Interview Date: Thursday March 30, 1989
Interviewer: Robert Allen
Interview Location: Columbus, MS
Collection: Penn State Collection
Note: Audio Only
Travis Nabors joins interview.
Robert ALLEN: Well, good afternoon. This is Thursday, March 30, 1989, and this is being recorded in Columbus, Mississippi, in the home of Ms. Polly Dunn. We will be talking to Ms. Dunn for the next couple of days about her role in the cable industry. This is a project for the National Cable Television Center and Museum. Good afternoon!
Polly DUNN: Good afternoon!
ALLEN: I certainly feel very welcome in your community of Columbus. I appreciate your warm hospitality.
DUNN: I am delighted that you came and flattered that you did.
ALLEN: What we would like to do at the very beginning is talk a little bit about you, the kind of person that you are and some of the events in your early life that made you the leader in the industry that you have become. Where were you born?
DUNN: Well, I really didn’t expect that I would talk about myself to that extent, but I certainly don’t mind. I was blessed with a lovely, loving home. I had two people for parents whom I consider great and unmatched in my experience for courage, for vision, for unselfishness and I have felt that all the way through my life. My father made sure that all of us in the family realized our responsibility to put back into life the things that we should. My father used to say if you don’t leave the world better when you leave it than when you came, the Lord will be disappointed in you. In fact, that’s what you must do. And it wasn’t a burden. It was just something that permeated our whole life.
My father was an engineer, a mining engineer, but when the company that he was working for left Kentucky where I was born, and went to West Virginia, he didn’t go. He bought a farm, if I’m not mistaken it was somewhere around 1,200 acres, and he tried to bring scientific farming to not only his own farm, but into the county. He was instrumental in forming the Kentucky Federation. I don’t remember the exact title, but anyway it was a co-op type of thing for farmers. He tried to get everybody in the county to upgrade their beef cattle so that if it came from Union County you knew that it was top quality.
ALLEN: So this was Union County, Kentucky?
DUNN: Union County, Kentucky. Right on the Ohio River. From my bedroom I could see the river. It was about a mile away.
ALLEN: And near what town?
DUNN: Well it’s a tiny little town. It’s still there. It’s called Dekoven. I think that’s German for a cove among the hills. But, looking back on it now, it was not much more than a whistle stop along the railroad. Before the Crash in 1929, there was a situation that is somewhat duplicated right now. Every farmer practically in the county went to the war. In fact, there was one time when the bank owned all but two farms in Union County. My father still had a standing offer for a place in the coal mines as an engineer so we moved to West Virginia.
My father could never leave anything alone if he could fix it or make it work better. So he did a lot of that with the mining machinery there. Then somebody came by and was very much interested in his inventions, his innovations. This young man went back and applied for a patent on it. But, of course, my father wasn’t so stupid that he didn’t have documented evidence that it was his invention. So he began to get inventions patented and after he was sixty years old he went into business for himself. He was, I guess, what you would call now a consulting engineer.
But, he customized equipment for mines. It was so good and so revolutionary that it was included in an exhibit in the Smithsonian Institute where they were showing, I think they called it the “Evolution of Mining.” That was just one of the many things that he did. It always did make me feel good to know that he had been recognized to that point.
ALLEN: Can we pick up just a couple of loose ends here? Where was your family living in Kentucky when you were born?
DUNN: Union County, Kentucky. Outside of Dekoven, Kentucky.
ALLEN: And then when you moved to West Virginia, you moved to where?
DUNN: We moved to a town called Summerlee, a small town outside of Oak Hill. It was a mining town. Oak Hill was the town where I went to high school. I graduated from high school in Oak Hill.
ALLEN: What was your father’s name?
DUNN: Armistead Rosser Long. And when I graduated, I was salutatorian, had taken part in the high school plays, was president of the National Honor Society. I worked with, I can’t remember for sure what the title was, but I guess that I was chairman of the young people of the church. And then I went to Randolph Macon Women’s College in Lynchburg, Virginia. My father’s family came from there. We had a first cousin with almost exactly the same name as my father who was a prominent attorney in Lynchburg at the time. His name was Armistead Ragland Long. When I went to Lynchburg and went downtown as a college student to establish a credit account at Guggenheimers, I said my father was A. R. Long. “Oh well, we don’t need you to sign.” It was nice of them. It was nice. I got to know a number of the members of our family.
ALLEN: Can we talk a little bit about your mother?
DUNN: Oh my mother was a wonderful woman. A wonderful woman.
ALLEN: What was her name?
DUNN: Her name was Martha McCauley and she was an educated woman. I didn’t go to school until I was in the third grade because she taught me at home. I just lose my breath when I think about my mother because she coped with so many things that I wasn’t even aware of at the time. The life of a farmer is so much of a gamble. You work so hard and you have absolutely no control over storms that come, floods that come, drought that comes and all that sort of thing. Yet my mother was always in control and set the highest of standards for us. I can’t remember ever having any unpleasant type conversations about “you shouldn’t do this” and “you bad girl,” that sort of thing. Always, it was the other way. She was proud of the things that we did and expected us to do them. She always found a way to manage to provide us with the things that she felt we should have.
ALLEN: Where were your parents from originally? Were they from Kentucky?
DUNN: Yes, they were from Kentucky. My father’s grandfather came from Amherst County which is right outside of Lynchburg. And his great-grandfather, the first Armistead Long was in the Revolutionary War. Like so many soldiers of the Revolution, they had no money to pay him. He outfitted his own regiment. They all did that sort of thing and came back poor as church mice. So the government gave them lands out west which meant Kentucky. There was land there to be claimed and I know my father’s grandfather came from Lynchburg.
It was interesting to me that when we drove to college we went on the Old Midland Trail which was exactly the same trail that the people who migrated from Virginia came over in wagons. We have a diary of my father’s grandmother when she came to Kentucky. It covered the events day by day. It took them seven days to get from Bedford County which is close to Lynchburg, past White Sulphur Springs down through the Canole River which was exactly where I went back to school at Randolph Macon. It took us seven hours to get to Lynchburg.
ALLEN: Have you actually seen that diary and read it?
DUNN: Yes. My father had it printed so we have it here.
ALLEN: What were some of the kinds of things she reported on that trip?
DUNN: Well, I wished she would have told more names. She told or mentioned brother Albert or something of that sort. But she mentioned very few names of who was with them and what the names of the children were and all. But it was a testament of faith because when she left home she didn’t know whether she would ever see her mother or her family again. It is one thing to get in a car and go seven hours, but in a wagon? And I imagine they walked. Don’t you imagine they did?
ALLEN: Yes. And your mother’s family was from Kentucky?
DUNN: Yes, they were from Kentucky. They had come down to Union County from … I have forgotten the name of the county, but anyway from what is now Louisville. They lived out in the country and came down from there and bought a farm when my McCauley grandparents were young.
ALLEN: Is Union County in eastern or western Kentucky?
DUNN: It’s in western Kentucky. My father told me it’s Mark Twain country. It’s the country Mark Twain wrote about. He wrote from the standpoint of where Indiana and Illinois come right down to the Ohio River. We were across the river from there. And Shawneetown at that time was a big port on the Ohio River. As a matter of fact, the little town where my grandfather settled was Caseyville. It is a beautiful spot on the river where they filmed a lot of the Davy Crockett movies you saw. And, they thought it was going to be bigger than Louisville as a port because water transportation was so important.
ALLEN: Is that where the Wabash comes into the Ohio?
DUNN: Not exactly, but pretty close.
ALLEN: How old were you when your father went into farming and left the mining business?
DUNN: A baby.
ALLEN: Just a baby. So you really grew up on the farm.
DUNN: Right. I have very indistinct memories of anything back beyond that. And as I grew older, I was not in accord entirely with my mother and my father because I heard my mother talking to her friends and they said, “Martha, how do you stand moving twice a year?” We moved into Morganfield which was the county seat after we were to the point where we were in high school to get the better schools. We moved in the fall, and we moved back in the spring in the spring wagon. My mother took her antiques and wrapped them in quilts and put them in the wagon and we moved.
Of course as far as I was concerned it meant that I left my school friends and went back to the farm. My mother described it as, “We do it for our children. We want our children to have as much time as possible on the farm.” Well, that wasn’t what I thought was the most wonderful thing. I loved it there. There was no question about that, but just about the time I got as we call it “in” with the group in school I left and I came back to the farm. Then in the fall I had it all to do over again. But, it was fine. That was one of the things that my mother was willing to do. She was my father’s first line of defense.
ALLEN: You were so close to the Ohio River, did you have occasion to go down and watch the traffic on the river, the boats going up and down?
DUNN: Not a whole lot. One of the things that I remember most vividly about the river was that in one year there was a tremendous freeze and the river froze over. The only time in my memory that I think it ever did. Then when it broke up, you can’t imagine the noise. It was almost like an explosion. It shook the windows.
ALLEN: Do you remember what year that was?
DUNN: No I don’t. I know that I was very small because my daddy took me down there to see it. I can remember that he held my hand and I had to hold my hand up; so I must have been very small.
ALLEN: Probably maybe four or five or six years old.
DUNN: At least. I imagine less than that, but I don’t remember. It’s just a picture. It is almost like a snapshot in my mind.
ALLEN: One of those incidents in childhood that is so dramatic that it just stays with you.
DUNN: That one and when my father built a little playhouse for me. I could stand up straight in it, but my older brother couldn’t. It had a tiny little stove in it. Actually it was the salesman’s sample of a woodstove with little lids about the size of a quarter where you lift it up to look down into the fire. And a tiny little iron skillet that was possibly the size of a little cookie. That playhouse was my domain. If I was angry with my brother, I would go in and he couldn’t get in because it was too small for him.
ALLEN: Did you have other siblings besides one brother?
DUNN: I have two brothers. One older and one younger. I didn’t get my younger brother until I was six. I thought that he was my own. My older brother felt that about me and Jack. So I pushed him around in my doll buggy. Don’t you think that makes him mine?
ALLEN: Absolutely, particularly when you’re six.
DUNN: Right. Well it was a happy time but a time of worry, too. I can remember being upstairs on what we call the sleeping porch and hearing my father talk to his neighbors downstairs. Well, it was exactly the same as farmers do now. What are you going to do when it doesn’t rain and you are going to lose your whole crop and yet there is nothing you can do about it. I used to think that if I ever grew up I would not be a farmer.
ALLEN: And you are not a farmer.
DUNN: No. I’m not.
ALLEN: I think that it is very obvious that a lot of the values that you hold are values that you got from your mother and your father. Could you talk a little bit more about your relationship with them? I know it’s very emotional. I can see that. It helps us to understand some of the things that we will be talking about later.
DUNN: Well, I don’t know. I think my father was a great man and my mother was a great woman. I thought so at the time and I think so more as time goes by. Once in a while I meet somebody who will tell me something that my father did or my mother did that helped them so much.
ALLEN: Could you relate maybe one or two of those instances?
DUNN: Well, I remember one Black boy who helped us and he got into some trouble and they were going to put him in jail. My mother was a very small woman. I was five feet seven inches. I suppose that she never saw more than five feet three inches or five feet four inches. She had intense blue eyes, very pretty, but rather on the tiny side from my standpoint. And I can see her now. She heard that this boy was in jail and she went up the hill. She looked like a bandy hen with ruffled feathers and she went into the courthouse. I don’t know what she said or what she did, but when she came out that boy was free. He expressed his desire to go into the service which he did and did very well. He came back to tell her and thank her. That was one thing. They both were always helping somebody.
ALLEN: Your family had a religious orientation to it?
DUNN: Well, it was, I think, in my mind more the word is faith. They had a working faith. A practical relationship with God from this standpoint, I guess. I grew up feeling like the things that happened in the Bible were not necessarily all over. That if God talked to his prophets then he could talk to us now. My parents were active in church, but they were never rigid. Never rigid in their religious concepts so that it gave you an uneasy feeling. I was never frightened to go to church. Nobody preached fire, hell, and damnation.
When I was at Randolph Macon, I graduated with honors. I was a member of the Pi Gamma Mu. This was the honorary social science fraternity, and I had a scholarship. In those days, remember I was a child of the Depression, and you didn’t go to college unless you had some sort of a side job to help which I did. And after two years of being in the Women’s College, my older brother approached my mother and father with the plan that it was time for me to go to a co‑ed school. Looking back I can see why I would.
ALLEN: So you were his in a way then?
DUNN: You bet.
ALLEN: He was watching out for you.
DUNN: That’s right. Sure enough I went back to the state university and I loved that. I enjoyed that a lot.
ALLEN: The state university?
DUNN: That was West Virginia in Morgantown. And then I got to thinking about how my family had pinched and scrapped and planned so that I could go to a really outstanding school and here I was going off to a co‑ed school where I had lots of fun. So I called them or wrote Randolph-Macon, I forget. I suppose I wrote them and asked if my scholarship was still good. They said yes, so I went back to Randolph Macon and graduated with honors there. Then a couple of years later I went to Cornell in the summertime. I went to a couple of summer schools there and worked on a graduate degree, but I never got it. I got married instead.
ALLEN: How long did you stay at West Virginia?
DUNN: Just the one year. The reason I went to summer school was I ended with a double major. Randolph Macon didn’t accept credits for courses that they didn’t have. I had taken a lot of social sciences at West Virginia and when I went back I picked up English Literature at Randolph Macon.
ALLEN: It is important to understand the early years before talking about the professional years. I hope you feel comfortable with that.
DUNN: It’s all right. As I say I’m enjoying talking about them because I was so blessed. It’s still a joy to talk about them.
ALLEN: You mentioned that you worked while you were at Randolph Macon. What kind of work did you do?
DUNN: Well, I wasn’t “hip” to knowing what was there. A lot of students got the best places because they knew what they wanted. They went early before school even started and got the different things. I had a little job in an office where I answered the phone certain hours. I had an arrangement downtown with the dry cleaner and another one with a theater. The dry cleaner would bring clothes back and I would deliver them to the girls’ rooms and they would give me the clothes to go and I would put them in a certain place and the cleaner would come and pick them up. The picture show gave me two tickets a week. All I had to do was put the poster up on the bulletin board. There were several little things. I can’t even remember all of them. Wherever there was something that we could do, we did.
DUNN: Well, you know when I think about it, many people were working when I was in college. Practically everybody had some little something going. Oh yes, I worked at a florist, too. My sorority was Chi Omega so I got the order for the flowers for the Chi Omega banquets. That sort of thing. Little things, you pick a little up here and little there, etc. One of my joys at Randolph Macon was working on the college magazine which was called the “Old Maid.”
I enjoyed that, but the trouble was that in those days the big college magazine was called “College Humor” and for years after I got out of college I never heard a new joke because I found out that most jokes are reworked jokes. The same old ones over and over in a different disguise. Well, I was very fortunate when I came home because I came back to the same school that I had graduated from and with the same principal of the school.
ALLEN: This was the high school?
DUNN: The high school. About all you could do when you graduated from Randolph-Macon was to teach school. They have more things now, but then about all you could do was to teach school. The principal was the same one that I had had when I was there and he was very helpful. In those days the junior high was in with the senior high so that my younger brother was a senior in high school when I went back. A lot of youngsters who had been his friends … in and out of our house … were in my classes and man did they sign up for my classes. I had sixty to request to sign up in practically every class every hour. So I had to learn pretty fast then.
I decided I had a little discipline problem. I had seen other people go to the principal for help so I decided I would just go also. So I went to the principal’s office but somebody else was in with him. I waited out in front and the girl who was in with him was a girl who had been in my class and it was also her first year to teach. She came out and she had been crying and she rushed on out and I went into his office. The principal apologized for making me wait. Then he said, “You know this is this girl’s first year, and she really doesn’t have the personality to override the aggregate personality of her students so she is having discipline problems. She was calling for help. And what can I do for you?” I said, “I came to see about getting some football tickets.” I went back with a stiffer backbone and didn’t have any more trouble.
ALLEN: Never had to go to the principal again.
DUNN: Never had to go to the principal again. There were many times when I would look at a room full of children and their will just comes at you– will is as much as I can think to call it–like a wave and you think, “I cannot combat this.” Then I think of her not having personality as strong as the children’s. I thought that no child can intimidate me.
ALLEN: They sit out there and say go ahead; teach me something, I dare you.
DUNN: Right, right, right. Well I had a lot of fun though. I came out of it with a tremendous respect for particularly seniors in high school. They are real people. They are informed, and have excellent ideas and they are responsible if you give them the responsibility. I had respect for them every year that I taught.
ALLEN: Has that feeling about the young people carried over to this day?
DUNN: Oh yes, oh yes. My daughter had two Baskin‑Robbins stores in California for a while. Baskin‑Robbins has an excellent training program. She has had on her staff some wonderful young people and young people who want jobs. She had eight jobs to give and 200 high school students applied. So she has got the cream, of course. But they responded so well. Of course, everybody has problems. Once in a while you find somebody whose principles are not as high as they should be, but that is going to happen everywhere. I am tempted to tell you a story that I’ve told I think everyone that I know in the cable business.
After we were married, my husband came back to town. He was walking along the street and a big broad shouldered man stopped him and said, “Are you Miss Long’s husband?” And Morris said, “Yes, I am.” He said, “I just want to shake your hand, everything I am I owe to Miss Long.” And Morris said, “Well, I know Polly will be delighted to hear that. It was nice of you to tell me. And what do you do Mr. Nelson?” He said, “I am the manager of the local liquor store.” I don’t know whether to cry or to laugh when I tell this story. I was proud of him, I really was proud of him. He later became local postmaster and a fine young man. I never did see what I had done that made him say that.
ALLEN: That drove him to drink.
DUNN: It certainly was a round about way wasn’t it?
ALLEN: What classes were you teaching when you came back from Randolph Macon?
DUNN: The first year I did English and stuff. Most of the time I did political science, economics, and social sciences, history, and I was the senior sponsor so we did outside projects. For instance, we got to run the town one day and things of that sort. I enjoyed it.
ALLEN: This was in West Virginia in what town?
DUNN: Oak Hill. I taught a year in Oak Hill and then my family moved. As I told you, my father started a business after he was 60. And we moved to Fayetteville and I taught there and then I got married.
DUNN: Fayetteville, West Virginia. They all almost run together in extended areas.
ALLEN: Were you still teaching in the same high school or did Fayetteville have its own high school?
DUNN: Fayetteville had its own high school.
ALLEN: So you moved there. And were you living with your parents then?
DUNN: Oh yes.
ALLEN: Where did your older brother go to college?
DUNN: He went to Purdue. And my younger brother went to Hampton Sydney in Virginia where my grandfather had gone.
ALLEN: And what did your older brother do once he graduated from Purdue?
DUNN: Well, he had an engineering degree and he had always been interested in mechanics. I never thought he would ever be anything but an engineer. But strange to say after he got out of school he had a good job as an engineer, but somehow he got interested in insurance and he went into insurance. He became very well known nationally as a successful insurance man. My brother was always the kind that in Fayetteville, which is a tiny little town, was the one who saw to it that the cemetery was cleaned up. He was the one who was head of the United Way drive, March of Dimes. He worked with Boy Scouts until he died. He got all kinds of nice awards–Silver Beaver and stuff. Insurance just fit him. He liked taking care of people and seeing that they were safe and protected.
My younger brother, who never showed any mechanical inclination that we saw, was bright, much more than bright. We used to say we never knew when he went to school in the morning what grade he would be in when he got home that afternoon. He was just 19 when he graduated from college; well I guess he was 20, about two weeks before he graduated. Anyway, I told you my father went into business for himself. My brother was helping dad. I think the idea was possibly that he looked so young and so rosy cheeked and fresh looking, and that he would work with his father a couple of years and then maybe do something else. I always thought he would make a marvelous attorney, but apparently he didn’t. He has become a designing engineer. I think he has retired two or three times already.
ALLEN: So the brother who was going to be an engineer turned out to be an insurance man and the brother who you thought should be a lawyer, Jack, turned out to be an engineer.
DUNN: Turned out to be an engineer. Jack took to it like a duck to water and to this day he is still inventing or modifying things to make them better. He has a new invention which he’s beginning to manufacture overseas as well as in the United States.
ALLEN: And your brother’s names were or are?
DUNN: My younger brother’s name is John Broaddus Long. We call him Jack. There is a college, I’m not familiar with it actually, but I think I’m right. I believe there is a Broaddus College in Virginia that was founded by my grandmother’s uncle or great uncle. Anyway, when Jack was five, he’d already taught himself to read and my mother went to see the first grade teacher to see if she would allow him to come to school. She was a very ardent Baptist and Broaddus College was a Baptist college.
ALLEN: The teacher was a very ardent Baptist?
DUNN: Yes, she was a very ardent Baptist. She said to my mother that her class was full. She couldn’t take another child. She looked down at him, a little five year old, and he sort of clouded up when he couldn’t go to school. She turned to him and said, “What is your name little man?” And he said, “My name is John Broaddus Long.” She said, “John Broaddus?” He said, “Yes.” She said, “I think maybe I can find a place for him.”
ALLEN: And your older brother’s name?
DUNN: Was Armistead Rosser Long, Jr. He has, well he doesn’t have another Armistead Rosser, and he has Armistead Long. They split the name and his daughter’s name is Elizabeth Rosser Long. They are grown and married.
You came here today and I am in the midst of two or three projects all at once. One of them, though, is that I am trying to update a family book, not the kind that tells about romance or is a novel, but names, etc. You can imagine how hard and difficult it is to get people to send you the names of their children and when they were born and got married, etc. They want the book, but they don’t want to give me the information.
ALLEN: They don’t want to put any effort into it. Well, you certainly have a very good trace on your family. You can go back quite a number of generations.
DUNN: Well with my father’s family I can. My mother’s family, the McCauleys is different. It’s just a tragedy to me that my McCauley grandfather had a very bitter quarrel with his brother and when they moved from the Louisville area down to Union County he refused to have any more contact with his family and wouldn’t let his wife do it either. To me it just stops there you see. I don’t know where to turn. Not that I was going and digging up things, but I wouldn’t know where to turn if I did. But isn’t that a shame?
ALLEN: Yes, it is. So you’re at this point teaching in Fayetteville in the high school. You indicated that you had gone to Cornell for a couple of summers. Was it right at the time that you began teaching that you took your summers and went up to Cornell?
DUNN: Well a year or two later. My mother was not well and I stayed at home the first year after I was out of college, but then after that I took a couple of summers at Cornell.
ALLEN: How did you pick Cornell? That is not a very obvious choice for someone in West Virginia.
DUNN: Well my idea when I was in college was that I would like, at least, to have gone to a different college every year.
ALLEN: When you were doing your undergraduate degree?
DUNN: Right. After all, you know, you allot four years to educate the young lady or the young man and then after that he is supposed to be educated and on his own. So I would have liked to have gone to Hawaii for one year, to a northern school for one year, and to a western school for a year. But it just simply did not work out that way. Also Cornell had such a high scholastic reputation. The library there was a joy beyond saying just to go in … the things they had. Of course it has always been a well endowed school and they had everything that other schools didn’t have. I had a wonderful time there.
ALLEN: What kinds of things were you studying those summers?
DUNN: That was during the time when Roosevelt, who was the perennial president, was doing a lot of things. The economics, of course, was taking that into consideration and that was very helpful.
ALLEN: So you had your social sciences and economics.
DUNN: Right. We lived on the top of a mountain and down in the valley. Two rivers came together just before you get to Charleston, West Virginia. Union Carbide had plants down there and a great many were social contacts. The unmarried crowd concentrated down there because they had so many young men they had brought in. That is where I met my husband, whose name was Morris Dunn. He was originally from Indianapolis, Indiana, but had been there for quite some time.
ALLEN: What was he doing at Union Carbide?
DUNN: He was in the office there. They opened a plant in Florence, Alabama, and sent him down to set up the administration office and the purchasing and all of that. So we married when he came down. That was in 1940. We lived there until we moved here. That was almost 15 years ago.
End of Tape 1, Side A
ALLEN: You mentioned a little bit about your husband and his role with his friend who owned a knitting mill in Florence, Alabama.
DUNN: Well, we were visiting in West Virginia and we heard about cable television. This is at a time when everybody was excited about television. But, it was available only to the people who lived either in or very near the bigger cities. We went to West Virginia and a friend of ours was building or getting ready to build a cable system in Beckley, West Virginia. The whole concept was so completely exciting and here was a market, not only a market, but a demanding market, and here was the answer. Morris and I would consider ourselves rather conservative people, but we were ready in fifteen minutes to cash in everything we could get our hands on and build a cable system.
ALLEN: Before we get into that, and I am looking forward to some of those stories, what further incident comes to mind during your courtship days with the man that turned out to be your husband? What is the first thing you think of?
DUNN: I think the first thing I thought of when you said that was that he told people he was going to marry me before he ever asked me for a date.
ALLEN: That is interesting. That’s amazing how often that happens, isn’t it? Where had he seen you or met you?
DUNN: Well, as I say, we had been in many of the same places over the years, through the college years and all. My social life was intermingled with the people that he knew. He had been married before and I had been to his home, as a matter of fact, I think at an intermission party during a dance. I did not, of course, think of him as a possible escort or anything, but I liked him very much. I admired him very much. He had a son who was so beautifully mannered, that impressed me. Unfortunately this was a time before penicillin and all the wonder drugs for pneumonia. The town in which he lived was right down in the crevice, so to speak, between two mountains and influenza hit the town and people got it one day and were dead in two days.
It was terrible, just terrible. I think it was such a short time afterwards that there was a cure for it. Now if someone gets pneumonia that is not a problem. But, then…
ALLEN: His wife died then of the influenza epidemic?
ALLEN: What about his son?
DUNN: His son was best man at our wedding. Unfortunately he has since died himself. We were good friends and he was in college when we met. When Morris was sent down to Alabama, we married in June of that year. He was in Alabama for several months before we were married. Florence was an industrial awakening for us. They have since gotten quite a number of industries, but Morris’ office was the first new industry so a big “to do” was made. Except for the top men, the very top men, they had local men so that the spotlight was on us along with some other people. We were given a lovely welcome to Florence, Alabama, and I have many dear, dear friends there.
ALLEN: Did you continue your teaching career after you moved to Florence?
DUNN: No, no. I did some volunteer work of various kinds. The Girl Scouts there were trying to gather enough money to hire a professional director. I did pinch hit for that for awhile. But, I didn’t teach.
ALLEN: I think you said you stayed in Florence about fifteen years all together?
DUNN: Just about. My children were born there.
ALLEN: And how long was he with Carbide as against with the knitting mill?
DUNN: I can’t tell you those exact times.
ALLEN: Most of the time.
DUNN: No. About half and half I guess. See all that merges in my mind.
ALLEN: Tell us about the birth of your children. How many children?
DUNN: I have two children. One is a daughter named Martha for her grandmother. She was born in 1946. My son was born in 1949. He was named for his father. I lost him when he was twenty. He was beginning his senior year at Old Miss. Martha graduated from Old Miss and Mike would have graduated the following June. He was killed in October. Martha has married and lives in California and has two children, two adorable grandchildren.
ALLEN: I think that’s a redundancy if I remember right.
DUNN: I also have sort of an assorted family. I had my stepson who we started with, then we had the two little ones. I was back doing Girl Scout work again and we had a little Girl Scout that we hired as a babysitter and before it was over we just kept her. We never adopted her. She still has her own mother, but she was ours from the time she was eleven until she married. We still feel a family foursome. She has three children so she stood in for me for awhile before Martha gave me any grandchildren.
ALLEN: And where does she live?
DUNN: She lives in Canyon Lake, Texas. It is just outside of San Antonio.
ALLEN: So it’s just a little closer than California.
DUNN: That’s right. A little closer.
ALLEN: There seems to be a rule nowadays that the grandchildren have to live far enough way to frustrate the grandparents.
DUNN: I think that is a very easily debatable comment. So that brings us up pretty much to now, doesn’t it?
ALLEN: Yes, I think so. Who was the friend in Beckley, West Virginia, that got you all excited about cable?
ALLEN: Hard question. Jim.
DUNN: It is and I don’t think he ended by being the one who built it after all. I can’t think. It’s terrible; I can’t think of his last name … his first name was Jim.
ALLEN: Ok. It will come to you.
DUNN: Well, I’m not sure.
ALLEN: Had he put the system on the air by then?
DUNN: No, no. In fact I really think it ended that he wasn’t the one that built it. He was excited about it and everything just fit, you know. Think of the places that you had where you couldn’t get a good signal, down behind a hill or over a mountain or something of that sort. And to be able to get a signal on top of the mountain and bring it down to the valley was just great.
ALLEN: One of the most interesting questions has got to be, how did you pick Columbus, Mississippi?
DUNN: Oh, it wasn’t hard. We had our first franchise right where we were. We were in Florence, Alabama, and we got the franchise for the tri‑cities. A very, very lucrative thing has developed over the years.
ALLEN: The tri‑cities of?
DUNN: That’s Florence, Sheffield, and Tuscumbia, Alabama.
DUNN: And they are all very close together. And of course we would do it on a shoestring. And some very heavily and deep pocketed financial interests became interested in it. They were able to convince Morris that it would cost so much that we wouldn’t be able to do it. So we began to look for a different place. I must say I was pretty influential in that decision because I fell in love with Columbus. A beautiful town, school for girls right in town, school for boys fourteen or eighteen miles away. I just liked the atmosphere. There were times when I wondered about my judgment, however, because the very conservatism of the town that appeals to me, doesn’t make for quick acceptance of new ideas.
ALLEN: How did you get exposed to Columbus? You were not from Mississippi originally.
DUNN: No. Morris was looking for places.
ALLEN: So you went visiting cities throughout the south?
DUNN: He did that. I didn’t do that. I stayed home with the children.
ALLEN: And he came home and said, “I found a place.”
DUNN: That’s about it. As it turned out, I think it was instrumental in my losing him because as I say, we did it on a shoestring. In the first place, we had spent a lot of money in that preliminary time when we were waiting for the engineers to come from Jerrold to help us plan it. Well, anyway we weren’t exactly flush for money and our living expenses were continuing to go on because Morris had already cut loose from his job.
ALLEN: He had quit his job at the knitting mill?
ALLEN: Are you talking now about the Florence experience?
DUNN: But anyway our interest in the company that did build Florence was fortunate because it gave me money at the time that he was in the hospital and that helped a great deal.
ALLEN: So you retained an interest in the Florence operation and…
DUNN: A very small interest.
ALLEN: And someone else took over the rest of it, and then you came to Columbus and began to build a system here?
DUNN: That’s right.
ALLEN: Did you have any capital out of the Florence experience to start Columbus?
DUNN: No, no.
ALLEN: You were right down to nickels and dimes?
DUNN: Right. We sold stock and notes. If you bought five shares of common stock, that was a dollar a share for them. You had five dollars in common stock. You had five shares of preferred stock at $100 apiece. There was a note for $500 that had 6 percent interest and that was paid regularly. As we were able to we not only paid the 6 percent interest on the notes, but we retired the notes. Then in a few years we were able to also pay the 6 percent both retroactive and current 6 percent on the preferred stock.
ALLEN: Did anyone who was going to invest in the cable system buy both of those … the common, the preferred?
DUNN: Oh yes they all did it.
ALLEN: That was the package.
DUNN: That was the package; $1,005 got you five shares. And, of course, break it down otherwise, too, but that was the common thing. Nobody put a whole lot of money into it.
ALLEN: How many stockholders did you have at the beginning?
DUNN: I don’t remember how many.
ALLEN: Was it in the hundreds or in the teens or…
DUNN: No, no. It wasn’t in the hundreds. I don’t remember exactly how many, but it wasn’t all that many.
DUNN: But anyway the investors owned the common stock which was face value a dollar a piece, which makes it very difficult for anybody who wanted to sell it, because they were dismayed when they found out what the tax was going to be. Not only that, we also had in our by‑laws that you can’t sell the stocks to anybody out of the group. It has to be offered either to…
ALLEN: Either the company or to other stockholders. What has that stock been selling for recently?
DUNN: Nobody sells it. But, our contract at first was $125 for an installation. That was equal to what it cost to buy and put up an antenna. Then it was $3.50 a month and that was equal to about what it would cost to have your antenna taken down once a year and cleaned and straightened up and put back up. That went on for a few years, but in 1956 it had become pretty prevalent all over the country to just charge $10 to have an installation and $4.95 a month. The idea again there, it was a long term deal when you bought this. When we first went into the cable business, we thought sincerely, and I am not just talking about myself and my husband, but the general theory with cable people was that it was only going to last about five years anyway. Because nobody was going to have cable after they could get a local station. That would fill the need and that would be the end of cable so they needed to get it paid out as quickly as possible. Then by 1956 people were beginning to realize that you could get equipment that carried three channels or five channels. So that maybe there would be a place for the cable business in the coming years. This way we could take a chance on a $10 installation charge. Of course, it cost you a lot more that $10 then and still does. And we charged $4.95 a month.
ALLEN: Let me go back for just a minute. You decided after you saw Columbus that this was the place you wanted to build a system, but you had to come in and get a franchise, did you not?
DUNN: Yes. The mayor of Columbus was very strongly instrumental in our coming here. He wanted so much for his town that we were really helped a lot. As a matter of fact, we were rather discouraged about the sale of stock and were about to leave. He laid out a check for $1,000, $1,005 on the line and said, “I want to be the first.” And then he whipped up a little enthusiasm.
ALLEN: What was his name?
DUNN: His name was Bill Prost.
ALLEN: Was he mayor here for a number of years?
ALLEN: So he was a real pillar in the community?
DUNN: Right. He was right. I don’t know whether he lived to see, but I know that there were at least two different industries that came here in the later years. I was told by the Chamber of Commerce that probably not the single deciding factor, but a deciding factor was definitely that there was a television. At that time we had five channels. Not many cities had five. So it made a difference. I am still surprised at how much television is an integral part of most people’s lives, and they are simply not going to be without it.
ALLEN: So you really had no particular battle to get the franchise?
DUNN: No. On the contrary.
ALLEN: You were welcomed with opened arms.
DUNN: Right. And we had tried to live up to that confidence in us. We didn’t wait to be made to put more channels. We did it the minute we thought we could afford it. The payback period becomes longer and longer every year. We have so many basic channels that you get for your basic fee. We have no room for any premium services on the basic dial. So we have to furnish a converter that is also a descrambler. By the time we get through, we have $150 invested before anybody pays us a nickel. As the fees for satellite signals go up and up as I told you that many of them have doubled and tripled each year, then the time span before we get our money back, much less make any money, gets longer, and longer. So you need more and more assurance that you are going to be in business. So the fact that the city council was willing to extend our franchise twenty-five years made it, well they expressed their confidence.
ALLEN: Confidence in you that you are going to be operating the system for another twenty-five years.
DUNN: I certainly am going to try to.
ALLEN: The original franchise was for the city of Columbus.
DUNN: Right. That’s right and then shortly thereafter we got a…
ALLEN: An agreement with the county.
DUNN: Yes, the board of supervisors.
ALLEN: Had you built the city by the time you got that agreement or…
DUNN: Oh yes, yes. We went to the county right away, but at that time the attorney general said that the county supervisors didn’t have the right to grant franchises. Then the FCC came along two years later and said we’ve got to have a piece of paper. So I went to the board of supervisors and told them exactly that. So their attorney said we’ll give you an order and said exactly the same thing as the franchise. But it was an order not a franchise.
ALLEN: Where did your first signal come from?
DUNN: Birmingham. When we moved here, that was the only possible thing that we could get. See there was no Meridian, there was no Tupelo, there was Jackson then. We tried to get Jackson, but it was just too far. Of course, this was the kind of thing that I used to tell people in 1956. The horizon is about 60 or 70 miles away which means from then on the earth drops down and the signals continue to go up and all you are getting after 60 miles is a reflection off of the ionosphere. If the ionosphere is high, you get one kind of reception, and if it is low, you get another kind of reception. Jackson is just simply too far to get, and at that time there was no microwave path. Now we have microwaves from Memphis. It is now a duplicate station. One of our local stations is ABC, but unfortunately they have had some problems that occasionally seem to put them off the air, so that unfortunately the time they go off the air is just the same time that we do. When we have a storm, it’s in the middle of something that you want to see so that we continue to use the microwaves to back up the ABC local station.
ALLEN: Did you get just one station out of Birmingham to begin with?
DUNN: No, to begin with, we had two. Then the local station came on and that left us with only one. So we needed to get more stations and get equipment that would give us more. About that time, however, Tupelo came on the air.
ALLEN: Tupelo is about how far away?
DUNN: Well, it’s about 70 miles by the road. But, we have had it now for many years.
ALLEN: How did you get the original engineering done? Did your husband have that background?
DUNN: No, but again this is the sort of atmosphere that the first systems grew up in. They learn pretty fast regardless of their background, but we also had a man that you would be interested in talking to. His name is Jim Collins. He lives in Memphis. In the last very few years he has retired from being their chief engineer in the Memphis system. I am sure they could tell you where to find him. He did most of the engineering for us and did for a great many other small systems which were going on the air at that particular time. We are talking about 1952, ’53, ’54, thereabouts.
ALLEN: Did you have any particular engineering problems that you had to overcome?
DUNN: Well in the first place we had to find the highest point in Lowndes County, and we had to find the tallest poles. And we found the tallest poles in the country, 110 feet and very expensive. Then as you bought them, you had the problem of how are you going to get them here? What kind of a truck can bring a 110 foot pole?
ALLEN: Where did you find them?
DUNN: In Alabama somewhere. Morris found them. We got them, and you will have to ask Travis to tell you how they put them up. It is very interesting to hear how they put those 110 foot poles up, and to put their antennas on.
ALLEN: So you didn’t erect a steel frame, but a pole frame.
DUNN: That’s right. We had four as I remember, four poles and we ran like a scaffolding-‑a walkway between so that you could get up there and work.
ALLEN: Where is the highest point?
DUNN: It is on Ridge Road. It’s out past the country club.
ALLEN: Is that still where your antenna is?
DUNN: No, no. The man who owned that, a Mr. Quinn, was tremendously interested in our project. If anybody was as interested as the mayor, he was. He wanted television for Columbus, so he owned this property and he gave us a twenty-five year lease for $25. Unfortunately he died several years later and his daughter said she would like to have that property to build a house on, so we looked for another place. The location that we found is ideal in that it is as much as possible in the center of our system. But it is low. By that time we were able to buy a steel tower. We still have that same tower and we still receive Birmingham, and we get Tupelo and West Point.
ALLEN: West Point, Mississippi?
DUNN: Oh yes, Mississippi. It is probably 25 or 30 miles away. And the educational channel.
DUNN: Well, it’s a franchise or whatever you call it to the state university which is only a few miles away. But their transmitter is not there. It is a little farther away, but anyway those we still get off the air.
ALLEN: What did you do with your four 110 foot poles? Did she build her house on top of them?
DUNN: No. You will have to ask Travis that. Come to think of it, I don’t know what they did with them. But by the time we took them down, I can’t imagine what anybody would do with them. They had to go at least 10 feet in the ground you see. I remember that we put up a new, we called it “newfangled”, kind of an antenna. You see them once in awhile. I forget what they call them. Again Travis will tell you. But if you take your hand and half open, a double angle, that was the way it was. They put up a giant hand with a mesh on it.
ALLEN: To catch the signal?
DUNN: To catch the signal. We had a terrifically hard time with the co‑channel, because Channel 6 from Birmingham was one that we got. Then they put in a Channel 6 in Greenwood, Mississippi, exactly an equal distance in the other direction and we had a beep that was very difficult to get out. Once in awhile, not much anymore, somebody will say, “I just don’t understand, Channel 13 from Birmingham, sometimes it’s not good at all. It used to be wonderful.” And I would say, “Miss Jones, it’s exactly the same or maybe a little better than it was when you were talking about it being wonderful, we couldn’t get anything.”
ALLEN: Our standards have increased.
DUNN: My goodness, who can compete with a satellite signal? Beautiful pictures. Think how far they have come. My goodness.
ALLEN: Did you have much resistance among the populace of Columbus? You said the mayor was enthusiastic. How did the people take to the idea? Did you have trouble selling cable television to the community?
DUNN: Yes, yes. Particularly after the paper came out. The local paper said that we were going to have a local TV station and it would have ABC, CBS, and NBC.
ALLEN: All at the same time?
DUNN: All at the same time on one station. That was the days of charity. And, of course, they did have some of each. People said, “Why should I pay $125 when it is going to be free?” They really used that word free very frequently. And I think that had a great deal to do with Morris’ illness. I feel probably based on that experience that when you walk around with a knot in your stomach, you are an invitation to cancer. He felt very strongly his responsibility to those people who had put money into the cable company. At that time we knew we could walk out of here and go get a franchise somewhere else. But he felt like he had told them that he was going to make them some money and he was to really stick with it.
ALLEN: You started in 1952?
DUNN: No, 1953.
ALLEN: When did the story come out about the local television station?
DUNN: That was after we were already in business. I would say that was in possibly ’56.
ALLEN: How did those first two or three years go before that?
DUNN: It was kind of touch and go. We didn’t always know whether we were going to have money for the weekly paychecks or not. We put little bits and pieces in the bank. Morris was fortunate. He had a wonderful personality and he had the ability to walk into a crowd of people cold, walking back leaving friends. And he was a musician. He could play anything that he had ever heard or any kind of instrument. A piano he could tear to pieces. If you ever heard Ben Conroy play, you have heard my husband, too.
ALLEN: I have.
DUNN: I could close my eyes and declare it was Morris playing. They played so much alike. He made some very good friends and one of them was the head of one of the banks here, who was our friend in need a number of times.
ALLEN: When the payroll had to be met, he helped you make it?
ALLEN: Your husband sounds a little bit like your older brother.
DUNN: Yes, he was.
ALLEN: Never met a stranger.
DUNN: That’s right, that’s right. We went to the Waldorf‑Astoria one time. It was a very memorable trip. This was way back when we were first married and they had a band there. I knew Morris was shifting in his chair, and directly he popped up and went up and asked if he could sit in. They thought “gee another one” but they were nice and said, “Ok.” So he went to the piano and you could see the difference. They were ready to cover up or drown him out or something. Then they just relaxed. It is like anything that you are really vitally interested in. It is the fraternity. It is a bond. Why inside of minutes they were hamming it up or whatever it is that you do when jamming. Is that what they call it, “jamming”? He was having a good time and so were they.
ALLEN: How big of a staff did you have right at the outset to actually physically string the cable?
DUNN: Well, we did have extra people for that. But, Morris supervised it all.
ALLEN: Just casual laborers then?
DUNN: We had one technician and one person in the office. Along about 1957, we had to let her go though, because that was just a tough time for us. I came down. I am not the world’s best bookkeeper, but he knew how, and taught me a little. Now the man who has been our financial advisor is W.C. Hollis and he is a CPA. I just can’t say enough nice things about him, because he is a person who never says anything critical. I try to run things by him always if there is any question of money. I say, now this, this, and this, what do you think of it? Dead silence. I would say, “Ok, I won’t do it.”
ALLEN: You know that if he doesn’t say it’s good, it is bad.
DUNN: That’s right. He is going to eat dinner with us tonight, he and his wife.
ALLEN: Did you have any trouble getting access to the poles?
DUNN: I didn’t have anything to do with that, of course. But that is still sometimes a difficult situation. And I can understand from the point of the power people and telephone people, they need those poles so they put them in the ground. And, of course, in their contract, I am sure with the city; they promise that they will share if they need to, because no city wants a half dozen poles in each spot. But, at the same time, it can cause them problems. It means that they have to have poles that are tall enough to accommodate renters so to speak. So once in awhile it gets kind of tough.
ALLEN: Were there some problems connected with the original pole agreements here?
DUNN: Well no, other than just taking time to get them worked out and everything. Again, as with almost anybody that Morris worked with, if it was somebody that he personally worked with, we didn’t have any real problem. But, if someone from the higher echelon was involved, why sometimes their demands were rather large.
ALLEN: Were there any other cable systems operational in Mississippi at the time … 1956?
DUNN: No, we built the first. But, Greenwood started very shortly after us. They finished theirs, oh I think within a couple of months after we did, or they started a couple months. Anyway there wasn’t much time in between. It went like wildfire in Mississippi. It is surprising because you think of Mississippi as being a flat state. There were no small TV stations. There was one in Jackson and I don’t know whether there was one in Hattiesburg or not. Anyway it was tantalizing to know that there were all these programs and things that you could get, and not be able to get them so there was a great demand for it, everywhere for that matter.
ALLEN: In some of the places where cable started, the mountains played a big part. It was the topography that forced it into Pennsylvania and Arkansas, but in Mississippi I am hearing you say that it was the population dispersion.
DUNN: I suppose so.
ALLEN: Just not enough stations.
DUNN: Right, right.
ALLEN: How long did it take to build Columbus? Did that get done pretty quickly?
DUNN: No. I can’t remember exactly when we started, officially started because all this paperwork was being done, too. But we put our first customer on in September of 1954. If I’m not mistaken one of the first customers was a man who had gone to Alabama and been in the Rose Bowl. And there was a big game, I don’t know whether it was a Rose Bowl game or it may have been just a game, because I think it was in September. The man actually held the cable in his hands so that he could watch the game.
ALLEN: We have been joined now by Travis Nabors, who is the Vice President‑General Manager and Chief Executive Officer, of the Columbus TV Corporation and has been with the company now for 31 years. Mrs. Dunn you said that if we are going to start talking technical things you want Travis here.
DUNN: That’s right.
ALLEN: Also being a very young man he is able to remember things that you are not held responsible for.
DUNN: Now you didn’t need to say that.
ALLEN: The question that I had posed and you had started to answer is how long did it take to get the system really built? Reflecting on that you said that maybe it never does get built. Maybe it is a dynamic process that keeps going on.
NABORS: You’re right. It is constantly replacing, updating equipment that you use in cable. Back in those early days especially, things were always out of date. They had a replacement for it before they got it shipped to you.
ALLEN: Who were the major suppliers of equipment back in the early mid fifties?
DUNN: And then Entron because…
NABORS: Jerrold, Entron, and AMECO, and then after those came Vikoa.
DUNN: But that was a later date.
NABORS: Well that was a little later, yes.
DUNN: But you know Jim Davidson flew over here in his plane to sell us Entron stuff. When we had started out, Jerrold had what they called a “turnkey job.”
ALLEN: So Jerrold was basically responsible for the original engineering of the system.
NABORS: This is true, yes.
ALLEN: And then once the system was on, then as you began to refine it and use the updated technology then you would go to other manufacturing?
NABORS: Not so much. We probably had about three different versions of the Jerrold equipment because Jerrold was in it well before Entron, or before we got to dealing in Entron equipment. We had, I don’t recall all of these numbers because it was all tube type. We had put in electronic gear, about three different versions of it when we started into the Entron. None of these three versions that we used had voltage regulation and AGC was very limited. This caused quite a problem.
ALLEN: Do you have any recollection of who some of the early people were that you dealt with from the equipment side?
NABORS: I am trying to think, if you could hold that just a minute. Jerry Hasting with Jerrold was one of the main people that we dealt with. Then with Entron, Jim Davidson and Nick Abdo of Natchez. He lived in Natchez and he was a sales person for Jim Davidson with Entron. At that time it was called DAVCO. Nick and Jim flew all over the country in his plane selling equipment, carrying what he could into the system.
DUNN: He was very helpful, too, because he had operated his system and he knew what our problems were. We looked forward to his coming and sitting down and saying what makes this happen, and what can we do about that. In fact, most of our meetings at that time really evolved into, “What do you do when such and such happens?” It was an exchange of a lot of technical stuff. I miss all of that. It got to the place where we didn’t have a technical session at the meetings because if you let your man go to one of those seminars he’d come back with three other job offers.
NABORS: This was quite an ordeal back then. I remember the first one I went to in Philadelphia. Some guy, I don’t recall his name, didn’t use a field strength meter. He only had a TV to set his amplifiers with, and he was up in Maine, and he wanted me to come to work for him. You would carry the TV set and cover it up to adjust your amplifier and when you got cross modulation, you would back it off a little. And that’s the way it had to be done. There just weren’t that many field strength meters being used in those days.
ALLEN: Was it a very hard decision not to move from Columbus, Mississippi, to Maine?
NABORS: Well, there is no way, born and raised in Columbus, Mississippi; I want to go to Maine. My clothes wouldn’t fill the bill, that was one. I had a great offer. I came to work for Mr. Dunn late July 1958. I came to work on Monday morning, Monday night when I got home, I had a job application from Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville wanting me to come up for an interview and a physical. I guess it is ok to tell this. I brought the letter the next morning, they wanted me up on Wednesday, and like I said this was Monday. I laid it on Mr. Dunn’s desk. He opened it and read it, and asked me what I was going to do. I said, “Mr. Dunn, I don’t know what to do.” He said, “Why don’t you take off Wednesday and go up and see, you won’t know ’til you go.” I guess that is probably the one thing that kept me at Columbus TV Cable. I didn’t really know the man. He didn’t know me and yet that is what he suggested I do!
End of Tape 1, Side B
NABORS: When I came back on Thursday, he wanted to know what happened. I told him I had a job up there if I wanted it. He said, “Well, what are you going to do?” I said, “If you’ll have me, I am going to stay here and work.” He said, “Get the hell out of here and go to work.” And I did. So I worked for Mr. Dunn from July until late November when he passed away. He was one of the greatest men I ever worked for. And Ms. Polly came along and I never will forget a meeting we had after the funeral. There were three men at that time and one lady. She wanted to know if we thought we could work with her. And we said, “Well, we’ll sure give it a try.” So thirty-one years later here I am.
ALLEN: Still testing?
NABORS: Still testing. And I have not regretted one moment of it. I don’t know what it would be like to go look for a job, to be honest with you.
ALLEN: Did they hold a job open for you at Redstone? Could you go there if you had to?
NABORS: No. I called and told them I wasn’t coming.
ALLEN: Could we talk a little bit about some of the technical kinds of problems that you ran into very early? Before we started the interview you were talking about voltage and variations in voltage that was a particular problem. Was that the biggest problem?
NABORS: Well, one problem with cable, as everyone in the cable business back then knew and still knows, is that the shield on it was not very good. Let me put it simply. With the cable of the fifties and sixties, there is no way that one foot of it would ever pass the FCC tests that are coming up in 1990. Most of it was braided or wrapped. When I am talking wrapped, I am talking just about copper sheets wrapped around so that it was almost open wire. No, it wasn’t that bad, but it was bad. The problems in the early fifties, late fifties and sixties was AGC. The amplifiers had virtually none. Voltage regulation in the early part of the fifties didn’t exist. The power companies couldn’t control the power. It depended upon how many electric stoves were turned on for cooking lunch, how many were turned on for cooking dinner, and how much air conditioning was being used. You had to go back and level the amplifiers according to the voltage you got. This was a constant problem.
ALLEN: Constant. You mean once a week or…
NABORS: I mean every day. And just about every hour of the day. Virtually you wouldn’t get through leveling until you had to go back and redo.
ALLEN: In a city the size of Columbus, how many amplifiers are you talking about?
NABORS: Well, if we are talking about the mid to late fifties, I would have to count them. We didn’t even have all of the city wired at that time. But I would say some forty amplifiers or possibly fifty. Number one, the cable was not the cable we have today, so you couldn’t get the spacing out of it that you do today. The way we got the best spacing then was we didn’t run the cable on Channel 10. We would use subchannels, 0305, which would put it down lower. The lower the frequency the more distance you could get out of the cable. Then you would convert the signal up when you got to a group of homes. So not only did you have the amplifier but you also would have the torque converter. In the early days they were all tube type. Tubes were problems. They were noisy within themselves, plus the lack of voltage regulation. You had two pieces of equipment that you had to regulate. So this is one of the early problems with cable. You wouldn’t dare do a radiation test on it.
DUNN: Tell us about the time when we used to dream of having a fancy-made box to hold the amplifiers.
NABORS: Well, as you know those amplifiers were open. The tubes just sticking down in the top. We made do with what we had and what we could get. We knew heat was a problem so we went and made galvanized boxes, or went to one of the places that made duct work.
ALLEN: Sheet metal shop.
NABORS: … and made these boxes. We put vents in them and little fans to keep the tubes cool because tubes got tremendously hot. This would save changing them out so often. I know that somewhere we still have one of the boxes up. It was just as a keepsake. You would have to put AC power to each amplifier. You could not remote the power down the cable in those days as we do today to feed several amplifiers. So power outages were a tremendous problem and they still are.
Here in Columbus power outage is probably the biggest reason we are out. Ok, put in standby power–we tried that. What I am fixing to say is that theft, I guess; in every town is a problem. We took the worst location we had of power going out on the line. We got standby power, put two batteries in it to trickle charge it, to keep it charged up. The very first time we had a power outage because of a lightning storm, I thought, “Ah, we got you.” The phone started ringing. We got out there. Somebody had taken a ladder, climbed the pole, used bolt cutters to cut the lock, and removed the batteries. We were still out. So that was the end of our experiment. We had two brand new standby power supplies at the headend that we never installed because there was no point. Somehow they know these are there. It’s one thing to know that you are going to be out, but to more or less relax and think, “Well, I have got it,” and then you’re out, they you are not prepared. It takes longer to get out there and get it back on.
ALLEN: You live in an area where you have a lot of very violent weather.
DUNN: They call it “tornado alley.” Now that we have the weather channel with all of their graphics, you can look at it time after time and it looks like somebody has taken a broad-based brush and come swooping up and making sort of an elongated S. The edge of the storm path hits Columbus almost every single time. We have not had too many times in the past thirty-five years, but one time we sat right here and watched a tree fall forward into the house and another tree fall over into another tree. We lost 150 trees.
NABORS: … 300 and something trees.
DUNN: Was that the 300 and some? That was in 1958, wasn’t it?
NABORS: The latter part, yes.
DUNN: So that people who move here from an area who do not have that type of electrical storm just can’t understand why our cable goes off. And I stand there and say we have the best equipment in the world … “Then why does it go off?”
ALLEN: Because God wants it off.
DUNN: And we are a little handicapped. I shouldn’t say handicapped. Anyway, I refuse to say time after time, “It isn’t out fault; it’s the power company’s fault.” Well, it’s not the power company’s fault either. But they are the ones that are off first. It is a problem to them, but we never have convinced the people in town, have we?
NABORS: No, no.
DUNN: The night before last, I think I told you, a man called and was very much put out because his cable was off for five hours. Well, the cable is never off five hours. So I sent somebody out there and it turned out that they had pulled the plug in the wall when the storm came at twelve o’clock, so of course it wasn’t on at seven o’clock.
NABORS: They forgot to plug it in.
ALLEN: Well it was out, but it wasn’t your fault that it was out. Are there any particular stories related to storms that come to your mind?
NABORS: Well, yes. That storm where we lost in excess of 300 trees in town. We worked straight through. I know that this is hard to believe because we do everything here that is to be done. We don’t have the privilege; I guess you say, of bringing in extra help from different towns because we just have this town. There weren’t that many of us back in those days, but we worked about eighty-odd hours straight day and night. One might sit in the truck and grab himself a little nap while somebody was using a chain saw to cut a tree, but this was quite an ordeal. The other good thing in this, we worked along with the power company and the telephone company, and if we were out getting a tree, we got it off of their lines as well as ours while we were there. They did the same thing for us. So it wasn’t only us out there. This particular time the power lines were the danger point. You didn’t know if a line was hot or not. And it was dark. With a chain say you could go into a hot power line.
ALLEN: You only do that once.
NABORS: You only do that once.
DUNN: Just start, that’s all.
NABORS: Well, that’s about right. So I guess that is one of the toughest storms–no sleep, eat grabbing a sandwich here and there–that we have had since I have been here. I believe it was in ’63. That was a tremendous one. So, that one was tough.
ALLEN: Have you ever had to clean up right after a tornado anywhere in the county? I know you said Columbus has never had a tornado, but has any place in the system had a tornado?
NABORS: Fortunately, no. It would hit just beyond the north side and down on the south side.
DUNN: One sat down on several mobile home parks. Actually before we got out of town on 45, then on out it kind of turns and goes at the edge.
DUNN: Yes. There are a number of trailer parks there outside the base and it has flattened them down a couple of times.
ALLEN: Earlier before you joined us, Travis, Polly was talking about the first antenna–the four 110 foot poles. She thought you could talk a little bit about how you put them up which doesn’t seem like an easy task. And then when the antenna farm had to be moved, what happened to those four big poles?
NABORS: They were big poles to be 110 feet tall. They were shipped, I believe, out of California.
DUNN: I thought he went over in Alabama and picked them up.
NABORS: Well, he did, but I think they came over to there and then here. But anyway, they were big poles, so the butt was very big at 110 feet, where you had about a twelve to fourteen inch top. To get these in the ground at that time, we would dig a hole ten feet into the ground. Now remember, we were on the highest hill in Lowndes County and it was red clay. And, my friend, it was hard. So you would dig the hole ten feet deep, and this would sometimes take three or four days to get one hole dug.
ALLEN: You had to dig it by hand?
NABORS: By hand and with the long post hole diggers. We didn’t have an auger–we did it by hand. All right, to get those poles once you got the hole dug, you would dig another hole just a short way away from there and put in a fifty foot pole. They had boom trucks that would handle a fifty foot pole to get it up. In this era, we did not have any booms that would set 110 foot poles, so we would gin the 110 foot poles from the 50 foot poles. You know what we’re talking about? Ginning … pull it up, put a roller up and pull it up. So that is the way we would get the poles up.
DUNN: How did you use the Jeep?
NABORS: We used the Jeep to pull up some of the antennas; the antennas that we made right here ourselves. They were called corner reflectors. Now they were being used other places, but you would go out and buy this one inch mesh wire. We called it chicken wire, only it was heavy duty chicken wire.
ALLEN: Big chickens!
NABORS: Well, yes. I believe they called it one inch welding wire, and you would build a tremendous frame. Now, you know, the lower the channel the bigger the antenna is. Channel 6 was low which meant a pretty good sized antenna. I forget how many feet across it was. Something like eighteen or twenty feet. We would use four by fours to fasten this to, bore holes to hold it on the poles.
I’m trying to remember. You would use something like two by fours to make this in this direction. We put two dipoles in this antenna. The reason for the two dipoles is what we would call trying to phase out co-channel.
The older people who have dealt with the cable and antennas are very familiar with co-channel. Your highest, we call it stacking harness or baylems, to tie these two antennas together. You would cut them a certain length whether you wanted half wavelength, quarter wavelength, or full. We found that half wavelength did the best for us here. Remember, let us take Channel 6 … we were picking up Channel 6 out of Birmingham. We had Channel 6; 120 miles to the east … 120 miles behind us we had Channel 6 in Greenwood, 120 miles west.
If the weather was right, the clouds, etc., you wanted the front signal … Greenwood was the unwanted. Along in there you were trying to get about 8 to 1 ratio front to back pick up. But if the clouds were so low and holding the signal down, you may have more than an 8 to 1 back pick up from Greenwood. So you would climb those poles and use the two dipoles which you would shove in and out. Somebody watching the TV down on the ground would be hollering, “Pull the left one, push the right one.” And this is how you would phase it.
Now, thirty minutes later what you had done could probably be worthless and your picture snowy as all get out because that cloud had moved out or the sun would come out. You had to go back up the pole and do your phasing and shifting in and out again to get your picture back.
We had two of these: Channel 6 and Channel 13. It took two poles each to hold these antennas. The wind load on them was tremendous so we had a lot of guys–anchors–to hold these up. So that is the way we got our signals in to begin with.
ALLEN: Why did you build the antenna rather than buy one that was available from someone?
NABORS: Well, at that early stage, we had bought antennas but we couldn’t do with the bought ones what we could with these that we made to fight the co-channel. If you put up a permanent antenna with no way of adjusting the dipoles, what you get was what you got. And it seemed that early October or late September when the World Series was on, which was big around here, that’s when we had co-channel. Really and truly it was nothing unusual to run out and climb those poles and push those dipoles in and out to get your best picture just prior to that ballgame coming on in the afternoon. Seemed like back then they came on more in the afternoon than they did at night. Now they come on more at night. So it was just that for us in this area, it was a better antenna than the ones we could buy. We made the antennas and we weren’t that smart but we had to try to find the best to do with what we could for the customer.
ALLEN: How did you get those 110 foot poles down then?
NABORS: Oh! Why did we get them down? Well, first of all let’s get the antennas up there. They were made on the ground under the tower. I had an old personal jeep, four wheel drive.
ALLEN: A real old Army jeep.
NABORS: It was a 1940 something model. So we put two rollers up to the top of the poles and had big grass ropes to pull these up with. We started out and this, again, was the old Army jeep, the cut down jeep, and had all four wheels pulling. But pretty soon the weight got so heavy the back end of the jeep was up, so we had to back up and let it down. We loaded the jeep up with concrete blocks and brick to weigh it down to keep it heavy enough to pull the antennas up.
Later when we abandoned this tower site and built a steel tower 480 feet tall, we had to clear the land. So we sawed the poles down with a chain saw. Of course they had been up there several years and when they fell they broke all to pieces. We gave some of it away and salvaged some of it for posts. They were creosoted–gave them away, burned them up and released the land.
ALLEN: At this point, the system is operating and then you were faced with a very real life-changing decision. You husband became ill. How long a period of time was he ill before his death?
DUNN: Approximately three months. Remember we moved here from Florence, Alabama, and in Florence quite a number of our friends were doctors. We had already been to two or three doctors and they all told me that it was all in Morris’ mind. That he was, just in a nice way, a hypochondriac.
ALLEN: What were his complaints?
DUNN: Well, his stomach hurt him a lot and his digestion wasn’t good. He was losing weight. He felt that … well, it was painful. They said it was just stress. So I said, “Let’s go back to Florence where our friends are.” Well, we went back there and a surgeon there was one of our dearest long time friends and we spent the weekend at his house. This was a Labor Day weekend. He said, “Polly, why don’t you go back and I’ll take care of Morris tomorrow. Tuesday I’ll start some tests and when I go through the tests I’ll let you hear from me.”
Tuesday evening he called and said, “Polly, we did some tests today and I don’t need to go any further at all. Why don’t you just plan to drive up here tomorrow?” I said, “Well, what is the matter? Tell me.” He said, “Well, I have to explain it all tomorrow anyway and this will save me from doing it twice.” Well, of course, he just laid it on the line. Morris had a very short time to live.
He stayed up there. The cable company there built a line out, sort of like the one we did for that old football player. He kind of hung it with “J” hooks on the pole and ran it in the window of the hospital. Morris had the only cable connection in that part of town. He enjoyed it very much.
When he got ready to come back home, he said, “Now Polly, I want you to have some help. When you go home this weekend, I want you to hire somebody to help you.” I said all right and I came home. Of course I knew what he had in mind and that wasn’t what I had in mind. At that time we had white schools and black schools and I went to the principal of the black high school and asked him if he could recommend somebody to be sort of a male nurse and companion to Morris. He came up with one selection … a young man who had been a military policeman in the service. He had just gotten home, didn’t have a job and was willing to come and do that for what I could pay. So I took him back to Florence with me.
Again, we are talking about the friendships that you have in this town and all. The manager of the hospital said he’d teach him the basic things to do and how to give a shot, how to move somebody in bed and things of that sort. He just put him in his apprentice group.
So when we walked in Morris wouldn’t talk to me. He was furious with me … one of the few times in his whole life that he just wouldn’t speak to me. And he said, “I thought we were partners.” I thought oh, oh. He said he knew I was thinking of a woman, not a man. Well, anyway, John sat there and they watched the football game or a baseball game together. You know the funny thing when John went out of the room he wanted him back. He wanted him there all the time, just sitting there.
And it wasn’t fun to watch the ballgames with me because I didn’t know what was going on. He did, you know. Anyway, it was a wonderful choice and he was great. He has since come back here and became the first Black policeman, the first Black detective, and the first Black to the FBI school in Washington. I have been proud of him all the way. He was wonderful with Morris. I needed somebody strong that could handle his weight.
ALLEN: At that time you had already begun to keep books?
DUNN: Oh yes, yes.
ALLEN: So you were involved in the company?
DUNN: Oh, yes. That was when we hired Travis, too. And he didn’t tell you that soon after he came to work here he “burned a pole.” Do you know what “burned a pole” means?
ALLEN: No, I don’t.
NABORS: Slid down it.
DUNN: And you broke your ankle didn’t you?
NABORS: That was off the house, remember, off the two story house. Again, another gentleman who worked with us, Bob Fussel, went along to put this cable connection in. At that time when you got a cable connection you went and got it right then to get a little money flowing. It wasn’t the easiest thing in the world and this is true. So we were trying to beat a cloud. I knew it was coming. I caught the house. You know how working relations are. There were three of us and whatever needed to be done, that was what we did. So I grabbed the house with the ladder and he went up the pole. Well, Bob was a 240 pound, six foot three gentleman who was fat as a mule. We were running through a pecan tree, you know, running a line through. I fastened off the top eaves of the house and he was going to pull it tight to the pole and it was hung on a limb. He kind of reared back and pulled. Well, the baseboard came loose, here goes the ladder and it is standing on a cement driveway. And twenty-eight feet down I come. I kicked the ladder back to keep it from falling on me. I broke my left foot all to pieces when I hit the concrete.
DUNN: So he was on crutches. He stayed inside and learned what it was like to run the office. It stood him in good standing all these years.
NABORS: On the bills, the billing, I guess that was probably some of the best training I had to know what was going on behind the scenes.
DUNN: I was commuting to Florence more or less and would take all of these things, you know the work orders and receipts, and at night I would work on the books. But, anyway, a certain length of time, about six weeks, we were up there and then came home for six weeks.
ALLEN: How long were you laid up with that broken foot?
NABORS: I stayed in the office, well, probably longer than I would have because I love outdoors and I was on those crutches out doing what I could and back in here doing what I could. This was in the early part of November and Mr. Morris died the latter part of November.
DUNN: The 22nd.
NABORS: I was on the crutches until just after New Year’s Day because New Year’s Day we were building cable. We had been building that week and we were trying to get it top notch. We were not building cable, we were hooking up customers. We had built the cable. I would go with what I could on the crutches. Miss Polly was out there on New Year’s Day. She was handing us what she could.
DUNN: Food, mostly.
NABORS: Well, not really. We had a sandwich for lunch New Year’s Day. I remember that she went and got the tools as we needed them. I would go in the house with my crutches. We were using a switch at that time, so I would drill a hole through and stay in there and when the bolt poked through I would hook it up inside. We were trying to get everybody we could for the bowl games so we worked until after dark. Miss DUNN: brought us a sandwich … we would eat it between poles. We really didn’t quit that day.
DUNN: That’s right.
NABORS: We needed the money. Things weren’t going that well. Tupelo had come on the air, and this had hurt us. So you know that when the channels would come on, we would have a lull because people would think we are going to get everybody with this new channel and it just didn’t happen. Back in those days they cherry picked from one channel or one network to the other and new subscriber prospects would think they were getting everything so they wouldn’t need the cable.
DUNN: That’s right.
NABORS: You asked about the transition. Actually not a lot of people knew what the situation was because Morris wasn’t here, you see, and we didn’t socialize very much. We both tired easily. So that by the time the board of directors realized what the situation was, I had already been more or less in charge for three months. One man, though, just couldn’t imagine a woman running a business so he was going around talking. In fact, he asked Slim, who was our head technician then, if he wanted to be manager. Slim said you get Miss Dunn out and we all walk out. That was the end of that. And then years later Slim had a marvelous opportunity to get a third of a system for himself and he left.
It never occurred to me that Travis would be worried but evidently he was. One day we were in the office by ourselves and he said, “What are you going to do now?” I said, “What do you mean?” He said, “With Slim gone, what are you going to do?” And I said, “Why Travis, you and I are going to do it together.” He said, “Uh, it takes loyalty, devotion and hard work … we’ll do it.” And I have never been sorry.
ALLEN: Did you ever have any thought when your husband was ill or right after his death that it was just too much and you were going to sell it?
DUNN: No. It seemed to me that it was not a burden but it was by duty. He was going to build the system for us and our children. If I had not gone on, I would have turned my back on him and what he had done and all that we had worked for. I mean I just felt like there wasn’t any real decision to be made.
ALLEN: He died in November of?
ALLEN: How old were your children at that time?
DUNN: Nine and twelve. My daughter was twelve and my son was nine.
ALLEN: So they also had to become a part of this?
DUNN: Right. I had a talk with my son and said, “Mike, every woman needs a man in the house and you’re mighty little and you will always be my baby but you’re also the man of the house. I can’t do things like fuss at you because you don’t come in when you say you are going to come. I have got to know you’re going to do it. And when we have a decision to be made, I will tell you what it is and you will help decide it.” He did. Don’t you think he did, Travis?
NABORS: Oh, yeah. Mike didn’t do anything wrong.
ALLEN: There are a couple of advertising ideas of characters that were created and you continue to use.
DUNN: Oh, yeah. Frank Thompson was the one who first designed “Able Cable.”
ALLEN: He is a character very similar to “Reddy Kilowatt.”
DUNN: That’s right. In fact, he made no bones about it that he had adapted it from that. And I think he was a little embarrassed and was willing for us to change the logo. We never have changed it.
ALLEN: You are still using it today?
DUNN: I did let “Ima Set” go.
ALLEN: Okay. Was this something that you created … Ima Set?
DUNN: Yes. It was a sexy looking little girl that looked like “Able Cable.
ALLEN: It wouldn’t go over too well in marketing in 1989.
DUNN: No. But we had a lot of fun with it. And even that came from someone else. We shared a lot of ideas in those days. I got the idea from a man, Bob Neathery, who had a radio station. He wasn’t from Arkansas … he was from Missouri, wasn’t he?
DUNN: He had a radio station and he created “Mabel Cable.” He had a girl who had a really husky, sexy voice and she did, “I’m Mabel Cable, why don’t you come and see me sometime,” and that sort of thing. And “I’d like to see you tonight.” So I did the “Ima Set” and we used it for a number of ads. It was kind of fun.
ALLEN: When did you start doing this? Was this very early on?
DUNN: Oh, yes. This was in the sixties.
NABORS: Early sixties
End of Tape 2, Side A
ALLEN: Good morning. This is Friday, March 31, 1989. This is being recorded in Columbus, Mississippi, and we are talking with Ms. Polly Dunn. This is the second day of recording with Ms. Dunn. I think as we talked you indicated that probably the hardest time that the company has had since it first began in 1953 and 1954 was the time when the Columbus station came on the air.
DUNN: Right. And of course the station also had a radio station and also had a newspaper in town, run by a very prominent and very fine man. But his paper, of course, heralded the coming of the new television station and longest terms and pointing out that it would be free. That word free was used quite a lot, and also said that they would have ABC, NBC, and CBS.
Of course that was all there was to be had except for the educational channel. And, I am not sure that it was on at that time. But anyway our business suffered. We could have almost closed the doors.
ALLEN: Did you have a lot of subscribers who canceled their subscription at that time?
DUNN: Well really very few because they were already on. And even so, we grew a little bit during that time because the people, of course, knew what was going on from week to week, almost from day to day. And it was a very stressful time for us, particularly for my husband because he felt morally obligated to the city, to the mayor, to the council, to the people that he had painted a fine picture to. You know, to his investors who he promised would get their money back within five years. And he was faced with a lack of capital that would sustain such a period. We never lost faith in the future of cable. We never felt for a minute that we wouldn’t go on generally. But it was just simply a case of meeting the payroll. We did let the secretary go and I took her place. Anyway we survived, but it was tough.
ALLEN: Going back, I think maybe over dinner last night, you indicated that the man who put the Columbus station on the air had the license and had indicated before you started the cable company that he had no intention of activating the license for several years.
DUNN: That is true. That puts him in a rather bad light and I don’t feel he deserves quite that because he is a businessman. He had the license, and that of course kept anybody else from coming in. And so he was willing at the time that he talked to the mayor to continue to do that. But after we came and people began to buy television sets, it made a much different picture for him. For him to start a television station and not a soul in town with the exception of two people had television sets, why it wasn’t the same business proposition it became after we sort of spurred the buying of sets.
ALLEN: I didn’t mean to put him in a bad light, but in effect you primed the pump. You were the one who started the marketplace.
DUNN: Well, I guess.
ALLEN: Now at that point Columbus was how big–15,000 or 20,000 people.
DUNN: Well, I have heard various figures. When we first came here, the figure that I heard most was 10,000 and I thought that 15,000 sort of pushed it a little. And now of course it’s an expanded population with Columbus and all of its suburbs I think would be somewhere between 25,000 and 30,000.
ALLEN: Now at the time that the Columbus station came on the air, was there a station in Jackson?
DUNN: Yes, there was a station and we tried valiantly to get it, but there was no way to get it except by air and it was simply too far. We couldn’t even get a good picture sometimes. We could get a bad picture all of the time.
ALLEN: And then there was a station in Greenville?
DUNN: No, not then. The Greenville station didn’t come on until later. Soon after we were there, I believe, but it didn’t begin to give us trouble until later.
ALLEN: It was rather unusual for a town as small as Columbus to have a station at that time, was it not?
DUNN: Well, I don’t know what to say because I don’t really know. Television was new and it was exciting and everybody wanted it, but everybody thought that only big, big cities could support it.
ALLEN: Now is the time when you also started the business of repairing television sets?
DUNN: Yes, yes. We got the dealership for DuMont which was really quite a fine television set. Our chief technician, whom I told you was so effective in so many ways was familiar with television so he fixed them. That helped us. We called it a different company, but actually it was sort of a side thing.
ALLEN: So you were selling sets and repairing sets as well?
DUNN: Right. When Travis graduated from school, his graduation thesis, so to speak, was to make a television set himself, put it together completely. So he picked up where Slim left off and did a lot of repair work. In fact, he has always been open to opportunity. He continued for awhile with just a small group of people who wanted him to continue to do this.
ALLEN: How long did you keep that sales and repair business going?
DUNN: Not very long, not very long. I would say three years at the absolute.
ALLEN: By that time the cable company was able to stand on its own feet.
DUNN: Well, kind of wavering for all that time. There has just never been a time in the history of cable that we haven’t been under a sword of some kind. If it wasn’t the condition here, where we didn’t get as many subscribers as we would like, it was something legislative you know. Of course, cable attracted a lot of attention, particularly of the big money. Anything that attracted attention of big money, gets the attention of the legislature. Everybody is out trying to make a dollar, but as soon as somebody makes one it immediately is the target of imitators and envious operators. I often wonder about that, because I don’t think there is a red-blooded American anywhere who wouldn’t like to make it, so to speak, financially. But when somebody does, he becomes the target of a lot of criticism.
ALLEN: Or at least a lot of competition.
DUNN: Certainly a lot of competition.
ALLEN: Have you ever faced the possibility that someone else would come into this county or into Columbus and try to put in a second cable system?
DUNN: I just have to answer that the way I answer all of our problems. I have said all along that the real secret to your success lies in your subscribers. You satisfy that subscriber and you are not going to have really unmanageable trouble. And that is what we have tried to do.
ALLEN: So you haven’t ever had that kind of a problem that you had to deal with.
DUNN: Not that I know of. The few that have been in here looking at the situation–I don’t know who they talked to, or what they said–but they have quietly gone away. They have so far. Of course it is possible to go anywhere and promise more than the people there can deliver because they have a solid thing. They can’t say, I gave you twice as many channels as I have, because they have as many as they do have. But I can come in there with no equipment and nothing to prove it and say I can give you 200 channels.
ALLEN: Nothing but words.
DUNN: Nothing but words.
ALLEN: It doesn’t cost you anything for words.
DUNN: Right, right. Of course there really have not been as many build-overs like that until comparatively recently.
ALLEN: So these were fairly difficult times, but then you were telling the story just a few minutes ago about the fact that difficult times were not a strange phenomena. You had gone through some of that during the Depression with your family. Could you go back and retell that story about how your mother determined that things were going to go well regardless? That was a nice story.
DUNN: Well, my father announced that he was going to go in business for himself. As I say, he was over 60 at that time. My mother cried all night and the next morning she got up and said, “Rosser, it is fine, and you just think about your business and I’ll take care of the house and the expenses.” So she went out and found a lovely old home with lots of rooms in it and rented it and then rented the spare rooms to lovely girls. One was a teacher, whose husband was an attorney, and attorneys did not make much money then, and none of us were making much money then, but they were particularly hit. So she had brushed up her teacher’s certificate and she was teaching school. The other girl was a beautiful girl who had gotten her nurse’s degree at Yale, and she was a nurse with the county health department. My brother married her. So we all enjoyed being together. On what they paid my mother, she supported us. My father had a garden, but she was the one, as I told you, she coped.
ALLEN: You were teaching school at this time?
DUNN: I was teaching school. I had a car we could all use which bucked a lot due to old age and weak springs. Her name was “Bouncy Bess”. Our old car died and couldn’t be revived. The first year that I taught I bought a new car … $500.
ALLEN: And that was a brand new car.
DUNN: Brand new car, Chevrolet. And it did fine. It just did fine. My younger brother was still in college and I was the only one who had a steady salary, nine months at least coming in and I could help him with college. He had gotten a scholarship so everybody helped everyone else.
ALLEN: Yes. And you had some of that same kind of cooperation among the people during the very lean days with the cable.
DUNN: Yes. I think we did. Even when we had meetings, we would sit around and say, “What do you do when co‑channel hits you at such and such a time or from such and such a place?” We traded our discoveries and our habits. We helped each other. Sure we did.
ALLEN: Had you been attending any kind of regional or national meetings of cable operators before your husband died?
DUNN: My husband called the first meeting of operators in Mississippi himself. They did not form an organization, a formal organization at that time, but they did later and he, of course, was very interested in it. But, I can’t remember that we were very active in any state organization before he died. I went to my first NCTA convention in 1960 and then in ’61.
ALLEN: Where was that held in 1960?
DUNN: Philadelphia. I can’t remember why I was there, because I don’t think I went particularly for the convention. Because I was in Philadelphia I went, rather than the other way around. But, in 1961, the convention was in San Francisco. Previous to that, about a month or two before that, Jim Davidson had called together what became the South Central and then the Southern Association and we met in Memphis. The people who met there were later called the charter members of the association.
ALLEN: So the Southern Association started in about 1960 or 1961. NCTA was already well established by that time.
DUNN: That is right.
ALLEN: When did the Mississippi Association start? Before or after the Southern?
ALLEN: Before. And how big of an association was that? Were there very many cable operators in Mississippi by the time the association got started?
DUNN: It seems to me there were something like twelve. But, I don’t remember that exactly.
ALLEN: Do you remember some of the people who were active in Mississippi at that time?
DUNN: Oh yes. Millie Smith was the office manager down at Hattiesburg, but she left and before the end of her career she became the operator. But she was the catalyst that so often you find behind the scenes who really sees that the job is done. In Hattiesburg we had other people who were the actual operator, the manager, but they came and went, and Millie stayed. She is now our executive director for the Mississippi Association. And she isn’t doing anything that she hasn’t been doing for the past 30 years. There is Grady Perkins, Sr., who built a system in Greenwood, just a very short time after we built ours here.
ALLEN: Where is Greenwood located?
DUNN: That is due west of us. There were some people who are still in the cable business. Some of them have just recently sold out. I believe I mentioned Grady Perkins, Sr., and Grady Perkins, Jr., took his place after so long a time. I believe they recently sold.
ALLEN: That was at Greenwood?
DUNN: That was at Greenwood. They recently sold. But Ira Crosby was another one. That was another one where his son and later his grandson succeeded him in the business.
ALLEN: And where was this?
DUNN: That was in Winona and in Indianola. And Ira was a close old time friend of Senator Eastland, and Senator Eastland sent word over to the National Association. Eastland said, “Don’t send any of your staff over here when you want something. If you want something, tell Ira to call me and that suits me just fine.” And we had a good Mississippi lobby. I served my time on that in the ’70s. As I told you, I had the unique pleasure and privilege too, of being able to open the doors because I was different. I was a woman operator and that did get doors opened. I found that man is still very gallant, and I certainly was received so.
ALLEN: Well it is difficult not to be, with you.
DUNN: I should have known you.
ALLEN: Ever much a lady. Always will be. What were some of the kinds of things that went on at the state association? What did you do? Did you have speakers in?
DUNN: Yes, we had speakers in. NCTA was always very cooperative and helpful with that, and could usually send us someone we wanted. The FCC at that time was cooperative also. Since then, now, they have a very strict rule about where they can speak which curtails that sort of thing. It is such a shame because how can they understand what their regulations do to us if they don’t have any idea, and have no chance to talk to people who really run the system.
I know of a funny story that I think I can tell you about. I was very much concerned about the FCC situation because while the pending legislation hung over our heads, the NCTA used their pull of strength practically for fighting adverse legislation. Nobody was going over to the FCC and we were living by FCC rules day in and day out. So shortly after we organized the independent operator’s board, I asked about who was going to talk to the FCC and anyway it seemed to me to be a void. We went there and one of the giants of cable, in my opinion, was a man named Maclane Clark, Mac Clark. He lived in Big Timber, Montana, and he had a system of about 500 subscribers. He worked very diligently with the independent operator’s board. He and I went many times together to the FCC and we went in and talked nuts and bolts. We found a very welcoming and fair minded audience when we went there. When the cable bureau was first formed and Schildhause…
ALLEN: When was that? In the early ’60s?
DUNN: That was in the early ’70s. I believe. No, it may have been in the ’60s. I could look it up some place.
DUNN: But when nonduplication came along, it was such a nightmare to try to obey that as a matter of actual fact most people said they did but didn’t. That was what really got me out of my obsessive hiding so to speak. I couldn’t go and fight against nonduplication if I was not practicing it. So it was a double whammy. I hated it you know because it made my girls hysterical and it made my subscribers furious and it did not work. It was a nightmare trying to make it work.
ALLEN: So what you were trying to do was to make sure that your system was operating in a nonduplication mode so that you could argue against the whole rule.
DUNN: Exactly. They had a congressional hearing and I remember the chairman of the committee was named Rogers. Anyway, we had a made a chart showing in colors and in sections, half hours and hours, etc., a grid sort of a thing, what it meant to have to cut something off for a hour or a half hour and you are not sure how long it’s going to run. They tell you that it is going to be off at a certain time, but if you cut it off, you may cut off the end. I have a man here in town who never says good morning to me. Every time he sees me he says, “I still don’t know how that movie ended.” Because we cut him off years ago at the proper time, but the movie wasn’t over. But, we could go in and talk to them about exactly what we had to do. Do you remember seeing a music box with all the little teeth, like a comb that had teeth broken out of it?
DUNN: Well we fixed those. You can’t even buy a machine like that anymore. But we made a total wheel like that several times a week. We usually made two of them, twice a week. But, if there were games on the weekend, things of that sort, we had to make extra ones. I had at least three girls give up their job in tears and hysterics because they couldn’t face it anymore trying to fix those wheels.
ALLEN: And what function did the wheel perform?
DUNN: Well you broke out a little at a certain time which was imprinted on the little comb as I would call it, a file whichever you want to call it. If you broke it one way, it was to be cut off then. Another way, it was to come on, so that as the wheel turned and the little fingers fell down there where they found a little gap, they either turned it off or turned it on as it was supposed to have been done.
ALLEN: So this was at the headend and would control which station you were putting on to which channel.
DUNN: Right, exactly. I remember when one time we went to FCC. I think there were three of us who went. We never went with more than three people because they didn’t want more than three that they could talk to.
ALLEN: Was Mac Clark one of them?
DUNN: Mac wasn’t one at this particular time that I was thinking about. Beverly Murphy went with us from NCTA. She was a wonderful help to us. She was Whitney’s first secretary. Whitney and Beverly were in the NCTA office first. She went with us. She never lost her contact with the grassroots. We went to see a man who didn’t stay on the FCC very long. His name was Robinson and he had been a college professor. He was pretty bored with the idea of having operators come to see him. He rather reluctantly said he would see us for fifteen minutes. We took one of these reels with us and showed it to him and told him that it couldn’t be changed at the last minute. If we got word, or if we could see that a program wasn’t going to be over, we couldn’t get to the headend in the first place in time enough to do it. Besides that, not everybody could do it. We had two technicians at that time, and one of them could work it, the other one could not. He said, “Why couldn’t he work it?” I said, “Because his thumbs were too big.” Well that broke the ice. He could not understand that until I showed him the teensy, tiny little teeth that had to be broken out. One of our technicians was kind of pudgy and literally his thumbs were too big. He couldn’t do it. And after that, we stayed 45 minutes and talked to him. I was always sorry after that that he stayed such a short time because we really did a good job.
ALLEN: This little device with the wheel, that was something that one of the equipment manufacturers had come up with?
DUNN: No. It was something that a time clock company had. And it was so unpopular in its use, with the people who used it; they don’t even offer it anymore. Nowadays they have tones that each programmer is supposed to put on as his program ends, and the tone comes along and triggers something, but you have to have the proper equipment. Now to get that equipment is not easy. I mean it is not something that you just go down and buy off the shelf.
ALLEN: At this particular time then, there were still a lot of local stations who were carrying more than one network, were cherry picking.
ALLEN: So that was where the real challenge was.
DUNN: Well, that certainly increased the difficulty.
ALLEN: Now you mentioned that Mac Clark was coming in from Montana on a regular basis, and his system had about 500 subscribers. That was a very stiff economic factor for him.
DUNN: Right. He had a very supportive regional organization. My hat’s off to him because they certainly did always support…
ALLEN: The Pacific Northwest group.
ALLEN: And was the entire country organized into regions by that time?
DUNN: I really don’t know, but I suppose so. About that time, was when we were expanding the South Central to the Southern. Now I have here something that I want to give you. It’s a history of Southern up to the point where it became Southern, as long as it was South Central. I know exactly because most of that time I was secretary/treasurer. The South Central Association was formed in support of Fred Stevenson. At that time, we didn’t have a paid president. Fred was the operator who had a small system in Arkansas, and he on his own, with his own money, traveled around and went to different states. He tried to get them to organize and to stick together and all that sort of thing.
That was about the time that the telephone company was going around saying, if you would like to get on our poles, we would be glad to give you a very nice contract, a leaseback. You can lease your space on the poles and then in fifteen years I have your system and you have nothing. He was saying don’t sign any of these things, those telephone lease things. Our main objective was to make it possible for him.
ALLEN: Now he was traveling around the south central states or all over the country.
DUNN: Yes, yes. Arkansas had a very active state association. We had one, Mississippi had one. It wasn’t probably as strong as Arkansas at that time, but of course again, the catalyst was pretty much Jim Davidson. He was really a marvelous organizer and everybody liked him. He had a little airplane and he visited everybody and knew everybody. Everybody liked him, and I remember I got a letter from him in early 1961, very early, saying come up here, we need a regional organization. We need to organize it, come on up here, and we went. If Jim said go, we went.
ALLEN: How had you first met Jim?
DUNN: I don’t know. Oh, I do know. I know exactly. I can even remember the time. He flew down here and tried to sell us some Entron equipment. That was in about 1955, probably. He was so young looking. He still is so young looking, and so enthusiastic and so energetic. The time came when we did buy everything from his company, DAVCO. He called it the supermarket for cable. He was certainly a fine one to do that sort of thing.
ALLEN: But that first trip down here you didn’t buy the Entron equipment?
DUNN: No. By that time we already had a contract with Jerrold, and we stayed with Jerrold for several years.
But, in 1956 I believe it was, the airbase here offered an opportunity to build a cable system and we bid on it. We called on Jerrold to help us. Jerrold sent Jerry Hastings down. He worked paragraph by paragraph with Morris working up the specifications to the bid. So they put the bid in, and when they let the bid, Morris went out there thinking he was probably the only one to have bid. He found out that he was not the only one to bid. Jerrold had bid against him and had gotten the contract. They bid $6,000 less than we did. That didn’t exactly cement our relationship with Jerrold.
But Morris came back here–I was working as receptionist–and I was sitting at one desk and he was sitting at another. I was at the front desk and Morris was at the back, and he sat there and he kept reading the specifications. He went out to the airbase and asked to have a copy of Jerrold’s bid. He came there and he sat and he read it and he read it. I must say I was impatient because I thought that it is over … they have already given the bid to Jerrold. There is nothing we can do about it, and why is he sitting there looking at Jerrold’s bid? All of a sudden Morris said, “I’ve found it, I’ve found it.” And I said, “What?” And he said, in all of the specifications they laid out what they would do, almost word for word what we had had. But they left out one word–TOWER. $6,000 tower. They told them that they would build a system, but they didn’t tell them that they would get the antenna that would bring the signals in to put on the system. So Morris went back out there and pointed this out to them.
Of course, Jerrold was down here like a shot to see if they couldn’t mend the fences. We owed Jerrold $6,000. Now I understand Jerrold’s approach to it. This was the first time that they had had a chance to bid on a military installation. They thought there are lots of military installations around, and if we could sort of become the one to do it, then we will not only get it here, but we will get it all over the United States, which they did. That is exactly what they did. So what they said was, we will forgive your indebtedness to us and we will build a system and you check on it for us which we did. And it helped us and helped them.
We were a little more open after that to other brands that we could buy. We have depended a great deal upon the salesmen for not only bringing us the news of what has become new and different, but for technical advice. They carried messages back and forth. All of us were operating on a shoestring and a lot of times you could pick up some used equipment that somebody else had that you were still using. For instance, first we had equipment that would carry only three channels; then we had equipment that would carry only five channels; then we had equipment that would carry only twelve channels; then we had equipment that would carry only twenty channels. Now we have equipment that carries more. But while we still had five channel equipment, somebody else had gone to twelve channel equipment. Then we might be able to pick up some good equipment that we could still use in our system. We didn’t do a whole lot of that, but once in awhile it was very nice.
But, also like you say, what did we talk about? If somebody found a solution about … a new antenna that Travis was talking to you about … In fact, we heard about the Scientific-Atlanta, who really started their cable business with a new antenna, a breakthrough for co‑channel. And somebody came in and told us that they had sold one down in Louisiana somewhere. Travis was in the car and on his way to Louisiana the next morning, and we got the second antenna they sold. So I keep reminding Sid Topol that we are the oldest customer that he has and still serves. We have stayed with the Scientific-Atlanta ever since.
ALLEN: So the way at the outset that information was shared was really through the meeting and through the sales people who were moving around.
DUNN: Right, right.
ALLEN: The publications coming out of NCTA were still pretty few and far between.
DUNN: Well, there were a lot of things they couldn’t know about. You can’t sit in Washington not running a system and know what little piece of equipment is critical or what to do about it. It was a long time before they had somebody who had ever been in cable in the office. Even now they make no bones about the fact that to handle the work on the Hill is as much as they can handle and sometimes too much. I don’t mean by that that they are bad, but they need help just like anybody else. And of course, legislatively speaking the legislators want to hear from somebody from home. When somebody walks in, the first thing on his mind is are you going to vote for me or not?
ALLEN: Or are you going to help influence other people as well, and if you are not in the district, it doesn’t count.
DUNN: Right, right.
ALLEN: Did the Mississippi Association in those early days spend a lot of time in Jackson?
DUNN: No, not a whole lot.
ALLEN: There wasn’t a need.
DUNN: We really have been pretty fortunate. We were always aware and usually when something came up we didn’t lose any time in going down there and doing something about it. And most of the time it is just a matter of explanation of what the proposed legislation would mean. And most of the time, almost always, if you dig a little bit you find that the man who put the adverse bill in is for some reason a dissatisfied customer. More often than not he was living about a quarter of a mile past where he can get the cable and close enough that his neighbors can get it and he can’t, and he is frustrated so he is going to get our attention. And he does get our attention.
ALLEN: And somehow that other quarter of a mile gets built.
DUNN: Usually. You’re right.
ALLEN: Was there anything that the state legislature passed that was of concern? Any bills or any regulations that you had?
DUNN: Well one got by us. The bill went by. It came in to put us under the public utilities. Normally they would send a copy of the bill or a notice of the hearing to the association. Well, all they thought about was the cable office in Jackson of the ATC. So they sent a notice there and ATC had a manager who didn’t live here and wasn’t aware of how important this was. He just dropped it in the wastebasket. So nobody knew anything about the hearing and no cable people appeared at the hearing. So the bill went through uncontested. And we didn’t know about it until it was already passed. That was in the House. We got down to the Senate in a hurry. That was a tough one. I mean to find out that they had held the hearing and we didn’t even know it.
ALLEN: So most of the pressure really came from the federal legislation rather than the state or the FCC.
DUNN: At least that was what my feeling about it was. Of course, we were wrapped up in the fight for the copyright for years and years. I remember when we raised the dues for the South Central Association so that we could make a contribution to the copyright fight. Then to have the Supreme Court decide in our favor and the next morning the NCTA announced that they were delighted with the decision but of course we would go ahead and pay copyright. On the one hand we earned it and on the other hand we gave it away. I never quite understood that.
ALLEN: Would you talk a little bit about what your recollections are of how that copyright battle was carried out?
DUNN: I would rather not.
DUNN: I feel like somebody who has worked with it should do that. The NCTA has had a copyright committee and they have given extensively of their time and effort and they know what went on better than I.
ALLEN: You were not involved in that personally at all?
DUNN: Not that way.
ALLEN: What kinds of things did you get involved with in Washington?
DUNN: Well most of the non‑duplication fight is probably the biggest one single thing. My object and goal was to establish communication between either NCTA or operators and the people who are issuing these edicts that came out periodically. Travis was reminding me last night that we had gotten an extension of our franchise to 25 years by the city council. Then FCC comes out and says that you can’t have that. You can have only 15 years. We had to go back to the city and say take back some of what you gave us. Then six weeks later the FCC said well you can have 25 after all, so we went back to the city and said give it back to us.
ALLEN: Was that 15 year ruling specifically about Columbus?
DUNN: No, it was just a national thing. They were doing the best they could, but they were people. When I started to tell you a while ago when they first formed the Cable Bureau I stopped by there and Sal took me around from room to room and opened the door and said, “I want you to see what a cable operator looks like.” And of course he did it as a sort of joke because I am a woman, but it wasn’t any joke. None of them had ever met a cable operator, never met one, and we spent a lot of time there and very pleasurable time because they were sure bright, intelligent, charming young men, practically all of them fresh out of law school. We invited some of them to come down to the different meetings and gave them a chance to talk to people who really ran systems. Tom Hendrickson told me one time that he and Bill Johnson when they were reviewing some policy or working on a phrasing would say, “Now how is this going to affect Mac Clark and Polly Dunn?” Well of course it made me feel wonderful for him to say that because I know what he meant.
End of Tape 2, Side B
ALLEN: This is the third tape recorded on Friday morning, March 31, 1989 in Columbus, Mississippi with Ms. Polly Dunn. Polly you were talking about working with some of the bright young lawyers in the FCC. Did any of them ever come to Columbus and visit the cable system here and get some idea of what a local operation is really all about?
DUNN: I don’t believe that I ever had one of the FCC men come to Columbus. We did have them come to our state association meetings. We certainly sat around and talked and they listened. If nothing more, it made us realize how hard they worked to be fair. Of course they were implementing what the Commission decided, but at the same time, the wording sometimes was so important to us. Another one that I think of was Steve Ross. Steve stayed there. Most of them have been absorbed into the legal families in Washington and nearby, but Bill Johnson is still there and obviously invaluable to FCC. Steve Ross stayed until just recently. Quite a number of present day legal families in Washington had their start at the FCC.
ALLEN: It kind of sounds like you did not consider this an adversarial relationship.
DUNN: No, I did not. Well, at least not any more than you would any governing body that can make you or break you. But if they just understand, I feel that is the whole thing. This situation that has developed now I am most apprehensive about–syndicating and exhibiting. We fought that battle in these previous years and I really honestly believe that the people at the FCC have no idea of the exact meaning. On the face of it it sounds so logical and really not too bad a thing, but in operation it is a nightmare.
ALLEN: So you viewed your role and that of the other operators as one of educating the young regulators.
DUNN: Right. Well at least making them aware of the nuts and bolts.
ALLEN: Did Mac Clark take that same approach?
DUNN: Yes. He was just great. He told me one time, you can tell somebody all that is great, but that doesn’t mean you can do it. But whatever I said, I said come as often as you can, don’t stay, sometimes not more than to stick your head in the door and say how are you doing. Don’t be boring. Don’t go with more than three people, but invite them to lunch if possible, because you want a relaxed atmosphere. You don’t want them to feel like you’re trying to buy them. Lunch is not enough to buy somebody you know, it just gives you a chance to talk face to face. Mac did all of that and they loved him. They really did. You couldn’t talk to him without knowing how honest he was, nothing sophisticated and glitzy about Mac. He was just Mac from Big Timber, Montana.
ALLEN: You must have made a very interesting contrast, the quiet lady from Columbus, Mississippi, and the…
DUNN: Oh I wasn’t so quiet.
ALLEN: Genteel. How is that? Is that a better word?
DUNN: That’s fine. Just so you don’t call me “The Old Woman of Cable.”
ALLEN: I don’t think I would dare.
ALLEN: Who were some of the other operators who were active besides you and Mac in the whole process of educating these young regulators from the FCC?
DUNN: Well there are so many that I will leave out; I am sure, the ones that should be mentioned. But from Mississippi, John Humphreys went. He is still in Biloxi. Dan Boyd went. He at one time was at Hattiesburg. Of course I told you that Grady Perkins went. And Ira Crosby went. There were others.
ALLEN: You don’t have to feel obligated to name them all, but it’s interesting to record the names of those that you can remember who were active in this time.
DUNN: Well Beverly Murphy was a tremendous help to us. She was in charge of the division that worked with independent operators. The independent operators, and I keep trying to remember who it was, whether it was Birch or one of the FCC chief head commissioners, what do you call him, chairman, said that Mac and I were the best lobbyists NCTA ever had. That’s a very nice thing.
ALLEN: Now when NCTA started, was it made up primarily of independent operators?
DUNN: Oh yes, everyone was independent at first, but it didn’t take long for the monied interests to sniff it out.
ALLEN: And then the multiple system operators began to dominate NCTA.
DUNN: Yeah. And when Mike was killed in 1969, by that time, remember I told you that I went to … ’61 was a crucial year for me because that was when I went to San Francisco and that was when Fred and Edith Stevenson took me under their wing and wherever the top echelon met, they were there, I was with them see. So they just opened the door to me. I didn’t have to climb to it. I just was invited in. It made a lot of difference because I knew all of these people. But that was in ’61. In ’69 when Mike was killed and Bob Beisswenger called me, and he was president of Jerrold then. First of all Wally Briscoe called me and he was on the staff of NCTA and said we want you to run for the board and I said, “No way, but no way.” He called me two or three times and I didn’t change and then Bob Beisswenger called and said, “Polly, do you want the board to be made up of all imbeciles?” So you see that is ten years and by that time they were almost in control really or were in control. And I said, “Well no.” He said, “Well, then I have your answer.” I said, “Now Bob, I don’t think you want to back a losing candidate ’cause I am not going to ask anybody to vote for me, I’m not going to. I just don’t think I would be elected.” Of course, MSOs elected me, Ben Conroy, Irving Kahn, and Bob Beisswenger. Well, that’s enough, I didn’t need any more. They had about five, and it bothers me to this day that I can’t see the others. I can look over and see them over in the corner talking, Irving Kahn, and Ben Conroy and Bob Beisswenger, I guess. There were a couple more and I can’t remember who they were. I had that feeling they were talking about me, and in a few minutes I was elected.
ALLEN: Did the board elect its own members or did the membership elect?
DUNN: Well you see the membership elected but the MSOs are the ones that had the votes.
ALLEN: They had all the votes.
ALLEN: So you were elected to the NCTA board in 1969?
ALLEN: ’70. How long did you serve on the board?
DUNN: I served one term and that’s all I told Bob I would serve. I wasn’t going to do anymore than that. That was three years. I believe it was a three year term. Yes it was a three year term. And then you had to be off for a year and I bid them all good‑bye. The next year they met in San Diego. Well, you know, with Martha living right there…
ALLEN: Your daughter?
DUNN: Yes. I felt it was imperative that I go to that meeting.
DUNN: And those sweet men, members of the board of directors, unanimously signed a petition to nominate me to another term.
ALLEN: These were the men who were on the board?
DUNN: Yes. And that was something. Who could resist that? So they elected me to another three year term and after that I finally gave up. It’s expensive.
ALLEN: Do you have to pay all of your own expenses to attend the board meetings?
DUNN: Yes, plus the rest of the big monied things you know. Well one thing for sure, I could give you a rundown on practically every expensive hotel in the country.
DUNN: We always went to the latest one and the biggest one and the most expensive one, and you could always tell what the president liked. If he liked tennis, we went to the place that had the tennis courts. If he liked golf, we went to Pebble Beach or someplace like that. And those are nice memories, wonderful memories.
ALLEN: How often did the board meet?
DUNN: Well there for a while it met every month.
ALLEN: Oh boy.
DUNN: You know in some of these crisis times, we really did meet often, but quite a number of times, more than just once or twice a year. But anyway I enjoyed it.
ALLEN: Were there many other local system operators on the board at that time besides yourself?
DUNN: Well you know one of my staunchest co‑conspirators or what have you, was Bill Bresnan. He was and even when he was president of the telephone company, Bill Bresnan used to install cable. Recently for some anniversary or something, they found his old climbing belt, gilded it and gave it to him. There was almost always somebody that had some experience, but sometimes it’s not many. But I am not exactly bashful.
ALLEN: Did you find that there were times in the NCTA board meetings when your interest as a local operator and the MSO interests were quite different and you had to demonstrate your lack of bashfulness?
DUNN: Not too bad. I think it is a mistake to speak of the MSOs as if they are adversary. They want the same things we want, but they are several levels removed from the subscriber and this has been my song for 30 years. The farther you get away from the subscriber, the more troubles you are going to have. You stick with him, he’ll let you know when you are going wrong, believe me.
ALLEN: So the real big difference then is not so much in purpose as it is in sensitivity to what’s needed.
DUNN: Well, there’s a difference. If your loyalty is to your investors, you are going to get a different slant than if your loyalty is to your subscribers. And sometimes you can’t afford … From their standpoint, I can see where they think they can’t afford to be so sensitive to the subscribers. They have to be sensitive to the people that they owe money to.
ALLEN: But ultimately it is the subscriber who provides the money.
DUNN: Right. That is the way I feel. But if I sold this system, somebody would come in here, and the first thing they would do is cut my staff about 30 percent. Then they would cut the service about 30 percent and they would quit this business of letting people say, “Well, I’ll pay you tomorrow.” Pretty soon you’d have a much more efficient, much smoother running office. You wouldn’t have quite as happy employees or subscribers I hope.
ALLEN: Being more profitable but not accomplishing as much.
DUNN: Well, it just depends upon what you want to accomplish. I feel that any success that this company has, I owe to the people who work here. I’m not the one who goes out and puts the cable in. I’m not the one who answers the service calls, so that I am trying to share as we go along. And I don’t have to account to anybody, if I want to do anything. If we want to have a Christmas party, we do. We have at least one birthday party a month. I have gotten them to the point where instead of having one for each separate employee, we have one a month and whoever has birthdays that month we get to say happy birthday to.
ALLEN: This is a party that you have here in the office?
DUNN: On break time.
ALLEN: But you can walk downtown I suspect and in fifteen minutes you have some awareness of how subscribers are feeling because you have been in this town long enough that people are not bashful about walking up and expressing their feelings.
DUNN: No, they are not bashful. However, if you aren’t careful, if I’m not careful, I get into a state of euphoria because I know that I am doing the best I can to give them the best service, the best equipment, everything that I can do to do it and I think they know that. Well, they don’t know that. The minute that the cable goes off in the middle of something that they are looking at they don’t know that.
ALLEN: It is very interesting how proprietary people are of their television signal.
DUNN: Oh, very, very.
ALLEN: It is not NBC’s program. It’s…
DUNN: My program. You cut off my program. And why they think I cut it off, that is another thing. Any sensible person would know that I wouldn’t cut off my service to them. Yet that’s the phrase they use. Well, I am starting to campaign right now. I was delighted with a picture; you can see it in there. It shows a cone, a tornado cone. It says “Tornado Alley.” Well that is what I have been trying to tell people. You live on the edge of a tornado alley. So I went to Bernie and asked him if I could reprint that and use it. He was delighted that I wanted to. From now on everyone who gets on the cable is going to get a picture of that.
ALLEN: We are going to change the thrust of the conversation here for a few minutes and take a look at some of the technology that is on display here in a case at the Columbus TV Cable. We have been joined again by Travis Nabors. Travis, do you want to describe some of the things that you have here?
NABORS: Bob, we have some real oldies. We have some of the old Jerrold strip amplifiers which back in the early days we were using to run three channels. To utilize the most out of the cable that was available, we used some Jerrold 03 and 05 which is subchannel line gear. Again we were running three channels.
ALLEN: So this goes back to actually the original building of the system, the three channels.
NABORS: Yes it does. You would come down your mainline subchannel and then when you got to a group of homes you would add the subchannel strips, 03‑05s and convert it back up to a TV channel. Along with this we were running Channel 2, 3, and 5 on the system. That was in the early days.
ALLEN: Where were those three signals coming?
NABORS: Birmingham. Well we were pulling two out of Birmingham and Meridian had gone on the air at that time–Channel 11 out of Meridian. We were pulling 6 and 13 out of Birmingham. All right then yesterday I mentioned the LRA40 Entron amplifier and that’s when we began to move a little. Again it is tube type. We have one of those sitting right back in the corner there that uses a lot of the old line.
ALLEN: Now what did that do for you that the smaller one didn’t?
NABORS: It had AGC and also voltage regulation which we were not accustomed to. Voltage regulation at that time was a tremendous problem both for the power company and for us. When I say “us,” I am talking about cable. The more power that was hitting the amplifier the higher the signal would go, and the less voltage the lower the signal would go. So you were continuously climbing the poles, tuning it up, peaking it out, getting the most for what you had to put in. Right over here is some of the tap off material that we used during that day. We called them 1401s. In fact, it is C-401s … C meaning the C fitting. The F fitting was developed later.
ALLEN: The 1401 is that a Jerrold product?
NABORS: Jerrold originated them, yes, both the fitting and the tap off we call it now, or the 1401. Basically you have got the same thing in today’s tap offs. It is just in a different case, but the theory of it is practically the same. At that time for each 1401 you could overrun one tap off. Today they have two tap offs, three, four, etc.
ALLEN: Some of this early equipment was not housed in any kind of weather protection.
NABORS: No, that is true. With the 1401, we weatherproofed it with a liquid called Simco. I really wished today that they still made it. We still have a can or two of it and we use it very sparingly. We use it mostly on the tile where we are putting fittings. In 31 years I have never seen anything that they came out with … this fancy new fandangled stuff … that does the job that Simco did. You would mop it on with a little brush kind of like paint.
NABORS: Today I can go … some of the cable is still abandoned that we have up, but some of the 1401s and the “O” cable is still up. Now we just ran new lines. You can open that 1401 up and it is as clear and as pretty and bright as it was the day it was put up there. If you are using boots, we call them boots, heat patches you sometimes heat shrink, you close these up and you close moisture up in them and you set up corrosion, but with the Simco this didn’t happen.
ALLEN: Was that a product that was made specifically for cable?
NABORS: To my knowledge, yes it was. We were using it in 1958 and prior to that we went in ’54. I called a Mr. Harold Wilson, the last I got, he was the head sales person for DAVCO Electronics in Batesville, Arkansas, and when I asked him if he had some, he said let me look around and I’ll call you back. So he called me back and said, “I got a case and two cans that the dust is about six inches deep on. Do you want it?” I said, “Send it.” There is no telling how many years they had it shelved. When you opened a can of it, it was still as good as it was the day it was packaged. Again we use in tough places and we have got two cans of it left and I don’t know where I can get anymore of it. I hate to see the last of it go.
ALLEN: And when they sent it to you, they charged you extra for the dust, too, didn’t they?
NABORS: Well no, he was so glad to get rid of it, it didn’t cost me anything.
ALLEN: Was this a case where a product was so good that you didn’t need enough of it to keep the company going?
NABORS: I think it’s a case of when a new tubing and the heat shrinks came along it was new technology, and people went to it. And so there was not a demand for Simco, it just phased out.
ALLEN: Now what about some of the other equipment here in the case?
NABORS: Ok. I mentioned the LRA40 Entron amplifier, again they were tube type. This is some of the earlier mainline splitters that go on the line to split it, and as you can see they are not that well weatherproofed. You can see the fittings, the old PL 25 I believe is the number of the fitting that screwed on. That was when we were using corrugated cable again.
ALLEN: Now the manufacturer on that is?
NABORS: Vikoa and Entron. They are two of the same just different housing.
ALLEN: Vikoa is a different company isn’t it?
NABORS: Yes, Vikoa came along after Entron was going well. A fellow by the name of Arthur Baum brought Vikoa into play and later it changed names to Coral, and I think Coral is still in business today up in Hoboken, New Jersey. Then we had a line gear by the name of Cascade that came along.
ALLEN: There were quite a few of those.
NABORS: Yes. These were very good amplifiers, for the application at that time, the number of channels. I am sure that they are still on the market. I believe that all of Cascade is now moved up into Canada.
ALLEN: How many channels were those Cascade?
NABORS: Those were the twelve channels. The Vikoa was a twelve channel. By the way, that was a big step up for us.
ALLEN: When did this system go from three to five channels?
NABORS: From three to five, along about ’56 or ’57 somewhere along there.
ALLEN: Ok. And then to twelve?
NABORS: Oh, we went to twelve channels when the Vikoa came along somewhere in the early ’60s. Slim was gone. It was somewhere around ’64 that we went to twelve channels.
ALLEN: Now when you made those changes you had to go through and change the amplifying equipment.
NABORS: True. You changed the amplifier and as we could we changed cable. This system has probably been rebuilt ten times completely. We have moved locations. Right now we are, the biggest cable we are using is one inch mainline, most of the feeder is 3/4. People laughed when I told them some of the feeder we used was one inch feeder to cut out the number of amplifiers.
DUNN: Explain why it is better to have a bigger cable.
NABORS: With the bigger cable you get more distance so you have less electronic gear. You have a lot more of your problems coming from the electronic gear than just the cable. So when you cut down on the numbers of electronic pieces of equipment, you also cut down on a world of service calls. Service calls are where your expense is. It costs money to roll trucks, and manpower to keep the service calls going.
ALLEN: The big changes in cable have been both in size and in the shielding?
NABORS: That is true. There is no way that in the early days the cable could pass the FCC test that is coming up in 1990. The center conductor way back was solid copper. Then the shield was either a braid or a wrapped copper. This was not welded or soldered. It was just overlapped. In the early days the 102 and the 103 was a braided mainline cable.
ALLEN: Were you getting cable from the same supplier sources that the other equipment was coming from?
NABORS: No. You had different sources for cable. One of them was Macom. Jerrold was involved in cable. I believe they sold their cable out to Time. They may be partners. Then you had CommScope … Superior, a whole different group of people making cable. Scientific-Atlanta bought a plant out and they got into the cable business. We tried it. It did a job. We were just about 100 percent Macom or CommScope whichever you want to call it. They had so many names. They jump from one name to another.
DUNN: We used that cable a long time.
NABORS: Yes, a long time.
DUNN: We liked very much to find somebody that we trust, and we think that the copy control is tops and we stay with them.
NABORS: Bob, one more thing. A step up in cable, the old preamps that we used to use right at the antenna on the tower, there were two tubes in them at that time. And then they jumped to transistors and so did some of the line gear. We thought we were really moving up in the world when we got the transistor preamps. Here is one of them right there. The only problem or the big problem with the transistor was when you had a local channel like we do, Channel 4 could overdrive those transistors on the wanted channel like Channel 6 and it could completely wash it out so you then put in traps coming off the antenna to trap out the local channel. Because they were not too weatherproofed, these traps would drift. So it was climbing the tower quite a bit and retuning the traps to keep the preamp from overdriving from the unwanted channel.
Here is a line splitter and line splitter to Jerrold, Model 1562. You better use it indoors. It was not made to go outdoors because the little lid on the bottom just slides around. It is far from being waterproof now. Sometimes we did use them outdoors. Again, back to the Simco, we could close that in with that Simco and it would stay high and dry. The little black switch that you see here, it will move up to twelve channels. We started this back when we were five channels.
We had the local channel that I keep referring to, Channel 4. We could use a pair of rabbit ears at the TV and put this switch on. They called these A-B switches that did the very same thing as your new A-B switch, but see the little two terminals on the top, fasten your rabbit ears to this and just flip the switch and your Channel 4 would come right in. Now when we were five channels that’s when we were doing that. We had on five other channels so we were trying to utilize an off-the-air channel that was local and very strong. At that time you couldn’t put it on the cable. We didn’t have any room to move it up into the higher channels so we could utilize that channel on channel and we didn’t have electronic gear to fool with, so if you did go off, they could still watch the local Channel 4.
DUNN: We spent thousands of dollars more on the local station than we did on the distant stations. We felt like it was our responsibility to give people clear television and that included the local channel. We had to do what we had to do to give it to them. That was when, you remember I think we were talking yesterday about the fact that we gave Channel 4 two places on our dial because it was going to come in on 4 regardless. We could not get a clear picture on 4 so we put it on 13 where it would be a clear picture.
We did that when people began to get remote controls because as long as you got up and turned the switch at the dial every time you changed the channel, it was no more effort to turn the switch. But when you had a remote control and the only time you stood up to go switch it on was when you wanted to see Channel 4, then it wasn’t fair because people wouldn’t get up. That was when we put it on 13 and we had it for years on 13 so that we only had 12 channels. Like we were talking about seats on a bus, we only had 12 seats on our bus and the local channel was taking up two of them. People sometimes seem to think that we could have put it on 4 whenever we wanted and there would be no problem, but actually we were protecting them. But we were glad when they moved their tower so we could put them on 4.
ALLEN: They moved farther away so that they weren’t pushing you aside.
NABORS: Bob, here is a piece of 3/4 inch cable, aluminum cable, aluminum sheet. In this area and in a lot of areas squirrels are a big problem for cable operators.
DUNN: Can you believe that squirrels bit that chunk out of that aluminum? Not one hunk, but about three inches on one, didn’t it?
NABORS: Now this can cause you some radiation. There is your cable right there, right inside, so this is radiating just like an open wire. There is no difference. This is going to be a big problem for a lot of people. We have a lot of squirrels here. This came from Columbus Air Force Base. They need to feed the squirrels out there just a little because I don’t know how long they can carry this aluminum.
ALLEN: There is a section of this cable about a foot long where it shows definite teeth marks and in two or three or four different places the squirrels have actually chewed all the way through the outside aluminum covering and have exposed the wire completely. Now the squirrels then get radiated. Do they glow in the dark at night? Have you ever been able to go out and spot the ones that are doing it?
NABORS: Well, not exactly, but you feel like spotting them and shooting them.
ALLEN: Any idea what attracts squirrels to this? Does anybody have any idea?
NABORS: There’s one answer that I have and this comes from a lot of climbing onto houses and this, that and the other. This center conductor in here is copper. Any animal and I am talking about dogs, squirrels, what have you, love to chew on copper. When I had hunting dogs, some of this copper cable that we had here I kept in the pen for them to chew on. Back in the early days when the RG 59 we were using was copper, the braid was copper braid. It was nothing unusual to have a service call and you get there and the dog had chewed the cable in two. There has got to be something in the copper that either they need for their teeth or their body. Dogs, cats occasionally will chew it, but squirrels they love it. So I think it has to do with something maybe their systems need and they chew it.
We can go back to telephone. They have a lot of problems also because they have the small copper wires inside. They had lead sheet on their cable and the squirrels would chew the lead to get to the copper where they could chew it. Around here there are miles of telephone main lines that they had mesh wire wrapped around to keep the squirrels from getting to it. Up in Mrs. Dunn’s area, the fields up there where all the trees are, you would see telephone cable running along and just mesh wire right over it to keep them out. Because once they got in and got water in there then they had a problem. Now water is a big problem here also. Today you got pictures, tomorrow you don’t.
ALLEN: So somebody calls and says my picture disappeared, so one of the things they have to do is go out and check and see if the squirrels have been at work.
NABORS: It’s a good idea, yes it is. You take a pair of binoculars, that helped you. Most of all with today’s equipment though you can drive down a line. It doesn’t take long to find it.
ALLEN: Is there any other equipment in the case here that you haven’t talked about Travis?
NABORS: Well there is a piece of AMECO that goes way, way back. It is tube type. That is a module out of the, I’m trying to think, that end piece, I believe that is a Channel 5–chandelier. That was what I was trying to think, they called them chandelier, yes ma’am. We had some gentlemen by the name of Don Atchison and Mason Hamilton who used to come through in what they called a “salesmobile.” This is back in the early days.
ALLEN: They were working for AMECO?
NABORS: They were working for AMECO and they drove this truck. They had a lot of equipment on it. Matching transformers, the 1401s, the fittings and the splitters and this and that so that you could actually buy it right off of the truck. I guess maybe we could call that some of the good old days because things were changing quickly.
DUNN: Bruce Merrill was the owner of AMECO and he did a great deal of innovative engineering for the industry and he served as maybe the first or one of the first national chairman of NCTA. During that time that Travis is talking about they were riding high and then shall we say they were victims of a freeze. The FCC stopped all manufacturing you know and everything for about ten years.
ALLEN: Well they stopped all new systems going in and so the manufacturing just dried up.
DUNN: Right, right. But the industry owes a lot to the Merrills in my opinion.
ALLEN: There were a number of people who were inventing solutions to problems as the problems occurred, and he was one of those.
DUNN: Right, right.
ALLEN: I think Jimmie Davidson was another. He would find a problem and figure out a way around it.
NABORS: Bob, if I might add something while we are along this line talking about AMECO and the sales people … Don Atchison and Mason Hamilton. Back in those days we didn’t have a whole lot of magazines like the CED, etc., that were being published. Not only did these gentlemen serve you with equipment but they were in another town and these people had a problem they would discuss it with them and tell them ways they fixed it. Then when they got here you had a problem, and the first thing you know they carried a message from system to system that was a great help in the early days because they had found or could tell you what caused Joe Blow over in Anniston, Alabama, had said about a problem and see what he did to correct it. They were great carriers of different developments and things that you did to correct it. Not only was it AMECO, but Jerrold, and Entron sales people. We had a lot of those people through.
At one time one problem we ran into, Bob, and this was because of friendship, we had Jerrold equipment, we had Entron equipment, we had Cascade equipment, we had Vikoa. We had it all because you would buy from friends. They changed jobs you changed with them. So the one bad part of that was when you hired a new person, even though the equipment did virtually the same job, the screws of the whatever you turn or whatever you plugged in to make it do that job would be in a different location and it made it tough on the new people coming in.
End of Tape 3, Side A
NABORS: After all of this we had pretty well settled to about 100 percent Scientific line of dishes, heating equipment, line gear and the whole bit. This does make it easier both in your stockroom and for the people that you hire or the people that you have working for you. It also makes it a lot easier if you do have an outage, ice storm, lightning storm whatever to get a piece of equipment and put it in your truck and know that it will fit anywhere you go. Every day they come in with new technology, convertors to scramble, descramble.
ALLEN: What is the significance of the 1948 license plate being a part of this equipment display because that is well before the Dunn’s moved to town?
NABORS: Well that is true. This used to be an automotive company where you are sitting right now. This was their showroom and we bought the building. We have a garage back here where we put all of our vehicles. We also have other storage. We just outgrew our original office. We found that license plate and we stuck it in the case. I don’t know who owned it.
ALLEN: Have you covered all the equipment here in the case now?
NABORS: Pretty much. A lot of it does the same thing. One thing I haven’t covered is the pressure tap. I talked a little about the 1401s and then along came the pressure tap. I think even the manufacturer will agree that this was a disaster. We started using the pressure tap, then they came up with the back matched pressure tap and that wasn’t too much different. What you were actually doing was punching a hole in the cable, it would radiate, there was no way of keeping it from radiating. Also you got water in your cable. In two or three months after you put on a pressure tap, it looked about as green as a gourd. The deterioration set into your cable and transmission went down. This may sound very strange but you would go check an amplifier. It would be good on the output, you go to the next amplifier, on the input you would have virtually nothing. So then we would get a long pole and we would actually go along beating the cable. Then we would get back down and check the amplifier and it was beautiful. So, I think that came from pressure taps a lot because they were corroded and deteriorated cable that water had gotten into.
ALLEN: So I gather you used some of them but you found out very early on that you didn’t want to use all of them.
NABORS: It didn’t take long. We had followed up a lot of 1401s and so we went back to Jim Davidson, at DAVCO, and said, “Say do you know where we can get some 1401s?” And there was a gentleman by the name of Harold Wilson who had been with DAVCO so long that when you picked up the phone he knew everything that was in stock. He knew all the little systems. We bought used 1401s that people would take out. We are still using 1401s in a lot of our apartment houses. Again with the Simco, and the fact that you are going to enclose them in a box anyway, they are still great apartment taps.
ALLEN: So there was a lot of equipment used in operating the system that you didn’t necessarily leave behind every time that you upgraded the system.
NABORS: That is true.
DUNN: That is something that the regulators don’t seem to understand. They visualize you build a system just like you build a house, when it’s finished, it’s finished. That is not true. It goes on and on and on.
NABORS: It’s an everyday effort. It is not five days a week; it is seven days a week. There is one piece of equipment that I had not mentioned and that is an FM tube type amplifier. We tried in the early days to put FM on the system. It just didn’t work too good in those days. Now today we are talking a different horse. I think this goes back possibly to voltage regulation even with the FM stations. Today they will have more power than yesterday. It created a problem when the voltage of these signals shot up. Then you had cross modulation in your other adjacent channels. So it didn’t take us long to abandon that. A lot of the early days were trial and error. It didn’t necessarily mean that what would work in this system would work in the next system. You just had to hunt and find something to do the job.
Co‑channel was a tremendous problem in the early days before satellite came along. Everything coming off the air or microwave. We had the washouts … rain, fog … this and that, but co‑channel was the biggest problem. You could be watching a beautiful picture and 30 minutes later you couldn’t see the picture or hear it. You would be watching some garbled up thing from one direction and hearing something from another direction. So I got the great idea once that I was going to stop the co‑channel. I got a piece of one inch mashed chicken wire and I put up a dipole out of copper tubing. I also got a 72 ohm resistor to go across and I thought I would put this in behind my antenna. I would pick this up and I would circuit it enough to block it, but that didn’t work.
We put up the second antenna that Scientific-Atlanta made and shipped. They had made a Channel 6 antenna for Monroe, Louisiana, and they had installed it and I heard about it so I drove over to Monroe. Now they had left the other antenna up that they were using for comparison. They were battling co‑channel from Greenwood, Mississippi, and Lake Charles, Louisiana, on Channel 6. We had a very similar problem here except in our situation we had Birmingham that we wanted 120 miles due east and Greenwood which was an unwanted Channel 6, 120 miles due west. Greenwood was 180 degrees in phase with Birmingham.
So when I got over and looked at this new antenna I called Scientific-Atlanta from Monroe. We got the next Channel 6 antenna and installed it. We pulled this up with a winch. The antenna and the cross members that go with it weighed 600 pounds. That was a job. Channel 13 weighed less than Channel 6 because the higher the frequency you go the smaller the antenna. Channel 2 weighed quite a bit more than Channel 6.
When we installed this antenna, one of the nervier times I have had in cable, there I was with a gentleman by the name of Preacher Cochran who worked here. We were on the tower on the last day of March and this was a little bit after March. It was in the early spring and we were subject to quick clouds. We were on this 480 foot tower and were about 440 feet up hanging this antenna. We knew to watch for clouds. It was right after lunch and first thing we knew we heard a rumble and then it literally ate us up. The static electricity from the thunder and lightning was over Starver which is 30 miles away. Winches went everywhere. We were trying to fasten the antenna down. I kept hollering to him to get in the winch and go down, and I would just climb down because I had to stop and pick up a field strength meter that was tied off on the way down. And before we could get unbelted, it hit us again. It burned, but before the next one came along we were on the ground, I promise you.
NABORS: So, yes, it is hairy up there sometimes.
ALLEN: Particularly in an area like this where the storms come up so quickly.
ALLEN: We are going to change directions of the discussion now and talk a little bit about some of the kinds of problems that you have. Not so much with the natural elements as with some of the human elements, either employees who have been working for the company and have gotten themselves into kind of unusual situations or customers who have, what did you call them, cockpit troubles?
NABORS: Cockpit troubles. That’s Mrs. Dunn’s word for it. I will start with one of the early ones that Mrs. Dunn is very familiar with. I just told you we were hanging an antenna in the lightning. There was one more instance on the tower that happened. We had a gentleman by the name of Slim Fussell, or Malcolm Fussell, I believe, his nickname was Slim. He would not wear insulators on his pliers. He just didn’t like the insulators. One day he and I were hanging another antenna. He was left handed. Now those pliers had black handles that looked a lot like the “D” ring on your safety strap.
DUNN: How high were you?
NABORS: About 440 feet in the air. So he had to move around on the tower, and of course he had to unsnap his safety belt. He was directly across the tower from me, and when he snapped, he snapped into his pliers rather than his “D” ring. He had just started to lay back into his belt and I saw it and hollered. That was the first time I ever saw this guy scared. Our day’s work was over. We came down. It scared him so bad that he fell over into the tower. And he was just inches away from about a 440 foot tumble backwards. So that is one of the wooly problems.
Back to the cockpit. There is a great percentage of the service calls in cable that are what we call cockpit problems. We are talking about problems that the TV operators in the home create for themselves. Unplugging their TV is one of those. The maid cleaning, unplugging the TV, and the person living there not knowing it; a bad cloud coming, somebody unplugging it, the other person not realizing this. Way back the fine tuner on the TV was also a great problem. You could take the fine tuner and tune from one channel to another. You could wind up with two or even three channels with the same picture on it. And you try to correct it over the phone and they will twist it a half of a turn then after they had untwisted it five or six turns, They can’t get it so you wind up having to go out there. As we mentioned earlier, we had a switch that we had used back in the early days for the local channel. They would forget to flip it. They got the local channel but they didn’t get anything else, so my cable’s off. So you go to their house, you flip the switch, and they forgot what switch you were talking about.
I am trying to think. There is a world of problems … unscrewing the cable and forgetting to put it back.
A lot of the problems today are related to the VCR. We use the Scientific-Atlanta decoders for the pay channels or the scramble channels that we put out. They unscrew one cable and there are several back there so they don’t know where they go. Probably every day we get one or two calls concerning the VCR hookup. We have drawn maps that a lot of times we give the people on the way to hook them up. This helps but some of them couldn’t even follow a road home, so they can’t follow the map. But anyway, that is part of it. You get a good laugh after you get there and get it going for them. They go to apologizing or they go to cussing you, one of the two for not being able to tell them how to do it over the phone. This is a lot of the problem we have, customer-made problems.
Another big problem is people trying to save a call to you to come out to move their cable. They try to do it themselves. So they pull the fitting off to get it through the hole. They can’t get it back on. Then comes the call, “My TV is off.” They never tell you that they have moved the cable. You get out there and they lack 12 inches having enough to go right where the little lady wants it. Again, they were trying to get around this extra charge. You can do so much of it but you can’t keep absorbing it. It gets expensive. So these are some of the problems the serviceman has in the home. Another of the problems we run into is with a new customer who wants cable. She comes in and signs up. You send people out and when she was here she probably knew exactly where in the home she wanted it, what wall she wanted it on. She gets back home and looks at her furniture and … well do I want it there, or am I planning next week to move my furniture. In a lot of cases it takes as much time once an installer gets to the house for the person to make up his mind exactly where he wants the TV as it does for the gentleman to put the cable in.
This cuts down on the amount of hookups that they can do in a day. We even have customers who we hook up today and they call tomorrow, “I’ve changed my mind” or “he didn’t put it where I wanted.” Did he ask you, “yes ma’am.” They don’t want to admit that they have changed their minds because there is an extra cost to go back. Gosh, it’s been a while since I have done a lot of these hookups.
ALLEN: We are going to change directions here a little bit and go back with Mrs. Dunn. The discussion earlier was about the formation of the South Central Association and how that eventually led five or six years later into the formation of the Southern Association. Now you have given us a document which I will include as part of this report which you wrote up as historian for South Central. The first meeting was 1959 in Arkansas if I remember right.
DUNN: That was a Lakeside gathering when they decided to organize.
ALLEN: That was when they decided to form an organization and then in 1960 they invited people outside of Arkansas. Were you at that 1960 meeting?
DUNN: Yes. If I am not mistaken, that was the one that was in Memphis. The entire proceedings of the August, 1960 meeting were tape recorded. I assume that Jim Davidson would have that tape or he would be the one to ask about it.
ALLEN: He would be the most likely person to have that tape?
DUNN: Yes. And then I went to the meeting in Memphis where Jim Davidson had sent out the call to come in and be a part of a new organization. Those who came are the ones that in following papers which I can give you showing the members of South Central, we call the charter members.
ALLEN: And there were about thirteen?
DUNN: There were more than that weren’t there?
ALLEN: There were twenty-five operators from five states gathered in Little Rock in January of 1960.
DUNN: I was not at that. I was at the ’61 meeting when the call went out, the first letter. Then it was in ’61 when I started going to the national convention and I haven’t missed many since.
ALLEN: Now what this says is that they met in January of ’60 in Little Rock, and Fred Stevenson was elected president. Then in the fall of ’60 they met in Memphis and Virgil Evans was elected president and Jimmy Davidson was secretary/treasurer for both years. And what did the South Central group do? What was their role as contrasted to the Mississippi Association or the NCTA?
DUNN: Primarily as the backup group for the volunteer representative of our area to the national board, national NCTA board. That was Fred Stevenson. He was trying to carry on as representative of the whole district out of his own pocket. He was going around to different systems and to different gatherings and carrying the message of organizing for strength. We had problems in Washington and we needed to stick together, that sort of thing. And as I told you the telephone company proposition was in the air at that time. Their idea was to lease the pole space to the cable systems and then at the end of fifteen years the telephone company would own the system.
ALLEN: Did any system operators that you are aware of sign that kind of a lease?
DUNN: I can’t give you any names but a few, not many, did. I don’t know what they finally did at the end of fifteen years. I didn’t hear of anybody losing their system. Maybe they renegotiated, I don’t know.
ALLEN: So the primary purpose of South Central was to give an economic base to support the work that Stevenson was doing out in the field.
DUNN: And to distribute the information, too, an easy way for that.
ALLEN: And Mr. Stevenson was a local operator?
DUNN: Yes, he was from Arkansas. He lived in Fayetteville, Arkansas, and had a system in Rogers, Arkansas. He was an outstanding national chairman of NCTA, and the last if I’m not mistaken, of the volunteer ones. In ’61 we hired a paid president and have had one ever since.
NABORS: That is NCTA.
DUNN: Yes, yes. This history that I wrote goes only as far as South Central Association went. When it became the Southern Association and included all the southern seaboard states, I was no longer a secretary or official. I closed this history out as of April 1971. That is when I submitted it. I believe it stops about 1965.
ALLEN: You served for two years as secretary/treasurer?
DUNN: Yes. And then it looked like I was going to become president and whoever had been secretary/treasurer moved up, that sort of thing.
Shortly before the end of the year I asked Fred Stevenson if he would serve as president again and he said he would if he were elected. So I resigned as secretary/treasurer and the board appointed him as secretary/treasurer which left him in the position to become chairman.
ALLEN: And this was because Polly Dunn was bound and determined that she was never going to be president of anything.
DUNN: That’s right, that’s right.
ALLEN: Why is that? You were a very public figure?
DUNN: Well I was trying mighty hard not to be, I tell you.
ALLEN: You were the toastmistress at banquets and…
DUNN: Well that’s kind of in the family you see.
NABORS: She took first billing over Bob Hope at the Southern show also.
DUNN: Oh yeah, I forgot that. How about that?
ALLEN: Go ahead, tell that.
DUNN: Well, he didn’t think that was funny. He didn’t think that was at all funny. I thought it was hilarious. Anyway, see they had my picture on the front page by myself because I was honorary chairman.
ALLEN: This is the trade show at the Georgia World Center in Atlanta in 1982, Southern Cable Television Association. The program opens up with the honorary convention chairwoman Polly Dunn and the next page is Bob Hope and Art Buchwald. So Mr. Hope didn’t think that was funny.
DUNN: No. He didn’t think that was funny.
ALLEN: So what did he say?
DUNN: He didn’t say much. But something else happened. I have another picture that you may see. It shows the two of us laughing because something else happened that we both thought was hilarious. So we forgot about the other thing. I didn’t rub it in too much.
ALLEN: You don’t think he would remember it today?
DUNN: No, I doubt if he remembered. But it was a moment of pleasure anyway.
ALLEN: What were some of the kinds of major issues that South Central was wrestling with during this time?
DUNN: Well copyright went on for years. We worked on that for years, year in and year out. We gave a great deal of time and effort and expense to that. I am sure that you have reams of it in the museum of the work that was done on it.
ALLEN: Very possible, very probably. And was your role as secretary/treasurer anything beyond maintaining the records and the financial records?
DUNN: Well that was pretty much the whole thing–getting the notices out and urging them to come.
NABORS: Setting up the show.
DUNN: Setting up the show. Now that was a pretty big job and we did that several times.
ALLEN: You had to do that yourself then?
DUNN: Well when you say that don’t forget that what staff we had here were all involved in it and…
NABORS: Some of the directors helped.
DUNN: Yes, that’s right. The directors helped also. Everybody helped. Millie Smith was a wonderful help particularly in setting up the conventions. It involved an amazing amount of correspondence. You know how it is. You have to hunt up people to appear on the program. You ask them and they don’t call and they don’t answer. Then when you ask them again they say they will and later they change their mind about the time you get the type set up, and all of those things. You try to think of gimmicks to make them come to the show, and come to the different seminars.
ALLEN: And you had a trade show in conjunction with the meetings. I see the two meetings where you were an officer were one in Jackson and one in Biloxi.
DUNN: Yes, well. I can’t remember where they all were held. I did the shows at least twice that I remember.
ALLEN: Did you remember some of the companies that were exhibiting at those shows?
DUNN: Oh everybody that made anything. They all came. I think we still have a reputation for a good show. By that, it’s a show that the exhibitors like to come to. I found in looking over these mementos here, that I ran across a letter a man had written to me thanking me for the show that we did that year in Mississippi. I have forgotten what title we called it. We made all the exhibitors our honored guests. There was appreciation of our exhibitors, not just exhibitors, some people who were in the hardware area who have meant so much to us. As long as I controlled it a little bit I refused to charge the exhibitors anything for coming to the show. We went to the show to see their exhibits and the exhibits were our life blood. If they had something new, we wanted to know it and it meant a lot to us. And then to turn around and expect them to pay $50 which I think the fee was at the time, seemed unfair. Some of them charged a membership fee, a registration fee, and they expected a party being given. This is expensive, all those things, and I just didn’t think that the companies should pay that much. Maybe now it is a little different, but then it was not fair.
ALLEN: Are you saying you didn’t charge them a fee to come to the show? Did they pay for the exhibit space?
DUNN: No, we just had what we called “table topics” in those days. This was back in mostly the sixties. And even for a while the reasonable was just “table topics”, but that didn’t carry over into the Southern. We were talking about the state as far as I am concerned. You remember the time we gave the party for the exhibitors. We had them as our special dinner guests. We asked every operator to take at least one exhibitor to dinner as his guest. It is a nice informal atmosphere and they knew we liked them, and they knew we appreciated their coming, and they liked to come.
ALLEN: So really what you’re portraying is a partnership between the people who manufactured equipment and the cable operators who were using their equipment to hook up the locals. Do you think that this took place elsewhere in the country among operators?
DUNN: I don’t know. I just don’t know. I know there is a widespread feeling, “Oh I pay them plenty of money, they can give me a party,” and as far as the exhibitors are concerned that’s repeated again and again. Once a season is one thing, but to do it over and over. In some instances the salesmen had to do it out of their own pocket.
ALLEN: Travis do you think that this feeling was pretty much the feeling of all of the members or was there an awful lot of Polly Dunn in the idea that we ought to treat exhibitors as partners?
NABORS: The biggest percent of it was Polly Dunn. To give you a for instance, when sales people come here and they are here at lunchtime or at night for dinner, we do not, thanks to Polly Dunn, allow them to pick up the check. We pick up the check. They are doing us a favor by coming. They are spending money to come, so we pick up the check. I would rather they be obligated to us than us obligated to them.
DUNN: Well, I am glad it is something besides the Polly Dunn theme that you have going here.
NABORS: Well, it is just one of the things that we have always done, to try to make the people feel at home and welcome. I was kidding about the obligation bit. I remember a Mississippi show where we honored all of our people, and each of the operators were to get up and say something special about some particular person that called on them. We had a great time that night. Tracy Merrill, I think, stole the show as best I can remember. Tracy was the manager of Laurel, Mississippi, and he did a great job, if you remember.
ALLEN: Could you talk a bit more about that?
NABORS: Well, I just know that Ben Foster at that time was with Scientific-Atlanta and I forget all of what I said. I remember part of it. As you have been told before I love to hunt and fish and Ben does a lot of hunting in Georgia. Ben had been promising to come over and go hunting with me year after year after year and never did show up. So I just told him that I was going to introduce the biggest liar in cable TV which would have been Foster because he never did what he said he would do.
ALLEN: Polly is there anything more as you have looked over those notes on the history of South Central?
DUNN: Well I am tempted just to read them.
ALLEN: Well we will have them.
DUNN: I know you will have them already. I am joking, but it does matter. When I wrote this, it was closer to the time in the first place and in the second place I had all the records and everything at hand so I know it is correct.
ALLEN: What was the reason that the South Central then merged into what became the Southern? Was that Southeastern as well?
DUNN: No. There was only the Arkansas which as I said was active before we were. But the two of us, Mississippi and Arkansas were sort of the only ones representing the Southeast. We invited people to come and a lot of people came, but not enough to warrant a state association of their own. But Bob Jurningen, when he was president, traveled around and encouraged people and said I will come help you get organized and things of that sort. So they set up the Alabama one and they did the Florida one and…
DUNN: After around 1965 apparently it was, I have here, by 1965 more state associations had been formed and there was an increasing need for larger regional organizations. That was when we made it a southern association instead of south central.
NABORS: And then, didn’t we have 12 states at that time to come in?
DUNN: I don’t know.
NABORS: I think so.
DUNN: I don’t have any of those records and I didn’t include it because I didn’t have it.
ALLEN: And where was Bob Jurningen from?
DUNN: Hattiesburg at that time. He went to Florida and I don’t know whether he is in cable or not now. We haven’t been able to find him. I located him one time and left a message at his home to call back, but he never did. I am sorry because I would like to know. I hate to lose track of my friends.
ALLEN: And did you maintain any kind of an active role with the Southern Association comparable to what you had with the South Central?
NABORS: She always does. She is the first lady in Southern Cable Association. Everybody knows it, everybody tells her. I come back from meetings sometimes when she doesn’t go and I say, “Mrs. Dunn you sure were missed”. Oh no. Everybody in cable knows Polly Dunn whether they had met her or not.
ALLEN: The record also shows that she blushes.
NABORS: Yes she does. But she knows what I am telling is fact. I wouldn’t come back lying to her. I would rather keep her all to myself, but there are too many other people out there after her. The young ladies that come into cable today look up to her. We had a young lady this past year who said, “Oh you are Travis Nabors, where is Mrs. Polly Dunn? I have heard so much about Mrs. Polly Dunn.” This was a lady who had been involved with cable and WGN out of Chicago.
DUNN: You are going to use up all the tape in the machine.
NABORS: And this happens to all the people. One of the first names they knew in cable is Polly Dunn.
DUNN: That was quite an accolade.
NABORS: It is very true.
DUNN: I don’t remember why but there was a clause in the bylaws, I am trying to think why it was, but that entitled me to attend the meetings at the Board of Directors meetings.
ALLEN: Of Southern.
DUNN: Of Southern. And it was a case of whether you wanted to pay any attention to it or not because I wasn’t going to push it, but I have forgotten exactly what it was or how it was worded, but it was there.
ALLEN: It spoke specifically to you.
DUNN: Yes. And I could go to the meetings whenever I wanted to.
ALLEN: Was there anyone else so honored?
DUNN: Not that I know about.
NABORS: She knows there weren’t.
DUNN: Oh I know one of the things was that if you were a member of the National Board of Directors you were invited, so that would apply to other people besides me, but …
NABORS: They didn’t take it up.
DUNN: No a lot of times they didn’t take it up, that is true. But it depended upon whether I had something that I felt was important enough that needed to be brought to their attention. As you know, my concern has been focused largely on independent systems and it didn’t take long for them to get lost in the shuffle of it. In any organization the first thing you know there are politics. Then there is sort of an organized way to get to be on the board. I just wanted to keep them aware of the independent system. I do think that there is a place for independent systems in today’s structure regardless because independents are closer to the subscribers and the subscribers need to be heard from on the Hill in Washington as well as in your office in your local place. So I would like to see the continuing setup that is such that would encourage the independent operators to come to Washington to visit their legislators. Now NCTA would love to have them do it, but they are a little afraid of independent operators coming in and just going and visiting because they are afraid they won’t cue the line of … what would you call it?
ALLEN: The party line.
DUNN: The party line.
NABORS: And play the politics.
DUNN: Well, but nevertheless, at least in Mississippi I think we have been very effective with our representation in Washington. As I was talking to you the other day I had a very particular prerogative because I was the only woman on the board at that time. There weren’t as many women lobbyists as there are now. Being a woman sort of opened the door a little bit for me over the years. In the last decade, I have been pushing Travis to go. He has a personality that is a distinct individual and he has made his own welcome there. Every place that he has gone, you can tell they remember when he comes again. He is an excellent lobbyist. It’s been my great pleasure and pride that the cable industry has offered more and more for women. Now there are still not many women operating systems, but they have been a bonanza for women in the marketing area and other places in cable. And of course you can’t get any better than Kay Koplovitz, who is the head of one of the biggest MSO’s and that’s no small job.
ALLEN: Did you ever serve on the Southern Board of Directors?
DUNN: Yes. Why did I?
ALLEN: So you have been an officer of the South Central, of the Southern and you have served on the Board of Directors of the National.
NABORS: And she has been on the board of the state many times.
End of Tape 3, Side B
ALLEN: Ok. This is Friday afternoon, March 31, 1989, and we are in Columbus, Mississippi, with Mrs. Polly Dunn. We are wrapping up two days of discussion about the early days and many of the people who have been so important to the cable industry who have worked with you and very seldom against you.
DUNN: They just didn’t tell me about those times.
ALLEN: You were elected to the NCTA Board of Directors for two terms, I think, weren’t you?
DUNN: Well, two terms. There was a term in between when I didn’t run. I didn’t expect to run but the one time because the terms as I remember were three years at that time.
ALLEN: When were you first elected?
DUNN: In 1970. I did a lot of work during that decade. That was the time that we set up the independent operators and we went to Washington a lot. We were pretty active during that time. Since then, I have been pushing it off onto somebody else.
ALLEN: Now the role of the independent operators, that was a group within NCTA.
DUNN: That is correct. At the time there was a great deal of feeling among the small systems that their welfare was not considered very much by NCTA. CATA was formed at that meeting in Texas, but at the same time we were considering a formation of a committee within NCTA especially for independent operators. David Foster, who was President of NCTA, persuaded Jim Davidson to organize such a group. Jim said he was willing to do it if I would help. I was not too excited about it because I felt it was somewhat a divisive action to take but nevertheless I said I would. Jim did, he sent out letters and rounded people up and we had our first meeting in Washington–a dinner meeting–and then a short meeting that evening. The next day we were going to work with the NCTA staff on bylaws and that type of thing.
After we met that night, the next morning Jim went home. He had organized it. He had done what he said he would do and all of a sudden I felt that I was all by myself. Fortunately I was able to persuade Mac Clark who was a wonderful choice for it to be the first chairman of the independent operators board which Jim really had founded. But Jim is such a wonderful organizer. That job is done, he thinks somebody else should take a turn, and he is right.
ALLEN: So Jim was instrumental in the organization of both CATA and the independent operator board both.
DUNN: Yes. CATA sort of, of all the people who were there, there was a room full of people, there were only about six who were not in opposition at least not within NCTA.
ALLEN: Did CATA last very long as an organization?
DUNN: It is still going.
ALLEN: It is still going?
DUNN: It has served an excellent purpose, I think. It does not have the influence that NCTA has on the Hill, but they have gotten an excellent leader, executive director, a man who personally commands respect. His name is Steve Effros and he was on the FCC staff when they made all these restrictive rules that nearly clobbered us. Incidentally, he comes to all of our Southern Association conventions that we call the Eastern Show rather than trying to maintain a separate convention. Of course, those of us in the Southern Association welcome their presence. They have some excellent panel sessions that we have enjoyed. I would like to also say that the independent operators board had some panel sessions at Southern that we also think were very, very informative.
ALLEN: Now did you have any kind of an official role in the independent operator’s board after it was formed?
DUNN: Yes, I was on the first board and had been on the board ever since. I served as vice‑chairman I guess you would call it. I hardly would call it co‑chairman with Mac Clark. When we started we all worked very closely together. It always comes down to a small group of people who are willing to consistently work again and again and again. It reminds me of the story of the minister who was approached by a member of his congregation who said, “I don’t want to come to your church anymore. Everything is done by just a little clique. Anything that you hear about it at all is just always that little clique.” And the minister said, “Yes, you are exactly right. And the requirement for that clique is loyalty and devotion and work, and it is hard to find anybody to join it.”
ALLEN: And you are obviously one who has been part of that fraternity of loyalty and devotion and hard work for a long time.
DUNN: Well, sometimes it has not been too enthusiastically approached because you get tired. There are so many little defeats. But looking back over the ’70s as a whole I realize that we really did accomplish a very great deal particularly with the FCC. The NCTA is, rightfully so, primarily concerned with situations on the Hill. And it’s as much as they can handle, believe me. But the FCC is more of a situation where you can talk one on one. After all there are only seven commissioners.
We found that when we would go there and talk if not to the commissioners sometimes, then sometimes their staff, that they were willing to go out to lunch with us and sit and just chat. We could talk to them about individual things which takes me back to my constant song about subscribers–how the subscribers feel about this that or the other. As you and I were speaking at noon today that sitting in the office and knowing all about cable because you have read about cable doesn’t mean that the situation is always that optimistic, that nice.
If you sit in today and read the article about a system that has a 100 channel capacity, you have to think how are those 100 channels filled. Each one of them is filled with something different, that’s not so. Not only that, but who has the set that can receive 100 channels?
Even in my little town here now, this is a day of what they call cable ready sets, but I would hesitate to say that more than 50 percent of my subscribers have cable ready sets. I have a very popular channel–TNT–Ted Turner’s latest on Channel 31. Well if you have a cable ready set, fine. But if you don’t have a cable ready set, that’s a channel that you get without any extra charge but you can’t get it. You have got to find a way to expand the capacity of your set and a lot of people don’t even know they can buy a converter and expand it.
I am reminded of a conversation that I had with Brian Blow from Ajo, Arizona, recently in which he said that not only did most of his subscribers have a set that doesn’t go above Channel 13, but he is in a greatly depressed town where not many people have bought a new set in several years. Some of those sets, they turn their fine tuner with pliers. This business of everybody having 54 channels is just not a reality in that town. Well that’s true, but we could go to the FCC and as I say sit down and talk about these things. We would invite them to our meetings in the state where we would have discussion panels, etc., and find that it was effective for both of us. For us to try to understand what they were trying to do and for them to understand what their rules were doing to us.
ALLEN: So the focus of the independent operators part was to deal with the FCC?
DUNN: Well that was more or less my personal feeling about it. I felt that we did the best work there and it is a place that I would like to see us be encouraged to continue. Now about all the people that we talked to and tried to explain things to and give a better understanding of what grass roots cable is about, are gone. There is one commissioner and one staff member, well maybe two staff members that I know of that come to mind. There may be others that don’t immediately come to mind that I know would understand what such and such a situation would do to them, such as syndication.
ALLEN: So what, you have been on the independent operator’s board for 15 years now? Have there been any other independent operators who have put that kind of time and effort into the board?
DUNN: Joe Gans has. We had a lot of trouble about the definition of the independent operator’s board, because of course any organization wants things tidy and listed and certain qualifications. Well, our definition has pretty much been if you feel like an independent, you are an independent. I look at Joe and how can you say independents are people who have less than 20,000 subscribers or less than 10,000 or something or whatever. How can you give it a number? Joe is as independent as any man I know, and he has lots of systems. He, of course, is an excellent one to be on our board because he is also an MSO. But still I guess the real definition in my mind is that he is somebody who is personally involved in the day-by-day operation of his cable system. He is a man who answers the phone; talks directly to the subscribers or lets the subscribers have an opportunity to talk to him.
ALLEN: Are there others besides you and Joe?
DUNN: Oh yes, there are others. John Wasson was with us for many years. Now Hart Walter represents his company in Pennsylvania and I know you know him personally. Another one is Tom Whitehead from Texas and Brian Blow who has been in the business since 1953 from Arizona. Mel Gilbert in Texas who has been a long and faithful member of the Board. I can go on and I think there are a good many others. Boyce Dooley is now the chairman of the independent operators, he’s from Georgia. And if you look at these men’s records, time and time again you will find that they have served as presidents of their state associations because we have found, at least in Mississippi, that when you need continuing help, get somebody who owns his own operation.
In our state associations we want to recognize everybody who is there. We try to pass around the offices and things like that. But a manager for an MSO never knows when his term is through or he will be promoted or demoted or moved whatever, and all of a sudden he is not there anymore. But a man who owns his own system is going to be there year in and year out. At least that was true up until now. For the last 30 years that has been true, not quite so true now. I think we have been a real service to NCTA. I would like it much better if NCTA agreed with me a little more.
ALLEN: During that first term on the NCTA board, what were some of the kinds of problems that the industry was having to face up to and therefore the board had to deal with?
DUNN: Well, nonduplication came pretty quickly at least after we started making ourselves known to the FCC. Again, we tried never to be a nuisance. We tried always to make it light. If we had a particular thing that we wanted to talk about, talk about it and leave, and not ever stay more than 15 minutes unless the man we were visiting wanted us to. Now we have had that happen a number of times, but I think I told you about the time that the new commissioner very reluctantly told us that he would let us have 15 minutes but no more and then kept us 45. They want to do a good job. I am sure they get a lot of pressure groups coming in. But if you own your own business, and it’s your life’s blood, you are not going to talk about it in a harsh and marketing type of way. You are going to talk about it because you know how much it means to you and that comes over. If you are sincere, I think they are glad to have the opportunity to know how these things work out.
ALLEN: At the time you were serving on the board, were you the only woman on the board?
DUNN: Yes, at that time. Now I am not the only woman who has been on the board.
ALLEN: Have there been any before you?
DUNN: There was one before me and there is one now, maybe more than one now. I am not sure.
ALLEN: Who was the one before you? You don’t remember?
DUNN: A little lady from out in the northwest someplace.
DUNN: Carolyn Chambers is on now. Not only a very credible woman, but a pretty one.
ALLEN: Well, if being a lovely woman is a qualification for being on the board, I can see why you served two terms.
DUNN: That is sweet of you. Did I tell you about my second term?
ALLEN: No. We were just getting to that.
DUNN: After I had served the one three-year term and I was out for a year, the NCTA Board met in San Diego. My daughter lives in California not far from San Diego which made it a very attractive meeting for me to go to, and of course, I was a welcomed guest. One of the things that we did when I was on the board was to establish the position of sustaining director, translated that means ex‑director. If you are a sustaining director, it means that you are privileged to come at any time. Of course, anybody is privileged to come at any time unless they are in a closed meeting. But anyway, I went out to San Diego and went to the board meeting and the board unanimously signed a petition for me to run again. I feel like that was one of the highlights that I will always treasure.
ALLEN: That is a very great compliment.
DUNN: I felt that it was. I was just overwhelmed.
ALLEN: So you couldn’t say no.
DUNN: Oh, how could I?
ALLEN: Being asked by or petitioned by the board to serve a second term was one of the highlights of your professional life. What were some of the others?
DUNN: There are some that I like to think about once in a while and am amazed that I have as many as I do. Before I moved here I was president of the Women’s Auxiliary of the Episcopal Church in Florence and I thought that was about as high as I would ever be able to get. Then after we moved here we belonged to St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. Here, too, I was elected as president of the Women of the Church and then later, I was the first woman ever to be on the vestry of St. Paul’s Church in all of its history. I guess that is about as high a point as I could get.
There are others, too. I have worked for the community and one time I call them my three “Cs”; my three concerns, the church, the community, and cable. At one time I had been elected by my peers in each place to be on the executive group. I was on the board of directors for the Chamber of Commerce, and I was on the National Board for the cable, and I was on the vestry of my church. That was a pretty exciting time.
ALLEN: Certainly another exciting time has to be when you were specially honored by NCTA. If I can read just a bit here from an article that appeared in Broadcasting in April of 1974, April 29th to be specific. “The Sweetheart of NCTA easily the sentimental favorite of last week’s cable convention was Polly Dunn, President of Columbus, Mississippi TV Cable Corporation who was presented with the Idell Kaitz Memorial Award at last Tuesday’s annual banquet. The honor goes to that woman who has cumulatively over the years made a significant contribution to the advancement of the cable TV industry and NCTA. Ms. Dunn, who operates what was the first cable system in that state, was re‑elected last week to her second term on the NCTA board and is a key member of the new independent operator’s board. She is pictured receiving congratulations from Mac Clark of Big Dipper, Montana, himself a winner along with Jimmy Y. Davidson of DAVCO Electronics in Batesville, Arkansas.” So you were in pretty good company.
DUNN: I was in excellent company. I really was. It was the first time in my life that I had the pleasure that I thought I would never have again. That was when the award was announced, everybody in the room stood up, and I mean immediately, they didn’t wait. I got catcalls and bravos and whistles. I just couldn’t believe it. It was a wonderful, wonderful feeling. I hope that everyone I know sometime or other has that kind of thing happen to them because it is exhilarating.
ALLEN: If they are going to have it happen to them, they have to earn it.
DUNN: I am not so sure, but I felt that it was the spontaneity of it that really did the most for me.
ALLEN: What are some of the other awards that the cable industry has given to you over the years, Polly?
DUNN: They have been right sweet to me, I can tell you that. The Pioneer Club Award which was what we called it at first was the greatest at that time. Goodness, any time. As you know the Pioneers were formed with a nucleus of people that Stan Searle, magazine editor and publisher, called the most outstanding people in the industry. You have a list of their names in the Pioneer a lot of places I am sure. Well that small group elected, selected themselves the next award. We called that a class, so the class of, they were chosen in ’66. They chose the class of ’67 and I was one of their class which I am very, very proud of. Of course, always you look back and you know that some good friend went to battle for you which helps you make it. I am sure it was Fred Stevenson in my case. I have always been very grateful.
Then after that I kept seeing people I thought deserved it as much or more than I to be a Pioneer. Since it is an elective sort of thing, and you just couldn’t include everyone, it was a problem.
At that time I was secretary/treasurer of the South Central Association and I formed what we called a “Tower Club.” I have a lot of correspondence on that. I started with the small group. They got together and talked about organizing what became the South Central Association and then took the names of all the presidents of the individual states. I figured that if they served as president they deserved a Tower nomination, and called them the founders. Then the charter members, I believe, were the first ones to be elected by that group. The Tower Club now has become all award winners themselves in a sense and they are the ones who give awards in the Southern Association.
The group is under the leadership of Jim Collins who is a pioneer himself, pioneer engineer. They surprised us when they announced that there was going to be an award given each year by the Tower Club. The first year was a double award. They didn’t say that to start with though. They kept saying, “This person.” And whenever they say “this person” look out because it means they don’t want to say “he” or “she.” Well they said, “This person.” Anyway with everything they said I looked over at Jim Davidson because I knew that applied to him and he smiled back at me. I thought afterwards he thought that’s Polly you know. So what they had done was to have two awards. One for Jim Davidson and one for me. That was the start of what they called the “Morris Dunn Award.” Of course Jim Collins knew my husband. He was in the industry for such a brief time that a lot of people had never even heard of him. Jim had met him and worked with him and felt that he was a great man and he had such a wonderful vision of what the cable industry was going to be, and it has, fulfilled the things. We talked then about what we called vertical channels–sports channels and things of that sort. We talked about pay TV. The things that he envisioned have come true. I, of course, appreciated very much Jim’s action in naming the award the Morris Dunn Award. So that was the first one, and then in 1986 I was totally flabbergasted when Skip Meadows, the president of the Southern Association, was talking along about this person again. They had decided to have a special award and it would be voted on only by the presidents of the member states. That means eleven state presidents had to decide. One single nay vote and they didn’t give the award at all. Then he said, “This person I remember said, if we had nothing but the subscribers to go by we wouldn’t need any other regulation,” and I thought, oh, oh, I better get out my lipstick.
DUNN: And sure enough you know, he called me up to the stage. He had people who were behind the stage. I could not tell what they were saying, but I could hear the tone of their voices. The first one, and I recognized him instantly, was Jim Davidson. They had gotten him literally off the high seas in his yacht and he had come in and flown up to be there. And there were other friends of mine from all around. Again I had to concentrate just on their voices. And the last one though I could not understand. It just sounded like a muffled murmur and it was my daughter. They had brought her from California with her husband. It was a wonderful evening for me. I don’t know about the people who were there but for me it was just beyond words.
ALLEN: So the industry has on several occasions recognized you for the tremendous contributions…
DUNN: Far more than I deserved.
ALLEN: We are going to change directions again here for just a couple of minutes. Travis Nabors has rejoined us for one of the questions that I’d like to ask both of you. The FCC put a freeze in about 1972, I think, on any new cable systems being started up. You were already fully in operation. What was the impact of that freeze on an ongoing cable operation in a community like Columbus, Mississippi?
NABORS: The building and the expansion just came to a screeching halt. The manufacturers backed off from introducing new technology. They let a lot of people go. A lot of people switched jobs, going to other fields. It had the impact of a disaster. Entron, which at the time was going fairly strong, folded. AMECO went way down; Jerrold was on the brink. Virtually, as we say, a freeze. It froze the industry.
ALLEN: Were you able to continue to get replacement line amplifiers and replacement cable?
NABORS: Along about this time we were using Jerrold equipment and in our case we bought a little bit of equipment at a time. The equipment that was available I found was going to the biggest suppliers or the people that were using it most. We would slide back and they would have us on hold. That was the point where we switched from Jerrold equipment to Cascade and we had a real mixed up, jumbo mumbo mess. When I say a mess, I mean we had Cascade, we had Vikoa, we had Entron. We got it where we could get it. I don’t advise this. The big problem is stocking enough equipment for spares. The next big problem is the new employees learning the difference and so forth. This was a biggy that I can see with the freeze.
ALLEN: Were you able to add new subscribers during that period?
NABORS: Not as fast as you would like to because you couldn’t do the expanding with new cable reaching new areas. In a town like ours we were built. We had to rely on homes passed that we didn’t already have on for new customers. A lot of the people weren’t crazy about TV and they could get at this time two local networks off the air very easily–Tupelo which is NBC, and Channel 4 which is CBS. The two of them also cherry picked from ABC. A lot of ladies that only wanted to watch the soap operas that they had been watching all of these years, didn’t care about a lot of cable.
The next thing that gave us a real boost was when the local channel here 4, switched from CBS to ABC. That was the one biggest boost that this cable system ever had because the cable system did not have to spend a lot of money. The people thought they were still going to get their soap operas. Even today my wife and my child and a lot of rural people watch these soap operas. The good part now since VCRs have come along is that if for some reason they can’t get home to watch it, they can tape it and watch it at night. They are going to watch the soap operas.
I think it was on a Monday morning that Channel 4 switched from CBS to ABC. At eleven o’clock when the soaps begin to come on, these people realized that they couldn’t get their program, so we went to work. Our phones began to ring off the wall. We turned our people loose. We told them that the hours are yours. If you want us to come in before daylight and start hooking these up, that is ok. Call them at home, and if they are willing for you to come go do it as long as you want to work it. If you want to work at night, do it, but call the people first. So we worked day and night virtually getting the people on that were missing their soap operas. They didn’t care about the news. It was my soap opera. So that was the big thing during this time that kept us alive.
ALLEN: There was one other thing that you were going to respond to as a result of an earlier conversation. During the time that you were very active on the Hill in Washington, were there some of the senators or representatives from Mississippi who played an important role in the growth and development of the cable industry?
DUNN: Yes, I think so. I think that Senator Eastland was not only a good friend of ours, but he kept up with the thing. He had cable in his home and that made a big difference. He knew what it was about and what an asset it was to the town. Now you remember that even in the ’70s not all towns had cable. It was something that meant a lot, and during that period I know two industries who came to Columbus not only because there was a cable system here, but it was a factor in making the decision. People who they would bring here from the city were not going to be happy if they didn’t get, as Travis was saying, “their programs” that they were used to having. Eastland was aware of that and he was, I think, crucial on several different occasions.
Senator Montgomery has always been easy to talk to and interested in our business. Senator Cochran and Wayne Dowdy had cable in their homes. McCall understood problems and what it meant to the people of this time. Stennis was always attentive and interested and practically always voted with us. He is such a fine man. We were very fortunate to have the representation that we had.
ALLEN: Were any of those people from the Columbus area?
DUNN: Stennis used to live here. No, we didn’t have anybody there.
ALLEN: Now did you personally work with Senator Eastland?
DUNN: Yes, yes. I didn’t do it as much as Ira Crosby. Ira Crosby was a personal friend of Jim Eastland’s and lived in the same town and they had known each other for many, many years. Eastland made no bones about the fact that he didn’t want NCTA sending somebody from staff over to his office. In other words, he didn’t want a professional; he wanted somebody from his district who had cable. Someone who knew what he was doing.
NABORS: Grady Perkins, Ira Crosby, and Jay Wolfe.
DUNN: You ought to get those names.
ALLEN: Do you want to give those again Travis?
NABORS: Ira Crosby; Grady Perkins, Sr.; and Jay Wolfe. Ira Crosby was from Indianola and Grady was from Greenwood.
DUNN: And they would go to Washington. I have known Perkins to go and Stennis have somebody meet him at the airport. I mean they had the red carpet put out for them. Grady Perkins was a statesman. He is still here. I don’t mean to put him in the past tense. He sold his system.
NABORS: One good thing about Perkins. Perkin’s daughter worked in Senator Eastland’s office in Washington.
DUNN: That’s a help. We have an excellent record as far as the cable industry is concerned. When I say we, I mean Mississippi. We have had friends of the cable industry and it has been because we have kept up those contacts. I am glad to say that Travis has taken over those long trips, those endless corridors and the hardest floors I ever saw. I was glad to have such a good replacement up and down those corridors. He has done an excellent job. Travis has been president of the Mississippi Association for three consecutive terms. In all the history of the Association, they have never done that for anybody else. He is now on the board of the Southern Association. What are you, vice chairman?
NABORS: Vice president. A lot of work, lot of work.
DUNN: Yes it is.
ALLEN: But very few good things come without a lot of work.
DUNN: Well, that is true I think as a rule. I think that the article that you read from Broadcasting Magazine kind of put the finger on it and said that a lot of it is sentimental.
ALLEN: Yes. What I would like to do is to just give you a name of one of the prominent people in the industry and just say whatever comes to mind and it doesn’t have to be any great in depth kind of analysis. These are all people you have known, you have worked with and you have respected. Ah, Bill Daniels?
DUNN: Bill is a law unto himself. He is one of the kindest, most thoughtful people I have ever known. When my husband died, and again when my son was killed, one of the first calls I had was from Bill. How he knew it so quickly I will never know, but he called to say, “Polly, if you have somebody that you would like to come to you, I will send my plane and pick them up and take them there and take them back. Whatever I can do for you.” To call like that and not offer just sympathy but something concrete, that really went right to my heart, and I will love him forever.
ALLEN: Travis, if you have anything to add, please feel free to do so.
NABORS: I think Miss Polly has said it all about this gentleman. I know one of the trade magazines in his hometown Denver where he was trying to do so much. Somebody seemed to be very displeased with the noise that the airplanes were making or whatever and if I am remembering right and quoting him, he said he would build his own airport. So that’s the kind of man Bill Daniels is.
ALLEN: How about Jim Davidson?
DUNN: Well, we could tell tales on Jim Davidson for hours on end couldn’t we Travis?
NABORS: Yes ma’am.
DUNN: But whatever Jim does he does it with a flair.
NABORS: And then.
DUNN: Right then, immediately. Right. Right. He was here one time, I forget what the occasion was, but all of a sudden it was somebody’s birthday. I believe Beverly Murphy was from NCTA and he had come over to see her I suppose. Anyway it turned out to be her birthday so he put us both into his plane and we flew to New Orleans and had a whole weekend in New Orleans courtesy of Jim Davidson. Can you imagine?
DUNN: It was a wonderful time. With Jim you know what he says he is going to do he does and does immediately and does well.
ALLEN: I think the thing that I have been impressed with with Jim Davidson is he never seems to have run into some kind of a problem he couldn’t solve.
DUNN: He is going to try.
ALLEN: Sandford Randolph.
DUNN: He goes way, way back. If I am not mistaken, he was the first chairman of NCTA. He has been out of cable as far as operating a system for some time, but thank goodness he agreed to serve as executive secretary of the Pioneer Club so that keeps him up with, we don’t let him loose.
NABORS: If I might add to this, Sandford is probably the most widely known for his gold jacket that he wears.
DUNN: And he doesn’t grow out of it you notice.
ALLEN: Now one of the people that you said was one of the most interesting characters that you had run into was Slim Fussell.
DUNN: Slim Fussell was a law unto himself. He was a gangling, wiry individual from Tennessee. He is very, very intelligent which he worked very, very hard to cover up, didn’t he? He affected a rural type speech that he didn’t necessarily need at all. But he could fix anything.
NABORS: Give him a piece of bailing wire.
DUNN: Bailing wire and some pliers and he would fix it. The trouble is the next person that came along had no idea how to work with it from there on, but he was our head technician for about 13 years I guess. He had an opportunity then to get a piece of a cable system of his own which I was very proud of him to have.
ALLEN: Where was that?
DUNN: He got that in Louisiana. Rock Hook who lived over in Bastra, Alabama, at that time was looking for this sort of thing. He didn’t want to run a cable system and he didn’t want to have to manage it or anything of that sort, but he had the money to build it. When he found somebody like Slim who could build it and then run it, he would say, “All right son, would you like to have a cable system? I will give you a third of it, I’ll pay for it, you go build it.”
End of Tape 4, Side A
ALLEN: Ok, we are picking up on the second side of Tape 4 on Friday the 31st of March 1989. The next name on the list is Joe Gans.
DUNN: Joe Gans is an independent spirit. Regardless of how many systems he has he is an innovator and is never content without improving something and setting higher goals. As we said a while ago, he knows no limit to his goals and then he makes them work. This he has proven over and over, not only on the independent operators board but in Pennsylvania as you know.
ALLEN: Yes. Mac Clark.
DUNN: Mac Clark was the operator from Big Timber, Montana, and he had a system of about 500, I believe. It was when I first knew him as a member of the independent operators board. In fact, he was the first chairman after Jim left, and he was an excellent one. He was one of the best lobbyists that the cable industry had. He was always forthright, simple not pushy in any way. He just kept what he had to say to a minimum, obviously sincere, and he was much liked by the staff at the FCC that he called on. I do want to say in passing, too, that so much credit goes to the Pacific Northwest Association for making it possible for people from that area to go to Washington when NCTA asked them to come.
ALLEN: They had a long way to go.
DUNN: It was expensive and a man who has a small cable system simply couldn’t afford it.
ALLEN: How about Ben Conroy?
DUNN: Why you don’t need me to talk about Ben Conroy. What I like best about Ben is his playing the piano. And, to be fair to Ben, there is so much to be said about him and the only reason I say that is because nobody else besides my own husband could play like he can.
ALLEN: Milt Shapp.
DUNN: Let’s skip that unless you want me to tell the story about him? Alright. The last time I saw Milt was in 1973. I was toastmistress for the banquet that night and he was governor of Pennsylvania at that time and was the main speaker. As Travis has told you, we built a Jerrold system and at that time, by the time you ordered the piece of equipment and they made it and delivered it to you, it was obsolete because they were constantly changing it. Well, when we would get something that Slim Fussell would improve in some way, he would send it back to Pennsylvania either to be fixed or fixed up a little better than he could do it and they would incorporate it into their next generation of equipment. So when Milt came to the podium to speak, I had just introduced him, he said, “Polly and I are old friends, and this two way equipment that you all are hearing about now is nothing new to us, we have had it for a long time, I sent the equipment to Polly and she sent it right back.”
ALLEN: Probably fixed a little bit better. I think you said he was one of the brightest minds in the…
DUNN: Oh definitely one of the brightest minds. At 27 years old he went in there, I heard with $500, and started Jerrold. He did it at a time when there was no place to go for cable equipment and he really had a start on the whole industry.
ALLEN: Well the next name is Fred Stevenson.
DUNN: Fred Stevenson, I can’t even mention without a smile and a warm feeling of friendship and affection for a man who gave like Fred Stevenson did. He was the last volunteer or unpaid chairman of the NCTA and he worked so hard. It was at a time when we were being threatened, we thought, by the telephone company. He would go to a meeting of NCTA, and then he would go system to system as many as he could reach and as many different meetings that he could go to and explain what NCTA was trying to do and how we should belong and staying united and that sort of thing.
I met him in Memphis in 1960 when we went up to that organizational type meeting for South Central. He insisted that I come to the San Francisco meeting in 1961. He and his wife Edith took me under their wing and opened all sorts of doors for me. As chairman, he was of course, in on all the different high level discussions and wherever he went he took Edith and me. So that was my introduction to all of the people who were at that time, and some of them still are, at the top of the industry. It opened doors to some friendships that have meant a lot to me.
ALLEN: John Gwin.
DUNN: John Gwin was, in my opinion, one of the best national chairmen we ever had, one of the most organized perspicacious men that I have known. He could go to the heart of a problem with just unerring direction and brush aside all the chaff and get to the heart of things. I would have liked very much to have seen us hire him as president, but I think for his own career possibly he did better not to be there.
ALLEN: Fred Ford. You had a marvelous story about Mr. Ford.
DUNN: Fred Ford was at one time chairman of the FCC and we were looking for a paid president. When I say we, the NCTA was and they hired Fred Ford. This was right after all those piles and pounds and pounds of restrictive type regulations had been passed by the FCC. When Fred Ford came to the NCTA, they ushered him into his new office and on the top of his desk was a big two or three or four inch pile of FCC bulletins. So to start off his day he started reading the bulletins. There was no sound from his office until all of a sudden they heard him pound his fists on the table and he said, “They can’t do this to us.”
ALLEN: I think that is a great story. How quickly he became us.
DUNN: That’s right. Well, he had never read the things in the first place in my opinion.
ALLEN: Sam Haddock.
DUNN: Sam Haddock was a very devoted and loyal member of the independent operators board.
ALLEN: Where was he from?
DUNN: He was from Idaho. And he was also active in the Pacific Northwest region, I believe. They both, he and Mac Clark, would come whenever NCTA called. He was very generous in his contributions to the people on the Hill and that sort of thing. Unfortunately, if you want to call it that, contributions really do matter to the legislators. It isn’t that they can be bought, but they just appreciate somebody who is willing to help them out.
ALLEN: Not just take but to give as well.
DUNN: That’s right.
NABORS: That happens.
ALLEN: Hollis Rogers. Do you want to join in on this one Travis?
NABORS: I would be delighted. Rogers was one of the early sales people that I was speaking of earlier that carried the message across the states and country and from cable system to cable system. Hollis was working with Vikoa. The switch that I showed you where we used the switch for the little rabbit ears, this was a Vikoa. Hollis Rogers introduced us to this to help us utilize another channel without much cost. And only as the people got on the cable would they use this. Hollis Rogers served Mississippi, Alabama, and Tennessee I believe was his territory. He did it very well. He was just like a clock. About every two weeks Hollis Rogers came through. Later on in his life he had left Greenwood, Mississippi, to come to Starkville and then on to Columbus to spend the night. In between Greenwood and Starkville, Hollis had a heart attack in his automobile and died.
DUNN: That was a long time ago.
NABORS: That was several years ago. I don’t remember, but he was one of the first ones. I had praised Carole Simms. This was before her time that Hollis was involved.
ALLEN: Are there other names that come to your mind?
NABORS: Ah, yes. There are a lot of names. Bill McNair. Bill was with Times Wire and Cable. He later worked with Vikoa. Mayer Carver who worked with Vikoa. Rex Porter with Times Cable and Rex is now with Pyramid Connectors. Bob Garner was with Jerrold for many, many years. He was a salesperson who came through. Another one of the oldies who has passed on was Bill Bryant with Magnavox. Now I could place Bill Bryant and Hollis Rogers in the same category because they were just like clockwork and they did carry the message. Harold Wilson I think I mentioned with DAVCO. Jim Collins is another old timer. Miss Polly had known Jim actually before I had. Jim goes back to the very early, early days of cable. Jim was with AMECO when AMECO folded. The chandelier that I mentioned a while ago I have run that back through my mind and that is the correct name. We purchased this chandelier the hidden equipment; we now call this a processor that we get from Scientific-Atlanta. At that time it was compatible to the Jerrold.
ALLEN: Polly, is there anything about Jim Collins that you would like to add to this?
DUNN: Well, as an engineer he designed some of the earlier systems that are in the United States. I think you would find him very interesting to tell the stories. I think he has retired within the last year or so. I think he still lives in Memphis.
NABORS: Memphis. If I may at this moment, after AMECO Jim Collins took off a couple of years and was more or less out of cable and then went back with ATC in the Memphis system.
DUNN: Yes. He was their chief engineer.
NABORS: Then we have a Kim Sanford. Kim, after arriving here, was with TV Supply and has been with them quite a number of years. Kim goes all the way back to the Jim Davidson days with the DAVCO. I mentioned Harold Wilson. Kim and Harold worked together.
DUNN: And Nick Abdo.
NABORS: And Nick Abdo, way back at that. Then you have Frank Hamilton. I think Frank has been with Times for so many years that I can’t even remember. Rex Porter I mentioned.
DUNN: Don Atchison ought to be at the top of your list.
NABORS: Don Atchison was on the top.
NABORS: We had him way back. Don Atchison and Mason Hamilton. So this is a list of people that did carry the message.
ALLEN: The people who you are talking about really were the commercial people who were representing the manufacturers.
NABORS: Right, right. We had Ed Dark, Bob Brooks, Don Spencer. I mentioned Arthur Baum, and Bob Berney that I remember offhand. They were also some of the older ones.
DUNN: We just couldn’t have existed without them.
ALLEN: Uh, huh.
DUNN: It seems a shame for the operators and the financiers to be mentioned and heralded and then the ones that were so valuable to us all through the years not be recognized.
ALLEN: I would like to wrap up these two days with the two of you by asking you to look a little bit into the future. Here I am not talking about trying to predict what the new technologies are going to be, but what does the future of the cable industry look like to an independent operator in a medium-sized town in Mississippi? What do you see in the future for the kind of cable system that you operate here?
DUNN: I think that there will never be a time that we won’t have problems as we certainly have had them all 30 years that I have known about it. But I think we will solve them as they come. I think it is going to be harder and harder for independents, particularly because we have the problem of the rising cost of our program sources. We are unable to meet the kind of prices that are available to the MSO because of their bulk rate. I don’t mean by that that the bulk rate should be outlawed, but I do think that there should be some solution that would make it more equitable for independents.
I think there is always a place for independents where the owner of a company can fight for his own particular company. I think that as demands change our services will change. We have a place, I think, in the makeup of today’s life that is an enviable place. People don’t talk about whether they are going to get cable or not. They just talk about when, how, and how much–whether they just get basic or whether they get the options, things of that sort. Travis is very much concerned and I think rightfully so that our destiny is so often not only affected but actually changed in the legislative area. If we don’t keep up our contacts there then we are going to be clobbered into the point of either extinction or … I better let Travis finish, my voice is leaving me.
NABORS: I don’t know where to start. There is so much that I think we can do. I think we will get more involved on the city, county, state, and federal level–each and every cable operator. Mayors are beginning to play a big part in the control over cable. Some of them are wanting to control the destiny of cable, what we put on, what we charge. A few of them are very happy. The only way to keep them happy is to keep them informed of what you plan to do, want to do, and need to do. I think the first thing each manager, cable operator, independent, MSO needs to do when he becomes a manager or whichever is to get to know the local, the state, and the federal authorities that govern our cable industry. Then we have the FCC.
I have been where when I would see a policeman I would shake in my boots. I have a feeling that there are a lot of people still out there who think of the FCC as the big bad bear. I found that these FCC people put their pants on just like I do, one foot at a time and they are there to listen, to learn. I have found that they are more than willing to set an appointment and keep this appointment. I have found that they keep this appointment more than a lot of people. They really like to know what’s going on in the different parts of the country, what your complaint is, what complaints your subscribers have, and how they can help. I think this is a duty that we have to do and if we don’t do, I think it can gobble us up.
ALLEN: Polly, I thought you had a very interesting observation earlier about the way that some of the MSO management people are leaving the large companies and going out and buying systems and becoming independent operators.
DUNN: Right. In fact, that was in my mind when my voice gave out a while ago. I know of several instances of men who have been either at the top or almost at the top of the biggest MSOs and are all of a sudden independents themselves. Of course that doesn’t mean that they don’t intend to build themselves another MSO as big as they headed up at first, but meanwhile they can’t have smaller systems, in my opinion, without finding out a little more about subscribers. I am singing my song again that the closer the contact that he has with subscribers the better he is going to know how the cable systems can serve and the better he can present their case on the Hill or at the FCC or in the state or in the city. But Travis is right; you don’t go in there cold and become effective immediately. You have got to know them and they know you and get to know you in a relaxed and open-minded atmosphere.
ALLEN: Would it be a fair observation to say that the next generation of independent operators is going to be really quite different from the pioneer independent operators?
DUNN: Definitely. Definitely.
ALLEN: There aren’t any un-built areas to amount to anything left.
ALLEN: And so you are going to have to go in and buy an existing system and you aren’t going to do that on $500 and a promise.
ALLEN: So we are going to have a different breed of cats running the show, not necessarily better or worse, but different.
DUNN: Yes, I think that we have been gradually coming to that for some time, but I think there will always be a place for independent operators or for owners. I still think that a very small contingent of them can do a very great deal if they persist and are willing to go back again and again and again. It really is discouraging to go and work up an atmosphere of cooperation and then go back and everybody that you have known and all that work that you did to make them understand how a cable system works is gone because there are a new bunch in there and they still have ideas that need to be tempered a little bit.
ALLEN: I gather from the tone of this that neither one of you are pessimistic that the cable business is going to go away.
NABORS: No way. It hasn’t started yet.
ALLEN: I think you said at the outset that when you first got into the cable business you thought maybe five years.
DUNN: Right. That was the going hypothesis that you got in and you got your money back as fast as you could because at the end of five years that was going to be it.
ALLEN: And now thirty years later you figure…
DUNN: We are still talking about building something new and different.
ALLEN: Right. We are going to shift gears here again and go back. Travis you wanted to talk a little bit about the award that Polly Dunn received from the Southern Association about three years ago.
NABORS: Well, it was an award that was created three years ago. I was on the board but I had absolutely nothing to do with it. They called an executive board meeting and discussed it and pretty much finalized it before I was aware of what was going on. This award is called the Polly Dunn Award. The bylaws or layout of the award is that each and every board member on that board for that year has to agree on the person that is selected or there is no Polly Dunn Award that year. After it got rolling I did play a major part in it. Miss Polly had received hundreds of awards…
DUNN: Oh not quite.
NABORS: And not once was any one of her family at these receptions. I guess this was the only time I really lied to Miss Polly. She would ask me who I was talking to and I flat told her a lie because I was trying to get people to come. She had absolutely no idea even when she walked up on the stage. We got her daughter and her son‑in‑law in Atlanta. I slipped them in the hotel. She did not see them. We got Jim Davidson and his wife and some other people that I was afraid would give it away. I had to run Jim down. I had lost contact with him and he was down in Naples. But we found him and he was there, speedy as ever. So we had to go and rehearse for this and we would come out and talk a little and, boy, I boo-hooed and squawked like a young one. I got the Dunn Award this past year which nobody could ever take away. But to have worked with this lady and this be put together as such a surprise with all the people there, I don’t know. And I lost her that night just before the thing. I likely went nuts. She was up in the bar at the top having a drink with a nice looking young gentleman. I was running all over the damn big hotel looking for her. We were trying to sit people down without her seeing them. So that’s the way I would like to close this one out as far as my part. But, again, Miss Polly it was a delight.
DUNN: Thank you.
ALLEN: I think it is a fitting way to close and to point out that the two people who came to Columbus, Mississippi, back in about 1953 both now have awards that are given in their name. I think that is a very significant statement about the role that these two people and this system has played in the development of cable in Mississippi and in the whole sector of independent operation.
DUNN: You can imagine what it meant to me that night and what it meant to me to have Travis chosen for the Dunn Award, too, because you know I am not the one who selected, but I am naturally interested, very interested. I was very proud, not only for Travis himself but also for the Morris Dunn Award to be so well earned.
Let me tell you one thing, I don’t know if you want to put this in. One of the things that they did was to get my picture and put it on the award plaque. I got up there to make the award to the man who won the Polly Dunn Award last year–Bill Strange … I have known Bill a long time and I know the depth of his commitment to whatever he does and I couldn’t think of anybody that I would prefer to have gotten the award. I was delighted that he was recognized. But for the first time since I don’t know when I stood up and started to say what I was going to say and my mind went blank. I didn’t know what I had said, I didn’t know where I had broken off, I didn’t know what else I was going to say. I was just blank, and I heard myself say, “I can’t imagine why any man would want a prize with a woman’s picture on it.” And in his deep voice he said, “I do.”
ALLEN: Thank you both very much on behalf of the National Cable Television Center and Museum. We want to express our appreciation for two days of your time and a lot of hard work in getting ready for this. I know this is not an easy kind of activity but we are very pleased to have this amount of information and this quality of information as a part of the permanent records of the National Cable Television Center and Museum.
DUNN: Thank you very, very much. You are the one who gave a lot of time and effort.
ALLEN: This will wrap up the entire interview process. This is the end of it all. Thank you.
End of Tape 4, Side B