Interview Date: Tuesday August 14, 2012
Interview Location: 2000 Buchtel Boulevard, Denver, CO 80210
Interviewer: Les Read
Collection: The Pioneer Cable History Collection
Pioneer Panel – Today
Les Read, Moderator
Mike Pandzik, Jim Faircloth, Panelists
READ: Hello, I’d like to welcome you to the National Cable TV Center here in Denver, Colorado. We are originating from the studios on a beautiful day in August and this is a special interview panel on the history of the Cable TV Pioneers which started in 1966. Joining me today is the new chairman, been in the office for about two terms now, Michael Pandzik. Mike, why don’t you tell us a little bit about you and where you started and where you came from.
PANDZIK: I started in the television business in 1966 as a cameraman, doing what these guys are doing. I entered the cable business in 1971 working for Dolph Simon’s in Lawrence, Kansa. I was in gradual, what my daughter later called gradual school, in grad school at KU in Lawrence and was doing a paper on cable TV and I find out that city had actually granted a franchise for Lawrence, Kansas but no one had ever built it. And I wondered why and I found out that it was the newspaper, the family that owned the newspaper owned the franchise. So I made an appointment to go see Dolph Interviewing for this paper and I thought it would be 10 minutes and I spent the rest of the afternoon and a week later he offered me a job. So I was the second employee hired helping build this cable system and that was 41 years ago.
READ: Was there a little hesitation on your part to build a cable system for fear that it might interrupt the newspaper operation?
PANDZIK: That wasn’t it. The problem was they were close to the Kansas – they kind of equilateral distance between Topeka, Kansas, the capital of Kansas to the west and the major market of Kansas City to the east. And with a wire coat hanger connected to your TV terminal, antenna terminals, in Lawrence you could get 12 or 15 channels. So I think that was the heart of Dolph’s hesitation – how’s this going to work out. What am I going to sell these people that they can’t get anyway?
PANDZIK: So we gave them something they couldn’t get otherwise.
READ: Channel 6.
PANDZIK: Channel 6.
READ: Magnificent job.
PANDZIK: Still doing great after over 40 years. It’s Lawrence’s TV station.
READ: From cable TV you got into pay TV?
PANDZIK: HBO, worked there for some time in sales and marketing. Ran HBO’s regional office for some time and then moved to New York with HBO and worked in new business development. And while I was HBO in Kansas City, I was on the board of a guy that you know well, Rob Marshall, who ran the Mid-America Cable Television Association for 35 years at least. Rob’s group used to have annual meetings and they had board of directors. The board would get together quarterly and I was an HBO guy in those days and so I figured a way to get myself on this board as kind of the associate representative. So after dinner every quarter, we’d go to his suite and we’d play poker and talk about the cable business. And we all thought, me too, how ironic it was that the men and women who started the industry, the Budge and Marge as we used to affectionately refer to them at HBO, were now left as the only, through really no fault of their own, were left as the only cable operators paying this price for HBO, CNN, Showtime and so forth. And wouldn’t it be interesting if the Indians could get together and do some kind of a purchasing cooperative. We talked about that for several years before we ever actually did anything. And then to tie this all up, I was in the Navy Reserve for a long time and was on active duty out in California, Coronado and I got a phone call. I think Robbie forgot there was two hours’ time difference, but I was up anyway at 5 o’clock getting dressed and he said “You know that idea we all talked about for a couple years about a co-op and what that might be and how that might work.” And he said well we want to do and we’d like you to run it for us. So we started that in the late 1984 and I was there 21 years until my retirement. It’s become probably the second or third largest buyer of program networks in this industry.
READ: That’s amazing, absolutely amazing.
PANDZIK: A big deal.
READ: Joining us on the panel today is of course another old friend of mine. Golly we go back — Jim Faircloth. You’re career started back in radio days.
FAIRCLOTH: Early ‘60s.
READ: Early ‘60s.
READ: Oh yes, he covered the year and did the news and the rock and roll.
FAIRCLOTH: Yes, radio disk jockey in the early ‘60s through really 1969 when the cable bug bit me.
READ: Where were you then?
FAIRCLOTH: I was in Tifton, Georgia. I was really working too many, wearing too many hats at the radio station. I had some vocal issues from overwork and being out late at night and singing rock and roll in smoky venues. So I had to tune it down for a while and find something else to do and my first day back on the air after this 6 week respite was the grand opening of the cable TV system in Tifton. And I had met some of the principles a year earlier when they needed someone with a first class radio ticket which I had to sign some microwave logs. And they asked me to do the grand opening broadcast. So I worked with them for 3 or 4 days and they offered me a job. Not locally though. Over in Alabama. The pay was right. The opportunity was there and I could barely spell the cable terms at the time but it looked intriguing so I took the leap and it turned out pretty well.
READ: And over the years you certainly have an interesting map of locations where cable has taken you.
FAIRCLOTH: Well, it’s not atypical of a lot of cable executives. We do tend to move around. Because I landed with a company that was fast growing, fast moving, lot of cash. Storer Broadcasting at the time. We were developing new markets before the franchising era which the earlier panel touched on today which really kicked into high gear in the mid to late ‘70s. But we were acquiring new franchises and building new communities much earlier than that so a few management people on the team in the early ‘70s were promoted fairly quickly. Which also meant you got to move to the next new location and the next one and the next one.
READ: That was always one of the hazards of cable.
FAIRCLOTH: I made 22 moves in 24 years.
READ: Well, I might also add that Jim, it’s been a pleasure to serve with him. He’s been the past immediate chairman and has gone through the chairs as we say at Cable TV Pioneers. The history if you tuned in earlier or caught the other show, you know that they started in ’66. It was a group of 21 individuals who were selected by a gentleman [Stan Searle] who was running a magazine at the time and he picked out, oh I think there were some 30 or 40 names that surfaced and 21 became the founders of the Cable TV Pioneers. My background of course was that I started way back when after getting out of Syracuse as a boy in fighting blue as we used to say as a page at NBC. And I learned about this company called TelePrompTer. It was down the street and around the corner and I had an opportunity to go over. Started my career in prompting but they kept talking about cable TV. And New York is the last place that cable TV ever entered and this was back in ’64. I was suddenly told “Gee you might be good in cable TV.” And I kept saying “What is it?” There was another gentleman who was the treasurer at TelePrompTer at the time, Monty Rifkin, and he and I went up in the Phoebe Snow, a train that left out of Hoboken, New Jersey to Elmira, New York. I found myself in a cable TV system and they left me there. I remained for about a year and a half. Monty went home, back to New York. It was an amazing start of a rocket ride of a career in cable because cable, it was snow free reception is what it was when we first started out. A couple of extra channels. Of course, as we grew suddenly it became a numbers game because we went from 6 to 12 to 21 to what our good friend, Malone who not too many years ago said Oh, we’ll have 500 channels. But in the meantime, as Jim was just saying, the people that you’ve met over the years – you kept running into this group as they were truly dedicated to doing something in the developing of a modern communication, something that was better than was done before. We had nothing to go on. We really wrote the book as we went along. It was such a fascinating industry because again from the snow free reception days to today when we are talking about bundles and some of the new services that are going on. But cable you know about. Maybe the Pioneers you don’t know about and that’s really about what we are going to talk about today. My first introduction came in 1977. It was an interesting group because Bill Adler, who was the acting chairman at that particular point, got all snooty about the fact that this organization wasn’t going to last if they didn’t get some members. And at that particular time there really was about 50 members or 60 members. And he proposed a class of 77 new members. (Laughter)
PANDZIK: How long was that dinner?
READ: It didn’t take too long because it was kind of…
PANDZIK: Everybody up, everybody down?
READ: Stand up. Sit down. Of course, from that point forward, absolutely fascinating in the fact you were there and you were rubbing shoulders with the George Barco’s of the world, with the Ben Conroy’s and these were the people who kept the organization going over the years. But suddenly you were part of it and it was such a wonderful, absolutely amazing feeling. What year were you inducted?
FAIRCLOTH: I was inducted in 1989. Same year with Paul Maxwell, Frank Hamilton, Tommy Gleason. It was a great class. I think there were about 20, maybe 22 of us. But my favorite memory or particular story from that evening was that sort of tradition that you sit with your sponsor, right? Well my sponsor was Bill Bresnan and my co-sponsor was Polly Dunn.
READ: You were with royalty there.
FAIRCLOTH: Polly was with a different group.
PANDZIK: You were the crown prince.
FAIRCLOTH: Well, and Bill was at the board table so I was seated at a table of strangers and a few people I knew but across the table from me was John Malone and Bob Magness. And it was the last time I saw those two gentlemen at a Pioneers dinner. Knew they were there but they were at my table. So it was quite the evening.
READ: What year were you inducted?
PANDZIK: ’92. I’ve been in a little over 20 years.
READ: ’92. Over the years it’s been kind of interesting because in the early days people were selected because what they had done in the industry and they were the ones who really put the money down to make it happen or raise the money to make it happen as it were. I can always remember the year when Irving [Kahn] got the first unsecured loan. It was a 20 million dollar loan from Chase Bank and that was news making kind of situation. But over the years…
PANDZIK: That’s a rounding error today.
READ: Right. It’s interesting to see what’s happened in terms of our class size. I know when I went back and looked at the minutes and the records they were concerned about holding it to five people every year to bring in. And someone did the math that if the organization is going to continue and then as we have discussed a number of times what is a pioneer? I mean it’s now to the fact you have the situation, number one, you have to have a sponsor and a co-sponsor, which is a pioneer – both pioneers in good standing and then the other issue which has really come about which I think has probably been the stronger issue and I know that you’ve been very keen about is what is the contribution been to the individual? Why don’t you tell us a little bit about the blue ribbon committee function?
PANDZIK: I was obviously – thanks, Les – I was obviously not involved in the selection process in ’67 and early ‘70s. I came along later. I’ve been on the board about 10 or 12 years and have been chairman. The way we do it is like a lot of groups do it. I was secretary and treasurer for a couple of years and then vice-chairman and now chairman for the last two or three years. But I think it was probably much easier in years past because the industry was much smaller and the guys, what was known as the Cable TV Pioneers Club in those days, they knew each other. I mean it wasn’t like you’d get a resume or an application package for an inductee, a nominee who wanted to be inducted. Today you see some that you don’t know who these people are. It doesn’t mean they are not worthy of being in the Pioneers. It doesn’t mean they haven’t made great contributions to our industry but the early pioneers, correct me if I’m wrong, but pretty much all were cable operators. It was a little later in the process where they started inducting programmers or vendors, hardware guys or programming guys or association executives or attorneys or brokers. And all those categories today have representatives in the Pioneers. I think every board, I think the 10th chairman in 47 years and I’m sure everybody who’s had this role and my replacement is in the wings, that’s Susan Bitter-Smith, who’s our vice-chairman. And she’s kind of come up through the ranks like I have and Jim before me. I think we all look at this like – if I can leave this place better off than I found it or at least as good as I found it and not ruin it on my watch. That’ll be fine. So everybody before me has tried to make it a little better and I introduced a few things that I think has made it better. And I know Susan will too. She’s very bright and the people who follow her down the road will do the same thing.
In my experience most industries haven’t done a very good job of keeping track of their early history. The telephone pioneers group I think has done a wonderful job. They’ve had a hundred and twenty years or whatever to do it. But many other industries I’ve seen have just not done a very good job and you get an industry that’s 40 or 50 or 60 years old and nobody really knows how it started. I think the key to that in my view is that the people involved have to care about each other and they have to care about their industry and the way they’ve made their living and supported their families and hired employees and so forth. They need to care about it. Pioneers is not, we’re not involved in world peace. We’re not involved in nuclear disarmament. But in our little corner of the world I think we do a very good job. And this Cable Center in Denver is a great example of what can happen when you get a bunch of people together who care about each other and care about their industry and want to leave something of substance. So I’m kind of moving on in the same process as Jim was as chairman before me. We want to make this thing go and continue to go well and our annual dinner is our big deal. And this one we had in Boston this year was very successful in a beautiful venue. I think everybody who was there had a great time.
READ: I think that’s something for someone who’s tuning in – they’re probably not familiar with is that every year we’ve had a banquet of varying sizes and I guess, you went through New Orleans was it? Where were you chairman?
FAIRCLOTH: My first year as chairman was New Orleans.
READ: New Orleans.
FAIRCLOTH: At the World War II Hall of Fame venue.
READ: That’s right. That was very…
FAIRCLOTH: With no acoustics
READ: No sound.
PANDZIK: It’s a beautiful place but it’s not a great place for audio.
READ: We’ve been to museums in Dallas. Did a magnificent dinner at the …
FAIRCLOTH: Art gallery.
READ: Art gallery there.
FAIRCLOTH: The auto museum in Los Angeles.
READ: Petersen’s Auto Museum with Burt Harris as chairman. That was a magnificent venue.
FAIRCLOTH: Sure was.
READ: You mentioned the one we just had in Boston. So each year – and we’ve grown from the original 21 that held their first banquet in ’67 to this was I believe our 46th annual banquet. I guess that we just had in Boston. The other thing for someone who is watching this presentation how does one get to be a Pioneer. What’s the process?
FAIRCLOTH: Well, as you know as was covered in the earlier panel, 20 years minimum today. Had been 10, then 15 and now 20. And we say the significant contributions to the industry and it’s somewhat subjective, it comes up pretty clearly in the application process. You do need to be nominated by a Pioneer in good standing with a second from another Pioneer.
READ: How often does this take place?
FAIRCLOTH: Once a year. Every year. We have the opportunity and we have generally the last few years we’ve had anywhere from 20 to 45 applications. Mid-40’s is the highest number I recall in recent years and probably 22-24 the least. And we’ve inducted fewer the last couple of years for various reasons. Consolidation in the industry. One thing we haven’t touched on, Mike was talking about the camaraderie and how things have changed. Some years ago, as you all know, we had the Western Show. We had the Mid-America Show. We had the Southern Cable Show.
PANDZIK: Eastern Show.
FAIRCLOTH: We had the Atlantic Show.
PANDZIK: New England Show.
READ: Regional shows.
FAIRCLOTH: Exactly. The regional shows where some of us appeared at or all. I mean I never went to an Atlantic Show without seeing a Paul Maxwell or a Bill Bresnan. So you saw people and it gave the national leaders, if you will, the opportunity to see the southern leaders and the mid-western leaders. To know who they were and what they were doing in their region. So you would more readily recognize a CEO of a mid-size company in Topeka, Kansas than you might otherwise today. But it’s 3 or 4 companies and a couple of phone companies dominating.
READ: What’s interesting as a result, you mentioned Robby Marshall before, that the group from Mid-America started an organization called Pathfinders. And the same thing has happened in a number of other regional locations. One of the great pioneering organizations down south in your neighborhood is the Tower Club.
FAIRCLOTH: Tower Club. Right. And I’m sure that was a 10 year requirement.
READ: But again it’s an opportunity for the people who are really the backbone of the development of the industry being recognized in their own backyard. Which I thought was really rather unique that – again if they don’t come to NCTA sometime… A great story was, we were in Chicago the year before last and can you remember the fellow’s name, his family shows up…
PANDZIK: Oh yeah…
READ: What the heck was his name?
PANDZIK: Must have had 14 family members
READ: There were 20. They were a local cable operator from Illinois. This is embarrassing that I can’t pull his name out. It was so amazing to see the support of all the family members. The grandchildren and everything else.
PANDZIK: Had a great time.
READ: They really did. And the amazing thing is he is the absolute perfect pioneer in that particular area and yet people around were like “Why is he a pioneer?” (Laughter) That you get that effect. So it’s really important that if you are interested in the pioneering effort and getting into the organization, you have to let somebody know and stay active and be on top of it. As you say it’s a process that cycles once a year.
FAIRCLOTH: Exactly. We were talking to some of the other panelists today about year in and year out, there are people who are very deserving and we have sort of an informal outreach committee of the board and we make phone calls to encourage people to nominate deserving would be pioneers. And I remember some of the best candidates of the last three years were I have a cruise or I’m going to go bike riding in the Himalayas or whatever. They don’t make the convention so they don’t get inducted that year and it drops another year and another year. Suddenly someone like Kay Koplovitz one year in New Orleans is sitting up being inducted 15 years after I was and I’m thinking how did this happen?
PANDZIK: It happens.
FAIRCLOTH: Timing. Timing thing.
PANDZIK: It’s a group like many. It’s run by volunteers. It’s not perfect. There are some deserving people we all know who have not been inducted. They either didn’t show interest or nobody thought about it at the right time of the year to get their name in the hat. The Pioneer board members can’t sponsor or co-sponsor a nominee. So we informally sometimes if a great candidate name comes up, we’ll figure out a way, make a few phone calls to somebody to get the ball rolling. But if there is somebody watching this who has been in the business a long time and made a real contribution and you know you can go to our website, the pioneer website, which is now on the Cable Center’s website. Later this year we’ll be on Facebook and LinkedIn separately. You can see the list of pioneers that have been inducted each year over the last 47 years. And if you know a couple of names on there – give them a call. Tell them you’re interested. Tell them, remind them that you’ve been around a long time too and maybe they could be a guide to help figure how this works. Pretty simple.
READ: I went back to the records, thanks to Ben Conroy for all his incredible notes, but they started out and the organization went from ’66 to about the later ‘70s and they figured well if we’re going to keep this going with the administrative costs they came in with the $25 a year dues. Well, over the years we’ve gone to $30 to $40 and we’ve been at $50 since back in the late 80s.
PANDZIK: A long time.
READ: So the $50 dues but at the initiation there’s a $50 charge for initiation fee. And that’s usually covered by the sponsor or the co-sponsor that picks up on it. So that we have a way of and we’re not into a lot of newsletters and we could do more now that we have the capability through digital and feeds that we could get more information out.
PANDZIK: I think we’ll take advantage of that. I’m sure Susan will continue that effort. I think in terms of the changes. Having this early panel talk about the early days of the organization. The changes I’ve seen either personally or heard about talking to you and other guys who have been around awhile, the initial groups, the initial club members if you will, when they had dinner it really was just a social event with their spouses. I mean it was not so many kids, but a guy and his spouse and that’s the way that kind of started. We got away from that in my era of the 20 years. It’s become more I think more of a professional deal. Many fewer spouses. I don’t know why that is but boy we sure welcome people to bring their spouses and their families especially if they’re being inducted. Bring you kids along and enjoy the evening.
READ: It’s a family event.
PANDZIK: I think another big change is in fact you told me earlier this morning that they had a made a rule years ago that we’re going to have these sponsorships. Well, let me tell you, if we didn’t have sponsorships to help us out, ticket prices would be unaffordable to many pioneers. We make no secret to the fact that guest tickets are twice the cost of a pioneer’s ticket because it wouldn’t be much of a dinner honoring pioneers if there weren’t any pioneers there. But those lower subsidized prices are true for the family members as well. So we really encourage them.
READ: If you go back through the history again, the first dinners they held were like $40 and they said but that included the bar. (Laughter) And then they had a couple of dinners…
PANDZIK: It’s a little more expensive today.
READ: Where they lost money. And our good old buddy Bill Daniels and Jack Crosby stepped up and made up the deficit on those events.
PANDZIK: Our goal with these dinners as long as I’ve involved with this has just been – we don’t see it as many groups do – this is their big kind of fund raiser deal. I’d like to break even or make a little money. I just don’t want to lose any money on these dinners. The sponsorships have been extremely helpful and made that possible.
READ: They have and again fortunately we have a few pioneers that are in that area where they can say “Yup, we’ll help out.” Which is… of course the other, Mike, I think over the years what we have done is when we can put some money together we continue to be very supportive because if you listen to the earlier panel about the early days, more and more of The Cable Center was… it was 1974, Ben Conroy wrote a letter saying you know the industry continues to grow and really should think about preserving the history of this organization. And it went through the phase of where’s it going to be and what’s going to happen. George Barco was involved and Barco has some very tight connections. He was a very successful attorney in Meadville and had great connections at Penn State and that’s where we got involved there. But the other interesting thing was that they always wanted the Pioneers to be represented in marketing, programming, and technical areas. They didn’t want to be put in one college per se. That was one of the bugs that kept bouncing back that Penn State said no, no, no. We’re going to put you in one college and that’s it.”
PANDZIK: It’s why it didn’t work out.
READ: Exactly. The flexibility didn’t stay at all and fortunately, as they explained in the earlier panel was great reception here in Denver. Through the help of Bill Daniels and …
PANDZIK: Denver was a much more obvious choice. I mean in those years it was the hometown.
READ: It was the cable capital.
PANDZIK: Yes, this was the center of the universe for the cable industry. And it’s worked out great here.
READ: It’s a magnificent facility and again if you haven’t had the opportunity, you need to stop by anytime you’re in Denver, we really encourage you to come through and see the facility because again the mission statement of what the Center does has continued to change as the industry has changed. And one of the key areas that we boys had a tough problem with customer service and this is one of the very strong areas that continues to be developed here – of how we can improve what we do for the customer and make sure they know what a good service this is.
PANDZIK: This place is not just a museum of old equipment.
READ: I was going to say if you’re as old as I am, [you’re] so happy when you go down to the – we call it the lower level – and you see some of the artifacts down there. In the early days when you had the blank out channels and the old comb would click around on the clock and of course the comb would break.
FAIRCLOTH: Invariably had problems.
READ: And had some complaints from broadcasters. It was absolutely amazing. But it’s a terrific facility and I really do encourage you to stop by and say hello and we would of course always extend an invitation for you to contact any us if you wanted more information. What do you see as possible some of the future things that the pioneer group could do?
PANDZIK: It’s really up to the members to let us on the board of directors know and up to the board. We talked in recent years about scholarship programs. Other groups have done a good job with that. I think what we struck on the last couple of years, I think is the appropriate place for us in addition to our dinner induction ceremony and so forth, is to support the oral history program. If young people entering the business don’t know where we’ve come from, it’s not just a historical viewpoint; you may not know that we’ve already tried that. I mean you’ve got a new idea that you think is really cool. We tried that 30 years ago and here’s why it didn’t work or why it might work today. So there is merit, it’s worthwhile to look backwards once and a while. Not just for an academic interest but to find out, where this industry came from. The kinds of things we’ve done and so forth. That’s how we got here. I’d like to see, we induct every year, the last few years some international nominees from Europe and Asia and elsewhere. I’d like to see that continue. I don’t know whether that’s feasible for us to say well let’s start an affiliate in Europe and have a European pioneer organization. Maybe they’ve already done that and I’m just not bright enough to know it. But, I mean that’s a kind of obvious line extension but for the moment I’m happy [to] keep on doing what we’re doing. I want to get more women involved. More minorities involved. That’s probably the one area since I’ve been on the board and in Jim’s tenure before me and Art Dwyer’s before him. We’ve really worked with this. The problem is in the early days of the organization, as I said earlier, everybody knew everybody else. They were mainly guys. So we nominate this guy or this guy and when his application came forward, it was like sure, why not. Next, you know. Now, it’s different because we can see on the blue ribbon committee which was, it’s a secret committee only because we don’t want these people to get lobbied. Imagine some people might actually lobby.
PANDZIK: Some would do that. So we don’t release the membership each year and it changes a bit from year to year. That’s why we wanted to change from a sort of this is a good guy, sure, next – to let’s see what this individual has done. First they have to have really proven 20 years in our business. We don’t even really take any application until they’ve met that test. And then beyond that we look for have they held increasingly responsible positions in the industry or did they start a company on their own. They may have had the same title all these years because they own their own company. Have they played a role in the industry? Have they been a mentor? Have they been an officer? It’s great to be a member of a cable organization but we like to kind of see somebody who’s been in a leadership position, either locally, regionally or nationally, on a national board of directors. And we also like to see somebody who’s played a role, a similar role outside the cable industry.
READ: Local community?
PANDZIK: Absolutely. Again either from the community level or the state level or the national level. So, just being in the industry and going to work on time for 20 years isn’t enough. But we need other pioneers to continue as they’ve done in the past. Carry the ball by identifying for us people we may have missed as great nominees and let’s get them in here. And I put the challenge out to the women pioneers to do the same. As we’ve, the organization now will be 47 years old pretty quick. A few of us were involved in the very early days and so we try to continue this thing and we know we need to do a better job with women and minorities. We don’t always know, I mean, you’re retired, I’m retired, Jim’s casually employed. We don’t always know the people. You could be in your late 30s and have 20 years’ experience in the cable business. My kids are that old. So we need some guidance. Some help. Some input from other pioneers.
FAIRCLOTH: Well we have a very dynamic woman as chairman elect.
PANDZIK: We do.
FAIRCLOTH: We have an exceedingly dynamic lady on the board in Ann Carlsen. In the past few years we’ve had two other lady board members. [???] got one more year. So that is improving at the board level and we continue our outreach to try to improve that on a general membership basis. I think we’re making some strides.
READ: It’s absolutely amazing because again, as you were saying before, Michael, about how over the years to see the development of the organization and with the roots being the good guy type of approach. Whereas today where you bring in a very large group of people and once a year, they see each other and it’s strictly a social function but it’s vendors, programming people and it’s people who make this industry so exciting. Again as you see an ESPN the way it’s grown over the years or the VH1, MTV groups, that continue to make changes and those things happen. To the operators who I’m still amazed, you’ve seen it from the local small fellows and the co-op, to the larger MSO operations now where you’ve got 4 or 5 major companies.
PANDZIK: Most programmers have 7 affiliates. They’ve got 6 MSOs in the co-op. And what’s left wouldn’t fill a teacup. I mean, that’s just the way it is. I think another big change that’s occurred in the pioneers, over the years, that I’ve been involved with, is it used to be more this kind of private boys club dinner, no sponsors allowed. Kind of, not so much secret but just for us.
READ: They had limitations on the number of people you could bring.
PANDZIK: Absolutely. I have pretty much steadfastly stood for, you know, if we’re going to honor significant careers in our industry why not do that in front of the largest crowd we can get. As we’ve expanding into programming and brokers and attorneys and association people and vendors of all kinds as well as operators, anybody can come to a Cable TV Pioneers dinner. Buy yourself a ticket and come. Bring somebody with you if you like. We’d love to have you come as a guest and those tickets and that stuff’s available, easy to do. We’d love to have you come. I’ll tell you, as long as I’m up and around taking nourishment as they say, even after I leave this board. I’m still going to come to this dinner because it is the most fun and I see people I never see during the rest of the year. So no matter when you entered the industry, whether it was 60 years ago or last week, come to the Pioneers dinner, you’ll have a great time.
READ: Again, going back into the history and going through files, the group, I guess it was about early 90s, said well, gee, we make this trip to the NCTA convention which the dinner is always tied to and we should also say the NCTA has been very, very good to us because they handle booking arrangements for hotels for us but they also grant to the current pioneer a one-day pass, that if you are retired.
PANDZIK: A hall pass.
READ: You get to go see all the exhibits. And you get to the exhibit hall and that’s again the courtesy of NCTA, who worked with us. It was interesting, Stan Searle, when they first came up with this whole concept, NCTA didn’t really want to have anything to do with the Pioneer group.
PANDZIK: I don’t think they knew what to do with us. I mean I don’t mean anything bad, I just don’t they didn’t quite know…
READ: Yes and here’s a group of 21 people in tuxedos. And the early days everyone wore a tuxedo.
PANDZIK: I think we’re the last dinner in this industry that still, I’ve acquiesced to black tie recommended instead of required, which is the way it ought to read. But it’s a lot of fun. I think the wives and spouses and girlfriends who show up and it gives them a chance to dress up for the evening too. It’s a lot of fun.
READ: It makes the event look really sharp. There’s no two ways.
PANDZIK: It makes us look a lot brighter than we really are.
READ: Again, some history, Archer Taylor – wonderful engineer, wonderful guy – and he got so mad because it said tuxedo, he said I quit. He absolutely wrote a letter and he said not me. I don’t where tuxedos. Well, the last time we saw him was in Washington, DC.
PANDZIK: I hope he had a tux on.
READ: He didn’t have a tux on but he had a plaid jacket that was out of the ‘60s and it was just the most magnificent – Rex Porter looked after him that day and he was just, wonderful guy. He was the first guy that was really anti…and as you look at the numbers, I would say we were probably about 80-85 percent tuxedos in Boston. Good looking crowd.
PANDZIK: I think, again I can only speak to the last 20 or 25 years but we used to try various forms of entertainment for the evening. A cocktail party before the dinner and during the dinner and the after party and stuff. I mean why we’ve tried pianists and if we’ve been in New Orleans, jazz quartets and stuff. And big bands and lets have a dance floor. You know what; these people just want to talk to each other. And it’s a waste of time and effort and money. And once we kind of realized, okay we’ve got it, we understand and moved away from the entertainment part, I think the dinner’s a lot more fun, a lot more low key, great to see you.
READ: Bill Daniels was a wonderful… he was a showman’s showman and I’ll never forget that we were at the Desert Inn, Las Vegas and he brings Abbe Lane in as the entertainer. Well Abbe Lane was a… she’s a show stopper and people just talked through her whole performance. It was kind of embarrassing.
PANDZIK: This industry has kind of a bad reputation for that.
READ: They didn’t want to be entertained, they wanted to talk.
PANDZIK: I’ve been to probably 3 or 4 big time entertainments at various shows, the NCTA or CTAM or Western Show over the years. They brought in some huge entertainers that stopped the show about half through and said are you guys going to talk or am I going to perform?
FAIRCLOTH: Right, CTAM learned that lesson.
PANDZIK: It’s kind of embarrassing but I think you’ve got to understand what people come for. They come to see each other and catch up and hatch new plans and new businesses and that’s what they want. So let them have that.
READ: You mentioned CTAM and I was looking before at a list of the number of NCTA chairman who are all pioneers. The number of folks from CTAM who are pioneers. The SCTE people that are pioneers. That we have that kind of big representation of all those other, Women in Cable.
PANDZIK: But Les, we have a ways to go because every year there is an honoree at the Hall of Fame who is extraordinarily well qualified for that honor but they aren’t a pioneer and it always tugs at my heart — how did we miss this woman, how did we miss this guy. But you know, we did.
READ: That’s like we were saying before that you have to let someone know that you are interested in being by the way the system works or hopefully, most of all our members somewhere along the way have sponsored or co-sponsored someone. I went through and looked at… you put a lot of folks up over the years before you were on the board and it’s pretty interesting. So we do constantly review and look for people.
PANDZIK: It’s a work in progress.
READ: And of course, I think, coming back to where we are at the Cable Center, I think we have a great deal of pride because as we mentioned before we’re not an organization that raises a lot of funds. We had a scholarship program, the Bob L’Heureaux scholarship program and that went on for a number of years and then they just ran out of money. But over the years we’ve continued to contribute to the Cable Center and this is just been a magnificent piece because when you run down the list of people who have been big contributors, Alan Gerry for instance, he’s stepped up to the plate. Bill Daniels. He was one of the very early ones. Irving Kahn. George Barco. That these people really believed in this type and this is again the pioneering sponsorship, pioneering feeling for the industry and where we are.
FAIRCLOTH: As a group I think that we’ve probably donated around 60 to 70 thousand over the years. But that is not our primary mission. You know we didn’t want to steal anyone’s thunder. If individual members of the Pioneers wanted to make a contribution, large or small to the Center, we felt that was a better way to do this. Our contributions lately have been to support the Oral History Program and I think that’s a good place for us to be.
READ: Wherever we can… once a year we send out a letter with the dues statement which starts the cycle for the new year and the request for new members and in that particular letter, we are always encouraging them to – the Pioneer members to — be active in supporting the Center.
FAIRCLOTH: Well, as a board member for almost 20 years now since the early ‘90s, I recall going through all the officer positions, particularly my years as treasurer and our reserves have remained very constant through the years and anytime we’ve gotten a little pickup from a prior year where expenses have been a little less and contributions a little more, that’s when we’ve had a little excess to roll into other activities, particularly the Center.
READ: That’s probably one of the other areas we’ve not mentioned today is that we were in the early years granted a 501(c) 7. Our good friend, Jack Cole, his office volunteered and took care of that filing for us that we still have today. So, it’s been a heck of a run. A terrific operation for 46 years and we’ll keep it going for a few more.
READ: We encourage the folks if they are looking for more information to contact anyone of us. You can get us through The Cable Center or as Mike said we will be online with better availabilities to be reached. Anything you gentlemen would like to bring up?
PANDZIK: Just our next dinner, our 47th dinner will be in Washington, DC, I think Sunday, June 9th, 2013.
FAIRCLOTH: We’re that late next year?
PANDZIK: Pretty sure. We’ve always piggybacked on the NCTA. I imagine their there so we’re going to be.
READ: I encourage you if you would like to come to a grand dinner.
PANDZIK: You’ll have a great time.
READ: And of course I’d like to thank you gentlemen for taking your time and effort to come to Denver and sit with me on this special day. We want to say thanks of course to The Cable Center and again just showing you the type of things they can do and if you’re not familiar with them, it’s cablecenter.org. You can go and see all the many facets that they make available from information, research to some great pictures of some old pioneers. You can see Paul Maxwell in there in his heyday when he wore a tuxedo.
PANDZIK: Half a tuxedo.
READ: The jeans were pressed. Those were some of the wonderful memories that we have and we hope that you’ve enjoyed the presentation. We’ve been live at The Cable Center, now on tape. Thanks for tuning in and have a wonderful day.