Interview Date: Thursday January 28, 1999
Interview Location: Denver, CO
Interviewer: Jim Keller
Collection: Hauser Collection
KELLER: This is a project of the Gus Hauser Foundation Oral History Program of The National Cable Television Center and Museum. Today’s subject is Paul S. Maxwell, President of Media Business Corporation. Journalist, entrepreneur, cable pioneer, chronicler of the communications industry, consultant, poet, songwriter and mountain man. Your interviewer is Jim Keller. The date is January 28, 1999. We are at the studios of TCI in Denver, Colorado. Paul, give us a little bit about your history up until the time you got into the cable television industry.
MAXWELL: I’m from Texas and I wound up in Colorado which all smart Texans do. I grew up in Houston and on a ranch near Fort Worth, on my grandfather’s ranch. Actually where the Texas Rangers play now used to be where I rode fence every summer in high school and college. I went to SMU, graduated from there and from Perkins Theological Seminary with a master’s in theology and as I was graduating I decided I shouldn’t get ordained. I thought that was probably not where I should wind up my life. So in that era, that was 1965, it took the United States government about a month to find me and I got drafted. I went to basic training in Fort Leonardwood, Missouri, one of the true great spots on earth. It was interesting actually; the month I was gone between walking away from college and winding up in the army and actually getting tracked down and drafted, I hitchhiked around the world on airplanes. You used to be able to walk out and ask people where they were going and I got stuck in the Gobi Desert in Mongolia in a big snowstorm once and we were the only three people in the entire country that spoke English, I think, on a cargo plane. But I wound up then in the army at basic training, went to the Defense Language Institute to learn Russian and of course the United States Army promptly sent me to Vietnam. I spent a couple of tours in Vietnam as a writer for “Stars and Stripes” and as a combat historian, wound up in Colorado at Fort Carson. When I finally got out of the army; one of the things I’d done in college to make a living was write songs and was in a rock and roll band for a long time. We signed a big contract and went to California and they kicked me out of the band because I could neither sing nor play the guitar but I could write lyrics. So I had a couple of hit records in those days and I thought I’d go to California and get back in that business but I didn’t. I went to the University of Colorado to learn how to ski and went to graduate school in journalism because after being a journalist I thought I ought to learn what it was about. After a year of actually learning to ski and getting fairly good at that, I wound up looking for a job. I wanted to go into radio and that was the year ABC fired everybody so there were no jobs in radio. I wandered into this little trade publishing company in Englewood called Communications Publishing Corp. run by Stan and Bob Searle and Pat Polk and wound up working on a trade journal as a file clerk. A year later, actually fourteen months later, I was the editor-in-chief of the eight magazines they had.
KELLER: How did that happen?
MAXWELL: I killed everybody that was above me. (Laughter) No, I actually found I had something of a talent for not necessarily journalism, but magazines. Especially trade magazines, which I am still involved with, as you know. First, I was working on the two way radio book, called Communications and that had taken me off on a tangent and I got to make a big success because I had this really brilliant idea of asking the readers what they wanted to read. I completely repositioned the magazine and in less than a year we were doing very, very well. They then sort of bounced a guy out and I wound up with CATV New Weekly.
KELLER: This was also one of the Searle publications?
MAXWELL: These are all Stan and Bob’s publications at the time.
KELLER: What year was this?
MAXWELL: That was about ’69, ’70, ’71. It was right at the end of ’69 I think that I went to work for the Searles.
KELLER: Do you remember some of the stories you worked on during this first year?
MAXWELL: Well, the first trade convention I ever went to was at the old Shoreham Hotel in Washington and that was an interesting thing. There couldn’t have been more than 12, 13 million subscribers to cable at that time. It was a very small system and the convention was at that old rambling hotel near Washington D.C. I guess it was in the District but it was a funky old place, it was falling down, and the convention center was just ragged. I remember one of the first people I met was Danny Mezzalingua in the Craftsman days and then I didn’t know anything about cable television even though I’d been running the magazines for a little while. That’s how that business works, but Danny showed me about splitters, about taps, about amplifiers, about all that stuff, and he was the first guy that showed me that. Bob Grieder worked for him back then and Bob is still one of my very closest friends. We then went to visit a system and as I got more involved in it, I thought, gee, this is kind of fun, and there was an FCC freeze that was just coming off about that time and there was some new capital coming into the industry. As you know, this has been a fits and starts business from the very beginning. It will be a Wall Street darling one day, and the FCC does something dumb and we’re in deep trouble the next day, and that back and forth. So it was an interesting time to wander into the business and fortunately or unfortunately, I’ve never been able to wander out.
KELLER: Always from one point to another?
MAXWELL: Well, I got fired a lot along the way but never was able to get too far away.
KELLER: Your resume and background indicates that you had been involved with 35 magazines over a period of time. How many of these were with the Communications Publishing Company or the Searle Group?
MAXWELL: I guess there were six, I think, at the time and then we started the first ever non-Bell telephony magazine while I was there, which was one of my first original ideas. It didn’t last very long but it was an interesting thing. That was at the first beginning of Interconnect and we started something called Telephone Business Journal and it took off. We did pretty good. That was the Carter fund decision at first, began the thing that dismantled the telephone hygodomy later.
KELLER: Was that the initial portion of Tim Wirth’s attempt?
MAXWELL: The very first. That was actually – Tim was from Boulder and I still had a very close relationship with some people at the University of Colorado and met Tim just as he was beginning to start to run. Actually I had the great thrill of bringing him to the first ever cocktail party to give him money that the cable industry did.
KELLER: Was this when he was running for the House or when he was running for the Senate?
MAXWELL: In the House. The very first race.
KELLER: So you met him at that point, but never having any idea that he was going to be involved in the telecommunications business as much as he became involved.
MAXWELL: No, not at all, but he understood a lot of the issues that the cable industry was faced with which was basically, you can’t go do that because nobody did it, and he was of a nature that thought people ought to at least be allowed to try. So to de-regulate from the Federal Communications Commission standpoint, from the Senate Commerce Committee and House Commerce Committee standpoints, he was a major help to us in those days.
KELLER: We’re still talking about Tim Wirth and this was in 1972 when he was making his first run from the House of Representatives from the Colorado 2nd District and you got acquainted with him at that point?
MAXWELL: Yes, through a mutual friend of ours who was a professor at the University of Colorado. I got invited to a luncheon thing and we wound up sitting next to each other. I was talking about cable television problems and he was talking about telephone company problems. I knew John Carter actually, the guy who the Carter Fund Decision was named after. He wanted to attach a little gizmo to a two way radio to connect to the telephone system so that a two way radio could be connected through to a phone call and the Bell system of course went ape and sued. Finally John just through ignorance and persistence actually, beat them. I was talking about Carter and Tim wanted to meet him so we set up a meeting and Tim got to be a pretty good friend over the years.
KELLER: This was the Carter telephone case as opposed to the Carter mountain case which was a microwave case earlier on.
MAXWELL: That was a totally different thing in a totally different part of the world. John Carter was from Dallas.
KELLER: He did win that as I recall.
MAXWELL: Yes. It was the first time you could put a non AT&T or Bell Labs approved device and connect it to the American telephone system.
KELLER: As I recall, though, there were similarities to the Carter mountain case because that was an interconnect with the AT&T microwave at that point.
KELLER: So you were talking about this with Tim and then you kept up your relationship with Tim all the way through?
MAXWELL: Oh yeah, he was a nice guy and later my father-in-law here in Colorado was a United States Senator from here, so we had some political interests in common.
KELLER: Both were Democrats?
MAXWELL: Yes. I’m one of cable’s few latent left wingers.
KELLER: What was Senator Haskell’s first name?
KELLER: Floyd, Floyd Haskell, that’s right. Peter Dominic beat him didn’t he?
MAXWELL: No, Floyd beat Peter.
KELLER: Floyd beat Peter Dominic, that’s right. What year was that?
KELLER: What were you doing during the campaign?
MAXWELL: That one nothing. I was not that close to them then. Actually, I worked for Tim as a volunteer in most of his campaigns, including his first Senate campaign and so on, and most of his House campaigns.
KELLER: This was also pretty much the high point of cable franchising efforts throughout the country, especially in medium to mid-size markets at that point.
MAXWELL: It was the migration from the rural to the exurban to the suburban to the urban and as we got to bring more programming every step it made more sense, consequently, that land rush was underway at all that time.
KELLER: After the advent of the satellite delivered programs?
MAXWELL: No, that accelerated it but before that because of microwave and the old leapfrog distant signals, and don’t forget Home Box Office really and truly changed the whole concept of it. Remember there was Best Vision, Channel 100, I can’t remember all the different people who tried the same thing but that made the franchising process reinvigorate because we could sell them something else. If you remember, then the basic rates were kind of frozen and only a premium service allowed us to charge something else and it’s to this day, the financial structure of cable makes very little sense from a base economic base this is your profit. But because of all those legacies that the government piled on us, we have to charge things like $10 bucks a month for HBO.
KELLER: At that time also, I believe and correct me if I’m wrong, but we finally agreed to pay copyright at about that time which then opened up an awful lot of programming to us.
MAXWELL: Well it did. That changed the whole aspect of distant signals for one thing. Remember at first, we couldn’t import the next city over? You had to go to the further city, so you’d wind up with Denver and you’d have to go to St. Louis for the signal instead of Omaha because the huge explosion in UHF stations hadn’t happened yet either. That grew up as cable grew and when the copyright finally came, we were able to relax that. That made TBS possible or TCG at that time, made what Turner was doing even more possible.
KELLER: It also allowed us to buy movie packages from the distributors in Hollywood and elsewhere. You talked about Ted Turner and his development. You were right in there on the ground floor of that one or real near it.
MAXWELL: I got to watch. I was sitting next to Ted when he flipped the switch that turned the satellite on that took TBS up, or it was still TCG then.
KELLER: Do you remember what he went through to try to get that accomplished?
MAXWELL: Yes. There’s actually some great stories about why he’s on which satellite and Ed Taylor was the Western Union satellite salesman who had talked Ted into putting WTCG up on the satellite which was Channel 17, a UHF station in Atlanta. All of the sudden, Ted realized that HBO was already on the satellite but they were on an RCA satellite. All of these ten thousand dollars, if you remember that’s what a dish cost then, ten meters…
KELLER: It was one hundred thousand dollars at one time.
MAXWELL: Well, that was the very first one, but I actually helped Dick Jackson install the dish in Vero Beach that did the “Thrilla from Manila”, the very first HBO satellite broadcast. I tightened bolts.
KELLER: What year was that?
MAXWELL: That was ’75, yes that was 1975. That was the late summer of ’75 because we launched CableVision Magazine in September of that year and the party that took place at the Holiday Inn in Vero Beach, there are photographs of that in the first issue of CableVision.
KELLER: Who’s system was Vero Beach?
MAXWELL: UA Columbia, Bob Rosencrans – was the host actually and it was a helluva good party. Irving Kahn was there and Gerry Levin was there, I think even Biondi was there because he was an accountant at HBO at that time.
KELLER: Jeff Dolan’s idea though, wasn’t it?
MAXWELL: Yes it was. Chuck started HBO but by this time it was Time, Inc. and actually the Time, Inc. jet picked me up in Denver and took me to Vero Beach.
KELLER: As a journalist you got these perks?
MAXWELL: I got these perks as a journalist, yes. I was covering it actually. But it was a great party by the way.
KELLER: Now, Vero Beach and Jackson, Mississippi went up at the same time didn’t they?
MAXWELL: Yes, because Monte Rifkin made sure that the ATC system in Jackson got to be day and date with Bob Rosencran’s system.
KELLER: I thought they went up on pretty much the same day.
MAXWELL: They did, very same day.
KELLER: Do you know who followed after that?
MAXWELL: No, I don’t remember what the third one was. I know that Dick Jackson’s construction company was the one that put all the dishes in and they were all SA dishes back in those days.
KELLER: I remember when a three meter dish was going for a hundred thousand dollars initially and that came down in a hurry, though.
MAXWELL: It came down in a big hurry. It came down in a hurry because in order to get the distribution, HBO actually underwrote the purchase of the dishes and talked Sid into a big huge discount on a volume purchase and that drove the price down to start.
KELLER: That’s the first time I’ve heard that story. That’s interesting to me.
MAXWELL: It’s true. HBO financed all those dishes.
KELLER: Well they had to or they would have no place to deliver it.
MAXWELL: That’s right.
KELLER: This is 1975, the first program delivered via satellite by HBO. Ted Turner had been up on the satellite prior to this, is that correct?
MAXWELL: No, he came up later. He came up just after. It was October or November of the same year, ’75 I think, or ’76 in January or February. I remember it was cold in the trailer where I was sitting next to Ted when he flipped the switch. We were out in dish farm by the Tech Wood, that old country club that he converted into his offices. It might have been February in ’76 that he turned it on.
KELLER: And from there the industry just burgeoned.
KELLER: You were a very vital part of it in reporting what was happening in the industry.
MAXWELL: Yes, I get to watch it.
KELLER: You did all right watching it. What other stories were you covering at that time, do you remember?
MAXWELL: Right about then, actually that was some of the first consolidations that happened. It was right at the time Irving Kahn got out of jail and started building in New Jersey with the franchises he got that he wound up selling to the New York Times, what, five, six years later? Seven years later maybe. Irving sort of came out of the blue. I’d just started CableVision Magazine and I got a letter from him that he was getting out of prison shortly because he, in my estimation, took a fall for the industry.
KELLER: That’s back up and tell that story about what happened there.
MAXWELL: Well, it was in the earlier part of the franchising wars and the city council, actually the mayor, who wound up testifying against Irving, demanded a bribe which I think by definition is extortion but Irving paid it.
KELLER: With a corporate check.
MAXWELL: With a corporate check, I know, a TelePrompTer corporate check, which by definition is bribery. So they were both guilty, but Irving wound up going to prison actually and in one of the great financial stories of this business, he had to sell all his stock. He had to sell his stock, by the way, at right off its height – ever. It would just bump down when he had to and while he was in jail, Jack Kent Cooke wound up running TelePrompTer and he had to run in place pretty fast to get anything back up in the stock.
KELLER: The story goes that Irving was the only one that made any money out of the TelePrompTer when he was forced to sell it.
MAXWELL: That’s true. Well, I bet Les Read made a couple bucks because he was back there then.
KELLER: In any event, then you got this letter from Irving when he was in jail. What did it say?
MAXWELL: Well actually he wondered what happened to me. I’d been fired by the Searles right after a convention which is their habit and I’d actually moved up to Aspen for a while and skied that winter. I had a very, very good time, but Bob Titsch and I got together. Titsch had been the head of sales for the Searles and I had been the editor-in-chief for the Searles, so Bob thought he couldn’t get any further with the Searles so he and I started CableVision in September of ’75. When that came out, Irving got a hold of a copy of it and wrote me a note, because I had a column in it, wrote me a note and said he was glad to see me back in the industry and that he’d wondered what the hell had happened to me and he was getting out of jail soon and after he was in New York for a couple months, he’s like to come to Denver and visit and lay out where he thought the future of the industry was going. That started a relationship that lasted up until the day he died.
KELLER: Did that give you a story at that time for your new magazine?
MAXWELL: No, I didn’t want to cover him that way. I haven’t always written what I’ve seen and done which is partly why I’m still around in this business, because people still talk to me. But Irving came. Later, though, the first speech that Irving gave after he was out of jail was to the Texas Association in the old Marriot on Stemmons Freeway in Dallas and I went to that and Linda Brodsky wrote the speech for him. She was the best PR speech writer in the early days of cable by far, I think. Just a hell of a writer and Irving began his speech by saying, “As I was so rudely interrupted…”
KELLER: I remember that. I’ve got the speech.
MAXWELL: Yes, so have I and I used that speech in a column later and Irving appreciated that, and so did Linda. But we covered him straight ahead, not every time I talked to him. Every time I went to New York for years, I would have lunch or dinner with him.
KELLER: How did you finance CableVision Magazine?
MAXWELL: We borrowed about thirty grand but we were cash flow positive from the second issue, which is one of those rare bang startups.
KELLER: This was out on the hustings, selling the ads?
MAXWELL: Selling the ads, right.
KELLER: How about the subscriptions?
MAXWELL: Controlled subscriptions in the trade business. You just send them to people whether they want it or not and then you try to qualify them in the right thing for BPA statements and audit statements and stuff. Really in this business, if you’re good at it and you get people reading it, then they’ll pay, but they very often won’t pay up front.
KELLER: That’s not unusual.
MAXWELL: No, it’s a standard technique in the business.
KELLER: So how vis-à-vis you’re former magazine, which was CATV, did you do over the first year, first two years, first five years?
MAXWELL: Well, it was gone within three or four years.
KELLER: CATV was gone?
MAXWELL: Yes, right, and it merged itself with TV Communications. They had a monthly and a weekly. They combined them into a bi-weekly and every other week and by that time we were taking CableVision weekly. It simply blew the other buys away.
KELLER: There was another magazine at this time, or was Bob Houston earlier than that.
MAXWELL: Earlier. That was in the CATV News Weekly days. That was the first competitor to the Searles, actually and Bob Houston was quite a mercurial character and it didn’t last but maybe three and a half years or so.
KELLER: It wasn’t long, I remember that. Now, you’re placing yourself not within the niche of the cable television industry.
MAXWELL: No, I’m a publisher.
KELLER: You’re magazine, CableVision Magazine, niche was the cable television industry.
MAXWELL: Period. Aimed straight at cable – operators and programmers.
KELLER: How did that fit in with Broadcasting Magazine, with Al Warren’s publications at that point? Were you in any way competitive with them? Did you fill in situations that they weren’t covering, or how did that work?
MAXWELL: Broadcasting Magazine, I think to this day, even though they call it Broadcasting & Cable now, is somewhat disdainful of cable. That cable was a parasite on the broadcasting body and they always, to me, denigrated and looked down at cable and cable operators and so on.
KELLER: Do you think that’s still the case?
MAXWELL: I think they would argue it’s not but I would suggest they read their own book. I still think it’s the case. Multichannel News far and away runs the most cable related advertising .
KELLER: Oh, I don’t doubt that at all.
MAXWELL: But Broadcasting & Cable tries to sell against them. CableWorld runs more advertising than Broadcasting & Cable does in the cable business. CableFax damn near does.
KELLER: Warren is still putting out his Television Digest…
MAXWELL: Yes, it’s superb!
KELLER: How is that… Well we haven’t gotten into where you’ve gone since then. We’re still back in the early days of CableVision Magazine. You said after your second publication you were in the black and you were able to sustain yourself after that.
MAXWELL: Yes. We grew real fast.
KELLER: Who else was associated with you at CableVision?
MAXWELL: Bob Titsch.
KELLER: Bob Titsch. Anyone else?
MAXWELL: Paul Fitzpatrick, later. Nobody else is still around.
KELLER: I think a lot of people remember Paul.
MAXWELL: Well, yes. He’s at the Golf Channel now. He’s a good guy. Well, Brian Lamb, too. Brian was our Washington correspondent for a while and he dreamed up C-Span while he was working for us. Bob and I thought that was a fabulous idea and gave him, I guess enough rope to hang himself because he made it work. C-Span is one hell of a wonderful thing.
KELLER: I had the opportunity to interview Brian not too long ago and he gives you and Bob that credit for assisting him in getting it done and also for allowing him a job while he was getting it done.
MAXWELL: One of the great things about the cable industry and the people in it, if you become one of the people in it who gives back to the industry, it’s not forgotten. Look at Bill Daniel’s life and even some of the guys who were stingier than Bill, which probably is everyone on earth, it’s the nature of this business. There are a lot of friends in this business. It’s more than just business. Always has been.
KELLER: We are a family, there’s no question about that. We were talking yesterday with an old timer in the business who said that there were very few people that he has known over the fifty years that he’s been in the business that he really dislikes.
MAXWELL: Less than a handful. I mean, I can think of a couple.
KELLER: He could mention only one.
End of Tape 1, Side A
Start of Tape 1, Side B
KELLER: We were talking about the cable television industry being made up of people who consider themselves to be family to each other and I think you’ve experienced that over the years. You were just talking about that, and I know I have in the years that I’ve been involved in it and we were saying that there were very few people that you can really classify as less than stellar. Very few, unlike a whole lot of other industries.
MAXWELL: I grew up in Houston, of course, and the oil industry or, I’m sorry, the oil business has a ton of people that aren’t quite, you know, they can’t even be described.
KELLER: How long did CableVision Magazine last, Paul?
MAXWELL: It’s still going.
KELLER: How long were you associated with it?
MAXWELL: About three years. Titsch and I came to a parting of the ways and I got fired again. He owned more stock than I did, so he won the argument and I actually wondered off again back into the mountains. This time I went to Summit County where I still have a home and still live. This was about ’78, I think, and I got involved in Floyd’s campaign for re-election, wooing my current bride…
KELLER: Is that how you met her, during the campaign?
MAXWELL: No, actually she had wandered in. Titsch and I in the meantime had bought Colorado Magazine and Colorado Business Magazine and Evie wandered in one day wanting to write for Colorado Business Magazine and do a column and I didn’t that was a very good idea, but I hired her to be editor of Colorado Magazine. Three months later I was gone, and I thought that allowed me to call her, which I did. I then started Denver Business World and did a television show in Denver on channel 2 – a weekly business show, which I scripted, wrote, hosted and produced and sold the ads and made money and did a radio show at the same time. Then I was having dinner one night in ’79, I think it was, with a local guy here named Charles Cluworth who owned a magazine in the plastics industry. I had met him over the years. He’s a big, gregarious, socially connected, Denver guy and then in the plastic business, he’s a major figure and he invited me to dinner one night with somebody from Fairchild, or Capital Cities, which owned Fairchild at that time and it turned out this guy…
KELLER: Fairchild Publications?
MAXWELL: Fairchild Publications. It turned out this guy, who’s a real character named John Saez, came to town to take a look at acquiring Titsch; couldn’t get along him. He didn’t know anything about me, but Cal was an old friend of John Saez’s and invited me to dinner. On a napkin we did a business plan and a deal, which resulted in the startup of Multichannel News in 1980, which took six months to get cash flow positive.
KELLER: So he did not buy Titsch Publications.
MAXWELL: He did not buy Titsch Publications, right.
KELLER: What was Bob Titsch doing at this point?
MAXWELL: He was running his company which had grown to maybe fifteen, eighteen magazines or so.
KELLER: Who took your place?
MAXWELL: Fitzpatrick. I think. I went skiing again. (Laughter)
KELLER: To lick your wounds, huh?
MAXWELL: Well, no. I wasn’t broke so. Titsch was not unfair. Entrepreneurs clash. There is no question about that. Some people like me need to run their own worlds or they don’t get along too well.
KELLER: Then you went into Multichannel News.
MAXWELL: Yes, we started Multichannel News in 1980 with Fairchild backing and Cluworth had part of it and I had part of it and they were, Capital Cities, were among the best partners I’ve ever experienced in my lifetime. A class act from day one. Great guys.
KELLER: Multichannel News was not, or was it a magazine at that point or was it a newspaper?
MAXWELL: We started it as a newspaper, as a weekly. Every publication I’ve ever started is very unlike what’s gone before. I don’t like copying myself but the subject was the same, it was aimed at the cable television industry but we thought in 1980 that cable would be multi-channel, like it actually turned out to be, and used that name to try to differentiate ourselves and used newsprint to give the idea of urgency and immediacy and it worked. It became, in less than a year it was bigger than CableVision, my old book, and about a year and a half after that started, finally the Searles books disappeared into…
KELLER: Connor? Did Connor buy them at that point?
MAXWELL: No, it wasn’t Connor that bought it. It was some Atlanta business company. I can’t remember their name.
KELLER: Didn’t Connor buy them at one time or was that later?
MAXWELL: No, Leslie Connors now owns CableVision and Multichannel News.
KELLER: So, they put those together. How long did you stay with Multichannel News?
MAXWELL: Five and a half years and then I triggered a payout. I actually went skiing on purpose this time, instead of getting fired. (Laughter)
KELLER: This was a weekly?
MAXWELL: Yes, it was a weekly.
KELLER: How were you able to get enough material to come out with a weekly?
MAXWELL: Oh, there’s always plenty of material in this. I wound up starting a daily in 1989 and we’ll get to that later, but there’s always been more than enough new. Actually, while at Multichannel News, in about ’84, actually in about ’83 it was, we were having a problem with feeding from all the bureaus because I created bureaus in Washington, New York, L.A., and our headquarters were here in Denver. We had the best startup Fairchild had ever seen and at one of their meetings they asked us why that was and I said it was because we were 2500 miles away from the decision makers. 2500 miles away from my partners and we could do what we wanted. It’s always easier to ask for forgiveness than permission, but we were remarkable successful. I was struggling with moving copy around and I went down to US West, which was at that time Mountain Bell of course here in town, because I had read a magazine about computers. Datamation, I think, the magazine was called, about a new product they had to move text, this was primitive times, this was ’83, and you couldn’t buy them though. They were used internally by Bell System. I went down to Mountain Bell and we found a senior vice-president, who got fired a couple years later for not asking permission, I think. We talked him into putting these devices into all of our offices so we could move text.
KELLER: Fax machine?
MAXWELL: No, it was not a fax machine. It wasn’t Telex either. It was computer data bits over telephone. It was the first modems, actually. They were modems with their own keyboard and their own little mini screen.
KELLER: In ’83?
MAXWELL: In ’83 this is, okay. We were using the fax that Exxon made and that, you know fax machines were, have been around for forty, fifty years, I guess…
KELLER: They didn’t come into prominence until the mid-’80’s though.
MAXWELL: No, but the army used them to move maps around in the ’60’s. I know, we did that. Actually, when I was in the artillery, we had the first computer made to go out with the guns. It didn’t work though, they forgot that every place isn’t paved, because Vietnam wasn’t all paved in those days, but we talked Mountain Bell into putting these things in for us. It was the first computer not in the accounting department at Fairchild.
KELLER: Would they put them in for you in other locations around the country?
MAXWELL: Yes, they did. So that we could tie together to here, so we could edit at the last minute and get stories in at the last minute, and we moved straight from that to a typesetter. This was before the computers set their own type like we do today, and we had that so we cut a whole day out of the production cycle and I rented these things on the regular telephone bill instead of a capital cost. Fairchild didn’t figure out we had these until four months later, of course.
KELLER: How did you run across them?
MAXWELL: Well, I’d read about it in Datamation and I couldn’t understand why they couldn’t sell them to me, but I talked them into leasing them to me.
KELLER: Typical telephone company.
MAXWELL: Very typical telephone company, but it took a whole day out of the production cycle. It was a remarkable step forward for a publication. So we were more urgent than our competitors. We had later news than our competitors and it really worked, and then we drop shipped the papers around the country so we got better distribution. By the time I left we were flying them to eight places.
KELLER: How were they distributed from there?
MAXWELL: Mail. You’re still stuck with the mail no matter what you do.
KELLER: Do you remember who your bureau chiefs were in your various bureaus and how many have stayed in the industry?
MAXWELL: Well, Tom Southwick was my editor and then a couple of years after I left, he left to start his own magazine, CableWorld, and he’s done very well and he’s still in the industry.
KELLER: Very much so.
MAXWELL: He just wrote a history of the industry which is just terrific.
KELLER: I want to talk about the MAXWELL: Awards a little bit later.
MAXWELL: He’s getting one of those. Joe Boyle was in New York for us. As a reporter, he’s now a senior marketing guy with, I think he’s a senior affiliate relations guy with Encore. Peggy Condor, her name is now, was here in Denver for us, and Casey Neil and they’re still writing in the business.
KELLER: What was Peggy Condor’s maiden name, do you remember?
MAXWELL: I’m trying to remember.
KELLER: She worked under her maiden name, if you remember.
MAXWELL: Right, at the time. Who else was back then? This is a high turnover business so I don’t remember everybody.
KELLER: You had bureaus in New York, Washington, Los Angles, and Denver. Didn’t have one in Atlanta?
MAXWELL: Not then. We had a sales office in Atlanta, which seemed to be more prudent than a reporter at first. We did have a reporter there, I guess, by the time I left.
KELLER: Fairchild, obviously, was very pleased with the way things were going.
MAXWELL: Yes. Fairchild, which was owned by Capital Cities, we had the second highest margin on a cash flow basis within Fairchild. The first was W, a Women’s Wear Daily spinoff, which has an obscene operating picture, just beautifully obscene actually. The two of us were behind the television station in Houston and we beat a bunch of television stations with our margins which is frankly why I cashed out and went skiing.
KELLER: Before anything could happen to it? (Laughter)
MAXWELL: Yes. I think I got out at one of the highs.
KELLER: After you got out of Multichannel News, where did Paul MAXWELL: go then?
MAXWELL: Well, I joined the partnership of McGraw-Hill and TCI to create something called Express Information Services.
KELLER: What year was this?
MAXWELL: 1985. I was the founding president of that. It was an interesting partnership. It was one of those cases where we went outside the industry to get an information flow. This was an interesting business at this time. This is the year of Commodore Computers at 64K. The Mac was introduced in ’84 with 64K and expandable to 128. The first 512K machines were coming out right as we started this. What we did was we took 104 newswires from around the word, we coded every story against a matrix that we developed, ran it through a machine in Boulder, of all places, where we had all these newswires coming in, encoded these things, redistributed them, sent it to Atlanta over a dedicated wire, up on a satellite on the sub-carrier of CNN to every cable system in the country and we fed all this news into PCs in 1985 and made it work. It actually worked. You could get more than you can off the internet now using a 512K machine and it was like that (snap). It caught what went by, our software caught what went by, but people couldn’t quite grasp the idea of data over a cable system and we had one good market in all of America.
KELLER: Although we had been talking about it for years.
MAXWELL: Yes, but the consumer hadn’t been talking about it. We were way ahead of the curve and we had one good market and that was Honolulu. Honolulu at the time, by the way, was the only major American downtown business district wired for cable.
KELLER: That was the only one at that point?
MAXWELL: The only one in ’85. Times have changed in the last 14 years awfully fast.
KELLER: How long did you work with Express?
MAXWELL: A little over two years. McGraw-Hill turned out to be not of this industry.
KELLER: Cultural differences would you say?
MAXWELL: A little. McGraw-Hill and I found a parting of the ways and TCI tried to be helpful.
KELLER: So what happened to Express? It just folded?
MAXWELL: No, it ran along kind of on a sub basis run by a guy that’s now at the CableLabs. Good guy – Jerry Bennington. Smart man, who was actually Malone’s roommate in college, believe it or not. He ran that for a lot of years and then Reuters finally bought it from TCI and then folded it because Reuters couldn’t make it work. It was the basic idea of the distributed newsgroups today but it was way ahead of its time.
KELLER: How many computers were there going, even in Honolulu to be able to pick it up?
MAXWELL: There were nowhere near enough, it turned out, but we made this work. It was a pioneering experience that got me interested in computers and data transfer and how to do that. Of course I’d done that in ’83 by leasing and by this time the PCs were coming along and as I left Multichannel News, I was just shifting everything to PCs and to a central modem bit, but one of the reasons I’d triggered was our margins were so good and my pay out was based on that and I didn’t want to wait around for their capital costs.
KELLER: Did you ever go back to print?
MAXWELL: Yes. Actually started a newsletter in, I guess it was ’88, called Media Business News. It was Media Business News and it tried to do something completely different. We tracked every transaction in the media; print, billboards, radio, cable, television stations, shoppers, you name it. We were tracking every transaction. In fact, in 1989 we ran more tombstones in Media Business News than the Wall Street Journal did.
KELLER: Where did you get your information?
MAXWELL: We asked everybody involved in the business to report to us and after about six or eight months, they did.
KELLER: Including McGraw-Hill and others?
MAXWELL: Everybody, and especially every broker in the world was a fan of ours, and we did really well with the newsletter until the comptroller of the currency redefined highly leveraged transactions.
MAXWELL: No, this is ’89 this time. This is the second time he did it and the deals stopped, literally. We didn’t have any tombstones. So I sold it.
KELLER: To whom did you sell it?
MAXWELL: To European Business and Finance, which later sold to Phillips.
KELLER: Do they still have it?
MAXWELL: No, it disappeared.
KELLER: There seem to be a lot of things that have disappeared after you left. As long as you were there, they were doing fine.
MAXWELL: Well, no. I blew a couple, too. (Laughter)
KELLER: Tell me about the ones you’ve blown.
MAXWELL: I had some really stupid ideas. I tried another telephone book one time and ran right into a brick wall, but I knew enough about how the economics of the trade publishing business worked to punt quickly. If they don’t work, they don’t work. So, beating my head against the wall has never been part of my…
KELLER: Then did you go skiing again?
MAXWELL: No, actually this time, I turned around and bought some other publications. CT, Communications Technology and then we launched a magazine called MSO that didn’t last very long, about a year and a half, but it was still going when I sold out of the company. In looking at marketplaces, it was crowded at the time, in ’89, but I started something called CableFax which is a daily news publication which is delivered by facsimile machines and in ’89, you’d be surprised, not every office had one. In fact, Amos Hostetter wouldn’t return our calls asking for his fax number until we’d been up and running for about a month and then he called and asked could he please get CableFax. It was another almost instant success.
KELLER: This was through the fax machine.
MAXWELL: The fax machine. We would put it together every afternoon and fax it overnight when the rates were cheaper and we talked Sprint into broadcast faxing for us.
KELLER: How long did that last?
MAXWELL: It’s still going.
KELLER: How long were you with it then?
MAXWELL: I still am partly. Actually, we dissolved the company that owned CT and we sold bits and pieces off of it. I kept it, and a magazine called Newspapers and Technology, which is a magazine about newspapers for the newspaper business and kept CableFax and nurtured it and in 1993, in December of ’93, I sold it to Phillips Publishing and kept a carried interest. We actually had built up to, we had sixteen to eighteen employees again, and I wanted to cut it back. I sold both of those publications but kept an interest in them and then started some others, because I didn’t want to manage that big a company.
KELLER: You’re still doing a column for CableFax?
MAXWELL: Right, and I still, up until December of last year, I still owned a significant portion of it, but now I’m expecting any day a nice check.