Interview Date: Sunday November 14, 1999
Interview Location: Colorado Springs, CO
Interviewer: E. Stratford Smith
Collection: Penn State Collection
Note: Audio Only
SMITH: It is November 14, 1989. I am E. Stratford Smith, Professor of Cable Communications in the School of Communications at the Pennsylvania State University and Director of the Oral Histories Program of The National Cable Television Center and Museum at Penn State. With me is Mr. Stan Searle, co-founder and founding editor of the trade publication TV & Communications–now published as Cable Television Business. Mr. Searle is also founder of the organization of cable television pioneers.
This interview with Mr. Searle is being recorded at the Embassy Suites Hotel in Colorado Springs, Colorado as part of the cable television oral histories program of The National Cable Television Center and Museum at Penn State.
Mr. Searle is one of many industry pioneers as well as a current industry leader whose histories and participation in the cable industry will be recorded and transcribed for archival research and educational purposes. Stan, in these interviews, we usually start at the beginning and ask when and where you were born.
SEARLE: I was born October 23, 1936 at Yakima, Washington. My parents are the late Sheldon Searle and Concordia Munro Searle respectively . . . . My dad was the grandson of an Illinois farmer who had been a newspaperman in Massachusetts. He was of English descent. My mother is a naturalized citizen, born in Canada to Icelandic and Scottish parents. My dad was born in Cripple Creek, Colorado where my grandfather was a mining engineer. Both of my parents grew up in the Yakima Valley.
SMITH: How many brothers and sisters do you have?
SEARLE: I have three brothers and a sister. I’m the one in the middle. My oldest brother is Sheldon Walter Searle, Jr. My next oldest brother is Henry Lee Searle. My sister, just younger, is Marilyn Searle Hopper, and my youngest brother is Robert Searle. He is the current publisher of Cable Television Business and a variety of other trade magazines.
SMITH: Where were you reared, Stan?
SEARLE: I grew up near Yakima, Washington, went away to school at the University of Washington when I was seventeen. My mother still lives on the homestead that my granddad filed on in 1913. It’s a small cattle ranch. We also had a small orchard where we grew cherries, peaches and apricots.
SMITH: What were your principal interests as a youngster?
SEARLE: When I was a kid my main interests were all outdoor oriented–riding, hunting, trapping and camping. At school it was baseball and drawing that I liked the best. We had a few horses and I spent a lot of time during the summers on horseback. Ranch chores included milking cows, putting up hay, picking fruit, chopping firewood and sometimes bossing a crew of eight or ten fruit pickers.
SMITH: Where did you go to high school?
SEARLE: Although there was a rural high school that all of my contemporaries went to, my brothers and sister and I attended Yakima High School. We traveled twelve miles to the city high school where art, chemistry, trigonometry and other courses were offered that weren’t available in the country high school. It was difficult getting to school–as there was no school bus–so we sometimes arranged to ride with neighbors, or our folks took us a few miles to where we could catch a bus–when there was public bus service available. When I was a sophomore, we got an old Studebaker and the routine got a lot easier.
SMITH: This desire to get you into a school where there was more subject matter and more things for you to study, was that motivated by your father or mother, or both?
SEARLE: Both of them. We were expected to excel in school although that wasn’t always an advantage. My older brothers and I were allowed to skip a grade and got ahead of our age group, which made it harder to compete in sports.
SMITH: Speaking of sports, were you active athletically in school?
SEARLE: As much as was available in rural schools. I never touched a basketball until I was in the ninth grade. Of course, rural kids usually had a problem turning out for sports because we had to get home and do chores and transportation was always a problem. I played baseball in grade school and track in high school. Later on in college I competed in boxing, tennis and intramural football. My brother Hank and I were on the varsity rifle and pistol team.
SMITH: You went to the University of Washington when you were seventeen?
SEARLE: Right. Going to school in town had the benefit of helping us to qualify for scholarships. Hank and I each had a full scholarship in the NROTC program.
SMITH: How did you become eligible for those scholarships?
SEARLE: Reasonably good grades, academic tests and passing a tough physical.
SMITH: Did that scholarship pay for tuition at the University of Washington?
SEARLE: Yes, it paid for tuition and books; almost all of the expenses. I could earn enough in the summertime, what little of the summer I wasn’t on cruises, to just about pay my own way.
SMITH: What was your summer work?
SEARLE: There was work on the ranch and in the orchard and I worked one summer as an inspector on concrete work for the City of Yakima. During one school year I sold cookware.
SMITH: To what were you referring when you said, “When you weren’t on cruises?”
SEARLE: The Navy ROTC program involved summer training cruises. One summer I was on a destroyer that visited Norway, Sweden and Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. The next year we trained at Corpus Christi, Texas and Norfolk, Virginia. A quick trip on a destroyer escort took us to a couple of Alaskan ports.
SMITH: You graduated from the University of Washington and had been in the Naval ROTC program.
SEARLE: I studied civil engineering but I left the University and the Navy program after three and a half years to do what I wanted to do all along. I went into advertising. After leaving the university in December of 1957, Lorna Fishel and I were married the same month. I began working as a free lance artist; then joined Boeing Airplane Company in February of 1958. Three months later I accepted a job with the Aberdeen, Washington newspaper as an advertising account executive. I left the newspaper that fall to start an advertising agency in Aberdeen and Hoquiam, Washington. That’s how I became acquainted with Fred Goddard, the first cable operator I ever met. Fred owned KXRO radio and I placed a lot of business with them for local accounts. When I became a subscriber of Fred’s system, at age 21, that was my first exposure to cable. They had lowered the installation fee from $150 to $120 in the Aberdeen system and had about 85% saturation. I had no interest in the cable business, but I did take note of the healthy installation fee.
Editor’s Note: Fred Goddard was one of the very early cable operators in the Pacific Northwest.
SMITH: To take you back for a moment, you mentioned that right after you left school you got married, and that was to Lorna?
SEARLE: Yes, to Lorna Kay Joyce Fishel.
SMITH: What about Lorna’s parents, her background?
SEARLE: Her parents, Charles and Roberta Fishel, were both native Washingtonians. Her dad was in the food brokerage and manufacturing business. They had moved from the Seattle area to Modesto, California but she had come back to attend Washington State College, and then transferred to Seattle Pacific College.
SMITH: That was going to be my next question. What were the circumstances of your meeting Lorna?
SEARLE: I met her at a Sunday evening service at the Baptist church I attended. She caught my attention immediately. I found some excuse to meet her and got acquainted after the church service was over. That was in the spring of 1957.
SMITH: How long after that were you married?
SEARLE: I proposed to her in May, and we were married December 28th of the year that we met.
SMITH: You moved right along.
SEARLE: Yes, I had good taste and the good judgment to know an exceptional gal when I saw her.
SMITH: She’ll be pleased to read this oral history won’t she? Stan, quite a few years ago, back around 1968, I had the pleasure of being a guest in your home a few days, or a few weeks after a baby girl had been born to you and Lorna. How many children do you have, and tell me about that one that I had the privilege of meeting when she was a newly-born.
SEARLE: We have five children of our own plus a foster son. Shelley Barber, the oldest, is in Africa now. Her husband, Bob, is a science teacher and coach. She was born in ’58 in Aberdeen, Washington. The next one, Lorna Deanne Robles was born in December of ’59 in Modesto, California where we had moved to start another advertising agency. Charlie, the editor and publisher, was born in 1962 in Oklahoma City. And in ’68 our daughter Sharon, who intends to practice law was born in Oklahoma City. Our youngest, Monty (Stanley M. Searle, II), who plans to direct films, was born in 1975 in Colorado. Our foster son, Mark Day, came to live with us in California. When we moved to Oklahoma, he had to remain in California. Three years later, at age 16, he was able, through his own initiative, to come and live with us permanently in Oklahoma City. He has been a member of the family ever since.
SMITH: Back to the youngest daughter. Is that the one that I met?
SEARLE: Yes, that’s Sharon.
SMITH: When you go home will you tell her that I remember her from that evening many years ago.
SEARLE: I sure will.
Editor’s Note: Sharon SEARLE:, now a barrister, graduated with honors from the University of Liverpool, Cayman Islands Law School, in 1997.
SMITH: Stan, back to the advertising agency in Washington. You mentioned that at that time you got your first introduction to cable as a subscriber to Fred Goddard’s system. Then you mentioned that you had gone to Modesto to start an advertising agency there. Would you tell us a little bit about the transition from the one to the other?
SEARLE: While operating the only advertising agency in Aberdeen, we had been in Modesto to visit Lorna’s parents. Aberdeen was primarily a logging town. They’d probably had a depressed economy there for half a century. During our stay in the San Joaquin Valley I was struck by the dramatic differences. We decided to reestablish in California where there was a lot more going on, business wise, than on the Washington coast.
We sold our advertising agency for $2,500, which seemed like a lot of money at the time. We moved to Modesto late in 1959. Our marginally successful operation there led me into the acquaintanceship which was really the entree into my long term involvement in cable.
Early in 1961, I held a press luncheon for a client to announce a new product. One of the people who attended was a chap named Robert B. Cooper, Jr. who worked for a local radio station as an air personality and reporter. It turned out that he published a magazine called D-Xing Horizons and was about to start another called TV Horizons. Since I was an artist as well as a copywriter, we began doing some work for Bob’s magazines. He soon quit his radio job to become a full-time publisher and hired me as his art director in October, 1961. I decided to close my advertising agency practice. The new monthly, TV Horizons, was then the only magazine relating to cable; it actually encompassed both cable and translators.
SMITH: What were the titles of the magazines Cooper was producing?
SEARLE: D-Xing Horizons, which was written for people whose hobby is trying to pick up distant signals, was soon phased out. TV Horizons was created to serve those in the business of operating CATV or translators. And his other new monthly, CB Horizons, was published for the emerging Citizens Band radio industry.
SMITH: You don’t happen to have any copies of those magazines in your archives?
SEARLE: I have a few, but Jim Davidson might have complete sets of some in his considerable archives.
SMITH: You went to work for Cooper as an art director. Where did you get your training in art?
SEARLE: I had never had any special training outside of art courses in high school. I had done artwork for yearbooks in grade school, high school, and the NROTC. My engineering drawing and my brief work at Boeing as an illustrator, plus some free lancing, were all the preparation I had for the ad layouts and finished artwork I did for the newspaper and my agency clients. I guess I was largely self-taught.
SMITH: When you were with Boeing, what were you illustrating?
SEARLE: I was mostly just tracing schematics, which is why I left.
SMITH: I had visions of you making drawings for magazines and publications and so on.
SEARLE: I probably did too when I took the job. But when I went to the newspaper as a display advertising salesman, I had to design the advertisements. Like my sister and brothers, I had inherited some creative aptitude. We are all reasonably good artists and writers.
SMITH: I gather from what you have said of your college background and high school, that you were not a trained journalist. Did you study journalism at all?
SEARLE: The only writing I ever did was for English class–and, of course, plenty of themes and term papers.
SMITH: You didn’t study advertising at college either I take it?
SEARLE: I studied it after I left college. I intended to make a living at it, so I got a big thick book on advertising agency practice and dived into it.
SMITH: Where did Cooper publish his magazine? Where were you located?
SEARLE: Modesto, California, the same town where I had my ad agency business. But a few weeks after I went to work for him, he announced that he was moving his company to Oklahoma City and gave me about half a day to decide whether I wanted to go along or not.
SMITH: And your decision?
SEARLE: We decided that, while we had never been in Oklahoma, the move would represent forward progress and a new adventure. And the prospect of continuing to get a paycheck every couple of weeks was attractive. Lorna and I talked it over for an evening and I told Cooper the next morning that we’d go.
SMITH: In what year was that move made?
SEARLE: I drove to Oklahoma City in December of ’61.Lorna and our two girls flew in from California about January 5. It was 20 degrees above zero with a 20 knot wind when they landed. That was their introduction to Oklahoma.
SMITH: Will you give us a thumbnail sketch of your career with Mr. Cooper?
SEARLE: My job as art director quickly evolved into advertising manager. I sold advertising space to all of the early day cable equipment suppliers, including John Campbell (CAS manufacturing)), Jim Davidson (Davco), Sel Kremer (Jerrold), Arthur Baum (Rego Wire), Don Spencer (SKL), Bruce Merrill (Ameco), Hank Diambra (Entron) and Luther Holt (Holt Electronics). I had some increasing responsibilities in editorial and advertising functions for magazines in land mobile radio, CB radio and VHF ham radio, as well as the television magazine.
It was a small company with fewer than 20 employees. In September of 1963, my relationship with Bob Cooper took a downturn. In response to what I thought were some grossly unethical business practices, I resigned. The business manager, Patrick T. Pogue, also resigned at the same time. When we both quit, all the rest of the staff resigned, except for Bob’s brother. The company’s bank and an outside shareholder, a relative of Cooper’s, convened a series of emergency meetings that raged for on ten days straight in attorneys’ offices. The sessions included creditors, the outside stockholder, Pat Pogue and me. Some meetings included two or three other staff people that the bankers thought were key to bringing the company back to life.
The creditors wanted Pat Pogue and me to come back and help save the company. They proposed that we run the company and that Bob Cooper would be kept on as a consultant and contributor, working out of his own home. They asked me to serve as the “acting president” of Horizons Publications, Inc., with Pat Pogue to resume business manager responsibilities. By this time the company had some serious debt and cash flow problems–aggravated by two weeks of no business activity while the “whistleblowers” and all the employees were being entreated to come back to work. It was kind of complicated, involving Cooper threatening Pat and me with legal action. He wanted to sue us for quitting and, in his view, inspiring the rest of his staff to quit. We never encouraged anyone to quit; it was obvious that they’d all lost confidence in the company’s ability to survive. It’s worth noting that Bob Cooper was only about 25 years old when all this took place.
Neither Pat nor I wanted to come back and try to save the company for the stockholders and creditors–just so Cooper could kick us out at his convenience later on. We went to a relative of Cooper’s who had a substantial amount of stock in the company. He agreed to sell us controlling interest in the company if we came back. So, when we told the banker we’d try to rescue the company, it was not out of sheer innocence or generosity. We had cut a secret deal with one of the stockholders so that if we were able to save the company we’d have a chance for the two of us to own a controlling interest. So we assumed the responsibility for operating “Cooper’s company,” which by then published three magazines, TV Horizons, Communications Horizons, and CB Horizons.
It wasn’t a very harmonious arrangement with the president and founder being required to bring in his editorial work and submit it to me. I was, after all, the neophyte artist–now “acting president”–whom he had hired just two years earlier! However, we managed a civil relationship and the company was regaining profitability under Pogue’s careful financial stewardship and my sales management.
On December 19, 1963, within two or three months of all these events, we were in the process of moving the company into different offices when the building that we were moving into suffered a serious fire. An insurance company was skeptical enough about either the origin of the fire or the status of the policy that they never paid off on the disastrous loss. It had some comical aspects to it . . . . actually the fire didn’t hurt very much, but the firemen with their axes and water hoses just about destroyed everything. They stepped on typewriters and soaked computer cards and that sort of thing
Later that morning, December 19, 1963, Pat Pogue and I, along with three or four newly out-of-work fellow employees met in a little hotel to decide if there was anything we could do to carry on. Pat and I told the people that we thought we would start our own publishing company to publish magazines for the cable TV industry and the two-way communications field and invited all of them to join us. Several of them were interested–until we told them that the only requirement was that they are willing to go to the bank with us and borrow some money.
When the smoke cleared, literally, Pat Pogue and I were the only ones who were willing to venture into a new publishing activity. We created an entity called Communications Publishing Corporation in Oklahoma City. It was started officially January 1, 1964–although I had spent the last week of December talking to advertisers and planning editorial content.
SMITH: How big was the shoestring you started it on, Stan?
SEARLE: Well, our last paychecks had bounced as a result of the fire, so the shoestring was pretty short! Fortunately, a printing supplier who had not heard about the fire sent Pogue and me each a Christmas ham. Then Lorna’s folks came through Oklahoma City on a business trip and I think they gave us $50 which we split with my partner. It wasn’t much of a shoestring.
I immediately started selling advertising in the January issue of a new magazine which we had named TV & Communications. The first calls were to people with whom I had a good personal relationship–like Jerrold
Electronics, where Selman Kremer was the advertising director, and CAS Manufacturing, owned by John Campbell in Mineral Wells, Texas.
Since we had no money, we pre-billed the first issue and invited payment in advance of publication. The first check came in from Jim Davidson of Davco Electronics in Batesville, Arkansas. We used Jim’s check to make a telephone deposit so that I could quit making sales calls from a phone booth or my house.
Our staff consisted of a secretary, an artist, one editor, Par Pogue and me. We turned out January issues of both TV & Communications and another new monthly called CB Magazine. We operated on a line of credit from a printer, from the early payments of people like Kremer and Davidson . . . . and those free hams probably lasted a couple of weeks!
The relationships which I had developed with individual advertisers, while working for Cooper, put us in a position to have the trust of manufacturers and suppliers to the cable industry. In fact, I found that as a brand new company we were actually able to sell more advertising in our new publications than I had been able to sell previously. That may have been partly because of Cooper’s reputation–going back to his controversial efforts to serve the translator business in the same magazine as the cable TV industry. When we started over with a “pure cable” book, it was instantly well received. Advertising sales were excellent.
SMITH: That had to be quite an act to try and sell advertising in a publication that was catering both to CATV and to the translators.
SEARLE: Back in 1962 Bob Cooper had sent me to the National Community Television Association (NCTA) Convention at the Shoreham Hotel in Washington. I figured out after I got there why he didn’t go himself; I walked right into a hornet’s nest.
END OF TAPE 1, SIDE A
BEGINNING OF TAPE 1, SIDE B
SMITH: Would you like to go into that story?
SEARLE: Having been involved with the television publication for less than a year, knowing very little about it and certainly nothing about industry politics, I was sent to the NCTA convention as advertising salesman, reporter, and photographer. Bob did one splendid thing for me. He told me to look up a fellow named Charles Clements from Waterville, Washington.
I walked into the Shoreham Hotel wide-eyed, knowing little about cable TV, nothing about the controversy that was brewing. Fortunately, I found Charlie Clements on the Sunday afternoon of my arrival. He graciously took me aside. We sat down in the lobby, and he told me that there was a move afoot in the industry to create an advertising boycott of the publication that I was there to sell advertising in. The source of mass indignation was Cooper’s editorial promotion of TV translators which were then viewed as the biggest threat to the viability of the Community Antennas Television (CATV) industry.
Confronted with impending disaster for the magazine, I made a quick decision. I told Charlie to promise whoever was out to kill us that we would cease covering translator affairs in TV Horizons.
SMITH: Did you make that decision without calling Cooper?
SEARLE: I didn’t see any reasonable alternative. When I got back, I had to persuade Cooper that if he wanted his magazine to survive he had to support what I had already promised, which he did. Anyway, Charlie Clements proceeded to acquaint me with the rudiments of the cable industry–political and economic. I was very fortunate that, while I met a lot of people in the cable industry who have become good friends, the first one who really befriended me was Charlie Clements. He became, and is today, a very good friend. I’ll always be grateful for Charlie’s “on the job training” that enabled me to make my first NCTA meeting profitable and successful. I got good results selling ads and did an acceptable job of reporting what went on and stopped the boycott from ever happening. That had been a highlight of my first year working with Cooper.
In January of ’64 we unexpectedly found ourselves in a start-up situation with no money. I’m sure that relationships with people like Charlie Clements and a lot of advertisers were the reason we were able to succeed. The credit standing which Pat and I had personally made it possible to borrow from a bank, although we got turned down by several before we found one that would loan us the ten thousand that we needed on our signatures.
SMITH: That was pretty typical of those days in the cable industry itself. Was it not, Stan?
SEARLE: Sure, and we were even shakier than a cable operation. We were providing an intangible service to the unproven cable industry and the highly unpredictable citizens band radio market.
SMITH: For the sake of the reader who may be some day reading these pearls of great price, I would like to refer back to Charlie Clements for just a little bit of additional identification. Wouldn’t you agree that Charlie Clements was almost a legendary figure in the early cable industry as a consulting engineer?
SEARLE: Charlie Clements, even in those early times, had been to hundreds of locations to consult for a variety of clients. Probably every important cable multiple system operator at that time had retained Charlie. A few years after that, he told me he had been to nearly a thousand towns, cable situations, in the U.S. and around the world. He is not only a legend as a consultant, but one of the genuinely good people in the cable business. He is a very generous, easy-going guy. The story of cable for me, to sum it up, would be one of people, generous people who had found opportunities and challenges and who were willing to unselfishly share their time and share their opportunities. Charlie and I later got into some franchise situations where he reflected those same attributes.
SMITH: As a person, Stan, who was in the industry for a long time, as you know, I can confirm that reputation of Charlie Clements for the information of the reader of this oral history. There is on the shelves of the Oral Histories Room a full history of Charlie Clements which also makes very interesting reading.
Stan, when you and Pat wound up having your own publications and no resources except the good will of your customers and your own willingness to work, what sort of a staff did you have to get started?
SEARLE: Our first editor was Sherrill Dunn, who later worked for TCI; an art director, Mrs. Jean Schaefer, and a secretary, Rita Corona. Early in our first year, my brother Bob joined us and took on a wide variety of editorial, sales and production assignments. His wife, Lynda, helped out too, working full-time in our office. She and Lorna also helped with our NCTA Convention Daily and with the convention booths.
We soon added a bright young salesman, Phil Cook, and a talented editor, John Paul Johnson. A longtime friend and classmate, Wayne Wilson, who had worked with me in the advertising agency in California, joined us as advertising manager. Another key man who joined out staff in Oklahoma was Milt Bryan, who started his own business after moving with us to Denver. And Bob Titsch, who later went into competition with us, we hired in Oklahoma City. During our first year of business we bought a Mooney Mark 21 and Joe Durham, our bookkeeper, served as company pilot while Pogue and I were getting out private pilots licenses.
After moving to Denver in 1969, we added a lot of good people over the years, like Pat Weisner and Cheryl Greenman.
SMITH: How did you and Pat Pogue divide the duties?
SEARLE: Being an accountant he managed primarily the business affairs. My experience had been in advertising, art and writing. By that time I had written a lot of advertising copy both in my agency and for the publications. I had written and edited a variety of articles, such as my first reporting assignment back at the Shoreham Hotel. I had been required to quickly develop editorial skills when I took over for Cooper. I was in charge of the creative part, the selling and the writing, and the production. Of course, I had to do some business management and Pat had to double as an ad salesman or occasionally a writer.
SMITH: In those days, what were the sources for your information?
SEARLE: In the early years we had a modest budget and small staff. We did not have a full-time Washington editor until about 1970. We relied largely upon the voluntary contributions of people who believed that the industries we served needed publications, and knew that we weren’t strong enough to go get the job done by ourselves. We didn’t have the finances, resources or staff of a Broadcasting Magazine. We got a lot of volunteer help from people at NCTA–notably Bob L’Heureux, Frank Nowaczek, Sam Street and Wally Briscoe. And, to a lesser degree, Fred Ford, when he was President. They all helped us get the news reported.
We had a few friends at the FCC, among numerous adversaries. Some, like Max Paglin and Sol Schildhause and, later on, David Kinley would frequently put us onto a story.
We had many allies around the country–like Jim Stilwell and Charlie Wigatow, who worked for Fred Lieberman at TeleSystems; Sruki Switzer, in Canada; Bob Cowart on the West Coast; Sox Bridgett at SKL; Tom SMITH: at S-A; Ed Whitney and Hank Diambra at Entron, and Ken Simons at Jerrold–who contributed editorially and also some of them financially through their advertising.
Most of them were engineers and most of the articles were on technical topics. Some, like Archer Taylor, Jim Davidson and John Campbell were entrepreneur engineers.
They sent us photographs for our covers and articles for the magazine and pointed us to news stories. We occasionally traveled to meetings of the regional cable associations, from New England to the Pacific Northwest. I remember an early meeting of the California Association, chaired by Frank Williams, with only a few dozen on hand. We attended at least one New York Association meeting and I was on the program with Ben Conroy, Bill Daniels and Phil Hays at the first meeting of the Illinois-Indiana Cable Association in 1965. The Mid-America Association and Texas meetings were convenient for us and we covered most of them.
People like George Barco in Pennsylvania, would go out of their way to try to get us to cover meetings. If we couldn’t attend they’d make sure we got an account of what went on. I attended a lot of NCTA board meetings, although there was some controversy around that.
SMITH: How did you report on all the news generated in Washington?
SEARLE: In our first year we had a chap named Bob Tall representing us in Washington; after that a succession of “stringers” who worked for us while reporting for other publications. Eventually, we set up our own Washington Bureau with full-time staff. Several top-notch people held that post, including Jacqueline Morse. Possibly the best to serve in that position was Brian Lamb, a good reporter and a quality guy. He was, and is, a visionary with a strong sense of direction. The tremendous success of C-SPAN confirms that.
SMITH: Off the record Stan and I concluded that it would be a good idea to get some of his comments with respect to Brian on this tape since Brian was a former employee of Stan’s. Would you go ahead with what you were telling me?
SEARLE: With some former employees our lasting impressions are not recollections of great respect and admiration. People generally leave because of discord, disagreement or disappointment on one side or the other. But not so with Brian Lamb. One of my main recollections of Brian is that he said he wanted to “make a difference” through publishing or electronic publishing. He tried to get our company involved with some of his dreams. But, I frankly questioned whether Brian Lamb, without great financial resources, would be able to affect public policy by enhancing public awareness.
I had spent a lot of time and money, over the years–personally and in print–trying to make a difference in Washington, D.C. Even with the opportunities afforded through the printed page and the opportunity to editorialize–we only occasionally seemed to influence government or even a trade association. So I was skeptical of Brian’s dream.
Obviously, I was wrong to underestimate Brian’s vision and leadership–which enabled him to energize and organize the cable industry behind his concept for C-SPAN.
Recently, we surveyed the cable subscribers on our systems and found C-SPAN’s popularity way down at the bottom, just above the home shopping channel. But regardless of what the majority of people watch at any given time, we’re going to continue to carry C-SPAN because I think it does make a difference. Brian is making a difference, when he covers the affairs of Congress or the committee hearings or interviews leaders in our society. We’re exposed to things that Americans could never learn about any other way. While we don’t deserve any credit for Brian’s growth and skills, I’m proud to have had the association with him when he was a cable television reporter in Washington, D.C. I would be the first to admit that I was wrong and he was right and he could make a difference, and he has. Incidentally, Lorna likes to remind me that she always believed in Brian and knew that he could make his dream succeed.
SMITH: You will be interested, Stan, in a remark that Brian made to me a few weeks ago when he was visiting at Penn State. He was telling me of a call-in program that he was conducting on C-SPAN that morning before he flew up to State College. He said on that one-hour program, he had three telephone calls from West satellite transmission. So when you say “make a difference,” he’s making a difference with some people. The potential for international satellite cable communications, I believe, is going to surprise a great number of people.
SMITH: When did you establish a New York office?
SEARLE: In the early eighties, as I recall. Jill Marks was our first staff person there.
SMITH: Communications Publishing Corporation eventually became Cardiff Communications, Inc. Describe how that transpired.
SEARLE: In 1976, we acquired control of an inactive public company called Cardiff Industries and merged it with CPC. We wanted to be prepared to raise capital for cable acquisitions by selling stock but, as it turned out, the time and conditions were never right for that. We inherited a thousand or so outside shareholders but Pat Pogue’s interest and my family’s interests amounted to about 90 percent. With the stock incentives given to employees, we eventually held about 75 percent between Pat’s family and mine.
SMITH: While we’re bouncing around, I’m taking you back to the early days with TV & Communications. What other magazines did you publish?
SEARLE: CB Magazine, which I mentioned earlier, served the citizens band two-way radio industry. We sold it to our printer after about a year. He agreed to cancel a big printing bill and give us a few thousand dollars. We were delighted to be out of the “consumer” magazine business and concentrated on our “trade” magazines, where we were more comfortable. During our first year of operation we had started Communications Magazine to serve the land-mobile radio industry. So the sale left us with two business publications.
SMITH: How long did you stay in Oklahoma with your operation?
SEARLE: Way back in 1964, our first year, I suggested to my partner that I would like to relocate the company to Colorado or possibly the west coast. Pat agreed, and we had that in the back of our minds, as a possibility. Bill Daniels had become established in Denver some years earlier and in 1967 Cablecom General had moved their headquarters from Oklahoma City to Colorado Springs, just an hour south of Denver.
Daniels said to me that with this advent, along with Bob Magness having moved to Denver, if we would relocate the cable television publications (the monthly, then called TVC and CATV Weekly) it would make Denver the “cable capital of the world.”
In 1968, Bill Daniels asked me, “Are you ever going to move to Colorado?” I said, probably some time, but we’d have to find a banking connection and offices and so forth. He said, “If I get you an appointment with Governor John Love to discuss your needs, would you come to Denver?” I said sure, and he called me back and had set an appointment for the following Tuesday with Governor Love. He arranged for Alan Harmon to take me to see Governor Love. We had a pleasant meeting and he sent me on to meet with his state director of economic development. We also had appointments with three different banks. Within a few weeks we had established a banking relationship, gotten a needed line of credit and began looking for a building location.
I was amused to learn years later that my good friend Alan Harmon–who had taken me past all the doors and right in to see the governor–had never met him before that day. He admits he was as nervous about it as I was! And all those years I was so impressed with Alan’s relationship with Governor Love! Those meetings led to our being able to have a building built in the Denver suburbs to which we moved in 1969.
SMITH: Why did Bill Daniels not take you to meet Governor Love?
SEARLE: Maybe he hadn’t met him either! I have no idea. He was probably meeting with the president at the time.
SMITH: That story sounds exactly like a Bill Daniels operation. There was really nothing Bill couldn’t or wouldn’t do.
SEARLE: I’ve learned a lot from Bill Daniels. He shared with me some confidential data about his holdings, about his various fractional interests in cable operations, very early on, like 1965. I observed that he had small carried interests in lots of different CATV operations. I’m sure that resulted from services he had rendered or from brokerage commission arrangements. That was the model for our getting into cable ownership.
SMITH: That’s the subject that I definitely will want to get into with you a little later on. Let’s see if we can wind up the publishing side of it first. You mentioned CATV Weekly as a title; when did CATV Weekly start? And, was TV & Communications a continuing title right through your ownership of the publication?
SEARLE: Initially, TV & Communications covered both cable TV and business radio. But within a few months we initiated Communications Magazine, a monthly to cover that industry. The name of the cable book became TV Communications, later shortened to just TVC.
In about 1980, the name was again changed: to Cable Television Business. CATV Weekly actually grew out of a weekly newsletter called Cable Television Review, which started in 1965. In 1968, we turned it into a slick magazine called CATV Weekly and hired Bob Huston, who had been advertising manager at Ameco, as editor. CATV Weekly continued for many years, eventually becoming known as Vue magazine. The proliferation of competitive publications influenced our decision–about 10 years ago–to merge both of the cable books into a single bi-weekly. By then we were also publishing several other magazines, including RF Designs, Satellite Communications, and Lighting Dimensions.
SMITH: You mentioned a name that was well known in the cable industry in those days, Bob Huston. How long was Bob with you as editor of CATV Weekly?
SEARLE: He was with us for a couple of years. Bob Huston was a pretty good writer and without challenge, the most audacious and sometimes obnoxious journalist ever to surface in the cable television industry.
SMITH: We don’t have to take this off the tape, do we?
SMITH: Because everybody agrees with you.
SEARLE: I’m sure if he were here today, wherever he is, he wouldn’t argue with that. But it was interesting.
SMITH: Would you care to detail the circumstances under which Bob left your organization?
SEARLE: I’m not really clear on the reasons other than most of those things that get characterized as a personality conflict. Perhaps that’s what it was. We had some differences over who was ultimately in charge. Also, he was enjoying what he thought was tremendous power as an editor. And he was more extreme than I wanted our magazine to be in how much he helped some people and how much he hurt other people. That was the philosophical difference.
One Friday afternoon, the day that the material had to be typeset and sent to the printer for Saturday’s publication, he and his editorial staff consisting of a couple of young ladies went to lunch and never came back.
END OF TAPE 1, SIDE B
BEGINNING OF TAPE 2, SIDE A
SMITH: How did you handle that unusual situation?
SEARLE: That turned out to be a very hectic afternoon, right under deadline. They normally would have been back after a short lunch, working very hard. But they weren’t back by 3:00. At about 3:30, my brother, Bob SEARLE:, who was in charge of the editorial side of TVC and Communications Magazine among other things, went over to see what was going on in Huston’s part of the building. What he found was empty chairs and no work on typewriters, no work ready to go to the printer!
He looked around and found that all half-finished, editorial work, whatever stage it was in, had been tossed in the waste baskets. He deduced that probably our CATV Weekly staff was gone at least for the day, if not forever. He and I and others literally picked up the pieces and somehow put the magazine out on Saturday as scheduled. I’ve never had a conversation with Bob Huston since that day. I will never know what triggered his unceremonious departure.
SMITH: Judging by the fact that the week’s copy was in the waste basket suggests that he didn’t intend to come back when he went to lunch, doesn’t it?
SEARLE: No, he obviously had some extreme feelings over something. When another editor left, at least we knew why. Sherrill Dunn quit a year or two earlier over our handling of a small news item on a personnel appointment at Jerrold Electronics. The engineer named in the release called and told Pat Pogue that he was upset that we had published this item without his photograph.
Pat, who had never heard of the guy, knew that Jerrold was one of our principal advertisers and told him that the oversight would be corrected, that the item would appear with the photograph in the very next issue.
Pat told Sherrill, who was the editor of TVC at that time, that we needed to publish this item again with the guy’s picture. Sherrill took exception to that, declaring that we should not cave in to this outfit just because they’re big advertisers. Pogue said something like “Read my lips; this is Jerrold Electronics and we’ll run the guy’s picture upside down if that’s what he wants.” Sherrill stomped out and quit his job over a directive to honor an advertiser’s demand. We had a cordial relationship in later years with Sherrill, when he was at TCI. And, unlike Huston, at least we knew why he left.
SMITH: When did Huston next turn up, so to speak?
SEARLE: We had begun pursuing cable television franchises and were successfully doing so in the state of Oklahoma and in Yakima, Washington. Bob Huston had become the front man for some different interests seeking cable franchises in Oklahoma. We bumped into him occasionally at council meetings and NCTA gatherings.
SMITH: Did you encounter him later on as a publishing competitor?
SEARLE: He went on to publish a magazine called Cable News out in Phoenix, I believe. Bob Huston ranged from Washington Review to National Lampoon in his journalistic bent. He published a weekly publication in competition with us for a few years. I don’t recall when he quit. I forgot to save any copies, even the one with my picture on the cover which I’d really like to have a copy of.
SMITH: Your picture on the cover of Huston’s publication?
SEARLE: Yes, out of a sense of humor or peculiar journalism, he chose to run my picture on the cover of his competitive magazine on some anniversary of our having started in business.
SMITH: Was there an accompanying editorial? Do you recall?
SEARLE: That cover was not accompanied by any significant editorial comment. There had been some other issues in which he was highly unflattering in personal references to me, which was not a treatment that he reserved for his competitors. He would praise or severely abuse lots of people at random. I really don’t think that his bizarre journalism had any lasting significance to the industry.
There were some other cable related publications that came and went. We always saw ourselves as part of the cable television industry in our role as publishers. Many others saw themselves as publishers doing business with the cable television industry. Ours was not a pure journalistic role and, in fact, it sometimes confused some of our readers. They could tell from our editorial slant that we considered ourselves part of the cable industry rather than external entity writing about the industry. For one thing, we did have more than just a journalistic interest in the business. From 1965 we had ownership in a cable system. In 1967 we created the National Cable Television Institute which was training technicians, installers, and engineers. (Eventually, under Roland Hieb, who headed up NCTI beginning in 1968 and eventually bought it, they graduated more than 10,000 cable technicians.
SMITH: I think from my memory, you were regarded by the industry as being from within rather than from without. Is that what you’re saying?
SEARLE: Yes, and that led to some problems. I attended many NCTA board meetings while Al Warren of TV Digest or Tack Nail, his excellent reporter, sat in the hall waiting to get a report from somebody who had been in the meeting. Because we were part of the industry and eventually cable system owners, we were accorded that courtesy.
SMITH: Were you a cable system owner on all of the occasions that you were allowed to sit in on the board meetings?
SEARLE: I think so, because we got into cable ownership in 1965. I do recall one NCTA membership meeting that I was not permitted into. Somebody ruled that as a member of the press and at that time not a regular member, we would not be allowed in the room.
I remember it well because that year Bruce Merrill had been nominated for chairman and Milton Shapp was vigorously opposing him. They were, of course, fierce manufacturing competitors as the CEO’s of Ameco and Jerrold, respectively. As it turned out, I had the best seat in the house because Frank Nowaczek spirited me behind the stage and up into a loft directly above and behind the speaker’s stand. So the meeting that I was barred from attending, I observed in its entirety from the front of the auditorium.
SMITH: Frank was an employee of NCTA at the time, is that correct?
SEARLE: That’s right, he was chief of staff. It was a very interesting, but nerve-wracking experience, looking into all of those faces. I had the same vantage point as the speaker looking right over his shoulder, as it were, through a little hole that was there for stage hands to watch what was going on. I felt as though somebody was going to look up there and see my eye looking through that little hole and discover that I had infiltrated the meeting! That was probably the only such meeting that I wanted to attend and wasn’t allowed to until many years later when, bowing to objections from Al Warren, the directors decided that it caused too much aggravation from other publishers for me to be in their meetings. I heard from John Campbell that they had a big debate over the issue at a board meeting at Lake Tahoe.
It wasn’t that important that I sit in the meetings, but it certainly was educational and I watched the NCTA at some of its best and worst moments.
SMITH: Do you recall at that meeting that Frank spirited you in so to speak, could that have been a Philadelphia convention?
SEARLE: I think that’s correct, in 1964. The highlight of the Philadelphia convention the Jerrold party, which in those days was the highlight of the convention—before the rivalry between HBO and Showtime to see who could have the biggest party. Robert Goulet was the entertainer. On the spur of the moment I decided that it would be interesting to meet Robert Goulet and for Lorna to meet him. So I went forward after the show with my camera and announced that I was there with the magazine to take some pictures. I took some of Mrs. Beisswenger (wife of Jerrold Electronics Bob Beisswenger) and Robert Goulet, and afterward he invited us to his dressing room for a nice visit. I took a picture of Lorna with Robert Goulet which she still treasures. I also met Monty Rifkin at the Jerrold party. At that time he was still an accountant for Irving Kahn at TelePrompTer.
SMITH: I think that was the convention. I now know what you meant in a profile that you prepared for Cable Television Business recently on yourself, when you credited Frank Nowaczek with being one of those who helped you and Pat get the company started.
SEARLE: Nowaczek is one of those people, and fortunately there have been a lot of them in the cable industry, who care more about getting constructive things done, than about who gets the credit. He was more concerned with a young publisher being informed than he was with the bureaucratic protocol. Fortunately for me and for our readers, he trusted, as the NCTA board did for most of the years, that I would guard their confidences, which I always did.
SMITH: You’ve certainly kept this one about being sneaked into the meeting. Right now, if it goes on the record, it’s not going to hurt anybody.
Before we depart from the publications, you talked just briefly about competition. Who did you regard as your serious competitors while you were developing these publications?
SEARLE: In the two-way business radio field, we had a serious competitor in Cowan Publishing of New York. They were big and well financed; we were small and struggling. But after a few years, we prevailed. Communications, the magazine that they competed with, is now extremely strong with an international edition. My brother Bob does very well with that magazine.
In cable, we really never had a serious competitor during our first dozen years. The challenges that we faced were the challenges of the industry. In the last ten or twelve years, there have arisen some very legitimate and well-financed publications in the field. Multichannel News which is now published by Fairchild, and Cablevision, published by International Thompson, are good strong competitors in that field, and there are a variety of others. So many that I can’t remember all of their names. And, partly because of competition, the profitability of Cable TV Business, I’m told is greatly diminished.
EDITOR’S NOTE: In 1991, Argus Press Holdings discontinued publishing Cable TV Business, 27 years after its beginning.
SMITH: When did Pat Pogue leave the company?
SEARLE: In the late ’70s Pat and Diana Pogue moved to central Missouri to look after the construction and operation of some systems where we had been successful in buying franchises. After that, for personal reasons, he moved back to Oklahoma and established an accounting office for us there at Stroud. By about 1984, he had started a company of his own to manufacture propane conversion equipment for automobiles.
He had become essentially inactive in Cardiff Communications and, as chairman, I was getting pressure from outside directors and advice from our attorneys to end a situation wherein a salaried officer was spending substantially all of his time on outside pursuits. Pat had privately expressed to me that he wanted to start deriving his income from other sources. However, his company did not thrive and his attempt to take it public did not succeed. The bank took possession of a substantial amount of his Cardiff stock. That, too, was a concern to Cardiff’s board because the bank was planning to dump the stock—which would have seriously depressed the market. After trying to find someone to buy that stock from the bank, the company eventually was able to buy it.
In 1985 we negotiated a separation agreement with Pat which gave him certain financial consideration and he ceased being an employee. I’m disappointed that he wasn’t able to maintain his ownership position until we liquidated our cable assets, and our shareholders all did very well. Unfortunately, Pat’s stock position had been drastically reduced when that time came, at the end of 1986.
SMITH: You’ve mentioned previously that you acquired Cardiff. Can you tell us a little bit more about that story?
SEARLE: After buying a controlling interest in Cardiff Industries in 1976, we changed the name to Cardiff Communications, Inc. In effect, we had taken over a corporate structure but it amounted to a name change for Communications Publishing Corporation.
SMITH: Was Cardiff in the publishing business?
SEARLE: No, it was an inactive mining company which had been publicly owned since 1922. We assumed the public ownership structure with the idea of raising capital to expand our cable ownership. Instead, in 1983, we sold the publishing side of the business to a British firm, Argus Press Holdings, and invested the $7 million we received in cable TV properties. We became strictly a cable TV company except for one small FM radio station.
SMITH: Did you say earlier that you inherited about 1,000 stockholders with Cardiff?
SEARLE: That’s correct. By the time we liquidated the company at the end of 1986, we had about 2,000 shareholders.
SMITH: Did you have to pay any significant money to the stockholders in order to acquire the company?
SEARLE: We didn’t pay out much money but we gave them an ownership interest in our existing business. Those original shareholders, if they maintained their interest, got about $3.30 a share for what had been worth ten cents. It was a windfall for them. At the same time, it probably helped us, because I think as the CEO of a public company, I probably worked harder and our people performed better, knowing that we were accountable to a broad ownership.
A broker from Banker’s Trust walked through my door and said he had a buyer for our publishing company. I told him that it wasn’t for sale. But, as usual, I said that I would be willing to talk to just about anybody about anything legal and profitable. The broker brought us an offer from Argus Press, a subsidiary of British Electric Traction, for $4.5 million for the publishing company.
I told them to get lost. They came back and said “We were only kidding; we’ll give you $5.5 million.” Over the course of several months, amid expressions of disinterest on our part, they eventually got up to something over $6 million. I reported these developments to my board of directors. When we got to $6 million they encouraged me to start negotiating seriously because we thought that a realistic price for the publishing company was about $7 million. The Argus people were fine gentlemen to do business with. We developed a cordial relationship—although I never invited the Banker’s Trust person to any of the meetings. We just dealt directly with the British.
They wound up offering $7 million and, we told them we’d take it. As sort of an afterthought, one of our directors, Dick Korpan, and I met with the Argus people in San Francisco. We suggested that we had failed to include an idea for a new publishing product and we thought we should be compensated for this potential publishing asset.
After a hard day of negotiating, they agreed to another $300,000. Given the utter weakness of our negotiating position, this suggested that they had allocated at least $300,000 over and above what they had already agreed to. It was a good day’s work.
SMITH: What was the idea that you sold them?
SEARLE: A product news publication for the land-mobile radio business. I don’t think they took it very seriously.
SMITH: Was Argus’ principal business in publishing?
SEARLE: Yes, they have dozens of newspapers and dozens of magazines. I’m not sure how big the company is, but in a leveraged buyout that occurred last year, I understand that a management group and Chemical Bank bought the company for something over $300 million.
SMITH: I wasn’t too big a strain on them to buy you, with those assets.
SEARLE: I don’t think so. Cardiff has done very well for them. Of their three American divisions, it’s the strongest.
SMITH: Your brother is still with Cardiff?
SEARLE: Yes, Bob SEARLE: is still president of Cardiff Publishing. In fact, they’ve done some consolidation of other publications into his Denver unit.
SMITH: When you were publishing CATV Weekly, for a period, you had a “Man of the Year” selection of which I was fortunate enough to be a recipient. Would you tell us some of the background of what got that practice started and some of the other people that were honored with that?
SEARLE: To the slide-rule types, the cable business was all about technology. As publishers, we were more tuned in to the personal side of the business. To me the personalities were even more interesting – and maybe more vital to the success of the industry—than the pioneering that was going on in the R&D labs. So we decided to honor one outstanding individual each year. Some had distinguished themselves by serving in NCTA offices, others for their leadership in other ways.
Those who received recognition were Irving Kahn, Alfred Stern, FC Chairman Dean Burch, John Gwin, Bud Hostetter, Bob Magness, attorney Harold Farrow, Chuck Dolan, and, of course, Strat Smith. Looking back now, I could quickly name another dozen who were equally as deserving. And if we had kept that series going very long we would have had to call it “individual of the Year” to include women like Polly Dunn and Yolanda Barco.
SMITH: Another thing that you were quite active in and I presume you were responsible for the establishment of, was the Cable Television Pioneers. That organization has developed over the years. Could you tell us some of the background of that development?
SEARLE: In 1965, during the NCTA Convention in Denver, Sam Street, who was then with NCTA, I believe, suggested that it would be great to honor a select group of CATV Pioneers as a highlight of the annual meeting. He thought that TVC magazine would be the logical sponsor. I agreed with him on the idea, but struggled with the certainty of hurt feelings that would result from selecting ten or twenty or even a hundred people as the “founding fathers.”
Before the 1966 convention in Miami, I had gotten up my courage and decided that the idea was good enough that if we could disassociate the magazine from the selection process, it would be worth the risk. I chose a small selection committee, which included Charlie Clements, Bill Daniels, and a few others. I apprised them of the idea and said the qualifications for this should be at least ten years in the industry and service to the industry through NCTA.
These guys each submitted a list of names and we simply tabulated the results. As sponsor of the awards, we made up some engraved brass plaques on hardwood that denoted the recipient as a CATV Pioneer. There were 21 honored in 1966, in that first “charter member” group. They were M. William Adler, George J. Barco, Charles E. Clements, Benjamin J. Conroy Jr., Jack R. Crosby, Bill Daniels, Glenn H. Flinn, Albin J. Kozminski, Fred Lieberman, Martin F. Malarkey, Bruce Merrill, Albert J. Ricci, Gene W. Schneider, Sandford F. Randolph, Milton J. Shapp, E. Stratford Smith, Fred J. Stevenson, Robert J. Tarlton, Archer S. Taylor, Frank P. Thompson, and Edward P. Whitney.
The idea had a lot of merit and Sam Street deserves the credit for it. I was right that there would be some hurt feelings. Twenty-three years and a hundred explanations later, there still are. And there will be next year; somebody asking me how I can get them into the Pioneers! Of course, now there’s a nomination process. I have nominated three or four people over the years but that came after my own induction into the group in 1975. In the early years, because it was so important, people who considered themselves eligible were like the nominees at the Oscar Awards; some of them felt very badly when they were left out. And, of course, many worthy pioneers were overlooked for a number of years.
The magazine continued sponsoring the award for a few years, until the Pioneers club became autonomous. In 1967, the “club” met for dinner and there has been an annual dinner during the NCTA convention ever since.
After the first year, when I named the committee, the previous honorees have made the selection of those to be added. We didn’t put money into the Pioneer awards except for some plaques. The idea was obviously a good one that has been self perpetuating. I think it’s unfortunate that the presentation was removed many years ago from the annual banquet program of NCTA. The reason the ceremony was removed, I learned, was that it became the highlight of the evening and was overshadowing the program created by the NCTA staff.
SMITH: I was not aware of that development, Stan. You are certainly correct that it has been a popular organization and a lot of people have wanted to get into it. As recently as this year, a pioneer whose name I won’t mention because of the nature of the story, was nominated by a friend for membership this past year, and refused to accept it because of the slight of not being considered much earlier. It’s unfortunate but that’s the way it is.
END OF TAPE 2, SIDE A
BEGINNING OF TAPE 2, SIDE B
SMITH: As founder of TV Communications, a trade publication specific to the cable television industry, could you comment, Stan, on the role of the magazine in the development of the industry.
SEARLE: Any good trade magazine serves the fundamental purpose of the exchange of technical, financial and business information. Over the years, I think our publications did an extraordinary job for the size of the magazines and the industry, simply because we had so much help. We had advertising support which made it possible for us to exist—and editorial submittals, technical articles, shared viewpoints which contributed to our magazine’s usefulness. An example was the six-part series by Bob L’Heureux, which ran in 1965, entitled the “History, Nature and Scope of CATV.” Those articles comprise the best compilation available today for any student to go back and get a sense of the complete regulatory and legal history of cable.
In contributing to a viable industry, the other significant role of TVC and our weekly publications was the editorial position we took on various issues.
When we started publishing in January, 1964, I was determined not to stir up controversy like my previous employer, Bob Cooper had done. However, one of the first things I did was challenge the conduct of the Austin cable system, controlled by President Lyndon Johnson. Lyndon and Lady Bird Johnson had gained their cable ownership in Austin through questionable means, mostly to keep out cable competition to their TV station. They then proceeded to run rough-shod over their competition with some heavy-handed help from people in the government. John Campbell, who was wiring Austin while LBJ undertook to wire another section of the city, had his financing reluctantly pulled by Royal Street Investment. The former vice president’s fingerprints seemed to be all over that deal. My sense of outrage overpowered good sense, I guess, and I wrote an editorial exposing Johnson’s actions – or those of his bureaucrat friends at the Small Business Investment Corporation.
Later on we challenged various people at the Federal Communications Commission. We sorted out the people whom we considered friends and foes of cable. We praised Lee Loevinger and we criticized FCC Commissioners Ken Cox and Rosel Hyde (then chairman) and general counsel Henry Geller on a regular basis. We endorsed Sol Schildhause and dealt kindly with Fred Ford, Dean Burch and Dick Wiley. We took a hand in the game.
SMITH: Let me ask you this, Stan. Specifically with respect to Lyndon Johnson, and generally with respect to the others that you have alluded to, what sort of reactions did you get to your editorials? Did you have significant letters back to the editor, a stream?
SEARLE: Yes, we got a lot of supportive mail. Generally, the object of our criticism didn’t respond except for an occasion when we criticized Triangle Publications. Triangle was publishing articles in TV Guide that were very negative towards cable TV. They promoted the assumption that cable was going to harm broadcast TV, especially UHF which they considered the next evolutionary step of TV broadcasting. Our industry, they declared, must be curtailed before that happened.
Meanwhile, Triangle was an applicant for a cable franchise in Philadelphia. We put those facts together and accused them of hypocrisy. That did draw a defensive response from TV Guide.
SMITH: What was the nature of the response?
SEARLE: They claimed that they were separate entities and that Walter Annenberg wished for them to operate independently. What their magazine company did had nothing to do with what their broadcasting business did, or the cable side. Generally, if we did make a difference, the only visible evidence at the time, perhaps even now, is that we were a cheerleader for the cable industry. We encouraged cable operators to rally around and let them know that they were not in it alone. Some of the mischief inflicted upon them was recognized and when we exposed the unfairness, I think it was an encouragement for operators to know that everybody knew some of the same things that they knew—about threats to their business.
We took issue on many occasions with AT&T. One of the editorials that probably got the most attention was one I wrote twenty-some years ago entitled “Does the Bell System Toll for You?” Interestingly, the threats that we were worried about, that we warned people about way back then, turned out to be almost 100% well-founded. I don’t remember any concern voiced by NCTA leadership or concerns that we raised in editorials that did not turn out to be well-founded. With pole-line issues, distant signal importation, copyright issues, and non-duplication issues, the cable industry, in retrospect, had the problems well-defined.
As far as our influencing the course of events, I feel sure that when we provided a forum for men like Bob L’Heureux, Fred Ford, Stratford SMITH:, Ben Conroy, Walter Kaitz and Milt Shapp, the industry’s philosophical leaders of the ’60s and ’70s; it had to make a difference. I can remember collaborating with Bob L’Heureux to write at least one editorial that was specifically written to influence the FCC. We wrote some editorials for an audience of seven commissioners. It was almost incidental whether anybody in our primary constituency read them. What we wanted to do was put into print certain positions that the FCC had taken and either send them a message or try to lock them into a position where they had given some ground.
SMITH: Since Bob L’Heureux has long since passed away and there is no opportunity to get on the record from him, some of these things, I think it would be worthwhile if you tell us a little bit more about how you and Bob worked together.
SEARLE: Bob had served on the staff of the Senate Communications Sub-Committee. One of the problems we had with Commissioner Ken Cox, according to Bob L’Heureux, had to do with the fact that, as committee counsel, he had kept Cox’s report on CATV from being adopted by the committee.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Ken Cox was Special Counsel to the Committee on Interstate and Foreign Commerce of the U.S. Senate, investigating, among other things, television service to small communities.
SMITH: Bob L’Heureux was the one who was responsible for that, you say?
SEARLE: Yes, he took credit for sidelining Cox’s report and figured Ken knew he’d done it.
SMITH: Well, if Bob L’Heureux said so, I wouldn’t doubt it.
SEARLE: He dealt Ken Cox a career setback. The other half of the story on Commissioner Cox, incidentally, is that when he applied for the job of president of NCTA, the board met in Denver and voted, I think 12-1, not to hire him. That hurt his feelings and I don’t think he ever got over being passed over—in favor of Bill Dalton.
(CHARLIE CLEMENTS’ ORAL HISTORY MAY PROVIDE THE SPECIFICS ON THAT CHAPTER.)
SEARLE: Anyway, L’Heureux came out of that background of having first looked at cable from the standpoint of prospective legislation to limit cable’s possible impact on broadcasting. He was won over to our side from the other side. The primary issues he was concerned about in those days were the threat of unrealistic copyright regulations, non-duplication requirements which were ridiculous, and telephone company relations over pole-line agreements. A couple of things that I think set L’Heureux apart were that, first of all, he was a pretty literate guy who could express himself. The other thing, he was a warm, sympathetic human being who was willing to expose himself to criticism by standing up for principles.
When he became general counsel of NCTA, he was good at it. He went around the country to various regional meetings explaining to cable operators what the issues were and he kept the heat on the broadcast industry, the phone company, and the FCC. He lobbied effectively, having worked on the Hill, but he was not your stereotype, back-slapping lobbyist. On the NCTA staff, there were a number of people over the years who were very constructive and easy to work with, and there were some who were defensive and competitive, who regarded the trade press as either a threat or a nuisance. Bob L’Heureux was one of those, along with Frank Nowaczek, Sam Street and Wally Briscoe, who were really open and honest and easy to work with. They saw the trade press as a vehicle to further the association’s interests. I’d include Bruce Lovett and Chuck Walsh in that group, too. Bob Schmidt and Mark Wheeler were cooperative—but, with them, professional detachment had replaced the old spirit of the underdog alliance. Of course, one of the greatest cable TV lobbyists of all time was my good friend Walter Kaitz from California. He taught us all how to do it.
SMITH: One area that I kept putting aside in this interview has to do with your activities as an operator. I tried to keep that separate from our discussion about the publications. Would you review your decision to become an operator and tell us about your franchising activities?
SEARLE: In 1965, we saw a need for subscriber promotion in the cable business and decided to go into that business. Our first client was a broadcaster and system owner in Ada, Oklahoma. We were to be paid by the number of subscribers we gained and the system was keeping all the records. After we spent our own money and worked for a few weeks, they reported that they had fewer subscribers than we started. At about the same time, I realized that we were doing all of this work to get a customer that would add $300 in market value to the system, and we were getting paid about $20.
Promoting subscribers in our own system would be a way to get paid $300 apiece instead of $20. Besides, we could count them ourselves. That inspired Pat and me to enter into a partnership to wire Newkirk, Oklahoma, with Hal Phillips as our principal partner and a couple of fellows who worked for him in the nearby ATC system in Blackwell.
Pat Pogue and I put up the money and our partners built and operated the system on nights and weekends. We built it up to more than 700 customers, fully saturated, in a few years and sold to the logical operator, CSI, which had a system nearby. In 1966 we also began trying to secure a franchise for Yakima, Washington.
SMITH: Your hometown.
SEARLE: Yes. We went through three public votes in which we were opposed by the TV broadcasters. We had partnerships, in various election efforts, with Entron, TeleVue and CBS. My brother, Walt, was in the ad agency business in Yakima and ran our campaigns.
SMITH: Was Tom Bostic your opposition?
SEARLE: Tom Bostic at KIMA-TV was one. Also, Hugh Davis at KNDO-TV. The Morgan Murphy Broadcasting people, who were applicants for the third UHF channel, worked us over the worst. We had a fairly cordial relationship with Tom Bostic and Hugh Davis, although they really didn’t welcome us into the community. The local newspaper gave lip service to our cause while damning cable with faint praise.
I passed up a golden opportunity when Arthur Stambler, attorney for Morgan Murphy, suggested that we cut them in as a partner. Being hard-headed and not very experienced, at 31, I told him we weren’t interested. That was probably a million dollar mistake. We finally secured a franchise for the county area around Yakima which we proceeded to wire in 1967. But we were never successful in getting a city franchise. We had formed a partnership with TeleVue Services of Seattle, which was headed by Homer Bergren and Charles Clements. We got along splendidly with them. My dad, Sheldon SEARLE:, built and operated our system in unincorporated Yakima County.
We spent a lot of TeleVue’s money on system construction without even a handshake—because Homer and I did the deal over the telephone. Eventually, Charlie and I put our arrangements on paper. Unfortunately, after TeleVue was acquired by CBS, even arrangements on paper didn’t mean much to them. So the final chapter of that wasn’t as happy as the first. We took a financial hit in selling the last of our one-third interest to CBS—with whom we never enjoyed a good relationship. That property went to McCaw, then to Cox Cable.
SMITH: Were you implying that CBS did not honor your ownership interest in the Yakima System with TeleVue?
SEARLE: I’m not implying that; I’ll state it outright. We found them to be very difficult people to work with. They would argue over ten dollars and then waste $100,000. My dad became a CBS employee as a result of the TeleVue sale but resigned within a year. They had an option to buy us out. TeleVue had exercised that option on a partial buyout at the agreed price.
However, CBS refused to honor the agreement. They sent a couple of lawyers from New York to Denver to tell me that the paper didn’t mean what Charlie and I thought it meant. I had gotten a little smarter and I recognized that there wasn’t any way we could win against a bunch of CBS attorneys who had nothing better to do than fight expensive lawsuits. We settled for about a third of what was due us and chalked it up to experience. I did learn from that to have a bilateral buy-sell agreement which protects the junior partner in a deal like that.
In later years, having learned from our CBS experience, we walked away from a couple of cable deals just because we weren’t comfortable with our partners.
SMITH: Your franchise in Yakima County – was that granted to you by public referendum or the county commissioners, or how did that come about?
SEARLE: We got that from the county commissioners without any election being required.
SMITH: In the case of the City of Yakima, where you didn’t manage to get it, you indicated that there were three public initiatives on whether or not a franchise should be issued at all, or whether it should be issued to certain people. How did that go?
SEARLE: The first time or two, it was whether it should be issued to us. We had lots of opposition especially from the applicant for an additional UHF channel there. The third time around we competed against TCI so the people had two or three choices: TCI or our company, West Valley Cable, or none of the above. They voted none of the above. I should say that subsequently we were partners with TCI in a number of places. There was nothing negative about the competition of TCI. The next time we were in one of those elections was in Columbia, Missouri, where we were partners with TCI.
SMITH: Was that an initiative petition situation or was that simply filing out an application and fighting it out?
SEARLE: In Columbia, it turned into an election process because the city fathers told us that we didn’t have the right local partners. Therefore, our application wouldn’t be looked upon favorably. My brother Walt and I were the contact people, working with Bill Brazeal and Bob Magness of TCI. We told the city we would simplify the process by circulating petitions to put our proposal on the ballot.
It turned into kind of a colorful process. Mayor Knipp expressed concern in the council meeting when we presented this idea, asking, “What if the people were to do something that’s not acceptable to the city?” Apparently he realized later how ludicrous that sounded because it never appeared in the minutes of the meeting. Later, we heard that he tore up some petitions that one of our petition circulators was carrying.
It was a contentious process. The city went to court to declare their own CATV enabling ordinance unconstitutional in order to defeat our efforts. We were headed for the State Supreme Court, to appeal the city’s lower court victory in outlawing their own ordinance. At that point we had about $30,000 in legal fees. Bob Magness decided we were fighting an expensive, losing cause so we ran up the white flag.
Columbia would have been and is a good cable market, but when you’re having to litigate against the city because you don’t have the right local partners, it seemed like there were better things to do. At about that same time, we were pursuing franchises in Oklahoma in partnership with ComWest, an entity formed by Bergren, Clements and other ex-TeleVue people. ComWest later became part of TCI. We went after the prime franchises in Oklahoma—in the towns of Duncan, Bartlesville and Muskogee.
Of course, we were up against some pretty tough competition, including Cablecom General, a company with strong Oklahoma ties. We got beat in Bartlesville and Stillwater by ATC. But we were successful in Muskogee and Duncan, which both turned out to be excellent properties. In fact, in Duncan, Oklahoma, we achieved something like 70% saturation in about seven months. We were 20% shareholders in those systems – and eventually traded our interest for stock in TCI.
I had a couple of people helping me, and we did most of the franchising, while ComWest provided most of the money. We paid our own expenses but they came in with the significant bucks. I suggested in Muskogee, where there were fifteen applicants, that they require a $50,000 cash deposit to sort out the non-serious contenders. Some years later, I happened to be in San Antonio at the time they were awarding the franchise and observed that the good faith deposit had escalated to one million dollars! I thought back to Muskogee and how we “blew away” all the little guys with a $50,000 cash requirement.
SMITH: What were your other early projects as a system operator?
SEARLE: In the later sixties we purchased four franchises in Missouri and one in Idaho. The Missouri permits we purchased from a young man named Phil White who had been unable to do anything with them. We wired towns around the Lake of the Ozarks—Eldon, Tipton, Versailles, Linn Creek, California, and TanTaRa. We purchased, and then rebuilt the system at Soda Springs, Idaho. We had gotten the franchise for Marlow, Oklahoma, a town which seemed too small for our ComWest senior partners, so we went ahead and built that one on our own, along with the Missouri and Idaho systems—which had not been a part of our partnership.
Some time after TCI had taken over the ComWest properties, we sold the Marlow, Oklahoma system to TCI for a rather decent price.
Within a year of relocating our headquarters to Colorado, we secured the franchise for Breckenridge, an old mining town with a newly developed ski area.
SMITH: Who is “we” in this case, Stan?
SEARLE: It was Pat Pogue and me, basically, although Bob SEARLE: had a 5% interest in most of our systems. We built the Breckenridge, Colorado system in 1970 and ’71 with my Dad, Sheldon SEARLE:, taking charge of the engineering and construction. Roland Hieb, then president of the National Cable Television Institute, had a major role in completing the build-out. Then Roland and his wife, Connie, spent a year in Breckenridge running the cable system.
SMITH: How large was Breckenridge?
SEARLE: We struggled for the first two or three years, getting it up to 500 subscribers. We were faced with an overbuild there, by a company called Leacom which was owned by Charlie Leavell. They were primarily involved in major construction projects, grossing several hundred million dollars a year. Charlie’s son-in-law bluntly threatened us—told my dad and me that if we didn’t sell out to them, we would be obliterated. They proceeded to overbuild us all around Breckenridge, outside the town limits, any place they could. Their crews didn’t bother with road cut permits or the normal amenities. Meanwhile, we proceeded to just do our thing and ignore them. In fact, I was kind of non-plussed when my dad would loan cable and parts to these people who were overbuilding us from their system in nearby Dillon.
My dad kept insisting on being a good neighbor. On two different occasions when they lost their signal feed off the mountain we gave them a signal feed and kept them “on the air” with their customers for two or three weeks at a time. Eventually that good neighbor policy and the lack of economic rationality of the overbuild, caused Leacom to pull out and abandon their overbuild attempt. That left the way open for us to get a much needed rate increase. It’s hard to go from $6.50 to $8.00, when you’ve got a guy coming to the council meetings suggesting that if he had a franchise, he’d do it for $6.00. That was my first experience with an overbuild and fortunately it turned out favorably for us.
END OF TAPE 2, SIDE B
BEGINNING OF TAPE 3, SIDE A
SMITH: And you continued to increase your cable holdings?
SEARLE: Yes. We were gaining system operating experience and gradually building our economic capability—although our publishing company was not producing enough cash to make us an aggressive player. We did proceed to buy the cable system in Canyon, Texas from Hurshel Tyler, the owner of the Weatherscan Company in 1976. The First National Bank in McAllister, Oklahoma, of which Clark Bass was president, financed that acquisition—which was 95% leveraged. I think it took $490,000 to buy the Canyon system and we borrowed about $460,000 of it. During the following year our bank interest rates went from about 13% to 21%, as I recall.
So those of us who had highly leveraged acquisitions really had to hustle. Pat Patterson, who had joined us originally as manager of our Idaho system, then managed the Breckenridge property, was president of our cable subsidiary. He went to Canyon, Texas and stayed there for about eight months, personally getting the subscriber growth that we needed to stay up with our interest payments. He built that from 900-some subscribers to 1,300 or 1,400 within a year, enabling the property to stay afloat. We also bought 14 real small systems in Kansas. The next significant phase of our cable TV expansion occurred in 1984, following the sale of our publishing operation to Argus Press Holdings. We used proceeds of that sale to acquire Bob Neathery’s properties in southern Missouri and another nine in northeastern Missouri.
We also bought two systems and four franchises from Bob Weary and Bud Weir’s company in the San Antonio area, along with two Kansas properties. And we acquired the system at Ft. Sill, Oklahoma in a stock and cash arrangement. We built the systems in Stroud and Chandler, Oklahoma, for which we had held franchises for several years. We bought the franchise for Okmulgee, Oklahoma and built the system there. And, again with the help of Clark Bass, we bought the Lake Tanglewood System near Canyon, Texas. At that same time, we acquired fourteen small systems in Kansas, serving about 3,000 subscribers, from . . . That gave us the basis for building to approximately 33,000 subscribers in Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado, Missouri and Kansas. All of the Cardiff Cablevision, Inc. systems were sold at the end of 1986, at precisely the time that the General Utilities Doctrine was phased out by the new tax codes. That was the last opportunity to make a distribution to shareholders without paying corporate as well as personal taxation on the gain.
SMITH: But you’re still in the cable business, isn’t that correct?
SEARLE: Yes. I’ll explain how that worked out. In 1985 Cardiff acquired a little cable system at Monument, Colorado from a company called Cable West. Also, about that time, I had agreed, at the urging of friends, Red McCombs and Dave Evans of San Antonio, to make cable available at their Cuchara Valley Ski Resort in Colorado. We also had a friend in the Denver area, a developer who had been asking us for years if we could provide cable to his Willow Springs Country Club. We had agreed to do that and proceeded to do so.
Just in the midst of those developments we elected to liquidate the company. Lorna and I were among the bidders for the Colorado systems in the sale, which was handled by Communications Equity Associates (CEA). There were four or five very serious contenders so we really had to step up to the plate to get them bought. Ironically, Cardiff sold properties from $846 a subscriber up to more than $1,300 per subscriber. The most expensive systems we sold on a per-subscriber basis were the ones that we personally bought from Cardiff. So that sale ended the era of Communications Publishing Corporation which had become Cardiff Communications (with the subsidiary called Cardiff Cablevision). But it gave me the opportunity, having sold fifty-five cable properties, to now be responsible for four small cable systems serving six communities.
SMITH: One of those is Monument, Colorado?
SMITH: And that’s where you live now?
SEARLE: Yes, the system serves Monument, Palmer Lake, Gleneagle, and Woodmoor. We live in Woodmoor which is an unincorporated area around the Woodmoor Country Club.
SMITH: What’s the subscriber total on that complex?
SEARLE: Including a recent acquisition, adjoining Colorado Springs, a place called Gleneagle, the total now is about 2,100 customers. When Cardiff bought the properties the count was at 546; when I bought it two years after that, the subscriber total was at about 950. With the acquisition, line extensions and marketing, we’re more than twice what we had two and a half years ago.
EDITOR’S NOTE: In June 2002, Stan SEARLE:’s company, SEARLE: communications, inc., serving more than 5,000 basic customers’ was sold to adelphia communications corporation.
SMITH: When you became an operator, Stan, did that whet your interest in any way in legislation and lobbying activities on a national and local basis?
SEARLE: Even before 1965, when we first got active in that part of the business, we were staunch advocates. System ownership just increased our zeal. When the Political Action Committee of Cable Television was formed in 1968 by Martin Malarkey and others, we were among the very first financial contributors. I was asked to serve on the first Executive Trustee Board of the Political Action Committee.
I used a lot of airplane tickets, traveling to various functions to lobby for the industry, as well as news gathering trips covering important FCC hearings and visiting with members of the communications sub-committees. That’s how I got acquainted with Congressman Don Brotzman from Colorado, Bob Tiernan of Rhode Island and Torbert MacDonald of Massachusetts, who were on the Communications Sub-Committee in the House.
Of course, Senator Mike Monroney from our former home state of Oklahoma was a friend of the industry and we became acquainted with him, along with House Speaker Carl Albert, Senator Henry Bellmon and others. In those lobbying chores we made a variety of acquaintances in Washington D.C. In later years, I still have had a friendly relationship with Tim Wirth of Colorado, now in the Senate, who has had a lot to do with cable-related issues. On the other side of the aisle, there’s our senior Senator from Colorado, Bill Armstrong, to whom I was introduced in 1970 by Bill Daniels, and who has become a close personal friend. My interest in trying to affect legislation and regulation actually did taper off quite a bit several years ago—as we needed to attend to our own affairs and observed that a lot of the heavy hitters in the cable industry were, quite frankly, not visibly contributing.
Some of us who could least afford the airplane tickets were in the middle of the battle and some of the people who were building successful public companies were either working behind the scenes or not carrying their fair share. I decided that small operators would probably do well to let NCTA, in its organized efforts, carry the lion’s share of the load.
SMITH: Do you remember any of the specific issues that you were lobbying before Senator Wirth and the others?
SEARLE: Well, Tim Wirth came on the scene a little later than some of the landmark struggles. But, of course, he had a key role in getting the telephone company broken up. During most of the ’60s and ’70s copyright issues, signal carriage and the threat and the reality of telco abuses probably got most of our attention. Of Part of that was just a matter of trying to build relationships. I believed and practiced what we were told by our leaders, that we had to build those relationships so that when we did need a friend, we’d have a guy who had heard of us, who might even have gotten some help from us when he was campaigning.
SMITH: Who was the president of the NCTA at the time we were talking about?
SEARLE: When I was most involved, it would have been during the era of Fred Ford, then during the brief tenure of Don Taverner, then the term of David Foster.
SMITH: Were you personally active in NCTA affairs, internal affairs as distinguished from their legislative and lobbying activities?
SEARLE: Not very much. I served on one or two committees, but except for close working relationships with Bob L’Heureux and to a lesser degree with Bruce Lovett, we kept a pretty distinct separation between the Association and the publishing side. Although we became cable operators, we were always regarded primarily as a publisher, which caused a certain distance to exist between us and many of the NCTA staff.
SMITH: I was going to ask you if you didn’t think that being a publisher put you in what some people might have perceived as a conflict of interest position if you were too close to internal workings of the Association.
SEARLE: Monty Rifkin and Doug Dittrick did suggest, on one occasion, that I had a conflict of interest. But that was just after I had beaten out their company (ATC) in an important franchise contest. The fact that they paid us $50 a year for subscriptions didn’t create a conflict of interest in my competing with them for a franchise, as far as I was concerned. I wasn’t using any significant amount of their resources to compete against them. However, we did have potential for problems with manufacturers when we started owning systems.
The president of a manufacturing company made it very clear that because he was an important advertiser we should buy amplifiers from him. We got around this principally two ways. When we bought a system it already had its amplifiers; the equipment selection had already been made. Second, I did not get involved, and nobody involved with the magazines was involved in equipment purchasing decisions. The people running our systems made independent judgments based on what they needed and the prices they could get.
Two exceptions to that occurred in connection with our first system in Newkirk, Oklahoma which was financed by Entron. That is, they financed their own bill of materials, through the efforts of John Russell, their national sales manager. When we built the Breckenridge system John was with Vikoa, and we did a deal with him to finance a bill of materials. We managed over the years to avoid any serious confrontation on those issues, I think simply because we were honest about it and anybody who called up one of our cable people had a fair chance of selling to us, without regard to whether that company was an advertiser or not.
SMITH: The practice of having your local people in the field make those decisions wouldn’t necessarily insulate you from the pressure though would it?
SEARLE: No, it didn’t totally insulate us from the pressure, but there was no bias created either way by publication involvement. We seemed to get by with no serious problems. I think that the reps who called on my people recognized that they had a fair shot at the business and if they didn’t get the order, it was probably related to price. As far as I know, we bought equipment from all the major suppliers at various times. That didn’t have anything to do with their advertising purchases.
SMITH: You’ve mentioned a couple of interesting franchising experiences that you’ve had. Were there any others that presented unusual problems or interesting situations that you can recall?
SEARLE: We did beat some really formidable competition for a couple of those key franchises in Oklahoma. I mentioned that we proposed a $50,000 good faith deposit in one town. We also initiated another practice, perhaps not original with us, but we didn’t copy it from anybody else. We thought it would be useful, since we had well-established and highly successful partners in ComWest who had an affiliation with CBS, to take the city council members to look at a cable system just to educate them. Of course, we would take them to a cable system with which we had some identification. We took the entire city council, or however many of them were available, from Duncan, Oklahoma to San Francisco. We showed them not just a cable system, but the San Francisco cable system, which was owned as I remember in partnership with Marino and Gene Iacopi and Columbia Broadcasting System. It wasn’t a highly successful cable system financially, but it represented the closest thing to a state-of-the-art system that we could show them. And I was pretty sure they would enjoy looking at a cable system in San Francisco more than one we could have shown them in Newkirk, Oklahoma.
In any case, I think they were impressed with us and impressed with the cable system. We beat some serious competition in Duncan. Interestingly enough, we didn’t get any serious flak for having flown the city council members to San Francisco to see a cable system.
Another thing that was a highlight of that competition was that Charles Clements and I were at a council meeting fairly early in the deliberations, and the president of a major MSO—who is still a friend of mine—was there representing our toughest competition for that franchise. They virtually had it in the bag. One of the council members asked the MSO president a simple question about how you would tune in cable channels on your TV set. My friend replied that, since he was not an engineer, he would yield to his esteemed colleague, Charlie Clements, who was an engineer. So in the middle of this other gentleman’s presentation, Charlie got to stand up and give a five-minute technical speech, making it clear to everyone that we knew the hard answers and the other guy didn’t. That was one of the bright spots.
Another one was—and this may have been close to a conflict of interest—that the City of Duncan had called just one person as an expert witness to brief the council on cable TV. That one person was me. I don’t remember how we arranged that; it was probably suggested by our local partner, Charles McDoulett, who was Halliburton’s communications director.
I guess that, along with the visit to the San Francisco system, helped us win that one.
SMITH: What motivated your competitor to assign some of his time to Charlie?
SEARLE: If I told you his name, you’d understand. He’s just a really nice guy. Maybe too nice for multi-million dollar franchise skirmishes!
SMITH: That was very interesting and it wouldn’t necessarily follow that relinquishing the time to the qualified engineer would adversely affect the other applicant’s position. It certainly showed that you had the knowledge you needed to build the system, but it didn’t necessarily prove that your opponent couldn’t have done it himself.
SEARLE: I do suspect, though, that he wasn’t very enthused with the idea that I got to be the expert witness in our own contest.
SMITH: Wouldn’t it be fair to say, Stan, that in those days and the earlier days of franchising, there really weren’t too many rules. The procedures pretty much got established as you went along.
SEARLE: There weren’t too many rules and there weren’t too many bitter rivalries, either. I think it took Gene Schneider and some of the folks at United Cable a while to get over the fact that we beat them in Muskogee when they were headquartered right up the road in Tulsa. So it’s not to say that these guys are cheerful losers, because they’re not. And even such gentlemen as Bob Magness and John Malone didn’t build their impressive companies by being good losers. It was by being aggressive. At the same time there are a lot of close friendships and warm feelings among the people who have fought over these opportunities. In fact, that relates to the beginnings of the Denver Cable Club which was the first such group in the country to meet on a regular basis.
I was in Bob Magness’ office one time and he asked me if I had seen Bob Clark, the former president of Vuemore (Cablecom General) who was then associated with Bill Daniels. I told him I hadn’t seen Bob in a long time, that the last time I had seen him was in the San Francisco airport. That was the way cable people tended to meet, walking through an airport or at a city council meeting. Bob said, why don’t we arrange to get everybody here in Denver together on a periodic basis. There were at that time, seven or eight cable companies headquartered in Denver and we had our publishing company there.
So we organized the Denver Cable Club—on his inspiration and with our staff handling the details. We put Paul Maxwell in charge of the arrangements for the first one and about 60 people showed up. The Denver Cable Club still meets periodically, although I’m not sure that the original purpose is well served. Now there are 150 or 200 people, mostly programming suppliers, and the group for whom it started; Bob Magness, John Malone, Carl Williams, Bob Lewis, Alan Harmon, Bill Daniels, Monty Rifkin, Gene Schneider, Glenn Jones, and John Saeman—those MSOs who are headquartered in Denver—are a little hard to find in the crowd. But I feel sure that the same spirit of camaraderie still exists among those early pioneers.
SMITH: Any number of the interviewees, Stan, on this series of oral histories, have commented on the extremely close relationships that existed among operators in the early days. They were so dependent upon each other for information. A lot of that has continued right through the 40 year period up until now in spite of the serious competitive problems that developed back in the franchising frenzy in the major markets.
SEARLE: I was just going to comment that I think there’s always been a core fraternity that retains the spirit of shared interest and generosity toward one another. But there have also been some companies that were always outsiders, from my perspective. I suppose that’s normal. There were always some companies that were only in it for the money and the relationships didn’t really make any difference. I put CBS in that category. They just weren’t ever part of the cable industry in a certain sense. That was reflected in their miscalculated effort to provide a cable programming service. They asked the cable operators to come to a sales presentation in black tie. It just showed that they were among us but they weren’t one of us.
I think the strength of the industry was historically in the small and intermediate-sized entities. Back in those days, Bob and Betsy Magness’ Telecommunications, Inc. was one of the smaller intermediates. But entities of that size and the companies that Jack Crosby, Chuck Dolan, Bud Hostetter and Bill Daniels helped to put together represented the real strength of the industry, rather than the broadcasters and the entertainment companies like Warner or Time-Life.
SMITH: The entity that you founded yourself, Stan, the Cable Television Pioneers, has certainly been an instrument for preserving the personal relationships, among the people in the industry through their annual meeting. Notwithstanding the fact that many of them were severe competitors and became big business rather than small business. They still flock to that annual meeting and banquet more for the purpose of talking to each other and visiting, than anything else. I think you made a very significant contribution there, when you followed up Sam Street’s suggestion and got the thing going.
SEARLE: I think the cable industry, while I hope that this won’t happen, may outgrow those sentiments as the founders become inactive or pass from the scene. I still feel that for such a significant business, and force in communications in our country, there is a strong sense of fraternity. That’s what brings many of us—who don’t attend NCTA conventions for any other reason—to the annual Pioneers Dinner. It’s a strength that will be hard to preserve or duplicate when the people who worked to create and protect the industry in the ’50s and ’60s and ’70s are replaced by investors and people who hadn’t been born when all of this was happening. The Cable TV industry may be stronger and bigger and better, but it will never be the same.
END OF TAPE 3, SIDE A