Interview Date: August 2002
Interview Location: Denver, CO
Interviewer: Rex Porter
Collection: Hauser Collection
PORTER: I’m Rex Porter and we’re at The Cable Center to interview industry pioneer and publisher, Mr. Paul Levine. Good morning, Paul.
LEVINE: Morning, Rex.
PORTER: Could you start us off by giving us a little bit about your background, growing up days, school days, and your family life, and so forth.
LEVINE: Sure. I grew up in Stanford, Connecticut, which is one of the suburbs of New York City. My dad was a pharmacist, my mom was a nurse. Moving on to college…. . I went to Emerson College in Boston, Massachusetts and got a B.S. in speech, and had classmates like Richard Levy, who was one of the founders of Furby – brought that to the marketplace. Henry Winkler was another classmate, who played The Fonz. It was quite a diverse school, specializing in speech, specializing in the arts and entertainment. From there, I went to New York City and got a job as a page at NBC, started out there giving tours, worked on the Johnny Carson Show. Many funny incidents – I worked election night and got myself in trouble that night, but that’s… I don’t know whether that’s for publication or not, but had a great time, a good six-eight months there. I moved on from NBC, went into…
PORTER: Now what are the dates that you were a page at NBC?
LEVINE: Well, let’s go back. I graduated Emerson College in 1968, and I basically started in ’68 and I was there just until the early part of ’69. And from there I went to work for a gentleman by the name of Phillip Lane, and what he did was he owned a company called Video Enterprises and they placed prize awards on all the game shows. So, my responsibility was to get clients like American Tourister and figure out how many prize awards they’d have on so many different shows. And I also did trade outs with radio stations, like Lucien Bacard watches that they had back then, which was a lot of fun and very enjoyable.
PORTER: Was this for all the networks?
LEVINE: It was for all the networks at the time, right. There was no cable at that point. Whatever cable they had they weren’t getting any advertising, but really it was for the radio stations and TV stations that would do the trade outs and the networks were the ones where the game shows were taking place. So we did those projections and it was a lot of fun, a lot of fun.
PORTER: Now, were you married at this time?
LEVINE: No. I didn’t get married until 1972, but there were other things I did, like live on Daytona Beach and sell earrings, but I don’t know how relevant that is to anything. I took a break. And then I went to work after the Daytona Beach deal in Washington D.C. I was selling land in Arizona and I guess some people call me somewhat of a good salesperson. I remember one of the first sales I went on, it was a colonel. It was a referral from a general, and I gave him a whole presentation, a slide presentation – I know you’ll get a kick out of this – and gave him a whole bit about the land, and he says, “I’m driving out there, what kind of trees?” So I took him to the door and I said, “Just like that.” And it was in Show Low, Arizona where they just had the fire; that’s where the land was. He bought 20 acres and went out and bought another 80, so I guess he believed me.
PORTER: You can see a lot of trees in Arizona. Beautiful trees up there.
LEVINE: His nickname is Johnny Appleseed. Anyhow, from there I went to work Al Warren at Television Digest, and Television Digest, as you know, is the foremost weekly newsletter, and also Television Factbook. I was there several years and then went to work for Bob Tisch at Cablevision Magazine and CED Magazine, and that was 1978, was when I became associate publisher at Cablevision Magazine, in August, and moved out here from Washington D.C. I was associate publisher.
PORTER: Now they were headquartered here in Denver?
LEVINE: There were headquartered here, right, and six months later I became publisher, but to back it up a little bit, I got married in 1972 to my beautiful wife, Susan, and we have three boys. Jeremy’s the oldest, and Jeremy and Andy, they were both born in Washington D.C., so they’re Washingtonians, and Nicholas, my youngest, was born here in Denver, Colorado, and that was 1981.
PORTER: So he has a state of residency then.
LEVINE: He’s a local Indian, or cowboy, depending on who you talk to. So, here I was in 1978 out here as associate publisher in August, and six months later I was publisher of Cablevision and CED Magazine. I think it was about two years later I became senior vice-president of sales of the company, which had ten publications which included Colorado Business and we had another magazine that was the in-flight magazine for at that time Rocky Mountain Airways. We used to call it tailspins because it kept on going down; we thought it was the weight of the magazines. That was an enjoyable time and I left there in 1983, and in 1984 I actually started Communications Technology Magazine, and started that with the endorsement of the SCTE, the Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers, as they’re known today. They thought they had 2,000 members back then and they had three chapters. When I got the endorsement I was at the Texas show with Jim Emerson, and he was on the phone for a conference call with the other board members. It didn’t take too long. They gave me the endorsement at that point. That was in January of 1984 and I actually came out with a publication in February 1984.
PORTER: Now was that the only magazine you had at that time?
LEVINE: That was the only magazine I had at that time.
PORTER: But the name of the company that was the parent was…?
LEVINE: Well, we actually had two names. The first name was CT Publications Corporation – was the first name. The Transmedia name came later on. But CT Publications Corp. was the name of the company; Communications Technology Magazine was the first magazine, and the first issue was in February 1984. We had $29,000 in advertising revenue. We were lucky to get the second publication out because what I didn’t realize back then was what advertising agencies would do to you. They would collect the money and wait, and the average wait date was 57 days. I had a Porsche back then, so I had to sell the Porsche to make payroll and I remember people getting their paychecks and just basically leaving the building and going to the bank and pounding the checks. I don’t blame them; I would have done the same thing except I couldn’t afford to leave. But if I look at the first investors that I had, and Rex, you were one of them, I’ll never forget calling you and you said, “Go to the bank.” I said, “What do you mean?” You said, “Go to the bank, damnit! The money’s there.” You had wired the money before we were off the phone. You had your bank wire the money. I’ll never forget that, and you were my first investor and I had Burt Harris was another investor. Bruce Brown, at the time, who was running Times Fiber, he was the president of that, gave me some money too, the day he was fired from there. I guess he believed in me. And the other original investor was Glenn Jones, and Glenn Jones was a little bit different. Glenn called me up on the phone and he said, “Paul, I have good news and bad news.” I say, “What’s the bad news?” He said, “Well, I left your business plan on the plane.” Well, I was so paranoid, and at that point, so inexperienced on a bunch of different things I said, “You’ve got to be kidding me, Glenn, how could you do something that?” He said, “No, no, no, here’s the good news – it was my plane.” So, anyhow, Glenn came in, but what he did with his money, he couldn’t give me the whole thing. He had to do another deal. He said, “Listen, I’ll give this portion as equity towards the whole deal, but I want this portion going toward advertising for Jones Intercable.” I said, “Okay, Glenn, whatever you want.” So, those were the original four investors, which included yourself. We started with a circulation of – we printed 10,000, I think we were mailing 9,000.
PORTER: Do you remember your original staff you had on board?
LEVINE: Original staff, original members – Toni Barnett, who was my managing editor on CED originally, and she became my editor for Communications Technology; and Wayne Lazsly was my managing editor; Brad Hamilton was the artist. Rob Stewark I brought on. He called himself a “sales whore”. He was a photographer, he used to love photography, and he used to do things with Rocky Mountain News as well. I turned him into a salesperson and he’s now publisher of CED, and has been for quite some time. Jim Dixon came in – he wasn’t one of the original people. Really, the original people were Wayne and Toni and Rob, if I remember correctly. People came along that were writing for me like Ron Hranac, who at one point was with Jones and then came to work for me as the senior technical writer, and he still is today. Ron did a lot of things, as you know, for research on new equipment, and he put up all those dishes at the Jones building. Bob Luff wrote for me when he was at UA, and that’s how Glenn Jones came to know Bob because of his articles in CT and hired him as his vice-president of advertising. So it’s kind of a fun way to look at things, and then we had your kind of cute articles on quizzing people, I think it was. What was it? Quizzes by Rex?
PORTER: It was called Cable Trivia.
LEVINE: Yeah, well, same thing. Cable Trivia, Quizzes by Rex. And you used to ask certain things, right? I can’t remember exactly, but I remember you used to ask certain things and that’s how I got you hooked into the editorial game. You never got over it, did you?
PORTER: No, apparently not.
LEVINE: Obviously you’re doing okay.
PORTER: The questions were so old only the old people in the industry knew the answers.
LEVINE: Well, that’s the only people who read magazines.
PORTER: And they weren’t technical, most of them weren’t, so they didn’t get the magazine anyhow.
LEVINE: Well, young people don’t read.
PORTER: When you set up the deal that you had with SCTE, you set it up so you became the official trade journal of the society.
LEVINE: We got that before we printed the first magazine.
PORTER: In return for that association as the official trade journal, you gave certain things back to the society.
LEVINE: Well, we did several things. We basically provided every member with a free copy of the magazine; we made sure each member got a copy of the magazine.
PORTER: As part of their membership?
LEVINE: As part of their membership, as a membership benefit. I think over the years what people really don’t recognize – I did receive the award in 1984 – President’s Award – for Communications Technology. We were giving not just the magazine, but we were giving advertising. We also originally printed the Interval as an insert in CT Magazine. It was a small pamphlet size.
PORTER: Which is the society’s newsletter?
LEVINE: Which is the society’s newsletter, which they send out separately today, and a portion of that is still paid today by Communications Technology Magazine. Back then we printed the whole thing and we put it inside the magazine, Communications Technology. It was part of the package, and in addition to that we gave them advertising, we tried to co-op certain events and things like that, and the other thing that I came up with – Bill Riker would laugh to this day – but I came up with the Cable Olympics, ad what I wanted to do at the first one, and Bill was so serious, he comes back and I said, “Look, I really want them to see everything. We’re going to have these Olympics with the guys with different events and everything else. I want a dirt floor in the middle of the convention center, and I want to put a pole up. I want to see pole climbing, and I want to see trench digging.” Bill said, “Paul, I don’t know if we have insurance for something like that.” That was the first time that we talked about it, and I told Bill, I said, “You’ve got to get these guys more involved at the shows,” and things like that, and that’s how that whole thing started.
PORTER: You’ve already touched on the fact that it was hard to meet payroll, especially with the speed that your advertising agencies would send money in, but when you started CT the SCTE was small. You said they thought they had…
LEVINE: They thought they had 2,000 members.
PORTER: They hoped they had 2,000. So the SCTE was not on sound financial footing then, anyhow, and here you are starting a magazine and you’re starting it in the face of some relatively giant magazines that had been in business for a long, long time. You left CED and they had been a well recognized and well read magazine. You had magazines like Cablevision and TV Communications and all the iterations. Those had been in place since… actually, TVC had been in place since the ’50s. Weren’t you a little scared to start a magazine back then? What made you think that you had any future?
LEVINE: You know, that’s very good Rex. It brings you back as to why you did something. Here I was in Denver; where was I going next? I have a lot of friends in the industry and I talked to a lot of people. I was at the Western Show, and that was in ’83, and I had people come up to me with their checkbooks saying, “I’ll buy an ad if you run a book. We really need an engineering book.” The fact of the matter was, I was publisher at one point of Cablevision and CED, but what I didn’t recognize because I’m not an engineer, never was an engineer, I have a good overview on certain things, but I’m not an engineer and never have been, although people mistake that at times that I know what I’m talking about when it comes to engineering. But I really started talking to people at the Western Show and what I found out was at the time the competition out there, all the competition, really didn’t give good stories that really effected the engineering community, gave them information on how to do their job, or gave them information about a certain technology that perhaps could help them within their system – not only run the system better, but to help them save money or make money.
PORTER: And you brought it down to grassroots level, while you kept good quality, high level engineering, lab engineering information, coming to them. I think from the start your format was sort of to intertwine that high level engineering, bring it down to a basic understanding so a guy out in the field could actually apply.
LEVINE: Right. What I wanted to do was, the point was we wanted to reach engineering from top to bottom, and for the top guys they have to manage the guys so they needed more information to give the guys to do a better job with, and we wanted to supplement whatever the SCTE had out there. We were there to support the SCTE. One of the things I always referred to is spokes of a wagon wheel, or spokes of a bike. We were just one of the spokes helping the engineering community, that’s all CT was. But within CT itself, we had different spokes that helped the magazine become what it was, which was a training manual in some ways, on a monthly basis, for the engineering community and a way for people to express what they were doing out there in the engineering community. We were pretty successful at it right from the very beginning and our leadership really grew. What was really interesting, as our leadership grew and to this day Communications Technology Magazine is still the largest published trade magazine in the cable television industry in North America – we went from 10,000 immediately up to 18,000 – what happened was the SCTE, the membership started to grow, the chapters started to grow, and today, as then, they were the fastest growing organization for our industry. What is the membership today? 17,000-18,000?
PORTER: I don’t know – a little over. Getting close to 20,000.
LEVINE: Getting close to 20,000 at this point in time. And how many chapters or meeting groups – 80?
PORTER: At least.
LEVINE: At least about 80. So, I mean, it has really grown from 1984 and really, this is only 18 years later, and if you look at that growth pattern, it grew very quickly in those few years that it was there. Bill Riker did an outstanding job, and it just grew. Everything just grew. The industry started growing, but the organization was there for the people that they created it for – the BCTE, the certification program, and we were there supplying information for those tests. We were there to supply information for the Cable Tech Expo, the registration kits and things like that, so we did whatever we could to promote the SCTE, therefore we were promoting not only the SCTE and the society, but at the same time the magazine was being promoted along with that, and it was a win/win situation.
PORTER: At the shows, you and I have both enjoyed talking about and participating, at the shows you did some novel things. They were really grassroots – I guess down South we’d call it good ol’ boy things – because you had…
LEVINE: I thought I wasn’t supposed to talk about those.
PORTER: Oh, sure. That’s one of the things that people remember that set CT apart from the other publications and magazines.
LEVINE: Well, one of the people who started this with me was a salesman who left and started another publishing company outside the industry. His name was Woody Sumner, and Woody was out of New York and he was my VP of sales. He was my original salesperson. But Woody and I, when we were looking at doing the magazine, we’re at that Western Show, and at the time Brunswick had a bowling alley across the street from the Anaheim Convention Center and Woody and I, we’re kind of lost between doing something and not doing anything, so we went over there – got a couple of bottles of champagne – went over and went bowling. And we said, “You know, what a great thing to do. You know, if we ever get this magazine off the ground, let’s have a bowling party.” Well, we got the magazine off the ground in February and in December of that year we started it. In 1984 we had a bowling party at that alley, and we had it switched to another one because they mowed that one down for a parking lot, but we ended up inviting every single one of the exhibitors, if they wanted to come over – engineering exhibitors because it was an engineering magazine – and we invited the board, the SCTE board, to come over and we had bowling and we started buying… we made our trip to the Knott’s Berry Farm and got all those jellies because it was Christmas time coming up. We used to make gift packages – everybody got something. We even had midnight bowling, we turned on the lights… it was a lot of fun.
PORTER: You gave everybody T-shirts so they had something to take away and remember…
LEVINE: I forgot about that. Yeah, T-shirts. Oh, yeah. So they had T-shirts and the first year we did it, the next day we all wore bowling shoes on the floor. So, when we stopped that I was absolutely amazed by the number of people that would come up to me and say, “When are you going to have that bowling party again?” Because I thought it was passé. People just loved it. There was a loyal following, which I’d never really realized. I just thought people came out because it was something for them to do. Really, Tuesday night before the Western Show would open up on a Wednesday, people were pretty much set up at that point in time, and they would come over and just have a good time. They could sit back and have pizza and beer and have bowling, and that’s what we did.
PORTER: It was a chance for people to let their hair down at the bowling alley and not have to dress up, and half the fun was you and your staff used to pick everybody up in a van and take them over and bring them back to the convention center.
LEVINE: I’m glad you remember that – I forgot.
PORTER: So it really was a novel idea. It gave people a chance to leave the convention floor and just almost return to normalcy that they would experience at home. So now you’ve got CT running…
LEVINE: I want to say one other thing about CT. The one thing I think I did that I think is a little innovative on the whole thing is I would not accept any advertising unless there was some engineering involved with the advertising. Most of the time people just took ads because “you got your name, we’ll put it up there”, and I said, “Look, I’m coming out with a technical publication, so if you’re going to put an ad in there that’s going to the engineers, make sure you have something about engineering in there, something technical that these guys can relate to. I think that’s an important aspect. We did that. There’s a few things – we did that, the other thing we did a few years down the road, one thing I recognized was that a lot of these top engineers, even if it was a Chiddix or a Luff or a Tony Werner, along those lines, wanted to give some information to let’s say the top management, if they weren’t technically involved, or had real technical know-how, they wouldn’t know what they were looking at, so what we developed were sidebars to every single one of the features that we were writing, which explained in layman’s terms what that technology meant to the bottom line, or at least what that technology would mean to a general manager of a system. And I think those are just two examples of some of the things that Communications Technology evolved to that helped the industry recognize that they were starting to become more sophisticated as well.
PORTER: And another thing that you had a complete understanding with your writers, any writers from the field, is that the articles couldn’t be product specific. I’ve never seen CT take a product or a company and promote their products. They just couldn’t do that, as much as that had been a rule with the SCTE.
LEVINE: Right, and Rex, you’re absolutely right. That was the original philosophy that’s still there today. At least I hope it’s still there today, and it’s something that I think really set the magazine above anything else that was being published at the time. It was a wonderful, wonderful time and we also, just to mention about technology real quick, we started the magazine as a pay stub. Everything was a pay stub. And now of course, everything’s digital. It’s just an interesting thing. Not many people realize that, but what was interesting was the transition going from pay stub to being computer and digital and everything else. My original artist, Brad Hamilton, made the transition, but the newer and younger people coming up, if they had a mistake and had to go back and set it, they fixed that mistake and all the sudden there was another mistake. So, it was pretty interesting.
PORTER: Some of your earlier issues took advantage – us being at The Cable Center and doing this interview as well as many others – you also gave the pioneers, although it embarrassed some of us, but you gave us a section in the magazine in certain months, and it was a little embarrassing because you called it the “Dinosaur Page”, but I’m hopeful that at some point The Center can make sure that they get those stories, because you got Len Ecker’s and the real old-times – Ben Conroy and Richard Schneider and these guys wrote stories about the ’50s and ’60s when cable was first getting started, and they were very interesting and very unique articles. You just always seem like you had an innovative idea for different segments of the industry so that even though they might not be engineers in the field, they had something to say about the history of engineering or making engineering more important to the industry, and you made that a part of CT. So, now you’ve got CT up successful, you’re struggling, you’re finally making your payroll. You have no Porsche, but…
LEVINE: I have no Porsche… that came actually right at the time when I went crying for help to Gene Schneider. Of course that was United Cable, at the time. Gene helped me out a lot. I mean, Richard was helping me out technically, Gene was helping me out with money, and I pulled up one time for a meeting with him and I was driving my father-in-law’s… because I had to get rid of the Porsche, right? So my father-in-law had passed away and he left us his car, which was from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and that was a ’71 classic Camaro, and I got so mad at it one time because it didn’t have springs that I kicked it and my foot went through the car. But anyway, you can imagine what a rust bucket it was, and Gene says, “What’s this?” I said, “Well, I had to sell my Porsche.” I think his jaw must have dropped at least a good six inches. Anyhow, Gene helped out and basically that was also based on not just Communications Technology, but we launched at that time something called the Tech Almanac, Communications Technology’s Tech Almanac, and that was like a buyer’s guide. If you go into a car parts store and you want to look up a car part? It was based on the same principle of looking up parts within the cable industry. Two things really happened off of that, and I went to quite a few people, not only Gene but Monty Rifkin, very pragmatic people, and taking a look at it he said, “Well, Paul, even if you sell it for this, you’re still going to make good money on this whole thing.” Well, I didn’t realize how long it was going to take to get up and running, and secondly, I really didn’t know the computer age was coming, and knowing what I know now, obviously, it’s something that should have been put on the computer rather than on what we were trying to do.
PORTER: But at that time everything was in catalogs. It kept a guy from having to have shelves and shelves of separate catalogs.
LEVINE: Right. I mean, the idea was good, and we were selling some copies. We sold like 384 issues, if I remember correctly, but the day we decided to close it down was the day I got the U.S. Navy contract. I was trying to get the government contracts because what people don’t realize is they have bases throughout the world, but they entertainment segments, communications segments, and they need supplies and equipment as well to man those various bases, and finally I had to go through all the government regulations and what have you, and the day we closed it down they called us up and said, “Okay, you guys can start selling to us.”
PORTER: Well, you’d be proud to know that that Tech Almanac is downstairs in The Cable Center and is prominently displayed down there.
LEVINE: I’ll have to see that. So anyhow, we went through that phase and we didn’t make money, but we didn’t lose money on that. It’s just something that wasn’t going where we wanted to go at the time, and so it was time to get out of it. At the same time we were looking at that, I started looking at the international market place and I talked to… the closest ally we had was the U.K. with their SCTE. Their SCTE was entirely different from what’s over here. It was really more for the top engineers rather than for all facets of engineering. Anyhow, I started looking at it and I was thinking that the international market place has grown. I started seeing where people started doing things on an international basis. ANTEC was looking at that.
PORTER: Jerry Pruzan was over there.
LEVINE: Jerry Pruzan was there, but also I talked to John Dolcrest who was with General Instruments, as it was called at the time, and John was a big proponent. He said, “I really think that you need to come over here.” So we started off the International Cable Magazine with just a UK distribution besides the United States, and we actually inserted their newsletter, the SCTE newsletter – the same concept and everything else. What we didn’t realize was that we had to be very careful because it was going to the UK as well as the United States, and there was another world out there and there were a lot of people that wanted to be associated more on a global basis, not to be associated just with the UK and the United States. So we had to make sure the writers were from different parts of the world and we were going to different shows. We created the Brazil show that was very successful and we started to get real well-known internationally. I was invited to give some talks over in Beijing a couple of times. We became the official publication in China. I was in Taiwan a few times. And those were the things that really started to bring a lot of recognition to the International Cable Magazine. Where it was interesting, the International Cable Magazine wasn’t as technical sometimes as what we had at Communications Technology, so we started developing also a readership in Communications Technology more so on an international basis. People wanted both. International Cable had more of an international flavor. So that grew very fast as well. It grew up to about 15,000 circulation.
PORTER: And this is about what year, now, that we’re talking about?
LEVINE: 1989 is when I started that. It was five years later, and at that point in time, when I had International Cable, Paul Maxwell and I became partners and put our companies together and we looked at other acquisitions, which was interesting. The investors at that point, because United Cable – I guess it was at that point that United Cable was involved with United Artists, so Gene’s board wanted him to get out of anything that had nothing to do with cable systems. So my new partners were Paul Maxwell, Terry Elks and Ken Gorman, with the Apollo Partners out of New York.
PORTER: Now this is Transmedia?
LEVINE: Now this is Transmedia Partners, and Paul and I just bid on something and it didn’t work out. Actually we bid on Multichannel News and Cablevision and CED and we lost out to another company. We were out to lunch, and about the third bottle of wine I turned to Maxwell and I said, “You know, people aren’t reading the way they used to read.” You’ve got to remember, this is 1990. “People aren’t reading the way they used read. They want things quicker, they want it faster. Why don’t we mess with people’s minds?” The fax machine was coming out then. I said, “Why don’t we come out with something with a fax for the cable industry?” Max turns to me and says, “I thought of that three years ago.” He says, “Yeah, we can call it CableFAX.” And that’s how CableFAX was born, and to this day it’s the longest running business fax in the United States.
PORTER: Officially known as CableFAX Daily.
LEVINE: CableFAX Daily. And we came out on April Fools Day, I’ll never forget that. And Max had a penchant for coming up with things to give away. He was very good at that. We came up with this dog called Scoop, had a little hat on it with a little CableFAX underneath his chin, but what we did, and it’s something that I really worked on, we did a couple of different things, which is, I think, interesting. One is we worked with the secretaries because we wanted everybody reading this thing. So, we got a form and we got it qualified by our auditing system, which is the BPA, that’s the auditing bureau for this thing, and they’d never qualified a fax, to the point where the president of the BPA – and they do thousands of magazines and books and things like that – came out to visit me and sit down and actually qualified this form that said people wanted to receive CableFAX because they were going to fax it back to us. What we did was we sent the form to the secretaries and said, “Put down whatever names you want this to go to and please sign it and send it back to us.” That’s how we qualified our circulation for our advertisers. And CNBC was one of the first advertisers to step up; they took a years contract with us and paid us upfront, and we were off and running. It was hard to sell… we came up with a price of, I don’t know, $150 and then it was $50, and then it was get three issues free, but it caught on and became a very productive piece. People are reading it to this day, and it was a lot of fun to start that up.
PORTER: So you’re running along now and you’ve got a multi-faceted company with publications and fax publications, so you’ve got probably the state of the art at that time, with fax because everyone was still using the fax, as you said, not many people were using the Internet. And this is now into the ’90s, the early ’90s.
PORTER: What happens… now we know that there comes a time where there are other people interested in your company as far as acquiring it and so forth. Is that about this time span?
LEVINE: 1993. It was Philips International, Publishing International, that was interested. Actually they came to us in ’91. They wanted to buy us back then.
PORTER: Now they’re out of Potomac, Maryland?
LEVINE: Out of Potomac, Maryland, and Tom Thompson was the president at that time and Tom Philips was the chairman, and Thompson wanted me to move to Washington D.C. at the time, and I just said to him, I said, “I have no plans to move back to Washington D.C.” And basically it went by the wayside. In ’93, at that time, Terry Elks and Ken Gorman wanted to get out, and I got in touch with… I just got through going through a cancer related illness and at that time we just wanted to see if someone was interested in the company, and they wanted us even worse than before, to the point that they said, “No, Paul, you can stay in Denver. I know the need of a Denver office. We just want to buy the company.” So, at that point in time, Communications Technology and International Cable were separate from CableFAX. Paul Maxwell and I had split off just prior to that to where he took CableFAX and two other publications and went one way, and I had Communications Technology and International Cable and we took it to Philips, and not too far down the road from that, after they acquired us, Maxwell was looking at some help and seeing what we could do with CableFAX, I got him to sell CableFAX to Philips, and they made him a very good offer. Of course, he’s still writing for it today.
PORTER: So you stayed around with Philips during the transition period?
LEVINE: In ’93 they gave me also a five year contract to stay with them, to be the senior publisher – founding senior publisher, whatever, titles, it changes by the day. But I stayed with them over the five years, past the ’98 cutoff date to about ’99.
PORTER: And about this time, similar to your and Paul’s, or whoever came up with it, but apparently to put it in action there were two of you, seeing that the state of the art was the fax machine, now you develop an idea that’s inline with the data side of the business. Would you care to go into that a little bit? Because it really was your idea, I was around and I can remember us discussing…
LEVINE: 1995. I wrote a business plan that was called InterCable, back then, for Philips, utilizing basically the Internet, and it really relates back to what happened with the Tech Almanac, realizing that the Tech Almanac at that point in time should have been on the computer. So I wrote a business plan and included a site that would include not just specifications of equipment, but it would include the CableFAX, CT, International Cable. It would include information that was pertinent to the cable industry. It would include marketing information, data that they can use above and beyond the specifications. Specifications catalogs, that was a separate button, so to speak. So I wrote it back in ’95 and in between running the magazines and everything else, it was something that Philips wasn’t ready to throw themselves into, or had a hard time understanding.
PORTER: And to think, one of the problems that you and I discusses, even at the outset, the opportunities were so limitless that it was hard to tie it to a specific avenue because once you put it onto a website and put it on the Internet, it had unlimited uses.
LEVINE: Right. And the fact of the matter is the engineering community, which I really probably am closer to than any of the other facets of cable, quite frankly needed their information quicker, faster, and easier. If you go into some of the – probably to this day – some of the MSOs, they have catalog rooms you walk into and if they have to look up a piece of equipment and compare it to something else, it’s a chore. I really looked at trying to make it easier for that particular community as part of that specification situation, and that was the key to everything that was there. At one point in time, when I was doing this whole thing, there were a couple of operators that were ready to step up with huge checks just for me to start doing it, but it wasn’t everybody. So if it wasn’t for everybody I couldn’t take one from one and not to it all the way down the road. Anyhow, what happened was the Internet started to become more prevalent, companies started to create their own sites, and Philips needed to have some kind of an Internet site, and Maxwell came back and was talking to them about it. We basically started BigPipe, which included all of the above of what we talked about, and it came at a time that we were trying to build it and it really got out of hand in some different ways. We had the original investors were Philips, Motorola and Gemstar, but along came September 11th and the economy and Motorola had a lot of layoffs, as well as Gemstar.
PORTER: As well as everybody.
LEVINE: As everybody. And it’s hanging in there. It’s still up today and it’s still being viewed, but it’s not everything it could have been.
PORTER: But at some point when the economy – he said as he crossed his fingers – when that straightens out, once again, its uses really are unlimited.
LEVINE: It is. I think it’s something that’s there that’s of tremendous value that can be utilized. Depending on which way the economy is going to turn, what they’re going to do, I think that the site can be of tremendous use.
PORTER: So in the meantime, with all of those cutbacks, just like every industry in the United States, you’ve gone away from that for the time being.
PORTER: I don’t want to get into your personal business, but you’ve got a few irons in the fire going forward. We’d like to see you back in the cable industry, but probably you’re more well-known throughout all of the segments of the industry. There are a lot of guys that are known from the programming side, and there are a lot of guys that are known from the operations side, and there are a lot of guys that are known from the engineering side. You’re probably the only guy who could go to any segment of the industry, the operators from the top CEO down, would all know who Paul Levine is. The engineers certainly would, and the programmers always felt like you were one of them anyhow, because you’ve worked every side of this industry. There are very few people that can say that they’ve done that.
LEVINE: Well, thanks, Rex. I know a few people here and there, and it’s always been a lot of fun. I’ve been very fortunate in the sense that I’ve had some outstanding people that have always been there for me, you being one of them. I talked about Gene Schneider, John Sie, Tony Werner, Bill Bresnan. A smile comes to your face when you start thinking of all these different stories. I’ve also sat on the board of trustees for many years with the Kaitz Foundation, so most of the people on that particular board are either the MSOs or the presidents and CEOs of all the programmers. This is one of the things that they support, and as you know, the Kaitz Foundation is for…
PORTER: And you went into the Cable Pioneers in what?
LEVINE: ’96, in Los Angeles at the Peterson Museum. You don’t forget, you know? You don’t forget. Even with the Kaitz Foundation, everything that I did… I printed the programs for years for the Kaitz Foundation. They did the cover because they always wanted the artistic thing, and I did the inside. The sold everything and kept the money. (LAUGHER) But we had fun. One year, I’ll tell you, when it originally started, Maxwell and I brought wine, when it was small. Now you go and it’s 2,000 of your closest friends. So, that’s a real source of pride for us in the industry. That and C-SPAN. Brian Lamb used to be western bureau chief for our Cablevision Magazine. You think back to all these different things. Paul Fitzpatrick, who used to be my editor-in-chief, became president of several different things including the Golf Channel, and he was president of C-SPAN when Brian was chairman, he still is chairman. I can go back to… well, I won’t tell you one story.
PORTER: Well, I’m sure that now that we’re at the end of the interview you’ll remember in the next 30 minutes 47 stories you can tell me.
LEVINE: I don’t know if I should spend that much time on camera though.
PORTER: Maybe we’ll do a part two one of these days. In the meantime, I want to thank you for joining us at The Cable Center today. I’ve enjoyed the interview. I hope I haven’t stepped on your toes as you’ve tried to tell your story too much. I just tried to keep you moving.
LEVINE: It’s hard when you’re sitting here to remember everything. I probably left out a lot of different people.
PORTER: At our age it’s hard to remember anything. Anyway, thank you for your time, I enjoyed it.
LEVINE: I did too.