ought to know what was going on technically with transistors the change from Germanian to silicon, and all that good stuff, power requirements, thermal dissipations. They were all very carefully involved; I’m sure, in understanding that kind of research.
What had become evident now that such a transistor was now available, higher frequencies, more power capabilities to the world at large, some of the first ones being Motorola Designs. Everybody suddenly jumped on and everybody suddenly came out with the same thing at the same time. I don’t know who was first.
SMITH It probably is not so important.
DIAMBRA We used a lot of C-COR stuff in the ’60s down in Georgia. I knew that it was already working stably, well, and reliably, then.
SMITH I had heard, and I’m not pressing this as being fact, that Bruce Merrill and Ameco was given credit for converting the industry to it not necessarily the first man with transistors.
DIAMBRA He made a very determined effort to do transistorized system design. I can’t remember Dwayne’s last name.
SMITH We’ll remember it. You did well to remember Dwayne.
DIAMBRA He was there. I remember him very well, visually. I can visualize him in my head.
SMITH Dwayne had a successor too.
DIAMBRA Ah, you almost said it. Dwayne Hendricks?
SMITH I’m thinking now of something getting close to Sechrist.
DIAMBRA Sechrist was another guy. S E C H R I S T. I remember that. This guy was from somewhere else. He joined the groups later on.
SMITH On the way to Toftrees this evening you’ll remember it.
DIAMBRA I always do. It’s always after the fact. Anyway, it might be of serious interest because after all that was the generation of the wave that changed the character of the business. If it were not for transistors we would not be doing what we are today. It is physically impossible to do it with tubes, literally. I’m looking at Montgomery Co. running down past my house and saying, “God Almighty. Amplifier cases are on strands that are that long and that wide and that high.” (Diambra gestures)
DIAMBRA This is supposed to be state of the art. You don’t know the fiasco in Montgomery Co.? Somebody dropped $82 million on that one. They rebuilt the entire system that was four years old.
SMITH Was it the Chicago Tribune that dropped the money?
DIAMBRA No, I think it was the Los Angeles Times. My attorney who happens to be a top real estate attorney there, my personal attorney, Bob Leno, whom you may know. Somebody else dropped that money. Anyway, there were incredible technical abortions. The last count was made public. Thirty three thousands plus complaints that were unresolved. They were house calls that needed to be made. Thirty three thousand.
SMITH I can find the name of that company.
DIAMBRA It was horrible. Now it’s a whole new thing. They’re trying like hell, but they’ve got enormous competition as you well know. You can get television from anywhere.
SMITH Washington, Baltimore.
DIAMBRA All of the public stations from everywhere, Hagerstown, east coast, it’s all there. The amount of television. The only thing that I think that is selling cable these days in the metropolitan Washington area is C Span, CNN, and all of the closed circuit stuff that is now specialized for cable. That’s the only thing that I could see for paying upwards of $33 per month. How times have changed. I don’t think they’re going to make it. My own personal opinion is that it’s a hell of a row to hoe. They’re aiming at the diversity of telecommunications services, you know, where you get feedback, ordering stuff, all kinds of polling.
DIAMBRA A whole lot was discussed many, many years ago, in the early days of international telemeter, in the early days of pay television channels when Ridenour would kind of hold court. He was an incredible poker player, all night. He was a hell of a poker player. How they’d go about doing it, he too would know about codes that could be broken, any code made. He insisted that you put money in the damned machine. You couldn’t break that. There’s only one problem. How the hell do you get it out? That’s right. There you go collecting your money, how do you get it out? They would talk about boxes on the outside and all kinds of weird schemes. I’ll tell you next time about automated power distribution. It might ring a bell. I spent four years with that at Westinghouse in Raleigh, North Carolina. Twenty one years from the first experiment at Coral Springs until an active customer was found and experiments run. They (?) for twenty one years to make that concept work. Now you find it in your home surely where a vast variety of very specialized signals were on the power lines, for metering, for controlling distribution and for changing your basic rate structure in the computerized meter based on the time of day. A little box would be in the kitchen and when the light goes green, you could do anything that you wanted like washing clothes and stuff like that. When the light goes red, watch out. You can wash clothes or dry clothes or do anything, but you’re going to pay a premium rate for it. That’s all done by a carrier communications on the distribution system.
SMITH On the power distribution system.
DIAMBRA We looked at everything. We looked at telepathy, cable, they were very intrigued by what we were doing. They were the first people at Coral Springs in the cable lab handling those experiments. They finally concluded that they had better be in complete charge of all the communications, hand powered in both directions. They could not depend on anybody to see anything for them. So they put it on. Two very interesting patents were awarded for that. It was a very, very secure system. It was noise immune. You can latch with the problems of transmitting data on power circuits, with incredible spiking of all kinds going on at all times. They were weird. They really were. But they solved those problems. It’s incredible how the wheel turns. It’s twenty plus years now. It could be almost thirty years ago. It’s just starting to be felt in the industry.
DUDLEY They may have some of that type of monitoring here at West Penn because in the section of the town that I live in one day we have power problems. I would call right away and they knew where those problems were.
DIAMBRA I wrote the first disclosure for Westinghouse of that subject in 1979 80 at Raleigh when we were doing a major consulting job. It started out as forty one days of work they said. Three and a half years later we left the premises as being their public (?) department. The problem that we learned, and this is one of the intriguing parts of trying to write a technical history, my first job in writing for them was to realize immediately that there were three distinct groups of people that had to talk to each other, using the same words in an entirely different fashion. My first job was to sit there and devise a glossary that was common to everybody. I ended up with a forty four page glossary and that was the beginning of technical disclosure, so that a power engineer, a communications engineer, and a computer engineer, meant the same damned thing when they talked about “bridging.” They sure do not sound the same. The one guy would say, “Oh you mean that.” “No that’s not what I mean. You said bridging…” We discovered that early on. The more meanings we had collectively. The people thought they were all talking perfectly plain English which it was, but none of them understood the same jargon. I suddenly realized, “My God, that’s true.”
My first real exposure to power people was getting involved at that level of translating power ideas. We ended up being senior editors for, and unfortunately we had to write most of two 600 page reports for Westinghouse (?), two contracts to fulfill on research. One with Detroit Edison to do this via conductive power lines, the other with Long Island Lighting, to do it via microwave. The 13 gigger, which was a very interesting experiment in Long Island. They collected four years worth of data. It’s too long of a story to go into detail, but they suggested to me that I might help them, one afternoon. It was a Friday afternoon. I was ready to leave. I said, when the hell do you guys need to report? They said, “Oh, in about two or three weeks.” I said, “Well how much have you got written?” “Nothing” I said, “You can’t be serious.” Nineteen months later we got that out, two massive reports.
What brings this to mind is that one of the engineers, a very bright power guy with a master’s in power engineering, had witnessed a phenomenon which the computer run out and the graphics, showed him existed. He gave me this to read and edit for him. I read it. I ran across this statement that says, “But this phenomenon is not explainable.” I said to Westinghouse Electric, this phenomenon is not explainable and this is going to be a seminal report on automated distribution to the world? I said, “Come on. You guys have more guys in the lab that can explain it to you, than Carter’s got little pills.” They never thought about it that way. The more he read about it, he said, “I can’t understand it.” I went to the boss and said, “Barry, these people have never heard of an FM capture effect. This is a standard communications problem. It’s occurring on a power line.” They had devised an incredible system, where repeaters repeated all directions simultaneously. Think about that for a moment. Put a repeater at this node and it radiates in all directions simultaneously and it goes back where the signal came from. Everything has to be computer gated so that they listen to each other and don’t talk when someone else is talking and then radiate and ripple. The farther out they went, these signals, which are frequency variable, would suddenly in some stations be very effective and in other stations closer by, would be ineffective. I said, “I hate to tell you guys, but you’re looking at an FM capture effect.” I received a dull blank stare. They said, “What the hell is that?” I said, “Well an FM radio, when you’re playing with frequency modulation, when you’re getting very close to the borderline of two signals that are at equal strength, that don’t just interfere with each other, the receiver will actually go “Whew” (Diambra makes demonstrative sound) and capture one at the total elimination of the other. You know that. I said that’s what you were watching. All of a sudden this station wouldn’t work because it was capturing the other station. You were not gated to it. They said, “Well we never thought about that. We never even heard about that.” It suddenly occurred that we’d better reinforce that difference in glossary.
SMITH They had that and their car radios every goddamned day that they drove and never thought about it.
DIAMBRA In fact, in Raleigh they probably never had that happen either because once you got out of Raleigh, that was it. You’ve got nothing.
SMITH I certainly don’t want to move you away but…
(There is a break in conversation here on the tape.)
End of Tape 4, Side B
DUDLEY This is May 30, 1989 and we are recording an oral history interview with Mr. Hank Diambra. Interviewing Mr. Diambra is E. Stratford Smith of the School of Communications at Penn State, and I am Bob Dudley of the National Cable Television Center and Museum.
DIAMBRA The only comment that I was going to make was vis a vis transcribing and editing. When I started drifting away from the cable business, in which I was directly involved for a long time, one of the jobs I took, and I should really give some background, but it will come as a flashback, was to do the design of a massive relational data base for nuclear training. It involved the interrelationship of training phenomenon, machinery and legislation, which are some very interesting things to interrelate. There were four of us that were essentially the nucleus of the design team. We knew each other very well. We designed on the basis that there are very few formalities. There is structure of course, but at the review sessions, we don’t try to limit anyone’s thinking, nor do we go in for wild brainstorming. It’s a controlled evolutionary process. We stick with a subject, but just because someone raises a question that might seem a little foreign as compared to what we are discussing at the moment, it’s allowed to continue. We use the regressions that you were talking about, oral rambling. When you’re doing design, it’s very, very essential that you get some of that. You don’t ever want to shut a guy off. Irrespective of what the other group who is very intense on a focal point happen to think of the (?) To capture that, over a period of three and a half years, we have recorded two and a half million words. That’s a lot of recording. They’re all transcribed and they’re all a matter of record of which we have kept for a number of reasons, patent rights, copyrights, we built the cases, you would say, from the very beginning, before it started. As a consequence of that, we learned very quickly that only experts, and we had in it a person that is a working partner of mine, who is a senior editor and who used to teach English at Penn State, who also happened to be a top grade transcriber. She did the dual job of listening for the original tape and transcribing it. Originally we had given the tapes to other transcribers, competent people, people who were doing a lot of legal transcription, courts, and that sort of thing. I was wondering what Nancy was doing spending hours and hours cleaning up tapes, well not the tapes, but the transcripts. I said, “Nancy, we’re spending an incredible amount of time and effort.” She said, “Hank, I think you’d better just listen to the tapes and read the transcripts. That’s my job. Why don’t you take a crack at it for half an hour?” When “seminal” came up “seminole” a couple of times, I decided there’s a different way. I finally listened to Nancy very carefully, and she said, “Hank, I think we would (?) is a hell of a lot higher than a transcriber. It would save this effort a lot of money, if I did the transcribing, because I was there as part of the research group, and I understood what was going on. I know the vagaries and the direction that the conversation took, which a transcriber would hardly recognize. I know who was doing the talking and what influenced that conversation. I can better transcribe it first shot than trying to go back and edit nonsensical words that have nothing to do with the subject.” We had already gotten past the first million the other way, and it was an incredibly bad process. The minute Nancy took over; she had another transcriber working directly with her side by side. She was doing the bulk of it. This one was just doing rough cut. It went incredibly faster. We kept the two people who knew exactly what was going on. By the time the first several weeks went by, her assistant already was very familiar with everything that we were doing and understood what would happen at the next session because we set up an agenda for it. So she knew what was going to happen on the tape even before she got the tapes. That compared to giving it to a transcriber who knew absolutely nothing about what was going on, had no idea what was on the tape. We found it so much more productive that I would strongly support that what you should try to do is get the stuff down to one or two people. Don’t ever involve a whole platoon of people who come and go, and have other jobs.
DUDLEY That’s been our key problem because we’ve been using students.
DIAMBRA Oh, that is horrible. Grad students are great grunts and twits.
DUDLEY Oh, these aren’t grad students, these are undergrads. By the time you get them to have some understanding of the vocabulary, they’re gone.
SMITH It’s extraordinarily technical. Not to downplay the problem with this, but usually it’s a matter of geography or the name of a town or a technical term. In your case, it was very technical and few people would have the competency to understand it.
DIAMBRA Again this reinforces what we were talking about when the original tape shut off at the last session. The (?) familiarity of professionals with cross (?) in different fields. We were talking simultaneously within the same (?), a relational data base design, which is rather tricky and the verification and validation of those designs, the nuclear training phenomenon itself, the whole business of Three Mile Island, and how that altered nuclear training, the training process itself, what should you have for training, lesson plans, the whole business of instructional systems design, on which this was based, and the cohesiveness of linking it all to executive management use, such as predicting costs, timetables, validity, etc., at the same time. All of these were interrelated.
You couldn’t just say let’s talk about the relational data base. That’s not sensible saying, “Let’s talk about a tank.” For what? The question was, “How were we going to retrieve data, essentially relate data, among all of these various components?” So it took either a person who was infinitely familiar with all four, which was never the case. We never found such a person. Each of us would have specialties. Nancy Gulliford…
SMITH Gulliford did you say?
DIAMBRA G U L L I F O R D. Nancy and I have worked together since we spent a decade together at the research center at Westinghouse. She was an educational specialist for Westinghouse’s Learning Corp. and I ended up running a project for five years which was very involved and which we haven’t talked about. It was compressed television delivery for public television. That again supports the whole business of various groups who would like to communicate and can’t. In which case I talked to Marlowe for instance about old friends of mine in Georgia with whom this experiment of mine was conducted. Marlowe knows all of the guys very well, (?)n and that whole bunch. It was essentially instructional support, system support. We had had no idea from an engineering point of view, what we were trying to do.
DUDLEY That’s what we’re doing for (????)
DIAMBRA We started by digressing, and I don’t want to keep that up, because that would make this a rather useless tape. We were talking about the fact that in the cable business… I don’t really remember. I remember the business of the glossary because that was the last thing that we did. Do you want to interrupt that tape, Bob and give me a segment of what we were really talking about on cable.
DUDLEY Did we ever really lock up the meeting with Entron?
DIAMBRA No, we never really even discussed it, which is probably as germane a point this morning as any other.
SMITH It’s a good place to start because it gets into the next part of your career.
DIAMBRA It changes the scenery rather sharply at that point. My last series of activities, and that’s where I think we mentioned Ken (?) I think I might have been the first person who ever tried to take a systems operating company public per se. I was an adjunct to another company, but as a specific company, to design, acquire, and operate systems and to build them. The name of that company was International Cablevision Corp. If I remember correctly, Strat made some comments about an earlier system that formed the nucleus for those down in Vero Beach Florida, way back in 1957 and ’58. I met with a local person in Vero Beach, whose name was Traverse. T R A V E R S E. Traverse K. Pollock, known in the business as T.K. T.K. and I became friends and he suggested, and I agreed with him, that Vero Beach needed a system, in fact the entire east coast of Florida did. Remember those days of Cape, not Kennedy, but Cape Canaveral and the south, was becoming very populated, prior to that in the ’40s. The Cape was kind of an island out there. It was not doing anything and there was nobody on it except to go swimming. When the Cape got built, things really heated up. It was a tremendous influx of people in Melbourne, Cape Canaveral, that whole area on the Atlantic, Vero Beach and all the way down to Ft. Pierce. That coincided with the great real estate boom and getting a lot of retirees in that area. It was enormous growth. T.K. was in the real estate business at Vero Beach. His father had been involved in the selling of insulators to the RAA and the first cyclometer type meter for measuring. It was for power reading that could be read by a non professional, where the four digits came up like an odometer on a car so that the average farmer could read his own power consumption and have it ready for the (?) He spent a lot of time doing that and retired in Vero and grew oranges and went into the real estate business there. He found that one of the main reasons for people not living there, is when they stayed for a week or two; there wasn’t anything in the way of television. The nights get very long that way. He called me up. I can’t quite remember why he called me up, but he did, to find out whether I’d be interested in advising him as to the merits of the system. I went down and said, “Sure, yeah.” It was the logical thing to do. I helped him raise money and helped to build a franchise for him with one of the attorneys in town and started the nucleus of an east coast business. It then also included Ft. Pierce, and including the acquired franchises up the coast all the way to Cape Canaveral. Those were the years however, when things in the cable business were kind of at a crossroads. The cable business saw peaks and valleys of activity. That coincided with a minor peak and followed by a couple of years of serious valleys.
DUDLEY What years are you talking about?
DIAMBRA Oh, 1959, ’60, ’61. It was so for a number of reasons. First of all, microwave was essential top the operation of those systems. We made measurements and found that we couldn’t honestly say that we would put our money into an operation of that kind, with the reliability of off the air signals being as bad as they were. Florida posed some very interesting problems such as stratification of signals and because of the refraction index, high humidity levels, and all of that sort of thing. The east coast had serious challenges due to thunderstorms of which there are a large variety of very big ones. So it was essential that we bring up signals from the Miami area or down from Jacksonville. We proposed that it would be best for Miami. That was absolutely with microwave. We applied for and got six megahertz and sought at least to begin with, the normal balance required to make it a two common carrier operation. The receiving antennas were installed just north of West Palm Beach with hops all the way up the coast which lead to the building of Ft. Pierce. It was a logical place for a tower right there. So it made them coincide as was usually the case. You pick the prime spot for repeaters that were also coincidental with systems operations and we built that. Raising money on that premise was tough, because everybody would say, “Well gee, they get all the television they need in these towns.” They couldn’t conceivably understand that people were not very happy with the minimal amount of television. That plus the fact that I was still running Entron Inc., which was a manufacturing and design thing, plus its subsidiaries, which then involved systems’ construction, and also because of Florida, a microwave operation, in this case was an arm’s length. Entron actually was the carrier for the Vero Beach systems. In order to give it the true arm’s length characteristic it needed, it got a little complicated, certainly from a financial point of view. As a consequence, some people in New York were helping to finance Entron, were also going public. Entronwhich was then going public in ’59 with a full S1 registration, suggested that we form a separate company entirely, whose job it was to organize systems, some that were existing or could be built by the franchise and build a network of systems. We did that. We actually publicly funded a company called International Cablevision Corp., which acquired the Vero Beach Ft. Pierce franchises, and the other franchise they had which was in the Atlantic and a few others. We worked with another attorney whom we got to know quite well in Tallahassee who had interestingly enough, one of the three franchises in Tallahassee and one of the three operating systems in Tallahassee, all of which were fighting each other, and all of which were in incredibly bad shape. One of which, was a very startling surprise to me, was owned by a group that should have known better. It was Dumore. Do you remember Larry Bach? (Laughter) I said that with tongue in cheek.
SMITH He was one of my dearest friends in the industry.
DUDLEY D U M O R E?
DIAMBRA Dumore, which was essentially owned by a guy by the name of Henry Griffing, whom I got to know very, very well, because we were trying to promote this sale of Entron’s equipment in that organization. Henry tragically, since I’m a pilot, I can speak in a professional sense… He tragically did what all newcomers to the business do. He got a little too cocky too fast, and ended up killing himself and his entire family just south of Williamsport, Pennsylvania. He had just gone to Harvard to pick up his son who had just graduated. He flew him into a mountain, south of Williamsport. That was tragic. That blew the company. But as I said, Dumore should have known better. It was a technical abomination, practically. There’s no criticism intended, because I knew that Larry knew better, and George Milner certainly knew a hell of a lot better. Milner was M I L N E R. He was their chief engineer. I had known George for a long time. We discussed the merits of a lot of things when we were trying to sell him Entron. So I could not understand why Tallahassee was in such incredibly bad shape. The signals were just virtually nonexistent. They came. They went. just looking at the plant was an embarrassment. So, I said to the fellow who also was in town, whose name I can’t really remember right now, “Sure, if you had a franchise and you wanted to fill it in for International Cablevision, we’d be glad to acquire it and you’d become a stockholder in International Cablevision and we’ll go on to other things,” which we did. The minute that that became a public entity on the day after the issue, I got a call. I was staying at a hotel there in Tallahassee. I got a call from one Larry Boggs who rode me up one side and down the other. If there was ever a guy who could give you a sad story on the telephone, it was Larry, who accused me of absolutely knocking him out. He just flatly stated that that was the last piece of Entron that would ever be sold to Dumore. I said, “What are you talking about? What have I done?” He said, “Well you know what you did with this other guy.” I said, “He came to us and essentially wanted to sell a franchise. We traded him paper for a franchise. Paper for paper. We haven’t done anything yet. Why? Do you want in, Larry? Do you want to trade yours?” He said, “Oh no. You’ve just knocked us out of business.” I said, “Oh well, I don’t quite see it that way but if you feel that…” I just left it that way. Unfortunately Larry died thereafter and I never did talk to Larry again. I almost viewed that as tongue in cheek. I didn’t really think that Larry was serious, but I guess he was. Unfortunately we found out later what Larry’s problem was. He was essentially in partnerships with a local broadcaster. The only original monopolistic broadcaster. He wasn’t exactly poor. His name was Phipps. If you know about the Phipps estate and that whole business, you’d know that the Phipps’ don’t need to broadcast anything. They could buy and sell Tallahassee. Be that as it may, I think it was a guise to keep someone else out of monopolistic broadcasting, which is no longer the situation, by the way. In the process, International Cablevision started to acquire other things, and started to build. It had a serious internal falling out with its own board of directors. In other words, when you have diversities of philosophies on the same board, you just can’t operate. You get rid of that board, or start all over.
SMITH Can you name some of the people who were in that group with you?
DIAMBRA Well one of the things that came to our attention was the fact that San Angelo, Texas, needed a major overhaul. I flew with some of the (?) , a fellow by the name of Alfred Green who was an attorney on the street at 30 Broad, and one of the people that ran a small (?) over at the counter stock shop in New York, (San Masielo?). I flew them into San Angelo to meet with the senior Gunter, who was a long time resident of San Angelo. I met with him about the system. Prior to that we had met with his son Ken who happened to have just graduated from Rice University and was kind of flubbing around, frankly.
DUDLEY The senior Gunter’s name was..?
DIAMBRA I don’t know. All I can do is visualize the single picture that I have of him. I have a portrait of that Gunter with a cigar in his mouth, which I think he was born with. I’ll think about that too. He was running a fairly large appliance business in the city at the time. Ken was trying to convince his father that there was really more to cable than just flubbing around with a couple of customers, and that something should be done to it. In fact, he enlisted me to try to get the senior Gunter to listen to a plan to make it larger. The Gunter wasn’t putting any money into it. So I approached him on the basis of “why don’t you just swap your stock in San Angelo for International Cablevision stock, which is public, and make that a keystone of a western operation. It’s a big enough city to do that. I think you may be heading in the right direction.” He really went for that. Yes, he did do that, and San Angelo became a part of International Cablevision which is exactly how I got very close to Ken Gunter. I had an internal philosophic difference. Those who had stock in going operations, wanted to see an immediate return on their investment. I said, “If you really want a cash flow, we can arrange the best possible cash flow and the biggest possible losses, which is still operable, I don’t know about today, under the tax rules that existed in those days.” I said, “If you’re sneering at tax losses and you want to generate public profits which are crazy then you’re deluding what I’m trying to do, which is to build more and more plants to generate more and more steam, and cash flow. We’re going in two different directions, fellows. We can’t go in this direction, because you’re taking my money to do it, and if I go in that direction, I want to take your (?) Since it was a public ring and Gunter was a fairly large shareholder, I point this out to Gunter. I said, “What this system needs here in town is a total rebuild. We’re not talking about a minor amount of money; this is a fairly substantial city. You can’t build a cream of these cities and get away with it very long. You’re going to have to supply signals to everybody in town because you’re going to be accused pretty quickly of being a monopoly, and then you can’t be the kind of monopoly that thumbs its nose at anyone that wants service, plus the fact that it’s bad business. There’s a limit to how far out in the country a rattlesnake should go, but you still have to serve some of the areas that are hardly described as the cream of the crop.” “Well, we’ll see about that.” I said, “They should come last, but certainly not be forgotten.” More mature systems like Vero which has been running for some time and was damned near saturated frankly, were more interested in building up the coast. I couldn’t understand this schism. The ones that were saturated normally wanted to get money out fast and the builders wanted to build. Here it was an exact flip-flop. The one that needed building, wanted to get its money fast, and the ones that were saturated, wanted to build. I said, “Whatever I own of this, you can buy out. I cannot fight this battle continuously every board meeting, nor can I operate it this way because I happen to be operating in a company that may have a serious conflict of interest with you people. It’s a manufacturer. We’d love to sell you everything you’ll need, but common sense tells me as a public corporation that you’d better investigate very carefully what you put into these systems. If I dictate that to you, there’s an immediate conflict that arises. Entron’s a public company, you’re a public company. I can’t do this. Since the two philosophies are totally divergent anyway, I’d rather get out.”
This then caused me to think seriously. Since I’m not getting very far very fast in the cable manufacturing business, which was starting to get crowded by everyone at which time, the Bell system with whom I’d been working with in Canada for some time, started to make noises of its own, if you’ll remember. I think they essentially forced a major change in the industry. They forced standardization to some degree because every manufacturer in the country wanted Bell as a customer. They were really going to do something. They were a big enough customer to be serious. You didn’t just overlook that, no matter what effort it took to do that. Having acquired a KS# from the Bell, as I said earlier, to provide equipment for Canadian systems which I started, along with some Canadians, I was acutely aware from having met some of those people both at Bell Labs, Bell of Canada, and Western Electric, that they were perfectly capable of building the stuff themselves, but for other reasons, were not going to do that. So they essentially drafted a set of standards which they circulated. Their object was not so much to get a standard set of criticisms back, as it was to weed out potential vendors, and find out who was already conformed to their standards. They were a bit surprised when a lot of feedback said, “We don’t really care to build to that because it’s too diverse from what we’re doing. We would have to have two lines of equipment, one for you people and one for the rest of the industry which doesn’t think like you do and can’t afford to spend the money that you’re going to spend on building systems, and doesn’t subscribe to your philosophy at all.” That lead to a kind of watering down a little bit of their proposal and a great major shift in the industry standards, transistorized equipment, almost universal, a lot of thought to reliability, a hell of a lot of thought to heat dissipation and all the thermal and environmental effects which we had spent a decade with the Bell. So we were very happy that we were being considered seriously. I said to myself, “If that’s the case, I had better make a career shift about now if I want to make it.” First of all, this industry’s going to be dominated by the likes of the Bell from an equipment point of view, which could, and probably would at any time, decide to make its own after the rest of the industry showed it how. There wasn’t very much of a future in it with respect to just selling equipment, which was my concern. So I said, “When am I ever going to make a switch into pure operations with some overtones of the equipment design systems, and build systems that I think should be built for the industry?” Now is the time to do it. I found the perfect opportunity to do so as I said, because of the philosophical split in the ICC to sell them the shares that I had. Also to find a buyer for the shares I had at Entron, with a full understanding that I wasn’t going to walk away as though I had never heard of Entron. I was going to keep them very much in mind, since I could trust anybody there, with respect to technical advice and equipment. They assured me that they would cooperate with anything that I did. it was a very nice amicable severance. I went out and started to build a network, and I found the most obvious overlooked are in the country, which was the southeast, from literally South Carolina, North Carolina border on down to central Florida. Everybody said they got all kinds of television, which was perfectly superficial. If you drove down 301 in those days, it was 95 later, and saw television antennas on everything, you would say, “Who needs television.” If you spent two or three days in town, you would wonder what these people do for entertainment. It’s the same crap, over and over again. We can’t believe it.
SMITH May I interject something here?
DIAMBRA By all means.
SMITH This strikes a responsive chord in my mind. Didn’t you constantly hear people say, “We have great television?” The fact is that they didn’t know any better. They thought it was great because it was all they had seen. Is that the way you found it?
DIAMBRA Perfectly so. And in addition to that comment, a minor digression, in the earlier ’50s, around ’54… I did mention Henry Kannee to you people?
SMITH Yes, you did.
DIAMBRA Henry was a good solid Democrat from the Roosevelt days, way back when in New York with Roosevelt. The chairman of the House Appropriations Committee was an old friend of his who had moved from Minnesota, from the Island Range. Apparently when Henry got involved with cable, seriously, he said to me, “Hank, I think ought to go up to (?)” I said, “Henry, we had best stick around home and do some work here. We’ve just barely started.” He said, “No, I think this is important. I think we ought to go up there.” John, whatever his name was, said, “You’re invited to visit us on the (?) Range.” He lived in Hibbing.
DUDLEY H I B B I N G?
DIAMBRA Hibbing, right, which was as you people might know, the heart and center of the Mesabi Iron Range. In fact, the city of Hibbing was moved literally twice because of iron ore. What was the original Hibbing is now a hole about a mile and a half wide and about a thousand feet deep, in which trucks gradually eroded a hole in Hibbing, so they moved the whole damned thing north of town to get past that range. That left a very interesting natural anomaly. This is now a big enough hole to have serious effect on television reception, especially at low frequencies. It has a very interesting specular effect. It distorts the wave front. As that wave hits the edges of this hole, it’s right in front of Hibbing so the signal goes bouncing right over the top of the town. I went up and the only television in town was in the firehouse because they could put an antenna on top of the jump-off of the building test site where they used to train firemen. It’s three or four stories high and they jump into nets. They had a tower that was built of bricks, and 15 feet square or so, and this tower went up four stories, so they’d train firemen to jump off buildings. They stuck an antenna on top. I was watching this with Bob McGeehan. We left the bar earlier that day as you remember. There was a fight on in Minneapolis. Minneapolis was about 130 miles from Hibbing. They are watching this fight and they think it’s fantastic. I’m watching it through the cloud of snow. The fight comes and goes and comes and goes and they’re betting on every round. Just as the fight ends, that’s it. They can’t collect bets because they don’t know who won. I said to McGeehan, “I don’t know much about Minnesotans, but I’ll tell you, if this were Reno, Nevada somebody would get shot.” With all that money floating around on the table you’d better know the results. It was incredible.
They said, “Television is great. What do we need anything for?” That was my first exposure to what the hinterlands were saying, versus the urbanites. I said to myself, if this is the case, there must be a need for a system everywhere. There is no picture here that you can call a television picture. A number of receivers were pretty (?) in ’54, and so forth and so on. They needed help. Well, we started thinking of getting them help. We were in no position, having just formed Entron. I said to Henry Kenney, “I don’t know why I’m up here. The field research simply says, yes, they need a system, but count us out. We don’t have the equipment. We don’t have the talent. We don’t have the size. We don’t have the money, and we certainly don’t know what we’re doing about raising money for cable.” I don’t know who built Hibbing, but it got built. I visited everything from the east of the range, Ely, Gilbert through Hibbing all the way down to whatever the name of city on the western edge of the Mesabi is. It sounds like a furniture thing.
Anyway, in every one of the cities it was absolutely necessary. You leave there with a serious frustration. You know it’s necessary. You know where your customers are and you know you can’t tap them. Even Milt couldn’t tap them. Milt was growing like crazy then too. I’d carry his Dunn and Bradstreet statement in my case and he’d carry mine. We were selling D&Bs. It was a hell of a way to start an industry, but that’s the way it was. For all I know, it might still be the case. That was the first time appropriate to what you said, that I heard that the television was superb, when I thought they frankly had none. If I were in a lab, I’d say, “Good try fellows. Let me know when it works.” As it was, I’m hearing the same, but not to the same degree. That was so obvious as to be almost ludicrous.
In Florida I’m watching one or two pictures that seem to be all right, except the content is bad. The technical reception isn’t too great. It’s there and it’s much more stable than Hibbing. What I’m seeing from the set wasn’t entertainment or anything else. So when I decided to get into the business of running a network that I could call my own and call the shots in, I started in central Georgia, which was not only totally devoid of television, it was totally devoid of FM radio. Their greatest source of reliable AM radio at night was believe it or not, Westinghouse Stations, WBZ Boston, KDKA, Pittsburgh, WWOW, Fort Wayne Indiana, and Chicago. Those stations got in like an absolute ton of bricks in the central part of Georgia at night and you couldn’t even find the local ones. There wasn’t any local ones. They were off the air. The 500 watters, 1000 kilowatters, daytime only. They go off the air totally. Atlanta was nothing. The only Atlanta station sometimes was the Cox station Atlanta which in the earlier days was also preempted at night for the Cuban thing. They preempted that as a communications net into Cuba, after midnight. So that was the most incredible thing. I didn’t pay any attention to it. It became a coincidence later, after I developed a network of franchises. Dublin and Miller and Swainsboro, and Eastwood and on down to Valdosta. It ultimately reached Tallahassee. When I went to finance this, I found another great void. At that moment, there were microwave freezes. This was in 1962. The microwave freezes would have, and did keep me out of business, because without microwave, the network wouldn’t work and 13 gigahertz, microwave was totally unreliable, and required much closer spacing, which would have made the cost that much higher. So I was stuck with six. Well (?) an old friend, my first colleague, chief engineer of the company, Heinz Blum. He was a very good buddy of Bernie Strousburg. Bernie Strousburg was common carrier chief at the moment. So I said, “Why in the hell don’t I talk to Bernie and tell him what your problem is.” I did. We had a very nice lunch. and I went from there to Georgia and I paid my respect to a bunch of people who were representatives, Georgia senators, and I asked them to please inquire as to why we couldn’t have television at South Georgia. Four months later I had microwave permits for six gigahertz from Atlanta all the way down to Waycross, branching and setting up the bases for a net from Atlanta through Miami. This was totally coordinated. I coordinated every frequency and channel with the Bell, so there were no spillover effects from their six gigahertz net. We had the three Atlanta networks, so we figured we’d develop something totally unheard of then. I worked with Collins Radio and set the spec for it. It interesting how things that happened five or ten years before the fact, have a bearing on later developments. I had been working with Collins on and off in the Washington area, listening to what they were doing, not being totally involved and certainly not directly involved. But, it stuck. About the time that I started to seriously contemplate Collins equipment, I also specified to them that they were going to provide two subcarrier full FM stereo channels within in the TV (?) I visited them in Dallas and they damned near fell off the seat. Kerry Fox was a very sharp cookie who had just come back from a monumental tour in Saudi Arabia, and was running that division which among other things sold civilian radio to the cable industry. Milford Ritchie.
SMITH That’s the one with Bruce Merrill that I kept trying to think of his name.
DIAMBRA Milford Ritchie left Bruce Merrill and went to work for Collins. He was very familiar with the whole business of microwave.
SMITH Is that R I C H E Y?
DIAMBRA R I T C H I E. Milford Ritchie I didn’t know very well, but I got to know him very well after that because I specified that. Kerry said “No way am I going to guarantee that that will deliver and work.” I said, “Let’s forget Collins Radio.” We can’t quite do that guys, that’s a pretty good system. That’s a nice non hop system. It turned out that we ended knocking off two of the hops but ended up with a seven hop backbone system from, just north of Milledgeville, 40 miles south of Atlanta where we absolutely assured ourselves of practically induction field television, all the way down through Valdosta, Georgia, the southern state boundary. We specified that Collins put that system on the floor, all seven hops of it, synthesize the distances, the attenuations, and everything else, and test it on the floor. As I said, financing was a little tough. It was almost impossible until I got my microwave permits. No one would finance a system that couldn’t work, with overhead and no potential income. So I finally found an ear that was just becoming cognizant of cable, and that ear was Westinghouse Broadcasting. I went in to talk to Don McGammon. McGammon, if anything, was a broadcaster man. Anything else didn’t count. He understood cable. McGammon was smart enough and bright enough in every respect to be considered as baseball commissioner among other things. He was also under the running of Westinghouse Broadcasting, then the New York division which was totally foreign in a sense, to Westinghouse Electric. I say that not quite tongue in cheek. McGammon had just come through an interesting period where he had essentially, single handedly saved Westinghouse Broadcasting from total demise. That was when Westinghouse Electric got its butt in a ringer totally, ground up with collusion on power system sales. You remember those days, when people went to jail for it. There was much noise being then made in the federal bureaucracy that essentially, Westinghouse Broadcasting was really tied to Westinghouse Electric to the point where there was favoritism rates, etc. This was not an independent broadcaster at all. McGammon went in with an old law school friend of his who is still practicing law down there. He essentially convinced the Commission that this was not the case, and saved, however many millions those licenses were worth beaucoup.
SMITH It had to be a major accomplishment to do that.
DIAMBRA Extend that, McGammon thereafter was the fair haired boy at Westinghouse Electric.
End of Tape 5, Side A
DIAMBRA The consequence of that singular action about (?) in the sense that he was now, in order to preserve that arm’s length immunity and convince the board, he’d report to the board of course, but Westinghouse Electric and Westinghouse Broadcasting became essentially philosophically two different companies. I assure. I have worked for both. They are. What went on in New York, when you addressed Westinghouse Broadcasting, wasn’t anything like what happened in Pittsburgh when you talked to Westinghouse Electric. There were no budgets although they obviously had coordinated accounting and everything else. Their whole idea of how to run a business was rather different in New York. They also (?) in Westinghouse Learning Corp, which was the only place literally that it could survive, because again of that philosophic bent. Westinghouse had acquired a new chairman at that point. His name was Donald Burnham. Don Burnham was an ex design engineer for GM, a very bright one. He came out of Oldsmobile. He had been very successful in running that division. He became president of Westinghouse Electric. His idea of this, which was now in the early part of the ’60s, was to dedicate a tremendous amount of effort to public service, and the so called service business as opposed to the physical equipment business (?) to Westinghouse Electric. If it doesn’t turn, then we don’t believe it exists. If it doesn’t turn big and heavy, then it isn’t worth the time to think about it. It was a natural adjunct to having invented the electric power meter and being complete pioneers in electric power generation. You carry that culture with you. A service business is even in the power system’s business. You hardly make money independently. Burnham was talking about essentially doing something for education, which was totally unheard of at Westinghouse Electric. Over there they ran and still run an incredibly large educational division within their own company itself, to train people at Westinghouse Electric, all management trainees come up through their university so to speak – management school. That’s very heavily staffed. In fact that function was transferred to Westinghouse Learning Corp. That’s how I got to meet Nancy Gulliford. She was an educational specialist who went back to Pittsburgh when her father died, and went to work for Westinghouse Learning Corp. She was the only female employee at the laboratories, whose job was to investigate new technology and its implication for the educational field. She and a fellow of by the name of Don Laviana. L A V I A N A. Don was pretty crafty and shrewd about how you predict markets. He was a great market research specialist. They investigated every single thing that would move, walk or talk in the educational field, stuff like 70 mm film equipment, stereophonic AM. They, in concert with a brain drain group that had come to the labs in the middle ’50s from England and from the exodus in Hungary were very, very sharp cookies, which formed the video research group in the laboratories. Westinghouse Learning and the video research group were one of the very first coordinative efforts to do something about applying technology to education. So Nancy was directly involved in all kinds of research, the pyramid system on the west coast, all kinds of video disc.
Virtually unknown to virtually anyone in the field today, the video disc was invented by Westinghouse by George Wzickli. Dr. Wzickli was later fired for having wasted his time. That was a video disc with grooves on it which brought up pictures with a stylist, believe it or not. It was an audio/video stylist on a 12 inch disc. The pictures and sound didn’t last very long, but they were obviously video and audio for which George Wzickli got canned. You can just go so far in a corporation that can’t understand what you’re doing, although those days, the early to middle ’50s, the research center was run about like a clock. People have been known to spend their entire productive lives at the research center, retire honorably and nobody’d ever knew what they had done.
SMITH Was it the Learning Corp. that provided the tie-in for Westinghouse with cable?
DIAMBRA No, it was the other way around. Cable provided the tie-in for Westinghouse Learning; remember we’re talking about distribution systems here. All of these can be classified as technological means of distributing information. That’s what a pyramid system is, When you put a worked cow in the library and addresses the tape system and provides on call, whatever tapes you want, which is what it was. Essentially, radio had a new data bank. When you can’t (?) the stuff out of the data bank, you don’t have anything. There was a great deal of emphasis placed on distribution systems, and obviously cable, which is a very large distribution net, which wasn’t viewed that way at all. I’m the guy that caused them to view it that way because I was always looking for content. Three networks would finally get the system started, but I made so very close contacts at the Georgia Department of Education. All that I am discussing is totally interrelated as you will see in a moment. The fact was that I met Nancy after I made this contact. The contact that I made in Georgia came to me. His name was Harvey Aderhold. Harvey was I guess the last true southern gentleman according to Nancy and very probably, one of the oldest earliest pioneers in audio/video, really radio. A school in 1922 in Kansas City taught him radio. Harvey went on to become the chief engineer for Cox, CBS Atlanta. He had a lot of firsts including the first video tape made on a boat at sea for CBS, the tallest tower in the country for Cox. The first 1000 footer in the United States that kind of stuff. A very bright guy and a very quiet and unassuming fellow who knew what he was doing.
DUDLEY A D D E R H O L D?
DIAMBRA Without the D’s. A D E R H O L D Harvey J. Aderhold. Harvey Aderhold was originally Dutch stock. He migrated from Holland. One branch went north to Yonkers, New York, and the other branch headed for Georgia. He was from North Georgia. By the way as a matter of just commenting, there is an incredible schism between North Georgia and South Georgia culturally. North Georgia is the north in every respect. They don’t consider themselves south at all, because they aren’t. They are a very dependent bunch of very small farmers and entrepreneurs in the hills of North Georgia; this is true of all hill people. South Georgians are essentially large plantation owners and raised on Egyptian cotton and all that stuff, and were interested in slave labor. There was virtually no slave labor in North Georgia. Anyway, Harvey came out of North Georgia, near where they first found gold in the United States Atlanta, which is now the state capital of Georgia all gilded with Georgia gold. That capitol dome still shines. Harvey did all of these things, and he had a cousin by the name of Julius Aderhold who happened to be president of the University of Georgia. Julius prevailed upon Harvey to leave Cox and a hell of an established reputation and future, and pioneer and become director of the Georgia public television system, which did not exist. Harvey designed it and built it. He designed it and built it just exactly like he knew, CBS. In fact, because of two anomalies, number one, the public broadcast television system in the state of Georgia, is not a public broadcast system; it is a line item in the Georgia board of education’s calculations yearly. It provided the money as you do chalk and blackboards. They own it, lock, stock, and barrel. The independent outlet, which was the University of Georgia’s station, sitting in Athens, joined that network during the day when they use the net and splits off at night when they go to public television. Well, that’s a very interesting anomaly. You could do something with a network that you controlled. You can’t tie fifteen or sixteen outlets that you have no control over in (?) which became very obvious later. When Harvey came to me and said, “I understand that you’re building systems down here. Can we get our signals into them? Would you put us on?” I said, “Absolutely. There’s no question. If I can receive it, you’re on it. I certainly can’t carry you Harvey. I don’t have the dollars and I don’t have the channel allocations to carry you on microwave.” He said, “I come to you at a very interesting time. I have just designed a state wide microwave net for us.” “Us,” meaning the public system, which then was all VHF, all high-powered, with the potential for seventeen UHF repeaters in the mountains, all of which have to be made. So he said, “We have gotten an astronomic bid from Bell Telephone, Southern Bell.” Remember, this was before the break up. He said, “I’m very familiar with using the Bell, that’s what Cox used all the time, the remotes and everything else, but we can’t afford that. I understand that you’re also building a microwave net.” I said, “Yes.” he said, “How’d you like to quote on making us an object?” Well you know how long it took me to figure that one out. I’m sitting on his lap before he can sit down. I said, “When do we start?” “Well we need a bid in three weeks.” I looked at him, and I said, “Harvey I’ll pull your (??() for three weeks. That’s almost incredible. You want a proposal for us to help you? I don’t even know where you are. Do you even know where we are?” He said, “No.” The upshot of is that we worked hand in glove for three weeks, so I write a written proposal. This was being negotiated while I am negotiating to sell all of this to Westinghouse Electric.
SMITH When you say, “we worked hand in glove,” who’s “we?”
DIAMBRA Harvey and I. Literally, it was Harvey and I. There were just two independent people here.
SMITH He worked on the bid you gave him?
DIAMBRA No, backlash to what I was doing. I was trying to get financing too in a network that was slowly falling apart because I was starting to approach bond time. I had a quarter of a million bucks of my money up for bonds and I wasn’t going to forfeit that. That’s all I had, in the way of public franchise bonds. Suddenly, everybody came out of the woodwork and said, “Boy, this sounds pretty good. If he ever wants to build it, I guess we’d better kind of follow around.” That wasn’t very helpful to me because I’m looking at potential competitors and if I fail on one of them, then all of the bonds go. Secondly, if I don’t build a microwave net, I’m dead. I’m working like hell to finance. I’ve got my permits, all the engineering’s done. I’ve got my sites, I’ve got everything on the lease that I need except the money. I’m working on making a deal with Westinghouse Electric, actually Westinghouse Broadcasting. As it turns out, I also have to talk to Westinghouse Electric, which is a long tedious process at the Pan Am Building in New York, with lawyers 40 feet deep. They are looking at all of the franchises, and they’re saying, “Well the city doesn’t have any power to grab these.” Harvey calls me while I’m doing all of these things, and I see potential linkage here.
I go back to Westinghouse Electric. Broadcasting wouldn’t have any part of being in the common carrier business, they’re telling me this. Of course, the common carrier business is a separate corporation. Westinghouse Electric says, “This isn’t a bad deal if you could guarantee us that kind of tariff everyday, and Georgia’s the customer. How could we go wrong?” They can’t. But I have to act. They dawdled and diddled and in the mean time Harvey says, “Look, Hank, you may not get this job, but you’re going to be doing us a favor that we will not forget.” Do you know what a mule is in the bidding business? Do you really know what a mule is? Have you ever talked to someone who does (?) construction down in the south? Three guys bid, one guy’s going to get it, and two guys for sure are not going to get that bid. The next time around, “B” gets it and “A” and “C” don’t get it. “A” and “C” are mules at the moment for “B.” He said, “We need a mule.” I said, “Don’t explain it Harvey, I know what it is.” I put in a bid that was perfectly legitimate and in which we could make a lot of money which is precisely 51% of Bell’s bid to the state of Georgia. They fell out of their chairs. They fell out like, “Who the hell is this.” Westinghouse Electric? I haven’t made a deal with them, but that’s the guy who transmitted the bid. When Bell found out that Westinghouse Electric is in the business of being a common carrier, which they had never heard of before and which wasn’t the case, they do the only thing that you do in a panic. They cut their bid in half. The state grabbed it and signed and like there was no tomorrow. Harvey never forgot that. The state superintendent of education never forgot that. The government never forgot that. I’m on my merry way. I figured that that was a lost cause anyhow. I’ll call me (?) sooner or later. I get Westinghouse Electric’s money. They agree. I sell them control of the corporation and we build a system. We build Clearview with Georgia, which was one of the three subsidiaries of my parent. Which then owned the microwave transmission, Microreeling incorporated, and so forth and so on. McGammon could not understand that there had to be an arm’s length relationship between the carrier and the customers, and went out and found and actually put on (screen?) an exact number of parallels so there would be no question that we were serving as many arms lengths, getting a good tariff for them, totally at arm’s length, owned by somebody not in the slightest, related to Westinghouse.
SMTIH You mean as many nonrelated, as related.
DIAMBRA We got Thomasville and when we got Thomasville, we served Mobley and when we did Bell. We served someone else. When we got Eastman, we served the little town out there close by. For every single system that Clearview, Georgia owned and got service from, micro relay, served as an arm’s length counterpart, and served as a perfectly legitimate common carrier. We operated that way, by the way, and we operated and we built that thing like AT&T would have built those things, power backups, power plant backup, standby battery backups. I was very fortunate to steal the guy who was responsible for AT&T’s microwave efforts during the Cuban crisis. Literally over night they built a hell of transmit receive station at Key West, for handling the offensive against the Bay of Pigs. AT&T had that done in exactly 77 hours flat, from beginning to end. They poured concrete and had the buildings up. They had the microwave aligned and running on six gigahertz, which it isn’t bad from the Keys as you know. Don Harmon came to work for me from AT&T, running my microwave operations, they were run like AT&T. Unfortunately Don died in 1966 of a brain tumor. It was a great loss, but a hell of a guy. Anyway, we built the network and started running for cable. I had almost forgotten Harvey literally, except for every once in a while I would call a fellow who was then running IT of E who was running the instructional services support. He was a fellow by the name of Max Wilson. You know Max. Max is an interesting character, a transposed physicist into an educator. That’s what he started life out as. He became a great science teacher. Then he started to apply technology to the whole business of education and got to be responsible for all the audio/video support.
I finally found Max and we talked and talked and talked. He was very suspicious of what I was trying to do. What I was trying to do was to see if couldn’t borrow some of the content stuff, whether it was on video tape, or motion pictures, or what, and shove it through my network starting with my first link-up near Milledgeville. We could have used that extra material and alternated with non network time. We would have loved to carry the stuff and try to get some educational backing through the stuff to make course available. That got to be very, very tedious and it got awfully involved in the politics and it was going nowhere fast. That was about ’68. I attended the winter meeting of the SMPTE, the Society for Motion Picture and Television Engineers of which I am an old-time member. The winter meetings are always about television. The general conferences are on both television and motion pictures, but this one, the winter meetings, focuses heavily on TV. It was held in Atlanta, so it was very convenient. There’s a fellow sitting about three seats away that I had this funny feeling about. You know how you get these funny feelings about people and you keep looking at them trying not to be intrusive. I suddenly realize that I know this guy from somewhere. At the break he stands up and says, “How ya’ doing, Hank?” I look at him, and I can’t believe my eyes, that this is Harvey Aderhold. I said, “Harvey, what the hell have you been doing? You’ve shrunk in half. Your weight’s off.” He said, “Well, I’ve had a bad heart attack.” “Oh, I didn’t know about that.” So we went and had lunch, a long, long talk. “What are you doing?” He said, “Well I’m still with the state, but I’m not really all there yet. I don’t know that I will ever be all there, because it’s taking me a long time to come back. I’m trying to groom someone to take over as director of engineering, and I’m about ready to retire.” I was delighted to meet him again. I was delighted to regenerate that acquaintance. We talked about how things went. He again said, “Hank, you did us an incredible favor with that microwave. It’s never forgotten.” I said, “Only you Harvey, never forgot it.” He said, “No. Every time we get around to talking about renewing Bell’s contract, it comes up again. We don’t tell Bell that, but it’s remembered. I said, “Well that’s very interesting. I am about ready to make a switch in Westinghouse Electric and Broadcasting. My contract as executive vice president is ending. I have built what I wanted to build, and to me counting customers 500 then 10,000, and then 50,000. Westinghouse Broadcasting will not let us get into the things that we wanted to get into, which is generation, playing games, all kinds of things that are different.” In fact that brings back an earlier experience that you and I were talking about Bob, with Jim Davidson, back in ’59. We were selling tires back in Springhill, Arkansas, for a hardware/tire store, just experimenting with a camera, and getting the message out, and they sold tires. Even then we were playing around with the idea that a thing should be more than just. Here we had a wonderful network, a very well built system, some of the best ones in the country in my estimation, operating like a charm technically and always trying to do better. We couldn’t do anything because we were essentially limited because McGammon would do nothing to offend the broadcast locally. It was WCTV Tallahassee. We didn’t want to blow the Phipps out of the water. The guy’s in Macon, Channel 13 MEZ. Anyway, after you can only watch the sun rise so many nights and get bored, all of a sudden here comes a challenge from Westinghouse Electric. About the time they acquired me and Clearview, Georgia, they also acquired a major real estate corporation in Florida that had built all of North Ft. Lauderdale, literally. He was an ex admiral in the Navy and a guy who was his aide in the service, became his right arm in civilian life. To show you how small the world really is. I had never met the guy before in my life. He was probably one of the sharpest real estate operators in the state of Florida. He was on the real estate board in the state. These guys and their team have built all of North Ft. Lauderdale, owned about ten hotels on the beach off the Gulf Coast, which Westinghouse then acquired and became the owner of. They were the Hilton, the Diplomat, etc.
SMITH What was his name, Hank?
DIAMBRA I’ll have to do a little bit of thinking.
SMITH Was this the Olivido Corp.?
DIAMBRA No, Olivido was south of that. These people were the people who built north Ft. Lauderdale, north of Olivido. It’ll come back. It has to come back. The guy’s name I’m talking about, the aide who was the moving force, was Joe Taravella. When I first met Joe, I said, “You’re not a Floridian.” He said, “No. I’m from West Chester County, New York.” It turns out that Joe graduated from the same high school three years before I did. I said, “It’s a very small world, Joe. It really is. You’ve gone to Columbia University and from there into the Navy, etc.” He and his admiral had put this thing together and had really done a massive job. They had built office buildings, houses, apartment buildings, anything that you can name. They really had developed North Ft. Lauderdale. In the process they had also started thinking about expansion. There was just so much land there. He started acquiring land west of that, bordering on the Okeechobee. He finally acquired twenty one contiguous square miles of Florida real estate, which was hardly a small parcel. That was the largest single holding in Florida, held by this corporation. They started to build a city, another peripheral occurrence, the Rouse Corp. in Columbia, Maryland, was designing cities. That was the first designed city built up, and it was a perfect example for these guys in Florida. Rouse had gone out very quietly between Baltimore and Washington. They had acquired very choice form and had put together a massive single holding of land, which was then named the city of Columbia, Maryland. He had built a planned community.
DUDLEY That’s R O U S E?
DIAMBRA Rouse. The Rouse Corp. did it with Pennwell in Boston, and was doing it in Philadelphia and elsewhere. It was incredible. They’re doing underground Atlanta. It will all be Rouse. So, that had served as a model and Taravella was spending a lot of time with Rouse. I suggested that if I could do anything to act as a career and errand boy for him, I’d be delighted to. I said, “Joe, I live fifteen miles from there.” He said, “Really?” I said, “Yes. Anything that you want be to drag out, call you, or send you, I’d be glad to go out and make these trips.” He said, “Fine.” How would I get to Taravella? Well, back to Donald Burnham and the acquisition of this company, the services business, the real estate business. All of these things that companies have been more seriously criticized for lately, were the focal point of a lot of activity then. The Chrysler Corp. went into real estate, but had no business doing so. Westinghouse was going to do it differently. They saw an enormous opportunity not only in real estate, but for other more mundane almost trivial things like selling a couple million dollars worth of appliances a year. This company was the biggest General Electric customer in the country. They were buying 100,000 refrigerators a year. They were buying elevators. They were buying everything that is needed to build a city. Westinghouse got the idea that if you’re going to buy this, you should be a Westinghouse customer, right? Hell no. Taravella said, “I’m perfectly happy with GE boys. You may own the stock, but I’ll buy what I think we need.” Slowly but surely we have to get around to changing that mind. Burnham was not going to do it. You don’t do it with people like that, by telling them, you do it by persuading them. Always.
So Burnham saw to it that there was a group formed called the Urban Development Coordinating Committee within Westinghouse Electric, which had inputs by naming people to its operating team and to the committee itself. There were specialists from a variety of places within Westinghouse Electric and Westinghouse Broadcasting, who could essentially expose Westinghouse Electric to these people, so there could be interaction. These guys had no idea of what the hell Westinghouse Electric was. Westinghouse had absolutely no idea of what the real estate business was all about. So that was one of the smartest maneuvers that I’d ever seen done, done very quietly, and I visited Coral Springs. Some guy in Washington tracked me down and said, “I understand that you’re the cable expert at Westinghouse Electric. We want you to go down to Ft. Lauderdale next Thursday and be there at 10 o’clock in the morning.” I said, “What for?” He said, “I don’t know. I’ve been told to ask you to do that. Would you please do that?” I said, “Sure. Where am I going to go?” He said, “Just go to the Hilton. Just call them up and tell them your name. They may have a reservation for you already.” I said, “Really?” A Hilton is a Hilton to me. I said, “That’s pretty good service. These guys really think of everything.” I got down there, and I found a few things different. First of all a guy knocks on my door at 11 o’clock at night and says, “Can I talk with you?” I said, “Sure, but not very long.” We got through at 5:15 in the morning. He said, “This is no place to talk, Hank.” I said, “You know my name.” He said, “Yes.” I said, “Who the hell are you?” He said, “My name is Bob Dunning.” I said, “Who are you from?” He said, “Westinghouse Electric, but you don’t know that yet. Let’s go out and talk.” We talked all night. We went out. We had breakfast. He said, “I’ll show you a great place. They have free drinks and they give you breakfast and anytime from 2 a.m. on, it’s free.” Dunning was an incredible market development specialist for Westinghouse Electric.
DUDLEY D U N N I N G?
DIAMBRA Right. Robert L. Dunning. I could never forget that night because it was unusual to say the least. I never did get to sleep. I said, “Dunning, do you mind if I go and shower and shave before I do whatever I came down here to do, since I really don’t know what I’m doing?” He said, “Sure. I’m going to do the same thing, and I’ll pick you up. I’ve got the car. You won’t need a car. I’ll drive you wherever we’re going.” I said, “Where the hell are we going?” He said, “Coral Springs.” I said, “I don’t know anything about Coral Springs.” He said, “Well don’t worry about it. You will.” So we get out there. There’s one building and a tent. That was the city of Coral Springs. The building was just getting built and the tent was to house the operations. They were in the throes of building what ended up as a community center but what was going to be their administrative conference, with auditorium etc. It was where they were going to hold these meetings. It was very impressive. There was nothing jerry built about this. They were doing a hell of a job, and fast. I said, “Would you explain why I’m here? I don’t know what the hell I’m here for. I don’t know anything about real estate, really. I’m delighted to be in Florida at company expense, but I don’t know why the hell I’m here. I certainly don’t know why you spent all night with me.” He said, “Well, do you get a flavor for what we’re doing?” I said, “Yes. I’ve got that pretty clear, but why am I here?” He said, “Well, we are going to develop a new, modernistic, state of the art, house one a year. It is going to be the focal point for tremendous input technically and a hell of a drawing card for the thousands of people that are going to visit us, to see this house every year.” I said, “I will reiterate my question, why the hell am I here?” He said, “Well, television.” I started seeing daylight. I said, “What kind?” He said, “Any kind that you want to dream of Diambra.” I said, “Are you serious about that?” “As serious as heck to stay up all night talking about it.” Believe it or not, that was a hell of an opening.
Out of it came the following. I got named to be the permanent chair for communications on the UDCC and all telecommunications activities, telephone activities, as it turned out, (?) activities, ended up in my (?) .
DIAMBRA Urban Development Coordinating Committee for Westinghouse Electric. We would meet periodically and quite regularly, once every four to five weeks at Coral Springs. Every visit was a revelation because we would see things literally growing like mushrooms. Within two visits, the center is a really established center. We’re now on paved roads. This is really shaping up like crazy. Big gates welcomed us to Coral Springs. These guys are really busting a gut. It’s a pleasure to be associated with a group that goes, knows exactly what it’s going to do, but is always interested in being on the cutting edge. By this time the admiral had long since ceased being directly active. He was in his 70s. Joe Travella, who was probably about 49 or 50, was running the show. He was Mr., whatever that corporation was called. He ran the Coral Springs Corp, but there was something else that was the parent to the whole thing which Westinghouse had acquired. It became the Westinghouse real estate division, operationally. He was very anxious to make the UDCC thing work. He said, “We don’t know at all about you guys, but we want to find out.” I voiced from my own narrow perspective, the same thing.” I said, “Joe we meet regularly, our meetings are two days long, all day, dinner and breakfast meetings, until midnight. We carry these things on to the point where there is tremendous interchange.” It was a pleasure to talk to people who were receptive and who weren’t always fighting. I’ve seen equipment which is now standard in the electric power business, designed on the beach sands of the Hilton Hotel. The underground T tap switch was designed on the sand. It was transferred to drawings later that afternoon when they directed a bucket over it said “For God’s sake keep the world away from this thing.” We put in a connection and we must have sold millions of them. This is how you disconnect much like an underground water meter. This is an electric service and can connect four houses. The pad mounted transformer for residential development was designed in Ft. Lauderdale at these interactions. It was a tremendous opportunity to think and be cross-fertilized with virtually everything that was happening. It’s seldom that you wake up in the morning, look in the mirror, and say, “They’re going to pay me to have fun all day.” It’s like playing games for money. It’s unbelievable. I learned more about every conceivable aspect of these interrelations just by sitting there osmotically. You sit at the bar and listen to guys talk like, “Well Hank, here’s what the design of the new electra 1970 is going to look like. Where and what should we do electronically now to stimulate people into bringing video and data lines.” We talked about surveillance. We talked about port alarms, and the lab would build all these things one at a time. The first electra had what they called the HUC. It had no relation to the urban development group in Washington. It was the Home Utilities Center. It was air conditioned, where the wasted heat from the air conditioning heated the pool, supplied all the hot water to the house. It was an incredible thing, where the heat also essentially distilled effluent so the waste water was treated by the same unit and came out as potable water. This is in the middle ’60s. Elevation modulations, modulators were built small enough to be inside that cup that the Labs built us for surveillance. We had infrared camera detection in these rooms. We had everything that we could think of.
DUDLEY What was the electra?
DIAMBRA The electra was the model house. From that, I came up with an idea. I said, “The industry needed something that I’ve been talking about since 1956 or ’57 when I made a lunch time speech at the Multnomah Hotel in Portland, Oregon.
DUDLEY How do you spell that?
DIAMBRA M U L T N O M A H. You were probably there.
SMITH Yes I was. I heard your speech.
DIAMBRA Did you? What was I talking about?
SMTIH You tore the industry up.
DIAMBRA I said, “Let’s stop stealing people and let’s start training them. We keep stealing from each other. Pretty soon there’s going to be nobody left to steal from. How the hell are we going to go that way?” Everybody came up to me and said, “You’re a crazy bastard. What do you want to talk like that for?” Jim Palmer was listening. He’s related to you guys with respect to training too. He got the message early. Everybody ultimately got the message but that’s been my problem, as an old friend of mine who rates one of the best companies according to Bob Rogers in Texas Cable Antennas in Tyler Texas, has said, “The only thing wrong with you is that you’re three feet ahead of the troops, and you know what happens when you’re three feet ahead of the troops?” I said, “Yes. You get shot in the back.” It became very clear to me in Coral Springs that here was a great opportunity. I promoted internally and got the (?) company to fund the Electra Urban Laboratory. We ended up with 268 homes. Ultimately we ended up with two ten story apartment buildings as part of our urban living laboratory. I scoured the industry and got people to build the special equipment when needed. We had two 100 megahertz systems operating, one in each direction, to every residence, to every apartment in every one of those buildings, every power distribution closet in those buildings, bi directional 300 mics, and that was in 1970.
SMITH Three hundred mics gives you how many channels?
DIAMBRA Who knows, because we were running standard television. At the same time I was also C Tech chairman of the spectra allocations group. Do you remember C Tech…? We were then arguing where the channels should be, what they look like, but we had all the standard stuff on the air. We ran special signals wherever and whenever we needed them, for purposes not only to suit the laboratory, but to suit Westinghouse Electric as a parent. The first experiments for instance, for reading meters via cable television were done at Coral Springs by assigned channels which I assigned to them which were non competitive. We had a full laboratory and it’s set in that same building that I was telling you was the conference room and auditorium. We had a wing built for us. We’d say that we need a thousand square feet and a week later we could have it built. These guys were incredible. I’ve never seen a group like that. We had a lab. We had our own closed-circuit studios, two of them. We had wild lines to the auditorium. We had a full monitoring console. By that Harvey was a consultant to me. I had hired him and he had retired. He was thought so much of in Georgia, that on the day that he retired, they had a ceremony. You know Dick Oticker, who runs Georgia ITV. They had a ceremony honoring Harvey’s years, and the foundation of the network and his retirement. They gave him an incredible plaque showing the station and a station. What they did, they named the code writers for all of the stations in the Georgia network are named after governors.
DUDLEY I wasn’t aware of that.
DIAMBRA The initials for all of these are governors and ex governors. They changed the one at Warm Springs WJHA that was the only time that that has been done. He was incredibly proud of that. The whole plaque with the bronze tower on the plaque. It was three dimensional and everything. I thought the good bye to Westinghouse, I said, “We need him as a liaison.” He could walk into the governor’s office unannounced and get an audience. We need Harvey.” “Well what do you need him for?” “We just need him.” There will be things we’re going to do and things that I’m doing at the Ultra and Coral Springs that I need Harvey for. We hired him on a retainer basis. He’d fly down to Coral Springs, we’d meet. He reined the lab studios for us. He sat us up, and who to handle the lab finally. Incredibly enough no one had ever thought about the franchise for the city of Coral Springs. It was a great lab, but I’m looking at estimated population, quarter of a million people. I said, “You guys are really serious.” “Yes we’re very serious. Who owns the franchise?” I said, “What franchise? Westinghouse Electric owns this town, but they can’t own the city council. There are questions about laws in the state of Florida, etc., so they have what is called an independent city council.
End of Tape 5, Side B
DIAMBRA The city was dedicated to city use. It was not owned by the city. The minute the property was dedicated to public use and convenience, it ran as “an independent community council,” but they were all employees of Westinghouse Electric. Those were the only people there. Later on, as the years went by and residents moved in and bought homes, they then ran after the first four years, for reelection, and people other than Westinghouse employees became members of the city council, but all the public property was dedicated for public use. So I saw a need, in fact I had drawn for me, a rights agreement to be able to bury cable underground, in the laboratory, across city streets, etc. I had that right. Not a city franchise, but a franchise only to do that. It was a very restrictive area of the city of Coral Springs. It occurred to me that I’d better go out get a franchise, Westinghouse Broadcasting, for this town. Would you believe that Westinghouse refused to do that? Westinghouse Broadcasting refused to go out and seek the franchise. I sought the franchise and got the franchise awarded to me, literally with full understanding that I was a custodian for Westinghouse Electric or Broadcasting until somebody changed his mind. I was going to be the franchise operator in Coral Springs. It was a very unusual situation to say the least. I held that franchise for almost five years. Westinghouse got into serious trouble because of nuclear problems and uranium (?) The president of the power systems group caused contracts to be made that Westinghouse couldn’t fulfill. They pulled a very unusual occurrence where they essentially repudiated every contract under the uniform business code, as being unfulfilled, and therefore, invalid, which were the major utilities of the United States, so you can imagine the uproar. Burnham’s successor, a Penn State grad who became president of Westinghouse Electric, had a lot of chairmen. He became co chairman because of that. Doug Danforth ended up and had just retired as being chairman of Westinghouse Electric operationally. Bob Kirby spent his entire time doing nothing but solving those contract problems, which would have totally wiped Westinghouse Electric off the face of the earth, as it was, because of those problems, which were unknown publicly. Westinghouse Electric was in a serious cash flow state at the end of 1974. It was very serious, to the point where an experiment, which I was then conducting, and will discuss in a moment, adjunctive to the work that I was doing at Coral Springs, was in serious jeopardy. In fact, I was asked whether or not we could bring it to public for commercial (?) in time to be effective or whether we should shut it down. I said, “Hell, we’re a decade away from that. There’s no recourse but to shut it down. The result of that, long with many other things, was the shutting down of all the activities of Coral Springs. Believe it or not, turning over a lab that we spent $350,000 for, just to build to the Times Mirror. They gave it to him for a dollar. The whole lab, everything. I actually spent three luncheons and long meetings with a couple whom I’m sure you remember, Del Mar Ports, the director of engineering for NCTA. Del Mar and I used to meet regularly, and I had an idea that we had probably a tremendous asset to the industry, which if I could convince the industry, should be made available to them on a per channel basis or on some equitable basis where they could run their own experiments without the house ever wondering about being biased. We were not in the equipment business, and anything they could do to enhance the services would be of tremendous benefit to themselves and to others. I offered it publicly to Del Mar as the first national urban laboratory. Del Mar thought it was a hell of an idea. He said, “My God, when did you come to (?) be sore. Westinghouse (?) friend. There’s enough to me to be able to offer it. We were using it internally. We still would like to offer it, but I want to lease because of problems we have in Westinghouse. I can’t really go into great detail but we are either going to do that or shut it down. He said, “For God’s sakes, don’t shut it down.” Three months after that last conversation Del Mar Ports was dead.
SMITH I think you went into this in the last part of your earlier day.
DIAMBRA Westinghouse was not going to build anything and I had to leave.
SMITH You haven’t identified the Times-Mirror as having a franchise.
DIAMBRA They took over the franchise. They went to the city and the thing was up for grabs and they took the whole thing for a buck. The lab went with it.
SMITH And your franchise?
DIAMBRA My franchise was theirs. Whatever I held was transferred to them. So we never did build the system that should have been built in Coral Springs, as Westinghouse Broadcasting or Clearview of Florida which is what it was set up to be. We also lost the laboratory which is the real salient point here. Systems come and go but the labs don’t come and go. I was then startled to read not more than five or six months ago that there’s a venture in Colorado that’s now the National Urban Laboratories starting up to provide what we had thought the industry should have and has needed from the very beginning I’ve been saying that for so long that it’s like an old song.
DUDLEY You’re talking about cable labs?
DIAMBRA Sure. Somewhere where something can be tested independent of a bias that a specific company might have, not necessarily that biases are bad but you’ve got to do this uniformly and without these biases. Well it’s hard to come by. It’s a lot more difficult than you think philosophically and operationally. It’s a very tough thing; especially as equipment’s have proprietary biases in themselves. We aren’t universally transferable. I (?) the standards that are developed and so forth. Anyway, Del Mar thought it was a hell of an idea. We were just getting ready to sell the association which in turn was presenting at the board meeting, and Delmar died. He had already had one heart attack, and I guess that was all she wrote. About that stage with what I had just mentioned, with Westinghouse being in straits and Delmar’s death, there was nothing that I could literally do, I couldn’t carry it. I just transferred my efforts and activities to the Westinghouse Research Center. I had been invited to do that for some time anyway in Pittsburgh, operating out of Washington. Again, the wheel turns slowly but comes back to the same dock. I called up Harvey and said, “Harvey I’m at the labs now.” He said, “Yeah, what are you going to do?” I said, “Well, I have a very interesting thought. It involves you. You and several others have made comments over the years that the “Now, Hear This” network serves absolutely no purpose educationally.” “That’s all you’ve got right?” “Yes, to the best of my knowledge, that’s all they’ve got is, “Now hear this.” They say it in Atlanta and every damned station and every classroom had better be tuned right then and there, to what is being transferred, because from then on, it’s now hear this. There’s a great fractionization of the learning process after Sputnik when everybody got flooded with science and technology money and the teachers didn’t have the slightest idea of what to do with it.” Harvey said, “I have three $3 million worth of VCRs now sitting in classroom closets, gathering dust and they are useless. Teachers don’t know how to work these things. These are all open reel, noncassette machines. We have a hell of a time running them. These teachers are just shocked so they don’t touch anything. They don’t even thread motion picture projectors, on top of which it takes six days, at best in town to six weeks to get a film out of a library and circulated to a teacher who needs it. Sometimes it takes as long as six months.” I said, “I heard all of that Harvey, and I want to offer you a thought.” He said, “What do you mean?” I said, “Well, I’ve got a bunch of very bright Britishers up here that I’ve been meeting with at the labs, and I have just made enemies of the entire group. They haven’t done anything original since they’ve been here. I was to stimulate and provoke a response, and boy did I get it. I think they hate my guts but they’re willing to listen. So, I have said, “Within a couple or three weeks I’ll give them a (?) on this subject. So, I’m asking you if there’s an opportunity to work with Georgia.” He said, “Hank, What the hell have you got in mind?” I said, “Come on up and we’ll talk about it.” He did. We met with a guy by the name George, at the labs who was running the video group. He was an ex Britisher, an ex BDC type who thought American television was an abomination. The only quality broadcast in the world was the BBC. He was in a sense, overtly a stuffed shirt. When we got down past the stuffed shirt, he was a very brilliant guy. He was fairly original and who had also been through with watts and the invention of radar, back when he was in England. He was part of that British mid 50s brain drain. So were all of his people. They were a hell of a group to play with. They weren’t dull. I just offered a couple of thoughts like, “Hey, I need an invention and here’s exactly what this invention has to do and here’s exactly how it must work.” (?) said to me, “Well since you keep talking, why the hell don’t you invent it.” I said, “I haven’t really got the time or the knowledge to do that, but what we’re trying to do George, is to make the television system that’s available for public television, much more responsive to random selection by the teachers of stuff they need, when they need it, not when the network says it’s going to be broadcast.” He said, “Tell me more about your networks.” I gave him the full story and Harvey filled in all of the holes that I couldn’t fill in being the guy that designed it. He knew all of the discussions that had been had with the Georgia Department of Education and the board and everything else. So, that was all laid out. George said, “I’ll think about it.” That was all that was said. About six months later I’m in New York. I had been assigned to do some work. What I had been assigned to do was something that I asked to do. I wrote a paper for the chairman of the company for Burnham, on intracorporate entrepreneurialism. They wanted to know could they duplicate internally what I had done on the outside that they had acquired. I wrote them a paper that said essentially, “No, not the way you’re operating. If you change a few things, you might.” So I presented that paper and presented some ideas to an internal group called the science advisory board, which takes under advisement, fields that the corporation should be doing way out in the future, one of them was to get an electrical pioneer into communications, which they new virtually nothing about, except had invented an enormous amount (?) on communications. (?) used to work for them. It was that far back. Wzickli worked for video disc. A guy that invented the dial, which is in use today, the Zener dial, by Dr. Zener worked for Westinghouse for thirty years. Z E N E R. The Zener dial which is a regulatory dial. It is known worldwide. It is a common piece of electronic hardware. It was invented by George Zener at the labs. They have a library, twice the size of this room, filled with stuff that they had published internally. Texts that are now standard texts in the business. George Copeman got the Franklin Award on x-ray diffraction. That kind of stuff. With that kind of background and enormous competence exists which was not coordinated and certainly not coordinated to video.
I guess I arose George’s interests, and I guess I insulted him enough to force an issue. Here I am attending a meeting in New York, of educators, who are talking about television adjunctive to education, and I’m at the bar and a guy taps me on the shoulder and he said, “George.” I turned around and said, “Yes. What are you doing here?” “Well, I heard you were in town. I’ve got your invention.” I said, “Oh really.” He said, “Yeah. Why don’t you come by the labs and I’ll tell you all about it?” I said, “(?) the practice?” He said, “No it’s on paper. All you have to do is fund it, Hank.” That was a standard challenge in the company, “All you got to do is fund it, Hank.” So I saw him within ten days. He and I had a long, long lunch and he explained what he was going to do. When you get through talking about it, everyone can do this, except, no one can. That is essentially to use a standard system, without alterations, to send audio/ video to the schools at a much faster rate than the stuff they are getting now.
This was, I found out at that meeting, adjunctive to work he had already done, with the University of Wisconsin. They had started a thing called the thiadec network. It transmits stuff from their medical school, out to the rural areas which was slow scan television with audio, on telephone lines. It got funded and made it work in color on telephone lines. It was a hell of a development. Then it fell apart because that system of things required more than just an innovative thought from a laboratory and a good receptor for these people to maintain it and run it. You need telephone companies that won’t let little lines fail. Deterioration. After the first influx, the first show, it was downhill. The only thing that was left was the main vidac. George said, “Within vidac I think we can change the premises. The hell with the slow scan video, let’s speed up the audio.” “What are you going to do, George?” “Your requirements are such that we cannot touch the transmission channel. It’s got to be standard TV broadcast translation.” I said, “Right.” He said, “We’ll make everything look like pictures. Don’t do anything to the audio; just make everything look like pictures. I said, “Great, how are you going to do that.” He said, “We’ll convert the audio to pictures.” Suddenly (Diambra makes demonstrative sound) 550:1 compressions. For every single video frame, you’ve got 37 seconds worth of audio which means you don’t have to waste video frames any more. You just open the video frame and talk about it for 37 seconds. It was a hell of a change. Up until now you’ve been using time like crazy, real time. All you have to do is transmit this combination of audio/video frames stare at the receiving end and just pull it back. It’ll stand at D spools act like a wet sponge; it compresses and soaks up (???) I said, “Joe are you serious?” He said “Yes.” So I funded it. To get money you need a presentation. I made a presentation, got the money. We also have to test it. I said, “Don’t worry about that. I knew about it before we asked for the money.” So I go back to Georgia. I go up to Jack Nix. Dr. Nix is state superintendent of the schools, and I make a proposal. We, that is, Westinghouse Electric, the research center, and the Georgia State Department of Education act as joint venturers to develop this system. Jack says, “What do you want from us?” “People, talent, application, and facilities.”What are you guys going to do?” “We’re going to design all of the equipment and supply it, all the engineering required to maintain it and run it, all the conversion of the whole programs used to decide it are going to be put off.” He said, “Great, how much?” I said, “Well as of this moment, you do that and we’ll do ours.” I go back to Westinghouse. Westinghouse has experience with educators before, and they say, “The trouble with educators is that they change their minds frequently. In the process of changing their minds, these experiments don’t take two days.” “How many years did you figure, Hank?” I said, “Well, three to five.” He said, “Hank, you’d better go down and get some money. The only way they remember to write a final report is when they’ve got money hanging around the board.” I said, “How much money do you want?” “How much can you get?” “I don’t know how much do you want guys? We can’t get enough to pay for the program, they’ll throw me out.” “Get some earnest money.” So I go down. Jack meets Jack. “Do you have a 100K?” I couldn’t get a 100K out of this budget if you squeezed it twice.” He said, “Let’s go up to the governor.” “We’re sitting like this (Diambra demonstrates) This is Jimmy Carter. Jack is over there. He said, “Governor, this guy has got a hell of a proposition, but I haven’t got a 100K.” Carter said, “When can I see it?” I said, “What do you want to see, sir? We don’t have it but I’ll give you a working demo of it in three weeks.” We do that. We go back to his office. He said, “Write the man a check for 100K and take it out of my discretionary fund.” (?) they jump on board. They had the longest tenured city school superintendent in the business. He’s been there for sixteen years. He went through incredible turmoil if you remember the ’50s and ’60s of Atlanta when everybody was leaving the city because of racial problems. This guy puts in his 100K. So we had the city of Atlanta, the State Department of Education of Georgia, 200K in cash in advance, and we were committed to joint venture. George developed the system. It worked. Georgia develops fifty-five lessons which have very interesting content. Max Wilson becomes a believer. He and I become the closest of friends. He said, “Hank, we’ll give you everything that you want. We’ve got a separate working studio in the network facilities building. We’ve got us of an Apex two-inch quad machine, which is not something that you just hand off to a guy. We have all of the services on it. We’ve got two engineers resident on the project. I’ve converted everything to these formats, existing motion picture, new stuff that was done by Max in the studio. We’ve got essentially all of the stills. This was still television with compressed audio that resembled exactly a video frame. In fact, the ultimate experiment, which was the last thing that I conducted, was on the ATS 6 satellite for the Veteran’s Administration. I’ll tell you about that in a moment. We kept hearing about all of this stuff. “You can’t use still television to teach with. It must be motion. At which time I had acquired Nancy Gulliford from Westinghouse Learning, as my head spec to this project, which is how Nancy and I got to know each other very well. I said, “Gulliford, I want you to do me a job.” Your job is going to be to research media and give me a non biased view. I don’t want Westinghouse’s view; I want the view of the research people, as to the need for and the varying media effects on learning, motion, color, various kinds of sound. Do a research job.” She came up with a book which was being used at the University of Utah at Logan.
SMITH It was Utah State.
DIAMBRA At Logan. Walter Burg was using that as a text for media out there. She just researched everything that was current to that moment, wrote it up, and essentially said, in some cases, motion is very essential, but in very few, like 10%. You can do just as much with still video if it’s properly handled. And still video with relative motion, where you could have five frames do the job of what might be a half hour’s worth of standard video, which is exactly what we did. We conveyed that to Max. He was incredibly impressed with it. he built his lesson plan around that, and used that technique and used it to test. We ended up broadcasting it. Then the FCC would begin to modify the rules on station break time. We were doing eight twenty minute lectures on one minute station break. We went to all the test schools. They’d record the stuff onto disks we had there which were (mag?)m disks and they’d simply dial up the number and play it back whenever they wanted to in school.
We went down to Waycroft to put it through that cable system simultaneously, and at the antenna site, put it on the decoding, and broadcast the live lessons and made it so it is mandatory that the kids watch this opposite prime time to see how much they could get out of this. They ran tests. Final reports were three feet deep, tremendously valuable, tremendously valuable to Westinghouse. In the mean time, I had attended another SMPTE meeting in Denver. This meeting was on the uses of ATS 6 for educational purposes. The VA had contracted to us channel 4 so many hours a month which was broadcast once a week for an hour; transmit the most recent medical teachings to doctors in rural areas. It was generated in Denver and transmitted to the ATS 6 bird. The footprint was in Appalachia and the hospital and Berkeley, West Virginia was within that footprint as was the hospital in Dublin, Georgia. So I promoted the idea that since you’re doing nothing with a one minute break there, you’re just reading carrier signals, why don’t you give that to me. I’ll modulate your carrier. You’ll never know the difference. It was fantastic. No money. We pulled that off in forty days. From the beginning of the proposal to where everybody said yes, I got the National Institutes of Health to come up with the programming. They cleared copyrights for me. They gave me sixty cardiovascular things for nurses training. I had the State Department of Education change that for me and to vidac format. They had all the machinery there. Joe, who’s director of public health’s audio/video at the moment, was ready to retire, and said, “Hank, whatever we can do, this sounds like a great opportunity to do.” They put it all on a quad video tape for us. I flew the thing out with Harvey to Denver. The broadcast of the bird was received in Dublin. It was received over the entire footprint. I don’t remember the guy’s name who was then the director of engineering for the public broadcast system, the Public Broadcasting Corporation in Washington. I ran into him later, and he said, “Oh, I know all about that, Hank. I used to watch it. I wondered what the hell and who the hell you were, and what you were doing.” They would record all this stuff in Washington because they were monitoring the bird. Here comes this jumble of video. Each frame was unique there was no repetition. There were video frames and then there were audio frames and the right added mixture to make a proper lecture. These were all transmitted. What we did was to take standard audio/video of the cardiovascular series for the nurses’ training. Between 50 and 60 we converted in a short period of time, and put them all on quad tape. We rearranged the sequence of the audio tape so that it could be selected and delivered in consonance with the still videos that it was relative to. There was one last thing we did, since we were under attack from everybody. “You got to have motion guys. You’ve got to have motion.” At the last convention of the NAEB in Las Vegas in 1975 or thereabouts. We elected to make a joint presentation, the State Department of Education and Westinghouse, I represented Westinghouse, we made a presentation at the NAEB of the specially designed series of programs. We transmitted them first and compressed them for the audience. We left out; as you look back, the guys ahead of us on the podium were a bunch of guys demonstrating projection television. We noticed that they were setting up. They had eight projection television systems all over the floor. I said, “What are you guys going to do with this after you get this home?” We’re going to leave it set up because we’re going to make a demo.” I said, “Do you guys need any input?” They said, “Yes, we could use input.” I said “You just solved my problems fellows.” We were going to do ours on two sets mounted in front of the podium, which was practically nothing to a very big audience. Here we’ve got the benefit of compressed television on big 6’x 6′ advent screens all over the damned audience. It was a tremendous show. Some of the substance of it was that we did it on conventional (?) material, dedicated it to Dr. Nix and Jimmy Carter, and then showed a sequence which we had made especially for that. “O.K. guys, tell me when there’s static versus live television, because there was both on there.” It was a golf sequence, the ball rolled into the last cup. It was live television. Nobody to this day can tell me when we went from static to live to static to live to static. Nobody. I knew the guys that made it could tell me that. I said, “Tell me about this business, you can’t learn from static to live.” That was the end of discussion. That was the last official vidac demonstration too. Subsequent to that…
DUDLEY Vidac, could you spell it?
DIAMBRA V I D A C. Video Information with Digital Audio Compression.
SMITH Can I interrupt you just for a minute? Vidac is that an acronym?
DIAMBRA Video Information with Digital Audio Compression. That Vidac, which was different from the Vidac as I told you, was all that was left of the trade name for what was done at the University of Wisconsin. We kept the name because we thought it sounded pretty good. We found that there was confusion in the minds of people because Exxon had just acquired a company called Vydac, V Y D A C, which was office automation and word processing. I said, “Well guys, it’s just as well that we haven’t gone commercial with it, because we’d have to do something about it.” Vidac was well known in the educational fraternity. We in fact demonstrated it to guys at BYU at Provo, who were very anxious to see it. It was all over the country. The important thing was that it is a technique. Westinghouse didn’t realize how valuable it was. It was the only technique by which a videodisc could be used by interacting (?) with education. It is the only mechanism by which you could spin a video disc. The last work that we did, and I’ll tell you about that in a moment, was making calculations for its application to video disc. We figured that out of a standard 12 inch video disc, pioneer, we could get usably 33,000 frames of audio in an interactive library with 33 kiloframes of video with 500 minutes of residual audio. That’s a lot of audio on that tape. It was digitally selectable by number in any combination that you wanted to use it. All you do was call it up. It was essentially the first interactive predecessor to what is now known as (?) , except that it wasn’t computer based. It was analog based. The digital on the disc was the subject to analog display with a camera and that kind of stuff. I said, “Guys, don’t you understand what you’ve got? Your patents on this effect the entire videodisc business. Is there any way that you could get more than thirty minutes worth of audio on a video disc? If you’re on real time I’m sure it can be done. If you’re on non real time, you can still have these thirty three kiloframes move as live. That’s (?) tremendous audio. Westinghouse just forgot about communications in 1975. They just forgot about communications. (?) came on as chairman and chaired the company radically. He got rid of just about everything. I think they still own Coral Springs, but it’s just barely so. Coral Springs is of course, a nice stable city now. It’s large. In fact, the hospitals in it are the hospitals of choice Palm Beach and Ft. Lauderdale.
SMITH I have a friend who owns a liquor store there.
DIAMBRA It’s an established city. So all those things that were happening twenty to twenty five years ago have taken place. Vidac hasn’t been mentioned. I have a guy that called me who wanted some of the original. I have the original and only quad two inch tapes that exist. They’re in my lab at home. The one that used to broadcast ATS 6, and they’re de (?) stuff of Sony 3/4 inch. The whole box.
DUDLEY We’ll take it.
DIAMBRA I’m sure you would. If I’m right about how I feel about this and it proves true that I do get involved in helping to formulate a history of the technology, there’s going to have to be stuff that I’m going to keep for a while before you get it because I’m going to refer to it continually. That’s unique. They’ve got a lot of that kind of stuff hanging around. Those experiments that we first did. We had a van tour Georgia with Harvey as director when he was retired determining what happens to a weather or transmission aberration. There’s a glitch in the normal program and it’s transient to one of these things where you have a single and unique frame. What happens to it when you get weather or transmission aberration and you load that frame. That’s an interesting question especially if it’s audio. It puts a hell of a hole in an audio spectrum. You lose every portion of a 500:1 compression. So we sent a van out all over Georgia, coastal, southern, Piedmont, hills, and we recorded it all, UHF, VHF, high and low. It was a 100 hours of video recording in all kinds of conditions, and proved that we did not have as much of a problem as we thought we were going to have. Whatever problems did develop, could be handled digitally to correct them.
The one last came that came to me, and I can’t remember who the hell sponsored it; I have a copy of the tape they made. It was technology for education. It included since (Piegrass) had already recorded this stuff in compressed form, but had no means of decoding it, they wanted to show it as a collaborative effort, everybody affecting education. I think it was in 1976 or ’77. That was the last end of that experiment. I’ve never regretted the slow but gradual shift from cable television as a prime focus for all of these things that use cable essentially as distribution mechanisms. That obviously was of such value in my mind that the company that I presently run is a direct result of doing that. At the time when I was doing this, truly unknown to me but it was due to Harvey that it was brought to my attention. The Florida State University at Tallahassee has within it, an outfit called the Center for Educational Technology, whose job it was to develop under military sponsorship and for the military, the instructional system’s development model, which is the model for training. There was a huge conflict between training and education. I can’t immediately rise to that date. The military wasn’t interested in education. The military was interested at the moment, in training. Why? Flashback to the beginning of that. The military had just gone from draft to volunteer army. Volunteer Army proved to be a very interesting subject. There was a huge collection of nonreaders, homeless, functionless illiterates, etc. How the hell do you train these people in a systematic fashion to transfer knowledge on some very technical things? The weapons even the infantry is getting are very technical. You just don’t shoot anybody anymore. You have to go put them on radar site and all that good stuff. The Army was having a hell of a problem. It funded the Center for Educational Technology and a big contract to develop a mechanism to systematically transfer training information to the military. The Air Force and the Navy thought enough about that to join that effort, and out of it came the tri services ISDM Instructional Systems Development Model, which is a very rigorous, highly developed system for analyzing, and delivering, modifying, and testing the effects of information transfer. It’s in the public domain. It’s owned by the U.S. taxpayer. The Center of Education and Technology was the fountainhead of that information. The Center also was very much involved with audio/video which is how Harvey knew about it, because they’d call him up for advice. Tallahassee, as you know, sits on the Georgia line, and since Georgia’s broadcasting some top grade, public broadcast stuff educationally, and incidentally, Tallahassee did use some of the compressed audio from the spill over, they were interested, intrigued in fact. Harvey would kind of ad hoc, fill them in.
One day Harvey came and said, “Hank, we’d better provide a demonstration to the guys that are running the center. They are now getting to the point where I can’t answer the questions, and since you now have two working cassettes made specifically for a top to bottom, they would appreciate it if we could do it.” I said, “Sure.” We went down. They were the recipients of a one day lecture on what it could mean. This got them around four feet off the ground. They had been prime contractors for the Army for years since the formation of a thing in the Army called TRADOC. It was the Training and Doctrine Command which was a direct outgrowth of a thing called the combat arms training board. Some very bright in the Army decided they’d better change things pretty radically, as to how the Army functions with high technology, how we train in the Army, and so forth. One of the guys in that combat arm’s training board, the spark plug, was a colonel, who ended up being, at the end of his career, Commanding General of the southern forces of the Panama Canal Zone. Again, that name escaped me, but it will come back. He was Paul Gorman. He was and is a brilliant colonel. He came up with some incredible thinking about how things ought to be. Along with him, a guy by the name of General Dupree and the whole military establishment formed a thing called TRADOC. The Training and Doctrine Command had contracted with Florida State. Florida State had developed enough expertise in this that was transferred into the rest of the civilian world, that suddenly they became the technical administrators for a contract that the government had with the government of Korea, in setting up a public broadcast television system primarily for education not entertainment in Korea. CET at Florida State was going to administer the technology and the educational component. It turned out that they knew plenty about the educational component and virtually nothing about technology. It was my third visit down there when Harvey, Nancy and I all visited Tallahassee.
We were walking across the street and at the time I had just gotten the message that Westinghouse was about ready to shut down all of its efforts because of their serious financial problems. This was the middle of ’74. What were we going to do? We had worked together for a long time. We thought a tremendous amount about what we were doing. It seemed that we had everybody in the world excited. I don’t remember who said it, Harvey or Nancy, but one of them said it when we were crossing the street in front of the hotel. “Why don’t we just form a corporation and do it?” I said, “That’s fine.” Harvey and Nancy looked at me and said, “Good. You form the corporation and we’ll do it.” I said, “Oh?” In retrospect, I said, “I think we have collectively, all the knowledge, literally, within these three heads. We certainly have a complete spectrum of all of the knowledge. Let’s do it.” “What are we going to do?” We formed the corporation called DGA, which really stood for Diambra, Gulliford and Aderhold, but a better name was “Damned Good Advice.” Since then it has been “Damned Good Advice.” Our first contract was with Florida’s CET and the Republic of Korea, for Harvey to go over and untangle their administrative faux pas. A big complaint was, “Hank, believe it or not, we cannot and do not believe that the Koreans are capable of engineering the systems. They haven’t given us one going. Contractors are supposed to start installing all of this stuff which, AID is paying for. What does AID stand for? Agency for International Development. It was part of the State Department. I said, “I can’t believe that.” They said, “Well we haven’t received anything.” So Harvey’s first job was to go to Seoul and find the (growings?). If you remember at the outset I said that Nancy said that Harvey was the world’s last southern gentleman. In ten days, he’d come back and said, “Which roomful of (growings?) would you like to give back?” I said, “Harvey are you serious?” He said, “Well, tell me what I’m supposed to tell Florida State, because these guys have been insulted because everybody talks down to them, and they don’t trust anybody.” I said, “Harvey, what kind of hell did you get?” He said, “I just ate kimchi until I got sick one night with these guys at the hotel. The next thing I was invited to see whether or not they were doing it right. Hank, they’ve got drawings for everything. They have drawings for things that we wouldn’t think of making drawings for. They’ve got check off lists for everything. They can drive a contractor mad.” I said, “You’d just better tell FSU, because frankly, if you don’t have access to those drawings and the developings, and the Army is going to be the contract administrator, representing the Republic of Korea, liaisoning with all of the vendors, Ampex, and RCA who had been selected to supply all of the equipment to make the system work. It was a very interesting relationship since everybody that was on that team, he knew personally, from having dealt with them in the broadcast business. Harvey was both a natural and a logical person to do that. He was the guy that might irritate some very old friends. I said, “Harvey you were sent over to do a job and represent Korea. You represent Korea.” He did.
End of Tape 6, Side A
Conversation began before tape.
DIAMBRA . . . suffered from a heart attack which is how he worked directly under my supervision for Westinghouse as a consultant. More than anything else he was a political and technical advisor. He was very good at it. In his own quiet way, he made a lot of good things happen, two things. Number one, he had suffered a heart attack and before he went to Korea he went back to his cardiologist and told him what he was trying to do. He asked whether or not, and his wife was very, very concerned that this be cleared, he asked whether or not he should undertake the trip. The guy said, “Well let’s do it right.” The outcome of a week’s worth of testing was an EKG that Harvey ended up having framed on black velvet and in a frame. It pronounced him absolutely perfectly healthy. The doctor said, “There’s nothing wrong with you. You’ve been following all of the regimen. I know all about you going to Pittsburgh at 5:15 in the morning in the middle of February and walking five miles.” He and slim. That’s the way he died. He had one last meeting and the contract was ready to activate. He wasn’t feeling too well, and asked to be excused. He got into a cab and said, “Run me back to the hotel.” The cab driver turned around and said, “I’m running you to the American Hospital.” He was dead on arrival. He died of a heart attack. That exactly validates the “seven year law,” which is that you’ll get it seven years after you recover from the first one. His death certificate was presented to his wife. It was signed by Henry Kissinger who was then Secretary of State in the service of the country, overseas. He had become so ingrained, that the Prime Minister, whatever his title in Korea is, specifically asked to have Harvey visit the country with his wife. She by the way was in Washington. He wanted them to visit in Korea, in Seoul, and be guests. The premiere’s wife took Vivian out for two days of shopping in Seoul. They thought so much of Harvey, that they didn’t want to continue with the lack of Harvey’s presence, but they did. The last part of the story is the important part. Just before that happened, Harvey called me from Korea, and said, “I’ve got a problem, Hank.” I said, “You’ve solved all of the problems.” He said, “No, I’ve got a real problem. The Koreans have been sold on the idea that in order to make this system very effective, UHF, they’re going to transmit it from an airborne antenna.” I said, “Don’t tell me, Harvey.” He said, “Yes, I’m telling you.” “It’s the Westinghouse airborne flying Aerostat.” Are you familiar with this at all?
DIAMBRA It was the Aerostat that was developed by DRDO for Vietnam.
SMITH You mentioned it the first time.
DIAMBRA I told you about it.
SMITH They’ve got them in Key West.
DIAMBRA It flies fine down there. You don’t have much ice at 10,000 feet. As I told you retrospectively, an eighth of an inch of ice in Korea, damned near started the third world war. The line burst loose and it went all the way to the border and it was shot down. He said, “What do I tell the Koreans, this is Westinghouse?” I said, “We don’t work for Westinghouse anymore, Harvey. Tell them whatever you want.” He said in his gentlest way, “Fellows, it’s not going to work. You cannot broadcast UHF except under the most stable platform conditions in the country. If those antennas are just rocking around, tilting UHF beams all over the western Pacific, then forget it.” I think they went to land based stations after that, but they sure spent an awful lot of time and money trying to make that concept play. That was the end of that one.
DUDLEY That was the end of this tape. There was no further taping done that afternoon. There may be other sessions to follow.
End of Tape 6, Side B