Interview Date: May 30 and June 27, 1986
Interviewer: Lorna Rasmussen
Collection: Penn State Collection
Note: Audio Only
TARLTON: My name is Robert J. Tarlton. I was born August 8, 1914, in Lansford, Pennsylvania.
RASMUSSEN: Where is Lansford?
TARLTON: It’s in the Pocono area of northeastern Pennsylvania, mid‑way between Wilkes-Barre and Allentown. It’s referred to as the foothills of the Poconos.
RASMUSSEN: Could you give us some background information on your family, where they came from?
TARLTON: Sure. My father was born in the Lansford area. As a matter of fact, he was born just about a mile from here on top of the mountain, a place called Summit Hill. His ancestry dates back to immigrants from Wales. He was of Welsh extraction, and my mother is Pennsylvania Dutch. She was born in Nescopeck, in the Bloomsburg area, west of Hazleton. Her family migrated to Lansford. My father lived in Lansford all his life and my mother moved here as a baby.
RASMUSSEN: What kind of work did your father do?
TARLTON: As a young man my father was a boilermaker. Although you usually think of the Pocono Mountain area as the beautiful resort area, the foothills of the Poconos are heavily involved in coal and anthracite mining. And Lansford is in the heart of a coal mining area. At one time there were about 6,000 people employed in the coal mines. The mines no longer exist. My father worked in the coal industry, not as a miner but as a boilermaker. It was basically steel work.
I give credit to my father for getting me into the electronics business. In 1923 or ’24, ’25, he became interested in the wireless. Then he did some studying. As a matter of fact, he took correspondence courses back in ’27 and ’28, and sometimes I also studied them. I was about 12 or 14 years old then. I had the pleasure of fooling around with crystal radios before there was even any amplifier equipment.
Dad then went to work for a department store which had started to sell radios. This was the early radios in 1926 and ’27, battery radios they were then. I became interested. We had to install outside aerials to get any reception. He needed assistance, so after school I’d go out with him and we’d install aerials. For each radio sold, we’d have to install an outside aerial. That got me started in the electronics business.
RASMUSSEN: So you worked with your father when you graduated from high school?
TARLTON: That’s right, but I worked even before I graduated. I think it was about the seventh grade when I started to work after school and on Saturdays.
I worked for my father and the vice-president of the department store when I graduated from high school in 1932. They expected me to go on to college. And I said “No.” As a matter of fact, I had my own little business then, repairing radios. I said, “No, no. I’ve got a little business and it is going great.” “No, no. You better get to college,” he said. I didn’t and to this day I’m sorry. Nevertheless I continued my business, was soon married, and continued my business until 1938, ’39. My business was pretty good. There were very few radio repairmen at that time and I got the bulk of the repair business. Pretty soon my father decided to come in with me and we opened a store to both sell and repair radios.
RASMUSSEN: What was the name of the store?
TARLTON: Tarlton Radio.
RASMUSSEN: And that’s what you were selling, just radios?
TARLTON: Just radios then. Later there were a few other things. We think of garage door openers as something rather recent. I can remember selling, installing, and repairing a few garage door openers for some wealthy residents. I remember one doctor in particular, who later became a very close friend, wanted a garage door put in and the garage door opener, an electronic opener. The area was kind of rural even though there were about 10,000 or 11,000 thousand people in Lansford at that time. Today Lansford has about 5,000 thousand people because there is no industry. It’s a service oriented community.
RASMUSSEN: When did your business start, what year was it you started with your father?
TARLTON: Somewhere around 1938. My father came in with me and we opened a store. We used one of his rooms as a radio repair shop, and across the street we leased a building and started selling radios there.
RASMUSSEN: What happened during the war?
TARLTON: I volunteered for military service in 1943. During the war we could get very few materials. My father continued though. He had nothing to sell but he continued to do repair work while I was in the service.
There was an interesting story about my going into the service. I was married then and my son was about 8 or 9 or 10 years old. I was called up for examination. Went in, had my physical and was accepted. When I went in for an interview, the various service branches asked if I had a preference of service. I said, “No.” A retired naval commander said, “Tarlton, may I suggest something? You have an opportunity. If you want to sign up for the Navy, I can guarantee you’ll go to the Great Lakes Naval Training Center and get into this new field of radar.” Well, radar! It was World War II that really made radar, and radar was something I had heard about and I thought this was a great opportunity. I’m going to school again. No more problems. I signed up and then went home and soon I was called up.
Oh, there was another part of my volunteering. My draft board gave me an automatic deferment because I was over 30 or 32 years, married, and had one son. When I got the notice, I went down. The draft board president was an old friend, a Baptist minister, Doctor Pounder. I walked in and said, “Doctor, I got this draft deferment.” “Oh, yes, Bob,” he had a very heavy British accent. “Bob, you don’t have to go, at least at the present time because you are married and you have a son.” I said, “Well, Doctor, now that the process is started and I’m assigned to the Great Lakes Naval Training Center, I will waive my deferment.” “Oh, you’d better think this over. Florence needs you at home and you have a business and you are taking care of things. No, no, you think this over. All right?” He insisted. So he said, “Come back in a week.” I went back the next day. I had thought it over and I talked to Florence. “She’s not too happy,” I said, “but the general spirit at the time is okay.” I waived the deferment. “Well,” he said, “that’s against my advice.” He as much as said, “You are waiving the deferment so you won’t go with the next group. You can decide when you want to go in but you’ve got to close your business.” I said, “My father’s taking care of it.” “Well, that’s all right. You decide.” So this was about February or March, I think. I told him about April or May; it didn’t matter. I stopped back a couple of times and they said, “We don’t need any this month.”
Finally they sent a notice saying I was to report on the 3rd of July. I took the bus to the induction center in Allentown. There I met a fellow from our area who had been injured in the Asiatic conflict, a Marine. He walked up and said, “Hi, Bob. How are you?” I said, “I’m fine.” He said, “What are you doing?” I gave him the story. “I’m going in the Navy and I’m going to get at least some training and schooling.” He said, “Oh, no, you aren’t.” I said, “What do you mean?” He said, “They’ve all been canceled.” He said, “There’s a push on. Everybody who goes in the Army now goes into the Infantry.” I said, “Oh, no. I waived deferment and all.” “No, no,” he said, “that’s done. There is a little clause on your waiver that says they have the right to do this.” “Oh, “I said, “well, I guess I can go home. Who is the commanding officer?” “Well,” he said, “up there.” I saw the officer and told him my story. He said, “No, don’t go home. You’re in and you’re going to the Army.”
So that’s the story. It’s kind of long but I got in and it was a little irritating. The big push was for the European Theater. It was 14 weeks training. I only had about seven weeks basic training. I was pulled out, didn’t understand it. I was in Georgia and then shipped to Texas, to Fort Sam Houston. When I went in they said, “You are a 748.” A 748 is an MOS for an assignment as a radio repairman and I said, “748?” “Yeah, you’re an automatic 748.” I had no Signal Corps training but because of my occupation, they gave me an automatic 748. That was one of the problems I had because I went in as a buck private and came out as a private first class. I never had any rating. I think it’s interesting what happens with the military.
As this 748, I went down to Texas. They needed a repairman for aircraft radio transmitters and I’m thinking of Langley Field, near there is the Air Corps near Fort Sam Houston. Fort Sam Houston is a permanent base. There was an airfield and they’d ship me out every day into the lab. I walked over, the master sergeant walked in and he said, “Oh, yeah, we’re looking for a 748.” I said, “Great.” “There is your bench.” I walked down and he said, “Here’s a bunch of things that have to be repaired. Get it out as soon as you can.” I looked at it. I said, “These are radio transmitters?” “Yeah.” I said, “I don’t know anything about these.” He looked and said, “Aren’t you a 748?” I said, “Yes.” “What school did you go to?” I said, “I didn’t go to any Signal Corps school.” “How did you get to be a 748?” I said, “I don’t know. They assigned it to me. I was a civilian radio repairman.” “You’re the guy we’re looking for. Repair them.” I had to study books and find out about the equipment and that was my entire life for the two and a half, three years I was in the Army. I was assigned to a field artillery outfit in Oklahoma that was being reassigned to Germany. I went over as a radio repairman. The 748 should have been at least a sergeant but the captain’s chauffeur got my military grade. Even the Army juggles things around. He got my sergeant stripes. I never cared because I was doing what I liked to do.
Here I was learning a lot about Signal Corps equipment. I’d get their manuals and, of course, the manuals are great because they detail the various circuits. So I never complained. I guess I should have been more forward about it. I went all through the Italian Theater and up into the top of the Italian Theater during World War II. I was being processed for reassignment just before the Japanese conflict ended, receiving shots and going to be reassigned to the Asian Theater. And then the war was over. They processed me and sent me back to the states in about August of 1945. But when I got back they didn’t discharge me right away. They sent me to a place I’d wanted to go in the first place, Red Bank, New Jersey. I was there from August through December. That’s the Signal Corps Training School and I was teaching. I ended up in a school that I had wanted to attend in the beginning, but in the Army instead of the Navy and as an instructor instead of a student. I was discharged in December of 1945.
In the service I did get some experience and a lot of it in transmission. Until that time, all my work both with and without my father was on radio receivers. But in the Army, I got to work on transceivers, transmitters, and receivers. I had a lot of experience with those because that was my job overseas. I installed all of the radios in all of the vehicles in the field artillery outfit to which I was assigned. And I maintained them. That gave me valuable experience in transmission and expanded my knowledge of basic electronics.
RASMUSSEN: So when you came back from the war what was happening with the store?
TARLTON: My father had continued to operate it and was making plans to go back into the retail business. We did. We expanded, took on what they called “white lines”, refrigerators, electric ranges, and things like that. But that was a small part of our business because our primary thrust was with electronics, radios at that time.
To back up a bit, before the war I had possibly the only car radio installation and repair business in the entire area. Back in 1934‑35, radios were not installed by manufacturers in cars; they were installed by service dealers. I had the Motorola agency then. Motorola developed the original car radio. They eventually got into home radio and television. I had the Motorola franchise to sell and install car radios. That experience helped with some of the work I did in the Army. After the war I continued the agency, revitalized it by selling and installing car radios.
You may be interested in a side comment. For a couple of years I installed car radios in Tommy Dorsey’s father’s car. The Dorsey boys were from Lansford. The Dorsey family moved to Lansford when the boys were very young. Their father was a musician. Right after World War II, Tommy Dorsey came into town one day. He’d buy his father a new car every year. He came in and said he wanted me to install a radio in his father’s car. So for a couple of years after that, until radios became standard equipment in cars, I had a standing order. When he got a new car, I’d put a radio in. I knew Tommy Dorsey only casually through that.
One of his managers, Richy Lisella, was from our area also. He lives in Hollywood right now. He works for and lives with Frank Sinatra, Jr. As I said, we had installed car radios and sold them. We had the Motorola franchise which also included home radios. And that was in 1946. In late ’46 and ’47, Motorola came out with some very clever small television sets. Philadelphia had one television station. And that was our introduction to television.
The Philadelphia station began in the mid‑’30s. It was an experimental station operated by Philco. My memory is hazy but I think they went black during the war and then revitalized it when the war was over. Eventually it became Channel 3 in Philadelphia. It was the only station in our area then.
Geographically, Lansford is in a valley. In the mountains to the south is a community called Summit Hill and that’s where we put our original antenna site. Up in Summit Hill we could get Philadelphia. As a matter fact, Summit Hill is one of the highest points in the area and that community could enjoy television without much of an antenna on the roof. Sometimes an antenna in the attic would get fairly decent reception. When Channel 3 went on the air we started selling television sets. About the only place we could sell them was up in Summit Hill. Lansford, a 10,000 population community, couldn’t receive anything. That was how we broke into television.
RASMUSSEN: You were telling us the other night about going up to Summit Hill. You actually sold the sets or something up there?
TARLTON: That’s where we sold our television sets. We sold dozens and dozens of sets up there. I remember the other night mentioning to you that when our family wanted to see some television we had to go to Summit Hill. I mentioned earlier that my father’s roots were in Summit Hill. His family had migrated from Wales back in the late 1800s to Summit Hill and his uncle still lived up there. We gave his uncle a television set. I guess we weren’t really that generous but it was an opportunity. We would go up there any time and watch television. Yes, we did. We sold television sets in the Summit Hill area. In Lansford, in a valley one half mile below television reception was non‑existent. Most frustrating. And that was the beginning of efforts to get television down in this valley.
RASMUSSEN: How did you come up with the idea of the antenna? Was this from readings or did you talk to people?
TARLTON: No, no. Follow the sequence. To receive television back in those days, the late ’40s, one should have an antenna clear of any obstructions, on a rooftop. We did install many antennas in the houses and they got fairly decent reception. But to get it good and clear, a nice picture, you had to install one on the rooftop. And then the transmission line, the lead, the wire, from the antenna down to the television set invariably was a flat two‑wire cable. Coaxial cable had a line loss; it impeded the signal. It became very popular to use the twin lead. Now, the disadvantage of that twin lead was that it had to be standing free. If it’s tight against a building and gets moisture, the transmission quality is affected. So it stands free. You had to support it with insulators to do a perfect job.
Lansford is an elongated town. It’s about a mile and a half long and there are about eight parallel streets bisected with cross streets about every 500 feet. There are no curves; everything is all laid out in a nice symmetrical pattern. Our business place was about three streets from the edge of Summit Hill and Lansford sits on kind of a slope. The edge of Lansford inclines from about a thousand feet above sea level to about fifteen hundred feet above sea level in Summit Hill. So to get television into our store, my father and I put an antenna partly up the mountain. No, we didn’t go all the way up, but we put up an antenna, kind of a crude arrangement, and then from tree to tree we strung a twin lead that was used in those days as a transmission line. We ran this twin lead, crossed a few streets, and into our store. And we had television. No, it depended on the weather. If it was raining, we either didn’t have any picture or we had ghosting. It was not dependable. People would ask us, “Can we hook up to this?” We wouldn’t do that but we did sell a number of television sets in Lansford to the commercial establishments and the bar rooms. Most of them were on the edge of town and, ironically, most of the barrooms were on the street nearest to Summit Hill.
My father and I weren’t alone in this. Other dealers also sold television sets and ran the transmission line part way up the mountain to receive television. Channel 3 was the only channel in the beginning. Then Channel 6 came on so you needed much more signal because of the attenuation factor of cable; even that (twin lead) transmission line had attenuation. The attenuation factor is proportional to the frequency. As you increase frequency, the transmission attenuation increases. You have more line loss. As a result, we had a problem with Channel 6 but it wasn’t too bad. Keep in mind that there were no amplifiers at that time. It was just a piece of transmission line. Then Channel 10 came on the air, possibly a year later. Channel 10 was a problem because it’s up in the higher VHF band and the attenuation through the cable was much greater than at the lower frequencies.
To improve picture quality at that time set top boosters, an one‑tube booster to put on top of a set, were being made. We installed these with most of the sets we sold because we were in the extreme fringe. We almost always put a set top booster on. Jerrold, owned by Milt Shapp, got its start with these little one‑tube boosters. That’s how Shapp got his start.
RASMUSSEN: They were tied right to the set?
TARLTON: They were sitting on top of the set. They were plugged in and then you’d hook the line from the antenna to the input side and the output from the booster would go into the television set. Like other dealers were doing, my father and I took these set boosters and put them up the mountain a bit, put them in a protected cabinet, and ran some voltage up to operate them. As the signal came down to a point where it got weak, we put a booster in and that would raise it again so we had a decent picture on the television set. And then in 19… I was going to look that date up because I have an affidavit of this. It might have been 1948.
RASMUSSEN: We’ll look that date up.
TARLTON: A friend of my father’s, named David John Stevens, came to see my father. He was quite a loud individual. He was an executive secretary in the United Mine Workers and he was on John L. Lewis’ board in Washington. But he also was the administrator of the union in Lansford. He came to see my father and he said, “Bill, I want you to put a TV set for me down in Big Creek.” Big Creek was a little resort along a stream of water surrounded by mountains about, I’d say, 18‑20 miles from Lansford, a few little homes there. He said, “Down at Big Creek I have a summer home and next month John L. Lewis is coming up to spend a week. I want television for him.” My father said, “I can’t get television down there.” Davey John said, “Well, you put these antennas up, don’t you? Go out and see what you can do.” So my father and I went out. We found on top of this mountainous area a farmer’s field. We went back and told Davey John, “Davey John, if you can get permission from that farmer, we can put an antenna there and run the line all the way down that mountain.” He said, “Oh, don’t worry about who owns the property. I’ll arrange permission. Just install it.” We did and he had television reception. He said, “Hey, this is great. Hook up the rest of my neighbors with it, too.”
We just went in and did it. So I would say that was one of the early attempts but I always say that was not a cable system. It was not a viable system. You couldn’t operate a cable system as a business on twin lead. But it was a hedge. It got television.
A few years ago I went to Stevens’ daughter, who now is a retired school teacher, and asked, “Edith, would you happen to have any of your father’s old receipts? Mine are gone. When my father passed away, I was out of the area and my mother eventually got rid of everything. All the old records were gone.” I thought maybe she might find pieces. She said, “Bob, I did the same thing. I closed out everything and if there was anything there, his receipts, they’re all gone. What’d you want it for?” I said, “Well, I just want a verification that we provided television for your father and for John L. Lewis’ visit.” She said, “Oh, I’ll give you an affidavit to that. I knew all about it.” And she did. I have an affidavit that she dictated and had it certified. It verified that she enjoyed television back in the late ’40s and other related details that she remembers.
Marlowe Froke just a day or two ago told me Strat Smith insisted that we call this Community Antenna Television. In the early days that’s what it was. It wasn’t until a few years later, ten years later, that it took a different form in the communications field. It was Community Antenna Television. That’s what it was and that’s the way we developed it for about ten years.
RASMUSSEN:We stopped where you got television for the president of the United Mine Workers.
TARLTON: Yes, yes. All right, that’s the David John Stevens’ affair.
RASMUSSEN: How did you proceed from that? By this time you’re operating a television store, trying to sell televisions. It sounds to me like there was a demand that people really wanted to get it.
TARLTON: Very much so. Television was the magic of the time. Everybody wanted to see it. If they couldn’t afford it, they at least wanted to see it. So there was a demand for television. People wanted to buy sets. I knew that there were places in the country that were stringing this twin lead around. They’d sell a television set and then string the twin lead around in a very haphazard manner and I even had people say, “Why don’t we do this?” I guess it was my usual conservative attitude.
Many times I’ve been accused of being too conservative, but I suppose it paid off because it forced me to look for something that would be dependable. And I’ll tell you the reason why I was concerned. I was concerned that we’d sell some television sets, and I might say, too, that this was my father’s first reaction, “Oh, we’re not going to sell television sets and hook them up with wire. That stuff won’t last, you know. And inside of six months to a year they’ll no longer have television or it’ll be so poor they’ll come back to us and demand their money back.” That struck in my mind as being an important consideration.
I had installed a master antenna system out of the area using Milt Shapp’s Jerrold amplifier. They had this set top booster that they were selling and I bought many of those. I bought them through the distributorship. Then Milt found a need for a distribution system primarily in stores to demonstrate television sets because when you started hooking up sets with twin lead, a couple of sets, the technical mismatch was so bad that they had nothing but ghosts and all. It was terrible. They needed something to give a good clear demonstration. Being in the Philadelphia area, all the department stores were candidates for something like this. Again, he went and I’m sure he did go to Don Kirk. I’m positive that’s who started to develop an amplifier that could be hooked up using coaxial cable as we use today. The coaxial cable is impervious to weather; it’s impervious generally to outside interference. It’s like a water pipe: what runs through is confined and delivered on the other end. As a result they designed this piece of equipment only for the stores’ distribution systems. Then Milt was selling them in apartment houses and hotels, hooking up the various rooms. This wasn’t unique because RCA had an amplifier also that they installed in apartment houses in those days. But Milt’s piece of equipment was unique to the extent that physically the size was manageable. RCA’s was a huge monstrosity. I would say something about three feet high. Big heavy piece of equipment. Milt’s equipment was no more than 12 by 12 by maybe 8 or 10 inches high. Very small, lightweight piece of equipment. I’m sure his oral history will be interesting because he went out himself in the early days with his equipment and installed them in storerooms and various places.
But I needed to put one and then later a few others in and I decided that I’d use this and it worked out beautifully. I got thinking, why can’t we re-amplify it? It was not designed to be re-amplified. It was designed to be set at the antenna with enough signal, enough amplification to drive it down through the coax cable into the various sets. So I decided that I was going to do some experimenting because after a period of time of running that piece of cable you run out of signal also even after it’s amplified and it needs to be re-amplified again.
So I did some experiments with it and found out that one of the problems, after going through a couple of amplifiers as it was designed, you no longer had any sound, only picture. The reason for that was very simple. The designer didn’t have to worry about sound. He was worried about picture. The sound, if it was fair, was all right and, furthermore, he designed it so that the amplifier just peaked on picture and the sound was down in the slopes a bit. So with one amplification it was sufficient sound but the minute you get to a second, third, and fourth or fifth amplifier the sound kept sliding way down and you had no more sound. So I just fiddled with it a bit. Didn’t do any redesigning. I just retuned them a bit and flattened them out a little bit and brought the sound up a little bit enough so that we could re-amplify it. With that in mind I had maybe half a dozen and then I ran an experiment on it and lo and behold, it really worked. That was the advent then of going to a viable cable system. I designed so that we’d figure, well, about 200 people can afford to buy service and that’s what I designed the thing for. Little did I know within a month’s time the 200 people would be compounded. People clamoring for service.
RASMUSSEN: Let me just go back a second there. First of all, what year was this that you finally felt you had it, the solution?
TARLTON: 1950. In the spring of ’50. I was experimenting in late ’49, and in the spring of ’50 I decided this could be as permanent as one could expect a business to be.
RASMUSSEN: Had you been working by yourself at this point?
RASMUSSEN: Or with other people?
RASMUSSEN: I’m interested to know about your predictions of the number of people. What did you feel was going to be the cutting edge? How did you figure 200 people?
TARLTON: I think that was only a figure I picked out of the air. I just figured, well, there should be 200 people in this community who could afford to buy a television set. Television sets then were possibly $600, $800, and $1,000. That was a pretty high price.
RASMUSSEN: Okay. So the next step was what?
TARLTON: Well, next I determined that I needed the cooperation of all of the other television dealers in the community. I went to all the other dealers, who were all competitors of mine, and I told them what I was planning. They were running twin lead around. I said, “Let’s combine. Would you be interested in putting this together?” I contacted a man by the name of Rudy Dubosky. He had a television service business. He did some selling but he was primarily a serviceman. He was also a coal miner. I contacted a man by the name of Bill McDonald who operated an appliance and furniture store and I sold him on the idea. I then went to the Sears store in Lansford. I went to the manager and he thought this was great. He said, “But Sears wouldn’t be interested.” I don’t think he even made any contact with his superiors. He made the decision. He said, “Boy, we’ll encourage you. We’ll work along with you because that’ll mean we can sell more television sets.”
The last person I saw was the president of the department store where my father had originally worked, Bright’s. He said, “Bob, I don’t know if we’d be interested. We wouldn’t be interested in making an investment in this project. We’ll encourage. Yes, we want to sell television sets but we wouldn’t be interested as an investment.” But there was a young fellow, the grandson of the founder of that department store, George Bright. He was learning the business and managing the radio department. Discussing the project he said, “Gee, I’d be interested in getting involved.” And, of course, I knew that George’s family was financially able to do whatever he wanted to do. So, he invested personally as opposed to the department store.
Then the principals of the other two businesses got involved. That is McDonald. He became involved personally as opposed to his appliance store. And Dubosky became involved personally. And that was four plus a very close friend of mine who I leaned on for legal advice. He was an attorney and he was in the Pennsylvania legislature after World War II. He was elected representative for a number of years and then a state senator. And all that time I was exposed to the legislature and was able to act as the unofficial lobbyist for the state association of our industry. This was William Z. Scott. Bill later retired from the legislature. The governor appointed him chairman of the Liquor Control Board. And he was chairman for six years or so.
RASMUSSEN: You said you felt you had to involve the other people. Was that because you needed the financial support?
TARLTON: Well, no, not the only reason. I wanted to have a combined effort because I felt the result would then be a unified effort, rather than everyone doing it his own way. That was my objective. When I later joined Jerrold as an employee that was one thing we did. When we went into a new community, the cable company tried to get all of the dealers involved in one way or another, cooperating so they wouldn’t fight the cable system. Some of the commitments we made were like, “Look, we don’t want to injure your television sales business. We want to help you sell television sets.” In my own particular case, I felt there might be some resentment with the other dealers who would see me only as competition. That was one reason why I went to them. Another was the advantage of their financial support. After organizing a business corporation, we went to a bank and with all our endorsements we were able to borrow money to get the system started.
RASMUSSEN: Can you tell us how much you put in and how much you had to borrow?
TARLTON: Yes. Each of us put in $500, a total of $2,500 seed money. We went to the bank and we borrowed, here’s where I’m hazy, I think we borrowed $20,000. Let me correct that. It was $10,000 from the one bank. And then a little later we borrowed another $10,000 from another bank. Even at that time $22,500 could never have bought all of the materials. But the fact that we were all local people and we were dealing with local banks, we didn’t have any difficulty in borrowing more money.
RASMUSSEN: What was the response of the banker when you came in with the proposition?
TARLTON: You should understand that television was magic in those days. I showed him what it looked like and explained what we were going to do. There was no problem whatsoever. He said, “The Board will pass this without any trouble.” But there again it was the fact that all our personal signatures were on the note. He always mentioned that, “Well, look, they’re substantial. I know that this loan is secure because there’s backing with the signatures on here.”
RASMUSSEN: So you had these people together, what was your next step?
TARLTON: Then I started to buy materials, put up that tower‑‑the picture to which I referred‑‑and started to develop the system.
RASMUSSEN: Did you do any tests ahead of time?
TARLTON: The tests we did were those I mentioned earlier. A further test was conducted by going to Summit Hill for a demonstration. It worked in our shop going through an amplifier, but I took it to Summit Hill, laid cable on the ground to show them, and simulated a street in Lansford. Here’s the television set after going through a number of amplifiers and thousands of feet of cable; here’s what your pictures are; this is what you’ll have. We did that.
RASMUSSEN: Who were you demonstrating for in that case?
TARLTON: Primarily the investors, the people who were backing it.
RASMUSSEN: You said that you really did not have enough money to make the kind of purchases that you needed. How did you manage?
TARLTON: With my projection we knew right away that the $22,500 was only seed money. We needed plenty more if we wanted to develop it. We decided that we would charge a $100 installation fee and a $3/month maintenance fee. That practice continued for quite a few years. The installation fee remained high until a lot of venture capital got into the business and it became quite a business a few years later. With venture capital, your capital was readily available. As a result, the decision was made to hook up more people with a token installation fee and a higher monthly service fee. I’ve forgotten now which system started that practice. In the time of a high installation fee, our system was about the only one charging $100. Most systems immediately wanted to get more so they charged $125‑$150. Some even charged a $200 installation fee.
RASMUSSEN: Did that reflect the actual cost?
TARLTON: No, it was a figure picked out of the air. That helped. As a matter of fact, there was a court case that the industry lost. And it was really our system that it originated with. We precipitated it. Our accountants at the time were Ernst and Ernst. Now it’s the Ernst and Whinney firm. The reason we retained them was because Bright’s Department Store used Ernst and Ernst. George Bright said, “Well, our accountant is pretty good. Let’s discuss some of the things with them.” But they said, “Well, look, you can’t run this business on this financial procedure. What we’ll do in filing your tax return is call the installation fee “a contribution in aid of construction.” They had a case, I think it was in Ohio, where a railroad company made extensions and treated the costs as “contributions in aid of construction.” That was in the utility business. In our particular business after going through the courts, it didn’t hold up. We lost that case.
No, the $100, $125, $150, the initial amount was more or less a figure we said was to run your service into your home. But in reality it wasn’t pinned down to actual dollars and cents to that particular installation. It was to get sufficient capital to keep moving the system ahead. It just occurred to me, our accountants said anything in excess of the construction costs as you go forward will be declared income and they did. They filed our taxes that way originally. But a lot of the other cable operators went whole hog and they lost the whole darn thing. What we did, we filed over and above, we declared it as income over and above what our costs were.
RASMUSSEN: I read some place that you had originally supported being a non‑profit organization so you could simply provide cable for the community, and then the sales or your profits would actually come from the sales of the television sets.
TARLTON: That was the original thinking but when we formed the business, we formed it as a for‑profit business. The original idea was to sell television sets. That was my partners’ objective, except Senator Scott. He was then living in Summit Hill. I had sold him a television set and now he was going to move to Lansford. And his objective was “Get me that television signal down here so I can continue to watch.”
RASMUSSEN: In hindsight those objectives seem small, as though you are going for a tiny crumb of the pie that turned out to be enormous. Did you have any sense when you began this process where it might lead?
TARLTON: No. Anyone who would say they did at that time, I think, is just blowing air. No, never realized it. As I said, when I first started I geared everything to the 200 people. I had to have some figure to do the projections, and I felt 200 was reasonable. I don’t know whether I thought we’d get them hooked up and sold on the idea in a month, or ten months, or two years. I don’t know. But I used that as a basis. I don’t think I ever thought that the system would service four communities and have the 5,000 subscribers it has today.
RASMUSSEN: What was the reaction up at Summit Hill?
TARLTON: Well, in Summit Hill negative reaction came from the business people; the bar rooms in Summit Hill were the focal point of entertainment for the whole area. People traveled from all over to Summit Hill to watch television, sitting there having a beer or a drink and watching television. We sold them sets that were worth thousands of dollars as well as the antenna installations. I know we had some that were billing out at $3,000 and $4,000. Massive towers, beautiful. Pretty soon we could not only get Philadelphia but New York as well. You see, we were about 70 air miles from each New York and Philadelphia. New York’s TV signals travel over the Delaware Water Gap area, so there is a bit of impediment there, geographic impediment, but you could still get the signals. So in Summit Hill, the pressure of trying to impede us came from the business community. And, of course, businesses in small communities can exert political pressure on the local governments.
And that is a story in itself. We installed an antenna in a leased lot next to the edge of the community so that we were not crossing any streets. Although we felt that we didn’t have to get permission from the Summit Hill council, we did go to the council and ask permission. Our legal counsel advised this even though we were in the borough and did not cross any streets. He just thought we should ask permission. To start with they dragged their feet and then they finally said‑‑and keep in mind that the pressure on the council was from the bar rooms‑‑they said, “Yes, we’ll give you permission but we want a 15 percent gross receipts tax.” Well, we fought that for quite some time and finally legal counsel Bill Scott decided it was only holding us up. We didn’t agree to the 15 percent but he put the 15 percent in escrow and took it to court. We took it to the Carbon County Court and the judge ruled in favor of Summit Hill. He lived in Summit Hill. I wouldn’t want to accuse him because his son and I are good friends, but I think his residency influenced him.
Bill Scott did not let it sit there. He went higher. It was the first cable case, I guess, in the country. He took it to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and got a favorable ruling. The favorable ruling, interestingly enough, was not on the merits of the case, but that the court remanded it back to the county court for a better decision. Eventually it was declared null and void. We didn’t have any tax liability. I mentioned the 15 percent and during our negotiations with them we pointed out that it would be terrible to tax the subscribers. Well, it ended up with a five percent tax and I think that is what we went to the courts with.
RASMUSSEN: Were you aware of other people trying to do this in other parts of the country? Were you reading about it?
TARLTON: Using coax cable? No, not using coax cable. There is only one incidence that I learned about later and that was Ed Parsons’ project in Astoria, Oregon. However, Ed Parsons used coax but he didn’t start out as a business. As I understand it, his was a coax cable run down into his office with only one TV signal. That was already being done by both Jerrold and RCA in apartment houses and stores. What motivated me was the use of coax cable. I wanted to use coax cable. But Ed Parsons is the only individual who used it. The minute that we started, the news started breaking in late 1950 and early 1951. Everything from newspapers to the Readers Digest had stories about the Panther Valley System.
RASMUSSEN: How did you get customers? Advertise?
TARLTON: No, you didn’t have to advertise, just conversely. You had to keep your door locked because the people were clamoring for service. They wanted cable service. You certainly didn’t have to advertise. I would say, yes, we had an announcement, “Television Comes to Lansford” and “There’ll be a Demonstration.” But that really was unnecessary.
RASMUSSEN: Did you have a separate office? Did you set up a business as such?
TARLTON: Oh, yes. A completely separate company. As a matter of fact, the five of us who were involved met frequently, sometimes every day, sometimes nights. Each had his other business, so we assigned work details for everyone. George Bright was to procure materials. One big problem was obtaining coaxial cable. Coaxial cable was available primarily as Army surplus. Most of the coaxial cable in use at that time was used by the military and hundred‑foot lengths were quite common. As a result, we had to splice a lot of cable together. Kind of crude but that’s how we operated. Many a length of cable was nothing more than several hundred‑foot lengths. We gave assignments to various people. As a matter of fact, I had great assistance for a short time from Mr. Dubosky because he was a fine technician. However, the other members couldn’t devote much time and soon I found myself spending 100 percent of my time with the business. I was no longer helping my father with our business. I even had to use my father’s truck since the cable system had no vehicle.
An interesting thing happened just a few days ago. There’s a monthly newspaper published in town that’s an accumulation of old photographs and old stories. It’s sold mostly to people who have moved out of the area. And it’s great. Oh, I failed to mention earlier that for years I also operated a public address rental business. Anyway, I saw a copy of the newspaper the other day and there was an old photograph from about, I guess, 1948. I called the original photographer. I know he keeps an old file. I said, “Do you have the negative?” He said, “Sure, I have a negative.” He got me a print. There was my sound system with speakers all over and my truck that I used in the early months with the Panther Valley Television Company. Tarlton Sound was on the truck. So I wanted to put that in my collection.
But to get back to the operation of the cable system. When I used my father’s truck for the system, he only had his car for his business. He never complained. He was actually encouraged because he was starting to sell TV sets. And I was devoting more and more time. Finally after four or five months I started working full‑time. Although I didn’t ask, the others said, “Bob’s been spending time on this. We ought to pay him retroactively for his time and look to the future, and we need to do something about the use of his vehicle.” I said, “I’ve got to get that vehicle back. I think we’ve got to buy a truck.” And that’s how we got the first truck.
RASMUSSEN: So we’ve just talked about how you really began that industry in Lansford. Could you just talk a little about the issue of pole access. Where did you first string that cable when you came down from Summit Hill?
TARLTON: The local telephone company helped and that was another of our pluses. Because it was a local independent, the management could make decisions without any red tape. The local manager, I think was also a stockholder, could make decisions on his own. I told him what I wanted. I wanted to make attachments to his poles and he said, “No problem.” He was most helpful.
Lansford is credited with being the first cable system because it (1) used techniques that the telephone company used, and (2) used coaxial cable. It was basically a viable system, as opposed to what we were doing earlier which was not a viable business. I’m deeply grateful to the local telephone manager who made some suggestions. I didn’t know how to “spin cable on to messenger” and he suggested that I use a telephone practice. There was a machine called the cable spinner. It was nothing more than a lashing machine. It’s even used today. It is pulled over and along a messenger wire and lashes coaxial cable to it by spiraling a piece of stainless steel wire, very fine wire. It lashes that coax cable to a messenger, a steel support messenger. I had no problems coming down the mountain, or I should say, I had no problems in the community because we started using telephone poles. In our community the telephone company was on one side of the street, the power company on the other. This is not the general practice today. Usually they are joint poles, but they were independent poles then which was another plus for us. We used telephone poles for a good portion of our system in the beginning.
Coming down the side of the mountain, I ran into a different problem. I had to use some power company poles and some jointly owned by Bell Telephone and the local telephone company. We never went with Bell Telephone for a contract. The local phone company manager contended he had the right to sublease to us. Then we had a problem getting on the power company poles owned by Pennsylvania Power and Light Company. I visited one of the power company officials at the district office in Pottsville, 18, 20 miles away, in the community where Marty Malarkey eventually started his system. A man by the name of Paul White. I asked Paul how we could get permission to get on those poles. He wondered what I was going to do. I told him we were going to bring television, told him what we were doing. He became very excited and in a short time Paul White became involved with Marty Malarkey and other principals and installed the Pottsville system.
But I got ahead of myself. Paul White said, “No problem. You go ahead and get on those poles. Get your experimenting done, get it finished. And I’ll get the clearances for you. Just get me the numbers of poles.” So we made immediate attachments with the help of Paul White. To make an attachment properly, you should first have clearance but he suggested we go ahead with his verbal permission. There really was no problem in getting attachments to the poles then as opposed to the problems we developed a few years later.
RASMUSSEN: What were those problems?
TARLTON: The telephone companies didn’t want to give permission. They used safety as an argument, but I’m sure their primary reason was that they could foresee the possibility that cable was their purview and maybe they should get into the cable TV business.
RASMUSSEN: So they began to see the cable companies as potential competition?
TARLTON: Yes, as a matter of fact, one cable system in which I had ownership, which I recently divested in western Pennsylvania, was originally owned by an independent telephone company. That’s a classic example. That telephone company built a cable system in its own community. They wouldn’t give a franchise, they wouldn’t give a permit to anyone, but built their own cable system. It was a dismal failure. We had an awful mess straightening it out, but they also wouldn’t give any permission for anybody to attach to poles in their general vicinity because they wanted to extend. They eventually, back some years ago, it must be close to twenty years ago, when this was tested, and the FCC order came down and the telephone companies had to divest any ownership in cable systems in their own service area and that’s what happened out there in Murrysville. As a matter of fact, that’s how I got involved because they had to sell. I and a few others did get involved in that one.
RASMUSSEN: Let me go on to your relationship with Milt Shapp. Can you tell us how that began?
TARLTON: Yes. First of all, I think it would be proper to say that I had known Milt. He had been in my radio television repair shop a few times when he was a factory representative representing among others primarily, if I recall, Radiart vibrators. These are a mechanical device that was used in old car radios. And he came with a salesman from a distributor and visited on two separate occasions that I can remember. I struck up a relationship, well, a friendship with him on those occasions and then I started to use some of his equipment. The amplifier equipment I was using was designed by Jerrold Electronics which was the company owned by Milt. My first purchase of a few of those amplifiers was in early 1950 from a distributor in Allentown. I recall that, the Art Peter’s Radio Distributorship, Parts and Equipment, Service and Sales. But with the number of pieces of equipment that I was anticipating to use, I thought I’d make an attempt to go directly to get a better price from the manufacturer.
So I went to Philadelphia and visited a man named Bud Green. I think he acted as sales manager, although I guess he had any number of titles. I’d be interested in finding out what his real title was. I asked him if we could buy some amplifiers and some equipment. He said, “Sure, no problem.” And I started buying half a dozen or so at a time. One day after making a couple of trips to Philadelphia and purchasing the amplifiers, which I had modified a bit so that they could be used as a cascaded system, used in a re-amplified system, Bud Green said to me, “You know, you’ve been down here a couple of times. What are you using these things for?” I explained at length how I was using them and he became a little upset. He said, “They were not designed for that.” I said, “I know they weren’t. I’m modifying them.” Well, I think we’d better get a release so that one day you won’t come back and say, ‘I want my money back. They’re not doing the trick.'” I said, “No problem. Here, I’ll write out a release right now. I don’t intend to come back. I’m using them and modifying them.” And I did. I gave him a crude release, written in long hand. And started using his equipment more and more.
I got a telephone call from Mr. Shapp in late 1950 and he asked if he could come up and visit me. He said he was interested in seeing what I was doing with his equipment. So we made an appointment. He visited with me the day before Thanksgiving 1950. I guess the day before Thanksgiving sticks in my mind; it’s an easy date to remember and it was 1950. He arrived with his lovely wife Muriel and two little children. Muriel was carrying one and the other was in hand by Milt. Very small children. He spent some hours with me, we went to lunch, and looked over what we were doing with his equipment. He was tremendously impressed with the potential of what we were doing. He asked me on the spot if I would want to come and work with him. I told him that would be impossible because of my commitments at that time. Then he said further, “Well, if you won’t come work for me, would you assist our engineering people in doing field work, field evaluations?” He said, “I’m going back to Philadelphia, back to my lab and stop all production on equipment right now and tell my engineers to design equipment for this very application. This has tremendous possibilities.” I said, “Yes, I’d only be too happy to work with them, to do field work. It’ll be a big help to me.” So I established a relationship with Milt, primarily with his engineering people.
RASMUSSEN: What was the name of the person…
TARLTON: Well, the engineer that I was dealing with at the time was Henry (Hank) Arbeiter. He was the chief engineer. I did an evaluation on a couple of pieces of equipment. I’d attempt to put it in the system. There’d be some problems with it, it wouldn’t function properly or I’d see some problems and I would critique it and send it back. With that I had established a good rapport with their lab.
In early 1952, Milt called and said he wanted to see me in Philadelphia. I went down and he made me another offer to join the company. This was a little more attractive because I had finished the basic construction of our system. I was just starting to develop it. Milt said that he had a contract with J. H. Whitney, Fox‑Wells, and Goldman‑Sachs, three venture capital groups from New York, to invest in the Williamsport system. And he said he needed someone who knew how to construct and adapt a system to the Williamsport area. So I did go with Mr. Shapp’s company, the Jerrold Company, the first day of February 1952.
RASMUSSEN: So his first request for you to join him, you refused. But it was later on. What were the conditions that made you change your mind?
TARLTON: I no longer had the pressure of trying to develop the Panther Valley system. The system was functioning, had quite a few hundred subscribers, in fact, a couple of thousand. It was fine. It didn’t need my day‑to‑day attention. And, furthermore, it looked like a nice opportunity for me to get some more experience out in the field. My choices were either that or consulting. And I always give Mr. Shapp credit for being a very, very fine salesman. The very fine salesman that he is must have convinced me to go with him. I never begrudged that. I was with him from 1952 until about 1958.
RASMUSSEN: And what was the major role that you played in the company?
TARLTON: I began as chief field engineer and ended as a vice president in the community operations, a division of his operating companies.
RASMUSSEN: So you weren’t involved in the development of the technology as much as you were when you built your own system?
TARLTON: Actually, I was. I put in systems all over the country: Clarksburg, West Virginia; Fairmont, West Virginia; out in the Midwest and western part of the country; up in Berlin, New Hampshire; and Wenatchee, Washington. We found problems in all of these systems and we overcame them. I worked with the engineering people in a cooperative manner. We made field tests in these systems and then the engineering department was able to overcome some of the problems. In the latter years with Jerrold, my primary thrust was in developing the systems, getting the systems installed and using my experience to set up the system, offices, and the entire gamut of operating the business.
RASMUSSEN: Let me ask you something personal, if you don’t mind. You went from being a store owner and a repairperson in a town where your life was pretty stable to someone running around the country.
TARLTON: That’s exactly right, yes.
RASMUSSEN: How did that change in lifestyle affect your family life? Was that a difficult thing to adjust to?
TARLTON: No, it wasn’t. I should point out that my joining Jerrold at that time had an additional benefit. My son had just graduated from high school, in 1952. And he decided that he wanted to go to the Philadelphia Museum School of Art. It’s now the College of Art. He entered in 1952 in the first class, the first of the new four‑year program in the College of Art. And I thought this would be a good opportunity for all of us. We could move to Philadelphia, live there, and my son could live at home rather than in an apartment. So that was an additional benefit.
RASMUSSEN: So you moved from Lansford to…?
TARLTON: To Philadelphia. Really we moved to a place called Willow Grove.
RASMUSSEN: How long did you live in Philadelphia?
TARLTON: From 1952 until 1958. I was with Jerrold.
RASMUSSEN: Now what happened to the Lansford system when you went with Jerrold?
TARLTON: I still kept my finger on it. I’d run up there occasionally. Sometimes a day or so during the week, sometimes on the weekend. I still operated the Lansford system. I had good technical personnel, good office people. It operated all right.
RASMUSSEN: And were you still in partnership with the rest of the people?
TARLTON: Yes. Yes, it was a corporation. It was incorporated.
RASMUSSEN: Did the development of the Lansford system mirror what has happened in other occasions? Is that a fairly common scenario for a system to develop that way or were there other ways in which systems developed?
TARLTON: I think most of the systems developed that way until capital groups got in. The early systems were mostly local people and that’s how they got the name “Mom and Pop” because it was family operations. Most of the old systems were “Mom and Pop” systems.
RASMUSSEN: Is that how yours was, too? Was your wife involved?
TARLTON: No, she wasn’t. Florence was not involved in the system. I’d say that ours was a little different than most. In the early days the smaller systems were usually owned by one or two individuals. Mine was a stock corporation. Reflecting back on it, I guess mine was different than most. The Pottsville system had some investors but Marty Malarkey was the primary thrust and he made the decisions. Well, I might say, I made all of the decisions in my system. At least if I made a questionable decision, the stockholders usually backed me up and said, “Well, you know what’s going on.”
RASMUSSEN: I read an article about your system regarding maintenance and how you located problems. Today we think of that as being very technical.
TARLTON: There were some crude methods that really expedited it. Are you referring to the fact that we had key people throughout the residences? Yes, in the early days if we had a problem, we’d make a few phone calls around the system, kind of isolated where the problem might be, and then we’d start pinpointing it. It was kind of crude but it worked. It was very effective, sure.
RASMUSSEN: Okay, I’d like to go on now, unless there is something I’ve missed in terms of the early development of the Lansford system and your involvement.
TARLTON: I could always fill in some holes on my early history. I don’t know if I mentioned that I took a number of correspondence courses. I can fill those things in later.
RASMUSSEN: I want to talk now about your connections with others in the industry. This is a question that is really going to be interesting as all of these people’s paths crossed. Maybe we could start with a pretty broad question and you can just pick a selection of people that you see as your friends in the industry. Talk about, perhaps, where your path crossed with those people and how their development maybe was different from or similar to yours.
TARLTON: I wouldn’t want to do anyone a disservice by not recalling them, but there’s a number of early pioneers, some of them maybe unknown and some cited as pioneers, who visited with me and I feel that I assisted them. My shop, my home, was like a turnstile with people coming in and going out constantly. At one time I had a register with people who had visited. But it got so voluminous I just gave up. I had many nice little gifts.
The vice president of one of the popular well known and fine test equipment companies visited me and a few weeks later I got a gracious thank you from him plus a piece of test equipment. Another was a fellow from Maryland who built a tremendously big system. I cherished his friendship right up until he died. I guess that system today has 30,000, or 40,000 subscribers. He was involved in the automotive business. He also had a large apple orchard and one day I found a barrel of apples at my door. This was in appreciation of my time and help. I’ve often been criticized for not having benefited monetarily. These people would come in and I’d say, “Well, you want to come along with me and see what’s going on?” And a number of them did.
One person whose friendship I cherished until his death about two years ago was G.B. Henderson. G.B. Henderson is a story in itself. Someone should put together his life story. At one time he was chairman of the board of Avon products. That was his position when he visited me sometime around 1951. I didn’t know who he was; he just said he lived in Carmel, California. And I thought, “Well, he must be a wealthy individual to live in Carmel, California.” He said he wanted to get television into Carmel so he came to see me.
He visited me a couple of times. On his last visit he asked if his head technician could come in and work with my people to get some experience. Just put him to work, give him some work to do. “No problem there, Gerry.” Soon after his first visit…and he didn’t fully identify himself then…we found a note in our mailbox saying there was a package at the post office. I went down and the people said, “Bob, what are you going to do? Go in the business of Avon products?” I said, “What do you mean?” “Well,” they said, “here’s a huge box.” And it was a huge box. So heavy I could hardly carry it. I took it home. There was a note from Gerry thanking me profusely for having shown him what to do about cable and saying that he just sent a few little gifts. Well, I opened it up and there were all kinds of Avon products. This was back in 1950‑51. I didn’t know until later that G.B. Henderson was chairman of the board and he had told his staff to send me a sample of Avon products. Mrs. Tarlton tells the story that for years after, every time she needed gift, she could turn to an Avon product.
The power company people who got involved with Marty Malarkey came over to see me. And Marty Malarkey came to see me and he started his system soon after that. I’m not talking about my early experiments. I’m talking about when we incorporated and really went into a business. Marty Malarkey came over, wanted to know what we were doing, wanted to see what to do. I suggested he contact Jerrold. Marty took the route of going to RCA because he was an RCA radio/television dealer. And he contacted RCA Service Company, which modified apartment house amplifiers that they were making, and built a system for Marty Malarkey. The system operated for quite a few years. But RCA didn’t develop equipment until the last couple of years.
RASMUSSEN: You mentioned that another radio repairman, in reading those articles that were done about Lansford, was encouraged to start his own system. That was John Campbell.
TARLTON: Oh, yes. I just get off on tangents on this topic. Yes, that article was in Radio News early 1951 edition. It’s an extremely well‑written article, by Ted Lucas who died a few years later. He was the PR man for Philco. It’s an interesting story even though it isn’t exactly factual. Let me tell you how it really happened.
Philco was buying Jerrold equipment. They didn’t manufacture their own master antenna equipment. They wanted to sell television sets. And I suppose Milton Shapp, at that time the young sales engineer with the company, wanted to sell equipment and he struck up a nice relationship with Philco. Soon they were distributing the Jerrold equipment. So Ted Lucas came up to see me, I guess that had been in ’51. In the article Ted said that Philco built the system for Panther Valley Television and he gave a lot of credit to Philco. Philco had nothing to do with building our system. True, Philco used the same equipment that I was using. They used it to distribute to their dealers. I utilized it and modified it for a community system. Ted became intrigued and went to St. Clair, a small Pennsylvania community, and he teamed up with a furniture dealer in Lansford to open a distributorship. The furniture dealer and Ted financed the system. I suppose Ted expressed his know how and he might have gotten some of the stock for that. So Ted Lucas later became an owner because he was so intrigued with the cable business. But Philco had nothing to do with our Panther Valley system. Philco later did manufacture some equipment when a fellow from Philadelphia came to Lansford in an attempt to install a Philco system. It was a total failure.
RASMUSSEN: In competition with you?
TARLTON: In competition with us. And I’m glad you asked about that story because I had completely forgotten it. Ted Lucas had attempted to put a system in, had it on a couple of streets, but his real objective was to sell television sets. You bought a television set, he’d hook you up. That was his objective. He might have succeeded if he’d had workable equipment but the Philco equipment was not workable. Philco manufactured the equipment but they didn’t solve their problems. They put in a number of systems. One in Williamsport in competition with Jerrold and it never really worked very well. There was another up in the Pocono area, a small system that worked for years, but it was only a small rural system.
Yes, John Campbell often gives me credit and thanks me for at least reading that story. As I said, I had so many people come in that I don’t remember who came to see me or who called on the phone.
RASMUSSEN: So there were people who wanted to do what you had done. They didn’t find the key to making it work.
TARLTON: Yes. There was the article in Radio News and The Wall Street Journal broke an article in January 1951. Those articles stimulated interest because people wanted to get television. And when they saw, “Hey, this is a way to extend that signal,” they figured cable was the key to give them television.
RASMUSSEN: That gives me a jumping off point to talk about how the industry changed. As you said, at first, impetus came simply to see television but then that must have had a limited market, at a certain point when television broadcast stations came about. You couldn’t move with that kind of philosophy into a large urban center. So how did the cable industry grow from that philosophy to what it is today?
TARLTON: The first stage was with people who just primarily wanted television and people like ourselves who wanted to sell television sets. My interest, of course, was two‑fold. I wanted to sell television sets, wanted to maintain them, wanted to have a business out of it, but I also wanted to see television.
The first breakaway was when venture capital started coming into it. That, of course, was really early in the development of cable. About 1952, but by ’56 and ’57 there really was a large influx of venture capital.
For example, J.H. Whitney, put in somewhere around $200,000 to construct the Williamsport, Pennsylvania system. That contract required a lot of reporting to be sure that the money was going to be returned. Whereas in 1958, the last system that I put in for Jerrold was financed by a trust fund that, if I remember correctly, the president of Helene Curtis in Chicago had established for his children. I can’t remember exactly but it was about half a million dollars initially in the Dubuque, Iowa system. It didn’t take too much to convince the investors to put in a large sum of money. Back in ’52, we spent weeks and months trying to get $100,000, $150,000, $200,000 capital.
RASMUSSEN: Why did it change?
TARLTON: Because the experience of cable. They were getting to know cable and cable was for the rural areas, isolated areas. I still call them rural but that’s a misnomer. It should be isolated areas. Dubuque, Iowa is no rural area but it was then isolated from television stations. So was Fairmont, West Virginia. So was Clarksburg, West Virginia. They were all isolated from television stations and it was easier to find capital then than it was in the beginning. You had to go out and beg for capital in the beginning; whereas later on venture capitalists wanted to invest and you had to find places for them.
RASMUSSEN: What would you consider one of the most significant technical advances that changed the direction of the cable industry?
TARLTON: The technical advances. Cable is dependent upon advances in technology because people who originally saw one channel wanted to see the second channel, wanted to see the third, and after you had five, they wanted more. So it was a case of more begets more. At one time three channels seemed to be quite sufficient but when we added one more channel, it created a new interest in the cable system. People then had variety. They had alternatives. At one time later five channels seemed enough. As a matter of fact, a man who is often quoted, former FCC Commissioner Ken Cox, said that five channels was enough, and that’s quite a story in itself.
TARLTON: The engineers were able to continually refine equipment to add more channels. At one time we couldn’t distribute more than every other channel, skip channels so you had a guard band channel between. As cable technology progressed, one major development was the distribution of adjacent channels. Even to this day adjacent channel distribution is done by keeping the sound much lower in amplitude than the video. All these technical advances‑‑continuing advances, automatic gain control, automatic temperature compensation, etc. have made cable what it is today. We found out years ago one of the problems was a snowy picture in the daytime. At night it was beautiful; it was nothing more than the effect of the sun on the cable. When the cable was warm, the attenuation would go up so that the signal would not travel as far. Some of those things had to be overcome. The technical advances made the systems much more valuable and reliable.
RASMUSSEN: Now there was another change, was there not, that had to do with satellite?
TARLTON: That, again, is receiving. As long as the system can distribute, you can broadcast any number of signals. We could originate, we could have local television stations, we could install antennas to receive very minute, weak signals. We put up complex antenna systems, very complicated antenna systems. As a matter of fact, one that I was involved in in the early days in the Atlantic City area at Ventnor had a tower about 150 feet tall. It was a twin tower with cross beams, and we had a huge, huge antenna on there like a parabola. We attempted to get the Philadelphia signals. Even though that wasn’t too far away, we had trouble getting good, clear signals because of the atmosphere. The signals themselves generally were available, but the limitation was always the capability of the equipment. And as long as the equipment capabilities were expanded, you could find more signals. They were hand and glove, really.
RASMUSSEN: How would you determine a price for a system such as your Lansford system when you were ready to sell it? I’m making an assumption that at some point after venture capitalists set up systems people started selling systems. Is that true?
TARLTON: That’s true. Primarily because of the tax structure. After a system became depreciated, the owners would sell it and then they’d recapitalize the whole thing over again to another investor. Many a small system operator, an independent system operator, disposed of his system when he realized he wasn’t going to make more money. He was going to pay it out in taxes or he could build somewhere else. Of course, that also happened. The owners took their equity found another community, and built another system to keep their tax liability down. After the venture capitalists depreciated a system, they would frequently spin it off, sell the system to somebody else, who again would recapitalize it and start all over again.
RASMUSSEN: How would you determine what a system was worth? Did you have a formula?
TARLTON: Yes, and that’s an interesting thing because everybody said that’s no good, it doesn’t work. There was a formula per subscriber and at one time in the early days it was about $100 per subscriber. There was nothing wrong with that because everything else was fixed, generally you had a fixed expense. So you would determine the fixed expenses and then come up with some approximate number of subscribers. That number determined what you were going to generate in income. So it was a fair formula. Later on some complications arose. You’d put some additional assumptions in there. I don’t know whether or not it’s done today. I know back in the early days the telephone industry used a figure based on the number of subscribers they had. Frequently I hear figures kicking around, a thousand, two, three thousand dollars a subscriber. Some of the early cable systems sold at the fantastic price of $100 a subscriber and at that time it was terrific. I think later on people such as Bill Daniels and other financial people sold systems for about $300 a subscriber. And each time they’d say, “Well, it isn’t so much a subscriber.” The net result was that it was so much a subscriber and it was in the area of about $300. That held for quite a few years. Today figures are from $1,000 to $1,500 a subscriber.
RASMUSSEN: Because the buyer is just not paying for the subscriber. He is paying for the potential additional subscribers, is he not?
TARLTON: Yes, that can all be cranked in. But when you finally end up, it’s basically so much a subscriber.
RASMUSSEN: Do you think given the direction of the industry today that someone with a background like you had back in the mid‑1940s could get into the system as you did?
TARLTON: Oh, starting today?
TARLTON: You mean if we took the time frame from then and we had no cable and we start today?
RASMUSSEN: No, as cable exists today.
TARLTON: As cable exists today. Oh, I see no reason why not. Oh, yes, they could do it.
RASMUSSEN: How would they do that? They can’t start at the ground floor like you did. Where would they come into the cable industry?
TARLTON: In the early days the cable industry was just a technical procedure. Today you’ve got various components. People today can enter the industry in a technical field, the marketing field, or the programming field. Those are the three basic areas, each having a variety of categories of management and other things. A student today, a potential student, should select one of these areas in which he is most interested in and most adept at and pursue a formal education in that. And, of course, that’s why a number of us are so interested in what Penn State’s doing.
RASMUSSEN: If you were starting up today, would you go into cable knowing what you know? Say, if we could put you back in your twenties?
TARLTON: Well, I think that’s difficult to answer because the only answer would be yes.
RASMUSSEN: Let me ask you the question in a different way. Do you like what has happened to the cable industry?
TARLTON: Oh, yes. Yes, sure. I think the cable industry has a potential in the entire communications field. Thirty or thirty-five years ago I didn’t see what I see now, but I’m sure that many others in the communications industry didn’t see some of the potential then either.
RASMUSSEN: Why don’t we start by talking about Jerrold Electronics. You were there during what period of time?
TARLTON: From February of 1952 until 1958.
RASMUSSEN: How long had Jerrold been in business when you joined?
TARLTON: I’m not too sure. I’d have to research that.
RASMUSSEN: Could you describe the company when you joined it?
TARLTON: The company had, I think, just recently moved into expanded manufacturing quarters at 26th and Dickinson Streets in South Philadelphia. The president and owner, Milton Shapp, was just starting to expand the company. He asked me to join when he first came to see me in the fall of 1950. We compromised and I began a working relationship with his engineering people. In the early part of 1952, he implored me to go with him because he had just closed a deal with the J. H. Whitney, Fox‑Wells, and Goldman‑Sachs investment groups and was going to put a system in Williamsport. He needed someone who had the experience of installing a system, and I joined him then as chief field engineer. He had very few field engineers although Caywood Cooley had joined them, I suppose, about a year before. Caywood was formerly with the Philco Corporation service department and he brought a few field engineers with him. Caywood moved from chief field engineer to sales manager when I joined. I don’t know how many people we put on but we beefed up the field engineering department, possibly hired at least half a dozen people, field engineers. I don’t remember the volume of business then.
RASMUSSEN: When did Jerrold actually get into cable production or into the sales and service of cable equipment?
TARLTON: I’d say that in about the spring of 1951, Milt Shapp started to gear the company to supply equipment for community antenna systems. There were a lot of early attempts. A lot of early equipment required field testing and that was one thing I had the pleasure of doing. Field testing equipment, finding out some of the problems. I’d think that he started to manufacture community antenna equipment for community antenna systems in early 1951. By no means was the early equipment the final equipment because it had to be modified. Up until then he had manufactured the apartment house equipment which I had modified for use in the Panther Valley system.
RASMUSSEN: What made him switch from the master antennas to cable?
TARLTON: His visit with me. I think I have mentioned before the day before Thanksgiving of 1950 he came up to see me and to see what I was doing with his apartment house equipment, and he was tremendously impressed. Anyone who knows Milt knows he is a very perceptive individual and his comment was, “This has tremendous possibilities.” And he said he was going back to the factory on Monday morning and gear his entire engineering staff to design equipment for this type of operation. Then we called it community antenna, a master antenna. Really a community master antenna. That was the original concept for the original name.
RASMUSSEN: Describe, to give us another basis to discuss today, how he set about selling equipment? What was the process by which he sold equipment? I’m referring to his sales agreement that included his service agreement.
TARLTON: Oh, his service agreement. Yes. Well, I might say it was almost unnecessary to have any salesmen out rapping on doors to try to sell the equipment. Just the contrary. After we had organized as a corporation in Panther Valley in the fall of 195l, the news spread like wildfire. Toward the latter part of the year and the beginning of 1952, numerous publications, The Wall Street Journal as an example, had a number of articles concerning this new method of getting television into the rural, isolated, or dark areas. And Jerrold Electronics was mentioned prominently in all those articles. They evidently were besieged with inquires, so it was a case where they didn’t have to go out to sell anything.
But they did have some distributors throughout the country. I don’t know what Jerrold’s original relationship was, whether the distributors were selling, marketing his master antenna equipment, and I don’t recall how Jerrold originally set up the community antenna business. I do know that a couple of his major distributors continued with the community antenna equipment.
Then in ’52, Milt came up with a concept of selling service, selling a contract. The concept was good although it had some flaws. His idea was to sell the equipment only with a service contract. This was a pretty good idea because companies such as Philco and RCA that had attempted to get in the business sold the equipment and didn’t maintain it. As a result they didn’t find out the field problems. Milt was smart enough, had foresight enough, to establish a field operation. These field engineers constantly would flow information back to the Jerrold engineering department and to the design department to describe the problems they were experiencing with the equipment. As a result, the design lab had the immediate opportunity to do further research and redesign whatever was necessary.
So his idea of the service contract was a good idea. Of course, he may have had in the back of his mind, “This is great. I can sell the stuff and then continue to make some money on it.” But I always felt that he had a good idea there insofar as supplying continued service. Of course, you couldn’t buy the equipment at that time unless you did sign a service agreement. I think in a number of installations people refused to sign the agreement and I suppose he did make some concessions with those. The agreement was based on the number of cable system subscribers. The cable system would make a monthly report to the Jerrold Service Corporation and pay monthly, based on the number of subscribers. I think it was five or ten cents a subscriber. I’m hazy on that right now. But it was a certain amount, so much per subscriber each month. So, in a way, he was attempting to profit from the number of subscribers they had.
RASMUSSEN: How did operators feel about it? You said some refused to sign.
TARLTON: Yes, there were some who objected to it. I was never involved directly with the sales negotiation of the service contract. I was on the perimeter. I was too busy with the operation itself. My office did receive information about the service contracts. Some operators just refused to purchase the contract and some did eventually buy equipment without the service contracts.
RASMUSSEN: But there were, obviously, people who felt differently about it. Were there people who felt it was a good idea?
TARLTON: Oh, yes. Even today some people say that they couldn’t have gotten in the business and have continued without the assistance, and this service contract was a vehicle for that assistance.
RASMUSSEN: I was interested in what you said about some people stating that they couldn’t have remained in business without that contract. What was it about the contract that helped?
TARLTON: A number of the early cable systems were started by people who had no technical knowledge whatsoever. They just wanted to get television. They needed some technical assistance so they were grateful for the service agreement. A number of the cable system pioneers had no knowledge of electronics whatsoever and they were glad, I’m sure, to sign a contract and say, “Yes, let’s get going.” They looked upon it as kind of a partnership.
RASMUSSEN: I think in the conversation we had at the restaurant you indicated that there was a feeling that the service agreement was Jerrold’s way of not just simply selling a piece of equipment. Obviously, there’s an end to the amount of the equipment that you can sell. But Jerrold actually cashed in on the number of its subscribers.
TARLTON: Oh, yes. I’m sure that was in the back of Milt Shapp’s mind. He could continue to participate in the venture, sure.
RASMUSSEN: The service agreement led to an anti‑trust suit. Can you describe what that anti‑trust suit was?
TARLTON: Well, I’m hazy on that and I’d have to give it some thought. I don’t even remember the dates. It was around 1955, somewhere around there.
RASMUSSEN: Why don’t you give me your impression. How did you feel about it when it happened? You were working with Jerrold, weren’t you?
TARLTON: Yes, I was working with Jerrold. I moved from the service division to manager, an officer in the community operations division. That was a year or so after I joined the company. He organized the community operations division. That division participated directly in ownership with a cable system. That’s where Milt Shapp sought venture capital and in exchange for Jerrold’s know‑how, Shapp got a piece of the stock, anywhere from 10, 15, 20, to 50 percent of the company. So he had the community operations division. He also had the manufacturing division and he had the service division which was responsible for the service contracts. But I didn’t have any direct relationship with the service division because I was in the community operations division where we sold and installed systems that Jerrold owned. But as far as the contract was concerned, it seemed a good thing to me because I was a customer, in a sense, and I could call upon it for assistance. And we frequently did.
RASMUSSEN: So you were responding to that law suit from the perspective of a customer who was utilizing that service contract.
TARLTON: Oh, yes.
RASMUSSEN: What was the general feeling around the company at the time of the lawsuit? Did people feel it was justified?
TARLTON: Oh, I would say that most people were prejudiced because of their involvement in the company and were disturbed with the law suit.
RASMUSSEN: How about the operators who were outside direct contact with Jerrold? Do you know what their attitudes were?
TARLTON: It was mixed and I don’t mean my answer to be a Yes and a No. It was mixed because you did have some people who continued to pay without hesitation, but there were others who objected and just refused to pay.
RASMUSSEN: Let’s talk about your recollection of some of the individuals who were involved in Jerrold at the time, the way they worked and their importance to the development of cable television. I’ll just start by running down this list. The first one is Zal Garfield.
TARLTON: Zal Garfield joined the company about 1958. Milt was greatly impressed with Zal, and Zal had a lot of capabilities. I might say that Zal created a lot of problems in the company, too. Zal was very aggressive and he tramped on a lot of toes, both in the company and with customers. He wasn’t the smooth type like Milt Shapp. Milt Shapp always was, and is today, a likeable fellow. He’s very congenial. Zal was a cold businessman. I don’t mean that in a derogatory sense but he was, he was a cold businessman. I might tell you a story to exemplify that.
This is second‑hand. One of our great pioneers, George Barco was considering selling his company and he tells this story. He is deeply grateful to Zal Garfield, grateful because Zal came to see him and offered a ridiculous price. Zal said, “It’s a take‑it or leave‑it thing.” And George says, “Well, I won’t take that.” Zal left and George had always felt Zal did him a great favor. Zal was trying to get it for little or nothing and, of course, today it’s one of the great existing pioneer systems. I think Barco built that in late 1952 and he still owns it today.
RASMUSSEN: Which system is that?
TARLTON: Meadville, Pennsylvania. That’s the type of individual that Zal was. He did rub people the wrong way, regretfully. I don’t mean to be critical of him but I had to say that was a problem. Shapp brought Garfield into the capitol in Harrisburg when Shapp was elected governor. And the word around the state was that we had two governors, Zal Garfield and Milt Shapp. Zal was an administrative assistant there for the first term for four years. He created problems with a lot of the governor’s personnel because he continued to be abrasive. He left after the first Shapp administration.
RASMUSSEN: Why would Shapp have wanted him around? What did he add to the organization?
TARLTON: I suppose it balanced Milt’s own temperament. Milt was the type of individual who wanted to be gracious and a friend to everybody. Many a time I know he possibly should have dismissed people but because of his temperament he didn’t. I think that Zal kept his cold business character and when necessary could fire someone.
RASMUSSEN: Bob Dudley said Garfield was sometimes referred to as Shapp’s alter ego.
TARLTON: Could be.
RASMUSSEN: Is there anything else that you remember about Garfield? The way he and Shapp worked?
TARLTON: Well, I’ll give you my first impression of Zal. When Zal joined the company Milt called and asked me to introduce Zal to the business, tell him what it’s all about and he said, “Why don’t you go out to lunch.” So we went down to a diner. As I’ve said, Zal was an abrasive kind of person. When I returned Milt said, “What’d you think of Zal?” And I said, “Milt, I can’t work with him.” That was my first impression. He really did come on strong.
RASMUSSEN: Why did you say you couldn’t work with him?
TARLTON: I felt it was his extremely aggressive attitude. From the beginning I just felt that I was going to have problems with Zal.
RASMUSSEN: How about some other people. Bud Greene?
TARLTON: Bud Greene was not with Jerrold when I joined. I met him when I first started to buy equipment from him. This may be redundant but it’ll set the proper stage. I got my first few pieces of equipment from a distributor in Allentown, about 50 miles from Lansford. A year or so earlier I had purchased a few amplifiers from the company and used them in small apartment house operations and used them as they were designed. At that time I was impressed with what the company could do and I started to work more with them, not to really redesign but to modify, to adapt for what I felt we needed an extended master antenna system. So the first few pieces of equipment I purchased from a distributor in Allentown. Looking ahead, I could see that we would need 40 or 50 to service the community. So I went to Philadelphia to buy them directly. The first group I bought was maybe about ten. Now that kind of an order caused some attention because at that time an order for two or three was a big order. So I went to see the sales manager and Bud Greene, if I remember, was production manager and sales manager. The company was small and people often had a number of titles. He was very fine, delighted. He was willing to sell these things right then and there. And I was back a couple of more times to buy equipment.
On my last trip down there Bud wanted to know what I was doing with these things. When I had told him, he got a little, I don’t suppose it was panicky, but he said, “Oh, this wasn’t designed for this. You have to sign, give a release that you’re not going to come back and ask for your money back.” And I said, “No way. We don’t need the money back; I need the equipment.” I gave him a release on the back of an envelope. That’s about the extent of my working with Bud Greene. I don’t think he was with Jerrold when I joined in 1952.
RASMUSSEN: The next people I believe are all engineers. We’ll start with Hank Arbeiter.
TARLTON: To the best of my knowledge Hank Arbeiter was affiliated with Milt in the very beginning when Milt made a small set top booster. That was a one or two tube booster to increase the efficiency of the front end of a receiver. The front end of a receiver could only pick up signals a very few miles from the transmitter. When you got to the fringes and beyond, you needed something to increase the sensitivity of the television set, the front end of the set. Whether it was Milt’s idea or Don Kirk’s, an engineer with whom he was dealing, I don’t know. I don’t know when Don Kirk joined Jerrold but I think he helped design the first little set top booster. It was possibly between Don Kirk and Hank Arbeiter.
After World War II, a number of schools were established to help returning servicemen enter the work force. Trade schools. One large area was the electronics schools. Many returning GIs signed up and Hank Arbeiter, I understand, was an instructor at a school in Philadelphia. I always supposed that the relationship between Milt Shapp and Hank Arbeiter was established through Milt’s primary business at the time, a manufacturer’s rep. I knew him as a manufacturer’s rep, representing a number of manufacturers as an intermediary to sell to distributors. And I always supposed that he got into the school and then became acquainted with Hank. I’m not sure, but he possibly convinced Hank to come with him to make set top boosters. And that’s how they got started with these little set top boosters and then worked into a master antenna system.
The system was primarily designed for dealers because they couldn’t demonstrate the quality of a television set with the twin lead that was laying around the place. Using coax cable they could have a signal confined to each individual set. So that’s where the community antenna or the master antenna amplifier came into being. Hank was with Jerrold all those years.
RASMUSSEN: How would he be working? I’ve got the other names I wanted to ask you about: Ken Simons, Don Kirk, and Caywood Cooley. Did they have a relationship whereby they took different parts of engineering problems?
TARLTON: Hank, yes. In reality, Hank was the chief engineer. He joined Jerrold first. I don’t mean to degrade Hank but I don’t think he had an engineering degree. He was a good practical technician and he had engineering qualifications. As a matter of fact, I don’t have a degree but I taught at the Army Signal Corps School. Hank was a very good technical man in electronics.
Don Kirk was, to the best of my knowledge, a cryptographic engineer in the Navy. He was down at Annapolis. After World War II, he was either the only one or one of the very few cryptographic engineers who, I understand, the Navy wouldn’t discharge. He stayed on for a couple of years, had to stay on. In the meantime, he did a little designing for Shapp. He’d met Shapp as a manufacturer’s representative and they struck up a nice relationship. So some of the early designs were really Don Kirk’s. I don’t know how to properly characterize him. Don Kirk was the type of fellow who has a brilliant mind for electronics and he could rattle off how things should be designed. But he didn’t have the stick-to-itness to sit down and solder wires together to make something. He was a theoretical design engineer. Had terrific ideas.
Ken Simons joined the company about late 1951, I think, or ’52. He joined about the same time or maybe a little before I did. Ken Simons was also an instructor in electronics but he was at the college level. He was teaching at the University of Pennsylvania. He also had worked for the CBS radio station in Philadelphia. I thought that Ken had worked at the CBS television station, but in a recent conversation he said that he had built the FM station WCAU in Philadelphia. He designed and built that. So Ken Simons was more of a detailist than Don Kirk.
It always seemed to me that Don Kirk would theoretically say, “This is what should be done.” And Ken would say, “That’s a good idea,” and put it down and “breadboard” the thing. In the electronics business, breadboard means that you put a bunch of things on a table and put a few wires together and you can make it work, but it’s not going to be saleable. It won’t look nice but it will prove that a theory is practical. So Ken would breadboard things. Then there was detailist Hank Arbeiter. That was a nice tri‑part group. Hank Arbeiter could condense ideas, modify them, dress them up, etch them, and make them both workable and saleable. There was a nice relationship with those three engineers. Don Kirk joined Jerrold after he got out of the Navy.
RASMUSSEN: Now, Caywood Cooley. Did you work more directly with him because he was a field engineer?
TARLTON: Yes. Caywood Cooley was exposed to or vice versa Milt was exposed to Caywood through Philco. Philco was using Jerrold’s amplifier. I think Philco was really distributing the Jerrold amplifier. They may have been putting the Philco name on it. I’m not too sure but they were distributing it. This is bit hazy but I understood that Caywood Cooley joined Philco a couple of years after World War II when Philco first started manufacturing television. Caywood was in Japan, I think, and installed Philco microwave equipment. Military equipment, government equipment. When he came back, Caywood was familiar with radar equipment. At that time, the late ’40s and early ’50s, radar was kind of unknown. It was one of the secret weapons of the U.S. government. As a matter of fact, radar is what prompted me to volunteer for the service in the early ’40s.
TARLTON: Milt met Caywood in the Philco Company because Philco also was using Milt Shapp’s, or Jerrold’s, apartment house amplifier. They used it primarily for the distributors and the dealers. It’s quite evident that Shapp must have asked Caywood to come with him. Caywood was, to the best of my knowledge, Shapp’s first field engineer and he helped Milton organize the field engineering department. Caywood spent a lot of time with me in Lansford, going back and forth to Philadelphia, and he brought a few field engineers, too. Some of those field engineers spent a lot of time with me. That’s the extent of Caywood Cooley’s early involvement. After I joined Jerrold, I assumed his chief field engineering position and Caywood moved over to sales manager and organized many departments. He served the company in many capacities.
RASMUSSEN: And did he stay with it until his retirement?
TARLTON: No, no. Caywood left. We’d have to get Caywood’s complete background. But Caywood left and went with a couple of large multiple system operators. He also worked for at least two manufacturers. Caywood left after Milt sold the company. Milt went public with the company and after a few years the company was sold to the present owner, General Instrument. Caywood and a number of the early people left after the sale. The company took on a different atmosphere when Milt Shapp left. Caywood was with a number of different companies. As a matter of fact, I seem to recall that he was in State College for a while, affiliated with C‑Cor Electronics. For a number of years Caywood has operated his own consulting firm. Oh, yes, he was with Comcast but he’s now a consultant to it. Caywood’s a very fine, qualified engineer. A Pioneer and one of the finest.
I returned to Lansford just about the time of what is known today as the Bartlesville, Oklahoma, experiment. This was an attempt to buy motion pictures and show them over cable. It was a theater in the home and was received very well. The problem was getting the product. They couldn’t buy anything from the movie producers and, of course, the movie theaters fought them, too. (Editor’s note: Bartlesville cable was owned by a theater operator who saw cable as an alternative, not competition.) But Milt talked to me and said, “You know what we ought to do? We ought to go down to Atlantic City, to Ventnor, right next to Atlantic City.” That’s the system I had put in for W. W. Keen Butcher. That was the former Butcher and Sharad broker group which is now Butcher and Singer, the investment group. W.W. Keen Butcher, one of the members, had some trust funds which he used to build the Ventnor system. The system was fairly successful because the area got very poor television reception, primarily because it was so close to the Atlantic Ocean. Any storm would blow sea water on the antennas and the reception deteriorated. As a matter of fact, while I think of it, in Atlantic City in the early days you’d see people out with a hose, spraying water on their antenna leads. Others thought they were crazy but they were washing the salt water off and their reception improved.
The Ventnor system was a prospect for pay TV experiment. Milt Shapp suggested, “Why don’t you take a year and you and Florence go down to Ventnor, get a place, and stay for a year and let’s do some experimenting on pay TV. That’s a good prospect there because we have full control.” I made up my mind, “Oh, Milt, I’ve been running around all over the country for the last five years. This system in Lansford is getting bigger and bigger and I still have full control of it. I think I’ll go back there and do more experimenting and do some consulting.” And that was the break. That’s when I decided to leave Jerrold. Maybe I would have stayed with Milt for a while longer but he was anxious for me to move to Atlantic City. Mrs. TARLTON: often says she liked it in that area and she wondered why I wanted to move back here to Lansford. But this was my own business and I felt a little more inclined to work with it and do my consulting. That’s when I really started doing a lot of consulting on my own.
RASMUSSEN: Well, that’s a good place to look at the Williamsport system.
TARLTON: That’s what precipitated my joining Jerrold, yes. Milt came to me, as I said. His first offer was in 1950. But then in ’52, he asked me to come down to Philadelphia. He had a conference with me, suggested that I join because he didn’t have anyone who knew the details of installing and operating a cable system.
It was really Milt in the early days who did the ground work. He went everywhere trying to find capital groups, venture capital, to install these systems. The first group to give him an okay was a combine of J.H. Whitney, Fox‑Wells, and Goldman‑Sachs. They made a commitment to give him, I think, about $200,000. After he sold the idea, he needed someone who could make sure the system was installed and operated correctly.
And that’s when he made me the offer. I joined him and spent a lot of time in Williamsport. I must say Williamsport was interesting because of the relationship that Milt had with the venture capital group. Milt had a percentage of the direct ownership. He also got paid for the service company and for the management of the Williamsport company because he was responsible for installation, operations, and continuing operation of the company.
I joined him at the very beginning of that system. We did field testing of antenna signals to determine what we could receive and then distribute over the system. We had a number of problems. Williamsport was so far from Philadelphia that we just barely got the signals with the available equipment and antennas. That’s what precipitated my joining Jerrold.
RASMUSSEN: Why did he want to go into operation of a community cable system? Why not just stay with the production of the equipment?
TARLTON: Milt could see, quite obviously, that continued profits were in the operation of systems. Selling equipment was a one‑time, turn‑over deal. But an operating business was a continuing thing with a continuing profit.
RASMUSSEN: A couple of things with the Williamsport system made it unusual. One was that three franchises were offered. Is that right?
TARLTON: As a matter of fact, permit me to correct that. They were really not franchises. In Pennsylvania, franchising didn’t come into vogue until multiple system operators, major companies, started to either install or buy systems. You didn’t have to have a franchise in Pennsylvania. As a matter of fact, there was no provision in the Pennsylvania legislative code for a franchise for a cable system. No provisions in either the cities, boroughs, or townships. Municipalities, boroughs, and cities could grant permits and they did. The permit was more or less a “we don’t have any objection” type of thing.
Over the years townships have gotten more authority, gradually encroaching on a lot of things they had no authority over before. For example, until recently the Pennsylvania Highway Department was the only agency that could grant permits to cross a road in a township. It’s up to the attorney general or to the deputy attorney in the highway department. And the impasse was broken right here in a case in this area somewhere.
Centre Video originally wanted to run wires down a road and the local highway department said, “We can’t give you that authority.” Jim Palmer, then the president, came to me and said, “Bob, you’ve got political relationships. Would you have it checked out?” And through Senator Scott we contacted a very good and close friend who was then the chief attorney for the highway department. We explained the problem and asked if he might make a favorable decision for us. And he did. He could have made it either/or but he made a favorable decision. He said, “In my opinion, we do have the authority and I suggested that they go ahead and grant it.” The authority was never challenged and that was one that broke the impasse to permit running cable either over or under highway departments. It also flowed to townships because they had control over townships. I guess I was involved in the legislative process in that one as a lobbyist. It must be 18 or 20 years ago when the townships wanted more authority. They wanted income and they got the legislature to say that they could grant permits over or under township roads and take the fees away from the highway department. The highway department previously had full authority over township roads.
RASMUSSEN: We were talking about the franchises in Williamsport?
TARLTON: Evidently other communities, other states could grant franchises with or without proper authority. Pennsylvania started talking about franchises. When capital groups and MSOs came in, they didn’t want Pennsylvania’s loose arrangement. Even the FCC rules recognized that in Pennsylvania townships had no authority.
I think you will find this interesting. In the early days of the Panther Valley System, the original system, Lansford was the core and Coaldale was to the west and to the east was Nesquehoning. We wanted a permit for Nesquehoning, so we started with Lansford. We asked the Lansford council for a permit. They granted it, saying, “Basically, we have no authority but we have no objection to granting this.” Every one of the councilmen and all the people were clamoring for television. The permit meant there was no problem, there would be no fights.
Nesquehoning township supervisors could not grant authority, so they couldn’t grant a permit. Well, Senator Scott, who was then our legal counsel, suggested a negative approach. Say, “We don’t have any objections.” But they said No. And the reason just occurred to me. They thought we had to have something from the councils because we had to attach wires to utility poles. The utility company wouldn’t give an agreement to attach to their poles unless it was cleared by an act of authority. And that’s why we were getting these permits. They were accepting the permits.
We went back to Nesquehoning and said, “We can’t get on the poles without something.” Senator Scott said he’d draft something: “We, the township supervisors, desirous to have television for our community, have no objection within the legal parameters whatever it might be.” And that was accepted by the power companies. We overcame that hurdle.
But there were really no franchises per se. Today there are. Ironically, franchises have been granted because of a case that was decided by a court judge who was formerly Milt Shapp’s corporate attorney, Isodor Packal. He decided in a very, very important case back a few years ago. He was a judge then. He’s no longer on the court. Very frankly, we were upset about his decision. I could never understand it. He got the case, we assumed, because of his relationship with cable TV. He was familiar with cable TV and was Milt’s counsel back in the early days. As a matter of fact, I’m sure he had a large chunk of the original Jerrold. That’s the way Milt used to do it. He’d say, “I don’t have any money, but for legal consideration I’ll give you some stock.” Milt did this often.
This particular case was in western Pennsylvania and George Barco was chief counsel. Judge Packal said, “There’s nothing provided by the Pennsylvania legislature for operation of granting authority for the cable system. No franchise authority, nothing. But there should be.” He made a judicial decision until the legislature acted, and it stands today because there are no legislative actions yet.
His decision was that a municipality has the authority to grant franchises. In Williamsport, there was another operating system when we went in with Jerrold. Eventually there were three. Philco, ironically, had started to manufacture. Insofar as community antenna equipment is concerned, they didn’t use Jerrold’s community antenna equipment. But as they started to manufacture, they designed and manufactured a piece of equipment that had all kinds of problems which could have been overcome and corrected. They put in a system up there but it was like the old original Jerrold system, had all kinds of problems but Milt was able to modify, correct, and overcome the problems.
So, yes, there were two systems in Williamsport. And the second system, the Philco system, eventually failed. I guess they went to some other equipment though and over the years the two systems merged. Then the third system was installed and the three systems merged. I’m hazy on it right now but they were all combined into one system.
RASMUSSEN: Apparently there were some technical problems associated with the size and shape of Williamsport. Can you talk about those?
TARLTON: It wasn’t exactly the size and shape of Williamsport. First of all, I suppose Williamsport was the first attempt to transport a signal over a long distance from the receiving antenna site to the edge of the community. If I remember, it was somewhere around seven or eight miles. That was quite some distance. Until that time we were dealing mostly in deep valleys surrounded by mountains so with a few amplifiers we could go maybe a mile or two and reach the top of the mountain. In the valleys, we needed a couple of amplifiers to distribute signals.
Williamsport was quite extensive. We had to come down through the forest, up on top of the mountain, and then down through the forest about seven or eight miles. That went through a number of amplifiers until we got to the edge of town. Yes, there also was a major problem there. As a matter of fact, in Williamsport we were able to isolate our problem: cable periodicity.
It so happens that the periodicity problem was in the coaxial cable. I recall we were tearing our hair out after having installed the system, a good portion of it, and we were getting ready for a demonstration, as we usually did. We planned a grand opening where we’d throw a switch and lo and behold there we have television. Well, we were going to have the grand opening at the Lycoming Hotel in Williamsport. And for a week or two before we had all kinds of problems. We just couldn’t get Channel 4. We couldn’t get any decent sound. We had picture but no sound and we couldn’t figure it out. We had some of the design engineers flown in from Philadelphia who determined that the coax cable created what we call a trap after every amplifier. It kept on dropping the sound. The coax cable, the entire run, came from Plastoid which was just starting to manufacture coax cable. In fact, it was the only manufacturer of significance at the time making coax cable. Jerrold had gone to them.
Until that time coax cable was made by all the wire manufacturers, all in hundred‑foot lengths; that’s what the military needed. We needed it in thousand‑foot and longer lengths and that was unheard of. Plastoid was in New Jersey. They had set up extruders to run long lengths of cable and we were getting it in thousand and fifteen hundred foot lengths. The problem was the extruder, the device that forms the cable and pulls it through. The extruder was cycling and put what we called a bump in the cable. It wasn’t running smoothly. At a point in every cycle, every time it turned, it slowed down for a fraction of a second, just enough to squeeze the cable a little bit. You couldn’t see it but you could electronically sweep it and find a little bump. An oscilloscope showed it wasn’t smooth but had a little notch. So you’d look at the second one and see the same notch because all the wire came from the same extruder.
We would never have noticed it, I’m sure, if it were only a random one or two pieces. But the whole batch was from one production run and each segment had a little notch. Compounded, going through seven or eight miles of cable with twelve to fourteen amplifiers, there was a great big notch that was sucking out the sound. There was no sound. We had picture but no sound. The credit of determining what caused the problem goes to the manufacturer and I wish I knew the chief engineer’s name. I spent some time there and we found what the problem was, our engineering people did. But their engineer went back and said he knew what was wrong. That led to redesigning the manufacturing equipment for uniform coax cable with no possibility of any bumps. That flawed piece of cable would have been fine used with an antenna for either a receiver or a transmitter in a radar piece of equipment or anything that went only a couple of hundred feet. You’d never have any problem. But for our use, it was a very serious problem. So we overcame that and at least got into business.
There were no major distribution problems in the area. Williamsport was a learning process because it was the first large system that any of us had any experience with. It was my first because my systems in Lansford, Coaldale, and the other places were relatively small. But Williamsport was a large metropolitan area and we did find a lot of problems there and we were able to correct them.
RASMUSSEN: So Williamsport laid the groundwork for both you and Jerrold to go on and build other systems of that size.
TARLTON: Oh, yes. In the meantime, Jerrold was already selling the idea. I suppose that Shapp had sold a continuity of systems, of projects. Williamsport was the beginning and then Fairmont, West Virginia, and Clarksburg, West Virginia. They had also gotten involved in Wenatchee, Washington. A few others escape me right now. But J.H. Whitney, Fox‑Wells, and Goldman‑Sachs were involved in a couple of other cable systems. The biggest of which were Clarksburg and Fairmont.
RASMUSSEN: Are J.H. Whitney, Fox‑Wells, and Goldman‑Sachs three companies who were brought together by Shapp?
TARLTON: They are individual groups and they joined together. Each was willing to put a certain sum in a joint project.
RASMUSSEN: But Milt was the catalyst that brought them all together?
TARLTON: Yes, Milt was out beating the bushes with venture capital groups trying to get them. I’m most interested in reading Milt’s compilation of who he visited and who turned him down. Because he was, I’m sure, turned down a number of times on this “crazy idea.”
It was led by J.H. Whitney, Jock Whitney’s group. His group first supported us and I had the pleasure of working with them. As a matter of fact, I had the pleasure of making a presentation to Mr. Whitney’s board of directors in Radio City and spent a lot of time in his office in the RCA Building, the top floor. He had the entire top floor and I did a lot of projection in there at night. I spent about two weeks, until we came up with a satisfactory presentation.
RASMUSSEN: So did Shapp go on with those three groups to build other systems?
TARLTON: Yes, there were others that they did install, others to which they did commit capital. I’m sure that Milt Shapp will recall that. There were a number of them. I always said my first venture was with J.H. Whitney and my last project was with Helene Curtis, the perfume people in Chicago. I put Dubuque, Iowa in. That was a major system. Helene Curtis financed that one. The president of the company had a trust fund for his children and he committed some funds from it for the Dubuque system. There again, Dubuque, Iowa was a learning process. That was even after five years. We were constantly learning about different problems. In Dubuque, I think we had to go about fifteen miles from antenna to town and it was a cable problem. We were able to get that system in operation.
Yes, J.H. Whitney, Fox‑Wells, and Goldman‑Sachs were involved in a couple of major systems in the beginning. Then they sold their properties. Those were about the first sales when they were spun off, the first sales to other major companies.
RASMUSSEN: Could you tell us a little about Ray Schneider out of Williamsport? What his position was?
TARLTON: Yes. Once a system was purchased, Milt would turn everything over to me and it was up to me to design the system, get everything that was necessary franchises, permits, whatever was necessary‑‑and do the signal test work. And in those days one of the most important considerations was that we had a decent, received signal. You would find that kind of ironic about accepting what we do today.
At that time we went to the highest possible point to look to the transmitter. Today with satellites, we go to the lowest possible point because we don’t want the interference from other signals. So it is ironic that we have changed so much from what we used to do. We had to go and find out where the best possible signal was. The signal was almost invariably, but not always, at the highest point.
That’s another story from a technical standpoint. Up in Vermont we had a signal, not at the highest point but down near the ground and it was nothing more than a reflected or a refracted signal off Mt. Washington.
It was my responsibility to get the signal surveys. I had people who would survey and we’d monitor signals for a couple of weeks because we wanted to get over various temperature inversions. We wanted to get signals overnight and during the day to see how consistent they were.
We did have an experience in Lock Haven, Pennsylvania. When they ran signal checks, we had a good picture. Then they ran into various temperature inversion conditions and the system went into operation with no signal. That was a case of purchasing the equipment and a contract and they had an awful time settling it. It was because there was not enough time for proper testing. In that particular instance, it was primarily the Lock Haven investors who were pushing us. It shows how hungry they were for television. We showed them a signal and the picture was just terrible but there was a picture. We said, “This is about all we can do right now.” The investors saw television and said, “It’s great. It’s great.” There was some semblance of a picture. Based on that, they went ahead. Then, of course, the picture disappeared because it just so happened that the transmission conditions at that time were favorable enough to get a fairly weak signal. In the hot summer and in the fall, it disappeared and only when winter set in did they get a picture. Those were the things that I was responsible for.
Simultaneously, I was setting up the company, getting franchises, getting all of the materials and equipment, and getting it organized, getting construction companies to get it built, setting up their business operation, and retaining and finding people. You didn’t find any qualified people at all. You had to train people, even in Williamsport. None of the technicians knew what cable systems were.
I have to be careful because then we didn’t call them cable systems. They were community antenna systems. About 20, 25 years ago the terminology changed from community antenna to cable systems. Nobody knew what it was about when we started. We hired people and made technicians out of them. We trained them. They trained right on the spot. As a matter of fact, there was a very good electronics trade school in Williamsport. Working with the head of the electronics department there, I was able to sort out a number of good people. And some of those people, who I was instrumental in getting from all over the country, are still in the business and are in top executive jobs. That’s some compensation. I see these people who have made a success.
But I was responsible for looking for a manager and I had a couple of people recommended to me. Ray Schneider was one. Ray was working as a salesman for, I think, National Biscuit. If I remember correctly, it was the attorney who recommended Ray. Even though we had corporate attorneys in Philadelphia, we’d establish an attorney in every community as the local attorney. The attorney there knew Ray or knew Ray’s wife’s family, I think it was. And he suggested, “Here’s a man who might be good for the company because his wife comes from a very fine family.” His wife’s family was in lumber or something else. (Editor’s note: They owned a brewery.) His wife is a very fine and lovely person. That prompted me to talk with Ray and he took the position. So I had the pleasure of introducing him to cable. That would have been in 1952.
RASMUSSEN: So that’s just after you started with Jerrold?
End of Tape 3, Side B
TARLTON: Fred Lieberman left Jerrold to start his own business. I don’t know what prompted that but…
RASMUSSEN: It was interesting to me that you said the best thing Lieberman could have done was to leave the Williamsport operation and start his own. And you said he had done very well.
TARLTON: Yes. I remember one incident soon after he sold part of his properties to Cox Broadcasting. He called me to his office in Jenkintown, Pennsylvania, and he showed me a check he had received. His hands were trembling. He said he’d handled large financial amounts for a number of years but he’d never had anything with his own name on it. He was holding it a few days before turning it over to the bank. It was for $10 million, made out to Fred Lieberman. (Chuckles) And this represented just a few of his properties.
RASMUSSEN: Was it common for people to start by working for someone else and then go off on their own?
TARLTON: Yes, that often happened. I guess it happens in most businesses but we found a lot of people who worked primarily as engineers and technicians and who then started their own systems.
RASMUSSEN: A lot of what you’ve been talking about sounds like the computer industry right now. People will design and build something like Apple computers in their basements or garages. Was yours a similar atmosphere?
TARLTON: I think so, yes. It was the beginning of the industry, although, very frankly, in the early days we didn’t look at it as a growing industry. It was only a hedge to get television into a community. But, yes, it could be similar to growth companies of today.
RASMUSSEN: It must have been exciting.
TARLTON: I guess so. It didn’t seem exciting in those early days; it seemed interesting. For me, there was the satisfaction for what we had done.
That reminds me of a gentleman who passed away soon after. He had Lou Gehrig’s disease. He was a great sportsman and he was the editor of the local newspaper. A young man, a fine young man. A year or two before we began our cable system he was confined in his home, just able to speak. He loved to follow sports on the radio and in the newspapers. He was probably one of the first people to receive television. We’d tried to get it to a few others in that particular area but he was probably the first. One of the satisfactions and compensations of the job was to see the pleasure on his face when we were able to hook up television for him. He hadn’t seen television before. He was so delighted.
Another time as I walked down the street I saw a gentleman who was confined to a chair sitting with his family and watching television. I thought if not for television, the kids would be out and there’d be no one to sit with that old gent. That’s compensation.
RASMUSSEN: That’s not the way we think about television these days. It’s interesting.
TARLTON: No, back then the thrust was entertainment.
RASMUSSEN: It seems in the early days there was a sense of competition between the big guys and the small guys. The big guys being groups such as RCA, Philco, Paramount Pictures trying to get into this industry and people more like yourself who were setting up small cable companies. Were you involved in that kind of competition or did you have a sense of that kind of competition?
TARLTON: Not in the early days. Competition wasn’t in the formulative days. It came a little later on. It was when development capital started moving into the field. That’s when we always said the problems started developing, with capital groups. Their primary interest was bottom line, as opposed to the original objective to get television. Theirs was a profit motive. I don’t mean to imply that the final outcome of the early days was not for profit. It was, naturally, but most people involved were interested in getting a profit from selling television sets. Their primary interest was making television available. Again, it was for entertainment. In a few years, the capital groups came in and there was conflict because they changed the character of the business. The venture capital groups created some problems because they were pouring in millions of dollars and they wanted to protect that. So they went out and said, “We have to have a franchise in Pennsylvania.” “Well, you can’t get a franchise.” “We’ve got to do something about that even if we have to change the law.” They changed the character of the business. Overall it was for the better. It helped the industry develop to the extent that it is today.
RASMUSSEN: Was there some sense that because of the motivation that you are talking about and because of your close connection with the community that smaller organizations such as yours with you as a single owner or those created by small groups of people could do more or better than the big guys?
TARLTON: No, I don’t think we could do it better. After the multiple systems and venture capital got into the business, the business had been developed. A lot of the major problems had been overcome and it was a viable business by then. I don’t mean to imply that there weren’t problems because there were, a tremendous number of both technical and political problems. When venture and other capital got into it, the early problems of forming companies had been solved, but I can’t say that we could do it better.
RASMUSSEN: If capital had come in from Day One, would it have made a difference in the way you worked? That goes on to another question for a little more background. You said that you didn’t have the typical problems in both securing financing for the Lansford system and in getting access to the poles. Why was that? Or let me ask you, was it difficult to get financing for the Lansford system?
TARLTON: No, it wasn’t difficult. In the beginning the financing for Lansford was just for materials because my colleagues and I gave our time. Later, at the insistence of the board of directors, some of us were paid. So the financing wasn’t too great. Our loan was only two $10,000 loans because we had some responsible people’s signatures on the notes. There didn’t seem to be any problem with the two local banks. Each was very cooperative. I suppose it helped that all those people wanted to see television, too. It was a magical thing in those days. So as far as financing was concerned, it wasn’t too bad.
And our installation fee was $100. A number of cable systems immediately established installation fees of $125 and more, $200‑$300. We got contributions, although we never considered it such, from subscribers and later we attempted to solicit contributions for aid in construction. Don’t misunderstand. We certainly weren’t fluid with the capital, but in our first attempt we didn’t have any great problem with financing.
RASMUSSEN: The other thing was access to poles.
TARLTON: That was no problem either because the poles to which we first attached were telephone poles. As a matter of fact, I was experimenting on telephone poles but when we started trying to make the business viable, I worked with the power company. First of all, the phone company was a local phone company. They didn’t have any restrictions. The only restrictions were very, very loose arrangements with the utilities because they didn’t have to answer to anyone else. For example, they didn’t have to answer to Bell Telephone except for a few restrictions and those were easily overcome. So we dealt with the local telephone company and the local president. He lived in Lansford and was most cooperative because he wanted to get television.
When we began to operate as a business, I talked with a principal in the power company, Paul White in the district office in Pottsville, to ask what we could do to get pole attachments. He said, “No problem. You just get those poles to me and I’ll see that you get the permission to attach. In turn, all you do is tell me how to get into the business.” He was excited about it because he also wanted to start a system in the Pottsville area where he lived.
He was a close friend of Marty Malarkey and that’s how Marty Malarkey got involved. Marty Malarkey had Malarkey’s Music Store in Pottsville. He sold pianos, televisions, and radios. And Marty soon got involved with cable. Marty has become very successful in the industry, operating possibly one of the largest cable consultation services out of Washington.
We didn’t have any problem getting the poles for those reasons. The problems developed later when the major utilities, primarily Bell Telephone, got involved. Cable operators had a major problem trying to get on the poles because it looked like competition to the utilities and they were very uncooperative for a long time.
RASMUSSEN: Are you aware why other new companies had problems with financing?
TARLTON: I don’t know specifically of any with such problems. The ones I knew of had a fair amount of backing from the principals involved or from bank loans. I don’t mean, again, that money just flowed over the brim, but I don’t recall financial trouble in the business. I might say that a number of manufacturers had to wait; credit was bad with some of the operators. These companies still operated on the contribution in aid of construction theory and thought that money should flow in all the time. And it was. You completed an installation and the subscriber usually made a major contribution.
It wasn’t until a few years later they went to a low installation fee, a token installation fee, and a higher monthly service fee. Some people say we made the mistake of establishing a high installation fee and low monthly service fee because the service fee is what you need for continuing service. But I always said it was no mistake. At least it got us over the hurdle. It gave us the additional capital that we needed to construct the system. That was its purpose. Eventually the rates were raised.
RASMUSSEN: I would like to talk a bit about the Pennsylvania Cable Television Association. Were you involved in its beginning?
TARLTON: Yes. But before I mention the Pennsylvania association, I think I should mention my involvement in the national association because that was the forerunner. The national association was really a Pennsylvania corporation, a Pennsylvania association. It was organized in late 1951. Maybe it wasn’t organized then but its formative stages began in ’51.
It happened like this. We’d (Panther Valley System) only been in business as a corporation a short time when early in 1951 an IRS man from Wilkes‑Barre walked in one day and said that we owed an 8 percent federal excise tax. This was new to me and I said, “Explain that.” His interpretation was that we were offering a leased‑wire service. And I told him that we weren’t leasing anything, and we went around and around. Finally, we called our legal counsel, Senator Bill Scott. Bill concurred that we weren’t in the leased‑wire service, which was leasing wire from one point to another point. The fee on that service was subject to an 8 percent federal excise tax.
After quite a few months, along about August or September, he threatened to place a lien against the system and take legal action. My legal counsel, Bill Scott, then said “We can’t go through this.” We were already involved in a legal battle with the community of Summit Hill and we hadn’t even started service there yet. But that’s where our antenna was. He was involved with that for a couple of years, going on to the Supreme Court.
He said, “We are in no position to fight this excise tax thing.” But we did. Our accountants then were the well known firm of Ernst & Ernst. Today it’s Ernst & Whitney. We explained the situation and they agreed to go to Washington and talk it over with the local office. The Washington office concurred.
We then made an appointment with the IRS commissioner who had made the decision that the excise tax was applicable, with whom the people in Wilkes‑Barre evidently had talked. Mr. Valera was the commissioner. We met with him and with the principal Wilkes‑Barre representative, with another battery of people, and with Ernst & Ernst. And I can remember vividly Mr. Valera turning to the fellow who had given the opinion that it was a taxable item, and he said, “What they’re telling us makes sense. What’s your opinion?” He was deferring to him because he had made the decision. And he said, and I must say, very arrogantly, “I made my decision and I’m not backing off on it.” And the commissioner said, “Well, that’s it.” It was a very informal meeting. He said then we have to take action. So we went back and asked for a compromise, saying we would pay the tax if they would not take any action. But that didn’t prevent us from following through on it.
When we got back to Lansford, I called Marty Malarkey at the Pottsville system and I said, “Marty, we’ve got a problem,” because we weren’t the only ones in the district. Also the IRS gave the ultimatum to a cable system in Honesdale, up in the Poconos. It went defunct after a number of years. There were two cable systems in Honesdale and I still see the gentleman’s name. He just passed away and I’m trying to think of his name. He was in the same position. I told Marty, “We are going to have a problem in the entire industry. I think we ought to get together. We ought to have an organization.” So based on my phone call to Marty Malarkey, we set up a meeting. This was after less than a year of formal group of systems. We invited the known systems to meet in Pottsville. Frankly, I have all the details of what happened over the next six or eight months and I forgot to bring that today.
As a result, we had the meeting, BT supply date, and organized the National Community Antenna Council with about a dozen people, some from out of the state. Some as far away as, I think, Mississippi. Incidentally, I was not on that board of directors because I had assigned various projects to our company. I liked to delegate the various assignments and authority. Senator Bill Scott handled the legal details. The secretary of the Lansford system was George Bright, who suggested that he go on the board of this new council. So George was on for the first year and a half or two years. I attended, too, but I didn’t attend them as an officer of the original organization.
After a couple of months the organization voted to rename itself the National Community Antenna Association. After about another year or so it became so dominated by systems all over the country that Marty Malarkey decided it should move to Washington, DC, “where all the action was,” he said. And it was moved there and then became a national organization with a national charter. We had a convention every year. Interestingly enough, I still see a lot of people who say, “I was at the first meeting.” They really mean that they were at the first convention in New York City. The first formulating meeting was in late ’51 in Pottsville. The first convention was about a year later in ’52. And the next convention in ’53 was at the New York Hotel in New York. Everybody seems to have been at the first meeting; they mean the first convention outside Pennsylvania, two years later.
In 1956 or ’57 as they were growing, we had a convention in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, at the William Penn Hotel. I called all the Pennsylvania operators together for a breakfast, including Marty Malarkey. I said, “Look, we’ve got enough problems here in Pennsylvania, unique to Pennsylvania, to warrant an organization, an association.” I guess Pennsylvania was really the first state association. I don’t want to be too firm on this, but I think it was. Other states followed but Pennsylvania was the first. We had formed a state association which moved to Washington and became the national association, so we then organized a Pennsylvania association. I was elected president for the first two years and then I served on the board of directors for a number of years.
Later, I can’t remember the dates, I was asked to take over as executive director because we needed day‑to‑day contact with Harrisburg. That was my first experience as an unofficial lobbyist in Harrisburg. It wasn’t because I was so familiar with Harrisburg politics, but largely because my friend Bill Scott, an owner of our company, was active in the Republican party. He was first a representative and then elected to the Senate. He was very influential in the legislature and the assembly and he became majority caucus chairman. That was the Republican Party. So he was influential in the party and in the political structure there. He kept me informed and advised me what to do. Consequently, others would turn to me for, “Bob Tarlton knows what’s going on in Harrisburg.” I was a registered lobbyist of the association. A few years ago they retained an executive director and I stepped aside. That’s the extent of the Pennsylvania association. The forerunner of it was the national association and it was natural that we organized the Pennsylvania association.
RASMUSSEN: Was there a specific reason to formulate a state organization as there was to formulate the national organization?
TARLTON: Yes, it was the 8 percent excise tax.
RASMUSSEN: That was for the national, right?
TARLTON: That was for the national, yes.
RASMUSSEN: Was there a similar thing happening specifically in Pennsylvania?
TARLTON: Well, yes. Surprisingly enough, in Pennsylvania we were getting legislation. Legislation to control us was introduced a year after we were in business. Someone didn’t like what we were doing. So there was always legislation. But it never got anywhere until the last couple of years. In the legislature, we had people who were friendly to the industry and people who were in the industry. As a result, nothing ever really developed with bills that went into Harrisburg.
RASMUSSEN: That would be the reason why you developed…
TARLTON: I can recall that the first meeting was called together because of the possibility of an 8 percent federal excise tax. We discussed any number of things and I think that’s why it was originally called a council. We’d had a council for discussions. We might be able to purchase equipment more economically as a group. Things like that. Anything of mutual interest. That’s what prompted the national organization. When the national moved out, there was a void in Pennsylvania. I remember I was acting kind of as an executive director without any organization whatsoever. And that’s what prompted me to say we’d better organize. I had been alerting cable systems across the state about relative legislation in Harrisburg, explaining it and suggesting they contact their own representatives with their thoughts. I found myself functioning without having any real authority or responsibility. That’s what prompted the organization.
RASMUSSEN: Connected to that is another person that we’d like you to comment on. Tell us about your relationship to and comment on how you saw Strat Smith in the industry.
TARLTON: Strat Smith. I found out later that I had communication with him and didn’t remember it. He was with the Federal Communications Commission. Let me go back a moment. When I first had this idea to operate as a business, I contacted Bill Scott. Bill lived in Summit Hill and could receive television, but he was building a home in Lansford. He could see that he was going to have no use for that little television set that I had sold him in Summit Hill when he moved to Lansford. That’s how, besides being a friend, he became active in this.
One of the first things he said was, “Well, I think what you’ve got to do, Bob, is make sure that we’re not going to violate any FCC rules or regulations.” So I drafted a letter and I think it went out over his signature to the Federal Communications Commission. I understood later that Strat Smith had reviewed some of these things at the FCC and his comment was, “Oh, this has no problem at all. It’s wired services. There’s no problem. They’re not doing anything.” Although at the time I think it’s been stated he also must have said, “It’s only a hedge. Don’t worry about it because it’s one of those things that won’t get very far.”
One of the vice presidents of AT&T in New York said almost the same thing to me when he visited us at Lansford in December 1950. I said to him, “Oh, they had suggested stopping all construction until they discussed with the phone company and the power company some sort of standards for another foreign attachment on the poles.” And they issued an order: Don’t let anything further develop. We met sometime in the beginning of December. One day we were on the street looking at different things and I was showing a vice president and his subordinates what we were doing. In an off‑handed comment to him I said something to the effect, “You know, this seems to be a great thing for people in isolated areas. It’s a wonder Bell Telephone never thought of it.” And he looked at me and said, “Well, this is only a hedge on reception.” He said, “Very shortly, you know, you’ll be out of business because there will be enough broadcast stations all over the world that you won’t be needed at all.” I never recorded his name but I wish I had.
Strat Smith made some comments to the same effect. Strat was with a company called Welch, Mott, and Morgan. As a matter of fact, I just recalled the other day that Mr. Morgan of that firm recently passed away. He had a heart attack. The company was still in business. It was a law firm in Washington, a very respected law firm. Did some fine work. Strat came in as a young attorney. He left the FCC and went with Welch Mott and Morgan and they started doing some work for the National Community Antenna Association. At that time Marty Malarkey was the principal of the national association and we had a young lady as secretary. We had no executive director. There was nobody else. Marty and the secretary operated our little association.
TARLTON: Then Strat was offered the position of executive secretary. Evidently it was attractive because he was only a junior attorney with Welch Mott, and Morgan, and he took it. That was one of the finest things that ever happened because Strat, in my opinion and in the opinion of others, was and is a brilliant attorney versed in communications law. Strat joined the association, became its executive secretary and later the general counsel, and he won some of the major legal battles. I guess that’s how Strat got involved because he was, if I recall, working for Welch Mott and Morgan when he took the 8 percent federal excise tax case for us.
The industry returned $40 million to subscribers who had paid the tax because it was decided the tax was burdened on the receiver. This had never happened before. We had a suit against the government and we won. The government didn’t know how to return the money. It was returned in a way developed jointly by the companies and the IRS. Some companies collected the moneys and put it in their coffers. Some, such as ours and most others, collected it in the name of the subscribers and distributed it in checks to the subscribers.
End of Tape 4, Side A
RASMUSSEN: I want to go back and talk about some of the systems that either you were involved with or that you just knew about. Take the Cumberland, Maryland, system.
TARLTON: The Cumberland, Maryland, system I only knew of. It was one of the largest systems from its inception. On the other hand, just as I introduced so many people to cable, I did so with Holland Ranells, an automobile dealer. That’s the way things developed in the industry. Holland had an automobile agency. I’ve told you so many stories. I can remember his sending me a barrel of apples. I don’t know whether he went out and bought them or whether he had an apple orchard. His daughter and son‑in‑law operated the system for a number of years after he retired and it was later sold. I only knew the Cumberland, Maryland system in that I introduced Holland Ranells to the cable industry and he visited me a few times for advice on how to get started. He visited me as did so many other people throughout the country.
As a matter of fact, people still come up to me and say, “Bob, I’m grateful to you for what you told me on how to get started in this business.” And some of them I don’t even recognize anymore. I don’t remember half of them now because in those early days I was so busy physically working on the systems. I wasn’t sitting at a desk; I was out with our people getting things going. Some strange car would drive up looking for Bob Tarlton. They’d want to talk to me and I was too busy and so I’d say, “Well, as I’m working here, I’ll talk to you.” Many people came up, left without my even recalling who they were. Some people would come back the next day, even two or three days at a time. I had hundreds and hundreds of people. The difference between Marty Malarkey and me was that Marty charged $50 right from the beginning for his consulting business. He wasn’t technical but I was. I appreciate that difference.
RASMUSSEN: But you charged?
TARLTON: Oh, no. I enjoyed telling people how to do things. (Laughter)
RASMUSSEN: If you only had a dollar for all that advice that you gave out…
RASMUSSEN: The one that you must know about because you’ve mentioned it already is the Clarksburg, West Virginia, system. Could you describe its management and technical system?
TARLTON: The Clarksburg system was like the Williamsport system in that it was a find by Jerrold. And I say “find” because it was a community that needed a system in order to get television. Close enough to receive the Pittsburgh signal if they were high enough. But depressed behind mountains, they got little or no reception by ordinary means, rooftop antennas. This is one of Jerrold’s accomplishments that I failed to mention.
Jerrold established in the community operation division, a small department with a couple of people. One was Barbara Loomis, a girl who became very, very proficient in looking over the entire country. Jerrold would look at terrain maps to see where, hypothetically, the reception would not be very good. Then they’d check it out. Barbara had one huge wall map with pins of different colors to represent the potential of a cable system. Jerrold did this in the early days.
Clarksburg was one of the early systems. Jerrold had decided that Clarksburg could use a system. And Jerrold again sold the J.H. Whitney group on the project. I spent some time back and forth developing the system there as I had in Williamsport. We had started to fine tune things so that when Clarksburg was ready, Fairmont would be ready soon after. The first manager of Clarksburg is now the secretary of our Cable Television Pioneers. He’s an old‑timer. He operated another business, insurance, I think. Sandford Randolph. He could lend some good political flavor because his cousin was Senator Randolph and that helped a lot. In fact, you’ll find a lot of our cable systems associated with someone who had some political clout. These people were involved. They wanted to get television themselves and that helped us.
RASMUSSEN: Why was it necessary to have that political clout?
TARLTON: I don’t know that it was necessary but it certainly helped. And I think any business that has political contacts is better off, that’s all. To start with, they get their permits. No problem at all. Somebody who has a name, that name is important.
The same thing happened when I wanted to go into Coaldale, our next community. Lansford and Coaldale are practically contiguous. Interestingly enough the county line goes through and separates the two communities. Coaldale is in Schuylkill County; Lansford is in Carbon County. In Schuylkill County, there was a gentleman whose name was Evans, an executive with the coal company. He later became involved in politics, as sheriff of Schuylkill County for a number of years and finally as chairman of the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission. As a matter of fact, he was the first chairman, the person who made the turnpike possible. There had been many attempts at the turnpike but his expertise with tunnels in coal mining helped him succeed.
So back to 1951, he called me and said, “Bob, what about Coaldale.” “Well, we’re going to get Coaldale.” “You can’t wait to get to Coaldale. I want television.” His name was Thomas John Evans. And I said, “Tommy John, look at it. We’re too busy here in Lansford.” “You’ve got to do something about Coaldale and do it right away.” “Well,” I said, “I have to go through the council.” “You don’t have to worry about the council. I’ll make a phone call right away and clear it.” So it’s those things and the political atmosphere. It helped a lot. In that particular instance, I had no problems at all. I don’t think I even appeared before the council. They put it on the agenda one night and passed it, and away we went.
For the Fairmont system, I hired a crew out of Philadelphia, Henkels and McCoy. They didn’t know anything about cable except the telephone call from Tommy John Evans. I had been using coal company and other utility men on their off hours for construction. It was all right but slow. I couldn’t do it that way in Coaldale. I had to do it fast. Incidentally, Tommy John was also on the board of directors of one of the banks that had originally loaned us money so that helped. Henkels and McCoy may not realize it, but I actually got them in the cable business and today they do a lot of cable work. When I joined Jerrold it was only natural for me to suggest that we use Henkels and McCoy. We used them for a few years but eventually Jerrold developed their own construction group. They had their own supervisors but every time they went into a community they would hire local union people because of the union atmosphere. That was the extent of my involvement in Fairmont. Sandford Randolph was the manager.
RASMUSSEN: Fairmont is what you are calling Clarksburg?
TARLTON: Clarksburg was the first, then Fairmont. It may have been simultaneous. I’m hazy on the construction dates, but they were practically simultaneous.
RASMUSSEN: And they are close?
TARLTON: They are fairly close, maybe about 30 miles apart. I don’t remember anymore.
RASMUSSEN: The other interesting thing about the Clarksburg system is the Fortnightly vs. United Artists case.
TARLTON: Yes, that was the test case.
RASMUSSEN: Can you describe it?
TARLTON: Strat Smith gave a very good description and detail on the Fortnightly case at the table the other night. He was most definitely involved in that. He argued that case and got the decision. I think if we refer to him on that case, we’ll have all we need. That came from the expert on it; Strat knows it all.
RASMUSSEN: Do you remember how you felt about the case when it was happening? Did you think it was going to change the industry?
TARLTON: Oh, without a doubt it was an extremely critical case for the industry. It was one of the turning points in the industry. Yes, there is no question about it.
RASMUSSEN: You were aware of that at the time?
TARLTON: Oh, yes. Sure, sure.
RASMUSSEN: Another system that you’ve mentioned was the Dubuque, Iowa, system. How did Shapp end up going to Dubuque?
TARLTON: That was, again, a political victory. I often wondered if Milt got his ideas as a politician from what he did there. That was a case in which he was lined up with other groups there in competition for the franchise. And Milt handled that himself. He was out there and did the electioneering. That was a tremendous victory for Milt. There were newspaper articles, elections. They had everything in there. That was a major victory for Milt insofar as getting the franchise. I was not involved in the preliminaries in Dubuque, Iowa. I only saw the reports. That was because I was busy with a half a dozen other projects. That was the preliminary work in getting a franchise. As soon as the franchise was granted, it was handed to me to get going.
Dubuque was the last job I did for Jerrold. It was a major job and a big job. Milt sold that system based on a lot of things he said we were going to do. It just couldn’t be done, but Milt insisted it had to be done and told his engineering staff it had to be done a particular way. I know there were various engineering attempts to get five signals into town.
We didn’t know it then but the coax cable we used had limited possibilities. Because it was such a long run from the antenna site into the community, the first attempt was to “beat the signal down” instead of running all the signals on the cable. I say “beat.” That’s a technical term meaning to convert it from the standard frequency down to a low frequency. The lower the frequency, the less the attenuation both in space and through the air. As an example, take two transmitters transmitting. Channel 2 is transmitting from a given point and Channel 10 is transmitting from the same given point, both with equal power. Channel 2 will reach out much farther than Channel l0. The higher the frequency, the more the attenuation. That happened through cable as well as in space. If we converted the frequencies from high channels 10 and 12 and even channel 2 down to a lower sub‑channel, we’d be able to amplify it much further, go down the cable much farther with fewer amplifiers. And we had quite a few projects there. One was with five cables strapped together and put on a sub‑low channel. Theoretically, it sounded great but all of a sudden it developed cross‑talk and other interference. That system was a challenge to the technical engineering department, too. They eventually overcame the problems by putting microwave in, the only way to do something like that.
But Dubuque was very fine except there were problems in the downtown area. We couldn’t quite service the downtown area. I suppose today they’ve got that all serviced because it was all underground. We didn’t have much underground service in the early days. Today it is common to build underground cable.
RASMUSSEN: You are saying that Milton Shapp came in and made promises…
TARLTON: Oh, yes.
RASMUSSEN: That he then turned over to his engineering staff?
TARLTON: As an example, when he went to Lock Haven, Pennsylvania, he made promises. Then when he found out that they had no signal, he said, “You have to do something to get a signal.” It’s one of those things. He was a great salesman even though his background was engineering. He said, “Well, I sold it. Now you’ve got to make it work.” And that puts the burden on an engineer. Some engineers say, “You can’t do it.” “Well, you’ve got to do it because I made all these promises.” In the Dubuque system, he made commitments other than just engineering. He made commitments to the community. I’ve forgotten the whole story on Dubuque.
RASMUSSEN: Could you describe a little bit about the financing of the system?
TARLTON: Basically it was financed by the president of Helene Curtis, who, I understand, had a trust fund for his children and he wanted to develop the fund, get some additional capital.
RASMUSSEN: He wasn’t the only person in the cosmetic business to finance a cable system, was he?
TARLTON: No, as a matter of fact, one of the early boys was G.B. Henderson, Gerry Henderson. He’s another fellow who came to see me. Looked like a cowboy and I didn’t realize he was worth millions of dollars. He was chairman of the board of Avon and had traveled all over the world. And in his travels he bought perfumes for that company. Back a few years ago, the old LIFE magazine had a story about a couple of individuals, some of the wealthiest people in the country. One was the A&P owner. There were photographs and one space was blank. I just came across this by accident and saw that blank was G.B. Henderson. “Gee, that’s the G.B. I know.” Yes. It says that he’s never been photographed. He’s chairman of the board of Avon and he recently sold something like two percent of his stock for something like $60 million.
He lived in Carmel, California. And his only interest was to get television into Carmel. He had a summer home there in Carmel and he wanted television. He built the system and then sold it. I wish G.B. were living today. He died about two years ago. He was a brilliant individual. At the time he came to see me, he had become interested in television. Any time he became interested in something, he studied it. He went to school. He was taking an engineering course. He was a graduate electrical engineer and he was a horticulturist. He was an architect. At the second World’s Fair he had a company building underground homes. He’d develop something and then lose interest and start something else.
He was a pilot. Right before he died, he was piloting his own helicopter. He spent a lot of time down in New Zealand on a sheep farm raising sheep. They said that he had a tremendous farm or whatever one calls a sheep ranch. He was a great believer in organic farming and had huge organic experiments out in California. He was truly a very interesting individual who acquired his stock in Avon through his father. During World War I, Avon couldn’t pay their bills. His father was a drayman, had a horse and buggy business, a trucking business. Every time his bills came due, Avon said, “We can’t pay you but will you take some of our stock.” He took their stock during World War I, 1916‑17. When he died, the stock was passed on to Gerry and the stock was just unbelievable, just tremendous. He came into see me about getting television to Carmel, spent quite some time with me. He sent his people in, too. Asked me to use his people.
Just a couple of weeks ago I had a telephone call from a fellow saying, “This is so‑and‑so from Carmel, California. I don’t know if you remember me,” and right away I remembered. I said, “Why, yes. I haven’t heard of you for the last thirty five years. You worked for Gerry Henderson.” “Yes. You’ve got a good memory.” I said, “No, just for some reason…” He left the industry about a year after I trained him and went into teaching. He’s been teaching out there and just retired. He said he’d read something about our Cable Museum. He said, “I just wondered if you were around and I asked the telephone company if there was a TARLTON: in Lansford.” I asked him if he had anything way back from the old system. He said he might. I said, “Literature. Anything at all. I’d be delighted.” I have his address; I must write to him.
RASMUSSEN: There’s something we wanted you to comment on: PBPB.
TARLTON: All right. Pay‑per‑view. A number of attempts were made but the serious attempt was the Bartlesville, Oklahoma experiment. I think I mentioned that a short time ago. That’s the one that got Milt Shapp excited. That had possibilities. And he wanted me to experiment with pay‑per‑view or pay TV.
RASMUSSEN: I think it’s called program‑by‑program billing?
TARLTON: Yes, okay. Program billing. I’m sorry I’m confusing it a bit. The Bartlesville experiment was movies. Home Box Office is really what it was, a Home Box Office type thing, motion pictures at home. It was done on a monthly fee as opposed to the pay‑per‑view whereby you pay for a specific film. Pay‑per‑view is, of course, an old idea. It’s been attempted for a long time and the problem was how to get it into the home on a per view basis, a subscriber basis. A number of attempts have been made over the last several years.
One of the successful early attempts that’s been going on for quite a few years is in Allentown, Pennsylvania, with the Twin County Cable system owned by Bark Lee Yee. Previously, he owned a system in Easton, Pennsylvania. It wasn’t really a system. He owned a couple of apartment houses in Easton and was tying them together. He sold that franchise to Charlie Sammons, the Sammons Group. And Sammons built the system in Easton. Then he started building in Northampton. And then expanded it so that Bark Lee Yee today has a system that must service 50,000 or 70,000 subscribers in the Lehigh County area. Northampton, all the way down to Allentown, and down into near Quakertown and on both ends going out. He can give you service for any time that you ask. If you want to see a certain movie at a certain time, he can plug it in, give you the program, and then shut it off. He gets some assistance from Lehigh University. Bark Lee Yee is a very good engineer but he’s had assistance from Lehigh University. He was originally from Taiwan. He has a factory there and makes all his own equipment there. He’s back and forth frequently.
The problem is that he’s given our industry a bad name but I can’t fault him for it. I understand he has over a thousand subscribers for pornographic films. That’s the only cable system really operating in that manner. But it’s pay‑per‑view.
RASMUSSEN: But he has developed this system and economically so?
TARLTON: I don’t know how economical it is. I haven’t any idea. It’s a computer type arrangement and he is constantly refining it. To what extent he’s operating it today, I don’t know. It’s been a few years since I was down and reviewed it. It’s a complete computer system. His office people get feedback and know who wants what and then provide the service.
Other systems operating pay‑per‑view use a much more sophisticated system with converters that respond to whatever instruction they get. So there are pay‑per‑view systems.
RASMUSSEN: Is this similar to the Warner Amex system?
RASMUSSEN: The idea for program‑by‑program billing goes back to what year?
TARLTON: I can’t put a date on that. The Bartlesville project was not program‑by‑program. It had only a few movies. I don’t know if there was one a week or one a day. But theirs was a service whereby you paid a fee and you got what they provided over a period of time.
RASMUSSEN: You would say it was similar to the Home Box Office?
TARLTON: The Home Box Office arrangement, yes. A multitude for a given fee.
RASMUSSEN: What do you think made the difference? What made Home Box Office successful when this other experiment failed?
TARLTON: How can I answer that? As for the other experiment, the product wasn’t there. There wasn’t sufficient product. And the developer, the Bartlesville people, didn’t have enough clout to move ahead. Home Box Office had the product, had a reasonable amount of product guaranteed and, of course, they had Time/Life behind them. And that’s a big help. They could afford to lose, which I’m sure they did, in the formulative years quite a chunk of money until they could turn it around.
RASMUSSEN: I want to go back to something that you’ve actually talked about before today. That has to do with education for the industry. You had mentioned your own educational background which is apparently similar to people such as John Campbell and Lew Davenport, people who didn’t have a formal education in engineering but really played a substantial role in developing the industry. I’d like you to comment on that. And then I’d like you to explain how you would advise young people today to educate themselves for this industry.
TARLTON: The advantages in this industry are so ready‑made now that young people today can get a formal training without having to get just “experience” training. The engineering schools are developing technicians. Then the industry has encouraged a school, a national organization, that has correspondence courses. Back a few years ago, I think, you at Penn State had some correspondence courses although they are outdated now. I understand they are going to be updated. The International Correspondence School in Scranton has had correspondence courses for the cable industry for technicians. So a person today can grasp at a number of opportunities for formal training.
RASMUSSEN: You didn’t have a formal education. Did that hold you back?
TARLTON: No, it didn’t hold me back because the cable industry was brand new. In fact, it wasn’t an industry. It was something new. But my background, and I’m sure John Campbell’s background particularly, was in the electronics business. He had an electronics background; so did I. And I didn’t have formal electronics education but I was working with electronics from 1927 on and I did take advantage of correspondence courses. So I was exposed to informal educational opportunities. One of my first courses was with the National Radio Institute in Washington, D.C., an old, old correspondence group. I took their courses in 1927, ’28, ’29 and then others later. And I learned through symposiums both before I was in cable and while I was in cable. I attended some as a technician; an electronics repairman. So I did have the background to lead me into and to help me develop with the industry.
RASMUSSEN: For a young person who wants to, in a sense, do what you did, to come in at an entry‑level position and to work up, what kind of educational background do you suggest?
TARLTON: The industry now has a number of facets and other opportunities in it. It’s not only technical. You’ve got management. You’ve got marketing. There’s a whole spectrum of opportunities. It isn’t only the technical end of it, although the person who is technically minded offers a great opportunity to challenge. I can see that someone who wants to get into the industry must decide what facet of the industry to specialize in.
RASMUSSEN: And train specifically for that?
TARLTON: And train specifically for that. Sure.
RASMUSSEN: You ultimately became managerial?
RASMUSSEN: Yet you had that technical background. Is that something that you would think would be an advantage to someone in the managerial position, that they understand what’s happening?
TARLTON: Yes, I would think so. I don’t put myself in that category. As an example of an outstanding person with some basic training is Lee Iacocca. Lee Iacocca is an engineer but he’s managed the company and he’s done it well. Yet his engineering background has helped him. As a matter of fact, he’s helped design some of the Chrysler products.
End of Tape 4, Side B