Rob Marshall

Rob Marshall

Interview Location: Kansas City, Missouri USA
Interview Date: July 29, 2014
Interviewer: Stewart Schley
Collection: Cable Center Oral History Program

Stewart Schley: Your entry path into cable was unique. Just talk about how you got into this business in the early 1970s.

Rob Marshall: I got out of the military in 1970. I’d been a radio relay and carrier crew chief and I was fortunate enough to return to college at the University of Kansas. I had always enjoyed writing so I took up course work in journalism and I got a Bachelor of Science in journalism and I went on to get a Master’s degree in radio-TV-film. During that time I went from print to radio to television to film to cable TV. The industry was started in 1948, as I recall, because the FCC had frozen licensing of broadcast stations. So those people who were outside of any service area of an existing station at that time couldn’t get TV and also people who wanted to sell TVs couldn’t sell them to people who couldn’t receive it.

As I understand it, entrepreneurs started setting up antennas, which was something I understood and receiving signals and transporting them via cable to homes that could then see TV. I’m not positive about this, but I think around 1968, the FCC issued a First Report and Order that pretty much froze the cable industry in terms of new systems. During that time, a lot of think tanks began to take a look at cable TV. They had a term I quite like called “television of abundance.” There was one called the Sloan Commission Report, there was one by the Rand Corporation and others. They predicted things like transmitting Encyclopedia Britannica in a microsecond. Well, that sounded pretty good to me. But in my course work, we used a broadcasting text called “Broadcasting in America,” by Head and Head, I believe, and Chapter 7.2.2, they said, “Cable television: parasitism in the TV set.” So from the outset, cable had to struggle against broadcasting, even though broadcasters had this little secret when they charged for advertising. They’d say, “Well, our signal covers this area…”

Schley: Thanks to cable.

Marshall: …carried by cable in these places. But they fought the cable industry. We also had very powerful forces in the utility industry, both the telephone companies and the power companies that kind of had their eye on cable. So cable was always somewhat of an underdog at the beginning. We had a cable system that had started in Lawrence, Kansas, in the early Seventies and as an intern, I went down there and did production work, stood behind the camera, was a floor manager and that sort of thing. That cable system had a substantial local origination programming arm, had a studio, remote vans and really did it right. We worked for free at that time.

Schley: As any good intern might, yes.

Marshall: So I got to know the people at the local cable system, which was owned by the local newspaper, and when I went to graduate school then, I chose to study cable television, which was unknown in the journalism department.

Schley: And had been labeled “parasitic” in one of the textbooks you read as an undergrad.

Marshall: I was the resident cable expert. By virtue of my connection with the university and with the cable system, I was allowed unique access to cable. So I did a Master’s thesis on regulation of the cable industry by the FCC. In 1972, they issued their Second Report and Order, which was a very dramatic document and had a lot of unusual requirements of the cable industry and by using that as a case study, I was able to learn quite a bit about cable TV. Then I naturally should have gone to law school, I guess, but I was pretty tired of school at that point, and poor—I’d used up my resources. I took a little interim out and worked for the American Nurses Association here at Crown Center and went up to Nebraska and recovered some wind generators and then thought, why did I go to all this school if I wasn’t going to be in cable TV?

I got a job with the system in Topeka, which was a startup, so there were three of us and we were in a pre-construction phase. What we had to do was clear the pole line so that they could build a system.

Schley: And that entailed more than just clearing the pole line. Tell us about how you had to go about finding room on these utility poles?

Marshall: Well, I thought I knew a lot about cable TV.

Schley: From your academic work.

Marshall: Right. And you know, I think government documents can be considered primary resources for research and they do a pretty good job of explaining things and I’d read quite a few of them. But none of them really that I recall had a term called “make-ready.” And make-ready was what you are required to do to clear space on utility poles. Utility poles are generally owned by the electric company and the phone company and they attempt to suggest that they have 50% ownership each of them, and so they don’t transfer money back and forth to one another.

When cable comes along, then you have to create a foot of clearance above existing communications, which in most cases is telephone. And depending on the size of the power, normally about forty inches from power. So what that entails is looking at a pole, deciding whether or not the clearance is there. If you suspect it’s not, then you have this stick, and you run up the stick, which is graduated, measured, and look and measure it. Then you draw up a sheet that has a picture of the pole. You show what’s on the pole and you make a recommendation of whether you think power ought to raise or telephone ought to lower.

Schley: You’ve got to do this pole by pole by pole.

Marshall: Every pole. So it’s cheaper to lower phone but not always the best construction-wise. It turns out the electric companies and the telephone companies aren’t very happy about having someone else on what they consider their pole line even though we always made the case that they didn’t pay for this pole line. They’re a regulated utility. They’ve built it into the rate base and everybody that pays for their telephone or their electricity paid for that pole line.

Schley: But they’re possessive nonetheless or they were.

Marshall: Very possessive. And also, mean-spirited sometimes. I’ll give you an example. These things exist in rights-of-way and easements which oftentimes are in people’s backyards. The phone company and power company would occasionally send people out to check on your work, see if what you were doing was what they wanted to have done. They’d run you back into the pole that sat inside a dog pen with a junkyard dog in it, you know? Or put you into rosebushes or something. That’s a well-known thing. It happened to me. The National Electric Safety Code is a national standard which requires these clearances for safety. So at the root of it, this is to save lives.

But in some cases the poles were already in violation. So I would bring that to their attention and they told me, “Those standards are goals for us, but they’re criteria for you.”

Schley: Nice. OK.

Marshall: So the situation would arise for example where there wasn’t anything you could do to create space on the pole to build cable. Then you had to replace the pole or go underground. If there’s not space on it, oftentimes the reason is because they have a lot of stuff on that pole. Might be in an intersection, and over time, it’s aggregated all this stuff on it. So what they need is a bigger pole. Contractually you’re bound, if you want to attach to this pole, to purchase a larger pole, pay for them to exchange their facilities onto the new pole, give them the pole and then turn around and pay rent on it.

Schley: The question I have—I think it’s essential to understand what you guys were encountering in Topeka was being encountered by this budding cable industry all over the nation.

Marshall: This is from the beginning. If you read about the early cable systems in Pennsylvania, they talk about attaching to fence posts. And my guess is that they attached to fence posts because the utilities wouldn’t allow them to attach to poles.

Schley: But you had to get those wires dispersed. I mean, it was a non-starter if you couldn’t.

Marshall: The first thing the cable systems do after deciding that this is where they want to build a system and raising money and so forth, is get a franchise. The second thing they have to do is get permission to be on the poles. And historically this wasn’t an easy thing to do. As I said at the outset, the phone companies and the electric companies were antagonistic at least and more than occasionally wanted to be the provider of the service. So I had read there were existing cross-ownership rules. And telephone companies had to divest themselves of the cable systems that they owned. A lot of them did, a lot in our region did because they were bad actors. It wasn’t unheard of for them to go into the city and say, well, there’s no reason to give them a cable television franchise because we’re not going to let them on the poles. If you want to be responsible for having another set of poles in town why then go ahead and give it to the cable company. Or later on there was an issue where there was a company in Oklahoma where the local phone manager was also the mayor of town. And the cable guy went in to get the franchise and the mayor said, “Now I’m going to take off my phone hat and put on my mayor hat and call for a vote on who gets the franchise.”

Schley: If I can take you down to the micro-level of Topeka—you said you were three individuals building this system. Were you climbing poles yourself?

Marshall: Not in Topeka, because we were pre-construction. But they did send me around. This system was owned at the time by Telesis. Telesis was a cable company that was fully funded by the Central and Southwest States Teamsters Pension Fund. There were people who had a problem with that. Anyway, they had systems in Nebraska too and they would send us up to—the guy was behind on his installs and so they would send us up to do installations and disconnects. I’m glad that I did that because it’s an important part of the industry to understand. I climbed poles. I was never formally trained to climb poles. I told you earlier that I burned a pole, shell-rotted pole and it showered sparks. I mean, splinters and the guy came around and tore my jacket open to be sure I hadn’t pierced my heart with a splinter. I realized this was a dangerous thing but other things happened that were interesting, too.

I don’t know if you’ve ever been around when someone gets their cable disconnected, but I have. And I did the disconnecting and all of a sudden, this entire family was on the front porch. I mean, little kids and the mother. “What are you doing? It’s our TV.”

Schley: Right. It’s our connection.

Marshall: Historically it’s a terrible problem for the cable industry to overcome. If your electricity or phone goes out, your electricity or phone goes out. It’s not that big a deal. If you’re watching your favorite television program, or a movie or a sporting event—

Schley: It hits you in the heart.

Marshall: —and it goes off, you have an emotional response. That’s a much different type of outage to deal with. And in the case of a disconnect, I felt terrible disconnecting that cable even though they hadn’t paid for who knows how many months.

Schley: What I think is interesting about that is your on the ground exposure to cable in the building of cable systems and as you said, the disconnecting of television. You would later go on to sort of be a voice of the cable industry in the Midwest, but did that instill in you a sort of a sense a commitment or affinity to the medium at large, to cable, or what did that do for you?

Marshall: As I said, when I was a student, I chose cable television. And I was on fire. I loved cable TV.

Schley: What about it did you love?

Marshall: Television of abundance. I had a vision. It took 25 years for it to happen, but it happened. As a result of my schooling, the FCC had a field hearing here in Kansas City. We went to that; they asked me to come and as a result of that, eventually they hired me to be the executive director of the Mid-America Association. The Mid-America Association had been around since 1958 formally. It was set up in my opinion by Larry Boggs. For many years, the top award at NCTA was the Larry Boggs Award. I always had the feeling and maybe when Larry Satkowiak writes his book on the cable history, he’ll verify this, but the cable industry was unique in a lot of ways. When they froze the broadcasting industry and cable started, everyone thought, well, this is going to be an interim technology.

Schley: Really.

Marshall: So the big electronic companies didn’t start manufacturing equipment. The cable industry had to bootstrap the manufacture of its equipment. So we started not only to build this business, but we took the raw materials and made the equipment to build the business. In those early days, it was difficult to get equipment. You know, the trade shows now, you look out there and you’ll see every kind of thing there is—

Schley: And big names behind them.

Marshall: —and in the early days, that was, “Do you have any cable? Where can I get an amplifier? How do you do a drop?” They were building small systems, I think, in Pennsylvania and Oregon, but in Oklahoma and Kansas and Texas, they were building big systems. I think they would support the manufacturer of equipment, cable and equipment. So in that regard—because out here, you could put a stick up in the air—and they did sometimes, 1500 feet, I mean some of these towers were incredible and they would collect a signal off the air that wasn’t much of a signal, but people would watch a snowy picture because television is such a fascinating thing. I mean, go into a restaurant or bar with a TV and try to have a conversation.

Schley: What was attractive about the Mid-America Association role or position?

Marshall: Well, it was perfect for me. I guess it was destiny.

Schley: Maybe so?

Marshall: One of the first things we did…they sent me to an NCTA meeting, which I think was in Las Vegas as I recall, and hooked me up with Walter Kaitz and Bill Kenny. Bill ran the New England Association and they had hired him to come out and determine whether or not they should have state associations or regional associations—what would work. Walter Kaitz from California ran one of the more successful associations from the beginning. We sat down and they asked me about it and at that time, I think I had $1400 and a rented Mercury Monarch. They said, “Run the other direction. Don’t do this.”

Schley: Really.

Marshall: Yes.

Schley: Why so? What was the…

Marshall: There wasn’t the industry support. But we persevered. As I recall, we billed people and whether or not they chose to pay.

Schley: You billed the operators in the area?

Marshall: We billed the operators. As I came on, there were copies of bills. So I started writing a newsletter which I wrote monthly for over twenty years. And we sent that with the bill. I had had people complain. “Why are you billing me? I’m not a member. Don’t send me a bill.” Ragging on me. But what had happened was, Monty Rifkin, who at that time ran ATC, paid his back dues.

Schley: It gave you a little cash in the bank.

Marshall: Yes.

Schley: What were you writing about in the newsletter in the early days?

Marshall: Pole attachment. I have a mentor, Bob Weary, who’s dead now. He started early in the cable business and had trouble with pole attachment early and set his own pole line in Salina, Kansas. So when we got the Pole Attachment Act passed, then the FCC had to figure out—you know, nothing’s ever done. As we said, there’s still pole attachment problems. I think one of the reasons is that governmentally-owned and maybe cooperatively-owned utilities were exempt, got themselves exempt from the Pole Attachment Act. But Bob was familiar with it and when the FCC came out they talked about that twelve inches of usable space. So out of a 35-foot pole, which they used as the standard average, one foot doesn’t turn out to be a lot of the usable space. I think it came to be like 7.4% and 7.4% of things isn’t a lot.

So when the FCC’s regulations were issued, we had, for example, Kansas Gas and Electric. The pole attachment fee from Kansas Gas and Electric was $6.40 a pole per year with increases tied to the transportation group of the Consumer Price Index, which in the Seventies, was the fastest rising indicator.

Schley: So that was the one they chose.

Marshall: Yes. We decided we would negotiate with them after the FCC rules and regulations came out. Bob was a superior negotiator. He was a Harvard-trained lawyer and he was a World War II pilot; very amazing guy. So we went down and it wasn’t just the rate. The agreements were terrible in the sole discretion of licensor, everything. We didn’t hold their feet to the fire, we didn’t go for the lowest rate. We negotiated a rate: $2.25, not $6.40, and we changed 18 of the contractual provisions. These guys were tough. And later on, AT&T in the form of Southwestern Bell, was tough. You had to have your act together. Who were the licensees of Kansas Gas and Electric? Who do you represent? Are these all your members or are just your members going to get—I mean, it was an endless string of requirements which we were able to meet. So after we did Kansas Gas and Electric, we did Kansas Power and Light, Oklahoma Association, bless their hearts, those guys down there were so independent. They decided they would try Oklahoma Gas and Electric themselves and failed. So Bob and I flew down and successfully concluded that negotiation.

Throughout the territory, we improved the contracts and lowered the pole attachment prices successfully.

Schley: Kind of proving the work of the Association, I guess. It was almost like the pole issue was this rallying point for representation.

Marshall: It wouldn’t have happened otherwise. That was a good thing.

Schley: Fast forwarding in your career a little bit, I wanted to talk about the establishment of the NCTC and how that came about, why that came about and what your role was in helping to shape that organization. What was its purpose?

Marshall: As I say, we started out as the Oklahoma-Kansas-Texas Association—OKT—and then became Mid-America. It was housed in a law firm in Oklahoma City, Holland and Meacham. CATA started in Oklahoma; Kyle Moore and those guys, and one thing they did for the cable industry was initially you could only have a 10-meter satellite dish and they got that changed to 3-meter. CATA was the Community Antenna Television Association, which was for independent operators like the ACA is now. My point is these Oklahoma guys were very independent and aggressive and we had board members from all four states: Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska. There was a guy from Oklahoma, actually a couple, who had been in the theater business. Actually a number of our owners at that time had run motion picture theaters. They had been squeezed to death by the motion picture distributors. You know, they were in these little towns and all of a sudden, they have to pay through the nose for the movie and then they also have to show it for three weeks or a month or something. In a little town this just wasn’t feasible—they would comment, well, you know, if we’d known what it was going to be like, we would have sold dinners. At first we were too proud to have food in our theater, but later on, it was hard to make money. As I recall, there were a number of reasons for the co-op. The first was, the old boy John Thompson, the theater owner, his vision was that the cable industry was going to wind up negotiating with the Motion Picture Association of America. He thought that they would need an organization that was big enough to do that. It also turns out that a number of the very small operators who were extremely loyal to programmers like HBO, found out that they were paying retail prices and the corporations were paying wholesale prices.

Schley: So the big guys were getting better deals.

Marshall: Volume discounts and so it was not only more expensive for smaller cable operators to operate, but they couldn’t grow their companies. Because when they went to bid for a system that was for sale, the large corporation that had such a good deal on programming, could bid higher and make back the higher price paid for the system in short order, afford to pay more than the smaller operator could reasonably pay for the system.

So there were a multitude of reasons that these folks got together and said, well, what are we going to do about it? And they decided that they’d throw in some dough and start a cooperative with the idea being that they could act cooperatively like an MSO.

Schley: Pooling their purchasing power.

Marshall: Pooling their subscribers and buying as one entity. So that’s what we did.

Schley: This was when, Rob, early 2000s for the formation of NCTC?

Marshall: Isn’t this the 30th anniversary or something now? 1984?

Schley: 1984 was when the organization was launched.

Marshall: I’m guessing, I mean, you’re asking—

Schley: No, I’m trying to get just a general sense. You told me once an interesting story involving a makeshift poker game at which the subject of a cooperative came up. Is that legend true?

Marshall: We played a lot of poker.

Schley: And you talked about this possibility. Did it work? What was the upshot?

Marshall: We still had some very good individuals involved and they thought once it was pointed out that these programmers would do the right thing—of course, they didn’t—it was business. So it was a struggle to get it working properly and as I said, with the pole attachment, with a lot of other things, being an organizational force was helpful. We put out a monthly newsletter; we knew where everybody was, we knew how to contact them and so we were able to bootstrap the thing so that it would have enough behind it that it would go forward. I think they had to kick in another time or two, but it turns out that to satisfy some requirements of the programmers turned out to be the way that the co-op could fund itself without requiring dues. It turned out pretty well.

But all of these guys in some sense are competitors. It’s a problem; on the one hand, de Toqueville said that America was unique because people with common interests could get together and organize and make things better, things that they couldn’t do individually. When you have competitors together, sometimes it’s hard to get everybody pulling in the same direction. Eventually there were those who were getting, I think, some kind of pressure that maybe the co-op should be dissociated from the Mid-America Association. We had common board members and so on. We hired Mike Pandzik, who had formerly worked for HBO and was a pretty good hand and he took off with it and the rest is history. It’s been a very successful operation. I don’t think yet that they have taken over the negotiation for programming per se, but for programming services, they’ve done pretty well for the small operators is my understanding.

Schley: If you think about your multi-state organization and association, how was cable different? Were there challenges in the Mid-America geography or topology that were different from what other operators faced? You kind of think about the Midwest, I think the vast stretches, you know, populations…

Marshall: We’re pretty provincial out here. I recall that time that we put the kibosh on that—turns out that the guy that took off his hat and put on his mayoral hat, that co-op was in the process of receiving an enormous grant to provide cable to rural areas. So that’s OK, but the way they were going about it wasn’t OK. We pointed that out and NCTA would contact me and they’d say, quit waving the bloody shirt, we’re out here trying to do this and nobody wants to hear about that problem out in Oklahoma too much.

Schley: Did you discover in your tenure as leader of the association, did attitudes among policymakers, legislators, regulators begin to shift or change over that time period? And if so, how?

Marshall: Politics is a very particular endeavor. There’s nothing easy about it. Prior to my tenure, there was a copyright fight, a big one. And my understanding is that these guys sat down with Tip O’Neill in the House and some other guys and said, you’d better take this deal or you’re going to get something you don’t like. So they agreed to a copyright deal, which caused these same guys in Oklahoma to go, “You know, we hate that! You shouldn’t have ever done it, you know we’re not subject to copyright, it’s wrong,” and so they got crosswise. But I think Carl Albert was the Speaker of the House at the time so he was helpful in that deal. It particularly stuck in the craws of the Oklahoma guys, their guy (Rep. Albert) was part of it. We had Bob Dole and Bob Dole was off-and-on in charge of the Senate. I have lobbied but more in an educational fashion. I’d go tell them a story about big systems, a story out in Oklahoma and Kansas, and helping start the industry and they should be proud of that. But politics comes down to getting the vote and it’s so tricky because they might trade your vote for something totally unrelated to your issue. You have to build some momentum and find champions and get the key guys on board and just keep pushing and pushing and pushing and then, when you get it done, you’re just starting. Because then you’ve got regulation, you’ve got lawsuits and it just takes forever.

We knew who owned every system and we knew in particular every political district, both statehouse, state senate, federal house, and so we could go talk to people from their constituents’ point of view and oftentimes we took their constituents to go talk to them.

Schley: How many different operators at the peak, maybe prior to the consolidation wave, did you represent at the Mid-America Association? Dozens of them, or hundreds?

Marshall: Hundreds, easily.

Schley: Because you had a lot of independent guys, independent operators.

Marshall: We did, in a lot of very small systems. In order to do that, they had to aggregate those systems near each other.

Schley: Who were some of the more innovative or interesting or influential cable operators in the Mid-America region, would you say? I always think of Sunflower Cablevision, for instance, as being an interesting company, but I’m sure there were others.

Marshall: Sunflower was owned by the Journal-World, which is a newspaper. The system in St. Joseph, Missouri was owned by the Press Gazette and I think that’s the name of the newspaper in St. Joe. I had board members, I had a nuclear physicist who just came back to run cable systems. We had such a wide variety of talented people and they weren’t all owners or even managers. We started a number of Society of Cable Television Engineers chapters. I can remember being at a meeting where Dave Pangrac, who at that time worked for the cable system here in Kansas City—

Schley: I remember Dave.

Marshall: —talked about the migration from a tree and branch system architecture, which means you have a headend, you have a supertrunk, you have a trunk, you have feeder, you have drops and if something goes out here, everything behind it goes out, . Not a very reliable architecture. He talked about a grid and node system architecture. Just blew me away. He said that and I almost fell over in my chair. What a concept. He’s also a guy who I think buried a little fiber optic cable in his construction and didn’t have permission to do it or budget to do it, but just went ahead and did it. We had a lot of characters who were willing to take a chance to do what they thought was right.

Schley: I think you had some eclectic people and I thought it was interesting what you what you said earlier about the presumption at one point that the industry would be negotiating with movie studios. It didn’t turn out that way because there were these intermediaries like HBO and Showtime…

Marshall: If an entrepreneur had been squeezed by an entity, he had no control and no power to negotiate with.

Schley: One thing that strikes me is that you worked in cable and you led this regional association at a time when there was such amazing in innovation you just touched on. The beginnings of fiber. Thinking about your being captivated by this notion of television of abundance way back. You actually saw that come across. I think that’s kind of cool the vision you had early on actually did come to pass…

So you were captivated by this notion of abundance before there was television of abundance; you actually witnessed it come to pass. Just talk about some of the bigger progressions or the kind of inflection points that you witnessed in your role.

Marshall: We have perennial problems. Pole attachment was a big one. It was nice to get that more or less settled. Some negotiated ultimately in good faith and I think for those that we got that settled, that’s settled. There are plenty that aren’t and I heard this morning about one here in Kansas City. You know, the copyright thing was a perennial. It kept coming up, but we only had a minor if any role in that. When we started getting programming, we had, oddly enough, public access in New York. They had a guy named “Ugly George” who appeared nude or something on his public access program. We had leather lunged guy from the Moral Majority come out and introduce legislation to change—

Schley: I forgot about that.

Voice: [“Ugly George.”] That’s a name you can’t forget…


Schley: Was it a requirement of most franchises that you had to open up channels to program, that was the public access idea, right?

Marshall: Yes. The “electronic soapbox.” That was something that was the condition of franchising because that came up and these guys would demand that you have a public access channel. But one of the upshots of that was a guy like Ugly George in New York. Then the Moral Majority would use that to come out and introduce a bill in the legislature to change the standard from obscenity to indecency. You know, you have to remember that in the Sixties, Kansas had a commission in the State Legislature that approved movies.

Schley: I did not know that.

Marshall: I mean that once you start the slide backwards in that deal, why, speech can be restricted in a hurry. So we had the free speech thing and we had to go—and some of these issues would just keep coming up because the people are determined to get their way.

Schley: It strikes me that there was always something.

Marshall: I had a CEO tell me one time he didn’t know how I did what I did because I was always facing problems. But there were other things. Everyone says that one era of cable began with the addition of satellite programming. In the initial stages, I subscribed to a newsletter that kept track of who was on and I would put that in the newsletter because there were a lot of guys that didn’t know what was there. And we’d have the show and we’d line them up on the stage and there would be twenty guys up there that were programmers that wanted to tell people what they were offering. So these changes happen over time when you’re in it but later on, when you look back and look at it, why it seems like they happen in a hurry. Rate regulation by franchisors was a huge issue, huge issue. We had bills repeatedly introduced to make cable television a utility and put us under the regulation of a state agency.

Schley: In various states, Kansas, that happened?

Marshall: Missouri. Nebraska was interesting. Nebraska is the only state in the country that has a unicameral legislature, 49 senators. It doesn’t have two houses. But you know these things would surface and I would subscribe to legislative reporters from every state and I’d go through them religiously to see if anything related to cable. You see, these guys, if you take the telephone companies, for instance, they live in the legislatures and government agencies, and have for decades. And have attorneys and relationships with all these people. That’s just part of doing business for them. We had me.

Schley: Well, you probably logged a lot of miles.

Marshall: The state associations hired an attorney lobbyist in the State Capitol, but they weren’t doing what I was doing in terms of what could be a problem. But we worked together and over time, I think we did pretty well.

Schley: What was fun about that job?

Marshall: Oh, man, the people were just a lot of fun. It was hard work. I was obsessed with my job. Seven or eight years in, they took me aside and said, “We want you to take a break and re-discover what a weekend is. Take a vacation. We don’t want you to burn out.” I was out there. I had to put myself away. I was giving talks to the National Association of Regulatory Utility Engineers, municipal leagues—I was just all over the place. But part of the job, I think, or part of the benefit of having an association is putting a face on the industry. And we were pretty successful at doing that.

Schley: For a long time, I think you were that face for cable.

I was going to ask you about any parting thoughts. You mentioned Bob Weary earlier, but who were a couple of people who were particularly influential in your career in cable? Bob, I suspect—were there other folks you would identify?

Marshall: There were a lot of them. Dick Feiss was a fellow who knew politics very well.

Schley: Who was Dick?

Marshall: He was hired by the company that Bob Weary started—Communications Services, Inc. He had been in the utility business and he was a system manager but he was assigned early on to train me. They hired the guy before they hired me who they trained for a year and then he hired back in to the industry, which greatly upset the people who had trained him. We had bimonthly board meetings and we had great attendance at those board meetings. We had a program on the first day and then a dinner and some of us played poker at night and then met in the morning and then they went home. That took a lot of organization and I attempted to keep them as up-to-date on the industry as a person could be. We had an annual meeting and at that meeting we had educational seminars. Sometimes people would complain to me because we’d have concurrent sessions and they’d want to go to both of them and we didn’t record them. You had to be there to do it. We generally cooperated and had a good relationship with the National Cable Television Association. I had a good relationship with quite a few of my colleagues who ran state or regional associations. Whatever was going on, we learned a lot about it and it was a broad range of things. I mean, taxation. We covered the waterfront when it came to issues and our members were always responsive in terms of coming up with the money to deal with an issue that was going to hang them. Whether they were aware of it or not.

Schley: From pole attachments to television of abundance to taxation: for many years, the voice and face of cable in the Midwest. Rob Marshall, thanks for taking some time to visit with us today.

Marshall: I appreciate the opportunity.

Schley: Thank you for watching the Cable Center’s Oral History Series. I’m Stewart Schley.

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