Interview Date: March 2002
Interviewer: Gerry Yutkin
Collection: Hauser Collection
YUTKIN: This program is being funded by The Hauser Foundation Oral and Video History Project of The Cable Center’s Oral and Video History Program in Denver, Colorado. Hello, my name is Gerry Yutkin and our guest today is Jim DeSorrento, one of the pioneers in the cable business, who has been affiliated with Triax Communications for a number of years. He’s a member of the Pioneers and many other organizations. We’re recording this in March of 2002, so for posterity purposes, since you have been out of the cable business, Jim, tell me what it’s been like in the last couple of years not being involved in the cable industry.
DESORRENTO: Well, that’s an interesting question because not being involved is something that I’m really not familiar with. I’ve been involved, as you know, for thirty years in the industry, but since we sold Triax 2 ½ years ago, I’ve concerned myself with some private investments, sitting on a few boards, learning how the Internet bubble works and bursts, and also I’ve had a chance to reflect on what I did do and how I did it, and I do miss parts of it. I miss the action and I miss the camaraderie. I miss the affiliation with all the employees that we had. So there are some things that are just a part of me and a part of Triax and a part of the industry that as I think back upon them I have some – not regrets – but some wishes that I could do parts of it again.
YUTKIN: Well, the industry’s changed since you got involved, which I believe was in 1970.
YUTKIN: And then in 1982 you started Triax Telecommunications.
YUTKIN: Tell us about what it was like in 1970.
DESORRENTO: Well, 1970 takes us back to some really golden days in the industry. This is a time when major cities were only permitted to retransmit signals that were in their market. It was a time when major city franchising really hadn’t begun yet. It was before satellites. It was a time when there were probably, I’m going to guess, but probably 3 or 3 ½ million subscribers nationwide in 1970. I started in San Francisco, which was a city about to be built.
YUTKIN: How did you get there? You were a creature of the Vietnam period and you were in the service?
DESORRENTO: I was. I was a captain in the Marine Corps and after I got out of the Marine Corps I went to graduate school at Berkley, which was another story and probably another interview.
YUTKIN: In the ’60s!
DESORRENTO: In the late ’60s. I was the only guy on campus with a brush cut and a coat and tie.
YUTKIN: How did you survive?
DESORRENTO: I didn’t, not well.
YUTKIN: You got into the cable business instead.
DESORRENTO: Yeah, that helped. I did have some difficulties because at that time there were not a lot of Vietnam vets returning to places like Berkley. I did have some adjustment issues and I wound up leaving the MBA program before I finished my MBA and traveled with a sack on my back around the world.
YUTKIN: Really? Where did you go and how long did you spend?
DESORRENTO: Well, almost a year and a half, and basically left from San Francisco to Hawaii and Tahiti, and sailed from Tahiti to Sydney, and made my way overland across Australia and up through the Indonesian arch-ipelago over to Singapore, up through the Malaysian Peninsula.
YUTKIN: Nowhere near Vietnam.
DESORRENTO: Nowhere near Vietnam. And eventually across Asia and down into Europe.
YUTKIN: Europe and back across the States.
DESORRENTO: And back across the States, yeah.
YUTKIN: Now, you’re a New York State-er to begin with, but you wound up back in San Francisco from your trip?
DESORRENTO: I did. I liked the West Coast in the brief time I was there and although my family had a business in upstate New York, I opted to go back to the West Coast and find my fortune, so to speak.
YUTKIN: You got your first job in the industry there.
DESORRENTO: I did.
YUTKIN: What did you do and who did you work for?
DESORRENTO: Well, I worked for a fellow named Scott Bergeron, whose father, Homer Bergeron, and a partner, Fred Goddard, were early pioneers in the industry. You know of John Goddard’s successes in the cable industry and Scott was also successful in his own right. A group of us met in San Francisco one night – mostly strangers – frankly, in a bar, and we were invited to come and interview the next day for what would turn out to be the start of a cable television operation.
YUTKIN: Did you know any of the people?
DESORRENTO: I might have known one guy or one gal, I can’t remember right now, but a group of us that were essentially strangers but young, hard charging guys wanting to do something, got together and Scott gave us the opportunity to carve ourselves into groups. One guy took operations, one guy took marketing, one guy took accounting, another guy took the field work, and we decided that we would do this for awhile and then transfer it back and forth.
YUTKIN: And what did you do at first? What was the first thing you did?
DESORRENTO: I took a marketing job. My job was to generate new sales.
YUTKIN: And they had a cable system up and going?
DESORRENTO: There was a franchise granted to a fellow named Marino Iacopi, whose son Gene Iacopi became a cable operator, and Bergeron’s family, I believe, and Goddard’s family were in the process of purchasing this franchise in San Francisco and they needed bodies, young people, and good thinkers who could put this thing together.
YUTKIN: Did they have an up and operating system?
DESORRENTO: They did.
YUTKIN: How many miles of plant?
DESORRENTO: I don’t remember those details, but not very many in the way of subscribers – a few thousand subscribers.
YUTKIN: In the city?
DESORRENTO: In the city itself, and because of the re-transmission restrictions and because of the hills in San Francisco, we would have zero penetration on one side of a hill and 60% penetration on the side opposite the transmission towers.
YUTKIN: You want to explain that for posterity, in terms of the re-transmission problems?
DESORRENTO: Because the only signals allowed to be carried by a cable television company in those years were locally originated signals from local broadcasters, because that was the restriction and the transmitters were fixed in one location, and the way the hills in San Francisco are laid out, half of the homes were shielded from a direct view of the transmitter, as it turned out, just about half. So we enjoyed 60% penetration on one side and zero on the other, and we averaged 30% penetration, which was a penetration average that probably held for some number of years in markets where this was the only type of re-transmission permitted.
YUTKIN: So, the first thing you had to do was go out and sell subscriptions?
DESORRENTO: I started out door-to-door. We got a group of people together to do that, and then I began working on apartment buildings and the associations of apartment buildings so that we could penetrate those buildings.
YUTKIN: You know, I got in the business a couple of years after that, and I just could never understand why cable was sold so effectively door-to-door because I know I wouldn’t buy anything door-to-door – I mean, you know, the Fuller Brush men, or something like that – but I guess either they were really great salesmen at the beginning or I guess it was the only way to sell it at that time.
DESORRENTO: Well, if we take the instant example of San Francisco, on the side of the hill where you did not have a direct line of sight to the transmitter, there was no television available, so for us to go and sell cable to those folks was really a piece of cake.
YUTKIN: Had that system been around for a number of years?
DESORRENTO: I would say it had probably been there for at least six or seven years prior to 1970.
YUTKIN: Okay, so the first thing you did was you took marketing.
DESORRENTO: Took marketing and rounded up a bunch of folks and we began to understand ourselves what cable was and then pass it along to the next.
YUTKIN: Do you remember how you paid them at that time?
DESORRENTO: Commission only.
YUTKIN: Do you remember any numbers?
DESORRENTO: I think it was five dollars a sale, which was a whole month’s revenue.
YUTKIN: And that was how many channels? It was just off-air signals.
DESORRENTO: It was just off-air signals. We only had twelve channels or less to begin with, and then eventually, not too long after that, in 1971 – actually, let me backtrack. The cable company, Teleview Systems, Bergeron’s company, was purchased by CBS, and CBS spun this cable company and others off as a stock dividend called Viacom in 1971, and from that day Viacom was run like a bank rather than a cable company.
YUTKIN: In those days did they have to, would you say?
DESORRENTO: Well, they certainly had a lot of funding from CBS. The company started off on very good footing and with some good franchises.
YUTKIN: When you say it was run like a bank, what do you mean?
DESORRENTO: It was very carefully managed, and Ralph Baruch was the president and chairman of Viacom and he was a very astute businessman who kept his eye on the ball.
YUTKIN: Do you remember, did you charge for installations in those days?
DESORRENTO: Well, we had various schemes. One scheme was…
YUTKIN: Maybe scheme might not be the…
DESORRENTO: Well, various proposals for various customers. One was that if you had an antenna, we would take your antenna down. We would pay you fifteen dollars or so to take it down and then you would have effectively free installation, and the result was that if you decided to disconnect from the cable system you didn’t have any television then either.
YUTKIN: So this was people in the shadow of the hill who had put up a tower antenna, and so you paid them to come down.
DESORRENTO: That was an innovative way to go about it.
YUTKIN: Was that the first time that was done, do you know?
DESORRENTO: I don’t know. I don’t know because at that time it was a new idea to me too. I think it was commonly used by us in San Francisco for a few years, anyway. I don’t remember what happened after that.
YUTKIN: So you said you kind of switched around positions. You took marketing for a while; somebody else took operations for awhile. How long did you do the marketing?
DESORRENTO: Oh, I probably did it for about a year, as I recall. Maybe a little bit longer than that. Eventually, I took different jobs in the company as we moved along like that.
YUTKIN: Anything technical?
DESORRENTO: No. I’m not technical in that sense. In those days, to be a technician in the cable business was to be a real unique individual.
YUTKIN: How so? What do you mean?
DESORRENTO: For instance, we moved our headend site in the San Francisco cable system four or five times in the first three or four years of operation.
YUTKIN: Why was that?
DESORRENTO: Because as the system grew, we kept having to find better sites from which to receive the off-air signals because amplifiers weren’t as efficient in cascading as they ultimately became. So we had to constantly move the headend site in order to accommodate the length of our distribution stream. This is really going back.
YUTKIN: I guess I came to it a few years later and I wasn’t even aware of that. Most of my experience has been in a single headend and then you built out and then you’d have to design a little bit, but you didn’t have to move the headend.
DESORRENTO: Well, the equipment was early, early stage equipment, and it just wasn’t able to cascade that number of amplifiers necessary to get to the furthest points.
YUTKIN: So, after marketing, how much longer did you remain there?
DESORRENTO: I stayed in San Francisco until… it must have been ’73, or ’72. ’72, I guess it was, I left. I was general manager of the San Francisco system at that time and I took a promotion, if you will, to go back to Cleveland, Ohio, and to begin a regional operation for Viacom in franchising and operating a small system in the eastern suburbs of Cleveland.
YUTKIN: And how long were you there? What was your purpose and did you achieve that?
DESORRENTO: The purpose was to take over this telephone company constructed cable system, to rebuild it and to expand the franchise area around this core community of Shaker Heights and Beechwood in Ohio.
YUTKIN: Affluent area.
DESORRENTO: Affluent area.
YUTKIN: Good off-air signals?
DESORRENTO: Reasonably good off-air, but this was after the 1972 rules, and so all of the sudden there was an opportunity to begin to import certain distant signals.
YUTKIN: But before the satellite went up.
DESORRENTO: Before the satellite went up.
YUTKIN: Was HBO bicycling tapes at that time, do you remember?
DESORRENTO: It seems to me they began bicycling tapes in ’73 or ’74, somewhere in that time, and I don’t even remember if we availed of ourselves of that opportunity then in Cleveland, but Cleveland didn’t agree with me, so I took a job with U.S. Computer Systems, then Cable Data back in Sacramento. In the meantime, I’d gotten married in 1972 as well. So my wife and I packed up and went to Sacramento and I worked for about a year for U.S. Computer Systems going around to other cable systems and selling them on the Cable Data service, which was a tremendous opportunity for me to see, early on, how a whole group of different operators were addressing traditional cable problems that were starting to emerge.
YUTKIN: Did you work primarily in the West or did you go all over the country?
DESORRENTO: That was all over the country.
YUTKIN: What kinds of customers did you have?
DESORRENTO: Oh my goodness. We tried to sell, obviously, to the largest cable operators and in the largest systems, so we would visit people in New York City and the suburbs of Connecticut and that sort of thing, but also we would secure business anywhere we could get it, in the middle of Pennsylvania or Virginia. Wherever they wanted to improve their billing system, Cable Data was there to do it.
YUTKIN: At that time, was the industry centralized as much as it is now? I mean if you want to go sell a billing system you’ve got to probably work through a corporate office now. Did you have to do it then, or were the individual affiliates able to make those decisions?
DESORRENTO: No, corporate offices were always the place to go because that’s where the check gets approved, but oftentimes, what we now know as corporate offices were the beginnings of companies that were starting out as smaller systems. I’m thinking about in Columbus, Ohio you had people like Time Warner just beginning operations.
YUTKIN: Warner – that was Warner then, before Time Warner.
DESORRENTO: That’s right. So I got a chance to meet a lot of people and to see the way different people addressed different problems because while we’re sitting there talking about the billing system, because I had an operations background, we naturally would talk about the whole operations of the cable system, what kind of problems they were having.
YUTKIN: A lot of flying?
DESORRENTO: A lot of flying, a lot of travel. So I was with Cable Data for awhile and then I was interested in doing something else, and I’d been talking to the guys at Daniels and I was offered a job to come to work as a broker and investment banker at Daniels. So we left Sacramento and moved to Denver. This was in about 1975 or ’76, and that was just a wonderful opportunity.
YUTKIN: And that’s just when the satellite went up.
YUTKIN: And so the realization that something bigger might be coming along was just probably getting through, and that was the right place to be at the right time, I would think.
DESORRENTO: Well, the realization that things were going to get better certainly was paramount in everyone’s thinking at that time, but as I recall, the revenues from pay television from a satellite or any other source, but any pay television revenue were not considered to be recurring revenues by the lenders. So even though you were offering HBO, whether it was being bicycled or whether there was a great big earth station, you may not get to count that revenue at least for a few years. The lenders just wouldn’t permit that.
YUTKIN: For a few years?
DESORRENTO: Yes, until finally they became convinced that this was a steady and recurring theme, which is why cable television subscribers always sold for $300. Most of the time I was at Daniels, cable television subscribers sold for $300. It was $5 a month, $60 a year, 50% cash flow and a ten multiple, gets you to $300.
YUTKIN: Didn’t it start to become more promising a little bit later?
YUTKIN: Almost as soon as… well, there were believers in it.
DESORRENTO: Well, when the rules began changing again, and as you know, they constantly evolve – every time the industry was permitted to bring more signals into a market or create our own originated programming or to do anything creative, different than what was available just from the off-air reception – as soon as those things became available to the cable operator, operators began to find ways to improve their revenue stream, and so the value of cable systems… the multiples, of course they changed the plate, but for the longest time they held in that 8 to 11 range, for many, many years.
YUTKIN: Tell us about Bill Daniels.
DESORRENTO: Oh my gosh. How much time do we have?
YUTKIN: One of the good people in the industry.
DESORRENTO: One of the absolute greatest guys ever. Working for him was just a treat in my life. I have two serious mentors in my cable career and Bill is one and Alan Gerry is the other. But Bill was just a guy who was… he’d just look you in the eye and it was a straight forward look, and what you saw was what you got. I can tell you, he taught me a few lessons along the way. He was a very generous guy.
YUTKIN: Can you share those lessons with us?
DESORRENTO: Sure. Early on, when I had first started at Daniels, I was sitting at my desk doing some research, which amounted to reading through the Fact Book to see who owned what systems and who I should call, and I get an intercom phone call and Bill says, “Jim, I want you to come down to my office.” So I dropped what I was doing and ran down the hall, slid in the door, and I said, “Bill, here I am.” He just looked at me and said, “You’re here. Where’s your yellow pad?” I said, “My yellow pad?” He said, “Look, either you’re a lot smarter than I think you are and you can remember all the things I’m going to tell you, or you don’t have enough regard for what I’m going to tell you to write it down. Now get your ass back there and get your yellow pad.” So, I did.
YUTKIN: And you haven’t forgotten it since.
DESORRENTO: I haven’t forgotten it since, and I’ve used the yellow pad program with all my employees for years.
YUTKIN: Was he a tough boss?
DESORRENTO: He was demanding in a fair way, but he really only demanded, besides performance, he demanded loyalty and integrity, and integrity I would even put higher than loyalty in terms of Bill’s ranking.
YUTKIN: But he gave that as an example, I gather.
DESORRENTO: Totally. Another example of a story with Bill: I had arranged a listing with a cable company back in Pennsylvania and like all good brokers I was at the closing to collect my check, which is always the last check written at a closing, and the seller, who was a friend of Bill’s, basically took me aside and said, “I’m not paying you.” And so I just freaked out, I thought my God, I’m supposed to bring home this check. Besides which fact, Bill had a very fair sharing ratio, so I was really interested in…
YUTKIN: He’s portion it out?
DESORRENTO: Yeah. So I called back to the office and explained that the guy isn’t going to pay me, and Bill got on the phone and said, “You just come home. I’ll take care of you. You’ll get exactly what you thought you were going to get, and then I’ll take care of him.”
YUTKIN: And he did?
DESORRENTO: He did. I don’t know whether he ever got paid, but I did. That’s just so typical of Daniels.
YUTKIN: Was it typical of sellers in those days, too? Were they…?
DESORRENTO: No, this was unusual. This guy was just not a nice guy. Most sellers – they may beat on you a bit about your commission, but just about everybody honored it and paid it.
YUTKIN: So you went from billing systems to brokering. And how long did you do that?
DESORRENTO: Almost five years, four and a half years or so. And then while I was working at Daniels, a fellow named Steve Meyers, who was a cable operator and he and I had become friends, and he offered me a job to do some franchising work, which is probably the only area that I hadn’t really done a lot of work in. I’m mulling over the idea, in these years, about starting my own cable company and there are a few pieces missing.
YUTKIN: This is about ’78, ’79, something like that?
DESORRENTO: ’80. 1980. So Steve offered me a job and I walked down the hall to Bill’s office with my yellow pad in hand, and said to him I was thinking about leaving Daniels and going to work for a cable operator, of course keeping in mind my operations background, blah, blah, blah. And Bill said to me, “If you think you can get a better deal working for somebody else than you can working for me, God bless you, and you go with my blessing.” And so I had the slightest hesitation, but I went ahead and worked for Steve and left the Daniels organization.
YUTKIN: That was kind of putting on a little bit of guilt.
DESORRENTO: Well, not guilt. I think he was totally serious, that he knew that he was offering a fabulous opportunity, and I think in his own mind he couldn’t imagine anybody else treating people as well as he was treating them.
YUTKIN: But you were thinking already in terms of starting your own business.
DESORRENTO: I was thinking of getting some more experience than what I had had, and this was a chance for me – I had to relocate to Chicago – to work over a bunch of franchises down in Missouri and Indiana and places like that for U.S. Cable Systems, Steve Meyer’s company. I did that for a little over a year or so, and as you know Gerry, after making your 50th franchise presentation then you know how to do it, and if you’re going to be a cable operator, owner/operator, you need to spend a lot of time in front of city councils. That was the part of my career that I needed to fill in.
YUTKIN: So what were some of the places you went to in the Midwest for U.S. Cable? Did you do anything around Chicago?
DESORRENTO: No, all were small – northern Indiana, the Jefferson County suburbs of St. Louis, those were two of the major areas I spent that year.
YUTKIN: Do you remember the first one you got? Although you were probably doing a whole bunch of them at the same time.
DESORRENTO: Yeah, I was in Wisconsin also. I’m trying to think… no, I don’t remember which one I got first, but I got a bunch of them, and U.S. Cable was a successful cable company, and then at the end of a year or so, Steve Meyers is a pretty stand up guy also, and I told him that I wanted to go do my own thing, and being a typical good guy, he said, “How can I help you?” I did it that way, and I’m glad he responded in that way, so that I could openly look for deals, have an office and secretarial services and that sort of thing without sneaking around, and Steve was man enough to permit me to do that, and then he found a couple of franchises in a very small system outside of Waterville, Ohio, which is near Toledo. So I decided to take a crack at those.
YUTKIN: And he didn’t want those?
DESORRENTO: He didn’t want them.
YUTKIN: So you decided to go to Ohio and do some franchising for yourself.
YUTKIN: And that was in 1981?
DESORRENTO: ’82. And in June of ’82 we formed Triax.
YUTKIN: Who is “we”?
DESORRENTO: I had another partner and myself, a fellow who is no longer in the industry from St. Louis, and we formed the company and we put forth a game plan that said we had to win 18 consecutive and contiguous franchises around the suburban areas of Toledo in order to make our interconnect plan work.
YUTKIN: Were they being franchise individually or were some of them in groups?
DESORRENTO: They were just about all individual, and they were all small towns, nothing major, some county areas and all, and it was a competitive environment with the local newspaper in Toledo as a cable operator, and they had the city of Toledo – it was very competitive. I remember my lawyer saying to me, “Let me understand. If you don’t get all these franchises you’re going to have a problem interconnecting your systems?” I said, “That’s right.” He said, “Are you sure you want to go through with this? If you only get 16 or 17 it’s not going to work?” Well, it depends on where it is. So we said, “We’ll go for it.” We were successful in securing those franchises over the course of the next year or so. And that’s when I decided that I would approach things just a little bit differently than the average cable operator. In those days you could borrow money from cable lenders on the basis of the number of homes passed by your cable. So construction issues were big, and so what we decided to do was go out and spend all of our equity and build as many miles of plant past as many homes as possible, and then go to the banks and say, “Look what we’ve done,” rather than going to them with some money and saying, “We want to leverage this up and tell us what we can do.”
YUTKIN: So where did you get the equity?
DESORRENTO: My friend and I put it up ourselves. This wasn’t a vast amount of money, but it was enough for us to build 100 miles or so of plant, and we built that plant and then I engaged my friend Jay Bush, later president of Triax, but at the time an investment banker at Daniels, and Jay introduced us to Fleet. Fleet was a great bank for cable operators.
YUTKIN: Before that it was the Provident National?
DESORRENTO: Provident National was another large lender to the industry.
YUTKIN: But they went into Fleet, didn’t they?
DESORRENTO: No, they were absorbed, I think, by a Pittsburgh bank, a Pennsylvania bank.
YUTKIN: Okay, because I know that ATC in ’79 had a line of credit with the predecessor to Fleet, and then Fleet became a reality in the early ’80s. How much was it costing in those days to build a mile of plant? Do you remember?
DESORRENTO: Well, yeah, probably about $6,000. Out in the country, where we were in a lot of rural towns in Ohio, there wasn’t even a heck of a lot of difference between an aerial and underground plant because we could direct burying cable ourselves pretty cheaply. So we went to Fleet through Daniels, and then we secured our first loan, which was a few million dollars and we were off to the races. Subsequently we became Fleet’s largest borrower for a long time. Good bank.
YUTKIN: So you got the 18 franchises in ’82-’83, and a single headend?
DESORRENTO: No, we had several headends. Our plan was to ultimately have one headend, but again, we’re waiting for technology to catch up.
YUTKIN: And you built with contractors?
DESORRENTO: We had our own contractors, our own company. One of the skills, if you will, that I learned in San Francisco was building cable as well. So we had our own construction company that was pretty efficient.
YUTKIN: Because in those days it was just during the rush of franchising, late ’70s, early to mid ’80s, everybody was franchising, the big cities were getting into it and there was a terrible shortage of labor.
DESORRENTO: Of contractors.
YUTKIN: And even materials. I remember, myself, calling shipping companies to see if the converters were coming, but labor seemed to be the toughest thing at that time.
DESORRENTO: Which is why having your own construction company was the only way we could ensure that we could produce so many miles of completed plant each month.
YUTKIN: So how many people did you have working for you, do you remember?
DESORRENTO: Yeah, we probably had 25 or 30 in this construction company, and a whole bunch of equipment.
YUTKIN: And at this point you were only concentrating on the 18 franchises around Toledo?
DESORRENTO: Right. And as we began to build those out we began to acquire, I think we did our first acquisition in 1984, again small but contiguous, and then we just began acquiring and building as close to the central office area as we could get.
YUTKIN: Were you ever in danger of over-extending yourself in terms of going for more franchises or committing yourself to build within a certain timeframe? Because that was a very tough road to go down the middle of in terms of abilities…
DESORRENTO: Oh, we never over-extended ourselves, never, financially, or operationally, or marketing wise.
YUTKIN: But you must have made some promises that you were…
DESORRENTO: It was an odd game, and it was a game to win the franchise, to make commitments to the franchising authority and to live up to those commitments as best you could, but there were not many guys that completed all their cable construction as required by their franchise on time.
YUTKIN: That’s what I’m getting at. So how were you able to do it? I know there were other companies that had their own in-house construction, and then there were some companies that lucked out and didn’t build too much and they had one or two contractors that they were working with. How did you manage to…?
DESORRENTO: Well, we had balance. We had balance between rebuilding acquired systems and the construction required in the new ones, and we expanded and contracted this construction company as we saw fit, and as we needed to have those assets in order to complete the franchise requirement.
YUTKIN: As you expanded, didn’t you have to train people?
DESORRENTO: The kind of guys that build cable in the middle of the winter in Ohio at 15 below zero are just tough guys. Teach them how to climb a pole, teach them how to splice, teach them a few things about how cable is attached to the poles and all, and the rest of it is grunt work. So, one good supervisor and four strong guys can get a hell of a lot of work done in a day. And we always, Triax always paid all of its employees and affiliated companies more than the adjacent operator would be willing to pay.
YUTKIN: You wound up when you sold Triax – skipping ahead – with more than a half a million subscribers.
DESORRENTO: Our highest count was just over half a million, yeah.
YUTKIN: Do you think that if you had not acted as you did in terms of paying more, delivering, not over-extending too much, where do you think you’d be? Do you think you’d either be out of business or do you think you’d be a large operator?
DESORRENTO: Well, I guess it’s a 50/50 choice, but I think we could have been a lot larger if we’d wanted to, but in these days anyway, in the early ’80s as things were getting going, this was my own checkbook I was working out of, and it’s a little harder to grow when that’s your source. But we had opportunities to grow much larger in later years and we were cautious about over-extending ourselves in terms of major acquisitions and we purposely did not go into the major market franchise battles, or major suburban franchise battles, because it’s such a distraction from your core business, it eats up a lot of resources and a lot of money and your chances of winning big ones was very slim if you were a small operator. So I was happy to take the lessons that I learned from operating in a big city like San Francisco, and all the lessons I learned from other friends of mine in the industry, and to apply those to consolidating offices and building systems and consolidating headends to the extent possible, and sort of applying the major market discipline to the smaller system operations, which was different, it was unique in those days.
YUTKIN: Did you ever turn anything down?
DESORRENTO: No. I never had a franchise I didn’t like.
YUTKIN: Have you got any horror stories from franchising? I think everybody’s got some horror stories from franchising.
DESORRENTO: Yeah, I tried to forget most of them, but we all have some horror stories.
YUTKIN: Care to share?
DESORRENTO: Maybe we can come back to it while I think of something appropriate.
YUTKIN: So Toledo? Did you move to Toledo?
DESORRENTO: No, I lived in the Chicago suburbs.
YUTKIN: You were still in Chicago at the time.
DESORRENTO: And I commuted, essentially, four days a week for four years. It was a rough go.
YUTKIN: Did you drive?
DESORRENTO: No, I flew. It was a major commitment away from my family and all, but this was the start of a cable company.
YUTKIN: You had two kids by this time?
DESORRENTO: I had two kids. I had a lonely wife and two kids and a big yard that nobody was mowing.
YUTKIN: Kids weren’t old enough, huh?
DESORRENTO: Yeah. And so after awhile, the company got to the point where I could settle in, we had an office then in the Chicago area, and the company was growing very quickly – like tenfold in a matter of three or four years, and then I had a chance for a bigger acquisition yet, a doubling of, I think we were at 60,000 or 70,000 subscribers and we were going to double. And it dawned on me that what we really needed was a labor pool resource, and so I moved the company from Barrington, Illinois to Denver where I knew there was a vast labor pool of cable savvy people, and that’s what enable Triax to sort of come out of the starting box and go from 60,000 to a half a million subscribers.
YUTKIN: This was in what- about ’87-’88?
DESORRENTO: We moved in ’88.
YUTKIN: And at that point, how many employees would you say you had?
DESORRENTO: Probably 100, 150.
YUTKIN: And in Denver you knew that the market was there for labor?
DESORRENTO: If you needed an accounts payable clerk or a receptionist or a technician, for that matter, Denver would be a good place to look for them.
YUTKIN: Were you still continuing to do business with Daniels as the situation came up, and Fleet?
DESORRENTO: You bet. And Fleet. We didn’t buy all of our systems from Daniels, but we sold all of our systems through Daniels.
YUTKIN: Including the final?
DESORRENTO: Including the final series of sales.
YUTKIN: Did sell any before the series of sales in which the company went away?
DESORRENTO: Well, it was about a three year process from the first time we ever sold a system to the time we sold all the systems.
YUTKIN: That’s my question. So the first one you acquired in ’82 or ’83, but you didn’t sell anything until you began the process of doing the whole company.
DESORRENTO: Right. Correct. I think we sold our first system in 1996 or something like that.
YUTKIN: How were you organized? Was it a corporate office? Did you have regional offices?
DESORRENTO: We had a corporate office here in Denver that had about 45 people at its maximum headcount. We had a total of about 650 employees and this consolidation effort of offices and administrative facilities and dispatching and billing and so on, by the time the late ’90s are coming along, everybody was doing that and doing it better and better. We had three or four regional offices from which we ran about 650 cable systems.
YUTKIN: And where were they located?
DESORRENTO: The regional offices were in Waseca, Minnesota…
YUTKIN: Where’s that?
DESORRENTO: West of Minneapolis. Another one in Chillicoffee, Ohio, which is in central Ohio, another major center in eastern Iowa, and those were the three that made it work.
YUTKIN: And were they regional offices in conjunction with systems or they were separate?
DESORRENTO: Yes, well, they were selected because they were as centrally located as possible to a cluster. There were several clusters of systems. We had 650 cable systems with eight council people in every franchise, and all the stuff that goes along with administrating and maintaining those systems. We wanted to employ the benefits of consolidated efforts in a central area, but we also needed to be close enough so that people could be centrally dispatched, and we wound up having technicians work out of their homes and garages and used fax machines and ultimately computers to get their orders. But that was a bit cumbersome. There are better ways to do it today. I’m sure a lot of the buyers of our company – the major buyer, MediaComm – I’m sure that they are employing the latest and greatest technology to keep these subscribers happy.
YUTKIN: Would you say you had a flat organizational structure?
DESORRENTO: Flat as opposed to hierarchical?
YUTKIN: No, as opposed to… how far removed was the subscriber from you, say? Would you ever get a complaint?
DESORRENTO: Well, without being crass about it, there was no subscriber within a thousand miles of me, not that I was opposed to it, but as it worked out all the systems were in the Midwest and we were in Denver. We had six or seven people in our senior staff group, most of whom traveled constantly to the systems.
YUTKIN: Very important. Sometimes the toughest part of being in the cable business or in any business is the hand holding.
DESORRENTO: And communicating your corporate culture, whatever it might be. I mean one of the things that I found to be beneficial for me is that I always sought to hire people who were better at any particular function than I was. So in other words, when you first open the door, you’re the finance guy, the marketing guy, the operations guy, the technical guy, the billing coordinator and everything else, but there are people that can do each of those jobs better than you can, and if you open your eyes and begin to seek out those people, and if you can convey that level of expertise, seeking of expertise, to the next level down, all of the sudden you get a really efficient organization and your communication works very well. You get everybody on the same page.
YUTKIN: Jay Bush stayed with you…
DESORRENTO: Twelve years. Good man.
YUTKIN: Very important.
DESORRENTO: Very important guy. One of the best financing investment banker types in the industry. He understood deals, was a very strong negotiator, enjoyed a wonderful reputation, lent a lot of credibility to Triax, and did a good job.
YUTKIN: Complemented you personality wise?
DESORRENTO: Totally. The worst thing you can have is partners in a business, two guys that do the same thing. Everybody wants to chase a deal, everybody wants to manage it, everybody else wants to do the franchise presentation, you’ve got to separate those kinds of duties, and whereas I would focus most of my interest in operations and marketing and growth image of the company, Jay would focus on making sure that all of our bank lines were in place, that our financing capabilities were there for the next acquisition, and he had a great guy working for him, Chris O’Toole, also from Daniels, and Chris was ultimately our chief financial officer and he was an expert on bank loans and covenants and stuff like that. So we covered those bases real well, and I had as my major operations guy Jim Vaughn, who is infamous in his own way for having left Triax and gone out and built the biggest, fastest cable company in the world and selling it. He did very well.
YUTKIN: So he learned his lessons well. You taught well.
DESORRENTO: Yeah, we did teach well, and we always maintained the philosophy that Bill Daniels taught me, taught Jay, taught Chris O’Toole, and that philosophy was that if you treat people fairly – you can treat them harshly in the sense of I’m going to be demanding about what you’re doing and when you get it done – but if you’re fair and let people know where they stand they’ll do a good job.
YUTKIN: The industry’s grown enormously, certainly in the last fifty years, but particularly from probably the mid-70s until the mid-80s, or even in 1990. You would probably be considered a mid-sized operator as opposed to a TCI or a Time or a Comcast and so on. The primary trade organization with the bigger operators was the National Cable Television Association, which is now the National Cable Telecommunications Association. Some people thought that they did not necessarily represent all the interests, the best interests of the smaller and medium-sized operator. Is it fair to say that that resulted in the forming of CATA? And I know that you’ve played a big role in CATA. You’ve been chairman or president for a number of years.
DESORRENTO: Chairman for a number of years.
YUTKIN: Tell us a little bit about your involvement with that. Was that a reaction to NCTA?
DESORRENTO: It was, initially.
YUTKIN: And why?
DESORRENTO: Triax was never a member of NCTA for some of the reasons that you point to. During the time when a lot of lobbying had to be done because the regulations were changing all the time, the NCTA was focused more on issues that were associated with large or public companies, and CATA grew out of frustration on the part of some very small operators about not having a voice in the lobbying efforts because some of the issues facing small operators are different than those facing major operators.
YUTKIN: Give us an example.
DESORRENTO: What would be a good example? Programming. Your access to programming is severely limited. The whole idea that in order for Triax, as an example, to add a single channel, I had to buy 650 pieces of equipment because I had 650 headends and that equipment could be several thousand dollars, and by the time you get it installed and operating, I’ve got a hell of an investment and at the same time Chuck Dolan in New York would buy one piece of equipment. So that was the type of issue that the FCC needed to become cognizant of in order to understand why all rates cannot be regulated the same way. Density was another issue. The FCC would never accept that subscriber density, or potential homes passed density, would never accept that that was a variable that was significant in building a cable television customer. If you’re building a mile of cable in the suburbs of Connecticut, or let’s just take New York City to get the full example, you have 400 homes to a mile. Well, I’ve got towns where there are 400 homes in the entire town.
YUTKIN: And it’s 20 miles of that.
DESORRENTO: Yeah. So those kinds of differentiating factors were not being represented to the FCC, and those factors had significant effects on how our cash flow was produced, and the fact that our capital expenditures per subscriber were in fact larger. Now there were other factors – a mile of cable is not just a mile of cable. A mile of cable built in New York is going to cost a hell of a lot more as well, than a mile of cable in my area, but nonetheless, those were examples of a couple of things that the industry was not being represented well on. So along came CATA and Steve Effros.
YUTKIN: Give us more than just along came CATA and Steve Effros.
DESORRENTO: This was actually probably in the early ’60s or the mid-60s when…
YUTKIN: There were regional associations. I know Mid-America was around for a long time…
DESORRENTO: There used to be state associations. There were state associations, regional associations, CATA, NCTA, even the Entrepreneurs Club came out of originally starting as a mid-sized operators lobbying group. So CATA evolved by soliciting interest on the part of smaller operators – “Would you pay some dues, rather than pay NCTA, pay us, and we’ll represent you and we’ll go directly to the FCC and present your issues the way a small operator needs to think about them.”
YUTKIN: Only the FCC, or also to the Congress?
DESORRENTO: Congress as well. If you want to get anything done… the ordinary, day-to-day work gets done at the FCC. When a regulatory bill is out there you have to work with the FCC and the Congress, and so again, Steve Effros is very effective as a lobbyist and spokesman, very articulate, and did just a wonderful job representing the industry. I sat on the board, and so as my time came, I got involved through chairmanship of the organization, and by that time companies were growing quickly and some companies were just, perhaps, at odds with the position that NCTA would take over – I can’t think of one right now – but let’s say programming discounts, and so that gave rise to a group of mid-sized operators coming together, and that mid-sized operators group evolved into the Entrepreneur’s group.
YUTKIN: Now that is a group of individuals who meet on a regular basis. You can’t miss one meeting, or something like that, or you’re out?
DESORRENTO: Oh, very harsh. If you miss, I think, two meetings in a row without a damn good excuse, you’re out. We’ve been meeting for 13 years now, and it started out with, I think, 19 guys and I would guess off the top of my head that 15 or 16 are the same as they’ve been for the entire 13 years. And now it’s more like a cable operator emeritus club.
YUTKIN: I was going to say because how many of them are still left in the business?
DESORRENTO: Well, Chuck Dolan’s active in the business, Marc Nathanson works as the vice-chairman of Charter, Mike Willner is active inside, Ralph Roberts is still active – probably half and half, maybe now.
YUTKIN: Would you say they’re also NCTA people and CATA people?
DESORRENTO: Yes. Well, the issues have been resolved to the extent that some have gone away, in that rate regulation itself has gone away, and the reasons for it then were now longer necessary to argue. So right now, I think, NCTA and the small – CATA has changed its name as well to, I think it’s called… I forget what it’s called right now.
YUTKIN: CATA used to stand for Cable…
DESORRENTO: It used to be Community Antenna Television Association.
YUTKIN: Community Antenna Television Association, which represented the small operators.
DESORRENTO: They’re all, right now, I think on the same page. There are probably issues that concern smaller operators that are not being addressed by NCTA, and that will probably also be the case, but there are other groups out there that are taking care of that.
YUTKIN: Jim, let’s talk a little bit more about the consolidation of the industry. You completed the sale of Triax in ’98…
YUTKIN: ’99. You started out in ’82, seventeen year run, consolidation became more and more important as more and more options became available, certainly in the area of programming, and in other areas. At what point did you realize that it was either time to go in an entirely different direction or start to think about selling out? Did you wake up one morning…?
DESORRENTO: Well, no, there was an evolving sort of process because certainly in the mid-90s there were significant advancements in the ability of hybrid fiber coax networks to extend one headend’s signals into many communities. So instead of being concerned about amplifier cascades, we now were able to deploy fiber for these concepts, and again, Triax was one of the first companies to actually engineer and lay out a way in which to do some massive regional consolidations, like 100 mile radius consolidations.
YUTKIN: Can you tell us where?
DESORRENTO: Illinois and Minnesota were two markets that we…
YUTKIN: You had, say the Illinois situation, central Illinois?
DESORRENTO: Central Illinois – let’s take Chillicoffee, it would have been a major hub for Triax, and the concept was that we had many… let’s just say we had 200 cable systems all within 100-150 mile diameter, what’s called a 75 mile radius, of Chillicoffee. Well, until fiber technology and the cost of lasers and the actual fiber itself started coming down dramatically, it was not possible to dream about how you could connect all of these systems together. So as it began dropping in cost, we began looking at it in earnest and we put together some interconnect plans, we met with regional phone companies like McLeod – sorry Clark – but McLeod had a whole bunch of telephone systems in communities where we had cable systems, so we began to explore whether or not there is any kind of a technical overlay that would benefit both of us. As it turns out, there wasn’t. There was on the interconnect to communities, but within a given community telephone companies, their plant is distributed in an entirely different fashion than cable systems and you may have some common trunk lines, but that’s about it.
YUTKIN: And they weren’t into, in the smaller communities, they weren’t into fiber.
DESORRENTO: They weren’t, so we were looking for a synergy that would allow us to offer Internet and telephone services. They were in those businesses and wanted to offer video services. So the concept sounded good.
YUTKIN: But you could interconnect between cities?
DESORRENTO: We could, for our own purposes, but now we needed some traffic on those fiber interconnects to pay for them, and today we would probably call ourselves an ISP, but this was before ISPs.
YUTKIN: Internet Service Providers.
DESORRENTO: Yes. We also could look today toward Internet telephony, which is evolving more quickly, is available in some places, that was not available to us ten years ago, and a few other revenue sources and reduced expenses – revenue sources available now and reduced expenses, capital expenses, available now – that we were not able to avail ourselves of, and we saw a definitive need for Triax to increase its revenue potential, to consolidate its operations and to eliminate all these headends, and we were not able to stumble across the exact model that makes that work right, and so we began saying to ourselves, “Well, if we can’t do it the way we’re supposed to do it, then maybe we shouldn’t be doing it at all.”
YUTKIN: This was what timeframe?
DESORRENTO: ’96, ’97, certainly picked up speed from ’97 to ’98, and then we had some offers for some of our clusters of systems. We sold a few off, and then in late 1998 we began talking with MediaComm and in November of ’99 we wound up selling the last group of subscribers to MediaComm.
YUTKIN: Did you experience much competition and when did that really start?
DESORRENTO: Yes. It really started when DBS became a business. There was no question but that small systems that have not rebuilt, upgraded, and availed themselves of new products, are having their lunch eaten by the satellite guys.
YUTKIN: You’re showing your age with DBS – direct broadcast satellite. When people look at this in 50 years they’ll say what do you mean by DBS?
DESORRENTO: Right. In this case, we had both Direct TV and EchoStar. They were both shooting at us. Now, a couple years from now maybe there’ll only be one. We’ll see.
YUTKIN: As we’re talking about this, there is a discussion going on about a proposed merger between the two largest satellite operators, and we can only see what happens. Were you losing subscribers?
DESORRENTO: We were losing subscribers, yes, in those systems where we hadn’t rebuilt. When a cable operator gets an opportunity to rebuild to offer better quality pictures, shorter cascades, again, more channels, if you can hold your prices in line, you’re more than competitive with satellite providers.
YUTKIN: And a lot of promises have been made by a lot of people in the last five years in terms of both cable operators and satellite providers and telephone companies, in terms of everybody being able to offer everything.
DESORRENTO: Well, when you look back, Gerry, the cable industry has been impeded by the telephone companies and the broadcasters for years. In more recent years, the telephone companies had Wall Street convinced that cable was going to just go away and telephone was going to take over cable. At various times the broadcasters have had different Wall Street agencies or federal agencies standing up and listening to them about the fact that they’re going to prevail over everything. When it all gets shaken out, cable is the sole provider to the house that makes sense, and I think we’re going to see that rebuilt, upgraded cable systems with fiber, not necessarily to the home, but to a very small node outside the home, will compete on the telephony basis, it will compete on an Internet basis, and it will compete in two-way interactive services as well as just plain video.
YUTKIN: But what about the satellite?
DESORRENTO: Satellite is still one-way.
YUTKIN: But it’s not going to be one-way forever.
DESORRENTO: Well, but the second way right now and in the foreseeable future, is by telephone return. That works fine in your home, but it doesn’t work well for a business, and I think we’re always going to have… it looks as if we’re evolving toward a terrestrially based hybrid fiber network, fiber coax network, that will provide most of these services, and I think we’re going to see telephony as we know it evolve more toward a wireless platform. The guys at Ma Bell and the big Arbachs probably don’t want to hear that, but if they look in the mirror they’re going to have to see that their additional revenue sources are under enormous pressure. The opportunity to do more revenue is just simply not there. They’re soaking businesses to support residential services, and along comes an upgraded, rebuilt cable system that can offer that local phone service. We had a plan in Triax that we thought what’s the customer going to say if I go in there and tell him, “If you give me your long distance business, I’ll give you free local phone service. If you give me your video business I’ll give you free Internet service.” All of the sudden, if we’re using the same pipe, we can start making those kinds of offers and they’re very compelling.
YUTKIN: But the telephone companies are not going to go down without a fight.
DESORRENTO: No they won’t, and they fight on different levels than competitive levels. On the regulatory side they can fight very, very hard; on the legislative side they can fight very hard. It’s not going to be easy.
YUTKIN: So then, you remain optimistic about the future of cable?
DESORRENTO: I do. I do with the sole proviso that you’ve got to have the capital to make the cable system work right.
YUTKIN: Well, do you see a long-term problem in terms of cable?
DESORRENTO: That comment really comes from the small cable operator’s perspective. The major cable companies today by and large don’t have those kinds of problems. There problem is employing enough people to get the work done. It’s not a capital issue.
YUTKIN: Do you think that there is a future for a small cable operator?
YUTKIN: Much more limited than when you started in the early ’80s?
DESORRENTO: The opportunity for me was greater, in that there was not any cable at all. I was able to go into these small towns and offer them something – there wasn’t television at all in a lot of places, and so that was an opportunity that judged from that viewpoint I had a better opportunity. However, today, with an upgraded and rebuilt cable system and the services that are able to be offered, you may be in the same kind of a game. You can take away the phone business, you can take away the Internet business, and you can become a sole provider of the electro-magnetic spectrum. Now, you’re not going to get 100% penetration, but you can sure make a dent in the market. That doesn’t mean I’m going to go back in the cable business, though. I think there are younger, brighter, more spirited people than me that need to go out and do that.
YUTKIN: What kind of opportunities do you see for people of your equivalent age 20 or 30 years ago when you first got into the business? Do you see any opportunities like that for a younger generation?
DESORRENTO: Well, to get into the plain old cable business is a pretty hard thing to do right now. It takes a lot of capital. The idea of building a company from a very small number of subscribers is a severely limited opportunity right now, and the fact is that we have seven or eight major cable companies that probably service 90% of the industry. You go back 20 years, there were half as many total subscribers, but there were probably 700 cable companies.
YUTKIN: I remember when I joined Jones, Jones had about 200,000 subs and they were probably the 12th or 15th largest cable operator.
DESORRENTO: There you go.
YUTKIN: I think if you look at the top 100 in size now, if there are still 100 cable operators, probably the 90th has 200,000 subs now.
DESORRENTO: There’s a different opportunity for a different people.
YUTKIN: But you were never one to let the grass grow, and so you do miss some of the fun stuff. Would you say at the beginning you could almost do anything and not go wrong and you could have succeeded in the cable business, with a little bit of luck?
DESORRENTO: It depends upon your definition of luck. I always argue with my dad – he told me I was lucky, and I said, no, I’m just working hard. And so we agreed on a definition that says luck is where preparedness meets opportunity. Some people are prepared all their life and they never get a break. Others have opportunity after opportunity and they’re not prepared. So if you do your homework and you’re prepared, then if you want to say that’s lucky when you get an opportunity, okay, I’ll buy that. The lines have to cross.
YUTKIN: But you do still have to be a little bit in the right place at the right time, but there’s a lot that you make yourself.
DESORRENTO: That’s right, that’s part of the preparedness.
YUTKIN: All right, so now you are still involved with the Entrepreneurs and the Pioneers?
YUTKIN: And tell us what else you’re interested in, and I know there’s one thing that’s particularly close to your heart.
DESORRENTO: What’s that?
DESORRENTO: Well, yes. I’ve got two other things: the DeSo Foundation, which I’ll be glad to chat about, and the Bohemian Club, which has proved to be a tremendous resource for me.
YUTKIN: Let’s talk about the Bohemian Club first.
DESORRENTO: Okay. This is completely unrelated to cable, but nevertheless… The Bohemian Club is a group of guys, 2,200 members, the club was started in 1872 by a group of journalists in San Francisco who used to entertain themselves by singing songs, writing poetry, doing a dance, or whatever, and they decided to find patrons to support their entertainment.
DESORRENTO: Cultural – music, literature, art and drama are the four pillars of Bohemia. And so it’s a men’s club only, it’s got a full square block of San Francisco for a city club and a 2,700 acre redwood forest in the north of California for fun and games in the summer time, but the clubs purpose is to entertain its members, so we are visited with just all kinds of wonderful people all the time. They’re entertainers, they’re political figures, they’re guest speakers, they’re that sort of thing, and it’s been just a great resource for me to get away and meet with some great guys.
YUTKIN: And you have been active in that for….?
DESORRENTO: It’s a 20 year membership program, and I have a single opportunity after 11 years of waiting to go through what they call a preferential program.
YUTKIN: Do you have to be Bohemian? You have to be a bohemian.
DESORRENTO: You do indeed, with a little “b”. And then the DeSo Foundation is a nonprofit corporation, and it’s a family foundation that I formed after my son was killed in a car wreck in July of 1997, and what we do in the DeSo Foundation is… well, why don’t I tell you what we’ve done so far. We send a couple of kids every year to Patagonia to the North American Outdoor Leadership School on a Knowles expedition for three months.
YUTKIN: A lot of people don’t know that Patagonia is in the Argentine.
DESORRENTO: No, they don’t. That’s where it is.
YUTKIN: It’s far away.
DESORRENTO: It’s way far away, and it’s very remote. My son and daughter were both scheduled to go on a trip down there. He died and my daughter Suraya went ahead and completed the trip. We built a sports medicine facility in Steamboat at a new hospital there that frankly is an overwhelming success for the community and for the hospital. We have a scholarship endowed at Bridgeton Academy in Bridgeton, Maine, which is a pg school that Justin went to.
DESORRENTO: Post-graduate from high school. And we also built onto a building there for their purposes. So, the mission of the DeSo Foundation is to identify projects and individuals that best represent the characters of personal responsibility, integrity, loyalty and commitment that we knew Justin had, and we dedicated our family, and my daughter is the managing director of this foundation and we spend all of our time looking for people that we can help and to instilling in all the young people that receive benefit from us the idea of charitable giving. One of the things we say to them is we want you to give back what you’ve just gotten, not to us, just give it to anybody. But begin now, when you’re young – give five bucks if that’s all you have, but get yourself in the habit of charitable giving.
YUTKIN: And giving it wisely.
DESORRENTO: Yeah, and be selective.
YUTKIN: We are recording this at The Cable Center, and this is actually the first interview that’s being recorded in this location, in the Triax Telecommunications conference room, but you’ve also set up the Justin DeSorrento opportunity for excellence award.
YUTKIN: And let me just quote from a little bit of what you’ve said, “Through the thoughtful consideration, creative insight, and intelligent planning, the men and women of cable telecommunications will ensure that their vision of a better life for citizens of the third millennium will become a reality.” And that award will be given annually? Tell us about that.
DESORRENTO: This is an endowment that we have made here at The Cable Center for the purpose of having the staff identify candidates for advanced study in telecommunications, and that we’re hoping that some of the criteria employed will involve some of the criteria we use at the DeSo Foundation. That is we’re not just interested in scholars because they’re scholarly, we’re interested in them as people as well. And so we would like to have the selection process include some of the ideals that we believe should be associated with awards that we’re connected with.
YUTKIN: When you say advanced telecommunications, what do you mean by that? Somebody who’s working in the business, on camera, behind camera, installers, academics? Tell us who…
DESORRENTO: Well, we’re still in the process of fleshing out exactly what criteria will be applied for applicants. Initially, we thought it would be on a pg level, that is a post-graduate from college level, although I’m not sure that that is necessary. It might well be that there are interested people out there that would meet the established criteria.
YUTKIN: And they would receive a stipend to do a project?
DESORRENTO: A course of work or a project that is established by The Center. Hopefully they would take those courses and perform their work right here, but I don’t think that’s a requirement.
YUTKIN: You’re starting it out, and I’m sure that you’ll have a lot of…
DESORRENTO: It will be a couple of years before our first award here, but as we work through with the staff we’ll get to defining it.
YUTKIN: Okay, I think that will be a great tribute to him, and to the family who created it.
DESORRENTO: Well, I know my wife, Karen, tells me that behind every successful man is the woman who made him do it.
YUTKIN: And that involved a little bit of luck, too.
DESORRENTO: It does.
YUTKIN: Jim DeSorrento, thank you very much for talking with me. I’ve enjoyed it, I hope that you’ve enjoyed it, and I think that you really presented a point of view that is very unique to the evolution of the cable television industry.
DESORRENTO: Well, good. Thank you, Gerry.
YUTKIN: Again, we’d like to thank The Hauser Foundation for supporting this and we hope that they will continue to support the Oral History Program at The Cable Center. Thanks for being with us.