Interview Date: 2002
Interview Location: Denver, CO
Interviewer: Rex Porter
Collection: Hauser Collection
PORTER: I’m Rex Porter. We are at The Cable Center for the Barco Library to interview cable pioneer, Mr. Ron Hranac. Welcome, Ron.
HRANAC: Hi, Rex.
PORTER: To begin our session today, could you give us a little about your background, your early years of your life, growing up and going to school, and so forth?
HRANAC: Sure. I hail from northern Idaho, a little town called Lewiston. It’s in the panhandle of the state, and I was born and mostly raised there. I say mostly because our family moved around quite a lot while I was growing up, but that always seemed to be the home base to which we returned through the various moves and years. To think back, I think I attended 12 different schools in 12 years, from first grade through high school. So that made things a little bit challenging as far as learning and making friends and all, but I seemed to adapt pretty well to that. The idea of an interest in cable kind of got its start there, too, because that’s where I started in the cable industry was in my hometown. I’ll come back to that in just a bit. But I’m married, I have a lovely wife, Denise, that many in the industry know. She’s attended quite a few of SCTE’s Cable Tech Expos, and a few other industry shows over the years, and particularly at Expo has helped out in the membership booths and whatnot over the years, and has come to know a lot of our respective colleagues in the industry. Three kids – they’re all grown and gone. I’ve got three grandkids, as well. My oldest is a customer service person with Merrill Lynch in Jacksonville, Florida, and he’s got three kids. In fact, this week our oldest grandson is visiting with us, and later this week my wife and I are going to fly down to Florida. I’ve got some business meetings down there next week, but we’re sneaking down a couple days early and are going to go see the kids and the other grandkids. We’ve got a brand new one that was just born a couple months ago. Haven’t seen him yet, only pictures. So we’re looking forward to that piece. As I said, I was born and raised in Lewiston, Idaho, and I’m the oldest of five kids. I still have three sisters who live in the Lewiston area, my mom is still there, my brother is in Modesto, California, and all of my siblings have kids that are pretty much grown and gone. I think my youngest sister still has some kids at home, but the rest of them are pretty much grown and gone, and several of them are grandparents as well. Oh, gosh, an interest in where we are today. I say “we”, you, me, the technical side of the cable industry. I think it probably goes back to some inspiration from my grandfather, my mother’s father. Grandpa Charlie, as we called him, was an interesting character. He finished the 8th grade and that was the extent of his education, but he had a 192 IQ, a brilliant man. His love of life was horticulture, although that wasn’t his professional life. He did have an orchard for quite a few years, though, but in later years got into some other lines of work. But horticulture was always his favorite interest. When he was in his mid-30s, he came down with adult polio and the doctors told him he’d never walk again. He said the hell I won’t and he proved the doctors wrong, but at that same time he had been doing quite a bit of interesting work in the area of horticulture. In addition to the usual grafting and cross-pollination and things like that, he was experimenting with what could today be described as a type of genetic research. He was using a chemical called cultizene to kill back the buds on plants, and then at the junction where the dead cells and the live cells kind of came together was the place where mutations took place, and he was able to come up with quite a few new species and varieties of plants. Shortly after he contracted polio, and this must have been in probably around 1940, or so, maybe the late 1930s, he entered some of the plants he’d developed into an international competition with the help of the University of Idaho in Moscow, and he took first, second, and third place, and understand, this was a worldwide competition. I’ve got one of the medals at home. He was always, probably for me, my biggest inspiration in the area of learning. I remember as a youth sitting down and talking with him about abstract things like the theory of relativity and other things that six year-old, ten year-old kids probably had no clue about, and yet he and I sat down and talked about these things over the years, and he was always an inspiration to I think improve myself, and as I got older I continued to do that, to improve myself and self-teach in a lot of areas. I don’t know if that was directly as a result of the influence of my grandfather, but I was an avid reader and remain so today. I picked up an interest in electronics, oh, I don’t know, probably somewhere around age seven or eight. I just had a fascination with looking inside the chassis of a vacuum tube radio and wondering what it was and how it worked, and had an interest in taking things apart and putting them back together, and most of the time there weren’t any parts left over and things worked. When I was about, gosh, it must have been 6th grade, I think it was about 6th grade, I modified some walkie-talkies, some little cheapie western auto walkie-talkies that I picked up from a friend, modified those to transmit over a longer distance because I wanted to talk to a friend a little bit farther way than the range of the radios. Then in junior high school, I decided I wanted a telephone in my bedroom. My parents said, no, you’re not having this. So I built one. I think I was in about 8th grade at the time. So that sort of things just perpetuated the interest in electronics. When I was a senior in high school, I had an opportunity to get involved in the cable industry. Now at the time, I sort of knew what cable was, but I didn’t have an intimate knowledge of it.
PORTER: Was this right out of high school?
HRANAC: This was actually while I was a senior in high school. My aunt told me that her next door neighbor had told her that her son, who at the time worked for the cable company, was leaving and that the cable company was getting ready to hire his replacement. So she put in a good word for me, and I went down and talked to a fellow named Bill Rashka, who at that time ran TelePrompTer’s local origination studio and the cable system there in Lewiston, and interviewed for him, and of course it worked out very well because his mother – it was either his mother or his aunt, I think it was his mother – also knew my aunt. So it was kind of a who-you-know, and I happened to be in the right place at the right time and was hired as a camera operator in local origination while in high school. I decided to stick with TelePrompTer and made a career out of it. What was kind of ironic about that was my first awareness of cable was actually in the late 1950s when as a youngster I remember that we had some family friends that had something called cable. I had really no clue what it was except we didn’t have it and we could get Captain Kangaroo on Saturday mornings from the local Channel 3, and that was it. But the kids of the family friends could get Captain Kangaroo five days a week because they had this thing called cable. I remember seeing big metal boxes on the cross arms on utility poles, but I didn’t really at the time know what they were. Well, a number of years later I went to work in that very same cable system, and I think that was probably a fortunate experience because several of the people that I worked with there had been with that cable system since it was built in the early 1950s. They were very, very good teachers. They were willing to share their knowledge, and I think in many regards that was an inspiration to me to share what I’ve learned over the years. I’ve been a speaker at a large number of SCTE seminars and conferences and conventions – NCTA, Western Cable Show, overseas conventions and conferences, and even company training events and so on, and have written for magazines and whatnot. To me, that’s always provided an opportunity to give back to the industry.
PORTER: Let’s go back to that senior year. You were doing camera work in local origination. How much local origination did Lewiston do at that time?
HRANAC: It was interesting, the Lewiston system at the time, this was in the early 1970s, was a 12-channel cable system and they brought in the three network stations from Spokane, Washington about 100 miles to the north of Lewiston, they brought in a PBS station from either Moscow, Idaho or Pullman, Washington, I don’t recall which; the local Channel 3 in Lewiston; they imported a Channel 11 from Seattle by a microwave; and then they had a number of local origination channels. There was an Associated Press news feed, but it was a character generator type channel; they had a weather scan, the old desktop telemation weather scan that had the weather dials across the thing and the camera… well, actually it was the mirror that rotated back and forth, the camera was stationary, but it looked like the camera was swinging back and forth across these dials that showed local weather. They also had a message wheel. All these were on different channels so the AP was on one channel, the weather was on one channel, and then they had the message wheel on yet another channel, and that particular channel was where the LO programming done. So there was a studio and the studio had a local newscast every day. They did the usual things, city council meetings and sports, local stockcar racing, that sort of thing, interviews with politicians and dignitaries that happened to come through town. So it was a lot of fun, but the message wheel was kind of neat. That was about a 3-foot diameter Ferris Wheel looking contraption that had holders in it for the 3×5 index cards.
PORTER: With slots.
HRANAC: Yeah, slots around the circumference of this thing with a TV camera in the middle. So this wheel would rotate a notch and you could see an index card with a classified ad, or a picture for a local business, or some public service announcement. And then I think we did probably 3 or 4 hours of LO programming in the evenings, and then of course the videotaping and whatnot in the daytime.
PORTER: And all the time in high school you were doing LO.
HRANAC: I was doing the LO work. I went from camera operator to video technician and after a couple of years I became program director and took over my boss’s job. He moved on to some other things in the company so I took over running the entire local origination operation, and did that from high school on.
PORTER: So at what point did you actually go out in the field, away from the local origination and into the…
HRANAC: Well, that was kind of an interesting experience because at the time that I worked in local origination, the crew at that system was pretty much a long-term crew. Most of those guys had been there for years and years so there was really no movement or a lot of opportunity to get involved in the outside plant, but in ’74, I think it was, TelePrompTer corporate shut down local origination operations all over the country except in a handful of locations where it was required to be kept up and running by franchise. Unfortunately, the system in Lewiston was not one of those so I found myself without a job although I went to work immediately for a radio station in Moscow, Idaho that decided it wanted to get into the local origination studio business. So I worked there for a year and built up a local origination operation that provided kind of a leaseback, if you will, of the program content to the local cable company. I stayed there for about a year, but it was a bit of a commute. So I got a phone call from Bill Rashka, the same guy who had hired me back in 1972 and he said, “We’ve got an opening for an installer tech.” And I jumped all over that and that was my move from the local origination and video side of the world to the outside plant.
PORTER: Was Dee Miller the manager?
HRANAC: Dee Miller was the manager of the cable system. At the time, Bill Rashka worked for him. Dee Miller, about that time, I think shortly after I came back to the Lewiston system and started working the outside plant… Dee left, he didn’t leave TelePrompTer, but he moved to, I think, Oakland, and took a regional manager’s position or something, and had moved up within TelePrompTer, and Bill Rashka, if I recall correctly, became either an interim general manager or a permanent general manager, I can’t recall which now. But Bill had continued to move up in the company as well, and I worked my way up through the ranks learning to climb utility poles and learned a little bit about outside plant construction.
PORTER: You didn’t have any bucket trucks back then, did you?
HRANAC: I think we had two bucket trucks, and those belonged to the maintenance techs. Of course I was an installer tech so I had a van and a span ladder on the roof, and a pair of hooks in the back and a climbing belt, and learned to climb poles the old-fashioned way. One of the guys who had been there since the 1950s took me out. To this day I could drive you to the pole that I learned to climb on. It was next to the hospital and on one side was the hospital, on the other side was about a 200-foot drop from one part of town to the other part of town, and I don’t know if he picked that intentionally to just kind of try to build up confidence in a somewhat scary situation, but I’ll never forget the location of that pole. He took me there and said, “All right, we’re just going to get the hooks on, climb up a little bit, two or three feet, go around the pole a couple times and that’s it.” And he kept bringing me back every day and we’d keep going a little bit higher and a little bit higher until I was able to get to the top of the pole on my own. I think I rode around with the other techs and installers for a good three months before they let me loose on my own. So I had a good opportunity to get the dirt under my fingernails, if you will, doing pretty much everything – installation work, service calls, helping after-hours on standby, getting in the ditches and putting pipe together in joint trenches, doing pole transfers – all the usual outside stuff, and then finally I was let loose on my own to go out and do installations and service calls.
PORTER: How long before you became the chief technician, or what was your next move? Most have gone from installer to line technician, they got some headend work in.
HRANAC: Well, I was one of those who were notorious for taking instruction manuals and things home because I had, and still to this day, have an insatiable curiosity about how things work, and that’s probably the engineering in me, always want to know how things work. So I was always taking instruction manuals home and reading things. When the district engineers or the division engineer would come to town to do certain things, I’d be down there on my own time just watching over their shoulder, asking questions, and helping out and learning what I could. I think I’d been working in the Lewiston system another couple years after coming back from the LO side and an opportunity came up in TelePrompTer’s Richland, Washington system for, they called it an electronics technician, but it was a bench tech and the position included doing bench repair and maintaining microwave equipment, headend equipment, that sort of thing. So I thought that would be a good opportunity because the person that I would be replacing was retiring after 20 years with the company. The guys I worked with in Lewiston weren’t going anywhere, they were sticking with their job, so there was really no opportunity to move up within the Lewiston system. So that was a good place to get a foundation in the basics of cable.
PORTER: Now you already had your ham operators…
HRANAC: No, well, let’s see. Yeah, I think I had my ham ticket by then because I’d had the interest in electronics and picked up my ham license somewhere along the road about that same time. So that seemed to be kind of just a natural fit with the electronics experience. But I moved to Richland, Washington and it was kind of funny – Dee Miller said, “Well, you can go there but you have to pay your own move, we’re not going to pay for any of that, you’re pretty much on your own.” Well, fortunately Richland, Washington was 100 miles to the west of Lewiston so that was…
PORTER: Did he not want to lose you?
HRANAC: Well, I don’t know if it was so much that. Dee was a penny pincher. I think he had a notorious reputation for that. A good manager but a penny pincher. But he said this is a good opportunity for you to move up, it’s just that you’re going to have to pack your stuff in the back of a pick-up truck or whatever and make it over to Richland on your own, which I did and I spent a year or so in Richland as a bench tech and picked up a lot more experience, particularly in the microwave side because the Lewiston system did have microwave and I kind of watched over the shoulders when the AML system was being installed, but didn’t get a lot of opportunity to do hands-on because they had a really, just the nicest guy, a bench tech there that took care of the microwave and he let me tag along and learn a lot from him.
PORTER: Did you get a radio telephone license?
HRANAC: I did. When I was in high school, the high school that I attended had an FM radio station, and I think at the time was the only high school in the state of Idaho that had a licensed FM radio station. In those days, the FCC required at least a 3rd class license, so I think when I was probably 15, 16 years old or something I had already picked up a 3rd class license and moved on from there and picked up a 2nd class license. I don’t remember if I picked up the 2nd class license before I left Lewiston or after I arrived in Richland because in order to work on the microwave gear you needed the 2nd phone. So I probably picked up the 2nd phone either right before going over or right after getting there. I think I drove up to Spokane, Washington to take the test at the FCC office and I remember being pretty proud about acing the 2nd phone test.
PORTER: Did you think about taking the 1st?
HRANAC: Well, I did, and that came along while I was still in Richland. A guy I worked with there, Ted Axtell and I drove down to Portland to attend an SCTE regional engineering conference. This was in the days when Judy Behr was still the executive VP of the society, so Ted and I drove down together from Richland to Portland, which was just a few hour drive, but both of us came down with just vicious food poisoning, and I think I stayed at his house in Kennewick that night before and had dinner with him and his family, and he and I got up in the morning, basically at dark, and took off for Portland and probably 50 or 60 miles outside of Portland we were just doubling over in the car with cramps and horrible pain and stopping at the gas stations on the way, and by the time we got to the SCTE conference it was trips to the bathroom about every 30 minutes and we were in vicious pain. And yet in all this, we snuck away from the SCTE conference for enough time to go to the FCC office in Portland and take our FCC license test and we both passed. I walked away with a 1st class radio telephone license ticket, but just had vicious food poisoning for a couple days, and we never did figure out where it came from because nobody else in his family came down with it and we all at the same food for dinner, so we don’t know what happened, but that was pretty brutal.
PORTER: So now you’re over in… you’ve left Richland.
HRANAC: Well, I’m still in Richland at that point, but the chief tech in TelePrompTer’s Walla Walla system called up and said that he had been contacted by a headhunter who was looking for a system engineer, kind of the chief tech type position, in a place called Clear Lake, California. Well, about that time I was going through a divorce and thinking, well, maybe it’s a good opportunity to look at this and kind of move away and get away from a painful situation at the time. So instead of calling the headhunter, I called the cable system where the job opening was and got this answering machine. So I left a message on the answering machine and said, “Hi, my name is Ron Hranac. I understand you’ve got a system engineer position. I’m interested in talking to you about it. Here’s my phone number,” and I think probably within an hour I got a telephone call at home from Ron Schimdt who at the time was the manager of the Jones Intercable system in Clear Lake, California.
PORTER: And this is about the ’80s?
HRANAC: This was 19… it would have been late ’78, maybe early ’79, somewhere right in there.
PORTER: Because I came out to Clear Lake, I remember coming out to Clear Lake.
HRANAC: Yeah, I remember you coming out to Clear Lake, too, but I talked to Ron for probably a good hour, hour and a half. For the first half hour he described the job position and the responsibilities and asked questions about my background and so on, and then the last half hour or so of his conversation was, as he put it, the Chamber of Commerce sales pitch for Lake County, California. He said, “I’ll tell you what, I’ll send you an airplane ticket, you fly down here on a weekend so you don’t interfere with work. We’ll talk about the job, look around, I’ll make you an offer if it looks like there’s a good fit, and you can make a decision. If you decide not to then consider it a free weekend in California, an expense paid weekend in California. If you decide to do it, we’ll pay for your move down here, we’ll give you a raise and so on.” So I flew down there and had dinner with Ron and his wife, and he took me all over the cable system. I got to meet some of the folks there that we hooked up with on the weekend, and just had a wonderful time. I remember him taking me back to the airport in Sacramento and thinking this looks like a pretty good opportunity to move up. As fate would have it, that turned out to probably be one of my best career moves ever, and it was a difficult decision to leave TelePrompTer because at the time I enjoyed very much what I was doing and had a lot of good friends at TelePrompTer and they were making all kinds of counteroffers to try to keep me there. But I went ahead and left and went to work for Jones down in Clear Lake and haven’t looked back since.
PORTER: Did you know who Jones Intercable was really, then, when you took the job?
HRANAC: No, because TelePrompTer at the time was the cable industry’s biggest MSO. I remember while working in the Lewiston system when TelePrompTer celebrated reaching its one millionth subscriber mark, and we kind of joked around amongst ourselves, the other Texan’s dollars, now how in the heck did they pick the millionth subscriber? How do they know that we didn’t hook up the millionth subscriber at 9:02 this morning? How come it was somebody in New York? Whoever it was got a, I think, a free TV and probably free cable service for a year or something.
PORTER: And Jeff Marcus got his beard shaved off on stage.
HRANAC: That was quite the deal! I remember when I heard about this opportunity with Jones, I did a little bit of research, I said, “What Jones Intercable? I’ve never heard of it,” and did some research and bound that, well, okay, they’re a public company. They seem to be up and coming and they’re growing fairly quickly, and from what I could tell had a pretty good positive reputation in the industry. And that turned out to be a really, really good move because up ’til that point, I think I’d been working more on establishing the foundation in the technical side of the cable industry with understanding the video side from the local origination, being a bench tech and repairing equipment and pieces and parts as an installer technician, climbing poles, learning to sweep plant, do microwave repair and maintenance. So, all those things formed a good foundation. In fact, the Lewiston system was a great foundation builder because I was there when that system installed a 10-meter satellite antenna to receive one of the first pay services. This was shortly after Home Box Office had launched in the mid-70s, well, TelePrompTer embarked on a pretty aggressive nation-wide program to install the big 10-meter dishes, which at that time were what the FCC required just for the reception of a satellite. So we picked up this fledgling program service called Showtime. We all thought “Showtime! Who on earth is going to pay extra money to get one channel?” and we all thought it was just this ludicrous idea. Of course little did we know, but I remember…
PORTER: Was it 24-hour a day service?
HRANAC: I don’t remember if… I can’t remember if Showtime was 24-hours a day then or not. I do know that we put it on Channel 7, the channel that we had our local origination on with the message wheel and stuff, and we took that off, and we had to go around and install traps in the system. Remember the Vitech cable traps? We installed those everywhere in the system before launching a channel. That was an interesting experience in itself. I remember after the concrete was poured for the foundation for this satellite dish, and the dish was put in, they couldn’t get it to point at the satellite. The surveyor had made a mistake on his pointing angles, and the foundation and the foundation hardware that was set in the concrete while the concrete was being poured had been set at the wrong angle, so the dish couldn’t… you couldn’t reach the dish. I don’t think they had to tear the thing out but I think the surveyor ended up having to cough up a pretty big bill to have, I believe it was Scientific-Atlanta, come out and do some custom work on the support structure for this thing to modify it to allow it to receive the signals.
PORTER: Up to this point, and even your move to Clear Lake, had all of your involvement with the SCTE been just involvement in the local chapter? Because later on we’ll get into how important your role with the SCTE has been over the years.
HRANAC: When I joined SCTE, I was still working in TelePrompTer’s Richland, WA system, and at the time there was no chapter that I was aware of, but TelePrompTer was very supportive of training and self-improvement amongst its employees. I remember they brought the likes of Len Ecker in for TelePrompTer-only seminars and such, but they were very supportive of involvement in SCTE at the time, which I thought was pretty impressive, particularly since I wasn’t – at least at that time – in any kind of technical management position. I was still the electronics technician, the bench tech. So for me, my early involvement in SCTE was attending some of the regional conferences, and my first one was the one in Portland with the food poisoning and sneaking off to get the first-class license. In 1980 I went to, I think shortly after I joined Jones I went to an SCTE regional conference in Hawaii, which is where I first met Jim Chiddix and Richard Covell and some of the other folks that I consider long-time friends in the industry. I stayed in Clear Lake about four years, and went from system engineer to regional engineer to western division engineer, and continued to move up in the company and take on more and more responsibility.
PORTER: How many systems were you in control of as the western region?
HRANAC: Well, I think as the regional engineer I was in control of some systems in California and Oregon, and as the company continued to acquire more properties Utah was added to the mix, Colorado, Wyoming… I think New Mexico fell under the central division at the time. It was all the systems that Jones had properties in in the western part of the U.S.
PORTER: So you’d been promoted but staying in Clear Lake.
HRANAC: Well, I stayed in Clear Lake and was spending quite a bit of time traveling. So driving from Clear Lake out to Sacramento and catching a flight there and flying to Denver or Southern California, or in the case of Oregon I used to just drive up to the systems in Oregon. They were Myrtle Creek and Canyonville in the southern part of the state near Grant’s Pass and Lowesville, but the others I would fly to. St. George, Utah was one of the properties that I recall, and the company had some systems in Colorado as well as some systems in Wyoming. Later they picked up some systems in Hawaii, and I don’t recall if that fell under the jurisdiction of the western division, but because they had microwave, one of my other tasks was to do nation-wide microwave path engineering and microwave transmitter maintenance and such. So I got to go to places like Hawaii to do annual maintenance on microwave relay equipment that had been set up to import stations from Honolulu on Maui and then transport it over to the big island. So I have some very fond memories from that. After having been in Clear Lake for about four years my boss, Ron Schimdt, the one who’d hired me at Jones, probably about a year before had moved on to Denver to the corporate headquarters, had been promoted, and he put me in kind of an interesting experiment – that was where I made the decision in my career to stay on the engineering side of things. He said, “Tell you what. You’re still the western division engineer, but I’m going to give you the responsibilities of being kind of the assistant manager in the cable system, so just handle that part of it,” and I did that for probably about six months and I absolutely hated it.
PORTER: Didn’t like the operations?
HRANAC: I could not stand the operations side of the business. I realized at that time that I was a technology person and that’s where I wanted to stay. So I told him so, and he said, “Okay, fine. You’ve tried it, you gave it a whirl. I respect your decision.” So I stayed in the engineering side and moved to Denver to a position, I think it was corporate engineer at the time, because I was working in the company’s corporate engineering department and got pretty heavily involved in the company’s acquisition efforts because we used to put together what we called SWAT teams of various engineers to go out and look at potential acquisitions, and that was a fun, fun time in about the mid-1980s when Jones was very, very aggressive in acquiring other cable operators and cable systems so it meant a lot of time on the road and looking at a lot of cable systems and meeting a lot of folks in the industry.
PORTER: Now who headed up engineering at Jones at that time?
HRANAC: When I first moved to Denver, I think Roger Seefelt was the only corporate engineer and I believe it was either right before or right after I got there Al Kernis came in as director of engineering and then later was elevated to vice-president of engineering. So I think when I moved to Denver in ’83, I think it was ’83 when Denise and I moved to Denver, I think Al had already joined the company by that point so he was heading up the engineering department and was building up the staff. One of my jobs in addition to what I was already doing with microwave technology and helping other engineers, getting involved in training and so on, was to put together a test and evaluation lab. So that opportunity seemed to fit nicely with what Glenn Jones was doing with his move from the Denver Tech Center down to the south end of the metro area when he built a new corporate headquarters. He wanted a showcase cable system inside the building so one of my tasks was to put together at that time a 52 or 54 channel headend on the first floor below the main floor, so it had this real nice showcase headend with the glass windows and so on, and then in the room right behind that I put together an evaluation lab and that’s where we did formal product testing of the various pieces and parts that were available from the industry. I’d been doing some of that up to that time. I’d been doing a little bit of it out in Clear Lake, and then when I moved to Denver I took over an office in one of the buildings and started to put together some test equipment there, but it just ran out of room real fast.
PORTER: He was already doing long-distance learning at that time, wasn’t he?
HRANAC: I think this was before the beginning of Mind Extension University. Shortly after he’d built the test and evaluation lab – and the Mind Extension University might have happened at about the same time – but he started a satellite service, a shopping channel called Sky Merchant. We built a studio next to the room where the lab was and next to where the headend was, and he brought talent in and hired local talent to run, I think 24-hours a day, selling merchandise just like Home Shopping Network and QVC and the others that were springing up in popularity at the time. So he had that part, and then he, I think about that time, started the Mind Extension University project.
PORTER: When he did the selling over cable, was it just local or…?
HRANAC: Oh, no, this went out by satellite. We had put in a microwave link from the Jones corporate building to the Denver uplink located in Morrison, Colorado, and that microwave link transported the video and audio from this studio to the satellite uplink and this was carried on satellite.
PORTER: Now was it sold to MSOs other than…
HRANAC: Well, initially I think it saw activity mostly in the Jones systems and then they made an effort to sell it to other cable operators, and I don’t recall how many other cable operators subscribed to the service because it was a revenue sharing arrangement like all of the shopping services were at the time.
PORTER: How long was it that Kernis was there before Kernis left and Luft came in?
HRANAC: Al was with Jones about five years, and then Bob Luft came in, came in from United Artists Cable. I think Bob stayed with Jones, well, he was there when I left in 1990. So Bob was probably there a good five or six years at least. A good guy to work for! Bob was always kind of the visionary guy. He wasn’t the day-to-day engineer, but more the visionary, a lot like Glenn Jones, just really kind of a blue sky thinking, outside the box, looking way, way down the road at new technologies and new ideas. Bob relied on his engineering staff to handle the day-to-day engineering things for the company. The company was a very, very centralized structure even though it had its divisions and regions, engineering was centralized, purchasing was centralized, they had of course corporate accounting and legal and the other thing, so those were all centralized functions that came through the corporate office, and Bob put together some real good programs that brought purchasing in very close alliance with the engineering department so that the company created an improved products list and products were tested and evaluated in the company lab. A lot of the results were shared with systems. We tested this particular type of jacket for instance, and found it to be very flammable. So don’t use this type of material for a jacket because of the danger of the thing catching on fire if you’re doing some work out in the field with a torch or something.
PORTER: What caused you to leave Jones?
HRANAC: That was a pretty tough decision. Paul Levine and Paul Maxwell had been pestering me for probably a good year or so prior to the time that I left Jones, and they’d been bugging me saying, “We need an editor who’s an engineer,” because up ’til that point I think I’d been writing for the magazine, for Communications Technology magazine, for about five years. They kept bugging me and saying, “Oh, come on, we need an engineer for an editor.” “Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah,” so it was always one of those kinds of conversations, but they finally got serious about it and approached me, sat me down at lunch in a restaurant one day and said, “We’re serious. We would like to have you join us,” and they made a really good offer. I literally agonized over that; it was a very painful decision. I came to you, I talked to you and asked what you thought of the idea of moving, and I talked to a couple other folks and walked into Bob Luft’s office and closed the door. I think I had typed out a letter of resignation and said, “Bob, I got a good opportunity to leave,” and he looked at this letter and read it, and all the color went out of his face. The guy looked like he was going to cry. He was clearly pretty disappointed and he said, “Well, would you entertain a counter-offer,” and I said, “No, I don’t want to get into the back and forth or playing the game,” so I left on good terms. He said, “I’m really sorry to see you go. The door will always be open if you want to come back,” and I felt pretty good about a comment like that coming from Bob.
PORTER: Before we get any further on that point, had you held any offices at the national level at the SCTE up to this point?
HRANAC: I had. In 1984, somewhere in there give or take a year, Sally Kinsman was Region Two director, and she moved to Seattle to be closer to family.
PORTER: Away from Denver?
HRANAC: Away from Denver. Up until that time I’d been pretty active in the local SCTE chapter, indeed I was one of the co-founders of the Rocky Mountain chapter. Sally approached me and said, “I have to leave, which means I have to give up my position on the board. Would you consider running for the board?” I said, “Well, yeah, I’ll throw my hat in the ring,” and I felt what chance am I going to have because as it turned out… I think Al Kernis was still with the company and Al’s name was on the ballot, and Jim Chiddix had just moved from Oceanic in Hawaii and set up shop in Denver. Well, fortunately, neither of them was real well-known at the local chapter level or within region two because they hadn’t been going to the meetings and whatnot, and speaking. So I won the election. I think it surprised them a little bit, but it surprised me a lot because I thought how on earth could I win an election against the likes of a Jim Chiddix or an Al Kernis? So I became Region Two director of SCTE and stayed on the board for six years, ran a full three terms.
PORTER: While you were with the Rocky Mountain group, I think it’s really important that it be documented so that down the line everybody understands, the Cable Games is a very popular event nationwide, and certainly at the Expo. It’s helped, with great success, at the vendor appreciation days, but you guys actually… it was your baby.
HRANAC: I think the Rocky Mountain chapter would certainly like to put a feather in its cap and say it’s the creator of that, but I do recall that Paul Levine was very active in putting that together because I think he approached the chapter about that, or we had worked together on something, but I think Paul had a role in it, too.
PORTER: Who knew the different aspects, meter reading and splicing? Paul, not being an engineer wouldn’t know…
HRANAC: Well, no, he wouldn’t know that piece, but Paul is the consummate salesman and marketer, always had ideas about, well, what about having some kind of a cable games, and I think it was kind of like a jeopardy idea and the idea really took off. Well, you can see where it is today! The thing is a national event that’s held at Cable Tech Expo and Vendor’s Days, and a lot of the chapters.
PORTER: Do you remember the first one?
HRANAC: No, unfortunately I don’t. I really don’t.
PORTER: I wish we had a tape of it.
HRANAC: I wish we had a tape of the thing. That was so doggone long ago. But that was a lot of fun. While I was Region Two director and still at Jones at this time, and the company, like TelePrompTer before was extremely supportive of involvement in SCTE and training and so on. I had the opportunity to serve as secretary of the SCTE and also president. At that time the title of president…
PORTER: Still while at Jones?
HRANAC: Still while at Jones. The title of president at SCTE at that time was what we now call the chairman of the board. So I was a president of the SCTE probably back in the late ’80s, and enjoyed the daylights out of that, and took a couple of years off after having served six years as Region Two director and then came back and ran for an at large position and just finished serving my sixth year on the board. So I’m off the board again, but got twelve years of service as a director on the board.
PORTER: You came off, and then Luft became president.
HRANAC: Well, no, actually Luft was president before me. By that time Bob was with Jones, and he was on the board, I think as an at large director, and I was on the board as a Region Two director. His term as president was up and I think maybe a week before the board meeting he said, “Hey, Ron, why don’t you run for president? I’ll support you.” And I thought, well, that would be kind of fun. So I think Denise had access to one of these little button making machines through the school where she taught. So I borrowed this thing and I made some election campaign buttons with my picture in it and a little thing around it that said, “Vote for Ron Hranac for President” or something, and made a dozen or so of these things and took them to the board meeting and announced that I was throwing my hat in the ring and started passing out these little campaign buttons that had my picture in the thing. I was elected president of SCTE. So that worked out quite well. And I talk about Jones Intercable support of my involvement in SCTE, one of the other things that happened during that time while I was with Jones was the introduction of the BCTE program. Early on, I’ll say early on, I think in the early ’80s, the FCC had made the decision that it wanted to get out of the technical certification process because up until that time the FCC rules required that engineers in broadcast stations and technicians who worked on microwave equipment, two-way radios and that sort of thing, had to have an FCC license, either a second-class or first-class license, depending on the type of facility. The FCC made the decision it wanted to let the technical certification of employees fall into the hands of the private sector. So it told the private sector develop your own certification programs, and SCTE created its program called the BCTE – the Broadband Communications Technician and Broadband Communications Engineer program. I remember going, I think it was the Cable Tech Expo in Washington D.C. was where they introduced the very first exam in that program, and it was the category-4 distribution systems. Bruce Cater, one of my co-workers at Jones, and I had been studying for this and we got the list of the reference materials and we came into the exam room with this big box of books and magazines and reference manuals – all the things that were listed. We had collected all the stuff. Well, we took the test and it turned out I only needed to look in one of the Jerrold pocket guides for a microvolt to DBMV conversion. That was it. That was the only thing I needed to look up. I thought, well, that test wasn’t that hard – it was challenging, but to me it wasn’t that difficult. So over the next couple years when the exam opportunities would come up, I would take the tests. I had taken, I think six of the tests and they required seven to get fully certified. I think it was the Eastern… it was either a National Show or the Eastern Show in Atlanta where SCTE was introducing the seventh exam in the certification program. That was all that was needed to get certification complete. I thought, that would be kind of nice. I caught wind that I was one of two people in the country that was one exam away from full certification. So I approached Bob Luft, I said, “Bob, I got a good opportunity to go out and complete the exam for category-7 and get the full certification thing done,” and I said, “Oh, and by the way, there’s a reasonable chance that I could be the first person to be certified.” I said, “It’s my understanding there may be one other person that is in the same position I am, and that person probably will show up in Atlanta as well.” I had no idea who it was, and to this day I don’t know who it was. So Bob said, “Okay, go ahead and go out there and take the test. We’ll see how you do.” We really didn’t give it much thought, and I took the test and turned it in and found out a few weeks later that I had passed the test and the other piece of good news, and this was probably even more exciting, was that I had become the very first person in the cable industry to be certified, or complete the certification program.
PORTER: Let me ask you a question about the BCTE program. When we had to have a first or second class license, that license was an official license from a government agency, and so managers and CEOs and owners recognized that as being an important document. We much have made some kind of agreement or worked with the FCC to make this transition. Why do you think that we didn’t say to the FCC, “We still want that FCC stamp on this BCTE certification program, because the managers in the cable systems don’t seem to look at that certificate, that BCTE completion certificate with the same awe and reverence that they did an FCC first or second class license?” Do you think we made a mistake?
HRANAC: I don’t know if we could have gotten the FCC to endorse that. My suspicion is that the FCC probably would have said, well, yeah, we’d love to, but this is a private sector effort, the Society of Broadcast Engineers has developed their own certification program for the broadcast, radio and TV community. The cable industry is doing this through SCTE. The National Association of, what was it? The NARTE – Radio and Telecommunications Engineers – was doing so for two-way radio and microwave. And I think the FCC’s position, at least as I understand it, was, look, this is a private sector effort. We’ve got respective rules that apply to the technical performance of your facility or equipment. You have to make sure you meet those rules. How you do it is your business, not ours. We’re getting out of the technical certification business. So, I think it would have been probably a good thing if the FCC could have said, all right, we’ve reviewed the process or your program, we’ve reviewed the questions and that sort of thing, and we think this is a good replacement for the FCC license, but my guess is because they were a government agency they couldn’t endorse a private sector initiative.
PORTER: Do you think maybe we might have gotten somebody from say the Cable Bureau? John Wong, or…
HRANAC: I don’t know. Of course in hindsight it would have been nice to have done something like that, to have approached the government and maybe gone through Congress or something and said, look, the FCC has told us we have to create these programs. Why can’t we get some kind of an endorsement of the program, or a sticker that says this meets some minimum requirement? That would have been probably a good thing to do at the time, but unfortunately we didn’t, and has it been good or bad, I don’t know because when the FCC said we don’t require a license anymore and if you want to have the private sector certify people or qualify them technically, how you do it is your business. If you want to do it as an exam, that’s fine. If you want to do it with something else, that’s fine. But I agree, I think it would have been nice to have some kind of an official endorsement.
PORTER: It’s always kind of stuck in my craw because I really appreciate the benefits of the BCTE program for the installers and I don’t believe that the executive side of the business, the ownership side, I think they may see it as a detriment because it costs a little money to get to be certified.
HRANAC: And I think that really depends on the company. Jones Intercable was very supportive of my involvement and other people’s support as well. I remember when I came back from having taken the last test and when the news came out that I was the first person certified, Glenn Jones personally congratulated me, and I remember getting a nice little bonus for that and a raise for that, so the company was very supportive of that sort of thing at the time. I remember while being on the SCTE board of directors one of the things that we tried to do was get the executives at the MSO level to endorse the BCTE program, and we did get some endorsement from some people like Glenn Jones and a few others, but a lot of them didn’t know what it was, they didn’t understand it, didn’t appreciate its value. So I think in that regard the program, while it’s been very good, and I think it’s been good for the industry and it’s been good for the careers of a lot of people, the program probably didn’t go as far as it could have because we simply didn’t have the support of senior management. Now, today the Society has moved in a bit of a different direction. When Bill Riker left SCTE a few years ago, the board had to make a pretty tough decision. Do we hire another engineer? Do we put maybe an emphasis on the marketing background? Because one of the biggest things that we always faced was how the heck do we market the Society to…
PORTER: And run the business.
HRANAC: Well, not so much run the business piece. I don’t think that was a real big concern. I think the bigger concern was how do we market the Society to other organizations and to the MSOs because we can market it to engineers. They know what SCTE is, and the engineers support it, the chief techs support it, the VPs of engineering support it – they know what it is. But the operations people didn’t really understand SCTE, and when we hired John Clarke that was a real shift in the paradigm of the Society at the time, and I think it was a good move because…
PORTER: Well, we did it also to keep us from getting into financial situations that had been the history of the SCTE.
HRANAC: Well, there were a variety of reasons, that’s true. But the marketing piece, and John’s marketing background was certainly a big factor in deciding to hire him, and I think looking back on that it was a good decision because he’s done an outstanding job of marketing SCTE to the MSO corporate operations community. He’s done an outstanding job of marketing SCTE to CableLabs, to the standards organizations, and all of these different things. So I think we’re seeing now that SCTE has gained a lot more stature in both the engineering and the operations community over the last few years, and you can’t just say that all of that’s due to the fact that we hired somebody with a marketing background. That’s clearly one big piece, but the other piece of that, of course, is the Society’s mission statement, certification training and standards. The certification program continued to move along and evolve over the years, training became more of a number one core effort through the local chapters all the way up through what SCTE was doing at national conferences. But certification is probably the one that helped us the most in that regard, at least in relation to the mission statement because SCTE is now the cable industry’s only ANSI recognized standard setting body, period. We’re it. That’s what we do. We have close affiliations with ITU, with ANSI, with ETSI in Europe, and I think that’s proven to be a very, very good thing because now more and more folks realize that it’s SCTE that takes a specification such as DOCSIS from CableLabs and turns that specification into a standard through ANSI or ITU. So that sort of thing has really helped SCTE as well, so maybe in the future I think that we’re going to see that the operations side, now that it is getting a better understanding of what SCTE is and does, probably will put a little bit more credibility on the value of certification. At least, that’s my hope.
PORTER: I sort of drew you away from your historical movement there because I think there are only two people in the whole industry who ever held the president, as we would call it back then, we don’t call it today, chairman of the board, that position. I think you and Tom Polis are the only two people who ever held that two different times. If I’m wrong you can correct me.
HRANAC: I don’t think Tom held an office after that.
PORTER: He had two.
HRANAC: I think he had two terms as president early on before I came on the board…
PORTER: But I think you and he are the only two that ever did that.
HRANAC: But I was president while I served as Region Two director, then as I said, took a couple years off the board and then came back as an at large director. When the board rearranged the structure of the board and changed the titles of the officers and then changed the name of the CEO at SCTE headquarters, then I became the first chairman of the board. So that was kind of a fun feather in the cap, if you will, to be the SCTE’s first chairman of the board.
PORTER: So you had this meeting with Paul Maxwell and Paul Levine.
HRANAC: This would have been late ’89 or maybe real early 1990 when they made a serious offer to move me from the engineering side, if you will, to becoming the editor of Communications Technology magazine, and I had been doing freelance writing for the magazine since 1985 so had established a good relationship, and they felt that that would be, I think, a good move to have an engineer at the helm of the editorial side of the magazine. So I made that very agonizing decision. Earlier I mentioned that when I resigned Bob Luft had expressed some great disappointment and the poor guy looked like he was going to cry, but I left on good terms and went to work for Paul and Paul as vice-president of editorial. I worked there… I think I joined them in, it must have been about February or thereabouts of 1990, and had been there about five months working with Wayne Lazly and Tony Barnett and a number of other folks, just really wonderful people, and I got a phone call from a guy named Rusty Pickard. He said, “My name’s Rusty Pickard,” he’d worked at ATC prior to that, he said, “I’m with a company called Coaxial International. We’re looking for a vice-president of engineering.”
PORTER: Now this is a local Denver-based company?
HRANAC: This is a Denver-based company, and I’d heard about them because I knew someone else who had held that position and had worked there before, but I wasn’t real familiar with them. Ross McPherson owned the company, and Ross had been around the industry for a long time, but he and Rusty had this little consulting company called Coaxial International. And I was having a ball with the magazine, working with Paul and enjoying that side of the business and getting to know the publication side quite a bit better. It was one of those things where I said, I just went to work here five-six months ago. How on earth can I make a decision to leave? I considered myself a pretty stable person. I was with TelePrompTer, I think for seven years.
PORTER: And you were enjoying the writing.
HRANAC: Yeah, and I enjoyed the writing, and I’d spent close to 11 years with Jones. I didn’t want to get a reputation of jumping ship for the next best opportunity that came along. I went in and talked to Paul and said, “Paul, I’ve got a real tough situation here. Rusty and Ross over at Coaxial International have made me an offer that’s real tough to say no to, and an opportunity to do a lot of international travel and do engineering things.” I said, “I’d like to do that but I like the involvement with the magazine.” And after I told him about the job, he said, “You’re right. That’s a job you can hardly say no to,” he said, “Let’s think about this for a couple days and figure out a way where you can continue to kind of do both.” So we got together a couple days later and he says, “Take the job. Tell you what, we’ll call you senior technical editor and we’ll give you a computer and x amount of dollars per month. You continue to help us out with the technical editing and write a column and write the articles. So do that piece of it, and do this great opportunity with Coaxial International.” So I did. Another very agonizing decision because I felt just guilty as hell walking up to Paul after having been there just five or six months, and saying Paul, this opportunity came along. But he was very, very supportive, and to this day I continue to enjoy a very, very good relationship with now PBI Media, but at that time it was TransMedia who were the folks who published Communications Technology, and still write for them and do technical editing, and serve on their editorial advisory board and help with technical edits and all. So I have that piece of it, and Cisco Systems, my current employer, is very, very supportive of that relationship as well.
PORTER: Let’s go back to Coaxial, though. Coaxial International – you must have been primarily doing a lot of international cable design, network design.
HRANAC: Well, Coaxial International was a spin-off company of Coaxial Analysts. Coaxial Analysts is one of the cable industry’s biggest mapping and design firms, and Ross spun-off this company called Coaxial International because he kept getting more and more inquiries from overseas on initially the mapping design kind of thing, but more inquiries in the areas of consulting type work, of helping people set up operations, do evaluations of cable systems, help establish design specs and evaluate technologies. So it looked like a good opportunity for him, and I think he’d had the company in operation for probably a couple years before I joined them. I had done some international travel with Jones up to that point, and a little bit with the magazine, as well as a lot of domestic travel, and I talked to Denise about this opportunity and I said the travel is probably going to hit 50%, mostly overseas, and indeed for the next nine years it was about 80% overseas kind of work, and maybe 20% domestic work, and I was probably on the road a good half the time, but that worked out well because she got to go with me during the summer when she wasn’t teaching school. I did a lot of international travel and had a chance to meet a lot of folks and make some great friends and work with cable operators on five continents, and during that time I racked up over a million miles on United Airlines and got the little card that says million mile flier. The service didn’t get any better, but I got this nice little card that says million mile flier. I did that for nine years and right at the end of my time with Coaxial – and that was a fun company because it was a small, close-knit company and we just absolutely had a ball – but the international marketplace had started to decline. This was about… it must have been ’99? ’98, ’99 when overseas marketplaces just really nosedived, and things were getting a little bit tough in the international consulting space. Well, about that time, Ron Pitcock approached me, and he had started a company called High-Speed Access and he was providing cable modem access to tier two and tier three cable operators, the small mom-and-pop cable systems that didn’t have an alliance with a Road Runner or an At Home, and that looked like a good opportunity because he was bringing in a lot of big name people from the industry and putting together this company, and was going to do an IPO. This was kind of the peak of the internet boom and all, so I thought there’s a good opportunity here, and so I left Coaxial and went to work for Ron as vice-president of RF engineering, and then VP of engineering for their international operations and spent about a year there. That was about the time that the whole internet thing just kind of imploded. I guess being in the right place or the right time or something, but Mark Millett at Cisco Systems had been bugging me a little bit and saying, you know, we could use a good RF guy like you at Cisco, and as the dotcom collapse occurred, I jumped ship and went to work for Cisco and have been there since. That proved to be a good move because all the things you hear about Cisco being one of the best companies in the world to work for is absolutely true. The culture there, the work environment there is incredible. I have never… I’ve enjoyed every place I’ve ever worked and have never had any regrets, but I have to say that everything I’ve heard about Cisco is absolutely true. It’s a fantastic place to work and they let you kind of do your own thing, do a lot of travel both domestic and international, but that seems to fit because I’ve done that forever. They’ve supported my involvement in SCTE, support my relationship with the magazine.
PORTER: What would be a normal thing that you do when you travel for Cisco? Who would you call on?
HRANAC: Well, it really depends. I work in the company’s cable business unit and have an opportunity to interface with production engineers or design engineers at Cisco’s corporate facility in San Jose, for instance, working with them on new product development. For instance, providing ideas about architecture of a product or even, I call it “from the field” kind of comments of well, you should put the connector over here. A cable person’s not going to like having the connecters on this side of the box. You want to put them over here. So providing that kind of input. I’ve been very, very heavily involved in the training side of things, both internally, training other Cisco engineers about cable and cable technology, products, and whatnot. I’m doing the same thing with customers. I get involved trouble-shooting customer problems, going out to a customer location overseas or domestically and helping to sort through problems, from my perspective usually cable network problems because we’ve got data experts in the company that handle the software side or the equipment side, but I handle more on the RF side, and of course the involvement in SCTE and the other things. So it’s one of those jobs that you can basically sit down and kind of write your own job description and just go do it and have a ball.
PORTER: When were you inducted into the Cable Pioneers? Do you remember the year?
HRANAC: 1997, I was inducted into the Cable Pioneers.
PORTER: And prior to that you were an SCTE fellow. There’s not many of those.
HRANAC: Right. No, there’s probably no more than six or ten fellows. I was the first person to become a fellow member in SCTE, the first person to be certified in the BCTE program, first chairman of the board.
PORTER: You’re the only U.S. SCTE member, I think that’s a fellow at the U.K. SCTE, is that true?
HRANAC: I think there are three people who are honorary fellows of the British SCTE. The honorary fellow is the highest level of membership in the British SCTE, and I was the first American to be elected an honorary fellow in the British SCTE. Bill Riker was the second, and I think Sruki Switzer was number 3.
PORTER: You’re also involved heavily with the development of international chapters, the Japanese… I know you’re…
HRANAC: Yes, I’m chairman of SCTE’s international liaison sub-committee, and the international liaison sub-committee works with organizations and individuals overseas who want to put together, and chapter’s not necessarily the right word, but an affiliated group that has a relationship with SCTE. So we’ve got all the processes and rules and procedures in place for that and we’ve got some great relationships with some organizations overseas. We’ve established formal relationships with the British SCTE, and that was one of the things I really enjoyed. Tom Hall just passed away, but he had been secretary of the British SCTE since about 1946 or 1947, so a long, long time industry pioneer but in the late ’80s I got involved in establishing a formal relationship between the U.S. SCTE and the British SCTE because up until that time there really hadn’t been any kind of relationship, so I got involved in helping to build bridges, if you will, between the two societies. I continue to be involved on the international front as chairman of SCTE’s international liaison sub-committee, and that’s been a lot of fun because it fits in nicely with the travel that I do and it’s provided a good opportunity to maintain relationships with the folks that I’ve known over the past several years.
PORTER: Are you involved very much with the South American… down in Buenos Aires?
HRANAC: This year I’m working with the group to evaluate submitted papers for one of the conventions in South America, and then of course have kind of a, I’ll call it a sideline affiliation if you will, through the international liaison sub-committee in working closely with the headquarters staff to maintain these relationships.
PORTER: You’ve seen a lot of changes. You’ve seen us go from a ragtag group of SCTE members because back in the early ’70s we certainly were. We were just a bunch of engineers that were trying to put together an organization, and we didn’t have any money, and I think attending this year’s show, the Expo, we sort of showed that that was the show that was in the limelight of the industry.
HRANAC: No question. The attendance now that… last year, our attendance was up about 5% from the previous year, and that in a year when other shows were flat or down, mostly down. This year we anticipated that because of the really big, big drops in attendance at the National Show and the Western Cable Show that we would probably get hit pretty hard, and we got hit a little bit, but nowhere near what anybody thought. I think our attendance was down about 10%, that was it, and that blew everybody away. So while we’re seeing some national tradeshows see attendance down 50% from two or three years ago, SCTE is basically the same as two years ago, just slightly below last year. So I think that speaks volumes about how valuable the industry considers SCTE to be as a resource, not just the Society but the events that it sponsors – Cable Tech Expo, Conference on Emerging Technologies. Attendance at all those shows has been very, very good despite the economy, despite the downturn of attendance at other shows. So I think that’s a pretty darn good feather in the Society’s cap to maintain that sort of momentum given everything else that’s going on.
PORTER: Before we close this out, there’s three items as an old RF engineer, I’d just to ask you, when you first saw these three things, can you remember what your first impression or what your thought was? And the first one is fiber optics.
HRANAC: I remember, yes, my first exposure to fiber optics, thinking pretty impressive stuff, a little bit of doubt as to whether or not it would really work, but I think history has shown that that was one of the big technical evolutions. The first technical evolution that I saw, of course, was satellite.
PORTER: Well, I was going to come to that.
HRANAC: But, yeah, fiber. I think I was probably like a lot of people – it’s kind of neat thing, it’s a neat technology if they can make it work. There was some reluctance, is it really going to work, and I remember hearing when the cable industry in the late ’80s said we want to do 40 channels of analog video on a piece of fiber, and the companies that made the lasers, the semi-conductor lasers, said you guys are crazy. Lasers are inherently single-ended devices. The distortions are going to kill you. It’ll never work. Well, we as an industry said we think it will, and guess what? We were right.
PORTER: Somehow, we figured.
HRANAC: Yeah, and we were right about that. So I think that was clearly a big technical revolution for the industry, and yeah, time proved us correct. But I remember going to AT&T’s facilities in Murray Hill, New Jersey where they actually manufactured the semi-conductor wafers and then did the testing and so on, and this was a few years after the cable industry had embraced fiber and we proved that the technology worked just fine. AT&T, this was the semi-conductor division, was making lasers and optimizing them for cable use. They had a big matrix multi-carrier generator and a Hewlett-Packard spectrum analyzer with automated test routines set up, and they were going in and optimizing bias and other parameters on these individual lasers to perform well with multiple TV channels. So they literally had taken the technology that companies like that were reluctant to even think would work and said, okay, we’re making this stuff now just for you guys, for you the cable operators. So, big success.
PORTER: You kind of touched on the satellite, the advent of satellite. Can you give us some idea, were you involved in trying to pick up the first, to line that first dish?
HRANAC: I was more the spectator because I think when the TelePrompTer system I worked in up in Idaho put the 10-meter dish in I was probably an installer at the time. So the installers weren’t out there, other than to go out and look to see what was going on – they let us gape at this thing, this 30-foot diameter satellite dish to pick up one channel. To me, now the idea of putting this big antenna in was fascinating, I thought that was neat. And the satellite receiver, and they had a microwave link that went from where the TVRO was installed up to the headend. I thought that part of it was neat. My reluctance wasn’t the technology of satellite. My reluctance was who in the heck was going to pay, I don’t remember what it was back then, 5, 6, 7 dollars extra a month to get one channel. I thought, well, we’ll be lucky if we see 10% penetration in this thing called Showtime or HBO or whatever it turned out to be. Well, of course the technology worked fine and customers loved the stuff, and we know where we are today with that now. We’ve got HBOs and Showtimes that have what they call multi-plexes with multiple flavors of HBO and Showtime and all the others. And of course satellite technology revolutionized the industry, too.
PORTER: Now I’ll come to the last item. We had always had RF going across cable, and everybody understood how to do that, analog. The first time that you heard that somebody wanted to take a modem and send data, not necessarily even from a home computer, just the idea of putting data over a cable system – can you remember? – you must have stood there and said…
HRANAC: Well, no, to me cable was an electronic pipe, and I steal that term from Glenn Jones because he always called cable networks the big pipe or electronic pipe, and I agreed with that. I thought, look, whatever we can put inside this pipe is really irrelevant. If we can make the pipe big enough we can carry anything we want. I did some data transmission tests in 1984, ’83 or ’84, when I was at Jones because at the time Jones had become the first cable company in the world to deploy feed forward 400 megahertz amplifiers in the trunk and feeder. Those were Century 3 amps and at the time we raised the question at Jones corporate headquarters will these delay lines and the phase inversion circuits inside the feed forward amplifier have any impact on data transmission? Because Jones had a… oh, gosh, I can’t remember the name of the company now, but they had a separate company that was involved in the data side of things, they made data technology, not for cable but there was some talk about maybe somehow porting that over to the cable side of the world. We all kind of went, well, I don’t know how this stuff’s going to play on a cable network, particularly through feed forward. So I did some tests in a single-ended system, a push-pull system, and a feed forward system, and got a modem from… I can’t remember the name of the company now, but it was a T-1 transmitter that hooked up to the cable network and transmitted the T-1 signal and did bit air rate measurements on all these systems, and I did a whole bunch of video measurements, particularly as they related to phase and so on to see if there was any impact on both the video performance and data performance, and found no, it worked fine. The bigger thing was in one of the cable systems, it was an older plant that had a lot of loose connections and stuff – intermittent connections impacted bit-air rate, but no big deal. So I wrote a paper and presented it at the 1984 NCTA convention on the effects of high-speed data, or the effects of single-ended, push-pull and feed forward electronics on high-speed data.
PORTER: When’s the first time you envisioned private homes…
HRANAC: Well, it certainly wasn’t then because as I recall that T-1 modem that could just transmit a 1 ½ megabit signal was horribly expensive. It was like six or ten thousand dollars. Well, okay, that will be used maybe to provide service to a bank or something. That’s not going to be used in the residential marketplace, and it wasn’t until probably the early to mid 1990s when some of the proprietary technologies started to come out that it really made a lot of sense to get into the residential marketplace with data, and even then the technology was pretty pricey, but again, when you put data on a cable network you’re really putting analog on a cable network because you have to take the digital data and convert it to an analog RF signal. Okay, fine, we’ll put that on a cable network and it passes right through the network just fine.
PORTER: Ron, it’s been a pleasure doing this interview with you. I want to thank you. I hope you’ve enjoyed it, and I’m sure that the Barco Library will enjoy having the history of Ron Hranac. Thank you very much.
HRANAC: It’s been a pleasure, Rex. Thanks.