Panelists: Ron Hranac, John Kurpinski, Wendell Woody
Interview Date: Thursday October 18, 2012
Interview Location: Orlando, FL
Interviewer: Lela Cocoros
COCOROS: Hello, I’m Lela Cocoros and this is the SCTE Cable-Tec Expo. We are here in Orlando, Florida. It is October 18, 2012 and joining me today, John Kurpinski, VP of Tarpon Communications and Ron Hranac, who is technical leader of Cisco Systems and Wendell Woody, consultant of Wendell D. Woody and Associates. Good morning, gentlemen or afternoon, I should say. We’re talking about the early years of SCTE. So let me start with asking how SCTE actually started and what the impetus behind starting SCTE was in the early days.
HRANAC: I’ll kick off with some thoughts on that. There was an editorial written by a fellow named Charles Tepfer in Cablecasting Magazine way, way back, this would have been in the late 1960s, suggesting the need for recognition for engineers in the cable industry. And Bill Karnes responded to that editorial and said this is a good idea. We really do need a way to recognize folks. And that was really what kick started the idea of creating what became the SCTE.
COCOROS: And John you’ve been in the industry for a long time, were you part of that?
KURPINSKI: This is my 49th year and 1974 is my first involvement with the Society of Cable Engineers in New York State. And basically it was just a loose group. Believe it or not we met on a Saturday mornings some technicians and engineers and had some people come in and talk to us about different products and technologies. It was sort of the unofficial meeting group back then.
COCOROS: So the SCTE was really a lot of grassroots technology professionals?
HRANAC: It was. In addition to the recognition for the engineers in the industry there was really a need for training as well. Particularly the people who were in the sales side of the business and calling on system operators were finding in many instances the technical staff of the systems didn’t have the skill sets to properly phase antennas for instance, to deal with something called co-channel interference or they didn’t know how to properly adjust the amplifiers in their systems. The sales people were having to do this training and in some cases actually go out and do the alignment work and the adjustment work on the cable networks. That showed that there was clearly a need for some training. And in 1968, a dozen or so people tried to get together at the NCTA Show that year but there was no time to kick off the meeting or get a meeting room so they actually made a more serious effort in 1969 at the NCTA show in San Francisco. And it was there that they wandered the show floor and collected money, $20 bills and what not from interested people to help pay for a meeting room and kind of kick start the dues process if you will and then they gathered a number of folks together to form what became the first officers of SCTE and to kick SCTE off the ground.
COCOROS: So in ’68 where was the NCTA?
WOODY: I think the show was in Chicago that year.
COCOROS: That was quite a year for Chicago in 1968. (Laughter)
WOODY: It was also as I understand, it was the sales people that was the big driver going the floor collecting seed money it was called, to get $20 from people. And if they could get enough people and got started early enough, they might have had a little more of a meeting to start that meeting but that was the nucleus as Ron said to get it going.
COCOROS: So, it got the word out?
WOODY: It got the word out. More formal when it was held in San Francisco to really get going and put together the first meeting.
HRANAC: The interesting thing about that ’69 meeting in San Francisco was that a significant percentage of the attendees were cable operators. That is the management side of the industry who were opposed to the idea of forming this thing that was to become SCTE. Apparently, some members of the press, the cable trade press showed up too, supporting management. The reason there was push back was that some in management thought that the engineers were trying to form a union and that wasn’t the case at all but they were really against it at the time and it took a lot of perseverance on the part of the pioneers of this organization to get it where it is today.
KURPINSKI: There was also another reason. One of the other reasons that I ran into and a lot of people ran into was cable operators were very reluctant to send their technicians and engineers because it was a growing industry, it was in its infancy, to a place where they would talk to other engineers not about technology but about I make $10 an hour or I make $5 an hour. They were afraid of systems pirating one another technical staff.
HRANAC: That was a big fear and that continued for a quite a few years even after probably well into the ‘80s and maybe even early ‘90s.
KURPINSKI: For a long time.
WOODY: They wanted to their employees under a tub so that they wouldn’t know what the world was like out there.
COCOROS: So how many members were there probably in those early years?
HRANAC: The number I’ve heard for the official charter member count was 79 people. Of course, the Society is what 10 or 11 thousand, 12,000? Maybe more.
WOODY: I don’t believe that first count was at that first meeting. That was more like 40. They actually kept the enrollment open for two years. I thought it was one year but I spoke with Rex Porter last week and he said they actually kept it open for two years. So there are some people that are listed as a charter member that were never there at that first meeting and they gave the $20 maybe two years later and they are on the chart now as being…
COCOROS: Well, so back then, the first president was Ron Cotten. Can you tell us about who was the leadership back then including Ron?
WOODY: I think I can answer that. Actually it was Bill Karnes. Except that Bill Karnes, he ended up being the second president but he wrote the bylaws. And I spoke with Bill recently about where he got all these ideas and he said “Well, if I get the truth, I really took the Society of Broadcast Engineering Society…I took their bylaws. I took their bylaws and I modified it.” They have chapters in their organization so that was one reason why chapters got identified in the very first beginning of the SCTE because it was a takeoff of this Society of Broadcasters. Bill could have been maybe the president. He told the story about that sometime but he was pretty busy in his business and there was another strong influence. At the kickoff it was thought that it would be nice to have a true cable engineer be the president and Ron ranked high, Ron Cotten, ranked high in that because he was studying to be a EE the same time he was working in the Bay area with one company, finished up and was moving over to Walnut Creek, I think, to build another system. So he was a strong person there and also had a lot of the people who worked for those companies so his votes came about real easy I think as the first president.
HRANAC: So he was elected president of that first year and Bill was VP the first year?
WOODY: I think that’s right.
HRANAC: And Charles Tepfer was the secretary/treasurer that first year and he was the one who had written the editorial piece in Cablecasting Magazine prior to that.
COCOROS: Started the whole thing.
WOODY: So publishers played a major role in the organization from the very beginning.
COCOROS: And just so I’m clear, double e means electrical engineer?
HRANAC: Yes. (Laughter)
COCOROS: That’s great. Going back to talking a little bit about the chapters because I know…how many chapters are there now?
HRANAC: 70 or 72. I was at the chapter leadership breakfast at Cable-Tec Expo and the number that I recall someone saying was 70.
COCOROS: So it obviously grew over time but back then it was probably a handful of…?
KURPINSKI: Wasn’t even a handful. It was like we said before just a loose group that got together sort of unofficially not under any auspice of an official chapter so to speak. That didn’t start until the ‘80s.
WOODY: I looked in one of the older Intervals and I saw that in 1985 or 84, there were really only two chapters and there were 7 meeting groups. So, that wasn’t very much. It didn’t blossom very much but it really grew out in about the middle of the ‘80s. In fact, I started a chapter in Kansas City in ’86. I started it in ’85 and actually happened in ’86. I think that was like chapter number 15 or 16 or so on. I believe Denver had already got organized and maybe Chicago was just kind of starting but most the West wasn’t filled in. I think John would know for sure. The first chapter was actually the Delaware Chapter. John started that one I guess
COCOROS: So John started the first chapter?
KURPINSKI: Well, the first sort of official chapter was a meeting group called the Appalachian/ Mid-Atlantic. They used to meet in central Pennsylvania at Harrisburg. They were sort of more formal than any other loose meeting groups. I happened to be talking to Tom Polis one day and said “Gee, we need a chapter in Philadelphia because there are a lot of independent cable systems surrounding Philadelphia.” But Philadelphia wasn’t franchised yet. This is back in 1981. I said “How do I go about it?” And he said “I don’t know. Just go do it.” So…
COCOROS: Typical cable approach.
KURPINSKI: I got a group of us together and one of the cable operators, I got some seed money and we had our first meeting and we had, I think, 45 technicians and engineers. And we were fortunate because we were right down the road from where Jerrold was. So we had – and I used to work for Jerrold – so we had a huge source of talent come in and speak to us. I think the next meeting the FCC was coming up with the proposed rulemaking of technical standards and just a lot of rules for cable operators so we had the FCC on tap. NCTA, Wendell Woody used to come in, not Wendell Woody, Wendell Bailey, excuse me, from NCTA used to come in and give us a brief every year. And then a gentleman who’s here, he’s been with the FCC for I don’t know how many years, John Wong. He used to come in and give us an update on regulatory rules. We had 125, 150 technicians at those meetings.
HRANAC: You asked the question about early chapters and at that first meeting in San Francisco in ’69, they did try to kick off some regional chapters but that whole effort really struggled and didn’t go anywhere and it was as was mentioned in really the early ‘80s before things really got to the chapter structure that’s largely intact today. Woody, you mentioned the chapter in Colorado; I was one of the co-founders of the Rocky Mountain, Rocky Mountain meeting group at the time back in the early to mid ‘80s. I know one of our early meetings was held at the University of Denver campus. I don’t remember if we had to pay for a room. We may have had to and so we had to get some seed money from cable operators and vendors. It was on data communications and I was one of the speakers at that meeting. Reasonably well attended. Folks from systems around the Denver area and surrounding areas of Colorado and the Rocky Mountain Chapter is still doing very, very well.
KURPINSKI: I think it was in the Delaware Valley and right after that, Joe Van Loan and Pete Petrovich started the Golden Gate and Rocky Mountain and I think you did something in the Midwest right after that.
COCOROS: So recruitment was kind of easy once it got started because it was a community of …
WOODY: That was a long time from the time it really got organized before the chapters really started to blossom out because I was saying in the mid ‘80s there was really at one point in time there was just two chapters. It was the Philadelphia one and the California one. And the meeting groups, of course, after a meeting group worked for a year and earned their credits, why they made themselves a chapter.
COCOROS: Do you think the big incentive for joining a chapter was the need for training and education and just keeping up with the all the changes in the industry?
HRANAC: That was a very big part. The local training and different chapters in different areas often times struggled with getting attendees to come to the meetings. Some of the cable companies were very, very supportive and would send technicians and installers and what not to the meetings and others just would not do it. There were still, in the ‘80s, there was still an attitude among some of the management that these guys are trying to steal people away, away from me or they are going to go work for the other cable company. I remember, in the Denver area for a few years, the company I worked for at that time, Jones Intercable, was very supportive. And more often than not, the majority of attendees were technicians from the Jones systems in the Denver suburbs and we used to kid around and say that we’re going to change the name of this meeting group or chapter to the Society of Intercable Engineers rather than the Society of Cable Television Engineers.
WOODY: I think there was little difference in the very beginning that it was really just for an engineer, more than the design. I was also working in Jerrold in 1969 and living in California and I didn’t go to that very first meeting because I believe that our director of engineering in the research lab was at that meeting and I assumed that that was a meeting for like our design engineering people not somebody in the sales engineering type area. And then later on, I believe that out in the regional areas or across the country, there wasn’t the knowledge about SCTE and as that word got out, you know expanded and that’s why it kind of exploded. I also said that the status that the fact the most chapters we’ve ever had is I think about 78 and it never gets any higher than that but we do lose chapters so it goes down to maybe 70. And over the past maybe 25 years, it’s ranged in the 70s but never goes higher. I think this year, this show we honored too many chapters. But then chapters they peter out as time goes on. Sometimes it has to do with MSO clustering.
WOODY: And then that MSO decides he’s not sending his people to the local meeting and that chapter just dries up immediately.
HRANAC: And part of that too is the old 80/20 rule whatever numbers you want to use, where 80% of the works being done by 20% of the people and it’s the people that are real interested in seeing the chapter being successful and they work and work for years, will do a good job and they retire and they move and they leave the industry or they just flat burnt out because they have been doing it for so many years and then if somebody doesn’t become the torch bearer, then that chapter can fade away. And it has happened as Woody said. There’ve been a few chapters that have gone by the wayside but others come along a bit later, so it’s maintained that count in at 70.
WOODY: Every chapter that is successful, you generally find that there is a workhorse in it that really has driven it, stays with it regardless of what goes on. And as long as you have that workhorse in there, that chapter succeeds.
KURPINSKI: Then again, they alluded to, back then in the ‘80s even the early ‘90s there were kind a bit of independent cable operators. So you had a meeting and you would have maybe 10, 15, 20 different systems represented. Well, as the clustering became more and more with the MSOs, the number of operators dwindled. So there wasn’t a need to send a lot of people because now there all working for one, the same company.
COCOROS: The same company.
KURPINSKI: So it’s just evolving.
COCOROS: So let’s talk a little bit about how the SCTE, all the different awards and honors, I know that all of you have been decorated many times across the…there’s the Member of the Year, the Hall of Fame, there’s the Chapter of the Year, I would think. How did that all start?
HRANAC: Think back to the editorial written by Charles Tepfer and the correspondence between him and Bill Karnes to really fulfill the need for recognition for engineers and that was one of the key foundation items that helped to form SCTE and get it where it is today. What is it, 1974 when the first member of the year was awarded? Steve Dourdoufis?
WOODY: I think we actually called it Man of the Year.
HRANAC: That’s right, that’s right.
COCOROS: Oh, that’s a good segue.
WOODY: The first one, then they decided well that was really the start of it so then it got changed to what Ron said what it was called SCTE Member.
HRANAC: That’s right. I had forgotten about the Man of the Year designation.
KURPINSKI: That was actually the first award.
COCOROS: And that was in ’74?
HRANAC: I think it was ’74.
WOODY: We had another pretty early that didn’t stay with us today and that was called the Personal Achievement Award. Remember that?
KURPINSKI: That was for a few years back then.
HRANAC: That one hasn’t been around for a while. They created a Senior Member category and then a few years after that first Member, Man of the Year award. There was a very large group of people, 130 something, as I recall that elevated to Senior Member status. And what later became, what today is called Chairman’s Award was President’s Award. That was formed fairly early on and the president of the Society, that position’s now Chairman of the Board, would pick an individual or company or something to recognize with that distinction.
COCOROS: It can be a company or an individual?
HRANAC: Or an individual. In fact when I was the Chairman, I was President one term and then when the title was changed to Chairman, I was the first Chairman of the Board, holding that role, I had to issue an award. One of the years, I don’t remember if it was when I was Chairman or President that I picked Hewlett Packard. So it was a company award, recognition. And at that time my feeling was that they were doing a lot to help the chapters by training and it was very generic type training in spectrum analysis and those sorts of things. So yes, the Chairman’s Award as it is known today can be awarded to companies or individuals.
WOODY: Also, can be to organizations. The first year that I was president, I awarded it to CableLabs.
HRANAC: There was also a group of people. The old scholarship committee, I had been a member of the old scholarship committee and they awarded the, I guess you’d call it co-award, the Chairman’s Award to all the members of the scholarship committee at the time. That was several years back.
COCOROS: So SCTE had a scholarship program?
WOODY: Early on we’ve always had…
HRANAC: Yes, that was a big deal and Rex Porter contributed seed money to that and NCTI contributed to that and the idea was to reward scholarship money to help pay for NCTI courses and things for people in the cable industry. And it was a scholarship committee that issued those for quite a few years and then that moved over into the SCTE Foundation when the Foundation was formed a few years ago.
COCOROS: Let’s talk about little bit about when you talk about Man of the Year, let’s kind of segue into talking about some of the early women in the SCTE and there were some. We were talking about the first woman officer of SCTE, Judith Scharf, which was what in the ‘70s, I guess?
HRANAC: In the 70s, I think she was an engineer with TCI, worked in the engineering department in TCI, was the first elected officer.
WOODY: I knew she was United.
HRANAC: United? It might have been.
WOODY: TCI bought United but she was United. Maybe even before, it was United Artists.
HRANAC: Was it United or the United Artists because I don’t remember.
WOODY: I believe it was United.
WOODY: Because that came first. You were talking back pretty early.
COCOROS: And then you had said that the first paid executive director was a woman also?
HRANAC: That was Judy Baer. She was hired in 1977 as the first compensated executive, manager if you will, executive director, later executive VP of the Society. I had put together some history information on SCTE a few years back and interviewed a number of people and several folks said they thought that she may have been involved with the SCTE prior to 1977 in some role, maybe on a consulting basis or something, but they weren’t sure. She was involved in running the Society from ’77 through what ’83, ’82? Somewhere in there.
WOODY: She ran another cable organization. I knew her best as CATA which was an organization of the smaller cable systems and they did shows and have meetings.
COCOROS: I remember CATA.
WOODY: I remember exhibiting with her at her shows she had.
KURPINSKI: Predecessor to ACA right now.
WOODY: That’s right.
COCOROS: That’s right. Let’s talk a little bit about the technology just from your own perspectives and your own experience. What do you think…is there a single piece of equipment or something in particular that you think is the most significant, had the most impact?
KURPINSKI: We’re all going to say the same thing.
HRANAC: Probably would be the same, yes.
KURPINSKI: That little pink pin she has there [flamingo pin]. The 704. (Laughter)
COCOROS: Well now that you brought it up, can you give me a little of history of the 704?
KURPINSKI: There wasn’t a piece of test equipment to measure cable signals. I know they used a modified RCA television of some sorts to sort of check cable signals.
HRANAC: Someone put, grafted a meter or something to the TV set.
KURPINSKI: Yeah, it was sort of a bad graft, but then again, Jerrold, gentleman by the name of Ken Simons, who worked in the laboratory, designed the first, they called them, field strength meters. And it was the 704. So that’s basically how it evolved and to getting test equipment to now measure an industry you were building. And it just evolved into all this sophisticated equipment you have now. Specifically for one industry which was cable TV.
HRANAC: I think a significant piece of technology that really had a serious impact on cable was the use of geostationary satellites for the transmission of television programming into cable systems. Up until the mid-1970s, cable operators relied on local broadcast stations or maybe some distant TV stations that were imported by a terrestrial microwave link or something and some local origination things. The old timers will remember the so-called weatherscan that had the camera panning across the weather instruments. Well actually the camera was stationary but there was mirror that rotated back and forth but it looked like the camera was panning across the weather instruments. But in 1975, Home Box Office was the first programmer to deliver satellite programming to cable systems and the idea that a cable system now can carry programming that simply was not available by any other means in the local market really got cable growing on a near vertical curve for quite a few years after that. So that was a game changer.
COCOROS: Game changer.
WOODY: I would agree with Ron. I think in my term that satellite was the number one technology that changed the industry and then I’d move on forward and I’d say that the number two has been the fiber optic. So the combination of those two is what makes where we’re at today. Now there’s always been new stuff every year and changes and so on but I think that you focus on those two, that has really been the big thing.
HRANAC: And more recent times, another one that’s certainly had a profound impact on the industry and maybe not to the extent that the satellite technology did or the optical fiber did is the ability for cable operators to transport digital signals on their networks. That’s had a pretty significant impact on the business.
WOODY: And sort of in addition to the fiber, we wouldn’t have been able to move in that direction but that would be our third one, I think.
HRANAC: I think so.
COCOROS: As we’ve evolved to digital, how is the SCTE kept up, how has SCTE evolved over the years to go with the changes in new technology?
KURPINSKI: Actually they started evolving when again the programming became available because now you have programming driving the engineering because there wasn’t enough bandwidth in the system to carry the programming. And that drove an increase in equipment to stretch out the bandwidth to provide more programming. So it was always one driving the other and it reaches a point of diminishing returns where you just can’t keep going out and building cable systems and rebuilding them because of the cost. And then with the advent of fiber, of course then digital and that gives more signals in the same space and now we’re getting to the point where it’s almost fiber to the home, fiber the last mile. Of course, some people have fiber to the home but still the technology is there to basically carry as much as you want. Digital signals, telephone now, it’s like I said, one drives the other. That’s how it evolved.
HRANAC: SCTE has been right there with training programs and when Woody and I were on the board of SCTE, the mission statement, training and certification standards was incorporated or about to by SCTE. To give you an idea of how progressive SCTE was with these sorts of things, the Society at one time had a means of delivering training to cable operators via satellite and it was called the Satellite Teleseminar Program. Did they have to pay for the transponder space or was it donated?
WOODY: It was donated.
HRANAC: Once a month it would be a technical seminar that had been prerecorded someplace and was played over the satellite transponder and SCTE would let folks know that it’s on Wednesday, one o’clock or something and people could set up a group of technicians and either watch it live or record it for their own use. They did this teleseminar program for quite a few years.
WOODY: I think there was some expense because we used to talk about that. It was more what it cost us to get the feed over there.
HRANAC: I think that’s right.
COCOROS: A webinar before the web right?
HRANAC: Yeah, that’s right.
KURPINSKI: Then again, whoever had the transponder time available basically donated that half an hour or one hour. I mean it wasn’t the same transponder at any given time.
HRANAC: But there was SCTE right in the middle of the satellite technology.
COCOROS: Right, bringing that knowledge to the…
HRANAC: Bringing the knowledge to people but using the very technology that people had been trained on.
KURPINSKI: Again, the certification program was started. The BETC, as it was called back then, Board of Engineering Technicians Certification. I was on a committee that basically did the first 7 tests for that and I think the certification program had a lot to do with cable operators now finally saying “Well, Gee now maybe we can now send our guys because now we have some measure of their capabilities and it gives them an incentive to learn more about their own technology.”
WOODY: And that part has been expanded now to where we test people on various different subjects, from installers to different levels of the technology and so on.
HRANAC: The old BCT/E program which has since been retired and replaced by others that are more modern was broken into two parts. There was the broadband communications technician and engineer, BCTE and there was 7 exams for each one. There was 6 multiple choice tests and one, that was an essay test, was the seventh one if I remember right. Anyway the program kicked off in ’84 or ’85 in Washington, DC. I think it was ’85 and Richard Covell was the category four guy on the test on distribution systems, so that was the first exam that was given in Washington, DC in that program.
WOODY: Even though the program got laid out it took several years before all those got written because I remember later when he and I were on the board that they were still working some of those because you couldn’t take that exam because the documentation hadn’t been stripped to what it was going to be but we knew what the subject was going to be.
KURPINSKI: And they kept adding questions.
COCOROS: Yeah, there’s a lot to cover.
HRANAC: Updating questions. We had question pools and those had to be updated over time and the program was just retired a couple, just a couple of years ago.
WOODY: The Society has really moved forward with the technology whatever it is, that’s what we meant, it’s coming. Funny when you look back sometimes what was the hot subjects for the chapters across the country. And when COI came along first, I think every chapter, everybody was COI, then fiber optics got hot and so on like that. And then as the SCTE, Society itself, they organized and we had a Fiber Optics Conference and it was just a technical conference on fiber optics and the very first one was held in Orlando, I believe it was. And that was what we called it and it was in the spring and so the next year we had fiber optics no. 2 and then we added Fiber Optics Plus. And so when we did the Fiber Optics Plus we would talk about something other than just fiber optics but at that very first meeting it was planned out here in Orlando and I think they planned for something like maybe 100, 150 people and we had it set up in classroom style and the people just poured in. Just the walk-ins was unbelievable. It was like 3 or 4 hundred people. So they had to take all the tables out and go to a theater style setting. And it was so crowded it was hard to get around then.
KURPINSKI: You remember Wendell, before this was called Cable-Tec Expo; it was called the Reliability Conference. The Reliability Engineering Conference. There were no displays, no booths; it was strictly a two day conference which was pure technology for a particular subject. And then it evolved into a 1980 –
KURPINSKI: Judy Baer. Was the first one was Cable-Tec Expo but I think we had maybe 400 people including vendors there.
HRANAC: They tossed around 460.
WOODY: I didn’t realize there were meetings before that. I thought that Expo was..
KURPINSKI: No, it was the Reliability Conference
HRANAC: Yeah. I think for the first few years of the Expo they used that name in there somehow. They had part of the Expo agenda included that presentations on the engineering and reliability.
KURPINSKI: We still sort of have a reliability conference in the papers that are presented and the workshops.
HRANAC: Fiber Optics Conference that you mentioned that started in Florida later evolved to become the Conference on Emerging Technologies which was held in January of every year for quite a few years up until what was it, 3 or 4 years ago, I think.
WOODY: So fiber just kept moving up. I said there was a Fiber Optics Two, there was Plus and then there was Emerging Technology. That was very successful until just a couple of years ago. It was successful then but we went through a reorganization with NCTA and they asked that be moved to their conference and it’s kind of faded away. People don’t come out. There’s still an engineering conference at NCTA but it’s a little bit different group than when we had our separate conference.
COCOROS: So what do you see in the future for SCTE? Looking down the road from your perspective on having been involved through so many years?
WOODY: Well, it’s not going to go away but it is difficult, as we said a while ago, you had this dominance, major MSOs now, so much of it has got to be geared around those MSOs or you don’t have membership out here attending classes. Whereas, a lot of training we used to do was very significant too lot of the cable operators and now we have to become more a part of the major MSOs to be significant. And I think, maybe some of you guys can add to that.
HRANAC: I think that Mark Dzuban has done a really good job of forging partnerships with CableLabs and NCTA. SCTE certainly has changed over the years since it was formed in the late ‘60s. It’s gone far beyond a vehicle to recognize engineers which it still does and it’s gone far beyond an organization that provides training which of course it still does. But it’s heavily involved in standards process and it’s a recognized standard setting body and creates its own standards, so it’s involved in that sort of thing. And so much more. SCTE has an international footprint now with involvement in Europe and South America and elsewhere. And I think the partnership that has been formed and particularly nourished under the leadership of Mark Dzuban has been a good indicator where SCTE could be in the future. In the not too distant past the typical scenario was that CableLabs for instance would create a technical specification of some sort and its very charter prohibits from creating standards because it’s not an open organization and then the training that the specification would be handed off to SCTE and SCTE would run that through the standard setting process and turn it into a standard but that was a serial process. This step was done here and this step was done next and SCTE would go on and develop training programs and things around it. And given the rapid changes in technology and the competitive environment out there, we’re seeing these organizations work together where a lot of this is done in parallel. So SCTE is collaborating with CableLabs on the development on what will become the next version of DOCSIS. I’ll use that as a great example and that’s going to come out as a specification and be carried through the standards process and very close to the same time. Right in smack in the middle of that is training is being developed by SCTE and of course, NCTA is working on the legislative front, is representing the industry in Washington. All three are working much more closely together. You tie that with the relationships that are being established at the corporate level principally with cable operators to encourage involvement at the local level to bring the system technicians into the chapter programs and get them involved in SCTE’s training programs. There are some real strong synergies there. I think it’s, suggests to me anyways that SCTE has a very strong future and one that is going to be contributing very positively to the cable industry.
WOODY: We kind of passed over the significance of maybe standards when we’re listing training and the various things but standards is pretty new. When Ron and I were first on the board that was the thing that we kind of started and were talking about. Now today, it is really significant of the SCTE and we’re kind of fortunate in the fact that we were the only organization in the cable industry that could really qualify for setting standards and that was because we were an open corporation. CableLabs is a closed group that only, that in beginning was the operators supported that and NCTA had some of both but it was still a closed group. And when you come to the Society of Cable Television Engineers, if you have an interest in cable TV, you could be a member. So if your garbage truck driver had an interest in cable TV, he could also be a member of SCTE. So we fit the mold to be an open society and then we’ve also become a member of ASCII so that we carry these standards right forward. So we are the standards setting body and everybody looks to us as that.
KURPINSKI: There’s always going to be a need for SCTE because just t’s the way the industry and technology’s evolving. Let’s face it, when we first started we were strictly video and then data, then voice, now cable operators are putting Wi-Fi hotspots all over. You need the grassroots training, you need certification for all these different technologies and who knows what that technology is going to be in the future.
HRANAC: It’s probably safe to say that the only constant is change. So that’s going to be good for SCTE in the long haul.
WOODY: And we always like to see that there are other segments now, sort of the industry out here that’s not as active as they maybe could be and one now can just goes to a cable office and we found out sometime there’s more people on the phone side and the internet side then there are on the cable TV side. And we would hold a meeting and we had very few of those people over at our meeting. So it’s like what the Society should be doing in order to offer those people something. Of course, there’s…
KURPINSKI: Business services. I mean every MSO now is huge into business service.
COCOROS: So give me each of you what in particular you’ve gotten out of SCTE personally. What’s really the benefit of being a member and being a longtime supporter?
WOODY: Well, okay I’ll start that. I guess, I’ve always been on the sale side, never been on the operating side. I use to work for a manufacturer or distributor and one of the things that it gave me a means to be associated with my customers and provide some service for them. In fact, that’s sort of how I got started in setting up the chapter. I used to call on cable operators and they’d say “Woody, could you help us with getting a chapter started?” I’d always say yes and I’d leave town and one time I’d come back again, they were still asking the same question. Went on for a year or so and finally I decided, you know what, I could do that. I know I can do it. It’s just a matter of somebody’s got to start it. So I got involved to help them. Then you get the appreciation of people that you’ve helped them move forward so that they can start this thing, get involved. And it’s a good feeling to see that happen. I stayed with it and got elected to the board nationally for a region and later was secretary and president of the Society. It was, Ron mentioned a little bit, my last year as president on the board, I changed the titles of the board. I got the board to work with me and we changed that. So my job was president. I was the last president of the SCTE as far as over the board. Ron had been the president maybe the year before.
HRANAC: Year, maybe two years.
WOODY: Two years before. So he was president, he served as president. I got it changed so that job was chairman of the board which I felt described it better. And then, Mark Dzuban now, he’s the president and otherwise he’d just been a director. Then this gave us the option to have officers within. I felt that was important because after calling on a high level of cable people, it’s nicer to have the president calling from the Society than it was maybe a director. So we put that through. Ron would be the only one I think he can say now; he served as a president and as a chairman because he followed up on that.
COCOROS: Okay, so Ron what …
HRANAC: I think my perspective is a little bit different from Woody’s because I was on the operating side of the industry when I started in SCTE. I didn’t join the vendor side of the business until about 2000, so I’ve been in the operating side for most of my career. And I remember going to some of the early SCTE meetings and just being in awe of the expertise that was being shared by the people who came into the regional meetings, the national meetings and even local chapters. And I use that as a good example to give back to a good industry in the late ‘80s I think as the SCTE’s BCT/E program was really working out well, I found myself being in a position to go take the last of the 7 exams in the program and become the first person in the industry to become certified in that program. So I did that and I thought this is good, it’s nice to be recognized by SCTE for doing that but it became a good way to measure skill set and also, serve as an example to others, to encourage others to perhaps do the same thing. For much of the rest of my career, I’ve made an effort to try to emulate the people that I learned from. They were great teachers, willing to share what they had learned and I took what they had taught me and what I’ve learned in my career over the years and have given back speaking at Cable-Tec Expo and the chapters seminars and vendors days and so on. For me that’s probably been the most rewarding part of the Society is being able to give back to the industry and give back to others.
KURPINSKI: Well, like Wendell, I started out in sales engineering and traveling around to different systems. I just saw that there were just not enough people that knew enough about the technology or your specific product. Back early on, there training seminars that were hosted by most of the manufactures. Jerrold was huge in that. Len Ecker was the pinnacle of training. It was generic but it was product specific so I sort of got frustrated going around from system to system and just seeing the like of training for these individuals that really wanted it and had no place to get it. So hence, the Society. That’s when I started to get involved and started the Delaware Valley Chapter and then again, in my travels, like Wendell, I was asked “Gee, Delaware Valley Chapter, Golden Gate Chapter, Rocky Mountain Chapter, what do we have to do to start a chapter here?” So I was assisting in getting a chapter started there and that was my involvement and still is my involvement just to help the industry get grassroots training that these people don’t have.
WOODY: I give John credit too. When I was starting my chapter, the only documentation that the Society had on what you might do to get a chapter started was a two or three page mimeographed sheet that he had written.
KURPINSKI: That I wrote.
WOODY: When they sent that out to you, well that’s okay but there’s a lot missing. And now if you contact the SCTE office, you’d find that there’s volumes of stuff. Everything from forms to so on and I know that we all did our own forms and that kind of just got mimeographed and passed around. Even the SCTE logo would get pretty fuzzy sometimes in some dates. It’d been copied so many times. (Laughter)
COCOROS: Well, it’s great. Is there anything else that we’re missing that you want to add to the talk about SCTE’s early days?
HRANAC: It’s hard to believe that the organization was formed in the late 1960s and here we are in what 2012 and we’re still alive. The question I would have is where the heck has the time gone? It just doesn’t seem like it’s been that long.
KURPINSKI: To see, I mean, like I said just because of our involvement and our age, to see an industry grow from basically nothing to where it is now in our lifetime, how many other industries other than the computer industry can you say that? Telephone’s been around what 130 years or something like that.
WOODY: On the telephone side doesn’t seem to have an organization anything like this.
HRANAC: SCTE is very unique.
COCOROS: Well, gentlemen, thank you very much. I appreciate your time and have a good show.
HRANAC: Thank you.