Interview Date: Monday December 21, 1992
Interview Location: Plant City, FL
Interviewer: Archer Taylor
Collection: Archer Taylor Technical Collection
Note: Audio Only
TAYLOR: This is tape 1, on A side, on December 21, 1992 and I am here in the vicinity of Plant City, but actually not in Plant City, Florida, to interview Tom Smith, who has retired, I guess one would say, from Scientific Atlanta a few years back. However, Tom was instrumental in getting Scientific Atlanta into the cable business so we are going to interview him and see what he has to tell us. Tom, why don’t you start with your personal background … where were you born, something about your family and your education, whatever you want to discuss.
SMITH: OK, I will be glad to do that. I was born in Mississippi in a rural farming community in the Mississippi Delta where the primary thing grown there is cotton. I was born in 1934. 1 went to school there, and in the big city of Drew, which had a population of about a 1,000. And I guess in a way, that had some influence on my interest in cable television because we were about a 100 miles south of Memphis, Tennessee and about a 100 miles north of Jackson, Mississippi and those cities were the first two to have television and we were just in the fringes of reception and that had some influence on…
TAYLOR: What was the distance from either Memphis or Jackson?
SMITH: Actually, I think airline miles it was 98 miles from Memphis and it was 102 miles from Jackson. Memphis actually had the first station, as I recall … about 19 … late 40’s, early 50’s. And then when it initially came on the air it was an NBC station, so it was on channel 4, naturally, and they later had to switch to channel 5 because there was also a channel 4 at that time in Nashville and the FCC didn’t have their separation rules for co-channel television transmitters quite worked out at that time. So, after the television freeze which I think was in 1949, they moved to, or during the freeze, I guess, they moved to channel 5. Later, Memphis came on with a channel 3, and so did Jackson, Mississippi and of course you had the typical problem of being about half way between both, you sometimes received one, versus the other and the only thing you had to discriminate between the two TV station was the front-to-back ratio of the antenna. But anyway, I grew up there, and went to high school there and graduated from high school. I seem to always have some interest in technology and being in a rural community about the only thing we had in the way of technology was tractors and automobiles and crop dusters airplane. I was very interested in airplanes and then I guess sometime in junior high school, or high school, I discovered that you could hear a lot of interesting things on short wave radio. Most people had short wave radios, back before TV, and it was real popular, but not too many people that I knew of were interested in it. But when 1, as a kid, would twist the knobs and get on short wave and I would hear things that I thought were pretty interesting! I began to read about short wave and amateur radio and I recall before World War II, that there was a local ham in town and that he was on 160 meters at the time, and he could easily be heard by AM radios if you tuned down to around 160 kilohertz.
TAYLOR: You are talking now about a period of about 1948 or thereabouts?
SMITH: This was when I was really a kid. No, this was prior to World War II. This was, I would say … 39, 38, somewhere along in that…
TAYLOR: You were just a youngster then.
SMITH: Oh yes, I was just a kid.
TAYLOR: You said 1939?
SMITH: 1939, yes. And I remember he had to stop transmitting when the +war broke out. In fact, I think a lot of people donated some of their amateur equipment and ham radio equipment to the defense effort, but anyway that also was interesting to me. I was younger at that time, but I remember hearing him. Later when I was in high school, I worked one summer in painting the school building with a local contractor there. I saved up enough money to buy a short wave receiver. In fact I still have it. It was a Hammarlund HQ129X … and I would listen. At that time, it was somewhat difficult, for me to get your amateur license, because you had to go to a specific city at a specific time to take a test and it was never real convenient for me to do that. My parents were divorced and I was raised by my mother and she was somewhat struggling to get me through school and support me, so it wasn’t … I didn’t really have the wherewithal to get into amateur radio at that time. But also, I think the summer of my junior year, I started working as a flunkey for the local radio and television repair shop.
TAYLOR: This was high school junior?
SMITH: Yes, this was high school in Drew, right. A fellow by the name of Rudolph Riley, who later became a construction…
TAYLOR: I know Rudy Riley.
SMITH: Right. …had his own construction company in cable television. This was actually before I knew anything about cable television so this must have been about 1950 1 guess it was … somewhere in that era. Anyway, I graduated in 1952 from high school so it was about 1951 … ’50. What Rudy had discovered was that he could provide much better TV reception if he took 6 or so neighbors in a community … and pooled their money. In Drew people would normally invest maybe $100 ‑ $120 on a tower and an antenna. You didn’t need a rotator hardly back in those days, because there was only one station and that was Memphis and it was north. But what Rudy would do is pool the neighbor’s money and put up a taller and a much higher gain antenna. He would feed those neighbors with balanced, open wire transmission line. One of my jobs was to bend up the sheet metal and wire up what we called “isolation amplifiers”. They were made with 6J6 twin triode tubes, and I did the bending up of the sheet metal and the punching of the holes and…
TAYLOR: Now you were working for the radio station?
SMITH: Radio. It was still radio.
TAYLOR: Radio station?
SMITH: No, this was radio and TV service shop.
TAYLOR: Radio service. And Rudy was the …
TAYLOR: Owner. OK, all right.
SMITH: And we did this quite a bit in the farming communities, around Drew you know, typically farming communities you have the grandpa and the sons and the grandkids houses all in the area. We would put up … Rudy had designed rhombic antennas. He had this long 4 pole … made 4 power poles with the wires going between them they were …
TAYLOR: They were out in the field?
SMITH: They were out in the field and then we would feed the signals to all the family community there ‑ the grandpa and the son and the grandkids there from that one rhombic antenna. It was about, as I recall, 5 or 6 wave lengths long on each leg of the rhombic antenna leg and pointed towards Memphis. This was what really got me interested in antennas and electronics. The fascination of how these wires and poles arranged in certain configurations could bring in TV signals stronger than just a piece of wire in the air. But anyway, as a result of that experience, and encouragement by Rudolph Riley to attend college, I decided to go to school at Mississippi State College and take electrical engineering. Also my uncle, on my mother’s side, was an electrician and I was also somewhat fascinated with what he did, with motors and wiring and this sort of thing. He encouraged me also to go to school and to better myself by going to get an education rather than just sticking around and trying to be a farmer or what odd jobs I might find in Mississippi. So I went to Mississippi State, took electrical engineering … had to work my way through school, more or less … worked in the school cafeteria where I earned my meals and a little later I worked as a cashier and I earned my meals and a little spending money. My mother was able to get my tuition and clothes together for me. I graduated in 1956 from Mississippi with an EE degree. I had decided to go into … at that time, I had already made up my mind what I wanted to be was an antenna and microwave engineer. The interesting thing was that based on my experience, and also based on the fact that I grew up in a rural community with a lot of outdoor activities. I like the outside also. I thought antenna design would be a good combination of indoor and outdoor work. That was the method of making my choice. Also at the time I graduated, the military draft was quite active and the Korean war was … let’s see, I can’t remember where it was … I think it was actually over … because I had a lot of Korean veterans in my engineering school. But still, I was of draft age and as a result, and also because of my interest, I decided to go to work for a defense contractor. A company by the name of Chance Vought, at that time, later to become “Ling‑Temco‑Vought” offered me a job in the antenna and microwave laboratory in Dallas, Texas at a very attractive salary, especially for a country boy like me. So I decided to take them up on the offer and move to Dallas and started working in their antenna and microwave laboratory at Grand Prairie, which is actually a little bit west of Dallas in near Hensley Field. I was put right to work on developing and designing aircraft antennas … particularly flush mounted antennas because it was in the early days of supersonic flight and little stub antennas or long stub antennas, protruding from airplanes surfaces represented a lot of drag so they were interested in doing a lot of flush mounting and it was science and coupled with a lot of art. I got very interested in modeling antennas. The size of a test antenna can be reduced, by one tenth and retain the same electrical characteristics, if the working frequency in increased by ten. Of course by having a smaller model, it made handling and changing the antenna quite convenient.
TAYLOR: Did you do so with this then at Chance‑Vought?
SMITH: Yes, I did quite a bit of that. I worked there 3.5 years and it was there that I discovered log periodics.
TAYLOR: That was one of the things I wondered is where the log periodic came from.
SMITH: The interesting thing about that … the frequency independent antennas came primarily, I would say, from the University of Illinois.
TAYLOR: That is what I understood.
SMITH: There were several people there. The one that started the log periodic, as I knew it, was a fellow by the name of Duhamel who left … I think he graduated with a master or a doctorate degree from the University of Illinois. He went to work with Collins radio and he later went to work with Hughes I believe. Now I see he is a broadcast antenna consultant.
TAYLOR: Located where?
SMITH: I think he’s in California now. I am not real sure. I have lost track of him, but he was the one who really had some of the first log periodic (LP) antenna designs.
TAYLOR: Did you know him personally?
SMITH: I met him. We never were that … really that close. The LP design that looks like the Scientific Atlanta antenna was first done by D.E. Isbell at the University of Illinois. He was a co‑worker of Duhamel. Duhamel’s had a sort of an arrow shape in that the two booms were separated by an angle. Isbell, I believe it was, put the cross log periodic dipole array which was a flat boom with alternating polarization of the dipole in a linear array.
TAYLOR: Isbell, where did he come from?
SMITH: He came out of University of Illinois also. Most of the early LP work was done at University of Illinois. I’m pretty sure the genesis of the L.P. goes back to the University of Illinois.
TAYLOR: Now the first use of log periodic that you know was … I’m trying to get some dates in here.
SMITH: OK. It must have been ’57, ’58, ’59 … somewhere in that area. And the first use of them was airborne electronic counter measure antennas that had quite broadband, and that was some advantage in airborne electronic counter measures. Also there were some spiral antennas that were circular polarized. They were quite popular. I think the first real applications of arrays … log periodic arrays, was for HF Communications ‑ 2 to 30 MHz arrays that were on towers and rotatable. Some were at transmitter and receiving stations, and they were fixed on certain bearings. Collins radio made one that was quite large that I think would go from about 7 MHz up to 30 MHz and it was rotatable. It had an arrow shape and a rectangular tooth as the elements as opposed to a single dipole. Later it was discovered that a monopole element could be used which reduced the antenna size.
TAYLOR: What was the purpose or advantage of the arrow shaped, as you say?
SMITH: I think the arrow shape actually provided some additional directivity in the pattern because of the increase in the vertical aperture over the flat dipoles array. But I really think it started from, flush mounting on aircraft. Flat flush mounted antennas have a donut shaped pattern in that it would radiate off of both sides. It was learned that if the two antenna halves were folded to an angle, the antenna pattern would favor one direction as opposed to the other. And finally, Isbell discovered if you made dipoles and you collapsed it all the way down on itself it would be an end fire array towards the small end … towards the point of the feed end of the antenna. Later R.L. Carrel of University of Illinois did a detail analysis of the LP dipole antennas.
TAYLOR: This was empirical development in large part?
SMITH: To a certain extent, it was. Particularly the flush mounting aspect of it was. One of the things I liked about antenna design was it required a combination of mathematics and art because there is a certain art to making the things work and making them suitable for the application. I wasn’t a real high powered mathematician and I could fake my way through some of the other stuff. So that is where and how I discovered log periodic antennas. And then in 1958, 1 left Vought to get rich by joining a small company in Mineral Wells, Texas called All Products Company (APC). It later became known as Antenna Products Company, but at the time it was known as All Products Company. They had been big in aluminum towers and residential TV antenna manufacturing, back in the TV antenna heyday of the late 40’s, early 50’s. Back then everybody was buying TV’s and needed antennas and towers. APC had moved from the tower and TV antennas into HF and VHF antennas for military use, particularly for security uses, monitoring and this sort of thing. They made me an attractive offer, and I decided to go there and get rich. It was good experience. I got about 5 years experience in 2.5 years working very hard … putting in 60 and 70 hours a week, learning a lot. In spite of working that hard the company went broke.
TAYLOR: I think Mineral Wells is where Bob Magness got started.
SMITH: Could be. That’s where Johnny Campbell got started of course.
TAYLOR: Is that so?
SMITH: Yes. He owned the cable system there and he was my first cable television customer.
TAYLOR: I ought to find out where Magness came from … I thought it was Mineral Wells.
SMITH: It could be. I know Johnny Campbell had the system when I moved there, and I am pretty sure he was the one who started it there. Now he may have had Magness as a partner to start with, but he was the owner when I was there. And of course, later he became CAS Manufacturing and then Tocom. Anyway, I moved there and I continued my work with log periodics there … made some log periodics that were HF backup communications systems for project Mercury. These antennas were rotatable 7 to 30 megahertz antennas. Little different design then Collins … still similar. Worked on some spiral antennas that would go down to 7 megahertz circular polarization and some interesting things. That’s where I had met Duharnel because APC and Collins radio were in competition for some defense contracts involving HF antennas. When All Products went broke, the company assets were put up for sale and a couple of guys by the name of Glen Robinson and Bill Davenport from Scientific Atlanta, had some interest in these assets. I had known of Scientific Atlanta (SA), because of their prominence in antenna pattern recording equipment. At that time SA was interested in expanding and making acquisitions. Robinson & Davenport had heard that the company was up for sale and since it involved antennas, they were interested in it. APC may have owed Scientific Atlanta money, I’m not sure. Scientific‑ Atlanta decided they weren’t interested in the company, or its assets, but they made me and a couple of other engineers there an attractive offer to come to work at SA. So I went to work for them as an antenna micro wave engineer in 1961. Moved from Mineral Wells to Atlanta, where I stayed for 23 years. Just prior to my leaving, I did design for Johnny Campbell … I think three sets of Yagi arrays consisting of 4 Yagi each, 2 by 4 arrays, which he used to receive the TV stations from Fort Worth and Dallas for his cable. That was my first experience selling cable television products to a CATV operator.
TAYLOR: This was as an employee of APC?
SMITH: That’s right … while I lived in Mineral Wells and of course Johnny Campbell knew that APC was involved in the antennas … VHF antennas, and this sort of thing, and he knew me as a ham operator. Right after I had graduated from school, I got a ham license. In Mineral Wells, I had gotten into his cable system a few times, which he didn’t use baluns to connect this to the cable system. He would take the braid of the cable and hook it to one terminal of the TV set and the center conductor to the other terminal and occasionally would put a resistor across the two. At the time I was quite active in operating on 6 meters, particularly with sporadic‑E skip. When I came to work with Scientific Atlanta about 90 percent, maybe even more of their business was defense oriented. They were selling antenna pattern measuring equipment and positioners to military and NASA facilities. At that time Glen Robinson was president of SA. Glen was the first full‑time employee of the company, although he didn’t start the company. Five professors from Georgia Tech started the company, and they
hired him as the first full‑time employee.
TAYLOR: When did they start? Do you know?
SMITH: They started I think in 1950, ’52. Their first job was to build vacuum tube bum‑in racks for the Navy, I think it was. Then they got an antenna contract and they found they had to make a lot of patterns. This was a scanning antenna for the Navy. It had three parabolic sections that were rotating around. They had one feed and it performed a scanning function. They had a lot of patterns to do. Georgia Tech had had a defense contract to study automatic pattern recorders and so they decided that “Well, gee, what we need to do is to build an antenna pattern recorder, they soon found out there was more interest in the antenna pattern recorder than the antenna. So they decided that was going to be the product. But anyway, Glen bought these 5 professors out for $100 after the first two years in the company. He took the company public quite soon after that and ran it until Sid Topol came in. I forget when Sid Topol came … it was either 70 or 71 when he came to Scientific Atlanta, but anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself in that area. When I came, I started working as the antenna and micro wave engineer developing the antennas for both government projects, as well as, a proprietary line of antennas to go with their antenna measuring systems. SA needed broadband antennas for their test ranges, to minimize the changing of range antennas when broadband antennas were being tested. I said, “Well, gee we could make log periodic feeds and they could put them in front of these parabolic reflectors and you could have a high gain antenna over a wide frequency range. So, I developed log periodic for parabolic feeds, or arrays for use on radio ranges. I designed low frequencies Us, all sorts of broadband dual polarized cross log periodic … the whole range. Glen Robinson in 1963 had made the strategic decision to get the company into more commercial business … to be less dependent on military contracts. He encouraged his engineers to bring up ideas that would … particularly those ideas that used defense business technology with commercial business application.
TAYLOR: How large was the company at this time … when you started, say … in terms of engineers and non‑engineers?
SMITH: I have collected here … I think … a financial report but as I recall, it was in the 2 to 4 million dollar annual sales and it had around 200 employees when I joined. Now when I left, it was $400 million a year and it had 5,000 employees.
TAYLOR: I was going to say it was a lot bigger than that.
SMITH: And I always say, that the only similarity between the company I started working for and the company I left from was name only.
TAYLOR: I think I visited down there in the very early days when you first started the log periodic and it was a quite different company the next time I went.
SMITH: Anyway, I had thought that, “Well, gee, I know a little bit about cable television. One of the other things I failed to mention is when 1955, 1 believe, Rudy Riley got the franchise for cable television in Drew … maybe it was ’54 … in somewhere along those lines. He built the cable system in Drew using Entron … you know compactron tubes and this sort of thing and he … being true to form had a rhombic array, but he had graduated to metal towers rather from wood power poles, little bit higher … it just so happened the headend site was near my house and the trunk line ran down the street in front of my home. My house was the first customer off the headend. Another interesting thing that I failed to mention is when I was a senior at Mississippi State, students had to do a senior project where you identify some subject, did research and wrote a paper and give an oral presentation as part of a senior project. I selected two subjects. One was antenna modeling and the other was master antennas. There was little literature that I could find, on cable television in 1952. The only thing I could find was available was a few articles in the IRE Proceedings by RCA Engineers having to do with their master antenna. I wrote about that and I extended that idea to Cable TV. I knew cable TV was being constructed in cities across the country particularly in cities under‑served by television. But back to the SA story, as a result of this experience, I got the idea, to look for products that Scientific Atlanta could provide to the cable industry. I called on my old friend Rudy Riley, who was at the time in Waycross, Georgia doing a turnkey construction contract. I went down to see him. I asked him what are the two most pressing electronic devices you think the cable industry needs? I guess him knowing a little bit about my background and my expertise, he suggested that what they needed was a better antenna to receive the distant TV signals in the presence of co‑channel interference and also a broad band, cheap directional coupler. I may be mistaken, but as I recall at the time, SKL had come out with a fairly broad band coupler and I think it utilized the ferrite transformers and I could … my memory is a little dim on this because we were unsuccessful in competing in coupler business.
TAYLOR: First thing, SKL came out was … I guess they called it a tap but it served … no, it was also a splitter … would have some directional effect all right. It was based on dual coaxial cable … two wires within the shield.
SMITH: That’s what it was. And that’s what we tried to do.
TAYLOR: I don’t think they had ferrites at that time.
SMITH: I believe you are right. Because I believe Jerrold was the first to use ferrites.
TAYLOR: I think that’s probably right.
SMITH: I remember they had a trick that nobody else in the industry had at that time. Other manufacturers were still using the pressure tap with the little stinger and it had no directional effect and it just had a resister in there that sort of determined the level that was coming out of the tap.
TAYLOR: Lots of mismatch effect.
SMITH: Yes. But we were still in the 6 channel distribution systems at that time.
TAYLOR: Interesting in that line, the first system that I saw was over in Chehalis, Washington in 1952, 1 think and their method of tapping … they were using RG1 I … but they didn’t have any way to tap the RG-11 … they didn’t use pressure taps, but they did have a little aluminum block that was a resistive tap, not matched at all … but just the resistive tap off and it used connectors they called C-connectors and I’m still trying to find out the source of C-connectors! Ken Simmons thinks that … oh the guy at Jerrold … Eric Winston … came up with the C‑connectors originally … but at any rate … this little box, that was maybe an inch square … aluminum milled out … had two C‑connectors to come into it and two C‑connectors to come off of it. So they had to go down from RG‑ 11 to C‑connector which was made for 59 size and they did that. The thing that appalled me … as little as I knew about cable television … I knew a little about engineering … was that they made the splice of the 59 to the 11 by soldering the center conductors and then just lapping over the shields and taping it. That just appalled me. They did that for awhile and of course they were tapping a line … they didn’t distinguish between trunk and feeder.
SMITH: Yes. Anyway, I came back with the idea … I had known that from my days at APC and also at Chance‑Vought that log periodics inherently had better front to back ratios than Yagi’s did. Yagi’s were very sensitive to their … to the environment … they were very sensitive to the boom size to the elements and a lot of parameters that most people didn’t really think about …
TAYLOR: They were basically parasitic antennas and so they were parasitic to anything that was in the way.
SMITH: That’s right. And most people didn’t really appreciate that. So, I built a couple log periodic antennas to see how they would work as TV antennas. I also tried the directional coupler by printing the directional couplers on a G‑10 and fiberglass. I could get them to work, but they tended to be a little on the loss side and it was difficult to get them to work over the range needed. Also, it was a little bit of a difficulty in that cable TV was 75 ohms and all the military and all the test equipment at SA was at 50 ohms. I had the early 50 ohm versus the 75 ohm dilemma which I guess the industry still faces a little bit … although test equipment manufacturers have come to provide 75 ohm equipment now. But anyway, I saw right off that we weren’t going to be successful in the directional coupler business but I hadn’t given up on the antenna business so I designed an array that would go from channel 7 to channel 13 that would have 10 db gain. An array of 4 would have 16 dB gain. I also knew that if you could keep the side lobes down in the horizontal plane, you’d probably reduce your co-channel interference quite a bit. I had learned from some of the missile tracking businesses that if you arrayed the antenna elements in a diamond shape rather than traditional 2 over 2, i.e., side by side, you reduce the side lobes in the horizontal plane virtually down to zero. So I got that concept of the design, of the diamond shaped, the log periodic. The first test array was put the cable TV tower in Athens, Georgia. At that time it was owned by Alan McDonald.
TAYLOR: McDonald, yes.
SMITH: There was a channel 13 in Macon and a channel 13 in Athens .. I mean in Ashville, North Carolina, I think it was. They were about the same distance from Athens. I think they wanted to receive channel 13 Macon. Rudy Riley was also doing the construction for Alan Mcdonald and we put it on the tower up only about … 50 feet to start with and we took a lot of pictures. SA uses those same pictures today. These same pictures were used for the next 15 year! But anyway, we put it up … we put it up on top of the tower and we ran some tests and I really couldn’t tell … quite frankly, whether we had anything or not from those tests. But I got another opportunity later to get a very dramatic demonstration.
TAYLOR: Had you run patterns on SA pattern range?
SMITH: Oh yes, we’ve done extensive patterns and testing and measured the gain and we’ve done a good, engineering job of the product … just as if we were designing it for military. Along about this time, I attended … as part of this, I attended my first cable television … NCTA convention. It was in 1964 and it was in Philadelphia. It was in the … I forget … it’s what now is the Fairmont Hotel, but it was not the Fairmont at that time.
TAYLOR: Belleview, I believe.
SMITH: Belleview! That’s right. Convention Hall was on the top floor. It later became famous because they had the Legionnaire disease
there and they closed it down.
TAYLOR: That’s right. Interestingly enough, that’s where Martin came to me and asked me if I would be interested in joining with him in Washington.
SMITH: Is that right? That’s interesting
TAYLOR: It was that same convention.
SMITH: That was my first one to attend. It was, I guess, some of the “marketing survey” I was doing. Now you have to understand I was an engineer, and had been an engineer most of my professional career and here I was doing a marketing survey.
TAYLOR: You had sold some log periodics to cable because we bought one in Kalispell.
SMITH: That was later, because in ’64 … we didn’t offer the product for sale until ’65.
TAYLOR: Oh I see, that was after I came back from Washington. I didn’t realize I thought that I was still there. I went back I guess because…
SMITH: In ’65, we went to the NCTA Show; it was in Denver, and Bill Daniels had the little boys in the page coats, you know, the little red page coats … in the meantime, Rudy Riley had hooked me up with National Theater Supply and Jack … what was Jack’s name …how soon we forget … oh, I should remember Jack’s name, I’m sure he’s passed on now. He was in the business of financing cable television systems. I’m sure you recall that back in those days, it was difficult to get financing for cable … it’s interesting how the world changes or goes in cycles … it’s still hard to get it nowadays. I joined the …
End of Tape 1, Side A
Start of Tape 1, Side B
TAYLOR: Now we are on the B side of tape 1, and we are continuing our discussion. We are all set to go ahead.
SMITH: OK, in 1965 the NCTA Convention was in Denver. Scientific Atlanta was there as part of National Theater Supply … we didn’t have the booth in our name, but we had a little log periodic antenna model there and we were talking and demonstrating some patterns and this sort of thing to various people that came by. I didn’t know hardly anybody in cable television other than Rudy Riley, Alan McDonald and just a few other people that I had happened to have met in Philadelphia and in the meantime. The only 2 people from Scientific Atlanta that were there, was my wife and myself. We were it. We talked to William L. Ross who was Bill Daniel’s chief engineer at the time. Bill Ross was the chief engineer for the cable system when it was constructed in Atlanta. But anyway, he wanted to try this antenna on channel 3 in Monroe, Louisiana. Monroe’s situation was 103 miles to Jackson, channel 3, 103 miles to Shreveport, channel 3, and they wanted Shreveport. Daniels had spent untold amounts of money on various antenna configurations and were seriously considering microwaving channel 3 into Monroe. I remember the Monroe system. Manager was Karl Kandall. So we built this huge array for channel 2 through 4. The maximum length of Scientific Atlanta sheet metal presses was 144. That was the biggest press that SA had. We had designed Antenna Boom as a tapering U channel 144″ in length. It was quite strong and we had mechanical analysis done on everything. I had maximized the array gain. This whole 4 element array weighed about 2,000 pounds. People at that time really raised their eyebrow about putting up this 2,000 lb antenna on a tower. Supposedly one could do the job with only a couple hundred pounds of Yagis. But the SA antenna used galvanized steel for the backing structure. It was quite heavy and the antennas were quite large, too. We got the antenna there … we went to Monroe; Blair Weston and me. Blair was a technician who worked for me as an associate engineer who helped me with the design and testing.
TAYLOR: I knew Blair. Had he been employed at Scientific Atlanta before you got there?
SMITH: Yes. He worked with me and for me as an antenna technician and associate engineer, … on all type of antenna products … not only the cable, but the other stuff too. But he later was dedicated to the cable television and the antenna side of it. So Blair and I went to Monroe. This must have been in ’65 … because it was right after the convention in Denver … we went there and got the antenna system assemble on the ground. We were looking at the pictures on channel 3 off of a 4 YAG array right at the top of the tower. The set couldn’t make up its mind which station to sync on. It would first sync on Shreveport and then sync on Jackson and then it wouldn’t know which one to sync on … and it was a mess of lines … I forget if it was a 10 kilohertz or 20 kilohertz off‑set beat that you can see quite readily in there … so we go and get the tower rigger and put the antenna up and get it pointed … I think we put it right under the existing Yagis … and get it pointed in the direction of Shreveport and we’d say, “OK, now! ” … I think we pointed it with a field strength meter … didn’t look at the pictures … so we got it pointed and said OK … and we looked at the pictures off the Yagi array … and it was still just like I’d described it … couldn’t decide which one to sync on, and then Karl Kandell, the Monroe manager said, “OK, now put it on the new array.” It was the most dramatic thing I’d ever seen. It was if the Jackson Channel 3 had gone off the air! You couldn’t see a single trace of co‑channel in the picture. Karl’s eyes got real big and 15 minutes later he was on the phone talking to Bill Daniels telling Bill that SA had solved his channel 3 problem.
TAYLOR: Was this a diamond array?
SMITH: Yes, it was a diamond array … it was essentially the same design that we had gone into production with. It was just quite dramatic. And thanks to Bill Daniels, that really started Scientific Atlanta in the cable television market because he made a special trip out there to see it and at that time, he was really on the circuit of making all the state associations and various meetings and he really got on the Scientific Atlanta antenna bandwagon. As a result, SA began to take a lot of antenna orders. We offered a money back, satisfaction guarantee to customers because we were new … nobody had heard of us … and it was something we … I felt, that was needed to really bring the credibility to the market. Because antennas have been subjects of a lot of shysters … as you know … particularly some of the consumer antenna’s promotion which promised to turned your house into a gigantic TV antenna for $.50 or something like that.
TAYLOR: They’re still going on.
SMITH: The other interesting thing, from Scientific Atlanta’s standpoint the project was profitable from day one. We came out knowing that the antenna was going to be much higher priced than what you could buy an equivalent dB’s in Yagis array at the time. It was priced so that we could manufacture it in Scientific Atlanta’s shop and make a decent profit on it. SA was not a low cost, high volume manufacturer at the time, because SA was still primarily a defense business and high volume production to Scientific Atlanta at that time, was 4, 5 or 6 a month. But it was profitable from the very first quarter that it went into business and it stayed a profitable business in spite of some early difficulties we had with it. I think about after the first year, I began to get telephone calls from people concerned that their antenna array had fallen off their tower.
TAYLOR: You mean electrically?
SMITH: I mean physically fallen. When the first one … as I recall, I could be wrong on this, but as I recall, some guy from Kankakee, Illinois called me and said, “We had a little wind last night. One of your antenna’s came flying off the tower and fell on the ground. He said that it looked like it had some sort of metal fatigue in it. And I said, “Na … no way.” A couple more days, and I got another call. Couple more days, I’d start getting another call … and then I start getting letters. Then “Hey, we got a problem here.” I noticed no one had problems with the 7 through 13 array. The problems were all confined on the 2 to 4 array and the 2 to 6 array.
TAYLOR: Of course, those are enormous dimensions.
SMITH: Yes, so I said that this was a real problem. I could see us in law suits where somebody got hurt … and got impaled by one of these antennas. In the meantime, we had moved the production of the antenna from Scientific Atlanta in Atlanta to Southern Tool in Anderson, Alabama. So we got two antennas back over from Southern Tool … this model … and put them up in the high bay test area at Scientific Atlanta’s plant and began to shake them. Because somebody may have taken pictures, we knew that the horizontal antennas were the ones that were failing … and right where they fit onto the backing structure boom. The backing structure in the early days was made from a rectangular steel fabricated pipe. It was about 2″ on the side. And because of the forces in these cantilevered antennas, bouncing up and down, it put a lot of stress right at the comers of this rectangular pipe. And it wouldn’t take very long for this stress to build up and crack the tube where the antenna element attached.
TAYLOR: Was the whole thing dropping off or was…?
SMITH: The whole antenna but not the backing structure. If you recall this was about an 18 foot piece of horizontal pipe … two antennas mounted on the end and there was a flat, half‑inch plate of steel that was welded on to this rectangular tube and the antenna bolted onto that flat plate. Well the flat plate was fine, but it was transferring the stresses right to the comers of this square tube. When it would bounce up and down
TAYLOR: Right at the point where it was attached
SMITH: Right at the point where it was attached … right. So, we had to go to … what we should have done … should have known better and to start with, to go to a complete tubular design so that we had a tube there which uniformably moved that stress around and turned it into a torsion load on the tubular bar. We also added the insurance of putting cables from these antennas up to the top and bottom of the diamond to minimize the total harmonic modes of oscillation that the array would get into under real tough wind condition. So then I had the task of contacting all the customers and saying, “Hey, you are going to have to replace this antenna and we are going to send you a new antenna … a new backing structure … your antenna is ok, just a new backing structure and we are going to send it to you, free of charge and we are going to pay any reasonable cost in replacing this entire rigging and this sort of thing.” And I probably got more orders, as a result of being frank, honest and straight forward and not trying to dodge the bullet. Particularly from one … do you remember George Milner?
TAYLOR: Yes indeed. He was with CableCom General at the time.
SMITH: CableCom General, you’re right. George, bless his heart, he called me up and he said, “It sure is nice to find a honest vendor in the cable television business!” And he had one of our antennas and I can’t remember whether he had trouble with it yet or not, but if he had one of the earlier ones, he was going to have trouble with it. It was just a matter of time. I think we had sent him replacements. Anyway, from that point on, I don’t think he ever ordered any antenna unless it was a Scientific Atlanta antenna. So in spite of that added cost, and even during those periods of time, we managed to still make money on it. Of course the company was still interested in going into commercial business and interested in me trying to expand this business. I felt SA needed to concentrate in the headend but I needed a designer to …
TAYLOR: Before you move into that, I wanted to explore where the binomial array, diamond concept … where did that originate? Was that your idea? No you said it came from some military …
SMITH: Right. The first Diamond Array I ever saw … I think it was helical antennas mounted in a diamond configuration … it was from a company in California called Canoga who had a shipboard missile tracking system and I thought “Why in the world are they doing it that way? What is the advantage of that?” And so I set out to try to figure out, in my own mind, why they were doing that … more or‑less as a curiosity. At that time, I had an office mate named Homer Bartlett … he and I were designing antennas at Scientific Atlanta and Homer and I talked about it and we decided, “Well, gee, what that is, is essentially a binominal array. If you’re concerned about the side lobes in the horizontal plane, the diamond shape will reduce the side lobes. The power distribution in a diamond array can be analyzed by resolving it into a 3 element array where the center element is the combination of the top and bottom elements. The center element is fed twice the power as the two on the sides, which gives you a binomial distribution of power of 1,2,1. And that’s the reason they did it … is because they were concerned about trying not to lock onto side lobes on the horizontal plane while tracking missile.
TAYLOR: So what you’re saying is if you had just three in the horizontal plane, with the center one fed twice the power of either of the end ones, that you would have the same effect.
SMITH: That’s right, same effect.
TAYLOR: Seems to me that would make a smaller, physical unit but maybe it’s hard to maintain the power division.
SMITH: It would be a little more difficult to maintain the power and it also wouldn’t have quite the gain, because you would lose some of your vertical aperture.
TAYLOR: I see.
SMITH: But side lobe wise, it would be the same. You could do, it by taking a hybrid splitter and feeding the first leg off the hybrid split to the center antenna through a long length of cable and then feeding the other through another splitter and through other lengths
TAYLOR: Get them phased by the cable lengths, yes.
SMITH: But you would have to have them phased by cable lengths, and that tended to throw a little bit of a frequency sensitive element into it. So that is one of the reasons we did do it.
TAYLOR: Was that phenomenon of that power distribution producing very small side lobes … has that been published somewhere? Analyzed that you know of?
SMITH: Yes, it’s been analyzed not as such as for TV arrays, other than a paper I presented in ’65.
TAYLOR: Yes, I am familiar with that paper in which basically you simply stated the mathematical …
SMITH: Yes, it had been done for both the discrete and parabolic antennas in Kraus, J.D. Kraus Antenna book… Kraus talks about a uniform distribution versus a Dolph‑Chebyshev and binominal distributions. A Dolph‑Chebyshev is the tradeoff between a given side lobe level and minimum beam widths. So if you wanted 20 db side lobes … if you had a Dolph‑Chebyshev distribution of power, that would be the optimum gain versus the given side lobe level and then the binomial, which would be, theoretically no side lobes, but it would have a broader beam, i.e. less gain.
TAYLOR: I see.
SMITH: And that had been studied from radar applications, primarily. Generally, those were in arrays that had, maybe 10 or 15 points or, parabolic reflectors that were a large number of wave lengths in diameter.
TAYLOR: The other comment I wanted to make was about our purchase in Kalispell. We put that in, and it did such a good job that I couldn’t explain it, but the gain figures that we were getting either the gain of the Scientific Atlanta antenna was actually more than was rated or the others were not only overrated but we even checked actual performance. Which is crude, of course, when you are up on a pole like that but …
SMITH: I think one of the things that people didn’t appreciate, and one of the things that led me to believe that we had a product was that we actually, at Scientific Atlanta, in the early days of the design, fabricated a typical antenna tower about 20ft. in length. And then we bought Yagis from Taco … Jerrold.
TAYLOR: Well you’ve got a paper that looks like that with green binder.
SMITH: Yes, which Weston did.
TAYLOR: Yes I remember reading that. That is when I met Blair Weston for the first time.
SMITH: Those were real patterns. We didn’t do any marketing to them. You would take this nice Yagi, which had a good pattern, and you would perform your mathematical, theoretical array of 4 elements of those, you would have a good pattern but the problem was that they hung those YAGIS on each side of the tower, with a tower in between. And again as we said earlier, it’s a parasitically excited antenna and the tower got in the way of it and it ruined the directivity of the array. In many cases, they would have omni-directional antennas up there, and they were thinking they were high gain antennas.
TAYLOR: The only way you could get away from that, to some extent would be to stick it at the top of the tower with a very small dimension mast supporting the vertical.
SMITH: Sometimes people would put them on top of mountains — on wood poles and then you didn’t have quite the same problem.
TAYLOR: That helped, yes.
SMITH: But also, another thing on top of the mountain, and if you had a problem with it, what they would do is they would go down the side of the mountain so that the mountain would act as a shield!
TAYLOR: Right. It was a remarkable product. It’s amazing to me that people that I talked to … and I was always pushing the antenna, if it could possibly be done because … for 2 reasons. One, the other one of course, is the wide band effect. The Yagis tend to have cutting of the side bands. So they put in 2 drivers to try and get around that problem and still it was there … but the constant VSWR across the band made a difference in the quality of the picture, let alone just the gain of signal to noise ratio. So it was a very desirable one but an awful lot of people wouldn’t believe it. I was surprised at how many people would say… “those Yagis are fine … they just work well.”
SMITH: And they have been around a long time but …
TAYLOR: But of course you aren’t now reaching for distant signals and so they … now they use Yagis in special cases
SMITH: … most of the time they’ve gotten fiber optical feed in the network from the studio! … or satellite from a dish … but …
TAYLOR: OK, now you are talking about your next step … the antenna.
SMITH: Yes. Let me say that I didn’t get a lot of support from everybody at Scientific Atlanta about getting into this business, but I did get support from the ones that mattered. Glenn Robinson, who was president, chairman of the board, was a very big supporter booster … encouraged me to continue in this area. Bill Davenport, who was chief financial officer, also encouraged me to continue in this area but a lot of the technical guys at the time thought that … and it may be a little bit of an overstatement on my part, but they thought that cable television was a little bit of a skuzzy business and that besides that, who needed more … 3 or 4 more TV channels anyway? … and who would pay a monthly fee to get these signals, when all you had to do was put up an antenna to get them … free? But anyhow …
TAYLOR: Yes, that was a common view all over, not just in your company.
SMITH: But I had to fight that and it presented both an obstacle and also a challenge to a certain extent.
TAYLOR: Was Robinson an engineer?
TAYLOR: Or was he an academic?
SMITH: No, he was an engineer from Georgia Tech. He was working at Oak Ridge and when the tech professors called him SA. Glenn was better at being a project engineer than he was at being the CEO of a company … and I’m sure he’d probably tell you that. However, Glenn was a great visionary … he could see what things were going to be like in the future pretty clearly. He positioned …he made a lot of very wise moves with the company … one of which was bringing Topol in, because Topol was more‑or‑less his handpicked replacement. And I think he realized that Topol could really take the company to another plateau of performance that Glenn himself wasn’t going to be able to do.
TAYLOR: Strat Smith tells me that he is planning on doing an oral history on Sid and Sid is deeply involved in the center, itself, anyway, and so we will be getting a great deal of information on his background.
SMITH: He keeps bugging me to send some information, particularly on the two‑way cable stuff … that we were early pioneers in that also … probably much to stockholders regret because we just dropped money into R & D projects … I think we ended up selling 5, but we never made money on any of them … but anyway, I am getting way ahead of myself. So we’ve been fairly successful with the antennas and we’ve developed a complete line of the VHF antennas and we had gone to UHF, where we had 8 and 10 foot parabolic reflector with a log periodic feed that would operate over channel 14 to 83 at that time. Robinson wanted me to expand the CATV product line. I had decided that we needed to concentrate in the headend. I felt that there is where we had the expertise. I didn’t know anybody … didn’t see anybody that really could take us into the distribution equipment. Plus, if we went into the distribution equipment, we were going to go into tough competition in the cable business and I was smart enough to recognize that I probably couldn’t do that successfully … both from my personal limitations and I didn’t have any real resources to call on at the company. I could have gone out and acquired it but I am not sure I was smart enough at the time. So I decided to hire an engineer to develop a pole mounted preamplifier … because one of the things we had discovered from the antenna business that often times, somebody would want to pull in say, a distant CH. 4 and have a local CH. 5 and you would get overload on the preamp when you tried to preamp the 4 in the presence of a strong local. I knew just enough about electronics to think, hey, if we put in an FET amplifier, rather than a bi‑polar product, that we could probably do OK … at least we could solve most of the problems … maybe not every one of them, but we could solve a lot of them. So I … some way or another, I got a resume, or heard of this fellow, by the name of Alex Best who was getting his master’s degree from Georgia Tech and he had had some experience designing televisions for RCA in Indianapolis. So I interviewed him, and he was from near Athens … not Athens … near Augusta, near Augusta, Georgia and he looked like a good candidate … look like he had the experience and that he would fit in well with the group, so … I made him an offer and he took me up on it.
TAYLOR: He was working on a master’s, but he had previously worked in Indianapolis?
SMITH: He had gotten his BS from Georgia Tech and he had gone and worked for RCA, I think … two, maybe three years … working on particularly their IF design and some other projects there, as I recall … and had come back to Tech to get his master’s and that’s when we hired him.
TAYLOR: He told me on the phone, that was 1966.
SMITH: OK … that’s right … ’66, because that was the year that the convention was in Miami because I can remember Philadelphia, Denver, Miami and then it went to San Francisco in ’67 and I think that’s where SCTE had their first meeting. I put him to work on a FET pole mounted preamplifier and companion power supply so you can put the power supply down in the headend and feed the power up the coaxial cable. And that turned out to be a very good product. It solved many of the difficulties with that preamp. It had a high‑Q transformer coupled front end and we used that high-Q to our advantage in a few instances where we could take one of these broadband antennas and preamplify two weak signals off of it, without sacrificing much in the way of signal to noise ratio … effective noise figure. What we would do is we would take the signal, instead of running it through a passive splitter, which would result in an effective 3db reduction in gain, or a 3db reduction in signal to noise ratio, we would use them as diplexers. We would calibrate the length of cable from the “T” … we would just take a regular T, and we would calibrate the length, so that at the other channels … say we were going to amplify channel 7 and channel 11, off a 7 to 13 array … well, we would calibrate the channel I I’s link from the T to its preamplifier, so that at channel 7, it looked like an open circuit. So all the signals from the channel 7 would go towards channel 7 preamplifier. Then the link from the channel 7 preamplifier, to the T, we would calibrate, so that it looked like an open circuit at channel [I I] and that was a trick … I don’t think anybody in the industry ever did that but us.
TAYLOR: I think that’s probably right.
SMITH: That was a trick I learned in diplexing transmitters on to one antenna back at Chance Vought. That was a very simple, straight forward diplexing technique and that worked in a number of installations and resulted in a number of sales. As soon as we got that done, I put Alex to work on developing a solid state signal processor. That was quite a task and it was done basically by Alex himself. He didn’t have a whole lot of help.
TAYLOR: Yes, that was my impression at the time.
SMITH: … Some drafting support, some technicians support and some moral support from me … that was about it … probably a lot of interference. Alex felt, at the time, my impression was, he didn’t feel real capable of that project. I think he felt he was over whelmed by it all, but he continued on with it and designed … 1 think we started out designing the IF amplifier, because I think he was more familiar with that … felt more comfortable, than anything … and then we designed the convertors and we wanted to have the convertors where they would plug in so they would be sort of agile on the frequency. What I thought was clever, we designed, so that the output convertor and the input … the input convertor and the output convertor would be the same mechanical product … so that the one was just the inverse of the other one … so that would save us on tooling cost and some manufacturing, I thought, advantages at the time. And we made the whole thing all modular and the initial design had a built‑in level meter on it. That was the 6100 signal processor. Now there were a few things that we didn’t know about like some of the spurious harmonics would come out of that. The main competitor we had at the time, was the Jerrold channel commander, which at that time, was using primarily loop‑through coupling which was just really … it aggravated the cross modulation products, and this sort of thing. But we didn’t know about it at the time. We soon learned about it … at the time we didn’t know about it. Primarily just because of our inexperience, we had some harmonics, or some LO leakage that was coming out, that we had to correct with some external filters … which if we had been smart, we could have probably gotten in on the design. We got the design out … I guess my most interesting story about that is that I priced that … signal processor. I took it back to Scientific Atlanta manufacturing people and at that time, we were all centralized … one manufacturer … all the divisions and there were about 7 divisions, we had the same manufacturing facilities. And we took it back to some of the people there, who do the electronics … the assembly, the wiring, the checking out … and got their labor estimates and I worked up my bill of materials and multiplied it all out … as I recall, the thing I was going to suggest a list price, of 1400 dollars, knowing that I was going to have to have some discount prices and when we introduced that, it was the year after San Francisco … the convention was in Chicago at the …
TAYLOR: Probably the Palmer House.
SMITH: Palmer House … right. I think that must have been ’67 or ’68.
TAYLOR: It must have been ’67. ’68 you were in Boston that’s where the convention was.
SMITH: That was the next year, because I know for sure it was in Chicago … so whatever that year was. I think we only had … maybe we had 2 signal processors… maybe we only had I … I can’t remember that … but we had all we had at the show. At any rate, they were prototypes, as usual. I priced that thing out and I knew that Ameco was going to have one and I knew … I thought that Cass was going to have a solid state and a possibility that Jerrold may announce theirs also. But I think Jerrold was a little bit later in announcing theirs.
TAYLOR: Jerrold still didn’t have a solid state?
SMITH: Not at that time … they may have announced it at that show.
TAYLOR: They had the tube commander?
SMITH: Yes. They really weren’t a factor in it until a little bit later. Ameco had one and Cass had one, but …
TAYLOR: That was their Chanelleer. I think that Chicago was the one when John Pranke Chanelleers air came in … [need to check the tape to straighten this out] smashed them down to the bottom of the racks. Do you remember that?
TAYLOR: I just reread the transcript of Earl Hickman’s interview and he was talking about that experience.
SMITH: Anyway, the thing that was interesting to me, was not having … I really had no idea how they were going to price those things. I just really didn’t know and I didn’t have any contacts that I could call … or maybe I wasn’t smart enough to think about calling contacts in the industry to find out if they knew what they were going to sell for. So, I priced it at 1400 dollars, as I recall. And much to my surprise, I think within a couple or three hundred dollars, we were all at the same price! I just couldn’t believe it! I said, “Whew, we are going to do something in this business after all!” Because I knew at 1400 dollars, we could make money, we could be competitive. Now, we did have to … I think we were a little bit higher than anybody else, but only by a couple hundred dollars … which is probably where I’d like for it to be anyway. But we ended up offering 2 options: 1. Without the meter, which I think turned out to be the most popular than with the meter. And we were quite effective. I guess the thing that really made us successful in that is that we worked up a good close relation at the time with Vikoa, which was doing a lot turnkey installations and this sort of thing … and liked us as a supplier, because we didn’t compete with them in anything … whereas if they went to Ameco or Jerrold, they were competing. At that time, I had hired Dick Walters. I don’t know whether you remember Dick Walters or not. He was the marketing manager for me at that time.
TAYLOR: I am sure I met him, but that doesn’t ring a bell.
SMITH: I don’t think that he was at the Chicago show, but he was with me at the … Boston, next year. And he did quite an effective job in helping us in that. In the meantime, we had developed the … a lot of things had happened. I had convinced the company to form my own independent manufacturing operation, where we could get off to ourselves and manufacture CATV products and that turned out to be quite successful.
TAYLOR: Is that when you opened up at a different physical location?
SMITH: Yes. I moved to a little strip shopping center … about 2, 2 or 3 miles from the main headquarters there and set up my own operation there … took about 40 or 50 people with me. We still did all the mechanical stuff in the main shop at Scientific Atlanta and we still were doing the antennas at Southern Tool, which they are still doing today, even though Southern Tool is no longer owned by Scientific Atlanta … turned out to be quite successful and the other … we had developed this computerized signal survey on time sharing computers we had programmed … I had got this consultant at Georgia Tech who was good at computer programming to take a Factbook, program all the TV stations in there, program their offset, their channel, their channel affiliation and power and antenna height. Put that on a time sharing computer, I think we used GE to start with … time sharing computer and we could plug in the geographical components of the proposed headend, or the actual headend and then it would automatically search out all the TV stations within 500 miles of it and give the distance and the bearing and the proposed signal strength.
TAYLOR: We are going to come to the end of this tape. If you can recall where you are.
SMITH: OK, we are talking about the signal strengths.
End of Tape 1, Side B
Start of Tape 2, Side A
TAYLOR: I believe we are recording now. We were talking about, before you took a break, you were talking about the computer analysis of propagation.
SMITH: Television signal strength, right. Prior to engaging the consultant to design that software, I had developed as part of a package this slide rule to forecast signal strength because I knew enough about propagation and propagation analysis at VHF and UHF to know that there was a lot of hocus pocus going around the industry about how to calculate proposed signal levels in the cable industry. We were doing a lot of proposals for various … for a lot of cable companies and the headends and this sort of thing and we were having to do… manually spending a lot of labor and forecasting signal levels and this sort of thing, and we had started off using the Bullington Nomographs which were reasonably close, better than most things that were around but they were all labor intensive. 1 had, in my research into propagation, I had discovered the National Bureau of Standards Technical Standard Note 101, which was computerized and then I took the stuff and developed a cardboard slide rule for us … sort of a giveaway.
TAYLOR: That 101 ‘was a remarkable document and it’s still quite useful. Ken Norton, I think was one of the people involved in that. I went to work for the Bureau of Standards in 1938 and Ken had then moved to the FCC. But the man I worked for, my boss at the Bureau of Standards, not only worked with Ken Norton, but they shared a duplex house … Norton was on one side and Ted was on the other. So, I always felt I had some connection with that 101 … not much.
SMITH: But anyway, the volume of the business had gotten to the point where we needed to be able to turn out a lot of proposals and do a lot of analysis and a lot of it was marketing efforts … we were doing it free for whoever would ask. So, I hired this consultant at Georgia Tech to develop this program. It was a very good program in that you could put in the geographical coordinates of the headend, put in your tower height and then it would search all of the channels within 500 miles, or you could extend the radius, whatever you wanted … but then 500 was generally what we did. It would identify the stations, identify their network affiliation and forecast their signal levels. From this information, you could then arrange … make logical arrangements of your antennas on you tower… naturally putting the antennas that are going to receive the weaker station, higher on the tower and you would also be able to forecast some of the problems you might have in the way of co-channel interference. It would also program those channels that would be likely to cause sporadic E interference, when that occurred, particularly on channels 2 to 4 and it would forecast the channels that were in the main beam of it and it would also subtract out the antenna patterns so you could know, in effect, what the directivity of the antenna would be.
TAYLOR: What was his name?
SMITH: I’ve forgotten.
TAYLOR: I got a little concerned about it and talked to him one time, because I wanted to know what … in effect, what the algorithm was, what they were doing it from … and I thought he told me that they were doing it from the FCC charts and that did worry me, because they are based on 2 to 10 miles and after that, they don’t care what’s out there.
SMITH: Later on, Scientific Atlanta did convert to that but that was after probably in the late ’70s, early ’80s, when they converted.
TAYLOR: But I was also concerned … to do a study like you did, you have to assume some uniform terrain … you can’t assume that there is a ridge anywhere, because you don’t have the information.
SMITH: It did assume smooth earth … but it was based on 101 and the … it made a decision in there … and it’s getting a little fuzzy in my memory now, about when it switched from more‑or‑less diffraction zone to scatter, based on … I think it calculated both propagation losses and took the least loss. I can’t vouch for how … that we did a lot of extensive research on comparing what the forecast versus what we actually measured in the field, but overall I think it was a pretty good analysis of what the signals you would find would be there.
TAYLOR: Well whatever it was, it was a hell of a lot better than what had been done before!
SMITH: And it was for free … mostly for free. And we used that to our advantage, I think to market headends and antennas. It was, I think a good marketing scheme and gimmick and a lot of people went by … it gave us a lot, I think, credibility, not only to having the information about a particular headend, but just in general, I think it added credibility to Scientific Atlanta’s reputation in the industry. I guess another thing I think we were pioneers in was the preassembled headend concept. Early on, when we did some antenna installations, I would often see the vendors or the cable companies themselves assembling their headends in the early stages, and I was often struck by the fact that sometimes you had large dollar volumes and high hourly rates being stymied by a 50 cent connector and things like this. And I thought, gee, Scientific Atlanta makes cabinets, they had a line of enclosures, electronic enclosures, called Optima line and we have purchasing departments and we have production labor here … why don’t we assemble all these things, get all the connections, all of the cables routed and collected together, then ship it? And therefore, the installation in the field should go much smoother. And I am reasonably sure that we were the first ones to do this.
TAYLOR: This was after you had the model that had the 6 or 8, 5 or 6 plug
SMITH: No. The first model of that was the 6300 modulator and then we later … which was another one of Alex Best’s projects. We later converted, I think, all the headend process over to those plug in modules. But even in the early days, when we were doing some headends, for Vikoa and some for other cable companies, we began to rack ’em up. Now the first racks we did, we didn’t do in Optima … Scientific Atlanta Optima racks. One, because they were fairly expensive compared to just open Bud racks; and two sometimes, we got the worst deliveries of anybody … from Scientific Atlanta, from the cabinet department. But later on, after we really began to get in the business, we pre‑bought our Optima cabinets and stocked them in our headend stock and racked them up and they were on roll around carts and everything. But I can remember early, Alex Best and I racking up, in the factory, it may have been … it was just one vertical rack, so I want to say it was probably just 6 channels, headend, solid state and putting it in the back of a company station wagon and driving it from Atlanta to Hattiesburg, Mississippi, to put it in for GE, I think at the time had the system in Hattiesburg. It also had nonduplication switching in it. We purchased a switcher … I’ve forgotten whose switcher it was, but we were switching IF frequencies in the thing so that when network stations had duplication problems, this thing would automatically switch … switch the one off or switch the other on. So that was … after we had introduced the 6100 signal processors, the next product we had was the 6200 synchronous demodulator and the product idea for that came from Hank Diambra. I had met Hank, I’ve forgotten exactly how, but certainly at the time, he was with Entron and running Entron, then he later … he ran Westinghouse Cable System in south Georgia and he was running a common carrier microwave relay system from just south of Atlanta, where they picked up the Atlanta stations, and delivered them to various cable systems all the way down…
TAYLOR: … in Dublin, and Valdosta, and Tallahassee and I’ve forgotten the other places.
SMITH: His engineering operation was in Dublin and he had his microwave pickup site at … Eatonton, GA it’s just south of Atlanta. I think it was Dynair demodulators and also Jerrold had a demodulator, but they were peak de-modulators. He was feeding those 2 TV channel by microwave relays and I think he had about 2 or 3 hops to get to Valdosta and he was always on the threshold of qualifying for a common carrier, because you couldn’t have more than a certain percentage of the customers owned by Westinghouse. But he had managed to just squeak by … always qualify as a common carrier so that he could retain those frequencies. He had stressed to me the need for a good high quality demodulator … synchronous types so that you could eliminate the inherent distortion that you got when you detected a vestigial signal with a peak detector. I hired another engineer, whose name I’ve forgotten at the moment, to design that … to help Alex in the process … Alex only had a small portion of that project, and that other guy was doing the bulk of the work and doing the synchronous detector. I guess from my personal perspective, I learned that not all engineers are equal and not all engineers were as good as Alex was in that this engineer in particular, was very slow, coming up with the product, and it didn’t have quite the features or … and I think in general, he was just not appropriate for the project that I put him on … which was probably my fault. But anyway, we finally brought that product to market and my analysis of it is that it performed quite well, except it had a long term stability problem … that took us quite a while to figure out. The problem had to do with losing synchronization … to have synchronous detection, it had to be synchronized and occasionally it would lose synchronization … I’m not quite sure what caused it … it was the best TV picture scrambler you ever saw! Once it went out of sync.
TAYLOR: I always assumed that the problem was that so much of the line would have very little IF carrier left, when it goes to white and that probably you’d lose the synch in that time when you had white elements in the picture.
SMITH: Alex is probably much more qualified to discuss the particulars of that problem. I do know that it had … the first problem we discovered was a heat buildup in the power supply and we solved that problem with a power supply redesign but I don’t think we ever solved the … at least my feeling is that there was a lot of installations where the demodulator worked quite well … there were other installations where I don’t think it ever really worked satisfactorily. And the need for it began to go away … I think regular demodulators got better and microwaving signals it wasn’t a real big deal, because, as you recall, there was a conflict between how you had to treat signals imported by microwave versus those you could receive off the air and this sort of thing. And it wasn’t a big market to start with.
TAYLOR: Headends in general ……… are a small market.
SMITH: It was a great idea. It was not a very good, in my analysis, it wasn’t the best rendition in actual practice of the product. A more generally needed one, which we introduced next was a multi plug-in modules, was the 6300 modulator which was the next product that came, that Alex was primarily involved with. It was more or less the front leader of the look that Scientific Atlanta had for many years of the multi module plug ins, and the front door with big, white dog bone… “detractor”, as I used to call it … extractor to get the modules plugged in and out. And that packaging concept and that whole diecast enclosure that each one of those modules were made of, got quite a bit of mileage for the company, for many years after that. The few other interesting abortions or failed attempts at other products … early on, we had an idea of developing a solid state microwave relay system, CARS band, for remote relaying of video signals, relatively short distance at 12 gigahertz. We had a group, at Scientific Atlanta, that had done some solid state 12 gigahertz oscillator work and this sort of stuff. And they came up with this idea. We developed one. We used it to relay security TV monitor pictures from one building to another … across an expressway, and a couple of other applications.
TAYLOR: Is this for your own purposes or for…?
SMITH: It was for our own purposes, but it also sort of served as a test bed for what we tried to develop as a commercial product. The company hired John Dillon, who is now the Chief Financial Officer of Cox Enterprises, from Coca-Cola. He had a Harvard, MBA and they assigned him to work with me, for his first job. I didn’t hire him. He was obviously destined for much greater things than I was at the time, but he did have his first job working for me in trying to market this particular product. I think it turned out to be a reasonably good product. It just wasn’t enough market there to really justify it, plus it also was running head on with Microwave Associates, who had come up a solid state, primarily aimed at the broadcasters for remote news gathering and video signal gathering. It was one of the first acts of … Sid Topol, who had spent his entire career in microwave relay up to that point, it didn’t take Sid very long to say, “Hey, this project goes! Let’s kill it right now and don’t spend anymore money!” Which was a wise decision. I didn’t think so at the time, but in retrospect he was much wiser than I was at the time. I guess the other thing that we were quite early in, and again never really made any mark or any real success with, was two way cable and devices to remotely monitor things in the home, particularly fire and burglar alarm.
TAYLOR: You were involved in the kind of service to apply to the cable, but did you actually get involved in the diplexing?
SMITH: Yes, we actually did that before we got involved in the wireless fire and burglar alarms.
TAYLOR: I see. How were you time-wise compared to SKL’s attempt to use two way?
SMITH: SKL? I had the idea, early on, about the same time we split the manufacturing off to its own self, and before we really got into… we were only doing headends. I can remember, it was during the Johnson administration and one of the big hallmarks of his administration was the Omnibus Crime Bill, you know, where the nation was concerned about crime and this sort of thing I had thought that providing TV channels for people to watching in their homes and also monitoring fire and burglar alarms in homes, would be a good market and something that would be a natural extension of the cable television business. I had gotten a group to work on that idea. I ran across, quite … sort of incidentally, somebody said, “Hey you ought to go to New York City and see this demonstration they got by Subscription TV or TV Subscription and they had a demo unit of a similar two way system. To my knowledge, this was before Hughes and their SRS.
TAYLOR: Subscriber Response System.
SMITH: But it was about the same time, but it was well before Tocom and their two way deal. At the time, I wasn’t smart enough, I wasn’t enough of a visionary, to realize that things like that would play in the forth-coming franchise battles. I wasn’t that smart, that visionary. But I just thought it was a good idea, and I just thought it was a natural for cable to get into. And my idea was to do it at low frequencies, and not to try to do it broadband … to try to utilize what later became the subsplit ‑ 5 to 30 megahertz — but to do it at low bands, maybe even, you know, even a couple of hundred kilohertz and just provide an over lashed, RG/59 to bring it back.
TAYLOR: Oh, I see.
SMITH: And that was the first… we developed the system, and we demonstrated it and we showed it … the first time we showed this was in … I’ve got this paper here … no, I don’t have a date on it… it was Marvin Roth developed this … wrote this paper, and I believe it was when the NCTA was in Washington … it’s funny how I can remember where the things were, and I can’t remember the dates! It must have been ’67, ’68 1 want to say.
TAYLOR: That Marvin Roth paper became one of several, prior art arguments in the patent suit. Oak sued Zenith, for a patent infringement on the Harney patent. I was hired by Zenith to try and help dig up prior art. And everything that had anything to do with that two-way, early thing and control signals and so on, and this became one of the key papers … there were a couple of others.
SMITH: There wasn’t a whole lot written.
TAYLOR: That’s right.
SMITH: But anyway, it was relatively a narrow band, and limited in scope compared to some of the other offerings that certainly came up later. We actually sold one … the first one to United Cable, I believe. It went into Crystal Lake, Illinois and Oak, at the time
was the security company and United Video…
TAYLOR: Their Oak’s headquarters were at Crystal Lake.
SMITH: Yes, and whoever had the cable franchise, was the cable company, I think it was United Video, I want to say. And we put one in, and we got it to working. I know they had 25 to 30 subscribers on it … I don’t know how long it lasted … I lost track of it. We actually sold, I guess over the next 4 or 5 years, we sold maybe 5. None of them ever really amounted to anything. Some of them I guess were gimmicks. The only one that really was operated over any extended time, we sold one to the City of Monroe, Georgia, which is a municipally owned cable system. And they were monitoring fire and burglar alarms on it there, in ’84 when I left Scientific Atlanta. They had also, in addition, they were doing some energy load management over their cable system there by using some of the Scientific Atlanta VHF energy management switches and instead of hooking antennas to them, they hooked cable drops to them to disconnect water heaters and cycle air conditioners, during peak periods of time. But anyway, we had this system. We demonstrated it with burglar alarms and monitoring what channels you were using, doing polling … opinion polling … this sort of stuff. As a result of that, I attended a few security tradeshows for residential and industrial security, and became fascinated with wireless alarms … so you have a little battery operated alarm. Later, completely independent of that effort, we discovered a company right in Atlanta, a company by the name of Rollins, who had acquired Orkin Exterminators, was interested in developing a proprietary wireless burglar alarm system, and had hired Georgia Tech Experiment Station, to develop the concept and a demonstrating unit.
TAYLOR: What was the wireless… how was the communication linked?
SMITH: It was a 9 volt, low powered transmitter that would transmit a pulse of RF energy anytime a magnet was separated from it.
TAYLOR: Any kind, oh, I see.
SMITH: Or it also had hard wire closures like a contact opening or closing, or a fire alarm going off. It would activate it and it would send out a pulse of RF energy for I second.
TAYLOR: And where would it be received?
SMITH: It would be received in the home with a centrally located receiver and if the security system was armed, or turned on, then it would drive a siren and sound an alarm. It would trigger a automatic telephone dialer.
TAYLOR: Oh, I see. It was wireless for the purpose of interconnecting the sensors in the home … or in the property, whatever it was.
SMITH: That’s right, and then it was actually hard wired to the telephone lines. The design and the development of that product came out of the Scientific Atlanta cable division at that time and I later took over the management of that division and that was really one of the things that got me out of the cable business. Bad choice on my part. It was actually designed and developed when I was managing the cable division. It had significance, in that it gave Scientific Atlanta the real volume production and the need to develop volume production expertise … that really carried it to its next level in electronic manufacturing.
TAYLOR: Did Rollins enter this project ………. go into actual project sales?
SMITH: Yes. It went into large quite volume they were the early, I guess they were very early, and most significant in residential fire and burglar alarm systems … the Rollins Wireless Security Systems. They started out by leasing the systems. You couldn’t buy one, you could lease it from them. Of course, they wanted to be able to make it easy to be installed in the home, fast, relatively low talent required to install it … and so you just go and literally stick these things up on windows and doors so that when a window opened, it sounded an alarm.
TAYLOR: In the FCC situations… these were just low powered incidental radiation … part 15.
SMITH: They had to meet part 15 requirements. Now, we got into a little bit of trouble with the FCC on that. It was really nitpicking, but you know, the FCC can get good at that sometimes. This was the problem. If you opened the door or window that had one of these transmitters on it, the transmitter would transmit. It would meet the FCC maximum radiation limits and it would only transmit for 1 second. And the law says, you can only transmit I second out of 30. So, if you opened the door, and left the door open, it would transmit for I second, and 1 second only. If you closed the door, it wouldn’t transmit. But if you opened and closed the door each time, it would transmit and because one can open or close a door or window more than one time in 30 sec. It did not meet the letter of the law, part 15 and the FCC frowned on that. We got sort of an unofficial waiver, on our next design, if we eliminated that particular problem, we would be ok. Turns out we never eliminated that problem, because it raised issues in the consumers mind … because each time … whether this system was armed or not when the door or window opened, a beep could be heard. Technicians and customers used this beep to see if the transmitters were working. Is it working? You opened the door and listened for the beep. Of course, you can see a consumer, you know, he opens the door and he says, “Did that system beep? Let me close the door and open it again and see if I hear it.” Well, if it had to wait for the part 15 time out, you know, he said, “I knew that damn thing wasn’t working!”
TAYLOR: But then after the transmission was sent, then this was just an alarm in the house, or did they have any communication to the central office?
SMITH: It was both an outside alarm, a local alarm, and it had a telephone dialer, which would seize the telephone line, and dial Rollins central station, and then they would report the alarm to the proper authorities … either the fire department or the police department … It was against most local codes to have one of these automatic dialers call the police directly. We actually had some demonstration units that worked over two‑way cable, but it never really amounted to anything. We put in a Rollins cable system, up in … somewhere in Connecticut … I’ve forgotten where it was. It never amounted to a whole lot. The first telephone dialers were analog tape dialers, and the tape would stick and fail, just when you needed them. Then, they developed digital dialers and later digital dialers with voice synthesizers. Some people actually doing this, I guess, like Chris Shrock and Cable Bus, maybe even still making a living at doing some of this stuff over Cable.
TAYLOR: My information is that they are not making a living. I think they are still trying to sell a product … Shrock is anyway. At least he was a year ago, but he was in pretty bad straights then. I don’t know if he’s still hanging on or not. Yes, the whole security thing has been a funny business. There was a time when it got so interesting to the cable people, that Paul Kagan even ran a special news letter on security … because everybody was going into it. Mostly it was a franchise pitch. People who would promise to go into it … but when you got right down to looking for customers for remote alarm systems, it was tough to come by. Martin … Malarkey, very quickly, I think, caught onto one of the problems because he had a big house there in Washington and he hired … it had nothing to do with cable … but he hired an alarm system, just for his own protection. He said it was going to cost, I think, $5000 dollars just to wire the house. That was the problem in the way they were selling it ‑ they were selling very simplistic one window, one door opening, and one panic button, at very low cost, but very low protection as well. And then the reliability of the cable system. The cable system goes out … and back then, about ’61 1 guess it was … or ’62, 1 can’t remember now, the NCTA set up a council, I think they called it a policy council. The problem was, that Strat Smith was fighting the issue of copyrights, heavily fighting that battle and his argument was that CATV was just a pipeline … it only does whatever you could do for yourself … it’s just the same thing. When we started doing other things … like putting records or music down, or security and these things, that kind of hurt his argument, but he didn’t want to stop the way business was run, so they set up this policy council to look at what we called “auxiliary services.” I remember, this is kind of an interesting sideline, Leonard Reinsch was the chairman of the committee.
SMITH: He was president of Cox at the time. He was also on Scientific Atlanta’s board.
TAYLOR: Was he? I am not surprised. Leonard was an interesting guy. He thought that we needed a director, we needed a paid director for this council and he said, “You know Ken Cox has been put off and put off … he was Senator Magnuson’s administrative assistant, or something and he has been put off for an appointment to the FCC, first Kennedy, then Johnson. He’s getting pretty fed up. Oh, what they did as a job, is they made him the Chief of the Broadcast Bureau, which he didn’t want at all. He wanted to be Commissioner. He was getting to the point where he was just about ready to resign and give it up. Leonard said, “You know, I think we could get Ken to come and be the director of this policy council.” The very next day, he was appointed a Commissioner! No connection, it just so happened! Leonard hadn’t actually ever talked to him about it, but he said he knew how disgusted he was and he thought he could get him. So Ken went on as a Commissioner to be not a great friend of cable TV … although he is a very smart and capable guy, but had we gotten him into the policy council, I think we would have turned him around! But instead of that, Frank Novacek was made Director, and taken off the NCTA payroll and he did quite a study into this security business and came away with the feeling that there were so many liabilities, that you took on yourself, if you tried to do this, that it was just too risky to undertake it.
SMITH: I also… hindsight has been beneficial in that… the security business is a lot like a number of other businesses that it is what I think the Harvard Business School might call a doggy business in that it’s really one … there is not a whole lot of margin to be made, to be successful with it, you got to squeeze every little penny out of every little thing, and as a result, I don’t think it’s too compatible with cable.
TAYLOR: What I found, was what you could do with cable is such a small part of the whole thing … that you are in a business that doesn’t have anything to do with your own business, except for a piddley little few cents a month. So it was not a good idea.
SMITH: I didn’t think so… I mean I had other ideas.
TAYLOR: I thought it was great. Another one that I thought was great was the load management, until I began to learn some of the intricacies of that, then I realized that was not all it was cracked up to be.
SMITH: But anyway, it doesn’t have a whole lot to do with cable, but from a personal point of view, I guess some of my own greatest ego satisfaction has been that I sort of acted as an entrepreneur for Scientific Atlanta in three significant fields for them, because 1 started them in the cable, and that’s by far their largest business. I started them in wireless security and for 10 years, that was a good profitable contributor and Rollins was our only … we made over 2 million … wireless transmitters.
TAYLOR: Did they buy Rollins?
SMITH: No, we were just a sole source supplier and we made over 2 million of those wireless transmitters.
TAYLOR: Is that so?
SMITH: I think up into… I think… I’ve forgotten the numbers. I know there were 2 million transmitters, there were a … I won’t forget that numbers … but I think maybe into the hundred thousands of the control units … the ones that went into the home, the big blue boxes, but the major thing that came out of that project was high volume, automated production, because we were selling those wireless transmitters for 4 dollars and some change, and in order to make money and we needed automatic insertion equipment, wave soldering and all this sort of production stuff. For many years, this was the model that the other SA divisions followed. When cable got into a set‑top converter business, it sort of went its own way, in manufacturing concepts and ideas. But the other SA divisions patterned after what we had pioneered. From the wireless security business, I came up with the concept of energy or load management, which is still a good business for SA today. Basically SA has the same staff, in the key positions, that it did when I left there in ’84. As I said to start this, from an ego point of view, or a personal satisfaction point of view, those 3 things, 3 projects I was directly responsible for, turned out to be significant to the company long term. And they all stemmed, to a certain extent, from the cable television experience that I had. In ’74, ’73 or ’74, 1 didn’t really appreciate it at the time, but only in retrospect, cable business had outgrown me and my capabilities. I had been an engineer and primarily concerned with technology and products I had done a reasonably good job, but I probably lacked the management experience needed to take it to another level of performance and I certainly liked the business vision that Sid Topol saw when he came to SA.
End of Tape 2, Side A
Start of Tape 2, Side B
TAYLOR: We are back on the tape again..
SMITH: We were talking about 1974. In 1974, the company asked me if I wanted to go to Harvard Business School in their PMD program, and a number of other peers of Scientific Atlanta had gone, including Jack Kelley, who was my most immediate boss and who, at the time, was the Chief Operating Officer at Scientific Atlanta. I thought it was a good experience and it would be a good idea to do that. Also, in ’74, as you recall, it was a tough time for cable. It was before satellite and HBO days, and it was at the time when cable really hadn’t figured out a strategy to penetrate the top 100 markets. They were doing quite well in the fringes, in the boondocks, but they really hadn’t … so I said, “Yes, I thought that would be a good idea for me. And I think in January or February of ’74, 1 went off to Harvard for 14 weeks, to go to school, 6 days a week, to leave my family back in Atlanta, with my 2 girls in high school, and my wife to look after them, and I’m off at Boston in the wintertime … and the oil embargo coming up I didn’t realize at the time when I left … but unfortunately … my wife had to do all the fuss of waiting in line to get gasoline … as I was up being a student, walking from class to class! I learned a lot at the PMD program, as you know, it sort of takes a specialist, who has risen to rank of general management … either a lawyer, or an accountant, or an engineer, to general management level and broaden his vision and his utilization of all the assets he has under him and at his command. I learned a lot from it … and benefited quite significantly from the 14 weeks I spent there. When I came back, cable was still in its doldrums. And the only satellite at that time that was up was the Anik One, Canadian satellite and the cable division didn’t need any additional overhead at the time and the Rollins wireless alarm business had grown to the point where it needed a full time manager, so I took over the management of that division the manufacturing of Rollins wireless cable business. Looking back, that was a good decision and a bad decision. It was a bad decision that I got out of the cable, because shortly thereafter, satellite business and cable took off and I was in the wireless, burglar alarm business which was doing ok, but was no match for what was in store for cable television. Much to Sid Topol’s credit, he saw this whole thing coming, I think. He recognized a lot of powerful economic forces were at work to make programming available … to make a satellite available … to make the distribution … even to cable and to broadcasting … everybody … and that was a business that Scientific Atlanta was well positioned to enjoy, with just a little additional work. I can remember in 1973, going to the cable convention in Anaheim and we had a contract with TelePrompTer for trailer mounted TV receive-only satellite … which I had helped a little bit, not much, but a little bit, in the design of, and gave a joint paper on that. Sid Topol gave a paper for the business and the aspect of it as related to the overall cable business. Pete Piper, at the time, who was managing the division where the antennas were developed, the satellite tracking business and I jointly gave a paper on the performance of the antenna and we demonstrated reception there using the Canadian Anik One satellite. We had to get permission from the FCC, even for the receive-only demonstration.
TAYLOR: Yes, I remember that.
SMITH: Later that was, interesting… I saw that antenna and trailer many times as I was at Harvard Business School, because I could see WGBH… whatever the public TV channel is in Boston, near the Harvard campus, and I could see that trailer parked over in the parking lot as I went back and forth to classes. It stayed there for a while.
SMITH: WGBH, yes… before TelePrompTer actually put it to work… or maybe TelePrompTer was doing something there in Boston. Course that started Scientific Atlanta in the whole satellite business … and I can remember the Thriller from Manila and all the dignitaries we had at Scientific Atlanta, coming over to see that fight there and … but I … from ’74 on, I was pretty much out of the main stream of cable. I was aware of what was going on, through company meetings and this sort of thing, and occasionally, participated in a little bit of it and then in … I guess, in the early ’80s, I came back in to help … Jay Levergood, Vice President of the cable operation and the wire burglar alarm and the load management. I was promoted with him, as sort of the Chief Operating Officer of that division and that was in the early days of the 6700 set top converter fiasco and that business. And I was involved in looking after that, some of my major tasks, was providing facilities for the expanding cable business, the antenna business, looking after some of that logistics of it and worked on that until … I guess I did that for about 2 years and then the load management business wasn’t doing too well, and I returned as full time manager of the load management business. I stayed at that position until I left SA in ’84 to go to … here at Clearwater to be the President of King Marine Electronics, which is another story … but the interesting thing about that set top converter fiasco … I think one of the most interesting things from my perspective was, once it got started, and once it reached a certain level, you couldn’t stop it. I think everybody, with maybe the sole exception of Sid Topol, recognized the potential and almost certainty disaster being built into it. And some of the elements, early on, was that we really had no experience in that type of product. We had really no experience in trying to manufacture that sophisticated product at that cost and the volumes that we would have had, to do. We were trying to do it in the United States, in circumstances that didn’t favor us trying to do that, totally in the United States. We had committed ourselves to a number of cable operators, for some of their franchise commitments and this sort of thing. So it wasn’t something you could say, “Gee fellows, we thought we could do this, but we can’t. Sorry. Look for some others vendors.” It just began to develop a momentum of its own and I guess it’s the only project I’ve ever been associated with where there was just no stopping it. I mean, we were just … heading for a stone wall and there wasn’t anything you could do about it … maybe it’s like you are free falling! You know, in a way, there was nothing you could do … it was just coming!
TAYLOR: Incidentally, in connection with that, I was in visiting with Jay Levergood, before the project really got started … all the planning was pretty well along and he pointed across the hall there … not the hall, but a little alley way, to “that building is going to be the building where we build all these converters.” He said, “We made a very intensive study as to off shore versus building it here, and we found that we have a great pool, labor pool, a skilled labor pool. We can keep close watch on it and all the advantages are to do it here.” And I thought of that, when the thing fell apart.
SMITH: Well, he was right about the great labor pool. There was a big labor pool there. It wasn’t as cheap as some of the off shore labor pools!
TAYLOR: That was part of the problem.
SMITH: We really did have the horse power… not the engineering horse power, not the manufacturing horse power to put on it … to really insure that it was going to get off on a good start … We had a good concept. We had, I think a good look and a good design, but we were really weak on the insides … the internal guts of it, and how much isolation and how much stability, and we probably let. In our enthusiasm, we didn’t do a real good analysis on the real tough specifications that we were going to have to meet. And they ended up to being very tough.
TAYLOR: Of course if you were building this for a military customer, or a government customer, in which the price was going to be 500 or 600 dollars a unit, you’d have found these things. But when you were having to build it to the cable TV price, which was, I suppose your target was a hundred…
SMITH: 200 a month …….. yes, maybe I think it was around a hundred dollars, I believe.
TAYLOR: I think it was probably around a 100.
SMITH: … maybe 115, something like that.
TAYLOR: That’s been one of both the strengths and the weaknesses of cable TV … is that we have had to do everything at a real low price and some quality has suffered. Although, it’s really, I think, an amazing thing to me, the kind of quality that we do have, in low cost equipment.
SMITH: It’s philosophy here, but you know, I believe that has also strengthened the industry versus the telephone company.
TAYLOR: No question.
SMITH: You know the telephone company has gone to the other extreme. They have gold plated everything. They take the most brute force
TAYLOR: It’s like I told a group from Wisconsin Bell one time, “You guys have lived with cost-plus for so long, you don’t know how to run an entrepreneurial business!”
SMITH: That’s right.
TAYLOR: That’s still is part of their problem.
SMITH: And it’s not only the engineering. It is now gotten into the way management thinks and it will … it’s going to be tougher for them in the future.
TAYLOR: Some of them are beginning to understand that and at certain levels, at the telephone companies, because they’re … well, because they’ve had several years to address it.
SMITH: OK, well what haven’t we covered here?
TAYLOR: The thing I was going to say about the converter is that Scientific-Atlanta licked its wounds and went back and did … and I think Alex had quite a bit to do with it, didn’t he? … went back, decided that they had to go off shore, but made a great study of who would do it off shore, and had some very good, I thought, approaches to it and really came out winners. On the other hand, Magnavox also had a fiasco of a converter, and never recovered from the converter side of it.
SMITH: Actually, I give a lot credit to Jack Kelley in that thing. I also have to say, that in all honesty, we were … the whole company had a little bit of prejudice about going off shore. I mean, back in, I guess maybe 6 or 7 years prior to that, I made a decision to buy Japanese automatic insertion equipment made by Matsushita as opposed to what was then United Shoe, or whoever it was who made it in the United States, because I just said, “Hey, they got the best stuff. We are going to go with the best.” I tried to be factual about it, from my point of view. I didn’t care whether it came from Germany, Japan or wherever. I saw a little resistance in the company at that time, doing that. When there was a great deal of “America is not whipped yet. We are going to show the way to do this thing here!” … and I think that got in a little bit of the way of our decisions there … and I think, when Jack Kelley recognized, that not only we hit the brick wall, but we were backing up to hit it again, he took a complete about face, and then really took a great leadership position in seeing that, we did the best thing that we possibly knew how to do, to recover from this … and I’m sure he got a lot of help from Alex. Alex certainly was the key guy, technically that you went to, to sort of say, “Well now, what would a typical cable engineer, a typical cable operator want to know about this, or feel about this … or what the specs were and what he would really be interested in looking for … and Alex was a good barometer on those sort of things.
TAYLOR: Where did Jim Farmer come in?
SMITH: Jim Farmer. I really can’t say. Jim worked for me on his first cable operations, back before I left to go to Harvard. But I wasn’t personally involved in hiring Jim, and I have a feeling that he was hired by another division at Scientific Atlanta. For example, Jim Hart … I’m sure you … Jim Hart was hired from Georgia Tech to work in the underwater sound, back when Scientific Atlanta … and he later transferred to … after we got the SKL … that’s one thing we haven’t talked about … SKI, line … and Jack Chastain, who you may … he worked at Scientific Atlanta, before I was hired there … and he was transferred into the cable products. And so a number of them actually transferred in.
TAYLOR: Was that name, Chastain and the SRS development? It must be a different one.
SMITH: Different one. Jack Chastain, he was a Tech graduate that worked at Scientific Atlanta on a number of projects and was involved in a number of the early cable, plus the wireless burglar alarm systems. And he’s still working at Scientific Atlanta and Rezin Pigeon, who is another engineer, been there many years, who’s now working on either their fiber optics or their amplifier and…
TAYLOR: I think he’s on the fiber.
SMITH: He’s been there… I think he came to Scientific Atlanta, just after I did. I think I may, at the time, had a little seniority on him, but not long, not much. But a number of them transferred in. I have a feeling that Jim Farmer transferred … Marvin Roth, who did the security alert system … he actually worked in the antenna instrumentation, which was the pattern recorder business, prior to coming to the cable division. But anyway, I can’t remember, where Jim came in…
TAYLOR: He’s had a lot to do with the converters and the satellite receiver.
SMITH: He was the main engineer on the set top converter, the 6700. Randy Ray, who is no longer there, he has Eagle Software now, as his company … he also worked on that, early, early on. He also worked on the Rollins wireless burglar alarm system. I’m trying to think, the first project Jim worked on … I know he worked on the first satellite … the first satellite receiver, along with Jim Hart.
TAYLOR: Yes, that’s right. I encountered that too.
SMITH: And I can’t remember the first product. Now, you know, Jim has left Scientific Atlanta?
TAYLOR: No, I didn’t know that.
SMITH: Yes, I think he left about 2 months ago. He’s working for another company in Atlanta and they are doing something … I want to say they are doing something with the vertical interval … some encoding in the vertical interval … but as a new company. I’ve never heard of them, but they got this idea.
TAYLOR: Evidently he had gotten pretty deep into this coding business.
SMITH: Jim was always a good engineer. He was a good, thorough analysis of things … particularly RF engineers. The thing you have to be careful about is an RF engineer who gets one to work on the bench in a haywired condition then he draws it out in schematic, makes it on a printed circuit board, turns it over to production and says, “It’s done.” Then you have to go through selecting components with very narrow tolerances in an effort to get it to work again. But Jim was one that you could trust his design. Jim Hart was that way. Jack Chastain was that way. Randy Ray was that way. Alex was that way, but maybe not as strong as those others were, but had a great system overview. Had some engineers, like the guy who did the demodulator like we talked about, 6200 demodulator that was fed. That was one of the problems. The engineer could get it to work on his bench, but nobody else could get it to work! But SKL … it became apparent, back in the days of the headend and back when cable began to get into some bigger cities, there was a whole lot more trunk line amplifiers being sold than headend modules and that we weren’t really participating in the big portion of the cable market. We did have a name and a reputation, which we needed to capitalize on. So the way to do that was to get into the distribution business. This was about 1969 or 1970. If we need to know that, I can look it up in the annual report here. John Dillon was there, because John helped me as an advisor, although he wasn’t directly involved with it. John’s real expertise is financial analysis, even though he had a EE degree and he was the one who was instrumental in taking Cox from public to private and raising quite a bit of money. As I said, now he is the Chief Financial Officer of Cox Enterprises. But John helped me in trying to sort out the analysis of what to do, and how to do it and how much to pay for it and this sort of thing. We knew that … by the way, I have a conference call I may have to take this afternoon … we knew that SKI, was for sale … they had trouble. And I liked their mechanical arrangement ‑ the way they had their individual packages in their own little modules and I particularly liked the way they had an integrated center conductor seizure in a connector that screwed down on top of the central conductor… internal from the box and then you had this little slip fitting that went down in the connection… transmission line, matching scheme, much better than the lug, that Jerrold and the others had. I thought they had a good idea… they came up with idea of having the mid‑split at … I don’t know where they came up with the idea, but they had a reverse amplifier that split at 108MHz.
TAYLOR: We are taking a break here, because Tom has a conference call. We will resume when he finishes his call. This ends the recording on this tape. This will be resumed on another tape, by telephone, at sometime in the future.
Start of Tape 3, Side A ‑ TELEPHONE INTERVIEW WITH TOM SMITH
SMITH: Tom Smith speaking.
TAYLOR: Tom, this is Archer Taylor. How are you doing? Are you ready to resume? OK. I think what we had missed is the SKL episode at Scientific Atlanta and I wondered if you had some comments on that.
SMITH: Yes, in that I was pretty much involved in that and I think mentioned earlier in the recording, that John Dillon, who is the Chief Financial Officer at Cox Enterprises helped me in that process of trying to establish what the product line was worth. I guess little bit of history … SKI, had been a leader in the business and run on hard times and had both the company and the product line up for sale. And they had come up with what I considered a fairly good, well conceived packaging of the trunk line amplifier and amplifier housing. The 2 features I liked about their approach was the individual enclosed modules for the trunk amp, for the bridger amp for the power supply and for the AGC modules, that sort of thing. To my knowledge, as I recollect right now, they were one of the first to come up with this idea of individually enclosing and shielding these functional modules so that made them relatively easy to replace for field change out and repair and this sort of thing. It was also valuable from the manufacturing point of view, that you could test these modules and handle them fairly easily. The other thing that…
TAYLOR: Was this a cast housing?
SMITH: It was a cast housing. The first renditions of it was an aluminum sand casting, which made the walls quite thick and quite heavy. That particular design was adaptable to a die cast. SKL just had not had the finances to invest in the die cast. )Which is one of the things that we did at Scientific Atlanta, quite early on, was to convert it to a die cast.
TAYLOR: Is this the one that had the 2 cylindrical bumps for cavities? I guess not.
SMITH: I don’t think so. The other feature I liked about it was an integrated trunk line center conductor seizure and RIF connector. The seizing mechanism also formed part of the RF connector and then the little module had little slip on F‑fittings which fit into the seizure mechanism and it provided a good, constant impedance match from the 75 ohm trunk distribution cable into the trunk amplifier or the distribution amplifier.
TAYLOR: OK, excuse me for interrupting.
SMITH: The other feature that they had, which we really never developed was a reverse split, somewhere in the FM band, around 108. It gave you more reverse band width if you wanted that. The initial thought was that these were in shielded, individual components that we might be able to run both forward and reverse amplifiers over some portion lapping frequency ranges and maintain isolation. But we later discovered that was a little more difficult than initial analysis indicated and we never did develop the 108 mid-split line of the products. We went into the sub-split as a result of that. But anyway, as I recall, I think we paid $125,000 for all of the design and the castings, their trunk line inventory, what little there was at the time. That was all we bought … just the distribution line. We didn’t attempt to buy the name or any of the other products … any of the line extended products, or this sort of thing.
TAYLOR: You weren’t buying the company, obviously then.
SMITH: Right. We just bought the product line. We had intentions of hiring, and I’ve forgotten the engineer’s name at the time, to come to Scientific Atlanta to…
TAYLOR: That was probably Bill O’Neill.
SMITH: I believe you are right… it was Bill O’Neill. But that never did work out. I don’t think Bill particularly wanted to move to Atlanta and come to work for Scientific Atlanta, or something … anyway, that didn’t work out. And so I took the products back to Atlanta, to the design team there and of course, they had been involved in analysis of it before we purchased it and this sort of thing. It was still using discreet transistors in the output stages and TRW and Hewlett Packard had just come out with very good hybrid chips and it appeared to me that what we needed to do was to convert the output stages, in particular to be compatible with the hybrid chips that were becoming available and we selected TRW … used the TRW chips and ended up, essentially, completely redesigning all of the electronics of what we brought. I guess the main thing we got out of that acquisition was commitment to get into the distribution amplifier business as opposed to circuits that really had the top performance or anything that we bought to the market.
TAYLOR: Was Alex with you at this… what was the date of this?
SMITH: Archer, as I recall, it was something around 1970 – somewhere around there … 1970, 1971. It was prior to Sid Topol’s joining Scientific Atlanta, so it was ’68, ’69, ’70 … somewhere in that area. It probably is indicated in those annual reports but I don’t remember the exact date.
TAYLOR: So Alex was with you then?
SMITH: Alex was with me and the staff had grown quite sizeable staff at the time that we purchased that product line. Alex was primarily in the headend products, working on the 6300 Modulator as I recall. One of the reasons that Scientific Atlanta may have been late getting into the distribution amplifier, was a fear that to be successful we would have to offer turnkey construction contracts. Scientific Atlanta had some bad experiences, not in cable, but in military construction contracts and there was a feeling that construction contracts bought more risk than reward. Scientific Atlanta knew how to make proprietary products and deliver those to the customers with good quality. But when it comes to doing turnkey contracts, where there was a lot construction, a lot things … maybe outside of the direct control of Scientific Atlanta … they didn’t have a great deal of enthusiasm for tackling those challenges. That was one of the reasons we were reluctant about getting into the cable distribution business because we thought that turnkey contract would have to be part and parcel of that business. To be successful … particularly in the early years, we would have to prove our product and our credibility … that our equipment would meet specs and work. Eventually we did do that. We got into the construction business. We established a subsidiary, called Scientific Atlanta Services, Incorporated and E.B. Chester, as I mentioned yesterday, was the manager of that product for a number of years and actually was involved in doing the many turnkey constructions we did. One of the early ones I remember, that we did, was Nantucket Island, which was interesting because we had to do it in the wintertime, because in the wintertime, there is only about 5,000 people on the island. In the summertime, there is about 105,000 … and construction would simply just jam up the roads.
TAYLOR: What was E.B. Chester’s background? Was he a construction background, or just business background?
SMITH: No, he was a mechanical engineer… he had a mechanical engineering background and had worked at Scientific Atlanta, I think, 5 or 6 years in designing mechanical products and had some entrepreneurial restlessness in him. We tried him in this particular job to satisfy that and by in large, he did a good job, but as I indicated, he continued to create problems with some of the other staff members there, particularly Bob Holman, which was the marketing manager and they would continue to have running gun battles with each other, rather than with the competition. I finally had to let E.B. go and as I indicated, E.B. thanks me now for that … because he went into the cable operation business and he is now a rich man.
TAYLOR: Was he involved in the mechanical design of the log periodic antenna?
SMITH: No, he wasn’t. He wasn’t involved in any cable products, until he came over as the manager of the construction business. He had been involved in some antenna instrumentation model tower designs and some positioners, you know, antenna positioner controls, and big mechanical rotators and this sort of thing. We bought SK‑L line. We redesigned it. We utilized hybrids. We utilized the TV signals themselves, as for AGS and slop control rather than having the pilot carners, which was not new with us. Other companies had done that. Not all of them, but we felt that was the way of the future and I guess that … I don’t think that anybody uses pilot carriers anymore for AGC.
TAYLOR: I believe that’s right. Did you continue to use the housing? I guess you redesigned that too.
SMITH: We used the concept. Basically it was the same mechanical dimensions, although we converted from a sand casting to a die cast and we went through a learning process on what it takes to make a good diecast tool and also what it takes to make a good seal with the housing. You would think, and I thought at the time, that if you made this box, which was fairly large … it was one of the biggest in the industry, as I recall, at the time … but if you made that thing out of aluminum, you would think that certainly, it would be water tight … but the problem was, we made good seals around where the 2 clam shells came together and sealed … where you opened it … but we found that we had porous aluminum in spots and actually would leak water into and water would seep through the aluminum and we discovered we needed a sealing process after the thing was cast. We more‑or‑less filled the holes with epoxy and then, we learned that in order to insure that was a good seal, we actually ended up pressure testing each of the trunk line housings as they were assembled and went into final inspection. That was the only way that we could assure ourselves that we had a good integrity of the seal and a good environmental closure for the electronics.
TAYLOR: Did you ever get involved in Western Electric KS Specs… KS something or other… Specs on housings? Because they had an underwater pressure test specified in order to sell equipment to them. Jerrold got into that pretty deeply.
SMITH: We may have later on, but in the early days, we probably were completely ignorant.
TAYLOR: You worked your own.
SMITH: Right. We just developed our own test and you know, somewhat after … you know, we discovered it, after we had some equipment in the field. The thought initially was, disbelief or something else is happening, and it couldn’t possibly be that. You know, the seal is bad, or the customer left it open. But sure enough, it was … the moisture was coming through the housing … there was porous … there was porous spots in the casting and of course later we learned how to make castings with uniform wall thicknesses and what you needed to have in the way gates in the tool, and flow of the metal into the housing and all of this … but that was all a learning process and it was just the fact that we didn’t have experience along those particular lines.
TAYLOR: Well the main thing you bought from SKL then was getting your feet wet! That’s interesting.
SMITH: That’s right. It took us a little bit of trial and error before we really began to turn out what I thought was a good state of the art product. We had some difficulties with our power supply, early on, both I think making it … it was a little bit subjected to … it would easily be damaged by lightning surges or power surges. We finally accomplished … got that straightened up and then we discovered the power consumption was a little bit higher than the industry average and it was giving us a little bit of a difficulty in meeting some critical specs, particularly as we were talking to some of the bigger MSO’s who were beginning to get fairly sophisticated on purchasing of their products that we had to improve the power supply design. As I recall, that was primarily just putting more metal in the transformer. Then the last thing I recall, that took us a while to completely master was getting the flatness of the response along the cascade, down to where it was … had good flatness and would meet industry standards as flatness. We had to develop some interstage tweaking networks.
TAYLOR: Yes, I remember that.
SMITH: One of the things about the hybrids were, that they were so reproducible that they had the same identical distortion and when you cascaded 20 of them, it didn’t conceal it.
SMITH: I guess one of the interesting anecdotes, about the process of developing the distribution line was that, as you recall, from reading some of the Scientific Atlanta annual reports, was that in the ’60s, Scientific Atlanta was in the meat packing business. This business was located in the same building with the cable division where we were … Scientific Atlanta had acquired a patent, to increase the shelf life of meats by flushing out the oxygen in the package and replacing it with C02 or nitrogen. And this increased the shelf life. It was a great idea, and it worked well. The only problem was that shelf life of meat in the United States wasn’t a problem … so it solved a very good problem, but …
TAYLOR: But it was a problem that didn’t exist!
SMITH: We ended up doing a lot of business in the Caribbean and some of the other lesser developed nations that shelf life tended to be a problem… but we finally lost enough money in that business and we decided to get out. One of the things that was left over was this fairly large meat cooler chamber. We, the cable division, needed an environmental chamber and this meat cooler chamber was left over from that business. We decided that what we needed to do was to take that well insulated, fairly large, meat cooling enclosure there, and put a high powered air conditioner on it, which would take it down to minus 40 and put rolls of cable in there, and simulated a system … which we did. I guess we used that thing for about 5 or 6 years, when the cable division, sometime in the mid ’70s moved up to Gwinnett County, and the new building, they built in their own, more sophisticated, environmental chamber up there.
TAYLOR: Interesting… sort of a byproduct of meat packing. Were you involved at all in the Systems Wire acquisition?
SMITH: Only slightly. Let’s see, what was the guy’s name? Marshall – Nat Marshall. I was part of the staff and it was discussed at staff meetings, but I wasn’t directly involved in cable at the time. I later got involved with it when I was helping Levergood as the Chief Operating Officer of the cable division. I went out there several times. I remember once it rained real hard in Phoenix and flooded the plant and it was hard to believe that was a river right out there … most of the time, it was just bed rock.
TAYLOR: Jack Wood and Sid Mills, were the guys that came from Rome Cable down to Ameco, and then that was acquired by Systems Wire.
SMITH: Nat Marshall was there, and he was the general manager and he actually came to work for Scientific Atlanta when we acquired them.
TAYLOR: I remember that, yes. Evidently, they decided it wasn’t a good business, because they’ve gotten out of it.
SMITH: Right. I think it was a business that Scientific Atlanta just didn’t really want to dedicate a lot of resources and efforts to and I think they felt that, one, that technology was going to be fairly stable, and that they didn’t have a whole lot to offer, in the way of additional technology to change it, and this sort of thing.
TAYLOR: And the market was pretty well absorbed by Times and CommScope and a lot of little guys, and you were just in the little guys’ field. Was this after Sid Topol came to the company?
TAYLOR: He brought it in, and put it out.
SMITH: Right. You mentioned single channel per carrier.
TAYLOR: Yes, I remember one time when I came down to visit you and you were working on that and I’ve never understood what that is.
SMITH: I think that was a company product, but it was not something that I was personally involved with. It was a technique where … with synchronous satellites, you could get a channel of … of a communication channel and it was a single channel per transponder carrier, as opposed to a duplex channel, or a multi access, like a TDN4A channel. But it was something that was used … early technology that soon fell out of favor. I guess, the off shoot of that, was the VSAT, you know, very small aperture antenna terminals?
SMITH: But we were involved in some of the ground equipment to generate the carriers and make it compatible at the receiving site.
TAYLOR: Now this was for voice and data communication channels, or video?
SMITH: Voice and data and it never amounted to a great deal of business at Scientific Atlanta.
TAYLOR: Now did you use the whole transponder just for one voice and data channel?
SMITH: You know, I’m not real ……….. I’m hesitant to answer that because I don’t remember.
TAYLOR: OK, I thought this was the project you were working on at the time, but I misunderstood you.
SMITH: I think what it did, was to take 1, 6 megahertz transmitter, I mean, transponder slot, and then, frequency divided up into several carriers, so it was just a transponder that was frequency division multiplex access in each circuit or each carrier only carried 1 circuit. There was another subgroup of that system, called a Drama or a Demand Access Channel System or something like this, and more‑or‑less, when you went “off hook”, this thing would assign a channel.
TAYLOR: I see, so it was really a FDM operation.
SMITH: That’s my recollection.
TAYLOR: It was simply an incidental curiosity.
SMITH: And it came up as part of the uplinks and downlink equipment that Scientific Atlanta was involved with and it was sort of a natural extension of that. The uplinks, the ones that we sold to HBO and ESPN, in the early days, were all handled by a different division. That really didn’t come out of the cable division as such.
TAYLOR: OK, let’s begin to talk about the future. I know you are working very heavily on PCS with Cox and don’t reveal anything that is confidential but I would be interested in anything that you could tell me about your thinking as to where this is going, and where the cable industry is going with it.
SMITH: I don’t think I have any real original ideas or any insight that hasn’t been articulated by a number of people thus far. I have this contract with Cox, because I saw early on, the possibility that if the FCC was going to allow frequencies for PCN and PCS in the United States, it was going to be micro cell configuration, then cable was in an ideal position to interconnect these microcells plus it had real estate, more‑or‑less with the pole attachments to provide a place for the antennas and the electronics. But as I see the future developing, it’s interesting … it’s a lot like the same line I had back in the early ’70s, “cable’s future is going to be in the non-entertainment business”, in that it was going to find good revenue streams, other than entertainment markets. I obviously missed the magnitude of entertainment markets, and the timing. It appears that ancillary services, or additional services like PCN/PCS or communications or alternate access carriers, in the form of Teleport will be a strong business. The other things, will in the future, be a more important aspect of the business and I think it will help offset the onslaught of competition that cable will face in the future with alternate entertainment channels like wireless cable and DBS. The FCC recently went ahead and proposed rules for this 28 gigabit, point to multipoint video distribution system that suite 12 has proposed.
TAYLOR: Yes, I’ve been following that.
SMITH: And with video dial tone coming on strong and direct satellite broadcast … eventually cable is going to have a great deal of competition in the entertainment business and I think, being that, I believe they wisely moved to augment their cash flows with other future businesses. I think that will be a trend that will continue and I think, as a number of people have already stated, which I’m a firm believer in, that 5 to 10 years from now, it’s going to be difficult to distinguish between the service offerings of a phone company and the service offerings of a cable company … and might even find some utilities, some electrical utilities in there, wanting to offer an entertainment communications services as well as power.
TAYLOR: There is certainly some movement in that direction. Are you involved in the alternate access?
SMITH: No, I have not been involved in that at Cox. As you know, Cox is very heavily involved in that.
TAYLOR: Yes, they are with their Teleport.
SMITH: Teleport — yes, but I haven’t been involved in that.
TAYLOR: It’s intriguing to me that in England, the cable operators there, at least now, are being required to provide plain old telephone service in competition with Mercury and BT. I see — with heavy push now — for telephone companies to get into as nearly direct competition with cable TV as the law will allow, as they can persuade somebody to allow. The other side of that coin is that they are going to have to take competition themselves and then cable TV can then really move, as they are in England, into direct competition. This makes a whole new … it’s a totally different ball game then.
SMITH: I think that will happen and I think it’s just a matter of time, and I think you could look at Teleport, and PCN as the camel’s nose in the tent. The tent is going to be empty.
TAYLOR: Yes, that’s right and unfortunately, that’s exactly what the telephone companies think.
SMITH: That’s right. I think also the cable guys have got camel noses poking in their tent.
TAYLOR: That’s right, indeed they have. Scientific Atlanta has been pretty heavy in digital compression, perhaps as an outgrowth of their B-MAC developments in HDTV. Were you involved in any of that, or had you left by that point?
SMITH: No, I had left, but that was — there are some interesting stories about the acquisition of the Canadian company that had to meet B-MAC technology there and I’m not the one to relay those to you, because I wasn’t that close to it.
TAYLOR: I see.
SMITH: The story I heard was that Topol only bought that company because he was assured by HBO, if he had that company, he would get the scrambling contract and of course, Video Cipher ended up with it. I can’t think of the guy’s name, I’ve got an appointment
TAYLOR: Frank Drendel?
SMITH: No, not Drendel, but the guy that developed the technology – Andy Virterbe and Irving Jacobs…
TAYLOR: Oh yes.
SMITH: …who now run Qualcomm, who are very much involved in CDMA, both cellular, and PCN. As a matter of fact, I have an appointment to talk to him about potentially using some of their equipment in our San Diego test bed next year. They were the ones that developed the Videocipher. Technically, they had a contract to do that. Irwin Jacobs, that the guy’s name.
TAYLOR: I guess Alex would have more knowledge of the compression developments, and HDTV developments. So I won’t quiz you anymore on that, but I will talk to Alex.
SMITH: I had pretty much gotten out of it by that time.
TAYLOR: One of the contributions that SKI, made in the vacuum tube days, of course, was the distributed amplifier…
SMITH: Yes, I remember that.
TAYLOR: …which they brought in, initially, before they ever heard of cable television and then I find that Jim Palmer says that all of their tube amplifiers, early on, were distributed and I didn’t realize that. There was a bit of an issue on patents. The original patent was issued to a fellow by the name of Percival, I think, in England. Fitz Kennedy got a license for SKI, to use the distributed amplifier technology, and paid, I guess a royalty to him. And then Fitz was really pretty shook up, because International Telemeter, out in Los Angeles, was building a distributed amplifier, called Amplivision and selling it to the cable industry, without even bothering to get a license. Then I find out that Jim Palmer didn’t even know that it was patented, and he was doing it right along. By the time he got to Solid State, however, the distributed amplifier didn’t seem necessary anymore and so I presume that the SKI, that you acquired had nothing to do with that.
SMITH: That’s right. It had nothing to do with that. You know another contribution that SKI, made, as least to my knowledge, they made a filter, a low frequency filter, which would allow you to measure the co‑channel beat for 10 and 20 kilohertz offsets.
TAYLOR: Yes indeed. In fact, Sox Bridgett, gave me one of those to take to the museum and I have delivered it. That was Bob Brooks development. That was his idea. He is quite a guy. I didn’t realize all the things, until I read his interview. He’s the guy that brought Frank Drendel into the business. Frank was a graduate student, I think at the University of Chicago, or Northwestern, or somewhere up there, and Bob Brooks, I think he had left SKI, temporarily, and was in another company, and hired Frank Drendel as just a young student, with no background. And look what’s happened to Frank!
SMITH: He has done quite well for himself, also.
TAYLOR: He sure has. I tell you, I was so startled when I discovered that this little old CommScope had somehow acquired, not only a Microwave Associates, but — was it Digicom, or one of the digital companies — was now a massive organization. It was a real shocker. Well I think we have covered the ground pretty well, unless you have any additional thoughts you’d like to put in.
SMITH: I guess, in summary, when I am asked what I did I do at Scientific Atlanta, my synopsis is that I designed their first cable television product and led the cable division of the cable product line there, the general manager for the first nine years. And those first nine years, it grew from nothing, to a recognized, viable supplier in the industry.
TAYLOR: That was the year when the tail began to wag the dog!
SMITH: I look back on that with some degree of personal pride in that I was involved in that effort.
TAYLOR: You are certainly entitled to do so. One interesting question I meant to ask when we were talking about log periodics, yesterday. I should think you might be flattered that when Jerrold came out with a log periodic, it was put in kind of a diamond shape, instead of a – well, a skewed diamond, which I presume was just to avoid copying.
SMITH: I don’t know why. It could have been because there was a patent, and in my name, and I think Weston’s name, Blair Weston’s name, for that log periodic, and I’m sure it has expired by now, no question about it … but we were concerned at one time whether or not we were going to get into trouble with the University of Illinois, who had filed patents on that and while it was developed under government funds, it wasn’t clear to us at the time, whether or not that extended to commercial applications of it. Nobody ever rattled our cage. We never pressed it too hard.
TAYLOR: And the patent was issued then?
SMITH: I am pretty sure there were patents on Duharnel’s work. I’m pretty sure there were patents on Caroll’s work. Now whether they actually went to court to contest the validity of the patent…
TAYLOR: How about you and Weston? Didn’t you say you had patents?
SMITH: Yes, we had patents, but they were never contested nor did we ever…
TAYLOR: But the patent was actually issued, which means they did some digging into the prior art?
TAYLOR: And I’m sure your own attorney’s did that too.
SMITH: Yes. And ours were, as most patents now-a-days are, you know, fairly narrow in the scope of what we were claiming, and this sort of thing. Also my old friend, Rudy Reilly copied it, was never a real factor, but he copied some similar antenna designs, after he got out of the full time construction business, he started doing some manufacturing of standby power supplies and antennas in an operation over in Alabama somewhere.
TAYLOR: I seem to recall that, yes.
SMITH: He came out with an antenna called the Log-Log Z, which utilize folded dipole elements, rather than stubbed dipole elements.
TAYLOR: Yes, and looking at the TVC’s that you gave me yesterday, or loaned me, there’s a Lindsay advertisement in one of them for log periodics. They are different in some respects. In fact, they combined some parasitic elements with the log periodic driven.
SMITH: Which had been done. In fact, what we were going to do, if w ever got challenged on our patent, there was early prior work, almost a log periodic, done by a little company up in Rome, Georgia called Kay Town and we were going to pull that out and say, “Hey, what do you mean? Here is some guy who did this in the ’40s.” Because they were mostly aluminum benders and fabricators. They weren’t academic antenna designers. They were just trying to capture the TV business.
TAYLOR: Let me give you an idea of what is going to happen. I’ll have these tapes transcribed. And I will go through and edit them because the transcriber doesn’t know some of the technical language, and some of the names I may know that the transcriber won’t know. So I will edit it first. Then, after I get those changes made, I’ll send it down to you, to go over and you may edit just as freely as you wish. If there is something you said or was said, that you want to clear out of it, you have that privilege. So whatever you want to do with it is up to you. You don’t need to worry about grammar and syntax and that kind of thing because ad lib stuff frequently is not as clean as you like to have it. But we don’t bother with that. But try to make the facts right and the spellings right, and so on. Then it will go into the files at the center, along with all the other documents for scholarly study, and whatever. I do appreciate very much your putting the time into this and I think it’s worked out very well.
SMITH: OK, I’ll appreciate that. When do you think I can expect those documents back that you are going to copy?
TAYLOR: All right, I won’t be back in my office until early January and I will proceed then to get them copied so you should look for them by mid January.
SMITH: All right.
TAYLOR: Is there something in particular you wanted, or you just don’t want to lose them?
SMITH: I don’t want to lose them and I may have use for that black catalog … it’s the most complete catalog that I have obtained.
TAYLOR: I’ll tell you what I’ll do. I’ll get that copied here in Mount Dora
someplace, and mail it off to you within a few days.
SMITH: If it’s too much trouble
TAYLOR: No, it’s no trouble at all. I’ll get that to you.
SMITH: One other I might talk about — it has nothing to with … well, it has a little to do with pioneering, and that is the NCTA Pioneers Club, I understand that they have a club which meets concurrently with National Convention each year.
TAYLOR: Yes, I am a charter member of that.
SMITH: I understand that to be a member of that club, you have to be nominated by 3 members.
TAYLOR: That’s right. Well, I guess that’s right. It’s a nomination process, yes.
SMITH: I was wondering, do you think I might qualify.
TAYLOR: I would think so. I will talk to Alex and see if we can’t both do that.
TAYLOR: And we will find somebody else. You’re certainly entitled to it and I’m surprised you are not there.
SMITH: It was probably because I got out of the cable business there.
End Tape 3, Side A