Interview Date: Wednesday June 30, 1993
Interview Location: Washington, DC
Interviewer: Archer Taylor
Collection: Archer Taylor Technical Collection
Note: Audio Only
TAYLOR: We are doing a recording – an interview for the Richard Schneider Memorial project. I am interviewing Israel Switzer, better known as “Sruki” … long time engineer in the cable television field. I am the interviewer, Archer Taylor.
SWITZER: Do you want to put the date on record, Archer?
TAYLOR: The date is June 30, and we are in the NCTA building in one of their vacant offices. I’d like to start the interview, Sruki with the background on you and your family … where you came from, what your family was like, how you grew up, and so on.
SWITZER: I was born in Calgary, in Alberta, province of Alberta, in Canada, and yesterday was my birthday – June 29, 1929.
SWITZER: I am of immigrant parents … the classic Jewish family immigrants from central Europe, from Poland and grew up and born in ’29 in the Depression and in very modest circumstances, I guess the usual, as I say, for that time, quite usual. Grade school in Calgary, high school in Calgary. Then I went away to the … I guess not the big city, but in those years, the only university in the province was in Edmonton, 200 miles north of Calgary.
TAYLOR: Where did the family first establish in…?
SWITZER: In Calgary … and lived in Calgary all of their lives in Canada. They came in ’28, from, as I said, from central Europe and lived there. I grew up there, but left to go to the university in ’46, I guess. I really didn’t spend much time in Calgary after that. I was a … I guess today they call them nerds in grade and high school and generally good marks in high school and particularly in math and the sciences. My intent at the time was to take chemistry. I was going to be a chemist. I remember nearly blowing up the family kitchen. I think probably I was stewing something in acetone or something, on a gas stove and blew the stove out and charcoal … that is, carbon particles all over the house and I suppose it could have been worse than that.
TAYLOR: That’s what you call a learning experience.
SWITZER: But I also became deeply involved in photography while I was in high school and had my home dark room and took photography very seriously and later paid my way through the university as a photographer. The first money I ever made, which was delivering groceries for a neighborhood grocery store on my bicycle, I went and bought an encyclopedia with … I think I probably read it cover to cover … I have it still at home. It has a place of honor on my bookshelf at home. It’s a 1939 Encyclopedia Americana in red buckram – 30 volumes, probably … keep it still.
TAYLOR: You were still in Calgary at this time?
SWITZER: Yes. As I said I lived in Calgary through high school. I left to go to the university. I had to go to – I guess they call them state colleges now – this was provincial university, and the closest available, because we just couldn’t afford to send me to the equivalent of ivy league schools in Canada, which would have been the University of Toronto or McGill University in Montreal, or maybe even University of British Columbia. So, I went to Edmonton, again, in modest circumstance and worked most nights as a photographer. I remember working one whole winter developing and printing pictures for a street photographer. Do you remember the people used to stand on the street, snap your picture, hand you a little tag?
TAYLOR: Oh yes.
SWITZER: I did the night shift on the dark room work on printing up the orders … that is, developing the film and then printing up the orders for those and I worked for a banquet photographer … probably the last photographer in the world to use flash powder.
TAYLOR: For goodness sake.
SWITZER: This would have been ’47 … ’46 or … probably winter of ’46, ’47. His specialty was taking these huge banquet groups.
TAYLOR: Did he have a panoramic camera?
SWITZER: No, he had a sort of wide angle … they weren’t glass plates, but I think the film would have been about 18″ by maybe 7″ and it was sort of a great big plate camera and we had multiple stands to light the room and it took flash powder really and 4 or 5 trays of it. And I learned pretty quick not to look up after the flash, or you would get the dust in your eyes. So I helped with that and did the dark room work on that … all contact printing – didn’t have an enlarger for that size plate and did miscellaneous photography work, but it hurt some. I wasn’t nearly as hot a shot in college as I had been in high school and I soon switched also from chemistry to physics after my first year and then just took what they call a pass degree in physics … graduated in ’49, I guess that was just before my 20th birthday. I went on to do some graduate work in physics.
TAYLOR: What caused you to switch from chemistry to physics?
SWITZER: I don’t remember Archer, just what the change was. I think that it was just that I didn’t find chemistry nearly as interesting and it seemed to me that the chemistry was going to take more memory work than I cared to apply … that physics had a little … was closer to mathematics … had sort of a clearer, more simple logic background than chemistry did. At least that was my experience in first year and looking forward to it…
TAYLOR: I find it interesting that Bob Powers who was at the Bureau of Standards, and then became Chief Scientist at the FCC, now with MCI, is a chemist. He has a PhD in chemistry, not chemical engineering, but chemistry. And he has turned out to be quite an engineer, too.
SWITZER: Do you know Mark Dzuban?
TAYLOR: Oh yes.
SWITZER: Mark is also a chemist in physical chemistry and he’s turned out to be a video engineer.
TAYLOR: I didn’t know that.
SWITZER: One of the best. You get varied backgrounds, but I never took engineering. But I did start on the masters program then and my research thesis was … I don’t even know if I can pronounce it still … The Aerothermal Effects of Solar Ultraviolet, that is, the biological effects of solar ultraviolet. What I had to do was to build a very special photo electric system for measuring and accumulating, integrating, solar ultraviolet. So it was a quartz photocell in a … I think we had some kind of Lucite housing, and we had calibrated the transmissivity of it on a spectrometer and because the output of this photo cell was so low, we were measuring picoamperes or something like that. No trick at all today, but in 1950, ’51, that was a real major technical problem and then running an integrator to integrate and chart the whole thing and then we had a counter which was adapted from a traffic engineering counter. So, we had an integrator which charged a low leakage capacitor … some kind of trigger circuit that then triggered at a preset voltage, discharged the capacitor and then clicked this traffic counter and then it would print every 15 minutes. That’s the way this traffic counter was built, so we had to count out of … so we had a paper tape then, a record of solar ultraviolet and then this had to be correlated with the project in the biology department that was trying to correlate solar ultraviolet with the population of rabbits, somehow … and sparrows. I used to help them … I would go over and help them anesthetize, I was the anesthetist and we would anesthetize the rabbit and the biology grad student would then do a quick operation to remove the ovaries and check the ovaries then to see if they had been affected somehow … could correlate with the solar ultraviolet measurements I was taking. We also had to … they were checking something in sparrows, but those we had to shoot. The rabbits we could rehabilitate … sew them back up again. I remember going out and shooting sample sparrows with a little 410 shot gun … lots of sparrows. I don’t think we were affecting the … I don’t think they missed a few sparrows for that week. Although I had a modest stipend for lab demonstrating … and the like … usual thing for grad students … I still had to work at the photography most nights and I never did finish my masters degree … did all the work … finished all the academic requirement, but didn’t quite finish the thesis, and so, never got my masters degree. I say logged the time … six years altogether, I guess, with the under grad and the grad work. Summertime, during from ’49 through ’52, I worked as a photographer at Jasper National Park. I worked for an excellent, and truly great photographer. He had been head of the National Film Board, which was the big government photographic agency during the war. He had sort of semi-retired to Jasper and ran a photographic business in Jasper … we had the publicity contract for the big hotel … the big resort hotel in Jasper … and he still worked as a photojournalist, regularly. He was away a good part of the time, on assignment, as a photojournalist for some of the major Canadian photo periodicals. I did his dark room work, so I got to be a very good dark room technician in terms of the chemistry and processing of film and printing. I managed the dark room … I managed the photo retail shop.
TAYLOR: Is this all monochrome photography?
SWITZER: No, we were into color, not into print. We were into processing Ektachrome at the time, that is, slide films. The work for the public … that is just photofinishing, was all in black and white. But I did install the first sort of automatic printing machine for photofinishing. We had that, with auto contrast paper, I remember … but still on a small scale. But for his work, I did the color transparency work … chemistry … the processing, but we didn’t do any printing. That is, the transparencies were then sent into the magazine that had commissioned the work. Up to about … I think the biggest camera we used was a 3 and 1/4 by 4 and 1/4, Speed Graphic. His favorite though, was a Rolleiflex. And I got one of his hand-me-down Rolleiflexes … I think about a 1950 model … and I have it still … the Rolleiflex that I used then and I did some camera work, but it was soon obvious to me I wasn’t the class of photographic artist that he was. But then, when I was leaving the university, that is in ’52, I was offered the … television broadcasting was just starting in Canada in those years and through this work at Jasper, I had come to know very well the principal radio broadcaster in Edmonton. He was a neighbor of my boss’s in Jasper … that is, he had a summer home in Jasper … got to know him very well … and that fall, in ’52, he had gotten the license for the first television station in Edmonton and it was going on the air in the fall of ’52. He offered me the job as station photographer. And that involved of course, a lot of movie work … and I was doing some at Jasper … that is movie camera work in 16mm.
TAYLOR: You mentioned that broadcasting … television was just starting in Canada. Of course the color television standards in the United States were adopted in 1953 … black and white in 1941. What was the history of television in Canada?
SWITZER: The origins of television in Canada, were that when the border stations started … Seattle, Buffalo … they were the principal border stations … that is, adjoining Canada … Canadians put up roof top antennas then to get the American television stations, so places like Toronto had roof top antennas…
TAYLOR: This was post-war?
SWITZER: This was post-war. There was nothing pre-war. There was nothing pre-war at all. There was, early, soon after the war, a wired project in Montreal.
SWITZER: Rediffusion. And rediffusion brought their … twisted pair, if you care to call it … their HF technology and their special TV sets.
TAYLOR: Was this Qwist at that time?
SWITZER: Yes it was. They were fairly well along in the late forties, in terms of their understanding of the technology of that particular kind of distribution. So they had quad pairs, all balanced, and in production … that is, it was considered a mature technology at that time. And they had these special TV sets which had no tuner … they had an IF, in effect, that worked at the HF frequency that they used, which was around 5 megahertz or so. You had a tap switch then for selecting the program that you wanted. So Rediffusion had been doing quite well in England, with this, soon after the war and of course, the history of that was based on wired radio … that is, running a similar system, with loud speakers, all over Europe between the wars … that is, in the 20’s and 30’s and then they adapted that television. But Rediffusion had been doing that in the UK, particularly, and they were then looking all over the world for places to take it to. They were looking principally then at what you call former British Empire sort of things and so they came to Montreal. And they built a system in Montreal and had several thousand units running on that basis, in Montreal. You knew Ken Easton?
TAYLOR: Oh yes, indeed.
SWITZER: We should find Ken for this project. He is retired.
TAYLOR: Yes I know. I’ve talked with him. I’ve got so many people that I could interview that it’s…
SWITZER: That project is what brought Ken Easton to Canada from the UK. He had been with Rediffusion and they sent him to Montreal
TAYLOR: That’s interesting. I didn’t know that.
SWITZER: … the technical side of this. So this was the first actual television in Canada. And they ran on a closed circuit basis … that is, they originated some of their own programming and they repeated some off-air from the U.S. So that could be considered a very early cable TV system. And I don’t know if it predates what we consider the pioneer American systems or not. I’d have to do some checking onto the actual dates of their operation in Montreal, but it would have been around 1950 or so. If that is the year, then it is sort of coincident or slightly after the American precedent that we consider. Television broadcasting started in Canada then in ’52 … that is, local stations … first in Toronto and then shortly after in Montreal. The classic story is their opening night in Montreal, they put their ID slide up when they flipped on the transmitter and it was upside down. It was pathetic for the history of television in Canada.
TAYLOR: Now were they broadcasting to the NTSC monochrome standards?
SWITZER: There was never any question of standards. It was NTSC monochrome. Color wasn’t authorized in Canada until sometime later … I don’t know the exact date but the official authorization for color in Canada followed the U.S. practice by quite a few years. And the reason was given as economic … that they didn’t want Canadian stations … I’ll use the term paraphrasing their intent of squandering resources on color when they should have been using the money to produce Canadian programming. That’s been the regulatory position in Canada … to spend the money on Canadian programming, rather than on technology. And that has carried through, even to the question of high definition television. Very recently, the Chairman of the Board of CRTC – whom I know quite well personally – and I, shared a panel platform at a high definition conference in Canada, two years ago, and he said, quite clearly, that the emphasis in CBC was in no rush to get into high definition because of what resources they had and they had been cut back because they operate under government funding, would be spent on programming and not on technology. That has been the general approach of the regulatory authorities in Canada, and so color came late in Canada. Although color, of course, was being received from the U.S. and as cable operators, we had to deal with color transmission early on because the history of cable in Canada, has really always been based on relaying American transmission.
TAYLOR: I was reading a biography of David Sarnoff and talking about the color situation in the 50’s and 60’s, after RCA beat out CBS on the field sequential color …
SWITZER: In the second round.
TAYLOR: In the second round. The commercial standards were adopted, but NBC was the only one that did any color at all. In fact, the CBS and ABC people were saying, “We are going to wait until there is an audience and then we’ll consider going into color.” And it was actually ten years later before they really got around to doing any extensive coloring.
SWITZER: But do you think it hurt them economically? Because RCA had a motive … they had the patents, the promotions, the TV sets to sell and I mention the patents because that’s been an important position for RCA. They had a stake not only in the color sets that RCA manufactured and sold, but in the other sets that had been sold. They had a very powerful motivation.
TAYLOR: Of course the main thing they had was David Sarnoff and it was obvious that after he was gone, they couldn’t pull together.
SWITZER: Now as the mover, but that’s what it took … it’s very much chicken and egg … you need programming, you need sets, you need programming, you need sets … but I don’t think it hurt ABC and CBS to sit back and watch until there was a reasonable base to broadcast.
TAYLOR: As a matter of fact, over the years, we’ve seen frequently, on NBC, not too good color. It’s all pretty much changed now with new equipment, but back in the early days, NBC had some problems … in fact they talked about the vestigial side-band problem as “NBC Halo”. By the time CBS and ABC got into color, their equipment was better and they were able to do a better job than NBC … than the older stations of NBC.
SWITZER: I remember talking to broadcast engineers at the time on how they were setting things up and they said, “Well, their standard was the Kodak commercial … that if they could reproduce that Kodak yellow … that’s how they were judged.” I used it in that conversation in comparing then, European and American approaches to television technologies in general … that American television was driven by commercial … by advertising. So the technical criteria … the technical standard for the network, for the station, was to satisfy the advertiser. If the president of Kodak or the president at Kraft or whoever, thought that his product was coming through on his TV set at home in the right colors, then that was ok … he didn’t have to do anymore than that. Whereas European television, being mostly non-commercial, the standard they had was they would set a classic engineering spec and they would then expect the engineering department to conform to it and spend whatever money was necessary, on both the research in terms of testing and techniques and testing equipment and in maintaining equipment to meet this spec. And I have always held a view that that is why Europe for many years was sort of ahead of American … the American, the actual technology itself.
TAYLOR: Do you know the story about Jack Parr and his program? While he was still doing the late night show, he went to England, for a vacation sort of thing, for about a month I think. And the agreement was that the BBC would record his programs to NTSC Standards, fly it back to New York, to put on the air. So they did this and the telephone began to ring off the hook at NBC … the advertisers were saying, “What are you doing to our commercials? Why are they so bad?” And the problem was that the NTSC tape that was being flown from England was so much better than what the commercials were doing in New York, that they looked bad.
SWITZER: By comparison.
TAYLOR: These engineers did a lot of discussing back and forth in the trade press on this, and my final conclusion, from listening to what the engineers had to say was that the difference is what I call “TLC” … tender loving care. Every step of the way in British television was carefully controlled, as you say, it was a precision operation – everything was done right.
SWITZER: Always done by the numbers. That was the only criteria they had, was the numbers. They didn’t have these advertisers then.
TAYLOR: And they kept it up constantly. They were continually monitoring numbers.
SWITZER: And they had generous budgets, I think also for engineering.
TAYLOR: The budget didn’t depend on sales.
SWITZER: Yes. I was at the NAB show, quite a few years ago, where Phillips introduced the plumbicon color camera. It was a huge improvement over the…. [masked by interviewer comment].
TAYLOR: That was a few years ago!
SWITZER: Well, it was about 25 years. I won’t call it an uproar, but it was interesting to watch then, the American engineers – RCA principally, coming over then to see this plumbicon camera working and how much better it was, than what they had. But the color technology that started this discussion of color, by asking about when it was introduced in Canada … as cable engineers, we had a concern with the handling of color and also then, an understanding of what the problems would be. I had found that the best help were the network people … that is the telephone network people who had to handle the transmission, because it was all … at least in Canada originally … it was all on microwave and I think mostly in the US, mostly on microwave. What do they call it? TD 2? The
classic AT&T version?
TAYLOR: TD 2 … that sounds right …
SWITZER: Whatever the designation was. But the classic AT&T, 4 gigahertz system. And reading then the papers, and looking at their manuals on the checking of that and the specification and the modifications required to bring the network transmission up to color spec was then a good education in the problems that you could have with the handling NTSC. Because certainly in those years, and I don’t know that there is even now an engineering school that is an EE program that teaches television engineering … that is where do you learn NTSC? And I suppose there are some technical colleges, but if you look at EE programs I don’t … do you suppose there is one that teaches broadcasting technology?
TAYLOR: I would be surprised if there isn’t, but I can’t site one.
SWITZER: I can’t site one either. And certainly in those years there weren’t. And so you started with an EE degree or an equivalent and you had to learn color, you had to learn broadcast technology. And I don’t know what the formal programs were. As I, over the years, reviewed Curriculum Vitaes for broadcast engineers of various times and at various levels, they all seemed to have learned it on the job. Mind you, there were some very good books though available from early on … I’m thinking of Fink and the NAB manual and one or two others. So that there have been very good broadcast engineering textbooks and references and handbooks available. And also in transmission, there are a couple of blue jacketed books from AT&T on transmission engineering, which have helped in understanding cable transmission.
TAYLOR: Let’s go back to how you got into … or what you did after your college and how you got into cable.
SWITZER: When I left college in ’52, this was very early in the Canadian oil boom. And that oil boom was centered on Edmonton, which is where I had been going to college. And in those years, the oil companies were the just hiring the EE classes wholesale. There was no trouble in getting a job in the oil business, if you were inclined at all. Well, not having a full master’s degree and not feeling that I really had any future in academic physics, this looked pretty good. And I went to work for a geophysical company, except I picked an odd-ball one and it was a company called Weiss Engineering … sorry, Weiss Geophysics.
SWITZER: Weiss. And it was actually a South African company, because geophysics of the non-petroleum variety was pretty well understood and practiced in South Africa because of the huge mining industry there … and this company had come to Canada to learn something about oil prospecting and also to try and apply some of their classic mining geophysics to oil prospecting. And I went to work for them in the fall of ’52 for a salary of $401 per month. And it was 401, because at the $400 level, I was subject to some kind of social security taxes or whatever, but at 401 I didn’t have to pay … and so that was my salary at the time … and I went out and bought my first car on payments … I think it cost … first new car … I had owned a car before my first new car. But I went to work for what was essentially a mining-geophysics company. We worked in shallow seismic, which was understood by mining companies, and we also applied magnetic and gravity techniques. So I learned magnetometer, I learned gravity meter. Gravity meters … you’ve probably worked with them Archer.
TAYLOR: No I don’t. I’m not familiar with it at all.
SWITZER: I thought you had a geophysics background personally.
TAYLOR: No. Physics, but not geophysics.
SWITZER: Gravity meters actually measured the force of gravity as such. The instrument at that time was, in effect, a little quartz fiber, with a little weight on it and you measured, in effect, the torque in this glass … in this little quartz fiber and through a microscope and you calibrated it by generally by taking it up and down an office building in an elevator and it was sensitive enough then to tell the difference on the force of gravity … say from the ground floor to the tenth or the twentieth floor and you measured that and you calibrated the instruments that way. And you went around then, taking gravity readings on a grid, all over the country looking then for the density anomalies or for gravity anomalies and those could be correlated to geology structures that might have oil in them. So I learned mostly non-seismic techniques. As I say, we did a little bit of shallow seismic. And they also sent me on a mining project out to eastern Canada, which I didn’t like at all. There we were doing magnetometer on a copper prospect. And what bothered me was the oil companies did things first class. When you worked for an oil company and you went into the bush for an oil company, it was first class. You had helicopters. You had Cats. You had track vehicles. You had four wheel drives. You had portable housing shelters – heated, cooled, whatever. Whatever it took to get you. This mining thing … we lived in tents … no proper privies even and the other thing was that in oil company work when you went to the bush and if it was anywhere halfway remote, we used to work 20 days … I think 10 hours a day straight and then take the rest of the month off. I thought that was great. I thought that was a sensibly way to work in the bush. Mining, you worked Monday through Friday and then you had two days off sitting in the bush camp twiddling your thumbs. Anyway, I didn’t care for that and I went back to Calgary and went to work for an oil company. I went to work for a company called United Geophysical, which was owned at that time by Herb Hoover, Jr. He was the son of the President and he then later sold it to … sorry, it had been founded by Herb Hoover, Jr. and he had recently sold it to Union of California. We were the geophysical subsidiary of the big oil company. Then I learned seismic. But I worked on the instrumentation side. And for that company, my main job was being the maintenance engineer on a kind of a field test of the new multichannel magnetic tape recorder. Seismic was traditionally done … you won’t mind a mild obscenity on the tape, will you?
TAYLOR: Not at all. Incidentally, you will have a copy of the transcript to review, and if you would like to take anything out, that’s up to you.
SWITZER: You know how seismic is done?
SWITZER: You drill a hole in the ground, maybe that big … three or four inch bore with a truck mounted rigging, depending…just through the overburden so that you can couple the energy of a few pounds of dynamite, then solidly into the ground. Then you string out these geophones, as they’re called, which are really low frequency seismic sensors and you string them out, maybe 100 foot intervals for a quarter mile each way and you then have a lead back from each of these pickups, back into a multichannel recorder. You explode the charge. It sends these waves down. You pick up the echoes … it’s an echo sounding process. And the classic recording had been a multichannel paper graph … like an ECG graph and I think, traditionally, there were sort of 24 traces. You had a mark when the explosive charged … that was your reference and you got these wavy traces … 24 of them. And you are interested in frequencies generally below 100 Hertz because that’s all really that would get down a few thousand feet and back up again. And that had been traditionally done, then as I say, on paper charts. So, they had developed over the years, because seismic started probably in the early twenties, the techniques of filtering. You had LC filters in your amplifiers and could set them for different settings and the like. And so to get a series of recordings with different filter settings, you then … it took some time, you had to take, reload the hole and do it all over again … make a new recording.
TAYLOR: Were these band-pass filters?
SWITZER: These were band-pass filters … generally low pass filters but you had sets of low pass – high pass, you could set band-pass arrangements of various kinds. So this was a tedious process and quite slow then to get multiple recordings from the same set-up. United had the idea of applying multichannel tape recorders to the process and making a broadband recording on tape and then playing it back … then later through filter settings of various kinds, “pop lines” so to speak. So we had the first field test of this multichannel tape. It was a 2″ magnetic tape – 24 heads on it and it was in a continuous loop – you got about a second or two seconds of recording time on it and I was the field engineer then … sorry, the maintenance engineer on that and I had to see that it kept working and I had to do the off-line play-backs at night then, through the various filter settings. We played from the tape then to a paper track oscillograph because this is what the geologists were used to reading. So I worked on that for quite a time. Learned a bit of geology, but still going through all this field work and I was still single … relatively young, I guess, 21 – 22, and still writing home at the time. When I went into this, they put you through a training program … you worked on a couple of weeks on handling the cables and the jugs as they were called, the geophones, and you worked on the drilling rig to drill the hole and you worked a couple of weeks on the shooting truck, learning to handle the dynamite. And depending on the type of area we were in, we could go through a ton of dynamite a day. And so I was writing home and saying, “Well, on Monday I start on the shooting crew.” My mother calls back … she hadn’t raised her boy to be fooling around with dynamite and I said, “It’s ok folks, as long as I know my ass from a hole in the ground, I’ll will be ok.” But I worked at that and then they brought me back into the office in Calgary to work on a special thing in well-logging. Well-logging is also a classic oil field technology and it’s usually done by a resistivity probe and they put an electronic probe down the hole and they log then the resistivity of the various geographic formations that they are going through and they are logged very accurately against depth- there is a very special sheave that the cable goes over – the cable’s low stretch. And they had developed over the years a technique of well-logging – firms like Schlumberge – they were the big companies in that. And it was routinely done on every well.
TAYLOR: Based on the soil resistivity?
SWITZER: No, on the rock. So they would log the entire bore hole. And this was very important to the geologist in understanding the geology of the area that they were in and they would log dry holes and they would log productive holes and it was a very important database. United then, developed a technique that they called sonic well-logging, and they used a tool then that would log the sonic velocity and the formation. It was a longish pole – maybe 10 feet long and they had an electrically driven hammer that would make a “ping” at one end and you would pick it up then … a little further up, so you could measure the velocity of the sound in this formation over a 6 to 10 foot interval and you then logged the velocity – the sonic velocity in the well and it was thought that this also might be helpful to geologists. I worked in the office in the interpretation of that. And this got us involved then in trying to do Fourier analysis. Well, this is 1957 I guess by now, and I’m trying to do Fourier analysis on a whole bunch of data and the only computer system I have available is sort of punch card. Well, if you can imagine doing a Fourier analysis with decks of punch cards where you are correlating data against a deck of cosines on a deck, and it could take you weeks to do anything … if you did it at all … I think we did it once, and then said, “This will never work.” But I picked up one of the EE magazines – a new product announcement called an electronic computer, called an LGP 30 and they show a desk sized machine and a little bit of spec on it and I thought, “Gee, this is interesting” and I send in the coupon, and a few weeks later a couple of salesmen came to see me. Turns out, that the company that was selling that computer was, in effect, Royal Typewriter – a company called Royal McBee which was Royal Typewriter and the McBee part of it sold simple manual accounting forms. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen these one write check boards, where you write carbon through and distribute them.
TAYLOR: Oh yes indeed.
SWITZER: Very basic, simply an absolute antithesis of the computerized system. So here are these two salesmen who are used to selling typewriters and manual accounting systems, come to see me with this brochure about an electronic computer and say, “Quite frankly, we don’t know a darn thing about this.” Corporate has decided that they ought to get into electronic computers. They were manufactured by a company called Librascope which was a good sized American aerospace technology firm based in Los Angeles and Royal had bought the marketing rights to this thing. I said, “Well, I looked through the brochure and as far as I could figure out it looked to be a very useful sort of thing.” So they said, “We think there is a prospect for it in Western Canada, with all this oil boom going on and the company will send you to their training school, if you can get the 2 weeks off to do that.” So I did. I took their 2 week course in this in Los Angeles, to learn it very thoroughly – got hands on experience with it – and decided that really, we should have one. So this was ’57. This was a desk sized machine, it had tubes – the flip-flops were tubes – the logic board was discrete dials, about a 1,000 discrete dials on a board, but the logic underneath it was very thorough, that is, I learned Boolean algebra and the operational equations. It was what we would call now “RIS” – reduced incontruction set. It had 4-bit instruction code, 16 instructions – input output was a punch paper tape – not a teletype, but what is called a Flexawriter, which was sort of an older model IBM Electric, with a paper tape punching reader on the side. It had a magnetic drum – 4K, 32 bit words – and it could actually, compute things. The drum was 4K and in those years, it sold for $32,000 – in 1957 – if you can imagine. Compared to the other computer equipment available in the thing, it was considered pretty good. But when I came back off that course, I found I had been fired. What had happened is the management had done a leveraged buyout a month or two before – sorry, a few months before. They bought it from Union Oil and so comes Christmas time and instead of the customary bonus at Christmas time, there is sort of a little letter in the envelope that says, “Because of our circumstance at this time, we are going to have to forgo the Christmas bonus.” I didn’t think that that was right – that employees should in effect, be paying for their leverage buyout and I had remarked to the president who had come up from Los Angeles, because we were a major office there in Calgary and that gee, that I had admired their business acumen and that they had allowed me to do it and I had hoped that some of it had rubbed off on my hand, when I shook his hand. They didn’t like that remark and, as I say, when he got back and I got back … so I went to work for this computer company … that is for Royal McBee and was their principal Canadian computer salesman, system analyst, trainer … was a one man…
TAYLOR: Was that in Calgary or Edmonton?
SWITZER: That was based in Edmonton. For the next two years or so, I did all their computer work … replaced I think about six or eight of these machines in western Canada which was really half of all the stored program machines in all of western Canada at the time. There were a couple of big IBM systems that major oil companies had – they were 704’s or 705’s. I don’t know if you remember those models … they were great big, tube based IBM machines … there were a couple of small Bendix machines, which were comparable to the machine that I had … that is. So I sold and installed the first computer to the University of Alberta – the first computer that the University of Saskatchewan had. These were real pioneering days in electronic computers. I was on the Charter Board of Directors of the Computer and Data Processing Society of Canada … that is, that we were a big enough factor, for being this typewriter company, and the computer business in Canada to award us a seat on that board. But then, I fell into cable TV really quite by accident. I think that it was obvious that Royal wasn’t doing well enough in the computer business to stay in it and I could have gone with IBM, but I would have had to wear a shirt and a tie and a hat – a white shirt, a tie and a hat! And I didn’t want to do that, that is, the IBM.
END OF TAPE 1, SIDE A
TAYLOR: We are now on side B of the first tape. Sruki was interrupted at the end of the last tape, but we’ll go on from here.
SWITZER: Fortunately cable television came along just in time to save me from a fate worse than death … that is, having to wear a shirt, tie and hat. And this was summer of ’54. I had some vacation coming and I spent some of it then with friends who lived in Saskatoon.
TAYLOR: I’m mixed up on the dates, because you’ve been talking about ’57, ’58 …
SWITZER: Oh, sorry … I have misspoken in terms of historically correct records. I had two sessions in geophysics. Now, thank you for correcting me. I went into geophysics when I left the university in the summer of ’52. I worked in that … I worked for Weiss for a year and then I worked for United Geophysical for a year and then I left it in the summer of ’54. OK, now we are back on time track … on chronology track. What I did then was to fall into cable television in the summer of ’54, and then about ’57 it was kind of slack time in cable television … and I will come back to that … we had nowhere to go, so I went back into geophysics for a year, fell into the computers for two years and was doing the cable television, sort of part-time, keeping an eye on it, because I had an interest in a cable TV system and then went back into it full-time about ’58, ’59.
TAYLOR: So the computer experience with Royal McBee was in the later part of the ’50s, and after having done some cable work.
SWITZER: And after having done some cable television work.
TAYLOR: I think we’ve got the record straight.
SWITZER: OK, now we have the record straight. So it’s now the summer of ’54 and I am still in geophysics – in field work, in seismic work and I take some vacation and I go to Saskatoon to visit friends and this is a man, his name is Torchinsky, Ben Torchinsky and we’d been friends since … his wife also, we’d been friends since childhood, literally. And had been good friends through the university. He took his masters in Civil Engineering and then went to teach Civil Engineering. He was an assistant professor at the University of Saskatchewan. His personal, professional specialty was foundations. And as he particularly, and many engineering profs in general, did some consulting work on the side … and his project that summer, was that television had started in ’52, in major Canadian centers, now in ’54, they were starting to build a television station in a city like Saskatoon which was then, only, perhaps 100,000 population, but served a big, agricultural market area. So they are going to build a television station and the licensee, was as usual, the established radio broadcaster there, hires Ben to design the foundations for his new tower that’s going to be … I think it was going to be a 600 foot wave stack. Do you remember … RCA wave stack design for TV towers? And high-band…
TAYLOR: I guess I am familiar by the name, anyway.
SWITZER: This is a channel eight operation. And RCA then, had a tower design that they called a Wave Stack and the tower was a big steel tube, which acted as a wave-guide. And the top was slotted then in a pattern … that is, a radiation pattern and so this big steel tube served as a structural tower…
TAYLOR: I didn’t realize that they had done this at VHF – I knew they had done this at UHF.
SWITZER: They had done some at VHF and this one was VHF and it was about 600 feet high. Ben had been hired to design the foundations for it. So we are sitting in his living room and he’s working then on the foundations for this big tower and again, it was his personal bent to think what entrepreneurial opportunities now television presents. So we sat and talked about all the things that might be done and we pretty soon dismissed the idea of retailing television sets or fixing them or anything as mundane as that. I remembered a magazine article I had read about cable television and I said, “Gee, this seems to make sense in my Canadian circumstance because here is this television station … it’s the only television station for 100 … the nearest one is 150 miles away … there have to be some good sized towns that are going to have reception problems … there is pretty severe regulatory limits on the number of television stations … we understood that already, so this might be a good thing. I went down to the library the next morning, retrieved this magazine. I think it was discussing the early … sort of 1949-50 cable television experience. I think that particular reference was …
TAYLOR: One article that keeps coming out in these interviews was a 1952 electronics magazine – McGraw Hill publication … I believe it was November, December of 1952. It’s the one that got us started in Montana.
SWITZER: This was 1954, and I think it was a fairly recent article. And I think it dealt with the Oregon systems. But anyway, we looked at this article and decided we’d go into the cable television business. I quit my job with United Geophysical and Ben put up a little bit of money. I put up some time. I was still single and drew $50 a week and started looking around for cable television opportunities. We went first to Lethbridge. You would know Lethbridge in Montana.
TAYLOR: Oh yes, I know Lethbridge.
SWITZER: Because there was a television station in Calgary. Lethbridge which is 130 miles south of Calgary and roof top reception obviously was not going to be very good so we figured we could figure out something to get some kind of arrangement to build a system in Lethbridge. But my first view was that we would just go to a common carrier and hire a microwave circuit from Great Falls to bring then the Great Falls stations up on common carrier microwave and distribute those in Lethbridge and then eventually in Calgary. Because Lethbridge was perhaps 10 to 12 thousand homes at the time, but Calgary would have been in those years, maybe 50 or 60 thousand homes. Common carrier wasn’t available so I filed applications then for private microwave from the border then, because we could get an American carrier to take it to the border, then build our own microwave system to take it on a closed circuit basis. The advice from the lawyers at the time was that in Canada, there was no regulation then, of anything that operated closed circuit. That seemed to make, I think, sort of legal sense anywhere … I think it would probably be the legal case here that if you have a purely close circuit system, the regulatory situation would be much more … well, it certainly was in Canada. I filed these applications and I got word back through the lawyer that they were very unhappy in Ottawa over this and I had better withdraw these applications. I don’t know what would have happened to me. I don’t suppose they would have knee-capped me, but maybe I would have had an income tax audit or something like that.
TAYLOR: Was pressure coming from CBC?
SWITZER: No, no, no … I think just pressure in general from the government. That is, the government was concerned that this would seriously undermine their cultural policies. Television regulation in Canadian is the instrument of cultural policy and their concern is that they live in the shadow of the US, they speak the same language and how are you going to keep then, the Canadian culture alive unless you shelter and protect Canadian programming? And through all of this free trade agreements … that is, the Canadian – US free trade agreement, which is what, two or three years old, cultural industries were exempted from that agreement. So even currently, cultural industries, such as television, movies, books, publishing, are exempted from the free trade agreement provision. There was certainly an awareness of that in 1954 and so I had found a loop hole and they didn’t … very difficult, the big regulatory process, to start passing acts of parliament and that might have unconstitutional anyway … they just found the practical way with…
TAYLOR: The control, I presume was over frequency assignments and licensing.
SWITZER: The control of the microwave?
SWITZER: The control of the microwave would have been that way, the same as here … that is, microwave is controlled by the Federal Regulation of the use of frequencies. But in the existing regulation, they had no grounds for denying microwave licenses for strictly closed circuit purposes. So anyway, we found it wasn’t convenient to go ahead, or wasn’t agreeable to go ahead with microwave feeds for Calgary so we thought, well, we’ll do Lethbridge just for the one channel off-air pick from Calgary and started engineering then. We found a potential headend site. Maybe we would have run 10 miles of cable … we were prepared to do that – single channel in ’54. And then, the Calgary station announces that it’s going to put a rebroadcast station in Lethbridge. So, that shot down our cable plan for Lethbridge … although, we did come back and do Lethbridge in ’64 … ten years later we did come back, and built a very successful cable system in Lethbridge, but using different principles. During that ten years, I figured out another loophole, and that one they couldn’t get me on. I’ll come back later to how we built places like Lethbridge and Medicine Hat. So we started looking someplace else, and found Prince Albert. Prince Albert is about 60 miles north of Saskatoon and in a deep river valley … a city of about 25 – 30 thousand at the time, 5-6 thousand homes. It’s in a river valley and it’s about 150 feet, I guess, down from the plain, down into the river valley and that’s where most everybody lived, so this was going to work fine. It wasn’t as big as Lethbridge, but it would do and we could put a 100 foot tower up on the south bank of the river, towards Saskatoon, run a cable then down into the valley and run a cable system. That’s what we did. I was married in the … I forget my anniversary … I guess the summer of ’55 … spent our honeymoon working on the layout … the designing of this system … and then we moved to Prince Albert, Phyllis and I, in the fall of ’55, to build this cable TV system. We did, and I did fine. We built it over that winter and in the spring of ’56, then turned on our first subscriber … during that winter … terrible cold winters in Prince Albert, if you can imagine that far north.
TAYLOR: I’ve been in Edmonton in the wintertime.
SWITZER: This is worse than Edmonton. I did a lot of … in those years, I was climbing poles myself and up the tower and … I did it substantially single-handed. I had one helper to do the mechanics of … and I think we had the phone company actually string the cable, but we had to splice it and mount the amplifiers and that kind of thing. I have … my daughters found, when we were moving house, a couple years ago, a letter … sorry, they found it in my mother’s papers, when she passed away a few years ago, they found it in my mother’s papers, a letter that I wrote my mother and father then, in the early spring of ’56, when we had hooked up our first subscriber! “It works … that is the system works! Here is somebody willing to pay us for it and that was a momentous day … that is, my first actual cable TV subscriber.” We built that system over the winter of ’55 – ’56 and I must have had it built then, by midwinter, because I remember now I had time to take flying lessons, because I got my pilot’s license in the spring of ’56, and I had learned over that winter, on skis, in Prince Albert. We lived there a year. We went through some of the franchising hassles that we later learned all about in the US … we ended up having to take local partners, because of their local political influence … but that was ok … it turned out ok. We had the local radio station for a partner, we had local aldermen, or something like that. But that worked ok. That system, I forget the exact length, but we used SKL gear, these were their broadband chain type amplifiers. I forget what they called it … a 213? And it had 12 6 AK5’s, and a chain amplifier, … those were adapted from wartime pulse amplifiers.
TAYLOR: That’s right.
SWITZER: I think pulse amplifiers that had been developed for the atom bomb development.
TAYLOR: That’s exactly right. Fitz Kennedy is gone. I wanted to interview him, but he was gone two or three years before I got started on this. But Socks Bridget has filled us in on that.
SWITZER: I was just going to mention his name, because …
TAYLOR: Bob Brooks was able to fill in quite a bit of information about that early time.
SWITZER: And we used their directional couplers … I am trying to remember what we used for taps … I think we used their directional coupler for taps.
TAYLOR: That’s that shielded two wire…
SWITZER: It was kind of transmission line…
TAYLOR: Yes, two wires in two-wire coax.
SWITZER: Yes, and with screw type terminals and a little can affair, and it was…
TAYLOR: Socks gave me a pretty good rundown on that development.
SWITZER: We had some whopping big trunk cable. It was solid dielectric Amphenol.
SWITZER: K-14, right. And the special connectors for those. Alex Dworkin who was a Jerrold rep at the time, he found an old K-14 connector for me … how to place it, and put on a little presentation base … I have it somewhere in my office.
TAYLOR: Who was the Jerrold rep?
SWITZER: Alex Dworkin.
TAYLOR: Alex Dworkin? I know Don Dworkin, but there is no connection?
SWITZER: No, Don Dworkin was in engineering for Vikoa I think.
TAYLOR: Yes, he started with Blonder Tongue, I think.
TAYLOR: Then moved over to Vikoa.
SWITZER: Alex was general manager for the Jerrold Canadian Rep. This was K-14, then for a smaller cable, we used war surplus, R-G 11. I mean literally, war surplus.
TAYLOR: We used some of that, too.
SWITZER: So we built this broadband network for carrying one channel. I suppose that it was probably extravagant at the time, but I thought it prudent to build for multi-channel, because sooner or later, we were going to have more channels. We did add a second channel and that was closed-circuit film channel … we ran our own little film chain and bought movies for it, just to add something to it … so we’d run one movie three nights a week … something like that, which I had to run, because we didn’t have any big staff for it. And I forget the exact subscriber counts, but we were quite happy with it, as a business. Later, our partner decided to put in his own television station, that is a radio station and eventually we sold it to him. We sold out of that … but it wasn’t a bad experience over all in the cable TV business. I learned a whole lot in having built it. So after that, I went back to geophysical work then … this would have been around ’56. The geophysical work I went back into was back to the same company, to United, but now I was in this sonic logging and that’s what got me involved in computers. Now I’m in computers in ’57, ’58 and then I leave that to go back to cable TV, about ’58, because now we had figured out some more places to go.
TAYLOR: This was when you were terminated with…
SWITZER: No, I decided then … Royal was going to … see I went from United to Royal because … no the first time I went into cable was because they had fired me.
TAYLOR: I see, ok.
SWITZER: Ok, sorry. Then, the second time I left, because the computer was more interesting than the well-work I was doing … it looked to have a greater future and I was getting kind of tired of field work. So I voluntarily went to work for the computer company because it was a whole lot more interesting. I left then, because it was obvious that we had done fairly well, but there was no long term future with that particular company in computers because it was obvious that again computer technology was going to go ahead a whole lot faster than Royal was capable of staying up with. About ’58 then, I leave computers and now go to build a cable TV system in Esteban, Saskatchewan. And this is still with Ben Torchinsky. He had built up his consulting practice. He had by now left the university I guess and was a civil engineer in consulting full-time, with building a nice sized firm.
TAYLOR: Is it possible that I met him in the Chicago franchise proceedings?
SWITZER: Yes indeed.
TAYLOR: Yes, I was pretty sure I had.
SWITZER: Yes you were consultants on that.
TAYLOR: That’s right we were consultants…
SWITZER: With Cablenet. He had built up his cable TV interest beginning then in ’58 and just sold them out. He built them up to very substantial operation and sold them out about two, three years ago, to another Canadian company. The Chicago interest he sold unfortunately, two years before he should have to TCI. If he had held on for another couple of years he would have gotten a whole lot more money for them. But yes, that’s the firm. And the roots of it then, go back to our having been in cable together beginning in ’54.
TAYLOR: I knew part of that story from having that experience in Chicago.
SWITZER: In ’58, then, I went to live in … I guess we had one … Jay had been born in Calgary so we had Jay and our second daughter, Kira, was actually born in Esteban, after we moved to Esteban. So anyway, we went to Esteban to build a cable system there. Esteban is in southeastern Saskatchewan. It’s just six miles from the North Dakota border. It’s 120 miles from the nearest Canadian transmitter at Regina. It is about 120 miles from Minot, North Dakota … about 80 miles from Williston, which is where the nearest American transmitters were. So I built a 200 foot tower and could get reception from Regina… couldn’t get anything from North Dakota because the continental divide between the Missouri drainage to the south and the Hudson Bay drainage to the north was quite a high ridge … just on the North Dakota side. So this ridge was shielding us from Williston and from Minot. And it was then tough to get reception … we didn’t have satisfactory US reception at all. But we started with this system. I improved the Regina reception by putting in a single hop microwave. Now this would have been in ’58 and I think we found … we went about 20 miles closer to Regina. That was my first hands-on microwave system that I actually built and it was an old Motorola system that I bought used from the TV station in Calgary. It had been there for STL. And it was a real hay-wire arrangement I put up to…
TAYLOR: Was it two gigahertz?
SWITZER: No, this was around seven I think.
TAYLOR: Six or seven?
SWITZER: Six gigahertz probably … and ten milliwatts or twenty milliwatts, pretty low power. It had a little klystron about that big, and a little hex screw on the side that you could turn to tune and it was modulated directly by putting video onto the repeller — and all tubes of course, and this worked periscope style because you didn’t have enough power to drive a line and so I had two kind of home TV towers, about this big maybe, 12″ cross-section guyed every which way and a bridge across the top and I hung this reflector up top there … pretty flimsy arrangement and practically no instrumentation. I’m not sure that I even had a cavity meter for checking frequency and it was pretty by-guess and by-god thing … I guess nobody cared whether I was on a frequency or not, as long as I had the receiver tuned to it. So getting all of this lined up and working was quite a job, again, to do single handedly, but we got it working and that worked then to improve our reception from Regina and we built this system in Esteban and that was about a 2,000-home community. But then we didn’t think this was enough for what we call commercial success, so I figured out then what I had do. This is one of the things that I am proud of in the development of cable TV in Canada … is that if there was no American station close enough to give us good reception, I’d go and build one. I was getting familiar with the North Dakota side, that is, our neighbors were only six miles to the border and just across it, about 20 miles from Esteban there is a small farm market town called Columbus, North Dakota. They were on the lea side, that is, on the northern slope, also of this divide. They had really very poor reception and the Minot station wasn’t about to do anything about it … pretty small market station … I think it was probably run out of Bismarck or … no, probably out of Fargo. I went to them and said, “Hey, we will build you a translator on the ridge here, where we can get good reception and I’m going to site that so that we will have a fairly directional … well, maybe 20 degree single panel thing that will illuminate Columbus very nicely.”
TAYLOR: You were going to build this on the Canadian side?
SWITZER: No, I’m going to build it on the American side, on this divide, which separates Missouri drainage on the south side because there is about 12 miles or so in North Dakota along there, which actually drains into Canada and up, eventually into Hudson Bay … and it’s this ridge which was south of Columbus which was shielding this American town and shielding us. So I said, “I’ll go on that ridge, south of Columbus, between you and Minot, and I will site this translator so as to illuminate your town and coincidentally, it illuminates Esteban which is 20 miles further on. Now I can’t hold that license, but you can.” So I got the Lion’s Club of Columbus, North Dakota to apply for, and hold the license and we disclosed to the FCC that were paying for it … they disclosed that they were getting it paid for by this cable system in Canada and that didn’t seem to bother the FCC. So I had a license then, for this translator … this UHF translator.
TAYLOR: Was this late 50’s?
SWITZER: This is 1959. I had it all arranged, the geometry is such and the height and the power are such, that we could pick it up on our 100 footer … our 150 footer at Estefan, but you couldn’t do much on a rooftop antenna. So I built that for them, and again, I did the work and almost got deported one time for that. And it really upset me, because here I was doing them this big favor … there were no technicians in the area to come and check this … to tune it up periodically and the border patrol were after me for working illegally in the US! Anyway, this translator then, worked for a long, long time and it was … I think we had two channels from Minot – we picked them up off-air … repeated them on a 20 watt UHF translator. So that then, gave us an additional two channels in Esteban and now that was pretty good business. Then, that was ’59 and in ’60, we decided now, we can build Weyburn. Now Weyburn is 50 miles further away. We can, no question, get reception from Regina … that is, from the Canadian TV station, but now, we are 50 miles further from this low powered translator and this is pretty flat terrain. So I do the profiles and the like, and I figure out we need 1,000 foot tower to pick up the translator. Well, we did it. I built, then, in the summer of ’60, a 975 foot guyed tower. The best site we could find, the cheapest, was a garbage dump in Weyburn. Weyburn is about the same size … about 2500 homes in it and it’s probably the tallest tower ever built, exclusively for television reception. We put a 10 foot open grid antenna on top, added a low noise preamp … bought from some aerospace company … planar triode of some kind, which we had to replace periodically. Eventually, I had to apply pressure through the US Embassy in Canada to get spares, because they put them on some kind of restricted military list. I wrote a letter to the US Embassy that I couldn’t buy them anymore and I wrote them and said, “How can any foreigner have confidence in doing business in US if you are going to cut off … ” So they gave me a special letter and I could buy all these GE triodes that I needed … they had to be changed every six months or so. We built this 970-foot tower and I built it very inexpensively but to spec … that is, to the applicable spec. Usually these towers are built with 60-degree angles and I built it with a standard, 90-degree structural angle. Again, an old school chum of mine, who is now a structural engineer in Toronto, then did the detail for me. And he worked out the detail of building this thing, with 90 degree, low cost structural angles. Ben Torchinsky, by now, had a structural steel firm in Saskatoon that was in the business of fabricating structural steel. His shop built a jig for the section and we welded them … had them all welded up in the jig and hauled them down and built them. I had a crew put it up in February, if you can imagine. Anyway, we got it up and I think the total cost overall was about $17,000 at the time … well, we needed to, for a small cable TV system. So that was the foundation of this cable system in Weyburn and that turned out quite well. And built on the same principle then of this picking up US signals from a US translator that we had arranged for and paid for in the US. So this takes us through to ’62.
TAYLOR: This translator was just one channel?
SWITZER: Two channels.
TAYLOR: Two continuous … you weren’t switching between?
SWITZER: No, it was because Minot had only two channels … they had NBC and I think a combined ABC/CBS service.
TAYLOR: So you really had, in effect, two translators then?
SWITZER: Yes, 2 transmitters, 2 translators and they were multiplexed, combined together to a single antenna system and we operated in the band there in the high 70’s … I forget what channel numbers … EMCI I think … Byron
TAYLOR: Yes, I know a Byron … St. Clair.
SWITZER: Byron St. Clair, his firm at the time, provided the gear.
SWITZER: EMCEE, yes. They were sort of pioneers in the translator business.
TAYLOR: Byron was also a former Blonder Tongue engineer I believe.
SWITZER: I didn’t know that. I got to know him fairly well during that period.
TAYLOR: Maybe I’m wrong, but that’s been my impression … he came from there.
SWITZER: So this is now ’62. In ’62 then, Ben Torchinsky now is interested in starting … he had an opportunity to go into rape seed process … wild-seed processing, because it was then recognized that rape seed could be … not called canola I guess, but could be … it’s like mustard. Do you know the…? … but it could be a very successful crop in that part of the country, particularly in the northern part of the Province … he had a chance then to build the first … to go into the business of building the first crushing and processing plant for it, so he needed some capital for that. So we sold a 50% interest in these two cable systems, in Esteban and Weyburn, to the only investor we could find in Canada at the time … this was, even in ’62, willing to invest in them … and this was Famous Players Theaters, which was a wholly owned subsidiary of Paramount … of Gulf and Western — “gulp and devour” as they were called. But this was fine. They were willing to invest money in cable TV, so they bought a 50% interest in our cable system and Ben used the money to start Agri-Industries Limited, which then … now a good size sort-of conglomerate … they are out of the oil seed business a few years ago, but … and they were the root of Cablenet which is the company then later that you met in Chicago. But anyway, we got now some capital in the beginning of ’62 and an instruction now as to where we could do this again. I start looking around, and now we come back to Lethbridge. I say, “Well, if we build these translators here…” And I start looking at the map, and I had an old Belanca, single engine airplane, at the time, and I could fly it back and forth between Esteban and Weyburn and Lethbridge and I soon figure out that we can do the same thing at Lethbridge. Because here is the town of Shelby, which you might know … it didn’t have very good reception … and here’s this whopping big mountain … Mount Royal I think they called it … I think it’s called Mount Royal.
TAYLOR: Anyway, I know it.
SWITZER: Good sized mountain … just on the Montana side of the line and would serve Shelby very nicely and a couple of other towns in that area. And so again we go the Lion’s Club of Shelby, and we will build them this translator. Except now it has to be omni-directional, which is fine, because then it will cover several towns in Montana and it will also then, give us a feed into Lethbridge and into Medicine Hat … which are now much bigger than … these are much bigger than the Montana towns … Lethbridge is maybe 60,000 population, 15,000 homes … Medicine Hat about 40,000 population at the time and just the right distance. We weren’t nervous at all about putting 20 watt UHF up on that, because at those distances to Lethbridge and Medicine Hat, it’s still a cable TV situation. So we did that. There was a jeep trail up the mountain. There was power available. We had also a good technician available in Shelby, who could do all the work for us … sorry, I don’t remember his name. Because the mountain had already been developed as a two-way mobile site for that area … so we started Lethbridge then, and we got it going in ’64. I built Lethbridge and Medicine Hat simultaneously through ’64 and ’65. I moved my family out to Lethbridge … our third child, Sharon, was born in Lethbridge. We lived there four years then, developing the Lethbridge and Medicine Hat cable TV systems and they were built on the same principle of picking up the US station from these translators, which we were paying for, on the US side of the border. So we were there from ’64 through ’67 and these cable systems … I’m trying to remember … we built those Solid State, because by now, I guess there were Solid State ones available.
TAYLOR: I think so.
SWITZER: In Esteban and Weyburn, I think I built those with early Ameco transistorized equipment … or maybe we started with tubes and then switched pretty soon to Ameco gear.
TAYLOR: Ameco’s first gear was a hybrid. They had a Solid State early stage and a tube output stage.
SWITZER: No, we used Solid State … they were germanium transistors and they were all transistor and in a broadband … some kind of Cascade design. The first units we used, were actually just Solid State line extenders. I started with tubes there, because I remember using a line powered line extender from C-COR and I think they built the first cable powered line extenders.
TAYLOR: They lay claim to that.
SWITZER: It was a tube amplifier and it was powered through the cable and we used some of those. Then later, we converted it … say beginning about ’60, we started converting it to Solid State with these Ameco all Solid State, but the first units we used were cable powered line extenders. They were in a little can, about the size of what we would consider to be tap … a multi-tap today … little pressed aluminum. We called them “no-steps” because they had this no-step decal on top, because you generally just nailed them to a pole and you didn’t want a lineman to step on them.
TAYLOR: This was the C-COR unit?
SWITZER: No, it’s not. The C-COR unit was cable mounted. The C-COR was cable … strand mounted, sorry, it was strand mounted. This first C-COR, sorry, the first Ameco line extender that we had, was nailed to a pole. It was just a little drawn can and a little …
TAYLOR: And that was the one that had no-step?
SWITZER: And that was marked no-step.
TAYLOR: I remember seeing those.
SWITZER: And again these were germanium transistors that ran on minus 15 and there was no regulator. You had to go along, and with a volt meter, and there was a little pot underneath that you adjusted to minus 15 and of course as you went down the line, this voltage kept changing … and so you would have to go back and forth and I think eventually they put a little regulator in it and they first ran on dc power … which of course, ate out the connectors and stuff pretty quickly and so after a while, they switched to ac power for them. And then later we used their all transistor broadband amplifier … and it was a 220 meg amplifier with broadband stage of about 20 dB gain and this was of course before Jerrold’s suitcase design came out. So these had jumpers … they weren’t strand mounted, they sat in a little cabinet, which was mounted on the pole and you had a jumper system. I don’t think we were too fussy about match at the time. We’d come in with some kind of 412 sized cable, originally not aluminum, because most of this was in pre aluminum days and we used a lot of an adaptation of the Bell cable … of an AT&T cable, which I’ll tell you about.
TAYLOR: Was this an air dielectric, with discs?
SWITZER: This was an air dielectric disc cable.
SWITZER: Copper tape and the copper tape was not soldered.
TAYLOR: Didn’t worry about leakage?
SWITZER: Didn’t worry about leakage at the time, because here was a heavy-duty polyethylene jacket on it, and what water is going to get through that? …And of course it did. Vapor would migrate through the polyethylene and the water would accumulate in actual liquid form in the dips and give all kinds of problems. And I was starting, at the time to apply TDR techniques … you could actually see it on the TDR … it looked like mass sagging from the moisture. But that was the kind of cable we were using. And then you go to 59 jumper inside the cabinet into these amplifiers and they used the PL259 connectors which really wasn’t very smart in the high band … we were just though, beginning to get some kind of understanding of transmission theory as applied to cable TV. Of course the phone companies knew all about it, but hardly anybody in cable TV did … and I don’t know, maybe didn’t care for a while. That was the technical sort of state of those systems … longish cascades, but relatively low channel counts so I don’t suppose in Esteban and Weyburn in those years, we ran more than five channels. We had started in Esteban, as I recall, with a low-band system and we went through then, adjacent channel operation and we tried inverted visual and aural carriers to see if that would help. I don’t think it helped very much … it didn’t make any difference to the TV sets at the time … most of them at the time were monos, but I don’t think it helped our adjacent channel situation. But that was a big struggle with adjacent channel operations in those years. Transmission itself as to cross-mod and intermod, at least in my systems, we had so few channels it wasn’t a big deal … adjacent channels was the big problem and it helped when we got the first Channel Commanders – Jerrold’s first heterodyne signal processors with separate …
TAYLOR: …tube commander?
SWITZER: These were tube commanders of course, but they had good audio levels – that is, audio carrier lever control and that’s really what was the biggest help in running adjacent channels, was being able to reliably suppress the sound carrier. We were fiddling with it before with traps but your settings then were unreliable, that is, maintaining picture/sound carrier ratio then was unreliable.
TAYLOR: Were you getting diversity picture sound in your reception?
SWITZER: There was diversity in the reception and traps weren’t reliable. They would drift off. So that was not really a satisfactory way to do it. We’d been doing it with simple strip processors and using a trap of some kind to try and suppress it. So we got tube commanders, just as soon as they became available, and they helped a whole lot.
TAYLOR: There is an apocryphal story, and I don’t know whether if it’s just legend or fact, but Phil Hamlin working in Seattle area, had this diversity problem and he devised a … what was it … T-630, wasn’t that the RCA receiver?
SWITZER: 630 chassis, RCA receiver.
TAYLOR: He modified one of those so that he could motor drive the aural signal and actually he used the motor driven servo. It was that thinking, because by then, Phil was Jerrold’s northwest representative and I think that’s what kind of triggered Jerrold to go into a processor … to get away from the motor, the servo motor.
SWITZER: I think the general experience was, that this was the only way you could deal with the adjacent channel was to hold that level down … reliably so … I think that then drove the development … but there are all kinds of the early history of the business of mechanical sort of “make-do” I think is the classic American tradition. You look at the early weather board systems … the various mechanisms…
TAYLOR: And the first news wire with a camera pointing to a teletype!
SWITZER: But the interesting part of that mechanically, was the old teletype would hop up and down, so then somebody put a mirror on, coupled to this shift mechanism, that kept the imagine steady in the camera. That was a mechanical improvement then, on the old teletype machine. But you look at now, what you can do with IC technologies and we didn’t even have transistors then, in those days … so if you had to do anything automatic. Now I remember working with … it would have even been even in the early 70’s, with trying to buck out co-channels with phase and amplitude feedback and using trombone lines for then phase control and you’d set it up manually to minimize it, and of course propagation conditions would change. We were thinking in terms of a mechanical system then, for amplitude and phase … mechanical servos for controlling this bucking system. We didn’t go into it, because by the early 70’s, I think it was obvious to us that … sort of when we come to it, by then, I was ready to give up off-air reception in general. I said, “This is not the way to deal with co-channels.” We are going to use either microwave or satellite or whatever, to get close enough to the station, or preferably right into its master control room. And this is the view I take today. I got some boos and hisses at the NCTA convention at one of the sessions…
TAYLOR: Was this recently?
SWITZER: Just recently. Just a few months ago. There were some papers on ECHO cancellation for off-air paths and the new ECHO detector … electronic servo …if you wish to think of them that way. And I stood up in the question period and said, “Why bother? I’m not the least bit interested in ECHO cancellation. I don’t think any cable system should have off-air reception anymore. I think it’s 10 years to 15 years past when we really needed it … when we didn’t have sort of the regulatory or the economic clout to get direct feeds. This would have been very interesting. I’m not interested anymore.”
TAYLOR: The direct feed has been bucked over the years.
END OF TAPE 1, SIDE B
START TAPE 2, SIDE A
TAYLOR: We are running again now. I inadvertently didn’t notice the tape had run out. We will try and pick up what we missed here. This is the second tape. I am still interviewing Sruki Switzer. We were talking about direct feed to cable systems, instead of off the air and ghosting and so on … I’m not quite sure whether we got recording all of that or not. As a matter of fact, maybe we don’t need to go back over it. When you get the transcript to review, if you see something that’s missing, just add something to it … it’s fine.
SWITZER: We had though started talking about these big parabolic antennas and that’s one part of what I call past, and I think I’d like to forget about history in cable TV technology. Although when I made these remarks at the cable convention, someone came up to me afterwards and said, “Well, there is still a whole lot of cable TV systems that can’t afford all of these technology improvements that you wish, satellite or microwave or whatever.” But I guess there must be some, but the impression I get from the trade press is that they are all being swallowed up by big MSO’s and all being merged into great big regional systems with fiber interconnects. And yes, I expect that there will always be some people dependent on long haul direct pickups.
TAYLOR: I recall meeting with Jim Hood of Catel, president of Catel, at one time … on one of my return trips from Hong Kong. At lunch, I asked him, “What do you think is going to happen in the Telco cable confrontation?” He said, “I’ll tell you exactly what’s going to happen. The telephone companies are going to buy up the cable companies.” And then he reminded of what happened in telephone after World War II when the Bell system bought up all the Mom and Pops … all the little ones …
SWITZER: All the independents … nearly all the independents.
TAYLOR: Nearly all. Some of them with barbed wire on fence posts, as their means of communication … made a lot of millionaires out of the old “mom and pops” … they just gradually made them into modern, good quality telephone companies. I think something like that will probably happen with cable television … maybe actually not buyout … it maybe some mergers, and some consolidations and one thing and another but…
SWITZER: I think by the end of this decade, we’ll see a pretty well integrated industry and I think off-air reception will have gone between these competitive pressures that we spoke of … that is the broadcasters wanting to look as good as the cable channels. But the history of it, which is I guess, the main concern of … our concern today is that we used to do some very heroic things. I mentioned this 975-foot tower that I built at Weyburn. It incidentally, is still up. It’s going to be torn down this summer and I’ve been invited to cut the cable … to knock it down. It’s been replaced in function, by satellite, probably five years ago, but now they are finally ready to cut it down. We spoke of these parabolic antennas, saying the history of it is this fellow, really … sort of by guess work, figured out that he could build a higher gain VHF antenna this way and I don’t really think it was really understood as tropo-scatter propagation mechanism possibly until I took a hand in it, when at McLean Hunter, we bought the North Bay system and then decided to build more of these antennas in other cable systems that we had. And so we built several … we built one in Guelph. I remember building one in Winnipeg. On a consulting basis, I built one at Meadville … for what was his name … he was a NCTA director, a pioneer … he had a daughter who took over from him … Yolanda …
SWITZER: Barco … George Barco. That was Meadville, wasn’t it?
TAYLOR: Meadville, yes.
SWITZER: … built one for him then. Went into the calculations and the like for scatter, from gain … I think it was mostly military papers that I was … papers out of military research that I was looking at … because they were using scatter. I guess some Telco’s were for over water, hops and the like. But it wasn’t a very reliable mode.
TAYLOR: No, it certainly wasn’t.
SWITZER: Remember they … main thing I introduced, personally, into the construction of those antennas was the idea of heating them, because this was a problem at North Bay … icing. And it would knock them down … so I figured out we could electrically heat them and so I started building the screens … actually, it turned out that 045 lashing wire, was just the right size! So we built insulating supports for them and we built the grid out of 045 lashing wire. And so we could put 220 volts across, and run about 50 kilowatts into this screen, which was sort of the right voltage. It was convenient to get…50 kilowatts was not an unreasonable power burden for an hour or two at a time. So we could heat these screens then, if there was a threat of icing and that turned out a big reliability … at least it improved the mechanical reliability of it.
TAYLOR: I had not heard of this heating…
SWITZER: We did most of our Canadian ones that way. I guess … I don’t know what they did Meadville for theirs, but certainly all the Canadian ones that I did, we built that way and with the heating for them.
TAYLOR: I got to Torrington, Connecticut the day after an ice storm had taken down their big parabolic.
SWITZER: Well, if they had asked me … I would have told them how to prevent that, because it worked very well. You had to start the heat before, but you generally had some kind of warning of what was done. As I say there, also in the same category of heroic is single or multi-hop chains for off-air assistance. We built some very long super trunks, also to help reception.
TAYLOR: There are some places where moderately sized systems, there like in New England for example. I was up at Bath and Brunswick, Maine, recently, and they’re trying to receive things like Boston stations and Portland, but they’re just a little… well, Portland I guess is reasonably all right. But the Boston station is a very long distance for them. And without it they’re missing some of the key network and important sports events. So it’s up to the station to do something about that, other than cable…
SWITZER: I think stations will. Who are these group of people who are promoting a kind of spot beam satellite for broadcast … Taylor and … who is the ex-Hughes engineer that does consulting work now, on satellite?
TAYLOR: I’ve drawn a blank.
SWITZER: I think Taylor out of Tulsa.
TAYLOR: I don’t know him.
SWITZER: But they had proposed a system for satellite broadcasting on a localized basis … on a regional basis, using K-band satellites with multiple spot beams and it appealed to me. Because I believe that satellite does a very much better job than terrestrial broadcasting — very much better — in terms of coverage, in terms of quality and that these would be lower cost than conventional wide-beam satellite. I think they would be affordable by regional stations, like Boston, like Seattle, New York, Atlanta, Miami, New Orleans … what you call major regional centers, to provide direct feeds to SMATV, to cable TV. I think the problem is that it kind of threatens the concept of localized broadcasting.
TAYLOR: That’s the issue, and so much of regulation is based on that…
SWITZER: The whole act … the whole act is based on local.
TAYLOR: …really undercut the foundation.
SWITZER: You see, that is all ready starting to change in Canada. I have been recommending, in direct conversation and in published papers and articles in Canada that we give up terrestrial broadcasting in Canada, and I mean it literally and reassign that spectrum to land mobile, particularly to the PCN systems, or expanded cellular systems.
TAYLOR: I don’t think that hasn’t been thought of and talked about here.
SWITZER: I’ve got a paper from NTIS, a paper giving an actual study on the economics and the reassignment of single UHF channels. If the FCC would allow it, for example, a Los Angeles UHF operator would be better off to sell his frequency… for a conversion to cellular than to operate it as a niche, hind-tit UHF television station. It’s worth far more … UHF channels are worth far more to cellular and to land mobile than they are to most UHF broadcasters. But in Canada, the change in concept, from local to regional has already started. CBC has virtually closed down their local operations. They operate as a national and regional net and most operations like Regina-Saskatoon are operated together now as a regional Saskatchewan network. Calgary and Edmonton that way. Vancouver so dominates British Columbia that you could consider it regional. I proposed for example, to the Ontario Educational Authority, who have a string of about 15 UHF transmitters across the province, all fed by satellite … by K-Band satellite … KU-band satellite and I’ve said, “Why are you bothering? 99% of your viewership is by cable anyway. You have a satellite anyway, why don’t you just shut down your terrestrials, declare it to be a broadcast system. Even if you have to buy satellite dishes for the few thousand people who are dependent on direct reception, you’ll be money ahead, because they will save 10 million dollars a year in the operation of their terrestrial transmitters.” And I think I have them almost convinced. The lease on the CN tower, which is that big 1,800 footer in downtown Toronto, is expiring within two years and I think they would seriously consider not renewing it. Because I’m sure the asking price on the renewal will be pretty high … even as a bargaining chip to say that, “We don’t need you anymore … we’ll go satellite.”
TAYLOR: You’re speaking about the CBC or the Educational … ?
SWITZER: No, I’m speaking about the Provincial authority. Now, the CBC comes behind them in terms of it … the UHF broadcasters in Canada are already so dependent on cable … 99% of their actual viewer hours are on cable. I asked the chairman of the board of one of the big broadcasters – Global – “What’s your channel number in Toronto?” He didn’t know. He knows his cable channel number, which is channel three, but he didn’t know his broadcast channel number or where the transmitter was, or the power or anything about it. As far as he is concerned, he is cable three. All his transmitters are UHF … he has some V’s and some V rebroads in low density areas, but their transmitters in big urban areas are all Us and he doesn’t know the channel number in Toronto. I didn’t know. I had to go to the book to look it up and so I … we will … sorry, I was saying that the idea of regional broadcasters then and satellites are a logical technology to use, rather than fiber. I really like — for that function — I like satellite better than fiber and if we are talking about transmission of program material across, even regions, say, a few hundred miles in radius, I think satellite is a better way to do it than fiber. Not to say that it is wrong to interconnect headends by fiber because you’ve got all multiplicity and you’ve got stuff going back and forth and all kinds of things. But for the distribution of program material in a forward direction, satellite is much more efficient.
TAYLOR: That’s right. You were starting on your connection with McLean Hunter and that’s a pretty good place to bring in some of the contributions that you’ve made, because I think that kind of started at that time also. I listed to a few of them that occurred to me: HRC, Phasefiddling, frame sync … that’s all intermod control …
SWITZER: That was all done at MacLean-Hunter. There were some things before that though.
SWITZER: I worked with, with used to call them “flicker-dickers,” that is, comparator switchers for bench sweep testing.
TAYLOR: Well I knew about the flicker-dicker all right.
SWITZER: Yes, but I had done one with a … who were the big kit builders at the time? Who was the big kit builder in the 50’s?
TAYLOR: Oh, Heath.
SWITZER: Heath. I had done the same thing with a Heath electronic switch and scope and sweep, really before Jerrold bought theirs out.
TAYLOR: Which was a reed.
SWITZER: Which was a reed relay type of thing. The original one was a mercury wetted Reed relay. I had done it with a tube type electronic dual channel scope switch which in effect did the same function. Mine was a Heath switch. But I also started … I’m trying to think when I started TDR work, whether I was at McLean Hunter or not … because I remember you sent me…
TAYLOR: I sent you down to San Diego, yes.
SWITZER: That system was being sold I think to Cox.
TAYLOR: Cox had a minor holding and they were going to buy the rest of it, I think is what it was.
SWITZER: You sent me to San Diego to check out these cables, because they were that notorious strip braid cable and every place else in the country, it had gone bad with vapor migration and you were worried about… It was El Cajon, out behind San Diego.
TAYLOR: It was Mission Cable.
SWITZER: Seems to me I was still at Lethbridge at the time, which would have been pre ’67, and I don’t know if I had a TDR then, because certainly at MacLean-Hunter I could afford to get one … so would this have been after ’67?
TAYLOR: It was just about that time.
SWITZER: OK, so maybe it was in my earliest years at MacLean-Hunter, because I went to work there in July, ’67.
TAYLOR: It was just about that time, I think.
SWITZER: Hewlett Packard had come out with this TDR instrument and I thought it was a good tool for use in cable. I must have been at MacLean-Hunter because I don’t think we could have afforded one when I was in Lethbridge. And so we bought one and I tried it out on cables and on connectors and it taught me a whole lot about transmission and theory and a very useful kind of instrument. I remember your sending me to San Diego then to check out these cables. Because this system was in service, we had to do it in the middle of the night, because we had to take the cables off and put the TDR on and I learned that when you are doing work at night, I always tell the police department! I think I spent, I don’t know, a week or two, or whatever and we found those cables to be absolutely dry. They were ok, which was amazing. I think it was the desert … even that close into the ocean, that El Cajon area is pretty dry.
TAYLOR: That’s right, it is … they’re on the other side of where the moisture drops, is what it
SWITZER: So I did a lot of TDR work, both on connectors and it also got me interested in impedance standards because the TDR turned out then to be a very good technique for setting an impedance standard. Impedance standard is set in terms of a transmission line of known mechanical parameters that were translatable then to — you could then calculate. And there were transmission lines standards available from European sources. I got GR, General Radio, to build me some 75 ohm standards and I guess I gave papers at the time on the techniques of calibrating transmission line impedance standards for cable. Again, all of this stuff well known every place, but cable. I think the whole history of cable in the early years … I was possibly, when I went to work … when I went into cable in ’54 – ’55, in those years, possibly one of the very few EE’s actually working in a cable system … couldn’t have been very many … outside of manufacturers … couldn’t have been very many working in cable systems.
TAYLOR: I think you are right … Charlie Clements was one of them, up in Waterville.
SWITZER: There weren’t many and I wasn’t even an EE, at least college graduate … I was a physicist. I didn’t get engineering certification until I think the middle or late 60’s and got professional engineering certification in Canada. But I did a lot of work in those years, that would have been then in the late 60’s and early 70’s with TDR. And very useful both in a practical sense and in an understanding, that is in learning transmission line theory and how cables work, that is reflections and standing waves. Well, VSWR, we never used as such, but return loss concepts were more useful. And all of that helped then in improving cable system performance. I think you are right, all this started then, with the association with McLean Hunter because now I had a budget, I had a shop, I had some help for things like that. One of the other things, not on the list you mentioned, which happens to do with transmission improvement, was I got a little field portable x-ray machine.
TAYLOR: Oh yes, I remember that.
SWITZER: I used that for auditing the work that our contractors were doing on cable system construction. The connectors at the time were multi-piece and came in a bag and you would tear open and what would happen is the craftsman would lose some of the parts and wouldn’t want to climb down the pole to get them. And so the connector ended up looking ok from the outside. And it might work for a while, but it wasn’t clamped on right or some of the gaskets, or whatever were missing so I was able then to x-ray them, in the field, in place after they were done. We used 4″ by 5″ Polaroid film. That was actually also a Hewlett Packard machine … came from some subsidiary they owned and this was very useful. It sure scared the contractors, in that they were being watched.
TAYLOR: That was even before the sleeves were put into practice.
SWITZER: The integral sleeves.
TAYLOR: The internal sleeve. The first one of course was a separate piece and you never had the ability to inspect it, unless you could do an x-ray. That was why the integral sleeve came along, because no one could believe the contractors.
SWITZER: So maybe we had some influence then on … some pressure on improving connectors. That’s the thing I think I’d probably used the first hex crimp tool for F connectors. Again, I got this from kind of military or high quality electronic practice and got Canadian manufacturers then to make us a F-59 with a longer crimp sleeve that could be hexcrimped and so I’m pretty sure that…
TAYLOR: Did you have an influence on Amp to produce that?
SWITZER: No, Amp came along much later … they did a considerably improved F-59, but I didn’t deal with Amp, because there other manufacturers like LRC and the like … the people in the Syracuse area … there are two or three firms making connectors there.
TAYLOR: Joe Hale, you know Joe Hale I guess, down in south San Francisco … is sitting right under two, full power stations, had a real problem with ingress. He said he could go out one week and the next week, he had to do it all over again. But he was talking to the Amp salesman and Amp had a little sleeve, because they had to have something to compress on … that was the only reason they did it, was mechanical. Joe thought that was a good idea and persuaded Jerrold to start using it … I’ve forgotten what they called it … VCK, or something like that … a little internal sleeve for reasons of making the connector tight so that it wouldn’t cold flow and loosen up. He gave the credit to the Amp salesman as having the device there.
SWITZER: Now Amp did a very much improved connector in terms of overall mechanical design. All I did was to take a standard F connector and change the crimp ring – from the little narrow crimp ring into a longer crimp ring of about a half an inch long that a hex tool could handle and on the internal mandrel. We didn’t have that sharp point at the back quite as sharp, because with that much pressure on it would cut the braid. So we modified the shank and serrated it a bit. And this was strictly mechanical … I didn’t have in mind any leakage or any further mechanical improvement. And people like Amp then, later went along and virtually did a complete redesign of the 59 to give it very much an overall improvement. But I think I used the first crimp connector and just really because I wanted a better mechanical grip on the…
TAYLOR: This was before Eric Winston did the integral sleeve?
SWITZER: This is well before … now integral sleeve is not for 59’s … integral sleeve is for aluminum. No, this hex crimp I’m talking about was just for F-59’s. Integral sleeve was a big, big improvement.
TAYLOR: Joe Hale was talking about the aluminum.
SWITZER: No, no then that was integral sleeve was the big improvement in that. I’m just talking about replacing the very narrow crimp ring on the original 59’s on drop cable with a hex crimpable type of thing … just to improve the mechanics of that. One of the earliest things also I did, I think my first design project at McLean Hunter was we used aerial photography. We got the aerial photography company to give us recent photography and to print them at 200 foot to the inch scale and we used the actual photograph for base map. We had them done on sepia, on plastic and we used the actual photograph for the base map, for the draftsman to draw on. That worked quite well. I remember giving a paper on it at an early NCTA convention. The photography company then, adjusted the scale so we had fairly accurate scale of whatever we wanted. We never justified original photography for our purpose, but in a big metro area like Toronto there was always recent photography anyway … they were doing it every two years on a…
TAYLOR: This would have been in the late 60’s?
SWITZER: This would have been ’68.
TAYLOR: There were other people that experimented with the aerial photos. Jim Palmer’s people did some work with aerial photos. I’m not sure about timing … I don’t know where that came in.
SWITZER: We actually drew on the photo. We did our actual plan right on the photo.
TAYLOR: I’ve seen some of them done that way. That may have been later.
SWITZER: The transmission developments came out of this North Bay System that way. I got a call from the North Bay manager that he had added a channel — I think added a channel on channel 10, which was the local channel. He put something on it and he was getting complaints from non-cable subscribers of the beat on their reception of local channel 10. I went to have a look and found that the typical situation was in a small apartment building with kind of 2 by 4 partitions. TV sets, back to back were laid out with a subscriber on cable on this side of the wall, non-subscriber with a rabbit ear on the other side of the wall, separated by about six inches of wall board and 2 by 4. And what was happening is that the channel 10 on the cable was then leaking off our 300 ohm matching transformer terminal through the wall, onto the neighbor’s rabbit ears and causing a beat with his reception of local 10. So it occurred to me that, if we could phase lock the two, that would help a lot. But there was no catalog phase lock equipment and I carried this idea around for a few months and then I happened to meet Arie Zimmerman, probably at a trade show or something. He was then a salesman for Anaconda. Anaconda was doing cable TV test equipment or something like that.
TAYLOR: Arie was doing the test equipment for Anaconda and Anaconda actually had trunk and…
SWITZER: Sorry, he specialized in test equipment. Yes, they were kind of full line equipment suppliers in those days.
TAYLOR: He was doing the test equipment for them.
SWITZER: I asked Arie about this … well, what happened eventually is Arie decided to leave Anaconda and then make this kind of gear … he could see a market for it. So he made very simple phase lock boxes for us that would take channel 10 in off a little antenna at one end and give us a CW carrier out the other – phased locked to that – and we could use that then, to generate our own local channel 10. That did help the problem considerably, and this was in the first phase locking of the cable channel to a local channel. Arie then and Burt Rosenbloom started Phasecom to build equipment of that kind and decided to go into headend equipment. This would have been early 70’s … ’70 – ’71 perhaps. About that time, we at MacLean-Hunter bought the cable TV system, which was then in its infancy in a place called St. Catherine’s, Ontario, which is not far from Buffalo. It’s perhaps 20 – 25 air miles from Buffalo and it was considered a tough cable TV situation — tough cable TV market — just 40 miles across the lake from Toronto, 20 miles from Buffalo. But we thought we’d give it a try anyway. But this cable system had been started with single ended and had built out with single ended Jerrold equipment I guess. Solid State in the suitcase style, but whatever the model was, it was still single ended – 54 to 220 MHz.
TAYLOR: Starline One, I suppose.
TAYLOR: Was Solid State.
SWITZER: Was Solid State, but single ended and we needed more than 12 channels between local pickup problems and we wanted to fill in the mid-band and we couldn’t do it because of this second order distortion problem. So what I figured out to do with it, was to put it on harmonic. So in response to this problem in St. Catherine’s to run 20 channels on a single ended system, I developed the concept of harmonic and we got Phasecom to build it for us. And I don’t know the exact chronology, but McLean Hunter I guess… Maybe before that, we had bought a 50% interest in Phasecom, sort of to help them to get started, because we wanted phase locking equipment and it seemed like a good idea at the time.
TAYLOR: You saw a need besides North Bay for the phase lock.
SWITZER: Yes, for the phase locking equipment. So we invested and made a deal with Arie and Burt and we financed it I guess, and had a 50% interest. But then, the experience with the phase locking then, got me to think about harmonic carrier as a means then of overcoming the second order distortion problem because second order beats would then fall within zero beat in a harmonic system. So we got Phasecom then to build us a set of headend equipment, because by then, they were in the headend equipment business. We got them to build us a set of headend equipment in which all the channels were phased locked and locked to a harmonic comb. Once they started developing this gear … and they also got an interest from a company called, I think, Laserlink which was working in New York to develop a broadband microwave distribution system.
TAYLOR: This is Joe Vogelman.
TAYLOR: Had nothing to do with laser …
SWITZER: Had nothing to do with laser at all … it was a microwave system and I think the intent was in effect, an AML microwave.
TAYLOR: I think that’s the intent, yes.
SWITZER: The intent was, but they had distortion …
TAYLOR: Except they were FM … very narrow deviation FM.
SWITZER: But they also then wanted to try an AM system and they actually ordered a harmonic set, because they got wind of harmonic … thought it would help their distortion problem … and then the first harmonic headend that they actually built at Phasecom was for Laserlink. They built that before this system for St. Catherine’s for me. So I went to Phasecom, then, to help them check out, sort of do the proof on the system, this 20 channel system they had built for Laserlink. So we are making distortion measurements and of course we can see the comb is nice. We can see the beats. We pull a picture carrier. We can see the beats, all single. Because we had a pretty good spectrum analyzer available for the time — that HP model with the 110 MHz head and the 10 Hertz resolution — so we could see that was working fine. We ran the usual proofs on the modulators for baseband tests and the like — spurs — all of that. Now, starting to make some distortion … actual distortion measurements — and they came out a whole lot less than we had expected. We are running them through two or three amplifiers in cascade, at high level. They generate some intermod, and we couldn’t figure out why. It occurred to me then, overnight at the hotel, that this idea of what we called later “phase fiddling” but in a harmonic carrier system — really in any coherent carrier system, whether it’s incremental or harmonic — that what we have is the amplitude components of the Fourier analysis of a repetitive wave form. Then of course, it’s reciprocal — it works in two directions. You can take a repetitive waveform and by Fourier transformation, get a frequency spectrum, which is this comb of 20 carriers of unit amplitude, plus a phase spectrum. And nobody had thought about the phase spectrum. In fact in most applications you don’t worry about the associated phase spectrum. But here there was a phase spectrum, and there’s a unique relationship between a waveform and a specific amplitude phase relationship. So I thought, “Gee, if we pay attention to the phase now, we aren’t going to do anything about the carrier levels.” They are set by our signal-to-noise transmission requirements. But if we can manipulate the phase, we can actually manipulate, then, the wave shape of this repetitive waveform. And I could look at that then on a broadband scope — on, at that time, a 220 MHz scope, which wasn’t unreasonable for the time. And we could actually see this waveform. It then occurred to me — literally overnight — that by manipulating the phase, we could control peak-to-peak amplitude; also, that the peak-to-peak amplitude, once established, would be stable; that it wouldn’t change. Whereas, in a system of given amplitudes, but random phase relationships, who knows what that amplitude might be. So we actually then went and started to adjust phase, and look on the scope, and we could adjust phase just by changing the jumper connections between the modulators and the combining network. So we found that that worked quite well. And I still believe it to be a very, very useful technique, particularly in fiber optics systems now, in which second order, is again a problem. We really got out of second order with push-pull amplifiers. Nobody worried about second order again for years and years until fiber optics system come. I did have a talk with a Jerrold field engineer, within the last year, about field experience and inharmonic systems with fiber and I still believe it’s a useful transmission tool.
TAYLOR: As a matter of fact, this has been rediscovered by folks at the CableLabs.
SWITZER: Well, I wrote … there was an article six, seven months ago, by one of the people at Cable Labs and it says, “What’s going to happen in composite systems in digital and analog?” He worried about the beats then, into the digital section, and I said that it shouldn’t be a problem. You use a coherent carrier system, whether it’s harmonic or incremental and at least you’ll know where the beats are … and they’ll be in one place. And then I suggested — I’m very interested in seeing this VSB digital modulation scheme — what do they call it, VSB 16? or 16 Level VSB? Because there will be — they suppress the carrier, but at least you know where it is. And if you then lock it into your incremental scheme, I think that would overcome intermodulation problems. There are going to be reflection problems and the like, but at least that would deal with intermodulation. And I referred him to these papers, which, I guess, go back into the early seventies. But anyway, we built quite a few harmonic systems. And in fact, most TV manufacturers then started providing for harmonics in their automatic tuning systems — in their digital tuner controls. Most cable manufacturers — most cable box manufacturers — also dealt with harmonic, usually just with a one and a quarter MHz shift in the second oscillator, so that would bring it back to nominal. And, to point out also, that incremental … I said it’s really a harmonic system … in classic harmonic, they are integral multiples of six megahertz. You can consider a coherent system to be integral multiples of 0.25 MHz … just high numbered harmonics. Though 0.25 is not quite as useful, because in a full harmonic system, all intermod products of whatever order fall at zero beat. And also, I think the mathematics show that you can control amplitude better with low harmonic numbers. Ron Katznelson has been doing a lot of work on harmonic lately, and he believes he has a scheme for automatically controlling it at the head end …
TAYLOR: Yes, he was telling me about that.
SWITZER: … and I have his first paper on it, but I think he’s spending more time now on broadband … the point-of-entry descrambler systems. I think that has his attention now.
TAYLOR: Nobody seems to be picking that up though.
TAYLOR: He doesn’t have what it takes to manufacture.
SWITZER: This point-of-entry, off-premises converters … when did Times Fiber Communication do theirs and there were two…
SWITZER: Texscan also did one. I remember participating in quite a few panels in those years, and very much against off-premises, and I think making a pretty good case for it. And I think in the arguments that I presented, I think all turned out correct. And I took a similar view on these, what do you call these jamming systems?
SWITZER: Interdiction systems. I had tried interdiction in my shop at MacLean-Hunter in the early seventies, using a programmable HP synthesizer. And we did it on the bench and I think proved the point and didn’t follow up on it, because I was not interested, in principle, in off-premises techniques in general. Just as a basic principle, in cable system architecture, I am still not interested in point-of-entry, off-premises. My view for the last few years, and continuing, is that the public — the general public interest, the broadest public interest — is best served by some kind of addressable descrambler system — no doubt digital — which is so thoroughly standardized and so widely used, that it comes built into every TV set and VCR at relatively low cost.
TAYLOR: I think this is the heart of the conflict, between EIA and NCTA.
SWITZER: And NCTA … and I think that NCTA and the big MSO’s still see the ownership of the descrambler equipment as a major profit center. My personal view is that there will come, maybe soon, a what would we call it … a Carter Cable case, like the Carterfone case, which will force, and show the virtue of, consumer ownership of terminal equipment.
TAYLOR: Of course this is almost mandated by the 1992 law, but nobody knows how to do it.
SWITZER: Yes it is, but I don’t think that industry wants to do it.
TAYLOR: Yes, how to get it done.
SWITZER: I don’t think that the industry really wants to do it. I believe that MSOs … well, now sorry, let me back up on that. I have talked to some who I believe genuinely believe that they would like to get out of the capital burden of providing subscriber terminal equipment. And then you get, though, others who say, “Well, what it comes down to is the question of employment of capital. And the more capital I have invested in the business, the more money I can make, and the more money I have a moral claim to make. And as long as I can raise the capital, I’d rather it was my capital than the consumers.” But I believe that the experience with telephone equipment and the whole trend, …certainly in America, is towards consumer ownership internally. So a news item, on some chip set, that is going to do … oh, parental control, somebody has a … did you see that a few days ago?
TAYLOR: I’ve seen somewhere about it, yes.
SWITZER: Some chip set “to provide parental control.” And they said, “Well, it could be built into a TV set for $5.00 or for $10.00, or it could be built into a set top converter, so that cable systems could charge an additional $0.25 a month for it. See, that’s the psychology. But that is pre-Carterphone … that’s pre-Carterphone telephone psychology and I don’t think that it’s going to turn out that way.
TAYLOR: The attitude towards the remote controllers, when they charge 3, 4, 5, 6 dollars a month, for remote controller and you know well, they are buying it for $6.00 or $10.00 a unit themselves.
SWITZER: I wrote NCTA 3 and 4 years ago, cautioning them that, Nader, when he wants to bash cable, that this is so egregious a situation, remote controls, that that is where they will grab you … that’s the vulnerable point of the industry.
TAYLOR: No question.
SWITZER: Yet I talk with American cable operators and they say, “Yes, we know it, but it is so important a part of our revenue stream, that we can’t give it up … or if we give it up, we’ll have to raise the basic.” And cable systems that I’m closer to, this is what they’ve had to do … is back off on the remote control charge, and raise their basic, because it has become so important part of the budget.
TAYLOR: So now we get bashed on the rate increase.
SWITZER: But in terms of cable TV technology, as I said, I have not, at anytime, been keen on off-premises. And still, I’m not keen on off-premises. And people say, “Well, the technology is such that scrambling systems are vulnerable.” And yea, but the digital ones are a whole lot better. We have this huge satellite industry that is dependent on that kind of technology – satellite-to-home. DBS, Hughes, people to follow, European operators, ones coming in Asia, are going to have to figure it out, because they have no choice. We don’t necessarily have to pioneer that technology, but they will prove and show which are the viable, reliable technologies. And broadcasters should have it also. And scrambling and addressability should be part of the broadcast standard. The television broadcaster should have the option to run part of his schedule scrambled. If I am a TV broadcaster, and I want to run baby blue or mildly blue movies, or whatever — say, after midnight — I should have the option to do that, and I should have the support of a receiver, nationally standardized, that is able to do that. In the beginnings of television standards, it wasn’t contemplated and it wasn’t practical. And I think the time has come to build addressability and enciphering into television broadcasting.
TAYLOR: Well isn’t there a transitional problem of considerable number of years…if the set manufacturers build it in, it’s going to be 10 – 12 years before the majority of the manufacturers have it.
SWITZER: Yes, but as long as there is some agreement on how it’s down, then you start with adapters. It’s like the transition to UHF. It was years before there was UHF and in the meantime, you got by with a set top converter, even in UHF, for as relatively simple a standard change as to move to UHF.
TAYLOR: Did you ever argue with Cabletime about their unit in the UK?
SWITZER: I sure did. The one in the UK. I did indeed. I wrote a big long paper for a British client, very much against the Cabletime, because we wanted the same franchise thing in the UK that usually the Cabletime would get …
END OF TAPE 2, SIDE A
SWITZER: … against the Cabletime, because we wanted the same franchise thing in the UK that usually the Cabletime would get. But I think I had a hand in getting it later changed to where they say, “Well, the license period is now technology neutral.” But again, I think I was right in terms of all the arguments that I gave on it.
TAYLOR: I argued with them pretty heavily on the same thing and got myself kind of hated I think.
SWITZER: Well, by Cabletime …
TAYLOR: By Cabletime.
SWITZER: I don’t think anybody else would…
TAYLOR: And users, they kept arguing that there was such a large volume of users, but that was forced by the way the regulations were set up.
SWITZER: And British people wouldn’t believe that you had a very good chance to get the license extended later … it was a British tradition.
TAYLOR: That’s right. We are about at the end of the tape … let’s not run out. We are back in business here, after changing the tape. This is the second tape, side B and I’ve asked Sruki to comment about HDTV and digital compression … digital transmission generally.
SWITZER: The view I’ve taken on HDTV is a bit pessimistic with respect to market acceptance, but I guess that view is fairly widely held. But also I took the view that this kind of standards effort, which the FCC is into now, would not be very helpful and would probably be unnecessary. And I wrote, I guess a letter, to one of the newsletters, that has been widely circulated, probably 4 or 5 years ago, pointing out that standards wouldn’t really matter in high definition television. I called it The Invasion of the Japanese Standard Snatchers. And I point out that there is television without broadcasting and I think that is one of the results of the evolution of cable … the evolution of the VCR, the evolution of computers, and the coming further evolution of things like interactive services. There seems to be a failure among regulators and among television broadcasters to recognize this — I’ll call it fact — that there is a whole lot of television, both in terms of equipment and particularly in terms of viewer involvement, in terms of hours spent and money spent on non-broadcast television and even on non-cable television, increasingly so. And, that high definition would be one of those non-broadcast areas. And what I foretold, and what I think still has a good chance of happening, is that high definition would happen in this country without a standard. And that some entrepreneur would start a high definition service, by satellite, picking whatever standard was convenient and available and that worked reasonably well. And at that time, when I wrote this first, four or five years ago, news looked perfectly well. I didn’t care whether it was news or what, but that it would start as a non-broadcast service. It would start by satellite as a movie service, distributed on a national basis. It would be a movie service because that didn’t depend on special high definition production. Hollywood has warehouses full of high definition program material … wide screen, 35 and 7 millimeter material … thousands of them … very attractive programming. You don’t even have to worry about its popularity. It’s all there, it’s in the can, it’s paid for. And the terms for high definition are negotiable. And that is really all the high definition programming that most people will want. Who cares if they see the news in high definition, or a sitcom in high definition. But a movie in high definition — wide screen and high definition and with four channel stereo, or whatever — that is something worthwhile. So I take the view, and I still take the view, that that is how high definition will start and that is as a satellite delivered service. And satellite, because it is relatively low cost and you hit the whole country with a single transponder … you push one switch, in Denver or wherever, and you’re in business all over the country. And even if the TV sets cost $10,000 or even if they cost $15,000, that everybody with a paid-for Mercedes or BMW in the driveway… I distinguish “paid-for”, that is, they’ve got the ability to write a check for $10,000 or $15,000, on a whim — and to pay $50 a month for that service. A half of one percent of the total households is a suitable aggregate audience then to start a high definition service. Bringing that up to date, now, I believe that probably Hughes. It should be HBO, if they have the foresight to, but it probably will be Hughes, because they have the transponder and they will have the need. They’ll have the economic pressure. HBO and Showtime are sitting in what you would call reasonably comfortable pews. But Hughes is going to hurt and I think they’ll find high definition as a way to get some publicity — as a way to make some money And that’s how it will start. And it’s not going to start with terrestrial broadcasting. Now, one of the benefits in technology of high definition of course, where the American preceding started. And GI then had the foresight or whatever, to recognize that it could be done digitally, not just the digital compression but the digital transmission – a major step forward and a major contribution to television technology in general. And so, the digital video compression, which is now going to be very important to cable TV, is in effect a byproduct of the high definition process. And if that high definition standard proceeding hadn’t started, we might not have the availability of DBC now for cable television and other uses. So that turned out to be a very fortunate thing. But high definition, I don’t think it’s going to come by broadcast, at least not for quite a while, because you already see that broadcasters don’t really want to do it. You spoke of the early days of color. CBS and ABC didn’t want to do it until there was an audience. NBC did it only because they had a major economic stake in the future of color — in patent rights, more important than in manufacturing. Because it was obvious they weren’t going to make all the color sets, but sure, they were going to get a royalty on every color set, whoever made it. In high definition, I don’t think it’s clear that there is a stronger patent position or that there is one organization in a position to push it, for that reason. And broadcasters I think are going to resist it, and they are already telling the FCC, “Gee, you’re giving us this channel, but we’d really rather run the compressed multiple NTSC services on it, than high definition.” So I think there is going to be a lot of foot dragging on the part of broadcasters. If I were a big time, major market broadcaster, I would of course go out on day one, with high definition, but not off my terrestrial stick … I’d find some reason to say, “Hey FCC, Mr. Chairman, I can do it better by satellite. And please, I would rather do it across the whole northeast, out of New York, by satellite, and get high definition started that way. And here’s an economic case to be made. Because I will then reach a much greater audience, and we need that to get it started, because the number that I will reach with high definition from the World Trade or whatever, is going to be relatively small compared to serving the whole northeast market in Boston. And all these people aren’t interested in it anyway.” I don’t know if the FCC would buy that, but it seems a logical way for a broadcaster to go. And a New York station could afford to do that, and with the prospect of capturing a larger HDTV market now I might be interested, as a broadcaster. But I don’t think it’s going to turn out the way the FCC is directing it, in effect, to local — to local simulcast off the same stick, and with the same coverage area. It’s just not natural to broadcast high definition in that way. They see it as the next logical improvement on television, in the same way that color was just a step up from black and white. But I don’t think it’s that at all. It’s not that at all. It’s a premium kind of luxury special case service and it’s not going to be economical on this same local basis with all these reflections and transmission problems, even with automatic equalizing and the like, to fix it all up. The logical way to broadcast high definition is by satellite and the logical markets are broad markets, because of the low acceptance. And it’s going to be major market operators that will justify it. But even before then, there is going to be a movie service by satellite.
TAYLOR: Those are very interesting thoughts and…
SWITZER: And for cable … that is, the implication for cable. It’s just going to be another service for cable to carry. I don’t think even the biggest of our sort of integrated cable systems will have a big enough market to justify a sort of high definition service. And I think they are going to be happy to say, “Well, as long as it’s contained in a 6 MHz channel, and the compression has opened up more spectrum for me, yea, I’ll carry it. But when only one in 100 of my subscribers is actually going to use it, I’m not going to be really happy about it, because what do I make on carrying the local high definition service? That is, I’m carrying the local broadcaster’s high definition service. What’s it to me in terms of the economic import compared to using that channel for something else?”
TAYLOR: Of course, then there becomes the question of “must carry” which is still indeterminate with…
SWITZER: If I have to carry it, I will, but it’s not going to be a big thing in my galaxy of cable services. Now, if I have a stake in some national service, a la HBO by satellite, and now I have a cut… I’ve got an HBO kind of deal, where I’ve got 40-50% of the gross, and I’m getting $20, $30 or $40 a month for high def services. Now, one in 100 subscribers, that’s ok! I’ll do that. But just carrying the local broadcaster’s high def service, I’d rather he didn’t bother. And in fact, I’d pay him a bit to wait awhile.
TAYLOR: I would think that the time might come when the broadcaster would pay the cable company to carry it … he’s trying to get advertisers.
SWITZER: Yes, but I think the way this whole thing will shake out … I have not read that New York Times editorial, but I look at the Canadian experience…
TAYLOR: Neither have I.
SWITZER: That it will shake out to “must carry, but no pay” and that’s a fair trade, because if you are a UHF broadcaster, you need cable carriage.
TAYLOR: That’s right.
SWITZER: If you are a VHF broadcaster … traditionally, you didn’t care. But I think it will sort out that way to “must carry” but no money changing hands. Anyway, the high definition led to digital video compression and that’s major, major technology breakthrough. I talk about it this way … that we have a sort of dichotomy … we have the transmission people with fiber and they say, “This fiber has so much bandwidth.” Theoretically, a single fiber could carry the whole country.
TAYLOR: Almost infinite.
SWITZER: Didn’t you read Gilder’s paper … Gilder’s article in …
TAYLOR: Yes, I did.
SWITZER: Very good article. He forecasts a country full of dark fiber and in effect, a huge radio space confined in a fiber. And everybody will just broadcast their signals into it and take them out all addressed and packetized and all of that. And what the phone companies will operate are just these big networks of dark fiber all over it. The concept is, in effect, just a huge — call it hyper — radio space, packed into glass fibers. But the transmission people say that we have this huge bandwidth. And so who needs things like compression and intensive signal processing … we have so much bandwidth, just throw it all in and don’t worry about compressing it. And the computer people say, “Well, we have these marvelous computation chips, CPUs. We have memory. We’ve got all kinds of signal processing chips and they are so cheap, and work so well, that you don’t need much transmission. In fact, we’ll pack a movie onto twisted copper pairs, which take a whole lot of chips and computation and signal manipulation.” And so the question is, who do you believe, and who’s going to prevail, and in what time period? Well, it turns out that the computer people have been kind of firstest with the mostest. They are here sooner, with more practical stuff. And there is another advantage to the computer people’s approach, in that you can localize it. You don’t have to build a city-wide network. You can pack compression in a terminal and use it here, or down the street, or where ever you need it. And that’s important then, in the deployment of the technology. So I think for the next ten years certainly, the computer people have the upper hand. And beginning ten years from now, I think we will find then that the transmission people, particularly with fiber — and I’m not talking about Gore’s National Fiber Highway network… I don’t think it will be government run or government sponsored. But there will be so much fiber around and it will so cheap that it will then, in its own right, make a major change in communications technology, and, of course television along with it. And it will, at that time, have the advantage of both — we will then have computation in terms of signal processing and we’ll have very cheap, abundant bandwidth. I think that there will be so much fiber around, that toward the end of this decade and maybe sooner — this is mid ’93… I bet within five years, you watch the MCI-Sprint-AT&T wars, that the next generation of long distance promotion is going to be unlimited long distance calling within the continental US for $50 a month. They’ll be able to do it, because there will be so much fiber.
TAYLOR: That’s an interesting … it’s a probability.
SWITZER: So, the… as I said, the digital video compression… one, it expands available bandwidth. Secondly, it introduces the advantages of digital transmission. And that, I believe, is a tremendous advantage compared to the analog transmission we are using now. My own personal view — and again, I have expressed it several times — is that we will see a number of all-digital systems by the end of this decade. I think that by the end of this decade, the digital will have enough of a track record and prove so attractive that a number of cable systems will be saying, “Hey, it works so well, and so many of our subscribers already have digital boxes, that we are going to put the whole system on digital.” People say I’m crazy, but I think that by the end of the decade, we will start a significant number of all-digital systems and in the five years following that, a virtual complete change to digital transmission for cable. Digital transmission for broadcast will take until 2010, but I think by 2010, we will see virtually all television in digital form. Do you remember when Irving Kahn came back into Telecable and he founded his optical … he was making optical devices?
TAYLOR: Optronics? Yes … General Optronics.
SWITZER: Yes, there was an NCTA convention … or one of the major shows, either the NCTA or the Western Show and he showed a 12 channel broadband system… fiber system. Small booth and Irving was there and I remember telling him that “I don’t want to run fiber this way. I’ve spent my whole professional life wrestling with the problems of FDM multi channel analog transmission and I’m sick and tired of intermodulation and cross modulation. And if I’m going to use fiber, the natural way to use fiber is digital, and I’m going to use it digitally or wait until I can use it digitally.” And I said this again at a meeting at an NCTA conference a couple years later — again in a question from the audience — that this was my view on the proper way to use fiber. But I didn’t want to use it in an analog form. Then, in the summer of ’79 [’89?], I pick up a note somewhere, on ATC and Jim Chiddix is working now, with some analog fiber systems. At that time, I was hard at work on the first cable round in Hong Kong — had specified an all band system, that is an 860 MHz system. Well along into that, I was also working in the UK with 860 MHz systems. So I call Jim and ask if I can come to Denver and see what he’s doing. He invited me down. And he and — who is his chief assistant on that? — Dave Pangrac, and they show me what they are doing on it — a bit of the history. They had started trying to work on a rebuild for Kansas City I think, is what they had been working on. And they found these microwave lasers that Ortel, I think, was making. And they had tried those out and it looked like it was going to be a very practical thing to do. And they showed it to me in Denver and I said, “Great! Now I can build a one gigahertz system.” That was my use for it. They had another use. They wanted it for rebuilding and upgrading older plants to 450 or 550. And my only reaction now was that now I could build a one gigahertz system, because now I could shorten my cascade. I could shorten my coaxial cascades. Because, yes, I could get 860 MHz amplifiers, principally from European sources. They had the bandwidth, but they didn’t have the channel handling capacity. Now I come and ask Jerrold, “Can you build me a really proper one gig or 860 MHz amp?” And they say, “How about split band?” And I say, “No.” And they said, “Well, we just don’t have the chips to do it.” Then when I discussed it with Ed Evanbach and this is back in ’86 – ’87 I guess, and the chips didn’t seem in prospect. And I was telling Ed, “Your are right. We are not going to have one gigahertz chips because I don’t believe American operators will ever buy one gigahertz. And without the American market, the chip manufacture is not going to do it. And I was right, American operators are not interested in one gigahertz. Was it ATC that did the one gig system in Queens? … Time Warner.
TAYLOR: Time Warner, yes.
SWITZER: And that was being discussed then. And I said, “That will be the only one gig system built in this country. And I would call it Qube. It’s just another Qube. Time Warner has a political publicity statement to make to show the phone companies not to fool around. And it was like a Qube. It’s a kind of franchising — a political thing. Now they made a whole lot of money on Qube. People said, “Oh no, Qube never worked.” And it won the franchises…
TAYLOR: It won franchises all over the place.
SWITZER: It won franchises that were worth a billion dollars later. You went through it, I went through it … competed with them … didn’t win many of those … I mean, I didn’t win many of those. And I said, “This is the same kind of thing. This is going to be the only one gigahertz system in this country, because American cable operators don’t really need it. And if they don’t, there are not going to be chips. And so I was content then, to work on the UK systems with the available 860 MHz amplifiers. And I didn’t want to back down from 860, because the British TV set is UHF only. And I wanted to meet — it’s the most cable-unfriendly cable TV set in the world. And if I couldn’t change it, I’d have to change my cable system to meet the TV set! So, anyway, that was my reaction to seeing Chiddix’s AM fiber work. It was that I could now shorten my cascade to where I could build now, practical 860 MHz systems, with a real loading capability. I went on, to redesign… I went right back to Hong Kong and redesigned my Hong Kong system to make extensive use of fiber. And that was really just based on my faith and what I had seen in the summer of ’87 in what ATC and what Chiddix and Pangrac were doing. Now, British Telecom, it was a major partner, with about a 40% or 50% stake in that. And a major change like that of course, they wanted to sign off on. So, I’m dealing with telephone company engineers and I’m now proposing an AM fiber. And even to me, personally, I had not been terribly interested in analog operation of fiber. But now I see that it works and, talking to those guys in Denver, I can see the economic significance of it. Now I’m sold. I still would rather run digital, but we are not ready yet. But obviously, this is going to work, and now I can see that. The way I worded it in my memo to British Telecom, is a quote from Julius Caesar, “There is a tide in the affairs of men which taken… ” And I quoted that whole thing. And I said, “There’s now started a tide in the affairs of cable television, in the American market, which is this AM fiber and it has so much appeal and it is so economically important in the American cable TV market that it will work. And it is my confidence then that this is an irresistible technology tide that I am now writing this into our Hong Kong design.” The BT engineer said, “Analog fiber doesn’t work.” I have to make a special trip to London, meeting with BT engineers, to convince them to go through this whole philosophical economical argument, to where they would sign off on fiber, and they still weren’t happy about it. But really, I convinced management, I never did convince the engineers, but I convinced BT management, then, that it was the thing to do.
TAYLOR: It’s interesting, in 1973, Corning asked me to come up to Horseheads and go over with them fiber, and how it works and what it could do and how it could get into cable. And after a couple days up there with them, I wrote in my little brief report that I sent to them, that there are a lot of uses of fiber in cable, but for distribution, not until we get a $10 D-to-A converter! And of course now with the inflation and so on, that is about $35, I think or $40.
SWITZER: No, it’s going to be less than that.
TAYLOR: Yes, it already is lower.
SWITZER: Archer, you reminded me a few years ago, that I had written some notes that transistors wouldn’t work in cable!
TAYLOR: But I had the same reaction you did. I was not happy with am fiber to start with. I wrote to Jim about it.
SWITZER: I came around pretty quickly.
TAYLOR: … I began to realize that it’s governed by the TV sets. The conversion, and this is what I had said in 1973, the conversion is the problem.
SWITZER: But I think that by the end of this decade, the digital transmission will be so well established and so many set tops already in place, that I think we can run the whole system…
TAYLOR: Oh, I see it happening. At the show in San Francisco, the “ring concept” over and over again, these people are showing rings and while rings can work with the analog fiber …
SWITZER: That is getting pretty long for …
TAYLOR: They get awful long for that. So they are going to move into the digital, and that’s coming.
SWITZER: Well, Rogers is running their ring architecture that way, but the ring architecture is another… It’s a separate problem in cable system architecture. I’m not sure it’s economical for a cable only system. It becomes very attractive when you’re in Rogers’ position in Toronto – where you own a cellular operator, where you have 50% interest, what amounts to the MCI in Canada, and you are a major cable operator. And now their fiber ring is not justified for cable.
TAYLOR: No, I understand.
SWITZER: But it is justified when you have all these other businesses and who are using it. And so for cable only, it’s a pretty expensive sort of thing to do, because to run a digital transmission trunk and every one of these hubs along the way. You’ve got to convert to analog, have a stack of modulators …
TAYLOR: For $300,000.
SWITZER: … and maintain them … and it becomes wholly expensive. When you go all digital, then of course, it doesn’t matter. In my more recent Hong Kong design, proposed as a second stage, what amounts to a passive, all-digital net, to be built about ’96 or ’97. And that would run this way. In effect, we would build a passive optical bus, which operates initially at 1.2 gigabits. What we would do, is we would dump in a forward direction, 1.2 gigabits into every home. Then, there’s a demultiplexer, and you pick out of that, that’s equivalent to 800 compressed channels … so you have 1.5, or even 2 megabits. And then five years after that, you can step it up to 2.4 and it depends on the availability of the consumer affordable 1.2 gig front end. But I thought that by ’96 ’97, we could do that. And it’s a very simple approach then, to an all fiber network. But we didn’t get to file that! Spent $3,000,000 on the application, that is for last September, and then in the last hour of the last day, the client decided not to file it. I don’t know if you followed this last round of Hong Kong …
TAYLOR: Not too much.
SWITZER: … but anyway, great place.
TAYLOR: Very confusing. Let’s talk about PCS, perhaps even CAPS and POTS and cable involvement with these things.
SWITZER: Well, I think that cable will be involved with PCN, with telephony, with communication systems … with telephone systems, particularly with things like PCN. Not because we have any technology advantage, because … that CAPS, you mean that’s that …
TAYLOR: Competitive access.
SWITZER: Oh yes, being that. I thought you meant that distributed antenna sort of thing to support the…
TAYLOR: That’s a part of the PCN – PCS.
SWITZER: I’m not too keen on that. I believe that cable systems – cable companies, will get into that sort of business. Not because they have particular technology advantages but because they’ve got the right sort of corporate culture … corporate structure for it. We are used to investing, making big capital investments up front. We are used to getting a few dollars back a month. We are used to dealing with hundreds of thousands of customers on a sort of retail basis, taking their calls — at least the better systems — responding to their problems, building, collecting, selling a service that is essentially very similar to ordinary phone service. So we are psychologically ready for that kind of business. The matter of whether we have any big technical advantages, I am still not certain of. I do not like the prospect of running a telephone type service on the coax cable network. It’s been demonstrated by First Pacific, AT&T is now making terminals for it, US West is…
TAYLOR: Broadband Technologies.
SWITZER: Yes. US West is kind of sold on it. I’m nervous because of the dependence on active repeaters. It may turn out OK, but I’m nervous about it, and I’d just as soon someone else kind of carried the technical responsibility for approving that. I would rather use my fiber network, to the extent that I’m putting it into cable — networks into the cable systems. And also as a reason to extend it further into the network, to use that fiber to support these other services like telephony and then use a more conventional transmission technology, say copper pair, for the last few hundred meters or so, to the home. But we will see. I don’t think that is a major technology squabble. But I’ve been interested in cable systems getting into telephony because we’ve got the money and the organization for it. The technology aspects of — sort of coincidental technologies, to me — is a secondary reason to get into the business. One of the problems though … what did you call CAPS?
TAYLOR: Competitive Access … I’ve forgotten what the P is …
SWITZER: Anyway, you start to ask what are the economic reasons to get into the telephone business, because local phone service has traditionally not been very profitable. It can be in the UK, but at very much higher rates than American phone companies get for local service. Here it has been necessary, once long distance was separated out economically and structurally, sort of organizationally from the local phone business to provide a cross subsidy with an access fee. Well, if the subscriber pays, what is it, $3.50 a month or so … I think that’s what I pay in my Palm Springs phone bill, plus the access charges that the long distance companies pay… So, the economical motivation in this country is really to compete for that access revenue. And that access revenue is substantial and that’s what is driving most of the alternative, local access technologies and entrepreneurial undertakings. They look at all that big money, and say, “Instead of it going to C&P here, it can come to me.” There is a risk it seems to me, that I haven’t seen discussed, that that structure might change. That is, that whole financial structure of charging for access might change radically in some way, to a greater degree of independence between local phone business and access charges — long distance access charges. So it would raise local charges but reduce access charges. The local service would still not be terribly profitable, but at least it would stand alone, without access revenues. Because what will happen is that more and more of it… Because in effect it’s self defeating. As these alternative local access technologies, whether they are radio based, or cable TV based, or whatever, start to siphon off access revenues from the LEC’s, then they are under pressure to replace it somehow. And they are going to say, “Hey look, we’ve lost half of our access revenues. What the hell, take away the rest of us and just make us self sufficient without access revenues, either from long distance carriers or from our customers.” And that so radically changes the economic appeal of alternative local access that I’m not sure that alternative local access is a safe business to get into. PCN is a different thing. PCN is sort of an alternative, a technical and economic alternative to cellular. That’s a different sort of thing. PCN, I believe, will turn out to be sort of — call it third generation cellular. The cellular technologies and pricing will come down. PCN systems will become more elaborate, as people get them and expect more from them. That is, they will consider… I mean, I wouldn’t bother with this PCN if I could afford cellular. Because to people, functionally… the functional idea will be cellular. Actually cellular works quite well. PCN features, well, single number and the like, to carry around etcetera, that’s really a function of switching.
TAYLOR: That’s really another issue.
SWITZER: That’s another issue. That’s a function of smart switching. And that’s available both to ordinary phone companies and to the cellular companies and is a function of the intelligence and organization of the network systems. The PCN is based on microcells, on low powered handsets, which are presumably cheaper and longer battery life than traditional cellular. But traditional cellular, the handsets are getting cheaper and lighter, the battery life longer, they are setting up more microcells. But the function is still going to be very appealing that it will work from a car. Because it is still very much a car operated society and sort of … so the service ideal will still be full cellular. And I have this PCN only because I can’t afford the cellular, or they don’t have room for me in their spectrum. And so PCN will inevitably move up functionality and in economic affordability — that is down in cost up in affordability — towards cellular. And so we will end up, sort of as a new generation cellular, competing directly with traditional cellular.
TAYLOR: Already, the cell sizes in cellular are becoming smaller and smaller and smaller just for necessity … and they are going to come together at some point.
SWITZER: Yes. But again, the appeal to a cable company to get into it, is they’ve got the structure, they’ve got the infrastructure, they’ve got the mentality, they’ve got the capital resources. Well capital resources, you look at the balance sheets of some of the big MSO’s … they are still pretty highly leveraged. But they are starting to straighten themselves out. Look at Time Warner, taking in partners, unloading their debt, cleaning up their balance sheets, and so they’ll get themselves into better shape to be able to afford the…
TAYLOR: They are so much better off now, then they were say, 10 years ago.
SWITZER: See, financing cellular … that’s a bankable thing. There was never any question that cellular wasn’t going to be a big success. If you got a license, you could take it to the bank or Wall Street or some place, and raise the money and no trouble, pretty cheap. PCN isn’t going to be quite the same way. There will be financing available, but they are going to look at it like venture capital things, and people are going to expect higher yields and the like on investments in PCN because it isn’t quite the kind of “fish in a barrel” type of business proposition that cellular was. There is no question that when cellular came in, everybody wanted it. It was going to be a big success and it has been. I don’t think you can have that confidence in PCN.
TAYLOR: Sruki, we’ve been at this for quite a while and I think I better call an end to it. And I must express great appreciation for your time in making this tape. We will send you a copy of the transcript. I will first edit, to check things that I know about.
SWITZER: Are you going to do a paper transcript?
TAYLOR: Oh yes.
SWITZER: Oh, I thought you were just going to send a copy of some of the arguments …
TAYLOR: No, you will have a paper transcript. That’s what takes time. Nobody wants to do it so don’t hold your breath waiting for it to come.
SWITZER: Do they have budgets for this?
TAYLOR: Yes, this has come as a result of … well, Strat Smith thought of the idea when Richard Schneider died. He approached Gene and Richard’s wife and made the suggestion that we were doing this project and that it would be a good memorial for Richard. And they all thought that was a great idea and so there is money that supports it … not a big amount of money, but it’s enough to get us going. I’m always thinking of new people I’d like to interview. I ran into Danny Mezzalingua the other day. There’s one of the early manufacturers, Craftsman and that they became one of the majors now, eventually, so I told him I’d like to interview him. And I keep thinking of new people all the time … Frank Drendel is one. I didn’t realize till I read Bob Brooks interview that Bob bought Frank Drendel into the business, right out of college and look where Frank has gone now! I have contacted Hank Diambra. As a matter of fact, Strat tells me that Hank really generated the idea of a technological history … oral history and I still have to interview him. I tried but he was leaving the country or something, but I’ll get to him. But he tells me that he has a catalog file of just about every piece of equipment that was ever manufactured. And he said that it’s a huge file … across the industry, and he said he had to build a building to put it in … it’s such a massive file. He said it’s well cataloged and now, I’ve got to see that! That’s beautiful!
SWITZER: He was…?
TAYLOR: Entron. Incidentally, he …
SWITZER: Oh, my mistake, that was Entron that did that strand mounted tube line extender, not C-COR. [Actually, the “no-step” line extender was Ameco.]
TAYLOR: I thought … because he claims that cable powering is a first. Now, Jim Palmer also claims but … I suspect Entron was there first.
SWITZER: Yes, right, that was Entron. I suspect it was Entron, because I had his tube type amplifiers – low band amplifiers. OK, well anyway, we are winding up this tape.
TAYLOR: Yes, well interesting. Again, I thank you very much for your time and cooperation and it was fascinating. I have a telephone recording device and if questions come up, I might give you a call and we’ll record it over the telephone.
SWITZER: Sure. Another thing, when you want me to check a transcript or edit or whatever, if I can get it on disc…
TAYLOR: I can do that. That’s easy enough to do.
SWITZER: I’ve been working on patent suits and depositions and the like and I’ve found it much easier to work off a disc.
TAYLOR: I’m sure it is. That can be done very easily.