Interview Date: January 12, 1994
Interview Location: Wyncote, PA USA
Interviewer: Archer Taylor
Collection: Archer Taylor Technical Collection
Note: Audio Only
TAYLOR: All right. We’re on the record now. I’m interviewing Len Ecker in his apartment in Wyncote, Pennsylvania, on the 12th of January, 1994. It’s a miserable day outside. Len, I’d like to start out by asking: “Have you always lived in this area?
ECKER: Yes, I am basically out of Pittsburgh. I graduated from Georgia Tech 1939 and I was ROTC, Signal Corps ROTC. I graduated with a BS in EE, and I went to work with Westinghouse, after I graduated from school, back in those days, working on power equipment – basically for the Hoover Dam in Nevada. I had that job for a very short period of time when the Army called me into service. I reported to Fort Monmouth, and was there for some period of time, with absolutely nothing to do. I learned how to play gold, learned how to play bridge. There was a whole conglomeration of options there, with very little to do. In fact, I had one day’s assignment in my entire career at Fort Monmouth, and that was to take a laundry convoy to Brooklyn and back. I was a second lieutenant back in those days. What I didn’t know at the time was that I was being groomed, in a way, to go to England, ostensibly – for the record — as a military Attaché to the American Embassy in London. And this occurred back in 1940. And, by the way, strangely enough, Milt Shapp also was on that same program. I never knew him at that particular time, because we were individuals. When it finally came time for me to go to England, they gave me a railroad ticket to go to Montreal, to Halifax, and get on a boat and go over to England. When I arrived over there, then I found out what my job really was. What my job was, was to learn Radar. At that time the British were probably miles ahead of the Americans as far as Radar was concerned. I was assigned to the Royal Air Force. And I spent the next eight months with the Royal Air Force, and the fact of the matter was I was in Scotland, at a place called Prestwick, which was the eastern terminus of the ferry command which was flying aircraft across the Atlantic.
TAYLOR: That’s where the Glasgow is now, Prestwick.
ECKER: Is it there?
TAYLOR: That’s right.
ECKER: That’s where I was when The United States went to war, sitting in a hotel in Prestwick, because, as I said, that was the eastern terminus of the ferry command. An interesting thing happened there. Because… At other times, I was on a British base, but here I was in a private hotel. So, sometime after that, I got a check from the British Government, for the amount of money I spent for my hotel room. I then proceeded to get a bawling out by the American Embassy, because you don’t accept money from a foreign government. So I sent the check back – never cashed the check — to the British Government. I then was selected to come to the United States to bring some material back from G2 there. And just before I left England, here came the check back with a notice saying that they had no way of putting this money back into their funds. So I arrived in the United States with a British check and finally cashed it then. But anyway, after that… It wasn’t terribly long after I got out of the service – I didn’t get out of the service until 1949… By that time I had managed to promote myself a couple of times so that I was now a captain and finally was discharged as a major in service. But anyway, I had come home, and when I returned from England, I was assigned to Florida to a radar training school as an instructor. There was a colonel came down from Washington to take that course… He wasn’t very interested in the course, but he liked flying, so he didn’t do very well. Shortly after he got back to Washington, I got orders. I was sent to Tampa, to a place called Drew Field — which is now their airport in Tampa – to form a separate radar company, which I did. There were 166 men, and we were then shipped back overseas. So I had two tours of duty. My second tour took me through the invasion of North Africa, across Africa as far as Alexandria and Egypt and from there into Sicily, and from Sicily into Italy, Italy into Southern France with a stop in Corsica to stage for there, and finally around Belgium and into Germany. I was in Munich when the War was…
TAYLOR: You were in all these places?
ECKER: Yes. This was my career in the service.
TAYLOR: This was prior to…This was during World War II? You said you came back in 1949?
ECKER: No, no. I said I got out of service in 1949.
TAYLOR: So this was before you got out?
ECKER: I was in the service here for a while. I would have stayed – I liked the service. It was a lazy man’s kind of life.
TAYLOR: You went to Florida during the War, then?
ECKER: Yes. I went to Florida in late 1941, returned from England, went to Florida in 1941, was an instructor in a radar school down at – well, they hadn’t built the base yet. We were in West Palm Beach. Then I got orders to go to Tampa and put together a separate company and we went overseas. We were attached to the 12th Air Force. It’s a strange existence in the army to be a separate company attached to some big headquarters, because they really don’t care much about you. In fact, they don’t pay much attention to you. In fact, when I was in France, my headquarters was in Italy, and I never saw them, never heard from them. I’d get paper work from them from time to time. So we didn’t pay much attention. I came back from the War in late 1946 and was on active duty until 1949. From then until 1958 I was in the Reserves. I got out of service because my wife hated it. We moved around from place to place, and we weren’t very long in any one place. But she didn’t really like it. And so I got out. But here’s where the strange part occurred. My wife comes from Berwick, Pennsylvania, which is upstate from here, about a hundred miles, almost due north from here. And on the same block – we, of course are Jewish – and on that same block with her – it was just a small town, they didn’t have very many Jews in that town. But a block away from there was another family. And this family had a daughter who had married a man from Shamokin. The man from Shamokin was in the meat business. He was a… He had a slaughterhouse – very rough. And somehow or other, he got connected with the mayor of Williamsport and a group from up there decided that since cable had started to come to that part of the world that they’d like to be in the cable business. It just so happened — purely by coincidence – that my wife was home visiting her family, and his wife was home visiting his family, and he came to pick up his wife. And somehow or other, my wife and he got together, and in the course of the conversation he said to her that he was looking for an engineer. My wife said, “Well, my husband’s an engineer.” So he said, “Well, have him call me.” I called him on the phone and he said, “Well, would you come to Shamokin and talk to me?” And I said, “Yes.” And he said, “After you talk to me, we’re going to go up to Williamsport and talk to that group up there.” And I said, “All right.” But they hired me. I didn’t know a goddamned thing about cable! I really didn’t. All the work I’d done as far as real engineering was concerned was on heavy power equipment – the kind of stuff that was used at Hoover Dam in Las Vegas. And my career in radar was… I learned about radar, obviously. When I went to England I spent time with every part of the RAF and what they were doing with radar. I knew operation. I had obviously not been involved in any of the design work. And in fact when I got back to the United States and finally got to see some of the American radar, I was kind of amused. Because, in England, whoever designed their radar would start out, as any bench engineer would, starting out with a particular circuitry and finding out whether the circuit wasn’t quite what he wanted. So he’d try a lot of resistors there, a series of chokes… And that’s the way they built the units. Some of those units would have four or five resistors in parallel, and they never bothered to… And when I got back here to the United States, I saw all this finely design stuff with everything just exactly right. The only difference was that the first radar we had here in the United States didn’t work, theirs did. But anyway, they hired me to build this cable system, and to plan its cable system. I didn’t have the greatest idea what a cable system was. One of the gentlemen that was a part of the body they put together out there knew about Entron and Hank Diambra and his group. So, they sent me down to see him. I must admit he didn’t know a helluva lot about a cable system either. At least he was accustomed to handling cable in apartment jobs. So anyway, the final outcome was that we built a tower on top the mountain there at Williamsport.
TAYLOR: What year was that?
ECKER: This was 1950. At the same time Philco and Jerrold were building a cable system in Williamsport.
TAYLOR: Oh really?
ECKER: Yeah. All three of them. And in fact…You would remember Frank Ragone.
TAYLOR: Oh yes, very well.
ECKER: Frank Ragone worked for an outfit that was building a system for Philco. So I knew Frank Ragone in Williamsport, but not as a member of the Jerrold system.
TAYLOR: Was he working for Philco?
ECKER: He worked for an outfit called Genslinger.
TAYLOR: Denslinger – D-E.N…?
ECKER: Genslinger – G.E.N…And they had a contract with Philco to build that system in Williamsport. So as a result, I decided that in my group, that I would concentrate on South Williamsport, because the other two outfits weren’t interested in South Williamsport. They were interested in the big city. So, we built the tower on top of the mountain in Williamsport, and we had some great experiences up there. I probably am the only – well probably not the only one but one of the few – field engineers that were bitten by a rattlesnake.
TAYLOR: Oh, really?
ECKER: Oh yes. On top of that mountain. The mountains in Pennsylvania are loaded with all kinds of game including rattlesnakes and water moccasins, and deer by the thousands, and bear, and wildcats – you know, that sort of thing. The country has pretty good game… I didn’t know this at the time, but I found out later that 50% of the land in Pennsylvania is owned by the state. It is held in reserve as a game preserve. Most of it’s in the mountains, of course. But anyway, we built this tower up there, we built the 100-foot tower. We built it in an H-frame so that we’d have lots of support for big antennas – because you need big antennas. And we could pull in channels 3, 6, and 10 from Philadelphia.
TAYLOR: How far is that, airline?
ECKER: About 80… Just at 100 miles. But we were up pretty good. The mountain top there is about 3000-3100 feet above sea level. It’s about the highest point in the state. It’s pretty far up there. We had some pretty good decent signals up there. The day we had a hit this past week, it sort of reminded me of my history up there. But when it would be raining in downtown Williamsport, on top of the mountain was always ice. By the way, I had a good crew there. I had six technicians that I trained, that I think were as good as there ever were in this business. One of the names you will recognize: Shorty Coryell.
TAYLOR: Oh indeed!
ECKER: Shorty came to me as an itinerant lineman working for a power company here, there and where ever they had work for him. And I hired him, and he worked for me for a long period of time – in fact for as long as I was in Williamsport. He got married there. I went to his wedding of course. He had his first child in Williamsport. He has become a self-taught, pretty damn good engineer in cable.
TAYLOR: Yes, we had a guy like that up in Kalispell – very good, not as well known as Shorty. Where is Shorty now, do you know?
ECKER: He’s with… He’s in Denver with…
TAYLOR: …he was with ATC, but probably Time Warner now?
ECKER: The last I heard he was there… No wait a minute… Who had the system in Orlando?
TAYLOR: Yes, that was ATC. The last time I saw him he was in Orlando. That was quite a while ago.
ECKER: Yes, he was the guy down in Orlando decided to put the traffic lights on the cable, and I don’t know what the hell else they were doing down there.
TAYLOR: I didn’t know about that.
ECKER: Oh yes. Shorty was really something. I’ll tell you some stories about Shorty — a fantastic guy, really, a tremendous kind of person – no real formal education. As I said, he was an itinerant lineman, travelling from one job to the next, where he could find a job – but a good brain, and really able to retain what he knew and, for me, he was a great technician.
TAYLOR: Why don’t we preserve some of those stories about Shorty, are they publishable? Go ahead.
ECKER: Let me give you one or two of them. Shorty was a real eager beaver.
TAYLOR: Let’s spell his name for the transcriber.
ECKER: OK. His name is Austin Coryell. We always called him Shorty, because he wasn’t very tall. But he is a real eager beaver. In those days we did not have such things as bucket trucks, so what we did was buy an old truck from the Telephone Company — had a ladder in the middle that was raised and lowered. He was such an eager beaver that when we went out to work on an amplifier, or check an amplifier or something, before we ever got the truck stopped, he was out the back and up the pole. Well one day he forgot to put his spurs on. He hit the base of the pole and was about 6 foot up before he started to come back down. When he got back down, his face was just filled with creosote splinters and if you know how creosote splinters hurt when they go in. He was in absolute agony.
TAYLOR: Oh man! Was that all he got hurt?
ECKER: Yes, it was just his face.
TAYLOR: What did he do, hug the pole as he came down?
ECKER: Yes. The fact that he got up as far as he did before he… On another occasion, I had a technician named Evans who was working on the top of a pole. The original field strength meter that Jerrold made, the 4…
ECKER: 704. No. The 704 was not the solid state unit.
TAYLOR: No. 704, and it had a “B”, why, I’ll never know, but it had a “B” on it.
ECKER: Because there were two models of that thing…
TAYLOR: …one that didn’t work!
ECKER: But anyway, this guy was working on the pole and Shorty is down below. He dropped this meter, hit Shorty across the head. Fortunately for Shorty, it didn’t hit him solidly, but it took half his ear off. We took him to the hospital. They sewed that ear back on him. It stayed that way. He had a pretty good scar there where it hit him. We had a lot of ice on top of that mountain and the antennas would ice up like crazy, and when they iced up, the signals were pretty damn lousy. Shorty would climb that 100 foot tower and break the ice up. Then he got an idea. He said to me, “What do you suppose would happen if we took a shot gun with just bird shot and fired away at the tower?” And sure enough that bird shot would knock the ice off that particular tower.
TAYLOR: And didn’t damage the antenna?
ECKER: It didn’t damage the antennas at all. These were some of the things that Shorty did. This is the final story I want to tell you about Shorty. I was the first Engineer that I know of to use aluminum cable.
ECKER: We wanted to go from South Williamsport into Montoursville, which is a suburb of Williamsport. But in order to get there without going through the whole city in order to get over there, we were going to go right across the river. Because Montoursville was on one side of the river and Williamsport was on the other side. I ordered from Phelps Dodge Copper Products Company, 6 miles of half-inch aluminum cable that was made under a German patent, called – let’s see if I can remember what they called it – Styraflex.
TAYLOR: Spirofil, I’ll bet. Was it foam?
ECKER: No, it was tape, wound in that fashion, one tape on top of the other. And then they extruded their shield onto that.
TAYLOR: They had one they called Spirofil.
ECKER: Yes that was filled with foam cable. That came later.
TAYLOR: There was one that had a round – not exactly a ribbon…
ECKER: Maybe it wasn’t foam. But the original cable was a center conductor, and they took tape and put layer after layer of tape to build it up to the point where they could extrude the outer jacket – the outer shield – onto it. And they called that Styraflex. I got a call from the manager of Phelps Dodge Copper Products, asking me if I’d made a mistake.
TAYLOR: Yes, what are you going to do with six miles?
ECKER: He said, “We don’t get orders for six miles of cable. We get orders for 100 feet, 200 feet, 300 feet… But nobody ever ordered six miles.” And I said, “On top of that, I want it to be as long as you can possibly make it.” He said, “The best we can do is 1080 feet.” Why 1080 feet? Well, the extruding mill was 1000 feet, but on the end of it there was a drying shed that gave them another 80 feet. If they took the whole distance, they could get me 1080 feet. It was 1600 feet across that river. Anyway, we used the cable. Instead of doing anything with it, we were in a hurry to get into Montoursville before the competition got into it from Williamsport. So I just dumped the cable in the river, and went across. Well, that winter, in January, in fact it was right at New Years…
TAYLOR: Was that jacketed cable?
ECKER: No. It was just bare aluminum.
TAYLOR: How did you protect the splice?
ECKER: We spliced the cable.
TAYLOR: Did you let that go in the water?
ECKER: We put that right in the water. Well, we protected it. We taped it up. And in fact, I remember that the fittings that we used were fittings that were made for gas line. They had vents on them and all kinds of… And we just dumped it in the river. And on January 1, that cable parted. We lost it.
TAYLOR: When did you put it in?
ECKER: It was in the summer. It was in the summer that we put that in.
TAYLOR: Then you got only about six months out of it.
ECKER: We got about six months out of it. So I got on the phone to Phelps Dodge, and they sent me some additional cable – enough to get across there. We got an additional two miles. But anyway – so now I’m not going to dumb that cable in the river anymore. Because, hey, the river that freezes over, and the ice, and all of that. So how do we get across, if we don’t dump it in the river? I bought two 75 foot, class I poles. They were 36 inches around the base. I had to get permission from the Pennsylvania State Troopers to bring that thing up the Pennsylvania Highway. It was 75 foot long. We stuck one on one side of the river, and one on the other side of the river. We used half-inch steel rope to support that cable and we put that cable across. Again we had the problem of splicing the thing and we spliced it in the air. So who is going to do the splicing?—Shorty! Out over the river! Now this is in January and it is cold that morning. You know, if it’s cold here in Williamsport, it’s ten degrees colder out there.
TAYLOR: And the water is even colder.
ECKER: It’s freezing! It doesn’t freeze to the point where there is no running water, but along about ten feet out from the bank, it’s frozen. So we get a cable car, and we get him out in the middle, and he splices it, and now we can’t get the cable car back. Because the sag in the cable is so great, that we literally could not drag that cable car back out of there. So we finally decided that we’d run a boat out in the middle of the river and Shorty would jump off in the boat. But as you would expect, he missed the boat and into the water he went. Anyway we got him out of there. And, to this day, whenever I see Shorty, we still joke about his bath. He was a great guy, a great guy.
TAYLOR: (Laugh) Oh man! That is a great story!
ECKER: Well, anyway during my experience there, much of the work I did with… Hank Diambra spent a lot of time with me. We would work until we literally so fatigued that we were ready to drop. Hank tells the story about how we’d sit on the curb where we had been pulling cable down over the mountain and be so exhausted that we couldn’t move. There was a motel right there, and the motel owner came out once and he said, “What’s the problem?” We said, “Well we’re tired.” And he said, “Well, I’ve got an empty room. Do you want to take a nap?” So from then on, he let us use that room, and every once in a while, when we got so tired we couldn’t go on, we would go in and take a nap. Anyway, this mountain had a road across the top of it that went down on one side and up on the other. The total distance from my office to make the round trip, up the mountain and down the other side and back to the office, it was about 18 miles. And so one day we would go up one way, and one day the other way. I go up there one day. We had an old beat-up Jeep, as many of the cable operators had in those kinds of places for working on the mountains. In fact, the one that Frank Ragone had… They finally got it off, in a place in the mountain they couldn’t get it back out again. So for years it just laid up there. They couldn’t get the damn thing back out. I think that Jeep may still be there, as far as I know. Anyway I’m going up to the top of the mountain one day, and as I get to the crest of the mountain, here was a brown bear sitting there, fussing and fuming and snorting at me. And I’m blowing the horn and doing everything to make him get out of the way. That bear isn’t going to move. I say, “Aw, to heck with it.” I turn around and went down and came back up the other side of the mountain.
ECKER: But my little experience I started to tell you about getting bitten by a rattlesnake… One Sunday afternoon, at that time my kids we small — it was Sunday, it was a nice day, it was during football season – and they were pestering me. So I finally decided I’m going to the top of the mountain and watch the game up there. Instead of doing as I normally did… When I worked on the mountain, I always wore boots that came up to here (my knees) because rattlesnakes really can’t get up very high, and neither can the water moccasin. But this day I’m only going to the top of the mountain and go in the shack — bedroom slippers!
TAYLOR: Oh, oh!
ECKER: I get up there and I watched the game… We had built a plywood shack, and literally, in those days the antenna buildings were literally shacks.
TAYLOR: Yes. We’ve been through that. I know exactly what you mean.
ECKER: They had all kinds of environmental ones that – what’s his name? Why can’t I think of his name? The guy who says he was the first guy in cable?
TAYLOR: Oh. Walsonavich?
ECKER: Walsonavich. I have a story to tell about him too, but I don’t know whether we should put it on record. Anyway, I remember one antenna site that he had that the damn equipment was in an old refrigerator. Anyway, I go up there, and I watch this football game. Pretty soon my conscience starts to bother me. There’s my wife stuck down in town with the kids, and the kids are probably bothering her, so I’m going to go back down, but it happened to be a beautiful day in the fall of the year, and the sun was shining nicely. In order to get into this shack, we built it up off the ground. We had three of these concrete blocks. Two were the first step, and then one and you were out of there. Well, I walked out of that place, took the first step and got hit by this damn snake that was sunning himself on that concrete block. Well, I had brains enough to… I knew from what I’d heard that the worst thing you can do is to get terribly excited and start flying around, because the faster the blood circulate the more it circulates this poison. I had brains enough to remember that. I went back into the shack, called the emergency service, laid down – we had a cot there — on a cot and stayed as still as I could. The ambulance came up picked me up and took me to the hospital. By that time my ankle was about that size (gesturing). I was in the hospital for about three days with anti-venom shots. I got over it, sometimes when the weather is kind of bad you can still see the fang marks where that thing hit me. That was my experience, and there were lots of rattlesnakes up there. I remember… I had a guy working for me whose name was Weslosky (Sp?) — he was Polish – that I used as a kind of a grunt on the system up there. There was no real road down over that mountain. We built the pole line down over there, but we didn’t actually have a road down that pole line. Some places were too steep, and so we’d walk. In those days that mountain run was about 9,000 feet and there wasn’t the kind of equipment that would get you down through 9,000 feet without amplification. So there were amplifiers in that line. In order to service those damn amplifiers, we used to carry a ladder in. and two of us would walk in with that goddamn ladder and carrying one of those damn field strength meters that we used to have in those early days of Philco Television sets. Oh yes! I remember walking down over that mountain one time with Weslosky, I’m in front and he’s behind, and I hear these rattles. And I look down and we were walking through what must have been a half a dozen of them. We just walked right through the middle of them. And it wasn’t until we got through, I said to Wes, “You know what! You just walked through a nest of rattlesnakes.” He came from Pottsville, by the way. Pottsville was – I believe – the county seat of Schuylkill County. Schuylkill County this was the county in Pennsylvania that sort of ran itself. It had nothing to do with the rest of the state. They had gambling there when there was no gambling anywhere else. Anyway, When it came time for election, Weslosky would go back to Pottsville to vote. When he’d come back I’d say to him, “Weslosky, how many times did you vote this time?” He’d say, “Twelve, thirteen, fourteen times.”
TAYLOR: & ECKER: (Laughter)
ECKER: Oh yeah! I learned about Pottsville after that because one of the guys that was on the… supplied the funds for that Williamsport system was on the board… came from Pottsville. And in fact, in my early history in cable, after I got Williamsport up and running — and I had these six technicians who were perfectly capable of running this damn system without me, and they really didn’t need me anyway — I started to do some Consulting work. And I built a lot of cable system throughout Pennsylvania.
TAYLOR: When did you go to Williamsport?
ECKER: In 1950.
TAYLOR: And when did you decide that they’d had enough of you?
ECKER: In 1953. I still was with the system. I stayed with the system until 1956.
TAYLOR: I see. But you didn’t have anything particularly to do with them?
ECKER: Well, you know, the system was built. I had six of the best technicians – Shorty Coryell was one of them. If I could remember another name, you would remember him as well, because he was with… (Pause) The outfit that was big in television back in those days, the multiple system operator.
ECKER: No, before that. The one that Bresnan came from.
ECKER: TelePrompTer. One of my technicians then became a damn good technician with TelePrompTer. But anyway, I built some cable systems, started out with small ones. And most of the systems I built in central Pennsylvania – that part of Pennsylvania – were systems for the Mafia. They were the big wheels. And they all came out of Pottsville. And they were very generous – very generous. And in fact some of the biggest mistakes I made in my life I made during that particular time. The first system I ever built for them was in Montgomery, Pennsylvania, which is a small town about 12 or 15 miles out of Williamsport, and only 2500 population. And I gave them a bid… Because what they wanted was, “You tell us what it’s going to cost, and then you build it.” So I did that.
ECKER: Turnkey. Absolutely. The whole system, in those days cost, like 25 grand, no damn big deal. And they would say to me… And I would say to them, “Well, I want ten percent of what the system costs for building the place.” Remember, I’m working at Williamsport at the same time, still on a salary. And I also had a piece of the action. And they would say to me, “Well, instead of taking your money, why don’t you take a piece of the system?” And I’d go home and I’d say to Ruth, “Ruth, these people don’t want to pay me. They want to give me a piece…” She said, “Get the money!” This was the most stupid thing I ever did in my life. I built, I guess, about a half a dozen systems for them in Pennsylvania. And then… And this is the wildest story you ever heard in your life. There was a system in Reno, Nevada, and the system in Reno, Nevada, was built by the West Coast Mafia. And they came under pressure from the IRS as to where this money was coming from that they were using. So they wanted to get out of Reno in the worst kind of way. And somehow or other these two groups got together and the group from Pottsville agreed with the group from the West Coast that if there was anything there, they would take over that operation. They sent me to Reno, Nevada, in 1954, to take a look at what was already there and see what it was worth and come back and give them a report. I went out there with their attorney, an accountant and somebody from Entron, not Hank Diambra, but a salesman with Entron. And I looked the system over, and I found out what was there – and there wasn’t a helluva lot there at that particular time. But it was in operation, and they had subscribers. I came back. We were there for five days. It was my first trip west of the Mississippi River. I’ll never forget, I was in Williamsport and I was to meet this group, that were going out there, in Philadelphia. And so I came down on the train from Williamsport, and I’d never been in a sleeper in my life. Because they were paying all my expenses I took a sleeper down to Williamsport.
TAYLOR: Sure, sure.
ECKER: They met me in the Philadelphia train station, and the guy who was going along with us — I’ll never forget him, his name was Paul Cutler — met me. As he shook hands with me he passed me something. I looked in my hand and there were three $50 dollar bills.
TAYLOR: I’ll be darned!
ECKER: I said to him, I said, “Hey you don’t have to do this. I am going to send you a bill for whatever my charges are.” “That’s all right,” he said, “You may need cigarette money or something like that.” Well anyway, we got out there to Reno, Nevada, and we spent five days there, and I went over what was there. The accountant went over the books. The lawyer went over the contract with the city and the rest of that. And we came back. The group here had agreed that if they decided to go – if they decided to take over — they were going to spend $280,000 for what was out there. Because that was the number that the West Coast syndicate was asking for. There were four of them in that particular group. I will tell you about one of them in just a minute. They agreed that each one would contribute his 70 grand and they’d go ahead and do the job, depending upon the report they got. So I came back, and I told them, “Well, it was a good town and all the rest of that.” And I said, “Well, standard. There wasn’t a helluva lot there, but it was a good franchise.” So they decided to go, and this was at a meeting that I attended with that group. And I never saw this in my life before, and probably never since, I guess. But anyway, when they decided they were going to go, three of them dropped 70 grand apiece, on the table, in cash. The fourth guy didn’t have his money and they’re really be-rating him. They had agreed, why didn’t… Finally he said, “OK.” And he left the room, came back in about 20 minutes — this was at night, about 10 o’clock at night — dropped 70 grand on the table. So there is 280 thousand bucks – in cash! — sitting on this damn table.
TAYLOR: Oh boy!
ECKER: Anyway, they decided to go along with it. And finally, after they decided to go, they said to me, “Would you go out and build that system?” Well, I’d done some work for Entron in other systems, Tyler Texas, Williamson, West Virginia…
TAYLOR: Tyler. Was that for Tubby Flinn?
ECKER: No, no. This was before. I did the original design work for that for Entron. And Williamson WV, Tyler TX, Palestine TX, several systems…So they asked me if I would go out to Reno to do this job. Now I’m in a bind, because, hey, if I go out to Reno, I’ve got to be there for a while, and the system in Williamsport isn’t going to like that idea, because there I am still the chief engineer for the Williamsport system. I debated for a while. I had been doing consulting work anyway, and I thought, “Well. Gee, I can always make a living doing consulting work. I know how… I thought I knew how to build a cable system and all of that kind of stuff. So I told the Board of Directors at Williamsport that, “Hey, I was going to go to Reno, Nevada to build this cable system.” They said to me, “You’ve got a choice. You can’t be a chief engineer here and go there, because you’re going to be away for months, and we’ll need you. I said, “Well I could come back.” They said, “No, they weren’t satisfied with that.” So finally, I said, “Well, I’d like to take that job, and one of the reasons I’d like to take that job is because of what it paid. They offered me to go out there a hundred and a half a day – remember this is 1954 – and if I thought that it was necessary to work on weekends, they’d double it.” But that was one tremendous amount of money, especially for me at that particular time. So, I just couldn’t let that go by. So the group in Williamsport said, “On top of everything else, we’re going to buy you out, if you leave. I said, “Well, OK.” Which was a big mistake, because, hey, what I got out of that was peanuts. Two years later, when they sold the damn system for seven million bucks… So, that was another one of the big mistakes in my life. Well, I went to Reno, and… Entron had design… Always we had the problem of the change in temperature and what it did to the levels of the cable system – age-old problem, right?
TAYLOR: Age-old, yes, yes.
ECKER: And in fact I have to tell you the story about Walsonavich. Johnny had a system that ran from where he was, Mahoney City, to — I believe it was…they called it Iron City. Anyway it was a distance of about 20 miles, another community, and he ran a cable system. The age-old problem. In the middle of the day, sun is up, it’s a warm day, signals are down. At night, signals come back up. I used to tell this story in seminars about how he solved that particular problem. What they did… In those days all the amplifiers were tube amplifiers. So, what did they have? They had a pot in the bias circuit, and you turn the pot up — reduce the pot, which puts less bias so you had more gain. Turn it in the other direction, and it did the other. He took all those pots out of those amplifiers, ran wires down the pole, And he had an open flat-bed truck, and he put those things so you could only reach them from the back of that truck, and he put those pots at the base of the poles. Three times a day, he used to go up and down that goddamn line to adjust those pots. And I used to tell people at seminars, this was the first time I ever saw automatic gain control done manually. Johnny did that on that system, I remember that very, very well. Well, anyway, I did the Reno system and when I was working in Williamsport, Jerrold had developed an automatic gain five-channel amplifier. Prior to that, Jerrold never had a five-channel system. They had single-channel amplifiers, three-channel systems. And I had built the five-channel system with Entron up in Williamsport. Well Milt Shapp came up and talked to me and said, “Would I come down and visit him here.” And I said, “Yes, I’d come down.” I didn’t know what he had in mind at the time. So he said, “I’ll meet you at Williamson’s Restaurant, which was a restaurant down here in Jenkintown, and we’ll have breakfast together and then we will go over to the Lab, which was up here in Hatboro.”
TAYLOR: What year was this?
ECKER: This would have been 1953. So I met him for breakfast then we went up to the Lab, saw Hank Arbeiter up there. Mike was already there and Don Kirk was his chief advisor at that time. I understand Don is pretty bad with Parkinson!
TAYLOR: I interviewed him. Yes, he has Parkinson’s, and it’s an up and down thing with him. He was sure pleased to have me interview him. It lifted his spirits.
ECKER: I tell you, I always enjoyed… I’ll tell you about one of the projects I worked on with him and Frank and Mike at Jerrold after this. But anyway, what Milt wanted me for is they have developed a five-channel automatic gain amplifier, but he did not have a five-channel system.
TAYLOR: Jerrold had developed the amplifier, in 1953?
ECKER: Yes, and wanted to try it out on my system in Williamsport. I was thinking to myself that he knows that I am using Entron equipment and Entron is sure as hell going to come and look at this thing. Well anyway, he went into the Lab, brought the amplifier out and showed it to me.
End of Tape 1, Side A
START TAPE 1, SIDE B
TAYLOR: We’ve got the tape going again. We were just mentioning about Vic Nicholson, and you were going to tell about his patent?
ECKER: No, No. What I was going to tell you was that Milt introduced me to Vic Nicholson, and said, “By the way, he’s (Vic) going with you.” So Vic came with me to Williamsport, to make sure that we didn’t open the amplifier and try and take a look at it. That was my first association with Vic Nicholson. At that time Milt asked me if I’d like to go to work here. And I said, “No.”
TAYLOR: Now that amplifier had AGC?
ECKER: This amplifier had AGC and the Entron amplifier originally had no AGC. Their engineer which was… Hank was not the chief engineer there, although that was his title. He had a guy working with him – Hans…
TAYLOR: Heinz Blum.
ECKER: Heinz Blum, right. …That was really a pretty sharp engineer. He designed — and I used in Reno, Nevada — an amplifier that was supposed to be an automatic gain amplifier, which had incorporated in it a motor driven coil that operated with temperature. Motor driven, using a Selsyn motor that drove this damn coil, either in or out of the coil, depending on what the temperature was. I used that amplifier in Reno, Nevada. It was a disaster. It was an absolute disaster. Sometimes the motor wouldn’t have sense enough to stop and would drive the cork right out the other side. Not only that, but it was a monster in size, a monster, a literal monster So they had what they called an automatic gain amplifier, never very successful. My Reno job I got most of it built, was in a fight with the city because we had to bury everything there. What did I know about burying cable — in concrete? So I hired an outfit to come up there to cut a slit in the concrete so we could bury it and put the cable in there. We only cut the slit big enough so it would handle the old RG 11 type cable. And then the city demanded that we close that trench up. And I had people from Monsanto – and, oh, I don’t remember who all – trying to tell me how to close up that slit in the concrete. We closed it up with whatever they’d tell us about, and the first car that would come along would pick up the edge of it, and the next thing you knew there would be a half a mile of this junk! And it just wouldn’t stay. I said, “Well we made that damn trench just too narrow, and there was nothing for this stuff to hang on to. It was just laying in there.
TAYLOR: I have heard this same story about the guy down in Cannel, California. You know his name I’m sure. He was head of one of the cosmetic companies – I want to say Avon, but I don’t think that was it. He had the same problem burying cables.
ECKER: Well, November 26 came along, and that happened to be my son’s birthday. I had gone home for the 4th of July from Reno, Nevada. My wife had found a house she wanted me to buy this house. So we bought this house while I was there. I signed papers and everything that had to be done. My wife moved in by herself. I went back to Reno on the 6th of July. On November 26th, she called me on the phone, and she gave me a choice. I could either keep roaming around all over the world while she raised the family… And by the way, she didn’t like this house that we had moved into and that we had bought. She sold the house. I never slept one night in that house. She moved in by herself, sold the house, moved out by herself. I never spent one night in that house. But she gave me a choice. She said, “Len.” She said, “Either you can be a husband and a father to your children and come home, or you can roam around all you damn well please, but you can’t have both ends.” So, by that time, I had finished what I’d wanted to do in Reno, basically, and I was in the middle of trying to cover up this hole in the street. And I said to her, “I’m coming home.” What I did, very simply, was I hired a trucking outfit to haul sand and pour sand in these damn trenches. So, they wound up with nothing but sand in there. Now,, I don’t know what they finally… I guess the city repaved them. I remember trying to fill those slits–it just couldn’t be done. We didn’t have brains enough to create a big enough trench so that you could get some kind of… Maybe cut it at an angle… We just cut it exactly a size big enough to bury the cable. As I said, if I knew then what I know now, I probably wouldn’t have been in any of it. I came home…
TAYLOR: What year was this now?
ECKER: I came home in December of 1954. And the outfit in Williamsport… I checked in over there, and they said, “Well, we’d like you to come back to work. And I said, “OK” I went back to work for this outfit in Williamsport, but now it is purely as an employee and not as a part of the owner. And Milt Shapp sent Caywood Cooley to Williamsport to look over the Jerrold System. Jerrold had a system up there at that time.
TAYLOR: Is that the one that Ragone was working with?
ECKER: No, Ragone was working with the system built for Philco. Milt eventually bought that system from Philco. But anyway he came up, and he was there for awhile and I ran into him. He was in charge of the field engineers for Jerrold at that time. But he said to me, he says, “Hey, how about coming to work for me?” I didn’t like the idea of being nothing but an employee on this system that I had built, you know. So I finally talked to Ruth about it, and she said, “Well, if you want to go, go ahead. If you don’t like it here, you’re unhappy here – go ahead.” So I joined Shapp at that time.
ECKER: in January of 1955. I worked for Caywood Cooley, and my buddy was Vic Nicholson. We were the only two field engineers that Jerrold had, and we were running all over the place, doing all kind of things for them. But, again, my wife didn’t particularly care about – you know, travelling like that, you’re away from home all the time, and the kids were small. She said, “I thought you had enough of that.” So finally, I told Caywood, I said, “You know, I’ve got to get off of this kick. I’ve got to do something else. My wife keeps complaining.” So, he said, “How would you like to go work in the Lab?” I said, “Well I’d like that.” By that time Jerrold had built the Lab where they are now, where they have their headquarters.
ECKER: Yes. That was their original Laboratory. It was not the Laboratory where I had picked up the amplifier. That was in an old farm building in Southampton. They had built this new Laboratory, a guy named Dalck Feith built that Lab.
TAYLOR: Dalck was really the angel for Jerrold’s operation.
ECKER: Hey, there were times when Milt wasn’t able to pay our wages, Dalck supplied the funds. I remember the first year I joined Jerrold, the total business we did was $1.75 million, which was nothing back in those days. It was a small outfit. Anyway, I joined Jerrold as a bench engineer. And the first job I ever worked on was… Back in those days, when the systems started to go broadband five channels, and eventually twelve channels, there was no test equipment. I worked on the first broadband sweep generator that Jerrold made. It didn’t do it all in one step, one jump. It kind of ran in octaves, you know, 245…
TAYLOR: (Interrupting) Was Ken Simons involved in all of this?
ECKER: Yes Ken was my immediate boss on that particular project. So, that was my first project with Jerrold, that broadband sweep generator under Ken Simons. Then, lo and behold, Jerrold got involved in the pay television system in Bartlesville, Oklahoma. Now, by the time I got to Jerrold, that Bartlesville system was already in difficulty, principally because it had two pay channels, and that’s all it had. It was done in conjunction, as I remember, with Paramount Pictures and the South West Exhibitors.
TAYLOR: With Jerrold?
ECKER: The subscribers came on by the hundreds because it was something brand new, and they went off just as fast. They went off primarily because… The age old story that you get with subscription pay:– “There wasn’t anything that I wanted to watch that much, and I had to pay for it” Jerrold decided that, “Hey, the only solution to this was to be able to do a system that you only had to pay for what you watched.” So Jerrold was working on something called PBPB, Program By Program Billing.
TAYLOR: Oh yes. Ken told me about this
ECKER: PBPB, Program By Program Billing. I got assigned to that project along with engineers that Jerrold hired from the outside world. I remember, Frank Ragone was on that project as well. As I think back about that project, the first thing we needed to do was — information which was coming back, which came back within the power portion of the band — was to strip all the video information off it. And so we used… Gee, I’ve been away from this stuff for so long I can’t even remember the terminology any more. Oh… that’s terrible isn’t it? Well anyway, what we were trying to do was to strip the video off of this low frequency carrier. And we built ____ and we built bigger and bigger suppressors… What’s the word for that? I’ll think of it before too long.
TAYLOR: I don’t quite follow; you were sending video downstream. Was this something coming up stream?
ECKER: Upstream you had going the two channels that had the Pay television on it. Then in each one of the homes – I’ll tell you about this in a minute — they had a little box they could select any one of the two channels. That information from that box was sent back down stream within the power band, somewhere in the neighborhood, if I remember correctly, of a couple of thousand Hertz or something of that nature. [Apparently Len refers to transmission from headend to homes as “upstream”; homes to headend as “downstream”.]
TAYLOR: It was not amplified or anything?
ECKER: No, no it just came back down… There was video. You had to get rid of the video so you could… What in the world do they call that kind of circuit?
TAYLOR: Are you talking about a filter?
ECKER: It’s not a filter. Well, anyway. I’ll think of it before we’re through. In order to do this then, it was very easy to get rid of 50%, 75%, 90% .You just kept building more and more circuitry. When you get down to about 95% it gets more and more difficult. You double the circuit, you get another percent. Double that and you get another two percent. We could never get to the point where you could get rid of all of it. In any event we finally built a system that would work. We built it, and we put it on display. Jerrold at that time had a factory down at 15th and Lehigh in Philadelphia, where they manufactured equipment. Was it 15th and Lehigh, or 25th and Dickinson – one of those two places. We had a room in that factory – it was upstairs. We put the equipment in. People came from all over to see this damn thing. The only trouble is nobody ever bought it. And by the time we got it finished, Bartlesville had already gone down the drain. So Pay TV, Program By Program Billing, or what they call today, Pay-Per-View, it wasn’t anything new. Jerrold did this back in 1956 or 1957. Never sold it. That Exhibit stayed there for years. People would come and see it, just to see how that all works.
TAYLOR: What was the one in Toronto or the suburb of Toronto?
ECKER: That was the one that Sruki [Israel Switzer] was involved in. I don’t know what went in there, but I know that Sruki Switzer had worked on a system similar to what Jerrold was trying to do at that particular time.
TAYLOR: Jerrold supplied equipment for it.
ECKER: But not the pay equipment. Sruki designed that in Memphis, Tennessee. You know, Sruki designed and invented a lot of things, and some of them didn’t make much sense, but that’s all right. I’ll tell you another story about my association with Sruki. Oh boy. He’s quite a guy. He still is. He’s got an imagination that runs absolutely riot, and he’s got enough technical knowledge that he can make it feasible and understandable. He is an interesting guy to talk to. I’m sure you have had conversation with him.
TAYLOR: Oh gosh! I have known him… See, he started out in Calgary, in Canada. He went to school in Edmonton, worked as a photographer for a TV station. After graduation, he got a job with geophysical prospecting in the oil fields. If I recall, one of his first cable ventures was in Lethbridge.
ECKER: I think he was the guiding influence on that system in Toronto, which turned out to be a tremendous system, big. Even in the early days, it was big.
TAYLOR: They were trying to feed that with high power amplifiers for some reason.
ECKER: But also that system originally provided the terminal. The terminal had no RF equipment in it. They built the equipment that converted the channels down to video.
TAYLOR: And delivered it video?
ECKER: Yes. The sets were just video monitors. There were no channel changers or anything of that nature. I have been involved in so many things that you keep bringing back to mind. During this period of time, when I was working in the Lab at Jerrold, Milt had gone out, before I joined them, to-Dubuque, Iowa. And in Dubuque there were so many people who wanted to build that cable system that the city fathers decided to put it on a ballot. Milt Shapp went out there and electioneered to get that system, and was successful. And in fact, we always blamed Dubuque. Iowa, for his desire to be in politics. When he came back from Dubuques, he used to brag about the fact that it cost him fifty cents a vote to get the Dubuque system. He used to talk about it, for heaven’s sake. Anyway, they went out to Dubuque, Iowa… Unfortunately, in Dubuque, Iowa, you couldn’t get any signal. All the signals were out of town about ten miles, on top of a hill. Well, how do you go ten miles, back in those days, in RG type cable? It was not possible. So Mike was involved in this. I only got in it because I had to go out to Dubuque, Iowa. That’s where every new engineer that came in to Jerrold was sent out to Dubuque, Iowa. Mike was a part of this system. They built a system at the time called NQV.
TAYLOR: Not Quite Video. I knew about this at the time or shortly thereafter and heard about others.
ECKER: Well, anyway, I got sent to Dubuque, Iowa, because, what they did was, they had five cables coming from the top of this hill into town. There were – as I remember it — two amplifiers on that run. The frequency was from 1 to 6 MHz, as I remember. And every time the weather changed, these damn cables would talk to each other – they cross-talked. So I don’t remember who was responsible for designing this piece of equipment. I kind of think maybe Don Kirk had something to do with it, because, it was his kind of nightmare. Don was always into this kind of stuff, you know. He built something that Jerrold called the “dehububber”…
TAYLOR: Yes, I’ve heard about that too.
ECKER: …which was a twelve matrix design, and by adjusting the 12 matrix you could balance out the goddamn cross-talk on this system. But, you had to do it almost on a continuous basis.
TAYLOR: This was at the termination?
ECKER: This was at the termination. But you had to do it almost on a continuous basis. I got sent out there on a day when the temperature was like zero. It was in the middle of the winter. I remember getting off that airplane. In those days, they didn’t have jetways and you had to walk across the tarmac to get to the terminal. I’d never heard snow crunch under your feet like that, because of the cold. I spent two… That was my initiation with two weeks out in Dubuque, Iowa, juggling these 12 knobs trying to keep the cross talk out of this system. That was NQV, Not Quite Video. TAYLOR: I guess Ken has told the story about the solution that Kirk came up with to bury the stuff and then he called it HLD (High Loss Dirt).
ECKER: You know they never figured out a way to keep those cables from talking to each other. There is just no way. At that frequency that shield on that cable was as good a radiator as you could get, and those cables talked to each other all the time. Every engineer that came to work for Jerrold had to go out to Dubuque, Iowa, and operate the dehububber. And I’m sure that was Don Kirk’s thing, because Don was always involved with the crazy kinds of things like this. We also had a guy named Don Rogers. Have you ever heard of him?
TAYLOR: No, I haven’t.
ECKER: Jerrold at that time had two divisions, there was the Cable division, and then there was the Consumer Product division. Eventually, Jerrold bought out an outfit called Taco, which was in that consumer…made antennas within the consumer business, and did a lot of work in that. Well anyway, the chief engineer of that group was a guy named Don Rogers, another one of these guys with an imagination unbelievable — unbelievable imagination. And if it didn’t fit into Milt’s scheme of things as to what Jerrold ought to be doing, he would build it on the fly, you know. He would stick it in a drawer. And if you come to a point… And you come to Don and you say, “Hey Don, I’ve got a problem over here.” And he’d say, “OK, I’ve got an answer.” And he would open a drawer and there he had it. He’s the guy who designed the first — that I’m aware of — two-way splitters and things that separated FM from…
TAYLOR: (Interrupting) He was probably responsible for the I Jacks?
ECKER: No, that was my patent. I was the engineer on I Jacks. I got… I don’t know, we keep jumping all over the place. I got involved in all kind of things with Jerrold. Jerrold got involved into all kinds of things they had no business in, in many cases. I got sent once to Norfolk Navy Yard. To do what? The Navy decided – or some big wheel in the Navy decided – that on an aircraft carrier, from the time that aircraft left the hangar deck till it got to the flight deck, the commander-in-chief – the CIC – didn’t really know where the damn airplane was. So some wise guy has an idea that, “Hey, we ought to be able to watch that airplane as it goes to the hangar deck to the flight deck. So, who gets sent down to Norfolk, Virginia, to see if this can be done? Me. I get a camera — a black and white camera – and I go down, and I get on board this aircraft carrier. I don’t know from nothing about any of this kind of stuff, because my experience with cameras was about zilch. Jerrold never cared. They took on any damn job. They didn’t really care back in those days. I remember once we even built a power station, up in Michigan. I get down on this aircraft carrier, and I learned things about an aircraft carrier that I didn’t think possible. I finally get this thing going and all the rest, and I got this thing on the elevator. And taking a shot, and where the aircraft is coming up on the opposite wall from where I was with the camera, I could see the aircraft, but they also had markings on the wall which indicated what level. So I put the camera up so they could read that level as the damn thing went up. We got to the top. I hadn’t anchored this damn camera. And I don’t know if you know how fast one of these damn elevators go. They go at one tremendous… I never could figure out why they need to know where the airplane was during the couple of seconds it took to push it… Anyway, the camera went overboard – disappeared overboard. I must have gone this far off the deck. I hadn’t anchored it. It never occurred to me that this thing went up there at this rate of speed. This thing went up at a fantastic rate of speed. I finally got down and squared away. But they never hired Jerrold to do this on any other aircraft carriers, to my knowledge.
TAYLOR: Laughing, They’re probably laughing about it still.
ECKER: I’m sure. But, you know, I said to myself, “I always thought the Navy was pretty spic and span, you know pretty savvy. But this aircraft carrier was about as sloppy as anything I’ve ever seen. And then, one day out of a clear blue sky, the ship shaped up, just like that. But then I found out that the reason it was sloppy was that the captain wasn’t on board. They had a watch on the fantail, because he drove a little Volkswagen beetle. And they’d watch, and when he made the turn to come out onto the pier, that ship just jumped like that. It came over the loudspeaker — the captain’s coming on board. The whole ship changed, in nothing flat. Well anyway, that was a job that I did for Jerrold. Well, anyway, Jerrold got a job in Chelmsford, Massachusetts, about 1956 or 1957, where the city decided that they were going to use the cable system to tie all the schools in the system to it. It wasn’t going to be a cable system for subscribers, it was only going to be a cable system for schools. And they were going to build a studio in the local high school, and they would provide programming to all the schools in the city. Well, who got called to do that job? Me. So, I went to Chelmsford, Massachusetts, and we built the system. And it then became apparent that there was a little bit of a problem. The problem was that, hey, you wanted to be able to pick the signal off in whatever classroom was necessary. So the obvious way to build this was to build a round robin system in the school. But, how do you get into a round robin system? That became the problem. Well, Eric Winston and I put out heads together to build the stuff that would go into this system. Eric Winston was Mechanical engineer at Jerrold, and a damn good one, and I was the RF engineer. And we built something called “J-Jacks” and we got it patented. And for many years, I used to get a buck every year, from Jerrold, for that damn patent. It never was a tremendous success at Jerrold, but they would sell about $100 thousand worth of that equipment every year, for a period of about 15 years. We had a guy named Bob Venderland. Do you know Bob?
TAYLOR: Yes. I knew Bob.
ECKER: Well Bob Venderland knew somebody at the University of Chicago who was an expert in what ought to be done in schools with regards to equipment, not the electronic parts or any of that sort of thing. But what to do, because, hey, here you’ve got an external piece of equipment and the kids in the school are going to take it and go away with it. Right? Or they’re going to stand on it and do any kind of stuff. So Bob Venderland got this guy and we got together with him, and he helped us with the mechanical design of it. It was designed in such a way that it had a rounded top, so the kids couldn’t stand on it. It had a keyed bolt. To put it in you needed a special tool to put that bolt in and take it out. And that product was made so that you could get anywhere in the system – you could get in and out of the system anywhere in this round robin kind of system. And that was J-Jacks. And that was my project. So Venderland, Eric Winston and I had the patent on that. And as I said, Jerrold paid me a buck for many years after that patent came out. And he used to sell about $100 thousand dollars a year of that stuff, up until about – maybe the ’70s. This system went in in 1957. And I have a strange story to tell you about that.
TAYLOR: Bob Venderland went to Conrac for a time, then he went to Dynair with Gary Gramman. He is probably retired by now. He communicated with me, probably every year.
ECKER: The last time I heard of him he was at Dynair. I needed something for a project and the Dynair name came up. And when I wrote to them, Bob recognized my name and wrote me back. I have an aside for you if you will turn that machine off.
[Off the record]
ECKER: My freshman year at – Christmas vacation – I learned that Einstein was going to be speaking at the University of Pennsylvania. I lived in Pittsburgh then – a small town northwest of Pittsburgh.
TAYLOR: What year was this?
ECKER: This would have been the Christmas of 1953.
TAYLOR: OK. That was your first year at Georgia Tech?
ECKER: Georgia Tech, yes. It was my Christmas vacation. And in order to do that, I came through Washington, DC. I called my brother and he met me at the train station. I had deliberately arranged for about two hours for the layover there, thinking that he was going to take me to his home. But his wife was very, very bitter – didn’t want to know anything about Jewish people.
ECKER: Didn’t want to know anything. We sat – you would remember this – most of the major railroad stations in the United States had this Savarin restaurant, maybe still do.
TAYLOR: Yes, I remember. There was one in Washington.
ECKER: Philadelphia had one. New York had one. Well anyway, we sat in the Savarin restaurant for about two hours together and had this good conversation. And then I left – and got a chance to hear Einstein. And I remember one of the things that stuck with me. Einstein, of course, was Jewish, but he was not in the true sense a practicing Jew. But he believed in a Master Plan to the extent that one of the comments he made, during that discussion that I heard, was that everything that man needed, or would need in the future, to progress was already in place. I remembered that. I remembered that when I went to school and I studied Physics, you know, we had the Periodic Table that had this whole bunch of stuff out here that nobody knew anything about. But they knew that it had to exist. Right? And some of that stuff, if it hadn’t been available, we wouldn’t have a lot of the things we have – jet engines, for example. No steel was able to handle the kind of temperatures that were involved in jet engines.
TAYLOR: Erbium in fiber amplifiers.
ECKER: Yes. All this kind of stuff. And that was the corner stone around which Einstein made his speech, about the Master Plan. Everything that man would need, or would need in the future, was already in place. As you go along, you see that this is actually true. The laws of physics don’t change. They are there. We know more about them. We know more about the elements. We know more about these kinds of things. But there’s nothing new that has come along, that we found that we didn’t know ever existed before. Well, anyway, that’s beside the point. I saw him [my brother] again when my children were already of an age where they could enjoy Washington, and we took a trip to Washington. I called him on the phone, and he met me, and we sat in the car, and we talked for a long period, my kids talked to him, and my wife talked to him. I never went to his home. I never met his wife. I never met any of his children, he had two. The next time I ran into him…No, the second time I ran into him…
TAYLOR: This is your brother you’re speaking about?
ECKER: This is my brother. …I am in Naples, Italy. I am actually stationed in a little town south of Naples. The American Headquarters were in Naples, and I needed some things I didn’t have. So I took my supply officer and we drove into headquarters at Naples here, Twelfth Air Force. And who do I run into at the Twelfth Air Force headquarters: my brother. So, again we had conversation, had a very nice meeting, very congenial, always. Then I had the meeting with him in Washington with my kids. Now the next time I meet him was interesting, which brought up this whole story because of Chelmsford, Massachusetts. There was at that time, and I’m sure it still is there, a Channel 26 in Washington, DC. Channel 26 at that time was an educational station. I don’t know whether it still is or not.
TAYLOR: Yes it is. It’s PBS
ECKER: The School Board in Arlington, with Channel 26, decided that they would like to do some educational work with Channel 26, and they heard about my project in Chelmsford, Massachusetts. I was invited to appear before the School Board in Arlington, Virginia, to discuss a system similar to the one that I had built in Chelmsford, Massachusetts.
TAYLOR: What year is this you say.
ECKER: I can’t remember precisely what year this is. This would have been somewhere around the late 1960’s, possibly 1968 or 1969, somewhere in there. Because it was before I started as field engineer for Jerrold, which occurred in 1971. Well anyway, when I get down there, who do you think is the Chairman of the school board?
TAYLOR: Your brother? For goodness sake!
[Off the record for some personal history]
ECKER: Because of his wife not wanting to know anything about his religion and where he came from, he had taken what was common in Europe and hyphenated his name with his mother’s maiden name. So his name was Ecker-Racz, which was his mother’s maiden name, in Hungary.
ECKER: R-A-C-Z, which by the way is Hungarian for “red” and would be the equivalent for Rosenberg here in America. He didn’t acknowledge me, so I didn’t acknowledge him. And I guess no one on that board associated ECKER-Racz with ECKER, because nobody asked the question. And I think that he didn’t acknowledge me because he didn’t want to go into any kind of an explanation as why things were the way they were. The very next time I saw him, I had retired from Jerrold, 1982, my 65th birthday. My wife threw a big party for me, and my sister, who lives in Tucson, Arizona, came for my party. She decided she wanted to see our brother. So we called. By that time his wife had died, his daughter had sold his home — and he had retired of course — and built… Because he was 11 years older than I was, when I retired at 65, he already was 76 or thereabouts. His daughter had built an apartment in her basement in her home in Silver Springs, Maryland. He had lived in Arlington, Virginia, all of his working life. We drove down there. His daughter wasn’t there. The excuse that she — the mother-in-law was there — and the excuse that she gave was that her son was playing soccer and she had to be there to watch him. But I kind of felt that the reason she was not there was because she did not want to meet us. Anyway I had a very nice visit with my brother, and that was the last time I saw him alive. He died in 1988 at the age of 80.
TAYLOR: The material that we left out of here leaves some of this kind of confused. Let me, between us, kind of quickly straighten it out. The man you speak of as your brother, Ecker-Racz, was your father’s son from his first marriage in Hungary.
ECKER: Yes. Both of my parents came from Hungary.
TAYLOR: When you were born, it was her only child?
TAYLOR: She was divorced. She didn’t have any children previously.
ECKER: No. In fact, I told you, my Dad said he married her – he used to tell me this all the time – she was past it. Remember, she was 41 years old when I was born. The fact of the matter is she would have been 42 in November, and I was born in September. So she was already considered to be not of child-bearing age.
TAYLOR: So the brother you speak of was by your father’s first marriage, substantially older than you?
ECKER: Yes, We had a common father. I’m the youngest of the crew, that I consider to be my brother and sisters. I am very close to my two sisters, who, by the way, we had the same father, but not the same mother.
TAYLOR: They are the sisters, with the same mother as the brother you speak of?
ECKER: Yes. In fact the girl who was left behind in Europe is the sister who now lives in San Diego. She was caught in the Holocaust and spent four years in the concentration camp. As a result of that she has constantly had stomach problems I remember when she first came to the United States, she lived with us for a very short period of time. She lived on baby food. She was in the same camp that was run by this famous Mengele. She tells stories on him. She lives in San Diego now, and I get out about once… I was going out at the rate of about once a month for the longest time trying to help her with her problems since her husband died. Her husband was a story in itself, he was a cousin and found her afterwards. She lost a husband and a son in the camps. And it wasn’t until recently that we discussed her husband, but she’s never talked about her son. I have pictures of her, but she’s never mentioned it. But anyway she had this cousin who escaped out of Europe went to Africa, became an officer in the pre-Czech army and fought with the Czechs all through World War II and achieved the rank of full Colonel, in the Czech army. In fact, he went back to Hungary and found her after the War, married her, and got her out of Hungary, because he had to leave because he was on their wanted list. You have to know a little bit about the geography of Europe. During the time that I speak of, when my father was there as a soldier, there was something called the Austria-Hungarian Empire, which included not only Austria and Hungary but Czechoslovakia, Romania, Transylvania, part of Yugoslavia…
ECKER: No, Bulgaria was outside. It was a conglomeration. That part where my father came from was in Czechoslovakia. Where my mother came from was still a part of Hungary, even it was all split up. And many of my relatives who came from Europe… I have a cousin who also escaped from that whole era. He came from what is now Romania. But they lived in that area which was all three of these kinds of things, you know. But anyway, that’s a little bit of the geography of Europe. Those countries have been split up so many times and I don’t know whether anyone knows who they are. In fact, I guess that’s part of the reason for the trouble over there now. As long as they had somebody up here that was holding everything down there together it worked reasonably well. But the Russians disappeared, and all of a suddenly everybody wants to be his own thing. And so you find all this fighting and carrying on and all of the rest of that, because there just isn’t a top that appears to be holding it all together. Anyway, that was a little bit of my own personal history. The thing that brought it all up was Chelmsford, Massachusetts, and being invited to go down and talk with the School Board of…
TAYLOR: This was in the 60’s you’re saying?
ECKER: The late 60’s
TAYLOR: The one in Hagerstown, that Chesapeake & Potomac, C&P Bell, with Ford Foundation money. That was earlier than that, I think.
ECKER: It was earlier, yes.
TAYLOR: It may have been 1960-1961, somewhere in there.
ECKER: Chelmsford, Massachusetts would have been somewhere in the very early 60’s – 60-61 — about that period of time. As I remember Hagerstown came along not too long after that. It was very close to the Chelmsford thing. There was also one out on the West Coast — I don’t remember where it was any more, though — that did much the same kind of thing. And by the way, J Jacks was supplied to that Hagerstown system.
TAYLOR: I think I knew that. I went to Hagerstown. This was while I was still in Montana. I left Montana in the latter part of 1964 to join Martin Malarkey. But I had visited Hagerstown before I left Montana, so it was the early part of the 1960s I suspect.
ECKER: Yes, it would have been. And as I remember, it almost coincided with Chelmsford, Massachusetts. I do recall that they also bought J Jacks equipment.
END OF TAPE 1, SIDE B
START TAPE 2, SIDE A
ECKER: Do other people kind of skip around like I do? One thing sort of leads into something totally different.
TAYLOR: Oh yes. It’s fascinating, though. OK, we’re back on the tape, we ran out of tape. Len is talking about the NCTA Convention that I think we have decided was in 1968 at the Prudential building in Boston.
ECKER: Were you aware of that Convention?
TAYLOR: Oh yes, very much.
ECKER: Were you aware that they lost the air conditioning at that Convention?
TAYLOR: Indeed I do! Very, very well!
ECKER: Good, we are talking about the same time. It was hot.
TAYLOR: It was terrible!
ECKER: The wheel at Jerrold at that time was Bob Beisswenger. Milt left Jerrold in 1966. He decided to run for Governor in the state of Pennsylvania. Dalck Feith decided that Milt could not run for governor and manage Jerrold at the same time, so he started a proxy fight. Milt, with his wife, owned 550 thousand shares of Jerrold stock. Dalck Feith owned 400 thousand shares. He paired up with another stockholder to where they had the majority of the shares. They made arrangements with a Brokerage house in Philadelphia, called Butcher and Sherrod, to buy up Milt’s shares at $18 a share. Milt got $10 million for his stock, which wasn’t too bad for a guy who started out basically with nothing. But Hey! Two years later Butcher and Sherrod sold that same block of stock to General Instrument for $46 a share. They didn’t do too badly themselves. Dalck Feith wound up as the major stock holder in General Instrument. Because of splits and things like that, he wound up with 840 thousand shares of General Instrument stock.
ECKER: And I was kind of friendly with Dalck. I got friendly, but he would keep skipping around. In the very early days of the Jerrold manufacturing business, most of the equipment was made on sheet metal chassis. That’s the way they were made. Who supplied those sheet metal chassis? Dalck Feith.
TAYLOR: Yep. I have heard stories about this from Ken and Mike and I think from Don Kirk also.
ECKER: In the early days of the Jerrold Laboratory, every engineer had more than one job. One guy was in charge of the building, one… My job, in addition to my normal bench work, was to take care of all of the engineering change orders. That was part of my job. I had a technician who worked with me, and someone who did all the typing. But my responsibility was the engineering change orders. Well Jerrold had a purchasing agent, whose name was Smith – I can’t remember his first name, but it doesn’t really matter. We had made a device — rather Jerrold had designed a device — to be used as a distribution unit, called an ADO-3. This was a little box…
TAYLOR: I remember it
ECKER: This was a little box, in and out, and had three spigots that you could take off called ADO-3. At Jerrold, when anybody designed anything, before we ever put it in production, we used to send the metal work out to Dalck Feith, and he would make 25 pieces and we would build the damn thing to see if it was working before it went into production — called a pilot run. I’m sure that most manufacturers do that. It makes good sense to do that. We had made the pilot run of the ADO-3 and it did its job. And… I was trying to remember the name of that little peanut tube that that damn thing used, an AK-something. It was a 6AK5, but it had a number 5654, or something like that. We were getting ready to make a slight change in it, the purchasing agent said to me, “You know, when Dalck Feith made the original pilot run of 25 chassis, he charged us $3.90 apiece for them. We buy them now by the thousands and he still charges us $3. Don’t you think we ought to be able to get a better price when we’re going to buy them in the kind of quantity…?” By that time, I knew a lot about Dalck, because having engineering change orders, I did business with him, and I knew that If Jerrold bought a thousand at a crack, he was making 5000, putting 4000 on the shelf – because Dalck was a sharp, sharp business man. So Smith says, “Maybe we ought to say something to Milt about this.” “OK, we’ll say something now.” So Milt calls a meeting, and there’s Dalck Feith, Milt, and me and Smith. And Milt says to Dalck, “My guys think that we’re paying too much for this metal work for this ADO-3. When you made 25, you charged us $3.90. Now we buy them a thousand at a time, you still charge us $3.90.” Well Dalck started – doesn’t say anything for a moment. Then he turns around and he says to him, “What do you think you ought to pay for that?” And Milt says, “I don’t know anything about punching holes in sheet metal, and bending sheet metal. How do I know?” Dalck doesn’t say anything for a minute, then says, “You’re right. I’ve made enough money off that. Now, you’ll get them for nothing.” And Milt says, “I can’t take them for nothing.” Dalck says, “You don’t want to tell me how much you want to pay. You don’t want them for nothing. My price is $3.90.”
TAYLOR: That’s how he got where he is!
ECKER: Oh yes, he was a shrewd, shrewd guy!
[Laughter from both men]
ECKER: The guy is a multi-multi millionaire. When Forrest and Little (sp?) bought General Instrument out, they forced him to sell his stock. They didn’t have stock. That was a private owned investment house. They didn’t want any stockholders. It was only here lately that they put some stock on the market. So, he had to sell out. I don’t know what he got for his stock, but it had to be something better than $46 per share. And he had 840 thousand shares.
TAYLOR: That was enough to buy a few breakfasts!
ECKER: He is very philanthropic. He really is. He is in Israel once a month – once every six weeks – and does a lot of good work over there.
TAYLOR: Now go back to the story about the dual cable design that you were suppose to make.
ECKER: Oh yes. Milt was gone in 1966. Dalck Feith brought Bob Beissweinger in, originally as sales manager, and then, very quickly – because Bob had been with a wire rope outfit before that as general sales manager. And then he became president of Jerrold.
TAYLOR: What was the outfit that he was with?
ECKER: A wire rope outfit. I don’t remember precisely what the name of it was. The Lab had designed a technique of using a dual cable system, and by that time they were up to 27 channel. It was the original — as I remember — the 27 channels fit onto a 270 MHz system, if you used everything. By that time I had gotten involved in doing all the technical work for Jerrold’s shows. And that was my responsibility for the longest period, right up until – well even after I retired, I used to do the technical part of the shows. Anyway, along comes this two cable 54 channel system, and I’m saying to myself, “Who needs 54 channels? What’re you going to put on 54 channels?” Well, during the course of the business in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, I had gotten to know some people from Paramount Pictures. So I got in touch with Paramount Pictures, and my question to them, very simply, was, “What does the movie Industry have in cans, on the shelf, that could be used for programming?” They gave me a number, and wanted to know why I wanted to know. And I said, “Well you know we’re talking about a system that has multiple channels on it, and I’m just wondering whether we would ever be able to program all those channels.” So he said, “Well, I know where you could get a lot more video information, if you want it.” And I said, “Where is that?” And he said, “This outfit…” Oh what is the name of that magazine that… Oh, National Geographic! And he said to me, “They got tons of video information.” So I called them. And they gave me an idea of what they had.” And he said, “I can tell you about someone who also has information.” So he tells me about an outfit that brings in foreign films to the United States. Anyway, I talked to all these people, and then I put together a white paper for Jerrold. I said very simply… I remember Jerry Hastings, who was national sales manager, was annoyed with me, because Beisswenger almost decided to do away with it. But anyway, I wrote this paper and I said, “Hey, if you take all the programming there is available in this world, a 54 channel system operating at 20 hours a day is going to use up the whole damn works in eight days.” I remember it created a helluva stir, because what the hell do you need a 54-channel system if you can’t get any programming for it? But now that they talk about the number of channels that they can use now, I keep saying to myself, “So you expand that out, instead of taking that amount of time, it would probably take about twenty (days) [he said “hours”]. You know, television consumes a fantastic amount of programming.
TAYLOR: One thing that I began to realize — in fact, I just commented about it a few days ago — the programming that you see on… We’ve got a 120 Channel system there in Fairfax County. About 85 channels, I think, are active programming.
ECKER: …Built by a young man who used to work with me in the Lab.
TAYLOR: Bob Dattner?
ECKER: If ever there was a guy who gold plated a system, he gold plated that.
TAYLOR: Well, I think those were his instructions. You watch on these channels and you will find that there are repeats – the same day. They’ll put the same program on maybe four or five times a day. And then it will be on again next week. But that is a kind of a service, you know. You can see it now, or if you miss it now, you can see it another time.
ECKER: That’s true of HBO and any of the subscription pay channels. But some of the stuff they put on – there has to be a limit somewhere.
TAYLOR: Some of them running the old movies and most of the old movies aren’t worth watching, but they’re there if you want to see them.
ECKER: But at least they’re clean. I happened to tune in to HBO the other night. I could not believe what I was hearing from that program. There was a woman, who supposedly was a comedian – I just couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I don’t know how they get away with it. But, anyway, I built this 54-channel system. We needed a lot of channel, and what I did was simply duplicate some of the channels that we had. We had tape decks running, we had all kind of things running, and a lot of the channels were duplicate of other channels. But I built the headend on top of that hotel that was adjacent to the Convention Center. We ran the cables over the roof and down into the Convention Center from there. It took a long time to build that damn headend. You know, a 54-channel headend takes a little while to build, What I did was, I took two rooms in that hotel. That hotel was one of the first hotels that I remember that had a swimming pool on the fifth floor. And the called it a ____ floor. And I took two rooms there, and we had those two rooms for months. We never checked in. We never checked out. Whenever we went up to work, we just worked and that was it. When it came time for the show, I got thrown out of those two rooms, and they were taken over by the national Sales manager, a guy named Bob May, and somebody else that counted in Jerrold more than we did. After all, the engineers didn’t count very much.
Laughter from both men.
ECKER: I will never forget, I was downstairs at the desk when Bob May checked out. He had a bill of $3,800 for three days. Do you know who else worked with me on that system? You would know him too: Dick Cavell. He was the technician from there on that system.
TAYLOR: He is with Texscan, He’s with Bill Lambert now. I saw him at the show in Anaheim.
ECKER: I had intended to be there, but you know, my wife is in a special care center now.
TAYLOR: Yes, you told me that. Sorry about that. It was about ten years later, I guess, that the 400 MHz hybrids came along. I remember Sruki Switcher was trying to sell 400 MHz single channel in Atlanta on behalf of his franchise client whereas Warner-Amex was talking about going for a dual cable.
ECKER: I’m trying to remember the name of a town. I believe that in Michigan there is a place called Detroit City. Is that the name of the city? Before I lose this train of thought, Jerrold installed that system on a temporary basis as a trial in that Community. Sruki Switcher came down, because what Sruki said was that if you synchronize the carriers… He had some kind of crazy notion that if you synchronize the carriers, you didn’t really need a push-pull system — or was it negative feedback already by that time?
TAYLOR: Are you talking about the HRC?
ECKER: Yes. He said you did not need HRC what you needed to do was to synchronize the carriers, not on an HRC technique, but based on a few cycles one way or the other as far as each one of the relationships to the carrier. He came down when I was doing the testing on that system. Was it Detroit City? Somehow that doesn’t seem like the right name. I remember it had “city” on the end, whatever that damn town was. So we built the system there. Sruki came down and pooh poohed the whole HRC routine as being totally incomplete, and unnecessary.
TAYLOR: He was? He’s got the patent on it!
ECKER: Well, what did we do that was different, at that time? I have to try to remember.
TAYLOR: I’ve got that patent lying on my desk.
ECKER: Well, maybe it was the HRC system because he… I remember he talked about synchronization of carriers. But what was the system that we used in that town that was not HRC? Isn’t that funny? I can’t remember. When we have dinner with Mike, he will remember. Mike is younger than I am, he’ll remember. I would guess that Mike is about 66 or 67?
TAYLOR: Gosh, I don’t know.
ECKER: I know he is past 65, but not by much. I probably have about ten years on Mike, and those ten years make a big difference. If I could just remember the name of that town… I’m trying to remember the system that we used. We had a 54-channel system, 450 MHz system.
TAYLOR: Gosh, he pushed that 400 MHz so hard. He sent me copies of letters. There were several things that he pushed, one was HRC, another he called Phase Phiddling.
ECKER: That was the one!!! Phase Phiddling. He came down with an oscilloscope and he checked all these carriers… That was the one.
TAYLOR: And if you phased them all properly… His other technique that he pushed so hard too, that kind of disappeared, was Frame Synchronization, where you put the sync pulses all on the same time frame and that made all the distortion come — because that is the highest power — in the blanking period.
ECKER: The only thing is you lost the tail end of the picture.
Laughing from both men
ECKER: Oh Yeah. He had all kinds of ideas. I tell you, he had an imagination that was an absolute riot. But he had the brains and the knowledge to be able to, at least theoretically, make some of these things work.
TAYLOR: He also had the guts to push them, and got people to put money into them, so that they got done, and tested out, and he made money on them. He is very good. HRC is probably the one that has been most widely accepted. And there are so many of those systems out there… But, you know, they are trapped. They can’t get out of it. It is very difficult to change from HRC back. But, they tell me… I was looking at one of the systems – I guess it was Las Vegas – and they say that the cable-ready set – modern cable-ready set – is wide enough to make the adjustment without doing anything. So they can operate without converters. You know, most HRC system have to have a converter just to take care of the 1.25 MHz difference. They were telling me — Dan Pike from Prime…
ECKER: Another sharp character.
TAYLOR: An extremely practical guy…
ECKER: A little hard to deal with. I’ve known Dan Pike for many, many years.
TAYLOR: I wanted to ask you – way, way back, and we’ve been jumping from all kinds of things… Fascinating, though, Len. But I wanted to ask, “Why did you get into Engineer in the beginning. You went to Georgia Tech to study engineering. What got you thinking to do that?
ECKER: You won’t believe me – because I don’t know. As a matter of fact, I’ve got a little vignette to tell you about that. Engineering was no place for a Jewish boy to be. There were lots of places that were not open.
TAYLOR: I did not realize that.
ECKER: One story I’ll tell you. When I came back from Europe, and couldn’t make up my mind whether to stay in the Army or not, — this would have been 1946 or 1947 — I got a call from AT&T asking me if I would come in and talk to them. The reason they wanted to talk to me was that the kind of experience that I had in the service… I had been a company commander almost throughout the entire War and they kind of liked management skills and all that kind of stuff – and they would like to talk to me. Maybe this will make up my mind about whether I wanted to stay in the military or not. So, I had an interview with AT&T and I was exactly what they were looking for. So they said to me, “Would you mind filling out an application blank and all the rest.” And on the application blank, one of the first things was religious preference. No sooner did that interviewer get that application blank, they didn’t want any part of me. That was the end of that. They had called me, I didn’t approach them. They approached me. But the minute he read on that application, religious preference, that was the end of that.
TAYLOR: Even after fighting a war which had a lot to do with…
ECKER: Hey! They didn’t want any part of me. In fact, it was because of that that I really decided to stay with the military as long as I did. Why did I go to Georgia Tech? I don’t have the vaguest idea. The only idea that I remember was that I had a mother who was old when I was born, was very doting. I used to continue to feel smothered by that mother. I could not do anything without her wanting to be a part of it. I never was able to buy pieces of clothes that she didn’t buy for me. She never approved of anybody I ever went out with, and made it very obvious that she didn’t approve. She would reward me very generously when I did what she wanted me to do. She showed her displeasure very completely when I didn’t do it. And I just wanted to get away from home. Why I picked Georgia Tech, I don’t really know. I came from a little town in Pennsylvania, 25 miles northwest of Pittsburgh.
TAYLOR: You ended your military service in Florida?
ECKER: Yes, but hey, I went to Tech before I was in the military. I graduated from high school in 1935. I graduated from Georgia Tech in 1939. I was in the army by 1940, because I was ROTC. I’ve always been good in mathematics, and I always enjoyed physics and things like that. But I have this little thing yet that I wanted to tell you. Like many women, my mother belonged to a little coffee klatch – a group of women that would get together from time to time. And, especially among Jewish women, what did they talk about? They talk about their children. This one had a son who was a doctor, this one had a son who was a dentist, this one had a lawyer, and, you know. These were the kind of professions that Jews got into, because in many cases they were barred from getting into other kinds of professions. My mother never said anything. Finally one of the women said to my mother. “You have a son don’t you?” And my mother said, “Yes.” She said, “So what does he do?” My mother said, “He is an Engineer.” The other woman said, “What! You mean he drives trains?”
TAYLOR: You had Carnegie Tech right there in Pittsburg.
ECKER: That was too close to home.
TAYLOR: Oh, I see. You wanted to get away from home. That I can understand.
ECKER: I enjoyed my time at Georgia.
TAYLOR: There was MIT, why didn’t you go to MIT.
ECKER: I don’t know why. A lot of people have asked me. “How in the world did you ever get to Atlanta, Georgia, Georgia Tech?” I don’t really know. I remember vaguely that I applied to maybe three or four or five different schools and I was accepted in all of them. I was a pretty good student in high school. I used to get in a lot of trouble. I was a member of the national Honor Society in high school. You didn’t have any trouble getting into schools in those days. One of the reason I went to Georgia Tech might have been – and I’m not so sure this is true — that it was a land grant school and the tuition, even though I was an out-of-stater, was not too damn expensive. I came out of a family that was not wealthy by any stretch of the imagination. My brother came from a wealthy family, but I didn’t.
TAYLOR: But engineering was because you enjoyed math and…
ECKER: Yes, and I did reasonably well at Georgia Tech. Unfortunately I didn’t work as hard as I should have, but I had a lot of fun. I have been in Atlanta many times since then because there have always been shows in Atlanta, and when I did shows for Jerrold I was always there. In addition to that I used to do seminars for Jerrold, and we would have one in Atlanta every once in a while. On one of my trips back, I decided to go back to the school. The dormitory that I lived in as a freshman is still there, and it is still used as a dormitory. So I went in the dormitory, went up to the room that I had when I was a freshman here. By this time, I was maybe about 55 or 60 years old, I don’t know exactly when this was. I knocked on the door, and some kid came to the door and he looked at me and he said, “Can I do something for you?” I said, “Well, you know, this is the same room that I had when I was a freshman here.” He said, “You’re kidding.” I said, “No, I’m not.” He said, “This building wasn’t built back then.” I said, “The heck it wasn’t.” He said, “It’s a long time.”
Laughter from both men
ECKER: The kid couldn’t believe that, hey, that building was here, because it was obvious that I was an older man. He couldn’t believe that I had shared that room that he had – all those years ago.
TAYLOR: “A rambling wreck from Georgia Tech, but a helluva engineer!”
ECKER: In fact, one of the things – and again, this is an aside. In 1939, the war had threatened in Europe all right. The war didn’t start until September 1939. And the United States decided that maybe they were going to have to have a group of pilots. So they started a Pilot program to train college students to fly. Georgia Tech was one of, I think it was like 13 schools or something around the country. At Georgia Tech they picked out thirty guys that they were going to train to fly, and I happened to be one of them. We learned to fly on the same airport that is now the big International airport. Back in those days, it wasn’t anything like it is now. We flew Piper Cubs. We had skids for the tail, no wheels on the back landing. Didn’t have such things as nose wheels in those days. These were small Piper Cubs, and we had ten of them. Thirty guys were flying continuously. So they really didn’t get the kind of maintenance that they really should have had. Two things stand out in my memory about that program. The day I soloed, I can remember as if it were yesterday, and I’ll tell you about that in a minute. I had already soloed, and I was going to go up alone for touch-and-go practicing. We didn’t have radios in those days. Instead they used an Aldus (?) lamp from the tower. A red lamp, you had to stay where you were. A blinking green permitted you to taxi. A green light was “Go”. We didn’t take off on the concrete runway, we took off on the grass along side, because we had skids on the back, and didn’t have tail wheels. I get this blinking green and taxi into position, get a full green light, pile on the throttle. I get it up there, when all of a sudden this damn airplane literally jumps into the air. So, I’m going around, and I’m going to come in for the first touch-and-go, when one of the other airplanes – one of the other cubs in the group – cuts me off. And I’m teed off. So I go around again, and again he cuts me off. By this time I’m paying more attention. He’s waving at me and doing all kinds of things. And I finally get the impression that something is wrong with my airplane that I don’t know about. These Cubs didn’t have doors that opened up sideways. They had doors that opened up and down, with two halves. We always flew with one of them up anyway. So I rolled the plane up on its side and I looked out the side, and suddenly realized that I didn’t have any wheels. The under carriage had just fallen off when I took off. This was after I had soloed – later. I land this thing on the grass. The only thing that happened is that it took some of the fabric off. The day I soloed, I can remember as if it was yesterday. It’s amazing how things like that stick in your mind. These airplanes didn’t have a wheel [steering] or a yoke. They had a stick — Joy stick — in front and back seats, and students sat in the back, and the instructor in the front. So we’d do touch-and-go and the instructor tells me to pull the airplane off to the side. He gets out – the sticks are held in place by a cotter-pin — pulls out the cotter-pin, takes the stick out, throws it on the ground, gets out, and said, “You’re on your own, go!” Not me. I’m not going up in this thing by myself. I get a blinking green light and I say, “Well I’ll taxi in, but I’m not going to take it off, I don’t care what happens. So I taxied into position and the next thing I know I get the full green light and I said I’ll move but I’m not going to leave the ground, I cut the engine to prevent me from taking off.. The next thing I know I’m airborne, I fly around came back in on the approach and I’m flying and flying, and suddenly the Instructor appeared at the site and said “You know, that a great landing you just accomplished” I did not even know I was on the ground.
ECKER: And I have loved to fly ever since then. And it’s an amazing coincidence, my oldest grandson just graduated from the University of West Virginia, and in ROTC, and is now in the Air Force. He has learned to fly, just as I did. He took a course almost parallel to mine. It’s almost uncanny. The only difference is that he specialized in mechanical engineering whereas I did electrical engineering. Very close, very close to what I did. In fact he did better than what I did. He graduated with a 3.8 GPA in mechanical engineering, which is pretty damn good. But anyway, it’s amazing how that fellow sticks out in my memory. But I flew for many years, and in fact again, it was my wife that made me stop. We were in Williamsport and I belonged to a Flying Club up there, and my wife always liked to sleep on Sunday mornings, so I’d keep the kids quiet. Well, this Sunday morning, I get up and… My daughter, who was younger at that time, just a baby, about two years – three years old. My son, who was two and a half years older than that, was about five, five and a half. I get up, my wife is sleeping, I take my son and go out to the Club, take the airplane and fly back to Pittsburgh to see my parents. We get socked in. I can’t get back to Williamsport. Finally about noontime, I get up enough guts to call my wife on the phone and tell her we’re in Pittsburgh with Steve, the baby, you know my son. She was fit to be tied. That was very close to ending my flying career. She just raised so much cane after that. And besides, even back in those days, it was an expensive hobby. But since my grandson has started to fly, I’ve been up with him a couple of times. I have been tempted to renew my license. Kind of silly, I guess, for a guy who is 76 years old. I really get kind of itchy about that kind of thing but since Ruth is not at home anymore, I really need things to occupy my time. I get very morose and down in the dumps. With this kind of illness that Ruth has, there’s just no light at the end of the tunnel. It’s just something that periodically gets worse – goes from plateau, gets worse, plateau, gets worse, plateau…
TAYLOR: Well, go ahead and do it. You’d have to go through a physical in order to fly again wouldn’t you?
ECKER: I wouldn’t have any trouble with that.
TAYLOR: If you are in good health. Why not, why not. I think you ought to go ahead and do it.
ECKER: I’ve been very much tempted. You know, and I don’t mean to cry in my beer, but this thing that Ruth has is not cheap. Where she is costs me forty grand every year. And that’s a pretty good nut to pitch out. It’s a sum of money that has to be spent. And flying is so expensive. That’s the one thing that’s been kind of holding me back a little. But I’m very sorely tempted, and I may very well do that. You know Mike Jeffers?
TAYLOR: Yes, Oh Yes.
ECKER: You know what Mike looks like now? Can you imagine him as a pilot on an aircraft carrier?
TAYLOR: He must have been slimmer.
ECKER: Mike was a pilot in the Navy and flew off aircraft carriers. Mike is quite a guy. You could not hope to meet a nicer guy. He doesn’t have a mean bone in his body. He’s an amazing guy.
TAYLOR: Did you know Norm Penwell?
TAYLOR: Norm, of course and I started up out in Montana, so I have been associated with him a long, long time. In fact when I first went out to Montana as a consultant, in my freelance one man shop, he was just about my first client. He wanted some help building a radio station which I help him do. Norm was a flyer and it was not till later that I learned that when he was about seven years old he poked one eye out, so here he had only one eye and he was able to fly. That has always puzzled me how you could do that. You have to learn depth perception in other ways.
ECKER: I would not have thought so, but l don’t really know. You know when I was over in England on this radar training job, I flew everything the Royal Air Force had, because everybody was nice to me and they knew that I could fly. And we’d be up, and the guy would say to me, “Do you want to take the controls?” And I’d say, “I’d love to.” The British had something called the Sunderlin, which was a flying boat. In its day, it was a big aircraft. Alongside a 747, it would look like a cup. As I remember it was a big aircraft, had two decks, had a galley kitchen on board and was used by Coastal Command for coastal patrol.
TAYLOR: Was this like the flying boats that Pan Am used — clipper ships.
ECKER: Yeah, It would have been similar to that. It was bigger than the clipper ships. Made by an outfit called Sunderlin. And it was used by Coast… The particular Squadron that I was assigned to were Australian, and they were a wild bunch of people. We’d go up in this boat, this flying boat, and the captain would say to me, “Do want to fly the thing?” So I’d get behind the yoke of this thing and he’d say to me, “Hey, the right wing is down. Get the right wing up!” Part of my career, after I came out of Georgia Tech and went back into the army… Before I was actually in the Signal Corps at Monmouth, I spent some time with the Air Corps – in those days it was called the Air Corps, it wasn’t the Air Force yet. It wasn’t that until after the War started. But anyway, I had had some experience with P36s, which was an in-line fighter plane. So I had flown single engines, fast aircraft. And in those kinds of things, whatever you did, you got a reaction quite quickly. So he’d say to me that the wing is down – or something like that, and I’d ease it over. And he’d say, “Come on get that wing up!” And he’d grab hold of that yoke and yank it over and that thing would pick up its wings very slowly.–It didn’t do anything very quickly. It was a four-engine aircraft. I was on that aircraft on a patrol when we were out looking for the Hindenburg – no, the Bismarck – I was on patrol with that Australian Squadron when the Bismarck was spotted in the North Atlantic. We did not wear uniforms, we went in plain clothes, wore British flying suits, because at that time the United States was at peace and we were supposed to be neutral. I would go into London on a weekend, stay at the Cumberland Hotel, which was across the Street from the American Embassy at Marble Arch. “Have you been in London?”
ECKER: Then you would know Marble Arch where the American Embassy is. I’d go out to have a drink, I’d walk in and people would look at me kind of strange. You know, here’s a guy in civilian clothes that look like he ought to be in the service. And the minute you opened your mouth, all they wanted to do was buy you a drink. They knew you were a Yank right away. When I got over to the Embassy there, before I could get in there, the Marine on guard wanted to know what I was doing. Remember England was already at war. When I showed him my identification, he snapped to attention and saluted. I went into the Embassy I saw all these guys in civilian clothes and I say to myself, “Boy they’ve got a lot of clerks in this place, you know.” On December the 7th, late in the afternoon, Pearl Harbor gets bombed, because in Scotland it was late in the afternoon I get a telegram from the Embassy telling me to report to the Embassy immediately in uniform. I go down.
END OF TAPE 2, SIDE A
START TAPE 2, SIDE B
ECKER: What else can I tell you that might be of interest to anybody? I think I mentioned to you, Archer, that the Museum has a 40 minute videotape of me. Let’s see I got the Founder’s Award from the Pennsylvania Association in, I think, 1990 and the presentation was made at Penn State. It was on a weekend and the Museum was closed, but Froke…
TAYLOR: …Marlowe Froke
ECKER: Yes. He was at the presentation, and he agreed to open up the Museum so my kids could see it. My kids were fascinated because, I guess I must be in, maybe a half a dozen more or less, pictures that are hanging on the wall. Then he ran this videotape, and my kids and grandchildren were just fascinated.
TAYLOR: Was the tape about your background and your history and some of the things you did?
ECKER: It’s amazing how your spouse can really put you in your place. About half way through this tape, she said to me, “Did you really have to talk so much?’
TAYLOR: “How many children do you have?”
ECKER: Two, a boy and a girl and I have four grandchildren.
TAYLOR: What do your children do?
ECKER: My son heads up a mental health clinic in Richmond, Virginia. He has a PhD in psychology. My daughter has a very interesting job. She is out of the University of Pittsburgh. She works for an outfit called SOS International. It is a rather unique organization, I had never heard of it but maybe there are others as well. What they do is, they’re like an insurance policy for major corporations, or individuals, but mostly major corporations that have people travelling abroad in out-of-the-way places. And what they do is, they handle any kind of emergency that has to do with either legal or medical problem. They maintain, out of Geneva, a medical evacuation unit. If you have a medical problem and you can’t be treated where you are, they will evacuate you back to a hospital where they can handle your kind of a problem. Or if you get into legal problems that require legal help, or even monetary help, they are there for you. They do this basically for large corporations who have many people travelling, and they are available 24 hours a day. The man who started this company, it’s basically a one-man corporation, I believe is Swiss, comes out of Geneva. His main headquarters is right here, just outside Philadelphia. And what my daughter is involved with is very interesting. She gets involved in paying the various charges that occur because of the problems. She deals in all kinds of currency, and in fact has learned how to buy and sell options in foreign currency, so as to have a supply of money whenever they need it. And to assist her in the office in dealing with some of the places that she can’t talk to because she doesn’t know the language, they have a Japanese girl, a Chinese girl, a man who speaks French, Spanish, most of the languages of the world. She tells me some of the interesting things that happen. She had to pay for medical evacuation for Elizabeth TAYLOR:, out of wherever the hell she was in Africa. She got sick and they evacuated her back to France, or wherever it was. (Interruption for a telephone call). That’s her. It’s very interesting, that job. Gets to talk to people all over the world, handles the monetary reimbursement for whatever these services are, for people that they hospitalize.
TAYLOR: Did she take economics, or finance?
ECKER: No. Strangely enough, she’s learned it all since she went to work for this outfit. She does very well. They like her. Well, she’s a hard worker – she’s a workaholic. Sometimes I call and can’t get hold of her because she’s at work at seven o’clock at night, six-thirty in the morning. Her husband also has a very interesting job. It’s amazing how my kids and their spouses have gone into things at work. He is the chief probation officer for the Juvenile Probation Court here in the city of Philadelphia. He’s got some stories to tell because of the kids he deals with (whistle).
TAYLOR: I’m sure.
ECKER: My daughter-in-law is on the staff of the Governor of Virginia.
TAYLOR: For goodness sake! Wilder’s staff?
ECKER: Yes. And she has already been told that the new governor wants her on his staff. She has a master’s degree in psychology as well, and her expertise is in the area of women and child abuse. She does no work as far as the active part of that is concerned. But literally, she travels, not only the state, but outside of the state as well, to counsel police forces, district attorney’s offices, and things like that, in the manner in which they ought to handle those kinds of cases. A couple of weeks ago, she was in Seattle on that kind of a program. She has been to Washington many times, goes all over.
TAYLOR: They have the most famous case in Washington at the moment, the Bobbit case. What did you say you son was doing?
ECKER: My son is a psychologist, and he heads up a very large mental health clinic, and his specialty is substance abuse in families. I was down for Thanksgiving and he was telling me about one of the more interesting parts of his job is that he gets policemen who are alcoholic and have been sent to him for treatment. He gets pretty rough with them because they don’t want to believe that they are alcoholic. He gets rough with them by telling them that if, hey, if they don’t want to follow the program that he lays out for them, he’s going to go to their commanding officer, and they don’t want any part of that. Some of them have been sent here by the sergeants, or immediately above them, and they don’t want the hierarchy to know that this guy has an alcohol problem.
TAYLOR: Does he have MD training?
ECKER: No, he has a PhD in psychology. There’s a kid – You wonder to yourself – terrible student in high school. So finally, in his junior year I took him out of school and sent him to a private school. Couldn’t get him into a college. Finally get him into a junior college in a small school here in Pennsylvania. Then finally got him into a school out in Nebraska, which was a nothing kind of college as well, and barely got him through there. In fact, that school was in existence only about six or seven years, and then went out of business. So it was one of these kind of places. Finally, he went to Villanova here for his master’s, and he got that. And he then went to Virginia Tech in Blacksburg for his PhD. Suddenly, I don’t know what happened. I wouldn’t have given you a plug nickel for what he was going to be when he was going to school.
TAYLOR: My daughter graduated from Virginia Tech.
ECKER: At Blacksburg?
TAYLOR: Yes. We visited down there a number of times. Pretty country down there.
ECKER: While he was going to Blacksburg, he lived in a little town of Christiansburg, which is just south of there. We used to go down and visit. I once taught a seminar in Harrisonburg. It was done for that outfit down there…
TAYLOR: …Warren Braun…
ECKER: Warren Braun’s old outfit, Comsonics. We went down to visit Steve once and coming back on 81, I think it is. We stopped for lunch, and went into a Holiday Inn for lunch, and the waitress said to me, “I know you. I’ve seen you before.” But how could she possibly know… She said, “I know you. You’ve been here before.” And I didn’t remember that I’d been there before. And then I got to thinking and remembered that I ran a seminar here, about two years ago, and it was in this hotel. She handled the lunch during that seminar, she remembered that. You know, I did, by Jerrold’s reckoning, about three hundred and fifteen seminars, total attendance of pretty close to seven thousand people. That stood me in good stead when I retired out of Jerrold. When I started my own little consulting outfit, I had had so much exposure on the outside that I had no trouble at all.
TAYLOR: Were these seminars all in the States?
ECKER: All over the World. I did seminars in Brussels, in London, in Israel, in
Venezuela. Oh yes, I had seminars all over… The fact of the matter is, Freddy Lieberman sent me to Israel the first time to do the feasibility study for Tel Aviv, and during that period of time I got to know the Israeli government reasonably well, the people who mattered from my stand-point. And so when they finally decided that they weren’t going to be able to keep cable out of Israel, the Israeli government hired me as a consultant to establish the standards for Israel. I worked with the Ministry of Communications there, which then ran the Telephone Company.
TAYLOR: Yes, Bezeq.
ECKER: No it wasn’t Bezeq. It was the Ministry of Communications then. It wasn’t until after that that it was separated out and became Bezeq, which was the Telephone Company of Israel. Then I worked with Bezeq for quite a while. There was a woman there who was there from the beginning, Mrs. Segal.
TAYLOR: Yes, that’s right. Vivien, wasn’t it? Vivien Segal.
ECKER: Yes Vivien, Vivien Segal. It was with her that I did the specs for Israeli television – for cable. She was bound and determined to make it European specs. And I remember the fight I had with her. She wanted to use only copper cable, and based on the argument she had with me, she finally wrote her specs to exclude copper cable, and was absolutely amazed when I told her, “You can’t exclude copper.”
TAYLOR: I met with her in Montreaux. We had a client who ended up building two of the systems in Israel, Beer Sheva, and there was another one
ECKER: There was a Mort Allon who was the engineer at Beer Sheva. Mort Allon was here about a month ago at an outfit here.
TAYLOR: Yes, he came by our office. I met him again.
ECKER : Just recently? He tried to get in touch with me and couldn’t, so the outfit that’s
here in Philadelphia – Ralph… runs an outfit here called Peca.
TAYLOR: A former Jerrold guy. I meant to ask Mike what his name was, but got sidetracked.
ECKER: His name is Ralph… Ralph… I can’t think of it. But his wife was a sister to Hank Arbeiter’s wife. Ralph worked with me… There was a period of time in my life with Jerrold when Don Kirk had left Jerrold and joined up with Dalck Feith to create K&F, making microwave equipment. Dalck decided that he did not want any part of that business.
TAYLOR: Except the money. Listening to Don he got skinned out of everything he should have had.
ECKER: Dalck decided to sell that business to Milt and he got for that business $900 thousand in cash and 300 shares of stock.
TAYLOR: …in Jerrold?
ECKER: In Jerrold. Ten percent of which was to go to Don – of everything — and five percent was to go to Bill Lambert. So Bill was a part of K&F and so was Ed Ebenbach. When he sold it to Milt there was supposed to be some quantity of finished microwave units. So Milt sent me over to the plant to find out what was there. When I got over there I found out there was a lot of metal work but there wasn’t any finished material. Milt decided that we would finish out the metal work that was there. So we got into the business of making microwave equipment. The first microwaves we made were supposed to go to Thailand for the American Army. We built it for Philco, under a Philco label, private label stuff, 6 GHz stuff. And this Ralph – that we’re now trying to think of his name — was a field engineer for there and we sent him to… It was originally to go to Viet Nam, and then because Viet Nam blew up at that particular time, it went into Thailand. But he was sent over there to put this stuff into operations. That was my first association with him, I was the plant manager there for three and a half years, as long as we were in the microwave business. I’ll tell you, those were the days, with Bill Lambert, Don Kirk, Ed Ebenbach. Those were the days. And that was the basis of the eventual 840 thousand shares that Dalck owned. He had gotten stock before that, but that was a big portion of it.
TAYLOR: Was this the very late 50’s?
ECKER: No. I’ll tell you exactly when it was. It was not in the 50’s. It was in 1962, because of the pressure from one of the FCC directors, Robert E. Lee, the FCC was toying with the idea that all Television should be in the UHF band.
TAYLOR: Oh, yes that was his theme
ECKER: Yes. The reason being that they could not afford to take the 6 MHz out of the band we we’re in, they needed that for mobile stuff, because mobile was going out strong. They hired Jerrold to go to New York to do a survey to find out if UHF was comparable to VHF. OK. Who got picked for that job?
ECKER: I was in New York for 12 months. It took me a month to get the project under way. We built a station, Channel 31, which is now WNYC, I believe. And we built a Channel 76, which we put on top of the George Washington Bridge. Channel 31 was on the Empire State Building. Originally we didn’t have an antenna on the tower so we had a horn that we stuck out of the window of the 80 floor of the Empire State Building. I ran that particular test, all with temporary help that I picked up off the streets of New York, for ten months. They supplied us with 5,000 addresses in New York that were picked by the Census Bureau out of Rolla, Missouri, or Columbus, one of those places — addresses only, no names. In order to do the test we had to get into the location. We had five guys who did nothing but try to make appointments to get into these places.
TAYLOR: The addresses were selected at random, that was the point.
ECKER: Twenty-five hundred of them were in Manhattan, twenty-five hundred were in a radius of twenty-five miles of the Empire State Building…as far up as Rockland County, all the suburbs and all the rest of them. You know, getting into someone’s home is not an easy job. The FCC insisted that it had to be in the location where they were. Now, they supplied us with field strength meters made by RCA, television sets made by RCA. We had a hundred black and white sets and we had ten color sets. This was in 1962. Just as an aside, when I finished that job we had none of the original hundred and ten sets. Each set had on it, “Do not tamper with this set. Protected by the FBI.” Every time one of them disappeared, we would call the FBI on the phone. That was as far as it went. They’d supply me with a new set. We didn’t have one of the original sets when we finished that. They would just disappear.
TAYLOR: You would put them in the homes, and leave them for how long?
ECKER: Thirty days and every tenth location, we would put in a color set. I trained my people… And the fact of the matter is this was when I first got into this business of how do you read what you see on a television set from the standpoint of signal-to-noise. Every week we would have a renewal session, and I’d run different signal-to-noise ratios and show them what it looked like on the television sets. And they got pretty damn good about it. They could call any carrier-to-noise ratio within about half a dB, one way or the other and we changed continuously. I had twenty crews on the road. Each crew had a top man and a helper. Parking rates in New York became ungodly. Jerrold was getting $100,000 per month for that job, we got a million bucks for that job. That was a big project in those days.
TAYLOR: This was Federal money.
ECKER: FCC money, yes. As a matter of fact Jerrold had a plaque, for the longest time, from the FCC telling us that they appreciated what we did. But since that plaque referred to me, I don’t know whether it’s still around anymore. We did that test, and I had five guys out working, and there were some places you just couldn’t get into. One of the places I couldn’t get into, no matter what, was Spanish Harlem. You knocked on the door there and you said, “I’m from the Federal Government.” And, boy, that was the end of that. The door was locked. Nobody would want to talk to you. I don’t know whether you would remember a Congressman named Adam Clayton Powell. Adam Clayton Powell was the representative from New York City for Harlem. Had an office down in Spanish Harlem. I wasn’t getting anywhere. Any time we had a location in Spanish Harlem, we couldn’t do it. So I finally went to see Adam Clayton Powell. I went to see the Congressman, and I said to him, “Hey, I’m on a Federal project here. I just can’t do anything in this area. And I described what we had to do and all the rest of that. He said, “Well, give me a little time to think about it. I’ll work something up for you. Get back in touch with me in a couple of days and I’ll tell you what I’m going to do for you.” I called him back and he said, “Come on in, I want you to meet somebody.” So I go in. He’s got this Puerto Rican there who is about 6’4″ tall, and as broad as he is tall, and he said to me, “I want you to meet the King of Harlem. If you put him on your payroll you won’t have any more trouble.” And he was right. When I had a job to do down in Harlem I’d send… He became a crew chief for me. Didn’t know a damn thing about what he was doing, but that’s all right, the guy was effective. When we had a job down there, I would send him down there. He would knock on the door, they wouldn’t open the door, he kicked the door in – literally kicked the door in. We completed 97% of the locations that they gave us. Eventually, we had an antenna up on the tower and we had the transmitter on the 80th floor. The transmitter on the George Washington Bridge never worked well. We couldn’t find that channel that was up in the 70s anywhere. The minute you got a mile away from the George Washington Bridge, it was done.
TAYLOR: It wasn’t very high, either. Was it on one of the towers?
ECKER: It was on the bridge tower, not very high but it really wasn’t very powerful either. The one in the Empire State Building was a pretty good size transmitter. We compared it to Channel 4, which was NBC and Channel 7, which was ABC. We had one low band and one high band to compare it to. We did all those tests, and it was based on those tests that they decided that instead of going UHF with everything they ordered the all Channel Receiver. Up to that time if you wanted to receive UHF, you had to have a box on top of your television set. It was only after that test that we did in New York – it was a total of a year. It took a month to get started, and it took us a month to tear it down, and I have an interesting story to tell you about that. Since the television sets were all given to the FCC by RCA – they may have been bought, I don’t know about that – and we used their field strength meters and their television sets, the FCC decided that they would donate all the technical equipment to the City of New York. And it would then be known as WNYC TV, Channel 31. It was decided that the presentation would be made to the Mayor of New York, who at that time was Lindsey. The Commissioner of Police was a guy named Murphy. They were going turn this over to the city, and they decided to do it in a very fancy affair at Gracie Mansion. At this mansion there is a police box at the entrance, with a policeman on duty there all the time. Well, when the other set manufacturers heard what was going to happen, that we were going to set up this thing at Gracie Mansion, and there were going to be all these people there and we were going to broadcast this whole thing, transmit it back down to the Empire State Building and out over the air, and we were going to have these big groups at Gracie Mansion, All the other set manufacturers got teed off. The only manufacturer that was going to be there would be General Electric sets. [RCA] The City and the FCC agreed that everybody could send a television set that was making television sets. So I got eleven different kinds of television sets to put into the Gracie Mansion. And in fact, it was very funny, because we were wiring up Gracie Mansion for this whole damn shebang and in order to get to the roof, we had to go through the Mayor’s bedroom and frequently he and his wife would be in bed and we would go through dragging all this cable. I got an invitation, and I still have it here somewhere, a special invitation to come to this big shindig at Gracie Mansion. Now while I was working up there I took my wife up once, and in order to get her out of my hair while I was working at Gracie Mansion, I got her some passes down to the studio to see a television show. And, lo and behold, she gets picked to be a participant on the Price is Right. Back in those days, it’s different now.
TAYLOR: Which Studio, was it NBC?
ECKER: I think it was. But anyway she gets on the Price is Right. The day that she gets on the program is the same day as they had this affair, but her big deal is in the morning, and that’s fine. So I made arrangement for her to pick up a cab, come out to Gracie Mansion to be with me during this Presentation. Newton Minow was there, Robert E. Lee was there and Kenneth Cox, member of the FCC, was there, the Mayor with all his dignitaries was there, and the guy who just died with Lou Gehrig’s disease. He was a Senator then, from New York – just died, a very prominent Senator. I’ll think of his name. Anyway, he was there, a couple of Congressmen. It was such a big affair they couldn’t have it inside the Gracie Mansion. So they had one of these tents outdoors, and all kinds of drinks and hors d’oevre and everything like that. My wife comes, and I prompted the policeman on the box that my wife was coming, and please let her in, because I had the invitation. She couldn’t have cared less about the program thing. All she wanted to talk about was being on The Price is Right. I introduced her to Newton Minow, I introduced him as Chairman of the FCC and she says “I’m in television too,” and started to tell him about the Price is Right,. She had won a bunch of stuff, which we had for living room furniture for a few years afterward. The end of this story is, the shindig is over and I go back to the Hotel and come back the next day to take all this apart. One television set is still there, that I could find. That happened to be from Sears and Roebuck, it was an entertainment center that must have weighed about six hundred pounds. I went to the Policeman on the box and I said, “What the hell happened to my ten television sets?” He didn’t know a damn thing. I’m sure. Yeah, he knew. Maybe it was the Commissioner got one of them. Maybe, I don’t know who the hell got them. The worst part about it is… There was an outfit called – it began with an “E”.
ECKER: Did they make television sets? They had sent me a prototype model. That was gone. And, Oh my God! They were up in arms, for crying out loud. It was a prototype. It had something special on it. Ten television sets out of eleven disappeared out of Gracie Mansion, between the end of the evening and when I got back there the next morning. And the cop on the beat doesn’t know a damn thing about it. I’m sure that every one of those sets that went out of there, that some wheel purloined that television set. I had a lot of strange while I was with Jerrold.
TAYLOR: You sure did.
ECKER: In 1971 Jerrold asked me to create for them a World Wide Field Engineering course, which I did. And I had field engineers from all over the country reported in. Prior to that Jerrold had many sales regions and each of the regions had its own field engineer. We consolidated under one head, and I headed up that group until 1977, and Jerrold decided that they needed what they called an Engineering Application group. This would be the interface between the field engineers, the Lab, and customers in the Lab, and he wanted all graduate Engineers. They gave me a $25,000 per man budget to hire guys right out of school, and I did. I went down to the University of Pennsylvania to the engineering school there that was known as the Moore School, hired some guys from there, some guys from Drexel and built up that particular group. The best engineer I had was a woman that I had hired. But I also had some bums. One of the guys that I wanted very badly was a guy who was already in Jerrold who was working as a bench technician. He did not have a formal degree, but I knew him and wanted him for my group and so I promoted him and gave him a raise that brought him up to what the guys I was hiring right off the campus were getting. The Personnel Manager of Jerrold had an absolute fit. You can’t do that! They had guidelines on the maximum raise a guy could get, and this was well above that. I remembered that I had to go to… Who the hell would have been President then? The President then would have been John Malone, young Dr. John… And I remember going to him and explaining it, and he finally ok’d it. The Personnel Department totally hated me for that. And I don’t know whether you know this guy or not. His name is Bill Beck. Do you know him at all?
ECKER: He has since become a very important cog in that organization. He is the Engineering Manager for amplifier design and that sort of thing. He has done very well and bringing him up was one of the best things… He was ready to go, as a matter of fact Magnavox had offered him a job. And that is one of the best things I ever did, was to keep that guy. There was a period of time in my bench career when I had Mike on one side and Frank on the other side. I remember one of the things that always amused me was Ken Simons had designed a broadband sweep generator called a 900A, and it used a Quam vibrator out of a speaker cone that operated a capacitor that did the sweeping. Hank Arbeiter was in charge of the group that make the heads for that damn 900A. And we had a clean room at Jerrold where they made those things. And the guy I mentioned earlier, Caywood Cooley, was the salesman for the Test Equipment group. And he sold the United States Navy on putting a 900A on every new ship that was commissioned. It did not work very well in the cable industry for which it was originally intended; it was too damn expensive. So with Jerrold’s penchant for naming things, they cheapened the thing down so it could be sold in the cable industry and called it an 890. Why an 890? Because it wasn’t quite a 900! Oh yes, Jerrold had a penchant for doing things like that – you know, NQV and this kind of stuff. I tell you, my career with Jerrold would span about 26 years – they were great years for me. They gave me a chance to get a tremendous amount of exposure that stood me in good stead when I decided to go out on my own. I got a letter from Hal Krisberg a few months ago lauding me for been a loyal Jerrold employee and being totally Jerrold even after I left Jerrold – which was true. I wrote him a little answer about how guys like me were kind of designated to have Jerrold tattooed on both cheeks. I don’t think that Frank Ragone ever left Jerrold either, even though they used different kinds of equipment.
TAYLOR: Yes, there was a spirit to Jerrold, a way of doing things.
ECKER: Not only that, but being a part of Jerrold was being in the birth of this industry. Jerrold was Jerrold. I remember the early days of shows. I remember the Hotel shows in Palmer House and the Conrad Hilton in Chicago, where the hall where we had the exhibit wasn’t big enough for everybody, so they would put Jerrold in the Red Locker room. But it really didn’t matter where they put them, because, hey, everybody who went to the show, who did they look for? They looked for Jerrold. To have been a part of that era… How many people get an opportunity to be part of the inception of an industry, and to be a part of having grown with that industry. There aren’t many people that get that opportunity. You and I have been very fortunate.
TAYLOR: That’s right. My wife has said to me many times, “Did you ever believe, when you were working up there in Kalispell, that you were going to be part of this thing that is now cable television?”
ECKER: I wanted to ask you about Montana. One of the men I met in Jerrold, who then became a client of mine and then eventually died. He was a guy that had a system in a small town in Montana…
TAYLOR: Mac Clark…
ECKER: He was legally blind.
TAYLOR: No not Mac Clark. I know exactly who you mean. He built the system in East Missoula. Oh gosh, I know who he was, very well.
ECKER: He was a client of mine. I use to design systems… He used to run up every damn canyon. He had that system spread out all over hell’s half acre. In his particular system, it was the only system where I ever agreed he could use the trunk line to tap. He was legally blind and used to climb up the poles! And you know, I did things for him for so many years, and when he would call in to Jerrold, he wouldn’t talk to anyone but Len. That’s all. And the name of that town in Montana was kind of strange – it was a strange name. Now why can’t I remember that?
TAYLOR: He was in East Missoula, Milltown… I know exactly who you mean, but just cannot come up with his name.
ECKER: Did you know the guy who built Colorado Springs? It’s funny that I can remember his wife’s name but not his. He originally came out of Ardmore, Oklahoma. When I was in Williamsport, he came and spent a month with me to find out about cable before he built Ardmore. He was a drunk, a sot, flew an airplane, but I have a story, a little vignette again. I was in Colorado Springs. By the way Colorado Springs was the reason why we went from 30 Volts to 60 Volts in power. Were you aware of that?
ECKER: Colorado Springs was designed with a 30-Volt system. The television station in Colorado Springs got an injunction against the cable system to prevent it from building that system. That injunction was in effect long enough so that the price of copper rose to the point where it was no longer economically feasible to use the copper center conductor, so they switched to copper clad aluminum. When the system finally got built instead of being built with copper center conductor, it was built with copper clad aluminum and the 30 Volt system didn’t work.
[The tape runs out, and the interview is terminated]