Interview Date: March 14, 2023
Interview Location: Denver, Colorado
Interviewer: Tracy Baumgartner
Collection: Hauser Oral History Project
Go to 1:24:07 in the video to see Bob Gold’s storytime reading of The Shiny Penny.
TRACY BAUMGARTNER: Hi, welcome to another oral history here from the Syndeo Institute at The Cable Center. Tracy Baumgartner, I’m the Vice President of Sustainability with Comcast. But today, March 14, 2023, is all about Bob Gold. He is a cable pioneer, a PR guru, an actor, an author, a storyteller, and so much more, and we’re going to spend the next hour — at least — learning about the amazing career journey of Bob Gold.
BOB GOLD: Wow. Wow, wow, wow. (laughs) Thank you. Thank you, Syndeo Institute, aka what we all knew as The Cable Center, for helping us be part of a transformation moment in our industry. And this is just one in a long series of how we have individually and as an industry have grown and changed.
BAUMGARTNER: I love this because one of the things that you are such a master of is the message and how you create the message to influence the industry, and we’re at a special moment today of this change and transformation here at The Cable Center — at the Syndeo Institute at The Cable Center, and that’s really part of the changing message — the evolution of how this industry is growing. And we’re going to talk a lot about of how you have mastered that message over 25 years as founder of Bob Gold & Associates. You are silver there, Mr. Gold.
GOLD: Well, thank you. My father’s first name was Ruby. We lived on Silver Street, and our last name was Gold. So there had to be something in the works for me.
BAUMGARTNER: Oh, there’s some jewelry, some shiny, shiny in there. All right, so let’s talk about your career, your life, your journey. So let’s start with education because that’s really, I know, a foundation for you and where things started. So as all good communications leaders in the industry, you have a bachelor’s in psychology, and then a master’s in communications and media studies. I would say working with a lot of executives requires at least some kind of degree in psychology, but explain how your education really prepared you for your career.
GOLD: Well, I was a little lost Jew going through school. I had no idea (laughs) what I was doing. And you come out of certain areas, you want to understand — okay, I’ll say it, and I think when I was a kid, my family was toxic. My mother and father were divorced — separated and then divorced. My mother would hold me and my sister in her arms and have these huge fighting matches, shouting matches with my dad about money for the kids. So that kind of — you need a little psychological help. In fact, later on in years, my mother used to be so proud and so valued my opinion, but that’s only because she paid so much for me to have one. (laughter) So anyway, I really feel like education lays a foundation, and today, having psychology as a background is great because one of the things we do is crisis communications. And in that situation we are professional executive therapists, right, in taking them through this journey and guilt and the being afraid, and of course, everything passes over time, heals, everything. There doesn’t need to be a crisis comms team because it’ll all go away. There’ll be another crisis that will come and take it out of the news. Just wait.
BAUMGARTNER: That’s true, and we’re going to talk about some of these opportunities you had to see a troubled organization or a troubled individual work through some crisis communications. But how did you get into this industry?
GOLD: Oh wow.
BAUMGARTNER: First gig.
GOLD: Yeah. So what — so a couple of items here is I went to the Annenberg School of Communications at USC, which my alma mater. I’m very proud of USC. I’ve been on the board of governors and the chair of the alumni board for Annenberg. But I got there by mistake because back in the ’70s, when you opened up a big green book of all the graduate schools to make your applications, every department of public relations was either in a school of journalism or in a school of communications. There was no school of public relations. So I didn’t really remember when I went back to my dorm room which schools to apply to, and I applied to the wrong school at USC — the school of communications. It turns out PR was in the school of journalism, and they called me up when I was driving to California because I was going to make my name in California — the future — where the center of the universe came together because of the media industry — and they said, “Do you want to go to the school of communication or the school of communications? We’re not clear.” I said, “What’s the difference?” They said, “One has an S at the end of it.” (laughter) I go, “No, no, no, what’s the difference?” Well, one is the school of library science and the other was learning about satellites and communications and cable, the whole new world of what communications was about. And I said, “Oh, that one. That one.” And I was there for three months, and Dean Rusk was coming over to be a speaker. Walter Annenberg was part of the organization. I actually got invited to a lunch with President Ford. And then I realized I was in the wrong school. But by that point, our little school of 60 graduate students and 20 doctorate students, we were so elite, I was staying there.
And when it was time to get a job, I kind of lost my way, and I was going to be a director of research at ABC, and someone was fired and — or left, and they put my job on hold, and I was desperate. And I heard this story from the director of alumni affairs. I graduated in May. It’s now July. I am desperate for work, and that the dean of the school — the Annenberg School — worked with Jule Styne, the co-founder of Universal Studios, to help him get a friend of his’s son into the Annenberg School, an ambassador from Argentina. So Jule Styne said to the dean, “Thank you very much. If I can ever do a favor for you, just let me know.” Well, it’s summer. The dean is gone on summer sabbatical, and I hear this story, and I thought, “Oh, I know how to use this.” And I picked up the phone and I literally dialed the general number for Universal Studios. “Can I speak to Jule Styne?” They put me through, and I said, “I am Dean Burns’ favor.” He goes, “Oh really? How old are you?” I said, “I’m 23 years old.” He goes, “Oh, you’re old enough to start in the mail room.” I go, “No, no, no, no, I have a graduate degree in communications from the Annenberg School. This is what I can do.” He says, “Send me your resume.” Two weeks later, I was in the mail room.
BAUMGARTNER: There you go.
GOLD: That was how I started.
BAUMGARTNER: In the mail room.
BAUMGARTNER: And how did you get out of the mail room?
GOLD: Well — and this is how I got into PR — so I knew I wanted to get to PR. I had been trying and talking to people in the publicity department at Universal, and the assistant to the unit publicist of The Blues Brothers with John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd was pushing an old 300-pound Selectric IBM typewriter on the lot from one little temporary office space to another, and she was on a little metal wheel things, and it started to go downhill, and it got away from her. And it was starting to go over a bump and fall, and she reached out to grab the typewriter, and she fell over the typewriter and broke her neck, and they needed a new replacement for the assistant to the unit publicist, and that was me. So she turned out okay. No death, no —
GOLD: — no injury —
BAUMGARTNER: She lived.
GOLD: — lifetime injury that I know of. But I got to work for Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi and the unit publicist and really see how it was put together. Now, The Blues Brothers, if you recall, was a very wild and crazy shoot. There were a lot of white substances on the set. And fast forward, Maggie Bellville is CLO of Charter, and I’m like, “I’m desperate. I’m desperate to work with you. I know I can do so much.” She goes, “Well, you know –” “I can do this, I can do this. Here’s what I’d like to do for Charter, make you even more successful.” And she says, “Well, you know, this guy, Dan Aykroyd, keeps calling me and the CEO, and we’re not taking his calls because we don’t know how to talk to him. Would you answer his calls?” “Oh, I’ve got that. I worked on the Academy Award –”
BAUMGARTNER: “I know Dan.”
GOLD: “– I can do that.” So I called Dan Aykroyd, and he says, “Well, I really just want to help Charter flourish,” and on-demand was a brand new technology. We had this huge diva video tape machines and they play three-quarter inch tapes in them. Anyway, I said, “Well, getting people to learn on-demand and go to you — having original programming would really help, and if you’re doing a concert like you do The Blues Brothers with John’s brother Jim — Jim Belushi — that can make a really great show.” He said, “Well, we’re doing a concert in Ottawa.” So I called Maggie. I said, “Why don’t we make this an original video tape production?” She said, “I love the idea,” and I got hired to produce Dan Aykroyd and Jim Belushi in a Blues Brothers live show called “Have Love, Will Travel,” and we did it as the first original show for Charter, and it was really great. The downside of that was that they picked all their own songs, and the rights for paying — the music rights — for paying for that to give it to on-demand and some of the other companies to make it industry-wide were so egregious, we would never even make our original budget —
BAUMGARTNER: Right, back.
GOLD: — from what was there. So it just stayed on-demand. Every subscriber who tuned in got a Hallmark card — “Thank you for being a Charter On-Demand subscriber.” — and we sent them a free CD of the music. But that was really great, and what’s wonderful is this is full circle of having been a little assistant and now a producer too.
BAUMGARTNER: That’s what’s so fun about this industry is you start in one place, you make connections, and they come back years, decades later, and you just pick up. I mean, you and I met —
BAUMGARTNER: — several years ago, 25-plus, maybe a little more ago, and now we get the chance to do this together. It’s amazing.
GOLD: Yeah, and you are someone —
BAUMGARTNER: Oh dear.
GOLD: — Tracy, I have always admired and felt you are simply an extraordinary person. I wanted to hire you years ago.
BAUMGARTNER: I know.
GOLD: And you turned me down.
BAUMGARTNER: I did. I would have been honored to work for you. It was such a —
GOLD: That’s okay.
BAUMGARTNER: — lovely offer.
GOLD: This is great right now —
GOLD: — just having this moment.
BAUMGARTNER: We get to do this. So I’m going to take you back. So before the on-demand session, let’s go HBO. So we’re really on-ramping into the industry. This is HBO not like we know it today.
GOLD: Well, I have to back up before that.
BAUMGARTNER: Oh, you’re going to go before HBO?
GOLD: So I was working for a PR agency Universal eventually led. I said, “I need to break out of being an assistant.” That glass ceiling is devastating. Back then if you were a man or a woman, how do you break through? And I had lunch with the VP of Publicity at Universal Studios, and he said, “Bob, demonstrate that you have a nose for news and you can write.” He gave great advice. He said, “Consider three stories you’d like to do, let’s say, for Box Office Magazine,” which is still around, “and I will set up an interview with you and recommend you as a freelance writer to the publisher and editor of Box Office Magazine and pitch the stories. And the deal would be I’ll write these stories — whatever story you agree on — we agree on, and get it to you by a certain time, and if you like it, you’ll give me a byline and you’ll pay me 200 dollars.” So I ended up — we had this lunch and we ended up writing about — my story was the transition, how did Broadway transition into film, especially a Broadway musical?
GOLD: And I needed — and I was working — at that time, I was working as a time clerk for the set dressing department at Universal Studios, and in my breaks, I would pick up the phone and call the Black Tower and say, “Hi, this is Bob Gold from Box Office Magazine,” to the top executive in the Tower and get my quote and put it in. And when that story appeared, I got hired at my first PR agency, which went through a merger, and while I was there — for two years — I worked on the Academy Awards for two years —
BAUMGARTNER: Oh wow.
GOLD: — rebranding an airline. I mean, it was — agency work is vibrant and rich and really full, but with the merger, I became one of the layoffs.
GOLD: And — which I saw coming, and working on the Academy, one of the board members for the Film Academy said, “Bob, I have one word to say to you: cable TV. There’s a brand new network just starting out and you’d be great to be their West Coast PR person.” And 10 days from the day I was let go, I started at Cable Health Network. Okay, Tracy, go back in the time machine. What is Cable Health Network called today?
BAUMGARTNER: I’m going to be horrified. I don’t know the answer to this one.
GOLD: All right, I’ll give you a clue.
GOLD: It merged with Daytime a month after I left it.
BAUMGARTNER: Okay. (laughter)
GOLD: Hands down. (applause) Ding-ding-ding-ding, gets the award. So I left that because HBO called and recruited me, and being let go — being laid off, people think it’s a horrible thing. Today, we have tech companies laying off thousands of people, and we reset ourselves. But the truth is being let go is the freedom to become something new and remake yourself, and we should embrace it, not be resentful because it wasn’t on our terms. We didn’t decide to leave. Someone else said, “It’s time for you to leave.” That’s okay. Make yourself something new. And by coming to Cable Health Network, I started my journey in the cable industry since 1982. And where I met my wife, just as you are a cable couple —
GOLD: — you and your husband Jeff are a cable couple — and everything wonderful in my life happened by coming into the cable industry. I met my wife. I had three kids. Everything, I owe to Marcia and what that wonderful relationship for almost 33 years as a married couple meant to me and my world and defining who I was, building up confidence, believing in yourself, knowing you can go forward. So having a cheerleader behind us? They say behind every great man is a greater woman, and I’m a case of that.
BAUMGARTNER: So where did you meet Marcia?
GOLD: Cable Health Network.
GOLD: I hired her to be my secretary.
BAUMGARTNER: Oh my.
GOLD: And nine months after we were working together — and I really liked her and she really liked me, and we would go out for lunch and hang out. We’re having sushi — she was a vegetarian, so she was having vegetarian food — and I — and she said to me, “Bob, I love you.” And I go, “Oh, well, I like you too, Marcia.” And she said, “No, I love you.” And I went, “Oh. Oh. What do you want to do about that?” She said, “Well, I want to go out. I want to take it to the next level.” I go, “Well, we can’t do that.” She goes, “Why not?” I go, “You work for me. Unethical. I’d lose my job if I dated you.” She said, “Oh, well then, let me make it easy. I quit.” And all I could think was, “Oh crap, now I have to find another secretary.” (laughter) Three months go by and I had a really lonely summer. Normally, young person, summer was the time of romance and finding a relationship, and nothing happened, and I remember being on a three-week HBO round. My offices were in Denver, in San Francisco, and in Los Angeles, and so there was a lot of travel involved, and I was stretched out on the five-seat center aisle in the back of a plane, lying there, going, “Why don’t I just give this gal a chance?” So I called her up and we agreed that our first date would be the closing ceremonies of the 1984 Olympics, and that’s how we started.
BAUMGARTNER: Wow, that’s a big date.
GOLD: Yeah. And the second date, we went out and picked out appliances — new appliances for the brand new home I bought in Eagle Rock, California for $79,000 back in 1981.
GOLD: And then we — our third date, just — there were fireworks, and within three months, she was living with me, and we were — that was it. We never looked back.
BAUMGARTNER: So then you were married and she navigated this amazing career with you for 30-plus years?
GOLD: Yeah. Then she got cancer in 2016. I was in New York at a client meeting, and she went into the hospital and they were going to do surgery the next day, and I get the call, and a Viamedia client — very gracious — they said, “Bob, get on a plane. Whatever it is, don’t care about it. We’ll take care of you for the change fees.” And I raced back, and we had two and a half years of fighting colon cancer. And for anyone who’s gone through cancer or any kind of health crisis as a caregiver, it is an overwhelming time of insecurity, overwhelming knowledge that you don’t understand the science of the medicine, but we worked through it, and for two and a half years, I was the perfect husband that didn’t travel anywhere. I stayed there by her side, and when the chemo wasn’t working anymore, we knew it was time to let go.
BAUMGARTNER: Wow. Why don’t you — this is a good time. Why don’t you show me the book about Marcia?
GOLD: So when we had a memorial service, I wanted people to know what an incredible woman she was, so my son — my oldest son and I in three days put together this incredible book loaded with pictures, stories. And what I love is she did all these cute cartoons about our relationship that were just for me and her, and really talked about her, our relationship, and the photos. And this was given to everyone, and I’m donating a copy of this book to the Barco Library, and anyone can come here and get it or reach out to me and I’ll be glad to send you something because she was a very, very special woman. And as you can see, here we are. She was my pixie and I was an Orthodox Jew in our Christmas photo in our hot tub in Eagle Rock. So yeah, that was fun.
BAUMGARTNER: Wow. Wow. So I’m going to give you an opportunity to pivot.
BAUMGARTNER: And then we’re going to talk about your career. But you had an amazing love story with Marcia and yet your life goes on. So can you talk a little bit about new love in your life?
GOLD: Yeah. So when Marcia was sick, it was two and a half years. She was in so much pain. She couldn’t lie down. She slept in a chair, and — a recliner chair — and I can only sit next to her, and I hadn’t been held in two and a half years. I mean, never mind no sex. There was no lovemaking. It was just the — we could only express love by holding each other’s hand. And nine months after she passed, I thought, “This is crazy. I need to be in a relationship.” And I really understand how a lot of men marry their wives’ best friends because we want that consistency, that routine, that knowledge. And there was a woman in our little town of Rolling Hills who always declared that she was going to be the next Mrs. Gold, and she’d become a friend. She had borrowed me from Marcia to go out for dinner dances, where she was on the board of directors of an organization — I mean, fun. So we went on a couple of dates during COVID and I was like, “Oh –” Marcia died in 2018, and in 2019 as this was happening — and it was — and she’s nice, but there were no sparks. And I thought, “Bob, there’s something you’ve never really addressed,” and that was being gay. “You always were attracted to men, and it’s time to maybe give that a chance.” And so I went to two couples — gay couples that I was very — Marcia and I were both very good friends with, and I said, “Look, I don’t want to go on a dating app. I think that’s kind of skanky. It becomes about hookups. I’m not into that. Can you introduce me to another single gay man?” And they said, “Bob, we love you, but we don’t know anyone.” I was like, “What good are you?” One of them was Jewish, and being Jewish, you have to be a yenta.
BAUMGARTNER: I was going to say —
GOLD: That’s part of the DNA.
BAUMGARTNER: — you’re supposed to be watching out.
GOLD: That was like — so anyway, I actually was in Sprouts, and there was this really cute guy pushing a cart, and I looked at him and he looked back at me, and I went, “Oh. Oh, there’s something here. Oh.” And then he just went on into the store and I went, “Bob, this is your moment. Do something. Don’t let him get away.” Living in suburbia, it’s not like I was going to go out to bars or anything else. So I looked in the store, I went up and down and across the aisle at Sprouts. Didn’t see him. He’s gone. So I bought my little thing that I had been there for and I’m on the checkout line, and sure enough, this guy comes up to the checkout line. I’m like, “What do you say? You’ve got to say something.” And I looked in his cart and he had two five-gallon jugs of water. That was my opening. I walked up to this guy. I said, “Who comes to Sprouts and buys water?” And he goes, “Well, Bob,” and I was wearing a t-shirt. I’d just come from working out. It said, “Of course I’m right. I’m Bob.” He goes, “Well, Bob, (laughter) I like the water here.” So we started talking. And then after a while, I kind of was like, “Okay, this is kind of awkward, standing in the aisle of a cashier.” So I said, “Well, it was really nice talking to you. I have really enjoyed it.” He goes, “Me too.” And I went on the checkout line and we went to another checkout line. And I’m like, “Okay, what’s that about?” And he leaves, and he leaves the store, and I’m still on the checkout line, like — and I pay and I go, “Bob, don’t let this guy get away.” So I go running after him in the parking lot, and I go, “Hey, Ivan, did you really mean what you said? Would you like to get together?” He says, “Yeah, I’d love to get together.” I said, “How about dinner?” He said, “I’d love to have that dinner.” I said, “How about tonight?” And invited him. Anyway, we dated for six months, but he was extremely closeted. He was a dentist who didn’t want anyone to know he was gay. He was never going to introduce me to any of his friends, and I realized I had lived with shame and silence for so long. I didn’t want to be anyone’s secret.
GOLD: So I read the New York Times marriage wedding section every week on Sunday. I love it. I don’t know if you read it. It’s so charming, and the stories, and there was a gay couple who met on a dating app called Zoosk — Z-O-O-S-K. I’d never heard of it. Did you?
GOLD: No. Anyone at home ever hear of it? I don’t think so. And then I thought, “Oh, that sounds cool.” So I had another couple invite a friend who met his husband on a dating app come over and teach me how to get online and what to say and all that. So I created an app — a profile, and within 10 days, there was this guy, John, on the app, and I reached out to him with a bunch of other — this is during COVID, mind you, right? And we — he’s — it turned out it was his first week. I invite him over to my house for dinner. I made a nice, barbecued salmon and everything else on a Friday night. It was really lovely. He had an MBA from UCLA. He had been the CEO of a credit union and now working as a real estate agent during COVID, but he could really hold his own in conversation, and I really liked where we were going, so I invited him over for Sunday for brunch. He comes over. I said, “I’m going to make quiche.” And he comes over on Sunday and I’m on a Zoom call with my high school graduating alumni class that I thought was going to be an hour, and it was going into hour two, and I excuse myself and I say, “John, I’m so glad you’re here, but I’m on a Zoom call. I can’t make lunch. If you want to eat, here’s the ingredients.” (laughter) And I went back to my Zoom call and he made quiche. And I thought, “This guy is it.” And unbeknownst to each of us, that afternoon, we both killed our dating apps and decided to just focus on each other, and we’re going up to almost three years now of being together. We’ve been living together for over a year, almost two years. When COVID happened, John and I — he was being a real estate agent, and I thought, “We can’t travel. Let’s go somewhere.” So I thought, “Why don’t we go to Palm Springs and I’ll buy a compound in Palm Springs that my kids –” I have three sons and girlfriends. “– we can all come together and hang out and have a vacation house.” So John arranged for 14 hours in literally two days, one night in Palm Springs to go through, and when we came back, he had an electric car that he drove, and we stopped at the — what do they call them? The discount malls? The outlet malls — and it was a week before Christmas, 10 days before Christmas. The mall was packed. Everyone had masks on, and we went into Ken Cole where we bought matching Ken Cole shoes.
BAUMGARTNER: Oh, very stylish.
GOLD: And my grandson had just been born and I had to wait three weeks before I can meet him. And so that weekend was going to be — the following weekend was going to be three — we both took COVID tests on Wednesday and on Friday we were both positive. John was asymptomatic, but I was definitely sick, and every day I got — he decided he would move in and take care of me while we both had COVID because otherwise I’d be all alone. And on Christmas morning, he dialed 911. I was nonresponsive. I didn’t wake up, and I don’t remember the ambulance ride to the hospital. I don’t — I kind of vaguely remember when they stabilized me, but I had sepsis from the COVID, and they decided they needed to intubate me. So I said, “You get five days, and if it doesn’t work, unplug me. I know how these long intubations go and how they end up.” And I said goodbye to my sons. I texted, “Goodbye,” to a bunch of friends. I thought, “I’m going to go,” and I was okay with it. You would get so tired and this exhaustion from COVID that you just let go, and you were okay just going with the exhaustion and following it. And I was intubated for 12 days. They decided not to follow my medical directive. And I was intubated for 12 days, and while I was intubated I had a heart attack and total renal failure.
GOLD: And the doctors told my sons to prepare for the worst. And somehow, here I am. Twenty-four days in the hospital, lying strapped in — they used to strap my wrists down to the hospital bed so I wouldn’t get up or roll over or pull — because you’re a little delirious coming out of there — pull any of the tubes out. And here I am in my second life, a walking miracle, and John took care of me after that, and my son — my oldest son Alex and the nanny who raised my kids moved in when I came home from the hospital. Twenty-four days. You lose all of your muscles, right?
GOLD: Everything dissipates. I couldn’t sit up. I couldn’t stand up. The hospital wanted me to go to a rehab center. I was like, “No, I want my house, my bed.” Alex said to me the day I was being released, “Dad, the hospital really wants you to go to rehab.” I go, “Listen, you are either coming to pick me up and take me home or I’m calling Uber.” I was — that was — no way. And I think what Alex and Anna got nurturing me is when you give of yourself to someone, it is the greatest way to say how much you love and care for someone. And it was a special time of recovery that they finally allowed after three weeks of John being in isolation to come and move in and take care of me. The hardest thing he’d ever had to do — we’d been dating for one month — was to call my son, who he didn’t know, on my unlocked phone and say, “Your dad’s being taken in an ambulance to the hospital. You don’t know me, but…” So yeah, so life is great now.
BAUMGARTNER: So you have had a huge life pivot.
BAUMGARTNER: You’ve found love. You’re living authentically.
BAUMGARTNER: You have a new view on life and career and what you’re willing to do. You’ve mentioned that if it’s not fun, you’re not doing it.
GOLD: That’s right. I mean, so when you’ve almost died and you’re back — so stress, there’s no room in your life for stress. There should be no room in anyone’s life for stress. Stress is this useless, wasteless thing that we have to find a way to let go, and if something is making us stressed out, it is not right. There’s something wrong about it or something wrong about us. So my one rule is what we do should be fun and should be caring, and for me, I’m a people person. You may not have known that.
BAUMGARTNER: I had no idea about that.
GOLD: (laughter) And so being a people person, being with people, is — that’s my oxygen. That’s breathing. That’s enjoying and appreciating everyone and celebrating every life. So now every morning when we are at the office with my staff, we close the office at 9:30. We come in Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and we all walk to Peet’s and we all get coffee and walk — and on the way, we pass numerous homeless people. I ask them if I can get them coffee. I ask them how they’re doing. I see them and recognize them and their humanity and say, “Hello.” And that’s what we should do. That is namaste, right? The light in me recognizes the light in you, and we should do that with everyone we encounter.
BAUMGARTNER: That is beautiful. I want to give you an opportunity. Coming out of COVID, coming out of this —
BAUMGARTNER: — you were moved about sharing how you felt about certain people, and I believe you have another donation to the Barco Library.
GOLD: Yes, I have another book.
BAUMGARTNER: So why don’t you tee this up?
GOLD: All right. So when COVID happened, it was — I don’t know if you all remember. It was frightening.
BAUMGARTNER: It was very scary.
GOLD: It was very scary. They were burning bodies in Ecuador because there was no one to come and take them up. And Marcia, who I kept in an urn in the family room, when I’m watching the news on TV, I was crying and saying to her, “Honey, I’m so glad you’re not here, that you’re not witnessing and living in this horrible moment in humanity.” And what do you do? How do you respond? There’s no — this is before I got sick, but there’s no way to write a check to a charity. There’s no one taking care of COVID. We were all isolating and frightened. So again, I thought, “Well, maybe what we can do is recognize the humanity of individuals.” And I found a poet in Asheville, North Carolina, Ryan Ashley, and I would tell him about special people — clients, loved ones — and he would type out a poem for — on his 100-year-old Smith and Corona typewriter and mail it.
GOLD: With – if there was a mistake, it had the little X’s on it — and mail it out to people, and we did a video to just kind of capture that and let people understand what was behind this to get this poem about them. And so this book is a collection of about 90 of the poems, and —
BAUMGARTNER: Called Words To Lift By.
GOLD: Words To Lift By. To lift by. And if you want, I can read —
BAUMGARTNER: I think you should choose one.
GOLD: All right. So —
BAUMGARTNER: Pick an industry leader for —
GOLD: All right.
BAUMGARTNER: — here at Syndeo Institute at The Cable Center.
GOLD: This was written for Zenita Henderson.
GOLD: And I’m just going to read this. It’s called — it’s entitled, “Elegance and Grace.” “You carry yourself in grace, beautiful and bold, holding the songs of Heaven close to your big heart. You’ve got to understand he does have a big voice. He has no choice but to honor you. You’re soulful, sweet, and spirit large. You are more beautiful than you seem to know. The mother angels love. We’ll never leave your side, so carry on with your vibrant soul wholly in all that you do. If you only knew just how amazing you truly are.” So —
BAUMGARTNER: That’s beautiful.
GOLD: So a lot of people in the industry, Leslie Ellis and Michael Willner and others, all got these poems, and so it’s here in this book, and it’s another donation.
BAUMGARTNER: It will be in the Barco Library.
BAUMGARTNER: I think that’s lovely.
BAUMGARTNER: All right. So I’m going to transition now from the world of life to the world of cable — not that it — cable is life and life is cable.
GOLD: And that’s what we’re here to talk about.
BAUMGARTNER: And that’s what we’re here to talk about. But I want to make sure that we get to celebrate the journey that you’ve been on professionally and that you’ve helped the industry go on professionally. So where do you want to start? Do you want to start at HBO and Prime? Do you want to go straight to Bob Gold & Associates? Where do you want to jump in?
GOLD: Let’s talk about an age in the ’80s.
GOLD: When I worked for HBO from 1983 to ’89 —
BAUMGARTNER: Describe what HBO was like for a consumer on air at that time.
GOLD: The best way to describe it is I had an HBO-branded carryon bag, and as I put it through the security check, a little boy said to his mom, “Look, HBO, Mom.” HBO was Camelot. It was where the greatest television was being created and empowered without commercials, and it was really game-changing. In fact, if you think about it, broadcast television had censors, and so things couldn’t be shown or said. Lucy and Ricky Ricardo slept in separate twin beds. There were conjugal visits in television. So HBO allowed a film, unedited, uninterrupted, with all the curse words, the sex scenes, and our language changed. It was suddenly okay to curse in our language, and in fact, language on broadcast television began to change, and it really changed the way we thought about what television was. When I was at HBO, one of the things we wanted to do was — remember ABC had the movie of the week. Made-for-TV movies were very common. At HBO, we wanted to elevate our HBO movies, our HBO premier films, and so I came up with the concept of saying, “Why don’t we take our package of what we’ve done, of in-the-can HBO movies, and we’ll debut our upcoming one at film festivals? Let’s go where film lovers love it.” And we did HBO Picture Retrospectives at film festivals all around the country, and that tactic was part of what elevated that brand to recognize, “These are film quality movies. These are not made-for-TV movies. They have quality budgets behind it.” It was a fun time.
BAUMGARTNER: And you were managing the message of HBO that we are not another broadcast network. We are —
GOLD: We also — I was in the affiliate PR department. Our mission was to take the content of HBO and bring it to the affiliate to use to help them leverage up that they’re selling cable TV, and we did screenings with the operator in their communities. Later when I was hired by Bill Daniels for Prime Ticket as his cable-owned — the regional sports network that his brokerage and he personally owned — he said something really important. He said, “Bob, always remember that without the operator, none of us have a business. So we always have to take care of the cable operator first.” That was a different time, right?
GOLD: Now we’re in the ’90s.
BAUMGARTNER: (laughs) That was definitely a different time.
GOLD: And at some point, when satellite came along, it changed everything because now there was a competitor to the franchised-controlled environment of the cable operator that had no challenger with satellite. And the programmers suddenly discovered — they woke up and they said, “Wow, we get all this extra subscriber revenue from satellite that was not in our budgets.”
GOLD: And the programmer woke up and said, “Oh, well, now I can go anywhere. I can go directly to anyone, and it’s a competitive landscape, and I can charge more for what I have.” The programmers were in this stuck environment of always spending millions of dollars to create content, and so they wanted to charge more and more and more, and of course, cable created the dual revenue stream of advertiser-subscriber-based revenue as well as the subscriber revenues —
BAUMGARTNER: — the subscription.
GOLD: — right?
GOLD: ESPN set the bar for advertising-supported networks where you would pay a dollar for an ESPN per month. Well, if ESPN is worth a dollar and I’m Lifetime, I think I’m worth at least 25 cents. So this runaway train started and then broadcasters said, “Well, we want some revenue too.” And the folks like Michael Willner and the other great leaders at the NCTA came up with a brilliant idea. They said, “Well, we won’t pay you for your programming, but if you create new programming under retransmission consent, we’ll pay you for that,” and FX was the first network launched from this new birth from Fox, and everyone hated FX because it took baseball and other things and it took it off broadcast and put it into cable. But it opened a gateway for new revenues, and ultimately it became the beast that ate itself. And when streaming came along, which suddenly unhooked us from the bundle, it was the answer to every consumer need of programmers going direct, and they promised — they promised — “We’re going to do a streaming channel, but it won’t be anything like what we give you, Mr. Cable Operator. We’re going to do something different.” But I’m going to say this, they lied. They did all the same stuff. It was the same, same, same.
BAUMGARTNER: It was the same.
GOLD: Only different format. And it did not complement their channel. It really said, “You can choose either/or and get the same.” That has become both the gift and the curse of programmers today, and for operators, there’s been a gift in this cord cutting that’s happened, which is that we hated cable operators. We hated them because they forced us to make a bundle that we didn’t want. It was all these channels. They kept saying, “Well, even though we’re raising your rates, we’re giving you more channels.” I don’t want those channels.
BAUMGARTNER: I don’t want those channels.
BAUMGARTNER: I just want —
GOLD: Stop this.
BAUMGARTNER: — a la carte, yeah.
GOLD: Stop giving me and raising my rates. But now if you are a cord cutter, you’re only getting Internet service or maybe mobile service too from your operator, and there’s nothing to be resentful of. We now appreciate the operator as our connectivity partner that lets us connect to the world in meaningful ways, to work from home, to do amazing things, and the programming element and the cost for that? Maybe we want it, maybe we don’t. The programmers dug this grave of saying, “We want to be in this bundle,” and companies like Disney say, “You can — if you’re a vMVPD, you can have us on your lineup, but we want to be part of the 9 or 10 or 11 top-rated channels.” Well, now the vMVPD is having to pay all this money to other companies that they may not have done deals with.
GOLD: They’re — I’m going to say the word. There’s a collusion in this framework that’s never been addressed. And so today our programmers are suddenly going, “Oh my God, I’m spending billions of dollars that I can’t get the return on investment. My — I’ve killed the golden goose that had my golden eggs — cable — that paid me all this.” And we’re reinventing — there’s a moment of transformation in the industry that is painful at so many levels, but it’s why we’re no longer a cable environment. It’s time to move forward from that. Cable no longer describes who and what we are in a world of wi-fi and a world of connectivity, a world of universality. So that’s why I still celebrate that The Cable Center is finally moving away from the name Cable Center and becoming the Syndeo Institute. It is appropriate. It is a time of now, and it is a time of redressing how to think of ourselves. How do we see ourselves?
BAUMGARTNER: So what do we look like in 10 years?
GOLD: Well, in 10 years? Right now, generative AI is — every — I’m going to back up. The computer is a result of having a need and needing a way to gather information, and it was the loom that did it in the sense that punch cards could capture it. So knowing how looms work with punch cards to have rates allowed us to think about how we could gather. So a great new need with the loom created the need for the computer, and the need was the census.
GOLD: The census really generated how computers came along. Every time there’s a technology lift, we have about a decade of massive change. Think about the ’90s. We had satellite TV, the launch of the mobile pocket phone. A mobile phone used to be a car phone, remember that?
BAUMGARTNER: I do.
GOLD: And now we can carry it in our pocket, not as a big thing. That also happened. And in 1996, we had the introduction of the world wide web being entirely appreciated. AOL had moved us forward. Those three technologies coming together changed everything. I thought this decade would be one about data, cloud, right, and AI. Well, I’m not wrong because with COVID, our work-from-home ability, our Zooming, our Team — Microsoft Teams has allowed us to change the way and where we work. And now, with generative AI on top of this and cloud, suddenly we’re moving forward in a way that every single job, every single learning opportunity is about to change. If I can generate a paper for you in school on ChatGPT how are you going to teach me how to write? But think about this. You and I went to school and we had a slide rule that we learned how to do our calculations and numbers with.
BAUMGARTNER: I had a calculator, but —
GOLD: And then came a calculator.
BAUMGARTNER: (laughs) Okay.
GOLD: And — I’m older than you, so I had a slide rule.
BAUMGARTNER: That’s okay.
GOLD: And then when I had my first job at a PR agency, we had a teletype, and then later a fax machine.
BAUMGARTNER: Oh, the fax machine.
GOLD: And I used to sit in the room and watch. It took about 90 seconds for a page — one page to come through on a fax. I typed with carbon paper, and now we don’t use paper.
BAUMGARTNER: No, now you just type it —
GOLD: Everything is virtual.
BAUMGARTNER: — through email or send it through a text.
GOLD: My first computer —
BAUMGARTNER: Or you just voice-to-text, yeah.
GOLD: — experience of writing was at HBO on a Wang.
BAUMGARTNER: Oh geez.
GOLD: A word processor. We have changed so much. So what’s life in 10 years?
BAUMGARTNER: So what’s 10 years?
GOLD: Ten years is how content is created, how content becomes more personalized, how we generate what is both about education, both about how we — content generation used to be the purview of newspapers and magazine. But now anyone —
BAUMGARTNER: Anyone can do it.
GOLD: — can be a content creator. Oh, we have the influencers, content creators. We’re going to see some kind of bold new leap where these technologies all come together from wireless and mobile and small laptops. The Black Mirror Institute of where we get a chip (laughter) installed here and project. The next 10 years are going to be more transformative. Buckle your seatbelt. It’s like change that no one has seen. Look at what’s going on in sports. Sports television is imploding.
BAUMGARTNER: Yeah, this week.
GOLD: This week, right? And we’ve seen banks fail this week.
GOLD: So we’re about to see massive, massive reorganizational change and I’ve never been more excited than to be alive right now and to be part of it.
BAUMGARTNER: Wow. All right, I want to spend some time going back because, again, this is oral history. I want to make sure we get some of your history. So you founded Bob Gold & Associates in 1997.
BAUMGARTNER: You did that. I’m going to zip to the launching point here. You had another career pivot, another opportunity —
BAUMGARTNER: — where you were released.
GOLD: So I was at Fox.
GOLD: So I was at Prime Ticket, working with Bill Daniels — and a quick story about Bill Daniels.
GOLD: I was at the first meeting of the CTPAA, the Cable TV Public Affairs Association, here in Denver, and Bill Daniels heard me speak in the formation of CTPAA. It was a bunch of PR people that were brought together, and from the industry. We knew there was something there. There was CTAM for marketing people. PR people needed their organization. And through Bill’s PR person, he invited me. He knew I lived in LA and he invited me to come back with him. He was leaving the next day on Cablevision Tool, his private jet.
GOLD: All right. I’m a young HBO employee, you know, 30-year-old, and a billionaire industry founder invites you to come back with him on his jet to LA for a ride. I should take this. This is — I’ve been an opportunistic kind of guy. But I was also challenged because for six weeks, we had set up with my Denver office a meeting with Mile High Cable with HBO that was very important and it was about me. Do I blow off the meeting or do I go with Bill Daniels? And I felt ethically my first commitment is to my job. I said, “Thank you very much, but I can’t. I can’t fly with you then. I have this meeting.” So I go to the meeting and absolutely nothing came out of it, and for seven years, I called myself a putz because I missed this opportunity. But I believe the universe has plans for each of us, and we end up where we belong, and so I get hired at Prime Ticket and Bill Daniels wants a meeting with a sports TV writer from the LA Times and he sends his jet, Cablevision Tool, to Santa Monica Airport where I board it to go down to Carlsbad to have a meeting with Bill. And when I’m on that plane, I knew that — that plane, by the way, is in the Denver Airport, hanging in Terminal Two, I think, or — right? [Concourse C in Denver International Airport]
BAUMGARTNER: I don’t know where it is.
GOLD: It’s hanging in the airport.
GOLD: And I knew when I was on that plane that I was always supposed to work for Bill Daniels, that this was always going to happen.
BAUMGARTNER: It was meant to be.
GOLD: And it was just a seven-year delay of getting there. We’re all going to get wherever we’re going to go eventually. It may not be on our time, but we’ll get there if we’re open to it, right?
GOLD: So anyway, I digress. What was the question? (laughs)
BAUMGARTNER: So we were talking about your departure, then, from Prime.
GOLD: So Prime Ticket was bought by TCI, and TCI had this vision that Bill Daniels had. He had hired Roger Werner, the president of ESPN, to be the president of Prime Ticket and put together an amalgam group of regional sports networks to compete with ESPN. Well, we couldn’t do it, but Roger was able to get TCI to say, “We’ll do it if you step out,” and so TCI bought all these networks and I was promoted to VP of Marketing, and we rebranded as Prime Sports and did national. One of the fun things is I got all these athletes to agree to be in commercials, by shelter billboards, outdoor billboards, radio spots for no money to promote the network. It was probably the last time that athletes worked for free.
BAUMGARTNER: Did for free.
GOLD: Yeah. Anyway, it was part of, “This is good for your team, it’s good for us.”
BAUMGARTNER: Sure, it’s good for viewership.
GOLD: And then Fox Sports bought Prime Sports from TCI with the vision that they would go even bigger, and they launched Fox Sports Net, and when they did that, they said, “You know, Bob, you’re not going to be part of our corporate office. You stay in Fox Sports West in the regional office,” and I was like, “You don’t need me. You’re taking away my PR agency, my ad agency. I’ve got a staff here, you know what I mean?” They go, “Oh, you’re right. You’re right, but you can’t leave until we tell you it’s time to leave.” And I thought, “Okay, 30 days and then I’m out, and it’s great and it’s clean.” And they said, “No, Bob, we need you a little longer. The integration is taking longer.” And then it was 60 days. And I’m dying. I know I have this exit ahead of me. I’m a single wage earner. Marcia never had a job to make money. She was busier than me, but she had three kids to raise, a nanny that I had to support, a home mortgage. Ninety days. I show up every day at work and I am trying to be focused, and nice, there’s nothing to do. For people that are going through mergers, that moment of showing up with nothing to do is the most painful time of our business careers. So — and I was not allowed to look for work or go to interviews. I had to show up and be nice and sit and smile.
BAUMGARTNER: You had to be there —
GOLD: I had to be there.
BAUMGARTNER: — in case something came up for you to do.
GOLD: There was nothing, but for looks. Anyway, I had two weeks after — and I interviewed with amusement parks, Universal Studios Tour and Six Flags Magic Mountain International, and then nothing. For two weeks, nothing. And it’s September of 1996, and I thought, “I can’t.” I was going to the beach every day. All my friends worked. It was gorgeous weather. I was miserable. My entire body broke out in psoriasis.
BAUMGARTNER: Oh no.
GOLD: Talk about stress. It was horrible. And I said, “I can’t do this.” So I called up some friends and I said, “Oh, the Western Show –”
BAUMGARTNER: The Western Show is coming up.
GOLD: “– is coming up. Peggy Keegan at the CCTA, there must be an exhibiter that needs some help.” She said, “Oh Bob, have I got a client for you,” and it was iMedia — I-M-E-D-I-A, iMedia — which was a digital multiplexing compression technology, and John Malone was wild about it because it meant you could fit more channels onto the existing space without having to upgrade your coax cable wiring. It was going to be a transformative tool. And they hired me. And in five weeks, I got them. I launched a sports network in San Diego called Channel Four Padres on Cox. Cox got the Padres away from the regional sports network, changed Lindsay Wagner’s career after that because Fox hired him since he did that deal and he became a careerist in that way. And I got three other clients. And I’m in my house. I have no idea how to be an entrepreneur. I have no idea how to charge, and a PR person that I’d worked with years ago, that I’d been on her board, Sue Bohle of The Bohle Company, said, “Bob, I want to redo — recollect my board for our annual Prism Awards,” and we start talking and we agreed I was going to buy her agency so she had an exit plan. I would be EVP. Well, it was one of the worst experiences I’ve ever had.
BAUMGARTNER: Oh no.
GOLD: I cried twice in my car in the garage in Century City. I was so unhappy. She would leave me voicemails. “Bob, (sighs).” Or we’d go and do sales pitches and she’d go, “Bob, I close. I’m the one to close.” It was, “Okay, I get it.” So I was desperate and on my birthday, she fired my secretary without telling me in cost-cutting measures, and so I was so miserable. I was so — I didn’t know where else to go or what else to do. I told my wife, “I just want to have dinner with you and our sons and that’s it.” And I came home from doing the new business call on my birthday in June and she had a surprise party of 75 people all dressed in white, Hawaiian luau thing. It was the last thing I wanted. It was exactly what I needed to be reminded that I was loved and valued from this put-down person. And so I called Sue up at the party and I said, “I quit. I want to take my clients. I want to get my investment in your company back and I’m going to pull my — let’s have breakfast tomorrow.” And that was the beginning of June 1997 of Bob Gold & Associates. I hired my secretary back. I spent $10,000 to lease some computers, design my logo, building out a website, and I’ve never looked back since then.
Again, sometimes — and what I always wanted was my own business, but I was terrified of it, terrified of the responsibility and the possibility of failure. But it took being miserable to give me that kick that I needed. Think about every employee that is miserable at their job and they do a lousy job, and finally their boss has to say, “You’re fired. We can’t have you anymore.” They brought this on themselves instead of having the courage to say, “I’m really unhappy here. I need to leave.”
GOLD: And only great things happened. Once I started my own business, once I was no longer on a salary, well, all the financial — Marcia and I only argued about one thing: money. Right? Because you’re on a salary. You’re getting so much, and maybe at the end of the year you’re going to get a seven percent bonus or something, right? And you’re on this fixed income and you’re squeezed to what you can and can’t do. You’re squeezed on what your vacation time has to be. But when you’re running your own business, how successful you are, how you spend — the government becomes my partner in it (laughs) so I pay less taxes than as an employee. It’s been the best gift of my life, and has provided the success and financial ability to really not have to worry about money.
BAUMGARTNER: And you chose it authentically in a moment of, “What do I want my life to be? How do I want to live?”
GOLD: I had no other choice. And, by the way, when it was coming time to build a business and name it, I thought of all kinds of clever names — an amalgam of my son’s name, Peak PR or whatever — and I realized if you’re starting a business, you have to build off a brand. And at that point, having been to so many companies, I was the brand. So it became Bob Gold & Associates, and now we’re 25 years in the business. Who knew?
BAUMGARTNER: Twenty-five years. I want to ask —
GOLD: How did I get this old?
BAUMGARTNER: So young. So young.
GOLD: Go on. Go on. (laughs)
BAUMGARTNER: Young at heart. He’s doing this, “No, no, it’s okay.” I want to talk about crisis communications because I think it’s so important for how a company, an industry, an individual navigates from what is awful to what can be.
BAUMGARTNER: So one of the things your team questioned you about is your taking on of Adelphia as a client after what was going on. So I want to give you the opportunity to set the stage and then talk us through how you helped that pivot.
GOLD: So Adelphia — setting the stage, let’s go back in the Wayback Machine. So in one month, Adelphia declared bankruptcy. They did a rate increase and their owners and leaders were indicted on wire fraud. One month.
BAUMGARTNER: That would be the indicted part, yeah.
GOLD: Well, with a rate increase on top of that, you’re criminal and you’re charging me more and — . So there was a new management team brought up and I was invited into the West Coast offices to meet and talk about doing PR for them. And I brought my director with me, and we’re sitting in the waiting area — and my wife, by the way, said, “Bob, make the people feel comfortable when you’re there and at home. Wear an orange jumpsuit.” (laughter) So —
GOLD: So my director says to me — Gaye Jacobs — “Bob, do we even want this business?” And I said, “Are you crazy? This is absolutely the best time to be there. We’re going to remake something on a green field, and whatever we do is going to be great. This is so exciting.” The cable industry has been part of entrepreneur spirit of building something new that didn’t exist before, remaking itself. Launching a company or relaunching a company is so exciting. Being part of the executive team at Adelphia was one of the greatest gifts I was given, and the cherry on it is when the company was finally split up and sold to Time Warner, the people — the customers who now became Time Warner Cable customers said and complained, “I want my old Adelphia back.” And that was icing on the cake. Icing on the cake is I started Prime Ticket in sports, and of course, the name got decimated, and Fox Sports brought back Prime Ticket for Fox Sports West Two as a name, and you still watch Prime Ticket on satellite or in cable. And to me, building a brand that is meaningful, that holds resonance, that is honest and is worth carrying forward, that is so great to imbue something with a sense of trust.
BAUMGARTNER: Yeah. How do you do this? So give me your top five tips, your, “Here’s — as I’m putting together a campaign, I’m looking at a client,” what are the top five things you want to make sure you’re doing in that campaign?
GOLD: Yeah. So first of all, I’m the only publicist that does not say, “The answer to your problem is let me write a news release.”
BAUMGARTNER: Okay. (laughs)
GOLD: So first off, all business — all business — no matter what it is, is the business of relationships, and what I like to feel that we in PR is we are relationship managers, right? We are managing the touch points, the message points, of how both your business and your B2B world need to work with you and think of you and engage with you as well as in your ultimate customers and buyers. So therefore, you have to look at a universe to say, “Which is the target audience? Which are the relationships I most necessarily need to manage, both internally and externally?” And so every company, every individual, whether you’re General Motors or you’re Tracy Baumgartner, your career path has got the same strategies to it. It’s just the tactical applications that are going to be different, and how you execute that way. So I don’t know that there’s five goals except my first rule, and the second, I guess, would be, say, what are our channels? Where can we be most effective? And what can we do to manage each relationship in a crisis? In a crisis, all of the key people really are first and foremost your employees and the people that you do business with.
And we were recently hired by the largest Hispanic department store in the Southwest called Curacao. They’re going to have 15 stores — they have 13 today — that are each 100,000 square feet or larger. You haven’t heard of it because they focus on the Hispanic marketplace, and they were sued by the California Department of Justice for not treating their customers well. When you’re dealing with the shadow economy, the people who are working and vital to our economy in this country, who do not have working papers, who do not have drivers licenses until Obama came along, or the ability to establish credit, that working class is often abused. In California, every hospice care, every aging facility and home is today managed by Filipinos. If you go to have your nails done, it’s Vietnamese, but you know that those Vietnamese or Filipinos in those establishments are being paid below standard wages, working longer hours, because if they don’t, they have no rock to stand on. They can be reported and pushed out. And so our immigrant population today is heavily abused and government likes to say, “We’re standing up for them,” but of course, that’s not the truth. And so we were brought in when the California Department of Justice was suing them and about to render its judgment with a judge and be able to put that on.
Truth is, every crisis is of our own making, right? If you don’t have relationships in government to help navigate a process in a public affairs department, if you don’t have a strong PR department and relationships with everyone in the media because you’re so focused on one segment, the end of the day is you have a target on your back that says, “Kick me,” because we all get big by knocking somebody else down and saying, “I’m your champion.” And that’s just unfortunate. And finding a way through it and reassuring and writing the messages and saying, “Let’s take on these next steps, and here’s how we’re going to be proactive and reset and create some positive publicity.” The biggest part of changing negative publicity is about what appears online, and the only way to push down and get rid of negative stories is to have a whole lot of good positive ones that you put up there. So yeah, so we do that.
BAUMGARTNER: So you do that.
GOLD: That was a long answer to a straight question.
BAUMGARTNER: Well, that’s all right. I want to pivot because I know we have spent a lot of time talking. I want to talk briefly about your first career. So —
GOLD: (sighs) Yes, we all get to remake ourselves.
BAUMGARTNER: — you were a child star. You were a child star back in the day. You were — stage and screen. Talk a little bit about stage, and then maybe we’ll share a little screen. But give us a quick bite on stage.
GOLD: Yeah. So for anyone who’s ever seen the movie or the show Gypsy, Mama Rose is a character who was born too soon and started too late and decided to live life vicariously through her children. And my mother decided to live life vicariously through my sister and me because she always wanted to be in show business. And so at the age of four, we were models — child models — and we had acting lessons, diction lessons, singing lessons, dancing lessons. I’m sure there were others. You don’t hear a strong New York accent — Long Island accent in me —
GOLD: — thanks to that. And I was in the original Broadway cast of Oliver. Opening night, I got to meet Judy Garland —
GOLD: — who taught me a very important lesson as a seven-year-old.
GOLD: I get pushed into the orchestra pit by my mother. “Go meet Judy Garland. Get her autograph.” And, okay, you do whatever Mama says. And I go into the orchestra pit, and Lionel Bart, the composer and creator of Oliver, is sitting with Judy Garland, and I go up to her and I go, “I love you. I watch you every year in The Wizard of Oz.” I didn’t know she was in anything else. And she said, “You were very good in the show.” And I said, “Oh, come on, there were 20 or 22 chorus boys and a huge cast and a full orchestra.” And she said, “No.” I said, “You don’t know who I am.” She said, “Yes,” and she described my costume back to me. I was seven years old, but that someone notices everyone and their contributions to a production? That is a true star. That is a true leader, and I’ve never forgotten that lesson. I sang and danced on The Ed Sullivan Show with Juliet Prowse and I did a couple of commercials.
BAUMGARTNER: A couple of commercials. I think we should take a look. Do you want to see them?
BAUMGARTNER: Let’s share them.
GOLD: So let’s take a look at Cracker Jack.
BAUMGARTNER: Cracker Jack.
[pause while video plays]
BAUMGARTNER: What was the prize?
GOLD: I don’t remember, but wasn’t I cute? Did you all get to see who I was? The guy with the glasses?
BAUMGARTNER: With all the Cracker Jacks, and everybody wanted to be your friend.
GOLD: I had the power. I have the power.
BAUMGARTNER: Okay. One more.
GOLD: And now this one, no one knows what the product is until the very end.
[pause while video plays]
GOLD: So I have to say I love this Hallmark commercial. It’s 90 seconds long. There was a time when it — advertisers took as much time as they want for storytelling. I also think it’s very much prescient about my life. I am this co-star — not the star. I have my first gay moment, grabbing hands, crossing the street, so beautiful and romantic. And it’s about caring. And when I was in high school, after I quit show business at 15 — because my nose got big, my voice cracked, my pimples were all over my face, I wasn’t cute anymore, and it was time to leave the business — I always wanted to be a producer. I had a dream of producing a Broadway show. And today, I really am a producer. I am — I write scripts. They’re called news releases or key messages or talking points. And I prepare my actors — I mean, my executives (laughter) for their interviews with reporters, right, before — or analysts before they meet, and I am producing something just as viable and important as what might go on a screen on a network, and that is ultimately very satisfying.
BAUMGARTNER: Is that what your legacy is?
GOLD: I think so. I think so.
BAUMGARTNER: I want to wrap our time with The Shiny Penny.
GOLD: Oh. So I just have to share this one thing that I love, and I want to be sure to bring out, is I used to tell stories or sing songs to my three sons every night at bedtime, and I started making up a rhyme — a story in rhyme — and I realized I made this whole rhyme up, and I needed to write it down because I would forget it. One of the things that every parent later in life learns is if they didn’t keep a journal in their kitchen, every time their kids said that cute, adorable thing that you would never forget? We forgot.
BAUMGARTNER: We forgot.
GOLD: So I wrote this down and Marcia illustrated it, and so I want to just read a couple of pages of this because every child from age three, four, and to nine or ten loves this book. “Once there was a bright shiny penny lying on the ground. A duck flying by was impressed with what she’d found. A present for her ducklings was her only thought. She swooped down and picked it up. ‘Oh, look what I have bought.’ And she flew with the shiny penny, but the penny was so bright it caught the morning sun and sparkled in the light. And so it came to happen that an eagle soaring high caught the glimmer of the penny in the corner of his eye. Down, down swooped the eagle to catch his latest prey, a penny for his troubles. Another ruined duck’s dark day.” Ducks have bad days too.
BAUMGARTNER: I think so.
GOLD: “The eagle and the duck, they really had a fight, and the penny fell into a lake beneath the birds a-flight. Down, down fell the penny. It made such a splash as it fell into cold water and disappear at last. The penny floated downward until it hit a rock, then settled on the bottom with a gentle knock. The rock was green and hard. Can you imagine more surprise when the rock began to move? The rock began to rise.” So that was just a taste. This book is available on Amazon and in the Barco Library, and I’m also happy to make donations of the book if you have a library — a kid’s library or some place — that you would like to have this book. I love it. I love the rhyme. I love the metering. No one would publish it back in the mid-’90s, 1994. They said books in rhyme — children’s books — were not popular anymore. They wanted it to be in prose. But the power of the down, down, up, up, and the meter of that language has to exist in that way. So I’m very proud of it and I’m very proud of Marcia’s illustrations.
BAUMGARTNER: And you said it talked about things that make an impact and you don’t even know —
GOLD: That’s right.
BAUMGARTNER: — that something made an impact. So my last question is many, many people in this industry. Who has made an impact on you that maybe doesn’t know? And this is the opportunity to thank them, help them know how they helped make you into who you are.
GOLD: Yeah. Well, so many people have had an impact on me, and I’ve learned so many lessons, not least of which from you, Tracy. When you were a young publicist at Media One and there would be these media executive gatherings, and you would be in that room. You would have a conversation, but you had your eye on your executives to make sure no one said anything or did anything out of line from what was in the book, and that you could multitask and keep your eye and just excuse yourself and jump in graciously. That was really powerful. Rob Stoddard. Rob “The Nicest Guy in Cable” Stoddard.
BAUMGARTNER: Who I also worked for.
GOLD: Who you also worked for. So we worked for MediaOne as — and later AT&T as your West Coast PR agency, and when the Western Show happened, you may remember that a young lady who is still very much in our industry, Teresa Elder — now she’s CEO of WOW. Back then she was CEO of MediaOne. And Electronic Media, a very important trade publication, wanted to do a cover profile on her and her ascendency, and her first coming out party would be the Western Show, and that’s where they would do the interview. Well, there were so many people and so many businesses that needed to see her, Teresa said to Rob, “I can’t see everyone. I only have to do the absolute must interviews because I — my schedule is so jammed.” And Rob canceled the Electronic Media interview. Fast forward to NAB, and I’m in the media room — the press room — and I’m talking to the publishers of Electronic Media, and I say, “Oh, one of my clients is MediaOne and I’m so excited to be part of that.” And they went into a fury. They called Rob every bad name that could be possible because he killed the story. They were the first to recognize it, and they gave that cover story to other publications. It should’ve been theirs, that bastard Rob Stoddard. And my lesson was if the nicest guy in cable can’t make everyone nice and happy, I don’t have to try. I love that story.
BAUMGARTNER: I think that’s a great story, and it goes back to touch on that authenticity that we’ve talked about this whole time, about how you’ve lived your life authentically. You’ve led your career authentically. You’ve helped your executives and your clients be authentic, helped me be authentic in my career, and I’m just so honored to have had this time with you.
GOLD: Me too, and one day maybe I’ll get to be what I always wanted: to be a cable operator. (laughter)
BAUMGARTNER: Thank you to Bob Gold, our oral history cable pioneer, storyteller, PR guru. Hope that you got as much out of this oral history as I did. Thank you.
GOLD: Thanks so much.
END OF INTERVIEW
But stay tuned for a bonus feature: Bob Gold reads The Shiny Penny in its entirety.