Interview Date: Friday February 09, 2001
Interview Location: Sun Valley, ID
Interviewer: Liz Burke
Collection: Hauser Collection
BURKE: Good evening. It’s Friday night, February 9. We’re in Sun Valley, Idaho. This an oral history project for the Hauser Oral and Video project, part of the National Cable Television Center and Museum in Denver. We’re here interviewing John Patterson from Kent, Washington, and talking about his 30+ years in the cable industry. He’s had a lot of experience in CommScope, but he’s had lots of experience with organizations and issues that go back to the early days of cable. We’re going to pick his brain and see some of the highlights of what John has been doing in the last 30 years.
John, why don’t we just start by how you came to come here today and what are you doing at Sun Valley?
PATTERSON: I’m here with a group called the Sawtooth Cable group. We met annually at some snow fall (hopefully) resort to ski, share stories, have some camaraderie, and basically bond. NO matter what our schedules are and where we’re from, we tend to always try to get together once a year in February. It’s usually right around Valentine’s Day, as my wife fondly reminds me occasionally. That’s why I’m here.
BURKE: And how many years is this?
PATTERSON: For me I think it’s about 18. I’ve missed a few. We’re in our 20th year, 25 years actually. Jim Hirschfield originally started this as just a meeting to bring people together to share industry stories, industry insight, and to get some pulse of what was going on in the industry that not all of us had. I think we have a cross-section of attorneys, cable operators, retired cable operators, and folks like myself which is considered a vendor.
BURKE: Well great. It’s a pleasure to share this opportunity to be with your group today.
PATTERSON: It’s indeed a pleasure to be here, Liz.
BURKE: I understand that you started out in cable in about 1969, so you must have been a very young lad at that time.
PATTERSON: I was. Actually I got into cable in 1967 through necessity. I was going to attend Arizona State on a baseball scholarship, but the competition was little more tough than I thought it was going to be. So I opted to go to work and earned my way through college. I started with Bruce Merrill, one of the fellow Pioneers, who had a company called Ameco Cable in the Phoenix, Arizona area. I started there right out of high school. Mr. Merrill was kind enough to let me work hours around my curriculum at Arizona State. Shortly after that, Bruce’s company was purchased by Times Wire & Cable out of Wallingford, Connecticut, and they elected to let me stay on and do the same thing. Shortly after I earned my undergraduate degree, I went on to complete my graduate degree, and was offered a position in outside sales by Times Wire & Cable in 1973.
BURKE: So going back to the early years of cable, was there something in particular besides your boss that got you interested in cable?
PATTERSON: Well, I think back then, cable TV was a novelty. It was brand new, something that not very many people knew about. I think that some of the things … My earliest remembrance is that I’ve always traveled in usually most of the western United States. When I would get on a plane and you would sit next to someone and you would discuss with them what you do for a living, I would say, “I’m in the cable television industry.” There was always a question mark. Because unless you were in a rural area of an area that had cable TV, most of the population had not heard about that. Today it’s just the opposite. When I’m sitting next to someone and they ask what business I’m in, I say, “Cable television,” immediately there’s recognition and they talk about all the brand new Internet services, digital programming, all the various and sundry programs that are out there. So it’s gone 180 degrees from where it was when I started.
BURKE: What are some of your fondest memories of the early days of cable. What was it like back then?
PATTERSON: My fondest memory was going into a town and at the time being a new vendor and being it was a new industry. Everyone in town knew who the cable operator was that served that. And they knew where to find him. Most times they were found out on a hilltop, which is where the headends were located. And the people were the pillars of that community. They gave their time, their money, their blood actually, to be successful in those smaller communities, to build a master antenna network – Able Cable, as it was called in those days. The people were so genuine and open. Since we were all new in this new industry, it was like a fraternity. Everyone accepted you. I ended up … I had many meals in people’s homes and stayed in their homes. I basically didn’t know them that well. Whenever I was in the area, I could pick up the phone and call them. It was, “Come on, let’s go fishing,” “Let’s go play golf,” “Where are you staying tonight?” and they opened their arms. It was just a wonderful industry. That’s why I’m still here. It hasn’t changed a lot.
BURKE: So you were very active in the role as the vendor. But as time went on, you got very involved in the whole industry. Why was that?
PATTERSON: I think a lot of us saw that our industry was under siege and not very legitimate in the eyes of the broadcasters and the regulators. The single event that probably put us on the map in my lifetime, was the Cable Act of 1975, I believe. We made several trips to Washington, DC to make sure we got a fair shake and that the copyright tribunal was set up correctly so that the operators would be able to pay for the programming and the retransmission consent, and so forth. But I think it took an effort by everyone in the industry at the time to make that happen. It crossed lines of operator, vendors, legislators, attorneys. I think all of us saw that to make it successful, we were all going to have to get behind it and push it. And we did. At that particular time, the operators had to spend all the money out of their own pockets to go back to Washington, DC and the delegations and the lobbyists and the attorneys, and it was just a wonderful effort. Whether they came from Montana, like one of my friends named Matt Clark or Sam Haddock from Idaho or J. B. Dyer from Oregon, Jim Hirschfield from Washington – everyone just got in regardless of their differences in the business community and the way they did business. They all got behind it and made it a reality for this generation to enjoy the success that they’ve had.
BURKE: So you would say that the industry significantly grew up right around 1975?
PATTERSON: I think so. I think ’75, if you look at the Cable Act being adopted, the copyright tribunal, and then the thing that was right on the heels of that was the first satellite programming that HBO did in conjunction with UA Columbia down in Vero Beach, Fort Pierce – The Thrilla from Manila. That rally legitimized cable TV. Then you saw people like Ted Turned establish the superstation which was WTCG at the time that we know now as WTBS, and also CNN. I think those were events that all kind of fell right into the mid-70s there that really put cable TV on the map. Then the larger cities started to be added as well. There were not any major markets at that time. They were all smaller markets that weren’t able to receive television signals off the aid.
BURKE: So did your job change – it obviously did – as the industry grew?
PATTERSON: I think so in that the number of customers that …. I’ve represented a coaxial cable manufacturer for my whole career – Times Wire & Cable and CommScope. At that time, the universe was a little smaller because there weren’t that many operators. As the number of systems proliferated, so did our business. So there was more of a universe to sell our products and services to.
BURKE: Tell us more about what you did as a vendor.
PATTERSON: My job as a vendor was great for a single guy back in the early ‘700s. I usually got on an airplane, flew into a city, rented a car, and then drove to the hinterlands wherever there was a cable system. My first job I had 10 states. I had the Dakotas west, including Alaska and Hawaii. A typical time would be … One of my favorite stories: I was brand new to the industry. I flew into a town called Liberal, Kansas. At that time, TelePrompTer was the MSO. They were the largest cable operator. There was a gentleman there named Waldo who made the purchasing decisions. He was at the headend. Like I said, that’s normally where you found the operator. So I drove out there. In those days, all the signals were on a master antenna like I was describing. In Liberal, Kansas, there was a 400′ tower. He said, “If you want to sell me something, you’ll go up the tower with me and we’ll talk.” I never had been on a tower before in my life. But we climbed that tower – 400’ up – to change out a beacon light at the time. I’d never been on a tower. Once you get up to the top, all the FM static is up there. So the hair on your head stands up and on your arm. You can feel the hair on the back of your neck stand up. You can feel like buzzing going on, and that’s from the FM static. But that was one of … I would not do that today, but when you’re 23 years old, you’re bullet-proof, and I thought I was.
BURKE: I can see how that would be absolutely horrible.
PATTERSON: But that was a lot of fun. The folks there in Liberal never bought cable from anyone else but me after that, because no one had ever been up on a tower with him.
BURKE: That’s just great.
PATTERSON: Another story I had is: Growing up in Phoenix, Arizona, I wasn’t used to the cold. There was a cable system being built in Sioux Falls, South Dakota at the time – a gentleman named Joe Floyd who’s still in this industry. He was building a system there. I had flown up there in January, rented my car. As I’m leaving the rental car counter, a man hands me an extension cord. I looked at this extension cord and I said, “What’s this?” He said, “That’s to plug in your car at night.” I had no idea what that meant. So I went, got in the car, drove to the motel, checked in, and as I left, I said, “Can you tell me about this cord they gave me?” He said, “Oh, that’s to plug in to your engine block to keep your oil from freezing at night so your car will start in the morning.” I thought the darndest things. The cable operators were working in those kind of conditions back in those days. It just amazed me that the cold, the environmental conditions – to deliver pictures to their constituents out there – just phenomenal. They really gave a lot, in those days, to their subscribers.
BURKE: Now when you were selling, were you selling to a lot of systems that were building? Did you actually go out as people were building systems”
PATTERSON: Yes. Normally what happened is, there was Al Warren published a publication called the Fact Book, and I think he still publishes it. He would print, in there, where the franchises were being awarded, the operator, the person, where they were going to build. That was almost a “Blue Book” or a blue-print where the cable vendors would go and who they would meet with. So it was almost a guide of where the cities were, who was building it, and what they intended to build.
BURKE: And you would contact these people?
BURKE: And was it a bidding situation?
PATTERSON: Most of the time. But I think this industry, for the longest time, people bought from relationships. There were very few coax cable vendors. But they bought who they trusted and who they knew and by reputation.
BURKE: Of course delivery was important.
PATTERSON: It was. So the people I met would give me recommendations and would call friends. Like I said, it was almost a fraternity organization. The Idaho operators knew the Washington operators and the Oregon operators because they all had similar interests, and similar problems. So the network was wonderful. If you did a good job for Sam Haddock in Moscow, Idaho, he would call J. B. Dyer in Tillamook, Oregon and tell him what a great job I did. Then J. B., sight unseen, would order product from me or Derrick White in Spokane. That’s the way it was, all along. They basically helped open a lot of doors for me.
BURKE: I noticed that eventually you got involved in the state-by-state level with some of the cable organizations in the states that you served. How did that work?
PATTERSON: Well, each state, at the time, … I was blessed to come to Spokane, Washington. I call it really the birthplace of cable TV, mainly just the area. I was able to meet Mr. Parsons in Astoria, Oregon, which there’s a plaque there up by his headend site. The NCTA erected a plaque saying it was the first cable television system in America – first paying subscribers. But Ed Parsons was there. Every state had an association where they would meet annually and talk about the issues and basically provide a solid front, a unified front. I was asked, when I started, to be the vendor on the board to give them the vendor’s perspective. So that just proliferated again from Washington to Oregon to Idaho to Montana to Wyoming – all of those states. Once you do it, it becomes a work of love.
BURKE: So how did you balance that – working and traveling. Were you serving on all these boards?
PATTERSON: Actually the people you’re sitting on the board with are the same people you’re selling to. So it became a sales call as well. Not that you always agree with them, but you see your customers in the room.
BURKE: You’d see their perspective. You’d see their issues.
PATTERSON: Right – and they’d see the vendor’s side.
BURKE: Right. What about the technology? As you were involved in this, how did you keep up with the technology and how did the product that you sold actually change and evolve as the systems evolved?
PATTERSON: The channel capacity at the time when I entered the industry … They had 12 channel systems, and that was the cutting-edge technology at the time. Tube amplifiers were just leaving and solid-state amplifiers made by Milton Shapp or Jerrold Electronics, as we know them, they became the cutting edge. They went from 12 channels to 20 channels. It then became a race for bandwidth. And I don’t think we’re done yet.
BURKE: We’re not done.
PATTERSON: The race for bandwidth is 500 channels now. ISPs, telephony, security – it’s all available. So we’ve come a long ways. But the actual product that I sell, which is the first name in cable TV, basically has only gotten better on specifications. But it’s still made the same way it was 30 years ago in some regards. In some regards, it’s just gotten better through technology, but it’s still at the pipe for the industry. We also manufacture fiber cable for fiber optics which allows us to get rid of the electronics from the headend to the subscriber which is a detriment. The more pieces of equipment you can take away from the headend to the subscriber, the better signal, the better quality, the better reliability you’re going to offer. And that’s where the industry is headed and has headed over the years.
BURKE: So probably you were involved in answering some of the engineering questions, going back to headquarters, getting the right products. How did that work in your industry where it was competitive? Did you have to worry about the other vendors were doing?
PATTERSON: Not really because the SCTE, when they started, set up specifications and standards for connectors for cable so that everybody made the same size, everybody made it the same way basically. You could change some of the specifications but not the diameters, pulling tensions and those kinds of things so that there was lot of standards created that have gone through the test of time to work out very well.
BURKE: Now I understand that at some point you were involved with that organization?
PATTERSON: We did not have a chapter in the Northwest. Three of my fellow vendors and I and two operators started the Cascade Chapter in Oregon as the first SCTE chapter in the Pacific Northwest. We have a Rainier chapter now in the Seattle area. I think right now there are about 200 chapters throughout the United States for the SCTE. The whole mission was to train the engineers, the plant managers, the technicians on what’s happening out in the industry to keep them up to speed, and also to get ideas from them on where we needed to go on training. Training has become such an issue for cable television.
BURKE: How do you deal with training in your company or just for you personally?
PATTERSON: I think training is continual. We, as a company at CommScope, hire college grads or people with a lot of pizzazz, a lot of high energy, people who are willing to learn new technologies. We send them though our indoctrination and travel with some of our seasoned veterans. Then most all of them … I haven’t had anyone leave our company since I’ve started that I hired because this industry is so dynamic. It gets such a hold on you. But the training is continuous because the technology changes, people change, organizations change. We’re in a consolidation mode now. I think we’re seeing the shake-outs again that have occurred in over the last 30 years. They continue to occur. The consolidation companies get bigger and a lot of friends leave but then find ways to get back in as well.
BURKE: So you’re still working with a lot of the same people you started out with?
PATTERSON: Exactly, just different companies.
BURKE: Are there some particular people who’ve really had a high influence on you that have made it worthwhile to stay in the industry?
PATTERSON: I think when I look back at people, I try to take something from all of them. But Richard and Gene Schneider had a profound impact on me. Bill Daniels had a profound impact on me. Bob Magness. I was lucky to meet a lot of these people and socialize with them. Craig McCaw. Some of the ones I remember the best are the people that don’t get a lot of recognition, people that helped me along the way. One is a gentleman named Dick Pew out of the tri-cities in Washington State, Sam Haddock in Moscow, Don Makin in Pullman, Washington, Rex Porter – the person who took a chance on me hiring me out of college, Ray Schneider who’s deceased. There’s been so many. It’s kind of like accepting an Academy Award. I’m going to leave somebody out. But the biggest fan, of course, is my wife. When we married – another story is: She told me, when she found out what I did, and there weren’t any cable systems in Seattle where we were living, she said, “What are you going to do when all the cable is sold? What are we going to do for a living?” So we’re still answering that question 33 years later as the cable wears out and is replaced and somebody else steps in. We sell more cable every year than we did the year before.
BURKE: So it’s very much been a growth industry from your perspective because the good years or the bad years, people are still building.
PATTERSON: That’s correct. Subscribers are our king, and our industry and customers know that. Customers are king.
BURKE: Putting it in perspective, I mean, it has been an industry with really exponential growth. Why do you think that is? Why do you think it’s grown so much?
PATTERSON: I think the need for entertainment and the need for information. I think we’ve bridged that gap, and we do it quite well, probably for the best value to obtain information and to give entertainment. It’s just been a marvelous run, and I don’t see it … because information is continuing to grow,… and the way it’s delivered. People still want it delivered into their home. They don’t want to go some place else for it. I was reading an article the other day that we may be seeing the end of libraries. I never thought I’d see that. Our children don’t go to the libraries as much as they used to. They go on the Internet. They go upstairs into their room and they’re on a cable modem pretty soon and the information is instantaneous. They don’t have to go look it up in the Dewey Decimal System anymore like they did when I was in college. So it’s offering that type, once again, for information and for entertainment. We’re very fortunate to be in an industry of telecommunications and broadband that offers that.
BURKE: It goes back to your earlier comment that we’re still in the race for bandwidth. It’s a broadband pipe. Where do you think that’s going to lead to? You mentioned libraries.
PATTERSON: My boss is a gentleman, and the Cable Center is near and dear to him, named Frank Drendel. Frank Drendel’s vision is the same as a lot of our vision is that there’s no better way to deliver what we’re delivering than on cable today, be it fiber, be it drop cable, be it coax. It’s ‘how far are we going to take it?’ and I don’t think we’re there yet. I think there’s a lot of blue sky out there. I think we’ve been discovered. I think that’s why you’re seeing some of the over builders come into the industry. I think that’s why you see the satellite programmers come in, the DBS. But I don’t have a crystal ball to see where it’s going. But I think with the strength that we have in programming and the strength we have behind in the entrepreneurs that are still dealing in our industry, that we’re going to deliver whatever the public wants, when they want it, and how they want it – which is more important – in their homes.
BURKE: So are you building bigger and bigger pipes or are you using the same pipes to deliver more service?
PATTERSON: We’re delivering different pipes. Twenty years ago fiber didn’t exist. Now everyone is saying fiber – fiber to the node, fiber to the curb. Some people are saying fiber to the home. There have been some field trials to run fiber optics to the home. It’s very cost intensive, and that’s probably what’s stopping it. But also the devices that are out there, the flat screens, that everyone is touting, on TV sets. They still run by RF, not by fiber, not by lights. So there’s going to be a challenge there. Maybe we’ll see a fiber optic set 20 years from now. But they don’t exist except probably in somebody’s mind.
BURKE: So that’s all new.
PATTERSON: That’s going to be all new. But I think the services are being delivered basically the same way that Mr. Parsons delivered them 50 years ago. Once again, that’s getting a signal off an antenna, running a line down from that antenna, and into somebody’s home. It’s pretty simple. It’s like one of our professors told us in college, ” ‘KISS’ is the best thing – just Keep It Simple, Stupid.” We all know that. So we still do the job. We just do it better now, and we’re continually doing it better.
BURKE: But 50 years ago there were 12 channels. What’s the channel capacity now?
PATTERSON: There was only two. Ed Parsons only delivered 2 channels in Astoria, and they were from Portland. That’s why he went up high on the hill to get the two channels from Portland and run them down over a flat line.
BURKE: So it went from 2 to 12 to 20.
PATTERSON: I think it went 2 to 3 to 4, yes.
BURKE: Over time.
PATTERSON: Once the franchises started out in our industry of one-upmanship, if you were going to offer 20 channels, I’m going to offer 28 channels. Maybe the technology wasn’t there, but the entrepreneur and a lot of these cable operators found a way to get 28 channels. Then the next guy down the street or the next community would offer 35 channels, 38 channels. That’s during the real intense franchise wars which we don’t see quite that much anymore.
BURKE: Could you tell a little bit about how the cable industry was going through peaks and valleys by how much you sold?
PATTERSON: Definitely. And we still can. I think what we see is that there are operators who do a wonderful job in their communities and want to bring in all the new services and all the enhanced products they can. This takes substantial capital. That means new cable. It means new amplifiers, more fiber, cable modems – all very expensive, very capital intensive. Some of them have pulled back on that, waiting for a return somewhere else. And when they do that, that impacts all the people who sell cable, the modems, even the installers.
BURKE: Did you ever have to help your customers deal with financing?
PATTERSON: Only to the degree that they would ask me occasionally who was a good lender and who could they trust and if they had two people, who did I like. I would give them my two cents, if I did know those people.
BURKE: Tried to keep on top of those issues.
PATTERSON: Because the cable industry has tended to stay with those who ‘brought them to the dance,’ whether it was getting finance or getting them equipment, getting them cable. The relationships were very strong. It’s a relationship business.
BURKE: Taking a step back, before you got your cable job, I know you were highly interested in baseball. I thought you might be able to tell us some good baseball stories.
PATTERSON: Well, my favorite one is how I ended up in the cable industry. I was an All-State baseball player out of Carl Hayden high School back in Phoenix, recruited by several schools. But I always wanted to go to Arizona State because it was local and they had a great baseball program. The coach at that time was a gentleman named Bobby Winkles, who went on to coach the Oakland Athletics to a World Championship. After he recruited me and I went and played my freshman year, one of the guys I happened to back up was a gentleman named Reggie Jackson, who ended up in the Hall of Fame. Coach Winkels called me into his office and said, “John, you’re a pretty good ball player, but this is the competition you’re going to have to face and they’re not that good yet. You could probably play here, go to the minor league and play in the minor leagues. But I don’t think you’re ever going to get to the major leagues.” I was just crest-fallen. My feelings were hurt because I’d played baseball my whole life. But he had some advice for me. He said, “Get an education while you’re here, because most of these guys aren’t going to realize that they’re not going to play. But if you realize that and you go out and get an education, you’ll be okay.” I thought that was the best advice I ever got when I look back on it. Don’t worry about sports. Get an education and move on. I’ve told that story quite a bit.
BURKE: Fairly significant.
PATTERSON: Fairly significant.
BURKE: Turning point and pretty young.
(Replace video tape change. Tape continues mid-conversation)
PATTERSON: I turned it on Monday and it flickered. My LED display was gone. So I thought I could download the information.
BURKE: Without a screen.
PATTERSON: Exactly – and you can’t because I can’t see where my cursors were.
BURKE: You know that’s why we have one of these.
PATTERSON: I know. But the other thing that is different is that we depend on those so much anymore. It’s all our information and our lives are in this notebook, which is different too.
BURKE: You must have taken some technology courses to get up to speed.
PATTERSON: Mainly through the SCTE and mainly through Cable Tec Expo, and you learn a lot from being around it.
BURKE: It’s highly technical.
PATTERSON: Our product is not highly technical – it’s a nuts and bolts type.
BURKE: Somehow you were able to communicate with the highly technical guys that needed your product.
PATTERSON: Correct. You have to know what they’re doing, because they’re going to ask you what your opinion is of what they’re doing especially if they know you’ve been in the business or you know Joe down the street and what he’s doing. There is still a lot of competitive one-upmanship going on in our industry, and there has been since day one except when someone wants to intervene. Then you watch them all become partners against it.
BURKE: Of course. Are we back on? (Technician replied “yes”).
I had wanted to ask that question because I think you, more than anyone, has really seen the technology boom because you’ve sold to systems as they’ve grown. Probably your main contacts, you’ve had to talk to the decision makers, but also to the technology people. What kind of advice do you have to people who are interested in the technology? How did you go about learning about the technology, and how would you recommend that people learn about the technology?
PATTERSON: I think it would to enroll in a couple of courses that NCTI has and also get involved in their SCTE chapter. Any technology of any consequence is going to come through those two organizations – either the NCTI or the SCTE. I think the SCTE is a great collating point for technical information, specifications, uniformity throughout our industry. It has become the engineering arm of say the NCTA.
BURKE: Bringing up the NCTA, how much work have you done with some of the national organizations?
PATTERSON: A lot – earlier in my career, simply because at that time, we were trying to put a lot of bodies in front of our senators and our legislators and in front of Congress to sway them or let them hear our story on why not to regulate us, why we shouldn’t have to pay exorbitant pole rates or copyright fees. That was my involvement is through the state associations and the regional associations. Anymore, I think with the professional folks that are there, it wasn’t quite like that in the earlier days. But they have great teams there now to carry the load, and when they need you they will call you and you can go. Then everyone just picked up and went back there, no matter what they were doing.
BURKE: You talked quite a bit about the ’70s, and that was a very active time. What was happening in the ’80s in the cable industry?
PATTERSON: I think a little evolution was going on. I think we saw, once again, the major cities starting to be built and franchised, some consolidation, some trading – which is going on now – for clustering. Also I think we went from an engineering driven organization or companies to marketing. The networks were built, let’s try to get the subscribers counts up. That’s where most of the time was spent in these operators’ offices getting the marketing plans together to go out and market cable television. I think that’s where we saw our significant growth and subscribers grow. It also helped us when we went to borrow money from the lenders that we had decent cash flow and it wasn’t blue sky. We were offering a valid service. I think we saw a lot of the MSOs start to congregate in Denver at that particular time as well – the TCIs, the United Cables, Jones Intercable, Rifkin & Associates, ATC (the predecessor of Time Warner). Denver became the cable capital at that time. I moved there for a short period of time.
BURKE: I was going to say that you did live there for a while.
PATTERSON: Yes. The same reason – the mountains won’t come to you so Mohammed goes to the mountains.
BURKE: So those had to be real busy years for you.
PATTERSON: Real busy years, very intense in that the plans … everyone was … the gold rush was on … was to get into the communities and establish your foothold. It was the first one in that built the network, got the subscribers. So the competition was fierce. As it did that, it drove the technology as well, because once again, one-upmanship was the name of the game.
BURKE: Would you say there was a contrast in the ’90s after the high growth of the’80s?
PATTERSON: I think so. I think what happened in the ’90s is as people said, “We’ve got the subscribers. We’ve got the networks. We need to find out how much money we can make and how much this is costing us.” I think that was the ’90s was for the bookkeepers. The accountants came into the industry at that time. People were more interested in cash flow than programming.
BURKE: It was kind of “If we build it, they will come?”
PATTERSON: Yes. But after they come, it’s “how much are they going to spend?”
BURKE: Yes. Market driven.
PATTERSON: Yes. Market driven.
BURKE: Now I’m curious about how you see your role in cable in the future? What are some of your visions, both personal and professional? It’s obviously an industry you really enjoy.
PATTERSON: It’s a great industry. It’s the only industry I’ve been in so I can’t compare it to other ones. But it is still as dynamic as it’s always been. It reinvents itself every year. We still do the same thing, we just do it better from year to year. Recently, my son decided to get into the cable television industry and started as an installer for AT&T, kind of where his dad started, because he sees a future in cable TV. He likes the aspect of the information and the entertainment on a course. I think we’re going to be doing the same thing, Liz, that we did 30 years ago – taking a signal, processing it, getting it to the subscriber for a fair value, but also opening up the whole world to him on IP technology and telephony. So the cable operator that we used to know of will become a broadband provider and voice, video, and data. It’s going to be just wonderful for everyone because the more technology and the more information we get out there, I think it makes our population better and people understand each other a lot better – the whole world that way.
BURKE: It’s been a real race to build cable in the United States. But what about the rest of the world? Does CommScope sell all over?
PATTERSON: Actually it’s our fastest growing area. The rest of the world is coming up to speed. What’s great about the rest of the world is that they embrace new technology because they don’t know any better. They’ll start fresh with all the technology that we’ve brought to the forefront, the learning curve. They won’t have to have the learning curve. They can start right out with the new networks, with fiber to the nodes, and so forth, that weren’t available 10 years ago, that we evolved into.
The other thing about the world is that they embrace, I think, change a little better than most of America does. We’re somewhat anti-change.
BURKE: We started a lot sooner.
PATTERSON: that’s true. But they’re going to get the benefit of all of our 30 years of experience right now, which is nice.
BURKE: I know there’s a lot of things that I haven’t asked you and you probably have one or two really favorite stories you’d like to share. Is there something that just sticks out in your mind?
PATTERSON: It’s hard to single an individual, but I believe that when I got into cable – and it hasn’t changed a lot no matter what – is that the person is in the cable system, who runs the cable system, cares passionately about it. It’s almost a fraternity. No one ever leaves the cable industry for very long. They gravitate back. The stories I have is just showing up in lots of communities and asking where the cable operator was. Everybody knew who he was and what he stood for. And they were always quality human beings. I don’t think that’s changed in … My story is just that it’s been a wonderful ride, and I hope it never, never stops.
BURKE: It’s a great story. I really appreciate your time. I just want to add that we’re fortunate to have this oral history grant so that we can get some of this history for future generations. It’ll be on interactive, multi-media out of Denver. Denver is the place that’s really coming together.
PATTERSON: Great place for it to be is where basically the birthplace of cable is.
BURKE: So with many thanks to you.
PATTERSON: My pleasure, Liz.
BURKE: You had a long drive here to come and tell us your story.
PATTERSON: It was well worth it. Thanks for having me.
BURKE: Thank you.