Interview Date: Monday January 18, 1999
Collection: Archer Taylor Technical Collection
Note: Audio Only
TAYLOR: January 18, 1999, delightful to have Frank with me again after all these years. I’m going to start out by helping the transcriber with a few words that I discover they often have trouble with. Jerrold is spelled J-E-R-R-O-L-D, and I’m sure we will be using that word in the course of this discussion.
RAGONE: That is correct.
TAYLOR: Frank Ragone spells his name R-A-G-O-N-E. I’ve noticed that gets misspelled sometimes too. We’ll talk about Ken Simons who spells it with one M, Simons, and we’ll talk about Milt Shapp, S-H-A-P-P. We may possibly talk about a guy name John Walsonavich, W-A-L-S-O-N-A-V-I-C-H. And another one that may come up that’s difficult to spell is Bob Beisswenger, B-E-I-S-S-W-E-N-G-E-R, am I right Frank?
RAGONE: I’m not sure if its 2 s or 1 s.
TAYLOR: [I have learned since this interview that two S is correct, and the W is followed by an E, not an A].
RAGONE: Robert Beisswenger and Robert Tarlton, too
TAYLOR: Bob Tarlton, T-A-R-L-T-O-N.
TAYLOR: And somewhere we may be even mention my old partner, Martin Malarkey, and he spells it the only way you spell Malarkey, M-A-L-A-R-K-E-Y. There may be some others but if we come to them and I think of it I’ll spell them for you on the tape. All right Frank what I’d like to do is to start out with your personal history who were your parents, were did they come from, were did you live.
RAGONE: Well, I was born and lived my early years in Camden, New Jersey, famous for being across the Delaware River from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. My mother was a first generation Italian-American, born in Philadelphia. My father was an immigrant barber, born in Salandra, Italy. They settled in the Camden area. I was the youngest of four children.
Unfortunately, my father died when I was only four years old. I went to Camden High School and, one week after graduation, married my high school sweetheart and went directly into the Air Corps in January 1943 to serve in WWII. I became a navigator-bombardier on B-24 bombers. I was discharge in November 1845 and enrolled in the University of Pennsylvania Electrical Engineering program under the wonderful GI Bill. I graduated from the U of P in 1949 along with a very famous classmate named Mike Jeffers. We met in college, became very good friends and are still good friends to this very day. Upon graduation, I went to work for the US Navy for one year, and then just about…
TAYLOR: Was that civilian?
RAGONE: Yes, civilian, but under US Navy administration.
TAYLOR: It was the Navy Yard in Philadelphia?
RAGONE: It was The Naval Air Development Center in Johnsville, Pennsylvania. The Navy was actively recruiting engineers and Mike Jeffers and I both went to work at the Naval Air development center as summer 1948 co-ops. By the time we graduated, in 1949, engineers could only get jobs driving taxi cabs or washing dishes or whatever. There were just no jobs available. Since we were in the program, the Navy gave us permanent employment, and both Mike and I went back to Johnsville after graduation, and were working there when an old friend named Bud Green who…
TAYLOR: Let me ask you, does Green have an E at the end of it?
RAGONE: No, just G-R-E-E-N. Bud Green was also a fellow class mate from Penn who couldn’t get a job and he was driving a taxi cab, oddly enough, and came across Milt Shapp who had a little operation going with Hank Arbeiter
TAYLOR: That’s another name I meant to spell for her, A-R-B-E-I-T-E-R.
RAGONE: Right. Henry Arbeiter. Milt had recruited Arbeiter, who was a teacher at a technical institute. And through Bud Green, he decided he needed somebody to take care of production of the antenna boosters which was nothing more than a single stage amplifier and an old clock cabinet. Milt was a distributor and he ran across, I think, a surplus of old clocks and the cabinets were of great value to him because he used the cabinets for his one stage booster. Don Kirk had designed the booster for Milt and Milt needed a production foreman, and so Bud Green became his production foreman and his whole experience was…
TAYLOR: Can you attach any dates to this?
RAGONE: This was in the ’49 time frame, ’49 and ’50. Prior to my employment at Jerrold.
TAYLOR: Incidentally, I interviewed Don Kirk. He’s got pretty much of a problem with Parkinson’s. He was delighted when I came down and spent half a day with him doing an interview, and it was fascinating. I learned a lot.
RAGONE: Very, very bright, bright person.
TAYLOR: As far as I know he is still living down there. I haven’t talked with him, but his daughter was very helpful in that. She reviewed the manuscript and edited it and put it in fine shape. She sent it back and then sent a cataloged bunch of papers of his, all neatly filed and numbered and identified. Oh it was great.
RAGONE: Great man.
TAYLOR: Sorry to interrupt, but Don Kirk is a pretty important figure in this.
RAGONE: Well that, that was the 1949-50 time frame. Bud Green was driving the cab and went to work for Milt Shapp, and Bud contacted me that they needed an engineer there. Things at the Naval Air Development station were rather dull, nothing exciting. So I went to work for Jerrold in June of 1950. At that time Don Kirk was a consultant. He still had some tie into the Navy in the Washington area here. He was a consultant, so he would send information and papers and samples and models up to Philadelphia and we would try to put it into some kind of production form.
TAYLOR: Now, were you on with Jerrold at that time?
RAGONE: June of 1950, I was with Jerrold.
TAYLOR: June of 1950.
RAGONE: Their product at that time was the single stage booster, which I believe Milt started to sell that into fringe areas like Atlantic City. And talking about technical excellence — of course, when you went down to Atlantic City and put up a big antenna and tried to capture the signals out of Philadelphia, they were 90 percent snow and maybe 10 percent some movement in the background. And with some imagination and listening to the audio, you got the feeling of television. Then along came Milt with this booster and suddenly the pictures got better — not, not really great, but better. In fact, they became more viewable. It was a wonderful instrument. We were all enamored with it. The performance was terrific. Of course, in later years, when you go back and look at what it was doing… I mean we didn’t know what noise figure was in those days or even how to measure noise figure. So it wasn’t that it improved the noise figure. It didn’t take long to determine that the beauty of the device was that it had a narrow bandwidth. Because it was peaked on video carrier, it eliminated a lot of the noise. And since most of the video information was contained in and around the pix carrier, we were literally looking at a double side band, black and white picture. So in later years, we recognized that the picture improvement was the elimination of noise. If we tried to design that in the 80’s and 90’s time frame we never would have designed it because …
TAYLOR: We had a lot of luck in those days
RAGONE: A lot of luck.
TAYLOR: Mike Jeffers came into Jerrold about the same time you did.
RAGONE: Yes, in fact around 1951. We were growing, we needed another engineer.
TAYLOR: You were there first.
RAGONE: I was there first. I went there June of 1950, Hank Arbeiter, and a fellow named John Nardontonia…
TAYLOR: Oh yes. Let’s spell that.
RAGONE: N-A-R-D-O-N-T-O-N-I-A. He was out of a tech school, very bright, aggressive. Milt decided we needed another engineer in addition to Nardontonia and I, so I said, “I know one, he’s at Johnsville, his name is Mike Jeffers.” So around ’51, middle ’51 time frame, Mike Jeffers came to work at Jerrold. That was the beginning of Mike’s long career at Jerrold.
TAYLOR: I’ve interviewed Mike, so I have his information also. That’s why I wanted to also try and coordinate it.
RAGONE: From the technical viewpoint, the other product that was available in those days was an antenna system for multi dwelling units, or Mul-TV as it was called. Jerrold was into wiring apartments and hotels and motels, etc, with equipment that had been basically developed by Hank Arbeiter and John Nardontonia.
TAYLOR: How is this different, now, from the booster, the single tube booster?
RAGONE: The single tube booster was strictly a consumer product for homes and fringe areas.
TAYLOR: The single tube booster, was it single channel?
RAGONE: Single channel.
TAYLOR: Was it tunable?
RAGONE: It was tunable.
RAGONE: It had a big rotary knob on it. Milt wanted to make sure people with poor eyesight could easily read the numbers. It was a 12-channel rotary tuned circuit.
TAYLOR: Was it continuous tuning?
RAGONE: I’m sorry, it was detent tuning.
TAYLOR: Detent tuning.
RAGONE: Detent tuning, just like the old TV sets. I believe the circuits were…
TAYLOR: But was it a turret, like the…
RAGONE: No. It was the… As I recall it was a wafer switch type of tuner.
TAYLOR: Oh actually, switched in a different circuit
RAGONE: Yes, it switched in a different circuit for each channel to favor the pix carrier in that particular channel. Meanwhile, Hank Arbeiter and John Nardontonia had developed the so-called strip amplifiers and a compatible power supply to accommodate up to three strip amplifiers. Philadelphia was assigned channels three, six, and ten, so they used three separate strip amplifiers to amplify the individual channels and combine them on the output. I believe they delivered somewhere around a volt. We didn’t have an accurate way of measuring it, but I think the amplifiers delivered about a volt per channel. That was used to drive the signals down coax cable…
TAYLOR: Now from…
RAGONE: …to various apartments.
TAYLOR: Now from what Mike said, that was low-band VHS, because he said he spent a lot of time converting channel ten down to something or other, I forget.
RAGONE: Well I think in the early apartment units, they were initially on original channel assignments.
RAGONE: Yes, and that equipment… Well there was another companion piece called the antenna distribution outlet, or ADO.
RAGONE: And that came in two versions, three outputs and ten outputs.
TAYLOR: That was broad band?
RAGONE: That was broad band. It used tuned grid, based on a low pass transmission line using the capacity of the vacuum tube as the capacitive element, with lumped inductance between each grid of the respective tubes. The transmission line would pass the inputs of the tubes and be terminated in 75 ohms. The output was also broad band, and each vacuum tube became an individual line to an apartment or a motel room. Thus the strip amps and the ADOs were used to deliver, literally, home-run signals to each individual subscriber. And then later, somewhere along the line, Milt had a tie-in with Hank Diambra. I don’t remember the details of it.
TAYLOR: I got a lot of that from Hank .
RAGONE: I believe Hank Diambra had developed a tap, such that rather than have an individual line to each of the vertical risers in the apartments, which was physically difficult because you had to have one cable per subscriber. In a ten-floor apartment, you had to have ten cables starting out. Hank came up with the so-called tap, which was put into wall plates. So at the time I arrived, they essentially had the basic apartment unit system, which was a strip amp for antenna amplification, and an ADO unit to drive the individual subscriber lines. And they were just phasing in the so-called wall tap. This was now ’50, ’51 time frame.
TAYLOR: Let me back up a minute.
TAYLOR: When I interviewed Kirk, he told about some experimenting that he and Arbeiter I think were doing with ADO and — how did that go — they kind of stumbled on the idea of a tap and that the Kirk feels that they started a tap down there in Kirk’s shop. So it’s interesting to…
RAGONE: Yes, that thing never got resolved.
TAYLOR: And I didn’t get clear from Diambra, what his position on the tap… The pressure tap, now that was a real bitter fight.
RAGONE: Yes, that was a bitter fight.
TAYLOR: That was a bitter fight.
RAGONE: The pressure tap was a bitter fight between Hank and…
TAYLOR: …and Kirk.
RAGONE: Kirk and Jerrold, I mean, and Milt, of course. The early one was just a capacitive tap, because it was just…
TAYLOR: That was the one that went in a little aluminum box…
RAGONE: It went into an electric wall outlet box. It used discrete components and the values were selected so that it took the higher attenuation where the signal was stronger. Usually they were feeding from the top floor to the bottom floor, and so by the time they got to the first floor, or the ground floor, they had these so-called “heaviest” tap — heavy meaning maximum signal pulled off of the tap. So it’s a little vague trying to think back to the ’50, 51 time frame — who invented what. But I tend to think Hank and Don Kirk designed the so called capacitive, and sometimes resistive, tap and Hank Diambra was the godfather of the pressure tap. And they had a lot of controversy about that.
TAYLOR: When I was interviewing Don, his wife Alice fixed lunch for us, so we’re sitting at the lunch table and the recorder is not there, not running. And Don began to get real exasperated because he was thinking about the pressure tap. And he was still — this many years later — still absolutely bitter about the way Hank walked off with the pressure tap. Because he said it was designed in his laboratory with George Edlen and Don together in his shop. And then Edlen went out and he and Diambra patented it. And that was, that was the… Oh he’s still bitter about it to this day. He feels that he did it and didn’t get credit.
RAGONE: Looking back, I think Hank had the design on the basic application which was to cut a hole into a piece of coax cable, insert a clamp on said cable that had a threaded aperture, and insert this device that had a pin on the end so that it would touch the coax cable at the center conductor.
TAYLOR: The distinction that was made in the patent infringement action was that, Diambra’s device had insulation on the stinger and Shapp’s device cut a big enough hole that the air was the insulation, so that it wouldn’t touch anything. So the whole thing turned on the definition on insulation.
RAGONE: …and I think…
TAYLOR: …and Shapp won.
RAGONE: Yeah and I think the other thing was… What happens after you make the contact onto the center conductor, and how did you extract the signal? And there I believe Don Kirk designed a so-called tap core, a small toroidal transformer with primary and secondary windings on a core, so that there were various values of signal extracted from the tap depending on the signal level that was in the cable and the transformer winding ratios. . There was another technicality there but I wasn’t following that too well because about this time another name, Caywood Cooley, who was one of the Jerrold field engineers…
TAYLOR: Incidentally for the transcriber, that is both “C”s, I’ve had some of them pronounce it, spell it differently, but…
RAGONE: Caywood C. Cooley. C-O-O-L-E-Y.
RAGONE: He was out doing field engineering work, and of course the story has been printed many times about the experiments with Bob Tarlton and others in the mountains of Pennsylvania, trying to get signals into their communities, so that they can continue to sell TV sets. They had approached Milt Shapp about using some of his apartment TV amplifiers in the application in the community. So Caywood and the field engineers literally took the existing equipment and took it up into the mountains and mounted it on poles on cross arms in weatherproof cabinets. They used the old apartment units as repeater amplifiers. People were “dancing on the streets” because the signals were transported from the head end to some remote location. This was wonderful, great, and this was so good they decided to extend it throughout the community. So, another amplifier went in, and another amplifier went in, and suddenly there was a reverse miracle, as I like to call it. They lost the audio! The audio just disappeared. What’s wrong here? Let’s go back to the headend. Oh we have audio here. Let’s go back to the first amplifier. Well we have audio here, and… well the audio is a little lower. Gee, if there were only some way we can measure this. So they improvised and made some measurements — and here’s one of the great technical discoveries of the CATV industry: synchronously tuned amplifiers had a characteristic called “shrinkage”. As you cascaded these amplifiers the bandwidth got more and more and more narrow. Since these signals were in black and white, and most of the picture information was around the carrier, we had picture, but no audio. So the expert Don Kirk was called on the scene. This was about ’52, ’53 time frame. I’ll check with some notes here — about ’51 time frame. I’m a little vague on dates because all my records were lost in the 1991 fire at Comcast.
TAYLOR: Oh dear!
RAGONE: I had wonderful, wonderful records that I kept and notes and everything and it was lost in the fire at Comcast… But… Kirk then said, “The problem is we have the shrinkage factor and we have to have a type of an amplifier where the pix and the audio relationship is maintained throughout. This is called the flat top amplifier.” So I remember quite vividly the day he came into… We were at 6th and Birch Streets in Philadelphia, and he said, “Frank we need a stagger tuned amplifier.” “Well, what’s a stagger tuned amplifier, Don?” “Well you align some of the poles at pix. You align some of the poles at sound. You align some of the poles in the middle. And you just keep playing with those poles until you get a flat top amplifier.” So by trial and error and a lot of experiments we took the old apartment house amplifiers, which were called CL type — constant level – and stagger tuned them. Milt was ecstatic, because we had a new amplifier, a stagger tuned amplifier, and we renamed it the CA. “And what does CA stand for, Milt?” “It stands for community.” That’s all — no relationship other than Milt decided CA was for community. And that really started the stagger-tuned strip amplifier, flat top, 4.5 megahertz one. All of the amplifiers that were out in the field were bought back and stagger tuned and put out again. I felt as though that was the turning point for the cable industry — to have a semblance of an amplifier that could transport signals from headend to subscriber.
TAYLOR: When did Ken Simons get in the picture here?
RAGONE: Ken I believe… I don’t know the dates, again because I lost all those records… But I believe he walked into Milt’s office and introduced himself as having expertise in engineering. He had spent a lot of time with RCA, was very familiar with TV signals and such, and sold himself to Milt as a consultant. Ken was a very meticulous person. He would analyze, study, review, and research to determine a course of action. Kirk, on the other hand, was like… well, the soldering iron would fly, and metal chips would fly all over, and Don would create something in an instant. He would literally bring something to us, with wire and components and amplifier sockets hanging, and drop it on a desk and say, “Here, put this into a production form.” And after we would get it into a production form, — we being Mike and I — Ken would, sort of like, analyze it to death and say, “We have to make this a little better, and make that a little better.” It was a great combination. But Ken started to… I believe he started as a consultant and devoted more and more time to Jerrold to refine the products.
TAYLOR: I have Ken’s story about how it happened, of course, and it was interesting. What I’ve been trying to coordinate is dates. Now Ken said it was 1951 and yet he also talked about working on the Lansford project which, Bob claimed that he started in — well around Christmas or earlier — of 1950. You came in June of ’50?
RAGONE: June of 50.
TAYLOR: …and Mike came later?
RAGONE: Mike came later.
TAYLOR: But was Ken… Were you there when Ken was there?
TAYLOR: Before Mike came in?
RAGONE: Yes, yes, but see…
TAYLOR: That will coordinate the chronology
RAGONE: Both Don and Ken were consultants.
TAYLOR: Yes that’s true. I got that from both of them.
RAGONE: And they were, like, in and out of the activities, so to speak. In fact, it’s primarily how we survived the cable industry technically. Don came into the picture, for example, to solve one problem, and then Ken to solve another. For example, once we had designed the flat top amplifier, or repeater amp for Bob Tarlton to use — and obviously they just kept cascading them and cascading them — another little problem appeared, and that was audio buzz. Suddenly all the channels had audio buzz. What kind of buzz? Well apparently, since we had pix and sound, it was a buzz from the 15,750 sync rate onto the sound carrier. But, that’s FM, so how could it be? Well, by the time the signal got through the mountains and into the TV sets, they practically had no sound limiting at all in the TV sets, or very little. And this was our first exposure to signals interfering with one another. And Don was called, emergency-wise, because they were all worried about this buzz. And he actually came in from, I think Annapolis…
TAYLOR: Yes that’s where he was located.
RAGONE: …on the weekends. So he would come down on the weekends, and Don had analyzed it and said they were driving these amplifiers too hard. So he would say, like, “Here’s the problem. We’re driving these too hard.” And we only had the weekend and then he would have to go back.
TAYLOR: Now you fix it!
RAGONE: So, now Caywood comes on the scene and said, “We have established that we have a problem of interference of the pix onto the sound, because we are driving the amplifiers too hard. How much can we tolerate, and how much can each one contribute?” And Ken would meticulously analyze the whole thing and say, “Well, you have to set the levels for one amplifier to this, and two amplifiers to that and four amplifiers to that.” Of course, Ken’s making notes already and it was actually the beginning of his “blue” book. He recorded everything. And that was the beginning of the technical book that Ken wrote and was so famous for. So Ken would tell us, — Mike and I – “Well, here’s what we have to do.” And Mike and I would go to work and do it and record it and document it. We were getting pretty sophisticated at that time. We started to organize the changes and setup procedures. One fellow would do all the drafting. When we revised the amplifier again, we revised the operational procedures, as opposed to a field engineer coming in and saying, “Look, here’s how you work these things.” He would then gather up the documents and go out and up into the mountain and go to work. We started to write operational procedures. Actually that was, in my judgment, the beginning of CATV as we know it. Because that… How are we doing there? OK?
RAGONE: …because Don was very good at analyzing a problem, or what the problem is and where it comes from, and Ken on the other hand was exceptionally good at solving the problem in a detailed technical fashion. Mike and I were right in the middle, as the stabilizing effect, to take their creativities — both sides of the fence, so to speak, and get it into production. This was really the way Jerrold got started technically in the repeater amplifier business. There were a lot of other things along the way — the fact that it was difficult to wire communities using channel 10, because of the loss of the signal at that high a frequency. So the decision was, “Well, let’s convert 10 down to a low band signal. Well, there’s only so much spectrum in the low band. What are we going to convert 10 to without it being an adjacent channel?” It didn’t take many meetings to decide, “Let’s move 3 to 2, and 6 — leave 6 were it is — and convert 10 to 4.” ” How do we convert it?” Well here again, Don Kirk would once again come in and would just literally solder everything on a piece of turnplate, improvise it, with baling wire and glue, and say, “Here, here’s the converter.” And Ken would immediately determine all of its technical aspects and what the operating levels should be. Mike and I would make the production products. The process of converting high VHF down to low VHF — and spacing, because of the inability of TV receivers to accept adjacent channels — was the old 2-4-6 distribution system. From there on, it was just a matter of competition coming into the scene. Scientific Atlanta… I think SKL was the first big competitor that Jerrold had, with the so-called chain amplifier. That was a very competitive device. During that time frame — let’s see, around ’53 ’54 … if you inspected a repeater station — which was sitting on a cross arm on a pole in a weather-proof cabinet — and opened up the lid, there were usually four strip amplifiers sitting in there: one for channel 2, one for channel 4, one for channel 6 and the fourth amplifier an AGC unit, for 2, 4, and 6. There were 5, 10, 15, tubes for amplification and six for AGC, or a total of 21 tubes at every repeater station, that had to be replaced every 6 months. Great industry for the vacuum tube industry. And along came SKL with I believe a 12-tube wide band distributed amplifier, not just channels 2, 4, 6. Of course that caused a stir in the halls of Jerrold. I believe Mike was the one who was assigned to the project of developing a Jerrold version of a wide band distribution amplifier. That was Mike’s development. That started…
TAYLOR: I’ve been a little confused about some of the amplifiers that Mike worked on, the UBC and oh what is it…
RAGONE: Mike was also the developer of the low sub amplifier.
TAYLOR: Yes, that was… That was a chain amplifier.
RAGONE: That was a vacuum tube distributed type amplifier, but it covered the band of 5 to 95 megahertz. A major motivation for that amplifier primarily came from Southern Bell. Southern Bell started to get into the CATV type…
TAYLOR: …for educational applications…
RAGONE: …for educational TV. And I believe the states of North and South Carolina were very, very strong on educational TV. They had the concept of wiring the entire state for educational TV. And recognizing the loss factor of cable and the utilization of frequencies… I don’t know the detail of how it developed but Jerrold got into the business of developing low sub amplifiers for Southern Bell. There again that was Mike’s project, and the low sub amplifier also found its way into standard CATV applications.
TAYLOR: I’d like to go back…
TAYLOR: …to… You joined Jerrold in June of 1950. Mike came in early January, or maybe a little later in ’51.
RAGONE: That’s correct.
TAYLOR: He says that, shortly after he came in, you left and went to Philco.
RAGONE: Yes, I left Jerrold to work for an outfit named R. G. Genzlinger – G-E-N-Z-L-I-N-G-E-R. Bob Genzlinger was an aggressive entrepreneur who saw the value of CATV and delivering signals to remote areas. He had quite a few friends at Philco, which was a big electronics industry in the Philadelphia area. He went out looking for CATV type personnel. My name came to his attention, and of course they waved a nice little pay raise in my face. So I was attracted to it even though I was very happy at Jerrold. It was an offer I couldn’t turn down, so I went to work for RG Genzlinger, in fact, in January of 1952.
TAYLOR: Now was Genzlinger… He wasn’t with Philco?
RAGONE: No he wasn’t with Philco. He had “friends” in Philco who said, “Bob if you develop these products we, Philco, will go into the business of wiring communities.”
TAYLOR: I see.
RAGONE: So Bob started to develop the first headend amplifiers and distribution amplifiers, which were very similar in form and function to what Jerrold was developing and…
TAYLOR: …and they were manufactured by Philco?
RAGONE: They were manufactured by Philco, and used by Philco. And also in this time frame, I believe RCA started to enter the scene with their amplifiers. But I’m not too familiar with that time frame and what they were doing. But that’s when the Genzlinger activity came into
TAYLOR: Actually the RCA went back considerably beyond this, or before this, because they used Antennaplex, the RCA Antennaplex, in the NBC studios, in the RCA building in New York. So that was in maybe ’46 ’47 period. Furthermore it was really an outgrowth of Antennaplex in apartments for distributing radio.
RAGONE: Yes, it appears to be the same type equipment.
TAYLOR: It was just an outgrowth of the radio. So it was, that Antennaplex goes way, way back.
RAGONE: So the Genzlinger position was really nice when it started, because here I was, a chief engineer, after only 3 years out of college.
TAYLOR: So this is at Philco?
RAGONE: At Genzlinger.
TAYLOR: Oh you were at Genzlinger?
RAGONE: I was at Genzlinger…
TAYLOR: Oh I see.
RAGONE: …who was designer, manufacturer and supplier to Philco.
TAYLOR: Oh I see. So you didn’t actually work for Philco?
RAGONE: I did not work for Philco.
TAYLOR: I see.
RAGONE: I worked for Genzlinger. Philco had a facility in Philadelphia and, at our request, designed their version of the signal level meter — because measuring signal levels was an importance part of installing this equipment and maintaining it. Philco had this wonderful research and development facility and Bob Genzlinger and I went down and told them what our needs were and they literally took a small TV set and made a signal level meter out of it for our usage. And it was… Here again, it was wonderful days when you walked in and said, “Here’s what we need.” With no contract or anything they said, “OK, we’ll work on it.” Two or three weeks later they called us, we went back down again. We took this thing up in our arms and went back up to R. G. Genzlinger’s. We used it to train people on how to set levels on the amplifiers, measure levels off antennas, adjust the levels of the antenna processing equipment and set the levels of the repeater amps and so on.
TAYLOR: Now how long were you with Genzlinger?
RAGONE: I was only with Genzlinger nine months, because after a short time I could see that this thing wasn’t working out. The wonderful relationship that was supposed to be there between Genzlinger and Philco started to erode, and that the funding to continue to do development and hire extra people wasn’t there. So after nine months, I went back to Jerrold. I went back because when I left, Hank Arbeiter said “We don’t want you leave, and if you’re not happy with what’s going on up there, you come back.” So I called Hank and he said, “The door is open. Come back.” At that time, Jerrold had moved its facilities from 6th and Berks Streets in Philadelphia to a location at 26th and Dickinson, which contained not only the laboratory but the production facilities and the general offices. Mike was there, and I went back in September of 1952 and was there from September 1952 to March of 1982.
TAYLOR: Now let me coordinate with another interview I had with Len Ecker and he ran into your name. He was working with Diambra, in South Williamsport, and he ran into
Ragone in Williamsport, with Philco, I think is the way he put it. Is that…?
RAGONE: That was the first installation that Genzlinger was doing on behalf of Philco. So we went up there on one very, very cold snowy miserable day to install the headend equipment. And I can… To this very day I can still remember how cold I was — like I was never ever going to warm up again. Just to digress a moment, the only other time I had that feeling is when I went into the service in 1943 and I ended up in Fort Dix, New Jersey, in tent city — nothing but tents — in the dead of winter, trying to stay warm in a tent. That was another time in my life when I felt I would never ever be warm again. Except sometime later with RG Genzlinger on top of a mountain in Williamsport, trying to install the equipment behind a tarp or something of that nature. We’re trying to light a fire, and we can’t even get a fire going. We finally managed to get the equipment installed, connect up the antenna, orient the antennas and get signal into that coax going down into town. And that’s when I ran into Len Ecker.
TAYLOR: Well Milt was working in Williamsport also was he not?
RAGONE: Well I…
TAYLOR: …or was that later?
RAGONE: Milt was in Williamsport prior to that time.
RAGONE: Yeah, Milt was up into Williamsport I think in the ’50 time frame ’49 ’50 time frame.
TAYLOR: Oh that early?
RAGONE: Yes, to the best of my recollection.
TAYLOR: Diambra was in South Williamsport — I believe the dates… I can look it up. It was in the ’51 or ’52 time frame and that was… And Ecker was the chief of engineer of the Lycoming group in South Williamsport and that was when he talked about Ragone being…
RAGONE: Fair free spirit!
TAYLOR: But Diambra talked about Shapp also being up there, he was trying to beat Shapp out.
RAGONE: They were all running around the mountain, so to speak, trying to get their equipment installed, and to show the operator that they indeed can capture these signals from Philadelphia and transport them throughout the community. At that time I did not realize the significance of the activity. In later years, when people would tell the stories about getting those signals onto the poles and into the homes and how many people would come and visit to see, it
was like a miracle…
End of Tape 1, Side A Start of Tape 1, Side B
TAYLOR: I think we’re back on now. This is the second side of the tape. I’d better check it to be sure. – OK.
RAGONE: Just before the tape ran out, we were reminiscing about the miracle of delivering television signals into the remote communities of the Panther Valley and Williamsport and Nesquehoning, and all the communities up there. And once it was operational — I think “operational” was having signals delivered into the first furniture store where they had all of the TV sets — and now, throughout the community. And people would come and visit and see this so-called miracle of television and in a sense that was really the beginning of the CATV industry as we know it.
TAYLOR: What I’m getting out of this Williamsport thing, is the competition that was involved.
RAGONE: The competition, that’s right!
TAYLOR: Here you were with Genzlinger and Philco, Jerrold and Milt Shapp were there working, and Hank Diambra down there saying that Shapp didn’t know what the hell he was doing, and just fighting each other. But Ecker tells the story that you may know about. They were so anxious, in South Williamsport to get into Williamsport across the river, and it was in the middle of winter. And they had bought some of that Spirafil Styroflex… Spirofil I guess it was. Anyway, it was a German made aluminum cable with polystyrene insulation in it?
RAGONE: Is this large diameter cable?
TAYLOR: No it wasn’t large.
RAGONE: It was K-14?
TAYLOR: I think it was half-inch. No it wasn’t K-14. It was an air dielectric, mostly with spiral…
RAGONE: …spiral. I remember that story, but go ahead.
TAYLOR: …and they bought six miles of it because they wanted to get across the river. But they were in such a hurry that all they did was to drop it in the river, just dump it in the river and go across. Well they could only get it in thousand foot lengths and it took over two thousand feet to go across the river so they had a splice, which they taped up and dumped in the river. Lasted six months.
RAGONE: …without a weight…
TAYLOR: So they had to do it again, and that was in January. And they decided this time they would put up a couple of poles on each bank of the river. They strung a steel cable across and had a cable car rigged so that they could go out and make the splice in the middle of the river. And, you remember Shorty Coryell?
TAYLOR: Shorty was the guy who was assigned to go out in the cable car.
RAGONE: Oh gosh!
TAYLOR: He got out there and he made the splice all right and then they tried to pull the cable car back but it… The sag was so great that they couldn’t come up the hill. So finally they put a boat down in the water to get Shorty off the car and onto the boat. And he turned the boat over, or slipped or something and he went in the river, in January with ice on both sides of the river. You know it’s a wonder they didn’t kill the guy!
RAGONE: Well things like that are some of the great memories I had, because people did this and sometimes it was dangerous or they would get hurt. The story about Shorty… Can you imagine somebody doing that today? First thing they’d do is call a law firm and…
TAYLOR: Yeah, exactly.
RAGONE: …I want to sue this company for what they did,
TAYLOR: I think that really sets forth the frame of mind of people in those days.
RAGONE: Yes, but when you say competition, it did remind me that … Coming back to Jerrold in September ’52, and starting back developing converters and more amplifiers and getting into the broad band developments, Len Ecker walks into the building. He’s sort of waving his finger at me and said, “That thing you guys did for Genzlinger and Philco… It took, like, oh I don’t know, 20 amplifiers to get down the mountain.” He said, “We finally went up there — we meaning Jerrold — and put in a new amplifier. And I got this so called K-14 cable…” — which was in those days I think big diameter, probably one inch or something, huge cable…
TAYLOR: I believe it was even larger than an inch, maybe…
RAGONE: Yes, big, They had to machine the connectors for it — literally machine them, just for that. He said, “And we got down the mountain with just one amplifier.” So he said, “So it’s a good thing you didn’t stay with them because you would have been embarrassed.” We got some humor out of it, but you’re right, that really looking at it that way, that was not only the beginning of CATV but the beginning of competition, so it’s…
TAYLOR: It’s also interesting. Was he talking about when he was working with Jerrold or with Lycoming? Because Hank Diambra tells the story of the whole South Williamsport affair and the way he tells it, it was all this German made air dielectric cable. It wasn’t K-14 at all.
RAGONE: Well then probably that must have come, may have come a little later in that time. But, to the best of my recollection, I think Ecker was the beginning of the field engineering force for Jerrold and I believe that they went back and rewired that run with one amplifier and K-14 cable.
TAYLOR: That’s quite possible. Because Len did say that he was finally on the field force at Jerrold after his wife got tired of his traveling so much and then he started traveling again but…
RAGONE: Yes, that was the… That was a long time frame, being at 26th and Dickinson. Now around this period of time, and according to my notes that did survive the fire, on March ’53, they assigned me to go work with Ken Simons directly. Now I don’t know whether he was still a consultant but if he was he was a full time consultant. Ken lived up in Bryn Athyn, Pennsylvania, and behind his house was an old stained glass studio where they used to make the stained glass for the Swedenborgian Cathedral. It was a huge cathedral funded by the, the very rich family, the Pitcairns. Ken had the old building, the stained glass studio, which he converted into his own lab. So he was starting to develop more products for Jerrold. And they decided that Jerrold should put engineers under Ken’s wing, fulltime. So I was…
TAYLOR: This was 1953 that you worked at the stained glass factory?
RAGONE: March ’53 through November of ’53. I worked for Ken Simons, worked for Jerrold but directly…
TAYLOR: …but in Ken’s lab?
RAGONE: At Ken’s lab.
TAYLOR: And then they moved to Southampton?
RAGONE: Right. We started to grow. A fellow named Bill Felsher – F-E-L-S-H-E-R another engineer, Felsher, was also there. Mike started to make more and more trips from Philadelphia. Don Kirk came out of the service and apparently he and Milt decided he would come to work for Jerrold. Don wanted to have laboratory facilities. He didn’t want to be in downtown Philadelphia, at 26th and Dickinson, so they went searching and found an old school house just north of Bryn Athyn, in a community called Southampton, Pennsylvania. This little kindergarten or one room schoolhouse was behind the family residence. The family that owned it was named Ermentrout, an old German family. We moved into Southampton in November of ’53, through October of ’55. Don was there full time. Ken was working for Jerrold full time. My gosh at that point in time I was there, Mike Jeffers was there, a fellow name Frank Staino was there…
TAYLOR: That would be Staino…
RAGONE: Staino — S-T-A-I-N-O…
TAYLOR: I’m sorry, Frank got it right, Mike spelled it wrong, Staino
TAYLOR: Was Caywood with you at that time?
RAGONE: Caywood was a field engineer
TAYLOR: When did he come in?
RAGONE: I don’t recall when Caywood joined the Comcast pack… Oh I mean…
RAGONE: …the Jerrold group. No, no I don’t recall.
TAYLOR: Were you able to locate Caywood?
RAGONE: Oh I got some information. I had called General Instrument to see if they had any lingering contact with him. They did a search that came up with the following (He hands over a list of possible addresses) I believe the… I don’t… The one in Ocean City is a total surprise to me, I didn’t have a chance to chase it down, and the one…
TAYLOR: … Venice, FL…
RAGONE: Venice is… I believe is “Jr.” — Caywood C. Cooley Jr. And the Jerrold people believed this (Streetsboro, Ohio) is where he is, because they had a listing of CCC, Caywood Cooley and Isabella. Isabella, that’s his wife, so that may be…
TAYLOR: Ok, I’d like to get him primarily because he became the vice president of Magnavox after Danny Mezzalingua.
RAGONE: Caywood did?
TAYLOR: Yes, he became the vice president of engineering for Magnavox and Magnavox has become now, as you know, one of the major suppliers of… And of course he left Jerrold and went to Teleprompter and then from Teleprompter he went to Magnavox — formerly Craftsman.
RAGONE: Danny Mezzalingua, I remember him well.
TAYLOR: Interesting guy.
RAGONE: Well, although it’s not quite technical, you have to picture this Southampton facility. On the ground floor was a three-car garage, which was converted into a sheet metal shop. So we did all our sheet metal, and of course we did some limited drilling operations.
TAYLOR: This was before Dalck Feith?
RAGONE: … before Dalck Feith came into the picture
TAYLOR: …and I’ll spell that for you – his first name is D-A-L-C-K, his last name is F-E-I-T-H.
RAGONE: Right. Very good. This was before the Dalck Feith era. So here were are in Southampton, growing by leaps and bounds. All the people are on the second floor, including 8 draftsmen, Don Kirk’s office which was nothing more than just a desk, my bench, Mike’s bench, Frank Staino’s bench, and a couple of technicians and we’re literally bumping into each other, crawling all over…
TAYLOR: Ken had moved in there by now?
RAGONE: No Ken was still…
TAYLOR: …still at the stained glass…
RAGONE: …at the stained glass studio. He was just down, “down the street a bit” and Milt used to come up for meetings. So Kirk decided that we needed new facilities. This was impossible. So we got this strategy together that… They would hold a meeting by clearing a little space in the front, and Milt would come up with his assistants, of which he had quite a few. And they would all crowd into the front of this building and have our meeting, which happened to be where they had the drafting facilities. So we tried to be as clever about this as possible. So I would go up and say, “Excuse me, I have to get this drawing out.” And they had to back up while I would open up a file cabinet and pull something out and put it back in again. And someone else would come up and say, “Excuse me, I need this, and I need this, and I need that, I have to make a call. We only have one telephone, so we’re crawling all over each other. So this Hollywood production went on during the whole meeting and after it was all over Milt said, “Oh my gosh, how do you get anything done here?” Kirk said, “We just need more space, Milt. It’s obvious that we are growing and we can’t bring any new people on board. We can’t do this, we can’t do that.” So to make a long story short, Milt… Let me just back up a moment. The majority of all our equipment was sheet metal fabricated, like the weather proof cabinets were sheet metal fabricated, the strip amps were sheet metal fabricated, everything was sheet metal fabricated. I don’t know how Milt met Dalck Feith but nevertheless, Dalck was our primary supplier of sheet metal products. And the story goes that Milt was ordering sheet metal products like mad. The industry is growing. Jerrold is growing, and he owed Dalck more and more money. But Dalck was a good buddy. So what’s the difference if he owes him a lot of money but they’re growing, and he… He obviously impressed Dalck that we’re growing by leaps and bounds. We need the facilities. And if we continue to grow, we certainly can do more business. And I’m sure somewhere in this dialogue is, “And we can pay you the money back.” So Dalck bought property just west of Southampton, in a place called Hatboro, Pennsylvania, right by the intersection of Byberry Road and the Pennsylvania Turnpike. He bought the property, put up the building which Don Kirk designed and laid out. And that was the big move to Hatboro, which I believe to this very day — yes, in fact I’m sure to this very day — is the location of the General Instrument building which they just vacated some months ago. But that Hatboro facility was there for — well it’s still there. The facility is still there. That was the big move…
TAYLOR: When was it built?
RAGONE: That was built in… We occupied this building in October of ’55. And I have pictures somewhere in the trade journals of Milt during groundbreaking ceremonies. And I have a few pictures that were taken that I managed to bring home, not destroyed in the fire. But we all moved there in October ’55.
TAYLOR: Incidentally, if you have some papers, anything that you have of that material that you’d like to put into the archives in Denver, they’d be happy to have it, and certainly give you credit for it.
RAGONE: Well I’ll show you what I have and then I…
RAGONE: If you feel as though it’s applicable to have there, I, this sounds like it’s coming off as pitch for Jerrold but it’s certainly part of the industry. But I can see where you would put things that relate to the technical development…
RAGONE: …not to brag about the company, which I love to brag about, but it’s not, it’s not the place for it.
TAYLOR: I started this project with the idea that I wanted to kind of get a balance between all of the suppliers, and dealing only with suppliers, engineers…
RAGONE: Yes, yes.
TAYLOR: …not the operators, I’m avoiding that because that’s a whole other story. Lot of interesting stories there, but that’s another deal.
RAGONE: They have the own bragging rights
TAYLOR: But I wanted to get a balance between all the operators, all of the manufacturers and I find out that there’s only one or two in the other companies that really had anything to talk about. You can talk to Earl Hickman, and Milford Richey in Ameco. And, well of course I couldn’t get either Don Spencer or Fitz Kennedy because both of them were gone. But I got Jake Shekel and Socks Bridgett. Then I got Blonder, Ike Blonder and Ben Tongue. And then it was really Tom Smith and Alex Best. When you do that, when you say those things, you’ve really ended it. On top of that, none of them exist except for Magnavox and Scientific Atlanta . They’ve all disappeared.
RAGONE: You’re right.
TAYLOR: Hank Diambra I could interview, I couldn’t do George Edlen because he committed suicide.
RAGONE: Oh yes.
TAYLOR: So it was, as it turned out, that there’s so many people at Jerrold that really had the story, that this is really a Jerrold story when you get down to it — with all the others added into it.
RAGONE: Yes, it really gets down to that. So many people went through Jerrold or pass through there, and yet so many spent a lot of years there too. I always look, when I look back on it, because I did go to Comcast and was in the operations end with them for 11 years. And yet I keep crossing paths with people who were in other aspects of CATV but had gone through Jerrold. The most famous of course was John Malone, he was…
TAYLOR: Oh yeah.
RAGONE: He was my boss for a while. There is a famous story there, too, I’ll tell you. But getting back to the technical side of things, I’m sure you’ll recall that it was in this… Let me see, I think I have a date here… In the late ’50s and early ’60s, microwave came upon the scene. In the beginning there were three networks and the old story of who needs more than three channels, that didn’t last too long and everyone wanted more than three channels. So microwave was used as a method to bring long distance signals into the community. The end product was obtained on a video basis, base band video, so equipment was required to take that equipment and put it into the VHF spectrum. So one of the products developed by my group was the so-called “mod-demod” which was also a pet of an operator named George Milner. M-I-L-N-E-R.
RAGONE: Very aggressive, outgoing, outspoken operator. When he wanted something he wanted it. And he wanted processing equipment for microwave receive sites, and microwave transmission sites. Equipment was around but it was the studio type equipment. He wanted “CATV type” equipment. So we developed the so-called modulator and demodulator. In fact I still remember, I made a presentation of that product across the street in the Mayflower many, many years ago, and Archer Taylor was the moderator.
As I was walking up Connecticut Avenue, I said, “The Mayflower. TDs TMs. Archer Taylor was the moderator and I presented a paper there about the benefits and the wonderful uses of mod and demod.” So the product was developed, and it was used by several operators. But, it was a challenge to the technicians. Technicians just had such a difficult time in dealing with baseband video and audio. You know, it was thrown at them. In those days you took a piece of equipment to an operator and they said, “What is this?” “Oh this will process your microwave signals and put them on the VHF spectrum. You put the cable in here and tweak this knob and tweak that knob and you’re on your way.” And setting levels and depth of modulation and things of that nature, is like… It was a tough product to set up and maintain. It was a good product, but it was a tough product to put into cable operations. One of my “boo-boo’s” was in the TD unit. Adjacent channel reception was particularly demanding. In other words, if you wanted to receive a fringe signal in the presence of a local signal, you had to be very careful about the strong adjacent channels. So I designed adjacent channel rejection in the product that were 60 dB down. Great! But the very nature of the trapping with its rapid attenuation versus frequency characteristic results in a quality in the picture that we now recognize today as delay distortion. George Milner took one of the first products down to Clarksborough, [Actually, Clarksdale] Mississippi, to install it because he’s now going to receive all these distant off air signals using microwave. He installed it. He got it working. Then the phones went off the hook back in Philadelphia and I was on an airplane and George was furious. He said, “Look at this picture as received off air.” We looked at it off-air. It was all snowy, ignition interference, airplane flutter, all of the above, co-channel — you name it. “Now look at the same channel, after we go through your demod-remod.” Much better. No ignition interference, it was suppressed quite a bit. There was no semblance of airplane flutter. But the buttons on the policemen were shifted one inch. I laugh at it now. “What is that?” he said. “You dummy, you distorted the picture. You caused a delay in the components of the picture.” And of course, if you look at it on a sweep display, oh it’s beautiful. So I got a fast education on delay distortion. The product went back to Philadelphia and it was redesigned with some compensation for delay distortion. But mostly, get rid of those sharp deep traps. The other experience was the so-called co-channel traps. George Milner wanted co-channel traps. We designed co-channel traps. Here again on the bench in the lab with a sweep generator and a detector and a scope and looking at amplitude versus frequency, we had a device that was operational at base band. It attenuated at10 kilohertz and at 20 kilohertz. It was an attenuator to those frequencies and since we recognized the fact stations had offset assignments, we made it tunable. Settings could be adjusted 8 to 12 or 18 to 22. This device would get rid of co-channel and if you installed it and you had co-channels, it would get rid of co-channel, but if the co-channel went away, you had a worse picture than with a co-channel. Here again, delay distortion. So those are two very interesting technical developments that…
TAYLOR: On that subject, you know about the SKL co-channel filter that Bob Books worked up. It was just the opposite of that. It was a device to enhance the 20 — 10 and 20 — kilohertz signals, so that you could adjust the antenna so as to null out the co-channel beat.
RAGONE: Oh, null it out. Well yes, I think that came later in life.
TAYLOR: Well, yes, not a whole lot later.
RAGONE: Well, I… To this very day I remember being very young and trying to recognize what we needed and developing what we needed and get it out into the industry very fast. I mean like field trials and beta testing… The beta test was turned over to George Milner or Bob Tarlton or somebody and say, “How does it work? “It works great.” “OK, make more, you know.” It meant for fast turnaround that that was the advantage. But it almost meant if there was an inherent deficiency, or defect in the product, it would show up and you had to react. And we all did. We reacted, corrected the problems, got them back out again, and fast! It’s… But those were interesting times when things were developed that fast.
TAYLOR: Were you ever a ham operator?
RAGONE: No, no.
TAYLOR: Never got into it?
RAGONE: Never got into it.
TAYLOR: Interesting. So many of the people in the industry started as hams, and others didn’t. I never was a ham.
RAGONE: Oh and so many would say, “And you’re not a ham operator?”
TAYLOR: How could you do this!
RAGONE: My wife would not give me the room at home. I think that’s what it was!
TAYLOR: The ham operators, of course, learned RF very thoroughly, and knew intuitively and instinctively and understood RF. But they didn’t have much knowledge of video, and television was a mystery to a lot of them.
RAGONE: Well that was the ’57-’58 time frame. And a wonderful experience was dealing with baseband, and the processing of microwave signals. But then, more and more stations, obviously, came on the air. UHF stations came on the air. So the need to capture distant signals diminished somewhat, because of the presence of UHF… And when you looked at processing signals with mods and demods, when you really weren’t processing on a baseband basis, it created a need for a more sophisticated conversion process. And that was in the ’62 time frame – ’61-’62-’63 — when the industry literally said, “We don’t need that complicated mod and demod business. We need something to convert these signals on a more convenient basis.” And that’s what got us to work on a so-called processor, or Commander series. It was literally a VHF to IF back to VHF conversion process, with enhancements like a very fast AGC for airplane flutter. And we didn’t need the co-channel eliminator because that was somewhat diminished by the fact that we weren’t trying to capture distant signals. And that became a very stable product, and a very good product, and a very user-friendly product too.
TAYLOR: Let’s discuss the dates on that because I have been getting from others, and my own recollection, that it was about ’60 or ’61 that that first Channel Commander was introduced.
RAGONE: Yes. In fact, it was introduced at a Washington NCTA convention. I remember we were really rushing to get it designed and get one built. We built 2 or 3 of them, had them painted, and I put them in the trunk of my car and drove from Philadelphia to Washington, to make sure that the paint would dry, and had them nestled in the trunk like diamonds, and brought them into the Shoreham…
TAYLOR: I believe that’s right.
RAGONE: …at the Shoreham. Did you recall when that convention was?
TAYLOR: Well, no I don’t. [It was 1962]
RAGONE: Whenever the NCTA, CATV convention was at the Shoreham was when Jerrold introduced the Commander, because I hand carried a pair of them, in the trunk of my car. They were put in there when the paint was still wet. I picked them up from the painter — which was Dalck Feith, his company — and the ’62 date is when it really became a product in the industry.
TAYLOR: In ’62, is that still a vacuum tube?
RAGONE: Oh still vacuum tube.
TAYLOR: This device also had separate sound and picture AGC?
RAGONE: Separate sound…
RAGONE: Right. Separate sound and pix channels, standby carrier generator… That was a very important feature, because at night, stations would go off the air and the typical repeater amp had a feature called automatic overload control, based on a composite signal level. So as those stations went off the air, we had fewer signals, so they tended to open up and we had all kinds of problems. The solution was very simple… If the station went off the air, put on a standby carrier, and that would keep all the signals on and all at the proper operating levels.
TAYLOR: Separate sound and video AGC came in because of the differential fading on longer haul reception.
RAGONE: Obviously, yes.
TAYLOR: There was a story out in the Pacific Northwest that I attributed to Phil Hamlin… I’m not sure that that’s right, but he took an RCA T630 receiver and motorized the gain control, so that he could get separate sound control.
RAGONE: We all recognized a need, once we moved from channels 2, 4 and 6, to channels 2 through 6. Obviously, we had to take the sound and reduce it some 15 dB because of the performance of the TV receivers. Setting and maintaining the sound level was required because of differential pix and sound fading, or varying levels arriving at the head ends.
TAYLOR: Do you have any recollection, or input, on the early beginning of using channel 3 and 5 adjacent to 2, 4, and 6?
RAGONE: According to my surviving records, it was around ’52 time frame. Going back to ’52, when we were limited to channels 2, 4, and 6. Demand was there for more channels. To put them in 3 and 5 directly was a logical position. We could do it technically, but we all recognized the fact that the TV receiver would not perform properly and we would have adjacent channel interference. There was great concern for that. So, with the development of the low-sub amplifier, we could position those channels down in the low sub band below 54 megahertz, and at predetermined locations convert them back up again. So that took care of the strip amplifier repeater station. I’m getting ahead of myself. The thought of going more than 3 three channels with strip amps was “impossible.” The strip amps were not selective enough to allow individual signals to only go through individual amplifiers. Any attempt to do so would result in signals passing through adjacent amplifiers and combined at the output terminals. We developed a scheme called the 03 and 05, where channels 3 and 5 were designated 03 and 05, positioned into the low-sub band spectrum, transported in the low sub band up to predetermined locations where they were converted to 3 and 5 and reinserted so that broad band distribution amplifiers could then deliver channels 2 through 6, through the feeder lines and the distribution lines.
TAYLOR: …because the distributions were broad band.
RAGONE: Yes. Distribution systems were broad band.
TAYLOR: Hank Diambra tells the story of south Williamsport. They came to him — it was McGeehan — Jack McGeehan got him started on this, because a client in Lycoming wanted to get amplifiers and they couldn’t buy Jerrold because of the service contract.
RAGONE: Oh yes, yes.
TAYLOR: And so they suggested to Hank that he build amplifiers. And he, at that time, said, “I don’t know anything about amplifiers.” They pushed and pushed. So he said, “OK, we’ll try it. We’ll get one of SKL’s amplifiers and we’ll copy it. Except that’s a 2 to 13 amplifier, so we’ll cut it down to 2 to 6. Because who wants that other junk anyway?” So he designed and built, hand built ten amplifiers, 2 to 6 chain amplifiers — distributed gain — and took them up to… Well, he didn’t design them 2 to 6. He designed them with a cut off at 6…
RAGONE: Just cut them off at 6.
TAYLOR: …and took them up to South Williamsport and put them in. But they couldn’t get anything but junk on the pictures when they got there and they puzzled and puzzled and puzzled. One day, they were just baffled. Len said to Hank, “Did you hear voices? What did you say?” And Hank said, “I didn’t say a damn thing.” It turned out that it was picking up police department and it was rattling the amplifier and they were hearing the talk from the amplifier. So he realized then that he had to cut down the response below channel 2, and he took them all back and he built in the filters to cut it out. And he brought them back up and they put them back in and they worked very well. So after they got the system going, Len said, “Look, this is broad band. Why don’t we just stick 3 and 5 in there?” And so they went up to the head end and built a pre-amp and some kind of converter. I don’t know what they put on 3 and 5, but they put signals on there, and it worked like a charm. And as Hank tells it, Milt was beside himself, over on the other part of Williamsport. But because he had told everybody that you can only have 3 channels, and not only that, but the service agreement promised that if you every need 5 channels we will provide them for nothing.
RAGONE: Yes, yes.
TAYLOR: So he was really beside himself, and that seemed to be the place where they first
began to use the full 2 to 6.
TAYLOR: But of course SKL had had these broad band amplifiers from the beginning. They had built them way back for laboratory work. Ken said that he thought that SKL had been used up at Bushkill falls up above Strousburg there…
RAGONE: No I don’t recall.
TAYLOR: …that SKL had gone in there. But he didn’t know whether they actually used 5 channels or not. But then of course, I had mentioned Johnny Walsonavich. John also claimed that he had 5 channels in Mahanoy City.
RAGONE: Mahanoy City, yes.
TAYLOR: Apparently, that was an amplifier that Jerrold built which may have been a distributed gain amplifier, I don’t know. But somehow or other they… After Williamsport, they realized they had to have the 5 channels.
TAYLOR: So they built something.
RAGONE: Well we started on that program. I remember that, there again, it was under my group. And, in fact, I did the design. It was a UBC, universal broad band cascader, 2 to 6. And it was split band amplifier, yes UBC 26… No. I’m sorry, the first one was just 2 to 6, and had a plug-in equalizer. It was a fixed gain amplifier that was used to…
TAYLOR: How was it broad banded?
RAGONE: Broad banded — broad band tuned plate-tuned grid…
TAYLOR: Was it with interstage filters?
RAGONE: No, no. It was strictly tuned plate–tuned grid, I think was the terminology. It had broad band tuning throughout, so when you observed the response, it was a wide band 2 to 6 amplifier, vacuum tube design of course. And that became a mainstay of the industry for quite a while. It was a low gain amplifier. Of course that meant high cascadability. After we did the arithmetic we realized why — the low gain part of it. But UBC 26-B was the broad band amp — low broad band amplifier — that found its way into a lot of community systems. I’m trying to remember the number of tubes in that thing — 2 or 3 tubes versus the 12 tubes that were in the distributed gain amplifier.
TAYLOR: Well you had to do something special to broad band the thing from 2 to 6, if you didn’t use the distributed gain technique. Earl Hickman talked, he was just gung ho about the
stagger damped, double tuned circuits.
RAGONE: It was… I’m trying to think… It had some tuning components in it.
TAYLOR: It was more than just single resonant circuits?
RAGONE: Oh yes, more than single resonant circuits. It had types of filters in it, low-pass, high-pass…
TAYLOR: OK, yeah, yeah.
RAGONE: …high-pass, low-pass, crossover, and some tuning for the high end peaking at the high end. Very stable amplifier.
TAYLOR: But you didn’t get into the distributed gain until you got into the sub-low?
RAGONE: …into the sub-low. Sub-low came, then the UBC, and then the 2 to 13 distributed amplifier once we got above 5 channels.
TAYLOR: That was called the 213?
RAGONE: Yes, that…
RAGONE: SCA213. That was Mike Jeffer’s project.
TAYLOR: and was that distributed gain?
RAGONE: That was distributed gain. The UBC was only 2 to 6, and the second version went 2 to 6 and into 95 megahertz, because of FM – the popular use of FM signals going through the system too. And I think they very cleverly called that the Golden Cascader, painted the plug-in equalizer gold, and extended the range from 88 to 95 megahertz. And as I recall that product was around for quite a while, the 2 to 6 amplifier, then…
TAYLOR: Both Hank Diambra and Mike referred to that South Williamsport situation as an “eye opener” at Jerrold. Mike used those words, and Hank used those words. So that may have triggered some of the broad banding activity.
RAGONE: Oh I’m sure it did, because the complexity of the 03 and 05… Here, again, the fellows used to come back from the field and really tweak us, you know. Like, “You guys have to get out in the field more often.” Or, “You have to get away from the safety of this bench.” I mean, gee, this and that was the old tongue in cheek. It worked wonderfully in the lab, really works in the lab. But you take it out into the field, it doesn’t work so well. Why doesn’t it work so well? Well first of all, you had to put this into weatherproof cabinets. You have to combine this with that. And you have to use these RG 59 jumpers, and you have to attach them. And you have to put these plug-in pads in here, and a pad there, and adjust levels. And all this is on a pole, and that was probably before they had wide usage of bucket trucks too. And visualize a guy going up with hooks and belting himself onto a pole, and strategically positioning himself on this weather proof cabinet, and lifting the lid, without it dropping to the ground on somebody’s head, and making all of these adjustments and installations and putting these extra two strip amplifiers in and coupling all over to the present three…life in Panther Valley…and up there in the mountains on a winter day, or even on a hot day, can be difficult. I remember one time, going back to the Genzlinger-Philco days, when we were installing the amplifiers. It happened to be a particularly hot day, and it’s amazing how hot it can get in the mountains when you’re going up little ravines, and out of ravines, and up to another one and out again. That was a physical challenge, those few days on the mountainside. Then along would come something like a very simple broad band amplifier with only 3 or 4 or 5 tubes and not much to do with it except position it into the weather proof cabinet and make a few adjustments, primarily in an equalizer, and you’re on your way. Yes, you’re right. There were many things that happened that were eye openers. That’s my fond memory of so many things and how fast people would react to something and say, “Oh, what’s wrong? Oh this is wrong.” Well, let’s see what we can do about this — literally run back and fix it, and do whatever has to be done, and run it back out again.
TAYLOR: Let’s talk about another probably somewhat traumatic period, transistorization.
RAGONE: Oh gee, yes. You know…
TAYLOR: They didn’t teach transistors in the college, did they?
RAGONE: No. You talk about eye openers. It was the transistors, and when I think about the other great development…[Tape runs out]
End of Tape 1, Side B Start of Tape 2, Side A
TAYLOR: Here we are again. Now we’re going. We were talking about transistors and fiber.
RAGONE: Well, you said the magic word “transistor.” If ever a device caused excitement and anxiety, it was the transistor. And like you said, no one in the cable industry was really trained in the theory of transistors or the use of transistors. The way it came about was really dramatic. And that was Ameco. Ameco first introduced the transistor, and it was somewhat of a surprise to the CATV industry. It became very famous very fast, because, as I recall, Ameco packaged it into a box for mounting on poles in a line extender application. And just to be sure that people didn’t destroy it, or whatever, they put a big “NO-STEP” label on it, and it became immediately famous as the NO-STEP amplifier. But Ameco really shocked Jerrold for sure, to come out with such a device when everyone was fighting different versions of broad band and extended band devices, and so on. And out came the transistor, a total departure from the vacuum tube. When Jerrold was able to get their hands on the NO-STEP, — of course they had wonderful test equipment in the ’61-’62 time frame — the testing revealed the performance was horrible. By our old standards of cross-mod level and operating level, oh it was horrible! Oh I can remember, Ken Simons especially saying, “Ah, this will never work. It’s such poor performance.” As I recall, people were fighting to buy the thing, knocking down the door of Ameco to buy them. So that, that really started what was a very significant revolution and evolution in the cable industry. Ameco then came out with the line of broadband transistorized amplifiers, single ended of course. This was absolutely another very innovative approach because it suggested, “Hey, these things last forever. Install them, put them in and we don’t have to worry about changing tubes every six months and adjusting levels and this and that and everything else.” So it really started a total redesign of all the components. As I recall, we developed a Jerrold version of the amplifier, the transistorized amplifier, the TML series. And, the reason I’m chuckling, here again Dalck Feith enters the scene. Dalck is now a large, a major stockholder of General Instrument stock, because when Jerrold was sold to General Instrument he received a lot of stock. So he was always concerned about Jerrold, obviously as a stockholder, and both as a friend to so many people. In fact for many years we were very close too. And he had great concern about transistors, as we all did. And I said, “You know, I started to do an accelerated study of transistors.” And I also noted the major concern we have about transistors is heat, and also surges that can destroy transistors. So the best thing we can do is to provide good heat sinks. Dalck went out and cornered the market on copper plates. I think it was 3/16th thick copper plate and it was used for the transistor chassis. In fact when we first started, the transistor chassis and the dust cover were both copper. When we reviewed the costs, we reverted to aluminum for cost reduction on the housing cover. But the transistor chassis remained copper. So we were very, very concerned about heat sinking, Dalck, who was very concerned about the success of the company, cornered the market on copper and said, “I have enough copper to make amplifier chassis for years and years and years.” So the first line of transistorized equipment that came out used this very heavy copper chassis. Physically, it followed the format of the old vacuum tube amplifier, using the 18-inch rack mounted standard. The various amplifiers were mounted in the same weatherproof cabinets, but with superb heat sinking. And for added thermal consideration, they were painted black to enhance heat radiation. You know, I fondly remember those chaotic times when Jerrold had to react as would anyone else in the business to get into the transistor usage and applications.
TAYLOR: Were you involved with the TML?
RAGONE: Yes, yes. I was the manager of Distribution Products. George Duty and Norm Everhart were the design engineers. We had quite a staff of engineers at that time and we had the luxury of assigning projects according to the needs. We need a mainline amplifier. We certainly need a distribution amplifier of various versions. One fellow would design one, another fellow would do another, but I was heavily involved in the design of that series of amplifiers, the transistorized amplifiers.
TAYLOR: I don’t remember just which one of the people I interviewed is telling about how a TML was put up on the roof of the shop out there somewhere in the factory and it ran for a year without any change in level at all, it was so stable that…
RAGONE: I don’t remember that story.
TAYLOR: I think Everhart was involved in that.
RAGONE: Well we also had pre-amps The first… In fact, backing up, the very early versions of transistor applications was in the pre-amplifier series, where we had a very, very heavy thick walled cast aluminum housing for the ultimate protection for weather and hostile environment. The pre-amp was mounted onto a metal plate and inserted up into this heavy drawn aluminum casting. The pre-amps were… never had a problem with the pre-amps. And if I had to guess what was the device that was put up on the roof and lasted for years and years, it was the pre-amp. The mainliners were good amplifiers, but very susceptible to surges, of course, and very susceptible to heat, but never had a major reliability problem as we knew it. In fact if anything, the major problem that I recall — not to talk about problems as compared to successes, but problems generated successes — was at the very first installation. It was with either Phil Hamlin, or Jim Forgey.
TAYLOR: Oh yeah, I remember Jim, yes.
RAGONE: (They were the Jerrold West Coast reps.) They installed the TML in a CATV system. They took out all the vacuum tubes and installed the TMLs, because they were direct station replacements. Unfortunately, the new system yielded absolutely snowy pictures because they were actually short spaced. Short spacing meant attenuating the signals and then once again you go back and do the analysis. “Oh my gosh, we have too much gain here. We’ve got to throttle the gain back, and hit the input with higher signals levels.” So that disappointing application became a success, because once again we got more involved in the technical applications of equipment. And the TML was actually short lived, because the need for more channels certainly reared its head. And we embarked on the program to develop a more modular concept, and that was the so-called Starline series. And the Starline series — in a 1964 1965 time frame — where mechanical engineering was brought into the picture and made a very dramatic contribution to packaging.
TAYLOR: This was the cast housing?
RAGONE: Die-cast hermetically sealed housing with plug-in modules, plug-in amplifier plates, plug-in feeder-makers, plug-in equalizers; everything was done in a plug-in format.
TAYLOR: It’s my understanding that this came about in part because of Bell system, Western Electric and that there was some collaboration that…
RAGONE: Well no. After the product was developed… It was developed strictly to meet the needs of the CATV industry, and get something more sophisticated than the TML series. And, in fact, Ameco had a similar series of amplifiers. There was a similarity between Ameco’s trunk and bridger amplifiers and Jerrold’s trunk and bridger amplifiers. They were primarily designed to be drop in replacements for the broad band SCA213 or SKL type distributed amplifier. Having developed that, the Bell industry, or the Bell telephone companies, were attracted to it, because they had entered the so-called “lease-back” operations. They were wiring like crazy all over, particularly in Michigan and the mid-west, as I recall, and in southern states. And they loved that approach of plug-in replacement. If you have an outage, you merely open a lid, unplug the old and plug-in the new. But everything that was purchased for the telephone industry was purchased to what they called the KS specification. I’m always intrigued by designation and numbers. And just to digress a moment, I asked, “What does this KS stand for?” And he said, “Well, the telephone industry believes…” and this was in this era of buying everything to specifications. “You don’t buy anything unless it has a set of specifications. You put out these specifications and people bid on them. We evaluate it so everything is bought to specifications.” And the fellow who was telling me about this said, “We buy toilet paper to KS specs, and when someone has 25 years with the industry and they get a diamond tie clasp, that is brought to KS specs.” They were buying the standard off-the-shelf CATV equipment, but it was against their procedures and policies. But to get this leaseback business going, which they saw as a lucrative business, they said, “We want your amplifiers qualified to KS specs.” So we entered into a major negotiation with Western Electric, which was the purchasing arm of the Bell Systems, and had them qualified to KS specs. And what they literally did, was to take our specifications off the sheets, rewrote them as KS specs, and told all their inspectors, that if they meet these qualifications they are acceptable. And when you’re dealing with the telephone company, if they would say, “We want this number of amplifiers or this mix per month on a monthly basis for the next six months.” And then in three months, or so many months into it, they renegotiate or re- submit their needs, as the sales people said, “The check was always there at the end of the month.” And so that’s how we got involved with the telephone companies and the so-called KS specs.
TAYLOR: Can you explain what the “KS” stood for? I have often wondered.
RAGONE: It was a Western Electric employee, — I believe his name was Kelly — that was given the task of formatting the whole aspect of specifications for purchased products and how it shall be formatted, including quality assurance inspections. It outlined the whole aspect for anybody, anywhere, that wants to buy a product. Go to the catalog, pull up the KS spec for that particular item and you can go out shopping anywhere in the world for anything. And he was allegedly the person that created that concept, and hence KS — Kelly Specification. That’s the story that was told to me. I don’t know how true it is. That’s how the Jerrold product was sold in accordance with KS specs. It was not designed to KS specs, but they tailored the specs to the products.
They did put some demands on it that made testing more rigid. For example, the so-called feeder-maker, which we thought was a very innovative concept. Using a modular approach, if you only had a need for one feeder line, why use a four way split or a two or a three or whatever? According to the design, you create the number of feeders at the location by plugging in a selected passive device and orienting it so it connects to a particular port. And Mike and I both had patents on it, by the way. That’s how closely we worked on that project. And the feeder-maker concept was great for installation and operation. Except if you think about a device that has a soft return match, you know we’re not talking about rock solid VSWR or 75 ohms, plus-or-minus a fraction of an ohm. They were to somewhat liberal specs when we defined what the match was looking back to the source. The match of the device itself, the input port and the output port, and the match of the artificial lines to get to the actual housing port. So you’re going through many artificial circuits. So visualize, if you have a one, two, three, or four port passive device that plugs into any number of ports — except for the four-port — and meeting a certain flatness specification… So Bell Tel noted the flatness of plus-or-minus a quarter dB on the output, and wanted that specification into anyone of four feeder ports with any model feeder-maker. The individual specifications could not be maintained in the numerous configurations. We had quite a few strategy sessions, meetings, and arguments about it. We finally said, “We can’t do what we can’t do. But in order to buy a device to KS spec, spec it to a single port output. Then we’ll take this other thing called the feeder maker, and put KS specs on it.” And they bought that. So we worked around that one. But it was a good business for Jerrold to be with the telephone companies, even though it was competitive. But there again you couldn’t say, “We’re not going to sell to Michigan Bell, or Bell South, because of that.” And they did a tremendous amount of business in it for quite a few years. But then I think they finally made the decision to get out of the leaseback business. That’s where another name comes out — Bob Bilodeau.
TAYLOR: Oh yes.
RAGONE: B-I-L-O-D-E-A-U. He was the premier field engineer for Jerrold. He was in charge when the field engineering staff was second to none — probably second to none in head count too. But he had field engineers throughout Michigan as well as Bell South, because they needed support. Bob Bilodeau was living in parts of Michigan most of the time as compared to living back in the Philadelphia area. In fact there was a famous picture about his stay in Michigan. He went on vacation, left the Michigan area and went back to Philadelphia. And when he came back to Michigan to continue work, the Holiday Inn had a sign, “Welcome Back Bob Bilodeau!”
TAYLOR: When did he… Was he at Jerrold? When did he start?
RAGONE: Well he… I don’t know when he started, but I remember the transistorized time frame when we got into the Starline Series, when I got to see Bob more and more, and heard about him more and more.
TAYLOR: This was into the sixties period?
RAGONE: …into the sixties period, yes, and…
TAYLOR: Now, the Starline One ran into heat problems with the transistors.
RAGONE: …ran into heat problems. I was heavily involved in that. That eventually became a lawsuit. When we first considered that device, that transistor, the basic transistor… Oh gosh – 2N — I don’t know how that name could ever slip me but it’ll come back and…
TAYLOR: It was a four-digit number, and I can’t remember either, but…
RAGONE: I remember the “2N”. But the specifications that we received from RCA — which was the first device we started using — rated it as a 5-watt device. So we designed the steady state operation of the transistor under maximum operating temperature, which was 160 degrees Fahrenheit, to reach its maximum dissipation with heat sinking. The Starline One was released, and went into production and out into the field, by amazing coincidence, in the late winter and early spring of ’64. By summer of ’65, reports started to come in about abnormal failures. The only thing that saved us was the “Pull out the module and plug in another module” feature. But the failure rate of the — 2N3866…
TAYLOR: That sounds right.
RAGONE: …and, as usual… “Well, was this happening anyplace else? Gee it’s not happening in Canada, but it’s happening here. It’s really bad in Florida.” And Bob Bilodeau, to quote him again, said, “The damn transistors are literally popping out of the sockets. We can’t replace modules fast enough.” Well, to make a long story short, we discovered the transistors were failing thermally. Period. When we ripped them open and looked at them under the microscope and such, they were thermally opened, which means high heat. Our initial response was that we have to cut back on the heat. So we reduced the voltages, the operating voltages, reduced the operating temperatures, and reduced the specifications. At the same time, we discovered that the device was originally registered as a three and a half-watt device. And in our process of lowering it down to a more reasonable temperature… Because when we started to look at the temperature rise… You remember Eric Winston?
TAYLOR: Very well.
RAGONE: Excellent, excellent, superb mechanical engineer, and an intellect as well. He did all the thermal evaluations. We bought a thermal microscope and all the tools needed to do the evaluations. We had arrived, by trial and error to an operational temperature equivalent to a 3-½ watt device rating. So once the product was reconfigured to 3 ½ watts then it became a very highly reliable product, but not at 5 watts. So, recognizing that, Jerrold sued RCA for misrepresentation of the device rating. It became a long court battle that I was involved with for years and finally settled around 1978, 1979 time frame – an out of court settlement. But yes there was a major problem with that transistor.
TAYLOR: Now, that 3866, what was the mounting form for that? It was not a stud.
RAGONE: Oh no, it was a… Let’s see, the stud was a T035 or… It was not a stud. It was a plug-in transistor with an aluminum cap. In an effort to get maximum performance out of that device we even did extensive studies of amplifier gain — particularly at the high end which is most critical — of using sockets and plugging transistors into sockets versus wave soldering on a printed circuit board. The sockets were wave soldered, of course. But the extra inductance and capacitance of the socket, which was not designed for high frequency — and we’re talking about 216 megahertz now — was enough of an effect that we opted to do the transistor wave solder into the board. That was after a lot of testing and evaluation and its effect on performance. I don’t remember the precise details but the final design included soldering the transistor into the printed circuit board. In retrospect, when you have a bad transistor it’s more difficult to replace than one that’s in a plug-in socket. So that’s both the success and trials and tribulations of Starline One. But getting through that, it became a very highly reliable product and served the industry for quite a few years — except that 12 channels was not enough.
TAYLOR: Frank we have been at this for a couple of hours and I wonder if you would like to use our modern facilities?
RAGONE: And I’ll have a half of cup of coffee, while I’m at it.
TAYLOR: All right, we’re back on the tape, erasing over all the blank period and the other stuff we talked about. Before we gone on, I have a couple of questions. I want to ask you, just to clear up the record here. Did you give the date of your graduation from Penn State?
RAGONE: I believe I did, but for the record — University of Pennsylvania, June of 1949.
TAYLOR: I had something else I wanted to ask.
RAGONE: Remember, I mentioned Mike Jeffers as a classmate.
TAYLOR: Yes, yes. Now we were talking about the transistor.
RAGONE: We were about leave the world of 12 channels.
TAYLOR: And then you get into the push-pull.
RAGONE: And the push-pull, which was the next evolution. And at that point in my career, I had been reassigned from distribution, type equipment to headend. Headend was becoming more and more important. So I was reassigned to headend. A gentleman named Bill Lambert was manager of Distribution Products. In fact, under his group, the Jerrold version of push-pull using solid state technology was developed, which enabled the carriage of more than 12 channels.
TAYLOR: Bill, you say, had a group?
RAGONE: Yes, he was in the engineering and distribution group at that time, which was in the ’67, ’68 time frame. And Bill Lambert, as manager of Distribution Products, was responsible for developing that product.
TAYLOR: Bill came from Philco according to Don Kirk. Don worked with him at Philco, and when Don left to form K & F, he brought Lambert with him.
RAGONE: That’s right, he just replaced…
TAYLOR: And when they abandoned K & F, Lambert came to Jerrold.
RAGONE: …which was Dalck Feith.
TAYLOR: That’s what the “F” was, yes. Kirk was the “K”.
RAGONE: Kirk and Feith. That was a… They did quite well there for a while, what with Jerrold as the distribution arm. In fact, then Jerrold eventually bought the K & F product line and that became their product line for microwave. But that’s where Lambert came from. You’re right. You’re much better than I on that.
TAYLOR: Well of course I had the benefit of interviewing Kirk.
RAGONE: You just refreshed my memory. Push-pull was quite a good development. Designing push-pull with discrete components, setting up the standards for selecting the components, testing the components, testing after final assembly on the printed circuit board, and obtaining performance to predetermined specifications was a major accomplishment. That certainly became the next good evolution for the cable industry — to be able to use those midband channels. Of course it also brought out of the wood work many people who said, “Oh we can use the mid band. Even though we have second order distortion there, it’s certainly at a tolerable level.” And in fact you can even pick the channels that are less susceptible to second order, and some that are more susceptible. This started a whole investigative process of taking the old equipment like a Starline One and re-evaluating it for second order performance. Of course we didn’t give a darn about that before. The only concern was the second harmonic of channel 6 sound, which showed up on the band edge of channel 7. That started a whole reevaluation of the single-ended product and even how it could be used for selective mid band channels. Quite a few cable operators did indeed introduce mid band channels into single ended equipment, knowing ahead of time where the distortion components were and to what levels they were and such, and even juggling operating levels to enhance the application. So there again, it’s interesting the way the industry reacted, that here’s a whole new technology. But others say, “Wait! Do we really have to use it? We can certainly use that old product some more, some more, some more.” That was the push-pull era, which was then followed, as I recall, by extended bandwidth again. We always had the upper band width race going on and … Oh my gosh, in the 1970 time frame we were up to 270 megahertz, and ’73 time frame, 300 megahertz. By that time we were fortunate enough in the industry to move into solid state integrated circuits. Integrated circuits meant better performance, Without the burden of selecting discrete components. Then the other technologies emerged, and became applicable, such as the feed-forward. So here was another evolution. From single ended to broad band with transistors and to push pull and then to feed-forward. Just about when the smoke was clearing on that, we then have power doubling. We have integrated circuits, feed forward, power doubling and quadra power. One day we wake up and here we are out to 550 megahertz, solid state feed-forward…
TAYLOR: What was the “quadra power”? That’s one I’m not…
RAGONE: That quadra power, where they did the power doubling double.
TAYLOR: Never ran into that.
RAGONE: Oh yes. It had a very short life, because it was so very expensive and it took up quite a bit of real estate.
TAYLOR: Power doubling, of course, was a Magnavox — or an Amperex — registered name. Others began calling it parallel hybrids.
RAGONE: Parallel hybrid. Well just give an engineer a little light and a desk and ask, “Now what can you come up with next?” and you have the push-pull, and the feed-forward, and the power doubling, and the quadra power. All of these wonderful innovations and bandwidths to 550 MHz made physical coverage more difficult. You might recall, we went through an era of headends, sub-headends, super-transportation and super-trunks in an effort to reach system extremities. Cable was being deployed into every city in The United States. That brought us to the next, most wonderful revolution, which was the application of fiber into CATV. Unlike transistors, fiber was introduced on an “as required” basis. It could be overlaid into existing systems to shorten cascades, create new pockets of cable plant, or allow for the rebuild of an old system in an orderly an efficient basis. The use of fiber also increased the feasibility of reliable two-way plant operations. Fiber was a wonderful, wonderful invention.
TAYLOR: Did Jerrold have any involvement in the AM fiber, rather than digital? I have attributed that to Jim Chiddix primarily.
RAGONE: No. Not that I can remember.
TAYLOR: Jerrold wasn’t involved?
RAGONE: No, certainly not when I was there, through ’82.
TAYLOR: I think Irving Kahn’s General Optronics had a lot to do with that.
RAGONE: Irving was quite the character.
RAGONE: He made claims of the success of fiber when it was like still on the drawing board I think and…
TAYLOR: He accused… He would say to me, “You engineers, you’re just too conservative, and why, why won’t you go for fiber?” And finally I got squared away when I told him that the problem is that you’ve got to use digital, and you can’t convert it to the TV set.
RAGONE: Sooner or later you have to.
TAYLOR: But when, when they finally got to analog instead of digital, then the thing began to fly.
RAGONE: Well, the fiber itself, even though I may have oversimplified it, went through some periods when there was some concern about its application to CATV.
TAYLOR: Especially when you’re talking about the multi-mode fibers.
RAGONE: Yes, multi-mode fibers, and fiber to the home, I mean…
TAYLOR: I still wonder about that.
RAGONE: Once they got to the application under the analog format… Just take our analog signals and piggy-back it onto fiber, so to speak, where it carried along real well, and then pulling it back off again at predetermined locations. A really great application. At Comcast, we started to look at upgrades and rebuilds and applying fiber and fiber-to-the-node approach, and the hybrid approach. Fiber offered many wonderful applications. I mean you can almost smell it and feel it and see it and say gee this really works great.
TAYLOR: The HFC architecture has been real salvation.
TAYLOR: I have an impression — I’m not sure it’s accurate — that the telephone people always assumed that it had to be digital, and anybody with any brains would realize that it had to be digital. Then when we came along and showed that it could be analog, they said, “Oh that’s not going to work.” But now they’ve adopted it everywhere. They’re perfectly happy with it now.
RAGONE: In fact, reflecting on the days at Comcast and looking at all the upgrades and rebuilds that had to be done, just to stay in the business, so to speak, and with the growth of Comcast acquisitions, more and more and more systems had to be upgraded or rebuilt. It was such a beautiful tool to look at an existing cable plant and say, “Where can we apply this fiber, to improve service and reliability or whatever?
RAGONE: Yes, performance. So many applications. Oddly enough, many things came up that brought me back to my early days. Then with Comcast, I was going out to the Michigan systems which were actually the old Bell Tel leasebacks. The system managers greeted me with, “Oh now you’re going to have to make this equipment really work, Frank.” I just said, “Hey, all we need to do is just break up the cascades with fiber.
RAGONE: The basic equipment was fine. The major problem here is the long cascades. Let’s deploy fiber to break up the cascades. Other systems had to be rebuilt, but when you’re doing a full rebuild, you have the luxury of strategically locating your hubs and picking your cascades. Then there are the dark fibers. No question how many fibers we need, double it, triple it, whatever you have to do, throw the dark fibers in there. I looked upon fibers as a truly wonderful, wonderful application of electronics.
TAYLOR: But your use of fiber was in the operating end, not in the manufacturing end?
RAGONE: In the operating end, not in the manufacturing end.
TAYLOR: I’ve kind of limited the book I’m preparing to the earlier period where we get to, well roughly 1973. I call it 25 years, ’48 to ’73. These others, that’s a whole other story. When you begin to get into the others, that’s fascinating. You lap over — more than most of the other engineers I’ve talked to — you lapped over into the 80’s more than some of the others did. How old are you?
RAGONE: Now, I’m 74 now.
TAYLOR: 74, yes.
RAGONE: Yes, I was with Comcast as vice president of engineering through June of ’93. When I said I was going to retire during 1992, they didn’t want to accept that. But I finally did retire, but they asked me to stay on for 3 days a week. Then around September of ’93, they did bring a vice-president of engineering on board, Brad Dusto, who was the regional vice-president of one of their regions and he agreed to become vice-president of engineering. So I stayed, still on 3 days a week, through ’93. Here the strategy was only to work Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, which they accepted. Since I have a home in Ocean City, New Jersey, that made for nice long weekends. Then I stayed on as a consultant for Comcast through ’97. I was on special projects, reliability for number one, and F-connectors — good old favorite, wonderful F-connectors — and did quite a bit of work for Comcast on investigating F-connectors for various applications and specifications. It tapered off, you know, with two days a week, and then it was one day a week. I did some special projects here and there. So I have been in the business, roughly from 1950 to 1997. So that’s quite a few years.
TAYLOR: That’s fascinating.
RAGONE: So to back into your time frame, as you would say up through ’73, I would say that those were the more exciting years.
TAYLOR: Yes. There’s another whole subject that I’d like to have you talk about. Set-top converters.
RAGONE: Oh yes.
TAYLOR: You were the guru there for Jerrold for awhile on that subject.
RAGONE: Yes, that was, in fact… Gee, I lost the time frame there. But it was obvious that the industry needed a set-top converter. John Malone was president of Comcast at that time.
TAYLOR: Comcast or Jerrold?
RAGONE: Oh I’m sorry. Freudian slip. Jerrold.
TAYLOR: Do you know the years that he was the president there? I’ve been wondering that.
RAGONE: I don’t know. I can find out, I can find out. But Malone was president of Jerrold. The industry recognized the fact that we needed a set-top converter, getting into urban markets, local channel pick-up, getting into some form of premium services and such. At this point in time, it was just to enhance the use of the set top, I mean of the TV receiver which was 13-channel limited – for mid-band and the whole spectrum usage.
TAYLOR: I call that one of the major developments in cable, when we got rid of the 13-channel limit…
TAYLOR: …and began to move into all of the other options.
RAGONE: All the other options.
TAYLOR: That came about — that was the Mandell-Braunstein patent…
RAGONE: Patent, right.
TAYLOR: …which was — actually the patent was issued in 1967, or it was filed a couple of years earlier. And they first went to Hub Schlafly in New York, Manhattan…
RAGONE: Right, right.
TAYLOR: …and demonstrated it. As Hub tells it, they came in with a converter that was triple shield, all copper sheet, very heavy one, you know, one point connection…
RAGONE: Yes, yes.
TAYLOR: For very tight shielding. They thought that shielding was the important part of direct pick-up, but they found out later that it was other things, common modem, and so on but…
RAGONE: …but as I recall the essence of the patent, the real strong point of the patent, was to use it to eliminate local pick up
TAYLOR: Yes the arguments in court raised two issues, one was more channels and the other was local pick-up.
RAGONE: Local pick-up.
TAYLOR: Personally, I think you may be right that their major point was local pick-up. That’s what Hub was interested in because…
RAGONE: Yes and even though, oh my gosh…
[The tape runs out] End of Tape 2 side A Start of Tape 2 Side B
TAYLOR: There we go. We should be in business again.
RAGONE: Certainly it could be used to eliminate local-pick up, but if you try and say what’s the major application, it’s to enhance the carriage of channels, and to use more than 12 VHF channels. Certainly you’re eliminating local pick-up. You can prove that by saying, “Well why did you pick channel 3 in Washington and not 2? And why did you pick channel 2 in Philadelphia rather than channel 3? It’s obviously to eliminate interference, but the reason we have that converter in that community and operating it is to get more than the 12 VHF channels. So, I don’t know how the suit was finally settled, but there was some settlement somewhere along the line.
TAYLOR: Well the suit I was involved in on behalf – ultimately of TCI — TCI was the client, but it was Athena, I think, that really held the patent at that time. It had been shifted around.
RAGONE: Oh okay.
TAYLOR: Athena, I don’t know all the ramifications, but our client that paid us was TCI.
TAYLOR: And the settlement then was, as I understand it — and of course they don’t disclose all of this — that TCI would buy some products from Jerrold and Jerrold would supply them at a fair rate, or something. At any rate they settled, decided to quit arguing.
TAYLOR: Nobody was winning by the argument, that’s what it was.
RAGONE: But Jerrold had – no, General Instrument — I don’t know whether it was a subsidiary of General Instrument or a working partner — Alps Electric out in Japan which was involved in the tuner business. Alps Electric was a major supplier of tuners to the TV industry…
TAYLOR: That is A-L-P-S.
TAYLOR: I’ve run into that.
RAGONE: …and John Malone — I’m just paraphrasing – said, “Look, Alps, you know all about tuners. We need a converter to convert any VHF channel to a predetermined VHF channel.” And I remember I prepared a one-sheet specification. Object: to convert, with minimal degradation to signal, operate in an environment of 1000 microvolts to perhaps to 10,000 microvolts per channel, broad brand inputs, signal channel output… You know, just as I would say to you, “I want you to write a specification for a converter on a single sheet.” John Malone gave that sheet to the reps from Alps electric and he said, “I don’t want to pay anymore that $19.95 for it.” And Alps went to work and developed the darn converter and it worked. It was a very basic converter, a very small package. I’m trying to think of the tuning mechanism — I’m trying to visualize it. I’m having difficulty with that.
TAYLOR: Was it VCO, Varactor yet?
RAGONE: No, not at that time.
TAYLOR: Not yet.
RAGONE: I think it was… Oh geez, oh gosh, I’m drawing a blank on that. Anyhow, they developed it, brought it back. And the story goes that John realized its use as a remote control, not only as a set top, and allegedly thought, “If I had this converter with a long piece of coax to the TV set and kept it by my bedside, I could indeed have a remote control for that TV rather than walking up to it.” And supposedly while he was in the midst of moving around back and forth, he dropped the converter on his toe. When he came back the next morning he was quite angry about the weight of this thing. And so it was a joke going around that we had to make it smaller, lighter and then not damage John Malone’s toe. But that was the beginning of Jerrold
getting involved with the converter design through Alps Electric.
TAYLOR: You don’t remember the date of your agreement with Alps?
RAGONE: No I don’t remember that, I remember the meeting. I can see the meeting. There again, that was a part of my records, my notebooks and everything that I kept that went up in the Comcast fire. But that was the beginning. Unfortunately I don’t remember the date.
TAYLOR: In Manhattan, see, 1967 was the date the franchise was awarded to Teleprompter and some others. And with 7 VHF channels on Empire State Building, if you’re going to offset those channels, you have only 5 channels you can use. You can’t even carry all the locals, and this was why the direct pick-up issue was the one that was driving in Manhattan and some other places that had a high number. For example, Baltimore and Washington are close enough together — and we had a contract to work with Reston which is somewhere in between, at least it’s got both of them partly receivable — and again we end up with 7 channels between Baltimore and Washington. And so I had to determine whether we were going to use converters, which were brand new at that time, or dual cable. And I went dual cable. It was one of the few dual cables at that time. So that’s why the converter became a part of the direct pick-up solution.
RAGONE: Now I remember, Archer, it was push button.
TAYLOR: Push button.
RAGONE: Just remembered, push button. The reason that came back about the push button is someone decided that to sell premium channels, we’ll put them in the mid band. Therefore you need a converter to view the channel. So the subscription basis is that if you want premium channels you must buy the converter or use a converter and therefore the buttons would access the mid bands. And if they didn’t subscribe to the service, they removed the connections to those buttons.
TAYLOR: Oh I see.
RAGONE: And of course that was highly secure.
TAYLOR: High security!
RAGONE: The high school kids took about two days in this particular community to figure it out. When they figured it out, they opened it up and reconnected the buttons, even though there was a thing that said, “If this cabinet is removed under penalty of law and all that.” They also discovered that if you push two buttons down at the same time you got a resultant DC voltage that…
TAYLOR: …could do the other one!
RAGONE: …do the same thing. So they had the two buttons, but since the two buttons wouldn’t stay down, because of the selective mechanism, they put toothpicks in. And it became known as “the toothpick defeat mechanism.” And there was a fellow named Ed Ebenbach who worked for Jerrold, and he was sort of sliding from engineering into sales and management. But he became known as the fellow that had to work around the toothpick defeat mechanism, you know. And he went to Alps Electric many times to work with them on further enhancements and developments of the converter.
TAYLOR: Was that the RSX or JSX or something like that?
RAGONE: There was SX, which was a set top converter.
TAYLOR: That was the first?
RAGONE: That was the first. Then they actually made a remote, by literally taking the cording apart, so that became the corded converter and that was RSX, remote SX. And basically a 15-button, 30-channel converter. 15 buttons with a band switch.
TAYLOR: Yep, I remember that. That was a pretty popular one.
RAGONE: Yes, it was. Well, the price was right. It was a reliable product and Alps was a very, very aggressive outfit. I mean they send their engineers, over to work with the Jerrold people, and Jerrold would send our engineers over. I avoided the trips there of course. We spent a lot of time together, but they just kept working. It was just like, “This is the converter, now what can we do next?” Well we don’t know what we need. Well let’s be ready. Do we need more channels? Is band-switching a problem? How about fine-tuning? Yes you have that fine tuning control, so they had fine-tuning. And then they developed — well you’re familiar with that whole history how subsequent developments…
TAYLOR: Well I think you were… I think that RSX and probably the SX were varactor tuned…
TAYLOR: Because they weren’t big enough to have…
RAGONE: No they… There was fine-tuning on them.
TAYLOR: Yes, they might have had fine tuning, but that was also voltage controlled…
RAGONE: Oh for the channels.
TAYLOR: VCO for channel selection and fine-tuning, both.
RAGONE: Because you’re picking a voltage at the button and then fine tuning it.
TAYLOR: But it was…
RAGONE: …varactor tuning.
TAYLOR: …varactor tuning yeah.
RAGONE: And — gee now, who was it, somebody else… Well then that obviously resulted in a whole series of converters coming after that particular model. That was the SX and RSX. But I was involved with the Alps people. Like I said, I remember that meeting extremely well. I wish I had kept that original specification sheet. It was a one-page specification. Fantastic!
TAYLOR: …not quite on the back of an envelope.
RAGONE: No, no not that story. I have that story with me… the back of the envelope with Milt Shapp and all of that.
TAYLOR: Danny Mezzalingua said that, Irving Kahn came to him and wanted a converter, set top converter, and had to have… had to be able to take it to his chair. When you use it, it had to be remote, and it had to have buttons on it. It had to have buttons for PAY-TV. And the maximum he would pay would be 30 bucks. So that Craftsmen converter — you probably remember — was an absolute disaster.
RAGONE: Oh gosh! Well there was one other that was very popular. The… Well, it had a detent tuner — detent selector. Oh I can’t think of that name…
TAYLOR: Is it Oak?
RAGONE: Oak, yes. I’m sorry, very popular.
TAYLOR: Oak got the rights to the Mandell patent, from International Telemeter. And then Oak… When they decided to quit making them, they assigned the rights to Chuck Dolan…
RAGONE: Oh yes.
TAYLOR: And then Dolan, somehow or other, transferred it to Athena, and then TCI had bought Athena, and oh gosh…
RAGONE: Well you can write a whole history about the converter industry itself, and then methods of security.
TAYLOR: I was going to ask, were you involved in the security development at all?
RAGONE: No, that was strictly all done by Alps.
TAYLOR: Oh really?
RAGONE: They came up with the security schemes and…
TAYLOR: Oh really? I’ve had a hunch that Mike was involved in some of that.
RAGONE: Well, it was Mike.
TAYLOR: I know we didn’t get into this in our interview but…
RAGONE: It was like… Here are the lab people, here, responding to the needs of the industry and what had to be done. But the actual work was done back at Alps. And then over the years — and I was not involved in it at all — but over the years, more and more work started to be done by the Jerrold people in their lab. But the manufacturing was still Alps. And then they got into… Jerrold got into their own manufacturing, in Mexico and things like that. But the technology and the early innovations were pretty much by Alps. In fact… I’m trying to think… The first security was 15 kilohertz sine-wave, super-imposed on pix carrier. And when you subscribe to the
service, the converter would cancel that, so to speak.
TAYLOR: Jerrold used the sin- wave? I know Oak did.
RAGONE: Oh I know Oak did.
TAYLOR: Because I got into a patent suit on it. I was involved in that.
RAGONE: I’m having difficulties remembering whether Jerrold did it or not. I can’t say whether they did or not. I can’t say whether Jerrold did or not. I remember Oak did. No, Jerrold’s first approach was sync suppression.
TAYLOR: Sync suppression. That’s what I thought, that’s what I thought.
RAGONE: Because I was out in Hawaii visiting my daughter and son-in-law — my son-in-law is in the Navy — and he had the Oak box out there. And I said, “Well gee, you can get all the premium services.” And he said, “Well how do you do that? “Well,” I said, “Open up the box, put a ground on there.” But then… In fact it was Chiddix’ system out there. So they would go to random sync suppression — not sync suppression, sine-wave modulation — because if people had connected the wire — one critical wire — to ground, it defeated the security. But if the signal went into clear, you would introduce sine-wave on top of the signal. So they would go back and forth and back and forth, and so I put a switch on the box. I said, “Terry, if the picture is clear, leave it. If the picture gets bad, they’re going into the clear, so you pull the switch back.” And they would do it like on 10-minute intervals. But sine-wave was pretty much Oak. Jerrold’s first approach was sync suppression, 6 dB sync suppression. Now that was developed at Jerrold — although I was not involved, I remember the people working on it — and then manufactured by a combination of Alps and Jerrold people. In fact, talking about security, Don Kirk had a…
TAYLOR: Yes, he sure did.
RAGONE: …developed in the early days when we were at the Hatboro Lab in the early fifties…
TAYLOR: …having to do Bartlesville?
RAGONE: …Bartlesville, Oklahoma. And it was PBPB, program by program billing.
TAYLOR: Yeah, I got a pretty good story on that, got his stuff and…
RAGONE: …way back then.
TAYLOR: I had written something in the book that I had Strat review. And he said, “Oh you’ve got it wrong.” And so I said, “Well give me the story, because I don’t have it and I know you do.” So yesterday we spent a little time on it and I got a little tape recording of his explanation as to how that all came about. But I also have… In the papers that Don’s daughter sent to me are a couple of things about the PBPB.
RAGONE: PBPB. He developed it and it worked, and it was nothing more than sending a voltage down the line.
TAYLOR: Of course you had other problems, with programming.
RAGONE: Programming. They didn’t have programming. But things certainly were… And it was just a relay. A relay, activated an oscillator…
TAYLOR: …as impractical as the early computers which were all analog, with vacuum tubes.
RAGONE: Okay, if you don’t have any more questions, I have some paper work here to show you and if you think the museum would be interested…
TAYLOR: Yeah. Well, a couple of things I wanted to ask you… How did you get along in Jerrold? Did you find it an interesting place to work – a good place?
RAGONE: Very good. I always used to say, “I never had a dull day in the cable industry.” Of course I had some trying days — when these transistors were popping out of Starline!
TAYLOR: Yes, well that’s the professional part, but…
RAGONE: It was interesting, a lot wonderful people and I had great times, I really did.
TAYLOR: Ken left Jerrold quite disillusioned and disappointed.
TAYLOR: You didn’t have that experience?
RAGONE: No, I was below that level, most of the time.
TAYLOR: Oh I see.
RAGONE: Ken and Don, like I said, were opposites, and they even had their differences of opinion with Milt on certain things, but…
TAYLOR: Well Ken really never had any criticisms of Milt really, he always felt… His opinion of Milt was high. But his problem came when they started… when Milt began to move into his political world and other people began making decisions and… When they decided to abandon the test equipment and instrumentation stuff, that was where Ken just fell apart.
RAGONE: That was Ken’s love, test equipment was his love.
TAYLOR: It really was, and he was good at it, just great.
RAGONE: Oh yes, yes. In fact someone did form a 704 B old timer’s committee they meet and they have dinners or luncheons — oh his name is on the tip of my tongue…
TAYLOR: You’re talking about Bob…
RAGONE: Mr. Strangelove…
TAYLOR: Bob Venderlan?
RAGONE: No, no, no, not who’s that character, Mr. Strangelove… Oh gosh, strange leak… He did a lot with leakage. His name is on the tip of my tongue. Anyhow, he formed a 704 B, society and they’re into collecting old 704B signal level meters.
TAYLOR: It was an amazing instrument. Ken also described the first model he made of this thing and he said, “It was portable, at least it was movable. You could carry it with a truck, with all copper and everything else — battery hanging on the bottom of it.
RAGONE: I didn’t do much writing of articles, but I did write one for Communications Technology magazine about Hank Arbeiter. And, in the very early days when we were trying to fine-tune the apartment house equipment, we went over to a big complex outside of — in New Jersey — called Park View Apartments. It was like four big units, 10 or 12 stories high. And the problem is they had everything located in the basement. By the time we got to the top, the signal was low, pick-up was big, and we needed more signal. So Hank and I were working on how to get more levels to the top, and so on and so forth. But we had to have a method of measuring these levels. And I had just come off this business with Philco where they built a signal-measuring device, and Hank Arbeiter knew TV receivers quite well. And he said, “Well what did they do?” I said, “They literally measured AGC voltage, based on incoming signal level to the tuner. So if you monitor that, and calibrate that, you have a signal level meter.” And he said, “Oh well, let’s get a TV set and do that.” So we went out and bought a small TV set, got a calibrated source and calibrated the AGC voltage for channels three, six and 10. And we’re carrying this TV set in and out of the building, up and down elevators and this and that, and literally, Hank and I looked at each other and said, “There’s got to be a better way.” Yes, let me see… The better way was… We got some sheet metal, made a rack for it, went out and bought big industrial handles, put handles on the sides, little rollers on the bottom. And we came back one day and here we are just walking this little 10-inch TV set in with a meter sitting on top — you know, two meters — and everyone was excited as hell about it, you know, the guards and everything. Oh wonderful! Look, handles! Nothing about the progress we were making on getting signals into the building. But the thing we had invented, you know… I wrote that little thing up and it found its way into one of the trade journals. And I sent a copy to Hank’s daughter, who really appreciated it. But that was, you know, the first, signal level meter that we had for our application. But getting back to Ken, you’re absolutely right. The man… Sweep generator — it was one of his inventions, and he took the old Kay Electric fixed channel sweeper and made it into a wide band sweep generator.
TAYLOR: And he was particularly enamored of the Mallory Inductuner, which he used as the heart of his…
RAGONE: But no. I had great days there, you know. I didn’t have anybody working for me that ever gave me any problem or anything of that nature.
TAYLOR: What inspired you to change and go to Comcast?
RAGONE: Well, it was an odd thing. We had some change of personnel, you know top people. And certain people were brought in that in the later years, I just didn’t see eye to eye on how they were operating — nothing that ever came to the table. But I just said, “It isn’t like ‘the old days’.” But things were still okay. I could have survived there for another 10 years or whatever it is. But a friend of mine used to call me from time to time and say, “I need an engineer.” And I would say, “Well, so and so or…” So, I was his search firm. And one day he called me and said, “I need an engineer.” “Well what for?” “For a local cable company.” “What for?” “Well they need a chief engineer for… to run the cable company.” “Oh well. Where is it?” “It’s in Philadelphia.” And things led to things, and I said, “I have just the person for you.” And he said, “Who?” And I said, “Me.” He said, “You would never leave Jerrold!” I said, “Well, I don’t know about that.” I said, “The thought crossed my mind, and you know I’ve been doing the same thing for 30 some odd years, shipping this equipment out to these operators, doing this and doing that. I think it’s time to see how the other end of the business is, really.” And he says, “Yeah.” So I went down and got interviewed by Dan Aaron and a few others and I got the job. And it was like 230,000 subscribers, 7 or 8 cable systems and this is in 1982 — that’s how small they were. I was really semi-retired at that time, got to know all their systems and their people. And one day they came in said, “Well, we’re going to have a campaign on to grow. We’re going to go for 350,000 subscribers.” Well then it started and through acquisitions, it grew and grew and grew. And, here today, they are at four and a half million subscribers and still growing.
TAYLOR: They’ve really done a remarkable job and…
RAGONE: But those, too, were very, very good days and I enjoyed them immensely and the only thing was, I think I was 68 when I retired and I said, “Enough is enough.” It’s an old cliché, but I’ve got to go smell the roses.
TAYLOR: Well you had a great, a great life, a great experience
RAGONE: Oh I did, Arch. I found cable to be interesting and challenging and if you just look at the things we’ve been talking about coming through all of those developments and technology, there were no dull days there, no dull days.
TAYLOR: Of course you probably have the same experience I do, that’s its come so fast now, that there’s no way you can keep up with what it is.
RAGONE: Not today, when they talk about all this digital technology, compression and whatever else and the data communications part of it, I…
TAYLOR: It’s a new world.
RAGONE: Computers and modems and such. It’s like I often said to the kids, I got out just in time.
TAYLOR: Either that or you were born too soon.
RAGONE: Yes. But to answer your original question…
TAYLOR: Well, I think we’ll… I want to thank you very much spending the time with this and…
RAGONE: Oh you are more than welcome. I enjoyed it and after we close down here I’ll show you some of the things I have.
TAYLOR: Well very good.
RAGONE: And your more than welcome to take them to the museum, that is the proper thing, the cable museum.
TAYLOR: They call it The Center, primarily.
RAGONE: Cable Center
TAYLOR: Center and Museum. They used to have it the other way around, but The Center is more… Well alright. Thank you very much Frank and I’ll terminate this now and we’ll go on to something else.
Tape stops to arrange brochures and other materials Frank brought in for the Center. Tape begins again. Still Tape 2 Side B
TAYLOR: Go ahead. We were talking about some of the brochures that Frank used.
RAGONE: Just reminiscing about a thing called the off-trunk amplifier, one of the early applications of transistors by Jerrold. Whereas the main line was still vacuum tube devices, and taking a page out of the book of Ameco that started out with their “No Step” transistorized amp, we developed an off-trunk amplifier. A little more powerful than the Ameco One-Step transistor, this had some appreciable gain to it and could drive the feeder line. Except the whole thing was developed using the cross mod checker, which is the NCTA standard of synchronized 15,750 kHz sync pulses. By measuring the output at a pre-determined level — like minus 57 dB of interference — that was the standard specification. We had very little experience in transistors other than to look at them on the sweep generator, put signals in, adjust components, levels, operating points to try and get the maximum possible RF output out of the device and finally settle on a particular spec, based on the synchronized 15,750 test method. So the bottom line is, on the test instrument in the lab, it had great performance. When you looked at pictures, it didn’t correlate. 15,750 synchronized cross modulation with transistors didn’t act like vacuum tubes. We never did find out why. But the bottom line is, using a type of feedback that I think that Ken Simons developed based on 15,750 cancellation, didn’t work in transistors like it did in vacuum tubes. So the product never got into production. But here’s one of his inventions.
TAYLOR: That was the off-trunk amplifier?
RAGONE: That was the off trunk amplifier.
TAYLOR: Model TOT-1, it says here.
RAGONE: Transistorized Off-Trunk. Oh notice the dBj designation, for dB Jerrold. The industry did not accept dBj. Instead of 40 dBmV output capability, it was really worth something like 30 dBmV, based on picture impairment with the eyeball. That’s an interesting document.
TAYLOR: Vic Nicholson, was he… He was there when you were there?
RAGONE: Yes, he was there He was a part of the field engineering team that Jerrold started to put together. I believe he was also out of Philco.
TAYLOR: He came in. He was there when you came, so he was there before the middle of 1950.
RAGONE: I don’t know if he was there, when I started in 1950, because things happened so fast with the field engineering group. And I would only see them infrequently. But I remember he was — when the offices were at 15th and Lehigh — he was there. So that puts him there at a pretty early time frame. (looking at another document) Now that was at the ’62 NCTA, and this is the introduction of transistorized all band distribution system and that’s in the ’65 time frame. That equipment was developed in ’64. You were talking about doing things on the back of the envelope or tablecloths — the old stories. Here’s the original story of Milt Shapp going down to Atlantic City in 1949, which is before my time with Jerrold. But he made a deal with Maginty to wire up the hotels down there, using the existing equipment, the CA type amplifiers. And that was the old story about — they wrote the contract on the table cloth while they’re at the restaurant, and that was…
TAYLOR: You’re making this available for the Center?
RAGONE: Yes, that’s available.
RAGONE: That’s more, I think, than this. But do you think… You can decide on this. And this one they had the turn key division…
TAYLOR: Oh I remember.
RAGONE: There’s another innovation that said, “If we’re going to sell equipment and make sure it works properly, let’s offer the man with the money who knows nothing about cable, the opportunity to come and buy our equipment, buy the expertise, have it installed, have the system operating, train the local techs and do a total job.” That was called the turnkey division, which was, in a way, part of the success of Jerrold to have the full capability of doing turnkey work, as they say.
TAYLOR: I have to tell you what Ike Blonder said when I was, interviewing him. I said, “How come you had some pretty good equipment, performance-wise, and it was a good price, but why didn’t you get more CATV business, more customers?” He said, “It’s one very simple reason. I couldn’t afford to finance my customers, and that was what got Jerrold.”
RAGONE: Well, they did the financing too – totally.
TAYLOR: Well they had the backing then from the investment bankers, Whitney — Jock Whitney, I guess. I forget who the others were. Goldman-Sachs was involved in it.
RAGONE: This was another internal brochure called the Jerrold CATV story, but that’s more for the manufacturer itself as opposed to technology.
RAGONE: There’s Bob Beisswenger. I’m trying to look…
TAYLOR: There’s Mike, I can see him…
RAGONE: Mike Jeffers.
TAYLOR: Who’s this guy?
RAGONE: Jerry Hastings.
TAYLOR: Yeah, oh yes.
RAGONE: He was a salesman supreme. He… And Dan Aaron is in there somewhere, I’m trying to look up side down, Max Krauss, he was in the government division.
TAYLOR: Next to him, who’s this guy?
RAGONE: Let me see here. This is Maurey Betchen. He was head of manufacturing. Selmer Kramer, Metz…
TAYLOR: Elmer Metz, now I got it.
RAGONE: Max Krauss, Jerry Hastings, that’s Bob Beisswenger. Of course you recognized Mike. Well now this is when Jerrold was located at 26th and Dickerson Street, which was the first time they had all under one roof. The sales organization, the offices, the laboratories, the manufacturing, were all under one roof, in Philadelphia, at 26th and Dickerson Street.
TAYLOR: Here’s the Mul TV.
RAGONE: That was where the original equipment came from to do the Lansford and Williamsport installations.
TAYLOR: Oh that’s fascinating. I get a kick out of looking through that.
RAGONE: Life at the Jerrold lab. This was by Ken Simons, I believe, who was the head of it for a while. But that was just an internal sort of thing. I don’t know how I ended up with it. Chief engineer Ken Simons, Don Rogers, Jeffers, myself, Hank Arbeiter, Eric Winston the machine shop, plastics, model shop, drafting, stock control, internal memo, for what it’s worth. And here’s one from Milt Shapp. A report on the first week of direct supervision of the administration in the engineering lab. I think that’s when Kirk left. This is just the administrative committee. This was the construction division, communications systems division. This is, I think, Nate Levine. He was in and out for a while and Dan Aaron was in charge of that division for a while. Ah, these were just sales brochures of the old Jerrold Starline equipment, when they first came out, in ’65, July ’65. That one is ’66, the famous Ken Simons handbook. You’ve seen that around, I’m sure.
TAYLOR: Yeah, he had three colors of this. This is the second edition. There was a red one and a green one. Green, I think may have been the first one. That’s one I don’t have. I’ve got both the blue and the red one but…
RAGONE: And this was Milt Shapp when he… (pause) And this was in the local trade journals when they were talking about the 50th anniversary of cable and they had a section in there about Milt. And that’s the groundbreaking ceremony at Hatboro.
TAYLOR: Hatboro, I thought I’d seen that.
RAGONE: Yeah, that was in it. I don’t know where these came from. There was a meeting somewhere. But here’s Jack Ford. I’m sure you know Jack Ford, of course, now retired. That’s Jack Ford, Bill Lambert and myself, and these are all of the Jerrold people. And the only reason I brought this along, is Caywood Cooley, up here. This one I’ll keep. I just want to show you this. This was a ’79 Las Vegas convention, Caywood Cooley, Jack Ford, Milt Shapp, Fred Shue. He was in charge of the Canadian division, for many, many years, Lee Zemnick, who was president for awhile.
TAYLOR: Which is Jack Ford? Oh here he is. And who’s this guy? He looks familiar.
RAGONE: I don’t know. I think he was there. I don’t know I tried to match up the names here, but I couldn’t.
TAYLOR: Let me see if I can recognize him. His face looks familiar. Zemnick is… oh yeah, he’s up there.
RAGONE: Yeah, you see Zemnick. So I, I know they’re pretty much Jerrold oriented, but if you’re interested…
TAYLOR: Well that’s what it’s about.
RAGONE: Oh okay, look at this.
TAYLOR: I’ll put these in a folder. Well I guess that ends our session. Again I thank you very, very much.
RAGONE: You’re more than welcome It’s been a pleasure.
Tape 2 Side B ends The Interview is concluded.