Interview Date: Friday September 21, 2001
Interview Location: London, Ontario, Canada
Interviewer: Ken Easton
Program: Hauser Project
EASTON: This is the oral history of Ed Jarmain, the first cable provider in Canada. Today is Friday, September 21, 2001 and we are interviewing Mr. Ed Jarmain at his home in London, Ontario as part of the Oral and Video History Program of The Cable Center in Denver, Colorado. We’re joined today by three of Mr. Jarmain’s original employees: Nick Hamilton-Piercy, who is sitting at my immediate right; John Hood on the far right; and Hank Van der Lin. I am Kenneth Easton. Ed, to make a start, can you tell us something of your background, where and when you were born?
JARMAIN: I was born on July the 24th, 1907 at 17 Elmwood Avenue in London.
EASTON: So you were born in London and you’ve always lived in London.
JARMAIN: I’ve always lived in London. I was away from London for a short while during the war, but apart from that I’ve always lived here.
EASTON: Right, and what’s your family background? What did your parents do, for example?
JARMAIN: Well, my mother was a housewife as all the ladies were in those days, and my father owned and operated a laundry and dry cleaning plant.
EASTON: Oh, yes. That’s the business you came from, isn’t it?
JARMAIN: That’s correct. I inherited that.
EASTON: So at the beginning of the history we’re now discussing, you were actually in the dry cleaning business.
JARMAIN: That’s right.
EASTON: And where did you go to school? Here in London presumably?
JARMAIN: Yes, Victoria School on Wharncliffe Road. The school building that I went to has since been replaced but it’s still a school property.
EASTON: What kind of interests did you have in those days as a youngster?
JARMAIN: Well, I’d say it was largely mechanical.
EASTON: It was?
JARMAIN: I had Meccano Sets and we used to build trucks and all sorts of things with Meccano. I think that was my favorite toy.
EASTON: Until you got interested in radio. When was that? How old were you then?
JARMAIN: Oh, that was about 1920 and I was born in 1907, so I must have been 13.
EASTON: You were 13. And that’s when you started getting an interest in radio. Did you build a radio receiver at that time, or what were you doing?
JARMAIN: Well, I read an article in the newspaper, which stated that a chap by the name of Jim Macintosh was going to be giving a lecture at the YMCA on radio and it sounded to me as if that was interesting. So I went to it and of course after the lecture I met Jim, and to make a long story short, Jim and I became very staunch friends for the rest of our lives. But that was my first introduction to it.
EASTON: That’s when you started experimenting in radio, is it?
JARMAIN: Soon after that, yes. I started out, of course, tagging along with Jim because Jim was considerably older than I was. He was old enough to be my father and he was an employee of Bell Telephone at the time. So he fixed telephones in the daytime and experimented in his workshop in the basement at night.
EASTON: And you experimented with him?
JARMAIN: I experimented with him.
EASTON: And then did you progress then into building radio receivers at that time?
JARMAIN: Well, it started out with hi-fi equipment. I built that too.
EASTON: Hi-fi being high fidelity.
JARMAIN: High fidelity, that’s right.
EASTON: It was fairly early, was it not, that you found or got interested in FM, frequency modulation? There were some FM radio stations which you were receiving, is that right?
JARMAIN: Yes, it was fairly early on. I started out, of course, with radio but I soon heard that there was an FM transmission from Detroit and Cleveland.
EASTON: Oh, you heard of it? You didn’t discover it by listening to them?
JARMAIN: I heard of it. I can’t tell you now whether I heard it over the radio or how, but…
EASTON: Then you started to listen to one or two of these FM receptions. Was that when you discovered that one of the stations on the FM band was in fact a television station?
JARMAIN: No, that really wasn’t a discovery; it was sort of a well-known fact because the advent of a television station in those days was quite an event since after all that was the first one in this area.
EASTON: Even here in London?
EASTON: So having heard that, you went to try to find it on the FM band, did you? Did you use your FM receivers to try to find it?
JARMAIN: Well, the FM receiver wouldn’t have worked.
EASTON: What that really leads to is the next question: when did you first see a television picture over the air?
JARMAIN: Oh, I think that would have been in the early ’50s. My neighbor – I say neighbor, a man who lived two doors to the east of here…
EASTON: That was Frank Geary.
JARMAIN: Frank Geary was a Philco distributor and he had… obviously he was selling his merchandise in the border cities because there wasn’t any reception really that was reliable in a place like London. We were isolated.
EASTON: Were there other people here at that time who were buying television receivers?
JARMAIN: Oh, yes, in the border towns. He was a distributor for Philco and of course all of their business really centered around the border towns.
EASTON: But London was hardly a border town. He was living in London and selling along the border?
JARMAIN: London was where his headquarters was.
EASTON: He was selling to people living closer to the border who could receive these pictures?
JARMAIN: That’s right.
EASTON: You obviously first heard about cable because you read about it.
JARMAIN: That’s right.
EASTON: There was cable being developed in locations in the United States.
JARMAIN: Pottsville, Pennsylvania.
EASTON: Pottsville, Pennsylvania was one of them, that’s right. That really got you interested in the possibility of not only receiving television but of distributing it to neighbors and so forth?
JARMAIN: That’s right.
EASTON: Would you like to elaborate on that?
JARMAIN: Well, I heard about this experiment that was going on in Pottsville, Pennsylvania. Pottsville was a small mining town down in the mountain valley and they had built up something like about 1,500-1,600 subscribers and their business was going very well. I read about this and Harry Anderson who was a contemporary of mine…
EASTON: Here in London?
JARMAIN: Yes, and Harry and I drove to Pottsville to have a look at this and we spent a couple of days there because the owner of the system, Martin Malarkey, was a very cordial sort of a fellow and before we left on the second day he opened up his books, and I got one look at the books and I said this is for me!
EASTON: So that’s when you decided to go into it as a business?
JARMAIN: Well, we decided in the car on the way back, but yes, you could almost say that was when I decided it.
EASTON: And having made that decision, you then returned to London. What did you do next?
JARMAIN: Well, we had to sort out who our partners were and who was going to do the financing. There were Harry Anderson, who was a car radio installer in this area and was one contender. I was another. And Frank Geary who lived two doors over, who was the Philco distributor, he was also interested. The sad part of that was of course that – this would have been in the early summer – and by the time September rolled around and we were just getting going…
EASTON: This was September of 1952?
JARMAIN: ’52 is correct. We had the misfortune to lose Frank. He died very suddenly of a heart attack. So since he was really the bulk of the money behind the project and I was the instigator, so to speak, that left me in a hole. I didn’t have enough to finance what we needed to do.
EASTON: I believe that not only was Frank Geary helping you finance the operation, but also you were using a very large antenna which partly used his property, didn’t it? Next door.
JARMAIN: Yes, that is correct. That’s how he became interested. That plus the fact that he was a Philco distributor was another reason.
EASTON: And what was the first programming you were distributing? Were you receiving one station from Cleveland?
JARMAIN: No, we were receiving… I think it was five stations from Cleveland and Erie. The reception from Erie was quite good because that was only about 80 miles but of course the Cleveland antennas were 110 miles and it was pretty iffy.
EASTON: You couldn’t receive at that time from Detroit, could you?
JARMAIN: We could. Actually Detroit was a pain in the neck because we kept encountering co-channel interference.
EASTON: Oh, it was interfering with the stations you wanted?
EASTON: You started then by erecting cable on your own poles on private property to reach your neighbors one after the other.
JARMAIN: This was building a trial system.
EASTON: Until you had what was it – 15 people connected? – that you decided the trial was a success. Was that right?
JARMAIN: Well, the trial was set up for 15 people. We didn’t start until we had 15 people who agreed.
EASTON: And then what was the trigger that took you from a trial at which you weren’t charging any fees at all, to converting it to a business in which you started to charge your customers?
JARMAIN: Well, there was a lapse there of about 6 or 8 years.
EASTON: Oh, years! As many as that? When did you start charging then and making it a business?
JARMAIN: I started charging as soon as we had a signal that I considered was reliable enough. I had to tell the subscribers in the beginning that they wouldn’t be able to rely on good reception every night.
EASTON: Which is why you didn’t charge them to start with.
JARMAIN: That’s right.
EASTON: That lasted for three or four months?
EASTON: And then when the signal proved to be reasonably reliable, you started to charge them?
JARMAIN: As I had to expand the system I had to get capital somewhere.
EASTON: That was the point at which you did start expanding? You felt you were justified in expanding to a larger group of people. At that time, what was your relationship with the public utilities – the telephone company, the power?
JARMAIN: It was nil because neither the public utilities or the telephone company would allow me to attach anything to their plant.
EASTON: And that was the reason you had to put up your own poles on private property. You couldn’t run it on the streets.
JARMAIN: That’s correct, that’s right.
EASTON: That limited the number of people you could serve anyway. What changed to expand that?
JARMAIN: I guess it was a lapse of probably two or three years or more, and we kept working on the telephone companies for pole rights and they finally agreed to us putting cable on the poles but they insisted that their workmen do the work.
EASTON: “They” being the telephone company?
JARMAIN: That’s right, Bell.
EASTON: How about the power company? Did you get on any power company poles?
JARMAIN: That was next.
EASTON: That followed after, then?
JARMAIN: That followed after.
EASTON: So they really followed after the telephone company.
JARMAIN: That’s correct.
EASTON: The telephone company was the first company to agree to allow you to go on their poles?
EASTON: At that point, how many subscribers were you feeding without the cooperation of the telephone company?
JARMAIN: About fifteen.
EASTON: For several years?
EASTON: You mentioned the fact that you had problems initially with your relationship with the telephone company and the power company, that you just couldn’t get on their poles, and that was in part the reason why there were four subscribers who were all neighbors who you could reach and only reach by putting up your own poles and running the wire on private property.
EASTON: You also mentioned and answered around my questions about the stations you were receiving that you could have received Detroit but you didn’t and that Detroit was mainly a problem causing interference with the stations you did want. Would you like to indicate what other technical problems you may have had at that time?
JARMAIN: Well, I would say that co-channel interference was the main technical problem, of course.
EASTON: In which the signals from Detroit was interfering with one of the Cleveland stations?
JARMAIN: Well, it was not just Detroit, but if you wanted to receive Detroit, we’ll say, Buffalo interfered because we were just about equidistant from the broadcast antennas of Detroit, Cleveland and Buffalo.
EASTON: So what originally decided you to receive Cleveland rather than Detroit or rather than Buffalo?
JARMAIN: Well, because we felt we had good signal more of the time. The signal was more reliable.
EASTON: Did the design of the antenna that you built at that time in your property here condition that in any way?
JARMAIN: Well, you were always working on antenna design in the hope that you could introduce the rejection of unwanted signals from the sides and the rear, and we were never very successful at that. Some antennas were better than others, wouldn’t you say, John?
HOOD: I think another point to make here is that Winery Hill is the highest point in London here, and I can remember Ed doing the path profiles for some of these which was all done by hand and we’re looking at path profiles that were 100 miles long. When you go to Buffalo you’ve got the escarpment to deal with and some of those details, so our path to Buffalo wasn’t that great except when it came to co-channel it was still…
EASTON: It was great enough to cause you co-channel interference.
HOOD: That’s right. As things go on here, you’ll find that it’s why Ed went to taller towers and how that came about. But anyway, he’ll go on to that.
EASTON: Wasn’t one of the reasons you chose Cleveland because you decided to use a rhombic antenna, which is a long wire antenna which receives best in a particular direction and the property you had here and the availability of space was such that it was best directed looking at Cleveland?
JARMAIN: You’re right on. You’re right on.
EASTON: So if the property had been in a different location or a different configuration, you might well have been receiving Detroit or Buffalo?
JARMAIN: That’s right.
EASTON: What other technical problems did you have apart from the problems with the antenna and reception in cable as such, and using cable?
JARMAIN: Well, of course we always had the problem of getting the right to erect our cables on utility poles.
EASTON: Yes, I was thinking more of the technical problems with the cable itself and the equipment and so forth.
JARMAIN: Well, I suppose what we were just talking about, tube amplifiers.
HOOD: The tube amplifiers were the first amplifiers.
EASTON: This was before the days of solid state, of course.
JARMAIN: That’s right. And with the tube amplifiers, when you’ve got a blowing snowstorm the houses that they were in of course had to be ventilated and the snow would blow in and the tubes were hot glass and they’d crack.
EASTON: And you had a lot of that trouble?
JARMAIN: Yeah, that was quite a problem.
EASTON: John, would you like to comment on that aspect?
HOOD: Well, I guess Ed had a different situation here because he was building a system eventually for a large city, whereas in the United States you’re building a system for small communities, CATV at that time. So when you started to have to build a situation here for a large city of I don’t know how many thousand people – it was 30,000 people at that time…
EASTON: At that time Ed was building for a very small city because as he said, until he got the agreements with the telephone company, he couldn’t expand beyond his immediate neighborhood.
HOOD: No, that’s true. It was SKL Labs amplifier that was used at that time.
EASTON: SKL being Spencer-Kennedy Laboratories.
HOOD: Spencer-Kennedy, that’s correct.
JARMAIN: Spencer-Kennedy was what you called a chain amplifier.
HOOD: A chain distributed amplifier.
EASTON: An American designed and built amplifier.
HOOD: Right, that’s correct.
JARMAIN: Well, actually that Spencer-Kennedy amplifier was a laboratory instrument. It was never intended in the beginning to be used the way we were using it.
HAMILTON-PIERCY: And there was no demand for it at that point either.
JARMAIN: No, so they were both scarce and expensive.
EASTON: Were you using many of them?
JARMAIN: No, we didn’t have a very large system so it never got to the point where we were using in the hundreds.
EASTON: At that time, when you were serving a very limited number of subscribers, literally not more than a few hundred yards away, how many of these amplifiers were you using?
JARMAIN: Oh, I guess…
HOOD: A cascade of three or four, maybe, right?
JARMAIN: Three or four.
HOOD: There was one in the driveway here.
JARMAIN: There was one in the driveway, that’s right. There was one in the Young’s garage.
VAN DER LIN: And one over on Wartney Road.
EASTON: So you did in fact have some cables extending more than a few hundred yards even though you couldn’t feed the city as such.
JARMAIN: That’s right.
HOOD: And then I don’t know, Ed, what time did the Jerrold tube line extender come along? I think there was something at that time that was used, too, but…
JARMAIN: It obviously came in there somewhere, but I don’t know either.
EASTON: Once you got this pole attachment agreement with the Bell Telephone Company and you were able to expand without that restriction, how did your business grow at that point and how did the technology advance to accommodate the growth?
JARMAIN: Well, I would say that it grew slowly.
EASTON: But by what methods? Did you actually go out and sell it?
JARMAIN: It was largely word of mouth because people were coming and asking for the service. Usually they were located somewhere too far away and we couldn’t reach them.
EASTON: So you didn’t have to advertise or knock door-to-door or anything like that?
JARMAIN: Well, we did some of that but not in a big way.
EASTON: But you were confined to a very small area. How much of the city of London were you able to serve at that time?
JARMAIN: The first serious expansion after we got our agreement with the telephone company was that we decided on an area in the south here, the area around Devonshire Avenue, and I think it was about 500 homes, wasn’t it, John? Do you remember that?
HOOD: I don’t remember the number, but…
JARMAIN: Well, I think it was a small number anyway.
HAMILTON-PIERCY: But those were still quite big lots, though, weren’t they?
JARMAIN: We decided it would be the test area and if we could get a decent saturation in that area, why, that would be a good signal to go ahead, and of course we did get a pretty good saturation.
EASTON: And presumably it would also provide you with some of the finance you needed to expand further, which was an important point.
JARMAIN: Oh, yes. Very hand-to-mouth.
EASTON: That’s right. We talked about the technical problems at that stage, and I just mentioned the financing, but what were some of the legal and regulatory issues involved during the time of this growth and how did you deal with them?
JARMAIN: Well, in the early days, of course, there weren’t any regulative problems. The government hadn’t caught up with the fact that we should be licensed.
EASTON: Cable television at that time was not licensed at all.
JARMAIN: Well, it was licensed – they came around once a year and collected $25 from you. That was the license and that was all you’d hear from them.
HOOD: That would be the Department of Transport at that time.
JARMAIN: Yes, it was the Department of Transport.
EASTON: But that in effect would be a receiving license, not a cable license.
EASTON: And what you did with it beyond receiving didn’t concern them too much at that early stage.
JARMAIN: We weren’t slicing the bread that thin in those days.
EASTON: Tell me – were there any organizations that evolved in Canada to support the cable industry at that time? I’m thinking in terms of the organizations such as the National Cable Television Association in the United States, and if so, were you a member of any of these organizations?
JARMAIN: Well, I think that the first organization of that kind in Canada was the copy of the one that was operating in the States.
EASTON: The NCTA as it was called.
JARMAIN: NCTA, that’s correct, and Fred Metcalf was really the instigator of getting that association going because it had certain advantages. We needed certain rights and privileges and we had to have some kind of a corporate organization to make it believable that we were there and going to stay.
EASTON: And how was that done?
JARMAIN: Well, just that. You started out and their expansion was very slow in the beginning.
EASTON: Was Fred Metcalf the organizer?
JARMAIN: Fred Metcalf was really one of the chief instigators of the formation of the association.
EASTON: You were saying, Ed, that there was an organization which actually became known as the Canadian Cable Television Association, which was started here in Canada by, among other people, Fred Metcalf.
JARMAIN: That’s right.
EASTON: And that it copies pretty closely the form of the NCTA in the United States.
JARMAIN: That’s right.
EASTON: Do you want to elaborate on that any further?
JARMAIN: Well, I don’t think I need to. That was the story.
EASTON: It did eventually become a literally Canadian association. It wasn’t associated with…
JARMAIN: It always was a Canadian association.
EASTON: It wasn’t part of the NCTA.
JARMAIN: No. We copied it but it wasn’t part of it.
EASTON: You, Ed Jarmain, were you a member of the CCTA?
JARMAIN: I don’t think so. I think you had to be an American citizen, didn’t you?
EASTON: No, no, CCTA, not NCTA. The Canadian Association.
JARMAIN: Oh, yes, of course. I was always a member of that. As long as there was any Canadian entity around…
EASTON: Did you play any part in the organization of it?
JARMAIN: Well, I’m sure I did.
EASTON: Were you at any time a director or anything like that?
EASTON: You were.
VAN DER LIN: Ed was even the chairman for at least one year.
JARMAIN: My son, Ted, was the chairman for two years.
EASTON: Broadening the questions a little bit, Ed, in your opinion what were some of the most significant events in the early days of cable television and what role did you play in them?
JARMAIN: That’s a tough one.
EASTON: Obviously one of them was the formation of the CCTA to represent the industry as a whole.
JARMAIN: Well, I was a member of CCTA. As I recall, I think the first president was Fred Metcalf.
EASTON: Who played a large part in forming the association, anyway.
JARMAIN: Yes, that’s right.
EASTON: And I think he was originally the first president, wasn’t he?
JARMAIN: I think so. I think he was the first president.
EASTON: And were there any other significant events that you can think of in the early days of cable television? Developments, for example, which influenced the way it went either technically or in any other way?
JARMAIN: Getting attachment rights to the telephone poles was a very significant thing.
EASTON: Was the Association effective in that?
VAN DER LIN: I think, too, Ken, a very interesting evolution of the cable offering to subscribers when I came with Ed – we were running non-adjacent channels and we switched from three channels to six channels, and then we went from six channels to twelve channels.
EASTON: Would you like to explain what you mean by non-adjacent channels and why you couldn’t operate adjacent channels?
VAN DER LIN: Well, because of the bandwidth of amplifiers were relatively narrow and if you could not run adjacent channels without one channel interfering with the other channel…
EASTON: You had to amplify it channel by channel.
HOOD: We didn’t have processors, channel processors.
EASTON: But you didn’t have wide-band amplifiers? You didn’t have an amplifier which could take the whole band on the cable wire?
HOOD: The SKLs did that.
JARMAIN: The SKLs were the first ones.
HOOD: But there were systems that were built with strip amplifiers. In other words, there was an amplifier for every channel that you were delivering.
EASTON: And because of the limited bandwidth of the amplifiers, you had to limit them to one channel.
VAN DER LIN: That’s correct. And also because of the noise factors in amplifiers, you could not cascade amplifiers for any great distances and therefore you had to convert high-band channels back down to low-band, and so you got a very limited capability, and Ed was one of the main drivers back then with Jerrold Corporation out of Philadelphia and pushed them very hard to get better broadband amplifiers and Ed, I think, was a real pioneer in analyzing all of the technical implications of going from a single channel amplifiers to broadband amplifiers.
EASTON: Ed, were all the channels you were receiving here in London originally low-band or were you receiving any high-band channels?
HOOD: No, we were receiving high-band. The Cleveland stations were all high-band channels and the Detroits were seven. Cleveland was channel 8.
VAN DER LIN: Erie was channel 12.
HOOD: But it was shortly after that Jerrold came out with the D-Mods, the TDs, in other words, which had a tube demodulator.
EASTON: That means that right from the start, and I mean THE start, Ed was carrying high-band channels on his cable?
EASTON: And yet there weren’t any high-band amplifiers?
HOOD: No, we had to convert them.
EASTON: Oh, so he did have converters already?
HOOD: Yes, there were two converters that converted to feed the strips. The first channels were the TDs and the TMs, which were the tube modulators and the tube demods, and the other thing that the tube demod had that Jerrold built – and that was a unit about this big! I mean, one channel was processed in that much space, right?
VAN DER LIN: All with tubes.
HOOD: All with tubes. But the other thing is by going down to a base band video signal, they had the tuned 10 kilohertz, 20 kilohertz traps in there that we would tune, and the thing is that was a pretty much every morning every evening job because they would drift back and forth and you didn’t know who was causing the co-channel, whether it was 10 kilohertz or 20 kilohertz and you had to tune the little traps.
EASTON: So at that point, which is what we’re talking about, the high-band channels which were received were not converted direct to low-band but were taken down to video first and then modulated back up?
HOOD: That’s right.
VAN DER LIN: Now the channel 2s or channel 4s we used the Jerrold strip amplifiers and they had a very high range of gain, or AGC, but you see, they didn’t have a sound adjust on them so you couldn’t adjust the sound carrier. So then we had to be careful where we put them because then you couldn’t do the adjacent channel, whereas with a modulator you could control the sound carrier level and video and video modulation.
EASTON: So even in those very early days, very early days, it wasn’t a simple technical operation.
HOOD: Probably more complex then it is today.
VAN DER LIN: I think that’s right.
EASTON: It quite probably was.
HAMILTON-PIERCY: Certainly more labor intense, that’s for sure.
EASTON: And done with far less technical knowledge and experience than we have today.
JARMAIN: We amassed our own knowledge and experience.
VAN DER LIN: The know-how base just simply wasn’t there. There were no precedents and Ed became the know-how base.
EASTON: That’s really the point I’m trying to get at. Ed, who literally started in the dry-cleaning business and I think I’m right in saying didn’t have a technical education…
JARMAIN: Well, that’s not quite true.
EASTON: In the sense that we know it now. You didn’t go to university to get an engineering degree.
JARMAIN: I had an engineering degree.
EASTON: Oh, you did.
JARMAIN: Mechanical engineering.
EASTON: Oh, mechanical. You did have a technical degree but not in electrical engineering. You had to find your own way through these problems.
JARMAIN: The year I graduated in engineering was 1930 and in 1930 there wasn’t any electronics around.
EASTON: No, but there was electrical engineering, as such.
JARMAIN: That’s right but it was mainly hydro and to some extent the telephone companies.
EASTON: So most of the knowledge which you required in dealing with these problems we’re talking about now about receiving high-band and converting to low-band and so forth, was all knowledge which really you acquired and in some ways started to build a basis for that knowledge in the cable industry.
JARMAIN: Well, I guess we led the way.
EASTON: That’s what I mean, yes, yes.
VAN DER LIN: When I came here, Ed handed me over a whole set of manuals on how to do the maintenance on equipment that he had acquired because he had a unique application, so Ed would write his own manuals and he would show you the wave response and the side-band response and how to adjust the traps. Ed had his own manuals. They were hand-written manuals.
EASTON: This is very interesting, particularly because so many people who have a peripheral knowledge about cable television and very little knowledge about the technical basis believe, quite sincerely, that all the technical basis for cable television has been derived from and started by the manufacturers, people who were making the amplifiers, but that’s not right.
HOOD: I can add to this, too, and that is when we had to extend our amplifier cascades, we got into a situation where Ed selected an amplifier that was called an LSA 795 that was from Jerrold, but I believe that was developed by Western Electric for telephone and it was a 5-95 megahertz bandwidth amplifier.
EASTON: Jerrold being the American company who were involved in the production of some of the earlier equipment used in the systems in Pennsylvania. In fact they were based in Pennsylvania.
HOOD: That’s right. But this amplifier was developed as a telephone amplifier and for long-haul, and that’s the problem that Ed had here. He was building a system for a large city and when you add up the miles of plant and we only had RG11, the cable wasn’t suitable, and the cable that was selected for the trunks at that time was PD375, which was an air to electric cable and here again was developed by Western Electric and sold in Canada at that time by a company called Northern Electric, which belonged to Bell. However, it didn’t matter what we did, whether it was splicing or making splices for that cable or whatever, we had to develop that. Everything had to be developed and built up.
EASTON: But Ed, in the very early days when you were serving subscribers who were your neighbors, what kind of cable were you using?
JARMAIN: It was RG11U.
EASTON: That being a braided coaxial cable?
HOOD: Polyethylene dielectric, yes.
EASTON: Was it a commercial cable or was it a military…?
JARMAIN: Military. Actually it was a military spec.
HOOD: And the connecters were Type Ns. 75 ohm Type Ns. Back in those days they were hard to come by.
VAN DER LIN: The whole connecter issues, cable issues, splicing issues, amplifier issues – Ed even had Jerrold develop a low-band to high-band converter called a CDX 713, which would convert low-band channels to high-band at distribution points.
HAMILTON-PIERCY: Every bridger point you had to have one of these amplifiers and converters.
EASTON: It took care of your immediate requirements here in London.
VAN DER LIN: This was the largest system in North America.
HOOD: Ed had to go from 5 channels to 12 channels, right? We had more channels. Now we had Cleveland coming in and we had Kitchener and we had London and whatnot, and so we, as Ed’s design with guys like Ken Simons and Frank Ragone down there…
EASTON: They’re all Jerrold people.
HOOD: Jerrold people – and Ed came up with let’s use the sub-low, which was the 5 to 40 megahertz at that time and so that’s the way we went and let me tell you, there were a lot of pains and experiences because that’s where we were using the T-channels at that time. They were called T-channels and I think they still are today, T7 to T13. T7 was 7 megahertz and T13 was 40 megahertz, but then we transported them down through the trunk because the trunk was built in 95 megahertz and that kept the cascade. The longest cascade was something like 30 amplifiers in London, so if you were at the small cable and VHF you would have been 50-60 amplifiers in cascade. Well, Ed would sit there and calculate – “This is not going to work. This is not the way we’re going, and we’re going sub-low.”
HAMILTON-PIERCY: Were you in 50-60,000 homes, then, were you?
HOOD: That’s right.
EASTON: In talking about these details, you were really now going beyond the initial stage where Ed started. What sort of date are you talking about there? At what point did you reach that stage that you were beginning to serve a larger area of the city?
HOOD: The ’60s. In the ’60s you had the 5 channels throughout the major core. North London, you would have done North London then, and we had North London and South London and that was the 5 channels which was the LSA 795 and the 410 was the AGC because the 795 didn’t have AGC.
EASTON: By that time, there was a local transmitter here in London. What was the influence of that on your system?
JARMAIN: Well, it obviously retarded our development because I purposely held back on expansion when we knew there was a local system coming in because I felt that when people were buying TV sets and paying on time payments they wouldn’t have that extra $4 a month that we wanted, so we took it very slowly.
EASTON: But obviously quite early on, even after the local station was established and in business and people began to get used to getting local television, locally produced television, would I be correct in assuming that there was a growing feeling that they needed more than just one channel, they needed more variety?
JARMAIN: There was always that feeling.
EASTON: And how much influence did that have on the development of your cable business?
JARMAIN: Oh, I think it had a big influence on it, don’t you?
HOOD: The main influence.
VAN DER LIN: The key was to be able to offer not only a Canadian network, but also the three main U.S. networks at that time, ABC, CBS and NBC.
EASTON: Which is what people really wanted to watch.
JARMAIN: That’s what everybody wanted was the U.S. network.
HOOD: You really had more to offer here than an American could receive in the U.S. because he only got his American networks. Here we had the Canadian networks, eventually CTV and CBC and the American networks.
EASTON: We’re talking here about 1954.
HOOD: Yeah, we didn’t have CTV. When did Kitchener come on?
EASTON: Because your local station here didn’t open until sometime in ’54, was it?
JARMAIN: I don’t know, it might have been ’53, Ken.
EASTON: It was in the early days, anyway.
VAN DER LIN: I think CFPL-TV started in 1952.
EASTON: ’52. It started after Ed actually started his cable system because Ed started his cable system, as I understand, on the Cleveland stations. You didn’t have a local station.
HOOD: No, I don’t think they were here yet.
VAN DER LIN: No, they were not here yet. Maybe it was ’53.
HOOD: A little later, yes.
EASTON: A general question, Ed. In your opinion, what was one of the most significant events in the early days of cable television and what role did you play in them? It’s a broad question but it’s open to interpretation any way you like.
JARMAIN: I think my colleagues here would be better able to comment on that than I would. I was pretty close to the forest, a little too close to see the trees.
HAMILTON-PIERCY: Well, how about the challenge of getting financing? Was there anything special there?
JARMAIN: Oh, definitely.
EASTON: In the early days that was probably the biggest challenge, wasn’t it?
JARMAIN: That was the biggest challenge, definitely.
EASTON: And indeed, was that not one of the reasons, if not the main reason why you had to charge a connection fee? You had to get your financing up front because you couldn’t…
JARMAIN: It was very, very early days and for a limited period of time that was true, Ken, but I think that our connection with Famous Players developed pretty early on in the game and of course that changed the whole ballgame.
EASTON: You refer to a connection with Famous Players. How did that develop?
JARMAIN: Well, it developed very simply. They heard about what I was doing here and they decided that they would like to be partners in it.
EASTON: That is expansion of Famous Players to London?
JARMAIN: Exactly, and they came on and made me the generous offer that I would retire to a 10% holding in the company and they would take the ball and run with it.
EASTON: They were going to finance your expansion?
JARMAIN: I said, “Well, how about 50%?” and they ultimately agreed. So we were equal partners and I’ve heard people say that the 50/50 partnerships don’t work but Famous Players was different. They were marvelous partners. I can’t say enough good about them.
EASTON: That partnership primarily involved the financing. Did it involve anything else?
JARMAIN: No, that’s all I needed from them. They didn’t have any know-how. Nobody else did, for that matter.
VAN DER LIN: I think I remember once in a while Ru Goldberg would come in from Toronto and come and visit and review the business with Ed, and there was a tremendous amount of respect for Ed and the Famous Players people couldn’t have found a better partner, in my judgment, because Ed’s seeking for excellence in his business, not only technical excellence but also the quality of the business that he ran was just really exceptional, and I think Famous Players and Mr. Goldberg in particular really recognized that he was working with a very talented person and really a committed person who had a lot of vision about the cable television business because Ed truly was the pioneer in Canada and was exceptional in terms of delivering a quality product to his customers, and I think all the technical innovation that took place back then became a tremendous credit to the industry. I think the cable industry flourished because of people like Ed Jarmain.
EASTON: So basically the attraction of Famous Players for you was really that they were able to provide you with the financing which you badly needed and couldn’t get from other sources.
JARMAIN: Exactly. I remember the first expansion that I wanted to do they wanted about $425,000, I think it was, and I went in to the CIBC, it was called the Imperial Bank of Canada in those days, and put this proposition to them and fortunately I had taken Ru Balsted with me.
EASTON: He was the president of Famous Players.
JARMAIN: He was the president of Famous Players. So of course the first thing the banker said was “You want $425,000 on what security?” And Ru Balsted chirps in, “None. Not any.” I’ll always remember that.
EASTON: Wasn’t his presence as a representative of Famous Players adequate security for the bank?
JARMAIN: Sure, but the banker simply said when he said that, “I don’t know whether this has got a chance of flying or not, but I’ll submit it to the head office anyway. Couldn’t you bring it down below $400,000?” and I said, “Why?” He said, “That’s the breaking point where we have to board it,” in other words, the loan has to be approved by the board of directors of the bank, and I said, “No, I can’t cut it down. That’s exactly what I want. I want to get to know the board of directors of the bank.”
EASTON: He considered Famous Players to be adequate insurance for him.
JARMAIN: Yes. It gave it respectability, Ken.
EASTON: Famous Players was an established Canadian company, even though it was American owned, and it was quoted on the Canadian stock exchange and had been for years.
JARMAIN: Many years. They controlled 350-400 motion picture outlets in Canada.
EASTON: They weren’t themselves in cable at that time, were they? You were their first entry to cable. Tell me, Ed, what is your favorite memory from your long career in the cable television business? Do you have a favorite memory?
JARMAIN: My favorite memory I just told you about – sitting in the banker’s office and asking for $425,000 because after all, the loan was approved.
HAMILTON-PIERCY: Ed, one thing you always told us when we joined you in the company is that profits will arrive if you take care of your customer, the customer will take care of you and that’s how profits will arrive. You always used to preach that.
JARMAIN: Exactly. And I still believe that.
EASTON: Now, Ed, and Nick has just mentioned about your people – who were some of the people who influenced you during your career and tell us a little bit about them. For example, why don’t you say a few words about each of the people here in the outfield.
JARMAIN: Well, the first thing that comes to my mind is that no matter what the crisis was, if the system went off and it was a snowstorm in the middle of January and in the middle of the night, these guys were always on the job. They were certainly imbued with the belief that the show must go on. They were people that I could always count on. I was exceptionally lucky, I think, in the people who came to work for me in that they were all of that caliber – loyal, dedicated, and I’m sure that that was in large measure the reason for my success.
EASTON: Were there other people in the cable industry at large, other than your employees, who influenced you? There must have been others. You mentioned Fred Metcalf, for example. Did he have an influence on the way your business developed?
JARMAIN: Well, I always thought of Fred as a follower, not a leader, although Fred certainly made an important contribution to the cable business.
EASTON: I use the term influence – people who might have influenced your thinking or what you did.
JARMAIN: It’s a little hard to say because various things and people affect your thinking as you develop a business and to what extent each influence was highly significant is difficult to recall.
EASTON: Famous Players eventually got involved with Rogers Communications. What influenced you to sell your company to Rogers?
JARMAIN: I think we were faced with the prospects of a takeover.
JARMAIN: By Rogers.
EASTON: At that point, Rogers had in effect taken over Famous Players, in effect.
JARMAIN: Yes, that’s probably true. My thinking is a little hazy there.
VAN DER LIN: Ken, maybe I can add something there and that is of course what happened is that Famous Players had a group of systems – Toronto, Kitchener, Hamilton – and the Jarmain group of companies was more in southwestern Ontario and then the Famous Players group got together with the Jarmain group and formed a company called Canadian Cable Systems, and that became a public company where the Jarmains owned a piece of the action and of course so did Famous Players, right Ed?
JARMAIN: A major piece.
VAN DER LIN: That became Canadian Cable Systems and that’s when the Rogers group came in and took control of Canadian Cable Systems.
EASTON: I see, so Rogers didn’t literally take control of Ed’s system here. They really took control of Canadian Cable Systems, which by that time included Ed’s operation here in London.
HOOD: Exactly. So Ed was at that time, the time prior, was still a privately held company so they were not able to take that over. It was not until that became a public vehicle that Ted Rogers managed to buy control of that company.
EASTON: So now your operation here in London is part of the Rogers Communications Group, is it?
JARMAIN: Oh, yeah. It’s owned by Rogers outright.
EASTON: It is a Rogers’ operation.
JARMAIN: A Rogers operation, yeah.
EASTON: Well, Ed, your role in the development of cable television in Canada is monumental. I’d like to thank you on behalf of The Cable Center for your time today. This has been an oral history of Ed Jarmain and was recorded as part of the Oral and Video History Program of The Cable Center. Your interviewer was Ken Easton. Thank you very much, Ed.
JARMAIN: Thank you.