Interview Date: Friday April 26, 2002
Interview Location: Denver, CO
Interviewer: Jim Keller
Collection: Hauser Collection
KELLER: This is the oral history of Bennett “Ben” W. Hooks, Jr., partner and CEO of Buford Cable Television, Inc., or Buford Television, Inc.?
HOOKS: Buford Media Group.
KELLER: Buford Media Group of Tyler, Texas, thanks Ben. Ben is a cable television pioneer and serves on many boards, most of which we will discuss in this interview. The date is April 26, 2002. We’re at The Cable Center in Denver, Colorado. Ben, tell us a little bit about your background before you got into cable.
HOOKS: I come from a military family. My grandfather was a Naval Academy graduate, served in the military for his career. My father was a Naval Academy graduate. My father was killed when I was 8 years old; he was a test pilot and died in active duty. We settled in a town called Coronado, California. My sister… at that time, I was 8, my sister was 3 months. My mother is still living there and has remained a widow ever since. I grew up sailing. Coronado is a great place to learn how to sail and I stayed with that all my life. After graduating from high school I went to the Palm Spring/Palm Desert area. The first year I attended College of the Desert, it’s a junior college.
KELLER: Didn’t want the Academy, huh?
HOOKS: Didn’t want the Academy, which that was a challenge in my family because that seemed to be the way of life that everybody understood, so I kind of broke away from the trend. I really couldn’t find my way. After about a year I just needed to buckle down and feel myself and go to work, and I walked into the cable company, which was then Cachella Valley Television.
KELLER: Owned by whom?
HOOKS: Owned by Palmer Broadcasting.
KELLER: Out of Des Moines.
HOOKS: I was thinking… yeah, I guess they were.
KELLER: Dr. Palmer, a chiropractor owned it.
HOOKS: Yeah, and they owned properties in Florida, that’s correct. But walked in off the street and needed a job. The office was in Palm Desert, California. They hired me.
KELLER: To do what?
HOOKS: To do just about anything. I was officially an installer, but I found out installers dug ditches, they climbed poles, they put up cable, they did construction, and they did a little bit of everything. That was an experience because here I spent most of my childhood in an area that the temperature ranged – what? – about ten or twenty degrees a year and I found out what it was really like to be hot in the summer. I have to say that was probably one of the driving forces to work my way out of the technical line of work.
KELLER: How did you get from Coronado down to the desert – from the ocean to the desert?
HOOKS: You know, I can’t really remember. I just seemed like a neat place to go. Palm Springs sounded exciting. I’d say at that age I wasn’t a very responsible individual. I didn’t know what I wanted to do and so I thought I’ll knock around in school for a year and see how it goes, and really just played that year. I can’t say I was accomplishing much at all in my life, but I’d learned I had to feed myself, I had to have some responsibility, so that’s really all that started me. Bill Daniels had a management contract with Palmer at that time, so I’ve always considered myself working for Daniels because they were the group that hired me. Some of my first experiences that I remember as I developed and grew in the business and became a technician was the experience I had in working with open wire, which is an experience. It basically was a technology that you could deliver signal down but it radiated as much signal out as it did allow signal to come in, but when you looked at those days in the Palm Desert area, there was absolutely no television available.
KELLER: What year was this?
HOOKS: 19… let’s see, I started in September of 1967. The signal that you picked up was off the mountain range. In other words, Palm Springs and Palm Desert and all that was down in the valley and off the mountaintops we picked up the San Diego and LA stations.
KELLER: Any kind of image at all was a television picture to people in the valley.
HOOKS: That’s right, that’s right. There was nothing local so we had, I guess we had about 12 channels of microwave, basically, that was picked up off the hill off of antennas and then shot down the valley to several headends.
KELLER: They were picking up the LA signals, was that it?
HOOKS: LA and San Diego. Cachella Valley Television served the communities – I probably won’t remember all of them – but everything from Rancho Mirage, Cathedral City, Palm Desert, La Quinta, Indio, Cachella, Indian Wells, all those communities – kind of south of Palm Springs all the way down. It was an interesting time. I remember as techs you kind of worked day and night just keeping the signal going down that cable plant. In those days, like I said, I experienced the use of open wire, some tube equipment…
KELLER: Were you still maintaining open wire or were you replacing it at that time?
HOOKS: You know, when I left, or Daniels had transferred me out, right at the end of ’71, beginning of ’72… yeah, I think right at the first of ’72, we were still maintaining a lot of open wire up in La Quinta and that area. That was an experience. Actually, open wire worked quite well on the low band, or 2-6, but channels 7-12 were an experience. It reminded me you could literally go a mile down open wire and channels 2-6 never lost any signal hardly, but 7-12 would disappear.
KELLER: Unless a cow got in the way or something else.
HOOKS: That’s right. Well, you know, I get to thinking about that, some of my favorite times is a customer would call and have bad pictures and of course you always had electrical interference, it picked up anything, but every once in a while you’d get really snowy pictures and you’d look out the window of the house and you’d see all these birds all over the wire. Well, you’d get up and chase the birds all off and make sure the picture was all right and then you got out of there as quick as you could.
KELLER: Before the birds came back down.
HOOKS: But we did everything from water poles to get better grounding where you wouldn’t have so much electrical interference. I remember wherever you went through trees, if there was ever a wind storm, open wire was too basic copper wires that had little spacers between them holding them apart.
KELLER: Insulators between them. If you were experiencing all that, and by this time coaxial cable was in general use throughout the country, why weren’t you replacing it?
HOOKS: Well, it was. It was being replaced, but I think when I look back on those days, some of what we were replacing was kind of the old… was it 204? It reminded me of a large drop cable for distribution, and that kind of cable was in the more dense areas of the systems at that time and just the focus at that time was to replace that cable first. Where the open wire was was obviously in the less dense populated areas, so it was just a matter of timing, but I had operated a portion of that until I left in, like I said, 1972.
KELLER: And you were on the technical side?
HOOKS: When I left in ’72, I was their technical supervisor at that point. You know, another thing that was interesting then, and I guess we could check it, but as I understood it – and that was about ’68 or ’69 – Daniels prided that facility as having the first full-blown color studio in operation in the industry.
KELLER: I seem to remember that’s probably true.
HOOKS: And it was quite a facility.
KELLER: In ’67?
HOOKS: I was thinking it might have been ’68 that that was up and running.
KELLER: It could have been. There were many other studios, but whether they were all full color, I’m not sure.
HOOKS: And it served probably 50% of the subscriber base at that time. You know, and really that system in its day, that group of systems – it was really three of them – was a pretty large cluster of systems for the day. I bet there was 20,000 subs.
KELLER: Is that what you had? 20,000?
HOOKS: I think approximately, yeah, it was 20,000 subscribers, which was pretty good size.
KELLER: A very good size in the mid-60s, yes. How long did you stay? You said until ’71-’72?
HOOKS: Yeah, I think I left right at the beginning of ’72 so I’d been there about five years. What happened is Daniels’ contractual arrangements had expired and upper management left probably five-six months before I did.
KELLER: This was ’68?
HOOKS: No, this would have been in ’71 they left, and at that time Bill had put together the funding to buy Waco, Texas, Temple and Belton Texas and then – upper management had left – called me and said, “Would you stay with us and come with us?” So there was probably a four to six month gap, I can’t remember.
KELLER: Who was the manager in Palm Desert and Palm Springs?
HOOKS: Keith Bircham.
KELLER: Keith Bircham – he followed me in Barstow.
HOOKS: Yeah, and he stayed with Daniels, I’m going to say until around ’80?
KELLER: Hmm, I don’t know about that, but I don’t know. I lost track of him.
HOOKS: But anyway, they called me and wanted me to be in charge of rebuilding Waco and I said, “Okay,” so my wife of about… well, she would have been about 4-5 months pregnant and myself, we all got in the car and drove to Texas, which I thought we’d never get there, especially when we hit Texas and El Paso, and actually I was only in Waco probably 8-9 months and during that time I started rebuilding the systems, primarily the trunks, and these systems were bought from AMECO – and those that might remember AMECO, Bruce Merrill – bought those systems from him. The trunks really needed rebuilding and I started replacing them with Cascade, a company out of Canada.
KELLER: Canada, right. Vancouver.
HOOKS: And probably the most exciting part of that, and I’m sure others had used that application, but we completely activated the return portion of the system and the purpose of activating that was to put in status monitoring, and there was a measurement device at our headend, which was where our office was as well, and it would measure the… give you an active level of what that amplifier was doing – anywhere from it wasn’t functioning to it was off some. Well, what we quickly found out… the best experience we had was the day I activated it and the worst experience we had was trying to keep it going.
KELLER: It never did work.
HOOKS: No, it never did work very well, but it worked one day, maybe a week.
KELLER: That’s more than it worked in San Francisco.
HOOKS: And then you were working more on that than you were the rest of the plant. But about nine months later, Daniels asked me to go – I guess I was the plant manager or chief tech – asked me to go to the Killeen, Texas area that served Copper’s Cove, Harker Heights, that area, which is where Ft. Hood – you know, one of the largest military bases in the world – is, in the free world, anyway. They asked me to go there and that was bought… I was trying to think of that earlier this morning – it was bought from a local telephone company and I cannot for the life of me remember the name of it, but what a mess! That truly was the biggest mess I got involved with. The telephone company had literally run distribution down one side of the street in a back easement and the people on the other side of the street would have a drop just hundreds of feet long.
KELLER: Crossing the street?
HOOKS: Crossing the street, going everywhere you can think of to serve these people, and it was common knowledge that if you were one near a trunk you got pretty good pictures, or if you were on the right side of the street you got pretty good pictures. The rest of the folks, if they did elect to subscribe, were happy to have audio because that’s about all you could get. Anyway, I was asked to go down there…
KELLER: And where was this again?
HOOKS: This is in Killeen, Texas.
KELLER: Killeen, okay.
HOOKS: K-I-L-L-E-E-N. Yeah, Killeen, Texas. But it was one of those things you couldn’t do anything but make things better and we just got anything we could to put up just to get an adequate signal around. It was get cable from anywhere, we got used equipment from Waco from the rebuild, got just anything we could get our hands on to get this operation up and running, and it was amazing within… and I was there 8-9 months… within that 8 or 9 months we were just heroes in that community. We actually got signal throughout the system. I mean, it might have been ten line extenders in a row, but we really had amplification all the way through and we were at that time really considered heroes. And then in ’73, about mid-’73, Daniels wanted to send me to their Temple and Belton systems and manage those.
KELLER: So you’ve become almost a permanent Texas by this time, huh?
HOOKS: By now, yeah, you’re right. I became a Texas transplant. So in 1973 I must have been 26, I guess, 25, 26 years old. I started managing the system…
KELLER: This is where you made the transition into management, is that right?
HOOKS: Management, yes. In fact, I took it from the advice of an engineer that had been with Daniels forever, and his name was Jenkins, and he just said, “Ben, you’ve done a great job but I just think you’re going to excel more in management. I think you ought to consider it and I know the guys are going to talk to you.” It was Chuck Jenkins, that’s right, and I’d worked for him all those years. I followed him from Palm Desert to Waco to Killeen to… and he was really their corporate engineer, but I basically worked for him all that time. So I took the step with the understanding that if I couldn’t make it they’d let me have my old job back. So they said no problem, so anyway, I jumped into it and I quickly found out that the real key to being good at management is realizing everybody knows more than you do about what’s going on and to create a team environment, really praise the folks and work with folks. So it was my first experience with really realizing that your accomplishments are based on the people that are around you than so much what you did yourself. So, it was a great learning experience, and I was there from ’73 to somewhere around the end of ’79, so about six years. During that time we had a lot of great experiences. I remember we started Channel 12 Theater, which was we bought various old, classic movies, westerns, all that, and around the clock on Channel 12 off of ¾ inch machines we ran Channel 12 Theater and did it ourselves, no commercial interruptions. It was kind of our first form, although it was part of the basic package, it was kind of the first step to kind of a premium service that we didn’t charge extra for, although it sure helped on raising our basic rates. Then we went, and I’m thinking this must have been mid-70s, we went to what we called Showcase 1 & 2, which was our first step into pay television, and there again, Daniels corporate offices would buy the rights to various programs and then via tapes we showed two levels of pay service, one a little more R-rated, one more G-rated. I remember there was a Tocom box, a two-channel Tocom box and we’d send that signal and use this two-channel Tocom box. I would say those were the major things that we did then. Then in… that would have been ’79, they asked me to plan on going to Ann Arbor, Michigan.
KELLER: Had you become involved in the Texas Association while you were down there?
HOOKS: No, I had not. I was very involved with the local community. A couple of things Bill always prided himself in was one, building beautiful offices, cable offices, because he thought that was a great statement, which it was, so I was there when they built beautiful cable offices, which Time Warner has that same office to this day in Temple. And Bill loved his people to get very involved in community activities. So that was part of my career, I was involved in the Chamber and all the local functions of the community, as well as, that was a period of time I think I mentioned to you earlier, my sailing career never stopped and during that jaunt…
KELLER: Not many places to sail in west Texas, though, is there?
HOOKS: Well, you know what? People forget that Texas I think has more manmade lakes than any state in the United States, so there are a lot of lakes. So you just adapt from going out on the ocean to lakes and I was actively racing during that period of time and I’d won the national championships twice, and I don’t know if I mentioned to you, the first time I won Bill’s all excited because Bill, you know, had a real passion for sports. And the second year I lost, and Bill apparently didn’t understand that and wanted to understand why that was to be, so he soon found out from an associate of mine that really to win that kind of an event you have to have a new set of sails and here my set of sails were last year’s but in that kind of competition you’ve really got to replace them and based on my budget I just couldn’t go and replace a set of sails. So obviously Bill Daniels put a fix to that and I had a beautiful set of sails. All I can remember, that was the one race I really didn’t enjoy because all I thought was if I lose this race Bill will fire me. Fortunately I won it hands down and it was a big event. It’s probably the first and only national championship in this area.
KELLER: Where was it held?
HOOKS: This was actually in Belton, a little community off of Temple on Lake Belton, and it was a big event for the city, which Bill really loved. I was on the front page of the newspaper five days in a row during the whole event, not that a national championship in one design, racing, is that big a deal, but in Temple, Texas it really was, and the reason we got to have it there as a tradition, I had already won a couple of years before that and as a winner you get to select as the host where that new spot might be, so we did it right there. Let’s see, from there Daniels got involved in acquiring Ann Arbor, Michigan, which that system was in bankruptcy. I don’t know how many at that point had actually fallen into bankruptcy, but it was truly…
KELLER: Few, but some did.
HOOKS: That was one of them that was in bankruptcy. It took a while… that was in ’79 and they asked would I consider it and I said, “Sure.” In this business I thought I’d already been in one spot long enough, I need to move on and it sounded like a great opportunity and I said, “Great.” Well, through the process, like any bankruptcy, it kept being delayed, being delayed, being delayed, and by that time I had trained a replacement for me, in fact, Keith Bircham’s son who was still with Daniels, and Bill said, “Well, can we use Ben on some special projects?” And that’s when Bill got the idea and the vision of building the markets around Carlsbad, California. So anyway, they said then, “Will you go out for six months (or whatever it is) in California and help us out there?” So my job out there was to figure out – and I worked with Chuck Jenkins who was still there as well – how to put together an interconnect microwave system to pull all those communities in and around Carlsbad…
KELLER: Tie them together?
HOOKS: Tie them together on a microwave system. I spent that six months or so doing that and as far as I know today a lot of that is still in operation. I’m sure some of it’s been replaced with fiber today, but that was my job there. So then I moved, and it was funny, I left my family in Temple but then they didn’t like living there alone so we moved them out to California during that six months. By then I had a daughter and a son, they were just little kids, and I’ll never forget, we rented furniture, we rented everything, but they stayed with me in the Carlsbad area for about six months. So by then I could move on to Ann Arbor and my experience there was amazing.
KELLER: Now what year are we talking now?
HOOKS: Okay, we’re just hitting the beginning of 1980. So, I’m on my way to Ann Arbor and I’ll never forget it – I’d never been north of the line of Texas, that’s for sure, and it was funny, going across country we had a travel trailer so we thought well we’ll spend a few days getting there and we took the 7 route and we saw friends through Temple and then the last day all we did was drive north. I’ll never forget, we got in there that night and I got out, and this was I guess January, and I thought how can any place be as cold as this place? What am I doing here? How do you even work here? But I’ll never forget, we walked back in the travel trailer and everything had frozen except what was in the refrigerator. That was the only thing that wasn’t frozen. But that was that experience. Ann Arbor was an exciting event. It was another one of those examples and I think I was getting a history of if it’s bad enough put Ben in it because he thrives in that kind of environment.
KELLER: You were the manager up there, then?
HOOKS: I was the manager up there as well. I think at the time they had about 20,000 subscribers. I proceeded to… in fact, it was a union shop as well, which I don’t think there were many cable systems that were union.
KELLER: There were a few but there were not very many.
HOOKS: During – not my whole term there, but during the term of the ownership it decertified and went back the other way, but I immediately went in there and we had serious problems with the way the operation was running. Obviously it had gone through bankruptcy and it had been short of funding so it needed a lot of correction. One of the first things we did, it had one of the most…
KELLER: Who bought that Ann Arbor system? Bill was operating it, I know, but who bought it?
HOOKS: It was Ossie Scripps Howard that put up the money. That’s right, Scripps. I’ll never forget the pay service… I couldn’t believe it. I mean it literally was X-rated, one of the channels was literally – and they were running on tapes – it was literally X-rates programming, which was totally unacceptable by our standards at that time, so we immediately revamped, went to our Showcase 1 & 2 format, and immediately started bringing in… because it was just all still off-air programming out of Canada…
HOOKS: Detroit, yeah, the Lansing area and all that. So we immediately started bringing in satellite programming by then, expanding the line-up.
KELLER: You went to your two locally programmed movie channels, but why didn’t you come up with HBO at that time or one of the other ones?
HOOKS: At that time, the profitability of what we were doing, and we felt our results were just as good, was better. But that didn’t last long. We introduced and probably within a year or two then did convert.
KELLER: Because in the ’80s that was at least five years after HBO had come on board and Showtime was on and everything.
HOOKS: That’s right. We were still priding ourselves on being our own provider of pay services, and actually we did quite a good job.
KELLER: Who was running the operation at Daniels?
HOOKS: Well, Keith Bircham was the vice-president of operations who reported to John Saeman, I think… yes, that’s right. Tom Johnson was the marketing vice-president, so between those two they were…
KELLER: Tom had been there a long time; he was there when I was there.
HOOKS: Well, I had stayed… I wasn’t very long there either, maybe six-nine months. In fact, I added it up, within a year’s period of time I had moved my family from Tyler to California, from California to Ann Arbor, and then from Ann Arbor back to Denver in one years.
KELLER: So, you’re not in Tyler yet, though. You said Tyler.
HOOKS: I mean, excuse me, Temple, I’m sorry, you’re right. So I’d moved from Temple to California, California to Michigan, Michigan now going back to Denver.
KELLER: So you’re leaving from Ann Arbor coming back to Denver. That’s the corporate office.
HOOKS: At that point I had accepted the responsibility of vice-president of operations.
KELLER: Replacing Keith?
HOOKS: No, actually what had happened, Keith had retired temporarily, and then I think later he did another jaunt with an investment, but he’d left the company and Tom Johnson took his spot. Tom called me, and I’m trying to remember Tom’s title, but it was probably executive vice-president of operations, and Tom had called me to work with him and become the vice-president of operations. Daniels also during that time had been acquiring a number of systems because… I guess I skipped a little here. In approximately 1980, the closing of the properties that Bill Daniels had under his wing, which was Temple, you know, the Waco-Killeen properties, and Lincoln, Nebraska properties – 100,000 customers – he had sold to Metrovision.
KELLER: He had owned these? These were Bill’s?
HOOKS: Bill had owned those, right.
KELLER: Now that didn’t happen very often because Bill usually managed other people’s properties up until the time that they were able to do it themselves.
HOOKS: Good point, that’s right, and he owned those.
KELLER: Then he owned some of them on his own and these were part of that that he sold, then, in the mid-80s? Is that right?
HOOKS: Really, I think, it was right around the first of ’80 when the closing finally happened. It started in ’79, actually, when I was going on my way to Ann Arbor.
KELLER: Were these limited partnerships? Act 1, Act 2?
HOOKS: No, no, this was before that. Those came later. And that was part of, I think, why Keith earned some money and there was a number of people that did retire at that point. So that kind of caused the change. Also, it started the development of Act 1, Act 2, so they were forming a number of partnerships with invested dollars and started buying systems around the country. So we weren’t from more of a concentration of systems to more spread out around the country from coast to coast as far as it went. Typically, ten to twenty thousand sub cable systems is what they were. So I just immediately had responsibilities on all these systems of overseeing them from basically coast to coast, and that was the latter part of ’80 that I arrived there, and I spent until the latter part of ’84, maybe October ’84, so I lived in the Denver area, in fact out at Columbine, for that period of time, and really my job had been as we bought them to get them on their feet, get them running, and as we expanded the growth got to the point that I was just traveling coast to coast every week and we brought another associate, a good old friend of mine, Wendell Owen, who had earlier work for Daniels in Killeen. In fact, he ran the Killeen systems later, managed those through the sale, and anyway, he came on board to help me and then we split the properties up. Wendell is the type that typically took them after me and really tweaked them. I always seemed to fit more into the frenzy of things when you just had to get them working, and so we became quite a team, and during those four years Tom Johnson left as well, and this became my connection with the Buford family. Jerry Buford who had been with Bill for some years took over that executive vice-president slot.
KELLER: He had been on the brokerage side though, wasn’t he?
HOOKS: But on the brokerage and development side, yes. And so he came over to the operating side and I started working directly for Jerry.
KELLER: Now his family at that time did own a television station, didn’t they?
HOOKS: In fact, since I would say the ’50s, maybe late ’40s, they owned the Tyler ABC and a sister station in Lufkin and actually the two signals overlapped. One was channel 7, one was channel 9. They also got in cable in Southbend, Indiana in the mid-70s. They had a cable system.
KELLER: I thought Jerry brought them into cable.
HOOKS: Yes, and in fact, I think that grew to around 50,000 subscribers. But anyway, and I’d known Jerry for years, but that’s where I officially started working for him directly. Anyway, they continued to buy systems and then there was another change in management…
KELLER: The Daniels group continued to buy systems?
HOOKS: Right, in these partnership forms. Then there continued to be, as they grew more, more management structural changes. Jerry stepped down and Bill Kingry stepped in. Anyway, at that point in time, as close as I was with Jerry I just got to know that his two brothers were starting to focus, re-focus their energies on possibly selling their commitments in broadcasting and focus entirely on cable. Anyway, Jerry talked to me and I said, “You know, that just sounds like a great challenge for me.” I had a wonderful… I always say the most wonderful thing… not many people that worked for as fine as companies as I did. I mean, who would you rather work for than Bill Daniels, and then the Buford family was wonderful. So I’m very fortunate compared to most people, but I just saw it was a good time to change. I had gained tremendous knowledge with Daniels and it looked like an opportunity that I could take that knowledge and go to the next step. It’s not like I ever planned what I wanted to do next. There are all these people now, here’s my vision and what I’m going to do. I never did that, but I always found myself that I had to take on the next challenge or I’d typically get bored. I saw those challenges slowing down and it just looked like a good time to change. So I departed end of ’84, went to work directly for Bob, who was the chairman, Bob Buford, and Jerry’s twin brother, Jeff Buford, and they both owned at the time 50% equal shares of… At one time, all three of them owned 1/3, 1/3 and 1/3, but Jerry…
KELLER: But they never owned the Tyler system, though?
HOOKS: Never owned the Tyler system.
KELLER: But you had your headquarters in Tyler.
HOOKS: Had their headquarters in Tyler because of the TV station, and of course they grew up in that town and they were a pretty prominent family in Tyler. So, of course, I went there end of ’84 and they… at that time they had sold the Southbend, Indiana properties, and I’m going to guess around ’82, ’83, and they had about 20,000 subs now in Broward County, Florida and they had about 3,500 subs in some communities just on the eastern suburbs of Dallas.
HOOKS: 3,500, just a small little system. Bought that from Storer. That happened about the time I came in. Anyway, my job was to oversee those and quickly I started getting more involved on how can we expand and grow, where’s the opportunity. Well, at that time we were getting about ’85, ’86-ish, and based on Bob and Jeff’s tolerance for risk, the prices seemed too high. Believe it or not, I found a…
KELLER: The prices to buy?
HOOKS: To buy were too high. The returns were too risky to them, but they did want to get in the cable business. Anyway, I started taking my time on evaluating where a niche might be in the business and to my surprise at that time there was a large number of communities, very large, that were not served by cable. Now, they were a smaller group. At the end of the day when you finished building them they’d be anywhere from a couple hundred subscribers to maybe up to a thousand when you were done, but they were everywhere. So I introduced a business plan to Bob and Jeff on how we might start building cable and before you knew it, this would have been… well, let me back up a little bit. In ’86 I was developing this plan, but in ’86 as I was developing this business plan to get started I found a couple key systems we could buy that were reasonably priced and in fact the first group was in Cabot, Arkansas, which is 30-some hundred subs to a few thousand subs, so we got a base started and that’s when I started seeing all these towns that weren’t built and developed a business plan of why don’t we build all these systems. Well, before you knew it, by ’88 – we started doing it a little bit at a time – but by ’88 the prices just kept getting higher and higher that we really got engaged. Between ’88 and ’90, we built – this little company built – between 6 and 7 thousand miles of plant in nine states, and it was quite a program. We were a company of about 25 people building all this plant. We look back and we say, “What in the world ever made us think we could do this?” We did it. What we quickly found out is to put that much money out in plant with no subs backing it up, it was a little strenuous because subscribers never come on as quick as an entrepreneur expects them to, so you had a tremendous outlay of capital in hopes of a lot of subscribers coming on, which they did but it did seem like it went slower than it should, so it was quite stressful, but we succeeded. And then early in the ’90s, the group of us including myself said, “You know, we’re spread out too much.” The small system example is working but we really need to be more tightly clustered, and at that time we had about 80,000 subscribers, maybe 85,000 in the early ’90s, and we realized that the best clustering we had is where we started, which was in the Arkansas and east Texas areas, is actually where we started, and that it would probably be, from an economic standpoint, a better opportunity to expand those markets. Actually we were nine states – we were in the Arkansas, southern Missouri, eastern Texas and parts of Louisiana, and then we were on the east coast about another 30,000 subs over five states, really spread out. So we proceeded to figure out how we could sell those. We were successful in doing that and in fact, the same year we sold that we bought, now prices were getting better, we bought approximately that many systems in the market of the Arkansas and all that darn near as fast as we sold, so it was almost a little glitch. By the end of that process, which I’m going to say is in ’92, we were now just concentrated in those four states in the central part of the country. Once we did that we still argued that we were really inefficient and our service people weren’t responsive the way they should be to customer demands. We were the first company to start testing and developing the use of a technology that Qual Comm designed for the trucking industry, which basically was satellite tracking system that they designed for the trucking industry to track where their trucks were and when they were going to arrive and their destination, all that. Well, we started playing with the technology, found that it was very robust, it was darn near bullet proof, worked really well, but it certainly didn’t have the software support that it needed for an industry like ours, so in all our remote offices we started installing it and then developing the software, and of course when we got done what was unique about it is that literally when you took a service call it would literally download right to the serviceman’s truck, so at the end of the day when you looked at a serviceman, you knew where he was, where he was going, where he had been, how much work you sent to him, how much he completed and how much more he had to do. Well, this continued to tell me, from an administrative standpoint, the important of consolidating administrative functions. Now, we had to be very careful because there was a balance between customers’ needs, meaning there are physical requirements that customers had needs for and there were things that they didn’t need a physical requirement. In other words, you still had to have management there, you had to have eye-to-eye contact, and customers, not only customers, but city councilmen, all your customers, it was things you physically had to have a relationship with, which were service people, which were management, those types of things were important to maintain, but it didn’t matter whether you were calling across the street or into another state as far as placing an order, if you were efficient enough to communicate back to your people in the field. Well, we quickly realized this solved that problem. So then we proceeded – and this would have started in about, I’m going to guess we’re around ’94 – in developing the strategy of building a call center.
KELLER: What kind of a capital outlay did this Qual Comm system take?
HOOKS: The Qual Comm system then was about… that’s an interesting question. Qual Comm then, because this really blew a lot of people away, took about $4,000 a service truck, had an average life of about 20 years so it could be moved from truck to truck. The software application as far as computer hardware wasn’t much. The writing of the software took quite a bit, but that fits in the pool of the whole call center, eventually, really. Really it was the truck investment. What we had…
KELLER: That’s the receiver and transmitter in the truck?
HOOKS: In the truck. Early on a lot of people asked the question, “How did you justify it?” and it was amazing. When we started looking at our service people, when we were sending dispatch work to them we were sending it to fax machines at homes and headends and it was real inefficient and we were using pagers because we couldn’t even get connection on mobile radios to most of these service people; they were too remote. So it was very inefficient getting to these guys and they’d find out if they had an outage they might not know it for hours, or you’d give them a page and they’d have to drive a long way just to get all the information, and it was really poor. We found out our windshield time was horrible. Well, we determined that $4,000, we actually had a payback in just over a year on that equipment just on getting more work efficiency. In fact, we added an hour – between and hour and two hours a day – of work being accomplished over what we were doing just drive time.
KELLER: So you were able to quantify that.
HOOKS: Right, and it was amazing – a serviceman, when he’d go home at night his truck and equipment would remain in a sleep mode, so in the middle of the night his next day’s assignment would be downloaded into his truck and when he came out of his house, turned on the truck – anytime the truck was turned on or off – it would immediately poll back to the office saying, “Okay, he’s gone to work.” Well, instead of even going into an office, wasting 30 minutes or whatever, having coffee and getting your work, his work just came right up in front of him. So we immediately improved the efficiencies.
KELLER: And you knew when he turned that truck off, too.
HOOKS: Yeah, every time he turned the truck on or off it would poll right where he was. Now, you could always interrupt that to find where he was, but it automatically did that. So, yeah, you had a pretty good… in fact, we you used to stop and say, “We know more where our people are and what they’re doing than you did in a standard classic cable system.”
KELLER: Oh, no doubt about that. I have no doubt about that at all.
HOOKS: It was really amazing. So that really grew us into the call center, and in that case we wanted it to be close to our management people in Tyler. We actually built the call center in Tyler; we owned 20-some acres at that time.
KELLER: You didn’t need that much room did you, for a call center?
HOOKS: No, we really didn’t. Now at this time, because we’d bought a lot more systems, so ’94-’95, probably ’94, we were now at about 130,000 subscribers, I’m guessing.
KELLER: Well, you had to have at least 100-plus thousands of dollars invested the Qual Comm system now.
HOOKS: We had a lot! Well, take 130 vehicles times $4,000 a truck. It was a couple hundred thousand dollars, yeah. So we said, “All right, we’re going to take advantage of this.” My biggest problem prior to getting the call center started was developing a software application that would work to our needs, and really your Cable Datas and those kind of groups, CSG, those kinds of groups, really entertained themselves to the needs of the big operators. Well, they didn’t have needs that we had. They didn’t interface with satellite communications networks. I think we had 500 franchises then and probably 500 different rates. We were really a complicated system and we really needed a software package that was developed that was done in a simplistic way that was online active and the whole bit.
KELLER: You could pull your reports then, from that too? Hard copy reports from it?
HOOKS: Oh, everything! And we didn’t want to be online, and that’s all we could afford at that point would have been Cable Datas and that sort of thing, so we really wanted to be an in-house billing system or management information system. So it finally pushed us out of the country to Canada to a company called RR Enterprises who developed, and actually put in-house in our call center after we got it built, their chief analyst that continued for several years to develop the software to meet our needs, and it really was a facility back in those days. When you took the telephone, you took the satellite communications system, and you took the management information and billing system, it was all integrated together. So it was just remarkable for that day, and in fact we got a lot of attention. After we opened it, I think in ’96, because of requests and people wanting to tour the facility, we agreed to host an executive retreat, so to speak, and invite the top 50 – maybe not the top two, but pretty much the top CEOs of the industry to come in and view this.
KELLER: This was before TCI developed their central communications system – I’ll put it that way – in Denver.
HOOKS: Yeah, I really think it was. You know, there was talk about it, but I think we were one of the first to really develop it. Now I won’t say we were, but we were certainly one of the first to develop a facility like that, and I know the only one that I think was using the full application of a satellite communication network in a facility that was integrated with it as well.
KELLER: What did it cost you, do you remember, per subscriber to run that thing?
HOOKS: Well, that’s what was interesting – our costs came down. I really don’t remember, but here’s what was amazing when we did this: when you think of us in multiple offices, we really struggled. Telemarketing’s always been a big deal – well, door-to-door is always number one – but telemarketing’s always been a big piece of our business, whether we’re calling to follow up on an install we did, or making sure they understand the product, or selling products, it has always been a big part of our business. It was a disaster to farm that out in these little systems because, first of all, if I gave them big enough numbers they’d say, “Wait a minute – there’s 500 communities, they’ve all got different rates and there’s a few hundred in each community?” So either the rates were really high or they were inefficient and they couldn’t really help us much. Well, call centers allowed us to do that in-house. In fact, in our call center we designed a classroom, we hired a teacher and when we’d hire a CSR they’d have to go through a three week program even before they could get out on the floor and they’d have to pass tests. So think about this, in the mid-90s that was quite a step, and here we were rural operators where there was no way I could afford those kinds of things on multiple offices, but by consolidating and concentrating…
KELLER: That was going to be my next question – did each office have a remote central location?
HOOKS: When we started each office was pretty much independent of itself and it had very little… there was no economies of scale to use, so we were limited on what you could accomplish.
KELLER: Could the local manager query the system for the data for his own operation?
HOOKS: For his own operation, right. Now, the trick was we actually expanded – and this is what’s interesting – we went from… we were in four states with really two managers, two regional managers. When we consolidated we kept the two regional managers and added eight area managers, all right? So the trick was by making ourselves more efficient in the administrative functions of the business, it actually gave us the ability to turn around and add more management talent in the field. So what we were doing was not consolidating… lots of times I think the industry has gotten confused as they consolidate – they consolidate management, they consolidate… you know, everything tracks the office. Well, in the structure of our facility, there was not system manager in the office. It was designed to serve area managers and regional managers…
KELLER: So one guy had a number of systems that he was responsible for.
HOOKS: Right and the call center was a service to him or her, and so it was a little different. In fact, it puzzled a lot of people – “Well, what do you mean? In your call center your regional manager’s not there?” “No, they’re out in the field. That’s where we need them; that’s where their talent is.” So what I would say is that was probably our biggest challenge. It’s kind of like there’s a standard way of running cable systems and that’s quite a mindset that they’ve developed over the years, the whole industry, even our people, that all of the sudden you’ve got to look at this different. This is a service, this does not make management decisions, it’s there to serve you and it’s going to have extreme efficiencies. So that was the concept of it. We got recognized in the industry, I think it was in ’96 or ’97.
KELLER: You won an award for it, didn’t you?
HOOKS: Yeah, they gave us the technology of the year award. I don’t know – I think it was just everything that fit.
KELLER: Technology innovator award, wasn’t it?
HOOKS: Yeah, I think that’s what it was. But we really did have a lot of pride in that, and of course by today’s standards I don’t know that there’s anything that unique about it.
KELLER: Are you still operating it?
HOOKS: No, we sold Buford Television – back then that was Buford Television, as you earlier introduced me working for, and that was Buford Television. We sold it in July of ’99 to Classic Communications. In some respects it was funny. I wasn’t done yet.
KELLER: Now you had become a partner in it by this time, which was unusual itself for the Bufords, wasn’t it?
HOOKS: Very. In, let’s see, it would have been five years before ’99, so in about ’94, the very beginning of ’94, they formed a partnership and at that point it was just Bob and Jeff and the partnership was expanded to six folks. So there were four key folks that joined in that had really developed the business that we sold at that point. Bob had moved to Dallas a couple of years before that; Jeff did not play an active management role. In fact, between Jeff and Bob, we pretty much met them one day a month as you would a board meeting, and I think to accommodate what we were doing and the responsibilities we had, yes, they formed a partnership. So we really grew and developed the company from ’94.
KELLER: Who were the other partners?
HOOKS: The other one was Ron Martin, who was very active in the National Cable Television Co-op; the other two are partners with us today in Buford Media, which was our financial officer Tom Seal and the other one’s are chief operating officer, Kay Montigold. So today in Buford Media there are actually now four partners – there’s one of the Burfords, Jeff Buford; myself; Kay Montigold; and Tom Seal.
KELLER: And you’re out now scouting for systems again, is that correct?
HOOKS: We’re out scouting for systems again. I believe that the opportunity is greater than it’s ever been in rural remote systems. A lot of people look puzzled by that. I think there’s been a paradigm shift. It’s hard to operate, and I’d be concerned about operating 3-4 hundred subscriber cable systems. You’ve got to buy tight enough clusters that you can interconnect them with fiber. There is no question that every time a new technology comes out that it’s always too expensive for the smaller systems.
KELLER: That’s always the case.
HOOKS: It’s always the case, but it’s not different than when the first satellite dish came out in it was $100,000, and what’s the dish today? $1,500? It’s the same phenomenon that’s gone on forever and the poor little guy has got to be very creative and patient, but sooner or later the technology costs come down, but because technology changes and moves so quickly it is becoming more and more important to have tighter clusters where you can interconnect them to have larger headends. It’s harder to wait, is what I’m saying.
KELLER: Ben, we’ve taken a jaunt through your, by this time, almost 30 years in the cable television business. Now I want to take just a little bit of a twist in this business. You’ve been involved in and chairman of, and president of, various associations within the industry. Do you want to go back and recount those associations and what you’ve done in them or what has been accomplished?
HOOKS: You know, it’s funny, as we developed and succeeded at Buford Television in operating in rural and smaller markets, and as always the political arena has been something that the industry has had to struggle with and work with, but it became apparent that we really didn’t have a spokesman or a spokesperson or group that was organized properly to speak on the behalf of smaller rural operators.
KELLER: By this time, though, you had CATA?
HOOKS: We had CATA and NCTA, but what you saw as the smaller guys that started the business expanded and grew their concentration, and consequently those organizations, started focusing more on the larger markets. That was more of the issue. Not that their passion wasn’t toward us, it was just the order of the day is what’s most important today to deal with. CATA, which I did serve on the board a number of years…
KELLER: Cable Antenna Television Association.
HOOKS: Cable Antenna Television Association and I always got them mixed up as they changed their name. I think it became Cable… I forget, but they later changed their name to something like Communications, but anyway… CATA did, through Steve Effros, focus more so on the smaller operators, but there was no question it was more funded by the big operators at the time. It was a wonderful opportunity for me to participate on that board – in fact, that’s one of the first boards I joined – because it really did give me an avenue to understand the focuses of the big operator, and yet there was a platform to talk about the issues of the small operators, and Steve Effros was always passionate to everybody’s needs, and so it was a good forum for that. NCTA to this day I have a wonderful passion for them, while I have not been a member I communicate a lot with them and I just say the order of the day is not focused enough for me. But in ’93, with the development of the Communications Act, it got real scary because all the rule of the land was being focused on what it related to on the big operators.
KELLER: This was the ’94 Cable Act, right?
HOOKS: Right, and it became scary because through the regulation requirements, paperwork, you literally… I mean, a small operator couldn’t even function in that environment and frankly, we didn’t have the political problems in general that the larger operators did. And frankly, it’s just because it’s easier to deal and focus your time towards the requirements of smaller communities. We were more closely involved with our communities, but we had a serious problem and you couldn’t expect NCTA, while they support you and work with you, to get up and say how do we rewrite the law of the land where it doesn’t annihilate you guys. So, in May of ’93, because really the Act came out in ’93…
KELLER: Yeah, it came out before it became effective.
HOOKS: Before it became effective, yeah. In May of ’93, the Small Cable Business Association was formed and the official elected board members – until then anybody who wanted to be a board member was until May of ’94, I was elected as an executive board member then, and the purpose of the Small Cable Business Association was to introduce to the Senate and the House the real concerns we had with the writing of the bill and how that would impact us, which was really, really scary. Through that process, and in fact – I’m trying to remember, I testified before the House… I’m trying to remember… you know, it’s terrible, I can’t remember the exact dates, but I did testify. Jack Fields was out of Texas, so that was a good reason why I testified before the House on the effects of the bill and what had to be reconsidered and changed in that bill to allow us to survive.
KELLER: Did you get any alleviation?
HOOKS: We sure did. The way it ended up was that 1) they defined what the small systems were. I’m going for memory, but it was companies that weren’t larger than I think it was 250,000 subscribers, something like that; didn’t have a headend bigger than 50,000 customers; those types of things, and didn’t exceed certain revenues as I recall.
KELLER: That had been written into one of the earlier cable acts, too. It may have been dropped out of ’94, but I think it was in some of the earlier ones where they defined a small cable operation.
HOOKS: Right, and then the final version, the one in ’96, or wait a minute, I guess it was ’94…
HOOKS: But anyway, the final version ended up defining who we were and it exempted us from the regulation requirements of the big operators, which was essential, it really was. Even complying with the regulation requirements you would have been forced into various tiering requirements, that sort of thing, that just was totally impractical for our business. So it really was… I think without the Small Cable Business Association I don’t know where we would have been today if that hadn’t happened. It was really a fun group to be involved with. It’s kind of like it’s your worst hour, it gets everybody’s attention. So, everybody – I don’t care how small a company they were – would come to Washington and march the halls of Congress, and whether it was Cowboy Cable or whether it was Buford Television, we call marched the halls to tell them what our concerns were, and that’s pretty effective lobbying technique.
KELLER: You were also a member of the Texas Association at this time, or were you not?
HOOKS: No, I was not at that point. And in fact, if you watch history, I think the next step, two years later, I was the second elected… the first chairman was David Kinley, and then when I became chairman, my main function and purpose was to stabilize SCBA into an organization that had an executive group because at that point it was all volunteer, and you knew while all the energy was there, sooner or later it wouldn’t hold together. So that’s when we brought, under my reign, brought in Matt Polka, who is still there today as the president and CEO of the organization and we really stabilized it and grew from there with the staff and the whole bit. Now during my term, and those were two-year terms, so I would have probably stepped in around ’95, and during that period of time my next – so I was still on the board of CATA – and I was asked to serve on the board of Cable Labs.
KELLER: Because of your engineering background?
HOOKS: Yeah, climbing poles! It was funny, I’ve always spoken… they’ve always had a small operators conference every year up in Vail or Keystone, it’s always up there every year, and my motto when I spoke was that I don’t know that we analyzed things like the big operators because we really can’t, we just have kind of a Nike attitude – “Just Do It” – so I knew how to do that, so I’d always talk about just what we’re doing. All I knew is it works, guys, and here’s what we’re doing. Well, so I joined Cable Labs as a board member and I always pride myself as being probably the least technically inclined guy on the board, but I do think I have some business savvy and some common sense and that’s what I think I deliver to Cable Labs and the smaller operators that are a member of Cable Labs. But also during that period then before I got on the Texas board, during that period TCI asked me if I would serve on the advisory board of the development of HITS, and remember HITS…
KELLER: Which is an acronym for?
HOOKS: HITS – Headend in the Sky. HITS, the idea of HITS, came out of Cable Labs, actually from a guy by the name of Mike Pool, who was with Douglas Communications, that said, “There’s got to be a way to deliver more efficiently a product to the small headends that can’t afford to put all this equipment in at their headends.” Well, I can’t say exactly how it all developed, but certainly TCI jumped on it, developed HITS, and asked me and several other companies to participate on the advisory board. I was involved… actually our company was involved for a number of years all the way through the introduction of it, but at different phases I included different people. On the initial phase I was on the relationships – how that would work with the development of HITS to where it could interface with operators and how would you draw up contracts and that sort of thing. I introduced Kay Montigold and she served on the advisory board, and then when we got to the marketing phase I introduced Ron Martin to the advisory board. But to make a long story short, we had developed the call center now, so we were the first company outside of TCI with the ability to interface directly with the HITS center and consequently we were the first company not affiliated with TCI to launch HITS. Here’s another opportunity – I get to do something right off the bat where everybody was a little skeptical, “Is this really going to work?”, and we just took the Nike attitude and said, well, it sounds like a great idea, let’s just do it. You know, what’s kind of funny, a small operator really is in the better position to try wild, crazy things because we can go into a community and say, “Guess what? There’s a new technology, it’s a little crazy, we’re going to have some problems, but would you like to be the first town for us to introduce this new idea?” And so you could introduce it with a different approach to where the community felt involved, and if you had problems they thought that was great because they got to participate in them, so it was easy for us to do those things. So, we introduced HITS at that time, and we were very proud of that and our relationship with TCI was wonderful. So anyway, I did want to mention that. And then, really, we actually sold Buford Television July of ’99 and that was to Classic Communications, and for the first time in my life I wasn’t involved with a customer and we kind of laugh… I was, I guess, retired for 30 days. I don’t like to say I was out of the business, but I was retired, I guess, for 30 days. Jeff Buford had kept ownership of the office that corporate had maintained itself in in the old Buford Television days and kept that office, so I kept an office there and would go to work and read the Wall Street Journal cover to cover, and one day I called my wife, one afternoon and I said, “Do you want to go to a matinee?” and she said, “This isn’t working, is it Ben?” And I said, “No.” And it was so funny because I always dreamed of just sailing around the world and all of the sudden when you got the chance I thought do I want to get up every day and sail, every day of my life, and I went “No.” And it made me realize – it was great – how much I loved the business and the industry and how much I believe in the niche I’ve been doing, so of course when that happened I had to step down off of boards. So about 30 days later we said, “We’ve got to do something.” So, lo and behold, there was a new development that was coming up near us in Tyler and I said, “Why don’t we play around with that and just hook it up and put in a little cable system,” so we started. By then Johnny Mankin called me from the Texas board and he said, “What in the world are you doing?”
KELLER: Johnny Sr.?
HOOKS: Jr. This would be about 2000, I’m guessing. Johnny Mankin calls me and he says, “You need to serve on the board.” I said, “Johnny, I don’t have any subs yet. Now I’m going to have some pretty soon here in the next few months.” He said, “We’d really like to have your involvement in the Texas board.” And at that point, our involvement in Texas and other state associations were by regional managers that worked for me, so we’ve always been involved in the Texas Association, but not me so directly. I was involved more on the national scope of things, but I’ve always had a wonderful passion, as almost anybody does, for the Texas Association. So, I thought, well, I’ve got plenty of time on my hands, I’ll do this. I’ll never forget, when I was elected to the board I had, I think it was two customers, and our CFO, as a joke, because we had to be a member in good standing, sent in, I think it was two cents, sent in two cents, which Bill Arnold immediately made clear that Ben’s in good standing, we’ve got his two pennies. And of course, why couldn’t we send in a dollar, you know!
KELLER: It was better that way.
HOOKS: Yeah, it was better that way. So I got ribbed about that a little bit, but joined the Texas Association, its boards, served about a year then became secretary or treasurer, actually, and really because of opportunity going forward I found that I couldn’t stay actively involved the way I do. If I’m going to be on a board, I like to make a difference and I’m just getting spread too thin because between all the boards I’m on now, which you take now SCBA, which changed its name to American Cable Association, and you take Cable Labs and you take the National Cable Television Co-op, which I also joined a couple of years ago, that’s really…
KELLER: And well you should have. I think any small operator should be a part of that.
HOOKS: Right. So I’ve got to always say I’ve only got so much time, how do I allocate it, and I think where I serve the industry best is more on a national basis. So really I’m involved on a national basis on technology, on the political arena, and on the programming side, which really if you think about it, are the key important issues as it relates separately for small rural operators. So I’m focused there.
KELLER: Now what did you do to win the Johnny Mankin Award?
HOOKS: Well, that’s a good question.
KELLER: Which, by the way, is the top award of the Texas Cable Television Association for service to the industry in the state.
HOOKS: It was funny, when I was first called by Steve Lowe, who is the current chairman at that time of the association, I said, “Well, you know, I’ve been involved,” not knowing exactly the criteria behind it other than that it’s a wonderful award, my response was, “I’ve been involved more on a national level, I feel a little awkward to accept something as it relates to my contributions to Texas.” Well, of course Steve immediately said, “But your company,” and in fact Steve, at one time, represented our company on the board because he used to work for me, Steve Lowe, and he served on the board, and he says, “Well, 1) the company’s always supported, and you have in the past, the Texas Association and their activities, and 2) it does look at the individual as a whole and what their contributions are to the industry.” So, for whatever reason they selected me. It’s one of the finest honors, certainly, I’ve received. It was funny – I thought about that morning before receiving it, and after receiving it I wanted to spend a few minutes thanking folks, but as I first said when we first opened, all these accomplishments were really done by people that I was fortunate enough surround myself with, and it’s a humbling experience because you really realize that without all the support of folks, whether it was Daniels, whether it was Bufords, whether it was friends, family… I think of my wife, I mentioned dragging her and the family across country three times in one year. There’s a lot of commitment by a lot of folks that believed in me and stuck with me and all the associates, it really was a humbling experience to get such an award.
KELLER: Well, management is fertilizing the flowers and getting rid of the weeds, pure and simple. So you learned that in a hurry, huh?
HOOKS: Learned that in a hurry. So there’s no questions, it’s one of the finer awards I’ve gotten and I’m very proud of that.
KELLER: What is your association with and what is the World Net Literacy Foundation?
HOOKS: You’re talking about Net Library? World Net Library?
KELLER: It said literacy, but maybe it is the library.
HOOKS: I think you’re referring… well, I served on a board here…
KELLER: World Net Literacy Foundation.
KELLER: That’s what it says. I’ve got bad information, huh?
HOOKS: Yeah, I think that’s some bad information, I’m sorry.
KELLER: Well, correct it.
HOOKS: Well, I did serve on a board here for a short period of time of an organization called…. it was called Net Library, as I recall. In fact, with Beverly O’Brien, and maybe that was the official name of it. I did serve for a period of time, not long, on a really unique technology where this organization was digitizing books in a compressed digital form.
KELLER: Didn’t work.
HOOKS: A great idea, and of course, you know me, anything that’s exciting I had to get involved. Beverly O’Brien calls me and says, “Ben, what do you think?” And then immediately I got them involved, and Beverly involved, on if you can do that how its application can be used in schools. Unfortunately it’s a great idea, maybe before its time and the follow through wasn’t there, and as you know, that was probably the worst time is when Beverly left The Center, and the best time when she came back, and as she came back I left the board position at Net Library. But that was an interesting experience, yes.
KELLER: Ben, I think we’re going to wrap this thing up. We’ve just about run out of time and words. Not you – but I’ve run out of words. This has been the oral history of Ben W. Hooks, Jr. Now you can say preeminent entrepreneur in the cable television industry who is still the CEO of Buford Media, Inc. Ben, thanks very much for participating. I enjoyed it.
HOOKS: Thank you, Jim. You bet.