Interview Date: November 21, 2000
Interview Location: Denver, CO USA
Interviewer: Paul Maxwell
Collection: Hauser Collection
MAXWELL: I want to welcome Trygve Myhren to the Gus Hauser Oral History Program for The National Cable Center and Museum. This is a project that Gus generously has underwritten, and we are interviewing important people in the history of cable. I’m Paul Maxwell and this is Trygve Myhren of Myhren Media today. He’s one of the few guys that’s been in the operation side, the programming side, the public policy side and in parent company financial matters – all of those different things. As we start, Trygve, I’d like you to tell me a little bit about the background, where you’re from, where you went to school. Then we’ll take you into cable.
MYHREN: I was born in eastern Pennsylvania, a little town called Palmerton. I went from there to Dartmouth College. After my junior year I was able to get into graduate business school, the Amos Tuck School. Then directly after graduating from Amos Tuck, I was drafted by the Army, and through some slight of hand, ended up being able to apply for Naval Officer Candidate School, went to Newport, Rhode Island, became a naval officer, and spent time on a ship in the Pacific, and eventually came back from that after 3 ½ years (I got extended during the Cuban missile crisis) and went to work at Proctor & Gamble. I was there for two years and left to go with a group in Connecticut called Glendenning Companies. It was a marketing consulting company. We had lots of clients like General Motors, Coca Cola, Time Inc. which later came to play a role in my life. I left that company after four years and went with two other fellows, one of whom was a professor at Harvard Business School, and we formed Marketing Continental. We had that for four years and grew it from the three of us to 45 people. At this point, I had a heart attack at 35 years old. It turned out that there was some controversy as to whether it was just pericarditis, which is a viral inflammation of the heart lining, or whether I really had a heart attack. But in any event, that took me out of business for a period of time – actually for six months. I obviously survived it. But when I came back from it, having thought about my life to that point, I said, “You know, I’m really much more interested in media, print, film, communication – really much more interested in communication than I am in doing some of the things I had been doing which were very directed at the marketing side of packaged goods and major consumer products.” I really was more interested in communications. We had an offer to buy the company that we had built, Marketing Continental, from Shell Oil. They had a whole bunch of things they wanted to do with some of the assets we had built up, including a major brokerage across the country, a brokerage of goods, not stocks.
MAXWELL: Remainder goods?
MYHREN: No. It was interesting. We set up what would be called a super brokerage. There are food brokers across the country. We took on products for companies like Kimberly Clark, Shell Oil Chemicals, Gulf Oil Chemicals, Continental Can, etc. who had consumer products but really didn’t have a traditional consumer products sales force. And we sold them for them.
MAXWELL: What did food coops handle? Is it in the same kind of manner?
MYHREN: We would select the food brokers, the food sales force, in individual markets. Then we had seven people across the country who were super brokers who would select a number of brokers in a number of markets, contiguous markets, and then work through them for the good of a Kimberly Clark, or a Continental Can.
MYHREN: So that was one of the properties that we had developed in this company. Shell wanted to buy this whole thing. Without getting into those complications, what we decided to do was to sell to them. My other two partners signed long-term contracts with them. I said, “I’m not going to do that.” And I actually took a lesser part of the sale because I wouldn’t sign the contract. But I went away with a little bit of money and was off to do what I wanted to do. I went into a company called CRM, Communications Research Machines, in Delmar California. We had properties like Psychology Today magazine, something which had the improbable name of Intellectual Digest, which was so improbable that we killed it off a short time after I got there. In any event – talk about a name with a conflict built right into it – but we were a major textbook publisher, we became a major educational film maker, and we did a number of other things. I went into that company as a Vice President of Marketing and ran the company fairly shortly thereafter.
MAXWELL: What were the guys’ names at Psychology Today?
MYHREN: Well, it was John Veronnes who now is Veronnes Suhler in New York. Interestingly enough, John Suhler was there when I got there. T. George Harris was running the magazine part of it. The “C” in CRM, which was called Communications Research Machines for the purpose of some day maybe going public – it sounded sexy – was actually a guy named Nick Charney.
MAXWELL: Charney – that’s the name I couldn’t remember.
MYHREN: A fellow named Marsden, and the “R” was a fellow named Reynolds who was a psychology professor at the University of California, San Diego, where we got a lot of our texts written. In any event, we took that business – when I went into it, it was losing a lot of money – we got it turned around within a two-year time frame. Boise Cascade owned it – and I was under a contract with Boise when I went there – actually sold the company to Bill Ziff. Bill, at the time, was the largest special interest magazine publisher in the world.
MAXWELL: In the country, right.
MYHREN: A lot can be said about Bill’s eventual sale and then subsequent start up in the computer magazines. Bill and I became pretty good friends. Then one day he dropped a bomb on me, walking on the beach at Delmar, he said, “You know, I really want to move the company back east and I want to sell parts of it.” So the proposal he made to me was that we’d sell the books (which we ended up doing to Random House), and we’d sell the films (to McGraw Hill). Our 60 films outsold their 2,000 educational films. I think we’d found the sweet spot. In any event, we sold all that. I didn’t want to sell it. And I didn’t want to move. But there wasn’t much choice because Bill really owned it.
MAXWELL: Bill had a way of making a decision.
MYHREN: Yes, he was quite a decision-maker. We got the whole thing moved out. Then he wanted to take the book clubs and the magazines back to New York, and he wanted me to come back and run those and then he would give me additional responsibilities. So it was at that point where I began to think ….. And the minute we made the announcement that this was going to happen, that the company was in the process of moving out some of its properties and moving things back to New York, I started getting phone calls from head hunters. One of them happened to be Russell Reynolds, in the person of Tony Thompson and Bill Long, who had been put on the case by a guy named Monty Rifkin in Denver who had started American Television and Communications. At the time, Royal Little was the chairman of the company.
MAXWELL: Yes, very much so.
MYHREN: And Monty was the President, CEO. He had worked with Bill Daniels to get ATC started, and much more on that can be found, I’m sure, in Monty’s oral history because Monty knew it well and did a spectacular job in starting this thing. Anyway, he chased me down, and we started talking in late 1974. But I couldn’t leave. I was intrigued, but I was looking at some other things, and I just didn’t make a move. Then eventually, about February I said, “Yes, I’ll do it,” and agreed to come with Monty in Denver. This was intriguing to me. I looked at the skiing. I was leaving the surf but the skiing made some sense. As I looked at my other opportunities, they were primarily on the print side of things. I did have an offer as Executive VP of LL Bean, but that was a whole other thing. My then wife was damned if she was going to live north of Portland, Maine in Freeport. So I didn’t do that. The Denver thing made some sense, and Monty made some sense. I talked to two people who I knew had something to do with the cable television business. One is a fellow I played basketball with in high school named Fred Reinhard from Palmerton, Pennsylvania. It occurred to me about this time that Fred and his family – who were very nice, intelligent people, but did not have an opulent life style, but always seemed to have what they wanted – that they were in the cable television business. And it never quite clicked with me when I was younger. So I checked on Fred and found out that his family, Claude Reinhard and group – Blue Ridge Cable, really owned the cable systems in the area that I had grown up in. They also owned the bowling alleys and the newspapers and the movie theaters and so on – a mini-media conglomerate. I called Fred and asked him about the business. I was a little concerned. Then I got this concern that were rumors out there that there might be some things happening with satellite. I thought, “Oh, oh. That could blow away this whole business.” So I called the only other person I knew in cable, a guy I had skiied with a few times who had been a friend of my sister, Amos Hostetter. Amos and I talked. He said, “Don’t worry about a thing. I understand what you’re thinking about satellite, but it may help us more than it hurts us.” So we talked about that and why that might be true. I came to be convinced that at least, in the intermediate term, that was true – in the short term and intermediate term, that probably is going to be true. It might not be true long-term, but certainly there was a lot of help. There were a lot of efficiencies that could be brought to cable program distribution through the use of satellite, so this was going to work. So I began to look at this more positively. I took the job in something like February, 1975. But I told Monty that I couldn’t be there until May 1. He said, “That’s really too bad because we’re going to do this big thing….
MAXWELL: Really neat thing. Right.
MYHREN: “We’re going to announce that we’re going to do this HBO thing.” And that got me, of course, even more intrigued. Now I knew more about what satellite was going to do. So I really was intrigued to get there. But I couldn’t go because I had this commitment at the other company. In any event, I arrived in Denver on May 1. Immediately after I got here, the Nuggets signed David Thompson and Marvin Webster, and I ran over and got my Nuggets tickets. I was part of the Denver community. That’s sort of how I got to ATC, and I came in as Vice President of Marketing and within a couple of months I was Marketing and Programming. Over the years at ATC, as we went through the 70’s, one thing that occurred was that Time Inc. made an offer to buy us.
MAXWELL: When was that?
MYHREN: That was in very early ’78 or very late ’77. We turned it down. We didn’t think the price was big enough. Time Inc. had come to know us because Time Inc. had four cable television systems earlier in the 70’s that they had not been able to do anything with, hadn’t improved them much. They were very unprofitable, and they were dragging down a public company’s earnings. They eventually wanted to sell them. We bought them for stock. We used ATC stock to buy them.
MAXWELL: So they had a piece of …
MYHREN: They got a piece. They got a 9.9% piece of ATC.
MAXWELL: What systems were those? Do you remember?
MYHREN: Let’s see – Battle Creek, Michigan, Miraga, California,
MAXWELL: They were scattered.
MYHREN: I believe one was Southwest Cable down in San Diego. Yes, they were scattered – Midwest and west coast. In any event they got a fair amount of our stock for that. They put people on the Board – Jim Shepley, the then president of Time, went on the ATC Board. So they had this position. Then, of course, we ran the things really well. We ran the cable systems well, turned them around, they work. And they said, “Gee whiz, maybe there is something good about this business, and if we’re going to be in the business, we ought to be in it with these guys.” At least that was the …
MAXWELL: That was the logic.
MYHREN: I’m on the other side of this, but that was as I saw their logic. So they came in to do that.
MAXWELL: They’ve been in and out of Sterling Manhattan by this point, right?
MAXWELL: And in parallel, HBO is beginning to be a real thing.
MYHREN: Exactly. Also, one of the things that we did that I think gave them some confidence in us followed the satellite introduction of HBO, on Sept. 30, 1975. And it happened in two places in the country. Monty had made a deal to do it in Jackson, Mississippi.
MAXWELL: So you were there?
MYHREN: At the Jackson cable system – right.
MAXWELL: I was at Vero Beach that night.
MYHREN: Vero Beach, Florida – Fort Pierce, Vero Beach, I think combined – UA, Columbia, Bob Rosencrans, Ken Gunter, Marvin Jones, the whole group doing their deal there. But the “Thrilla in Manila”, Ali and Frazier followed by, I think, Alice’s Restaurant – the movie with Arlo Guthrie and Ellen Burstyn, a terrific actress. But in any event, that was brought in to Florida and Mississippi, and it was enormously successful. But one of the things that we did there was to price it lower than anybody else. We priced it at $6.95. That came out of my “packaged-goods” training – the idea of sampling product or if you don’t sample it, quasi sample it by getting it at a low enough price so a lot of people try it. You can always raise the price later. We introduced in Jackson at $6.95. Later when we got to Rochester, New York, which was our next launch, we actually went in at $4.95. Everybody thought we were crazy because TelePrompter at this time was going at $9.95.
MAXWELL: $9.95. I remember.
MYHREN: But our penetration of those markets was dramatically greater than TelePrompter’s. And much later, of course, we raised the price. I think that, among other things, helped Time Inc. to understand that we had some fairly sophisticated people at our place, that we understood more than just how to string the wires and do the engineering and finance things. We also actually understood the consumer equation. For a whole series of reasons, Time comes in and makes this offer in ’78. It’s turned down. Monty was basically the guy running the train at that point and he said no. And we were all just fine with that. Then they came back later in the year, late summer or early fall, and said, “We’d like to double that offer.” Essentially a deal was struck. We were convinced that we were going to need a lot of money at that point because we could see that the business could really take off. We were very willing to go out and try to raise the money. But we thought it would be a heck of a lot easier if we had a big financial partner in the game. Time Inc. we viewed as a very good financial partner – good people, good company – as long as we got the right price, which we did at that point. So we became part of Time Inc. Then as we went forward, we got into the late 70’s where I actually enunciated something called the clustering strategy. This was a way to take our business forward more powerfully than the scattered cable system model. It was really to buy contiguous properties and try to fill out an entire media market. A media market can be described as something that might be the outline of the newspaper’s delivery or the Grade B context of the television stations. Usually also it was fairly contiguous with radio station coverage. But basically, the footprint of the traditional media – we saw that as a cluster.
MAXWELL: That led to your breakthrough in the concept that maybe cable could sell an ad.
MYHREN: Exactly. The idea was that if you clustered yourself that way, what you could do was that you could sell advertising in direct competition with the other media. But you were also in a position, from a defensive standpoint, of being able to market competitively against satellite people. Or if telephone companies were going to end up with programming that they could offer, which we worried a lot about in those days, we wanted to be able to market on a full market. It’s extraordinarily difficult, as you know, if you’ve only got this piece of it. A media market and your competition enjoy the efficiencies of full market coverage.
MAXWELL: Can’t sell anything.
MYHREN: Yes. You can’t really market because you can’t buy the big media out there. They’re way too expensive, and they’re too wasteful, because you are advertising to a bunch of people who can’t buy your product. You’ve got to be on a basis whereby, if you’re going to compete with these people, you can advertise to the same people they can so you’re advertising economies are the same. If satellite people were going to be throwing programming into the market and advertising to the whole market, and you were just in a part, you had problems. So this was the basic idea of clustering. It was also true that, on an operating basis, if you had three separate pieces within the market, you had to have three general managers. And you had to have three top technical people and three top marketing people. Well, you couldn’t hire top people to do that. But if you had the whole market, you’d hire one of each and you could get the best. There were equipment warehousing and installation calls – all of those kinds of things – where the economies worked better on if you were clustered. So I actually enunciated that in 1979. It’s interesting that there were other companies in the business like Cox, for example, and Continental which were operating on sort of a clustered basis. They had large chunks of things. Nobody had really grasped why that was really a good idea or had articulated it if they had grasped it. I grasped that pretty quickly, and I think it came a lot out of my marketing background and media background. So we articulated that, and we drove our company in that direction. That was why Time, now Time Warner Cable, is configured the way it is with these huge clusters. It was very efficient and very powerful. With all that going on, we eventually got to a point where Monty and Time Inc. came to a parting of the ways. That was in late 1980. I had come up through marketing, then marketing and programming, and then adding on a financial role, and eventually becoming President of the company. I eventually ended up as Chairman, CEO and President of the company. No – I’m sorry. It was Chairman and CEO of the company because Joe Collins became the President when I was made Chairman and CEO. I think that became effective on January 1, 1981 so in effect, it was sort of transitioning in at the end of ’80.
MAXWELL: Let’s take a tiny shift there. As you’re describing ATC and then Time Cable, you called it ATC though after that for a long time.
MYHREN: Yes. We called it American Television and Communications. Even after the Time Warner merger it was called American Television and Communications. There came a time, after I had been CEO for a fair period of time, when we decided that we really should IPO the company. We IPO’d it as American Television and Communications. We took 20% of Time Inc.’s ownership …
MAXWELL: … and took it to the public.
MYHREN: … and took it to the public in 1986. That was the largest IPO in the world that year, interestingly enough. It was $300+ million dollars for that piece of the company, and it created the world’s largest IPO that year. They’ve gotten a lot bigger since.
MAXWELL: A whole lot bigger.
MYHREN: But at the time it was a big deal, and it helped to validate cable as a real player in the financial world.
MAXWELL: I’d like to shift slightly to a public policy side. As cable got more sophisticated and was clearly growing, and programming started feeding the growth of cable at that time, some public policy aspects – you got strongly involved, across the early 80’s, with different groups. So talk a little bit about the NCTA, CAB, CTAM and CableLabs (which was much later).
MAXWELL: Those are significant.
MYHREN: Maybe starting back in 1975 actually, when I first entered the industry …
MAXWELL: … CTAM was created at O’Hare Airport …
MYHREN: … Exactly. You were there.
MAXWELL: I was there.
MYHREN: As a matter of fact, I was fortunate enough to get asked to join a group of people at the O’Hare Airport where you, Gail Sermersheim, Greg Liptak, …
MAXWELL: Chuck was there – Chuck Dolan.
MYHREN: Yes. It was really a good group of people.
MAXWELL: Tom Johnson from Daniels.
MYHREN: Exactly. David Lewan from Times Mirror …
MAXWELL: Who left.
MYHREN: Yes – whose lawyers told him it wasn’t a good place to be. And Andy Goldman from TelePrompter and Rod Warner from Storer.
MAXWELL: Bill Bresnan was there.
MYHREN: Yes. All these people in a room saying, “You know what – this business could be a lot bigger than people think it could be. Now we’ve got satellite distribution. We’re going to be able to distribute signals pretty efficiently. We can start to compete in the real media world. We’ve got to start being better marketers. We’ve got to think about programming harder. What it is we’re offering people. We’ve got to worry about customer service. We really have to take the industry to the next level.” That meeting ended up with everybody agreeing we ought to form this organization which, at the time, was called Cable Television Administration and Marketing Society – CTAM. The first president, I think, was Greg Liptak.
MAXWELL: Greg was, right.
MYHREN: And then Gail Sermersheim was the second, and I was the third. That organization has become, obviously, enormously successful, and it’s done a lot of good things. We started fairly early on having an annual management conference. When I was the president in ’78, to go to your question, I decided that the cable industry (and there were many of us who felt this way, but I decided it was time to do something about it) needed to make it clear that we were an advertising medium to be reckoned with – and that we had another revenue stream. In addition to our stream of subscription revenues, we’d have this advertising stream. But we had to get other people to believe this too. So I invited the heads of the top ten ad agencies in the country to show up. As it turned out, we didn’t get any of them to come. But they all sent (and this was a surprise to everybody) a really top person, not “the” top person but one of their key people to this meeting which we held in the Denver Marriott Southeast in Denver. We needed a speaker who would attract some folks so we got a fellow named Pat Weaver who was really one of the great innovators and statesman in the media businesses and who was responsible for lots of innovations. One of them, interestingly enough, is Sigourney Weaver, who is his daughter. In any event, Pat came and spoke. He and I had some fun because we’re both Dartmouth grads, so we had a lot of back-and-forth on that. Of more importance, of course, the ten agencies showed up. So we had what ended up being the impetus which eventually ended up in creating the CAB, the Cable Advertising Bureau, which has been enormously successful. It has really sold cable as an advertising medium, but also documented its performance. Bob Alter came in, Jack Clifford who I worked with later at Providence Journal had a big influence, and Fred Vierra and others, really got into that. It all started back there in 1978 at that conference. The other industry groups that we’re talking about – early 80’s I should talk about National Cable Association.
MAXWELL: Yes, and then into the public policy aspect.
MYHREN: Right. Monty, of course, had been a chairman of the National Cable Television Association. I went on to the NCTA board when Monty left in the beginning of ’81. I went on very quickly to the Executive Committee, and became very involved in the public policy aspirations of the industry.
MAXWELL: ATC was the largest operator at the time?
MYHREN: Well, it was us and TCI. As we came through that period in the 70’s after I joined, first it was TelePrompter.
MYHREN: We went past TelePrompter in the late 70’s, and then TCI began to grow fairly aggressively. I would tell you that they were a bit more swashbuckling. They went out to get more subscribers by acquiring more subscribers. They didn’t win that many in franchising but acquired a lot of subscribers at a period when we were a little less aggressive …. As I think back on it, I think I can see it pretty clearly, because Time Inc., as a public company, was struggling with the idea of taking on acquisitions which were dilutive to their public earnings. That was one of the things that we tried to correct with the ’86 IPO of ATC. We wanted the market to view, on the one hand, ATC as an EBITA vehicle over here, not necessarily making bottom line earnings. The market would hopefully view Time Inc. separately (though it owned 80% of ATC), over here, as its old self, as an earnings per share vehicle. Before the IPO this acted as a drag to us, because we had some acquisitions that we wanted to do that we just couldn’t get Time to go along with. On the other hand, we did a number of them, and we kept growing fast. TCI went by us, and John Malone was on a very aggressive path and did extraordinarily well with that through that period. In any event, on the NCTA Board, I discovered something I think I already knew, but I became much more detailed in my knowledge about which is where cable was in the overall regulatory framework in the U.S. and how badly it was being held back because of the regulatory framework. This framework had essentially been put in place by legislators and regulators who were beholden to the broadcast networks, the telephone companies and others who really didn’t want cable as a competitor. It was also true that cable, as opposed to those other kinds of companies, was a potential revenue source for local municipalities. They couldn’t get a lot of money out of the telephone companies. They couldn’t out of the broadcast networks…
MYHREN: … because of the history and the way those industries’ rights had been laid out. With cable, they could charge fees to have a franchise. They could charge all kinds of fees to lay lines. They could do things that they were in a position where they couldn’t do with the others. So in addition to having the commercial opponents, we had a government opponent to freedom. The best they wanted for us was to have us survive.
MAXWELL: But that was all.
MYHREN: That was it. We were basically a meal ticket for the cities. When that became crystal clear to me, I began to devote an enormous amount of time trying to change that. I actually sat down one weekend and said to myself, “Where’s my time going to be spent? Is it best spent rallying the troops at ATC and keeping morale high and people enthusiastic and working 110%? Yes, that’s important. What about acquisitions? What about work that we can do on the operating side? Those are all important too. But what’s most important?” If you really thought about the long-term health of the industry, we had to get out from under these shackles or break the shackles. If we didn’t break them, we would never be anything important, and we wanted to be an industry that was extraordinarily important. So I decided that I was going to spend at least 50% of my time on this subject. So I sort of went through the Chairs at NCTA and spent more and more time lobbying both outside and inside the industry – lobbying the legislators, the FCC and the people within the industry. I had a huge amount of help. Henry Gerkin was helpful. He was our General Counsel at the company. Enormously helpful were Brian Convoy and Mike Hammer who were in the Time Inc. office in Washington. They were very adept lobbyists, but they also were terrific thinkers, very calm and insightful. They understood the industry. They also understood the regulatory climate in Washington and just gave me an enormous amount of help. I put huge hours into this thing. The bill that we were going after was a change in the communications law. It would have been the first one, were it to be passed, since 1934. It turns out we got it passed in ’84, 50 years later. We went through three Congresses – three two-year Congresses – to get that bill. In the third of those Congresses, the one that ended in the late fall of 1984, we actually achieved passage of the bill on the last day of that Congress in just an enormous battle.
MAXWELL: I remember it well. We had the good luck, at that point, … You were in Colorado. We have to say something nice about our friend from Boulder, but …. Just before you got involved with that, AT&T had, of all things, sent private investigators after one of the Colorado Congress people who had just gotten elected in the ’72 reaction to the Vietnam War. He was still there in the late 70’s when we got friendly with him. Tim Wirth was a Congressman from the 2nd District in Colorado. AT&T treated him like some kind of pariah because he had walked in one day and said, “Why are the rules like this?”
MYHREN: Which was a very reasonable question, but they didn’t view it that way.
MAXWELL: That’s exactly right. So I remember at a small publishing company _______ I had at the time. We invited you, Monty, Glenn, Bill Daniels and everybody else in the neighborhood to a cocktail party that we gave for Tim Wirth to introduce him. Later he, of course, became a senator from here and very instrumental in, while not championing so much, helping take away restrictions.
MYHREN: He was particularly helpful, before he got to the Senate actually, when he was in those Congressional days, because he ended up as Chairman of the Communications Consumer Protection and Finance Sub-Committee in the House. [House Subcommittee on Telecommunications, Consumer Protection and Finance, of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce]
MAXWELL: Or was it the Commerce Committee?
MYHREN: I’m thinking it was called Commerce but it was John Dingle’s committee. Tim was the Chairman of the sub-committee that really looked at communications’ regulations and a number of other things. He’s an enormously intelligent guy who saw through the kinds of restrictions that had been put in place. After we met Tim through your good offices, we became very supportive. I spent a lot of time, and I raised money for Tim.
MAXWELL: We all did.
MYHREN: I talked to him a lot. He was not a handmaiden of the industry.
MAXWELL: No, far from that.
MYHREN: He was a guy who clearly had his own ideas, but he was willing to listen to reason. He understood the real frustrations we had, and he understood the importance of trying to unleash more diverse voices in the media.
MAXWELL: The first part he actually got, I think, was pole attachment.
MYHREN: That was in 1978. He was instrumental in changing the regulatory method that basically taxed cable for going on the poles along with the telephone wires, getting on those same poles. The regulation, up to that point, had essentially allowed the telephone companies to charge the cable companies anything they wanted and to take forever to allow them on the poles, and basically were able to just keep cable from doing business. Tim was instrumental in driving legislation that got that back to a more rational framework. Then, of course, he was at the center of the storm as we went forward to try to do this 1984 bill. Without going into all the details it was certainly, in my life, one of the more sustained efforts. It just actually consumed me for a few years. I wasn’t the only one in the industry that was working hard on this. There were just an awful lot of people working very hard. I ended up in a position where I had a rather critical role in it because I was spending so much time and because I was with a company which had a lot of power through its own right. But I also had these terrific people helping me at Time Inc., Washington, very sophisticated people. Off that platform, I became extraordinarily involved in this thing. I ended up in NCTA Executive Committee meetings giving, in effect, position papers on what we ought to do and what we shouldn’t do. I then eventually ran the meeting that was the most contentious meeting that we eventually had in trying to decide, internally in the industry, where we’d come out on this thing. There were people in the industry who, both for selfish reasons in some cases and very idealistic reasons in other cases and solid reasons in other cases, opposed the bill – opposed the way we were doing it. People like Len Tow, for example, felt that if we couldn’t get everything – if we couldn’t really become the First Amendment voice that we needed to become as a part of this of this bill – that we shouldn’t take the rest of what we were going to get. There were people like Chuck Dolan, who for good reason, essentially felt that we weren’t getting enough here, that there were a couple of other things that we had to get and Gene Schneider, who felt conflicted on it because he felt we weren’t getting enough. So we had pretty raucous meetings in Washington. But the final tough meeting on this that we had, I ended up chairing that meeting.
MAXWELL: You were Vice Chair of the Executive Committee?
MYHREN: I was Vice Chair of the NCTA at the time, later to become chair. But I had not become chair at that point because a lot of things had been going on in our company. I had asked Ed Allen, who had been a terrific chairman, whether he would remain for another year. He agreed to do that. But he said one thing: “In the fall of next year, when you’re doing that, I am going away for a long vacation with my wife, Gerry, and I’m not going to be there, and you’re going to have to run that meeting.”
End of Tape 1, Side A
Start of Tape 1, Side B
MYHREN: Well as it turned out, that meeting ended up being “the meeting”. It was wild and wooly but, in the end, we got it done. A lot of kudos go to Tom Wheeler, who really brought us to that point, to Jim Mooney who I think was able to provide the sharp expertise, a lot of people who really contributed on the NCTA staff side, and a huge number of people in the industry who worked like heck on it. A number of people helped us in the Congress, Tim Wirth clearly being one. Another one was Senator Dan Inouye from Hawaii, where ATC had almost all of the cable systems. That was a big period.
I then went on later to become Chairman of the industry, and, in fact, something that people remind me of often – in the Fall, 1986 at the NCTA Board meeting at a closed session, I told the Board that I was very, very concerned about what would happen when pricing regulation, as a result of that bill passed at the end of ’84, came off. The pricing regulation came off the industry January 1, 1987. I gave this impassioned talk about that. A couple of the very good operators in the business, big operators, told me I was nuts, that we’d had our prices tamped down for so long it was time we got ours back. I said that if we have that attitude, we’re going to get re-regulated.
MAXWELL: Took less than eight years and we certainly did get re-regulated.
MYHREN: It was really unfortunate. And there’s no question, the people that were saying that were right in their own way. The fact is that we did have a right, and you might say almost a moral right, to raise our prices some at that point. It was question of how it was done. It was interesting. I was warned by the lawyers that you can’t even talk pricing. I said, “I’m talking about keeping prices down not talking about putting them up!” So I did talk about it. And people disagreed with me, and some of them completely disregarded the advice. So we ended up getting re-regulated.
MAXWELL: Yes. That made some good friends. It’s a small world. Your old friend Bill Ziff’s ex-top broadcasting guy turned out to be responsible for the …
MAXWELL: … Right. … one system where a …
MYHREN: … in Al Gore’s …
MAXWELL: … a future senator’s mother got a rate raised too much.
MYHREN: What was Marty’s company called at that point? Was it Intermedia or something like that?
MAXWELL: Something like that.
MYHREN: In any event, their company unfortunately was in the eye of the storm when rates went up because he was in Al Gore’s territory.
MAXWELL: Right. And he was tripping systems and raising them …
MYHREN: There are those who would argue that Al Gore’s home territory was a hotel in Washington and a private school in Washington. But for those who thought he really came from Tennessee, that’s where he came from.
MAXWELL: And his mother’s old farmhouse got like a 34% rate increase with no change in programming.
MYHREN: You’re absolutely right. I remember that well.
MAXWELL: That was an amazing time.
MYHREN: We had some responsibility there too – American Television. I left American Television in ’88 in a dispute with the then president of Time – a fellow named Nick Nicholas. We had some very serious issues between us. One of them was my steadfast refusal to raise rates in Honolulu, Dan Iouye’s home country.
MAXWELL: You owed Dan, right.
MYHREN: Not really owed Dan, but we had a 1% franchise fee at the time there, and I really didn’t want to disturb that. You can run through the economics of that and recognize what’s going to happen if you raise rates – you’ll go to 5% on franchise fee and so on. But my argument was much more profound than that – it was that we had made a commitment there to keep the rates reasonable. Shortly after I left the company, the rates were raised dramatically.
MAXWELL: Dramatically, if I remember right.
MYHREN: And I called back to top management, but I was no longer in the company. I didn’t have any clout whatsoever, but really protested it, and was essentially told that that wasn’t my business – which I knew, of course.
MYHREN: But I felt the obligation to protest. Inouye went crazy. Henry Juney who was the Sergeant at Arms in the Senate, and was Inouye’s buddy, called me and said, “What the hell is going on here?” I said, “There’s not a lot I can do about it, but I will try.” As I said, I tried. The unfortunate fact is that not only was that raise made then, but nine months later another raise was put in …
MAXWELL: Ooh, ouch.
MYHREN: … and at which point Inouye just said, …
MAXWELL: Yes, he got angry.
MYHREN: … “You guys are out of control, don’t live up to obligations. But in addition, you’re really penalizing the people here in Hawaii for reasons we don’t quite understand.” It was a very, very nasty period there. But there was the situation in Tennessee, that particular situation in Honolulu …
MAXWELL: Well, dozens of places.
MYHREN: … and others – all over the country that have been documented – obviously led to a nasty bill. Frankly the bill that was passed in 1999, which was very tough on the industry and really hurt the industry a lot, was much tougher than it needed to be. But, it never would have passed because the Bush veto of the bill was lost by one vote. And there’s no way that it would have ever been that close had these incidents not happened. So I think the whole industry learned lessons at that point.
MAXWELL: We can hope so.
MYHREN: I hope so. It really has to do with whether you adopt short-term, quarter-to-quarter earnings orientation that is absolutely inviolable or whether (because everybody has to be aware of quarterly earnings when they’re in a public company situation,) within that operating theory you can adopt some longer-term thinking that you sort of graft onto that. In this case, the industry just wasn’t willing to think long-term and think about the potential problems. The industry clearly needed more money because it was dramatically improving programming, and that costs money. But the problem with the ’92 bill was that one of the things it did, by far the most destructive thing it did to the cable industry, was it took away cable’s exclusivity. No matter how much money cable had spent on that programming, it now lost the exclusive right to use it. That was critical.
MAXWELL: It was critical, too, that it happened just as compression was invented.
MYHREN: That’s right.
MAXWELL: It’s changed the technological implication of that decision.
MYHREN: If cable had taken a much longer – I happen to believe this, and I’m sure there are very smart people who would disagree with me – but had cable taken the longer term view and had not gotten stuck with that bill, …
MAXWELL: … It wouldn’t have competition like it does.
MYHREN: It would not have been in a position where it ever would have been regulated the same way because, as you point out, Paul, the proliferation of delivery mechanisms or even the vastly expanded channel capacity on cable would have diluted the monopoly appearance and made it unnecessary to do to cable something like taking away its programming exclusivity.
MYHREN: So that, from my stand-point, was a major, major stumble for the cable industry which was unnecessary but probably, given human nature, probably inevitable. Had we avoided that at that point, it probably never would have happened.
MAXWELL: I think you’re right. Let’s take a step back to before you left ATC before we go onto the next step before you left Time. There was a wonderful story you told about that wound up on the wharves in San Francisco.
MYHREN: Oh, gosh.
MAXWELL: This is an unusual one, and not very many of these oral histories will have something like this in it. So I wanted to be sure you got to it.
MYHREN: Well, back in the early 80’s, I received a letter one day from a person who didn’t identify him/her self as a member of a group. It said, “We have all of your maps of your cable systems, and we’re going to place explosives in the most sensitive parts of those cable systems. We have entree to your computer systems so that we can put messages in your billing statements and in your customer communications which are extremely offensive to anyone, whether Chinese, Black, Arabic, Hispanic. Here are the kinds of messages we’ll put in that will make them very unhappy.” I looked at the letter. It only demanded $250,000. I thought for that kind of effort they ought to be asking a lot. Here we are. We’re a company that when I joined ATC it was about a $50 million company. When I eventually left at the end of ’88, it was $1.5 billion. We’re half way there at this point. I thought they should be asking for more than that. It gave me a clue that maybe these people weren’t totally sophisticated. But it was scary about what to do. I went and talked to Henry Gerkin who was our chief counsel and said, “Henry, what do we do?” We talked about it, and we decided we weren’t going to do anything that indicated to the people who had sent the letter that we were opposing it. So we communicated back to them fairly quickly. I had Henry make the communication which he obviously handled, in light of the way things came out, very well. We went to the Arapahoe County Sheriff’s office because we were located in Arapahoe County, Colorado and had a very confidential talk with the sheriff. He put one person on the case with us, and we began to design our communications back to these people. To make a long story fairly short, what happened was that there was a decision made by the people who were extorting the money to have the pickup of the money on the wharf in San Francisco. A detective, who was made up to look like me, actually made the delivery, a detective from the San Francisco police department. This guy was probably tougher than I am because what happened – and by the way this actually was written up in the Denver Post and the Rocky Mountain News – was that there was a Russian-speaking cab driver involved as people were changing cabs and all kinds of wild things going on. It was really Keystone Cops in some way. As these two people came together on the wharf, the fellow who was to take the receipt of the money reached down into his leg and the detective didn’t know what was going to happen and he just hammered the guy. Actually as it turned out, as I saw in court later, he totally distorted his face. It was an ugly situation. But at that point, a lot of other detectives descended on the scene and they grabbed this guy. The first piece of information they got was about a residence in Aurora, Colorado. When they got to that residence, they’d had my children’s names, ages, schools, and the same with a couple of the other top executives at ATC. One thing led to another. These people were charged. They went to court – a bunch of funny things which I’ll tell you privately – just a lot of funny things happened. In any event, the people from ATC who went to court were the only three who knew about it – myself, Henry Gerkin, and Larry James who was our chief technical officer who lives in Steamboat Springs now. Henry lives in Vail. The three of us went out and appeared in court in San Francisco in a room. It turned out that this fellow’s names was Wong. It was a Chinese group. The courtroom was ringed with very large, unsmiling Chinese people as I testified. Each of us was in there at a separate time, each of the three of us. But we all had the same reaction which was very, very intimidating. But we went through our thing. We had, from time that we had discovered those addresses, my family actually had a police escort for a year. Nobody in the industry ever knew about it at the time. I doubt that anybody does today. But we actually had police shielding for a year. A very interesting sidelight here – it turned out that this same group had had people in Wells Fargo, Bank America, Union Bank on the west coast and had successfully extorted all three of those companies. The net of all that was that we stopped these guys because not only did this guy get convicted, but so did three other people who were in it with him and who had run these scams on all the banks. They went to jail for ten years.
MAXWELL: And you haven’t heard from them since.
MYHREN: And we haven’t heard from them since, although you do worry about those things.
MAXWELL: Oh yeah.
MYHREN: You do worry about them. It’s just a little thing in the back of my mind, but it’s one I’ve learned to deal with and my family has learned to deal with.
MAXWELL: ATC though, in ’88, sort of moved to Stanford, Connecticut and left you behind.
MYHREN: Absolutely. There’s no other way to put it.
MAXWELL: I don’t want it to sound like they built a bridge and then didn’t let you through the toll booth, but I guess there’s some truth to that.
MYHREN: There is some truth to that. There’s no question that Nick Nicholas, the then president of Time – who later became Co-CEO of Time Warner with Steve Ross before he was summarily fired – Nick and I didn’t agree on a number of things.
MAXWELL: Rates among them?
MYHREN: We didn’t agree on rates obviously. Another critical, critical issue was that I really believed very strongly that ATC, being one of the two largest cable operators and a very well-run cable operator, had an opportunity to get positions in programming services for giving carriage to those programming services. We could get equity, and I believed very strongly that we should do that. It seems that there were two reasons why Nick fought me from the beginning. Essentially one was because he never did understand, it would appear, that basic cable programming services (advertising supported basic cable) were going to be the future of the industry. My argument was – look, we’ve got advertising resources, not just in ATC but in Time Inc., that are excellent. We’re the biggest magazine company, have 25% of the magazine advertising dollars in the U.S. We have people that really understand advertising. So running advertising – supported services is something we could be very good at. We can gain equity in all of these services in exchange for carriage. He didn’t get that. He was very much on the HBO model, the pay television services, which had been very successful there. But he didn’t really, as I gathered from could the arguments I had with him, visualize the future of advertising and supported services. The arguments about this created animosity between Nick and me and the decisions that kept us out of the advertising-supported programming business hurt Time Inc. immeasurably in the long term.
MAXWELL: It made Liberty stronger.
MYHREN: And it made Liberty stronger.
MAXWELL: It made TCI and Liberty stronger.
MYHREN: John Malone, on the other side of it, understood exactly what I understood, and he was able to execute it. So John got really into the programming business very successfully. They’ve done a remarkable job there. And it was a job that we had a better opportunity to do than TCI did.
MAXWELL: Yes, but for a decision. What was the timing of, and I don’t remember now, The Fanciest Dive, the attempt, at Time Inc., to build a TV guide for cable. Wasn’t that ’87, ”88, ’89?
MYHREN: No it wasn’t. It was earlier.
MAXWELL: It was earlier – okay.
MYHREN: The “fanciest dive” was really sort of ’86, ’87, ’88. That was a $49 million loss. That was something where, at ATC, we recommended that it wasn’t the right route to go.
MAXWELL: I remember.
MYHREN: We got overridden and that was a problem for Time, Inc. But it was an understandable mistake. However, this other mistake of not getting into the basic cable programming business was a brutally difficult, bad mistake. It’s funny because I think Nick viewed me, at the time, as being very parochial about ATC, wanting ATC to have these interests, when the programming arm at Time Inc was HBO.
MAXWELL: So he perceived a conflict.
MYHREN: Knowing that, I would say to him, “Look, Nick, I don’t care who owns the interest eventually. You’re going to have to let ATC have some of these interests because these programmers aren’t going to give it to HBO and HBO has nothing to offer for it. We’ve got a lot to offer for it. It’ll end up in our place. But if what we want to do is some cross-ruffing of management so that HBO gets some management clout in what’s actually happening in these things, we’d be very happy to do that.” I think Nick thought I was being disingenuous. I was being quite straight-forward, and I think history has proven that I was dead right on these issues!
MAXWELL: True. Well, you got the opportunity then to seed some actually as opposed to just take a percentage for carriage later.
MYHREN: Yes. What we did after some extraordinary arguments, was at least we got into some things. Very, very early on and before we were owed by Time – and this is one of things that I think had maybe stuck in Nick’s craw – we started something called Cinema Plus. When I first came to ATC, we started this pay television service in Florida. We did, for example, the Norton/Ali fight from Yankee stadium in ’76 which obviously followed Ali’s “Thrilla from Manila” against Frazier the year earlier. We did that very successfully. We did a lot of other things. We bought from the studios. We used that as a lever at that time because we were doing it on our own and reasonably well. I wouldn’t say we were terrific at it. But we were doing it well enough so that it gave us the opportunity to get from HBO a really good, long-term contract, at which point we closed down Cinema Plus. We had proven, at that point, that we were capable of doing these things, and that was good. But that didn’t make some people at HBO particularly happy. But that was before we were owned by Time Inc.
MAXWELL: That’s when Nick was the accountant there.
MAXWELL: He was CFO at HBO at that time.
MYHREN: Yes. I think he had a Time Inc. role actually, but he had a lot of influence on HBO. He was, I would say in retrospect, quite partial to HBO in these kinds of things. So when I came forward with what I thought were fairly visionary views of where the programming business was going and how ATC could help Time Inc. get there, he didn’t take kindly to that. It may have been something also in the chemistry between the two of us. But it missed opportunities like crazy. But also there was a difficulty here, in that as we went along, as we got farther into this and it became evident that we were going to take ATC public (and we began planning for that in 1985) something else happened. So all programming negotiations that went on from that point forward, Nick would take the simple position that we (Time) own 100% of HBO and we only own 80% of ATC as we go forward, so you guys shouldn’t be owning any programming. And I said, “Gee, from a practical stand-point, we have to be doing it because HBO can’t get access to equity in services owned by others. We’ll do this meshing with HBO.” In any event, we agreed to disagree on that. That was just another issue. Obviously consumer pricing was a huge issue. And I didn’t give up on either of those issues, as I tend not to when I am absolutely sure that long term, something has got to be done a certain way. And Nick didn’t give up. And in the end, with the beginning of the negotiations with Warner in early ’88, (which didn’t come to fruition … It actually went through a couple of stages. There were break-offs and come-backs. It went through a couple of stages) there was an enormous drive to move ATC east. Actually, Nick and I had had discussions on that for a couple of years, and he wanted to move ATC out of Colorado and east. I said, “Cannot do. Really a bad idea.” I must admit that there were a couple of reasons why I was saying “cannot do”. One, I thought we’d lose our entrepreneurial flavor if we were sort of tucked in under the Time Inc. bureaucracy in the east. But secondly, I had kids in school out here. I also had a son, my older son, who was actually deathly ill. He survived, as it turned out, after a long time at the Mayo Clinic and then back here in Denver. I couldn’t really move him. I also had been divorced previously and remarried. But my custody arrangements, which were joint with the children, would have been disturbed by moving east. And Nick knew that. I knew that. So my arguments against moving the company, which were very good from a business stand-point, also could have been viewed very much as disingenuous. So eventually we got to a point where, with the Warner negotiations, we were really at a stand-off. Nick was saying, “We’re moving this thing.” And I said, “We’re not moving this thing.” Basically we agreed to disagree. The company was moved, proving that they didn’t value me as much as I hoped they would, and I stayed here, set up my own company and bought some small cable systems. Actually, though I resigned from the NCTA Board, having left Time (also resigned from the Turner Board which I was on at the time – Ted’s Board – which is another very interesting chapter) and was elected by the small operators to be a small system operator representative on the NCTA Board – another interesting chapter. I did a number of things while I had my own company. I kept that company, Myhren Media going, when I eventually took a job in Providence, Rhode Island, after my kids were out of school and off in college …
MAXWELL: … your son was better.
MYHREN: … and my son was better. I was in a position to do that, and I did it. I took a job running the Providence Journal Company, a diversified media company.
MAXWELL: Well, it got you back into print in a long way around.
MYHREN: It’s interesting, Paul. I always, despite the fact that I knew that it was going to be exciting in the electronic media and I knew that my fortune maybe was there, I really had a hankering to get back to print. In print, in addition to that company I told you about, when I was in high school I was the editor of my high school newspaper. When I was in college, I wrote for the Daily Dartmouth my freshman year. Then I was selected by a senior – who was writing for the AP and the New York Times as their campus stringer – as the guy to take his job. (I figured I could buy a new pair of shoes because I had tape around my shoes at that point, the only pair of shoes.) Not to be forgotten, my mother had been an editorial writer for the Cleveland Plain Dealer back before she met my dad and moved to Pennsylvania. That was very unusual for women at that point.
MAXWELL: Yes, I would say so.
MYHREN: So I really had, to a degree, ink in my veins. So the offer from the Providence Journal, which I actually turned down the first time it came to me because the kids weren’t out of school and Erik was still on the cusp, I took when they came back the second time. The Providence Journal newspaper is a terrific mid-market newspaper, Pulitzer Prize winning newspaper, and I just thought that would be neat. Plus, I could bring strengths that I have. I know about cable, and the Journal had 250,000 subscribers. I’m fascinated by broadcast television. They had four broadcast stations. Then they had minority positions in a bunch of suburban newspapers in various parts of the country. The company was in the process of selling some cellular they had gotten in to, so there was going to be some money available. They really wanted me to come in and use the money properly and try to build the company. We did that in a pretty dramatic way. I went in there at the end of ’90 which, as you remember, was just the depths of the depression in the media business. We immediately set out to get things at good prices. I sold our suburban newspapers because we had minority positions in all those and we had no influence on them and we didn’t like the way they were going. They weren’t going well from a financial stand-point, but they were even worse from an editorial stand-point. So we just said, “Let’s get out of those.” So we concentrated our newspaper efforts on the Providence Journal. We then bought Rhode Island magazine and some other smaller properties in the area, so we clustered media properties. In the cable business and the broadcast business, we grew dramatically, made some purchases from Glenn Jones in cable, from Jones Intercable at what I thought were very good prices. It turned out to be very good prices. The biggest single purchase we made was that we bought King in Seattle from the Bullit Sisters, another private company like ourselves. We beat out a lot of public companies and financial companies in trying to get that. We got it for a terrific price because it was in the depths of the media depression. We bought the broadcast side for 7 ½ times …
MYHREN: Yes … the broadcast cash flow. In broadcasting business, a funny thing happens – when times are good and the economy is good, then advertising is good and broadcasting is 100% advertising. What happens is, your revenue flow goes up, your broadcast cash flow goes up. The strange thing that happens that shouldn’t happen is that the multiple on that also goes up. So it’s the lemmings, you know. So it gets up to 13 – 15 times. When times are bad and the economy goes bad, advertising goes south, your broadcast cash flow drops, and the multiple comes down. So you get this doubled effect. So we went in there and bought at the low on that. We also got a bunch of cable subscribers from King. We also bought the Palmer systems, the Palmer Cable Systems in Palm Springs, California, the west coast of Florida and elsewhere. But those were the two primary wins there. We built up our cable. What we got with the broadcast side was NBC, King 5 in Seattle, KGW-NBC in Portland, the CBS station KREM in Spokane, got Boise NBC, a 40 market share on that station – amazing. We got a property in Honolulu. Eventually we grew our four broadcast stations to 14. At one point, we were NBC’s largest affiliate other than their O&Os. On the cable side, we went from 250,000 to 800,000 subscribers. Beyond that, we began to get very involved in what I called venture things. We bought a piece of Peapod, the on-line grocery shopping service. We started programming services. One of the agreements I had with the Journal directors before I went there was that we had to be in the programming side of things.
MAXWELL: You weren’t going to make that mistake again.
MYHREN: No. So I figured I’d make that deal going in rather than having an argument with somebody later. They agreed that I could do what I wanted there. They had enough faith that I’d do the right things. We started the Television Food Network from scratch, just as an idea on a piece of paper. Joe Langhan was so helpful in our company doing that. Jack Clifford played a big role in that. We brought in Reese Schoenfeld who had started CNN with Ted Turner to really manage things. Reese did a spectacular job. Steve Cunningham was even involved at that point. He later started the Wedding Channel, an internet channel. We brought those guys in to help with it. But we created this thing from scratch. It’s probably worth $800 million – $1 billion today. It was quite a good idea. Because we had all those broadcast stations in the northwest, we started Northwest Cable News, which, as far as I know, may be the most successful regional cable news channel in the country – cable new channel.
MAXWELL: More than New York 1 even?
MYHREN: We gave some … It’s very interesting. I couldn’t compare the numbers today, Paul, so that’s a fair question. But I know there was a period there when we sold it to Belo when it was the most successful.
MAXWELL: Well, they’re having problems in Texas today.
MYHREN: What we were able to do … Yes, Belo now, which bought all those things, is trying to model that same thing in Texas. What we were able to do is take all our broadcast stations and use their product – Boise, Spokane, Portland, Seattle – to create the basis, a very inexpensive basis because you already have the produced product. Then we layered that over with a lot of unique product. But we didn’t have to do all unique product. We put the services out there and we got all the cable systems in the area to take it.
MAXWELL: I’m sure retrans helped a little.
MYHREN: Well, you know, it was really interesting. I actually called John Malone before we made the final commitment to put that together, and said, “John, here’s the deal. This will give cable something exclusive in the Northwest.” TCI had a lot of those systems in the Northwest.
MAXWELL: A lot then, right.
MYHREN: This will give cable something that will be unique to cable, even under the ’92 Cable Act.
MAXWELL: Yes, it is unique, right.
MYHREN: It’s unique. “You guys can hold onto it. You don’t have to give it to satellite. It will be powerful. And it will be powerful because not only will it be good, you gotta trust me there, but we’re going to advertise it on all four of our market-leading television stations.”
MAXWELL: Now John would hear that.
MYHREN: “This is absolutely not true of anything else that’s ever happened with cable. So we’ll do that.” He said, “Phew, we’ll do it.” We then put it together. We went in and went through this awful situation trying to get distribution by going through the TCI bureaucracy. And we weren’t making it, and we were about to go dark. I called John and said, “John, do you remember the conversation we had.” He said, “Yes, I do remember.” I said, “Well, you guys just aren’t executing.” It got executed, and we were on the systems.
MAXWELL: I understand that part.
MYHREN: Anyway, so we got that thing done successfully – both of those programming services. Then we built the company up, and then – not such a strange thing if you look at it in the broader context – happened. We had a 175-year old company at Providence Journal, which was a private company. You had stratified ownership. You had five different families which had grown into more families which were everywhere from the septuagenarians down to the teenagers. Different people in different families and at different age groups had different views of how we should run the company. There was not too much argument about what we were doing, because we were clearly building it and building it very profitably. There was a lot of argument about whether we should pay dividends or not. Those arguments got bigger and bigger, and we started to have visions of the Chronicle Company in San Francisco, Binghams in Louisville – by the way, we owned the Louisville television station so we understood that situation real well – families who had infighting and destroyed value terrifically. So we began to think that maybe if we couldn’t settle this all down, we ought to start thinking about selling some things. It was about that point, of course that the telephone companies were coming into the business, the cable business. So we made a determination to sell the cable company and to, in effect, bring back both cash and stock to our shareholders. We came up with a very tax-efficient way of doing it. Without getting into all the tax ramifications, we kept the rest of the company as a whole – the newspapers, the programming, the broadcast stations, magazines – kept that over here – and we moved the cable company (we talked to TCI, Cox, Comcast and Continental). We ended up selling to Continental. We talked to telephone companies as well. I decided I really wanted to try to keep it in the cable mold if we could, because we thought there would be more than one bite of the apple by doing that. If we sold to cable, the cable guy might eventually sell again. Continental – I liked Amos – but interestingly enough, I liked all the companies. I liked Jim Robbins, I liked the Roberts, and I liked TCI although I didn’t think TCI’s plant was very good and that bothered me. I viewed that as sort of a hidden negative on the balance sheet. Continental had the best plant of all those people. We had a great plant. We also clustered fairly well. We ended up selling to continental. I went on the Continental board and Continental ended up doing something we sort of hoped that they would do but weren’t going to try to force them to do in any way. They ended up selling to USWest so that our shareholders got this terrific deal from Continental for their cable – we took about half stock, half cash – moved it to USWest, and the stock portion got another 50% bump. Then, of course as you know, that became Media One within USWest. They did a whole bunch of reorganization over there. They then took the Media One portion, sold it to AT&T, and that stock which had been coming through, got another big bump. So our shareholders did enormously well. We took the rest of the company at Providence Journal public on the New York exchange. Shortly after we went public, we started getting bombarded by people with interest because they looked at what we had, and the numbers were now transparent to them. They said, “This is good. We’d like to buy it.” Belo came in with an offer which was a low-ball. They were a company like us. They happened to be public which was good. But they were also a newspaper-based family company, very well run. Dallas Morning News is a Pulitzer Prize winning newspaper, really a top quality newspaper. So it fit. We decided to intensify our discussions with them, got the price up and up and up and sold it to them. So they took everything else. I came back to Denver.
MAXWELL: And what’s next?
MYHREN: What I’m doing at this point is – I really desperately don’t want to run anything. So I really have gotten into the venture capital business and accepted corporate board seats. I assiduously avoided consulting which is something I have done at various points in my life. I’ve set up, with my old CFO from the Providence Journal Company, a venture capital company. It’s a seed venture capital venture company called Megunticook– old Indian name – in …
MAXWELL: It’s a river somewhere, isn’t it?
MYHREN: Yes, it’s a river and a lake, actually, near Camden, Maine where Tom’s family happens to have some property. We set this thing up. Tom runs it, Tom Matlack, back in Boston on Newbury Street. I’ve gotten involved with all the venture capitalists in town here many of whom came out of the cable industry, so we think alike about a lot of things. I’ve gone on a lot of boards. I’m on the J. D. Edwards Board, a big software company, the Verio Board, although I’m about to come off that because we just sold that to NTT for $6.5 billion, a company we actually started four years ago. That was an ISP as we started it, and it morphed into becoming a web-hosting company when we saw the margins slip in the Internet Service Provider world. I am also on the board of Dreyfus Founders Funds, a group of mutual funds. I’m also on the Peapod board which is the on-line grocery shopping service – which is a kick – out of Chicago, the Advanced Marketing Services board, which is a huge book wholesaler and now we’re in the publishing business, out in Delmar, California. We’re one of Amazon’s biggest suppliers in the book business. I’m also doing a lot of pro bono stuff. I’m on the DU board, and I’m chair of the Finance Committee and I’m on the Executive Committee and the Faculty and Academic Affairs Committee. Also, the U.S. Ski Team board, a hospital board here in town, things like that. We do a lot of work, as you know, with the disabled ski team as well – those kinds of things. My life is made up of lots of activities and people, all of whom I enjoy.
MAXWELL: Do you want to make an appeal for distribution while you’re here?
MYHREN: Yes – always as a programmer, you have to do that. I’m trying to lead a life now where I don’t run anything but where I’m involved in a lot of things to keep me interested. Unfortunately, I’m too involved in too many things. I’m going to have to cut that back a bit. But it’s a nice lifestyle and frankly, I couldn’t have this kind of life and some of the pro bono things I do, if I had not been fortunate enough to get in the cable business. I think I’ve told you that I’ve known a lot of the people in the newspaper business now. I know them in the book business. I know them in the broadcast business. I know them in the internet world, some of the new economy things. The group of people that I met in the cable industry over the years are the most exciting, innovative group of people that I have ever known as a group. I really consider my cable friends to be really good friends. They are much more exciting than those old economy folks and those old more traditional businesses. And they’re better grounded in business and more sensible than a lot of the internet folks.
MAXWELL: But not risk adverse. They still try things.
MYHREN: They’re very entrepreneurial, the cable guys, still. They’ll try lots of things, but they’ve got a very good sense about them. There are so many people who are so much fun in the business. It’s just wonderful.
MAXWELL: That’s it. Thank you, Tryg. Gus Hauser thanks you.