Albert Ricci

Albert Ricci

Interview Date: April 1988
Interview Location: Florida
Interviewer: John Grant
Collection: Penn State Collection
Note: Audio Only

GRANT: Let me just start, Al, by asking you a little bit about your background, where you were born, where you grew up, some of the basic information.

RICCI: Well, I grew up in Keene, New Hampshire. I was born in 1916 in Keene, New Hampshire of immigrant Italian parents. I went to eight grades of grammar school, and then went into work in a shoe factory. I worked until I was twenty years old. Then I started a food produce business in Keene. I worked on that until World War II broke out when I went into the Air Force. I flew B‑51 fighter planes.

GRANT: How did you end up a pilot? Did you get all your training in the Air Force?

RICCI: Yeah. It was interesting. I had no high school education, of course, and there was a test you had to pass to get in. The test was the equivalent of a sophomore in college. Of course, I had eight grades of school so it wasn’t very easy for me. I flunked the first time, but then I went back and got tutored in math which was a big part of the test. I passed it the second time.

GRANT: What made you want to be a pilot?

RICCI: Oh, just the glamour.

GRANT: The same thing that makes everybody else want to be a pilot.

RICCI: That’s right. Exactly. Especially a fighter pilot.

GRANT: Tell me about the shoe factory that you worked in. You left school in the eighth grade. Was it your first job?

RICCI: Yeah, that was my first job. My father worked in a shoe factory. He was the one who wanted me not to go any further in school because he needed the help to raise a big family.

GRANT: How big was the family?

RICCI: We had six children. He got me a job and I went to work near him in the shoe factory, until I couldn’t stand it anymore.

GRANT: So what got you out of the shoe factory? Was it the war?

RICCI: No, it was the produce business.

GRANT: Oh, the produce business, ok. How did you get into that, then?

RICCI: Well, I got tired of the shoe factory so I went to work in a grocery store. It exposed me to the food produce business, which I liked, so I had an opportunity to set up a food produce department in another grocery store in the town. So that’s what I did.

GRANT: What was your father’s reaction to your leaving the shoe business?

RICCI: Well, as long as I made a living and brought home a paycheck, he didn’t care.

GRANT: Now what year would all of that have occurred? Do you remember?

RICCI: Well, let’s see. I left grammar school at age thirteen. And I went into the produce business at age twenty. So for seven years I kicked around shoe factories and other jobs similar to that. I was a Western Union delivery boy, and just bopped from one thing to another, until I got into the produce business. I guess all the time that I was working at these various jobs I was really looking for a business of my own. I think I was cut out to be my own man, so to speak.

GRANT: You have entrepreneurial feelings that you regret.

RICCI: Yes. I think that’s it.

GRANT: That’s interesting. Tell me about the service experience now. I know this is an interesting part of your life. You went into the Air Force and became a pilot.

RICCI: Yeah. I trained here in the southeast. I took my training in the P-51 Mustang in Bartow, Florida, which is about fifty, sixty miles from here. And then I was shipped to Colchester, England where I joined the 354th Fighter Group as a replacement pilot. I flew fourteen missions over a three month period. I was shot down in combat and ended up in a German prison camp. I was in the prison camp for fourteen months.

GRANT: What year was that?

RICCI: Let’s see. That was March of 1944 until May of 1945. My entrepreneurial spirit took over in prison camp as well.

GRANT: That’s what I understand. Now, tell me about that.

RICCI: Well, we had only the clothes on our backs and an extra shirt or an extra pair of trousers, and you had to keep them clean. The facilities were very primitive but adequate. Every time I went in to wash something, the people that were washing next to me were grumbling about the fact that they had to wash their own clothes. So I offered to wash their clothes for them for a fixed fee, like $25, until the end of the war, which seemed to be imminent. I ended up making two thousand dollars in prison camp. It was paid to me in all sorts of drafts on banks and checks on checking accounts on paper. Anything–toilet paper, labels from cans–whatever pieces of paper we could find.

GRANT: So these were all IOUs?

RICCI: All IOUs. But they were actual checks or drafts on banks. When I got home to Keene–they had gotten wet in the meantime, they were written in indelible pencil–they were all wet and the indelible pencil had run. So half of the checks were not legible. Half of each check, maybe the bank name was all right or the person’s name who signed it, but it was very, very difficult to trace and to follow up on. But I gave them to a man in my bank at home and he took on the job of collecting them. He collected every single one.

GRANT: No kidding.

RICCI: Yeah. I think there were about forty of them.

GRANT: So the banks were willing to honor the IOUs?

RICCI: Yeah. The banks did. Every single case. Even when they didn’t have a checking account they just drew a draft on their local bank, and the bank honored them. Every single one of them.

GRANT: What was the reaction of the banker?

RICCI: Well, he just sort of threw his hands up and said, “This is impossible.” But he was just so glad to see me home; he was an old friend. So he took it on and he was evidently successful.

GRANT: What was the reaction in the POW camp to your businesslike effort? Was it a morale booster for the camp?

RICCI: Oh, yeah. As a matter of fact, the YMCA gave me a medal. I don’t even remember the name of it, but it was only the second one that had been given in the United States for boosting the morale of prisoners. Beyond that, after we got out of prison camp, I became the advance publicity man for a prisoner of war exhibit. It started in our prison camp and it was a display of the arts and crafts created by the prisoners while in prison camp. It showed how we lived and so on. We produced the cooking equipment and the room, typical barracks, that sort of thing. We toured sixteen cities of the United States.

GRANT: What ended your encampment? Was it the end of the war?

RICCI: The end of the war, yes.

GRANT: What did you do after the war, then? After you got done?

RICCI: Well, I went home. I had that two thousand dollars plus my back pay from the service. My wife and I had both been record fans: Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, Artie Shaw, and all those bands. We loved that kind of music so we decided to open a record store, which we did in 1946 in our hometown. Eventually, television came on the scene so we took on television sets and hi‑fi and stereo. Television sets, principally, relate to this story. That’s how we got into the cable television business. Selling television sets in a town where you couldn’t receive any signals.

GRANT: What was the record industry like in 1946? It must have been a boom time for records.

RICCI: Well, it was. All of the big bands were recording like mad. I guess it was like 1947, 1948, within a year or two after we had gone into the business, the long-playing records had come out which were a tremendous boom to the industry. It gave our business a shot in the arm.

GRANT: What gave you the idea to go into the record business?

RICCI: Just the fact that we liked that music. Of course, we made a terrible mistake because that music sold but we didn’t buy things like western, country and western and that sort of thing because we didn’t like it ourselves. We found out that’s what the customers wanted. So we had to learn the record industry.

GRANT: Now, this was in Keene, New Hampshire.

RICCI: All of this, everything took place in Keene, New Hampshire.

GRANT: So the record business was a success, as you began to learn the business.

RICCI: Yes, it took right off. We were very successful. As a matter of fact, I think we were in our first location for two years and outgrew it and went into a bigger location and eventually we went into a still bigger location. We took on hi‑fi, then television sets–of course, eventually, television sets were the big item.

GRANT: Now, what year did television come on the scene?

RICCI: I guess it was like ’47 or ’48, maybe ’49. They started making their appearance in Keene. There were really very few television signals to be had. But everyone was trying. People were trying.

GRANT: Where would you get the signal from?

RICCI: Boston was the closest. Eventually we got a little out of Albany, New York and then Manchester, New Hampshire. As they proliferated, we got the Springfield, Massachusetts area.


GRANT: We were just talking about your record business and getting into the TV business. What was it like trying to sell TV sets in those days with poor reception?

RICCI: Well, the important thing was to try to get enough signal to get a picture on the set. There were all sorts of schemes and antennas that went up. The higher your antenna was the better your chance of gathering in some signals. So we were putting up antennas with thirty or forty feet of pipe on the top of the roof and that’s quite a feat.

GRANT: I’ll say.

RICCI: Especially in the snow and ice kind of thing.

GRANT: Yeah. As you sold the sets did the seller have an obligation to help the homeowner get the antenna to get the signal they needed?

RICCI: Yeah. You sold it as a package because the set was no good to anyone without one of these monstrous antennas and a booster to go with it.

GRANT: It’s amazing that there is a generation of people growing up who don’t know what TV antennas are.

RICCI: No. You know, that’s a fascinating part of the television business, and that it is probably lost.

But it really is involved in the cable television business in many ways. Cable television replaced the antennas, but trying to sell people cable television when they had an investment of 150 bucks or 200 bucks in an antenna was very difficult in the early days.

GRANT: What was your first recollection of this thing called cable television? When did you tie the first two houses together?

RICCI: Well, I read about it. Probably in 1953. We went in 1954, I just looked it up. We built the system in December of 1954.

RUTH Fifty-five.

RICCI: Well, the paper says ’54. Well, anyway. I read about it about a year before in Time magazine where a fellow named Milton Shapp, who later became Governor of Pennsylvania, was the creator and president of a company named Jerrold Corporation. Through Jerrold Corporation they started systems in Pennsylvania. Then, it was just described as an antenna on a mountain and they ran the signal by cable down into the valley. It was just described by Time magazine as being that simple. That was, of course, very, very primitive.

I went out to Pennsylvania to see Milt Shapp to find out about it because we had the same problem in Keene. We were in sort of a bowl surrounded by mountains or hills, high hills. Those hills kept the signal out. So it seemed perfect for the Keene situation. So I went to see Milt Shapp and we talked about it. I was more convinced than ever after talking to him that that’s what Keene needed. But it was a terribly big investment for something that “might” sell some television sets. It might work and it might not work. You know, it was that new.

GRANT: In your mind, at that point, what was the investment risk? What were you investing to get the system set up?

RICCI: Well, we had to buy the equipment, which was considerable. And it was a lot of work because you had to do testing to find the mountaintop or hilltop where the signals were. Then you had to make arrangements with the owner of that land to put a little building on it and receiving equipment, antennas and so on. You had to negotiate a contract with the local power company and telephone company to string cables on their poles. So all of that took time and money. You had to get a franchise from the city as well, a license we called it. We did that successfully. But we didn’t know how the people in Keene were going to take to the system, because it was new and there was no history to it.

GRANT: Did you call it cable then?


RUTH We called it a community antenna.

RICCI: Community antenna system, I think that’s right.

RUTH People would ask, “What is it?” and we’d say, “It’s a community antenna. All the people use one antenna.” They couldn’t understand the concept at first.

GRANT: I’m sure. It seems so obvious now, but then. Let’s go back to the Milton Shapp meetings. Did you meet often with him, or just the one time?

RICCI: No, just the one time. I think it was interesting because, to show you how new it was and how new Jerrold was, when I went to see Milton Shapp he had an office with only one chair in it. He sat in that chair. The company was making boosters at that time, which was a box you put on the television set to give you additional signal strength. It boosted the television signals, supposedly. And that’s what Jerrold was selling at the time. I had to sit on a crate of those boosters when we discussed this community antenna system concept.

GRANT: Was he open, willing to share information?

RICCI: Oh yes. Of course, yes. He is a very enthusiastic guy, a born salesman. He convinced me in no time. Of course, it was a very saleable product, I guess, as history has shown us. Milt was a heck of a salesman for cable television.

GRANT: Was he getting a lot of folks like you, do you think, coming in to him at that time?

RICCI: Yes, I think so. When it appeared in Time magazine, it got a lot of people curious. I think that’s what really kicked it off. I don’t know of anyone else that flew in to see him, but I’m sure they must have.

GRANT: Have you and he corresponded or talked over the years?

RICCI: Oh, yes. We served on the Board of Directors of the National Cable Television Association together. We’ve been friendly for years.

GRANT: Ruth, let me ask you a few questions about those early days. Here you were in the record business, then you’re trying to sell televisions in a town that doesn’t get much television. Do you remember what your reactions or thoughts were as you entered this cable TV era?

RUTH Oh, it was very exciting. And it was frustrating, some of the time. The thing that was interesting, in one section of town, we got some reception so everybody wanted cable. But the cable wouldn’t give it to the other section of town, but then, we never anticipated selling it all over town. It was exciting to see it being accepted. After a while, everybody wanted it.

GRANT: What made the people in the section where they could get it, want it?

RUTH Well, because it was so much better through the cable than it was through their antenna, even in the section that could get some reception.

GRANT: Ok. So that’s actually a crystallized story of what’s made cable so successful. Even if you can get television, you can improve it.

RUTH Even in areas where there is a good signal, they want more.

GRANT: How fast was the receptivity of the part of the people of the town? I have this impression of someone going around with a horse and buggy selling elixir on the back of their…

RICCI: Well, it wasn’t quite that.

RUTH It was almost.

RICCI: When we first started we had only wired a couple of streets because we didn’t know what the reception by the public would be. We got a few customers and then we set up a little office and a display room where we had seven televisions…not seven. How many did we have?

RUTH Five.

RICCI: We had five different television sets with five different pictures on them, from five different channels. This is after we had been in business for a while. And that’s when it took off. When people could see the television pictures. You weren’t telling them about it. They could see for themselves. This was right under the brow of the hill where there was no reception.

GRANT: Do you remember what the five stations were at that point?

RICCI: No, but I think three of them were from Boston.

GRANT: Were they?

RICCI: Do you remember what they were?

RUTH Manchester, New Hampshire.

RICCI: Was Manchester on the air?

RUTH Yes. Manchester was but Bill Putnam’s station wasn’t on.

RICCI: Oh, I know. Channel 22 was on.

RUTH I don’t know what the others were.

RICCI: Albany, New York.

RUTH Albany, I forgot about that.

RICCI: Ok. Three Bostons probably and Albany and Manchester. They didn’t come out all at once, but I think when we started there was just one or two. Channel 4 was the NBC station. I think it was the first one on the air in our area.

GRANT: The goal was to sell TVs. Did it have that result? Did you sell more TVs once the cable started?

RICCI: Oh, sure. And that was the goal, that was the objective. There was no anticipation of making any money on the cable system. It was just a means of selling more television sets. Making pictures available throughout the city, and then you can sell more television sets.

GRANT: Did you actually charge for the cable hookup at that point?

RICCI: Oh, yes. The charges were $139.95 for the connection and $3.50 a month. That persisted that way for probably two or three years and then we instituted a second way of buying it. That was $50 for the connection and $5.95 a month.

GRANT: So what was the difference?

RICCI: Less of a down payment.

GRANT: Oh, I see.

RICCI: That would make it more available to more people. Instead of forking over $140, they had to come up with $50.

RUTH But we did give them an allowance for their antenna.

RICCI: Did we?

RUTH Yes. We’d get the antennas down and we’d remove the antennas.

RICCI: Yes, sure.

GRANT: So, at that point they became totally reliant on your cable?

RICCI: That’s right. It’s interesting that one of the big days we remember so vividly in that business is the day we were away and there was an ice storm. We called to see what happened at home. The ice storm had taken down a lot of antennas and they had taken orders for a hundred and some odd connections. That was a big breakthrough for us. We really celebrated that night.

GRANT: The $130 was still cheaper, at that time, than an antenna would be.

RICCI: It cost about the same. The antenna was about $140 ‑ $150 dollars.

GRANT: That’s about a tradeoff. It’s interesting to hear you talk about the motivation behind the start of this cable effort was to sell TVs which is perfectly logical, given thirty years ago. At the time, did you have any inclination, or any expectation or any feeling, that it would turn around and be the cable itself that became the industry?

RICCI: No, none whatsoever. The excitement was television, television itself, the picture. This was something new. You could imagine what the excitement was in those days. And it was exciting to us to be able to sell all the television sets. We figured everyone was going to have a television set in their home, and we wanted to be the ones to sell them. We had to provide a means for them to get reception in order to sell the television set.

GRANT: So that’s why there was no thought that you were founding the cable industry, here.

RICCI: None whatsoever. We didn’t know really how well it would work or whether the public would accept it. Whether they were willing to pay the $139.95 for the connection and $3.50 a month. A lot of people weren’t. It took ice storms and a lot of convincing to get some of those people to connect to the cable.

GRANT: What was the growth pattern like? The ice storm was a peak, I take it, but was it slow a couple of months?

RICCI: It was slow. People were leery of it. Even though they could see the pictures in our little studio we had set up, they still felt that we must be getting those pictures somehow, or some other way. They really couldn’t believe that we could duplicate that in their home. They were very leery of it. Wouldn’t you say, Ruth?

RUTH Oh, yes. I can remember one little old lady–there was always a little old lady–who came in up from Potter Street…

RICCI: Yes, that was Mrs. Johnson.

RUTH …and argued with you about the fact that she got better pictures than that on her little antenna at home. We couldn’t convince her. She just resisted.

RICCI: She actually took me to her home to show me. I said, “You can’t be getting pictures better than me.” And she said, “Come with me and I’ll show you.” So I went to her home to see and of course, she was looking at a couple of channels and they were just as snowy as they could be. But she still was not convinced.

RUTH But when we started to sell it, when it started to take off, I did a lot of the selling because I was always there. It was fun to sell, because people would come in and thank you for selling it to them because it gave them so much pleasure. It took away so many worries. I’d never run into anything like that before or since.

GRANT: It had to be rewarding.

RICCI: It was. Just like the record business, we were selling entertainment and joy and happiness. It carried right through with television and the cable business. We’re very thankful for that.

GRANT: You must have been bringing TV to people who had never seen it before.

RICCI: Oh, absolutely. No one in the town had seen it except a few people in the western part who could get a snowy picture. But most people had not seen it.

GRANT: Did you ever make Time magazine with what you were doing?

RICCI: No, as a matter of fact, it took many years before the industry was recognized. Ruth just mentioned a little while ago that when you said “cable television systems” to people they didn’t know what you were talking about.

If you flew on a airplane and you got to talking to a person, they would ask, “What business are you in?” “The cable television business.” “Well what’s that? I never heard of that.” So you’d spend the whole flight telling him about it. In order to get away from that, when people asked us the business we were in, we’d say we were in the television business. That was the end of the conversation right there.

GRANT: Were you aware of the other pockets of entrepreneurial development that were going on around the country? In those very early days, was there any, not formal association, but contact with other people who were doing the same kind of thing?

RICCI: Not really. We heard a little bit about maybe in a town twenty or thirty miles away, somebody was fooling with it. That sort of thing. But it wasn’t known enough around the country to have an association. I think probably the association formed a year or two after that. [Note to the reader: The National Community Television Council, the first CATV trade association was founded in 1951.]

GRANT: What were the early problems–what were the biggest obstacles other than overcoming people’s understanding–that you ran into?

RICCI: Well, the problem of the equipment. The equipment was crude and unreliable. In the area where we were where the temperatures in the summertime were in the ’90s and in the wintertime they could go down to twenty or thirty below. That caused all sorts of problems. Now they don’t have those problems, of course.

GRANT: Where were you getting your equipment?

RICCI: Well, we got ours from a company called SKL in Boston. They had twelve channel equipment. Milt Shapp’s company sold six channel equipment. So we bought ours from SKL because we could foresee the day when we’d want to have more than six channels on our system. So that’s the equipment that we had.

GRANT: Ruth, let me go back a minute for the sales part, since you said you were involved in that. How did you sell it, at that point? What was your pitch?

RUTH Well, we ran promotions through the studio and so forth. Actually we did a lot of promotions, mailing promotions, and so forth. It stirred up curiosity, but the idea was selling the concept. Once they understood the concept and would come and talk to us, they usually weren’t very hard to sell, if you had a set there with a sparkling picture on it. We had a lot of fun with the advertising.

RICCI: We sold three things in our sales campaigns. Maybe even four. We sold more pictures, better pictures, and get rid of your antenna. That was quite a thing. Getting rid of that monster on your roof. Those are the three things we hammered on. We got a local artist who created a little character like Freddy Kilowatt. His name was Abel Cable. We built our sales campaign around him.

GRANT: Abel Cable?

RICCI: Abel Cable was his name. He would draw up these sales mailing pieces and we would send them out in a series of three over a two week period, four days apart. They’d get one that would stress, “Get rid of that antenna!” and one that would stress, “More pictures!” and the other one would stress, “Better pictures!” The National Cable Association gave us special recognition for those sales campaigns. {Note to the reader: Abel Cable was a registered trademark of the National Cable Television Association which also originated and designed the mark.}

GRANT: That sounds like pretty aggressive marketing.

RICCI: It was pretty imaginative in those days.

GRANT: Did you notice changes in the town at this point? This is an interesting time, it seems to me. People weren’t used to being entertained in their homes. They were used to going out for entertainment. Did you notice changes in the town as more people started to have access to cable television?

RICCI: Oh, sure. You know I think, particularly the boxing matches and the wrestling matches were great attractions on television. In those days, on a Friday night, for example, two or three families would gather to watch the Friday night fights. We’d often go fifteen miles from our home to another person’s home who lived on a hilltop and had better reception than where we lived. We’d go there almost every Friday night. It was sort of a ritual. That’s the sort of thing that happened.

RUTH Of course, the movie theaters are not like this. That was the one thing that we heard early.

GRANT: Did it have an impact, or was it more of a fear of an impact?

RUTH I think probably it had an impact. I don’t remember any particular details about it, but it had to have an impact on theaters.

RICCI: Well, the movie industry is still trying to throttle the cable industry. Sure, we keep people at home and now we show them movies without going to the theater.

GRANT: Do you remember when it dawned on you that this wasn’t just a way to sell TVs? That it was actually going to be an industry?

RICCI: Yes. I think probably in a very short period of time, like two or three years. Maybe it was that long.

RUTH I think so. Before we separated the two businesses.

RICCI: It happened gradually, so it’s really hard to say it happened at a precise time. It wasn’t easy selling cable in the early days.

GRANT: But at some point you began to realize that selling TVs was nice, but there may be a much larger business or industry in just the cable part of it.

RICCI: Yes, right. We figured we’d get one out of ten homes. As time went on we’d get up to sixty and seventy percent. So seven out of ten homes.

GRANT: Yeah, wow.

RICCI: We sold our system in 1963 and had 2200 subscribers and now that system has 10,000 subscribers. About 400%, 300% growth, since 1963 and the town hasn’t grown that much. The penetration is now 90%.

RUTH And they’ve added nearby towns to it. They’ve broadened it, reached out farther.

GRANT: You talked about splitting the business off. Was there a point where you took the cable business separate from the record business?

RUTH Yes. The cable business moved out.

RICCI: It needed its own office.

GRANT: Did you continue to run the record business for a number of years?

RICCI: Yes, we ran that until 1968. Actually five years after we sold that system. But when we sold that system we were building other systems.

GRANT: In the New Hampshire area mostly?

RICCI: New Hampshire, Maine, Vermont, and New York State. Massachusetts, too. We ended up building thirteen systems.

GRANT: In those early days, what was the reaction or response from early government or government officials, mayors, councils? Did they understand what you were doing?

RICCI: They didn’t understand it. They didn’t know what to do with it either. Even when you explained what you were doing and what the system did, then they didn’t really know what to do with them. They didn’t know what authority they had with it. They finally decided that you had to get permission from them to cross the city streets and right-of-ways. You had to deal with the city first and then you dealt with the power company and the phone company.

I remember going to a city council meeting before we had the system. They had gotten a letter from an entrepreneur asking them for a license. It was on the agenda that night to discuss giving a license to this fella just on the strength of a letter that he wrote in. I went to them and pleaded with them not to give it until someone was prepared to build the system. Of course, I knew that someone was going to be me. I had talked them out of it that night, not to give a franchise just on the basis of a letter. It really was quite easy to get a franchise, especially if you were a native, a local boy.

GRANT: So, they had some confidence and trust in you.

RICCI: Yes. We went into Massachusetts and they said, “These people are from New Hampshire.” They looked at us with a jaundiced eye.

RUTH City slickers coming in.

RICCI: “What are they trying to sell us? What’s this thing they’re talking about?”

RUTH We had a lot of fun at some of those old time franchise meetings.

RICCI: Dealing with a selectman.

GRANT: Yeah. Clearly at that point this comes into a much larger business than you started out with.

RUTH Originally, it was all small towns, small cities. It wasn’t metropolitan at all. I think that’s one of the things that made the industry, because you dealt with people individually, rather than governments as they are.

GRANT: Did you use the same marketing techniques when you went into the new towns?

RICCI: Yes, we did. Because they had been very successful in Keene. When the National Association (NCTA) was formed, one of the early things they did was put together a booklet of all of the promotions of all of their members that had been sent in. So in your monthly mailing, you’ve got inserts that were ideas for promotions for the cable. Ours were all reproduced in the booklet and given special attention because they were outstanding, at the time.

End of Tape 1, Side A

RICCI: It took a long time for it to catch on.

GRANT: Yeah. Especially in those areas, I think, where it wasn’t an urgent need.

RICCI: Exactly. It didn’t get into the cities because they had good television reception.

GRANT: You mentioned that most systems, I think in the early days had, in some cases, only three channels, some had six. Obviously, you were one of the first, perhaps, the first, to have the twelve channel system.

RICCI: I don’t know if we were the first but we were among the first.

GRANT: What led you to want to have the capacity for twelve even though you couldn’t get twelve signals at that point?

RICCI: Well, I envisioned the day when you could get twelve signals. You know, there were a lot of people who were perfectly happy with five channels. The option was five or twelve. But many operators opted for the five because they couldn’t imagine there being more than five channels of television available to them.

RUTH That was before the microwave.

RICCI: That’s right.

RUTH It was just strictly an antenna, higher up, picking up a signal that you couldn’t get at home. I don’t think in Keene we could have anticipated getting any further away than Boston at that time. And that was big.

RICCI: Then there was just the three networks and where else was another television station coming from?

GRANT: So there weren’t independent stations in those days?

RICCI: No. Not when they first started.

GRANT: Now, I’m curious. What light bulb went off to tell you that someday there was going to be a need for twelve?

RICCI: I don’t know. I just felt that there would be.

RUTH He has a lot of imagination. Foresight.

GRANT: Apparently.

RICCI: I just had the feeling it would be twelve and even maybe more. And I used to argue twelve channels in gatherings of operators, but they still often clung to the five channels. The theory, as I told you, that there wouldn’t be enough stations to fill up twelve channels.

GRANT: Now that lasted for a long time.

RICCI: It did. I can remember arguing the cause when television was pretty prevalent in New Hampshire and Vermont. It reached quite a stage of development, and I was still arguing in favor of twelve channels.

GRANT: Do you remember what your first channels were? When you began to be able to fill those twelve?

RICCI: Well, it was strictly the three networks until an educational came on. But we sold three NBCs on our cable. And the reason for it was that all the NBCs didn’t carry just NBC programs. They had the different news programs. There was some variety. But there was a lot of repetition. It was not unusual to have two CBSs, two NBCs, and two ABC channels. You had to have something to fill the channels. There was some difference so we used them.

GRANT: Did people like the differences?

RICCI: No. That was the one thing they said, “What do I need two NBCs for? I can only watch Phil Silvers one night, at one time. I don’t need two Phil Silver programs.”

GRANT: It strikes me as interesting that that argument has been turned around to some degree. And it’s the cable people who are asking that question, “Why do I need two ABCs or two CBSs?”

RICCI: Well then there was a hunger for variety even though you had two NBCs and only two hours were different on those two stations.

RUTH Especially when one of them was a sports program.

GRANT: Like a local sports program.

RUTH The Boston one would carry the Red Sox and someone else would carry the Yankees, or something like that.

RICCI: Sure we always looked at a station that carried the ball games, or any sports.

GRANT: That’s still a rather common ingredient.

RICCI: Yes, it still is. In those days a lot of it was boxing. Boxing was a big, big thing in the early days of television.

GRANT: Do you remember what was the relationship with Spencer-Kennedy Laboratories? What business were they in that got them into the cable business?

RICCI: Gee, I can’t really answer that. They were in some other business, but I don’t recall what it was.

GRANT: Electronics.

RICCI: Yes, some other business. Electronics. They had a research department. I think that cable was just one segment of their business.

GRANT: And these devices they were producing were just for cable at that point?

RICCI: That’s right.

GRANT: Did you find at this point that young entrepreneurs began coming to Keene, New Hampshire to talk to you?

RICCI: Well, there was a lot of that. We went to other places as well. In 1960, about four years after we got into business, we became very active in the National Community Antenna Television Association. I was elected to the Board of Directors of the National Association in 1960. The Board of Directors were people like myself from all over the country.

RUTH We also had a New England Association that was started before that.


GRANT: So it preceded a National Association.

RICCI: No, I don’t think it preceded it.

GRANT: Simultaneous.

RICCI: I think the National Association came before the New England Association.

GRANT: So you spent a fair amount of your time doing missionary work for cable TV?

RICCI: Yeah, I did.

RUTH The early systems were in small towns so the industry didn’t get much publicity. It wasn’t very well known.

GRANT: Most of the media towns weren’t aware that it was going on, I guess.

RICCI: No, whoever heard of putting an antenna on top of a hill and bringing in television signals on a piece of wire. That didn’t make any sense.

GRANT: Did you get reactions from TV stations?

RICCI: Oh yes. They were violently opposed to cable TV. In this past Sunday’s New York Times, the lead story in the business section was about the efforts to curb the growth of cable television. When we started we were nothing. The big networks were spending their time in Washington to try to get this industry squashed before it ever got started. They could see it as being disastrous for them. As it turned out, it has been.

GRANT: So right from the beginning there was that friction between broadcasting and cable.

RICCI: Sure, right from the beginning. We were in a peculiar position because probably the most violent and outspoken of anyone about the cable television business was a fellow named Bill Putnam. He had this television station in Springfield, Massachusetts. We were in his coverage area. He used to editorialize on the 7:00 news about the pirates who were stealing his signal and selling it for these enormous fees, jilting the public, bringing them nothing they couldn’t get with a decent antenna.

RUTH Some of his editorials were really almost libel. He would name names.

RICCI: Oh yeah. He was vitriolic. Nationally he was the opponent of cable television.

GRANT: They didn’t see the advantage of increasing the people who could see their ads, for example.

RICCI: That was our pitch. We’re increasing your audience, what are you complaining about? They could foresee the day when cable would hurt them. By bringing in, for example, not only many more channels, but bringing in channels from a competitor from the Boston station, we’d bring the Chicago station into Boston. We’d bring the New York station into Boston. That possibility was what they didn’t like.

GRANT: When did you start bringing in out of the area stations, microwave possibility? What was the foundations of that?

RUTH We never had any microwaves.

GRANT: Didn’t you?


RICCI: New England operators were talking about putting antennas up on Mount Washington, which is the highest mountain, east of the Mississippi, and covering the New England area with microwave from the top of Mount Washington, where you could get signals from any number of stations. That idea died with the advent of satellites.

GRANT: So when you were in the business at that stage most of it was still local or regional signals?

RICCI: That’s right. We carried stations from Boston; from Manchester, New Hampshire; from Albany, New York; from Springfield, Massachusetts; and from Hartford, Connecticut. Those are all within, say, a hundred miles. Channel 2, which is an educational channel out of Boston. Channel 11 out of Durham, New Hampshire, which is another educational. We could get quite a lineup just from the antenna on the top of the hill.

GRANT: What was the business like in those days? As I’ve read, a lot of the people who grew up in cable got started in a record shop or were electricians. What was the business like in those days, in terms of the kinds of people that were involved?

RICCI: Mostly it was engineering types. Radio repairmen who started dabbling with television. They had the electronic knowledge to recognize that it was a viable scheme to put an antenna on the top of the hill and bring it into the home via cable. Those are the kinds of guys who were initially in the cable television business. Now it’s run by high powered businessmen.

GRANT: We call you folks pioneers now. Did you have a pioneer feeling then? Did you feel like you were on the frontier?

RICCI: Yes, we did.

RUTH We never really knew what we had.

RICCI: We didn’t know what we had in the very early days. We told you, our only reason for bringing television in was so that we could sell television sets. Of course, that changed as time went on. Soon the tail was wagging the dog. There were people who could envision a lot more than that. They envisioned things that are happening today. I can remember talking with Irving Kahn and he was showing me a box that he had developed. He had a display worked up where you could order something from a store, home shopping it was (Key TV). All you did was punch in three or four digits on a dial and you would get this dress, or snow shovel, or whatever that you had seen on the screen. He had this concept developed very early in the game.

RUTH He started talking about it in 1960.

RICCI: That’s right, back in 1960. See, the industry then was only about four or five years old. Irving Kahn was one of the visionaries.

GRANT: That interactive potential still has never been realized, I guess.

RICCI: No, but I’m confident it will be.

GRANT: My recollection is of Walter Cronkite doing one of those old 20th Century programs where he talked about this black box being in your house and what cable would bring you. You would be able to do your shopping and your banking from home. Basically, at this point in its development, it’s not unlike what you started it out to be, which was delivering variety in entertainment.

RICCI: That’s right. Of course, cable has gone into the movie business and that sort of thing. They’re creating programs and they are broadening the scope of available programs. But they are still doing essentially the same thing, bringing in better pictures and more of them.

GRANT: I mean this in only the most flattering way, but cable has always been called a “Mom and Pop” business. You two strike me as the original Mom and Pop of the cable business.

RICCI: That’s the way it was. It really was a Mom and Pop business. The early systems were started with bailing wire and spit. A lot of it was creative on part of the people who started it. Because the equipment, as I told you, was pretty crude in the early days.

GRANT: Were there struggles in the early days, Ruth? Were there times when you wondered if you should be back selling Benny Goodman records?

RUTH Well, I did that on the side.

RICCI: Tell them about the night someone cut the cable.

RUTH Oh, the afternoon?

RICCI: Sunday afternoon.

RUTH It was a late Sunday afternoon. I don’t know how many subscribers we had but it felt like a million, when someone cut the cable and the system was off the air.

RICCI: It was Sunday night with Ed Sullivan.

RUTH We had two sons. One was old enough to go out with his mother and father and all the rest of the crew we could round up, climbing up that hill to find out where the cable was broken. The other son helped his grandmother answer the telephone. It was just ringing off the hook.

RICCI: We probably only had one hundred or two hundred customers. Well it was sheer panic. Everybody was calling, no Ed Sullivan, they were going to miss Ed Sullivan. Everybody who had a TV set tuned into the Ed Sullivan show in those days.

RUTH Once people had cable, it became so important.

GRANT: Irreplaceable.

RUTH I’m sure for anyone who had it, when any special program was on they had a house full of people.

GRANT: That part of cable hasn’t changed at all either. In talking to the people who run local cable systems, if it happens to go off in the middle of the World Series, God forbid.

RUTH You can’t get hold of anybody now, they take the phone off the hook.

GRANT: Or you get a machine saying, “Call Monday morning.”

RICCI: I think, John, that in the early days, most of these people who started cable systems were the radio repairman, or the local guy that had a music store or a television store. So it was a Mom and Pop business. It didn’t go into the cities until recently, and in some major cities they still don’t have it.

GRANT: Do you remember when you began to see the transition to more than just what the initial service had been? Do you remember the conversations when there was talk of superstations and cable origination stations?

RICCI: I can remember when the New England Association, which was probably compromised of six or eight people at that time, met in the fire station in Lebanon, New Hampshire. A man came to speak to us about putting movies on cable and he was going to bicycle the films around. He had this grand scheme and that was the beginning of the sort of thing that could happen on cable. That was the first inkling that we had. I would imagine that was the late ’50s.

GRANT: So there was some thought even then, that now we have this, maybe it can be more than just a delivery.

RICCI: What the guy had is what we have now, HBO. This guy had that concept back in the late ’50s.

GRANT: Eventually you sold your system. When was that?

RICCI: We sold it in 1963.

GRANT: What led you to that decision?

RICCI: The reason was financial. It was a struggle to finance the growth of the Keene system so we decided to sell it and that would provide us with funds to build other systems.

GRANT: That seems to be a rather common way that cable people went, to build and sell a system. Which, again, is part of being an entrepreneur in business.


GRANT: Was there a time when you kind of pulled the blinds shut in the bedroom and laughed at the amount of money that these systems were worth based on how they got started?

RICCI: Oh, it was staggering. We sold our system for $550,000 in 1963 and that seemed like as much money as there was in the whole world.

GRANT: What happened after you sold the Keene system? You still worked in how many other systems?

RICCI: We built and got involved in twelve other systems.

GRANT: I guess those were all over New England.

RICCI: Two in New York State, one in Vermont, two in Maine, and the rest of them were in Massachusetts.

GRANT: Did you eventually sell those systems?

RICCI: We sold all of those. We sold our last system in 1971 or 1972, something like that.

GRANT: You have effectively been retired from active cable business since then?

RICCI: I was semi‑retired when I sold the Keene system, and then I retired when I was fifty-four years old. I had some heart problems. So we sold all the systems and came down here.

GRANT: You were active in something called the Pole Line Commission. You were Director of it for a while.

RICCI: Yes. I was the chairman of the Utilities Relations Committee. It had to do with negotiations with the power and the telephone companies. During that time I really got involved with the telephone company. We had a system in Duchess County, New York, and the telephone company, a branch of AT&T, built a competing system on the same poles as us. We had a contract with them for the use of their poles and they built a competing system. I got some legal people in Washington and took them to court. TelePrompTer, which was one of the big companies then, went in with us. I’ve forgotten, there is a legal term for it, but they joined us in our action against the telephone company. I think there were two or three others big cable companies that joined in the action against AT&T and we took them to court and beat them. They still cannot go into the cable television business.

GRANT: What was the relationship like? You had the networks and the TV stations not that thrilled about you. The utilities weren’t too thrilled.

RICCI: The utilities, especially the phone companies, disliked us intensely, still do.

GRANT: (Chuckle) Yes. What was the reason for that in those days?

RICCI: Well, I guess they resented us going on their poles. Our attitude was, heck, the poles are there and we’re going to pay you $5 a year for the use of each rental on each pole. You ought to be happy about that. Income without spending any more money. But they felt we were encroaching on their poles using their poles to compete with them because they felt they ought to be in the cable television business. They wanted that for themselves. And they tried like hell to keep us off the poles.

One incident that shook the phone company occurred in the small town of Manson, Massachusetts where we had a franchise we couldn’t get an agreement from the utilities. They kept stalling us, and stalling us, and stalling us. So I got permission from the town fathers to erect some poles of our own. We were going to erect poles throughout the city. We put up a slick metal pole that only went up as high as we needed to go which was not as high as all the telephone poles, because they had to have a lot of space for the power companies. The power companies had big lines and transformers and all that thing. We erected, on one of the streets in Manson, four of these poles with different colors. We were going to let the selectmen pick the color they wanted. Green, or aluminum color, brown.

RUTH They were much more attractive. Much more attractive.

RICCI: When the telephone company saw those, God, they gave us an agreement within days.

GRANT: So their feeling was that you wouldn’t need them (the phone company) any more.

RICCI: Right. A competitive pole line in the town. It just shook them up terribly.

GRANT: You mentioned the legal battle that occurred. That, I take it, was a historical development in terms of cable television.

RICCI: Sure, it precluded AT&T and all telephone companies from building their own cable systems in competition with the cable industry.

GRANT: From your point of view, in the cable industry at that time, what was your fear of them getting involved?

RICCI: If the phone companies were allowed to enter the cable business it would have been the end of the line for us. They owned the poles that we had to go on to operate and they had the money, manpower and equipment to put us out of business.

GRANT: The whole industry might have been different.

RICCI: Absolutely. It would be owned now by the utilities, by the telephone companies.

GRANT: Do you find it ironic that now cable, as you mentioned the other day in The New York Times, is now being attacked for the same reasons. That now it is the cable industry who is the behemoth and others are complaining. Is the shoe on the other foot at this point?

RICCI: Oh, sure it is. Look what has happened to the networks. The networks have lost viewers dramatically. They’ve lost value in the marketplace. Their income has been chopped away because they have lost viewers and their advertising revenues have been cut. They’re suffering.

GRANT: I guess it is highly possible at this point that, for lack of a better word, the phone company is going to be allowed to get into cable or some other distribution method over the next couple of years. That seems to be more of a possibility than, I guess, in the past.

RICCI: Well, I don’t think that bothers the cable industry as much now, because most of this country is wired anyway.

GRANT: So it doesn’t matter as much.

RUTH Isn’t there some talk about Florida Power and Light (FP&L) overbuilding?

RICCI: Yes, here in Florida. Florida Power & Light. The big electric power company, they’re not a telephone company. They’re not precluded from entering the business.

GRANT: What was the NCTA like in those early days?

RICCI: A lot of fun. You know, a Board of Directors of fifteen people all cut from the same bolt of cloth, from all over the country. When we first went on the Board of Directors, we were from New Hampshire and we immediately got friendly with a couple from Del Rio, Texas, which is on the Mexican border. We couldn’t understand their dialect and they couldn’t understand ours.

GRANT: That’s quite a shock, from New Hampshire…

RICCI: Quite a cultural shock, I’ll tell you. We laugh about it until this day. They were just wonderful people. Everyone in the industry was an exciting person in an exciting industry. I can remember the Second Report and Order which was a document formulated by the Federal Communications Commission to curb the growth of cable. It was promoted by the broadcasters, people like Bill Putnam. We went to a board meeting just after this had been put into force and a writer of the broadcast magazine who attended most of our meetings, pulled me aside at an affair we were having. He said, “What I don’t understand, Mr. RICCI:, is all of you people seem to be having a hell of a good time and enjoying life and how can you just do that when the Second Report and Order has just been enforced? You guys ought to be crying.” He just couldn’t understand that we were so optimistic and enthusiastic about our business. We were entrepreneurs and the Second Report and Order was a burr under the saddle but it wasn’t going to stop us by any means. And it didn’t of course.

GRANT: The networks were extremely powerful in those days. How did this young fledgling industry stand up to them?

RICCI: Well, we just scrapped. We developed some friends in the Congress, that’s where the battle was fought. We slowly developed some friends and gradually overcame the enemy. Now we’re the enemy.

GRANT: That’s completely turned around in about a decade or so.


GRANT: What was the feeling like at the NCTA meetings in those days? Was there a Bunker mentality? Was it all you little folks against the networks?

RICCI: Yes. It really was. Ninety-five percent of their energies went to fighting the broadcasters and the networks and the utilities.

GRANT: What were the battles over?

RICCI: Well, they were trying to curb us through the Congress. If they had had their way, we would have been outlawed.

GRANT: What arguments were they using at that time?

RICCI: That we were pirates.

GRANT: Stealing.

RICCI: Using the copyright example, that we were stealing their copyrighted material without paying any copyright fees. One of our biggest battles at NCTA was a copyright battle. We finally did have to pay some copyright fees but they were minimal.

GRANT: They still are I think. Was the NCTA effective in those days in making the case?


GRANT: Who was the leadership involved?

RICCI: I’d say probably the most influential guy was Bill Daniels. He was a successful cable operator and a successful broker. He had a lot of drive and a lot of guts and he was a born leader. I would say that he is certainly one of the key people.

GRANT: When did your involvement with the NCTA start?

RICCI: My involvement started in 1960.

RUTH As a director, but you were a member a couple of years before.

RICCI: Sometime between 1955 and 1960 when I got involved. I became a member as soon as I heard of the National Association.

GRANT: Now, I’m told if I can get you a cigar you’ll actually reenact the end. Do you still smoke cigars?


GRANT: Had to give those up?

RICCI: That was a lot of fun.

RUTH He did smoke cigars.

GRANT: Ben Conroy told me that if you had a cigar in your mouth you’d look like Groucho Marx.

RICCI: I mimic Groucho Marx. I was emcee at our annual convention dinner for several years. I emceed some other events during the conventions.

GRANT: It sounds to me like the two of you enjoyed yourself in this.

RICCI: Oh, we did. It was an exciting business. There aren’t very many people who are privileged to be involved in the birth of an industry. Especially something dealing with entertainment bringing pleasure to our subscribers.

GRANT: Ruth, what has your experience been? You seem to have been here every step of the way. A real partnership, between the two of you.

RUTH We just started it. You couldn’t possibly sit aside and watch it grow without being involved in it. I don’t know. We always had worked together anyhow. We started the store when we first started out business. He had just come back from the service and from being a POW. I didn’t intend to get into it at that time, but things happen, so from that point on we worked together so we saw all of these developments together.

GRANT: Were you involved at the NCTA level?

RUTH A very good association, a very intelligent association, always had one meeting a year where the ladies were invited and they always made it quite glamorous. My first meeting was at the Greenbriar. There was a director’s group which was a relatively small group so you made good friends. So that made really good feelings about the whole thing and continued all the time we were in it.

GRANT: Since your retirement, do you stay active with the NCTA in any way?

RICCI: No. I didn’t.

RUTH We’ve been to two or three dinners.

RICCI: Pioneer dinners.

RUTH But that’s huge.

GRANT: You still obviously seem to keep up with what is going on in cable.

RICCI: Yes we do. It is still an exciting industry.

RUTH Did you mention Scott?

RICCI: We have a son who, in the last six years, built up some small cable systems up in New Hampshire. Just a couple of weeks ago sold them.

GRANT: So he’s following right in your footsteps, sounds like.

RICCI: Right in my footsteps. It’s gratifying.

RUTH When we were in business, they wanted no part of it. He wasn’t interested in it at all, but he did work for us in some of the things, so he had some experience. He’s doing a great job at it now.

GRANT: When you talk with him, obviously, there are parallels here, but is the spirit different for him than it was for you at that point? Again, you were on the cutting edge or frontier. Now what you’ve described almost becomes more of a business or an investment undertaking. I guess my question is, “Does your son feel like a pioneer?”

RICCI: Well, I think in a sense, I don’t know if he feels like a pioneer, but he certainly senses some of the excitement that we did. He went through this business of going before boards of selection to get franchises, which is the same thing that we did. He went through the business of building the system, the physical. It was an exciting thing building a plant, which we did. And the merchandising of the service was an exciting part of it. He did that, as we did. It wasn’t quite as pioneering as it was then, but he certainly shared the excitement of cable television.

GRANT: You have two sons. What does the other one do?

RICCI: He is in the house building business. Far removed.

GRANT: Is that purposeful or just a different path that he took?

RICCI: Just a different path.

End of Tape 1, Side B

GRANT: A few questions a little bit later on about cable today and some of the more recent developments and the like. Before we get to that let’s reflect a bit back to your pioneer days again. Were there events that occurred along that course, say, of the first couple of years, not just with yourself, but with cable in general, that had some things gone differently the industry might never have gotten off the ground or might never flourished? Was it a delicate industry in those days?

RICCI: I don’t think so. I think that the early people were so enthusiastic about what they were doing that in spite of the opposition from the broadcasters the success of the industry was assured. Of course, the thing that really changed it was the satellites. That really changed the industry.

GRANT: What impact did they have?

RICCI: Well, it brought into being people like HBO and the cable networks like C‑SPAN–all of those I guess there are twenty or thirty of them now–networks that just serve cable television. Those would not have been possible without satellites. I think the industry from day one was such an exciting industry because of the nature of the people who were in it; entrepreneurs who had a lot of vision, get up and go, the necessary ingredients to successfully launch a new industry. It was the nature of the people, I think, that had a lot to do with the success of the industry.

GRANT: You mentioned this before. Most of them were Mom and Pop type setups in those days. They were still individuals that… I guess what I’m rooting around to get at is, was there a time, an event or place that you look at and say, well, this is when cable took off? It doesn’t seem to be that. It seems to be a sort of, in many ways, almost a haphazard development.

RICCI: It did. That’s right. When we started we heard about somebody in a town, twenty or thirty miles away doing the similar thing. That was happening throughout the United States. All of these sort of brush fires were popping up all over the country. A good example is the first one in Pennsylvania or Oregon. That’s about almost as far as you can get from one to the other within the continental United States. That was the nature of the business.

GRANT: Was it the NCTA that began to pull it together? What were the factors that began to pull it together as not just isolated pockets, but as an industry?

RICCI: To fight a common enemy, which was the broadcasters and the telephone. That’s really what caused NCTA to grow and become a powerful organization.

GRANT: So as it developed from a grass roots to a national power you attracted enemies that forced you to organize?

RICCI: That’s right. The enemies forced us to organize. NCTA organized successfully and the people who were on the board, the entrepreneurs, were the same entrepreneurs who started these systems. They had vision and they had energy, drive. They were unbeatable.

GRANT: Go back to your twelve channel idea again. You obviously had a lot of missionary work and lobbying for that point of view. When did that concept begin to take hold? When did the idea that it was going to be more than just five channels as a potential start to grow?

RICCI: I think in the eyes of some people like myself, it grew with the birth of the business. My reason for going to the wide band–we called it wide band as opposed to narrow band–was because I felt there would be three or four or five channels. I think that’s the way a lot of people thought.

GRANT: In those days, did you envision in any way, or did anybody envision the kinds of services that might be possible that we’re seeing today, in terms of a channel devoted to Congress, a channel devoted to weather, a channel devoted to nature? Was there any feeling that this idea was going to grow into what it has become?

RICCI: In the very early days of cable television it was looked at as a system to bring in more and better pictures and I don’t recall thinking beyond that point. However, I do recall that Irving Kahn had developed a home shopping system about twenty-eight years ago.

GRANT: So that’s 28 years ago. It’s only in the last couple of years that we’ve had home shopping.

RICCI: The visionaries in the business foresaw a lot of this a long time ago.

GRANT: Was cable TV an eight to five job in those days?

RICCI: No. No. Twenty-four hours a day. No. People were traveling all over the country looking for franchises. People were crisscrossing the country. It was a fever among the people involved to get franchises. It was just like mining gold. It was like a gold strike.

GRANT: They wanted to get there first.

RICCI: Like the Klondike. Getting those franchises was the name of the game.

GRANT: There weren’t many of you in those days. That was part of it I take it. Let’s get our claim in before the rest of the world finds out about it.

RICCI: Right.

GRANT: So were you active during that? Were you crisscrossing the country at that point?

RICCI: Well we were crisscrossing our part of the country.

GRANT: New England.

RICCI: New England and New York state. At one time, on my garage walls I had topographic maps of the entire Northeast. They were for the purpose of determining where there were valleys and rivers. You know, we built along the Connecticut River and the Connecticut River Valley and the Hudson River Valley in New York. It was like staking out a claim, finding an area on the map and then going there and attempting to get a franchise.

GRANT: What was the toughest sell in those days, when you went in to get the franchises? What was the toughest thing to sell?

RICCI: The toughest thing was to convince the town that we weren’t trying to pull something fast on them. Getting across to them that cable television was really a benefit. The local people who installed antennas and made a living installing antennas feared that we might infringe on their business. Because they didn’t understand the cable business they fought it at city hall.

GRANT: You hit me as a pretty good salesman. I take it you were pretty good at winning some of those arguments.

RICCI: Well, it was our enthusiasm for our product that sold it to the city and town fathers.

GRANT: I sensed that part of it, that even today you still have an enthusiasm.

RICCI: I think it’s the greatest business. I feel so privileged for having been in it.

GRANT: Ruth, did you some of the traveling?

RUTH On occasion. I can remember at least one time when he was making a presentation in one town and my older son and I went and made a presentation in another town. I don’t remember if we got the franchise or not.

RICCI: That’s how busy we were, we had to send members of the family to cover the area.

RUTH When we got a franchise, I’d go and open up the office, get the business part of it going. Which was fun.

GRANT: Your analogy to the gold strike seems to be a perfect way of describing what was going on at that time.

RUTH Yeah.

GRANT: What was the difficulty once you got the franchise? How much work was involved? That’s the first battle obviously, but you still haven’t connected a house at that point.

RUTH No. You’d have to get your antenna site, that’s the first thing. Then getting personnel, equipment, and then selling the product.

RICCI: Every town that Ruth went into was a new experience. They didn’t know what cable television was. Unless there was an adjoining town very close that had it, they had no way of knowing what you were selling.

GRANT: Today, cable still struggles with about half the homes passed, maybe a little more in some cases.

RICCI: I think the national average is probably 50% of the homes passed.

GRANT: What was it back then, better or worse?

RICCI: It was better in areas where one couldn’t get any television reception without it.

GRANT: Yeah.

RICCI: My son Scott recently built several systems in small towns that have 80% saturation. As a matter of fact, one of his systems had about 90 + percent of saturation.

GRANT: And that’s primarily because it’s not a luxury. You have to have it if you are going to have television.


GRANT: What’s your view today, looking at the state of cable television? Are you pleased at what you see?

RICCI: I think it could do a better job. I think they could do a better job of programming. I don’t know what the answer is, but I don’t think that they have brought enough new programming concepts to the scene. I don’t think they’ve developed anything new. HBO is essentially movies you could have seen in the theater a year or two ago. I think it’s done something for sports. There are a lot more sports available. I envision cable television having something like a national bingo game. You know that twenty million people can play. That sort of thing. I envision the day when you can really just dial a number and get a particular program or movie fed into their TV set. That day will come.

GRANT: What do you think is holding them back?

RICCI: Cost, probably. I think to rebuild these systems so you have two way communications will be a tremendously costly venture.

GRANT: Ruth, when I asked that question you gave a big sigh a minute ago.

RUTH Oh, I was just thinking that in the beginning, cable television did not have commercials. Now they are getting almost as many commercials as the broadcasters and that is disappointing. I think it is inevitable, it’s almost the same. Well, HBO doesn’t but a lot of the others do, don’t they?


GRANT: Do you sense a change in that pioneer- entrepreneurial spirit that created cable and the people who were involved then and maybe the people who were involved in running it? Is it more of a business? I’m not saying that’s bad or good, but is it more of a business now and maybe less of a frontier atmosphere?

RICCI: Sure. A little while ago I made mention of the MBA from Harvard going into business and that’s what’s happening. The entrepreneurial spirit is gone; now it is strictly business. They could be running a steel plant or department stores or a cable system.

GRANT: What direction would you like to see cable go? Where would you like to see it headed?

RICCI: Well, it would be impossible to fulfill that dream. I’d like to see the type of people in the cable business that were in it in the early ’60s, late ’60s and early ’50s.

RUTH It’s no longer the same type of business, so you wouldn’t see those people.

RICCI: But if those people were in it and really had something to do with it, I think you might find some more imaginative programming than we now have.

GRANT: In many ways, cable has become a mimic of the networks. It’s hard to tell USA from ABC.

RICCI: That’s exactly right. They have commercials. As a matter of fact, they use some of the same announcers and the crews. Like, in an important golf match, ESPN or USA network will carry Thursday and Friday and NBC will carry Saturday and Sunday. They use the NBC crews on Thursday and Friday, so you can’t tell the difference except when the logo shows.

GRANT: That’s true. That’s a good point. In your years in cable what did you find to be the most frustrating part of it?

RICCI: Fighting the telephone company and the broadcasters. Terribly frustrating, because they had so much power.

GRANT: Where there times when you thought you might lose that fight?

RICCI: I think probably there were times, yeah. You know, we were extremely optimistic people as a group. I can remember testifying against the telephone company and trying to convince the judge that this behemoth had attempted to squash me. And if you don’t protect me, Mr. Judge, those people are going to eat us up alive, put us out of business. That kind of fear was prevalent. In those days there were no more powerful opponents than AT&T and the networks.

GRANT: How do you think you were able to beat them?

RICCI: Just sheer guts and determination and persuasiveness. We mustn’t forget that the Congress saw that this was a means of bringing more and better television to remote parts of the United States. The average Congressman is from a small town and he could understand the benefits of cable TV.

GRANT: Can you imagine what your life would be like if you hadn’t made that decision to try to sell more TVs?

RICCI: I think of it often. As a matter of fact, I was just thinking about it this morning. I don’t think we’d be sitting here in this lovely home and this grand community in Florida. We might still be up in New Hampshire, struggling to make a living in the retail business. Probably happy to get to Florida for two weeks in March.

GRANT: I asked you a moment ago what the biggest frustration was. Now as you look back on things, what is the biggest joy you think you’ve taken from this experience?

RICCI: Well, the thrill of being part of an extremely exciting business. Meeting a lot of wonderful people in the industry. And being able to travel all over the United States. Becoming a little bit sophisticated, as a result of it. But being a part of the cable TV business has been so rewarding.

GRANT: When the history book is written about cable TV, what will it say about Albert Ricci?

RICCI: I think I made a contribution. I think I envisioned some things. I pioneered a bit in the area of wide band. I think we got there before most of the cable systems in the United States got there with the wide band. I think I made a contribution in fighting the telephone company. And that I served in various capacities with the National Cable Television Association successfully.

GRANT: Ok. I think today will ensure that they will be. Is there anything we haven’t talked about that you think we should?

RICCI: No. I made a bunch of notes and I think we covered everything.

GRANT: Ruth?

RUTH No, I can’t think of anything at this point that we haven’t covered.

GRANT: Good.

RICCI: You’re married to one pioneer and the mother of another.

RUTH Well, it was a fun business.

GRANT: It seems to me that you’ve both enjoyed it.

RICCI: We enjoyed it beyond words.

End of Tape 2, Side A

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